June 8, 2014

Fandango Durango!!

Armed with a 3-day+ hall pass and a healthy riding buddy, Seron and I tossed around a couple of ideas before coming up with the obvious choice: Durango, CO. Our initial plan was to bikepack the Durango Dirty Century route per Mr. Topofusion's advice, but that idea was scrapped due to snowpack above 11,000'.

We then consulted the local forums & friends for other must-do rides in the area. We both wanted to ride the Colorado Trail in some capacity, but needed a few other alternatives to fill in our time. We gathered a hearty list, attempted to take 1/2 days at work to hit the road, packed up the car and promptly creeped through Phoenix rush hour traffic in 108ยบ heat. The mountains couldn't arrive soon enough!!

We stopped in Flagstaff to grab a couple of mandatory burritos for this outing. Belly's full, we scooted across the reservation being ever so watchful of roaming cattle & horses!! Open range out there.

Now in Colorado, a few miles out from Cortez, it must have been around 11:30p or so as we passed a casino with four Sheriff deputy vehicles waiting to merge onto US160. As luck would have it we found ourselves smack in the middle of them. The lead driver was fluctuating his speed never coming close to the 65 mph limit. Kinda weird, but we were in no hurry. 10-15 miles down the road the deputy in front of us pulls over, then the fella behind us flashes us??? Ok. We were a bit dumbfounded by the pullover, only to find out the officer was claiming I was tailgating the deputy in front of me. Whatevs. A nice friendly warning later, we were back on the road to our free campsite for the night....an old quarry of some sort between Cortez & Durango.

By the time we settled for the night it was 2a and slept in the car.
Our lush campsite.
The next morning we made our way over to Durango in search of breakfast & a local trail map. We found our grub at Bread, many thanks to Eszter for the foodie recommendations!! The pastries were fantastic and as luck would have it, there was an open bike shop within walking distance. The fella at San Juan Cycles had the map we were looking for and gladly pointed out a few choice routes for us.
Bikes are everywhere in Durango. Everywhere.
We dropped the car off at the house we were crashing and rode a whopping 2 blocks to the nearest trailhead for Horse Gulch. Barely a half mile onto the dirt we both looked at each other, gasping for air, and thought: whew, we're in for a tough weekend!! High elevation riding isn't our specialty, read: anything above 4000'!! Durango sits around 7000', similar to Flagstaff, and all the trails go up. This was a pleasure tour, so plenty of stops would be had anyway.

We ran into a local out on the trails who gave us another cool loop to try out before making the climb up the Telegraph trail. A few short grunt climbs led us to a fantastic overlook before rocketing us back to where we started. What a great way to start.
Loamy earth at Horse Gulch. Photo by Seron.
Sucking wind, early & often. Photo by Seron.
Stacie's Loop & Mike's trail got us going.
Some snow could be seen in the San Juan's.
Plenty of trail maps along the way too.
We completed our early loop down Chuchillo's before taking a look at the daunting Telegraph trail. We could see it slicing its way up the mountainside towards a saddle high above us. We both assumed we'd be pushing the bikes a fair amount to the top. It was already getting warmer than we had thought it would be. I wasn't exactly anticipating a full blown sweat inducing ride to complement my shortness of breath up here. Oh well, pedal on. To our surprise Telegraph was totally rideable even by two desert dwellers!! Only the last 50 feet or so became steep & loose. We celebrated our little victory with more stellar views before dropping over the ridge into the backside trail system.

What followed next was pure ear-to-ear grinning as we descended Sidewinder & Cowboy trails.
Sidewinder trail.
We had almost forgot how close to town we were!
Not many rocks up here.
Time was flying by, as were the trails, but we were ready for a break. Our map pointed out the local breweries too and we noticed that Ska Brewing was close to a trailhead on this side of town. Great place for a lunch break, no? A little searching brought us to the beer & pizza. Barely 30 seconds after walking in the door I hear someone say, 'John?'. I turned around to find Doug, a buddy from Phoenix, hanging out with his family. He recognized my Yuengling jersey & framebag on the Voodoo, what were the odds?

