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Medano Pass

The most troublesome aspect of bicycling Medano Pass is not getting over the top. Instead the hard labor and frustration comes when traversing the bottom on the west side. The jeep road through Great Sand Dunes National Monument will make sandy parts of the Kokopelli Trail ( for example ) appear like slickrock in comparison.

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1. (mile00,8304ft) START/END-WEST: Sand Dunes National Monument
2. (mile04,8455ft) cross Medano Creek and leave valley for canyon
3. (mile10,9603ft) stay right, fork on left goes to Medano Lake
4. (mile11,10030ft) TOP: Medano Pass
5. (mile12,9192ft) jeep trail turns to dirt road
6. (mile15,8537) stay right down hill
7. (mile15,8315ft) dirt road joins from left
8. (mile16,8158ft) dirt road joins from right
9. (mile18,7768ft) dirt road joins from left
10 (mile19,7693ft) START/END-EAST: junction to Rte. 69, continue right to Gardner
11.(mile29,6969ft) START/END-EAST ALTERNATE: Gardner


From West. As you follow Medano Creek into Great Sand Dunes National Monument, you are greeted by a sign, advising you to lower your tire pressure to 50 percent of normal, to help deal with the sand ahead. But of course this sign is directed at jeepers. Grabbing the valve of one's bicycle tire is of no use. A sturdy hike with a bike by one's side lies ahead, maybe even a portage, irregardless of tire pressure. By the time Medano Creek turns into the mountains, prayers for the end of sand are a likely consequence for religeous MTBers.

Yet the sand persists, even as you gain distance from the dunes. Once you get on the bike again, it's welcome relief to use the legs in a circular way and to ride in thick forest, and if it's snow melt time, next to a raging creek, that needs to be crossed numerous times. Near the top of the pass, an ( at least in the past ) unsigned junction may put you on the route to Mount Hierard. At this point, the Medano Pass summit is very close and east of the Mount Hierard Trail ( right fork going up towards the pass ). The top is in dense forest.

From South. (also described upwards) The dirt road to Medano Pass leaves Rte 69 about a dozen miles south of the Promontory Divide. Compared with the other side, this is a pleasant ride indeed, even if the scenery is not as exotic, but beautiful nonetheless. The lower part of the route contains a few vantage points onto other peaks in the Sangre de Cristo Range to the south. A few miles below the summit the road turns into a trail curving through dense forest.



Medano Pass , Mosca Pass : lower western approach to Mosca Pass > Mosca Pass > Great Sand Dunes NM <> short out and back because of wrong turn to Mt Hierard >> Medano Pass > Co69 east > Garnder > back to starting point: 52 miles (m1:87.05.09).
Notes: the Mosca Pass Trail from top of Mosca Pass down to Sand Dunes NM is now closed to bicycles


Pike (<Trout Creek Pass|Mosca Pass>):  Having finally recognized the Arkansas River for the Arkansas River, Pike and his 14 men were camped in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe. The piercing peaks of the Crestones formed an impenetrable barrier to the west, and the rounded Wet Mountains were to the east.

It was very cold spot to camp out that Januaray. Pike an his men were in trouble. They were out of food and close to freezing. Seven men collapsed from frozen feet, including 3 official hunters. In a 2 day hunt, bringing them very close to death, Pike and another man succeeded in shooting a buffalo. Shortly afterwards the weather moderated and they crossed the Promontory Divide. Barely on the other side, Pike spotted a another pass that might lead him to the Red River. Another member of  his group had collapsed with frozen feet. But what are somebody else's frozen feet to a 26 year old lieutenant following orders ? They left him parked with some fire wood and headed across Medano Pass.

On the other side Pike was again convinced he had found the Red River and ceremoniously drank from the creek. He named the pass he just crossed "Pike's Gap". But the Spanish had already given it a more descriptive name "Medano Pass", Sanddune Pass. To Pike's further dismay, his Red River unceremoniously disappeared into the sand. Pike spotted another river to the south near Alamosa, but soon realized that it would lead him to the Rio Grande and not the Red. Pike never mentioned the massive southern terminus of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the Blanca Massif in his journals. That's understandable. He had other problems, several men with frozen feet left behind at a campsite on the other side of the pass, who would be cripples the rest of their lives. In order to retrace their way back to the camp in front of the mountains, near Canyon City, some of the group probably crossed Mosca Pass.

Gunison Rail Survey (<Mosca Pass|Poncha Pass>) By the time captain Gunnison surveyed Medano Pass for its potential to serve as crossing for a future transcontinental railroad, a broad Indian trail traversed the pass. However the judgement for its suitability as a railroad pass turned out even worse than the previously surveyed route, Mosca Pass.