Category Archives: Western Rides

The Long Way to Durango: Sleeping on the Side of the Road

Durango to HanksvilleAfter the rain the night before, when we left the hotel rooms at 7:00 am it was blue skies. We wanted to make a couple of stops along the way—one at Mesa Verde and Kathy wanted to tick Four Corners off her bucket list (it’s the only place in the country where the four corners of any state meet). In this case Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. So after a sweet roll at the hotel, we hit the road. The ride between Durango and Cortez is a beautiful ride.

We had been talking about stopping at Mesa Verde National Park for a couple of days, so decided we could afford the short detour despite  the 350 or so miles we’d be in the saddle (our original destination was Torrey—more on that later). After a few minutes in the visitor’s center, we entered the park. One thing I love about the National Parks is how they seem compelled to follow the contours of the landscape when they build their roads. Riding inside this particular park was very fun.

Looking down on the highway to CortezWinding turns had the bikes leaning into the curves as we climbed to the top of the mesa. We didn’t realize how far we’d climbed until we stopped at a lookout and looked down at the highway to Cortez below us. There wasn’t much traffic to get in the way and all of us commented that the ride in was one of the things we liked the best about Mesa Verde.

It’s pretty hard to believe that the structures we were looking at were around 800 years old. These people were masons—they knew what they were doing. I took several photos of the sites we stopped at and hiked around. The guide told us that there were about 10,000 people living in the Mesa Verde area of Colorado at the height of the community. And, the population of southwest Colorado was probably greater then than it is today.

Mesa Verde 3The mesa above this area would have been covered in cornfields rather than the pine and juniper that thrives there today. This was an agricultural community with a thriving population. I wonder if there will be remnants of our homes 800 years from now?

After descending to the valley, we had lunch in Cortez and prepared for the increase in temperatures as we headed south to Four Corners and then northwest on highway 95 to Torrey, UT.

I filled my hydration vest just outside of Blanding and was glad I did as the temperature climbed over 90 and hit 100 (according to the folks in Hanksville). 95 is a beautiful highway we practically had to ourselves. After crossing the bridge over the Colorado River, we stopped to stretch our legs. I took a photo of Phil’s and my bike, before we mounted up for the next couple hours of riding. Unfortunately, my battery had given up the ghost.

Highway 95We tried a portable charger we had with us, but it didn’t have enough juice to get us started. After an hour or so of trying everything we could think of, we decided to split up and try to find a tow. I would remain along the side of the road with my bike while Phil and Kathy rode into Hanksville to find someone who could tow me into town where we could try to locate a battery and continue on our way.

Stocked up with some water I settled in for what I thought would be a couple hours wait. When rescue hadn’t come at 10:30, I figured I would be stuck here until morning and fell asleep looking at the beautiful stars. Sometime between Midnight and 1:00 am, I was startled awake by the bank of spotlights on the tow truck Phil had sent to rescue me. If you’re ever in a bind and in the area, Jeff and Carolyn Kiteley of Kitely’s Place Towing are awesome.

“You don’t look very stressed out,” said Carolyn as she climbed out of the truck. “Most people out here in the middle of the night are pretty stressed by the time we get here.”

I figured there was nothing I could do about the situation and was pretty tired, so I just did what came naturally.

Let me just say, standing on the angled flatbed of a tow truck holding onto the front brake as the driver lifts you up in the air in the dark is a little unsettling—maybe even trippy. Fortunately Jeff knew what he was doing and my bike was strapped down and headed for Hanksville.

I found out what the delay had been on the ride back. Kathy had somehow fried her transmission and couldn’t get over 40 mph on the way into town. The arrow on the map above is about where we stopped. And, once they got to Hanksville the phones were down, so Phil had to go in search of Jeff’s home at 11:00 pm and rouse him from bed to go out into the desert night to find me.

