Dual Sport in Southwest Colorado

For our trip this year we decided to make it a dual-sport trip in Southwest Colorado. Steve and I had traveled down the Million-Dollar Highway in the summer of 1995, and fell in love with the area. We thought if we ever had the opportunity we should come back to this area and ride the trails.

Map east of Ouray.(798k)

Map south and east of Ouray.(1.11MB)

Map south and west of Ouray & Telluride area.(1.16MB)


Getting our Bikes and Getting to Colorado:

We knew Mike and his Dad would probably be up for this type of trip as well, and it only took about one minute to convince Mike and his Dad to go. We started looking for bikes to purchase late last year, and by April we all had purchased our steeds. Steve was the first to find his. He and Mike traveled to the Knoxville area to pick up his Yamaha XT350. I had located a Suzuki DR350, but at the last minute I made an offer I didn't think would fly on a Kawasaki KLX650 and the guy bit on it. The three of us went to Clarksville TN to pick up my bike. Mike and his Dad bought both of their bikes from the same person. A Yamaha XT225, and a Yamaha XT350 respectively. Some debate ensued over the following months as to which bike would perform the best. Mike graciously offered the use of his pick-up truck with a camper attached, and his Dad had a spacious trailer that would get all of our bikes there along with his Venture for an extended ride after our week long vacation (it must be nice to be retired).

We set out on Friday afternoon at around 4:30. Ironman Mike drove the first three tanks full of gas. During his second tank somewhere in Missouri we had our first setback; a flat tire on the trailer. Fortunately we had a spare and the lost time was held to a minimum. At the start of his third and final tank, Steve yelled from the back to stop. After turning onto the ramp we discovered the door to the camper had not been properly shut, wedged against one of the bikes, and crumpled up. Eliminating the door we now had just a screen door. Once in Kansas and into the daylight we stopped at Lakin on U.S. 50 to get gas. Just down the road there was a tire store where stopped to have the spare replaced. There we lost the screen door in a similar episode; now there was no door on the camper at all. The rest of trip across U.S. 50 was uneventful, we arrived in Ouray 28 hours after we had left.

Our Campsite

Now the good stuff!

Day One of Riding (Sunday):

We had purchased many maps and videos instructing where the best rides were so we had a pretty good idea where to begin. After a big breakfast we headed down U.S. 550 ( Million Dollar Highway) to the entrance of the Alpine Loop. This trail would take us up onto of Engineer Mountain and down Engineer Pass. Going up Engineer Mt. Steve experienced a front flat tire. We had forgotten the fix-a-flat at camp so we flagged down a passing rider who had some extra. The tire was quickly fixed and we rode on. Engineer Pass was rated moderate to difficult but we had no problem getting up and down. Mike and Steve had noticed a significant loss of performance with their bikes at this high altitude. Even with the loss of performance they still were riding with vigor. We all had some experience with riding in the dirt. Steve had the least while Mike and his Dad were quite proficient with a great deal of experience on trials bikes. We rode the Loop to lake City for Lunch a local café. While eating lunch it began to rain. Leaving Lake City we continued on the Loop over Cinnamon Pass. Once on top of Cinnamon Pass we stopped for a break. There we found a challenging hill to climb that was relatively steep, and we all made it up with varying degrees of success. Cinnamon Pass was also rated moderate to difficult, and again we were not terribly challenged. The view on all the mountain peaks was particularly spectacular. We continued to run across a number of jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles. Occasionally we ran into other motorcyclists, but we were far outnumbered. When we cam upon a four wheeled vehicle we flew by with ease. The only difficulty we had was with the big multi-passenger tour vehicles. These guys had no intention of getting out of our way, and made passing as difficult as they could. Down the backside of Cinnamon Pass we came into the ghost town of Animas forks. There is a collection of old buildings, mostly in support of the abandon mine there. In Animas Forks I made a mistake by listening to some cage driver who steered us in the wrong direction (probably on purpose). We ended up going down Colorado 110 into Silverton. We had to stop there to try some local brew. After that, we headed back up U.S. 550 and to the KOA (our campsite) in Ouray. We were done for the day.

