Rocky Mountains Motorcycle Tour
June 5-15, 2009
Day 1 ~Mason City, Iowa to Eagleville, Missouri~ 216 miles
After months of pouring over travel brochures, searching the Internet and looking at maps we were finally on our way. Instead of having a specific itinerary, we had some loose ideas of where we were going and some things we would like to do. We decided to head across Missouri and Kansas and enter Colorado from the Southeast. The Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Colorado was our first scenic destination; from there we would head to Mesa Verde National Park 35 miles west of Durango. We’d set up base camp there for a few days and explore New Mexico, Arizona, and two National Parks in Utah, drive the San Juan Parkway loop in Colorado and ride the Durango-Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. We’d head north through Utah and head home across Colorado and Nebraska. We’d also considered the Grand Canyon and Salt Lake, but didn’t want to push ourselves too hard and make the trip so much about the destination that we didn’t have a chance to enjoy the journey.
With that itinerary in mind we left Friday afternoon about 4:00 and headed for our only reserved tent site in Eagleville, Missouri which is just over the Iowa/Missouri border. We had an uneventful ride south on I-35 to the campground. We set up camp and relaxed around the campfire and rehashed some of the sights we had seen along the road that day. We saw a car that had its rear end jacked up so high that it looked like the front bumper was skimming the pavement. We also saw a car that pulled into a rest area and must have hit a big hole full of water, the car spun around throwing water and steam everywhere. There were lots of deer in the fields which made us happy to pull off and set up camp. We turned in fairly early with thoughts that we were probably going to get rained on during the night.
Day 2 ~Eagleville, Missouri to Kinsley, Kansas~ 412 miles
It started raining about 4:30 in the morning. At about 6:30 we got up, put our rain suits on and started tearing down camp. We rolled up the soaking wet tent and put it in the trailer and were on the road at about 7:30. We rode in the rain on I-35 until we got to Cameron, MO. We crossed over on Hwy 36 to avoid going through Kansas City. We stopped in St Joseph and took off our rain gear. The rain had stopped, but we hadn’t seen the end of the weather problems for the day. We traveled down Hwy 50 through Atchison and hooked up with I-70 in Topeka. We battled 20 mph winds with gusts up to 35 mph, and then the temps started to climb into the mid to upper 90’s. We dropped off the Interstate at Salina onto Hwy 56/156 with a destination of Dodge City. We stopped at Great Bend for gas and the temperature at the bank said 100 degrees, our bikes said it was 97. After rain, wind and heat we were afraid locusts would be the next plague we would see today. We started looking for a campground and followed the signs to 4 Aces RV Park. There were no picnic tables but there was a big grassy area with a couple of shade trees so we decided to set up camp and lay everything out to dry. With the winds and high temps it didn’t take long for our things to dry. We showered off the day’s road grime and sat in the shade and relaxed after a long hot day. We hung out at the campsite, moving our chairs every half hour or so to stay in the shade.
We were surprised at how pretty eastern Kansas was. There were tons of trees and bluffs and hills. There were lots of “native rock” signs, the rock looked like limestone but it must have been something special. Central Kansas was much more like I expected with plains and wheat fields.
There was a rooster crowing at the edge of the campground during the daylight hours, I was afraid I would have an early wake up call in the morning.
Day 3 ~Kinsley, Kansas to Alamosa, Colorado~ 418 miles
I was right, the roosters crowing and the idiot banging on his 5th wheel woke us up. Well, I didn’t predict the idiot banging on his camper, but I got the roosters right. Even though it rained some during the night, everything was dry when we got up. We packed up our dry tent and hit the road about 8:00. We took Hwy 50 through Dodge City and Garden City, Kansas and crossed over into Colorado. We followed 50 along the Sante Fe Trail to Las Animas and had a picnic lunch. We went to La Junta for gas and in search of a suitable bathroom as the one at the picnic area was not so good. Of course it took two stops in La Junta as the first station was locked and only the pumps were turned on. Once we got all our needs taken care of we moved on down the road. We got on Hwy 10 heading towards Walsenburg, CO. After Walsenburg we got on Hwy 160 and went over the North La Veta Pass at 9, 413 feet. It got to 53 degrees at the top of the pass and it was nasty windy. The bikes were getting tossed all over the place. We came down the mountain into Fort Garland and debated whether to camp there or move on. We took the maps into a car wash out of the wind so we could see what was coming next. It was windy and cold so we thought we’d head down the road a bit and see if things got better. We kept our eyes open for campgrounds and found one that was just a gravel parking lot and another one that was just plain scary. We thought about going to the Great Sand Dunes National Park or the State Park on it’s boundary to find a place to camp, but we were running low on gas and we weren’t sure how far it was so we kept going to Alamosa. We found a KOA just outside of Alamosa. The host set us up in what he thought was a protected spot to keep us out of the wind. The spot was mostly gravel with a wooden fence and not much room, it was nice and close to the bathrooms however. We chose the farthest spot from the bathrooms with lots of grass and surrounded by trees and bushes and set up our tents there. We bundled up, built a fire, set up bar, and heated up Pam’s stew for supper. The view from our tent was amazing. There were snow covered mountains all around us.