Needless to say, we didn’t make our hotel reservation in Torrey and there wasn’t a room available in Hanksville. In the wee hours of the morning when I arrived, we were bivouacked on some picnic tables next to the gas station/convenience store and because of the state of Kathy’s trike, there was no way we would be able to continue on. Phil had called Kelly and he would meet us in the morning to tow our bikes home.

If there’s anything I’ve learned about motorcycle touring, it’s to expect the unexpected. (And, you should never ignore that little voice in the back of your head that suggests it’s time to gas up, check the oil, or put a new battery in your bike.)  Most of the time everything is fine. The equipment performs as it’s supposed to and things go off without a hiccup. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case and a good attitude and keeping calm is the only way to deal with things like rain, mechanical failure, sleeping on the side of the road, or maybe even on an old picnic table.

We made it home safe and sound; and Kathy’s bike is in the shop as we speak. My bike is in the garage waiting for her new battery. Kelly came through for us like the great friend he is. And, since I was the only one who was able to get a few “Zs” on the picnic tables, I got to ride Phil’s Ultra Classic home.

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The Long Way to Durango: Avon to Durango

Avon to DurangoIt was 40 degrees when I hit the road at 8:00 am headed for points west. Phil and Kathy had a hard time finding a room in either Price or Green River and wound up riding all the way to Grand Junction in the middle of the night. I happened to be awake at 2:30 when they pinged me to let me know where they were. We were going to meet up at some point during the day, we just needed to figure out where. Because I had further to go, we decided I would get an early start and they would sleep in an hour or so longer.

I’m not usually a big fan of pounding out miles on the Interstate, but I-70 through Colorado is one of the most scenic stretches of Interstate I’ve ever been on. Glenwood Canyon in particular was incredible looking at the Colorado River boil and churn over rapids that were unbelievable. When I stopped in Rifle at the Visitor’s Center, I mentioned how they picked a great place to put the Interstate and the hostess said, “That was the only place they could.” Driving down I-15 through Utah is like watching beige paint dry compared to I-70.

Looking at the map, it looked like the junction with Highway 65 through the Grand Mesa area was a great road (at least according to the map) and a better place to meet than Montrose. It was only about 30 or so minutes from Grand Junction, so we decided to see if my Butler Map was right. It was.

Without a doubt, it was one of the funnest sections of highway I’ve ever been on. It felt like a road custom-made for a motorcycle as we climbed. And to think it was a last-minute addition to the ride blows my mind. This section of highway is definitely worth doing again. My Butler map listed several sections of this ride as the best Colorado has to offer and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. It’s called the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway and I highly recommend the stretch from the junction with I-70 to Cederedge.

The road to SilvertonI was running low on gas so we stopped in Delta to gas up and went a little further to Montrose to stop for lunch. We decided to continue south on 550 instead of taking 62 and 145 toward Cortez like we did a couple of Memorial Day Weekends ago. The road over Red Mountain Pass is called the “Million Dollar Highway.” Expect a lot of slow-speed hairpin turns and some very exposed shoulders. It. Was. A. Blast.

I was very glad for the low-end torque on my Road King climbing through the hairpins. While there was a fair amount of traffic on the road, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We stopped a time or two to take in the views. We dropped into Silverton far too early The Brown Bear in Silvertonfor me. After the obligatory stop at the “Highest Harley Store in the World” we went next door and had a very tasty chocolate milkshake at the Brown Bear Restaurant.

I couldn’t help but think of Park City as we walked down Main Street in Silverton. However, unlike Park City, it looked like this town had almost been forgotten. The hostess in Rifle told me there was a day when the only way to get to Silverton was either by walking, riding a horse, or by train. I’m glad there’s a road.

Ouray, COI love mountain passes and this one certainly didn’t dissapoint. The little towns that dotted the highway definitely had their roots in mining and are now catering to folks like us who are passing though. Although we didn’t stop, Ouray looked like a very charming town. I took a photo looking back down the canyon at it when we stopped for Phil and Kathy to layer up—as we climbed the temperature started to drop.

