Colorado 2000 Offroad and Backroad Motorcycling Vacation

Mark and Debi Sampson   7-18-00/8-4-00

If an offroad or backroad motorcycle trip to Colorado has ever entered your mind---I'm sure this text and pictures will greatly wet your appetite. This adventure goes from backroad riding over high Colorado passes 2-up on a BMWF650 (and hitting the "Top Of The Rockies BMW Rally")---to dualsporting on a Suzuki DRZ400S----to severe offroading on a Yamaha TTR250 in the high mountains of Colorado.  Enjoy the trip. !!!!

Tuesday 7-18-00

                Well I somehow managed to get over 2 ½ weeks off this year for our motorcycling trip to Colorado. We are hauling 3 bikes out   1. 1997 BMW F650 for 2-up backroading and going to the Top Of The Rockies BMW Rally in Paonia, Colorado   2. 1999 Yamaha TTR250R for severe trail use.   3.  2000 Suzuki DRZ400S for some dualsport riding. I should have things covered I think.

                We left Mt. Vernon Tuesday 7-18-00 at 11AM and drove straight thru (expcept for a short stop to let a severe storm pass). We had no problems and drove 971 miles straight to a beautiful secluded campground near Canon City, Colorado. It was 4 miles North up the Phantom Canyon Road which just happens to lead to Cripple Creek our planned first destination. We arrived at the campground at 10:AM and as soon as camp was secured we took off for Cripple Creek on the BMW even tho we were very sleep deprived (especially Debi).


Wednesday 7-19-00

                The ride North to Victor and Cripple Creek Colorado was so beautiful. The road immediately turned into a dirt and gravel road. It followed a beautiful creek up thru the Canyon going thru several tunnels on the way. It was a little bumpy for Debi, but was a spectacular ride. Also we crossed several bridges over the river that were in very good shape. There was almost no traffic on this road as most people enter Cripple Creek from the paved roads from the East and North.


     We were riding actually on an old railroad bed. This bridge was rebuilt for modern traffic, but used to have to support a steam locomotive. We are riding our 1997 BMW F650.
    There surely was a lot of hard work to cut through the rock to make way for the railroad.
    We came into the Old gold mining community of Victor before Cripple Creek. This town was in a year 1800 time warp. The town was almost unchanged and was a delight to tool around in. We stopped in a local bar for a soda as we were very dehydrated. The elevation here was about 10,000ft., but it was getting nice and warm.
This is my wife Debi beside the F650 in downtown Cripple Creek, Colorado. This town looked original, but every old building was a Casino. There were so many that I don't know how they all kept in business----being this was such a remote little town.
I was wanting to ride on the Old Shelf Road back to Canon City. This road was a delight. Here is a beautiful picture of a rock formation with a hole thru it. The road was down hill almost the whole way and I coasted with my engine off most of the time. The road was just what it said it was--a shelf, with a sheer drop off on the side!!  I almost never found this road--but my trusty GPS came to the rescue again. The weather had been Colorado perfect all day--55° in the morning and then getting up to about 80° in the afternoon, with no humidity of course.


