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Westward Ho! Kegan and Vic ride to Big Bend National Park

Joined
Aug 2, 2006
Messages
629
Location
San Jose, CA
Over Thanksgiving weekend, my fiancee Victoria and I took a ride out west to do some exploring, with the main destination being Big Bend National Park. We had a great trip and took alot of pictures, so here is the story!

Day 1: Wednesday, 11/26/08
Euless to Brady Map!

While I was able to weasel my way out of work on Wednesday, Victoria had to go in and show her face for at least the morning hours, so we couldn't leave until after lunch. I took advantage of my free morning to make an 80-mile roundtrip ride to Maxim Motorsport in Allen, where I was able to exchange my Gerbing G3s for a new set (the left glove had stopped working a week or two before, and Maxim wasn't able to get new ones in until that day). Once that was done and I'd returned home, I started the task of loading up the motorcycle.

Our previous trips have all been 3- or 4-day affairs in pretty agreeable weather, and we've never had to pack more then the Givi E460 could hold. However, this trip was a bit longer, with a wider range of temperatures, so on went the canvas sidebags. The sidebags held a minimal set of tools, a flat repair kit and 12v air compressor, rainsuits, warm-weather gloves, and a handful of spare clothes in ziplock bags, while the Givi held most of our clothes and toiletries. We would both be geared up in our Cortech jackets with heated liners, jeans with snowboarding overpants (yes, I know we need to get some actual riding pants, it's in the works), Sidi touring boots, winter gloves, and our helmets equiped with Scala-Rider Q2 communicators.

And we're off!
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We were on the road headed southwest by 1 PM... overcast, with temps around 60. Traffic wasn't too bad getting out of DFW (one of the advantages of leaving near midday), and we made pretty good time down 377. We started getting hungry after a couple hours, and stopped off at CJ's Diner in Comanche for a late lunch/early dinner.
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Browned sausage in a bowl of gravy. YUM.
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We had considered stopping in Brownwood for the night, but we were still feeling OK when we passed through, so we decided to press on to Brady. Speeds slowed a bit as the deer started coming out of the woodwork... we must've seen a dozen live ones and countless dead ones on that final stretch.

We have a habit of pulling over to examine random roadside historical markers, and taking pictures of the more interesting ones... for you native Texans, no, this does NOT mean we were at the center of the universe, as well.
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A short time later we were checked in to a Day's Inn in Brady, getting some rest for the beginning of the real ride. We had knocked out 201 miles in just under five hours, including all stops. Tomorrow: to Marathon!
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2006
Messages
629
Location
San Jose, CA
Day 2: Thursday, 11/27/08
Brady to Marathon Map!

We were up at 6 AM on Thanksgiving morning to pack up and have a bite to eat at the motel's continental breakfast. By 7 we were geared up and ready to go... Vic decided to try an alternate method of putting on her balaclava: instead of putting on the BC and then putting on the helmet (which forced the BC down allowing a draft into her helmet), she'd tuck the BC into the helmet and put the entire thing on at once. It worked really well!
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Hrm, maybe not. Once she had that figured out, we got on the road, heading west along US 190, our shadows stretching out before us as the sun rose to warm the 45 degree air. The deer were still out in force in the roadside ditches, causing frequent slowdowns whenever they wandered too close. Our route took us south at RR 864 to visit Ft McKavett, which, being Thanksgiving, was closed. We stopped in at an old general store for a stretch.
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The bathtub-table was intriguing. There was a plaque on the corner of the wooden piece that said it was salvaged from a Liberty ship (I forget the name of the ship).
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A bit down the road, we pulled off to get a pic of some of the ruins, and I had to take a personal break. Vic couldn't resist recording the moment for posterity.
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On we rode, crossing over I-10 and pausing in Sonora. We filled up the tank, but couldn't find anywhere open to eat. Well, it's only another 90something miles to Comstock... we can have brunch there and fill up again before tackling the long, barren stretch of US 90. So, we turned south on US 277, then peeled off to the west on RR 189 to TX 163. Somewhere along the way we passed a deserted country store--I'll let someone more ambitious then I calculate its exact location by the distance markers!
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A few miles past the store, the VFR turned over 40,000 miles, 22 months to the day after I picked her up, brand new, from Charlotte Honda.
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Another historical marker--apparently this area was rife with indians and highwaymen, and many of the passes, rivers, and such were named in kind.
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Finally, Comstock! And sweet, there's a cafe right at the highway intersection.
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Hrm, closed. There's another one down the street. Also closed. Gas station? Good luck. Motel? Boarded up and deserted.
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Well, crap.

