August 13, 2009
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Reviewed by: imtnbke
Cross Country Rider
I discovered this area by perusing a Trails Illustrated map. It looked intriguing on the face of the map, Google Earth, and Microsoft's Bing: a seemingly almost flat area miles across and all above 12,000 feet.
Riding it was extraordinary. I have never seen such remarkable geography. One parks at the Spring Creek Pass trailhead off Hwy 149 (10898') and climbs two miles east on the Colorado Trail. Superstrong riders might be able to ride half of the uphill. About 3/4 of the way up a bizarre-looking rocky ziggurat begins to emerge on both sides of the trail, like a truncated Giza Pyramid composed of loose boulders and rising for hundreds of vertical feet.
At the top you're on Snow Mesa, a plateau across which the Colorado Trail rolls in a narrow vertical band (12250 to 12420 feet elevation) for about five miles. At times you can see the trail itself for miles.
A website had alerted me that one might see a lone shepherd up there, and sure enough I saw, in the distance alongside a 13,000-foot-high mountain, hundreds of sheep or goats, all being herded by a lone horseman.
I had gotten up at 5:45 a.m. in Gunnison to try to beat the inevitable thunderstorms. Nevertheless, on the way back across the mesa, a storm cell came over me, the wind rose to the point I couldn’t easily stay on the trail, rain fell sideways, and the temperature fell to 45 degrees (this on August 2). I rode hard to try to outrun it and succeeded, but beware.
The two-mile descent was a fabulous technical wonderland.
If you've ridden Monarch Crest enough that it has become routine, try Snow Mesa.
Park at Spring Creek Pass on Highway 149 about 20 miles south of Lake City or about 40 miles northwest of Creede. Find the Colorado Trail on the east side of the highway and start climbing.
Other recommended trails in the same area:
There are many. A side note: I can see Wilderness activists targeting this area for Wilderness designation, because it's roadless. They won't care that mountain bikes could be banned; in fact the more dour among them would favor that. Don't let this area become off-limits to mountain bikes. It's truly special, and it's so isolated and remote already that making it Wilderness isn't going to make any practical difference; it'll just satisfy the purists' ideological jollies.