Western States Ride - Part 3

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Yamaha Motorcycles Street Event - I-90


Western States Ride - Part 3

By Colleen First

June 17 th ~ July 3 rd 2005

Total Miles: 5,491 miles, 17 days
Seattle, WA to Montrose, CO and return
Tickets: 1
Mishaps: 0
Puckers: 0

...continued from Part 2

Day 9 – 61 miles
We didn't go anywhere today. Doug's ride to Utah took more out of him than he previously thought so we decided to relax in Moab and let him rest up for a bit. We packed up the bikes and headed to a motel in town so that we could be closer to the amenities that Moab had to offer. Moab is a very nice place with plenty of stores to browse and restaurants to chose from. I bought some heat-appropriate clothing and Doug got a haircut; it was a very relaxing day. But not too relaxing. We were mere miles from Arches National Park and I didn't want to miss my chance of seeing it. Doug chose to stay at the motel while I hopped on the GS about an hour before sunset and took off up the road. The park was fairly empty of people, with most of the ones there already pulled off into vista lots or the campground. I rode down every side road, taking it all in from the back of the bike. I almost took the short hike to the Natural Arch, but when I considered the lingering heat and the setting sun, I decided that enough pictures had been taken of it that I didn't need to add mine to the collection. I toyed with the idea of exploring the "4 x 4 Only" road that veered off of the main road, but the impending rain to the west told me that the ruts I saw in the dried mud would become snares for my tires in the blink of an eye. It turned out to be a wise choice, as about 20 minutes later the skies opened up and the rains fell. A spider web of lightning streaked across the sky and the rain came down in sheets, with a strong wind blowing it (and me) across the road in a haphazard fashion. Fortunately I was already on my way out of the park by the time the rain started so it was a brief ride back to the motel where I got off the bike, the 'Stitch dripping wet but me feeling comfy and dry inside.

Day 10 – 336 miles
We were finally ready to hit the road. The morning was cool and we pointed the bikes south from Moab down Route 191. The landscape was wide open, with more and more frequent mesas and "monument" type formations. There were occasional arches and the colors of the rocks varied from tan to red to pink. We stopped by the rock formation that gives Mexican Hat its name and decided to take the dirt road that leads to the base of the rocks and down to the river. I was completely fascinated by the ancient folded rocks that make up the banks of the San Juan River and the stark contrast of the green growth and the harsh red rocks. We took some pictures of ourselves and the bikes and the "Mexican Hat" itself before continuing to the town proper. As we were heading back to the paved road from the dirt roads we were playing on, we saw that a tour bus had stopped to give its passengers a chance to get out and take pictures of the Mexican Hat rocks. A few of the photographers were apparently quite taken in by the sight we presented: two renegade off-road riders that appeared out of nowhere. We kicked up dust as they focused their cameras on us and quite a few lenses panned along as we rode past them and headed off into the distance. By the time we reached Mexican Hat it was lunchtime. Doug knew of a great little place to eat near the bridge over the San Juan that served some native dishes. Mmmmm, fry bread. It had been years since I'd had any!

After lunch we made a stop at Goosenecks. Doug had asked if I wanted to continue south to Monument Valley, but after looking at the haze in the sky I decided that I would be disappointed with any pictures that I took and that I was seeing plenty of amazing things as it was. Like Goosenecks! Those oxbow rivers that I loved so much in Colorado just got bigger and deeper. I could see tiny little splashes of color on the river. Doug informed me that they were river rafters – amazing. The sheer size and depth of this section of the river is hard to fathom, and nearly impossible to photograph.

From Goosenecks we headed towards Moki Dugway (sometimes spelled Mokee Dugway – even the state couldn't be consistent in their signage) The Moki Dugway is a three-mile section of dirt and gravel road that somehow traverses up the side of a mesa. I couldn't see the road at all as I approached the mesa and it was impossible to try and figure out how I was going to climb up the side of this cliff in just three miles on a road that is not apparent. I couldn't even see the road when I was at the base of the mesa. But oh what a road it is! It twists and turns in a torturous route up the side of this mesa, climbing 1,100' to the overlook at the top. The turns are tight and posted at 5 mph, which, when you're running on gravel roads, you take at 5 mph. We met a couple of guys on a Dakar and a Trans Alp at one turn who were traveling together. While the top of the mesa was just what one would expect, I was still surprised. I'm used to mountains that go up and then down, but to climb up a road like the Dugway and then come out onto a large flat plain – it just seemed weird. There was all sorts of vegetation along the way that precluded viewing anything of any distance, but it was interesting to look at nonetheless and a pleasure to see the variety of shades of green and textures after the relative lack of growth below the mesa.