The only sign of life in the entire town is found at a Border Patrol office, where we are directed to head east, back to Del Rio, for food and fuel. Oh well, we were making pretty good time anyway, so the 60-mile detour isn't a big problem... except for our stomachs, which were now loudly protesting that they wanted food! We eventually found a little gas-station diner tucked in next to a Chevron station at the intersection of 90 and 277, and ****** if they didn't have the bomb-diggitiest french toast I've had in years. I'm telling you: if you ever find yourself in Del Rio wanting some breakfast, find that Chevron station and get the french toast. Delicious.

On the way back north, we pass a sign for the International Border - 3 miles. So we hang a left and head south. Look, Ma, Mexico!
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Riding across the Amistad Reservoir Dam.
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Our first glimpse of the Rio Grande, flowing out of the dam far below us.
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We turned around at the Border crossing (no passports) and headed back to the highway.
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Crossing the bridge across the reservoir, with the rail bridge to our left.
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We got stopped at an immigration checkpoint. Vic was all freaked out about taking pictures--she thought they would confiscate the camera... but she still wanted a pic of the cute doggie. He was sniffing every inch of the vehicles in front of us, but they kept him away from the motorcycle, so we didn't get a chance to pet him.
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US 90 stretched out in front of us like an endless river of tarmac. Other vehicles were few and far between as we motored down the road, creeping our way westward.
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Crossing the mighty Pecos River.
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We passed a few abandoned buildings as a highway sign announced the town of Langtry.
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The Roy Bean Museum was closed for Thanksgiving (of course), but we did a bit of exploring around the rest of the town.
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We saw some neat caves in the cliffs off in the distance above the river.
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A few more miles along US 90 bought us to Dryden, where we pulled in at a roadside stop advertising groceries and gas. A group of cruisers outside hinted that it was at least open.
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Turns out that the gas signs were a bit outdated... not so for the groceries, though.
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Not that it mattered too much, as 20 miles up the road was Sanderson, where there was an open gas station. We ran into the cruiser guys there again, and spent a while chatting. Turns out they were headed to the same destination as us. Didn't get any pics of them, but you can see one of them in the background of this pic.
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Past Sanderson, the hills around us started transitioning to what could possibly be called mountains. Still didn't help the roads any, though.
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Another rest stop along the highway. Really, Vic, another picture?
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Arrival in Marathon was at just past 3 PM, with a total of 390 miles ridden on the day. As I pulled up to park Vic grabbed a shot of us reflected in a parked car.
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We checked into our room at the Gage Hotel and unloaded the bike. Quite the cool hotel! At more then 80 years old, it doesn't have many of the amenities you'd expect from a more modern place (such as TVs and toilets in the rooms), but it still has a very charming, luxurious feel.
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Our room had a western theme and a four-post bed; Vic thought the room key was the coolest thing ever.
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After showering and changing, we grabbed some drinks from the White Buffalo Bar (yes, there's actually a white buffalo head mounted in it) and retired to the rocking chairs on the front landing to relax and read.
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Meanwhile, the cruiser guys had shown up from their campsite at the edge of town to hang out at the bar. Turns out only one of them actually had a tent, and one brave (foolhardy?) guy didn't even have a sleeping bag. The forecast low overnight was near 40... yikes.
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As the sun set, our dinner reservation drew near, so we wandered down the street to Cafe Cenizo for dinner. We split a sausage and mushroom risotto appetizer, and a pepper-crusted elk filet with potatoes gratin main course. It was excellent.
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Longhorns mounted on the wall outside the cafe.
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We were more then a bit tipsy by the end of dinner, but somehow managed to make it back down the sidewalk to the hotel and our room, where we promptly fell fast asleep. What a great Thanksgiving! Tomorrow: Southward to Big Bend!
 
Joined
May 8, 2008
Messages
1,031
Location
S. Arlington
You go on such cool trips. You're the one that got me into the Talimena.