Engineer Pass

Steve on Engineer Mountain

Animas Forks

Cinnamon Pass

Top of the Cinnamon Pass Hill

Steve on the Cinnamon Pass Hill

Day Two of Riding (Monday):

In an attempt to catch what we missed by my misguided directions we went back to the same area. This time we rode further down U.S. 550 and entered the trail system at Corkscrew Gulch. It had rained most of the night and the trip up Corkscrew was more difficult than going up Engineer Pass. This particular stretch highlighted mine and Steve's poor decision on tire selection (OK… my decision). We had purchased Metzler 50-50 rear tires, and they did not perform well in mud. Nevertheless we made it up the Gulch which placed us on Hurricane Pass. Going down Hurricane Pass we rode through sections of snow where the clearing for the trail left 15-foot banks on either side. We had our sights set on Poughkeepsie Gulch once we were on top of Hurricane Pass. Once again we missed our tun off and wound up going across California Gulch. Going down Hurricane Pass Ralph found a patch of snow he tried to traverse; he did not make it. It was this kind of abandon that kept us all amazed at Ralph's vehemence at age 64. California Gulch put us back into the ghost town of Animas Forks. Once there we turned north and headed back over Engineer Pass. As headed back towards Lake City we took a couple of side trips. First up Matterhorn Creek trail where we rode through a fantastic grove of Aspen trees. This was a fairly short trail but had some good water crossings. Next we rode Nellie Creek just east of the Matterhorn Creek trail. This was a really nice trail, lots of whoop-de-dews, and great scenery. We also ran across a couple of great water crossings. We all enjoyed this trail a great deal. As we raced towards Lake City we ran into heavy rain once again. After lunch at a different spot, we headed back towards California Gulch and were determined to hit Poughkeepsie Gulch again. Before we got there we took a little detour across Picayne Gulch and up Placer Gulch. Placer had some open range on it where a herd of sheep was grazing. Turning left on California Gulch we climbed back up Hurricane Pass. But once again we missed Poughkeepsie Gulch, Imagine how we felt missing it again for the second that day. Back down Corkscrew Gulch we were nearing the end of the day. After we went back to camp for awhile we decided to check out the hot springs in town. It was just what the doctor ordered. The 105o F water temperature erased all of the cold accumulated from a day's riding in the rain.

Mike on top of Red Mountain #1 at the head of Corkscrew Gulch

Hurricane Pass

Snow near California Pass

Ralph doesn't make it

California Pass

Picayne Gulch

On Nellie Creek Trail

Water crossing on Nellie Creek Trail


Day Three of Riding (Tuesday):

After our normal stop at our breakfast café we initiated our run at the most difficult of all trails; Black Bear Pass. We rode U.S.550 up on top of Red Mountain Pass and turned west on the trail. Getting to the top of Black Bear Mountain proved easy enough, we began to chuckle to ourselves thinking how could this be rated difficult? Going down Black Bear Pass was not as easy, loose rock and steep cliffs taxed our abilities. My bike was geared too high for this portion of the trail, and I had to slide down the cliffs with my back brake locked. All this was peanuts compared to what we were in store for. At the very top of the falls, as we looked down at the town of Telluride spread out majestically before us we saw an extremely narrow path down to the main falls. This path was as wide as a jeep with a cliff that had a shear drop off to the left, and a rock wall to the right. Needless to say we hugged the wall. What made it difficult was on the right side of the path were steps in the rock approximately four feet in height. These steps lasted for about 1000 yards. If your throttle stuck or you fell to the left you were gone. Once at Bridal Veil Falls we wound down into the town of Telluride. We ate lunch there at a trendy spot called Smuggler's Brew Pub. Good food, good brew. Halfway through town we turned north and got onto the trail taking us up to Imogene Pass. At 13,509 feet elevation Imogene was the highest peak we would climb. Going down Imogene Pass had us thirsting to reverse direction and go back up. The Yankee Boy Basin and Sneffels Creek trail beckoned us. Yankee Boy was no easy trail either. There were several routes up the Mountain, and of course we took the most difficult. It was rather difficult to get to the top. As the skies looked about to open up we thought we should start to head back. Obviously we did not make it, going back into Ouray on Colorado 361 we got drenched. That night we spent some time in the hot tub at the campground. This day's ride was the best of the trip.

Our breakfast spot

Black Bear Pass

Another on Black Bear Pass

Coming down Black bear at the falls

Getting ready to go down the falls

Looking down at Telluride from Black Bear

Bridal Veil falls

Steve at the falls

Imogene Pass

A common occurance; working on a Yamaha

Mike goes down

Strategy on Imogene Pass

Water crossing on Imogene

Yankee Boy Basin


Day Four of Riding (Wednesday):