Route 95 follows the White Canyon, so named for the bands of white rocks that abounded on both sides of the road, and provides continuous long, fast sweepers. Once again my preconception of Utah being full of nothing but flat and straight roads was shattered. It was a pleasure to drop down through some rough red rocks into a canyon that opened up to the wide plains above the very beginnings of Lake Powell and Glen Canyon Recreation Area. I was amazed at the level of the lake! In fact, if someone hadn't told me otherwise, I would have assumed that this was just a river meandering through the ravines of Utah. Doug and I stopped at the Marina at Hite for an ice cream sandwich and to ask about the lake level. The gentleman working the store said that poor (read: no) snow pack for the last six years was causing the water levels to drop precipitously. Later, Doug pointed to a rock that he swam out to the last time he was here – and it was 30' above the current water level. We left Hite, crossed the bridge to the other side of the canyon and quickly climbed to the top of a high mesa. From there we were able to look down on the marina and the "lake." In the distance I could see the concrete pad that had been placed for easy boat launching and how it was at least 50' above the waterline, leaving boats stranded literally high and dry. A vivid green belt of growth had taken over where the lake edge used to be and lent a surreal beauty to this otherwise desolate-looking scene.

We turned our GSs to the west and headed for our next adventure: Capitol Reef National Park. The ride there was pleasant, following the Fremont River and passing through infrequent, small towns. The temperatures were pleasant, although stopping for any length of time became unbearable in our 'Stitches, so we just kept on riding. The day was full of mid- to high-speed sweepers, excellent pavement and very little traffic. It was a pleasure to keep my new tires round as the GS met each successive curve with equal aplomb. Just before the town of Fruita, Doug decided to get a closer look at the river that a side road apparently led to. We rode carefully down this rutted dirt road and were rewarded with a lush and quiet valley of greenness where the river had bent into a gentle curve, leaving a fertile crescent to the side. The water was warm but not very well suited for swimming. We poked around the underbrush and found some rusty hinges from an old shack of some sort, remnants of an era gone by. Then the fun started! The road we had come across had passed through a sandy patch of a dried up riverbed. It had startled both of us, but we had made it through. Now we had to re-cross it to get back to the main road. Doug went first, and by the time I put my gloves on and came around the corner I found him standing next to his bike, with the bike resting peacefully on its side. I made it next to him and we lifted the bike up into its proper position after snapping a photo of the downed bike for fun. No harm to either bike or rider, as the sand – while causing the fall, also cushioned it. Doug got back on the bike and plowed his way through the rest of the sand and onto the hard packed dirt beyond. I chose my line carefully and gently rolled on the throttle, easing the heavy bike through the soft sand and hoping that the front end wouldn't wash out. It didn't, and I was now on solid ground with Doug. We got back to the main road and continued on our way.

While I realize that I was wrong about my preconception that Utah would be flat and desert-like, Dixie National Forest completely floored me. Nothing but thick green pine trees and white aspen for miles. The road curved aggressively between stands of trees, giving me more of a workout in the corners than I had had in days. The fear of deer was always upon me, knowing that it was a similar type of forest that produced the deer that took out the German rider in Colorado, but I gamely stuck it out and tried to keep up with Doug. By the time we exited Dixie NF it was getting late again. We chose to stay in Boulder, UT ("Gateway to the Grand Staircase") and found a nice little place to stay and a tasty restaurant for vittles. Over dinner we looked at our maps and saw a gray squiggle!!! The road was called Hell's Backbone and would completely cut out the Grand Staircase Escalante, but our sense of adventure was high after our earlier off-road escapade. But then we thought about the fact that it was 44 miles of unknown road conditions and that it would be hot and uncomfortable if we had to pick up our bikes every few miles. We decided to forego Hell's Backbone and instead stick to the pavement. We retired for the evening with the stars shining brightly in the sky.

