By Robert Schleicher
Dirt Rider Magazine, November, 1984
The classic plea of the surfer is to ask for that “perfect wave.” For dirt riders, it’s that “perfect trail.” But somewhere between the abandoned gravel pits and the Colorado Rockies lie the types of trails most riders must use until they discover nirvana.
Still, there are at least 1000 dirt riders who will argue that the trails in the Rampart Range Recreational Area of the Pike National Forest (to use the official name) offer all that anyone could wish for. Rampart or the South Platte as the locals call it, is located less than 50 miles from Denver. What “used to be” elsewhere is the way things still are in Colorado.
TRAILS, COLORADO STYLE
The trails in Colorado are a bit unusual when compared to the cow paths and deer trails that have been developed into trails in other areas. The Rockies were a source of unbelievable mineral wealth to the miners of the 1800-1930 era. Mines and quarries were accessible via mule trials and ox-drawn wagons. Luckily, those mule trails are just about the right width for a motorcycle.
Unfortunately, though, only a small fraction of the existing trails are accessible to motorcyclists today since most trails cross private property. It’s not so much a problem of finding a trail as it is with finding a trail that doesn’t start or end in someone’s backyard. Mountain folk usually have guns, too, so it’s not wise to question their rights.
The essential guides to Colorado trails are the “Travel Maps” published by the United States Forest Service (such maps are available for most national forests). These maps indicate which trails and roads are open for vehicle access, which are permanently closed, and which may be closed seasonally due to mud or animal migration. Each Forest Service office has the maps for their own area and sometimes for adjacent forests. In the case of the Rampart Range Recreational Area, the maps indicate if an area is open to motor vehicles, but those vehicles must always stay on trails marked with the Services white arrows.
Colorado’s trails, like those in forests everywhere, must be shared with others. The Colorado Trail is a hiking trail that allows hikers to cross the entire state, north to south. That trail runs parallel to a 10-mile portion of the “white arrowed” trails in the Rampart Range area. Furthermore, there are hundreds of cabins in that 260 square-mile spread, as well as timber roads leading to commercial timber-scale acreage and roads leading to operating quarries. The South Plane River is one of the most popular fishing sites in the state and it too passes through the center of the Rampart Range area. To the east is a network of trails reserved for hikers and horsemen that are used by weekend riders, as well as organized horse endurance events. If you want to avoid conflicts with these users, stay on those trails marked with white arrows.
The Rampart Range Area is located in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, so it does not include the dizzying elevations of some Colorado trails. Still, the trails start at about 7000 feet above sea level and travel upward to close to 9000 feet, so you’ll need jets for the carburetor and deep breaths for your body. The soil is sandy so dust is not a major problem, but many of the trails are as full of whoop-de-doos and stutter bumps as a motocross course.
There are only two stream crossings of any consequence. A trail, 649(17), crosses Trout Creek twice and the water can come up to your seat in the spring. The Noddle Trail 677(6A) crosses Sugar Creek at the extreme south and it too can swell. The other creeks and crossings are no problem except during the winter. The winter? Yes, that’s right, most of these trails can be ridden year round as long as there’s less then a foot of snow. The creeks freeze solid, though, and the ice can fill as much as a quarter-male or more of the extreme north end of Trail 695(10) into the town of South Platte. Russell Gulch has even longer stretches of solid ice during the winter, and the trails on the north slopes of the Power Line Trail (690) remind one more of an iced-over toboggan run rather than a dirt bike trail. The winter season varies from year to year. There was so much snow in the winter of 1982-83 that only snowmobilers rode Rampart from mid-January until mid-April. Conversely, the previous winter was so dry there were only three or four weekends when you couldn’t find 30 or 40 miles of trail passable through the snow.
THE RAMPART RANGE COMMITTEE
The Rampart Range Motorcycle Management Committee, Inc., is the full name of the group of folks who are working to keep these trails open. Much of their work involves education; explaining to riders why they should stay on the white arrowed trails and showing them where those trails are routed. The committee was organized in response to a plea for help in trail maintenance from some of the forest rangers around 1972. The motorcyclists and rangers have continued to work together to keep the existing trails open and, when necessary, to reroute trails that have eroded or pass too closely to private homes.
Members of the Rampart Range Committee volunteer an evening a month to discuss the present and future of their area and about six weekends a year to work on the trails themselves. In recent years, the funds from Colorado’s off road vehicle registration have been used for fences and other materials, while the committee supplied the labor. Currently, Colorado is not enforcing off-road vehicle registration1 (although there is some $40000 that is supposed to be available if the riders can wring it from the state bureaucracy). In the future, then, most of the money for maintaining the trail system must come from private sources.