Driving through Kansas and Eastern Colorado was pretty boring. There were lots of fields, mostly hay but also some onion fields. There were tons of feed lots for cattle; we must have seen a million cattle today. Once we could see the mountains our trip was more exciting. Us flatlanders are still amazed by the sight of a snow covered mountain. Crop fields and cattle we’re used to, mountains are just cool. As we got closer to the mountains we started seeing antelope and prairie dogs along side the road. Both the antelope and the prairie dogs had babies which were fun to watch. Knowing we were going to be in the mountains for the next week made us excited to continue on our journey.
Even with the campfire roaring I was having trouble keeping warm so we headed off to bed. I added an extra layer of clothes, climbed into my sleeping bag and promptly fell asleep.
Day 4 ~Alamosa, Colorado to Durango, Colorado~ 316 miles
With snow covered mountains comes really cold temps. We woke up to frost on the tent. It was a pretty chilly night, I was all mummied up in my sleeping bag with 4 shirts, sweatpants and thick socks and I was still cold. I took a hot shower and had a hot breakfast and we hit the road again. First, we were going to the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and then we’d come back and get our tents and then head to our final destination for today which was Mesa Verde National Park campground.
We geared up with layers of clothes and our leathers and headed out to the Great Sand Dunes. We drove about 20 miles to the dunes. We had seen the sand laying at the base of the mountain when we drove past yesterday.
The Great Sand Dunes National Park has the tallest dunes in North America with some up to 750 feet. Geologist think that a lake was once formed between the two mountain ranges and that the sediment from the lake, plus that which was washed down the mountains was blown into a low curve in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The wind funnels toward three mountain passes and the sand accumulates in the natural pocket. The winds blow from the valley floor toward the mountains but during storms the winds blow back toward the valley and the opposing winds cause the dunes to grow vertically. There are two mountain streams that go through the dunes and when we got there we learned we had to take our boots off and cross one of the streams. The water was only 6-12 inches deep and some little kid told us it was warm. He lied. The patterns in the sand at the bottom of the stream were amazing. There were ripples and lines left by the moving water. Once we walked through the wet packed sand we started climbing the dunes. At first the sand was packed and some of it was really rocky. As we kept climbing the sand got softer and deeper. Your feet just sunk in and the warm sand flowed between your toes and over the tops of your feet. It felt wonderful. Some people made a day of the dunes and climbed all the way to the top. Some kids had brought sleds and were trying to slide down the dunes, but that didn’t seem to work very well. Others were building sand castles along the stream or just relaxing in the sun. We climbed a second dune, as we came to the top of it we could see this huge bowl below us where the sand had been blown away. We climbed around for a bit and headed back, walking in that soft sand is tough work. We cleaned off our feet and put on our gear and headed back to the campground.
We had some lunch, packed up our tents and headed for Durango. We drove Hwy 160 through Del Norte and Pagosa Springs to Durango. We spent the day geared up with layers of clothes and leathers to stay warm. We drove over Wolf Creek Pass with an elevation of 10,850, it got down to 50 degrees on the top of the pass and it was really windy. The guys had to fight the wind the whole way and there were a few scary moments when a big gust would hit us. We heard later that a biker went down in the wind on the pass. I’m grateful our drivers do such a good job keeping us safe during those rough conditions.
Even though the weather wasn’t the best, the pass was beautiful. There was snow at the tops of the mountains. There aren’t as many trees as we see in the mountains of Montana. There are more scrub bushes and cedars and aspens. The mountains are much more barren and rocky, probably why they are called the Rocky Mountains. As we were winding our way along the pass we could see this waterfall in the distance. I was taking some photos and enjoying the scenery. I think we said, “Did you see that?” a hundred times coming through the pass. As we got to the down slope the waterfall we had seen was right there by the road. We pulled into a pull-out and spent a little time looking at Treasure Falls and taking some photos. We didn’t hike back as we were a little pressed for time.
We passed through Durango and ventured on to Mesa Verde National Park where we were planning to camp. We could see the huge green mesa for which the park was named as we drove close. We entered the park and headed up the road with its hairpin turns climbing to the campground. The curves were tight and 15-20 mph. Fortunately the road was in pretty good shape and everyone was taking their time and driving under control. We pulled off into the campground and it was really cold. We debated what to do. We went into the camp store and drug out our maps. I visited with a couple of bicyclists who said they camped there the night before and it was in the teens. They just advised me to sleep in my leathers and all and that I would be ok. We discussed and debated and my husband finally said, “I’ve been cold all day and I’m tired of being cold.” We decided to head the 35 miles back to Durango and find a Super 8. I think the road was pretty from Mesa Verde to Durango, but at this point all we could think about was getting to a warm place, getting something to eat.
Durango is a tourist destination so even the Super 8 was overpriced, but at this point we really didn’t care. We loaded two coolers, our bags and various assorted gear onto a cart to haul to our room on the third floor. We had so much weight on the cart that the tires went flat. We got settled in the room, warmed up some spaghetti and watched TV. We snuggled into the warm, soft beds and fell asleep.
