Colorado Highway 141 | The Unaweep/Tabeguache Byway

Just One Road

All I had to do was read the Wikipedia entry for Colorado State Highway 141: “...winds around a considerable amount due to the rugged terrain, and ultimately forms a giant S.” Words like ‘winds’ and ‘Giant S,’ when describing a road, usually get my synapses firing like an AK-47. I needed to ride this thing.

When I turned a wheel down Highway 141 last year, I found out the description wasn’t just hyperbole. The 160-mile long gash of asphalt in western Colorado ends up shimmying around numerous rock formations, and it really can’t help but go into multiple convulsions the whole way. And those crazy land forms? Scenic bonuses. Big time.

Getting there is half the fun. If you can find US Route 50 East out of Grand Junction, CO 141 joins up with the road, then splits right at the town of Whitewater. This is where the 141 starts its run as the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway. From the Gunnison River valley, it heads down Unaweep Canyon along East Creek, knifing through the soft red sandstone of the Uncompahgre Plateau. This canyon witnessed a copper boom a century ago, and decades later processed ore to produce uranium for the first atomic bombs. There’s some natural power at work here.

The wide canyon walls narrow as you meet up with the Dolores River at Gateway, and by now it’s hit you—you’re on a motorcycle dream road. Here, 141 turns south, but you’ll want to pull over and top off the tank at the full service gas station; It’s the last chance until Naturita. Now’s also a good time to check your camera; scads more photo ops are coming up. Gateway also has a luxurious resort (Gateway Canyons), and a world-class collection of American automobiles on the premises. Do yourself a favor and duck in for a look, or at least grab a bite at the Paradox Cafe.

You’re fully immersed in red rock now, and the massive butte looming over the town (it’s called The Palisade) confirms it. From here, the Byway shadows the Dolores River as it heads southeast, mirroring its every twist and turn. This body of water has way more spirit and drama than mellow East Creek, especially when gaining elevation. If the sheer scenic overload—thousand-foot-tall striated cliffs, endless streams, Montana-grade skies—doesn’t get you, you’re not paying attention. You’ll want to pull over at the Hanging Flume—a 7-mile long wooden aqueduct attached to the side of the canyon. The project was completed in 1891, and carried 23 million gallons of water a day to a mining site. You have to wonder how the heck they built it, and that the wooden structure still exists at all.

Plenty of BLM-managed dirt roads slither across CO 141, so keep your eyes peeled for ATVs and dirt bikes. The road continues its undulations along the Dolores to the San Miguel River, eventually meeting Route 145 at Naturita. Here, the Byway technically ends, though you can continue on 145 up to the mountain resort of Telluride; it’s nearly as scenic.

Here’s the disclaimer: the Unaweep Scenic Byway doesn’t offer one awesome destination at its end; it’s simply about the journey. In this case, that’s more than enough.

Colorado Highway 141 | The Unaweep/Tabeguache Byway - Motorcycle Cruiser Magazine