The bonus of going back was not only time but discovering a new road (to me anyway) in the US-285 south of Fairplay. Unlike crossing South Park, this stretch is more like mountain riding. No huge climbs and passes, but just a nice meandering twist through the mountains, not challenging at all, finally dropping into Buena Vista after reconnecting with US-24. Beautiful country, like so much is around here.
My next stop was the ghost town of St. Elmo, high in the Collegiate Range, then the Tincup Pass beyond. There are a couple ways to get there from Byunie (as the locals call Buena Vista), the easy way to explain is south on 285 to another ghost town named Nathrop, then west on CR-162, aka Chalk Creek Drive. But the other way, which I found in my ATV explorations years ago, was to take CR-321 to Chalk Creek, which is far more entertaining, but harder to find. Break out your GPS for a treat.
Actually don’t. Not if you’re averse to gravel and high grades. All of this riding was leading up to an extended trip up Chalk Creek Drive to St Elmo, mostly in the dirt. See, before, I’d stopped my hauler partway up Chalk Creek, and taken off down a dirt trail to the top of the very impressive Mt. Antero, while this time I was just continuing on. As far as gravel roads go, it’s not too bad; fairly solid footing with hard pack underneath. But a mistake will take you and your bike into Chalk Creek with a long wait for another driver to see you.
Sometimes it pays to get dirty in Colorado.
The Cross Roads handled the climb with ease, its very mellow powerband made it easy to keep the machine planted and chugging up the steep grade. If you’re expecting some sort of “wow” moment at the end of this climb, you’d be disappointed. St Elmo is just a run down old mining camp, with about half of the buildings uninhabited. There’s a store (offering ATV rentals) and a few houses. If you (like me) have your heart set of crossing the pass… well, lets just say you’ll be needing one of those ATVs. Tincup pass is not a gravel road, or even a fire road, it’s a trail, meaning small 4WD vehicles and dirtbikes, not 850 pound tourers. After a brief rest stop I had to turn back for a second time.
This was all fine, as the trip up on gravel ate up a bunch more time, and the shadows were getting long. As a person who has never seen well at night, most twisting Colorado highways are petrifying to me in the full dark, so I got a move on back. But that didn’t mean no more fun stuff.
I descended the Chalk Creek and on to Salida in plenty of time to take a blast down US-50 alongside the Arkansas River. This is one of my favorite kinds of road: Twisting and technical, but with good sightlines from corner to corner, and gorgeous scenery throughout. From there, I ended up back in Cañon City, but one last notable thing happened on CO-115 on the road into Colorado Springs, as the sky lit up as a glorious sunset and a double rainbow formed to my right. Perfect timing both for avoiding a night ride on potentially hazardous roads, as well as pure beauty.
Ca�on City’s Skyline Drive