Archive | July 2015

GRMA Day 14: Canada Again

So, I’m in Canada again, eh?  This is my second favorite country, and the next 11 days or so should be great riding and better site seeing, eh?  Even though I’ve been gone from Canada for a year, I’ve picked up the language again pretty quickly, eh?  Now I just have to figure out centigrade, liters, loonies and toonies all over again, eh?

This Idaho farmer has a sense of humor as he touts his “bumper crop.”

After following tracing the winding course of the Clearwater River for the last two days, I had a few brief glimpses of it again this morning as I climbed the steep bluffs north of that beautiful, historic river.  And then I headed cross country for what I expected to be a 2-3 hour ride across mostly barren, desert-like land.  But the roads and countryside provided a pleasant surprise as I rolled through high foot hills, golden farm country and green-timbered mountainsides that provided more than enough variety and twisties to keep the ride interesting.

A canyon of trees lined the Idaho highway. Log trucks rolled by frequently with loads of their bretheren.

When I plotted the route several months ago, I made it a point to stay off the roads the mapping program wanted me to take.  They would have been faster but far less interesting.  Today I followed several roads designated as “Scenic Highways” including one that took me along the east coast of Lake Couer d’Alene for 30 miles with the lake almost always in sight.  If I wanted to look at the lake, though, I generally had to find a place to pull over because the twists and turns 20-40 feet above the rocky shoreline came so fast that even a two- or three-second glance could have had me launched on an unplanned downhill slide to the lake.  

Lake Couer d’Alene is a natural lake that stretches more than 50 miles.

North of Couer d’Alene several more large, deep-blue, lakes created by retreating ice sheets hundreds of thousands of years ago provided great views with significant but not massive mountains always in the background.

This is the view about 20 miles from the U.S.-Canada border.

Northern Idaho is in some ways a state apart from the southern portion and always has been because of the mountains that divide the state and the considerable time it once took to drive from one section to the other.  Evidence of that separateness, I discovered to my confusion and consternation, is that the northern part of Idaho is on Pacific Time, not Mountain Time like the southern half.  That explained why I always seemed to be early everywhere I went for the first 15 hours of my recent stay in Orofino.  I thought people there were just slow getting started in the morning.  Breakfast wasn’t quite ready at the motel when I went down at 7 a.m. and the dining area was empty.  Except that it was really 6 a.m. and that’s when the staff set up the morning buffet.  And the NPS Visitors Center on the Reservation only had two other visitors besides me at 9:10.  Except that it was 8:10 and they had only been open 10 minutes.  Kevin, whom I introduced yesterday, set me straight on the correct time.  Once again the Nez Perce helped out the white visitor.

Front tire in Canada. Rear tire in US.

I crossed into Canada about 2:15 (Mountain Time) this afternoon after waiting in the sun in a line of cars for about 25 minutes before the border agents decided to open a second portal for cars to pass through.  When I drove up to my portal and promptly handed over my passport, Humphrey-the-border-agent asked all the usual questions (guns? alcohol?  where was I going?  How long?, etc.).  Then, having seen my DR DZ HD license plate, he asked if I was a medical doctor.  No, I said, Ph.D.  “So,” said Humphrey,  “Doctor Dizzy Head, eh?”  “No,” I explained, “Dr. D’s H(arley) D(avidson).”  “Well,” he said, “have a nice stay in Canada, eh?”  Humphrey isn’t the first to make the Dizzy Head reference.  Maybe I’ll just go with that.

I had never had Kaluha Cream Pie before, and when the opportunity presented itself at the View Cafe across the highway from beautiful Lake Cocolalla I jumped on it with a fork.  I’ve had better pie, but this and a hot cup of java made for a nice lunch.

I’m in sight tonight of the massive Canadian Rockies, rising high to the east of Cranbrook where I’m staying at a real mom and pop “Model A” motel.  That’s really the name of it.  The “Model A Inn” and there’s a non-running Ford Model A out front that belonged to the original owner’s wife; each of the three times the motel has been sold, Daphne-the-clerk told me, its namesake went along for the ride, as it were.  But no pictures of those majestic mountains tonight because I don’t want to include all the extraneous clutter of the city’s stripmalls and powerlines.  Tomorrow I’ll present them in their natural awesomeness.

So, tomorrow I’ll head up the Icefields Parkway for the first time this trip.  I’ll ride it again going south after I’ve looped around the northern end of the Rockies in a week.

More of today’s pictures, eh?:


GRMA Day 13: Historical Interlude: The Nez Perce

Click here for a link to the GPS Tracking Map.  Ignore the straight lines that go across the loop.  I have no idea why the program does that.

Everywhere you go, every place has a past.  And the past offers a chance to reflect and think about who we are and where we came from.  

Just upstream from where this picture was taken, Nez Perce helped build canoes for Lewis and Clark.

