Day 5: Chama to Antonito, Cumbres and La Manga passes - Passes Around the San Luis Valley 2019 - CycleBlaze

June 2, 2019

Day 5: Chama to Antonito, Cumbres and La Manga passes

I left the motel at 7:30 to pedal 1 mile uphill to the Boxcar cafe for breakfast. I also ate breakfast there during my Indian Country Part 1 tour in September, 2017. Finally away from Chama at 8:30 AM.

Sleepy downtown Chama. I ate breakfast at Boxcar Cafe.
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Two years ago I took a bus from Chama to Antonito and the train back to Chama. Today I pedal the highway I saw from the bus. The first few miles are in New Mexico but most of the route is in Colorado.

I crossed the Chama river just outside of the town of Chama. The river is fast and brown, running high with snow melt. My only time to see the Chama river during this tour.

My only view of the Chama river during this tour.
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Highway 17 crosses the narrow gauge railroad several times on the way up to Cumbres pass.

First crossing of the narrow gauge railroad. The railroad takes a more meandering route than the highway.
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The road starts to climb in earnest about 5 miles from Chama. Views were quite good considering I was mostly looking into the sun.

Back to the San Juan mountains!
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I only saw the train pass by one time during the day. This was the Chama to Antonito train. I never saw the Antonito to Chama train.

My only view of the Chama to Antonito train.
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The highway climbs into forest at about 8500 feet elevation. Aspen trees were only just starting to bud.

Aspens just starting to bud at 8500 feet elevation.
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The highway crosses into Colorado about halfway up Cumbres pass. Most of the Chama to Antonito route is in Colorado. Fortunately both states use the same highway number, 17.

Back to Colorado for one night.
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The final climb to Cumbres pass is on an extremely steep and unstable looking slope.

Final climb to Cumbres pass. Top and bottom ledges are the railroad. Middle ledge is the highway.
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Here's a view of the top ledge from the train in 2017.

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I started to see snow at about 9500 feet (2900 m) elevation. Mostly snow in the distance. No snow near the road.

Today's route has basically no traffic. Ideal for cycling even with little to no paved shoulder. Less than 1 car per minute, no trucks.

Climbing into snow at about 9500 feet.
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Cumbres pass is the rare pass with a railroad crossing at the summit. Railroads don't usually go as high as highways. When I arrived at 12:20 PM the temperature was 65F (18C) in the final rays of warm sunshine.

Highest point of the railroad but not the highest point of the highway.
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The sky clouded up rapidly east of Cumbres pass. The temperature became much colder with no sun and much snow cover. The road descends only 300 feet before beginning the climb to La Manga pass.

Valley between the passes.
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I was surprised to see an area of summer homes between the two passes. The houses are only usable a few months per year. Today, June 2, the gravel roads are still mostly under standing water from massive snow melt.

Summer homes. Much of the area has standing water from melting snow.
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The temperature was 54F (12C) at La Manga pass. Much cooler than Cumbres pass. I arrived at 1:20 PM, making good progress today.

Second highest pass of the tour. Much colder than Cumbres pass.
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The snow quickly disappeared when descending La Manga pass. Unfortunately it was dense overcast and the temperature barely rose during the descent. I was tired and cold at the summit and never did warm up afterwards.

Snow rapidly disappears on the east side of La Manga pass.
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I had a tailwind going up Cumbres pass and a headwind going down La Manga pass. The wind was blowing up the mountain on both sides.

Descending to the Conejos river.
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It was a long, fun descent to the Conejos river. Unfortunately there was a spell of high wind and rain. I took two stops on church stoops that were sheltered from the wind. The Conejos river is also bursting with snow melt.

Conejos river.
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Approaching Antonito I saw momentary sunshine on the distant Sangre de Cristo mountains. It looked awesome for a couple minutes, then basically disappeared.

The Sangre de Cristo mountains appear as an apparition in the distance.
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A few miles west of Antonito I stopped to see San Isidro Catholic church. It was once very grand, but it burned in 1973. The church had been having a disagreement with the diocese, so it was never rebuilt. I'm surprised visitors are free to wander inside the ruins.

San Isidro Catholic church, surrounded by farms.
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The church burned in 1973 and was not rebuilt because of a dispute with the Diocese.
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In Antonito I continued past my motel to look around the downtown area. Antonito is not thriving. It appears that Chama attracts far more overnight railroad visitors than Antonito.

Sleepy downtown Antonito, Colorado.
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At the north end of town I detoured to see Cano's Castle. The tall pile of junk is a residence.

Cano's Castle is a residence made of junk.
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Cumbres & Toltec railroad station in Antonito.
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The train arrived from Chama when I was pedaling back to my motel which is near the train station.

Train returning to the Antonito station.
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At about 4:30 PM I got my reserved $65 room at Narrow Gauge Railroad Inn. A large and dilapidated motel. Pretty much everything in Antonito is dilapidated. I was amused to see that tiny Antonito (population 755) has 3 cannabis shops. It's close to the state line, attracting customers from New Mexico where cannabis is still illegal. Cannabis seems to be the only growth industry in town.

Dinner was at Dos Hermanas Mexican restaurant downtown. Not bad. I noticed a loaded touring bike outside the restaurant. I talked to him at the restaurant and the next morning at the motel. He's pedaling the Great Divide route south to north. He had to backtrack off the Great Divide route to highways because of deep snow. He assumes that every pass on the Colorado Great Divide will have deep snow for another month. He thinks he will have to pedal through Colorado on highways instead.

I feel pretty good. Not too exhausted, no aches and pains. Today had a big climb but tomorrow is a semi-rest day.

Distance: 54.4 mi. (87 km)
Ascent/Descent: +2990/-2913 ft. (+912/-888 m)
Average Speed: 9.2 mph (14.7 km/h)

Today's ride: 54 miles (87 km)
Total: 206 miles (332 km)

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