The San Juan Mountains


On Tuesday June 12th, we left Mancos, CO and rode 10 miles downhill to the city of Cortez, CO. Here we resupplied for our ride through the San Juan mountains which would include Dolores, Rico, Telluride and Ridgway.  In Cortez, we were able to meet up with an old friend of Bryan’s, Matt who works at Southwest Open High School. This school focuses on academics through experiential learning. Good to see you Matt! Take care and you never know you may see us back in the area someday.

Delores River

We continued on a hot climb up to Dolores, CO out of the Mancos valley. We got to the Dolores Post Office just before it closed. Just in time to mail another package of stuff home. Often we send clothes, maps and other small gear items back. This process seems endless sometimes. We have a mountain of stuff we have sent home from the road. The post office in Bomoseen, Vermont knows us and always tells Debi’s mom “You got another one!” Can’t wait to see all that stuff someday.

Colorado has terrific libraries.  The Dolores Public Library sits along the Dolores river and met our needs fully. We chatted with a fellow named Mark about careers and the mountains, we also met a Scottish touring cyclist who was stopping for the day but was heading in the same direction as us. We thought we would catch up to each other in a day or so. Just outside of Dolores we saw a young black bear cross the road. We shared that sighting with a couple of Forest service workers who were driving a pick-up in the opposite direction. The bear went on his way and the workers gave us a thumbs up as we passed each other. Thoughts of hanging our food that night quickly flooded our minds. That evening we camped in the San Juan National Forest near Taylor Creek. Our site was up on the edge of field sprinkled with Aspens.

The next morning we slowly began our climb into the mountains. By late morning we were rolling through Rico, CO picking up a little elevation with every pedal stroke. We stopped at a store for a cold drink and some chips.  After Rico, we began our ascent up Lizard Head Pass. At an elevation of 10,222′ gave us a good workout. This is the highest elevation we have been at with the bicycles.

Heading to Rico, CO

All quiet in Rico, CO

Approaching Lizard Head Pass

Lizard Head Peak

Debi and the mighty San Juan mountains

The road to ourselves

Once we traversed the pass and started our descent we decided to take a break at Trout Lake for lunch. This part of Colorado is getting ready for the USA Pro Cycling Challenge event and there were random paving projects scattered through our route. These slowed us down but did not detract from the scenery.

Our steel camels at the top of the pass

Bryan lovin’ Lizard Head

View from the pass

All smiles at Trout Lake

Two stand up paddlers (foreground) that made us jealous!

After another long descent, HWY 145 meets the turn for Telluride, CO and we decided to make a visit and see what was shaking. From the intersection we were able to follow a bumpy paved bike path right into town. The ride into town is stunning. Bridal Veil Falls cascades down into the San Miguel river as the back drop and 13,000′ peaks surround the place. Elk and deer graze in the valley just outside of town.

Meadow area below the pass

The other side of Lizard Head peak

Little puffy clouds over the San Juans

Approaching Telluride along the San Miguel river valley

Our idea was to get a campsite at the town park and camp out for a night and explore town. Well, it was mid-week and the campground was full. The next weekend was the impending and all amazing Telluride bluegrass festival and there seemed to be a whole lot of activity surrounding its preparation so, no camp site for us even with our story told. The nice woman at the counter told us to go back out of town and find some national forest area where we could disperse camp. She told us it would be a popular spot and we would not be alone. We would also have to some climbing to get there.

We decided to just hang out and soak up some free town wifi. Eventually, we got moving again, the day was hot and we went to soak our feet in the river. We followed a dirt rec path into town from the park and wound up locking up our bikes on main street to take a walk around. We decided it might be fun to take the free gondola ride up over the mountain to check out the view. After the gondola ride we sat on a bench and met Josh and Charles who were riding an Adventure Cycling Route, The Western Express. We chatted for awhile and then we rode out of town, back out the bike path and found our own place to camp for free that was flat, easy to get to, quiet and safe with an awesome view of the falls.

