We continue contemplating the contours of the squarest state in the union: Colorado. We experience a myriad of incredible roads, views and make plenty of new friends. Grand Lake, song place 82 of 92, is up!
Thursday, August 8th, 2019
Denver, Colorado, USA
Let’s get back on the road!
Colorado is one of the best motorcycle riding states in the country. Thankfully, the state is also mentioned in the song in Verse 4. I felt that this gave me a good excuse to explore more of the state than I would normally budget time for.
ADV Rider, the motorcycle forum where I post my story, is well represented in the Centennial State. I had multiple offers of lodging, meals and riding partners. The first one I would meet would be my new friend, Tim, and his nameless, soulless V-Strom. He was even thoughtful enough to wear his Johnny Cash shirt when we met.
He is a former resident of the DC area and I was unable to connect with him when I passed through there. Now he calls Colorado home and takes full advantage of the plethora of outdoor activities available here. He sent me a checklist of must-ride roads, forbidding me from leaving the state until they were all completed.
We met up at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, one of the most scenic concert venues I have ever seen.
Our route for the day would look something like this:
The first of his road requirements was the Guanella Pass. This is a really scenic road that has a relatively small amount of traffic. I believe the picture Tim took below, which I absolutely love, was on this road.
When we reached the interstate, he asked if I wanted to ride up to Loveland Pass, since we were pretty close. I was easily convinced.
As we came down from the overlook spot, it started to rain. However, I still needed a picture by the sign. I didn’t know it at the time, but this picture would end up being fairly costly.
We suited up, got back on the interstate and got hammered pretty hard as we headed east. The right lane was pretty much unusable and I got soaked by both the rain coming down and the spray from other vehicles.
We sought shelter from the storm in a local, super-authentic, Mexican restaurant. I don’t remember the name… something with “campaña” maybe? 🙂
Though completely soaked, I think we were both still enjoying ourselves. The kind of scenery we were able to take in made it hard to have a bad day.
After letting the storm roll on through, we continued on to the climb up Mount Evans. This scenic byway is the highest paved road in all of the US, topping out at 14,130 ft. (4,310 m). My National Parks pass got us both in and we began winding our way up.
As the peak gets nearer, the clouds move from overhead to right at eye level:
Goats!!!!!!! The animal on the opposite end of the spectrum to monkeys.
There are more mountain goats, many of which seem to be having bad fur days, at the top which guard the visitors center.
After I took the above picture my phone crashed. I tried plugging it in to one of the chargers on Annie and got no response. When I went to remove the charging cable, it almost burned my fingers. It appeared that some water had gotten inside and shorted out the charging board. Uh oh….
Tim was having some issues with his phone too, so the only picture at the top we were able to get was with my camcorder.
I think you can tell that is us. 🙂
You’ll just have to take my word for it that the views were breathtaking. If I were a better writer, I would be able to describe them for you.
Down we go.
Maybe that’s where this photo is from? It’s another good one:
We were originally planning to ride the Peak to Peak highway as well, but we were very short on daylight by the time we came down from Mt. Evans. We used the last little bit of light to get Tim’s signature on Annie.
I had such a good time getting to know him. Traveling together felt really natural and I always appreciate having a local guide and someone to take pictures. Don’t worry, this isn’t Tim’s final appearance!
We rode back into Denver until our paths diverged. He’d given me some cursory directions, but I only had my third-string phone along which doesn’t accept my US sim card. No worries though, Denver isn’t that big of a city. I was thankfully (miraculously?) able to navigate back to my host’s home with no issue.
Friday, August 9th
I spent a good portion of my day fussing with my phone, trying to get it to work. It wouldn’t charge, but I was at least able to boot it up for a few minutes to rescue some of the pictures. I ordered some parts for it as I was reluctant to purchase my 6th phone of the trip. Once your phones outnumber your rear tires on a motorcycle trip, you probably need to rethink your strategy.
I drafted my five year old Samsung S5 back into duty. This phone is like that old truck that spits and sputters, but always runs. The camera is OK, but there will be a reduction in image quality for the next few posts. I apologize for the inconvenience.
I wasn’t on the road until late afternoon as I headed for the Peak to Peak highway. The plan for the day was to ride this route, stop in to a party in Longmont, then go stay with another hospitable ADV Rider, Dave in Estes Park. From there, I would check out song place Grand Lake the next day. The day wouldn’t go quite as planned:
The Peak to Peak highway was OK, but it didn’t knock my socks off like some other roads in the area. There was quite a bit of traffic and the views weren’t that spectacular. Don’t get me wrong, if this road was in Nebraska, it would be the best ride in my home state. I just have different standards when I am in the mountains. I found myself leaving the main route often to explore the many “where does this go” roads.
