Sunday, June 07, 2009

Georgetown, CO and The Guanella Pass Road

Though the weather forecast called for only 30% chance of precipitation with a high of 70°F today. The skies looked clear enough in the morning for me to try for a "then and now" shot of Georgetown, CO.

Georgetown is located along I-70 a few miles west of Idaho Springs. I made my way to Georgetown using the I-225/25 slabs to get to westbound I-70. Again, I exited at the US40 junction and used this more sedate road to enter the mountains of the Front Range.

Once past Genesee, I elected to stay on I-70 westbound and not take the Floyd Hill turnoff to get back onto US40. Traffic was medium heavy at most and the weather was sunny though temperatures were "brisk".

I arrived at the turnoff for Empire, CO and decided to check out Old Georgetown Road out of Empire. This road starts off as Main Street in Empire. Before I turned onto it though, I stopped to pose Brigitta at the original "Hard Rock Cafe". Apparently the chain of similarly named cafes
owned by movie stars tried to sue them over the use of the name and got laughed out of court. You see, this cafe has been around way before those movie stars were anything but wannabe actors.

The very first Hard Rock Cafe

Picture taken, I turned onto Main Street and headed south out of the town of Empire. This turned out to be a road I had been down before on Maria, my 2004 R1150RT. It was during my passbagging efforts, and I'd ended up before stopped before a rock strewn narrow pass known as Empire Pass where I dropped Maria while trying to turn her around. Here's a link to that sorry day: LINK.

I parked Brigitta on the side of the trail, walked up to the pass and took the following shots:

The view from Empire Pass

I carefully backed Brigitta back down the hill using the engine off, transmission in gear, clutch lever as brake method and successfully got her turned around. I rode off down the rocky trail back towards Empire. From Empire I took the I-70 route to Georgetown, about three miles away. I exited at the second Georgetown exit and followed the signs towards the "Old Town". I saw and followed the signs for the Georgetown Loop Railroad and parked near the historical marker to show you a picture of the trestle bridge which is still in operation.

The Georgetown Loop Circa 1884
go to DPL: Call# CHS.J4060

Georgetown Loop Circa 1884
go to DPL: Call# WHJ-1084

The Georgetown Loop Trestle Bridge

Click to photo to read the plaque

I rode back into town, past the unseeing local yokels who apparently have a habit of just stepping off into the street without looking, and found the road to Guanella Pass by the simple expedient of heading west across the town until I saw the signs.

It's this same dirt/gravel road which takes one above the town of Georgetown and after some searching, I carefully maneuvered Brigitta onto the only really clear spot I could find to take these pictures:

Georgetown Circa 1880
go to DPL: Call #X-1325
Note the lack of trees, all chopped down for building and burning!

Georgetown circa 1930
go to DPL: Call# x-1012

Georgetown, 2009

Turns out, had I just gone on through the next hairpin turn, there was a nice open spot for the same pictures! So if you're going to try the shot above, just go to the first hairpin.

I kept going up towards Guanella Pass. The road is rock strewn, full of potholes, loose gravel, some big dips and runoff-created channels as well. Brigitta did fine though there were moments I briefly hesitated. There was road construction as well which resulted in my waiting along with a line of cagers for our turn to go down two sections of "one lane roads". So, if you don't fancy dirt riding, and trust me I was wishing for a GS on some of the spots, wait till they finish construction in the Fall of 2010. The construction they're doing seemed more like destruction to me but what do I know. I noted that some of the more "lower slung" cars were having more
difficulty than I at negotiating the road conditions.

Really, besides the few moments were I could not avoid muddy looking gravelly areas, it was fine on Brigitta. I even did some standing on the pegs to traverse some of the more "gnarly" areas.

So, once I cleared the construction zone, the road got much better, go figure! Now it was just packed dirt with small loose gravel and some washboarded spots. I made good time all the way to the top of Guanella Pass. It's summit is at 11,669 ft and the road itself is 24 miles long,
with Georgetown at the north end and Grant at the south end.

The view when I first arrived, heavily overcast, I hung around for perhaps 30 minutes hoping for a break in the cloud to let in some sunlight. The sharp edged ridge is Sawtooth Ridge.

While I waited, it snowed, no stick but still....

This was the best of several pano shots I took while I had some sunlight, that's Mt Bierstadt on the right, Sawtooth Ridge in the middle and I think Mt Evans further back.

The requisite photo at the Pass Marker

Weather conditions I faced on the way down

I rode down towards Grant, CO. Road conditions were about the same as the top of the pass. Packed dirt, washboard sections and loose gravel with the occasional exposed boulder one avoided easily. Though I was keeping speeds up to about 25mph on the road, I had to move over and let cagers careen on by at faster speeds. So beware of the cagers on this road.

I got down to lower elevations where the road is briefly paved for a few miles, this was when it started snowing on me again though it still did not stick to the road surface. Temperatures were in the 40s so I was not worried.

The last few miles before you intersect with the US285 highway at Grant are packed dirt again but no big deal. If you're wanting to go up to Guanella Pass, and you've only a street motorcycle, I recommend you start from Grant and make your way up, much better road conditions! Of course, you'd then have to return by way of Grant if your motorcycle is not up to the conditions near

I cruised on US285 northbound now, watching the skies get more and more cloudy and overcast. Traffic was not bad on US285 and Brigitta ate up the distance to the Denver Metro area with no issues.