7-20-00 we headed to Taylor Park and the "Rivers End" Campground. Here the Beemer is loaded up Friday (7-21-00) morning for the trip to Paonia. We planned to make an all day scenic ride to the BMW "Top Of The Rockies Rally". It was another beautiful day--the sky was so blue. We would be tent camping for the next few days of the rally and left the truck and camper at Taylor Park. We had never been to this rally and couldn't wait.
We headed South out of Taylor Park then up to Crested Butte, then West over Kebbler Pass. Somewhere on the Kepbbler Pass road we ran up behind this fellow on a R100GS/PD. We would pass each other back and forth as we both switched from riding the road---to---gawking at the scenery!!!!! This was a very hard packed gravel and dirt road which the little Beemer handled perfectly. The little (4'8") woman on back took some great pictures while I was riding. Check out the snow covered peaks in the background.
Breathtaking !!!!!!  Look up blue in the dictionary--and you will see the Colorado sky. This is on the Kebbler Pass road. We then headed south into the rally town site of Paonia. Boy were we surprised. I was just expecting a small little bitty rally. Over 700 rallygoers. What a beautiful site!!!
Debi just had to get in the water and play with the kids. The river that ran by the town was diverted thru little curb streams all thru the town. It had gotten a little warm and it felt good for Debi took soak here feet in the cold water. Bikes were everywhere !!!
Here we are at our tent site, with a sea of tents behind us. We tried to rally and listened to the DJ for awhile--but was just plum tuckered out. It was a beautiful night for sleeping, as it got down to a comfortable 58°. We slept very well that night.
This young rallygoer was having a blast, tooling around the rally grounds escorting his mom and dad. Mr. ZZTop scutinizes his scooter. This is a Cushman scooter--probably a mid 50's model I would say. We watched him ride around and thought he was gonna take out somebody's high dollar Beemer--but dad wasn't worried. 
Saturday 7-22-00 We headed into downtown Paonia for a good breakfast--then on into Crawford, Colorado home of Joe Cockers "Mad Dog Ranch" and fountain cafe, which wasn't to far South of the rally site. This was such a cool place. We went in and had a soda. It had a bunch of ceiling fans in the restaurant that were driven by a bunch of belts chain linked together and driven by one electric motor. The neatest thing I ever seen. This is a first class joint. It was also obviously the place to be seen on your Harley---and if they didn't see you--you could beller your straight pipes up the hill out of town to let everybody know you were there!!! And that red thingy sticking up--well surely you must be used to the red zero gravity windshield on my F650 by now :)
We went a few miles out in the country to see Joe Cockers mansion of which I can't seem to find the pitcture I took--oh well. Then on to "Black Canyon Of The Gunnison"---kind of like a miniature grand canyon. The canyon was 1700 ft. deep and you could here the river down below roaring loudly. 
Sunday 7-23-00 We left the rally and headed South back through Crawford and climbed way up in the mountains and were riding what seemed to be the most beautiful curvy mountainous roads in the world. The Gunnison River was always below us--and here me and Debi are posing in front of the Colorado scenery. Elevation was probably around 10,000ft. and the temperature about 48-50 degrees. Just right for the gear we had on. I have on the First Gear Kilimanjaro suit and Debi is wearing the tried and true Belstaff wax cotton jacket. Got her jacket brand new for $20 at a rally--because it was so small and nobody wanted it !! Sometimes being very little has it's advantages.
OK---Let's vote. Which looks better ???  The Beemer or the Colorado scenery?????? I give up !!!!!!
We eventually intersected Rt. 50 and turned East toward Gunnison. En-route we were delighted to the sight of a herd of mule deer trying to cross the road. They scattered when I pulled over for a picture--the big leader posed on top of this hill for us. Debi looks like she should be on Appollo 13 :) Ok---see the little clear plastic thingy on the top of my windshield. If you're wondering, this cut the wind buffeting almost down to zero. I've done this with success on several of my bikes.
On West thru Gunnison, then North on a hard packed dirt road to Pitkin, Colorado (Are we still in Colorado??). Yes--thank god. North of Pitkin we headed up an old railroad bed toward the "Alpine Tunnel". Built in the late 1800's and 1800 ft. long. They just couldn't get the train up over the mountain so they beat their way thru it. It's caved in now. But still a neat place to visit. This is an old wooden water tank to fill up the steam locomotives. We couldn't believe this thing was still standing. There was (I say was) a town along this R.R. bed--but it was completely engulfed by a snow avalance. There is a memorial to mark where this all happened. We then headed back down the railroad bed, then turned North over Cumberland Pass--thru Tincup (an old gold mining town) then back to our camper in Taylor Park.
Monday 7-24-00 Steve and Lisa Asbury (good friends of ours) arrived late yesterday evening. We were up early as me and Steve were going to do some hard core offroading in the mountains. Steve owns a Suzuki Dealership in Mt. Vernon, Illinois and had brought 2 beamer mopeds for the girls to ride. Steve tried to ride one of these 50cc monsters up Pikes Peak on the way out, but it wouldn't pull his fat ass up it and they had to go back down :)  He brought a brand new Suzuki DRZ400 with electric start. I rode my Yamaha TTR250. We made an all day ride up over Tincup Pass into St. Elmo, then North on the Poplar Gulch trail (single track), eventually returning on a dirt rode over Cottonwood Pass.
Me and Steve spent the next 3 days riding our dirt bikes all over the mountains. What a great time we had. Friday 7-28-00 here are pictured Steve and Lisa Asbury and my wife Debi as we had stopped to rest as we were riding some back roads to show the girls the old gold mining community of St. Elmo via Cottonwood Pass and Buena Vista. Steve and Lisa road my Suzuki DRZ400S and Me and Deb road the Beemer. The scenery was outstanding, we got rained on a little bit but it was no big deal. That skinny seat on my Suzuki went right up Steve's ass and gave him a severe case of monkey butt !!!!
If you go to Colorado---find a road to the old Gold Mining community of St. Elmo. There are no paved roads to get there, but the roads are no problem even for a car. It is a town lost in time--still the look of the 1800's. Humming birds, squirrels and chipmunks were everywhere. Here Debi is feeding the chipmunks. They would crawl all over you if you let them--just don't try to pick them up. Look how full their jaws are from storing the sun flower seeds.


