Colorado Rocky Mountain Bonanza

Bagging passes in Southwestern Colorado

By Lee Klancher, Photography by Lee Klancher

After breakfast, we were back on the pass trail. Our goal that day was Engineer Pass, which has a fairly rough and rocky approach. The trail up to Engineer is breathtaking, winding along an open mountain valley speckled with flowers and granite. On a glorious sunny day, the pine-scented mountain air was so crisp and cool I wanted to bottle it-and take that bottle home to Austin for a sip or two during the dog days of August.

The road from Engineer Pass over to Cinnamon Pass is easily one of the most dramatic in the lower 48. The high pass is well above treeline, and the mountains are coated with a calico blend of green and tan grasses and sand. The entire area is ringed with granite peaks, and the effect is otherworldly.

The pass is also open enough that the height is tangible. Riding a little piece of trail that leads up from Engineer Pass, in fact, gave me vertigo-heightening the sense that I was in a foreign land.

We wound our way past four-wheel-drive trucks and sheep over to Cinnamon Pass, so- named because of the tan color of the mountains surrounding it. The ride down from Cinnamon to Castle Lakes Campground is another stunner, and takes you to American Basin. When you drive into American Basin, the immediate reaction is to break into song.

We kept our melodies in check, instead returning back to camp to chill for a bit before heading out for a sunset shoot at a nearby ghost town. There, we were rewarded with a bit of "alpenglow," which is caused by the setting sun reflecting off the back of the mountain and onto the clouds above. The effect looks like tongues of fire licking the back of the mountain top.

Our final day was Monday, and the weather finally caught up to us. The rain never really came down too hard, and we were able to meander home, hitting a few more passes along the way while dodging the heavy stuff.

I'm now back in Austin, where it's still hot enough that I long for a long draught of cold mountain air. I do have a little bit of Colorado currency to throw around at parties, and I'm eagerly awaiting the moment I can throw down my tiny scrap of cred by saying, "Yeah, we did Engineer, Cinnamon, Cottonwood and Cumberland in a couple days."

That moment in the sun will come. Meanwhile, the boys and I have been strategizing. We did eight passes in three days of riding, that weren't even perfectly planned. With a little strategy, 50 passes in a week seems achievable.

Next year. Me

Contact Points:
Pass Bagging

Vail Off Road Rental
Dual-sport motorcycle and ATV rentals-along with maps and advice.
Avon, CO 81620

Colorado BMW Motorcycle Club
The BMW Motorcycle Club of Colorado hosts a contest in which you sign up and do 50 passes. Only a handful of folks do it each year.

Colorado Motorcycle Rides
An online guide to motorcycling in Colorado

By Lee Klancher
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