Although today was scheduled as a non-riding day, I logged more than 200 miles on a loop around the Nez Perce (pronounced nez purse) Indian Reservation and along part of the National Park Service Nez Perce Trail.  I met some interesting people and talked with them about the importance of culture and history.  And, once again, I saw some beautiful scenery, some of which surprised me.

The NPS visitor center has museum-quality displays of Nez Perce artifacts.

I left Orofino about 8 a.m. continuing along US Highway 12 which follows the Clearwater River.  The first contact by Americans with the Nez Perce was actually made right here in the area where I’m staying in 1805 when Lewis and Clark and the starving and bedraggled Corps of Discovery emerged from a perilous passage through the Bitterroot Mountains.  Near death, the Americans were in a very real sense rescued by the Nez Perce who, after debating whether to kill the newcomers or not, decided to befriend and feed them.  They provided badly needed food and within weeks helped the recovered explorers build dugout canoes which they used to float down the Clearwater River on their way to the Columbia River and the Pacific Coast.

This old dugout was probably similar to the one’s built for Lewis and Clark.

The Nez Perce further helped the explorers on their return trip in 1806, having watched over their horses for a year, by also providing guides to help them find their way back over the Bitterroots.  It is not an exageration to say that the Lewis and Clark expedition, which opened the west to white hunters, trappers, and settlers, and secured America’s claim to what is now the Northwestern United States, succeeded only because the Nez Perce provided crucial assistance at a critical time.

The White Bird site was the first battle in the Nez Perce War, a one-sided Indian victory, which guaranteed a massive US reprisal.

In the next 50 years white settlers and fortune seekers flooded the area and conflicts inevitably rose between the Nez Perce and the land hungry whites.  In 1855, the US government concluded a treaty with the Nez Perce that granted them about one-half the land they once considered their home.  But only eight years later the U.S. renegged on that treaty and forced a second treaty on the Nez Perce which granted them only 10% of the land in the previous agreement.  Even today that treaty is referred to as the Theif’s Treaty.

When the Nez Perce refused to be corralled on such a small allotment of land, a war (of sorts) broke out in 1877 as U.S. cavalry forces pursued the fleeing Nez Perce for 600 miles, finally forcing a surrender under Chief Joseph in Montana, just miles from the Canadian border where they would have found sanctuary.

The Nez Perce, whose aid to Lewis and Clark had made white settlement inevitable, were nearly wiped out and the survivors were scattered to various reservations, including Oklahoma.

The Salmon River cuts through the distant mountains and all the land seen here once belonged to the Nez Perce.

But the culture was strong and many returned to their Idaho lands when they could, rebuilding as best they could.  The result in 2015 is a people on the Nez Perce reservation that is struggling yet succeeding in preserving their culture, their language and their past.

I spoke with two Nez Perce–Kevin and Maurice–at the National Park Visitor Center just west of Lewiston.  Maurice told me about the sweat lodge he goes to everyday to pray and to be with other members of the tribe.  He also described the process of preserving the language, a language he learned from his grandmother and grandfather before he learned English in school.  Having once been told they couldn’t speak their own language, Nez Perce children are now encouraged to learn it.  Maurice had just returned from a powwow in Oregon where he danced and sang with friends until he was worn out but he was still willing to spend time helping me understand his people.

Kevin spoke to me of the events of 1877 and the impact it had on the Nez Perce.  A motorcycle rider himself, he also suggested that I could combine a trip to one of the first battle sites with a great motorcycle ride on an old crooked road that had been replaced by a faster highway and is now little used except for motorcycle riders like him

I was surprised to see miles and miles of wheat fields, canola fields, and alfalfa on the Camas Prairie. Beautiful farm country.

The ride across the rich agricultural fields on the Camas Prairie that make up much of the reservation gave me time to think about and reflect on my conversations with Kevin and Maurice.  White settlement, given the numbers of Americans eager to move west, was probably inevitable.  Yet the treatment of the Nez Perce (and other natives) has to remain a blot on America’s past and should be a reminder to everyone that the land belongs to us all and that we should learn to share it equitably and fairly.

Enough history, for now, but it’s hard for me to stop being an historian.

Tomorrow I head north again into Canada, and, I hope, to cooler temperatures. 

More pictures I liked today:

GRMA Day 12: Mountain Riding at Its Best

Click here to see GPS Tracking Map

Along the Salmon River as it cuts through a canyon.

Today’s Idaho ride got off to chilly start when I woke up to 47 degrees in Challis.  But all things balance out, because it was 99 when I finished the day in Orofino.  Riding in 90+ temperatures for the last two hours of the ride wore me out a little, and I was ready for a cold brew when I took my boots off at the end of the day

Taken from Lost Pass looking south.

