Words by Jim Vota
Photography by Aleksandra Radich
It doesn’t take a long ride in the Rockies before they let you know who exactly is in charge. Erratic weather, rugged terrain, and roads that seem to touch the sky all conspire to challenge you at a moments notice. The beauty of this area of the world is worth every effort it demands. Snowy peaks, wildflowers and wild life abound 365 days a year. Check you tires and weigh your gear, however. The Colorado Rockies are eager to let you in, but not so willing to let you back out.
Whether you are a wild life watcher, a history buff, or simply an adrenaline freak wanting to test your salt, the Colorado Rockies have something to offer you. Sit quietly for a few moments and the peaks begin to move with life. Elk, big horn sheep, pronghorns, and smaller mammals have carved a life for themselves on the peaks and valleys through this region. Other more elusive wildlife calls the Rockies home as well, such as moose and various types of bears. Consider yourself lucky if you see one of these, however. They are not as willing to show their faces and many of the other animals around here.
Get to Rockies at first bloom and the hills will bleed with all colors of the spectrum. Wild flowers of all types push their way through the rock and grass as the snow falls into the creeks and streams. Grass becomes saturated with green, creating a wonderful contrast with the red, purple, blue, yellow, and white that dot the landscape. All this is there, waiting for you to see it. Sit and breathe the crisp air and let time pass you by.
As you travel through the Rockies, you will find yourself passing by old, disintegrating structures. These structures are what have been left behind from the “gold rush” of the 19th century. Many of the mountains within this region have been hollowed out in the pursuit of the precious gold they have produced. Ghost towns litter the landscape. Structures can be explored in areas such as Animas Forks, Imogene Mine Camp, and areas outside of Leadville.
Many former mining camps have managed to survive, bringing in new industries, or setting up resorts for “low landers” to enjoy. Ouray, Telluride, Silverton, and Breckenridge all share in the rich gold mining history of the Colorado Rockies. In fact, mining still goes on in and around these areas (on a smaller scale, admittedly).
Along with exciting your curiosity, the Colorado Rockies can excite your adrenaline. Mountain passes will take you almost anywhere you would like to go. Though you may feel like a rat in a maze as you climb switchback after switchback. Many of these switchbacks are very steep and littered with larger rocks that can send you off if you hit them. So pay attention to your lines as you climb these mountains. These mountains are going to make you earn their respect. They don’t give it away to everyone. You don’t conquer the Rockies. You learn to find a harmony with them. Try to do otherwise, and they will put you in your place faster than you can say, “Top of the world, Ma!”
Some of the more difficult passes are, but are certainly not limited to Imogene, Engineers, and Orphir. Steep inclines, sharp rocks, and tight turns will keep you (literally) on your toes. Commitment is key when heading up passes like these. Stop on one of these inclines and you can find it difficult to get started again. This is in part due to the deep rock piles that exist on many of passes. These passes are push your limits, no matter what size of motorcycle you choose for your journey. But get to the top of any one of them and all body aches (and heart aches) will disappear as you look back on all you have accomplished.
Not really interested in getting in touch with your own mortality? No problem. There are plenty of other routes to take. Cottonwood Pass will take you 12,126 feet above sea level without having you feel the gentle touch of the Grim Reaper. Smooth hard packed dirt roads will take you up one side, while smooth asphalt will bring you down the other. Stop in nearby Leadville for a steak dinner that will change your life at Quincy Tavern. The main attraction is steak here. Just choose the size of your steak and your type of potato, because that’s all you’ll find on the menu. I guess when you do something as well as Quincy’s does steak, why do anything else.
No matter what direction you choose in the Colorado Rockies, you are sure to find fun, adventure, food, wildlife, and even a little bit of self-improvement opportunities that go beyond what any “self help” can provide. The towns and people are real, authentic experiences and you should take the time to experience them. It is a unique place in the world. Enjoy…and stay warm!