Heading down into Durango the road was closed for an hour or so because of an accident on the highway, so we didn’t beat the rain that had been predicted for late afternoon. About 25 miles out of Durango it started to rain and followed us all the way into town. It’s been a couple hours since we settled in and it’s still coming down.

It’s hard not to appreciate what a beautiful part of the world we live in. Today’s ride was one of the most enjoyable days in the saddle I’ve ever spent. This is one of those trips worth doing again.

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The Long Way to Durango: Sandy to Avon via Steamboat

Sandy, UT to Avon, COWhat a great day to be in the saddle. Blue skies and fluffy white clouds followed me all the way to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. I pretty much had the road to myself if it weren’t for the biplanes from World War I that followed me through Heber. There must have been an air show at the Heber Airport because a World War II bomber was flying low over the Jordanelle Reservoir too.

I made great time to my lunch spot in Vernal as I pulled in about noon. I remember making this drive on a regular basis to my grandparent’s farm in Ft. Duchesne. I enjoyed the farm as a kid, but didn’t really appreciate how beautiful the ride is climbing Daniels Canyon, past Strawberry Reservoir, and through the small towns that dot Highway 40. I gassed up in Roosevelt, named for our rough ride’n 26th President Theodore. He must have been pretty popular in 1906 when the town was established. Which should be no surprise, he was pretty popular all over the country in those days.

I was flying solo today. Kelly had some bike problems he couldn’t get fixed last night and a couple of other guys bailed earlier in the week. When Kelly called me early this morning I decided to push forward anyway. I’m going to meet up with Phil and Kathy in Montrose tomorrow morning. It’s about 190 miles or so from here, so I should be able to connect with them by sometime mid-morning. We’ll end the day in Durango.

I took 131 just out of Steamboat heading south. Without a doubt it was the highlight of today’s ride. A beautiful mountain pass that is well worth doing again. Amazingly, the predicted afternoon thundershowers were ahead of me and other than a few raindrops a time or two I was dry all the way to Avon. I could tell by the wet roads I had just missed it by a few minutes.

I was talking with another friend of mine who rides and both of us mentioned how the smell of wet asphalt, sage, and pine after a summer shower is one of the great pleasures of the road. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a big fan of riding in the rain—but if you spend any time on the road you’re gonna get wet once in a while. That said, I do like how everything smells after a rain.

Route JacketI mentioned before that I’ve been looking for a new mid-weight/light-weight textile jacket for riding this time of year. I think I’ve found the one I like. It’s one of the less expensive jackets Harley makes and it performed well on the ride today. It was warm enough in the morning when the temperature was cooler; and with the vents open was great as the mercury started to rise through mid-day.

The jacket looks sharp and fits well, but sometimes it’s the little things that really make a difference. In this case, it’s the zippers. I have three or four jackets, but this is the only one I don’t have to coax the zippers while on the bike. Any time I needed to get into a pocket or unzip (or zip) the vents to regulate my temperature, the zippers flawlessly either zipped or unzipped. Usually, I have to sit up, pull the bottom of my pocket as I zip it back up, but these zippers just zipped. One of the simple pleasures of something doing what it was designed to do. So, in addition to looking sharp, the zippers work.

It doesn’t come with any armor, but there are armor pockets on the elbows and shoulders which I filled with the appropriate protection. Since Kelly’s accident, I somehow feel more comfortable knowing I have some extra protection. I don’t think I’ve seen this particular jacket on the road, which is appealing and I personally like the orange accent.

It feels good to be on the road again. I really enjoy these tours and the ride from here to Durango should be beautiful tomorrow.

I’ve got some great video of the section of 131 that I’ll publish later (once I’ve had time to edit it).

