Having moved from Alaska to Colorado, I had dreamed of longer and more frequent bike rides. The tiny town of Ridgway, where my new home sits, is an old ranching and mining community of about 800 people. The town has changed considerably in the past few years, becoming a Mecca for mountain climbers, skiers, fishermen: my kind of folks. The old mining town of Ouray sits nine miles to the south in the narrowing canyons; Durango is about a hundred miles up the “Million Dollar Highway” and over three 11,000’ passes. Challenging roads with no shoulders provide training rides for bike riders a third my age. Speaking of Challenges, the first leg of the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, 683 miles over 7 days, started in Durango and went to Telluride.
Nori recommended we ride mountain bikes from her house in Ridgway, down Ouray County Road (CR) 5, turn up CR 24 and see the countryside from the back roads. Except for the main State Highway (SH) 550 going to Ouray, and SH 62, a two-laner heading to Telluride and points west, all the roads are dirt, and the traffic is light. Outside of town, much of the land is grassy ranchland. It’s a perfect setting for a leisurely bike ride.
Heading down the main drag we passed the True Grit Cafe the first “True Grit” movie starring John Wayne, Kim Darby, and Glen Campbell was filmed right here in Ridgway. Pictures of John Wayne pop up in the cafes and saloons around the county. Then we turn the corner and pedal up the hill past the Colorado Boy brewery, the home of award winning beer and finest pizza anywhere. Across the street is the Billings Artworks of Ridgway where the Emmy Awards are individually handmade and plated. Then up the street past “Kates”, the best breakfast in the county…maybe anywhere. Every meal is great: Ricotta & Lemon pancakes, grits with white cheddar cheese, huevos rancheros….I’m drooling already.
After dropping north down CR 5, past a beautiful old white ranch house, we headed up the hills alongside the creek, and turned north onto CR 25.
The red sandstone cliffs on the north side of the road end on the great mesa of Log Hill, dotted with stunning homes and a golf course.
As we rode uphill for the next two hours, we passed a variety of homes and country estates. Green fields, old cottonwood trees, firs, and juniper lined the road.
After a few miles we passed a fascinating house: it was built into the ground with large banks of windows facing the south. “Whose place is that?” I asked Nori. “Dennis Weaver’s house”, she replied. He was Chester of Gunsmoke in the TV series and McCloud, the New York cowboy lawman. Dennis Weaver was an early environmentalist and humanitarian. His name is famous in these parts and his wife and sons still live here.
I rubbernecked at the scenery looking for birds and wildlife. A few years ago a friend and I spotted a bobcat feeding on a deer carcass in a field below the bluff. Today I’m seeing a lot of cattle. Angus seems to have taken over the country. When I was a kid I could see a variety of cattle in the fields: Holstein, Guernsey, Jersey, Hereford. One ranch does have Texas Longhorns. What’s with this mono-culture of today? One species of wheat, corn, potatoes… And, there are some strange creatures in the fields: a herd of about 30 yaks next to my new house. My friend Peter has a Bactrian camel, a cow, two llamas, and a goat that all hang around together.
But I digress… Up the road on the south side is Ralph Lauren’s ranch, the Double RL Ranch. Its 16,000 acres stretches across the highway to the south. You can see all about it with Oprah on the internet. Apparently he still rides around in an old blue Jeep.
We pedal uphill for miles. It never seems to let up, however the grade is not too steep, just continuous. I have a one-speed 29” bike, not too fast, but a ton of fun. Now to the north is Charlie Ergen’s Telluray Ranch. Charlie owns Dish network, if I remember correctly. I think I have a “Dish” dish on the house I’m buying.
Anyway, it’s beautiful country. The green grass is at its height, and several tractors and mowers are cutting the hay and bailing it for the winter.
As we make uphill progress, Nori asks where all the cattle are then answers her own question: Probably still in the high country she says. Just then a caravan of cattle trucks heads down the road in our direction kicking up a cloud of dust. We pull off to the side of the road to let them all pass by. Hunting season has started, and no self-respecting rancher would leave his cattle in the high country while the entire state plus most of Texas is carrying rifles and trying to shoot a deer or an elk. When I was a kid in Utah, there were billboards with a picture of a cow and a picture of a deer, both labeled so ‘Foreigners’ (Texans) would know the difference.
As CR 24 intersects with the highway, the sun is now high, sweat has soaked my cycling clothes, and our legs seem to know it is time to turn around. We still have an hour to get home. The view back is different but even more inspiring.
To the south the 14,150’ Mount Sneffles and the San Juan mountains line up along the horizon. To the east, the direction we are now heading, the Cimmaron range with Chimney Peak and the Citadel cover the skyline. I stop often for pictures, but wonder why. This is now my home, and I don’t need to capture it all in a camera. I can come back tomorrow.