After lunch we rode along the Animas River trail watching the rafters & kayakers navigating the high water. We had stopped at a good overlook on the river when a group of 6 kayaks came towards us, we knew another buddy, Sam, was up here riding the trails & paddling the river. One of the group looked like Sam, so we gave a holler. Sure enough, Sam I am and crew were digging the Animas flow!! Small world indeed.
Animas River trail. Photo by Seron.
Ska Brewing.
Sam in the yellow kayak. Photo by Seron.
Back on the river trail, we stumbled onto a BMX track just begging for a lap. We were happy to oblige.
Seron taking off.
Barely getting those 29" wheels airborne. Photo by Seron.
2-person kayak hitting a large swell.
We were ready for more singletrack so we found our way back to the Horse Gulch TH and proceeded up the poweline trail to the Skyline climb. Skyline was such a treat, perfect dirt, perfect switchbacks and a nice grade for over 2 miles up to the start of Raiders Ridge. Simply amazing.
It was this good!!
Plenty of tree cover too. Photo by Seron.
Our reward, panoramic views of Durango!! Photo by Seron.
Marking the start of Raiders Ridge.
Hmmm, Raiders Ridge. It was marked black or double-black on the trailmap. It wasn't overly steep on the descent, but reminded me a lot of La Milagrosa in Tucson. Plenty of chunk to go around, coupled with ample wheel grabbing opportunities on an off-camber boulder strewn 'trail' had us proceeding cautiously. The first mile or so was fun picking the correct line down the boulders, but soon those choices had higher consequences for failure and we began pushing.
What may look rideable, led directly into more HAB. It was easier to stay off the bike at times.
Telegraph trail as seen from Raiders Ridge.
The HAB section finally ended and we dropped down a rubbly trail back to the main arterial trail in Horse Gulch. A few minutes later we were back in the neighborhood, day 1's riding complete. Time for a beer over at Steamworks after meeting our house mates for the weekend.

Saturday came with much anticipation for both of us. It was kind of a rite-of-passage or sorts, to finally put our tires on the Colorado Trail. We had to abandon our bikepacking plans of the Durango Dirty Century route due to snow in the high country, but we had a very nice plan B. We were going to ride the CT from Junction Creek up to High Point at least, perhaps continue onward to Champion Ventures before turning around.
Stoked to finally be here!!
Perhaps a Molas Pass to Durango bikepack in the fall??
Crossing Junction Creek, about to start the switchback climb to Gudy's Rest.
Climbing the CT. Photo by Seron.
View from Gudy's Rest.
We would end up taking the Hoffeins-Dry Fork Loop on the way down.
A little ways past Gudy's we reached the Hoffeins junction, another popular loop in the area. We stayed on the CT as it leveled in places, but generally kept climbing. As we neared 8600' we crossed the other main trail in the area, Dry Fork, both of these trails were tempting us to point our wheels downhill!! The CT beckoned us to climb, so climb we did. Seron stopped to chat with some hikers who had been shuttled to Champion Ventures. They informed us of the multitude of downed trees over the final miles so we began to concoct a plan C. A short time later we topped out at High Point, just over 9500', highest I've been on a bike to date. It was time for a lunch break and a brew.
Diggin' the high alpine.
Denver to Durango, huh? Has a nice ring to it.
We could climb trail like this for days!!
View from High Point.
Turn & burn, heading down from High Point.
During our lengthy break at High Point we witnessed a local rider pinning it to the top from the Dry Fork TH. He did it in just over an hour while it took us over 3 hours from Junction Creek, albeit a little farther, but we just laughed at our casual team photo pace. Perfect. We hardly encountered any uphill traffic on our descent. We reached the Dry Fork split and decided that we should do the optional loop, but in the direction the locals had suggested. That meant we'd ride down this section of the CT twice so we could ride the loop in a CW direction.

On our way down to the Hoffeins trail, Seron led the way and I proceeded to puncture my newly minted rear tire!! Drat. My sealant wasn't plugging the hole(s), so I put in a piece of tire bacon which worked flawlessly. I was still leaking a bit at the bead however and thought I may be running low on the goop. By now, Seron had tracked me down, and I added another bottle of juice to the tire. A quick blast of CO2 and we were on our way once again.
A little trailside repair. Photo by Seron.
We fired down the Hoffeins Loop settling into a fast groove, these trails are so fun!! Before we knew it we met up with the Dry Fork trail & opted to go down to the trailhead before climbing back up to the CT. Smart move. More g-turns followed as we dropped into the parking area.
Making the decision to ride down to the trailhead.
Dry Fork / Hoffeins junction.
Bike ramp cattle guard skillz.
More pleasant climbing on Dry Fork.
Look at the smooth dirt, really, LOOK AT IT!!! Photo by Seron.
Didn't need the seatbag, no rain or cold on this ride.
We crested the Dry Fork trail and made our second descent towards Hoffeins, this time without tire woes. Next up were the swooping s-curved switchbacks leading down to Junction Creek. Super fun once again.
Hardly a switchback, more like a change of trail direction! Photo by Seron.
A few neat rock outcroppings along the way.
What's this? A tech move?
Too much smooth dirt had us befuddled on how to ride rocks!!
The final miles along Junction Creek seemed to go on forever, which was a good thing. Good until we stopped at the car, that's when the mosquitoes took over!! No wonder the parking lot was now empty. These suckers filled up the inside of the car in no time!! Not even these pesky critters could dampen our high from the days ride. Can't wait to sample more Colorado Trail!!