         The following is very detailed text of our next 3 days of trailriding in the mountains, after some more of my friends showed up.      

Saturday 7-29-00

                Up very early---cause we were breaking up camp and going to Taylor Park Trading Post, as Gary Elliot, DJ Peleaz and Rick Horton were due in. Steve and Lisa were all prepared to go home as Steve had to be at work Monday. Me and Steve pulled up to the Nugget Café and lo and behold the guys had just arrived and had ordered breakfast, so we all joined in on a good breakfast.

                After all the talking of how great the riding was going to be today, Steve couldn’t stand it and decided to ride with us for one more day, then Debi would go home with them as she was very homesick. Us guys all headed out trail riding on timberline trail which was my idea, cause it wasn’t very far away and Steve could bail out early if he needed to. Well that was a huge mistake on my part, as I was the one who had to bail. The riding was the most difficult I had rode in my life and after a few miles my body just gave out to the point where I couldn’t even ride my bike. Just sitting on it was a great effort. We were still in some nasty terrain---the rocks and hills were extremely difficult even if you felt well. Everybody had went on ahead except Steve who stood by me and helped me get out of the bad section and on to a dirt road. The simplest maneuver on the bike was a major effort for me and I couldn’t ride any faster than 1st gear. There were times when I would just step off of my bike and lay on the ground on my back My body had just given up. I didn’t feel really bad----just no energy at all. I decided the next day that my body just bonked. I couldn’t figure it out as I was drinking plenty fluids and ate plenty. Steve thought I had altitude sickness, because we climbed up in the mountains so fast--but I had done that before with no problems.

                Back at camp I just collapsed---took a shower—could barely eat and went to bed. I told the guys I couldn’t ride the next day and was worried that something was wrong with me and we would have to go home or worse yet, to the hospital.

                Debi and Lisa had a nice day riding the mopeds to Almont and back. It rained on them several times, but they made it OK. It usually rains here several times a day, but only for a few minutes usually and then it moves on. Really unpredictable weather here in the Colorado mountains.

                When me and Steve got back, Steve and Lisa were getting ready to go home taking Debi with them. Debi wanted to go home, but at the same time didn’t want to leave me. I really didn’t care if she went but told her finally that I wanted her to stay as I would miss her very much. So she stayed and Steve and Lisa drove off. Debi watched as her last chance to leave this hell hole vanished over Cottonwood Pass. We both were worried about my health too, as I wasn’t feeling any better. So I definitely went to bed early and got a good nights sleep. Debi took oh so good care of me as she always does!! I managed to put down a little chile---so I hoped I would feel better in the morning.


Sunday 7-30-00

                I was up early in the morning as usual, but we had work to do as the guys were going to have to get out of the log cabin they had rented and move to another one and I was going to have to move the camper to the new cabin also. I was feeling better and everyone was concerned about me and we all agreed that I should rest today. Well after moving around a little bit and eating a little breakfast and watching the guys getting ready to go riding----I just couldn’t stand it and decided to go riding. We were going to ride to the top of Mount Antero which is about 14,200ft. high. I decided against my better judgement to take my new DRZ400S which had too tall of gearing, stock jetting and was a little heavy. I new the bike was going to get me into trouble, because I have always preferred light dirt bikes. Well luckily this selection worked out very well as the suspension was very soft in the rocks and the extra horsepower made the climb up Mount Antero fun instead of a big workout. I was tickled to death to make it all the way to the top of the mountain, because last year my old XR250 just didn’t have the power and I had to ride Ricks WR400 to the top. So at the top we just relaxed at the view and had a snack. It was kind of weird up there because it is usually very cold and very windy. It was about 68 degrees and absolutely no wind. As we started down the winds picked up, the temperature started dropping quite a bit and there was the occasional sprinkle of rain.