Thanks for your ride reports, both here and at FWMR
 
Joined
Jul 6, 2004
Messages
3,789
Location
Santa Fe, TX
Love IT! :thumb:

Only makes me more anxious thinking about my journey out there at the end of the year. I don't care how many times I do it, I enjoy it every single time.
 
Joined
Mar 22, 2008
Messages
1,285
Location
Houston Heights
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I remember this after heading out of Del Rio on the way to Big Bend (and beyond)

I think I got some bad gas at the little gas station in Langtry cause I could barely top 75, which isn't that much of a decrease on the KLR.
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2006
Messages
629
Location
San Jose, CA
Day 3 - Friday, 11/28/08
Marathon - Big Bend National Park - Terlingua Map!

Excitement was in the air as we rolled out of bed Friday morning and dug for the Tylenol bottle in our luggage. (Long Islands and a bottle of wine? Who's genius idea was that?) However, the situation quickly turned sour as we were changing--Vic tried to kick off her nightie bottoms and catch them, and in the process somehow threw out her upper back / neck. Uh-oh. She said that maybe lying down for a bit would help, so I finished packing up and then walked down the street to the local grocer and picked up some icy-hot for her.
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After a while, Vic's back had recovered enough to get dressed and wander out for some breakfast at the soda fountain down the street.
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We finally got on the road at about 9 in the morning, and headed south on US 385 toward Big Bend. It was an amazingly zen-like ride. The air was cool and crisp, the sun climbing into the perfectly blue sky, the mountains looming on either side of the empty ribbon of road.
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Santiago Peak off to the west.
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Finally... Big Bend National Park!
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Shortly after entering the park, a herd of 15 or so Javelinas (small pig-like animals that aren't actually related to pigs at all but are instead relatives to hippopotamus) crossed the road in front of us. I killed the engine and was able to coast to within 50 feet or so of them.
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They were all just wandering around in the brush just off the road until I fired up the bike, at which point they scattered, throwing up small clouds of dust and nearly trampling the two tiny babies in the herd. We both got a good laugh out of that one. (They're there in the pic... try squinting!)
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The Chisos mountain range grew steadily in size as we approached.
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After a stop at Panther Junction to fuel up and see the visitor center, we started up and over the rim of the mountains towards the park center. There is a lodge (all booked up already when I started planning this trip several months ago), restaurant, and another visitor center nestled inside the Chisos basin, surrounded by mountains on all sides. The basin itself is at 5,400 feet elevation, and the road to get there runs through a pass even higher then that--not sure the exact elevation, but I'd guess around 6,000 ft. The air was warming up down in the desert, but we could feel it cooling off again as we climbed into the mountains.
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Casa Grande towering above us at a roadside pullout.
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The parking lot in the basin was crowded! We found a space near the back, and I got a shot of Vic and the Viffer with Casa Grande in the background.
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After having lunch at the restaurant, Vic wanted to lie down on one of the benches outside to rest her neck (it was still giving her lots of trouble), so I did the short "Window View" trail. The Window is the one low opening through the mountains into the basin, offering up a stunning view of the Chihuahuan desert below.
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Vic was feeling better after her brief lie-down, so we took a quick walk through the visitor center and then geared up to leave. Our next leg would take us back out of the mountains, and then down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to Castolon. It was neat to see the Chisos mountains from the outside when we had been up there just minutes before. Looking in the Window from the outside:
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The pavement wasn't great, but the road was entertaining enough as it wound its way through the desert, dropping in elevation towards the river. The temps were steadily climbing as we decended, as well.
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An abandoned ranch house in the valley below a lookout.
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As we came around one corner, we got our first sight of our next destination: Santa Elena Canyon.
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However, we were distracted along the way by two peaks that looked like a pair of mule ears. Fittingly, they were called "Mule Ears Peaks."
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We stopped in the settlement of Castolon to refill our water and strip off some layers. The temps had climbed into the mid-70s, and we were sweating in our thick jackets and snowpants. Castolon Peak:
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Getting closer!
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At the overlook. Mexico on the left, US on the right. Here is a panoramic shot taken from this same location, to give you an idea of the view.
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The havoc wreaked by the floods a few weeks ago was still very evident. Brush was piled around the trailhead marker, and sand was piled inside the plastic window. The roads were also still covered with alot of dirt, and dried mud was piled several feet high in some places along the road.
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The Rio Grande comes out of the canyon and then hangs a right to run along the cliff walls. The flood piled up a huge amount of silt where it turns, and we had to hike a quarter mile across this huge, river sand "beach" to get to the river. You can see hikers climbing the trail in the distance.
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The beginning portion of the trail into the canyon was washed out by the flood, and it was necessary to be able to climb through some of the torn up parts.
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Up we go.
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The trail ended about half a mile into the canyon, where a field of boulders the size of small houses blocked any further travel. We could see the afternoon sun lighting up the canyon walls further in, where the river turned.
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Rio Reflection.
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Trying to provide an idea of how tall the canyon walls are. It still doesn't quite convey the scale.
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Fun with sunglasses.
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Hiking our way back out of the canyon.
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And riding back up Ross-Maxwell. (We passed our cruiser buddies again on the way up, they were just heading down). We then turned west again, and said goodbye to the park. We've decided that we'll definitely be back, and next time we'll try to spend more then a day there. I'd like to do some of the longer trails up in the mountains, and Vic is set on rafting some of the canyons of the Rio Grande.
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Our stop for the night was the El Dorado motel in Terlingua ghost town. We arrived at about 6 PM, just as the sun was setting, with 190 miles showing on the odometer for the day.
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We quickly unloaded the bike, changed into street clothes, and flipped on the water heater so we could take a shower when we got back, then headed out to explore the ruins of the town before it got too dark to see.
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Dinner was at the Starlight Theatre, which served up some delicious food: pan-seared steak for me, and a venison burger for her. And maragaritas, of course!
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Tomorrow: Exploring the Davis Mountains before turning back east.
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2006
Messages
629
Location
San Jose, CA
Day 4 - Saturday, 11/29/08
Terlingua - Odessa Map!

