Thunder Mountain Rendezvous
by Chris Frey
The BMW riders of Western Colorado put on an annual rally September 26-28, 2008 called the Thunder Mountain Rendezvous. This year they held it at a local park in Hotchkiss, Co, which is just a few miles from Paonia, which has its own rally in every spring. Barry West and I decided to give this rally a try for two main reasons: it is during peak fall color season and there are wonderful rides in the area of the rally.
We got out of the desert to Colorado via Show Low, St Johns and then up to Cortez, Co. Hwy 491 was being repaved in certain sections and there was a 10 mile stretch where the asphalt was scraped off and the resulting ridges made for some white knuckle riding on a swaying bike. I haven't done 450+ miles for a while, so I was glad to see our hotel and get off the bike. Luckily the local brewery was in walking distance and within a short period, we felt no more pain.
The next morning we rode along the Dolores River, going up to Lizard Head Pass and Telluride. It was a gorgeous, damp and cool ride along the river. We stopped at the Telluride Station Village and rode the free gondola to the town of Telluride. A farmers market was in progress and the town in general was bustling. It wasn't even lunchtime and a brief mountain rain shower came and went. After descending a few thousand feet, we reached hwy 141, which was one of the highlights of this trip. It is beautiful red rock country with a great road along the Dolores River. From one of the rest stops you can see the 'Hanging Flume', the remnants of a wooden conveyance 100 feet above the Dolores River designed to carry water to a nearby gold mine. It is an impressive site. On the way to hwy 50, we saw three bighorn sheep grazing on the side of the road with no intention to be bothered by cars or motorcycles. We joined the rally crowd in Hotchkiss right around dinnertime. There were roughly 130 riders camped under the large and shady trees. The club served some great home made chili and afterwards the crowd gathered for a motorcycle movie.
Saturday greeted us with perfect riding conditions. The local Lions club served a hearty breakfast. Barry, who is a natural at organizing rides, had staked out a route around the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park in the morning and after lunch a trip up to the Grand Mesa National Forest. The roads were empty and the aspen were golden. Clusters of thunderstorms developed around lunchtime and we got lucky every time we headed towards some ominous looking clouds. At the visitor center of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison we had our bikes parked 3 feet apart. While gearing up, three deer jumped out of nowhere and hopped so close between the bikes and us, if they'd had antlers, we would have been knocked out. The Grand Mesa NF was a sea of golden aspen. Around every corner, it took your breath away.
The club served a wonderful BBQ dinner in the great hall. There was a raffle for door prizes afterwards, a presentation by an Ironbutt winner followed by a one-man band. Although we were the only SEAT members in this rally, there were several others from Arizona. Other riders came as far as Florida and Alaska. A great bunch.
Sunday morning was as glorious as yesterday. We had an ambitious route of 6 mountain passes over 420 miles ahead of us. After a hearty breakfast in Paonia, the fun started with McClure Pass. In Aspen, Co we were looking for some affordable housing but even with the current housing crisis, we wouldn't qualify. So we went over the 12000-footer Independence Pass instead. It was quite busy since it was Sunday and everybody came out to enjoy the fall splendor. Went over Monarch Pass and stopped in beautiful Lake City for some much needed coffee before heading over Slumgullian Pass, which was quickly followed by Spring Creek Pass. Traffic was almost non-existent and we traveled fairly fast. By the time we reached South Fork it was dusk and we still had to go over Wolf Creek Pass to get to Pagosa Springs for the night. Yet this wasn't to be raced over because there were so many deer at the side of the 4 lane road looking to cross. We were quite exhausted when we pulled into our hotel and all we wanted were a few beers to slow our senses that were still going at 80 miles an hour.
Monday’s riding will be for the most part in New Mexico. We reached Chama, NM just as the historic steam train was to leave the station with a boatload of tourists. We took scenic Hwy 64 over to Tres Piedras. After lunch in Los Alamos we rode down the Jemez Springs valley. The stream is running and it is all lush and scenic and in small towns along the way you smell them roasting this years crop of green chiles. We stayed in Grants for the night. As always, you meet interesting folks on bikes, like this young fellow from San Diego on a big BMW LT going to his 50th high school reunion in the Midwest and then to another celebration in Florida before heading home.
After breakfast, we headed south from Grants towards Reserve, NM. It is cool and the air is still and the riding is gorgeous between Quemado and Reserve. Ella was still serving breakfast in her restaurant in Reserve, so we ate a 2nd breakfast just for the hell of it. After that down to Glenwood and then over Mule Creek Pass, which I never get tired of riding over. After that, I can't wait to be home.
This 6 day trip was 2250 miles from Tucson, the rally is very inexpensive for what is offered, there are several small hotels in town for those not ready to camp and the date for the fall colors is absolutely perfect. The event is very low key, no vendors, maybe a one-man band, good food. If you cannot make the Paonia rally, this is a great alternative just next door. To give you a hint of how beautiful fall is up there, check out this 5 minute slide show at: