It was 79 degrees under a clear sky when we pulled out of the Microtel, drove around the west side of town and turned west on US 50. I reflected that if we stayed on this road, it would become the loneliest highway in America. The first stretch was dead flat. Then the terrain started to undulate and we encountered some hills and gulches, with larger contours in the distance. After a stop in Cañon City, we passed the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility and started up.
A few miles up the road, I realized that we were about to come to the Royal Gorge Bridge Park. My research had been poor because this route was a last minute choice, but I had heard of Royal Gorge so we changed our plans and drove in the four winding miles to the Visitor Center.
The Royal Gorge Bridge is over 1,200 feet long and stands 956 feet above the Arkansas River. The sheer gorge sides are granite and gneiss and resist erosion other than the direct action of the river, which carves away one foot every 2,500 years. The bridge was built over seven months back in 1929 to capitalize on a very popular tourist area. There is a historic railway line running through the bottom of the gorge.
What I didn't know was that a wildfire in June 2013 destroyed 48 of 52 buildings, although the bridge was spared. The owners immediately started rebuilding and, while the incline railway to the bottom has not been reconstructed (yet), the work that has been done in three short years is amazing. The park reopened one year after the fire. It was obviously not a government project.
We took the gondola across the chasm. I don't think the zip line back across will be in the cards anytime soon. The SkyCoaster, like the Wonderland Sky Flyer, swings the riders out over the gorge. I don't like that ride when it is just above ground, much less over a quarter mile of nothing but air. We looked out from Point Sublime and watched a 17 minute video on the original park, the fire and the reconstruction.
Getting back to US 50, we were faced with a choice. It was noon and the path through Wolf Creek Pass was out. I asked the GPS for a direct route to Taos gave me two choices. It told me we could go via Pueblo (226 miles but quicker) or Poncha Springs (224 miles but longer time). We had already seen the flatland towards Pueblo, so we opted to continue west. That was an excellent choice. The highway descended into a big valley and then entered Bighorn Sheep Canyon. The next fifty miles was the only stretch where I really regretted not having a motorcycle. There were no high spots, just mostly level sweeping curves of varying radii running parallel to the Arkansas River.
We reached Salida feeling very relaxed. For the last hour we had no one ahead of us and no one behind us as we followed the curves along the Arkansas River. We stopped at a busy McDonald's to get some food to go. A very pretty young lady informed me that the place was pronounced Sal-EYE-da. Good to know.
A few miles further on in Poncha Springs, we turned south on US 285. Just as we were leaving town, a northbound vehicle threw a rock that cracked our windshield. It was starred, so I'm not sure if repair will be possible. My insurance company stopped offering windshield coverage decades ago so, whatever the fix is, it will come out of my pocket.
We were at 7,500 foot elevation in Poncha, so I was surprised when US 285 started up a long, steep grade. We kept going up until we crested Poncha Pass at 9,010. It only descended a little bit and then we found ourselves driving down a huge valley at 8,000 feet above sea level.
We left US 285 to take a shortcut on Colorado 17 to Alamosa, where we would rejoin it. There were two stretches of road construction. In the first one, they had dropped asphalt and spread it with a grader. We compressed it as we drove over it. Strange. The second one, they had the proper equipment and we didn't get our tires messed up.
There were large storm cells brewing to the west and squalls apparent to the east. Looking at the ground, we could tell serious rainstorms were few and far between.
In Alamosa, we reconnected with US 285 and continued south.
As we got further out in the high country, we could see rain activity to the east but not much looked like it was getting to the ground. Utemike taught me years ago that rain that evaporates before it reaches the ground is called virga. Sandy did see a bolt of lightning and I could hear thunder when I stopped to clean the windshield.
A few raindrops did fall as we made a left turn off US 285 onto US 64, the same road we ride in North Carolina. There was a strange tree at the intersection, but we think it was a cell tower.
The last stretch was quiet. We were almost the only vehicle. I saw some strange cows that Sherm later told me were "brangus". Half Brahma and half black Angus. That looked about right. We drove across the bridge over the Rio Grande Gorge just outside Taos and then we were there. We pulled into Kachina Lodge, our home for the next five nights, at 4:23 PM.
Sherm, our roommate, was already checked in and had solved issues with a refrigerator, coffee machine and towels. It is a large room in a nice building but the management and staff need a little coaching. The WiFi was poor but Miguel, who handles the IT, got it rebooted and working. We moved our gear in while greeting a few of the early arrivals.
There was some confusion about where we were going to have supper. Someone said we were walking to The Burger Stand at the Taos Ale House next door to the Kachina. Sherm and we four Canucks (Us and Dave and Romy from Alberta) walked over and then got a text saying no, the group was walking to The Gorge Bar and Grill. We looked at the map and decided that, while we could walk the six blocks to The Gorge, walking back might be a problem. I got the Equinox and the five of us drove down.
I will give The Gorge their just due. They set up a long table for twenty of us and one server handled all the orders. The portions were generous and the food was good and came quickly. Kayla made an exception to split our bill, which they normally don't do for parties over ten. I helped sort out who got what and I think we left good tips. Thumbs up for The Gorge.
After supper the five of us (Romy, Dave, Sherm, Sandy and I) drove to WalMart. I got underwear, socks, a belt and some travel supplies. Everyone loaded up and we returned to the hotel. This was the first day of summer and a full moon to boot. The rest were meeting outside but we turned in early.