From Telluride Town Park

View of town from the free Gondola ride

Downtown Telluride

The next morning we had a little ice in our water bottles and frost on the tent. We bundled up like winter ninjas and started a ridiculous descent down to Placerville, CO. The cycle tourists we spoke with last night hated the ride because they were on the outside edge with heavy traffic and very little room to ride. We bombed it before 6am it was a cold exhilarating ride and it was some time before we saw sun. We stopped and ate a little breakfast by the river before turning onto CO 92. Once we  made the turn we began our climb up over Dallas Divide and then literally flew down to Ridgway, CO. The views from this road were out of hand.

Early morning ninja leaving Telluride

Nearing Dallas Divide

More of the San Juan mountains

View from Dallas Divide

Bryan checking things over before the next leg of the descent

Debi sailing down into Ridgway with the unique Cimmaron range in the distance

Once in Ridgway, we found the park in the center of town and took over a picnic table. We spread out our tarp and ground cloth to let them dry (something we haven’t done for a long time due to extremely arid and warm weather). It only took us a few hours to get here and it may very well have been some of the most exciting biking to date.

Later that day we met up with our host and hung out and chatted in the afternoon heat on the front porch. As the temperatures cooled a bit we were invited to the Orvis Hot Springs for a soak in the natural lithium springs. A very nice treat after some big mountain riding these past few days. The views from Ridgway are spectacular. The Cimmaron range and the San Juan mountains are just incredible.

Our very own picnic table in the town park

We decided to take an extra day here and hang out in town. On Friday, the farmers market graced our presence in the park and we bought some cherries and apricots. Music played and kids ran around. We also checked out a bunch of the shops and historic buildings in town. One place we stopped was the old Fire station which is now the home and studio of a couple of artists. We were given a light tour, shown a fairy village in the yard and were handed the key to the jail that used to be the town jail. A totally quirky unique place and we recommend stopping in and  saying hello.

This old barber shop is for sale and  was a part of the set for the original True Grit with John Wayne

Old Fire house building (the jail is around back)

Fairy House

Jail cell with steel railroad rail used as the bars

In a brochure about Ridgway we read that it was the home to the Grammy’s. We weren’t sure what that meant but we eventually figured it out. Ridgway is the home to Billings Artworks and they manufacture the actual Grammy award. In fact they make about 600 Grammy awards each year. Some are for the Grammy awards in this country and some are for the Latin Grammy’s. Dummy awards are given to the musicians on stage and then the real ones are produced with their names engraved on them later. The guys we met in the studio were great- thank you for the tour!

Billings Artworks

Dummy Grammy’s for the award ceremony on stage

Yeah, we are holding Grammy’s! These are the same ones that have been used on stage for over 25 years!

While we were in town we found a beautiful bike path that lead us out to the Dennis Weaver Memorial park. A great asset to the community, the bike path and the park were terrific.  Ridgway was full of galleries and little shops and friendly folks with stunning mountain views. We certainly felt like we could have stayed in town longer.

Bike path in Ridgway

Dennis Weaver memorial Park

Bronze Sculpture in the park

Sculpture on a store fornt

Colorado is packed with great stuff. We are barely scratching the surface. We are on to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Curecanti Recreation area next. Thanks again for following along!

Bryan and Debi


4 Responses to “The San Juan Mountains”

  1. Nice to see you were finally recognized for your musical accomplishments…

  2. Wow – spectacular views and roads! Great photos. Can’t wait to tour this area some day. Looks like you two are finding lots of great towns lately. :-)

  3. OMG…You have made me sooooo homesick! When Jeff and I go over Lizardhead pass each year, we always stop, walk down to the creek and kiss the ground :) We head that way on the 12th…not too long of a wait to be there in person! Lovin your ride! Be safe & have fun!
    Peace & hugs,

  4. 4 Gretchen

    Wow 10,222 feet. You deserve a Grammy.. Impressive!! XO

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