                We went down the mountain as we had come up and when we hit St. Elmo again we headed for Hancock pass then on up to the old Alpine Railroad tunnel which Gary had never seen. Down the old railroad bed we went, then went up to Napolean Pass. Rick and DJ went on up a very steep hill while me and Gary watched.  I crashed pretty hard going up a very rocky section and sprained both thumbs pretty good, but I picked myself up and went on. Now we were going to take Gary over what me, DJ and Rick called the “Goat Trail”. The most scary and treacherous trail in the Rocky Mountains. Oh so we thought. Gary rode right on the goat trail with not much of a comment. He did slip his rear tire off of the trail once which could have been disastrous. If the other wheel had went over he probably would have lost the bike and maybe himself!!!!!! So now were on Cumberland Pass and I had just went on reserve. We played around there a little and then headed on a trail that we never had been on. I was leading and started down a very steep hill of loose shale and rock. As it got steeper and more treacherous I said to myself “you can’t ride up this dude”. Sure enough it was a dead end and all of us had went down to it. I was the worse rider of the bunch and I really thought to myself that I couldn’t climb back up the hill. Rick and Gary went right up it and DJ spun out---almost throwing his bike over the edge and falling hard on his hip. He was OK but hurting badly. I didn’t even make it as far as he did and we both didn’t know how we were going to get us and the bikes up the hill. After some careful planning and helping each other out a lot we finally pushed, shoved and rode the bikes back up the hill, but were totally exhausted at the 12,000 ft. altitude. It was late and rain was moving in again, so we new we had better head back to the cabin and camper on a trail that we new. Twoof us were on reserve now and we had about 20 miles to ride yet, and it looked like we were definitely going to get wet!!!!

                Well we made it back to the cabin without further incident. DJ’s bike kinda limped in as he had damaged his throttle somehow in the crash, but it worked good enough to get him back---so we would work on it in the morning. Debi was worried about me, as we had arrived so late and I had been so sick the previous day. The poor girl had read books all day in the camper where it was very cold. She was afraid to run the furnace (we had to run the furnace here everyday---sometimes in the daytime) and run the battery down in the camper. Poor girl!!!!

                So we fixed some more homemade chili and shot the bull a little before bedtime. Then Debi was reading and I was on the computer when this big glass plate on the stove just blew up!!! It was so weird---nothing there was hot, the hole plate just blew up in a jillion pieces and we worked an hour trying to clean up the mess. We couldn’t figure out what caused it---really weird!!!!  Aliens--the altitude ????

                My sprained thumbs are pretty weak---I don’t know if I can ride tomorrow. We’ll just have to see!! But right now we are cozied up in the camper and nice and warm and snuggled in our beds.

                Debi  !!!!  I love you!!!!!!!


Monday 7-31-00

                Everybody’s up early again getting ready for another day of trail riding. DJ kicked his bike for over a ½ hr. trying to get it started. I was going to aggravate him and hit the electric start on my bike and zoom away—but thought better of it as he looked like he might be a little pissed. We finally got out after breakfast and headed to Taylor Pass and Debi was going to Gunnison to do some shopping and pick up supplies and gifts. We put in a hard, long ride today---about 120 miles. Everything  went very well and was enjoyable except when Gary crashed very hard and fast---- hitting a tree with his body and almost breaking his arm. No real harm done, just a sore shoulder in the end.

                We rode all the way to Crested Butte and had the best taco’s we had ever had in a local bar and grill. We used Gary’s free cell phone while there and called several people. This was a very uppity town I thought, and I was thinking the police would catch sight of us dirty--dirt bikers and run us out of town. The weather has been really good every day—but today was the best---hardly a cloud in the sky all day long. Gary, Rick and DJ rode trail 411 late in the day------this was a trail that I had several people tell me to not even try it as it was a extremely rough trail only for the most experienced rider. They went through it but wished they hadn’t----oh well, they could say “been there done that--but never again”!!!! I had ridden the DRZ400S all day again and it performed very well.

                Back at the cabin we had pizza and ate until we were stuffed. It was very warm in the cabin, and that was putting everybody to sleep—not that we needed any help. Everybody would sleep good tonight. I told everybody that I had probably rode my last day on the dirt bike today and would probably be pulling out tomorrow, as me and Debi were going to do some more backroading on the Beemer. All the other guys talked of an easy day of riding tomorrow or maybe even resting all day. But I bet that won’t happen---they won’t be able to go a day without riding. We had rode all the most difficult trails that are out here in the last few days—I think they had taken a toll on our bodies. I found out when I got home, that they had, had enough of a good thing and headed home anyway.

                Well me and Deb are ready for bed. Deb is not feeling very well so I gave her a rub and back scratch and that put her out.

