Photo Epic: Ross Bell Explores Colorado's Diverse Trails

Mar 26, 2018 at 8:34
by H+I Adventures  



Having never set foot on US soil before, my ‘American Dream’ was, for now, resigned to contemplation of high alpine singletrack, blooming flower meadows, and tall aspen trees. Gliding into land above the glow of downtown Denver late at night did little in the way of realising those dreams, and as we began to snake our way into the mountains in a tired blur of headlights and road signs the reality of my wishes seemed miles away.

Stumbling out of bed with the grace of a gorilla, I had no idea what the time or even the date was… Rubbing at my eyes I was treated to a view across the EWS pits in the heart of the Snowmass Village. After a brief pitstop to catch up with the Yeti crew we fueled up on a breakfast burrito and get stuck into what we had travelled across the Atlantic for; ticking off a bucket list of trails in the state of Colorado. Geared up with our local guide,‘Stucki’, we hit the road in our trusty white van companion. First stop, Fruita.

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

For someone that had never been to the US, let alone Colorado, it's surprising to know that I am intimately acquainted with the Colorado River, having been subject to my intense scrutiny in a geography case study back in high school. For a brief moment as I stared down onto its meanders I felt like I was on a school field trip before snapping to and refocusing my attention back to the red slick rock and sandy rollercoaster ride through the desert. Which, coming from a very wet Scotland, was a whole other ball game.

The trails roll quicker than anything I’ve set my wheels upon before - it's an addictive feeling which causes you to go full bore. The sun was yet to really surface, casting massive shadows on the canyons and overhanging cliffs as we danced in and out of the light and dark. We began to climb again. “This is Dead Cow Canyon” announced Stucki… I asked where the name came from, but admittedly I could probably have worked out the origin of the very literal name for myself. Thankfully, there was no sign of the animal in question. With the Kelvin beginning to spike as the sun sat higher and higher in the sky, the shade of the van and the contents of its cooler begin to lure us home, not before a final Fruita fling on the aptly named ‘more fun' trail. It's one of those trails that leaves your heart racing and you staring open-mouthed back up towards the hill you’ve just left behind… Not allowing the heat soak to take hold we dove into the cool of the air-conditioned van and hit the highway, Crested Butte bound.

The seed for Crested Butte had been planted in my mind for a while, I’d read about the 401 trail whilst flicking through the pages of an mtb magazine, then the town grabbed my attention agaimn when the EWS rolled through a few years ago. A soggy morning let us explore and enjoy the relaxed pace of the old mountain town, sampling the shops and cafes whilst allowing the trails to dry out before an afternoon assault on the 401 trail.

We met up with friend and Yeti ambassador Nichole, her boyfriend Matt (unconfirmed the tallest man in the world), and another Matt - a local guide who knows the hills like the back of his hand. Setting off from the trailhead, we plodded along the valley floor and followed a creak before it gave way to a lake, we then ditch the forest road and hit the singletrack climb. By the time we exited the tree line the clouds had bubbled up and the inevitable raindrops begin to bounce off our helmets. Before long we are engulfed in a deluge. Bombing through the handlebar high meadow flowers you have to trust the trail is somewhere below the streaks of yellow and purple. All the while there's an involuntary and unavoidable fist fight between knuckles and water saturated flower heads that ensured we were soaked to the bone. We had hoped for an epic descent under a fiery sunset, but the storm had quite literally put a dampener on that. Our grins hadn’t been wider all week, it was quite possibly the most memorable few hours I’ve had on a bike! After a waist-deep river crossing, we were back at the van and turning its interior into the world’s worst laundrette before setting our compass for the warmer and drier surroundings of the ‘Secret Stash’ pizzeria in town.

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

Although Crested Butte turned into unintentional gold we were relieved to see blue skies on show over the rolling hills either side of town. On the menu today was ‘Doctor Park’, an EWS stage in years gone by and a favourite of the Colorado locals we were with, a decent pedigree to whet the appetite on! In these parts it doesn’t take long before you feel well and truly in the backcountry. I resisted the temptation to try and stick with the wheels of the residents used to the thin mountain air – my fitness is questionable at sea level let alone at altitude!