Day 11 – 277 miles
We loaded up the bikes and set off toward Grand Staircase Escalante. Both of our heads swiveled to look at the turn off to Hell's Backbone, but we kept on going. A few miles later Doug pulled over. "Do you want to try it?" "Yes!!!" We turned the bikes around and soon were riding on a well-maintained gravel road. And to add to the sense of adventure, the map indicated that this road would skirt completely around Box Death Hollow. What great names! The road wasn't nearly as bad as we feared, although the gravel was a little looser than I would have like. We started out in green lowlands and rode past a couple of ranches before we gained elevation and views. Hell's Backbone follows a ridgeline, but it's not terribly obvious until you get to the one-lane bridge that crosses over a deep ravine at the top. The views were astounding, as was the absolute lack of any sign of humanity. None. We'd seen one dirt biker heading down just as we started coming up, but we hadn't seen a soul since then, and there was no evidence of civilization other than the road we were on. We spent quite some time at the bridge taking pictures and just plain "taking it in" before getting back on the bikes and finishing our loop around Box Death Hollow. There were a few side roads off of the main road, most of them evidently trailhead access roads. We had to laugh at one that was signed "Upper Death Access" – who could make it any easier? Eventually the road started to lose elevation and we found ourselves coming down long, fairly straight descents and the next thing I knew we were in Escalante. What a great adventure! It was neat to see something that we knew very few others had seen. We rewarded ourselves with some tasty sandwiches from the local eatery before continuing on to Bryce Canyon. As Doug and I sat in Ruby's parking lot just outside of Bryce at 4 p.m., we discussed what we wanted to see and what our options were. The north rim of the Grand Canyon was tantalizingly close, but we wouldn't be able to do that and Bryce Canyon. I chose the Grand Canyon. We hopped back on the bikes and headed to Arizona.

The first few miles in Arizona were flat and fairly uninspiring. I could see the Vermillion Cliffs in the distance, but they were hazy and I was not impressed. But soon the road rose into the Kaibob National Forest and gave me plenty of twists and turns. I was leading this time and it was Doug's turn to keep up with me. At Jacob Lake, we turned south onto Route 67 and were rewarded with some amazing greenery that I didn't think could exist in Arizona. A vast meadow surrounded by trees and carpeted with purple flowers became the focus of my fascination. We followed a most excellent road through the park, dispatching the occasional tourist with ease while still taking in the grandeur around us. The forest was dry pine with wide-open spaces beneath the high branches, giving it a magical park-like appearance. As I led us from corner to corner, mile after mile, I was taken by surprise when I looked off to the left and saw – nothing! There was the Grand Canyon! We had reached the North Rim Visitor's Center and the terminus of the road. We performed some creative parking in the full lot and squeezed our bikes into a corner. Taking our cameras we first stopped at the Visitor's Center to see if they had any room in the Lodge. Not surprising, they didn't. The campground was also full. This meant at least a 17-mile ride back to the Kaibob Lodge and taking the chance that they had room. But in the meantime we were at the Grand Canyon with less than an hour's worth of daylight. The canyons were filling with shadows but the setting sun illuminated higher points, giving dramatic contrast of color and texture. We stood and stared for a long time. The cafeteria at the Lodge was open and it was late, so we grabbed a bite to eat before searching out accommodations for the evening. Leaving behind the beautiful Lodge, the cozy looking cabins and the spectacular scenery was difficult, but I didn't want to sleep under my bike that night. The road out of the park was just as much fun going out as it was coming in, except now there were deer. Lots of deer. We arrived at Kaibob Lodge in the dark and were disappointed to learn that they were full and would allow no camping on their grounds. However, the clerk informed us that we were in the middle of a National Forest, where anyone can camp for free, anywhere beyond 100' of the nearest road. She pointed out a road 2 miles back that many people camped off of and we were soon back on the bikes. The road was a well-maintained dirt road and we quickly secured a well-used empty campsite to put up our tents. Even at 8,000' it wasn't cold and the stars were brighter and closer than I'd ever seen them before. It was a good spot.

