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Muddy Pass

The word "park" has a second meaning in the American west. It refers to a high plateau - often a sage covered plain, ringed with mountains on all sides, or at least on as many sides as possible. Muddy Pass connects two such parks. It seems like Middle Park and North Park "flow up" in order to meet at this point. With that Muddy Pass is the lowest continental divide crossing in Colorado.

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1.(8130ft,mile00) START-END NORTH: Hebron
2.(8710ft,mile22) TOP: Muddy Pass, route to Rabbit Ears Pass joins from right.
3.(7570ft,mile43) START-END SOUTH: junction with Co 134


From North. This is the shallow side of a shallow pass, and it barely climbs 600ft. But still I think this is the best road cycling of the entire Muddy - Rabbit Ears - Steamboat complex. There is less traffic here and atl least on my rides it seems to be more considerate.

And the scenery ... is best at the bottom ... given the right conditions, which usually involves a spectacle of clouds, which again produces a spectacle of light, playing, reflecting and interacting with the distant mountain ranges.

When the road reaches the turnoff to FR103 Indian Creek Road, Rabbit Ears Peak, sofar only a insignificant blip on the horizon, moves into the center field of view. From now on, that's what the road is heading for. It serves as marker in the landscape, like the label on a piece of clothing, so that there is no identity crisis during the entire approach.  Muddy Pass lies right below Rabbit Ears Peak. Watching the altimeter, the digits change slowly. Before the top the road actually seems to level out.

The highest point is not marked. But it is the intersection with all the traffic coming from Steamboat Springs and Rabbit Ears Pass (mostly on weekends)

From South. (also described upwards). It's tough to designate a starting point on this side. So I started the profile back at the jct with the turnoff to Gore Pass. As Middle Park gently rises up towards this pass, its character takes on a sage valley character. The hills are dotted with waves of hills terminating in nipples of all sizes. One landmark along this section is a medium sized triangular mountain, Whiteley Peak (10115ft) fronted by wooden ranch buildings. The last few miles seem to be heading for Rabbit Ears Peak, within a range of plus/minus 20 degrees. On the right there is a "ghost town" for sale, or at least a good replica of one. It has been on sale for a long time, and the market in dilapidated wooden shacks seems to be very soft, even this close to Steamboat Springs The very last stretch of road on this side seems is steepest section of this road.

During weekend commuting season this road can have a lot of Steamboat Yahoo traffic. There is no shoulder wide enough to ride on. The lower part is rumble stripped in the middle, but undamaged on the side. The top remains blissfully unrumbled - something we have to be thankful for in the United States, which is taken for granted in the rest of the world.

Dayrides with this point as intermediate summit are on page:
FR103 Chimney Rock Rd (sh)
FR700 Chimney Rock s(u)

A Day on a Three Day Tour with this point as shoulder point is on page: Rabbit Ears Pass


Fremont ( <FR543 South Spring Creek Rd s(u)(Wy) | Hoosier Pass>) : In the summer of 1844 the catch phrase "manifest destiny" was gathering steam. America was destined to become a continental world power. For that it needed Indian and the Spanish territory of Texas, California and today's New Mexico. The Missourian senator Hart Benton did all he could to further exploration and settlement along the nation's main people pipeline heading west, the Oregon trail. And what better person to put in charge of a military expedition to map the area than your son in law ? 

His son in law, lieutenant Fremont, roamed the west in search of military and emigrant routes, in charge of three dozen or so men who weren't exactly regular army issue, but a collection of trappers, traders and guides. Over time they included a Taos guide named Lucien Maxwell, who was about to marry into a Taos family. This family had recieved a large landgrant in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. That was the Spanish version of encouraging settlement; give more land to the rich. One of Fremont's expeditions also included a young William Gilpin, who would become a future governor of Colorado.

Fremont had a deep desire to explore the granite heart of the Colorado Rockies for routes and passes. But his main area of activity had centered around South Pass and the Oregon Trail. It was not until his second expedition in 1844, that he penetrated the mountains south of extreme northern Colorado. From the eastern side of Wyoming's Battle Lake Pass he headed south in North Park, until they happened upon Muddy Pass. His reaction was quite ecstatic and is in contrast to how we may see this low divide today. "A beautiful valley of thirty miles diameter" ... "walled in all around by snowy mountains" ... "we crossed the summit of the Rocky Mountains through a pass which was one of the most beautiful we had ever seen". These observations describe the beauty of North Park in factual simplicity and are less directed at the pass itself.. Maybe the statement was also a consequence of three days of excellent crystal clear spring sunshine, after a winter of death and hardship for the expedition. A clear sunny day riding over Muddy Pass is better than getting nailed by a thunderstorm on Trail Ridge Road.

Fremont's route through Colorado during June of 1844 was almost as straight as an arrow. After  he crossed Muddy Pass to the rolling ranges of Middle Park, he continued south along the Blue River, reaching the area of today's Dillon Reservoir. Still heading south, he continued to Hoosier Pass.

Hayden Survey (<Ute Pass|Willow Creek Pass>): The Hayden survey was to US geographical surveys what the Escalante expedition was to Spanish missionary expeditions. They accomplished more with less. Hayden's groups traveled in groups of 6 to 8, a topographer and his assistant, a geologist or two, packers and a cook. The majority of them was less than 30 years old, and they were absorbed in the scientific and visual marvels they discovered. They had no use for canons and guns like the military expeditions that preceded them. Instead they used mules, which made them seem harmless to the Utes. They took along as little equipment as possible. The exception was the official photographer of the group, Henry Jackson. His huge camera had to go everywhere, and the tent dark room had to be in quick reach. We can still admire the fruits of all that effort and artistic talent in many museums.

The Hayden Survey did the definitive mapping work in Colorado. Little has been added since then. They spent the summers and falls of 1873, 74 and 75 roaming the passes, climbing the mountains, and making notes and conclusions of every kind. During their free time they were based in comfortable civilized "little London", as Colorado Springs was known at the time.

During their first year in 1873 a crew of the Hayden survey, headed by 25 year old topographer Marvine, mapped three passes between Middle and South Park : Muddy pass, Willow Creek Pass, and Troublesome Pass. The two lower routes are major highways today. Muddy is the lowest and in the minds of some, the most unremarkable of all of them. But it was remarkable to the speculating mind of S.B. Ladd, assistant to Marvine. He speculated about the consequences, if Muddy Pass would be a little lower still.

If Middle Park had turned out 800 feet higher at Gore Canyon, and if the already low Muddy Pass had been yet another 800 feet lower too, the Colorado river would have turned north near Kremmling to join the North Platte. This waterway would have been a huge eastern river, combining forces with the North Platte to rival the Mississippi in volume, making Wyoming a corn and hog state. The North Platte could have been a traffic route along which tourists could travel in steamers towards the Rockies.- So much for what might have been.

Muddy Pass (Summary)

Elevation/Highest Point: 8710ft

Northern Approach:
from Hebron (8130ft)
580 ft
22 miles
Southern Approach:

from junction with Co134 (7570ft)
1140 ft
21 miles