September 9, 2011
Friday morning. I should have been getting ready for work, but I was putting my riding gear on. There were plenty of other responsibilities that I could have given my time to – work, new house for my daughter and son-in-law, Debbie, and our own house that needs a bit of work. But, this was my selfish, healing escape from the routine life, which I feel is important in any healthy relationship with a wife or employer. I hugged my wife, put my riding gear on, and headed out to meet Tom to start our journey west. We are starting a 9-day ride up through New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Nevada winding up at the Bonneville Salt Flats.
Tom and I fought our way out of the morning rush against incoming traffic for near one hundred miles until we finally broke free of the traffic and population that is the necessary evil of our lives in the large city. My mind began its unwinding as we rode west into the rural two-lane roads of the Texas northwest.
As we crossed across the Texas-New Mexico border, the temperature dropped, and the landscape continued to open up to views that challenged the mind with size and distance. We followed historic Route 66 up to Las Vegas, and thought of what has transpired on this road over the years. Tom called Shalinda and I called Debbie in Las Vegas, thinking that might be the last communication for the next couple of days once we climbed into the mountains.
As we gained elevation, Tom kept radioing to me the temperature to me as it dropped, and the roads began to get wet. There was a steady mist in the 40’s as we pulled into Sipapu to set up camp. I set up my small tent in the same place that I have done since 2006. The Albuquerque BMW club served up their traditional green chili soup in the evening cool air as we met up with familiar faces, and others that were new to us. The mist stopped for a while, but rain began again early in the morning with rhythmic sounds on my tent until I awoke.
September 10, 2011
Saturday morning was bleak. The rain continued to fall, and the walk to breakfast was muddy and cold. Riders were packing up to leave the mountains and head back to drier, hotter grounds. I too thought of moving on, but as I looked to the weather in Colorado, it too looked just as wet. I decided to stay it out. I read a bit in the lodge and even slept for a while on a hard wooden bench in the lodge. But sometimes even in the gloomy, dark, cold and damp mornings, the day turns to bright, sunny skies, with smiles, laughter and sweet music to end the day. That was the outcome today with an absolutely beautiful afternoon in northern New Mexico.
We celebrated the afternoon with conversation and very tasty brews in the crisp, sunny mountain air.
Deb Lower presented Voni Glaves a certificate of recognition for her 1,000,000 miles of riding. Voni and Ardys finished up their miles together just a few weeks back on the Million Dollar Highway between Durango and Ouray.
The Great Blue Whales ended the evening with music that filled the pines with sounds of talented musicians playing renditions of popular songs over many years. As I document these last couple of days, the band is playing Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful”, one of Deb and my favorite songs. The night air is crisp and clear, and the moon is shining full and bright. Once again, life is good, as always.
September 11, 2011
I didn’t sleep well, and felt lousy as I packed up my camp site. Tom O. felt similar, and we attributed it to food we should not have had the day before. We vowed to do better, and it did indeed help later.
By the time we rode across the Rio Grande Gorge bridge into the Jemez Mountains on Hwy 64, I felt fine. The sun was shining, and the road was challenging and exciting. We set up our video cameras to capture the twisty ride over the mountain, and on to Chama.
We passed by the Rio Grande as we neared Creede, where we enjoyed a very good lunch on the patio listening to live music. Climbing Slumgullion Pass brought rain that slowed my pace through the tight turns. This is my second time across this pass, and now both times being wet. I’ll try again some day for dry roads.
The sun came out again as we rode past Blue Mesa. We continued west to Hwy 92 at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. The first thing we noticed on the dam as we slowed to check our cameras was the stationed officer and barriers around the dam. It’s 9/11, and the 10-year anniversary of the attack.
We did an out-and-back north on 92 up to Hermit’s Rest. Tom G. tried out Tom O.’s K1200GT on the road and had a blast.
The evening’s stop was Montrose, where we stayed in a cabin. Another fun day of riding.
September 12, 2011
Today was a relatively short ride to Moab, but a full day. We rode north towards Grand Junction, and turned onto Hwy 141 south to Gateway. This is a very twisty road that follows a canyon with spectacular steep red rock walls on each side.
