By Bill Plock
The time capsule of Trinidad and the surrounding Spanish Peaks makes for the perfect back drop for what might become Colorado’s newest bucket list gravel bike and trail run event—Life Time’s ‘Rad Dirt Fest.
The city of Trinidad, nestled at the base of Colorado’s newest state park, Fishers Peak, located on the North side of Raton Pass, will host this event in early October. Trinidad, one of Colorado’s oldest and most preserved cities still flourishes with about 10,000 people but it feels like it hasn’t changed much since its heyday in the early 1900’s.
But it has changed–tons. As in tons and tons of coal that used to roll through here after being mined near the roads the ‘Rad Dirt Fest follows. Thousands of miners and their families lived in the Spanish Peaks area northwest of town leaving hundreds of miles of smooth gravel roads to play on a hundred years later.
Riding these roads feels like being part of an old Western movie. I kept imagining the Lone Ranger bounding out of the scrub oak or countless small rock canyons we passed on roads dotted with abandoned houses and foundations built in the late 1800’s to the mid 1900’s. I couldn’t help but wonder what life might’ve been like. I felt the ebb and flow of boom and bust scattered with tailings of coal tucked in among the hills. Today, cattle ranches permeate the area with amazing views of the Spanish Peaks and Sangre De Christos.
Also, there is a major reminder of a dark time in our history when you pass dozens of foundations left from the Ludlow Massacre in 1914. There, militia representing the mining company burned the tent homes of hundreds of miners and their families killing dozens and sending a reverberating outcry for fair labor laws across the United States. The memorial built by the United Mine Workers of America pays homage to the lives lost and to the significance this event had on laborers around the United States seeking better work conditions. I felt reverence and fortune to be able to ride freely through this area and by then feeling the grind of three thousand feet of climbing my “suffering” seemed a minor sacrifice for the privilege of riding on a beautiful day.
The gravel event will have three distances: 165, 90, and 38 miles with 10,800, 5,000 and 2,700 feet of climbing respectively. The running race will have a 50k and half marathon option. The races will start and finish on the red bricks of downtown Trinidad and will be going off in conjunction with the 200th commemoration of the Santa Fe Trail.
It’s amazing Trinidad is not bigger. It seems to have most everything—except a bike shop—which is hard to believe. With Trinidad State Park just to the West and home to Trinidad Lake and every conceivable camping and boating option, to the newly christened Fishers Peak State Park just to the South, this area is ripe for growth centered on the recreational opportunities. Trinidad has a vibrant downtown, Colorado’s first community college and is a stop for Amtrak’s infamous Southwest Chief that runs between Chicago and Los Angeles following route 66. If you live in the Midwest, bring your bike on the train and stay for the race!
Sitting out on the patio reminiscing the day with the Life Time crew at Moose’s “the most informative” bar in town, we saw a 1950’s chevy truck cruising back and forth driven by a grinning man who may be the original owner seemingly spending countless Saturdays cruising Main Street. Around the corner a woman played a steel guitar to a small group and down the street an old empty football field at the once mighty Holy Trinity Catholic High School built in the late 1800’s captured the setting sun on a perfect day.
Inside Mooses, owner Howard Lackey, a retired professional skier, busted out his atlas and showed me all kinds of bike routes he has dreamed up in the hills we rode earlier. He said, “Trinidad has been through a lot of ups and downs, but this is exactly what we need and I’m excited to see this race come to town.”
Says Wally Wallace, Trinidad’s Economic Development Director, “Trinidad as a town has reinvented itself time and time again throughout history, showing our strength as a community. We have been a community of miners, natural gas, of the arts and mostly recently we’ve shifted to focus on outdoor recreation. Today we’re looking for festivals, races and other destination attractions to bring a boom to this community. We as a city believe working with Life Time to create this unique race weekend during the Santa Fe Trail Bicentennial celebration is the perfect opportunity.”
As cyclists we might think of towns like Moab, Fruita, Leadville, Crested Butte and Salida and wonder what they may have been like, “back in the day.” Look no further, Trinidad is the answer and will be mentioned in the future alongside these legendary towns.
The ‘Rad Dirt Fest with the muscle and experience Life Time has putting on events such as the Leadville Series and Garmin UNBOUND (formerly the Dirty Kanza) combined with the enthusiasm of the town of Trinidad has a real shot to be special.
The festival is October 2nd and 3rd. You can register here: https://theraddirt.com
In the meantime come play in the Spanish Peaks all summer long. You can also explore lots of roads near La Veta, Stonewall and Cuchara. If you are a road rider, check out the Stonewall Century that weaves through these low traveled state highways. In May, there is a gravel race in the area that explores some of the same roads called the Pony Express 160.
If you are in the northern part of the front range and want to stop along the way, try riding the “New Santa Fe Trail” which is a 55 mile mostly smooth gravel trail that travels from south Colorado Springs to Palmer Lake offering amazing views of Pikes Peak and the Air Force Academy. It follows an old railroad bed and offers a very gradual climb from south to north. Stop at Criterium Bicycles in the Springs for a beer on the patio next to the trail.
The Southern Colorado front range awaits adventure with Trinidad being the southern most gateway. If you like empty smooth gravel roads with big views packed with history, this is your spot.