Well here are all of us offroaders together---That is our dirt bike club flag--"The King City Dirt Riders". Left to right: D.J. Palez (Yamaha WR400), Rick Horton (Yamaha WR400), Gary Elliot (Suzuki DR350), Steve Asbury (Suzuki DRZ400E), and me, Mark Sampson (Yamaha TTR250 and Suzuki DRZ400S). We are all from Mt. Vernon, Illinois and have rode together for years. Colorado is the best riding any of us had ever experienced. 
8-1-00 Me and Deb left Taylor Park early and hauled the camper West of Gunnison and camped beside a beautiful lake. We unloaded the Beemer and took off a little before noon for Lake City, Colorado. We arrived in this quaint little town and were lucky to rent this little log cabin for the night. We tooled all over this town and had fun with the locals and listened attentively to their stories about the huge bear that was visiting the towns dump everyday. It was the talk of the town and something was going to have to be done with the bear before there was an incident and they had to kill it. We loved this town so much we vowed to come back.
8-2-00  After breakfast my plan was to ride the Southern portion of the Alpine Loop over Cinnamon Pass then down into Silverton, Colorado. This was a rough one lane dirt, rock and gravel road with some of the best Colorado scenery we had ever seen. Debi was scared to death on this rode. But me (an avid offroader) was having the time of my life. It was a little treacherous at times considering we were 2-up with gear on the Beemer. The bike performed flawlessly the whole trip. The bike was totally stock and ran just fine at the high altitudes. I did have a one tooth smaller countershaft sprocket on---which I really could have done without.
On the West side of Cinnamon Pass we were coming down the mountain and came upon the Old Gold Mine of Animas Forks. I had heard so much about this place as a lot of the old mines and building were still intact for our exploring. The Colorado 300 trailride came right thru here a couple of days later, and when we got home we were watching TV and there was Dave Despain at Animas Forks (he was riding his dirt bike on the ride and commutating) telling everybody you better watch out, because the eco freaks were trying to keep everybody out of these mountains.
We finally headed South into Silverton. Here is the Durango Silverton train coming in from Durango. What a magnificent sight!!! We didn't ride on the train but will when we come back. It is a narrow gauge railroad only 3 ft. wide. They made it this narrow so it would be cheaper to build on the side of the mountains. There are 4 trains running daily---cost for a ride on the train, about $50, worth the money I bet. I've heard it's a scary ride for the faint of heart (my wife). 
As a pipefitter and boiler man--I marveled at this rolling boiler for over an hour while Debi shopped for what nots around town. What a piece of machinery. I loved inhaling the smoke from the coal boiler. I was amazed at the power the locomotive had---when it was coming in, the engineer almost overshot his stopping point and the engine spun its wheels in reverse--amazing!!! Well---I had seen that as a kid on the show "Casey Jones". Boy I just told my age there !!!

Well after a soda we headed North on the “Million Dollar Highway” to Ouray. A paved highway can’t get any better than this. There weren’t just switchbacks—there were double switchbacks----15mph. And the scenery----well I hate to repeat myself!!!!!! Finally the high mountain rode descended down “Red Top Mountain” into the little village of Ouray. A beautiful tourist trap if I must say. Debi shopped some more while I fell asleep on a bench in front of one of the shops. It was guite warm here and we headed North to Montrose where the thermometer read 100 degrees---then down the road 101 degrees. It didn’t seem anywhere near that hot to me because of the very low humidity---and I kept all of my full protection riding gear on. Boy you couldn't do that in Southern Illinois in mid-summer.. We had went from near freezing temps in the morning to over 100 degrees in the afternoon------that’s Colorado for you. We stopped and ate and got some liquid refreshments---I pulled over fearing Debi might me getting near heat exhaustion again!! West on Rt. 50 towards our campsite West of Gunnison it seemed we were going to run into a terrible thunderstorm. I never thought we would make it to the camper before the storm, and it looked really severe!!!!. Out here you can see so far and I had trouble judging distances. What seemed a couple of miles away was actually 20. We made it to the camper, got unloaded and put everything away. Just as I got my bike covered up the storm hit and I had fun watching it move over the mountains at us. The wind blew so hard it rocked the camper badly but it was no big deal. Debi was totally worn out from the days ride. While she was taking a shower I made her bed for her and she went quickly to sleep and snored and snored and snored!!!!!

                Tomorrow morning we would load the Beemer up and head for home. Debi is wanting to be home so badly---I think she wishes she could click her heels together and instantly be there. Me-----I will be sad as I watch the mountains disappear in my rear view mirror tomorrow. The combination of the mountains, the scenery, the altitude and weather has been such a great experience------one I will never forget. I guess I have been really on a “Rocky Mountain High”-----in Colorado.