Back in the flower meadows, the air is clean and clear after yesterday’s rain. Snow lingers in the hollows of neighbouring mountains which seem to stretch off in every direction. The gradient begins to tail off with the sound of free hubs and motionless legs signalling the start of the downhill. We darted straight as an arrow through the meadow in next to no time, and then found ourselves surrounded by the depths of towering evergreens. The smooth, tacky dirt of the meadows was but a distant memory; rocks and roots were strewn across the floor wherever you looked. Suddenly we were in the white of an aspen grove, a surrounding that perhaps locals take little notice of, but I found the aspens and their eye-like markings a pretty mesmerising place to pass through on two wheels.

Most trails have one flavour, but ‘Doctor Park’ continued to throw up fresh terrain. We found ourselves tentatively releasing brake levers and entering what felt like warp speed as the trail became less technically challenging, but the sheer speed posed enough of a challenge - it would’ve been amazing to see the top EWS racers through here.

Speaking of which, Matt pulls up and points back up to a boulder we’d all slowly rolled off. “At the EWS Richie Rude gapped off that boulder, and landed down there between those two trees." Our chins hit the floor in sickened astonishment as Matt’s finger points to an in-comprehendible distance further down the trail. Somewhat humbled, we continued down the final taste of trail; a gritty, sandy surface littered with rocks and lines. Different line choices left everyone in an excited raucous of shrieks, shouts and high fives. Sadly, that was the last dose of Crested Butte on our trip, a place I could have spent a lot of time in, exploring both the contents of its quaint streets and the trail secrets embedded in her mountains. Crested Butte, I’ll be back.

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

The final stop before we jumped back onto the germ tube across the ocean was another Colorado classic I’d heard plenty chatter about; the infamous ‘Monarch Crest’. The day got off to an easy start, we munched up the vertical ascent on a shuttle with the morning breeze flapping through the windows. We unload bikes and with a ‘thanks’ and a thumbs up, the driver left us to it, the idea of a point to point instead of a loop was quite refreshing. The high mountain air was on the nippy side but things quickly warmed as we settled into the climb. Blue skies with cartoon-like clouds drifted lazily over us. I stopped to take the vista in allowing Euan and Stucki to ride ahead, becoming small specks on a shoestring placed on the side of the hill.

The sky and surroundings seemed bigger than anywhere I’d been before. There was no sign of human existence, and no noise apart from an occasional breeze. It was both romantically lonely and humbling in your insignificance. The first brief section of downhill didn’t exactly sneak up on us, but certainly slapped us in the face with how good it is. Wakey-wakey! Rolling banks and tumbling turns took us into the trees where we had to reign in our excitement and settle into the long game for the rest of the morning. Nosey chipmunks keept a watchful eye from the rocks littering the side of the trail.

The gradient allowed us to make steady and consistent progress towards Poncha Springs, getting served a long and tantalising descent which transported us through the various faces of Colorado; flower meadows; aspen groves; dense pines; gently flowing creaks, all with perfect ribbons of trail flowing through the heart of them. This is mountain biking in its purest and most unspoilt form.

We began to see more signs of human activity, hinting at us nearing our end destination, or so we thought. Euan and I got over excited and tried to rip each other’s legs off on the small descents and subsequently punchy climbs. Stucki the Colorado resident, held back and the tourists soon understood why. After a solid 30 minutes in the red zone, I was burst, slumped over the bars and looking for something to munch on that wasn’t a dry cereal bar. Slowly it began to dawn on me that we were still a fair distance from home. My dead legs scooped at the pedals as I became hangry, a deadly combination of temporary angriness brought on by severe hunger. It’s real and very dangerous! Crawling up the final climb at a snail’s pace I crested and hit the last rocky descent following the other’s tyre tracks, chattering and bouncing between lines trying to find the smoothest line was a seemingly impossible task. My grin returned with a vengeance, dispelling any thoughts of food, for now! I railed a corner to find Euan and Stucki waiting patiently at the road ready to roll back into town. “Did you manage to untangle your dress from your chain then?” I stare back blankly, nearly humoured… Opting instead to initiate a speed tuck drag race back to the van!

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert
A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

A Journey Through Colorado s Trail Diversity - Alpine meadows to red desert

We sauntered into Salida and perched ourselves at a cafe by the cool of the river, restocking and refuelling with our own body weight of tacos and chilli before heading back towards Denver allowing us one final view of this beautiful state and time to process the whirlwind week of unreal riding with great company. Colorado has a massive diversity in its trails that almost feel countries apart; travelling from the high alpine, through the stunning aspen groves and into the red of the desert uncovered a mountain bike paradise so great in depth it’s outrageous! Those high mountains have been calling me back ever since.