Day 5 ~Durango, Colorado to Bluff, Utah~ 208 miles
After comfy beds and the continental breakfast at the Super 8 we repacked the trailers and headed down the road. We had used the computer at the hotel to get weather reports for the surrounding areas. The results were not real good; cold overnights and rain everywhere. When we went to bed our plan was to head to New Mexico because it looked warm and dry there. By morning that plan changed and we decided to go back to Mesa Verde and check out the Cliff Dwellings.
I geared up including my rain pants and we headed off in search of a gas station for fuel, coffee and chew. While we were in the gas station we ran into this group of foreigners that were in our hotel. One couple were on a rented Harley, complete with the leather jackets, all the assorted Harley gear and the man had on Garfield socks (I don’t think they were the standard Harley gear!) They also had two SUV’s. Inside the store they were having difficulty understanding the money; they kept trying to use the quarters and other change to buy things. We explained that the coins were part of a dollar and that it took four quarters to make one dollar etc. One of the guys spoke pretty good English and explained that to the crew. Then he was all worked up because he couldn’t figure out how to put gas in the SUV. They had pulled one SUV up so that the gas tank was next to the pump and successfully put gas in it, they pulled the other SUV so the gas tank was away from the pump and they couldn’t figure out how to get the hose to reach. I gave them a little advice and told him he needed to turn the vehicle around and he spouted off commands in another language and thank you’s to me as they successfully gassed up that vehicle too.
After completing our good deed for the day we headed back to Mesa Verde to see the cliff dwellings. The road was twisty and gaining in elevation all the way up to the visitor’s center. The scenery was amazing; there was a lookout over the valley and lots of beautiful things to see as we climbed our way to the top. We wandered around the visitor’s center looking at the native artifacts that had been found in the cliff dwellings, learning a little about the native people and deciding where to explore. Pueblo Indians made Mesa Verde their home from about AD 550-1300. Mesa Verde National Park preserves a spectacular reminder of this ancient culture with over 4,000 known archeological sites including cliff dwellings, and the mesa top sites of pithouses, pueblos, masonry towers, and farming structures. We decided to drive the road and stop and visit three of the dwellings. The first dwelling we were going to see was called Spruce Tree House. This was the third largest dwelling among several hundred dwellings in the park and it was constructed between AD 1200-1276 by the Anasazi Indians. The dwelling had about 114 rooms and 8 kivas or ceremonial chambers built into a natural cave that measures 216 feet wide by 89 feet deep. It was thought that about 100 people lived in this dwelling. It was discovered by a rancher looking for stray cattle in 1888. The history of this dwelling and so many others is amazing. The park staff tells stories of what they think life was like there so many years ago and of the new discoveries being made in the area. The National Park Service does not rebuild the dwellings, but does reinforce some of the existing structures to prevent deterioration. It’s absolutely amazing to think that these dwellings have been here for hundreds of years and are still in pretty good structural shape. We wanted to spend more time exploring Mesa Verde, but after we hiked up from Spruce Tree House it was already mid-day. We decided we should eat some lunch and head on down the road. I think I may go back to Mesa Verde some day when I have time to really explore the dwellings and the history of the native people of so long ago.
We decided that since we were so close we may as well go to the 4 corners, the only place in the US where four states meet. The road from Durango to Four Corners was more deserty with lots of low scrub brushes and sand. The mountains were amazing though with lots of colors, you could see lines in the rock that indicated something geologically significant had happened during formation. There were some monuments, or just single rock formations way out away from the other mountains. It makes you really stop and wonder about how the earth was transformed into what it is today. There were small canyons that were carved by water that made me realize the power the rushing water must have. We saw our foreign friends pulled off the road a few miles before we had to drive on a really bad road that was under construction. There were miles of uneven road and gravel which was a bit of a challenge for the guys. Once we arrived at Four Corners we paid our $6 to the Native Americans and entered the cheesy little place. There was a platform labeled with each of the states: Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. The flags from each of the states were flying overhead. The platform was surrounded by little booths where you could buy T-shirts, fry bread and other souvenirs. We took all the necessary pictures and drove all the way around the platform so that the bike was in all four states.
We drug out the maps again and decided to head to Teec Nos Pas, Arizona and then to Mexican Hat, Utah to a state park to camp. As we were cruising on Hwy 160 in Arizona we saw Red Mesa. The rock colors were changing from gray to red and the formations were wonderful. We took a county road north to Montezuma Creek, Utah and drove from the Navajo reservation onto the Apache reservation. We turned west onto Hwy 163 and could start to see the green from the San Juan River.
We were running low on fuel so we went to Bluff, Utah and found a nice little campground. We set up our tents right next to this pond, as we were getting things ready we heard bullfrogs starting to croak which made us all laugh with memories of last year’s trip to Tennessee and the night of the frogs that kept us awake.