The Rampart Range Committee puts on two or three poker runs each year to gather funds. They also offer detailed maps for sale, as well as small bumper stickers. The map you see here was developed directly from the map drawn by the committee in conjunction with the Forest Service. The committee already had a map and trail numbers (the one- and two-digit numbers), and the Forest Service added their usual three digit system of trail trail numbering. Those white arrows beside the trail at places where the trails cross each other or where they cross dirt roads carry only the Forest Service number. The trails and their i.d. numbers are marked in red, the roads in blue and the rivers, private roads and section lines in black.
But what’s unusual about this map is that each segment of trail is marked for length and degree of riding difficulty. The riding ability levels include Beginner, Intermediate and Expert. Some trails carry both markings to indicate that some sections of the trail require much greater riding skills than others. Those levels are accurate. It you can’t ride with your feet on the pegs over every mile of a Beginner trail, then don’t even try the Intermediate trails. If a trail is marked Expert, it really is a challenge for any enduro bike. Better to injure your ego by staying off the trails that are too difficult than by riding them and hurting yourself or breaking your bike.
The map and the bumper stickers are only $1 each, plus $1 for postage and handling2. The committee will gladly accept contributions from those of you who went to guarantee that your dreams of that “perfect trail” will remain a reality.
TOUR OF THE TRAILS
Don’t ride Rampart without sending a few bucks to the Rampart Range Committee for one of their maps and stickers. You’ll enjoy the ride more because the map is really a guided tour, trail by trail. If you’re really an expert rider, you can make a 90-mile loop by sticking to the extreme edges of the area. Unload about a mile and a half down the dirt road off the paved State Highway 67 west of Sedalia. If you’re a beginner rider or if you’ve never ridden the mountain trails, catch any trail leading west (right) off the highway and take the first well-rutted trail to the south-that’s the Power Line Trail (690). The first junction should be marked with arrows for the Flatrock Trail 674(27). Turn right (west), then left about a half¬mile down the trail to stay on 674. At the next two junctions follow the arrows for trails 674 and 675 to avoid the difficult Roi Tan Trail bypass (653). Follow 675 to the next junction, then take the Gramp’s Trail 657(33) left (north) and follow it through the next junction until it intersects with the Power Line Trail (690). Take the Power Line Trail north to complete the easiest loop (about 12 miles) in the area.
You can sample two of the more difficult trails in the area by extending this loop to include the Noddle Trail (677) and the Devil Slide Trail (676) up Campbell Mountain. Tight up and downhill switchbacks, deeply rutted downhill trails through tight woods, two-foot rock shelves on the hillclimbs and solid masses of granite 100 yards long are typical obstacles on the trails marked “I-E” (Intermediate-Expert) on the Rampart Range Committee’s maps. The most difficult trail in the area is the 6.4-mile loop known as the Bear Creek Trail 692(19). This trail is really one for observed trials bikes rather than trail bikes because it climbs over a huge pile of boulders on its way down the Bear Creek and switchbacks over a cliffside on its way out (if you ride in a counter-clockwise direction around the loop; it’s even harder the other direction).
RULES AND REGULATIONS
The entire Rampart Range trail system is within the boundaries of the Pike National Forest, and typical forest rules apply. Every motorcycle must be equipped with both a spark arrester and muffler. You must, of course, stay on the authorized trails, which means staying on trails that have junctions with roads or other trails marked with a white arrow-no arrow, no ride. Don’t hillclimb, either. If you think you’re a hot hillclimber, try going up and down the Noddle and Devil Slide Trails, but do it like the local experts do, with both feet on the pegs all the way. There are other riders out there, so remember to pass on the right. Also, the rider going uphill has the right of way. If there is more than one rider in your group, hold up an appropriate number of fingers to indicate to oncoming riders how many more of you he or she can expect.
You can ride most of the trails without street-legal equipment or a license plate. Access to the 10.3-mile Top of the World Trail (695) and to 6.2-mile Trout Creek Trail (649) from the Rampart Range Road will demand the use of Colorado State Highways and, for riding on those roads (and trails), your machine must be street-legal and licensed. The National Forest Service has invoked their rule limiting access to all of these trails to vehicles “40 inches or less in width.” The signs leading to the trails from the roads repeat that warning, and there are fences with openings just 40 inches wide at those entrance and exit points. These are motorcycle (and small ATV) trails, period.
You don’t see steam locomotives or ox-drawn wagons down in the canyons anymore. But you can see what those folks in the trains and wagons saw-and a lot they never saw – from your dirt bike in just a day or two.
Reproduced with permission from the November 1984 issue of Dirt Rider Magazine.
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