Tag Archives: bike travel

The Rio Grande Trail: Basalt to Aspen

The name of this trail is puzzling. According the the trail’s website, this 42 mile trail, which connects Glenwood Springs to Aspen, was named after the Rio Grande Western Railroad, which ran along these tracks until it was decommissioned in the 1990s.

Most visitors to the area are not aware of this history. We just see that the trail is named the Rio Grande Trail despite the fact that the river it follows is the Roaring Fork. The Rio Grande is not only well known for marking the U.S./ Mexico border in Texas, but it also has its origins in Colorado, not too far away.

That being said, on the first of October, it still made for one of the most breathtaking bike rides one could ever hope for.

I absolutely love the town of Basalt!

Every visit I have ever had to this town has been incredible! It never feels crowded like a major tourist destination, but there is also never a shortage of things to do or basic resources. I have never had a bad meal in this town, and the two rivers that come together, the Frying Pan and the Roaring Fork are your quintessential free spirited mountain rivers!

The ride from Basalt to Aspen is beautiful right from the start, especially on the first of October, with the fall colors at their peak.

It is the kind of trail that has something for everyone. In the middle part of the ride, you’ll encounter a restaurant built in one of the old train cars used when this trail was a railroad.

It overlooks several small villages.

The trail is mostly straight, but it makes a timely curve to give cyclists a direct view of Snowmass Village, one of the highest rated ski resorts in the state.

I also absolutely love the fact that the trail does not follow right beside the highway, usually traversing on the other side of the river from highway 82. There are many bike trails that travel right alongside a major highway. Here, cyclists enjoy the trail without the sounds of the busy highway. Additionally, those that have already driven the road see the area from a different perspective.

The mile markers are consistent, with one every half mile.

And, there are even parts of the trail where riders can chose a hard surface or a soft surface option.

Closer to Aspen there is an unpaved section that lasts about three miles.

Since it is hard packed and this section is flat, any kind of bike should be able to pass through with little problem. Oddly enough, my favorite experience of the ride was in this unpaved section.

This mini waterfall reminded me of a scene in the movie Cars, where the main character is taken to a similar feature. He is told that before the interstates were built all travelers would pass by this waterfall, but travelers now miss out on this beautiful experience in order to save 10 minutes. The scene, and in some ways the entire movie, was making a statement to us about our busy lives, and what we miss out on when we are always in a hurry, focused solely on our destination.

I was having an experience much like the scene in the movie. It would have been much faster to get from Basalt to Aspen on the highway, but not the same experience. I would not have encountered this feature. Leading up to the ride, I was feeling a bit stressed, like I was trying to cram too many activities into too little time. With work, I may have even been focusing on the destination rather than enjoying a key learning experience. Watching the water trickle down the rocks in stunning autumn gold reminded me how rich our lives can be when we don’t always take the most efficient route to a destination, both in physical space and in personal development.

The trail pretty much ends at the John Denver Sanctuary on the North side of Aspen.

That day the city of aspen was colorful. Yellow colored trees could be seen in every direction, from Aspen Mountain, the ski resort adjacent to town, to the pedestrian mall that is often far more crowded (when there is not a global pandemic).

Aspen is known to be active and wealthy. But, I wonder if the people who live here live hectic lives, always focused on their destinations. Or, do many residents of Aspen, and the rest of the Roaring Fork Valley, frequently take the extra time to immerse themselves in the experience of the natural beauty that surrounds them?

Cycling The Enchanted Circle

The enchanted circle can be an intimidating bike ride for two reasons. First, it is challenging. It’s an 84 mile ride with a total of over 5,700 feet (1.75 km) of climbing. There are also a lot of sections where the road has no shoulder. A road with significant traffic and no shoulder can feel quite dangerous on a bicycle. Maybe I’m spoiled by typically riding in Colorado, with roads that are typically more bike friendly. According to the League of American Cyclists, Colorado ranks as the 7th most bike friendly state in the country, while New Mexico ranks 44th.

