Dallas Divide

Log fences zig zag through a grove of yellow september aspen trees. Mount Sneffels imposes a backdrop that soon eclipses the foreground in attention.  - The scene has long been a favorite on Colorado post cards. These views are taken on the Dallas Divide road, as any slowly climbing cyclist will quickly notice between gasps for air. The scenes along this route are unmistakable. This is not a ride through closed space limited by alpine towers. Instead carpets of scattered aspen trees recede to the foot of the Sneffels Wilderness five miles in the distance. After being mesmerized by the views along the east side, it may be hard to believe that the Dallas Divide is also the lowest paved pass in the San Juan mountains.

click on profile for more detail
01(6940ft,mile00) START-END EAST ALTERNATE: Dallas
02(7040ft,mile03) START-END EAST: after turning right onto Co62, town of Ridgway
03(8970ft,mile14) TOP: Dallas Divide
04(8820ft,mile15) alternate dirt road western approach joins on left
05(7300ft,mile26) START-END WEST junction Co145 and Co62. Profile continues downvalley on Co145
06(7120ft,mile29) Specie Creek Canyon joins on left
07(7000ft,mile43) START-END WEST ALTERNATE: Norwood


From East: A bikepath exists between the development at Dallas and Ridgway. It does however contain a 600 feet rough dirt section (July/05), which is no problem for a fat tire bike, but imposes uncalled for indignities on some racing bikes and cleated, colorful Italian racing shoes.

The initial steep climb from Ridgway  proves to be a false alarm. The road levels out soon afterwards, roughly following Dallas Creek. Moments later Mount Sneffels appears in sight and accompanies the cyclist to the top. The shoulder to be crossed also becomes visible. The road climbs a small ridge and one is tempted to think that God placed the ridge at this point, so that man might have a good viewing angle of the Sneffels massif. The road has a good shoulder although it becomes a little narrower towards the top.

The ride from Ridgway may make you wish that it would last just a little longer, even if you have seen it all before. The many views popularized by post cards are all taken on this side. It's the upper part of this short approach, where most of these scenery shots were taken. It's also on this stretch that the San Juan Mountains look their most sanjuanine ( word derived from "alpine", but referring to the San Juans instead of the alps ). The San Juans have a characteristic appearance different from other high peaks including the alps. The San Juans are characterized by more aspen and more color, straight sedimentary rock layers streaked with ocher and red. Straight cliffs lead to block shaped mountains. Some have a flat top. Others are a ragged ridgeline.

From West: (also described upwards) Riding up the pass from the west, the day's journey is most likely to start in Telluride, rather than the low point in Norwood, shown on the profile. The lowest elevation between Telluride and the Dallas Divide is reached in Placerville, as you turn onto Rte 62. From there it is only about 10 miles without switchbacks to the top. Past Placerville the ride leaves the San Miguel river. The road stays in the forest and offers little in the way of views. The road has more shoulder than the stretch Placerville - Telluride, which is part of the Lizard Head Pass profile.


Escalante (<Gypsum Pass|Columbine Pass>): At the point where the first picture was taken an informational tablet erected by the Old Spanish Trail Association states that the Escalante expedition of 1776 crossed the Dallas Divide. One has to assume that "Dallas Divide" in this context refers to the water divide that continues onto the Uncompaghre Plateau, and not this particular crossing. Several proposals have been made just exactly where Dominguez and Escalante crossed from the San Miguel to the Gunnision drainages. This is one of them, Columbine Pass is another.

Railroads(<Hesperus Pass|Lizard Head Pass>): also Otto Mears Passes. The Dallas Divide is the beginning of the final chapter of narrow gauge rail passes in Colorado.  Otto Mears' first attempt to provide a rail connection between Silverton and Ouray over Red Mountain Pass had failed. Plan B, the big detour was conceived, a plan to cross Lizard Head Pass and the Dallas Divide to connect Durango with today's Ridgway.

The railroad imprinted the name on today's Ridgway. When iron tracks came close to already existing pioneer towns of the American west, upheaval was sure to follow. Often a new town was platted from railroad property, in order to maximize windfall profits.

In this case the already existing town was also renamed due to additional factors, leading to a virtual renaming frenzy. In the 1870s the community of Unaweep, an Indian word for "dividing waters" was located just south of the official Ute territory boundary, just north of today's Ridgway. After the Meeker massacre near Yellowjacket Pass, popular sentiment turned against Indian names and the town became Dallasville in 1979. It grew into Dallas City with the passing of Denver Rio Grande rails between Durango and Ouray. When Mears' Rio Grand Southern chose the area as the northern terminus for his final bravado project, the nearby Dallas Junction became the new center of Ridgway, named of course after the superintendent of the railway's new northern division.

Today old Dallas City is witnessing a rebirth under the name Dallas. A golf course has been built to attract development, the kind of place that the Arizona dessert is famous for. These days retiring seniors flock to these oasi just like caravans of traveling beduins were attracted by the original dessert oasi. While being originally named for an old president, it may soon seem as if Dallas was named after that city in Texas. But as of yet, it is really not that bad.

So much about Misters Ridgway and Dallas and the towns named after them. From Ridgway the DRG already operated tracks to Ouray. Now all that was needed were tracks to from Ridgway to Durango. This new line was called the Rio Grande Southern and Otto Mears already operated a toll road over the pass since 1882. Rail construction lasted between 1889 and 1890, and once finished a post office with train station graced the top of the divide. But the major challenges lay still ahead, Lizard Head Pass and its canyons.

Cycling - Ride the Rockies: (<Cucharas Pass|Grand Mesa summit(u)>):  As of 2005 the Denver Post's "Ride the Rockies" ventured twice over the Dallas Divide, which is not a lot for such a great cycling route. But then - the San Juans are far from Denver. The city is usually one anchor of the tour. The pass was included in 99 and 03 during a stage from Telluride to Montrose.

Dallas Divide (Summary)

Elevation/Highest Point: 8970ft

Eastern Approach: paved

from Dallas (6940ft)
from Ridgway (7040ft)
Western Approach: paved

from Specie Canyon turnoff (7120ft)
from junction Co145 - Co62 (7300ft)


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