After supper we went for a walk around the campground and found they had a petting zoo with emus, donkeys, horses and goats. There were two arch formations on the rocks that were pretty cool and I was trying to get a photo of them. The campground was surrounded by rock formations and you could see the green of the valley in the distance.
We spent some time pouring over the maps and deciding where to go next. We wanted to go back to Durango and ride the train and do the San Juan Parkway ride through Silverton, Ouray, Telluride etc. and go to Gunnison to the Black Canyon. From the weather we had read on the Internet it was supposed to be nice in that area again on Thursday so we were debating whether to head back or not. We visited with a camper that said there was snow and sleet in Gunnison so we decided we’d better not go there. We agreed that we’d head towards Canyonlands and Arches National Parks tomorrow. With the plans in order we went to sleep to the serenade of the bullfrog.
Day 6 ~Bluff, Utah to Moab, Utah~ 184 miles
There was a mission group from Evergreen, Colorado in our campground. They were on their yearly mission to the Indian Reservations in the area. They were building cow corrals, working on a meeting place gazebo, painting, and roofing. The children of the church had built an outhouse as their project and today was they day they were going to dig the hole and set up the outhouse. They had about 45 people in their group and last night had told us the coffee would be on at 5:00 if we wanted a cup. As we were getting ready to make breakfast they invited, or rather insisted, we come up for French toast, bacon and fruit. We took them up on their offer and joined them for a time of sharing stories and some good food. They told us supper would be on at 6:00 if we came back that way.
After our breakfast we packed up in the wind and headed towards Canyonlands National Park. The morning started out chilly so I had a t-shirt; long sleeve t-shirt, a fleece and my leathers on. It was the day of changing clothes. I was adding and removing layers all day long as well as putting on the rain suit and taking it back off again. It seemed like the weather was constantly changing, the temperatures ranged from 50-81 degrees and from sunny skies to rain.
We left Bluff north on 165 to Blanding, Monticello and then Canyonlands Needles Entrance. The road back into Canyonlands was about 35 miles long. We stopped at Newspaper Rock. Newspaper Rock is a petroglyph panel etched in sandstone that records perhaps 2,000 years of human activity in the area by the Anasazi, Navajo and Anglo cultures. The exact nature of these symbols meaning is still not clearly understood. But they are typical of many sites throughout the U.S. in their use of universal symbols, be it graffiti or a true "newspaper," recording events of the times and earlier. It was cool to look at all the etchings and wonder what stories were being told.
As we wandered through all of the red rocks it was amazing to see all the different formations. Some looked really smooth, others were jagged. The colors ranged from red to green, white, yellow, brown and gray. Some were single monument like formations and others were whole hillsides. I was taking pictures of rocks balanced precariously on top of pillars, carved out vertical formations, formations that with imagination could be an elephant or a bear etc. The sky was bright blue to our right and dark gray to our left. It seemed that we were in the middle of some weather system; it was odd to see the bright blue skies with white puffy clouds collide with the thunderheads and gray skies. As we got to the end of the Highway and were ready to travel the National Park Road all we could see in front of us were the storm clouds. We debated whether to gear up and continue on or to turn around and go elsewhere. With the way the skies looked and the lightning in the canyon in front of us we decided it would be safer to turn around. We geared up anyway and headed back out of Canyonlands. We never actually made it into the National Park. I don’t know if it would have been more of the same scenery or something even more amazing, I guess we’ll have to try it again another year.
We headed north to Arches National Park As we traveled up 163 to Moab we saw Wilson Arch and we stopped at Old Kane Springs rest stop and had lunch. The rest stop was surrounded by red rock that looked like it had been washed smooth. We drove through Moab to Arches. There were signs that said to be on the look out for Big Horn Sheep as we climbed up the curvy road into the park. The rocks were amazing, there’s just no way to describe the colors and the shapes of everything we saw. The most outstanding natural features of Arches are the park's geologic formations. Over 2,000 catalogued arches range in size from a three-foot opening (the minimum considered to be an arch), to Landscape Arch which measures 306 feet from base to base. Towering spires, fins and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area. The history behind how the arches are formed can be found at the website. We stopped at a couple of particular formations; the first was called Park Avenue and had an amazing view. Our next stopping point was Delicate Arch. We chose to view it from afar rather than hiking the mile and a half back to see it up close. We followed the road north to Devil’s Garden where we hiked to Tunnel Arch and Pine Tree Arch. There were actually two tunnels through the rock wall for tunnel arch and Pine Tree Arch was 44 feet high with a span of 45 feet. There were more arches a few miles up the trail, but we were dressed in riding gear, not in hiking gear so we didn’t go any farther. It sputtered and spit rain at us the whole time we were hiking so we decided to forgo the rest of the park and the find a place to camp. We headed out of the park and some big, black rain clouds moved in so we thought we’d better stop and put our rain gear on again. It only sprinkled a little and we missed most of the storm. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center on the way out to take our gear off again. I think you could just look at the rocks forever. If you had time to just look at the rocks it’s unimaginable what you could see.