Saturday morning was another cool one, with temperatures back in the low 40s as we left Terlingua just as the sun was rising over the Chisos mountains. As we rode back west to Study Butte, we could see the cliffs of the Sierra Del Carmen and Santa Elena Canyon to our right, and waved goodbye one last time.
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Breakfast was at another gas station diner in Study Butte, where, lo and behold, we ran into the cruiser guys again. They, like us, were also heading north to the Davis mountains, but after breakfast we didn't see them again. I had to clean the bugs off of my visor at the gas station before we left.
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Our originally planned route took us west on RR 170 (the famed River Road) to Presidio, then north through Marfa, but the floods had washed out parts of the road and I was advised not to try the detours on a motorcycle. Instead, we turned north on TX 118 and headed up towards Alpine. This was another of those zen-like morning rides that you wish could just go on and on. As we approached Alpine, there were even some decent curves thrown into the mix, along with the long straight bits!
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In Alpine, we saw signs for "The Museum of the Big Bend," and followed the arrows. They led to the campus of Sul Ross State University, where we spent an hour or so browsing the museum. It provided a neat perspective into the recent history of the region. I was also a fan of the following quote from Ross Maxwell, the first superintendent of the park: "According to Indian legend, when the great creator made the earth and finished placing the stars in the sky, the birds in the air, and fish in the sea, there was a large pile or rejected stony materials left over. Finished with his job, he threw this into one heap and made the Big Bend."
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After leaving the museum and Alpine, we continued up the road to Fort Davis, where we decided we'd try and find lunch. A local church was hosting a bazaar, so we stopped in there and scored some burritos, which we ate while walking around the town. Vic enjoying her burrito on a bench in front of the Jeff Davis County Courthouse:
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Once we were done eating, we headed out to do the scenic loop around the Davis mountains. Here we are heading west on TX 166.
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After the intersection with RR 505:
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Stopping for a stretch break near an interesting rock formation.
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We were getting up into the mountains, and it was a bit chilly. Vic was doing her best turtle impression with the balaclava. Also, it's tough to tell, but that peak behind us was really tall and impressive.
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A few more miles bought us to McDonald Observatory. We had a cup of hot chocolate at the cafe, then rode up to the mountaintops to see the telescopes. It was COLD up there... temps down at the highway were in the low 40's, I'm guessing that it was high 30s at best up at the observatories.
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TX 118 stretching out in the valley before us.
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Back on TX 118 heading towards Fort Davis, looking back on some nice curves and the telescopes atop the mountain.
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We then turned back north on TX 17 at Fort Davis, and headed north for the freeways. As we approached Toyahvale the mountains faded in my rearview mirrors. We cruised past the spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea, then merged onto I-10 for a few miles before exiting back onto 17 north. What a road that is. Flat, straight and boring doesn't begin to describe it. Even on those long stretches of tarmac on US 90, there was at least scenery to look at. On a freeway at least other traffic demands your attention. This stretch of road is just... nothing. Asphalt, power lines, and desert. It was the most mind-numbing 30 miles of the entire trip. I actually stopped in the middle of the road at one point and recited to Vic my take on the Ross Maxwell quote I mentioned earlier: "And when god had finished creating all the roads of the earth, he had used up all of the curves and twists and hills, but had leftover one long, straight, flat, boring-*** piece of asphalt. He threw it down in the middle of the west Texas desert and made TX 17."