Day 12 – 339 miles
I woke to the sound of gentle raindrops on the tent, smiled to myself and snuggled deeper into my sleeping bag. The birds were out in full force and provided a beautiful melody that all alarm clocks should endeavor to imitate. The rain was sporadic and sparse and didn't hinder our packing of the tents and gear and before long we were back at the Kaibob for a rather uninspired breakfast. The woman in charge of the continental type meal kept referring to the food items by ending them with an "O", as in "there are plenty of cere-o's, (cereal) and bayg-o's" (bagels)– Doug and I chuckled for a long time at that.

Coming back into Utah from Arizona, I wanted to stop for some pictures of the red and pink rocks along the side of the road. I pulled off onto a side road and then saw that the side road had a side road – how perfect! I zipped down the red dirt road, somehow managed to power my way through the sand that surprised me at the bottom of a dip and parked the bike at the top of the next rise. Doug gamely followed me but gave me a serious questioning look as he parked the bike. We took some pictures, mused over an ancient outhouse and then prepared to leave. I pointed my bike back down into the sandy wash and after riding about 10 yards promptly fell over in the sand at the bottom. Doug called out, asking if I was ok. When I replied that yes, I was fine he said "Good, I'm going to take a picture!" After the photo shoot, he helped me get the GS upright again and we were back on the pavement in a matter of minutes.

It didn't take long to get to Zion National Park from there. In fact, another one of the things that surprised me about Utah is how close everything is. No sooner did I leave one Monument or National Park than I was approaching the next one. Either that or my perception of time is skewed because I'm simply enjoying all the time I'm spending on the back of the bike. Zion is amazing. This is a place where I would have to park the bike and spend 2 or 3 days hiking around in order to fully appreciate the vast beauty that is there.

As we exited out the west gate of the park it started to rain again. Apparently quite a storm system was sweeping through the West and we kept running into bits and pieces of it. We stopped for refreshments in Virgin, UT and here I pulled out my secret Heat Beating weapon. It's a TechNiche evaporative cooling vest made specifically to hold water. I soaked it thoroughly and put it on under my 'Stitch. As the air flowed through the vents in my gear it pulled the water out of the vest, creating a sort of swamp cooler air conditioner. As long as I maintained speeds above 40 mph I had enough air flowing over me to keep me cool.

Riding through St George, UT, I could see the smoke from the forest fires that I had heard about on the news another night. They were close enough to close the Interstate itself a couple of days ago. I saw at least five individual fires along the route to Las Vegas, and none of them looked like fun to fight in the heat of the desert. How do they do it? The Interstate was dull, with no variety and not much to look at. It dropped down into Arizona before crossing the Nevada state line, with very little changing to let me know that we were anywhere different. Las Vegas was visible from miles away and in the late afternoon heat it did not appeal to me at all, although I did enjoy looking at the fantastic structures and marveling that this place existed at all. As we finally crawled our way out of the other side of the city, the sheer number of cookie-cutter subdivisions that were being built struck me. Who would want to live here and why? It was 104 degrees in Vegas and it wasn't even the first week of July. The only greenness that I saw was the artificially induced growth of palm trees in yards and boulevards. Ah, to each his own.

I had discovered the "flying squirrel" riding position. In order to fully take advantage of the vents and cooling vest I had to raise my elbows up and lean slightly forward. I also lifted my fingers from the grips over the hand guards to allow the air to pass through the perforated leather between the fingers. This allowed a maximum amount of air to flow through the 'Stitch and my gloves and cool me off, but I also imagined that I looked fairly silly, like a flying squirrel preparing to land on a nearby tree. Oh well – I wasn't out there for a fashion show.

Eventually Doug and I arrived in Pahrump, NV (apparently not home of anything in particular) and eventually found a much-needed air-conditioned hotel. After refreshing showers we walked to a nearby steakhouse, had a hearty and tasty meal and then wandered along the main strip of Pahrump. Not terribly interesting at all, but there was a Walgreen's where I was able to buy some sundries that I needed. We made plans to leave early the next morning to avoid most of the heat, for our goal was to cross into California and through Death Valley. 

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