Today’s ride was the best motorcycle day of the trip.  Almost from the time I started I was in the mountains, riding up canyons, along rivers, and surrounded by rugged peaks.  I think I spent more time on the edges of my tires than on the center tread.  Going north on Highway 93 to Salmon, Idaho, then to the Montana border, I followed the Salmon River or the North Fok of the Salmon River nearly all the way.  When I reached Lost Pass at the Idaho-Montana border, it was a downhill race along side the Bitterroot River.  Then at Lolo, MT, I headed south and west along one of the best motorcycle roads in the country: US Highway 12.  Until I reached Lolo Pass at the Montana-Idaho border, the road paralleled Lolo Creek (which empties into the Bitterroot River).  Then from nearly the top of Lolo Pass I kept the company of the Lochsa River for nearly 100 miles until it emptied into the Clearwater River which I followed to Orofino.

The Lochsa River at it flows west out of the Bitterroot Mountains.

I spent some time just now talking about all the rivers because riding next to rivers generally makes for great riding.  Rivers don’t go in a staight line and a road that keeps a river in sight at all times is a road with a lot of twists and turns.   Not always 10 mph switchbacks but lots of recommended 20 and 30 mph curves that are great fun to take at about 20+ the speed limit.  Prior to today I was frequently riding beside mountains but not always in them.  Today I was almost never out of them.  What a great ride!

I just thought this was interesting.

One surprise for me was the elevation at Orofino.  It’s on the western edge of the Bitterroots/Rockies but it sits at just a little over 1,000 feet.  Lost Pass elevation was 7,000 feet and Lolo Pass was 5,200 feet.  Today I descended 6,000 feet.  If I went all the way to the Pacific Ocean following the rivers I would only descend another 1,000 feet.

Downhill for more than 100 miles. Got great gas milage.

Much of today’s trip (about 80%) followed the Lewis and Clark Historic Trail (from Salmon, ID, to Orofinio).  I haven’t completely thought this through, but I’m thinking about riding the entire Lewis and Clark Historic Trail in the next two or three years (next year is already taken with another trip to Alaska).  The Lewis and Clark Historic Trail starts just outside St. Louis where it follows the Missouri River through Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Montana, then goes through Idaho, Oregon and Washington to the Pacific Coast.  

I haven’t done any research on it yet, but the “Trail” appears to have historic Lewis and Clark sites identified along the way.  At any rate, I may pursue this as a another “Great Adventure.”  Like my current GRMA, it would cover about 10,000 miles and take about 6-7 weeks.  Sounds like fun to me.  And I could check off a lot of the asphalt in America in my quest to ride it all.

I’m also thinking about trying to ride to all the places in the Hank Snow/Johnny Cash song “I’ve been Everywhere, Man.”  I think I’ve already been to a lot of them.

No pie today.  Tried a couple places with no luck.  Unless you count Pizza Pie.  That’s what I had for dinner.

Tomorrow is kind of an off day.  No specific plans, but I may do a loop ride around the Nez Perce Reservation and take in a couple of musuems.

More pictures from today that I liked:


GRMA Day 12: Singin’ in the Rain


Click here to see the GPS Tracking Map.

Two years ago I described the trip to Alaska as the Great Alaska Adventure, noting on several occasions the difference between a vacation (take it easy and let someone else do the work) and an adventure (take what comes and do all the work).  As the heavens opened up on me again, I reminded myself that this trip is an adventure.  So, garbed in semi-waterproof rain gear again, I sang along with who ever was singing on the CD player, and kept rolling down the road

The Snake River cuts a picturesque swath through Idaho

Rain didn’t fall all day today, but it did come down most of the time I was in Wyoming. and off and on through Idaho  Hence, no pictures of the Wyoming Range from the Cowboy State.  I had clear skies some of the time I was in Idaho and took advantage of what the good weather had to offer by checking out the scenery.  I’d seen some of it before on previous trips, but it’s still impressive.

Drifting on the Snake trying to land a “big one.”

I followed the Snake River in Idaho for an hour or so, and that was all new to me.  At one stop I learned the Snake River is one of the few places where Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout are native and continue to thrive.  I pulled over at an Idaho State Recreation facility where dozens of specially designed boats were being launched into the Snake by fisherfolks in search of Cutthroats, Browns, and Rainbows. It looked like a good way to spend the day if you couldn’t be on a motorcycle.

This butte was formed about 300,000 years ago when lava seeped through the surface and formed the mound.

Traveling across Idaho I was reminded at how geologically young some of the landscape is.  Between 5,000 years and 300,000 years ago, Idaho saw sporadic volcanic eruptions, though not on the scale of the Cascade range.  These eruptions created small buttes in some areas and large, flat lava fields in others.  Compared to rocks more than a billion years old that make up most of the Rockies, some of the land seen in Idaho is in its infancy.

Snow-capped Mt. Borah at 12,500 feet in the Lost River Range is Idaho’s tallest peak.

There was also a roadside exhibit commemorating a 1985 earthquake that lowered a valley nine feet and raised the tallest mountain in Idaho, Mt. Borah, an additional six inches.  Small changes over vastly long periods of time inevitably results in big changes and a landscape that never looks the same.  Nothing, it seems, not even mountains, is permanent.