It was a relief when we finally reached Pecos and Interstate 20. We turned east and rode for another hour before reaching Odessa (80 MPH speed limits rock!). Just before we reached the city, we came across a sign for the Odessa Meteor Crater, so we peeled off and headed off in search of it. The sun had set shortly before, and the light was fading quickly as we pulled up and took a short, self-guided tour through the crater.
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It wasn't too impressive, but a decently interesting stop nonetheless. The desolation of the area, combined with the falling darkness and the sounds of wild animals and oil rigs all around us, made it feel like something out of a horror movie.
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The temperature was falling quickly, as well, and Vic was back to her turtle state to keep warm.
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Dinner in Odessa was at a nondescript Italian grill, and we checked into a room at Hampton's Inn for the night. Each room had a picture to go along with the room number posted in the hallway. Of course we'd end up with something like this. **** deer.
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Miles for the day: 348
Tomorrow: 350 miles of interstate!
 
Joined
Apr 26, 2006
Messages
4,023
Location
Seabrook, TX
Looking like a great trip so far! :thumb:

Last month on our way our of Lajitas, we stopped in Alpine for lunch and got a recommendation to try the Reata Restaurant. We liked it a lot and would definitely go again and recommend it to others. :eat:
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2006
Messages
629
Location
San Jose, CA
Day 5 - Sunday, 11/30/08
Odessa - Euless Map!

Our final day on the road opened with bright sunshine and light clouds. We ended up sleeping in, as I stayed up a bit late to watch the USC-ND (Fight on!) and OU-OSU games. We had some of the hotel's continental breakfast, then hit the road at about 9 AM.
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It was in the mid 40s when we left Odessa, but instead of the sun warming the morning air, it was soon obscured by a heavy overcast and the temperatures dropped down into the high 30s. It started drizzing as we neared Colorado City, and the clouds were looming dark and threatening in front of us. We pulled off into a gas station and donned our rainsuits.
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Side note: I used to have a MotoBoss nylon rainsuit, which I had to retire when I accidentally put the pants on backwards and ripped a huge hole in the crotch while getting on my bike. I replaced it with a nice set of FroggToggs, and got Vic a set in her size as well. My set got frequent use as I commute on the bike nearly every day, rain or shine, and recently they've become prone to letting water soak through, so I stopped in at the local Bass Pro Shop to see what products they had that could help. The salesguy directed me to some Hydrolize Rain-Resistant Wash, located right next to the 'Toggs. It's a bottled solution that you pour into the washing machine and wash your outerwear in, then toss it in the dryer for an hour (this step is very important, according to the instructions). Easy enough, right? Into the washer go the FroggToggs, then transfer to the dryer, and an hour later... hmm... they're kind of crinkly. And small. Look at the label on the 'Toggs: DO NOT HEAT DRY. Aww, crap. There's no way these things are going to fit over our jackets and pants now. Instead, I do some emergency surgery on my old MotoBoss suit with some duct tape, and hand down my now-shrunken 'Toggs to Vic (they're still a bit big for her, but at least she can get them on!). She was at least happy that she didn't have to wear her purple suit anymore.
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The wind picked up once we left Colorado City, and soon we were riding through some steady rain, with the dash temp guage reading 37 F. Yay for electric gear! We pulled off in Abilene for lunch at Cracker Barrel. We arrived there at 11:40 and put our name on the wait list for a table (20 minutes, we were told). We were seated at around 12:20, and our orders were in by 12:30. Food showed up at 1:15, we were done eating by 1:30, and on the road again by 1:40. Cracker Barrel, you are dead to me.