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The Chief Joseph Highway and Bear Tooth Pass

JacksonI never got a chance to write about this ride last summer and since I haven’t been able to ride the last couple of weeks, I thought it was a good opportunity to share one of the best rides in this part of the country.

Just 17 miles north of Cody, Wyoming after two days of riding in the rain from Salt Lake City to get there, my friends and I were pointed west on the Chief Joseph Highway. The 47 paved miles of Scenic Byway is named after Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce who fled east through Yellowstone following the Battle of Big Hole in 1877. He and his 1000 warriors ran from the U.S. Calvary to escape life on the reservation. It’s not hard to understand why they felt this country was worth fighting for as the beautiful landscape unrolls underneath my feet.

Without a doubt, this is one of the most enjoyable 47 miles you’ll ever do on a motorcycle as you climb the pass followed by a traverse of switchbacks down into the valley and set up for the Bear Tooth Highway. Mile after mile of sweepers, perfectly designed for a motorcycle, will have you grinning from ear to ear.

If you don’t enjoy this section of the ride (that is far too short for me), you should probably be in a car. It doesn’t get any better on a bike.

Charles Kuralt called “The All-American Highway” over Bear Tooth Pass “The most beautiful road in America.” Summiting at just shy of 11,000 feet, it should definitely be on your bucket list—if it isn’t already. Climbing from the turnoff on Chief Joseph, beautiful alpine lakes, waterfalls, and time above the tree line await.

The road over the summit was opened in 1936 following a “shortcut” from the Yellowstone taken by General Phillip Sheridan in 1872.

The temperature dropped as we made the climb this weekend, thankful for our heated gloves and jacket as the early summer temperatures dropped to the high 30s. Navigating the hairpin turns partway to the summit I was glad the road was bone dry after the rain we’d had in the days leading up to the ride over the pass. When you hit this road, be prepared for varying weather conditions and slow-speed bike control (I feel like the posted speed limit through the hairpins is just about right). Don’t be surprised if you’re a little nervous your first time over the pass, you’ll be spending a fair amount of time above the tree line on some pretty exposed asphalt shoulders.

The road has been in great shape every time I’ve been on this ride—kudos to the Wyoming and Montana highway crews. The snow was still piled up about 10 feet on the summit as we shared the beautiful day with folks on snowshoes and cross-country skis.

The descent down into Red Lodge is well worth the effort. You may want to turn around and do it again after topping off the tank. I’ve done that before.

We had a great lunch stop at a little place called Bogart’s on the Red Lodge Main Street. Someone in Cody recommended the place to us, and it wasn’t a disappointment. My chicken fajita tacos were very tasty. And, I didn’t hear any complaints from my companions either.

If you don’t want to go over the pass again, you can go take a shortcut to Cody. Either way, it’s a great ride.

Late spring and early summer rides in this part of the world require a little preparation. The weather changes quickly from hot sunshine to rain, and even snow, before you know it. Be prepared to layer—over the course of the five days we rode through this part of Wyoming I was in raingear, heated gear, and my hot-weather mesh to regulate the temperature and adapt to the conditions.

The fall is a great time to visit the Bear Tooth Highway. We had a little rain and cold temperatures last fall, but it was still a great ride. It really feels like you can almost reach up and touch the clouds as you’re looking down on the trees.

Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone dominate where most people go, but some of the riding outside the National Parks is as good as it gets. Cody is a great place to base camp for a few days. There are a number of nice hotels and you can’t help but enjoy the way the town kind of cocks its hat to one side and gives off a little attitude.

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Memorial Weekend: Cedar City to Salt Lake

Cedar City to Salt LakeKelly and I got started a little earlier than the rest so we could take the bikes over to the car wash to get some of the grime from the last few days washed off. Aside from getting wet, the thing I hate about riding in the rain is how dirty it gets the bike.