US285 by the way, is a very nice motorcycling road. It's four lanes but with sweeping turns that incorporate changing elevations. It's an enjoyable road to ride so long as the traffic is not too heavy. Mind your speed in the construction zones, the Colorado state patrol is always out there it seems.

I briefly stopped at Windy Point to try and capture a sense of the dark clouds I saw hanging over the Denver area:

The rock retaining wall at Windy Point, makes it a memorable curve on US285

"Active and dark looking" cloud formations to my front

I kept going, watching the storm clouds blanketing the horizon to the front of me. I briefly debated donning my rain pants but it never started rained on me, seems I was chasing the storm instead. I got into town, staying on US285 which is also known as Hampden Avenue
within the metro area. The roads were wet as if a recent rain had just gone through. The roads were starting to dry in fact all the way to the junction with I-25.

I took the I-25 slab south towards I-225 and its Parker Road exit. The roads got steadily wetter but still no rain, just road spray. Things got really dark once I was on Parker Road and turned onto Smoky Hill Road. It was as dark as twilight and traffic was heavy with lots of road spray.

I got home and saw the results of what I thought had been the passage of a strong wind storm. Lots of leaves and small branches all over the roads and lawns. I pulled into my cul-de-sac and saw some piles of ice/hale remaining as well. I parked Brigitta and said to my loving wife as I took off my helmet that I must have "just missed a big storm". She informed me that 30
minutes or so prior, there had been a tornado in the Southlands Mall area!

Photo of tornado funnel cloud taken by a neighbor two blocks up from my house!

The mall area is less than five miles away as the crow flies so it was a near miss of sorts for my neighborhood. There were a total of five tornadoes during this same time period here in the state. Very unusual. I lucked out and came back after they were gone.

188 miles and about 5 hours of saddle time, so not a very long ride, but I fortunately missed a quite exciting storm ending!


Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

I have not been c9kmenting recently as I have been on the road. When I finally got back, I had had enough motorcycles for a while. Then my job turned to shit, so I hae had my hands full.

Your blog never disapponts fior dramatic photography. I envy your stamina. I did not miss the parts in this episode where you rode a street bike on a trail to an open spot, took a few pictures, then "duck-walked the bike backweards through the gravel. Well done. Such efforts are physically beyond me.

I also admire your decisions to plow ahead through roads of questionable maintenance. As a rule, I will not ride gravel roads sober (not kidding) nor will I take a chance riding a trail into suspect road conditions.

And you do so on a regular basis just to get great pictures. You are becoming my unsung hero. You are the BMW uber rider who raises the bar for himself and the machine every day. There should be an award for this.

Did you get an invitation to the Contributor's Dinner for the BMW MOA Rally in Tennessee? I got mine yesterday, and have accepted. If you chose to go, I will be elighted to sit next to you and make cat-calls during the inevitable speeches.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Charlie6 said...

Thanks Jack for your rather effusive praise. I am far from the uber rider you describe, more like a guy who really should know better but overrides his common sense of which he apparently has very little.

I did stop and not try Empire Pass, so perhaps there's hope for would have been a LONG way down the side of the damn mountain.

Yes, I did get an invite though my ability to attend is quite in question. My loving wife has other plans for that time period in July. Damn, it does sound like it would be fun though, sitting next to you, probably ending up in prision due to questionable commentary from unnamed individuals....and the inevitable beer-fueled brawl that followed.

cpa3485 (JIM) said...

This is a great post. Good before and after photographs. That panoramic photo is really nice.
And then there are tornados. When I was 9 yrs old I was very close to a tornado in Topeka Kansas. June 8 is actually the anniversary. Scared the crap out of me and we had to move out of our home for 10 days while it was repaired. No one hurt in our family thankfully, but a 6 year old boy was killed by the storm about 100 yards from where we were.
My wife says that one reason that she married me was because I had already lived through a tornado, and she would be safe with me for the rest of her life because of that.
Glad you weren't any closer to it that you were. said...

Redleg, just an FYI, I added you as my Blog Of The Week here...

Feel free to add that Blog Of the Week graphic to your website if you want and link over to my site.

Hands down, you have one of the best moto blogs on the internet. Great ride reports and photos. Keep it up!

Charlie6 said...

Thanks Jim for sharing that tornado story, I sure am glad I was nowhere near the one that hit near here!

Motoblogz, thanks for the publicity on your site! I'll be sure to add your site's logo, good to see someone give some competition.

irondad said...

How do you ever get anywhere on timne with all that dramatic scenery? Awesome photos!

For what it's worth, we had a bona fide tornado here last Thursday. The Weather Service verified 60 to 65 mph winds, which is a class 0. Still, though, it moved a shed 31 feet and they found circular wind marks in the grass.

Charlie6 said...

Irondad, the weather guys yesterday called our tornado an EF1 type....86-110 mph winds. There were reports of hale ranging from pea-sized to baseball-sized, many cars damaged by it at Southlands Mall. At least one car was apparently flipped over by the wind. No one seriously hurt fortunately.