We were not sure what we wanted to ride today, we had found what looked to be an open trail called Richmond creek. This trail would have dumped us back onto Imogene Trail but the trail was not maintained and was not passable. Our backup plan had us headed back down U.S. 550 to the entrance of Black Bear. On the east side of the road opposite Black Bear is Big Horn Gulch. We took off on this trail. It was not at all difficult, but the scenery was nice. We caught a good view of Black Bear Trail on the adjacent mountain. Once through Big Horn and through Browns Gulch we were dumped back onto to U.S. 550. We decided to run on the Ophir Pass. I had experienced a flat the day before, and thought the tire was fixed. After beginning down the Ophir Trail I went through a whole can of Fix-A-Flat. I decided then that I needed to head back into town. I went as fast as I could but only made it to the outskirts of town. While I waited, Steve went back to camp to get another can. We ended up riding to Ridgeway where there was a motorcycle shop. The owner of the shop was a guy named Chuck who participates in the Pike's Peak Run every year and does very well (he finished second this year). Mike and Ralph had found this shop the day before when they were looking for new jets for Mike's carburetor. Chuck put a new tube on front tire while Ralph and Mike rode Governor's Basin Trail. It sounded like Steve and I really missed out on a good ride. That we went into town for dinner and some souvenir shopping.

Mike riding really off road on Big Horn Gulch View of Black Bear from Big Horn Gulch

Day Five of Riding (Thursday):

Chuck had told us there were some great trails west of Ridgeway in the Umcompahgre National Forest. We found Last Dollar Road like we were told, and began to look for trails off of that road. We did not find anything that great but there were a few trails to ride. Most of the trails were in heavy trees, and made the going difficult with my bike, and tire combination. We went back into Ridgeway for lunch, and to get some more information from Chuck. There we discovered Mike had hurt his leg two days earlier without telling any of us, and it was beginning to bother him. We stopped at a local medical clinic for it to be x-rayed. Fortunately there were no broken bones. Mike headed back to camp to rest while the rest of us went back to find some more trails. We did find a series of trails that looked to be used by quadrunners. Nothing much to speak of here. It was getting late some we hustled back to camp.

Umcompahgre Forest

Day Six of Riding (Friday):

Our last of riding before we have to leave. After all of attempts to find Poughkeepsie Gulch we were determined to find it today. Steve stayed back at camp while the rest of us tried the trail. Getting to Poughkeepsie proved pretty easy after all. A quick jump onto the Alpine Loop towards Engineer Pass , and there was the sign, it did exist! I don't know how the hell we missed it. Poughkeepsie Gulch is known for its 3000 yard patch of loose rocks that would be better described as small boulders. Ralph and Mike were in the front, and I brought up the rear. My first attempt stalled after about 100 yards. My bike was geared too high, and it really showed here. To ascend up Poughkeepsie you need to be able to ride slow and have a great deal of available torque at all times. While Mike and Ralph kept chugging up the hill I tried it another time but to no avail. Then I saw an alternate path and thought I could bypass the rocks. This little trial was also difficult but not as difficult as the main trail. I got up even with Mike about 2000 yards up but the trail I was on dead ended. I yelled for them to go on, and went back down to try one last time. This time I didn't make it as far as I had the second time so I turned and went back. Back in camp I gathered up Steve for a ride to either Four Corners or at least Durango . We started out but a nasty looking storm was brewing to the south so we grabbed a bar stool in Ouray. Mike and Ralph told us of there experience on Poughkeepsie and made me quite jealous that I could not make it. When they got to the end of the rocks they were confronted with the "Wall". After several tries they both were able to make it to the top. Triumphant, they rode back to camp. That night we packed our things for an early morning departure.

Poughkeepsie Gulch My ill fated trail

Trip home:

Ralph stayed to ride his Venture in Colorado for a time so the three of us drove back with fewer incidences than on the way there.


The debate on the right bike will last for probably some time. I think if I had it to do over again I would buy a dirt type bike and bolt a license plate to it. I saw a number of Honda XRs, and Kawasaki DXs that were not perfectly street legal, but out there the police don't seem to hassle them. If I had to take my bike out again I would have a 13 tooth counter shaft sprocket rather than the standard 15 tooth. I tried to make this change at Chuck's shop but he did not have one. The jetting on the Yamahas were somewhat suspect. Mike had to drop three sizes to find the perfect mixture of gas and air. While Steve and Ralph's bikes went unmodified the Kawasaki with its vacuum diaphragm carburetor performed the best. A good map is essential in Colorado, and while we had several maps it was still difficult at times to navigate to the best places. I would also stick with an 80%-20% (dirt-street) tire. What performance you lose on the street is well made up for on the dirt. The one area where we were covered was clothing. This is one area that translates back to street riding very well. We all had some sort of riding suit and would have mighty cold without them.

Email me Ken Adams


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