Paonia 2013… and thanks, JJ
July 25, 2013
It was early to get out of bed to start my moto-journey, but it seems easier to wake up on ride days for some reason. My ride up to Colorado would be solo, but I would meet familiar faces in Paonia. The plan for today’s ride is to Sipapu, one of my favorite close destinations and overnight stays for trips like this. The weather was not bad for Texas in July. I took a north route at Hedley to avoid the routine ride through Amarillo. I like this detour and will likely follow it on future trips through the Panhandle.
The typical afternoon thunderclouds appeared as I neared Sipapu, but it never rained in the afternoon. I sat on rocks at the stream and talked with Debbie for a bit. The sounds of the water and the forest are definitely good therapy.
I decided to buy a golf disc and give the Sipapu mountain-side course a try. I made it through 10 tees and was exhausted. At this point, it seemed to be a good decision to descend to the lodge and eat a green chili cheeseburger. Excellent choice… The evening was nice with the rain. I slept well.
July 26, 2013
It rained most all of the night. I parked my bike in a low spot and had to carefully navigate it out of the muck. The early-morning weather was great for riding through northern New Mexico with crisp temperatures and clear skies.
I stopped briefly in Antonito to watch the Cumbres and Toltec steam engine train load with passengers and head south to Chama.
By late morning I had made my way along the Rio Grande in Colorado to Creede, just in time for lunch at Kip’s Grill. I ran into other riders from Texas that were making their way back home. They were describing their experiences riding through the awesome mountain roads and were obviously still in a moto-euphoria.
After consuming the always-tasty Kip’s sandwich, I continued on Hwy 149 through the three mountain passes south of Gunnison. As typical, I experienced the 2nd season in the mountains (Construction… the other is Winter). After sitting on the bike for 10 minutes, I looked to my right and noticed a road going off into the valley to the east. I had time to explore. The construction delay was an inconvenience, but also a reminder to me to slow down a bit on my journeys and take time to go off the beaten path. I hiked a to a ledge over the headwaters of the Rio Grande to take in a spectacular view.
Blue Mesa Reservoir is still very low, but still makes for interesting scenery on the way to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. I have lost count of how many times I have enjoyed this road. About half of the times, rain has made the tight turns even more technical than a dry day. Today was great weather for a dry run along the top of the canyon.
I arrived Paonia mid-afternoon and got settled into my motel. It was hard to fathom that I left Texas and high 90’s temperatures only to arrive in Paonia with the same Texas-style temperatures. I was a little bummed. I rode to the rally site. The sights and sounds of the rally grounds were interesting but typical. I wandered around a bit and then chilled for the rest of the day with dinner in Hotchkiss.
July 27, 2013
I awoke on Saturday and tried to figure out what would be best to do for the day. I talked a little with the boys from LSBMWR who were staying at my same motel. Jackie and Yeeha Stephen were heading out for breakfast up in …. Sounded interesting, but I was not sure for the “I’m in”. I could hang out at the rally, ride a long route out near Utah through Gateway, or stay close and wander around the Paonia area. I settled in on the last option and would ride to Crested Butte for the day.
The temperatures were already rising as I took the road to Paonia State Park. Forest road 12 is paved for a while, but turns into gravel for 14 miles or so. As I climbed in elevation, the temperatures dropped pleasantly. This is my third visit to Crested Butte. Deb and I stayed here with Troy and Susan over July 4th one year. The parade was a hoot. It looked like most every resident was in the parade.
I took the lead of the lazy dog and settled in at the Eldo on the patio and watched the crowd below slowly walk the main street. I talked with Totu for over an hour. He’s a local that used to live here doing carpentry. He split up with his wife a couple of years ago and was here to collect his final belongings to take down to his land outside of Pagosa Springs. Interesting character.
The clouds started hiding the sun, so I decided I had better make it down the mountain before the rain hit the dirt road I had to travel back to Paonia. I was stopped for a short while to photograph the aspens, and I heard a car slide to a stop. I looked around and saw a burly man getting out of the car. Sam Hill is a coal mine inspector that was taking a couple of days off to drive as many dashed-line roads as possible in Colorado. He was heading towards Crested Butte and asked me which route to take out of there. I suggested Cottonwood Pass, another gravel road with great views of the mountains. We parted, and I rode back into Paonia through scattered showers.
Totu told me about Revolution Brewery, located in an old house right near downtown Paonia. Sounded like a great late-afternoon way to chill and watch the afternoon thunderstorm pass through. I walked later that evening to the Flying Fork for a great Salmon dinner.
July 28, 2013
This was a wet morning. Very wet. I looked at the radar and tried to time my departure out of Paonia between the heavy showers. I wanted to ride up through Aspen and over Independence Pass. Even though I left Paonia in light rain, I caught the stormy weather again over McClure Pass. Large rocks were everywhere on the highway, brought down the mountainside by the rain. I had to watch oncoming traffic carefully to make sure the drivers saw the obstacles and slowed instead of swerving to avoid them.
The temperatures dropped into the high 30’s as I ascended the 12,000 foot road over Independence Pass. It was raining and the wind was brisk. Not a place to hang around for a while… I still love the mountains even in rough weather. The rain and clouds touching the peaks add an element of challenge.
I continued on through Buena Vista and east on the busy but fun Hwy 50. I took my traditional County Rd 1a to intersect Hwy 69 to Westcliffe. This valley is one of my favorite places in Colorado. Usually the clouds nestle over the Sangre de Cristo range just to the west of the valley, leaving clear skies over Westcliffe. Today it was wet all the way through the valley and into the town. I have my heart set on a buffalo burger at Hoag Malone’s, but found it had closed down. I ate at the grill next door, and sure missed Hoag’s. I saw Robert Halenda across the road and talked for a bit. He had just returned from Paonia. His “store” and loft residence is an eclectic paradise.
South of Westcliffe, the skies cleared for a dry ride for a while. Just as I was riding out of town, I heard on satellite radio that JJ Cale had passed away on Friday. Dang… that was sad to hear. I rode on thinking about all of the music that I had grown up to and still listen to. I checked the ETA to Raton, and it looked early in the afternoon. Not much to do there, so I decided to take an excursion to Cuchara, up on the Spanish Peaks. I saw on the GPS a short-cut that I totally underestimated the length of. What I thought was going to be about 7 miles turned into 14, and very wet and slippery in sections. So, after 30 minutes of high pucker-factor, I was back on pavement heading to Cuchara and more rain… But it was all good, except for the heavy rain… Everything was getting soaked on the ride into Raton. Oh well… I pulled into the cabin at Raton and unpacked the bike. The temperature was nice. I just beat the storm I rode through in Colorado. The rain on the rooftop was nice for sleep.
July 29, 2013
Clear skies and crisp temperatures greeted me when I opened the door from the cabin to look out over the valley to the east of Raton. Thank God. This had been one of the wettest ride I have done in years, and much of my gear was still wet. I dried my gloves in the morning sun and packed the bike.
I consider the trip from northern New Mexico to the Dallas metromess a day-long commute. There’s not much exciting to speak about through the Panhandle and along the Red River on 287. It’s the price we pay for living in the middle of North Texas and the love moto-riders have for the technical mountain roads in our adjoining states. It was good to get back to Deb and our comfortable home. It’s time to plan the next ride…
Rest in Peace, J.J. (December 5, 1938 to July 26, 2013) I enjoyed your music all through my life and your music continues to live.