Ute Pass  (Saguache Area)

As the Sawatch Mountains surrender their height to the vast, high plain of the San Luis Valley, they terminate with one last lookout over the valley, Saguache Peak at 10550ft. A short sidetrip from Ute Pass allows access to a shoulder of this last grand valley overlook. Compared with the many twelve thousand foot Sawatch Range passes to the north, Ute Pass may seem insignificant. True, the mountains to the north are a lot higher. But the location of this pass, at the southern tip of a range, with a commanding overlook of two valleys, give this pass its strategic interest.

In order to obtain this commanding view, a small additional climb from the top of the pass is necessary. I imagine that at one time the Utes must have valued this strategic view very much. From here you see all movement along  Saguache Creek, which leads up to the historically significant Cochetopa Pass. Today the town of Saquache seems to sleep in the valley below.



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1.(7720ft,mile00) START-END SOUTH: Saguache
2.(7790ft,mile01) turn from Co114 right onto dirt road signed Ute Pass
3.(9944ft,mile09) TOP: Ute Pass, sidetrip to nearby hilltop is on right.
4.(8680ft,mile13) junction with little Columbia Guch road. Continue downvalley towards right.
5.(8590ft,mile14) continue downvalley to right.
6.(7980ft,mile22) START-END NORTH: Villa Grove

Approaches

From South. The first dirtroad, encountered heading  west from Saguache on Co114, is clearly labeled Ute Pass Road. The smooth dirt road climbs gently and steadily through pinyon cactus and sagebrush to Juniper forest country. Good, quiet self-contained camping is available here. The road climbs to the summit in a steep bow and the road surface becomes much rockier. Small powerlines cross the pass summit.

The main road continues to the overlook mentioned above, where the strategic advantages are utilized today by a radio tower and microwave transmission dishes. The far views of the San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Range can be quite incredible. But the clarity of crisp, late autumn light is necessary to appreciate them.

From North. (described downwards) Because of the rocks and the steepness on the top of this side, I think the ordeal of going down is preferable to the ordeal of climbing. The first part of the descent is steeper and rockier than anything on the south side, but still ridable in a downward direction.

The road emerges at a private housing site, that first looks like a public campground. There is a "Ute Pass" sign at a critical intersection on this side, for those heading up. After all that bumpy braking the best part of the ride just may be the final miles of perfectly smooth pavement, rolling towards Villa Grove with the Sangre de Cristos in the background. This final part is not unlike descending into San Luis Valley from Poncha Pass, but Poncha Pass without cars. Also from this side, the name for the small settlement Villa Grove begins to make some sense, as one rides past a majestic grove of Cottonwoods trees lining Kerber creek, a mile away..

 

Tours

Dayrides. The two approaches are connected by a paved road with very wide shoulder for a dayride of comfortable proportion, even during the hottest time of the year. I measured 45 miles with 3200 feet elevation gain, using an Cateye100A cycle computer on such a ride. The ride included the extra summit and a few circles around sleepy Saguache.