Dive! Dive! Dive!

One of the joys of riding on the backroads of America is the chance to see the extraordinary.  Yesterday it was a pink dinosaur.  Today it was a submarine conning tower in Arco, Idaho.  It turns out that most of the material used in the Navy’s nuclear sub fleet is processed and made ready in Idaho.  Did you know that Arco was the first city in America to have electricity powered by a nuclear reactor?  Well now you do.

Generous helping

Arco also is the home of the “Atomic Burger” at Pickle’s Place.  I didn’t have an Atomic Burger, but I did have a nice slice of blackberry pie and coffee for lunch at Pickle’s.

Not too many pictures because of the rain, but between downpours I managed to get a few that reflected today’s ride.

Tomorrow should be a great ride; I’ll be going up and down mountains, including the Bitterroot Range on twisty roads much of the day.  The stuff adventures are made of.

More pictures from today:

GRMA Day 11: Between Mountains and Desert

Click here for GPS Tracking Map.

The long and winding road I used to climb up this valley is easily seen. Florida should build roads like this.

The Navajo conclude a ritual by proclaiming:  “Beauty all around us.  With it I wander.”  That sums up nicely my experience so far in the Rockies.  What a beautiful place to “wander.”

The Colorado Plateau has both flat land and small hills and mesas.

The western edge of Colorado marks the boundary between the soaring Rocky Mountains to the east and the desert-like Colorado Plateau to the west and the first three hours of today’s ride gave me an abundant helping of both.  North from Grand Junction to Rangely I was frequently surrounded by small hills and mesas covered with sage and scrub brush, yet I also climbed several thousand feet as I crossed Douglas Pass on CO 139 (8300′) where I had a good view of the valley I had come through.

Near the top of Douglas Pass, the Rockies rise in the distance to the east.

The reds, oranges, yellows, grays, tans and whites that streaked the rocks offered a constantly changing and mezmerizing view as I dutifully obeyed the speed limit and took time to enjoy the ride.  There were no roses, but if there had been, I would have stopped and smelled them.  I did, however, strike up a conversation with a retired couple at a pullout in a Miata NB from Jaynesville, Wisconsin, who were likewise leisurely enjoying the ride.  We discussed the pleasures and pitfalls of touring on a motorcycle and in a “Barbie” car in the mountains and concluded that the pleasures far outweighed the pitfalls.  We wished each other “safe travels” and motored down the high highway, each absorbing the satisfying sensations of the open road.

Zoom Zoom. Looks like almost as much fun as a motorcycle.

A little before 11 a.m. I pulled into Rangely, ready for a pie hunt.  And right there on Main Street was a tidy little eatery appropriately named the Main Street Cafe, whose signs advertising baked goods and deserts pulled me in the green door like a big bakery magnet.  The red-haired waitress began to name off the pies on the menu but she started with triple berry and I stopped her right there.  The owner/cook has a flair for baking as evidenced by the flaky crust that enwrapped the berries.  Once again, pie provided the perfect lunch and was all I needed until the end of the day when I pounced on a juicy steak in Evanston.

This was a good choice.

At Rangely, the Colorado Plateau ends and the Uinta Range of the Rocky Mountains begins.  The Uintas are the tallest east-west oriented mountains in the United States, topping out at more the 13,000 feet.  They were one of the last ranges to be uplifted during the Laramide orogeny (50-85 million years ago), being forced up about 50 million years ago.  Since then, of course, erosion has reduced their size, but there are great opportunities to see the various layers layed down 200-300 million years ago by wind and shallow seas and subsequently eroded in the past 40 million years or so.  Flaming Gorge Canyon/Reservoir in Utah and Wyoming is one of the best places to see the clearly demarcated layering and to identify the various 200-500 feet thick bands of sandstone and limestone.

The yellow on top is Navajo Sandstone, the rough looking red is Chinle formation and the bottom red is Moenkopi formation.

Even the rain that passed through as I climbed and cornered in the Unitas didn’t dampen my spirits.  I expected the precipitation to be of the short-lived summer variety, and that’s what it turned out to be.  Appropriately garbed in rain gear, I reduced speed on the wet roads and in hour the rain was gone.  I was at about 8,000 feet, though, and the temperature dropped to the low 60s when the rains came, so I was grateful that the rain gear kept me both dry and warm.

Tomorrow I head for even higher elevations in Wyoming and Idaho as I continue my northwest tack in the Rockies.

More pictures I liked from today:


GRMA Day 10: Hiking the Canyons

Independence Monument rises from the floor of Independence Canyon, formed by millions of years of erosion.

When I formulated the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure, an important part of the formula was to get off the bike from time to time and look around at the beautiful mountains and the human and geologic history found there.  Today was a walking day.