I do like the confusing perspective of the following photo. Is that a miniature road?
A number of locals told me that the highlight of Peak to Peak is actually at the far north end, which I did not get to ride (through Allenspark). Next trip.
Shortly before I turned off towards Longmont, a gust of wind slammed me hard. Sprinkles were not far behind and I pulled over to suit up. The wind kept increasing in intensity, felling a good sized tree into the road. It took awhile to clear the road by hand.
Losing daylight made the conditions even more treacherous as visibility became scarce. In hindsight, I definitely should have pulled over.
I finally reached the home of “The Shawns,” a couple who share the same name. They are good friends with my brother-in-law, Brad, and were hosting a party for him. There were quite a few people there, some of whom I had met at my sister’s wedding, but most of them were new friends. I was welcomed warmly and almost immediately given an invitation to stay the night. With the conditions, it was the right move to accept.
We had a fun evening of dining, stories and hot tub. It was great to get to know some of Brad’s “tribe” better.
Saturday, August 10th
I snarfed down some leftovers in the morning before hitting the road. The Shawns were great hosts and I enjoyed hearing stories about their travels. They were so gracious to accept a wayward wanderer, especially one as damp as I was. 🙂
My next stop was in Estes Park at the home of Dave and Sherry. Almost immediately, I felt regret that I had missed out on their hospitality the previous evening. Though I only spent around half an hour in their home, they made me feel so welcome. Dave had even thoughtfully made a helpful pillow label for me.
This is in reference to a throwaway joke I made in my post on Texas (THIS POST). Though comedic in nature, this gesture made me feel very honored. The fact that some people read all the words, suffering through each feeble attempt at humor, makes me feel like all of the effort is worth it. I am so thankful for all of the devoted readers of this qua-….. wait, it hasn’t been two updates yet…. – of this quirky periodical. 🙂
I really enjoyed discussing their careers with them. They both worked in Florida, helping to design the safety systems of space rockets. Apparently, each rocket has to have a way of self-destructing in case it veers off course and heads towards land. They were responsible for the engineering and calculating of these systems. They noticed the NASA patch on my shoulder and showed me the collection of the launches that they had worked on. Cool stuff!
It was a drizzly day, but we decided to hit the road regardless. Dave had a wedding for which he needed to be home in the afternoon, so he was in just a bit of a time crunch.
Route for the day:
A Saturday morning at the end of summer is not the ideal time to ride into Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP). Traffic would be an issue most of the day, but with views like this it is absolutely understandable.
Up next was Old Fall River Road. This one-way, unpaved route was the first high country road in RMNP (opened in 1920). Though we often found ourselves ascending at a near idle, it was nice riding when the traffic cleared up.
Sherry had recommended stopping at a little ranger cabin which many of the tourists miss. As is often the case, a local guide is always a bonus.
The road eventually crests above the tree line, terminating at the Alpine Visitors Center. It is also at this point where it joins with Trail Ridge Road.
Obligatory “pictures don’t do it justice.”
At this point Dave had to turn around. As you hopefully know by now, I’m a pretty chill guy. However, I find it blatantly offensive when people plan their weddings on a day that might rob me of my riding partner. So inconsiderate!
Dave got his name on Annie’s trunk and we said our farewells. Don’t worry, he will make another appearance in my next update!
I continued towards Grand Lake on a road which was beautiful but congested. Traffic cleared a bit once I descended into a valley which is prime moose viewing territory. In one of the meadows I saw my first one since the Alaska Highway.
Soon I was in song place 82 of 92: Grand Lake.
Grand Lake is the name of both the body of water and the surrounding village. “Grand” is perhaps a bit presumptuous for both. Despite being the biggest natural lake in Colorado, it is actually less than one square mile in terms of area.
(In the photo above Grand Lake is only the body of water on the left)
Additionally, the listed population of the town is only around 500 inhabitants. I believe that makes this the fourth smallest song place by population, behind only Shefferville, Quebec; Chatankia, Alaska; and of course…all together now….Ombabika.
But upon my first drive down Main St., I quickly realized that this was no forgotten little village. The place was absolutely buzzing, without a parking spot to be found.
