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Enough with the freaking snow already! - Motocamping from TX to CA

Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA

Are you wondering why I have that annoyed, almost pissed-off look in my eyes? That’s because, for the third time in two weeks, it’s snowing on me. It’s not like I’m way up in the mountains of Colorado this time, either; I’m in southern Nevada, barely an hour from Las Vegas, and June is only three days away. It should be sweltering here. But, no, instead I’ve managed to stumble into yet another late-May winter snap, and now I’m getting snowed on. Again.


The idea for a cross-country trip started coming together a few months ago, when Victoria got a nice promotion at work that required us to move from DFW to her company HQ near San Jose, CA. She grew up in the area and still has family there, and we’ve been wanting to move back for some time now, so things worked out nicely. I was unable to find a new job in CA before our mid-April move, so I just quit and am now unemployed, which isn’t all bad. We trailered the Ninja 250 out to California with us when we moved, and I’ve had lots of free time to ride it out and explore the numerous twisty roads surrounding the Bay.

Anyways, the FZ1 got loaded up with camping gear and parked in a friend’s garage prior to our leaving Texas. She waited there for a few weeks until Vic and I flew back to DFW for another friend’s wedding, after which Vic would fly back to CA and I would hit the road. I had sketched out a rough route and noted the locations of various campgrounds, but nothing was really set in stone. I had certain roads on my to-do list, like 550 and 141 in Colorado, and US-50 across Nevada, and I wanted to visit a bunch of the national parks through CO and UT. I had no job to rush back to and had all the time in the world (well, as much as Vic would let me be away for), and so my goal was to take my time, enjoy myself, not miss anything along the way.

And with that, we’re off...

Day 1: Sunday 5/15/11
272 mi - Map
Euless, TX to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK

After a few glasses of water and some aspirin helped chase away the hint of a hangover from the wedding party then night before, Vic and I set off for my friend Blizz’s house, where the FZ1 was stored. After getting everything squared away and secured on the bike, we all headed off for a group lunch with my good friends from FWMR at Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell.

The FZ1 (with topbox) crammed into the back of the garage. George and Blizz have *a lot* of toys.

Loaded up and ready to roll. Odometer reading at departure: 24040.

Hard Eight: Mmm, BBQ.

A group shot with the contingent of FWMR who were able to make it out to lunch.

We stuffed ourselves silly and wasted a few hours BS’ing over lunch, and then it was time to leave. Vic and I had our goodbyes, and she headed off for the airport for her flight back to CA, while I jumped on the freeway and headed north for Oklahoma. Dave (giving the Versys a last-minute shakedown in preparation for a cross-country trip of his own) and Nick (on that *other* naked bike) rode with me for a bit up to the Red River crossing.

Dave and Nick at a gas stop in Decatur.

The first bridge spanning the Red River west of I-35 is the Taovoyas Indian Bridge. The roads heading north to it from DFW are fairly entertaining, and the bridge itself is way out in the middle of nowhere on a 2-mile straightaway dropping down into the river valley. Needless to say, everybody who goes there obeys the posted speed limits at all times.


At the bridge, I said goodbye to Dave and Nick as they turned back south. My destination for the night, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, was still another 100 uneventful miles into Oklahoma. Once there, I detoured off the main highway for a few miles to ride to the top of Mount Scott, a small peak that rises some 1,000 feet above the surrounding plain.

A section of the paved road that climbs to the summit of Mount Scott.

View of Elmer Thomas Lake from the summit.

Oklahoma Hwy 49 winding through the prairie. I had to dodge some longhorns in the road shortly after taking this picture... hey, it is a Wildlife Refuge!

I made it to Doris Campground, at the edge of Lake Quanah Parker, at about 6PM. After unloading and setting up camp, I sat down to record the deeds of the day, and as I was typing the date into my phone, it struck me: May 15. Mom’s birthday. Check phone - no service. Crap! I could run back to Lawton, 20 miles away, and call her from there. However, just south of the campground is a small peak called Little Baldy Mountain, and the campground map shows a hiking trail leading to it. Crossing my fingers, I set off. Arriving at the summit a short time later, I check my phone again, and thankfully I have a few bars of reception! I’m able to call Mom to wish her a happy birthday and avoid the dreaded “bad son” label.

Looking up at Little Baldy Mountain. There’s cell phone service up there!

After calling mom (and Victoria!), I sit down to admire the views of Lake Quanah Parker at sunset and eat the Subway footlong that I procured at my last gas stop.



I was able to scramble back down the mountain and back to my campsite before it got too dark. Full and tired (we had partied until closing time after the wedding, and I didn’t get many hours of sleep last night), and happy that Day 1 of my trip went pretty much as planned, I climbed into my tent and passed out.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 2: Monday, 5/16/11
412 mi - Map
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK to Cimmaron National Grassland, KS

A great, restful night’s sleep was followed up with a fresh cup of coffee from the Moka Pot to start my first full day on the road.

The lakeshore was only a short walk down from my campsite.

Waiting to be packed up.

I got on the road at around 8:30AM and continued west through the rest of the WMWR. A short ways up the road I came across a large prairie dog town.

Lots of little critters running around.

A few miles farther along, some bison were grazing within sight of the road. There are also elk on the reserve, but I didn’t get to see any of them.

My route through southwest Oklahoma wasn’t the most exciting ride, but it was a very relaxing one through the calm, cool morning air.

Random piles of boulders just don’t seem like they belong in the middle of the great plains.

Passing through the Black Kettle National Grassland, I stopped at the site of the Battle of the Washita, an 1868 engagement between Custer’s 7th Cavalry and a camp of Cheyenne Indians under Chief Black Kettle.

A short time later, I crossed back into Texas.

Hey look, a county courthouse! Hemphill County Courthouse, Canadian, TX.

This one, on the way out of Canadian, is for Nick. I think you can actually see Stan in that diagram on the right.

I cut through the northeast corner of the Texas panhandle and back into Oklahoma, where I stopped at the Beaver Dunes State Park. I did a short 1-mile hike through the park, which wasn’t that great, but it was a change from the hours of straight-and-flat riding. There was also an off-road vehicle area adjacent to the park for sand dune fun.

Heading west through No Man’s Land, the 170-mile-long strip of plains that nobody seemed to want back in the day. It wasn’t until 1890 that this area was tacked onto Oklahoma Territory to form the panhandle. You still see a lot of references on signs and business names to “No Man’s Land.”

Nowdays it’s just miles and miles of agriculture.


I passed through the town of Hooker (Beaver? Hooker? Oklahoma, whats with your town names?), and turned north for Elkhart, Kansas, checking yet another state off my list.

Just north of Elkhart is the Cimmaron National Grassland. This area was a major stop along the historic Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to New Mexico. The “Point of Rocks” overlooking the Cimmaron River was a very recognizable landmark, visible from miles away.

You know you’re in the flatlands when this qualifies as a major geographic landmark:

The Point of Rocks overlook is accessible from the highway, about three miles down a dirt road, and offers a nice view of the river valley below. I was planning on camping around here, but it’s very exposed, and the desert scrub offers no protection from the constant cold wind. I think I’ll try find somewhere else.


On my way back down the dirt road, I see a sign for the Middle Spring picnic area. Middle Spring was the one reliable, year-round water source for miles around. A hundred years ago, this area would have been trampled to a muddy bog by hordes of travellers, horses, and livestock, but today it’s been restored to a pleasant woody oasis along the small stream fed by the spring. It looks like a good place to stop for the night.

I set up my tent down near the stream, where the trees and rushes deflect most of the wind.

A fair-sized porcupine ambled by as I was setting up.

I warmed up some canned soup over my camp stove and watched the sunset and moonrise before heading off to bed.

Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 3: Tuesday, 5/17/11
470 miles - Map
Cimmaron National Grassland, KS to Lake Isabel, San Isabel National Forest, CO

I was up early with the sun and planned out a route for the day before loading up and heading off.

Shadows in the morning light.

I remembered hearing about a rally up in this area that consisted of a ride route passing through five states. I thought it would be fun to copy the idea, and try and hit KS, OK, TX, NM, and CO all in one day. I started the day in KS, and less then an hour later I was back in OK, basically following the Santa Fe Trail southwest.

I stopped for breakfast in Boise City, OK, where I came across this roundabout at the Cimmaron County Courthouse. There are *seven* different US and State routes that intersect here, nevermind the local road names on the street signs. Jeez.

Continuing southwest, I crossed into New Mexico, and a short while later just clipped the very northwest corner of Texas.

Still on the Santa Fe Trail. This historical marker was erected more than 80 years ago, to commemorate wagons crossing here more then a hundred years before that. Still, I get the feeling things didn’t look much different around here, even back then.

Little House on the High Desert.

Capulin Volcano National Monument, a well-preserved cinder cone that speaks to the volcanic history of this area. You can see a road winding up it’s flank to the summit.

