Day 29: Del Norte to Elk River Campground (72.5 miles, 6,344ft)
While our previous day had been our longest to date (111.4 miles), the ride from Del Norte to Elk River Campground looked to be one of our hardest. We’d be crossing Indiana Pass—at 11,910 feet the highest pass we’d cross on the trip and, with over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, the longest single climb we’d face on the trip. Because of the day’s shorter distance, we left Del Norte at a regular time (for us after making breakfast and packing the car up): 9:00am.
Over the first 12 miles of the ride, we ascended an easy 1,000 feet along pavement. From there the pavement ended and the climb’s grade became much steeper. We shifted down into our granny gears, and began the long, slow, but still manageable portion of the ascent.
Again the changes in scenery as we gained elevation were stunning, and we soon found ourselves in pine and aspen forests—we were lucky to catch the aspen leaves changing color.
Along the climb, we passed a surprising number of trucks—riding on a Sunday, we seemed to be catching recreational traffic—and a number of beautiful dispersed campsites, which would have been ideal for self-supported riders.
Eventually, we did make it to the top of the climb, but our work wasn’t yet done. For the next 13 miles, we rode above 11,000 feet, descending from and ascending to a number of minor passes. The incredible views along the way easily kept our minds off our tired legs, however.
After those 13 miles through the high country, we descended roughly 1,500 feet along a creek, passing a couple of stunning lakes along the way.
Before the bottom, we made a sharp right past a national forest campground, and began our final significant climb of the day, climbing 700-800 feet over a minor pass, before descending to the mountain village of Platoro—the name is a combination of the Spanish words for silver and gold, “plata” and “oro,” a nod to the mining that once took place here.
In Platoro, we took a break in the local cafe and waited out a rainstorm that rolled through. Once the rain passed, we rode the final 23 miles down the Conejos River on a washboarded dirt road to Horca and the Elk River Campground—another wonderful campground nestled along a gurgling brook.