We left Arches and headed back toward Moab. We crossed the Colorado River and pulled into a campground. It was a pretty fancy campsite with a pool and canopies over the tent sites, but it wasn’t too expensive and we were tired of driving so we chose what we thought would be a quiet, convenient site and set up our tents. Our tents faced towards a mountain and you could watch the sheets of rain as they came over the mountain and found their way to the campsite. Most of the rain didn’t hit the ground and we barely got wet. We met a couple from Cedar Rapids, Iowa at the campground. They were touring on a BMW motorcycle and they stopped over and swatted mosquitoes and visited with us for awhile. We couldn’t have a campfire to scare the mosquitoes away even though we’d been hauling a bundle of wood since we left Bluff. The wood was $5.50 a bundle because firewood is so scarce in that area, we couldn’t leave it behind so we strapped on the top of our trailer to burn later. With no campfire we finally lost the battle to the pesky little critters and went to bed early.
Day 7 ~Moab, Utah to Park City, Utah~ 260 miles
We cooked up some pancakes and eggs and we packed up and headed out. After much deliberation we decided to scrap the idea of going back to Colorado. The mountain passes we wanted to drive would be too unsafe if there was snow and sleet on the road, besides that I’d be cold! When we were originally planning our trip we had considered going to Salt Lake to check it out. We found this island on Salt Lake called Antelope Island, there was a causeway that led to the island and there was camping, wildlife such as bison, deer, antelope and bobcats as well as tons of birds and the opportunity to walk on the white sandy beaches and get into the lake. Since we had time we decided to head that way and check it out.
We went north on Hwy 191 caught up with I-70 to Green River and then continued north on Hwy 6/191 through Price and then onto Duchesne. The quickest route would have been to take interstate the whole way, but it’s all about the journey and this was a Utah designated scenic route, so what the heck. We were on the lookout for Honda shops as I had broken one of the pins on my headset cord and we weren’t able to communicate. The GPS has Honda shops programmed in and there was one in Helper, UT. The clouds started to build and get black and we could tell we were going to get wet; we were able to push through to the Honda shop before we stopped to gear up. We grabbed our helmets and rain gear and dashed inside as the rain started to fall. They didn’t have the part we needed but we hung out at the shop for about a half hour as a torrent of rain fell. It was raining so hard that the water was running in the front door of the shop. Boy was I glad we weren’t trying to drive in it.
When the rain let up we geared up and headed down the road toward Duchesne. This was a great twisty road climbing in elevation with so much beautiful scenery; however the rain made it hard to see much and the twisties can be a bit dangerous when the road is wet. As we left Helper there was a fork in the road, my husband questioned why we were going this way and I just told him it was the scenic route. I started to get sick to my stomach and feeling like I made a really bad decision on programming us on this road as the weather continued to deteriorate. We kept climbing and the rain kept falling, as we got near the summit we saw “Watch for Elk” and “Icy Road” signs which added another pain to my gut. The temps kept dropping as we neared the summit. We were in the mid-upper 60’s when we left and by the time we hit the summit it was 38 degrees and it was
SNOWING. The sign at the summit read 9114 feet. We ventured carefully down the mountain with our flashers on. When I relaxed enough to look around it was gorgeous, but the weather took most of the joy out of it. When we got to Duchesne we filled up with gas and found a café for a hot meal. We wanted a hot beef sandwich but had to explain how Iowans eat a hot beef to get it made correctly. The café was going to make it open face on buttered toast, us Iowans like a closed face sandwich on gooey white bread and everything covered in gravy.
While we were waiting for our meal we looked at the map. I had been regretting sending us over the top of the mountain from Helper when there was a different route available, but after checking out the map, the other route had a summit of 9959 so it probably would have been worse. We enjoyed our hot meal and rehashed the experience of driving a motorcycle over the mountain in the snow. We checked with the waitress for the best route to Salt Lake and she recommended Hwy 40 as it was less twisty and less elevation than the other route. Either way we had to traverse another mountain to get out of the town. She said we’d have to go over Strawberry with had a summit of 8020, but that we’d get to see the huge reservoir and some great scenery on the way. As we crossed over Strawberry we didn’t have any snow, just some sleet. The temperature only dropped to 46 degrees. Hwy 20 felt a little safer but we were getting really tired of being wet and cold.
We got to Heber City and considered stopping and getting a hotel room. We’d been riding in the rain for hours and the road conditions added lots of stress to our drivers, but we decided we were already soaked to the skin and had conquered the worst of the roads so we kept moving. We got a few more miles and gave it up. We stopped at a gas station and found another Honda shop. The Honda shop didn’t have our part but sent us down the road to Kimball Junction/Park City, Utah to a hotel. We walked into this pretty nice Best Western hotel and negotiated a good rate.
