On a regular basis I think about how lucky I am that my backyard is the Colorado Rockies. After moving here from New England almost 13 years ago, on a bit of a whim; I still discover wonderful adventures that never cease to amaze me.
In my backyard, there is a town called Crystal where the Old Crystal Mill stands. Around since the early 1800’s, at one time almost 400 people lived there. The area once boasted 7 silver mines two newspapers, two hotels, saloons, a billiard parlor, barbershop, and the men’s-only “Crystal Club;” but following the silver crash of 1915 the population dropped to 8!
The Old Crystal Mill is reported to be one of the most photographed places in Colorado and has an almost mythological status. So after years of hearing about it, I decided it was time to finally see it for myself. I paired up with my friend Jordan and a plan was set.
With me on my 1200 GS Adventure and Jordan on his g 650 x Country, we met up at Turkey Creek not far from Colorado’s famous Red Rocks Park. We head out of Denver on US 285’s twisty tarmac; a weekend favorite of Colorado Riders. The first stop is Kenosha Pass, surrounded by Pike National Forest. The passes flat top offers great panoramic views of South Park, just outside the town of Fairplay and yep, that South Park.
In Buena Vista we grab a quick bite at Casa Del Sol and then head off to Cottonwood Pass; a beautiful mixture of dirt and paved switchbacks that you can really dig your tires into. After a brief rest at Taylor Reservoir we seek out a short cut courtesy of an old farm road over to Crested Butte. A quick stop in town for fuel and we were headed towards the town of Gothic; the town of Gothic actually houses a Biological Laboratory founded in 1928. An interesting place that advises that we stay on the main road and that we not disturb the work that is going on; we find humor in the dichotomy of the ominous signage in such a beautiful setting.
We transcend the rocky trail up towards Schofield pass, traversing various animals, and ice, we were excited about conquering our “would be” third mountain pass of the day. What we did not expect was the 6 plus feet of snow awaiting us at the top of the pass; and this was the end of June! We had no choice but to turn around and find an alternative route.
Later we learn that Schofield Pass is considered the most deadly pass in Colorado, with usually at least one fatality a year. Knowledge we did not pickup from our maps or GPS. Did we learn from what we “learned?” hard to say really, we plan to return soon weather permitting. We head back to Crested Butte and chose the much simpler, but quite picturesque ride over Kebler pass. It is a beautiful road of packed dirt, lush trees and mountain peak views. In the fall this is a very popular road for watching the golden Aspens, but today it is only the cattle that keep our speeds honest.
That night we headed to Redstone, which is easy to find, marked by the historic, coke ovens as you enter town. We joined the incredibly friendly locals at the Crystal Club Café to listen to the amazing slide guitar player Kraig Kenning in from Chicago. Redstone was developed by the turn-of-the-century industrialist John Cleveland Osgood whose coal empire spurred construction of the Crystal River Railroad and Redstone’s historic dwellings; including the Cleveholm Manor,” the opulent 42-room Tudor-style mansion now commonly referred to as “the Redstone Castle” for his second wife, Swedish Countess Alma Regina Shelgrem. Alma was known among the coal workers and their families as “Lady Bountiful” for her legendary generosity.
After a great nights sleep under the stars, I squeeze in an early morning hike with a fresh cup of coffee, thanks to my JetBoil coffee press. I return to camp to report that we were about 1 mile from the loop that would take us to the Crystal Mill, and it was only eight miles long. I figured we could knock out the loop by lunch and be on our way.
Eight miles, however, resulted in about 4 hours of some of the most technical riding we had ever done on any machine. The mill can only be described in pictures and the ride itself can only be believed once ridden. It is incredibly technical with lots of rocks, steep drop offs and water crossings. We learned, that the “Old Mill at Crystal”, itself, was never actually a mill, but in fact was once a power generating station used to process ore.
On the return side we are greeted with a sign warning us of the dangers of the trail ahead. We figured it could not be tougher than what he had just done and decided to continue on; we were not entirely correct in this assumption, but with the exception of a flat tire on Jordan’s Cross Country, we made it through unscathed.
Adding to our pride a life-long jeep tour guide, who passed us in the opposite direction earlier, stopped me just to tell us he couldn’t believe I had actually made it around on such a big machine, referring to the fully loaded GS.
When we return to Marble, I can’t help but feel a little bad for the numerous “bikers” who have gathered at a local barbecue for lunch and I think back on my “Cruiser” Days. This clearly being their final destination with no hope of going where we just came from. I smile as I dismount my mud-covered bike, and think of the many years it took me to get to this place, both literally and spiritually. Never once regretting giving up my Cruisers for the absolute freedom to discover ALL that Colorado has to offer thanks to the GS!
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