Last year, when I rode to Newfoundland and Labrador, I hiked in the Newfoundland highlands wearing running shoes and carrying my camera case on my belt.  This year I was better prepared with new Keen hiking shoes and a handy little backpack that folds up to the size of a wallet when not in use.  Both performed well and made this year’s walk easier than last year’s podiatric disaster

The trail below early in the descent to the canyon floor.

Still, a seven-mile hike 850 feet down a canyon and then back up the way I went down in 90 degree heat was challenging.  I’m ready to get back on the bike tomorrow and rest my aching geriatric body.  Don’t get me wrong.  This was a great day:  I saw massive multi-hued canyon walls rising almost straight up; I reached the base of Independence Monument; I saw more wildlife and signs of wildlife that gave me an adrenaline boost; and I’m back safely in my room in one piece enjoying an uncommonly large glass of Jack.

I had a quick stop at Quest Diagnostic early this morning for some routine lab work because of the Coumadin I take to keep my heart valve from clogging up which would keep from riding, and then headed to Colorado National Monument a few miles outside Grand Junction.  “Monument” is a little misleading.  It’s really a small National Park created in 1911 that promotes and protects a series of tremendous canyons carved and sculpted by relentless forces of erosion during the past 10 million years or so.

Creating a trail down these walls challenged early hikers.

Beginning at the top of Monument Canyon about 10 a.m. I headed for Independence Monument, starting with a knee-jarring decent that dropped about 500 feet in the first 30 minutes.  As I made my descent, I passed layers of rock laid down 150-250 million years ago when the tectonic plate on which Colorado is located was closer to the equator and drifting northward.  Seven clearly identifiable layers of rock up to hundreds of feet thick make up the walls of the canyons, until you get to the bottom where the bedrock is about 1.7 billion year-old metamorphic rock and much more resistant to erosion that the 1000 feet of sedimentary layers that sit on top like a geologic layer cake.

Beautiful blue sky meant a dry but hot hike.

The initial mile of the hike followed trails and switchbacks that hugged the canyon walls with drop-offs that could send clumsy hikers down several hundred feet before bouncing off rocks tens of millions of years older than the rocks on which they had started their plunge.  Careful foot placement, I repeatedly told myself, was important.  As I neared the canyon bottom, the terrain leveled out some, but still dropped another 350 feet over the next 2 1/2 miles.  After the first mile of bare rock trail and walls, a few scrub trees and bushes provided a little change of scenery as did the occasional muddy wash I crisscrossed on my sojourn to Independence Monument.

Along the way, every twist and turn on the trail offered a panorama of geographic wonder and beauty as rock spires soared hundreds of feet skyward, huge boulders balanced precariously on ledges above ready to come crashing down anytime in the next 100,000 years or so, and vistas at the open end of the canyon revealed the dominant mesas more than 30 miles away and the Rocky Mountains beyond them

I finally made it to the base of Independence Monument.

Even when I finally had Independence Monument in sight, I still had nearly a full-hour’s hike until I reached the actual base of the 450-foot sandstone monolith.  When I got there I celebrated with a lunch of salty beef jerky and a pint of much needed water.  After spending 20 minutes admiring the rock and taking a few pictures, I was about to head back, impressed by the feat my feet had accomplished.  And then I heard voices.  And not the usual ones that rattle around in my head.  At first I thought other hikers were coming down the trail (I hadn’t seen anyone on the way down), but the voices were coming from above.  Scanning the monument I tracked down the source of the conversation about 20 feet from the very top of the rock.  Three young climbers had burst my ego balloon by scaling the rock that morning.  Climbing the monument is not unusual, it turns out, but I was surprised to see them approaching the summit on this warm July day.

My telephoto lens was fully extended to get this shot. For perspective see the picture at the top of the page.

Less impressed with myself than I had been a few minutes earlier, I commenced my return trip back to the canyon rim.  Only 30 minutes into the two-hour return hike I found something that hadn’t been on the trail when I came down:  a fresh mountain lion track.  It caught  my attention and for the next hour every scurrying chipmunk or squirrel immediately sent me into a mountain-lion-killing-ninja-warrior stance.  If I had had to, I do believe I could have barehandedly killed a chipmunk.  Lion, of course, would have had a decidedly different outcome.  I stopped by the visitor’s center to talk with Leslie the friendly NPS Ranger, who suggested that the mountain lion was more likely to stalk tasty Big Horn Sheep than a tough old hiker.  That was information I would like to have had before I started hiking.

Here kitty, kitty. Nice kitty, kitty.

A little foot-sore and stiff in the joints but still proud of my perambulatory success, I got back on the bike for one final ride on the motorcyclist-favorite Rim Road and went roaring down out of the canyons and into the riverlands below.  This was the kind of day that makes the GRMA an A.

Tomorrow, north through Colorado and Utah and into Wyoming with the Rockies in view most of the day.  The only tracks I want to see tomorrow are my GPS tracks.

A few more pictures that I liked from today’s hike:


GRMA Day 9: Detours are a Good Thing

 Click here for the GPS Tracking Map.