We loaded everything into the hotel, stripped off our wet gear and laid it all out to dry. and we headed to the hot tub. That hot water was perfect after a long cold day We looked over the maps, checked the Internet and watched the Weather Channel to decide tomorrow’s journey. It was raining everywhere. It seemed that severe thunderstorms including tornados were following us across Colorado and Utah. Even though we were wet all day and some of the clouds were pretty dark we were fortunate that we never had severe weather. We avoided lightning, heavy winds and tornadoes and stayed safe. The locals had been telling us for days how odd this weather pattern was. We kept hearing, “It’s never this cold, it’s never rainy this time of year etc.” Somehow we seemed to find the nasty weather conditions. The weather pattern was causing havoc over most of the US, in hindsight, maybe we should have gone to New Mexico or Arizona as it looked pretty dry there. We could see a band of radar that showed no rain for tomorrow in parts of Western and Northern Utah; we were hoping we could stay in that tomorrow.
Day 8 ~ Park City, Utah to Provo, Utah~ 202 miles
We slept in until about 7:30, enjoyed the hot breakfast reloaded our bikes and trailers and headed out in search of Salt Lake. Park City was the home of the ski jump for the 2002 winter Olympics so just above the Wal-Mart store was the ski jumps. There was also an Olympic village in town and I looked for other Olympic things as we drove to Salt Lake, but I didn’t see anything else. We did a little shopping at Wal-Mart and when we left we did two circles around the round-a-bout (just for fun) and headed toward Syracuse, UT and Antelope Island. The drive on I-80 out of Park City was breathtaking. The mountains were lush and green which doesn’t seem so common out here, most of the times things are rocky, desert and desolate.
We drove the 6 mile causeway onto Antelope Island in the Salt Lake. Antelope Island is the largest island in Salt Lake and has some of the oldest rocks found anywhere on earth. Salinity is too high in Salt Lake to support fish or most other aquatic life; however brine shrimp, brine flies and algae live there and are the primary food sources for the millions of migrating birds. Water flows into Salt Lake but there is no outlet other than evaporation. Because of this high concentration of minerals are left behind. Salinity levels range between 4 and 28%, oceans are 3%. Antelope Island has 40 freshwater springs which support the island wildlife and vegetation. There are 500-700 bison on the island as well as bobcats, coyotes, deer, antelope, reptiles and many bird species.
The sign at the entrance said there were lots of bugs and they were not kidding. As we were driving on the causeway you could see huge swarms of black bugs over the top of the sage brush, I kept hoping they’d stay off the road so I wasn’t covered in them. I kept my shield down on my helmet and my mouth shut as we traveled the road. There were seagulls everywhere; they would fly into the swarms of bugs to have a little snack. We also saw some grebes, pelicans and other water birds as we were driving the causeway. The lake was on both sides of us, at first it was just lots of sand but then there started to be water on each side. Once onto the island we pulled off into a parking lot and explored. The rock formations were cool and colorful. We found a couple types of lizards as we were walking in the rocks and the guys were trying to catch them. I took pictures of a couple of them, one was only 3-4” long and sunning itself on a rock, the others were probably a foot long and constantly on the move. The view across the lake was pretty cool and watching all the birds fly overhead was awesome. We could see the sandy beaches where the people were getting in the lake. The lake had receded a lot and it was about a half mile from the parking lot across the sand to the water. Even though the brine flies don’t bother humans, some bug on that island sure did. We were getting bit up like crazy and even the bug spray didn’t help much.
We got back on the bikes and explored the roads on the island. We saw some deer, antelope and bison and went back to the farm and had a picnic lunch. We adamantly agreed we wouldn’t be camping on this bug infested piece of land! There was also a nasty odor in the air which I assumed was the lake. I got some really cool photos where the Wasatch Mountains and the clouds were reflecting off the perfectly calm lake.
We decided we’d go to the beach and spend some time in the water. I considered putting my suit on as I really wanted to float in the Great Salt Lake, but decided to opt for shorts and sandals instead. We were excited about getting in the lake, the guys just left their jeans on and didn’t seem too geared up about the idea. We hiked the half mile or so across the sand which changed texture and firmness as we went. Parts of it were soft and deep, others were compact and much was covered with really flat white rocks. As we got closer to the shoreline that nasty smell got more intense. I was beginning to think that maybe getting in the water wouldn’t be the best idea, but what the heck, we’d traveled thousands of miles and this may be my one opportunity to wade in Salt Lake. So we swatted bugs and continued on. We got to the shore line and I started to step in and this brown slime oozed over the top of my sandals and really grossed me out. I walked a little farther to find a way to get into the lake without walking through the slime. As I walked on the shore line millions and millions of brine flies would get up off the sand and swarm about. I finally found a place to get in the water. The water was clear and the bottom was compact sand and flat rocks but the water was full of brown stuff. After some exploration we decided that the brown things floating in the water were the brine shrimp. They were everywhere, they were floating, clinging to rocks and clinging to the hairs on my legs. There were some kids who had their suits on and they waded way out and jumped under the water and announced that they were floating. To be a kid again, I was disgusted by the shrimp and the gross smell and couldn’t even imagine putting my head, or actually anything more than my feet in this water. We’d seen some pretty nasty bathrooms on our trip, but the number one disgusting thing was Salt Lake. I’m glad we went, but don’t have any desire to ever go again. We got out of the shrimp infested water and skipped rocks for a bit and then trudged through the bugs up to the shower house. By the time we got to the showers our legs were crusted with white salt. It took some scrubbing, but we got cleaned up, put our boots back on and headed off towards the Honda shop in Salt Lake.