View from along the road up Capulin. Sierra Grande peak is visible in the background.

I did another short hike around the rim of the crater. It had some nice views (including my first glimpses of snow-capped peaks on the horizon), but was very cold and windy. I was surprised to see this guy out and about on the trail. Thomas, identify!

Leaving Capulin Volcano, I passed through the town of Folsom, which is known for being the site of the earliest evidence of human activity in North America. There is a small museum here (closed when I came by) dedicated to the nearby discovery of manmade arrowheads embedded in bison bones that date to 9,000 BC.

I continued west along NM-72, a somewhat poorly-maintained backroad across the high mesa to the city of Raton.



After lunch in Raton, I headed north through the Raton pass and into Colorado, state number five for the day (and for the trip). Instead of sticking to I-25, I split off on to Colorado Scenic Route 12, the Highway of Legends, which took me west into the Spanish Peaks. Finally, after hundreds of miles of plains and prairie: real mountains.


Hwy 12 climbed through several small towns, but once those were past the traffic dropped off and speeds picked up. It was a terrifically fun ride up to the crest at Cucharas Pass.


After winding my way back down the somewhat sandy north side of the pass, I kept on north to Pueblo, where I stopped to refuel and snack. The day was growing somewhat late, and I needed to find a place to stay. I didn’t feel like succumbing to a motel quite yet, and there was a decent-looking state park just west of town. However, a check of my list of forest service campsites showed one at Lake Isabel, some 40 miles away up in the mountains. Hey, I’ve still got an hour before sunset. Let’s go.

Google Maps said to get back on I-25 and head south, the way I just came. To me, the more fun route looks like CO-78 down into the Beulah Valley, then up the windy-looking bit into the National Forest to the campground. Who needs navi, anyways? The ride into the valley is very scenic and very fast, and then transitions into some nice twisties as I hit the base of the mountains. And then - wait, what? Why is the road turning to dirt? I pass a sign: “Gravel Road - Next 9 Miles.” I’m kicking myself for not trusting the all-knowing Google, and I know I should probably turn around and head back to that state park. I don’t want to get stuck on a deserted dirt road up in the forest, on a streetbike, in the dark. This is not wise. I continue on anyways.

The road isn’t muddy, really, but it is damp and slippery, especially on the Michelin street tires I have mounted (PP2CT front, PR2 rear). I remind myself several times to slow down and take it easy, because if I go down here and break something, I could very well be stuck here till morning; I haven’t passed another car in miles. Still, it’s hard to go slow when the sun has already disappeared behind the mountains and the light is fading.



Finally - pavement!

I make my way back down along CO-165 to the campground at Lake Isabel and get set up before the light fades completely. It’s cold up here, and I’m very tired after a long day of riding, but I did my 5-states-in-a-day and have made it to the mountains. I remind myself that I’m supposed to be taking my time and enjoying myself, that I don’t have to do banzai runs into the mountains at night to make that next campground, that it is OK for me to stop for the day at 5 PM instead of 8:30. I resolve to take it easier for the rest of the trip, and hit the sack looking forward to a great day of mountain riding tomorrow.
Oct 16, 2008
Bryan, TX
"Slow down. You move too fast." Feel groovy. Thanks for the ride along. Please continue. Hwy 12 is an often overlooked route because it is the long way to get anywhere. I know it's a great road. Please continue!
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 4: Wednesday, 5/18/11
247 mi - Map
Lake Isabel, San Isabel NF, CO, to Buffalo Pass Campground, Rio Grande NF, CO

It got pretty chilly overnight, to the point that I wiggled into my Olympia Phantom suit liner for a bit of additional insulation. My sleeping bag is rated down pretty low, but the REI Half-Dome 2 is a three-season tent and isn’t that great at keeping warm air in. Wearing the liner also made climbing out of my bag in the morning much easier.

The small stream that feeds Lake Isabel ran just behind my campsite, and I wandered down there with my coffee to wake up. It was cold enough that I had pulled on my riding suit just to walk around.


Ready to ride.

Only a few miles up the road from Lake Isabel I came across Bishop Castle. A friend had been here before and suggested that I stop by to check it out. It wasn’t on my must-do list, but since I was so close, might as well, right?

Well, I’m glad I stopped. This place is nuts. It was built entirely by it’s owner, Jim Bishop, over the past 40+ years, and is still a work in progress.

You hear “some guy built a castle up the mountains,” and you think, OK, he built a house that looks like a castle. No. This is a *castle*. It’s huge. That main tower is over 160 feet tall. The main hall is cavernous, with intricate wrought iron supporting the ceiling and stained glass windows letting in light.


As I climb slowly up the endless spiral staircase, I can’t help but think: This place was built by some crazy mountain man with rocks, concrete and wrought iron. There was no architect double-checking his plans, no analysis done on how sturdy this thing is. You’d have to be nuts to go all the way up there--right?



Right. Boy, was I out of breath by the time I reached the top.

Notice the deathgrip on the iron bar.

That’s my bike next to the top of the tree.

It is just amazing that one guy could build this by himself, even with forty years to do it. Really a cool stop, one of the highlights of the trip.


Continuing on my ride, I found some pretty nice twisties dropping down out of the mountians.

Turning west on CO-96 towards Westcliffe, I find myself heading straight for an awesome sight: The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a 80-mile long string of 14,000-foot peaks stretching north to south as far as I can see. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the road with such scenery in front of me.


Reaching US-50 at Texas Creek, I stop at Barry’s Den for some breakfast and more coffee to warm up. I rode through some light rain and hail a bit earlier, and talk in the restaurant is of worse weather moving in from the west. Uh-oh.

I head up to Salida, a nice mountain-resorty-type town where decent cell service allows me to follow up on the weather forecast and decide what I should do. It looks like there’s a large front just west of Monarch Pass on US-50, slowly moving my way. Not going over there, and I don’t want to go back east, the way I just came. To my north is the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Drive, which follows along another grouping of 14k-ft peaks and eventually ends up in the historic town of Leadville, CO. To my south is the San Luis Valley, a flat, boring-looking agricultural center. North it is.

The scenic drive isn’t nearly as scenic as it could be, with the mountain peaks wrapped in heavy clouds. Some miles along, I come across the town of Mt Princeton, with its hot spring-fed baths. Ooh, a relaxing hot soak sounds great. I could just stop here for the night... it would be a very short day of riding, but that’s OK. There’s a small campground a bit past the town, farther into the foothills, so I ride up there first to check it out. As I get farther up, a light, steady rain starts, then transitions to light snow. Hmm, maybe this isn’t the best idea. I’ll hold off on setting up camp, have my soak, then come back and see what things look like in a few hours.

At the hot springs resort, I call Victoria to chat for a bit and let her know of my plans. She pulls up a weather map and says, “Uhm... I think you should head south. Like New Mexico south.” Looks that bad, huh? ****.... Stopping for the day is sounding really good, though.

After we hang up, as I’m pulling out my change of clothes for the hot springs, three buses pull up and disgorge a horde of chattering teenagers, who funnel down the stairs to the springs. One of the chaperones pauses and comments: “Nice bike!” “Thanks... so what is this, some kind of school trip?” “Yup, senior class trip, just before graduation.” Great, I’m thinking as he disappears down the stairs... if I stay, I’d get to ogle a bunch of barely-legal teens, but then I’d have to listen to them the entire time, too.

I decide that spending tonight at Mt Princeton is just not meant to be, and trade the chattering hordes for the more relaxing sounds of wind roaring by my helmet. I could keep heading north, but I don’t think that Leadville (el. 10,152) is a very good place to spend the night with a storm heading in. Per the usual, I figure that Vic is right, and turn back south, and speed off in the direction of New Mexico to try and get around the bottom of the storm.

Crossing Poncha Pass on US-285. Still getting light showers of rain and snow here and there.


Dropping into the San Luis Valley, I found myself riding along the western edge of the Sangre de Cristo range--the same mountains that I was on the eastern side of this morning.

The wind was gusting hard, stirring up large dust storms in the valley. The lack of wind protection on the FZ1 was really putting a strain on my neck. At one point, I passed a guy on a dual-sport who looked to be having even a harder time with the wind then I was. His left pannier had been blown open by the wind, and I signalled to let him know before continuing on... hope he didn’t lose anything important.

About a mile from the intersection of US-285 and CO-17 is another hot springs resort called Joyful Journey Spa. $12 for a relaxing soak and shower? Yes please. $40 for a crappy tent site with no protection from the wind? I’ll pass. I spend about two hours here and then head for the town of Saguache.