Like this bike ride, life has tons of opportunities that are both risky and potentially rewarding. A lot of people lose out on so much that life has to offer because they avoid endeavors that cary significant risk. For me, the Enchanted Circle bike ride became a microcosm for how we are meant to approach these important opportunities. I would not let the apparent challenge and the apparent danger stop me from doing the ride. However, it is good to be mindful and smart about the risks we take. With any potentially risky endeavor, there are actions one can take to minimize the downside. For me on the Enchanted Circle, it meant trying to face as little traffic as possible on the most potentially dangerous part, U.S. highway 64. So, I started the ride early, around 9 A.M., and rode the circle in the counter-clockwise direction, starting east out of Taos on 64.

As I’d hoped, there was very little traffic. There were even times where I completely forgot I was on a U.S. highway. The highway kind of took on the feeling of an empty country road, which was fantastic.

The 18 mile moderate climb from Taos to Palo Flechado Pass wound through the Carson National Forest. I truly felt enchanted, right from the start of the ride. Around each curve was a new sight to behold: Trees just starting to change colors for the upcoming fall. Birds flying through the air. Horses grazing on open land. New mountain peaks appearing on the horizon.

I could not help but smile for most of this segment. The climb is not even steep enough to cause too much exhaustion.

After this climb came a quick 700 foot (210m) descent into Angel Fire, home to one of several major New Mexico ski resorts along the Enchanted Circle.

Due to smoke from wildfires in California and Oregon, I was unable to see Angel Fire ski resort from the road. However, I would later get the gist, as one of the locals I would speak with in Eagles Nest would describe this resort as “a ski resort without apres”. It sounded like an interesting family oriented experience.

The next stretch of road, from Angel Fire to Eagles Nest, was perhaps the most comforting, being flat and having the widest shoulders of the entire loop.

I grabbed some food in Eagles Nest, interacted with some of the locals and then turned onto highway 38 for the next segment.

Highway 38 is a mixed bag. There is no shoulder, but traffic is pretty light. Of the cars I did encounter, this is where I felt the most scared. On a few occasions, I was frightened by being passed at high speeds by vehicles that did not move too far over.

The climb starts gradually, passing by a ghost town called Elizabethtown. A woman I had talked to in Eagles Nest told me this town was so easy to miss I would “miss it if I blinked… while riding uphill”.

Then comes the most challenging ascent of the ride, to the top of Bobcat Pass, the ride’s highest point.

This part turned out to be quite steep. I had received some encouragement regarding this bike ride at the Eagles Nest Cafe. One patron even let me have one of her onion rings. However, when I told people I was doing this ride, I also did hear “I’m exhausted just thinking about you riding up Bobcat Pass”, as well as “If my son were to tell me he wants to do this ride, I’d urge him not to.”

I took the downhill at 35 miles per hour (56 km/hr).

And quickly arrived in the town of Red River.

Red River, home to yet another ski resort, felt like your quintessential touristy mountain town. It felt reminiscent of Lincoln, New Hampshire, a town I rode through several years ago, also while on my bicycle tackling challenging mountain passes.

Continuing west on highway 38 was a beautiful descent from Red River into Questa.

Like the initial climb out of Taos, this descent was not quite as steep, winding through the forest, and by some other unique natural features over the course of 12 miles.

The final 20 miles of the ride follows highway 522 back towards Taos. While this section has some rolling hills, it stays in the valley to the west of the Southern Sangre de Cristo mountain range. On this part of the ride, I saw the mountains from a whole different, and more broad, vantage point.

The rolling hills on this last part of the ride are not nearly as big as the major passes I’d rode up earlier. However, having already rode 70 miles and pedaled up Bobcat Pass, they were enough to exhaust me.

Like many of my previous exhausting bike rides, I ended the day physically exhausted but spiritually rested. It also came with another form of spiritual satisfaction, having properly persevered despite some less than ideal conditions. The manner in which I approached this ride allowed me to enjoy the upside of the experience (the satisfaction of the ride, the scenery, the interactions with the locals, etc.), while being smart enough to minimize the downside (the risk of riding in high traffic with no shoulder).