I had called the Honda shop and they said they had our mic cord in stock. We were excited about the opportunity to talk to each other again as we navigated the Salt Lake City traffic to the shop. We spent an hour in the shop and they never did find a cord that would work, frustrating! By now it was rush hour and my husband hates to drive in city traffic so it was bit unnerving as we navigated our way south on I-70 through town. We thought we’d get out of Salt Lake and find somewhere to camp. We headed toward Provo, Utah where we found a KOA to camp.
The campground was set alongside a little river that was moving really fast. I checked with the campground host and asked if the river would come out of the banks and he assured me we would be safe. I couldn’t imagine having a child near that river; it was going so fast they would be swept away if they fell in. We set up our tents and grilled some burgers. Our bundle of firewood was still safe as there were not any fire rings and it was too wet and rainy to burn it up. We’ll just have to strap it to the top of the trailer for one more day. It rained during the night, but we were snug and dry in our tent.
Day 9 ~ Provo, Utah to Silt, Colorado~ 401 miles
Myhusband put on his old tennis shoes – rain shoes- in hopes that if he had them on it wouldn’t rain. We leathered up and put on our rain gear and headed off in the 60 degree temperatures and black skies. We took off on I-15 heading south to connect with I-70 via Hwy 50 from Scipio to Salina to head home. It would have been 200 miles closer to take I-80, but the forecast was for rain and upper 50’s which would be pretty miserable riding on a bike. The forecast for I-70 was rain and upper 60’s, lower 70’s which would be more comfortable.
Interstate travel is never our favorite route. Usually it’s boring scenery moving in a straight line without much adventure. However, I-70 proved to me that Interstate travel can be wonderful. The road from Salina to Green River was fantastic. The rocks were a million colors and there were so many amazing formations. Mother Earth and God did a beautiful thing here. Our eyes are some pretty complex machines to be able to take in the depth and breadth of everything we saw, unfortunately, there is no way to capture it in a photo. We stopped at about mile marker 116 at the Devil’s Canyon overlook. This canyon is a long drainage that starts just beneath the highest point in the San Rafael Swell, 7921 foot San Rafael Knob, and has eroded into colorful layers of sandstone. We took some photos and gazed in awe of how mighty nature is before we moved on down I-70. I-70 continued to be twisting thorough the mountains showing us and ever changing landscape. The road got pretty desolate from Green River to Grand Junction, Colorado, but then started to get interesting again.
We had covered a lot of miles and had managed to dodge the rain all day, thanks I’m sure to the magical rain shoes. We had ridden on and off in the wind all day and it seemed to be picking up so we stopped at the Rifle Rest Stop to inquire about places to camp. There was a lot of camping in the area, but it was Saturday night so we called the Rifle campgrounds and found they were full. We called another campground down the road in New Castle, but no one answered the phone. We decided just to keep heading east and look for a campground on the way. We were just a few miles down the road when we saw an RV park in Silt, CO. Now the RV park was adjacent to the city’s water treatment plant and looked like it was mostly permanent RV’s and was pretty run down. I think the words “trailer trash” may have originated here. As we drove down the dead end road and into the gravel drive I had a feeling that this wasn’t the place for us to stay, but what the heck we drove through and the campground host came to talk to us. He showed us a spot of green grass next to the restrooms and explained how it could be pretty tough to find anywhere else to stay on a Saturday night. He said he’d charge us $20 and move the broken lawnmower and the hoses out of our way so we could set up tents. Well how could we say no to that, he was going to move the broken lawnmower wasn’t he? Against my better judgment we said, “Why not?” and called this our home for the night. The guys pulled the motorcycles into the spot vacated by a 40 foot camper and we began to set up camp. Fortunately we are a group that can find humor in about anything and we just started laughing about our new accommodations. We would be “tent trash” in our new home.
We set up our tents in the gale force winds, adding extra stakes in hopes that the tents wouldn’t blow away. Our campground host assured us that the winds usually die down about 6:00, but we would probably get rained on during the night. It was actually a beautiful location right on the Colorado River and surrounded by mountains, however we couldn’t see any of that as we were surrounded by trailers. The wind was blowing like crazy and we decided it would be futile to try and start the grill. Even though we were still carrying our bundle of firewood on the top of the trailer, we didn’t think it would be safe to start a fire in the wind so we put our chairs in a circle between the tents and tried to make the best of it. As we were enjoying our relaxing time and having a few laughs the assistant manager, Tex or Pops or whatever we wanted to call him, strolled over. Now Tex was a tall man with broad shoulders, a well worn cowboy hat, and no teeth. He had his 32 oz plastic cup in one hand and his bottle of Jack Daniels in the other. He explained the ins and outs of the campground making sure we new the code to unlock the restrooms and that we knew it was BYOTP. Yep, bring your own toilet paper.