At Saguache, I stop in at the Public Lands office to figure out a place to spend the night. I was thinking I’d keep heading south towards Del Norte, and stay somewhere along Hwys 160 or 149, but one of the rangers advised against it. He said that there was a large storm to the south and that everything down there was getting soaked with rain. Instead, he recommended a campground called Buffalo Pass, which was west along CO-114. “You’ll probably get a bit of snow, but the worst of it looks to be passing north or south,” he says. This sounds like my best option; let’s go check it out.

I head up 114... and up... and up. How far is this campground, anyways? I’m gaining a lot of elevation here; where the heck did this ranger think he was sending me, with my rinky-dink 3-season tent? I’m looking at my map, thinking I can’t be more then a few miles from the Continental Divide, when I reach the campground.

The place is deserted. Twenty-some sites, all with freshly-poured gravel on the driveways and tent pads, and it’s pristine. I walk around the entire campground, and I’m leaving footprints on the loose gravel everywhere I go... I think I’m the first person to stay here this year. The silence is almost eerie. I’d better pick a lucky site to get me through the night.

It’s calm up here, a welcome change from the constant wind of the valley. A light snow starts falling as I’m setting up camp. Brr.


However, once I’ve got my fire going and sit down for dinner, the clouds and snow blow off into the distance and blue sky appears overhead. It turns into as perfect and pleasant an evening as you could ask for, save for the cold. (Checking a map later, I learn that I was at 9,200 ft, less then four miles from the Continental Divide. Yeah, way up there.)

I kick back with some hot chocolate while waiting for the fire to burn down, before heading off to bed. I didn’t make it that far today, or have nearly as much fun riding as I’d hoped for, but with luck the storm will blow by overnight and I’ll have clear skies tomorrow.
Sep 11, 2006
Houston, TX
First Name
Last Name
Great thread. Can't wait to read the rest. :clap:

I've got major trip lust right now, but I have to wait till the end of June before heading to Colorado. The Bishop Castle was already on the list.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 5: Thursday, 5/19/11
289 mi - Map
Buffalo Pass CG, Rio Grande NF, CO, to Fruita, CO

Holy crap, was it ever cold the next morning--mid 20’s, maybe. It didn’t snow overnight, but the low-hanging clouds started up with light snow flurries again as I was breaking camp. I decided to head up to Gunnison for breakfast, and then maybe down 149 to the Slumgullion Pass, then back west to Durango and US-550. I was really looking forward to today’s ride.

A few miles up 114, I crossed the Continental Divide at North Cochetopa Pass, el. 10,135.

The ride to Gunnison was cold, but pretty dry. Things were looking up!

This is how Colorado does breakfast. Hells yes.

Pulling up the weather radar on my phone, I saw that the storm that was blocking my path yesterday had moved on to clobber Denver and would no longer be an issue. However, yet another storm had come along and was now hovering over the entire southwest corner of the state. I checked the road conditions from the CO DOT page. Highways 550, 149, 145: Slushy with icy spots. US-50 was claimed to be clear, but the storm was covering Montrose completely, so I didn’t want to go there. There was more snow to the north, along the road to Crested Butte. I’m surrounded.

From Facebook: “Breakfast in Gunnison, CO. Weather shows snow all around. Where to go?” My friend Steve: “Back to bed?”

A wonderful idea, Steve, save for the fact that bed was forty miles ago and is now rolled up on the back of my bike. Part of me wants to just find a cheap motel and hole up till all of this blows by and the roads clear off. Dammit, 550 was supposed to be THE highlight of the trip, and I can’t ride it. The people in the cafe telling me, “you should have been here last week, the weather was perfect!” aren’t helping things, either.

Looking at the radar again, it appears there’s a narrow clear path to the northwest, towards Grand Junction. I can run west on 50, then turn north on CO-92, and split the pair of snowstorms to the north and west. It might work, and worst come to worst I can turn around and get a room in Gunnison. I finish breakfast and head outside to hit the road. There’s a wet snow falling as I gear up.

Remember: Adventures are never fun while you’re having them.

The snow intensifies as I head west along US-50. Visibility sucks, and I’m having to clean off my visor with my left hand every five seconds or so. The roads are still clear, and while part of me hopes it will stay that way, part of me wishes it would turn to slush so that I’d *have* to head back to Gunnison.

Eventually the weather slackens off a bit, and I stop for a stretch and to take some pictures.


By the time I reach the turnoff for Hwy 92, the precipitation has stopped and the roads are dry. I’ve finally hit that clear spot I saw on the weather map. Sweet!

Looking down from the Blue Mesa Reservoir Dam at the start of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.

CO-92 heading up from the dam. Things are looking up.

Unfortunately, it’s not long before I’m back in the clouds with snow falling steadily. CO-92, while not nearly as busy as US-50, is a much more technical and demanding ride, especially in these crappy conditions. The snow goes on for miles, and I’m wondering whatever happened to that clear spot I was supposed to be in.

I eventually reach a “scenic vista” point (all I could see were clouds) at a crest, and stop to talk to a truck driver who had come up from the other direction. He told me that the rest of the way I’d be dropping down in elevation and that the roads were pretty clear. He also mentioned that for the past two miles or so I’d been riding along the edge of a 2,000 precipice, and that the views were awesome on a clear day. I’m almost glad that I had no idea it was there.


Past the crest, the snow lets up a little, and I’m able to relax a bit more and take in some of the scenery. It is simply beautiful up here. The way the snow clings to the trees makes me feel like I’m riding through a winter scene postcard. Today’s ride has been a bit ridiculous, but I feel like it’s all worth it for these few miles through this winter wonderland.




I eventually make it down out of the snow and into warmer air. It’s fun to watch the sheet of ice on my windscreen slowly slide upwards until there’s an inch of ice sticking above the upper edge, when the triple-digit windblast snaps it off and sends it flying into my faceshield. A few cycles of this and the screen is ice-free. I passed a sign for the north rim of Black Canyon NP, but a state park employee who I had stopped to talk to said that it turned to dirt a few miles in, and it would be a muddy mess with the recent weather. Instead, I stick to the main road to the towns of Crawford and Hotchkiss (or, as the trucker up on 92 called them, “Crawtchkiss”).

I eventually make it to Delta, CO, where the sun is shining brightly and it’s downright warm. I stop for fuel and a snack while I figure out where to go next. It looks like I’m around the north edge of the storm, and I could head straight for Grand Junction. However, the squiggly-looking CO-65, the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway, is looking like the more attractive option. Both the weather radar and road conditions show as being clear, and though my faith in both of those is not as strong as it was this morning, I set off in that direction.

Approaching the Grand Mesa, the largest flat-topped mountain in the world. I can actually see the snow up there, which has to be better then only seeing clouds, right?

There is a lot of snow up on the mesa, but the roads and weather are pretty clear. There are some wet sections on the road, but most of it is pretty dry and railable. It’s a very fun, scenic ride.


I passed a sign for the Grand Mesa visitor center and decide to stop in for a break. Or maybe not.

There are signs for trailheads, scenic side roads, picnic areas, and as I ride by I see the top half of a stop sign poking out of a snowbank. Spring has definitely not arrived at the 11,000-ft elevation of the mesa top yet.

Dropping down the north side of the Grand Mesa.

CO-65 eventually turns west towards it’s intersection with I-70, and winds along a steep sided red-rock canyon.


I hop on I-70 and pass through Grand Junction, exiting at Fruita and turning south for the Colorado National Monument. It’s getting later in the afternoon, and I think I’ll stop there and make camp for the night. The road winding up the red cliffs into the monument is a great ride, and offers great views of the surrounding valleys.


I reach the campground and dismount to take a look around. I’m surprised to see that there are no tent pads, just open areas of red dirt with obvious evidence of recent rain runoff crossing through them. I look at every open site, and all the clear tent areas are low-lying, just mud puddles waiting to happen. I pull out my phone to check if rain is forecast for tonight, and it starts sprinkling, and then lightly hailing. You know what? I deserve a bit of luxury tonight. I’m not going to deal with the muddy mess that this campground is going to turn into. I hop back on the bike and head back down into Fruita.

That’s what I’m talking about.

They even had a washer and dryer. I toss in my dirty clothes and relax in the hot tub waiting for them to finish, while mentally planning out the next day. Tomorrow I’ll do some hiking around the national monument, ride the 30-mile scenic route through the park, and then, depending on the weather, head back south along CO-141, or west on the freeway towards Canyonlands and Arches. Once my laundry is finished and repacked, I crawl into the soft, expansive bed and drop off to dreams of sunny weather and dry, smooth roads.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 6: Friday, 5/20/11
294 mi - Map
Fruita, CO - Horsethief CG, Canyonlands NP, UT

It’s still gray and rainy outside. Checking the radar, all of Grand Junction is under a giant blob (at least it’s rain this time, instead of snow) that extends west along I-70 all the way into Utah. Maybe I won’t go hiking or riding in Colorado National Monument, after all. The mountain where I was thinking of camping last night is wrapped in clouds, and I congratulate myself on my good decision to get a room for the night.

