Ride West: Day 10 to Rangely, CO
After several days of riding in the heat, waking up to overcast skies and 60 degree temperatures in Laramie was a treat. But I knew the ride to and in Colorado meant an elevation climb and a concomitant decrease in temperature. Sure enough, as we rode south and climbed to 7,500 then 8,000, then 8,500 feet the temperature kept falling until it reached 57 degrees on a bank thermometer in Walden, where we stopped for coffee at the throwback River Rock Cafe. We were prepared for cool weather, though, and pressed on, headed toward the Continental Divide at Muddy Gap and then to Steamboat Springs.
As we continued to climb, the gray skies turned darker and rain and mist obscured nearby peaks. We donned rain gear at a turnout on the side of the road; 10 minutes later we were in a light rain and low to mid 50 temperatures at Rabbit Ears Pass, a 9,400 foot summit that, like Muddy Gap, marks the Continental Divide. By the time we reached Steamboat Springs about 20 minutes later, the rain was gone and blue skies beckoned in the westward direction of our travel. The light rain would have soaked us without gear, but it really wasn’t much of a test for our rain suits, which were returned to the saddlebags 40 miles west of Steamboat.
I was pleasantly surprised by the terrain of western Colorado and eastern Utah; I had expected it to be flatter and uninspiring. In fact, we enjoyed a moderate roller coaster road that followed the curving contours of the Yampa River. To our right for much of the ride past Craig, Colorado, the Unita Mountains provided a scenic diversion when straight stretches of road afforded the opportunity to peek at the peaks. The Uinta Range is one of the few East-West mountain ranges in the United States and it has the highest elevation of all the East-West ranges. Located in a dry part of the country, though, there are no permanent snow covered peaks as there are in the Rockies, the Sierra-Nevadas, or the Cascades. Temperatures in the mid-80s made the afternoon ride along the gently twisting U.S. Highway 40 a nice change of pace from the full-throttle twisties of the Black Hills.
The only planned stop for today was the Dinosaur National Monument Visitors Center and Quarry in eastern Utah. I had read about it and seen some photos, but wanted to see it personally to better understand the significance of the dinosaur fossils found there. It did not disappoint. In the 1909 a paleontologist discovered a small skeletal tail sticking out of the side of the mountain and began to uncover it. As he realized the magnitude of the find, he and other workers excavated tens of thousands of 149 million-year-old fossils. Today, quarrying has stopped at the site, freezing in place 1,500 fossils in an 80-foot rock wall enclosed by a brand new structure that protects the fossils and makes them available to thousands of visitors. The 80 foot wall, that before quarrying was nearly 200 feet tall, was once the bottom of a river bed but is now tilted at a 65 degree angle thanks to the same powerful tectonic uplift forces that created the Rocky Mountains. It’s an incredible historic and scientific site and a great place to learn a little about the ancient earth, about plate tectonics, and about dinosaurs who roamed a very real Jurrasic Park.
The vastness of the land we motored through today reminded me how small we are. And the 150-million year context of the Dinosaur National Monument reminded me how brief our 30,000-year human history really is. Riding a motorcycle is more than adreneline pumping excitement. It’s also a way to expose yourself to new things, new thoughts, and new connections. Today was one of those cerebral rides.
Tomorrow: More twisties, more deserts, more national parks.