The wind did eventually die down and we cooked some brats. We enjoyed a little time watching the eagle over the Colorado River and the geese and ducks that were in the water. We visited with some of the residents, most were oil riggers and many were struggling to find work and considering moving back to their home states due to the slow economy.
Day 10 ~Silt, Colorado to Kearney, Nebraska~ 550 miles
We packed up early and decided we’d get breakfast on the road rather that cooking in our scary little campground. We packed our gear, restrapped the firewood to the top of the trailer and headed off for a full day of riding. We were on the homestretch and planned to do at least 500 miles today so we could get home on Monday.
My husband put his rain shoes on again; we were thrilled that we had spent the last two days being relatively dry. When we were planning the trip home we anticipated driving in rain for the last three days of our journey. We were hoping the shoes could work their magic a little longer and let us make it through the day without having to put our rain gear on.
We got back on I-70 heading east; I was prepared for yet another boring Interstate and was proved wrong once again. The trip through Glenwood Canyon was breathtaking. The road twisted and turned and as we came around another curve it was like a new present was unwrapped for us to look at. The view from the motorcycle is incomparable to any other mode of transportation. You can look all the way to the top of the canyon with no roof to block your view. We cruised along in the 50-60 degree temps and stopped at the skiing village of Avon for some breakfast. As we wandered through the round-a-bouts into Avon we could see bronze statues all over town. There were lots of horse statues and I saw one of some children too, it is definitely a tourist community.
I added another layer before we left Avon as we were going to continue to climb in elevation and I figured it would get cooler, I was hoping it wouldn’t get as cold as it did when we had snow a few days ago. I also took the camera out expecting more beautiful scenery on the next leg of our trip. I didn’t have my good camera out as we went through Glenwood Canyon and the little camera that I keep in my side compartment doesn’t take nearly as nice of pictures when we are cruising along. So I’m geared up, camera ready for the Grand Finale. We wandered down I-70 over Vail Pass at 10,666 feet, by Copper Mountain, Breckenridge, and other hot spots for skiing. We stopped and took photos at the reservoir just before Dillon. Our friends had lived in Colorado 20 years ago and had remembered this as a beautiful place; many of the trees were dead, probably from pine beetles or some other disease, so even though it was pretty cool it wasn’t a beautiful as they remembered. We continued up the mountain to the Eisenhower Tunnel. It is the highest vehicle tunnel in the world with an elevation of 11,013 and is over a mile and a half long. My husband got a little disoriented in the tunnel and thought he was going to have to stop, the lights rushing by and the enclosed space made him feel like he was on a carnival ride. We started down the mountain into Denver and connected with I-76 on our route home. Once we hit the Front Range the scenery was pretty boring, we were really tempted to turn back and drive I-70 again. Who thought an Interstate could offer so much to see?
With a hint of disappointment and sadness that our vacation was coming to a close we cruised down I-76, planning to hook up with I-80 at the Colorado-Nebraska border knowing the next 800 miles were going to be flat lands and not much to see. I guess if you didn’t live in the Midwest the miles of plains and fields may be something pretty cool to look at, for us Midwesterners we just think, oh another corn field, looks like it’s doing well and will be knee high by the Fourth of July. Look, the soybeans are up and looking healthy. Over there in the ditch, whitetail deer and there in the field, whitetail deer, and there on the road, whitetail deer: recipe for disaster.
We were listening to the local weather station and it sounded as if a storm was following us. We turned on the weather band and the severe storm warning confirmed that we’d be staying in a hotel that night. Every time a dark cloud rolled in my husband would wave his rain shoes in the air and ask them to keep working their magic. We set our sights on Kearney, Nebraska for our overnight stay. We were out of food in the coolers and looking forward to a nice meal at a restaurant and a relaxing night’s sleep before heading for home. We ran into road construction just outside of Kearney and it started to sprinkle. My husband got both feet in the air and waved those rain shoes around and we made it to the hotel relatively dry.
Day 11 ~Kearney, Nebraska to Mason City, Iowa~ 458 miles
We woke to dark clouds and forecast of a rainy day again. We weren’t sure if the rain shoes had another day of magic in them, but we were going to find out. We reloaded the bike and trailer, including that bundle of firewood from Bluff, Utah (they wouldn’t let us have a campfire at the hotel) and got back on I-80 to head home. We cruised through Grand Island, Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska then crossed the Missouri River into Iowa. Our drive across western Iowa was uneventful other than a bird did a kamikaze dive at my husband and barely missed his helmet. We connected with I-35 north in Des Moines for the homestretch. The rain shoes were hard at work but once we got through Des Moines and close to Ames it was looking as if the magic was plain wore out. We pulled off at Story City and put our rain gear on for the last 77 miles to home. It rained a little, but we never enough to get us very wet. We got home, pulled the bike and trailer into the garage, let the dog out and crashed. We did 1000 miles in two days and when I was sitting in my lazy boy chair I felt as if the walls were all still moving.
We were thankful to get home safely. Even though many of our destinations were missed for our trip due to the crazy weather pattern, the journey was fantastic.