I had breakfast at the hotel with a friendly older gent who had a wealth of stories from his days of riding his BMWs back and forth from California to Nebraska. He’d been up and over just about every mountain road worth riding in Colorado, and his list of “you’ve got to ride this road!” recommendations would have kept me here for another month at least. He can’t ride anymore due to arthritis, and I could see in how much he missed it as I was telling him about my trip. It made me realize how lucky I am that I’m able to take a trip like this right now, at this point in my life; you never know when some unforeseen situation or ailment might come along and steal away that ability.

I loaded up and began picking my way through rainy Grand Junction, where I promptly got lost and ended up five miles in the wrong direction. After getting my bearings, I finally found my way to CO-141, the Unaweep Tabegauche Scenic Byway. The rain started to let up the farther south I rode, and I even began to see snatches of blue sky here and there.


The road follows the bottom of the Unaweep Canyon, which is bounded by the steep edges of plateaus on either side. The low-hanging, misty clouds are still letting loose with the occasional spot of rain, and limit visibility to few miles. Still, it’s a beautiful ride.


At least it’s not snowing.

At one point I need to stop and wait for a herd of cattle to clear the road. They eventually amble off to the shoulder and plop down to watch me pass by.

Past the town of Gateway, the road climbs up a cliff edge high above the Dolores River.


Back in the late 1800s, a gold mine in this area needed a supply of water from the nearby rivers, and so a 10-mile long wooden flume was constructed. One section of it was actually built on the cliff face above the river--the “hanging flume.” The flume was a great engineering success, but the mine folded within a few years. Today, the ruins of the hanging flume are visible from an overlook adjacent to the road.


I stop in Naturia to refuel and have lunch at Blondies, the local burger joint. Between the snow yesterday and rain this morning, the FZ1 is in desperate need of a bath.


After lunch, I turn west on CO-90 and tear through the Paradox Valley, so named because the Dolores River flows across the valley, instead of along it. There are dark rainclouds on either side of me, but I’m staying dry for now.


Reaching the western end of the valley, I’m treated to a fantastically fun climb up and out, and soon reach the sign I’ve been waiting for: “Welcome to Utah.” Colorado, you’ve had some pleasant bits, but you’ve rained and snowed and hailed on me at every turn, and there have been a lot of turns where I was just trying to avoid that next storm. Screw you and your “springtime” weather!

CO-90 turns into UT-46, another pretty fun road along the base of the La Sal mountains.

At the intersection of US-191, I turn north for Moab. Again, there are rain showers all around, but I miss the majority of them. There are groups of bikes everywhere in Moab, mostly dualsports an enduros out enjoying a day in the dirt and slickrock.

After refueling and stocking up on supplies, I continue on up to the northern portion of Canyonlands National Park, known as the “Island in the Sky.”

A pair of buttes named “Monitor” and “Merrimac” after the iron-clad ships of the civil war.

Still looking like it’s going to start pouring at any moment.

This little stretch of road, with the land dropping off steeply on both sides, is known as “The Neck.” That 40-foot wide bit of land is the only connection between the outside world and the large mesa making up the northern section of Canyonlands. Besides the Neck, the mesa is surrounded only by sky and 1,200-foot cliffs on all sides, hence, the “Island in the Sky.”

The ride down into the park is just fan-freakin-tastic. Perfect pavement, and set after set of esses snaking back and forth. RVs and passenger vehicles are quickly dispatched to the rear, and I just have a blast speeding down to the campground.

Which, unfortunately, is full. There’s BLM campground a few miles back, just outside the park boundary, so not all hope is lost. Before I head back, I stop at the Green River Overlook adjacent to the campground. Now THAT is a view.

A bit further north, on my way back to the BLM site, is the Shafer Trail overlook. This is one of the few trails connecting the mesa top to the lower rim of the canyons, known as the “white rim” (see the above pic for an example of why it’s so named). The Shafer Trail drops down a very steep series of switchbacks to the lower plateau; it looks like it would be an absolute hoot if it were paved. As it is, you need a high-clearance 4x4 to attempt it.

More clouds at the Shafer Trail overlook.

I ride back north out of the park to Horsethief Campground, where I’m able to snag a decent site, and sign up for two nights--it will be nice to spend a few nights in the same place for once! The clouds look to be breaking up, with blue sky showing through in places. It’s turning into a pretty nice afternoon.

...until I turn around. Oh, shoot. That’s headed straight for me.

I scramble to get my tent set up and my gear inside, and finish up just as the rain begins to fall. Perfect timing. The tent performs admirably, keeping me and my stuff nice and dry while the rain pours down outside.

30 minutes later, the rain has moved on, and I crawl out to be greeted with blue skies again. And hey, my bike even looks kind of clean.

I head out for a late-afternoon walk on the mile-long trail adjacent to the campground.

The trail is marked by small cairns of rocks to show the way. This one must be the community effort.

Back at the campsite, I fix some dinner as the sun sets, and head to bed looking forward to a full day of hiking in the canyonlands tomorrow.

Feb 13, 2008
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Nice country. Thanks for sharing. Just never know what Ma Nature is going to throw at you in the spring out there. Hope to be roaming about in the area soon.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 7: Saturday, 5/21/11
81 miles around Canyonlands

I was up at at dawn and rode south back into the park for a day of hiking. The rain appeared to have moved on west, and day promised to be a beautiful one.

The ride back across the neck and through the park’s twisties is just as good as I remembered from yesterday.


The first hike of the day is to the Mesa Arch, a large span that perfectly frames the sunrise over the canyons of the Colorado River.


Then back to the bike to continue south to the next hike, at Grand View Point.

Changing out of my riding gear at the trailhead, I encounter a problem. My 100k-old Sidi boots are slowly falling apart a little at a time.

With the generosity of a fellow tourist, the problem is solved temporarily... still, I think it might be time for a new pair once I get home!

Grand View Point is at the very southern end of the Island in the Sky. The Green River flows in from the northwest, the Colorado from the northeast, and they reach their confluence to the south and continue out of the park and into Glen Canyon. At the end of the hike, out at the very point, you’re surrounded by a 270-degree vista of canyons on all sides. (click here for high-res)

Monument Canyon, to the east, is filled with 300-foot spires of stone.

Next up was a hike across the mesa top to Murphy Point, another overlook of the Green River.




I plan for my final hike for the day to be the Syncline Loop, an 8-mi trail around the perimeter of a formation called the Upheaval Dome. Signs warn that this is a strenuous trail, difficult to follow, and to start by 11am to avoid having to hike in the dark. It’s already past 1pm, but I’ve still got a good 7 or 8 hours of light left... plenty of time.

I’m not even thirty minutes in when I lose the trail. I cast around for a bit, but I have no idea where it is; for all I know I could be crisscrossing it blindly. It’s not like I’m completely lost, though... the road is *right there*, and if I get desperate I can just hike over to it and follow it back to the trailhead.

I decide to hike uphill, to the rim of the Upheaval Dome. There was a short hike to an overlook back at the trailhead, and I figure I might be able to follow the rim back around to the overlook. A short while later I reach the rim and am greeted with a completely bizzare sight.

Geologists still aren’t sure what created this formation; you could tell me that it’s the result of an alien landing and I just might believe you. I sat there for a while and just looked at it... the blue-green colors, and the jumbled, upthrust walls, just seemed completely out of place here in this land of evenly-layered red rocks.

More then anything else on this trip, pictures of the Upheaval Dome just cannot convey the extreme sense of weird you get from seeing it in person.

I was able to make my way back along the rim to the overlook, and then back to the trailhead. I found this little guy along the way.

I stopped at the Green River overlook one more time, where I just sat for a while and tried to take in the huge vista before me.


This formation reminded me of a much more famous one in Yosemite.

Back at the bike, I discovered that I’d picked up a passenger.

More views from the Shafer Trail overlook.

A large SUV climbing up the trail. You *really* don’t want to go off the edge here.


Then, just to say I did it, I headed down the Shafer Trail myself. Not very far, just a mile or three. The FZ1 handled it fine.


I was back at my campsite by early evening, in time to kick back with my book and enjoy a few hours of relaxation before the sun set. Tomorrow I’d head back to Moab to get more supplies, and then on to spend a day or two in Arches NP.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 8: Sunday, 5/22/11
420 mi - Map
Canyonlands National Park, UT to Woods Lake, San Juan National Forest, CO

After my early and full day yesterday, I figured let myself sleep in today. I woke late and slowly packed up camp, finally getting on the road towards Moab with the sun high in the sky. The plan for today was to ride back to Moab, grab some breakfast, fuel, and camping food, then find a campsite in Arches National Park and spend a night or two there. It looked to be another great day for hiking around the Utah redrock country.

