In the middle of October, we were having magnificent weather only a week after getting 9″ of snow. I left home on Thursday afternoon and rode down to Colorado Springs for a short visit with my son and his wife. They had just moved to the Springs from Montrose and I hadn’t seen their new home (or them!) since last year. The ride down was fairly easy except for a stretch of construction on I-25. Between Castle Rock and Monument, it’s called the Gap and is crowded and dangerous. But I was ahead of southbound rush hour traffic and didn’t have to stop.
The next morning I was joining a group of Motorcycle Sport Touring Association riders at Apex Sports, one of the best motorcycle dealerships in Colorado for a group ride.
The ride leader was a bit late getting there because of how cold it had been during the night. It was 21F when he and another rider left Loveland (20 miles west of me on the west side of I-25) at 7AM. By the time they got Apex, it was up to 35 and by the time we passed Ft. Carson’s main gate, it was up 42.
You can click on this link to see a map of the ride on Spotwalla: https://spotwalla.com/tripViewer.php?id=24b6e5f8b5a312baf8
We rode south on CO-119 to Penrose and Florence, the home of the Federal Supermax prison. From there we climbed toward Wetmore and then climbed into Hardscrabble Canyon on CO-96. The first time I had ridden Hardscrabble, I was on a bicycle. I’m here to tell you that it’s easier on a motorcycle. Hardscrabble has nice turns — no real hairpins, but a few turns barely over 30-35mph, and most 40-45.
10 miles from Wetmore at McKenzie Junction, we turned south on CO-165, an even better road than Hardscrabble Canyon. It’s a beautiful combination of sweepers, hairpins, elevation changes, and on this day in October, the best color we saw. 13 mile from the Junction, we arrived at our primary destination: Bishop Castle.
Bishop Castle is an eccentric monument, still being built by an eccentric man. Jim Bishop bought 2.5 acres of land for $450 when he was 15 years old 60 years ago. After a few years of clearing some parts of the heavy forest and getting married, Jim decided to build a cabin. Since there was so much stone, he decided to build his cabin out of stone. Then he started the Castle. In his travels around the state as an ornamental iron worker, he’d pick up stones. Since most of the places he got his stones were in National Forests, the government wanted him to pay for them. Bishop felt they were his for the taking; the government want him to pay for them by the truckload. That argument has been settled.
Then, as the castle started attracting tourists, Bishop put home-made signs along the road, directing people to the castle. Local and state government challenged his right to do that. The disagreement was settled by the state placing official signs.
Bishop and his wife were both diagnosed with cancer in ’14 and he made a friend the “Trustee” of the Castle. The “friend” immediately turned the Castle into “Castle Church of the Redemption.” The Bishops got into litigation with the friend and now their son is in charge of the Bishop Castle Foundation. Construction has slowed, but continues.
From there we headed west on 96, climbing to the summit of Hardscrabble Pass at 9,085 feet. As we started down out of the Wet Mountains, a view of the Wet Mountain Valley about 2,000 feet below and the wall of Sangre de Christos Mountains just a few miles west of our destination in Westcliffe.
We rode to a park on the south side of Westcliffe and had lunch. Even though we were at 7,000′, the sun and the very light winds let the temperature get up to 70F before we decided it was time to begin heading back towards our homes.
I’d ridden from Westcliffe toward home several times. I’d never really checked for the shortest route, but had gone with my gut instinct that riding north out of Westcliffe on CO-69 to US-50 at Texas Creek, then 50 to Penrod, 119 to the Springs was the shortest and quickest way to go. The MSTA ride leader had planned on taking that route, too. But a 3rd rider who was heading back to the Springs told us we needed to go back the way we’d come from — Wetmore, Florence, Penrose. I didn’t mind that, because it was a magnificent ride either way and I’ve noticed, as I’m sure you have, that the same scenery from the opposite direction.
Naturally, we got to Colorado Springs just as the afternoon rush hour started. But once we were a few miles north of downtown on I-25, things loosened up and we made good time home.
Topping the rise south of Denver was shocking! We’d been dealing with fires, but the smoke we could see then made it look like there must have been a huge fire about to sweep down onto the Denver Metro area. When I got home, learned that there was a new fire, aptly named the Troublesome Fire that had erupted 75 miles away. When I crossed I-70 on E-470 (the toll loop around Denver), I rode into thick, low-hanging smoke. The smoke got thicker until I reached I-25 again and then it eased some, giving me a sense of relief. That came because I’d been afraid that the Cameron Peak Fire, the largest in state history and only about 55 miles from our house had exploded again. I’m writing this 6 weeks later and the fires have finally been reduced to just isolated hot spots. I wish I had still had my camera available when I saw that smoke over Denver. It was incredible and frightening. Smoke had been the theme of many of my summer rides.