Friday, April 22, 2011

Road trip: Glenwood Springs/Aspen/Fruita

Leaving Golden Gate Canyon State Park meant having to tow back down the twisty two-lane to the valley floor, where I-70 lay in wait. Without the exhaust brake working in concert with Gigantor's Allison transmission, I'm certain that this descent would have been another brake-killer. I've lauded the benefits of this expensive add-on in past posts, largely in an attempt to convince myself that it was worth the money. Could have bought a pretty sweet mountain bike for that kind of coin. But here, in the Rocky Mountains, any remaining vestiges of doubt that it is truly a necessity have been shattered. Kudos, Me, for having it installed in anticipation of such need.

Once down to the relatively drivable interstate, I headed westwards and upwards, cresting at Loveland Pass, where the Eisenhower tunnel bores directly under Loveland Ski area, at 11013'. We (me and my trusty Banks exhaust brake) then enjoyed a period of descent, but it didn't last, as we had Vail pass to overcome as well. At a paltry 10603' we crested easily, and rolled past the massive ski town, longing to strap on a pair of boards and carve some turns in that fluffy white powder. But with 32 feet of living space hitched up, I couldn't easily duck in for a few runs, and kept driving, following the Colorado River through beautiful Glenwood Canyon:

I made camp in Glenwood Springs, a good base for fishing several local rivers, and skiing at Aspen. First I fished. Overnight rains clouded the water considerably, like black tea with milk, but I caught a fish despite the poor visibility - a nice brown trout. It escaped me as I fumbled for my camera too close to the river bank. In one desperate squirm it freed itself from me, my nymph fly, and the riverbank.

The next day I headed up the valley to Aspen. Only one of Aspen's four ski mountains was open this late in the season: Aspen Highlands. The local's choice, this mountain offers more expert terrain than the other three (over 50% of trails). But, there were enough lowly intermediate trails for this New-England skier to have fun on. It was a beautiful day, snowing up top (from about 9500 feet and up) sunny below. The top half of the mountain stayed powdery all day, but the lower half softened to classic spring "mashed potatoes" by lunchtime. So, I spent my time up high, and had a good ol' time (except for the painful sunburn on my nose and lips). Fruita:

Here's a town that's got its priorities straight! I've had my sights on this stop for over a year, and it feels good to finally arrive. It'd feel even better if the skies weren't heavy with rain clouds. After getting set up I paid a visit to the local bike shop, got some trail suggestions, and learned that the trails dry out quickly, so even just a couple of hours after a shower they would be mostly ridable. Good news.

The next morning (Easter) the ground was fairly dry, so after breakfast I headed out to the Kokopelli trailhead. I headed up Mary's Loop, stopping to enjoy the amazing views of the Colorado River and the Black Ridge Canyons Wilderness.

I then dropped down a crazy steep access-way to ride the Horsethief Bench Loop, which was awesome. But, it started raining again, and halfway through the loop the sandy trail surface was starting to make trouble with my brakes and drivetrain. I tried to enjoy the remainder of the ride, but it was hard listening to the crunching, grinding and scraping noises coming from my bike's vital moving parts. Back at camp I spent quite a long time restoring cleanliness and hoping that tomorrow would be much, much drier...

...and it mostly was. The sun woke me the next morning, and I headed out to the "18 Road" trails. On the way there you must remember to turn onto the N 3/10 road from the 17 1/2:

Lawn art and a unique fence reflect the local mindset:

The trails at 18 Road are awesome - built by bikers for bikers. Great flow and use of terrain to make riding fun. It got really good when I turned onto the Frontside trail which clung precariously to the slope of the foothills. But then, I got to Zippity Do Da, which is now my new favorite trail of all time. Nearly all of this trail is cut into the apex of a series of long, pointed ridges. Its like riding on a roller coaster track: climb up a ridge, then hang on as the trail plummets back down, to shoot upwards once more. Again and again! I was giggling like a schoolgirl!

Look closely (click to enlarge) and you'll see the trail swooping from ridge to ridge:

My too-brief stay in Fruita was capped off by a drive over to nearby Colorado National Monument, a spectacular plateau cut with deep canyons exposing beautiful red rock:

I drove the length of the park road, which at times clings to the canyon walls, with only a low stone wall between the truck and a 1000 foot drop! I stopped to admire the scenery, hike some of the trails, and let the dogs get out and sniff.

Now I've got a big drive back to Denver to retrieve Nancy - hoping that the forecasted snow at high altitudes doesn't prevent my passage.

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