My fuel light was already blinking from my riding around the park yesterday, and I was hoping I would have enough in the tank to get me to Moab, but it was not to be. I ran dry about four miles outside of town and had to dip into the 2-liter reserve I had stashed away in a saddlebag. Good thing I had bought extra fuel along! Arriving in Moab, I refueled and stopped in at the Pancake Haus for a bite to eat (good food, slow service).

At breakfast, I caught up on email, FB, and the weather report. Things look all clear throughout this part of Utah... and southwest Colorado. The forecast in the San Juan mountains is for bright and sunny weather today, chance of rain tomorrow, snow the day after that. The road conditions are supposedly clear and dry. I thought I was done with Colorado, but I still really want to ride 550, and this is looking like my last chance to do it. The window is open now, and it will be closed again in a day or two. I mentally weigh a relaxing day in the national park right next door against a long day of riding with no certain destination. It’s not like I’d be getting an early start either; it’s almost 11am as I’m finishing breakfast.

Ah, who am I kidding? It’s no contest at all. Let’s ride.

I head back down 191 and east on CO-90, the same way I came two days ago. The ride is just as fun the second time. Crossing the Paradox Valley again, I have to slow waaaay down for a giant herd of cattle along, and in, the road. There are hundreds of them. About halfway through, I stop for a second and grab a picture, but it doesn’t quite convey how many cows there were; the herd must have stretched for two miles along the road. There were a few places I had to come to a complete stop and wait for a path through them to open up in front of me; I found that a quick rev of the engine is a reliable tactic to get them out of the way.

Leaving CO-90 behind, Hwy 145 is another great ride. West of Norwood it is very scenic, with the Uncompaghre Plateau to the north and isolated mountain peaks to the south. East of Norwood it drops into a canyon along the San Miguel River and mile after mile of smoothly-paved medium-speed sweepers.

Lone Cone, to the south of Hwy 145.

As I climb up and over the Dallas Divide to Ridgway (Hwy 62), it starts to rain again. Dammit, Colorado.

I reach Ridgway at 1pm, only two hours after leaving Moab. It’s sprinkling sporadically, and there are dark clouds scattered about. But, I’ve made it to the north end of the Million Dollar Highway, the road is clear, and I can’t wait. As I ride south out of Ridgway the road perfectly splits the blue, sunny sky to the right and the black rainclouds to the left. I wonder which one will win out.

The sun wins, after a few miles. 550 is a terrific, thrilling ride, a bit sandy in places, but mainly dry and tons of fun. The section along the canyon is amazing... the edge of the road really is *the edge of the road*; no shoulder, no guardrail, just a vertical drop to the river far below. There are right-hand turns where my wheels are on the pavement and my body is suspended over the void. What a ride.

The road climbs up into the mountains through a series of three high passes. The weather is perfect and sunny, warm enough that I don’t even need to turn on my heated liner at the 11,000ft elevations of the passes.


Silverton, CO





Upon reaching Durango, I stop for a bite to eat, and then head back west towards Dolores. I know there is a state park there with a large campground, and even some hot showers. I’m thinking that would be a great way to end the day. However, when I pull in to a gas station in Dolores at around 530pm, I can’t stop thinking about Hwy 145, heading north back into the San Juan mountains. It’s supposed to be raining tomorrow, and I’d really like to do that road when it’s still dry. It’s a 60-mile ride to Telluride, and I’ve got 3 hours before sunset; I can do 145 and be back at the campsite in plenty enough time to make camp. My day isn’t over yet.





Lizard Head Pass



Goal accomplished!

I stop for a bit of relief at a gas station and find out about a Forest Service campground a few miles down the road that’s apparently open (I’d passed several on the way that were still closed for the winter, as I thought all the ones up here were). I debate heading back to Dolores, or stopping here for the night, and the latter wins out. I’ve done a lot of riding in the past eight hours and am quite ready to make camp.

A few miles farther north along 145, I pass a sign for “campground” and turn onto the side road. It turns to dirt after a short distance (what’s with my attraction to sunset dirt road rides into the mountains?), but it’s a pretty good, 45mph dirt road. I soon come to a fork and am unsure which one to take; my gut says Woods Lake, but Wilson Mesa is much closer in case I guess wrong. I’ll check Wilson Mesa first.


Guessed wrong. Woods Lake it is.

Up, and up...

I eventually reach the campground at Woods Lake, deserted and silent. Since I have my pick of the place, I snag a site with a great view of the lake below the peak of Mount Wilson. Talk about a room with a view. It’s worth skipping a hot shower for this.

Of course, it’s freezing cold up here at 9,400 feet, so I quickly prepare a hot bite to eat and retreat into my tent as darkness falls. I’m exhausted, but it’s been a great day of riding, and I was able to check a few of the must-do roads off of my list. Colorado, you’ve redeemed yourself. Tomorrow, back to Utah to continue my national parks tour!
Feb 13, 2008
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Great report. :clap::clap: Get all the riding you can in while you can. US 550. My first remembrance of that road in '04. I had a note in my journal. " Next time take 550 last as it sets too high a standard for the rest of the places about here." I had run all the way up to Cascade Park on that ride.
Keep em coming. :clap::clap:


Forum Supporter
Jun 22, 2010
Summer Grove, LA
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Sure glad you had the opportunity for such a great trip. :rider:

Thanks for taking the time to share your memories with us.
Looking forward to the next episode....:coffee:

May 27, 2008
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The ring replacing the zipper pull on your boot looks like it's probably OK (pretty small), but be sure it can't hang up on anything around your foot peg. It's no fun trying to put your foot down and finding out it's attached to the bike.

Great report. I spent some time at Moab and Arches in 1990. The terrain reminded me of those 1950's sci-fi movies, or Mars w/ tourist.
Apr 10, 2011
Read through the whole thing - awesome report. Didn't realize that I had driven 550 until I saw your picture of Silverton. Spent one spring break snowboarding in Durango and sleeping in Silverton - crazy road when it's iced over.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 9: Monday, 5/23/11
371 mi - Map
Woods Lake, San Juan NF, CO to Capitol Reef NP, UT

I wake up to another beautiful, frigid mountain morning. It had rained or sleeted a bit overnight, and my rainfly was crusted with frozen droplets. I spread it out in the weak sunlight to hopefully defrost a little before getting packed up.


I took a short walk around Woods Lake with my coffee before hitting the road. Everything up here is just perfectly calm and still.

Back at camp, it was time to stuff everything away and get loaded up. My route for today would take me back west, into Utah again. I’d decided to trim off a number of days from my original 3-week estimate for this trip; I was starting to get a little road-weary, and every time I talked to Victoria she would be asking me if I could come home a bit sooner, and that she was having a tough time without me there. So, despite Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP being less then two hours to the north, and Arches NP just a short day’s ride back towards Moab, I decided to skip them both and make for southwest Utah, where there were still a few parks I really wanted to visit, and that I was not willing to skip.

I had a choice of three routes to get to the start of UT-95, which would take me up through Glen Canyon: yet another ride across CO-90 to La Sal and US-191, retracing my route south on CO-145 to Dolores and US-491, or splitting the two and riding the southern half of CO-141 from Naturia to Dove Creek, which was the only one I hadn’t done yet. I’m always up for something new, so CO-141 it is.

The ride back along CO-145 through Norwood, where I stop for a bite to eat, is a blast, just as it was yesterday. Sadly, partway through it, I come across one of those big programmable road signs: “CHIP SEAL COMING SOON!,” and a bit farther on, construction drops the road to one lane as crews are laying down gravel and tar. WHY? That road was wonderful--no cracks or potholes, minimal tar snakes... WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, COLORADO?

Turning south on CO-141, I discover a road that could have used a good chip-sealing. It was a bumpy, cracked, tarsnaked nightmare. Maybe my extremely full stomach had something to do with my discomfort (I’d had a big breakfast), but riding that road was just painful. It wasn’t nearly as fun as it looks on the map, either... just a boring, unpleasant ride.

They really nailed it with the names around here. Note for future travellers: If trying to get from Monticello, UT to Montrose, CO, avoid CO-141. UT-46/CO-90, CO-145, and US-550 are all vastly preferable.

Finally, back onto nice smooth roads, but strong gusty winds. Ugh, this is a day of riding I could do without.

Interesting engineering along UT-95.

Approaching Natural Bridges National Monument.

I paused at Natural Bridges to take a break from riding and do a bit of hiking around. I’m almost tempted to stay here for the night, but the campground is full, so I’ll have to move on. Natural Bridges is a very small park, with three impressive river-carved formations. You can see them from overlooks along a paved drive in the park, or do short hikes down to river level to see them from beneath. The first, and largest, bridge that I come to is the Sipapu Bridge (near the center of this pic). Viewing it from above doesn’t do justice the scale of this thing.

This is a bit better at illustrating the size of it.

