Forget the dirty air, follow these tips in Colorado National Monument

One of the most epic bicycle rides around is close to home. Taking a ride over Colorado National Monument is a good way to waste a day.



Drive time and distance: 10 minutes, 5.4 miles to East Entrance of Monument

Length: 33.27 miles

Riding Time: 2.5 hours plus

Difficulty: Tough going up, a breeze the rest of the way

I know I’m going out on a limb here, but I think breathing dirty air is probably a health risk.

Now, I don’t want to sound like one of those flamin’ liberals, but when I see flamin’ Arizona forest fires on the news, then look outside where I cannot see Grand Mesa, I know there’s a lot of stuff in the air. I’m guessing it isn’t good for my lungs.

I thought of this last week as I wheezed and pedaled across Colorado National Monument.

The fact is, some chemicals contained in wildfire smoke can cause health problems. A report from the Boulder County Health Department notes that “particulate matter or coarse particles (from forest fires) such as soot and ash are released in sizes both visible and invisible to the eye. These particles can reach deep into the lungs, especially during physical exercise, and may contain irritating and cancer-causing compounds.

One way to tell if there is an increased health risk associated with wildfire smoke is to do a quick visibility test.”


A number of years ago, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality created a handy guide for helping people understand health risks associated with fires. The guide used a scale for assessing visible air quality and assigning a risk category using the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality Index Scale (AQI).

I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but when I can’t see Grand Mesa from town, I don’t think I need the EPA’s AQI to tell me the air is dirty and it’ll probably hurt my lungs to pedal around the Colorado National Monument.

But I did it anyway.

Why? Because as my buddy Harry Hotimsky says, “It’s the epic ride. It’s absolutely the epic ride.”

At times, it can be dangerous, though, and not just for your lungs. Harry’s wife, Joann, was hit by a motorist while bicycling on this route 10 years ago. She was hospitalized and required surgery.

Happily, she’s recovered and back on the bike, riding up to Cold Shivers Point from her home on the Redlands a couple times a week.

So, even though this may be THE epic ride, Rim Rock Drive is a narrow winding road that must be shared with cattle trucks, impatient drivers, and other motorists gawking at the fabulous scenery and not necessarily paying attention to the road.

Colorado National Monument encourages motorists to drive with caution and share the road with bicyclists, as well as bicyclists, who have a responsibility to ride with caution and share the road with motorists.

Here’s a list of things motorists must do while driving across Colorado National Monument:

Obey posted speed limits

Turn on vehicle lights when driving through tunnels.

Yield to bicyclists at all times.

Use extreme caution when passing bicycles.

Stop completely at all stop signs.

Take a chill pill, slow down and enjoy the drive.

Here’s a list of things bicyclists must do while pedaling across Colorado National Monument:

Have visible white lights in the front and red lights from the rear when riding through tunnels.

Ride single-file along the right side of the traffic lane and allow motorists to pass.

Obey posted speed limits.

Don’t pass cars going downhill. It scares the scat out of them.

Stop completely at all stop signs.

Bicyclists also are encouraged to wear helmets and brightly colored and reflective clothing. That’s only common sense.

Now, back to pedaling with lots of smoke in the air, how bad can smoke get?  The Wallow Fire in Arizona had burned more than 233,000 acres in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest as of Tuesday morning. Hospital workers there urged area residents with asthma or other breathing problems to evacuate because the smoke contained gases and water vapors mixed with hazardous pollutants. Emergency personnel warned those fleeing the smoke to head west, toward Phoenix, not east, toward Albuquerque, New Mexico or Colorado, because winds were pushing the smoke east.

That’s how smoke filled the Grand Valley skies earlier this week.

“It’s very irritating,” said Jerry Campeau, chief executive officer of the 25-bed White Mountain Regional Medical Center in Geer, Ariz. “The first symptom is sinus pain. Then the throat gets irritated, sometimes so badly you can cough up blood. When you start to have tightness in the chest, then it’s serious.”

I felt chest tightness well before I reached the tunnel on my ride up from the east entrance of Colorado National Monument. By the time I reached Cold Shivers Point, my legs felt like lead. But it wasn’t really from the fires. It was that 1,800-foot climb within the first six miles.

Nonetheless, if you’re in better shape than me, riding a bicycle across Colorado National Monument is truly the epic ride — especially on a clear day!

Email Bill Haggerty at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


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