Blue Mesa Summit
This pesky, not so little hill shares appearance and size
with many other less famous mesa crossings, summits that
have never deserved the honor of a name. Blue Mesa Summit
made a name for itself through history as "son of a
bitch hill", a label that for some reason cannot be
found on today's maps. The history of Blue Mesa Summit is
distinguished from these other nameless summits by having
countless unlucky travelers sent over it. For 150 years the
Black Canyon of the Gunnison has forced travelers to cross
Blue Mesa Summit rather than it. This remains until today
and includes bicyclists.
Blue Mesa Summit often comes as a surprise to cycle tourists
along US50. The road, basically following the Gunnison River
on its south side, is forced to detour around the jagged
Black Canyon area and in the process climb this broad, sage
covered plateau. The summit is not named on National Forest,
highway or topo maps. But it is marked with a sign at the
click on profile for more detail
START-FINISH EAST: US50 crosses Blue Mesa Reservoir
from north to south.
2.(7580ft,mile03) camper community of Sapinero
3.(8500ft,mile11) first summit
4.(8300ft,mile13) low point between summits, junction
with dirt road ascending East Fork of the Little Blue
5.(8704ft.mile16) TOP: second summit
6.(6880ft,mile25) START-FINISH WEST: settlement of
Cimarron. Route continues down Cimarron Canyon
on the right
7.(6700ft,mile25) START-FINISH WEST: low point in
Cimarron Canyon before road ascents to Gunnison Dam.
From East. Starting the climb on a hot summer day, it
actually gets hotter instead of colder. The reason is the
disappearing cooling influence of Curecanti Reservoir below. One
short view of the canyon is obtainable from this side.
After that the scenery is dominated by sage and industrial
strength campgrounds, featuring camping with satellite dishes
and rigs that expand like bloated whales. The wide shoulder
disappears as the road approaches the first summit point
A short descent leads into the small forested canyon of Blue
Creek, cut in the same dark volcanic rock as nearby Black
Canyon. But the creek flows in the opposite direction as the
bicycle rolls. That situation cannot last very long. As the road
climbs to its second summit it's back in the sage. There the
rounded dessert plateau landscape of the western slope comes
into view far below.
From West. (also described upwards) The profile starts
slightly off US50, where the Cimarron Canyon Road crosses the
Gunnison River. This is a short detour when travelling on US50.
But there is an interesing display down there, actually more
interesting than anything the summit has to offer. More details
below in the history section.
A steady climb leaves the town of Cimarron. There is one
other small store between the town and the summit, before the
road reaches a broad dip between two hills. Looking back one can
make out a few peaks in the distant San Juan mountains as well
as the enormous plateau through which the Gunnison River cut its
view onto Gunnison River and the road cut of Black Mesa
Dayride with this point as highest summit
Blue Mesa Summit x2: Curecanti Needles area <> Blue
Mesa Summit <> Cimarron: 50.4 miles with 3780 feet of
climbing in 4.09 hours (VDO MC1.0 m3:5.7.19)
A Day on a Three Day Tour:
(<Black Mesa Summit , Jones
Summit x2 , Cerro Summit|)
Blue Mesa Summit , Cerro
Summit: day3: Montrose > Cerro Summit > Blue Mesa
Summit > Gunnison: 68 miles (mech odo m220.127.116.11).
Notes: includes a few "around town miles". This was
a Heartcycle Tour, but includes a few additional miles over
unpaved roads on day2. Click the first pass in the list for an
overview of the tour.
A Day on a 15 Day Tour with this point as highest summit:
Blue Mesa Summit , Cerro
Summit : campsite in Black Canyon NM > Cerro Summit
> Blue Mesa Summit > Sapinero: 50.6miles (mech Odo
Notes: measured with a mechanical Odometer. The previous day
was an out and back ride through Black Canyon of the Gunnison
NM. The day before that crossed Red Mountain Pass.
DRG railroad display on Cimarron Canyon Road
Blue Mesa Summit has an extensive background as detour around
the Black Canyon, but not quite as extensive as the next summit
to the west, Cerro Summit (even though lower in top elevation).
More happened deep below Blue Mesa than on its nondescript top.
This is the stretch of the canyon that laid the most convincing
reasons on practically motivated travelers and traffic planners
to exit the canyon while they still can. The western end of the
profile, Cimarron Canyon, provided the last chance to emerge
from the depths and travel trough the sage instead.
Gunsion Rail Survey (<Cochetopa
...And everything was going so well on top of Cochetopa Pass.
But then Captain Gunnison's assessment for a transcontinental
railroad over Cochetopa Pass, following the Gunnison river
westwards took a nosedive. Now he had to deal with the Black
Canyon of the Gunnison. He would have much preferred the canyon
route over crossing Blue Mesa. It was later, inside what is now
the national park, that two of his wagons overturned, and the
plans for a transcontinental railline also were destroyed.
Still, the canyon would bear Gunnison's name in the future
Otto Mears Passes (<Pinos
also the San Juan Mining Boom. Otto Mears acquired the
route over the smmit as part of his toll road kingdom shortly
after 1875. In 1881 settlers poured over the pass to live on Ute
lands, vacated as a result of the mining boom in the San Juans.
The town of Gunnison was the second pot of gold won by the
Denver Rio Grand Railway (DRG). Just as in the race to
Leadville, the DRG's rails beat out the Denver South Park
railroad's (DSP) more mountainous route. But both railways
managed lay spur lines from Gunnison to service the surrounding
mines. No additional passes needed to be crossed to do this. The
DRG serviced Crested Butte and its anthracite coal deposits,
while the DSP built a branch line partly up Ohio
Pass to service its mines.
In 1882 the DRG worked on expanding its line from
Gunnison to Salt Lake City. That was the occasion for a railway
through the Gunnison canyon to become reality after all, albeit
not all the way and only for a short time. While the DSP faced
its biggest nightmares on the mountain passes, the DRG didn't
have a picknick in the canyons either. Its most difficult
venture up to this point had been the line through the Royal
Gorge of the Arkansas. Yet the last mile of rail through this
part of the Black Canyon cost the railroad more than then entire
right of way through the Royal Gorge. Pioneering work in
blasting techniques was done here. Extra long fuses were
deployed when workers on scaffolding lowered into the canyon to
set charges. While the extra long fuses were burning the workers
would be hoisted out of the canyon. Four months were
needed to complete 15 miles of track by 1043 men. The
source does not specify if the 1043 men refers to before the
blasting started or after it was finished.
The rails burrowed through the canyon, exiting along the west
end of the profile provided on top. Here began the climb through
Cimarron Canyon on its way up Cerro
Summit. An engine with two cars sitting on a partially
restored bridge mark the spot today. The National Park Service
also provides a visitor center complete with a park ranger, who
can answer any burning historical questions that just can't wait
any longer to be answered.
In 1971 the canyon was viewed as being more appropriate for
water storage than a railline. The Morrow Point Dam submerged
the canyon upstream from the point where the rails exited.
Cycling - Ride the Rockies (<Loveland
This summit has seen more than its share of the Denver Post's
"Ride the Rockies" cyclists labor to its top. Even
though never given the recognition of a pass label on their
official map, the summit has been on the tours of 1987 89 92 97
99 02 and 05, only once less than the pass that is most
associated with this tour, Loveland Pass. All of these stages
grouped Blue Mesa Summit with Cerro Summit.
Summit/highest elevation: 8704 ft
|from Blue Mesa
|from Sapinero (7580ft)
|from low point after intermediate
|low point in Cimarron
|from Cimarron (6880ft)