With a span of 268 feet and height of 220 feet, this is the 2nd largest natural bridge in the world. If you could somehow suspend it over a large body of water, you could sail a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier through it. It’s just huge.

Viewed from below...

I skip the hike to Kachina Bridge in the interests of saving time, and instead stop at Okachomo Bridge, the oldest bridge in the park. It look small and fragile compared to Sipapu.

The afternoon is getting late as I leave Natural Bridges and speed off in the direction of Glen Canyon.

The Colorado River bridge, at the north end of Lake Powell.


I’m once again crossing my fingers that I have enough gas to make it to the next fuel station, in Hanksville. I’m running on fumes as I pull into this nifty stop, the Hollow Mountain. I passed a similar once back on US-191 south of Moab called the Hole-n-the-Rock, but I didn’t get a chance to stop there.

The sun is falling quickly towards the horizon and dark clouds are gathering as I’m getting ready to leave Hanksville. A quick call to the seedy-looking motel across the street gets me a quote of $90 for a night--more then my hotel back in Grand Junction! I’ll risk the rain and press on to Capitol Reef.


A few couples out having fun in their four-wheelers.

It’s raining lightly but steadily as I pull into the Capitol Reef visitor center at some time past 7pm. A sign informs me that the adjacent campground is full... not entirely unexpected, but... ****.

However, a friendly couple that I strike up a conversation with tell me that they found a small public-lands “campground” just outside the park boundary to the west. It’s not much of a campground--no water or bathrooms, just a place to pitch a tent--but it sounds like it’ll do for me. I thank them and head off to find it for myself.

Yep, this will do. The clouds are still threatening rain, but it stays dry as I warm up a bite to eat, and then climb a nearby hill for a view of the Reef in the distance as the sun sets.



I haven’t actually come that far today, but I feel like it’s been a long day of riding. I think tomorrow I’ll spend the morning doing a few hikes around Capitol Reef, and then run down to Bryce Canyon, a mere 130 miles away, and see if I can snag a campsite there. I figure as long as I get there earlier in the day I should be fine...
Jun 2, 2011
When I quit, get fired or win the lotto, I am riding this route! Amazing pictures, thanks for sharing.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 10: Tuesday, 5/24/11
188 mi - Map
Capitol Reef NP, UT - Bryce Canyon NP, UT

I’m very pleased (and a bit surprised) to get through the night without any heavy rain. However, the skies are still dark and cloudy as I pack up camp and ride back to Capitol Reef.

In case you were wondering, Capitol Reef was the name given by early settlers to the 100-mile long escarpment that is known as the Waterpocket Fold (despite quizzing several rangers, I couldn’t get a clear answer as to which name came first, or why today the park is known as Capitol Reef, but the geographic feature is labelled as the Waterpocket Fold on topographic maps). This giant mismatch in the earth’s crust runs from the mountain range north of Torrey all the way to Glen Canyon, and creates a major barrier to east-west travel. Such formations were called “reefs” in the pioneer vernacular, and the great white domes of sandstone that dot the landscape are reminiscent of the dome of the Capitol building, hence, Capitol Reef.

There is a short, 7-mile scenic drive that runs southward along the west face of the fold. Most of park, farther along the 100-mile length of the fold, is accessible only by dirt roads. The scenic drive, while paved and full of potential, doesn’t quite live up to the standard set by the road in Canyonlands.

At the south end of the drive, the road turns to dirt and starts into the Capitol Wash, a narrow canyon through the fold. Signs warn not to enter if it’s raining or threatening rain, as this area is subject to flash floods. Hey, the sky doesn’t look *that* dark.



The dirt road eventually ends in a small parking area, and a trail continues on into the canyon.

At one point, this canyon was the main path through the fold. This wall, in one narrow section, is called the Pioneer Register. Early travellers chiseled their names into the wall as they passed, proving that even a century ago, people couldn’t resist scribbling “Joe was here!” on the landscape.


The hike continues down the sandy wash, offering great views of the towering domed rock formations on either side.



A small spur off of the main trail climbs up a narrow side canyon to a series of large natural pools. These pools can hold thousands of gallons of water, even deep into the dry summer months, and were a valuable resource for early travellers. They are also the source of the name of the escarpment: the Waterpocket Fold. You can also see a small natural bridge in the upper left of this photo.

Erosion has produced some interesting features along the trail. This rock looks almost like it’s flaking apart, and exposed edges look burnt.


Back at the parking area, there’s another trailhead. It’s still early in the morning; why not?

Up, and up...


Ah, that’s pretty. Not sure if it was worth the hike, but whatever.


This little, twisted tree at the edge of a cliff wasn’t even two feet tall. I wonder how many decades it’s been struggling to survive. Natural bonsai...

The dark clouds started to gather again as I made my way back down to the trailhead, and I felt a few sprinkles of rain. That flash flood warning is looming large in my mind as I hurry back to the bike.

There are some *funky* rocks here.

Looking north along the Waterpocket Fold on my way back to the highway.

I leave Capitol Reef at about 1pm and head south along scenic UT-12. This should be a great ride, but for some reason, I’m just not feeling it. I can’t seem to click with the bike or the road, and I constantly feel unsteady and nervous, like every single road imperfection is causing me to slide around. At one point I even pull off into a lookout point to check my tire pressures, because I feel so unsteady I’m *sure* I’ve got a flat. But, they’re both fine, and I press on.




Both the scenery and the road are great, but I’m not really enjoying it. I pass one thrilling section that runs high along a ridge with huge dropoffs on either side, and I find myself yawning as I ride across it. That’s when the realization hits me: I’m tired. I’m not sure why; I’ve been getting a good amount of sleep every night. OK, no night of sleeping in a tent is going to be *great* sleep, but still... I find a place to pull off on the side of the road and climb the small ridge along it. A stunted pine tree is giving shade to a fairly flat rock; this will do nicely, I think. I lay down in the shade, still all geared up, and set my alarm for an hour. It’s not long at all before I’m fast asleep.

I’m awake 40 minutes later, without the help of my alarm, feeling refreshed and much better. The Ironbutt Motel works it’s magic once again. I’m halfway tempted to re-ride some of those sections of Hwy 12 that I wasn’t all there for, but I need to move on... it’s getting later, and I’m worried about being able to find an open campsite in the park.

I roll into Bryce Canyon at around 5pm and grab a spot in the north campground, practically on the rim of the canyon. There’s a general store a short walk up the rim; hot showers, laundry facilities, fresh pizza... I feel like I’m staying at the Four Seasons.

This view is literally a ninety-second walk from my tent.


As dusk falls, I go for a short walk around the campground and end up around a nice fire with a couple of fellow travelers, trading stories into the evening. I head back to my tent before it gets too late, as I’m hoping to be up to catch a sunrise over the canyon tomorrow morning.
Dec 10, 2006
north of Gowen, OK
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Good on ya for properly diagnosing yourself (being tired) and pulling over for a short rest. I didn't do that last fall and paid dearly for it. Great report! :thumb:
Sep 11, 2006
Houston, TX
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:eek2: You must have been tired to be yawning through UT 12. I rode the opposite way down it two summers ago and I loved every second of it. :zen:

Looking forward to the rest of your adventure. I know what a pain it is to put the report together.
Feb 13, 2008
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Great country you are riding in. Rest is a very important thing. Don't ignore it. I'm good at taking naps on the bike, on a bench, on the ground. Seems like the older I get, the more I take. ;-)
Thanks for the time and work to share with us.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 11: Wednesday, 5/25/1
40 miles around Bryce Canyon National Park

It was a bit cold hanging out around the fire last night, and I knew it was supposed to drop down close to freezing overnight, really? 27*F? I was very tempted to say screw the sunrise and just stay bundled up in my tent. I was able to force myself out eventually, and went for a short walk along the rim to Sunrise Point.





Something to warm up with as the sun rose.

There seemed to be a crust of ice on everything. It was very pretty.


After sunrise, I headed back to my campsite to repack my bag, and headed off for a short hike through Queen’s Garden and Wall Street. This hike is described in the park guide as “the best 3 mile hike in the world.” It winds down amongst the forest of hoodoos that make up the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, which is the focal point of the park.

While a lot of natural parks awe you with their size and grandeur, Bryce seems like a rather small, intimate park; the Amphitheater is only two or three miles across. However, like the Upheaval Dome in Canyonlands, it is just a bizarre landscape. If you hadn’t seen the park before and someone showed you a sketch of it, your first reaction would be, “that’s not a real place, you just made that up.” That the slow process of erosion could create thousands of these hoodoos in this one little valley is just amazing.


The hoodoos can seem almost translucent when the light hits them just so.

This is the formation from which the Queen’s Garden gets its name. (I’m still confused as to why there’s an airplane following her feet).