Midway through the road is the Gateway resort, owned by the founder of the Discovery Channel and other networks. I believe he has invested in this resort to give travelers an unexpected oasis in this remote area of Colorado, and also to keep his collection of cars in good condition and available to others to appreciate. We had an excellent lunch at the grill, and toured the auto museum.
The ride south from Gateway was spirited, and I was splitting time between carving the corners and taking in the scenery. We stopped at the Hanging Flume, built during the gold rush. A massive thunderstorm loomed in front of us, and we were talking back and forth on the radios about stowing electronics before hitting the heavy rain. But, the route took us south to Naturita and back west under the massive anvil of the storm without any but a few sprinkles. Impressive show of force, though.
We climbed a few minor passes in the afternoon light, and continued into Moab to get settled in the cabin.
After stowing our gear, we put on hiking clothes to head out to Arches National Park. I asked the park ranger where we should go with our limited time, and she pointed us to the Windows. This is where we first started to get a feeling for how many Europeans are vacationing in the western National parks. There were tour buses filled with Germans and Italians. It’s interesting seeing so many folks from far away, but sometimes it was refreshing to stumble upon Americans. We hiked back to the massive arches, and wondered if the cloudy, dull light conditions would eventually break to let in the brilliant western sunset colors.
It eventually did, and Tom G. and I kept stopping to shoot pictures. We did this so many times that Tom O. just kept riding to the cabin to crash for the evening. G. and I finally made our way to the Moab Brewery for a very tasty burger and brews.
September 13, 2011
Tuesday morning was clear and crisp as we rode south out of Moab. It was not far out of town that we ran into the first road construction of the day. The bikes were shut down for a short time while the pilot truck was heading our way. Once the traffic started rolling again, we eventually entered a section of road that warned of deer migration. These signs were only a couple of miles apart, and we slowed accordingly. Utah DOT tells the truth. There were deer everywhere, massive Mule Deer.
As we tuned west, the landscape turned remote and dramatic. Lake Powell and the Colorado River in Glen Canyon was nearing. I hold fond memories of time spent at Lake Powell with Deb and our kids, and our good friends, Troy and Susan and their kids. Lake Powell is a magical place. Eagles were flying along the canyon walls, and the views go on forever.
We reluctantly left the Glen Canyon area and rolled north, through more remote country, with a mountain to our west that has obviously produced some flash floods in this arid region. There was evidence of high water above an arroyo, with wood and debris a good 8 feet above the low point of the highway.
Hanksville showed only 2 miles away on the GPS, but there was no evidence of a community until we topped a final rise, where the town made up of no more than 10 buildings finally appeared. We ate at Blondies, site of the world’s best burger. We could not pass up the opportunity to experience this best burger in the world, and went for the shake as well. As I left the cafe, a couple sitting outside caught my attention. Gary and Anne were Brits touring the west. Gary asked us how we could keep the speedometer at 65 in this wide-open landscape. We admitted we let the speed climb a bit when the conditions were safe. Later we learned that Gary is in the police force in England, so I asked if his jurisdiction extended into the Americas in the case we might run across him out on the road.
We rode through Capital Reef National Park under high red cliffs, and over pine-covered mountains near Boulder. Tom G. pointed out areas where he filmed around Escalante as we rode through the countryside.
The road snaked across a ridge south of town, and we continued on to Bryce Canyon, where we once again thought we were traveling in a foreign country. Panguitch was the stop of the day, at the Blue Pine Motel, a nice mom and pop stay.
Here’s a video montage of Utah:
September 14, 2011
Tom G. opened the door, and said “Great, it’s raining”. We thought he was kidding, since the previous day’s weather appeared to be clearing. But we wound up riding west for a couple of hours in light rain while G. rode south out of the muck towards Santa Fe.
As O. and I neared Ely, NV, the skies cleared a bit, the the temperature rose. We stopped for lunch in Ely, and rode on towards sunny Wendover, where we found a deserted stretch of road for a fly-by video that Tom had dreamed up to shoot. The Bonneville Salt Flats unrolled below us as we neared Wendover. After checking into the Rainbow Casino Hotel, we rode out to the Flats. The World of Speed was shut down for the day, since a moto rider dumped his bike at speed, and there was only one ambulance for the event.