Note:  I changed the format on the pictures to a smaller file size.  They should load faster.  Don’t forget to click on the pictures to see a larger image.

Chance encounters and random conversation with strangers often lead to unplanned detours that add immeasurably to a trip like this.  Today included one of those chance encounters.

The view from the top of Mesa Verde is as beautiful now as it was when the Ancestral Pueblo People lived there.

At breakfast in Pagosa Springs another biker and his wife and I struck up a conversation about where we had been and where we were going.  I mentioned that I had enjoyed the Pecos National Historic Site and he immediately said that I would probably like Mesa Verde National Park and that it wasn’t far from the route that was going to take me past Durango.  When he threw in the part about cliff dwelling ruins, I knew my route was going to change, even though this detour was going to add about four hours to today’s ride.

This view involved a short climb to the highest point on the mesa.

West of Durango about 35 miles on a great mountain highway sits the entrance to the Visitor’s Center at Mesa Verde National Park.  A short stop there to get oriented and learn what to expect at the site, and I was back on the bike, climbing more than 1,000 feet up to the top of Mesa Verde, then across the mesa to a group of well-preserved pre-historic sites.  I knew I wouldn’t have time to take in all that the park had to offer, so I opted for a loop ride on the mesa that would take me to about a dozen different interpreted sites.

There are two separate cliff dwellings in this picture. Each would have housed 30-50 people about 900 years ago.

Briefly, the Ancestral Pueblo people first settled Mesa Verde in about 550 AD, as evidenced by the shallow pit houses uncovered by archaeologists.  In the next several hundred years the pits got deeper (about 6 feet) and more complex, and then the people there began building dwellings on top of the ground on the mesa, beginning with poles and adobe and moving to solid masonry structures. Around 1200 and for the next 100 years, they built the ingenious cliff dwellings in the cliff alcoves.  But by 1300, the several thousand people that once lived on the mesa were gone and dwellings were abandoned.  Archaeologists are at a loss to explain their exodus.

This “four story” apartment and other units are being repaired by the workmen barely visible in the pictures.

The NPS has done a good job protecting and conserving the remaining ruins and providing interpretive signs and displays to help explain how archaeologists have dated the sites.  To the extent that they know, they explain how the structures were built, how they help us understand daily living on the mesa for more than 800 years, and how the people evolved alongside their changing abodes.

A French family of tourists was admiring both my bike and the ruins.  Pointing to one of the cliff dwellings, the father exclaimed, “Magnifique.”  Drawing on my extensive knowledge of French, I replied, “Oui.”  They were magnificent.

Clouds were moving in and rain soon followed on the “Million Dollar Highway.”

I passed through Durango again and headed north about 12:30 p.m., 4 1/2 hours later than I had expected to go through.  But I was rolling on the Highway 550, the “Million Dollar Highway” and looking forward to the next four hours of riding.  Three years ago I rode on part of that highway with a group of Twisted Riders, and I was anxious to ride the parts that we didn’t get to on that trip.  Much of the time the ride was good today, but as is often the case afternoon thunderstorms echoed through the canyons as lightning lit up the mountain skies and some rain and wet roads slowed down the twisty adventure I had been looking forward to.  

Red Mountain lives up to its name on the “Million Dollar Highway.”

“The Million Dollar Highway” is so named because the cost of the road averages about $1 million per mile and the cost continues to go up as the mountains slide down onto the road or the road, precariously perched on a a shear mountainside, falls away and has to be constantly maintained.  On three occasions today in a 70 mile stretch, the road was reduced to one very slow lane as workers try to repair the damage done by the mountains inevitable slide to the valleys below.  Still, despite rain and road construction, the Million Dollar Highway let me relive some of the memories I made with the Twisted Riders.

All in all, the Mesa Verde detour and the delays on Highway 550 made for a long day.  I didn’t even get to have pie because Maggie’s Kitchen in Ouray where I stopped for lunch at 3 p.m. made a fine burger with serreno peppers but NO PIES.  

Tomorrow is a non-riding day as I pit my aging joints and muscles against the steep canyons at Colorado National Monument.  I’m looking forward to a seven-mile hike to Independence Monument.

More pictures from today:

GRMA Day 8: Headed North

Click here for GPS Tracking Map. 

Don’t forget to click on the pictures for a larger image.

Today’s ride saw as many mesas as mountains.

After a short journey with my compass heading showing south, I looped around Santa Fe and the southern end of the Rocky Mountains (at least by most definitions) and squared my handlebar east and west.  For the next two weeks or so, I’ll be going north by northwest until I cross the Liard River in Yukon Territory.

The Great Rocky Mountain Adventure is only eight days old, and so far I’ve ridden the Appalachians, the Cumberland Plateau, and the Arkansas Mountains; visited family; and gotten an enticing taste of riding in the Rockies.  That qualifies as a pretty good start in my book.  (Well, actually in my blog but it will be a book eventually.)