The hike back out of the valley, up a trail called Wall Street, is jaw-dropping. It climbs up a narrow slot between towering walls of hoodoos. Signs warn that this is the most dangerous hike in the park.




Switchbacks climbing out of Wall Street remind me of Frogger. I managed to get here just as a busload of French tourists were coming down... “Bonjour! Bonjour!”



Once back at camp, I hopped on the FZ1 and rode over to the visitor center for a bit, then did the scenic drive all the way down to the south end of the park. The numerous scenic overlooks mainly offered the same sweeping vista of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to the southeast. There were also a few hikes along the way; snow and fallen trees made some of them a bit of a challenge.

Heading back to the north, I decide to do another hike into the Amphitheater, the Peekaboo Loop. This hike also winds down into the forest of hoodoos, but from the opposite direction of where I was this morning.


The trail is eroding rapidly: landslides blocking parts of it, whole edges starting to slide away. In many parks you can see what erosion has carved over millions of years, but you rarely get the impression of it happening as you stand there. Bryce definitely gives you that impression; it’s as though you can feel the landscape falling apart around you as you watch.



This one reminded me of chessmen: pawn, bishop, knight.






Back at the campground, I met up with my campfire friends from the night before, who wanted to head up to Bryce Point and get some pictures of the sunset. I tag along with them and get some photos of the photogs, Chris and Megan.


On the phone with wifey.



Ashley, Kate, and Megan watching the sunset.


Later on, we again got a roaring fire going and broke out the ladies’ supply of gin. We all stayed up way to late and drank way to much, ensuring a very rough following morning, but it was a ton of fun. I stumbled back to my tent at sometime past 3am, reminding myself that I need to be up at a reasonable hour to get to Zion and find a campsite there. We’ll see about that...
Feb 6, 2006
Your respective entries keep topping themselves. This last installment raised the bar in describing Bryce in words and images. Fantastic Kegan :-)
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 12: Thursday, 5/26/11
105 mi - Map
Bryce Canyon NP, UT to Zion NP, UT

Thankfully, the hangover this morning isn’t that bad, and a bunch of water and some Advil are sufficient to chase most of it away. It’s also much warmer this morning then it was yesterday, which is great.

Just behind my tent is that of an Indian guy named Sylvan (sp?) who’s studying in Paris, and decided to spend his vacation touring the southwest US on two wheels, kind of like me. Except he needs to pedal. He’s been a month on the road and has ended up in Bryce by way of SF, LA, Death Valley, Vegas, Grand Canyon... and here I thought *I* was a bit adventurous.

I’m finally packed up and on the road at about 11am. Goodbye, Bryce Canyon.

Hello, Zion.

The ride from Bryce to Zion passes extremely quickly. It’s the Thursday before Memorial Day, and traffic is starting to pick up. The roads aren’t clogged, but there are frequent long packs of cars and RVs that are taken care of with a hard twist of the wrist. It’s a fun, almost video-gamesque ride, luckily devoid of any enforcement. I zip by numerous photo opportunites, focused on getting to Zion and snagging a site before they all fill up.

Arriving at the campground, I’m greeted by a sign: “FULL.” Oh, no... it’s not even 1pm! I stop by the camp host’s site and ask him if it’s *really* full, and he asks, “you just need a place for a tent? There’s one walk-in site left.” “I’ll take it!” The site is down near the river, about a thirty-yard walk from the road. There are no trees, and the site is infested with all manner of bugs, but it’ll do.

It is warm here, probably close to 80*F. The info board shows the forecast for the next two days to be highs in the 80s, lows in the 50s, and zero chance of rain. I don’t even bother with my tent’s rainfly... I think I’m in heaven.

After getting my site set up, I board one of the park shuttles (no private vehicles are allowed on the road into Zion Canyon) and head off to find an afternoon hike.

The scenery here is breathtaking. Zion is home to the tallest sandstone cliffs in the world, and as you travel up the canyon, the towering walls seem to close in on you.


Looking out the canyon to the south.

I do a short hike to the Emerald Pools, which are more of a opaque algae-green then Emerald. Eww. The upper pool does have a nice waterfall feeding it, though.

I continue walking north from Emerald Pools to the Grotto, where I find the trailhead for Angel’s Landing. This large outcrop is thrust out into the middle of the valley, away from the walls on either side. Early visitors trying to find a path to the top deemed it impossible and declared that only angels would be able to land atop it.

Today, there is a trail to the summit, and quite a trail it is. The first section climbs away from the river into Refrigerator Canyon, between Angel’s Landing and the west walls of Zion Canyon. It is significantly cooler in here then out in the open.

Then, out of the Refrigerator on a series of switchbacks called “Walter’s Wiggles,” after an early park superintendent who oversaw their construction.

The final leg of the hike climbs up the narrow ridge to the summit of the outcrop. In places it is only a few feet wide, and the rocks are slick with loose sand. There are chains along the rocks to provide something to hold on to... a slip here means a thousand-foot plunge to the river below. There are many hikes I’ve done where doing something stupid can get you killed. At Angel’s Landing, you don’t even need to be stupid... just unlucky.

I met up with a couple of other hikers, Brad and Todd, and climbed the final half-mile with them.






At the top! Looking north up the canyon towards the Temple of Sinawava.

Looking south, out of the canyon.


No Diving.


Looking back at Angel’s Landing. There is a small group of people decending the ridge on the lower right.

Definitely quite the thrilling hike, and just an awesome view as a reward. There were still many other places in the park to explore, but those would have to wait for another day; the sun was almost set as I got back to my campsite and warmed up a bit of dinner before bed.
Sep 11, 2006
Houston, TX
First Name
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Oh my, a couple of those last Zion hiking pics made me weak in the knees. :eek2: I don't think I could do it. :giveup:
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 13: Friday, 5/27/11
30 miles around Zion National Park, UT

I wake up Friday morning to the first rays of the sun catching the upper reaches of the West Temple. I could get used to this no-rainfly thing. After watching the light creep down the cliff walls a bit, I roll out of bed and gear up for a morning ride.

In the five minutes that I’m loading the bike and gearing up, I have no less then a half dozen people come up and ask me if I’m leaving. I know it’s the Friday before Memorial Day, but jeez, it’s like 7am. It makes me realize how lucky I was to get a site yesterday.

The Zion-Mt Carmel Highway runs from Zion Canyon to the east end of the park. It’s a fantastic ride, as scenic and entertaining as you could ask for. I had a blast on it yesterday, but was somewhat hampered by traffic; I’m hoping I can ride it again this morning before it’s too crowded, and get some pictures this time as well.



A short tunnel along the road. The more famous tunnel along Pine Creek Canyon is over a mile long, very narrow, with no lights. I got a bit tense riding through it.

Water running along the rock faces creates interesting patterns.

I think this may be my favorite photo from the trip.

A short hike off of the road leads to the Canyon Overlook, which provides a vista of the lower Zion Canyon and the highway dropping down into it.


Back at my campsite after my morning ride, I pack a bag and again catch the shuttle into the park for a day of hiking. I hop off at the Court of the Patriarchs, a side valley dominated by three towering monoliths. Left to right, they are Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (which is partially hidden behind the smaller Mt Moroni in the foreground).

Rather then just doing the short hike to a viewpoint, I follow a dirt path up the valley to see where it leads. One of the first things I come across is a pickup parked on a service road, with a couple of turkeys admiring their reflections in the chrome bumper.

Isaac Peak.

The path roughly follows a creek up the valley, passing small pools here and there.

More wildlife.


Abraham Peak.

Looking back across the valley towards the Mountain of the Sun.

At the sheer wall of Abraham Peak, at the very back of the valley.

A good two or three hours after passing the pickup on my way into the valley, I pass it again on the way out... and that turkey is still there. Every thirty seconds or so, he swiftly headbutts his reflection in the bumper. I keep my distance in case he should decide to try headbutting me.

I catch the shuttle all the way to the back of the valley and hike up the Riverside Walk to The Narrows, which is a famous trail into the upper reaches of Zion Canyon. Sadly, the river is far to high to attempt to hike it.

A cairn forest along the river.

A tall waterfall along the Riverside Walk.

I do one more short hike to the Weeping Rock before heading back to camp.

It’s getting towards 3pm, and it is hot. I’m pretty tired and a nap sounds great, so I stretch the rainfly over my tent to give myself some shade and pass out for a few hours. I awake when it’s a bit cooler, and start thinking about dinner. I still have food that I can prepare on my stove, but I’m really hungry, and the town of Springdale is just a few miles away. I hop on the bike and ride into town to find myself a real meal.

Now THAT is what I’m talking about.