Though the first settlement at Grand Lake was built to be a supply point to mining operations in the area, tourism quickly became the lifeblood of the community. On a sunny Saturday like this one, that was abundantly clear.
It would be fascinating to know just how many people were in Grand Lake this day. I would not be surprised if it were 10x the listed population.
My email to the Chamber of Commerce had gone unresponded to, so I didn’t have much in terms of plans for what to see. I mostly walked/rode around, trying to familiarize myself with the layout of the place.
I met a really nice couple, Brad and Valarie, who were checking out Annie. We had a nice chat and they ended up offering to buy me some lunch. At the same time, my friend, Tim, which whom I had ridden earlier in this post, arrived in town. He was accompanied by his “best girl,” Rita. We sat down all together, a most random and most pleasant group.
Tim, Rita and I proceeded on to the Kauffman House, a log-cabin hotel which housed visitors from 1892 to 1946. It is now the site of the historical museum. It has been well cared for and even added on to.
We got a private tour from a gentleman named, Mike, who did a great job explaining the history and highlighting interesting anecdotes about Grand Lake’s past.
I was starting to feel a little rushed by daylight, so we didn’t spend as much time here as we could have. There was so much to see and examine.
I told Mike about my mission to get the best photo possible of Grand Lake and he suggested the perfect spot along the west side of the lake. We rode over and had a little bit of a wait as a wedding was finishing up.
Once again, I felt incredibly frustrated. Can you believe that all of these people seemed to think that celebrating eternal nuptials of love was more important than me capturing an official song place photo? Again, the nerve of some people!
After the wedding party had vacated, I pushed Annie the 30 yards or so on the walking path into position. I was really glad to have Tim and Rita along. When I have some people accompanying me, it always feels less strange to take Annie to questionable locations.
Rita played photographer for me, deftly balancing on one of the folding chairs from the wedding. I got some great options.
We’ve been to Grand Lake, man!
I chatted with Tim and Rita awhile longer before they had to take off. It was so thoughtful of them to come join me and assist me in my quest. I had apparently completed enough of the roads on the checklist that Tim had given me that he felt comfortable letting me out of his sight. Thank you guys!
I did just a little more wandering along the classic Grand Lake Main St.. Lots of the buildings along this boardwalk date back to the early 20th Century. I wish I could have been there in the morning to get some sans-car photos.
I made a brief stop at the Grand Lake Lodge on my way out of town, it provides a beautiful overlook of the lake (pictured earlier) and has some neat old cars.
All told, I was probably only in Grand Lake for about 6 hours. I usually try to budget more time than this, but it was just how the schedule worked out. I also didn’t have my tent along, so staying the night was not an option.
I don’t feel too bad about doing a brief stop to this place though. Grand Lake doesn’t need me like some of the more obscure song places do. If this summer day was any indication, Grand Lake is doing just fine.
My ride home was tremendous. Trail Ridge Road is the highest continuous (meaning that it doesn’t dead end) paved road in the US, topping out at 12,183 ft (3,713 m). The views along this stretch were some of my favorite in Colorado. I was still searching for my quintessential “Colorado” picture to represent the state in the song and I found a good candidate along this stretch….although with the wind it kind of looks like I am wearing a toupee.
I didn’t get any good helmet cam footage, probably since the road was so busy. I didn’t mind the slow pace though, as the views were spectacular and I stopped often.
It is always hard to tell whether these views are breathtaking because of how spectacular they are or because of the lack of oxygen at these altitudes. It’s probably a mixture of both, I suppose.
The afternoon storms that had seemed to be a constant theme in Colorado never came this day. This was all for the best, as I was not too eager to add “lightning rod” to my resume. I made it out of the mountains and onto the freeway right as sunlight disappeared. This was another one of those good/long days.
Even though Colorado is a neighboring state to Nebraska, these days helped me to realize just how little of this quality quadrilateral I had experienced. It is anything but square! And to think, my adventures in this state still have another chapter to tell. We’ll finish up next time.
10 to go! Somebody get me a countdown!
Stay geometric, everybody
Realtime update: I’ve had a really hard time releasing myself from the warm embrace of Utah. I managed to briefly hit all five National Parks, take some spectacular rides and just crossed off Cedar City. I’m actually planning to head to Las Vegas tonight. I’m just curious to see what it is like and I want to see the Hoover Dam. Then I’ll be on to Arizona for Winslow and Catalina.