Discover more about our Colorado adventure.


MENTIONS: @HI-Adventures / @rossbellphoto




73 Comments

  • + 33
 Seems like on every trail in the world there is at least one turtle head riding a blue yeti with matching helmet, gloves,shirt,shorts,socks and underwear.
  • + 39
 try living and riding in golden colorado haha
  • + 1
 Hahahaha, I can imagine.
  • + 4
 @adrennan: Spot and GG bikes are getting popular in the area, but yeah, tons of Yetis around.
  • + 7
 @adrennan: Confirmed. Nary a ride goes by where I don't get stuck behind a Yeti rider in matching head-to-toe kit. Then again, on about half those rides someone also blows by me looking exactly the same. It seems like every local round these parts save me is a 'factory rider'.
  • + 3
 @sspiff: the yeti factory guys have blown by me going down Apex at lunchtime more than once. They’re everywhere.
  • + 6
 As a resident of Colorado it is just nuts. Yeti makes nice bikes, I like the brand, but there is no way I could ride one and live in here. I love seeing a guy with a Yeti and a full ENVE set up walking a tech feature at a place like Hall Ranch
  • + 3
 @cjgauss: Right? I've spent considerable time in both Santa Cruz and Bellingham and both places you see the brands you might expect more often than usual. Golden and Yeti are a whole different level though.
  • + 1
 @COnovicerider: Got to love Guerrilla Gravity!
  • + 12
 I go every summer to these places he mentioned and it's cheap if you camp like I do. There is free dispersed camping everywhere in CO woth access to all that incredible camping.
  • + 3
 A review of Colorado trails without favorite brewerey/weed shop just feels incomplete IMO.
  • + 13
 No vacancy
  • + 9
 Only problem with CO is, if your traveling from low elevation, the altitude can wind you fast.
  • + 3
 Been going to 8,000' CO for 50 years... and I have always had issues with that altitude. It simply kicks my ass. Love it up there, but it is a huge price to pay when you only get so much time off, and a good portion of your trip is looking for an extra lung.
  • + 4
 @stuaci: ditto, been there a few times and it's frustrating struggling with fitness and headaches.
  • + 0
 just gotta live at 7,200' like we do here in NM!
  • + 5
 Don't think it will help from being winded, but if you get altitude sickness, ask your Dr. about Diamox. If you cant find enough time to acclimate, it can help.
  • + 1
 @dadunc205x: I'll check it out. Thx for the tip.
  • + 4
 Bong hits.
  • + 2
 @Boardlife69: actually pretty tough on the lungs, have you tried smoking your devils lettuce rectally?
  • - 1
 @Boardlife69: Not too many Bikers smoke pot, it is all about Coffee and Beer
  • + 7
 Crested Butte is one of my favorite places, I usually go at least once a year. The camping is great, the riding is unreal, and the scenery is mindblowing
  • + 2
 Bet you'll be going more than once a year from here on out!
  • + 3
 its amazing. just rode there for the first time last year. Doctors Park is an incredible ride. so much fun. we rode the 401 and while it has some incredible views, the trail itself is pretty pedestrian. Ill try something else next time. Teocali Ridge maybe
  • + 1
 @Jaylynx: you know it bud!
  • + 1
 @sooner518: teo ridge is cool but in my opinion not worth the downhill at all unless you get a shuttle to the trail head and get picked up at the end. Trail 403 has some of the best DH in the valley but it is always belittled by 401 for whatever reason, way faster and harder. If you need someone to ride with, hit me up, I live in CB!
  • + 1
 @Acorn22: thanks for the suggestions man. i just saw a video of Tecocali that looked cool but its definitely good to have someone who actually knows give you tips.
im gonna try to get to CB sometime this summer. maybe camp a couple days near Dr Park. ill shoot you a message if i come out there. id love to get a tour of some trails. thanks
  • + 1
 I really enjoyed Teo, but I plan to come back and ride 401 or 403.
  • + 1
 @GTABurnout: 401 has some beautiful views of the mountains, but the actual riding is very XC. just straight, smooth trail, with lots of flowers/plants on either side of the trail. Id definitely recommend Drs Park, especially if you can shuttle the road up to the river crossing.
  • + 7
 i saw a bald eagle at the top of Moore Fun. it was cool. i was hot.
  • + 6
 CO sucks, don't come here.
  • - 2
