Monday, June 15, 2009

A Ride through Phantom Canyon

I was heading back east on US50 this past Saturday, having ridden Cañon City's Main Street and its nearby Skyline Drive, heading home. However I spied a sign pointing to the left with the name: "Phantom Canyon". Well, you know that got my attention!

I saw that it was part of CO67, a road which I was partly familiar where it wends its way north of Woodland Park towards the Deckers area and the South Platte River. A quick look at my maps confirmed this stretch of it linked US50 with US24 eventually. So I figured it was probably a much more scenic route to take northwards than the CO115 to I-25 Super Slab I had used to get to Cañon City.

Well, it all started well enough, nice and twisty paved road towards ever taller rocky canyon walls. Soon though I saw a sign that said: "Pavement Ends in a half mile". Doh! In the hopes that it was just a few miles of packed dirt with small gravel as it transited Phantom Canyon, I traveled onwards.

The first tunnel I came to on Phantom Canyon Road, it's known as the Lower Tunnel. The tunnels are narrow and felt low in terms of ceiling. Trains went through them in the past though so it was just probably my imagination as I rode in the tunnel's dark interior.

Same tunnel circa 1923
go to DPL: Call# OP-11591

Tunnel #2, known as the Upper Tunnel

I called this stretch of the road the Palisades

The picture above does not do the scene justice, the rock formations stretched to the mountain in the background, giving the impression of a city of rocky spires and rock formations.

The narrowest point in the road that I remember, I doubt two motorcycles could go across at the same time, much less two cars!

The same narrow cut in the rocks, circa 1893
Courtesy DPL: Call# z-5658

A little bit of history for you:
The Phantom Canyon road follows the route of the Florence & Cripple Creek Railroad built in 1894 as a connection from Florence to the goldfields of Cripple Creek and Victor.

The rightmost route or Phantom Canyon Road is the route I rode, click on the map above to go to the interactive map for more pictures of the Shelf and Phantom Canyon Roads. I'll someday go back to ride the Shelf Road also. Here's a link to Ken Bingenheim's site where a guy on a Goldwing rode it, can't be that bad a road eh? LINK

Why did they call it the Shelf Road? From the goldbeltbyway site:
The lower half of the road near Cañon City is literally carved out of the sheer canyon wall, thus the name ‘Shelf.”

The above wood plank surfaced steel bridge, renovated a few times by now I am sure, still stands.

Over 24 miles of dirt road later, I learned several things:

1. The road I was on, had apparently been roughly paved years ago. I saw evidence of pavement anyways. Except for the curvy parts though, I was able to maintain pretty good speeds. I used the "if the front wheel is getting squiggly, slow down" method of judging speed. I wonder, now that I know this used to be a railway bed, was I seeing the remnants of that? Interesting.

2. Lots of camping sites along the rocky canyon walls. I saw several tent sites along Eight Mile Creek which flows through most of Phantom Canyon. Large stretches of the canyon are in public lands, at least per the signs I kept passing. I also kept passing small wooden signs with what appear to be town names. I am assuming they mark the locations of old mining settlements, now long gone as I saw no evidence of man's work near the signs themselves.

3. To give you an idea of how "doable" this dirt road was. I managed speeds up to 36mph in some of the latter stretches when I realized I was running late for home. Heck, I even caught up with a cager and passed him! I've never been fast enough to do that on a dirt road before.

4. This is a very narrow canyon road at points, you have to be careful going around the blind curves. I surprised several cagers going the other way but no close calls. I even took to beeping my horn briefly on the more extreme turns.

5. This is not the road to take if you're in a hurry to get from US50 to US24! Phantom Canyon is one long canyon!

I finally got to Victor, CO around 4:30 PM, way behind schedule. A quick call to home to check in and I headed still northwards on CO67 away from Victor.

I had to stop before making any real progress though, I was struck by this awesome view of Pikes Peak as you exit northwards from Victor:

Pikes Peak

I donned my weatherproof jacket liner at this point as things were feeling a bit chilly since Victor is located at close to 10,000. I could also see dark storm clouds off in the distance, right about where I wanted to go.

I got to Woodland Park around 5:00PM or so I think. The skies were overcast over this city but there was a break in the clouds through which the sun illuminated Pikes Peak. Even running behind schedule, I had to stop and take these pictures of this gorgeous mountain.

I fueled up at the usual gas station in Woodland Park and got serious about riding homewards. The road from Woodland Park to Colorado Springs is US24 and it takes some rather enjoyable tight turns with changing elevations. Since you're on a highway, you also get to do these turns at pretty good speeds!

Soon enough, I was in Colorado Springs and it began to rain on me. The rain would occur on and off all the way to Denver. Joy. Traffic on the I-25 Super Slab wasn't too bad. I was able to keep up with traffic on Brigitta, my 1987 R80 just fine, she runs well at 5500 RPM's!

I zoomed by Castle Rock and finally got to the I-25 and E-470 interchange around 6:15PM. I stopped briefly on the side of the highway near some construction to check in with my wife since I was running so late. We decided I'd meet her and my sons at the Southlands Mall Movie Complex to take in "A Night at the Museum, Battle of the Smithsonian". It was a nice end to a long day of riding through quite varied terrain.


cpa3485 (JIM) said...

What a beautiful looking ride and wnderful pictures. You must have really been in the boonies so to speak. The before pictures really asses to the post.

Rob said...

I moved from Denver to New York a few years back. Wow do I miss the riding out west. You Posting brought back some great memories. Keep it coming and Thanks...

cpa3485 (JIM) said...

Sorry Charlie, it should read "adds to the post". The wordfill feature on the blackberry sometimes does some strange things.

Charlie6 said...

Jim, no worries, I knew what you meant....thanks for your kind commentary.

Rob, glad I could help bring back some good memories...and thanks for writing in.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Since my map of Colorado was handy, I openen it up to trace your route. I use the 2009 Roaf Atlas from American Map, and it clearly showed that the road you were on was largely unpaved, from an area just above Canon City. My first guess would have been 20 miles of unpved road.

Better yiou than me.

Naturally you had a real adventure, where I had to full in my gaps by humming. The pictures were great and the tunnels were amazing. But you and Conc have inspired me. I am going to do a "Bridges and Tunnels" Post following the Key West Format.

Fondest regards,
Jack "r" (Toad)
Twisted Roads