It was hard to believe, but our two days of riding had come to an end. We didn't want to leave, but we also knew there were good trails to be had near Cortez on our way back to the desert.
Our hosts even had a pumptrack in the backyard!!
Found this fella next to the carport.
The narrow gauge railroad heading off to Silverton. Photo by Seron.
We left a ton of trails on the table in Durango, I'm thinking a longer stay will be required next time.

Sunday morning meant we were off to meet Jamie, our local guide of sorts, at Phil's World for some shredding on the mesa. I had heard all kinds of great reviews re: Phil's World, now was the time to find out for myself.
Fancy sign near the trailhead.
Right from the get go the trail rips!!
A front was moving in from the west and out by the mesa's edge the winds were howling.
Short ups, short downs and a whole lotta fun in between. Photo by Seron.
"I swear, the gap jump was this big!!". Photo by Seron.
A few techy bits could be found.
Every so often the trail pops out on the edge of the mesa. Photo by Seron.
The ominous skies had us concerned for a while.
Catching some air on Ribcage. Photo by Seron.
About an hour into our ride the winds kicked up as a front was moving across the area. The skies began to turn dark and threatened to put a damper on our parade. We could see the bands of rain approaching, but we were now at the farthest reaches of the system on the Ledges Loop. A few sprinkles began to fall and the air temp dropped rapidly. All of a sudden I was getting chilly!! Jamie suggested we beeline it over to the 'good' stuff before weather wrecked the trail surface. It seemed like 15 minutes later the clouds blew over us, hardly dropping any rain, the wind died down, and the sun reappeared!! Perfecto.

This weather band zipped by us all within an hours time. We were about to ride the most fun 1 mile stretch of trail I've put tires on: Ribcage!! Imagine hard packed smooth dirt, trending downhill, with banked turns & rollers...all natural terrain features!! Yes please. There's a short climb in the middle so you can relax the perma-grin, then a fast flowy finish. Jamie asked us if we wanted to do another lap. Ummm, YES.

My guess is the name Ribcage comes not from people crashing, rather, your ribs hurt from laughing to much!!
Another ride in the books.
Plenty of helpful trailmaps along way too.
It was only lunchtime and we would gain an hour on the drive home so we opted for a pizza lunch in Cortez and a chance to ride Sand Canyon, aka Canyon of the Ancients.

All Seron and I knew about Sand Canyon was the ability to ride up to a few Native American ruins. Not many trails give you that opportunity.
Breathtaking backdrop on slickrock right at the trailhead.
Our route would take us 4 miles north on the Sand Canyon trail, then backtrack to the East Rock Creek trail (CCW).
The ride started out to plan: double track. This is a National Monument after all. It was really nice to have Jamie lead the way as we came upon spur trail after spur trail. He knew which ones led to impressive ruins & stellar overlooks. It was slow going with all our picture taking, but what a rare treat it was. The next thing we knew, the 2-track had morphed into fantastic singletrack!! The flow reminded me of Sedona.
It looks like Sedona too!! Photo by Seron.
It looks like Utah as well. Photo by Seron.
This was my favorite site.
The Voodoo approves of the view-do.
Our turnaround spot, before a nasty switchback HAB up the mesa.
Well contoured trail through the canyon.
Every ride is not complete until there's HAB.
Seron looking small as we head out on the East Rock Creek trail.
Jamie was mashing the singlespeed with authority!!
A three-tiered landscape of color. Photo by Seron.
Seron playing on real slickrock, Navajo Sandstone = Moab.
Life always finds a way.
Sandpaper grip on this terrain. Photo by Seron.
The tourguide reaps the rewards, Carver's porter.
Canyon of the Ancients was a surprise win. Many thanks to Jamie for showing us the goods on both sides of Cortez. I'll tell the AZ riders to not be so quick to return home from a Durango trip, save some time for Cortez!!

We didn't want to leave, but it was already getting to be late afternoon before the 7-8 hour drive home. Since we knew we'd be getting home late anyway, we opted for the scenic route via Monument Valley. The only question: could we make it there before sunset? You decide.
Scenes from the passenger seat: southern Utah.
The swollen Animas river in Durango feeds this river, the San Juan.
Mexican Hat rock in its namesake Utah town.
We made it!! Monument Valley right at sunset.
Seron gets all the photo credits from the car, nice work.
And so ends 3 days of Colorado riding. When are we going back?
So what if I only grabbed a 1 1/2 hour 'nap' before heading to work the next day. So worth it. Let's do it again soon Seron, next time with bikepacking gear!!

Our rides:

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