 You must not be riding the good stuff, cause it's everywhere... Golden, CO has Yeti, Spot, and soon Commencal, Bike Brands don't choose bad trails to place their headquarters near...
What have you been smoking?
  • + 1
 @Coolit12z: It's a joke because of all the people moving here
  • + 1
 @BullMooose: you hit the nail on the head brotha!
  • + 3
 Dead Cow Canyon has got to be on Horsethief Bench. There was a dead cow at the bottom that rotted out like 10 years ago and just stank up the place real bad for a long time. Still think of that every time I ride there haha
  • + 6
 Oh nice, I can only dream, great write up guys.
  • + 1
 Monarch Crest remains my favorite all-time ride. Takes a good part of a day, you see every sort of high country landscape, always get slapped by some sort of weather, and at the end you get a ripping road descent back to town where you can easily hit 50-60 mph
  • + 1
 Agree, and there are so many route options, it never gets old
  • + 4
 CO sucks and is full of hikers, posers, yuppie dentists and newbs. I heard CA, WA, wherever, is awesome tho.
  • + 5
 Thank you for not riding any of the good trails in Crested Butte.
  • + 20
 says a turd from boulder
  • + 8
 Thank you for staying in the Front Range for most of the year.
  • + 4
 @CDunlap and @n3sta you guys just made my day
  • - 1
 I don't know how you fragers do it, nearly every time I've tried biking down there all the trails are full of hikers, dog walkers, green poop bags on the trail, and team YETI. It's like trying to ride a ski resort on a holiday weekend when they report two inches and everyone calls it a powder day.... annoyingly crowded.
  • + 2
 @Kitejumping: Go at odd times of the day on weekdays, since boulder is filled with people who exercise, the trails get flooded during the weekend.
Hope this helps.
  • + 2
 @Kitejumping: I agree, but this is where the jobs are so...
  • + 1
 @BullMooose: if jeffco got on it and built specific use directional trails it wouldn't be an issue.
  • + 2
 @Kitejumping: how about directional on odd days only?? forget which direction, though, it'll just make ya mad. in your analogy, you forgot to mention waiting in the middle of the trail and right behind features!
  • + 3
 Having moved from Boulder to Seattle a few years ago for work, I miss riding in CO.
  • + 1
 I hear the riding is great in Seattle too. Or should I leave it out of my planned US epic?
  • + 3
 But you didn't ride Trinidad?
  • + 3
 I'd love to go ride there. Is it crazy expensive?
  • + 3
 At all! Most trails are free to ride (or donations pay what you can) & like @profro mentioned free camping if you are ready to drive around a little. That said, I did have my own car & I didn't go alone which can bring the cost down a little. All and all, CO is totally a MTB trip destination for sure!
  • + 26
 @mrtoodles
Depends how much weed you buy.
  • + 0
 I need at least enough to make me forget I'm in Colorado.
  • + 1
 Not expensive unless you need to buy something or need some kind of service. But if you do, and you are stuck in a resort town you're gonna pay 4x more than you should. Camping and beautiful scenery are about the only "free" things in this state.
  • + 3
 Total Colorado boner from these pics- beautiful!
  • + 4
 And given those are 14,000 feet tall that's no mean feat.
  • + 1
 Just moved from Salida days ago. I’ll miss having the crest and others in my backyard good write up!
  • + 3
 What oxygen?
  • + 3
 Beautiful pics!!
  • + 2
 Wow stunning photos Ross! Love it!
  • + 1
 Incredible Images! O how I miss the red rock...
  • + 3
 OMG, more photo epics!
  • + 2
 Oh I miss you Colorado.
  • + 0
 This was epic, need to get back to Colorado someday, one of the few places in America that rivals the great white north.
  • + 1
 Awesome pics keep em coming
  • - 3
 Don't believe the hype. Colorado is over rated! Scenery is meh at best and everyone rides a Yeti for Strava PR's on every ride. Altitude is too high to breathe comfortably and there are too many rocks and roots. Grand Junction is too hot...never ride there unless you literally want to melt. Monarch Crest is too long of a ride and Crested Butte is just a bunch of hippies with expensive bikes and really difficult trails. Utah and Arizona are really where its at!!
  • + 2
 What he said. Stay away
  • + 1
 Lol I guess people didn't get the joke
  • + 1
 Matt! (high five)
  • + 1
 #BucketList

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