Real close to Rockies: Canon City, CO

Sunday June 28, 2009, 62 miles (100 km) – Total so far: 2,389 miles (3,845 km)

We only had 50 miles or so to ride today, so we took our time, but were still on the road by 6:30.  After a while, you just get used to the early morning schedule.  We cruised (really, almost coasted the first three miles) to downtown Pueblo, through some nice, older neighborhoods.  You know how rare that is any more?  It seems like most older neighborhoods are getting run down as people try to move out, but the north side of Pueblo seems to be an exception.  We crossed the a good-sized railroad yard and Arkansas River, which was flowing nicely under the new bridge (who wants to look at a bridge under construction?), turned west, and ran into a closed city park and zoo.  Well.  After a few mis-starts, I carried my bike over the one-way curbs, while Virginia rolled hers under the gate.  There were quite a few walkers and joggers, so I think whomever was opening the park started at the west side and was working his way east.

A few more miles and we got a good view of the river.  It had a pretty good flow, a lot more that what we saw downstream at Larned.  I suspect a fair fraction of the water is siphoned off for agriculture and what-have-you between here and there.  But that always leaves me wondering, what would the natural flow of the river look like?  Guess I’ll never know.

Arkansas River near Pueblo, CO

There’s this odd-looking geological thing we had to climb next.  I think some people call it a hill.  I seem to remember seeing something like this, a long time ago in a county far, far away, but I think there was more green stuff on it then.  Actually, there is a dam forming Lake Pueblo just north of these.

What's this? a hill??

From there we had a few hills, with a little bit of traffic, until we were almost out of Pueblo County.  I made it to within 100 yards of the county line before I was forced into my granny gear, so the grades were pretty modest.  The peaks to the south of us were quite visible – they’re small ones, only 7,000 feet or so.  We had nice views of Pike’s Peak to the north, and you could clearly see the preponderance of snow on the west side.  We did, the camera didn’t.  And if that wasn’t enough, my camera battery ran out of juice.  Sigh.

Fremont Peak, only a 7,000 footer

Virginia got her camera out, though.  She was impressed at how deep some of these tiny dribbles of creeks can dig.  The vegetation is typical desert for much of this route.

Vegetation in the hills

Hard for a cow to find enough to eat, but the deer do all right

I was going to mention some prairie dogs yesterday, some of their burrows were so close to the road that the spill from digging them was on the paved shoulder.  No prairie dogs today, although we did see some deer.  One field had a llama in a dominance contest with a donkey – they made some interesting noises!  Also, I notices a fair number of small birds that were road kill the last couple of days.  It seems odd that the scavengers don’t clean up these birds; maybe they’re just too little, and too rare, to make it worthwhile to find and eat.

There’s this wall of a ridge going into Wetmore; we had to climb over 6,000 feet (Pueblo’s at 5,000 or so).  There at Wetmore we left our friend, state route 96, that we’d been on since last Monday at Rush Center, KS.  This is a unique route in my experience, as both Kansas and Colorado call it state route 96.  I refilled my water bottles, and we coasted back down to 5,100 feet elevation in Florence.  On the way we passed the federal pen.  This is a monster of a facility, that includes the maximum security prison that’s reputed to hold the Unabomber, the Oklahoma City bomber, the shoe bomber, and some other really nasty types.

Lest I forget, a few miles out of Wetmore is the site of the original Hardscrabble.  Hardscrabble, CO was a real town in the mid-1800s.  It was a hard life for the residents, who were mostly hoping to find silver or gold veins.  Didn’t much happen, and now its name is a watchword.

From Florence, we turned west toward Canon City.  (It really ought to have a tilde, or they really ought to change the name to Canyon City…)  It’s only about 5,300 feet elevation.  (Grumble, gripe, if we’ve got to climb 1,000 feet, it’d sure be nice if we got to save that for the next day’s ride!)  We paralleled an irrigation channel part of the way.  There was some agriculture, but for the most part it looked like 10 miles of eastern Kentucky – run-down houses, trailers, etc.  I’m not sure if this area is an outskirt of Canon City or Florence.

We made it to Canon City and came to find our motel room wasn’t ready.  OK, check-in is officially 3:00, but (a) they weren’t ready then, either, and (b) we were ready at 1:00.  So we cruised back to downtown, to find the Royal Gorge train depot, and did a spot of grocery shopping, and may have stopped at a Dairy Queen, where a hot fudge sundae may have reached out and grabbed me.  It was good, though!

We’re taking a rest day tomorrow.  This rest day involves sight-seeing and whitewater rafting.  I made the arrangements last night, and this morning Virginia asked, “What is the rating for where we’re rafting tomorrow?”  I told her I thought it was III-V, or maybe V- (it is class III-V-).  I’ve known her for two decades, and I’ve never seen her wake up so fast.  She’d already been downstairs for breakfast, but I thought her eyelids would bruise from slamming open so fast.  So if we’re not exactly resting, maybe we’ll use some different muscles, and still get a good night’s sleep before hitting the passes on Tuesday.

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