Range Roaming – Colorado 2013 – Day 121

Of artists and cowboys: Salida to Westcliffe

Tuesday August 13, 2013, 60 miles (96 km) – Total so far: 3,923 miles (6,313 km)

The road drops at a similar rate as the river. Consequently, I don’t have to do too much pedaling in the first 32 miles.

The river tumbles downstream. It’s August, so there are numerous rocks exposed and the river is reduced to channels in places. However, it’s been a wet, late summer, so there is still a decent amount of water heading down towards Kansas. How much will get there I do not know. The water agreements for the Arkansas River are complex, and Kansas tends to sue Colorado a lot for not meeting agreement terms. Kansas doesn’t just get shafted with the amount of water in the Arkansas River; I think they get a bit shafted on the grandeur of scenery, too.

High rock walls guide me downstream. At times, it almost feels like you are in a tunnel. There is just barely room for the river and the road. The noise of the river and the traffic echo off the walls as you ride through. In other places, the canyon walls are wide, allowing for small towns to populate grassy valleys. There is certainly much to occupy your aesthetic senses. However, many sections of road have little to no shoulder, tight curves and limited visibility. It’s a dangerous stretch of road with not much room for error – my mom says there are accidents and deaths quite frequently in the stretch between Salida and Parkdale. Luckily for me, there isn’t much traffic at this time of day, but it is still not a relaxed ride.

Heading down the Arkansas River canyon east of Salida. It’s early enough that traffic isn’t bad but this road carries quite a bit of traffic. It is very curvy and has a lot of places with no shoulder, so be careful in this area! It is incredibly scenic, though, and there are quite a few places to camp in the upper canyon on BLM land.

I turn off at Texas Creek. There is hardly a soul on this stretch of road. It climbs and descends through hills of pinyon-juniper woodland, as well as through sagebrush benches above the creek below. Several sections of road follow the creek as it cuts through the hills. The creek creates gaps through outcrops of rock that are topped with pines.

I turn off on Hwy 69 at Texas Creek. I skip the shortcut county road since all the other cars were going that way. This was a longer route but very scenic and virtually traffic-free. There is a restaurant at this turn-off. There is also food, drinks, water available in Cotopaxi just up the road.
Hwy 69 about five miles south of Texas Creek.

A final climb brings us up to the broad Wet Mountain Valley. The Sangre de Cristo Range towers above the valley to the west, the naked, jagged peaks spreading down into steep slopes covered in conifers. There is still plenty of green in the landscape. The monsoon rains have been bringing good moisture this year.

After climbing through a relatively narrow valley, we pop out into the bigger Wet Mountain valley and get a great view of the Sangre de Cristo Range. If you know Colorado in August, you know that all that grass is obscenely green for this time of year.

The slopes of the Wet Mountains to the east reach into the valley. Streams flowing down from the Sangres have also carved paths into the valley floor. The slopes and streams create a gently undulating topography, and we have to climb and coast these hills. The low and rocky Wet Mountains to the east and the high and ragged Sangres to the west provide a continual backdrop of beauty, though, as we head south.

We reach Westcliffe around 11.30 am. The storm clouds are already building, and there is little public land in the valley, so we don’t plan on going any further today. The nearest public land is about 15 miles away, as you must ride up into national forest to find it. Everything lower is privately held.

Westcliffe is a pleasant town. It has a ton of eateries and art galleries. It mixes cowboy and artist quite well, I think. The main street houses numerous shops, galleries and services in the original but renovated buildings. It has a nice feel.

The grocery store is well-stocked. I buy food for lunch and dinner then sit outside to consume the lunch part. The main street has a great view of the Sangres down at the end.

Main street Westcliffe. There is a good supermarket, tons of places to eat, a motel and a library in town. There is a commercial RV park about 5 miles south of town with a pretty open and makeshift tent area, but there are some covered picnic tables, wifi, clean showers and restrooms, and a kitchen available.

Later in the afternoon, I head down to the RV park south of town. It’s four or five miles out of town. The tent sites are just a somewhat flat patch of ground with no shade or protection from the wind. But the views are great, the showers are clean, there is a kitchen available for use and there is wifi up in the main building. For $16 it is just fine for the night. The rains come and go in the afternoon. I enjoy just watching the storms build over the mountains then come crashing down into the valley. Another great day on the road. I don’t want this to ever end!

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