Vic showing off the Wall-E rain covers on her gloves:
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Onward we rode. The rain stopped at Abilene, though it was still cold, and wind was getting stronger. Traffic began picking up at around Eastland, and by Weatherford it was a steady river of traffic, still moving at a decent pace, though. The gusting wind made staying in my lane quite an exercise. We split off onto I-30, then passed under loop 820 and through downtown Fort Worth. Almost home! Finally, we pulled into our apartment complex in Euless, 343 miles after leaving Odessa. Leaving out the 2 hours wasted at Cracker Barrel, we'd done it in just over five hours.
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Total mileage: 1459
Gas stops: 11 (Brady, Sonora, Del Rio, Sanderson, Panther Junction, Study Butte, Fort Davis, Pecos, Coahoma, Ranger, Bedford)
Gallons / MPG: 41.5 / 35
Top Speed: 130 MPH
High Temp: Mid 70's and sunny at Santa Elena Canyon
Low Temp: 37 and rainy on I-20
Mechanical / Electrical / Pneumatic issues: 0

It was an awesome trip, definitely one to remember. Everything went perfectly smoothly with no issues (except for Vic's neck problem, which is still kind of bothering her). We got to see some great sights, eat many delicious meals, and enjoyed nearly every minute of the trip. We will definitely be back to this part of the state to do more exploring later. Thanks for reading our report, I hope you enjoyed it!
 
Joined
Apr 1, 2007
Messages
5,171
Location
Terlingua Tx
Excellent trip report! I am glad to see that the paved road to Castelon and Santa Elena is opened back up. I hope Maverick and the dirt River Road are runable by Christmas.
 
Joined
Sep 18, 2003
Messages
125
Location
Austin, TX
Excellent trip report! I am glad to see that the paved road to Castelon and Santa Elena is opened back up. I hope Maverick and the dirt River Road are runable by Christmas.
I was in Big Bend in early November...
Despite what the signs say, River Road is totally passable. All sections were paved and fine. The trucks/road crews are just repairing some flood damage in parts. I am so sorry y'all missed it!

Maverick Road is open as well. We were down there offroading and had zero problems anywhere... River Road, Old Ore, Black Gap -did them all.
 

voyagerrider

Forum Supporter
Joined
Sep 6, 2007
Messages
593
Location
Burleson, TX
Great report and pics. Looks like you guys had a great time.

BTW, I agree with about Cracker Barrel, we never stop there if we are in hurry. The food is great, but the service is terrible.
Marty
 
Joined
Feb 13, 2008
Messages
4,622
Location
Jennings,La.
Neat pictures and narration of same.
Have not been to BB or the Observatory since , hhhhhhhhhh, '96 I think. And, in June like a big dummy. Very hot. ;-). Need to go back and check it out again. Still have very fond memories of the area.
Are the motels near the West gate usually full up? Heck, are they still there? I hate making plans and reservations. Totally out of sync with my normal travel mode of where you are, your there and at what ever time.
After tagging a deer years ago, I don't do late evening driving choosing to be moteled up around 4 or 5 pm. ;-).

Thanks for sharing.
 
Joined
Aug 2, 2006
Messages
629
Location
San Jose, CA
They were definitely full up during the Thanksgiving weekend. The place we got was the last available room in the 3rd place I tried, and that was 3 months in advance. My guess, though, is that if you're going on any usual (non-holiday) weekend, you'll have better luck finding spur-of-the-moment accomodations. Still might want to call ahead on the day-of or before just to be sure, though!
 
Joined
Feb 13, 2008
Messages
4,622
Location
Jennings,La.
Thanks for the reply. I generally do places that during the week and away from holidays. The joy of working 14 on and 14 off. ;-). I'm a crowd avoider. ;-)
 
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