Day 6:
Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway -
Grand Junction - Glenwood Springs

We left Ridgway on Colorado 62 to Placerville, then headed west on Colorado 145 and north on Colorado 141 north to Whitewater and Grand Junction.  This route is known as the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway.  We then continued east on I-70 to Glenwood Springs for the night.  The day's route was 257 miles.

From Ridgway the road climbs through the 8,970 foot Dallas Divide and provides a beautiful view of the San Juan Mountains to the east.  A few miles out of Ridgway a large ranch with a fence that seems to run for miles reportedly belongs to Ralph Lauren.  From Placerville, Colorado 145 heads northwest through the San Miguel Canyon, crosses over the San Miguel River and climbs quickly nearly to the canyon rim.  

After a few miles, the road flattens out and passes through ranching country framed by the Last Dollar Range of the San Juan Mountains in the distance.  After passing through Norwood, population 429, Colorado 145 ends and Colorado 141 heads north.  The next small town is Nucla, population 656.  Nucla was home of the west’s first agricultural commune.  The name is derived from “nucleus”.   

Continuing north through ranch country following the San Miguel River you come to Uravan, population "too small to count".  The mine tailings from Uravan, named for the uranium and vanadium mined there, created the first atomic bomb.  Colorado 141 was reportedly built by the Atomic Energy Commission to provide access to these critical minerals.  There certainly isn't enough population in the area to justify a well-maintained two-lane paved road.   There are no service stations, country stores, 7-11's, or McDonalds for about 100 miles, a fact that was indelibly impressed upon us later.

Just past Uravan we stopped at a pull-off overlooking the Dolores River to view the remains of the hanging flume, a 7-mile wooden flume that delivered 80 million gallons of water a day to the Lone Tree Placer mining site.  We all agreed that the view rivaled the Grand Canyon, although the Grand Canyon dwarfs the Dolores Canyon in magnitude.  

The road follows the Dolores River along the canyon floor, then turns east along West Creek and East Creek.  The canyon becomes very narrow with only room for the creek, the road, and small stands of cottonwood trees.  Red rock formations tower overhead as you ride among the cottonwood trees alongside the clear stream.  The Dolores River Canyon’s steep, red walled S-turns are narrow, and the good road makes for an excellent ride.   

Leaving Dolores Canyon and heading east, Unaweep Canyon is unique, being the only canyon with a divide causing streams to run east and west.  The name "Unaweep" means canyon with two mouths.  After clearing the gorge, you enter Unaweep Seep.  Residing in the nearly one-mile deep Unaweep Canyon, it’s locally known as Swamp Hill.  This unique wet meadow is one of the few habitats for the rare Nokomis Fritillary Butterfly, although we didn't see the first Nokomis Fritillary (not that we would have recognized one if we had run over it!).  Climbing over the Nine Mile Hill to Grand Valley, out the northern entrance of Unaweep Canyon, the formation consists of 1.7 billion year old rock.  As you cross the Gunnison River, Colorado 141 ends at the intersection of U.S. Highway 50.

This was one of the most scenic routes we encountered.  The red rock canyons are a dramatic change from the snow-capped and forested mountains.  Unfortunately, BOTH camera batteries failed early in the day's ride, so pictures of the Unaweep-Tabeguache Scenic Byway are limited.   This wasn't our only crisis of the day.  See the story at the bottom of this page.

We had breakfast in Ridgway at the San Juan Mountain Bakery & Cafe before heading out for the day.  The baked goods were great!  We found the best food in some of the most unlikely places.  Ridgway has a population of 423.


Pat and Judy relax on the veranda after breakfast.


Right and top:  Colorado 145 west of Telluride climbs quickly, providing a dramatic view of the canyon and the San Miguel River.  There are no guardrails and the shoulders are very narrow.  A slight miscue could land you in the San Miguel River over a thousand feet below.  

This is one of the few pictures we have of the red rock mountains along Colorado 145.

Judy and Judy laugh it up early in the morning.   To give you some idea of how narrow the road shoulders were, this was the widest place we found to pull off....... and I'm standing in the road to take this picture.
One lasting memory we have of the Unaweep-Tabguache Scenic Byway is the 44 mile ride from Gateway to Whitewater.  We stopped in Gateway, population maybe 20 at most, only to find that the one gas station on the north portion of Colorado 141 was no longer in business.   "Got tired of staying open just to sell $10 in Pepsi's a day", said the owner who lived out back.  

As we donned rain gear to ward off rain clouds growing more ominous by the minute, Judy asked me how I was on gas.  "Well, when I turn on the ignition, the needle almost moves,"  I said only half jokingly.

Within a mile of Gateway, the low fuel light glowed on my Ultra.  Mentally calculating how far I could go on the 9/10ths of a gallon remaining, there was no way I could make it to Whitewater over 40 miles away with the Harley heavily loaded.  There were no services between Gateway and Whitewater.  For miles and miles there was no sign of human life and there was almost no traffic on the road that day.  

I slowed down, kept the rpm's low and coasted down hills to conserve fuel.  I could tell from the way Pat was riding that his Road King had hit empty also.   My Judy asked how far we could go before we ran out of gas.  I pretended I didn't hear her.  Pat's Judy couldn't see his fuel gauge and was blissfully unaware of the impending crisis.

As we drew closer to Whitewater there were widely scattered ranch houses but no sign of their inhabitants.  I began to look for a place to pull off the road when I ran out of gas.  Unknown to me, Pat was mulling over our options of whether to leave the girls, get gas and return, or whether one of us should go for gas while the other stayed with the girls.   

The bikes kept running as I held my breath and Pat said a prayer.  After what seemed like an eternity we saw signs for U.S. Highway 50 and arrived at the intersection.  There appeared to be a service station a quarter-mile away.  We mentally high-fived our success while laughing and talking giddily about how close we came to running out of gas in the deserted red rock canyon.  

But our hearts sank as we approached the gas station, only to find that the pumps had been taken out and the store was closed. 

Once again we babied the bikes and rode without saying a word toward Grand Junction, an unknown distance away.  Suddenly we topped a hill and there appeared a gas station--with pumps!!  Elation set in once again set in as we coasted up to the pumps.   

We filled both bikes.  Pat's Road King took 4.5 gallons and my Ultra took 4.6 gallons filled on the kickstands.  The tanks hold 5 gallons when filled in an upright and level position.  We had only ounces of fuel left when we coasted into the first gas station in almost a hundred miles!!

The fuel was $2.149 a gallon, the most we paid on the entire trip.  But, we would have happily paid if it had been $5 a gallon, so glad were we to have gas in the tanks again!   What a memorable ride.  Not only for the beautiful scenery, but the memory of coming so close to being stranded in an almost deserted area of Colorado!

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