We decided to go up over Cedar Canyon again so we could take 89 home and avoid as much of the Interstate as we could. It probably adds an hour or so to the trip, but the miles are easier and the traffic is lighter as we turned north at the junction and headed to Panguich. By the time we hit Richfield, there was a “rumbly in my tumbly”, but we were close to Mom’s Cafe—one of my favorite diners on 89. After topping off both the bike and ourselves, we mounted up for the last couple hours to home.

I enjoy riding through the little towns in rural Utah—and every other place for that matter. I was disappointed when we had to rejoin the rush on the Interstate, but it was nice to get home.

Chris had complained for most of the trip of some stomach problems, which turned out to be appendicitis. We’ve been calling her one tough mutha since then. We cranked off a lot of miles, which must have been pretty miserable. Needless to say, we’re glad it didn’t burst while we were on the road.

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Memorial Weekend: Cortez to Cedar City, UT

Cortez to Cedar CityNeither Sue nor Chris are fans of big days in the saddle, but the thoughts of getting out of the weather to warmer and dryer roads sounded great to them. Kelly and Chris have a son that lives in Cedar, where we were going to spend the night, so when we left in the rain it was with high hopes for a better day to be riding.

We figured it would take us six or seven hours in the saddle that day, but it started to warm up after the first two or three cold hours. Northern Arizona is definitely high desert riding, but our spirits lifted as the temperature rose and we pulled into Page, Arizona for our lunch stop. We had lunch at Fiesta Mexicana, which wasn’t as good as Taquila’s the night before, but is worth stopping there. It’s on the main drag out of town with easy access.

Riding over the dam, it was nice to be back on Highway 89. As I’ve mentioned before, I love this little road and think it’s a beautiful ride particularly from Kanab, UT to Panguich. We’d shed all our cold-weather riding gear by now as the miles rolled off going north to Cedar Canyon—a very pretty ride over the top and down into Cedar City. I couldn’t help but think of the last time Kelly and I were through here and the snow was stacked up six or eight feet on the side of the road.

After arriving in Cedar and getting cleaned up for dinner, we headed back up the canyon to have dinner at Milt’s. It’s a favorite of ours and if you like a good steak, you won’t be disappointed. Every time I’ve eaten there, I’ve been impressed with just how good the “cow” is there. Do yourself a favor. If you’re ever in Cedar City, make it a point to eat at Milt’s.

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Memorial Weekend: Grand Junction to Cortez, Colorado

Grand Junction to CortezThe weather report was questionable as we got ready for the days ride. Since I hadn’t brought rain gear, it was decided that we should stop by the Harley store in Grand Junction to get Sue ready in case it rained again. Although she loves me, I wasn’t convinced another soggy day in the saddle was a good idea.

After finding her some appropriate rain gear, we mounted up and headed south for Cortez. Being cheap, I opted to skip purchasing another set of rain gear for myself, which later that day caused me to finish the ride with a lap full of slush. Fortunately, I’m waterproof there and made it to the hotel in one piece.

The forecast was for snow going over the mountain into Durango, so we opted to follow the river along a lower-elevation route to Cortez. The ride along the river was beautiful and the weather was fantastic until we started to climb over the pass and headed toward Cortez. Unlike my friends on their Road Glides, I don’t have lower fairings on my Road King. At the top of the pass there was “white stuff” on the road mixed with the rain that we didn’t recognize as snow at first. It pretty much filled my chaps and drenched my waterproof parts. Fortunately it didn’t last long. Needless to say, our rain gear has a permanent home in the saddle bags now.

Tequila'sWe ate dinner at a great Mexican restaurant in Cortez called Tequila’s. The food was great and the atmosphere was fun. As  you can see in the photograph, some of us were really enjoying the food while others we exploiting the atmosphere. Sue even looked happy despite spending half the day again today in the rain. The food was that good.

Most of the group was heading up to Moab in the morning, but Kelly, Chris, Sue and I were headed to Cedar City. It would be a much longer day, but I was looking forward to going a little further south and getting out of the weather.

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