After dinner, it’s back to camp to watch the sun set and hang out by my small fire until bed. There are still quite a few hikes I want to do, so I decide I’ll stay here one more day and then head on.
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 14: Saturday, 5/28/11
90 miles around Zion NP/Kolob Reservoir Rd


Another beautiful day in Zion! My goal today is to do one of the hikes to the actual rim of the valley, since I just didn’t have enough energy to do one yesterday. The most accessible of these hikes is the one to Observation Point, an 8-mile roundtrip with a 2,100 foot elevation gain. Well, I’ve got all day...

The sun had *almost* made it to the floor of the canyon when I started the hike at 9:30am.

The trailhead is the same one as the short walk to the Weeping Rock that I did yesterday; looking down at it, you can see how the water seeping from the rocks carved out a large pocket. There are some people visible in this photo if you look closely.

I finally get my first sunlight of the day at around 10:30am.


Echo Canyon.



A view of Cable Mountain from inside Echo Canyon.

It took me about 2 hours to get to the top of Observation Point. The views are fantastic in every direction.

This is looking south, with the Great White Throne on the left, and Angel’s Landing visible in the lower right. Angel’s Landing was crowded with hikers; I can’t imagine trying to constantly pass people along that trail.

The waterfall I saw along the Riverside Walk yesterday doesn’t look nearly as tall from up here.

The trail far below.

There were many places to just sit and take in the view, if you had the nerves for it.



I relaxed at the top for an hour or so with some snacks and my book, then headed back down. Near the bottom of the trail, a fork leads to Hidden Canyon, another slot canyon behind the Great White Throne.

Once in Hidden Canyon, the trail goes away and you just follow the canyon up as far as you like.

Water and time...


There are frequent obstacles along the walk up the canyon. It’ll be an easy, sandy path for a hundred yards, and then some rockfall or steep ledge will block the way, and I’d need to figure out how to get past it. It was actually a pretty fun hike.


After a mile of hiking and a dozen or more obstacles, I’m pooped. I remind myself that I still need to make it back down all those technical bits without injuring myself, and decide to turn around while I still have a bit of energy left.

Connor and Cameron, a couple from SF that I met along the hike, using some fallen trees to descend one of the rockfalls.

Back at camp, I was ready to heat up a helping of food over my stove, but a conversation back along the trail regarding the joys of Mexican food was still rattling around in my head. Back to town it is.

After dinner, I debate doing another short hike near the campground, but decide against it. Over the past five days I’ve hiked nearly 45 miles with 10,000 feet of elevation gain. I think I’m through with hiking. I instead decide to take a short ride up Kolob Reservoir Road, which leads to the less-visited central area of the park.

The peaks around Zion Canyon are visible from many spots along the road.

At the Lava Point Overlook.


Finally, it was back to camp for a good night’s sleep before getting back on the road tomorrow. I figure I’m no more then a few days from home; I want to ride up to Great Basin National Park in eastern Nevada tomorrow, spend a night or two there, and then across Nevada to the Sierras. Tioga Pass into Yosemite was still closed when I left Texas, but I’m hoping it might be open by now. If not, I’ll find another open pass, or in the worst-case, just pick up I-80 from Reno back towards the Bay. My trip is slowly coming to a close, but I’m enjoying it while it lasts!
Aug 2, 2006
San Jose, CA
Day 15: Sunday, 5/29/11
711 miles - Map
Zion NP, UT to Culver City, CA

I got a fairly early start out of Zion; Great Basin NP is only 200 miles away, but it’s still Memorial Day weekend and I’d like to get there at a reasonable time in hopes of finding a campsite. I head out of the park to the east, along the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, and stop for a bite to eat at the Mt Carmel Junction. While at breakfast, I’m able to catch up with the outside world and check the weather forecast on my phone. Unfortunately, snow showers are predicted throughout the northern part of Nevada, including the entire length of US-50 and Great Basin NP. There’s only a slight chance of rain along the more southern route through Tonopah, and I’ve had my fill of snow in Colorado, so I’ll leave Great Basin and US-50 for another time and stay keep south. I’m sad about missing yet another national park, but it will trim another day or two off of my ride home, which should make Vic happy.

Leaving Mt Carmel Junction, I head north for a bit and pick up UT-14 towards Cedar City. It gains elevation rapidly, and before I know it I’m adding layers to keep warm as I ride through another snow-covered landscape. I’m taking some time to adjust to this, after spending the past three days in 80something degree heat!


The scenic drive up to Cedar Breaks was on my list of roads to ride, but it was still closed for the winter.

I passed under I-15 at Cedar City and continued west through Utah and into Nevada. The winds picked up the farther west I went, and the clouds ahead loomed dark and ugly. The wind gusts couldn’t seem to pick a direction, and I was getting blown all over my lane, going from a full right lean to a full left lean and back again in the span of a few seconds. I don’t think I was giving the bike this much steering input on some of those Colorado twisties.


The temperatures kept dropping as I continued into Nevada, and it started to rain here and there. My heated jacket liner had decided to go on the fritz and would turn off randomly and refuse to turn back on. I’d give up on playing with it until I was freezing, give it another try, and voila, it suddenly be working again, and then turn off a few minutes later. Frustrating.

I passed through the town of Caliente and decided that whoever named this place needs a swift kick in the face for being such a smartass.

Leaving Caliente, US-93 climbs over one of the dozens of low mountain ranges that dot the Nevada landscape. It was raining lightly in town, and as I follow the road, it starts sticking to my helmet. Oh, **** no, not again. This was all supposed to be way up north, IT WAS BARELY SUPPOSED TO BE RAINING HERE!


It’s freezing cold, my heater isn’t working, the wind is still being a giant ****, and it’s snowing on me yet again. This is NOT what I had imagined today’s ride to be like.

I finally make it down out of the snow and to the intersection with UT-375, the Extraterrestrial Highway. The next gas is in Tonopah, 150 miles away, so I make a quick detour south to Ash Springs to refuel.

While at the gas station, I run into a group of cruisers that had just come down from Tonopah, including one guy on a stunning 1949 HD. I was impressed that he would bring this bike out in this weather.


Unfortunately, the news I heard at the gas station was not so good. “We just came down from Tonopah; we were supposed to be here earlier but the passes were closed. They’re open now, but it’s still snowing and nasty up there.” “I live in Ely, and we were supposed to get snow flurries last night. We got six inches instead. You don’t want to head north, trust me.” “If I were you, and I had a choice, I would *not* head to Tonopah right now.”


Well, it’s snowing to the west. *Really* snowing to the north. I just came from the east, snow there. Guess there’s only one place to go.

Vegas, Baby. Vegas.

The wind along I-15 dropping down into the Las Vegas Valley is crazy, some of the strongest I’ve ever ridden in. At least it’s coming from a constant direction, but still, it’s downright scary. I decide to pull off the freeway to cruise the strip, and come to a stop at the traffic signal. I’m not a small guy, and the FZ1 isn’t really a big, heavy bike, and I knew that it was windy and made sure to plant my feet wide and firmly at the light. I *still* almost dropped it due to the wind.

A few sights from Vegas...


I had briefly debated staying the night, but it was still early in the afternoon and I decided to press on westward. This trip is getting real old, real fast, and thoughts of home are starting to flicker through my mind. I’m still quite a ways from San Jose, and don’t think I can make it there tonight, but I can at least get to Bakersfield or so, and be home by mid-morning tomorrow (Memorial Day) to spend the day with Vic.

However, when I call Vic from Baker, she informs me that she has to work tomorrow, so there’s no sense in me getting home early. “Why don’t you go visit Anj in LA?” she suggests. Well, OK. I call Anj, and old college friend, and she immediately offers me a place to stay, except that she’s in San Diego and won’t be back until 11 or so. It’s OK, I know how to kill time in LA.

I have an early dinner outside of the city to let traffic die down a bit, and then hit the mess of freeways into LA. I realize that despite living here for 5 years, and taking the MSF and getting my first motorcycle license here, this is the first time I’ve ever actually ridden in LA. It’s a lot of fun just cruising around the city, taking in the nighttime views.


If you are ever near downtown and need a bite to eat, go find Phillipe’s. Best french dip sandwich you will ever have. Easy on the mustard.


I decided to swing by another LA institution to pick up some cookies for Anj, as a thank-you for letting me stay with her. Diddy Riese makes some fantastic cookies, but it has two drawbacks: it’s right next door to one of the more distasteful educational institutions in the country, and there’s almost always a line out the door. The line tonight is rediculous even by Diddy Riese standards; it streches almost to the end of the block. Sorry, Anj, no cookies tonight.

My hostess for the night, AnjC!

I timed my arrival at Anj’s place perfectly, getting there just as she was getting home. After a nice, long, hot shower (ahhh!) we hung out for a while, catching up with each other, before hitting the sack. I fall asleep reflecting on how screwed up today was, that I should wind up nearly 600 miles from where I had intended to spend the night... Oh well, just have to roll with it. I’m still looking forward to some fantastic riding tomorrow on my way north.