Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Uraling down the Shelf Road on the Gold Belt Scenic Byway

Back in August of 2009, I rode an interesting dirt road that is called Phantom Canyon Road, it was doable but at times challending when on two wheels.  After the ride, while reading up on the area, I found there was another road, called the Shelf Road which went from Cañon City to Cripple Creek, CO.

Shelf Road, carved out of the side of the canyon walls of Four Mile Canyon just north of Cañon City, used to be a stage coach road linking the mining towns in what was called the Gold Belt.  Yesterday, I decided to ride down to Cañon City and ride this road from its southern end to its northen end at Cripple Creek.

I left the house around 08:30 AM and made pretty good time down to Cañon City, getting there just short of 11:00 AM.  The weather was a bit "brisk" in that temperatures were in the teens to mid 20s at best.  Riding behind the big windshield of Natasha, my '96 Ural Sidecar Rig, I kept basically warm but had to engage the heated grips early on!

A view of Pikes Peak from CO83, perhaps 25 miles from the mountain itself

It warmed up into the high 30s and low 40s as I wandered for a bit within Cañon City trying to find the way to Shelf Road; it felt positively balmy!  You have to find the intersection of Central Street and Field Avenue.  Take Field Avenue north out of the city and you're on your way.  You can also visit Red Rock Canyon Park which is along Field Avenue which becomes Road #9.

Pretty soon, you'll see BLM (Bureau of Land Management) signs designating the way and start of the Shelf Road.  Here's some of the pictures I took along the portion of the road which at this point spans Four Mile Canyon; the road is literally carved out of the side of the mountains..

My first view of the Shelf Road

I wasn't making much forward progress, every bend in the road was a photo opportunity!


You can see the Shelf Road, carved out of the mountainside

The road conditions as I transited Four Mile Canyon were pretty good, just hard packed dirt and small rocks and some gravel.  The road descended to a small bridge spanning Four Mile Creek.  There was a sign at this point saying that the road ahead was: "Rough Road, 4WD or vehicles with high clearance recommended" or something along those lines.  Just before I saw the sign, I had been thinking how "smooth" the road had been, this would now change.

As I ascended along the now rougher portion of Shelf Road, I had to keep my speeds down as large rocks which were embedded in the dirt road were causing Natasha to bounce a lot if I went too fast.  Still, the road was not bad for my rig.  It surely was not as bad as some of the spots I'd ridden my two wheel motorcycle through on the Alpine Loop Road in southwestern Colorado!

Still, I definitely had to go slower than when on the 4 Mile Canyon portion of Shelf Road.  There, what had kept my speed down was the fear of losing traction/control on some bend and going off the side of the mountain as there are no guard rails!  Some of the views down into the valley below were slight vertigo-inducing.

The northern half of the Shelf Road is not as dramatically hewn out of the side of mountains as its southern half.  Still, it's quite beautiful with its pine trees clinging to the high canyon walls. 

Window Rock

The shelf road behind Window Rock

There were less photo opportunities on the northern half of the Shelf Road and I was kept busy making sure I had the right gear in place as the sloping/curving road demanded my attention.  Lots of rocks and holes, so while not too bad, it's not a road you want to take a low-slung car through!  There were also more stretches of road where I had to stand on the pegs to take my weight off the motorcycle's suspension.

About 5 miles from Cripple Creek, I stopped Natasha on the road to get this stretch of the road which still had some snow along the sides:

Natasha had been running a bit rough after leaving the bridge crossing Four Mile Creek but I had attributed it to the steep grades and rough road conditions.  As I went to start her, the engine would not catch!  The starter would just turn and turn with no ignition of the engine.

After the initial panic of being out in the middle of nowhere passed.  I started troubleshooting procedures.  I even thought to try and turn her around and use the downward slope of the road to kickstart her.  All I managed to do then is get her rear tire wedged in the small snow bank on the right side of the road!

After verifying I had spark and plenty of juice in the battery, I next verified both carburetors were getting fuel.  So, I had spark, I had fuel, next critical component was air for the air/fuel mixture.  I removed the airbox cover and took out the paper air filter I'd been using for a few weeks.  It was quite dirty and coated in soot and oil!

Leaving the air filter out, I tried the starter and lo and behold she started right up!  The engine had not been getting enough air for the air/fuel mixture!  I had known that the design of the airbox on the Urals left much to be desired and so I carried a spare air filter.

A pickup truck had pulled up at this point and had been looking at me working on the air filter.  No talking, just staring, no offer to help.  The guy just sat there so I ignored him as I replaced the dirty filter with the spare one.  I was blocking the road partly at this point so I was hurrying.  I guess I didn't move fast enough as he decided to edge around me to get by.  The idiot came within three inches or so of the edge of the road, had it given way, he would have plummeted a good 50 feet into the creek bed!

But he made it and without even a backward look, drove away.  I finished buttoning up Natasha and putting away my tools and keep on riding.  I never did catch up to him, perhaps someday he'll be broken down on the side of the road and people will just pass him by without offering to help.

I made it to Cripple Creek just fine, checked in with my loving wife and started heading home.  From Cripple Creek, I got on CO67 heading north till it junctioned with US24 a short ways west of Wood land Park.  Once past Woodland Park, I soon was back in Colorado Springs and after a short sprint on the I-24 super slab northbound, made it back to CO83 via the Interquest Parkway.

Got home right at 4:30 PM, so about 7 hrs of saddle time and roughly 250 miles of riding.  Other than the clogged air filter, Natasha did fine!

Here's a topo map of the Shelf Road and Phantom Canyon Road

source:  LINK

More info on the Shelf Road and The Gold Belt Scenic Byways her and here

My previous ride on Phantom Canyon Road


George F said...

Great write up. All I have to say is how lucky you are to have that kind of country side at your disposal ;-) In NJ we have canyons everywhere but they are made of cement and asphalt :-( and lots of morons on four wheels ;-)
Keep on enjoying as I am reading it.

Richard Machida said...

The "LINK" to the examiner doesn't seem to work...

Charlie6 said...

George F, thanks for reading and your comments....those morons you mention in your steel and concrete canyons have cousins over here.... : )

Richard, thanks for point that out, it's fixed now.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

I followed your instructions and left my first comment on your Examiner site.

As I said before, I can't imagine taking this road in a stage coach. I am less than delighted on paved roads with a negative camber, let alone dirt ones that have a tendency to slide.

Very interesting ride report accompanied by great pictures.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

cpa3485 said...

Nice pictures and report. Looks like a road that might be only fun on 3 wheels. Jealousy settling in again. It is beautiful country up there!

Charlie6 said...

Jack, so glad you follow instructions gratitude is of course unbounded. Thanks for writing in and commenting. I really can't imagine riding a rickety stagecoach of old while peering down into the really close edge of the road and the deep chasms beyond.

CPA3485, thanks for writing in, and I've been reliably informed that guys on Goldwings have traversed this road. I believe I could do it, with some effort, on my R80 beemer as well. It's just easier on three wheels or with offroad skill and confidence on two wheels. I would, on two wheels, not get as close to the edge as I did with three wheels however!

Chris Luhman said...

hmm... I think I should get a spare air filter :)

Charlie6 said...

Chris...NAPA part#7-02204, $6.99, cheap insurance.

Chris Luhman said...