Colorado: Off Road Across the Rockies

Text: Uwe Krauss • Photography: Uwe Krauss

I could stay on I-70. It crosses the Rocky Mountains in a couple of hours—but this would be a waste of landscape and adventure. Here in Colorado, America’s major mountain range offers one fantastic and rare opportunity. You can cross it almost completely off-road. Not in hours, but rather in days.

A s soon I’m out of the Denver city limits, I get off the interstate and immediately feel as though I’m in the past. Georgetown receives me with its charming 8th Street as well as many historical houses that were built in the mining boom around 1860. At this time, Guanella Pass was built as well, serving as a wagon route between Georgetown and Grant. Its asphalt switchbacks take me out of town and leave me with fine views of the valley. Farther on I pass the aptly named Green Lake and Clear Lake. For the next few days, I’ll be riding on gravel—my favorite surface.

Though right here at the top of Guanella Pass (11,666 feet) there is nothing challenging, I feel very small. Grays Peak and Mount Bierstadt are more than 14,000-feet high. Once back down in Grant, I take Highway 285 for a 28-mile stretch toward the west. It leads me along the edge of South Park, 900 square miles of grassland in a broad valley flanked by the Mosquito and Park Mountain Ranges. This is quite a special ride. Sunlit white peaks glimmer to my right, and to my left huge meadows spread across the plain at an elevation of 10,000 feet. The air up here is very clear and allows endless views.

In Fairplay, mining was big as well. The town got its name from the opinion that every man would have an equal chance to stake a claim here. Some miles up the road, Alma shivers at 10,578 feet and proudly claims that it is one of the highest incorporated towns in the U.S. When I look around, it becomes obvious that this distinction must come with tough times in the colder months of the year.

Through the Relics of the Mining Past

Alma is also the low point of Mosquito Pass, the highest continuous road in Colorado that goes over a pass. What I don’t know yet is that it will be a challenge very different from the one before. It starts easy with a few bumpy sections as I ride toward the North London Mine—an impressive relic of the golden times of mining. Once past the mine, the KLR requires quite a bit of effort to negotiate the rocky sections and eroded spots. Some outstanding views from the top are the reward. The many switchbacks on the western side toward Leadville are comparatively easy then.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2013 back issue.