Monday, October 15, 2012

Finding Snow on Jones Pass Road

The weather guessers were predicting snow on the Continental Divide this past Saturday, 13OCT12, a byproduct of a storm system that was moving through Colorado last night.  This of course meant a ride out on Valencia, my 2011 Ural Patrol Sidecar Rig to see how much snow we could find!

I left the house shortly after 7:30AM and after a short stop in Morrison, I continued on CO93 until it junctions with US40.  I took this nice and sparsely used two lane paved road, which parallels the frantic traffic on I-70, all the way to where it joins up with US6 from Golden.  From there, one must dash briefly on I-70 westbound for about four miles, reaching the town of Idaho Springs.

I stayed on the slab however and soon I was exiting at the Dumont exit, picking up frontage/county roads again paralleling I-70.  Soon I reached the Easter Seal Campsite and turned onto the highway overpass, crossing over I-70 and turning back for a mile or so till I could get on the road to the town of Empire, CO.

This road is again, US40 and if you stay on it long enough, you'll get to the ski resorts at Winterpark and further on, the towns of Granby and Grand Lake and even further on, the ski resort of Steamboat Springs.  I however, was not going nowhere near those resorts.  I cruised through the small town of Empire, home of the original "Hard Rock Cafe", and headed away from it as snow started falling in earnest.

Though it was snowing steadily, it wasn't sticking to the pavement (much) and traffic was moving along just fine.  The air temperature of course had dropped into the low 30s at the altitude I was now at and it would reach a low of 28°F.  You can bet my heated grips were turned on!

The road leading to the parking area for Jones Pass Road was mostly covered with snow, perhaps an inch deep or so.  It would get uniformly covered before I left the parking area and started up the road.  There were tire tracks in the snow, which I followed as I could see the dirt under the snow in spots.  Valencia's tires were gripping the snow just fine, just had to keep a steady throttle, avoid sudden bursts of speed and a steady hand on the handlebars.

After about 1500 meters or so, I came upon the second hairpin, finding a couple of trucks sitting there, watching me approach.  They waved from inside their cabs, I nodded my head and started powering into the hairpin so as to not lose momentum.

It was then that I noticed two things:  1.  No more tire tracks, it was virgin snow in front of me leading up the steep road.  2.  The sidecar wheel was dragging the rig over to the right and towards the embankment!  I managed to correct for the first slide, but as I tried to power up the slope, got dragged back towards the embankment and I stopped, with the sidecar lodged against the embankment and the tug at an unhealthy angle.

I got off the tug, pulled in the clutch lever and the rig coasted down a bit, and off the embankment, back onto the flat part of the road.  I got Valencia pointed straight again, jumped back onto the tug, engaged the 2WD lever and slowly motored up the slow.  I wonder what the cagers must have been thinking when they saw me gain ground with seemingly no effort!  :)

This was the first time I'd used the 2WD feature on Valencia, you're not supposed to use it on pavement, just on loose stuff; which the snow certainly qualified as.  I continued motoring up Jones Pass Road, going slowly and steadily upwards.  I would go perhaps another kilometer, and lost finally lost momentum two hairpin turns later, getting bogged down and smelling clutch smoke.

I backed down the slope a little bit and got Valencia to a good spot to let the engine cool.

 Above and below, the furthest point I got on Jones Pass Road

 Views of Jones Pass Road, you'll note the snow is not 
too deep.

 The view of the valley below, obscured by the snow
 Valencia, parked where I saw the cagers in their trucks.

Exiting the Jones Pass Road, I went past the Urad Cleanup area and noted the road is now barred to the public, there was even a security guard in a truck nearby.

Since I was so close, once I got back to US40 I turned north on it and headed for Berthoud Pass.  The snow was still falling lightly and the roads had some snow accumulation but still not bad if you're on three wheels.

The weather guessers were right, snow on the Continental Divide!

I headed back down towards Empire, feeling the temperatures rise as I lost altitude.  I refueled in Georgetown and then rode Valencia over to Georgetown Lake to pose her by the lake.

Georgetown Lake

Leaving the Georgetown Lake area using frontage roads, I headed east, paralleling I-70 once again.  I got to Idaho Springs and the weather had turned warm and sunny, at least for a little bit.  I stopped Valencia near the site of the status of Steve Canyon, a cartoon of the 1940s.

I left Idaho Springs and using the super slab took the exit for the Central City Parkway.  This parkway, was built by its namesake solely as a method to get folks to come to the gambling towns of Central City and Black Hawk.  The trick though was this parkway took you to Central City, whereas CO119, previously the only way to get to Black Hawk and Central City, had been seen as "siphoning" gamblers from Central City since it came to Black Hawk first you see.  The bright lights of the casinos in Black Hawk lured the tourists and gamblers and apparently Central City only got the leftovers!

I got to the town of Central City and slowly cruised through the town, heading upwards to its outlying buildings.  I spotted this dirt road leading off to along the hillsides overlooking the town and this is where Valencia and I headed.

The trail was a bit rocky but not too bad I thought at the time.  I could see the town far below, as I continued skirting the side of the hills.  The trail started getting a bit narrow but I still wasn't too concerned as it wasn't too steep yet.  All good things come to an end though, the trail suddenly narrowed a lot and I was brought to a sudden stop by this sight:

Way too narrow for the rig!
That and a cliff off to the right....

I got the rig turned around on the narrow trail using a set of maneuvers that reminded me of that scene in one of the Mike Myers spy spoof movies where he's turning an electric cargo cart around in a narrow hallway.

I got headed back the way I had come only to have one more unpleasant surprise, the road was sloped/cambered towards the edge of the cliffside!  There were spots where I had to slowly ride, with my body hanging as far over the sidecar as I could because the sidecar was higher than the tug.  A very uneasy feeling, let me tell you!

Still, a few scary moments later, I was back on the flatter portion of the trail and I got back into the town limits with no issues.  I spotted no cars parked in front of the Central City Opera House and so it was another good picture opportunity.

The Central City Opera House

I left Central City headed towards CO119, which took me through the town of Black Hawk as well.  Once headed East on CO119, it was twists and turns all the way back towards Golden.  Traffic was moderate headed back to Golden, pretty heavy going the other way towards the gambling towns.

The rest of the ride was under light rain, using just back roads, taking me through the Denver Metro Area via Hampden Road, aka US285.  I was home just before 2:30 PM, about 270 Kilometers or 162 miles.  I stayed pretty warm throughout the ride, though I must remember winter boots next time.


SonjaM said...

Knowing that there would be mentioning and pictures of snow I prepared myself by reading your post while covered in my blanky and holding a cuppa tea. Not ready for winter just yet.
Valencia looks might pretty in the snow.

redlegsrides said...

Hi Sonja, Valencia does stand out in the snow doesn't she? Is it an indicator, that I prefer snowy weather, to nice weather...of ongoing psychological issues on my part?