VERNAL, Utah — This promises to be the summer when mountain bicycling is recognized as one of the best ways to enjoy the Rockies.
More than 30 new bike tours, along routes which you can also pedal on your own, await cyclists of all ages, abilities and budgets.
While the snows of winter were still melting, bikes were already replacing skis on the bumpers and tops of cars heading for the high country.
Joe Rutherford of the Utah Travel Council believes that mountain biking will be ranked this summer with hiking, river rafting, fishing, horseback riding and other popular warm-weather recreational activities in the Rocky Mountain states.
As for his own state of Utah, Rutherford quotes Hank Varlow, editor of Mountain Bike magazine, as telling his readers, "Utah is a mountain bike paradise--it's so different!"
Here around Dinosaurland in the northeast corner of Utah, biking trails to the Uinta Mountains wind beneath a dozen peaks that rise above 13,000 feet in elevation, crowned by 13,528-foot King's Peak.
Down in a valley, it's only 13 miles of pedaling from the town of Vernal into Dinosaur National Monument where paleontologists have found more than 2,000 dinosaur bones. In Vernal, 14 dinosaurs recreated in life-size form greet you in the gardens next to the Dinosaur Museum of National History.
It's easy to believe Utah biking enthusiast Joel Bingham when he assures visitors, "You can take your mountain bike to the Uintas every summer for the rest of your life and never see the same trail twice."
Progressive Travel Ltd., known to bikers for its chateau biking tours along the Dordogne, Lot and Tarn rivers of France, is inviting mountain cycling enthusiasts to pedal "The Elegant West," dining and overnighting through the Colorado Rockies "in the style once enjoyed by cattle kings and silver barons."
Backroads Bicycle Touring offers pedaling comforts at lower budget levels in eight biking tours through the Colorado Rockies this summer; all will be with overnight accommodations in mountain inns. Backroads also plans eight mountain inn tours and eight camping tours in the Canadian Rockies.
How to bike the Rockies on your own, while overnighting with a touch of graciousness and catering to your personal interests, is suggested by Grant and Lorraine Cotter, who have inspired my wife, Elfriede, and me to take our own long-distance cycling trips along with fellow members of the Los Angeles Wheelmen's Club.
But our trips of a few hundred miles seem like beginners' efforts compared to the spectacular scenic route the Cotters followed on their tandem bike last summer for 21 days and some 1,700 miles from Texas and New Mexico to Salt Lake City, spending every night in a mountain lodge or inn. They even mailed ahead the shoes and clothing for five days of square dancing at a festival in Lake City, Colo.
The Cotters own the Manhattan Shoe Hospital in Manhattan Beach. Their son, William, carries on a family tradition started by his grandfather when he tends to the business while his parents go off on their frequent bike tours. Lorraine Cotter has corrected a heart condition by putting in some 80,000 miles on their tandem bike.
For the trek through the Rockies, the Cotters carried their tandem on a rental car to Houston. Pedaling from there, they headed up through Amarillo to Clayton, N.M., then over Raton Pass to Trinidad, Colo.
They followed the shoulder of Interstate 25 to Wolf Creek Pass above South Fork, Colo. Continuing northward, they went over the 10,901-foot summit of Spring Creek Pass. After that they pedaled over 11,361-foot Slum Gullion Pass for their five days of square dancing in Lake City.
When the Cotters had bundled up and mailed home their dancing gear, they took Highway 50 over 11,003-foot Monarch Pass. Then it was on to Denver and finally down to Park City, Utah, and Salt Lake City, where they rented a car to drive back to Manhattan Beach.
Progressive Travel Ltd. will begin this summer what it considers to be "America's most luxurious bicycle trip," in Denver. On the first day, a van carries the small group of cyclists to the top of Boreas Pass, named after the god of the north wind. The cyclists warm up for the coming week by riding down the pass to Breckenridge.
A gourmet picnic is catered trail-side while cyclists relax on a grassy stream bank. The first night is spent at the Victorian Briar Rose, where hot tubs await the group. After the salmon dinner there is time for dancing and strolling beneath the stars.
Day 2 offers one of the world's most scenic bike paths, from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain, where the afternoon is free for options that range from an outdoor concert to the golf course. A special menu at the Plaza Restaurant features the dish that won the grand prize at the Governor's Dinner competition: rack of lamb in an apricot, pistachio and cabernet wine sauce.
Over Vail Pass