Salida, Colorado, Mile 1560

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I’m not a regular viewer of the animated TV satire, South Park, and I don’t know why the creators chose that name but the Great Divide Trail passes through a vast area of Colorado that on our map is labeled “South Park.” I assume the area gets its name from the fact that it occupies the southern part of Park County.

In any event, South Park (the geographical one) is an intriguing place. It is just over a row of mountains from the tourist mecca of Breckenridge yet it is one of the least populated expanses on the planet. It must cover thousands of square miles. Not that South Park lacks charm of it own. It is high and wild, a vast grassland dotted with hills whose caps are painted green and gold at this time of year. At times it reminded me of the Dakota prairie, at times Wyoming:

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I’m not the first person to recognize the beauty of the place. Widely dispersed “homesteads” are scattered through its numerous hills and valleys. It appears that sub-developers have, over the years, attempted to capitalize on it as an investment opportunity. Street signs, the green metallic ones you’d expect to see in suburban America, mark the intersections of the dirt county road we followed and the side trails that often end in a dwelling or two. The signs look startlingly out of place in that wild country.

Thousands of people have purchased land in South Park. A few have built substantial houses. Many have built simple cabins or towed RV’s onto their sites. At least ten we saw today appear to be living in nothing more substantial than tents. My general impression was that you don’t need a lot of money to buy land in South Park.

You’ve got to remember that the elevations in South Park vary between 8000 and 10,000 feet. That’s sub-zero territory in winter – certainly a limiting factor to anyone who would consider living there. Employment could also be a problem because most of South Park is a hundred or more miles from the nearest city.

The most surreal sight we saw when riding through South Park was a well equipped playground – swings, see-saws, monkey bars, slides, picnic tables, etc. – in the middle of nowhere. It looked like someone had seen that movie about the guy who built the ball park in his corn field because he heard a voice tell him “If you build it they will come.” Well, this guy built it and no one came.

We left Breckenridge on a sunny, cool Saturday morning. The road to Boreas Pass follows an old rail bed up the 2000-ft climb so the grade was constant and reasonable. We had a great view of Breckenridge and its many ski runs from just out of town:

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Even though the road to Boreas Pass was a narrow dirt road it was crowded with vehicles on the day we rode it. This being the prime season for the aspen trees to show their fall colors, oodles of “leaf peepers” from the city came to see the foliage. At the summit, a carload of the curious had passed us pedaling slowly up the hill and wanted to know how far we had come. Telling our story is Mary’s specialty and, as usual, she went in to some detail:

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We camped behind what looked like the old railroad station in the tiny town of Hartsel along with the Maiwalds that evening. A young man from Chattanooga named Gaston rode into town on his mountain bike at sundown. He is the first other Great Divide rider we have seen in weeks.

It was 26 degrees inside our tent this morning but Mary and I were surprised because we had slept toasty warm in our sleeping bags. An interesting side note of these cold mornings: I have taken to sleeping with our stove’s propane canister because it puts out a pitifully small flame when cold.

I ordered the pancakes at the little cafe in Hartsel for breakfast. They must have put a special ingredient in them because I had tons of energy all day. Our ride had a lot of climbing but my legs never balked. Maybe I’m just getting stronger. I’ll find out tomorrow. We have 4000-ft climb to 11,000-ft Marshall Pass.

I know I keep saying the countryside here is beautiful but it really is. Here’s a photo of Mary just before we descended 3000 feet into the town of Salida where we have ensconced ourselves in yet another Hampton Inn. Like I said, we live in two worlds on this ride – a world of brutal exertion, fickle weather, isolation and this other world of pampered luxury when we come to a good-sized town.

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We will be far from Hampton Inns for the next four days. We’re going to be high in the mountains and we have our fingers crossed that the weather will be on our side. Tuesday night there’s a 30% chance of thunder showers.

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