Except for the last hour when I rode in heavy and moderate rain, today’s 10-hour ride was a good one, with two stops that deserve extended mention.

The foreground walls were built in the 1600s for the first church; the larger structure is what remains of the second church.

Stop one was the Pecos National Historic Site, about 15 miles east of Santa Fe between the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Glorieta Mesa. Operated by the (underfunded) National Park Service, the site hosts ancient ruins, evidence of the Spanish conquistadors and their culture-crushing priests, the decline and end of the Pueblo people there and even the westernmost battle of the American Civil War.  I took in as much as I could in a two-hour stop and had several questions answered by a young NPS interpreter named Michael, but I could have spent the entire day there. Evidence of the Pueblo people goes back at least 1,000 years and by 1450, almost 50 years before Columbus “discovered” America, Pecos pueblo boasted a five-story city/fortress that housed about 2,000 hunters/farmers and dominated the trade routes between plains and western Indians.  That fortress has long since crumbled, but its remains have been studied and mapped by archeologists for more than 100 years; the walking trail I followed gave a good idea of the size and scope of the settlement.

Glorieta Mesa flanked Glorieta Pass which the Pecos Pueblo dominated for hundreds of years.

Coronado, in his unfulfilled quest for golden cities, first arrived in Pecos Pueblo in 1540, but finding no riches he left quickly.  The Spaniards returned in force about 100 years later and this time the soldiers were accompanied by friars who sought to end Indian religion and replace it with their own.  The first church built next to the pueblo was burned in an uprising in 1680 but a second one was built over the ruins of the first a few years later.  By 1800, disease and a disfunctioning society reduced the once thriving pueblo to fewer than 300 inhabitants and in 1838 the last of the Pecos Indians left the crumbling remains of the pueblo.

Walking through the ruins, it was hard not to think about how our history unfolded in ways that are often ignored by history classes that still often refer to European settlement in glowing terms.  I’m glad the NPS is preserving this small segment of our past.

Behind me is the Valle Caldera. The “mountains” in the background are the far side of this immense extinct volcano.

The second stop, much shorter than the first, found me looking across miles of waving grasses growing in the remains of huge volcano.  The Valle Caldera, located just west of the sprawling Las Alamos National Laboratory, was the result of a huge volcanic explosion about 1,000,000 years ago that ejected about 500 times as much debris as the Mt. St. Helens eruption on the 1980s.  When the volcanic debris ejected, the cone settled in on itself, creating the caldera.  Standing on the edge of one of the most powerful forces on the earth, surrounded by mountains that are actually the lip of the ancient volcano inspires a very profound sense of awe.

Blue, red and green paint a beautiful New Mexico picture.

Most of the day was spent traversing the mountains, just as I did yesterday.  First, west, then east to get in as much mountain riding as I could.  What was especially fun today was riding up and down canyons with towering red sandstone walls on both sides and mesas and desert-like conditions at the bottom of each canyon.  Even the pictures I stop occasionally to take don’t seem to do justice the ever-changing beauty of the mountains.

Pinon nut tart and coffee at lunchtime.

Today’s pie report is brought to you by the Highway 4 Cafe and Bakery in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.  Actually, they didn’t have any pie but they did have a very good Pinon Nut Tart strongly reminiscent of pecan pie without the pecans.

Tomorrow, the Million Dollar Highway and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.




GRMA Day 7: Perfect Start to Four Weeks in the Rockies

Click here for GPS Tracking Map.  Note the three forays west and then east.

Don’t forget to click on (or tap) photographs to see larger images.

It seems like it took a while to get the Great Rocky Mountain Adventure started, but today it started in ernest.  Perfect weather, good roads and, naturally, great scenery.  The Ultra Classic logged a little more than 360 miles today and 300 of that was in the mountains.  I can only hope that the rest of the trip lives up to the standards set today.

In addition to riding through great mountain scenery, I shot half a dozen antelope, several deer and a couple of buffalo. I may mount them in my North Carolina cabin if I can find the right frames.  By “shot,” I mean with a camera, of course.  

The East (left) and West (right) Spanish Peaks are two of the more prominent mountains at the edge of the plains and have been landmarks for thousands of years. The West Spanish Peak is the taller of the two at about 13,600 feet.

Today’s route was planned intentionally to take me into and out of the mountains three times so I could extend the ride and get a full measure of twisties.  Only 30 miles after I left Pueblo, I was climbing steadily and headed into my first of three passes into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Into and over the Sangre de Cristo, then south for a 20-30 miles in a valley formed by the Sangre de Cristo on my left and the Cimarron or Taos Ranges on my right, then back east to the Interstate, then back west again.  Without the back and forth, today’s ride could have been done in three hours on I-25 instead of nine great hours on the twisties.

A nearly vertical granite wall soars above the Cimarron River, which cut inexorably through the rock for millions of years.

