Story and Photography by Rusty Childress
This year was the 21th annual Four Corners Motorcycle Rally in the town of Ignacio Colorado, celebrating its centennial this year. Ignacio is located a few miles northeast of the point where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah meet. It is the only place in the U.S. where four states meet and where 5000 bikers also meet for legendary riding in the Rockies every Labor Day weekend.
This biker bash has been called Ignacio Bike Week, Four Corners Iron Horse Rally, Rally In The Rockies and unofficially called The Rally In The Alley when things got so politically charged that they tried to cancel it. Now with strong backing from the Durango Tourism Office, The Ignacio Chamber of Commerce, Sky Ute Casino, Durango and Four Corners H-D as well as plenty of other sponsors it has truly been resurrected as an annual two-wheel pilgrimage.
After U.S. Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, Mike Lovato and a handful of others invented the rally plus the biker bull riding signature event, it has grown into a rally requiring 250 volunteers including members of the Iron Order M/C to help do all the heavy lifting. Thanks to these good folks and to organizers Mel Silva and Johnny Valdez, there was so much scheduled fun that it was like drinking through a fire hose with events stacked on top of one another.
The official epicenter of the rally is the Sky Ute Fairgrounds and Casino in Ignacio. Here you could find concerts, beer tents, loudest pipes contest, scores of vendors and artists, thong hula contest, custom bike shows, burn out pit, homemade bikini show, oil wrestling, mens hot buns contest, biker bull-riding, tattoo contest, arm wrestling, wet t-shirt contest, poker runs, Miss Four Corners contest and biker games. It is a terrific rally for the entertainment multi-tasker, and as the t-shirts says there are plenty of BIKES, BULLS, and BABES!
Former Senator Campbell told me “the strength of the rally, like Sturgis is the fact that it is spread out all over the region.” In fact there was a concurrent event celebrating it’s seven year in Mancos called the Sugar Pine Ranch Rally offering similar yet downsized entertainment with plenty of camping opportunities. You could also find yourself motoring over to other regional events in Farmington, Cortez and Silverton, but for many Durango is where you want to be when you want it all.
Most people think of Durango as the emotional heart of the rally. Not only is it the gateway to riding nirvana on the Million Dollar Highway but the entire town embraces bikers because they are a major shot in the arm that boosts the local economy. For the biker, Durango is a hub for day trips to Mesa Verde National Park and over 11 breath taking Four Corner loop rides. It is also home of the Hotrods and Harleys Parade on Sunday attracting hundreds of supporters who line Main Street for blocks. Historical downtown Durango also hosts the Saturday night Street Party featuring Sturgis-style parking.
The linchpin to the entire rally experience for over two decades though has been the exceptional riding of Southwestern Colorado. It is the one thing that can’t be duplicated anywhere else and contributes to each riders decision to attend.
Second to none, The Million Dollar Highway and San Juan Skyway can make your tailpipes wag with joy. Highway 550 is a 70-mile stretch of motorcycling bliss that was recently voted the #4 ride in the United States by the American Motorcycle Association. The winding mountains roads surrounding Ouray rival the great motorcycle tours of the European Alps.
The entire San Juan Skyway covers 236 miles and is punctuated by 284 turns and three majestic, 10,000-ft. mountain passes. It is the perfect mix of scenic beauty, high-mountain lakes, curves and wide open stretches to release your bike to some of the best motorcycle riding in the world. If you are up for some riding variety and the Skyway is not the only loop that you want to do from the Durango, here are a few scooter rides that are local favorites:
• Durango H-D Mayor’s Poker Run: take Florida Road CR-240 east to CR-501 north to Vallecito Lake (22 miles), sitting at 8000 feet. After you have gawked at all the scenery the Weminuche Wilderness has to offer, head south down CR-501 all way to Ignacio. Loop back to Durango using 172.
• Upper Animas River loop: take Florida Road CR-240 to CR-250 just out of town. Head north on a curvaceous, tree canopied country road featuring old farm houses all the way to Rockwood. Double back on Highway 550 south to Durango. Two hours should do it.
• Lower Animas River loop: from the Home Depot off of 550 take CR-213 south 20 miles to Bondad, double back north on 550 using one of several bridges along the way. You will enjoy solitude and the twists and turns of the Animas River.
• Wild Cat Canyon loop: go west on 160 a few miles to Wild Cat Canyon Rd. which eventually turns into CR-136. Take it to 140 and turn right going north back on 160 to Hesperus. You may not see anyone for miles with mountains to the left and Red Mesa to your right, quite a delight. 2-3 hours.
• Mesa Verde National Park: take 160 west past Mancos 36 miles to the Mesa Verde exit on your left. From here you will head up the mesa with killer views of the San Juan Peaks. When you arrive at the North Rim road you will be treated to amazing views of Montezuma Valley. Take the Far View turn off west to the Fire Recovery Viewpoint at the end of the switchbacks. This a sweeper and twisty lovers paradise, even if you never see a one cliff dwellings this ride will be a highlight of your trip.
This entire area has has some of the most spectacular roads in the country, and offers riders the opportunity to travel from the cool air above tree line to the toasty, sun baked flats of the desert, and still get back for the evening party in a single day. No where else in the country can riders roll through four states, with every mile revealing new, spectacular scenery and surprises.
See you next year at the corners. RC