We headed back to the hotel, and had a good dinner at the casino, taking in the 1970’s styling, although very clean.
September 15, 2011
The bikes were packed early and ready to roll as we rode back to the Salt, and as we neared, speeding towards us was another ambulance. This time, it was a course worker with chest pains.
We rode for miles on the Salt to a point where we could park the bikes, and as soon as I dismounted, Rick Vesco drove up. He was working with his daughter to set an auto speed record. I told him I had been following him and his brother, Don, since I was in high school.
Tom and I wandered the pits while we were waiting on a second ambulance so the speed runs could resume. We met a lot of friendly and interesting people.
We met Jack, who today visited Bonneville again for his first time since 1954. He told a few stories, and we enjoyed talking with him.
We met Seldom Seen Slim (Jon) and Nancy, who was at the Salt to do a 200+ mph run on her Hayabusa. The people here are friendly and eclectic.
The Salt is weird. It seems alien, and infinite.
Tom and I rode east on the interstate across the Salt Flats. It went on for 50 miles without a single bend in the road.
We made our way through central Utah, and east of Provo over the Wasatch range, where a strong thunderstorm challenged us with heavy rain and cold temperatures on the descent.
The journey south towards Green River was nice, with the warm light of the afternoon sun lighting the dry, craggy ridge to our east. The contrast of the strong storms behind us was interesting.
The sun was setting over the mesa as we approached Green River. Green River was a quiet town. We had a late-evening light dinner at Ray’s, and got to know more locals and Germans.
September 16, 2011
The morning air felt good as we rode east into Colorado. The route took us through Delta, and back down Hwy 92 along the north ridge of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. This time, I finally got to experience this technical road in dry conditions, the first time in around 5 rides since 2006.
Gunnison was the lunch stop at the Blue Iguana. The storms to the east were brewing, and it was not long out of town that the rain gear had to be put on. As we climbed Monarch Pass, the temperature continued to fall to 41 degrees, and then the rain and sleet began. The east side of the mountain gave hope of dry roads as we spotted blue skies through the clouds.
The traffic along Hwy 50 through Salida and on east was heavy. We missed out on some nice sweeping curves at speed along the Arkansas River.
But, as we turned south on Hwy 69, the traffic became light, and the afternoon light spilling over the cloud-covered Sangre de Cristos made the ride to Westcliffe so enjoyable. This wide, gentle valley between mountains has some very nice characteristics and dynamics. Near the Sangre de Cristos, the vegetation is lush and green, and on the opposite side of the valley, there is scrub. The light spills across the valley in ever-changing waves of illumination. The clouds boil above the peaks and work their way down the ridges.
We settled into the Westcliffe Inn, and decided to snack on food I had packed, rather than going downtown to the tavern for dinner. It was a relaxing evening, and we worked on photos and videos from the trip while watching the waning light on the mountains. The rain over the mountains slowly crept east towards the valley, and finally reached the inn. It was nice to hear the gentle sounds outside the open window. I really like this place.
September 17, 2011
The plan was to hit the road 15 minutes before sunrise in order to get an early start for the 700-mile ride home.
But, we drug our feet for a while, and then watched a spectacular sunrise unfolding. So, out came the cameras. Once the light show settled down, the free breakfast sounded fine at the inn. This set us back only one hour, so that was fine. We kept the pace low watching for deer in the early morning.
A herd of elk was near the road not far out of town. I can’t recall seeing this many together. At breakfast, we got the scoop from a traveler that the road out of Raton was a mess with construction, so at Trinidad, we rode east on 160, and south towards Capulin passing through Branson.
The ride into Texas was typical, with temperatures in the 90’s, and some stray thunderstorms that we hoped to ride through for a cool-down. We finally got our chance as we neared Wichita Falls.
The sun set in our mirrors as we approached Decatur, and we worked our way home through the north Dallas traffic. I was excited to see Debbie after such a long ride.
It was another great ride. When is the next one?