All three of the westward jaunts were great, but the best was the last one racing up Cimarron Canyon, a steep, narrow canyon with massive walls of crenelated granite sliced by the Cimarron River for eons.  The eastern end of Cimarron Canyon marks the end of the Great Plains and the beginning of the Rocky Mountains:  Look eastward and you can see flat land stretching for many miles; look westward and the horizon is a mile or less as the tree-covered mountains rise to block the view.  Much of the Cimarron Canyon road had been resurfaced within the last year or two and leaning into the curves and accelerating through the towering trees along the rapidly flowing river provided a tremendous adrenaline rush.  The temperature also dropped about 10 degrees every time I left the plains and rode into the mountains; the first, early-morning westward climb was done in my heated jacket as the temperature slipped into the chilly 50s.

Springer Lake sits high in the Rockies, surrounded by still higher mountains.

I stopped frequently today to absorb breathtaking views, read informative historical markers, examine interpretive roadside displays and take pictures.  Lots of pictures.  Had I stopped every time I wanted to take another picture I’d still be on the road, reaching into my tour pack to grab the camera and then trying to decide which direction to point it.  During the next four weeks I may suffer from an acute case of scenic overdose.  If so, it’s a malady I welcome.

It was almost a quarter of the pie. And I ate it all.

Pie report:  An obscenely huge slice of Boston Creme Pie at the Alpine Rose Cafe in Walsenburg.  The Alpine Rose was one of those “not-available-next-to-the-Interstate” places and it was fun talking to other customers about small town cafes and about the Denver Broncos with the superfan who runs the place.  She also made the pie.

 Below is the gallery of my trophy animals.  All walked (or bounded) away following each shot.  No animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.

I wasn’t scared of this brute, but I was buffaloed.

Mule deer are considerably larger than the white tails of North Carolina. They can be recognized by their large ears.

Several times I saw a doe accompanied by two fawns. The first time I tried to photograph a three-some, the doe walked off and the fawns hid in the tall grass.


GRMA Day 6: Flat and Hot

Click here for the GPS Tracking Map.

Following a three-day family hiatus, I’m back “on the road again” and today, after six days and more than 1, 600 miles I finally got to see the Rockies, where I’ll spend the next four glorious weeks.  Tomorrow I’ll ride roads that go into and up and down the southern part of the range.  I’m looking forward to new views and new pavement.

Grain elevators are the sky scrapers of the plains. They break the horizon everywhere in western Kansas.

I suppose I should be kinder to the state where I grew up, but Kansas is boring.  Straight roads and endless fields planted with various crops (wheat, corn, alfalfa, beans, etc.).  And a plethora of pungent feed lots where witless cattle stuff themselves in final preparation for their McDonalds destination.

There’s no other way to describe today’s ride besides flat.   Mile after mile I could see harvested and unharvested fields and the shimmering ribbon of road stretching out endlessly in front of me.  Yet despite its apparent flatness, I climbed more than 3,000 feet today and find myself at about 4,800 feet in Pueblo which lies at the foot of the Rockies.

In Lamar, Colorado, just after leaving Kansas.

The other descriptor for today’s ride is hot.  No, make that HOT.  The morning ride wasn’t bad but by noon the temperature had climbed above 90, and as I crossed from Kansas to Colorado I saw temperature signs in triple digits.  I wore my new, long-sleeve, white shirt today, and I think it helped.  It evaporates moisture quickly for better cooling and reflects the sun well.  Anyone doing long distance riding in the heat should consider one.  I also drank about three times as much water as I usually do.  But I was still pretty beat when I rolled up to my abode for the night.

My Harley’s slow, but I could outrun these guys.

I spotted several small museums and historic sites along the way that I would have stopped to visit had they been open, but all of them were closed on Sunday.  At historic Fort Dodge, about 12 miles east of Dodge City, I stopped and walked around briefly but none of the public buildings were open.  Initially an outpost on the Santa Fe Trail, the  government converted the post in 1890 to the Kansas Soldier’s Home, providing living quarters for retired veterans with limited resources and often no family.  Many of the old buildings built when it was 19th century outpost are still used today, and most of them are named for former generals and admirals (e.g. Grant, Custer, Eisenhower, Nimitz, Halsey).  I would liked to have spent an hour perusing their museum and walking around learning more about this forgotten piece of history. I think some of the old vets would have stories to tell. Maybe another time.

Good pie, good food, friendly service. I liked the Ranchito Cafe.

After two misfires looking for pie, I found a delightful piece of Oreo Pie made by the owner of the Ranchito Cafe in Lakin, Kansas.  And the pie was so good I ordered the Sunday special for lunch after I ate the pie.  Lunch was also very good.  An ice-water refill for my water bottle and I was on my way again headed out of Kansas.

Tomorrow I should end up in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and the weather looks good.  Mountains at last.

A sunflower and a background of wheat. Can’t get more Kansas than that.



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