Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Riding into Colorado mountains, snowy passes, and high desert

Our motto on motorcycle trips is to be flexible and enjoy the journey. We needed that motto this morning when Tom, riding with us on his Victory Vision Tour, discovered his rear tire was flat. We thought of all the potentially disastrous scenarios if he'd had a flat yesterday while riding in mid-90 degree temperatures through remote areas of the Hopi or Navajo reservation; or twisting up and down the hairpin turns on Buffalo Pass.

Not only was he lucky the tire went flat overnight, but his luck held when the Farmington, NM Four Corners Harley-Davidson  dealer had a tire that fit Tom's bike and was willing to change the tire right away. Tom raved about the service and the friendly folks who took care of his bike. Holding true to our motto, Mike, Christine and I went for a walk while Tom was getting the tire repaired and discovered the gorgeous trail system along the Animas River behind our hotel.

We started our trip northwest to Grand Junction, Colorado 4 hours later than planned, but that gave us the opportunity to ride into Grand Junction just before dusk with views of the almost-full moon over the high mesa and a cooler ride for the end of the day.

We started the ride in hot and dry New Mexico, riding along route 170 through irrigated farmland.

About 30 miles later we crossed into Colorado, and the scenery immediately changed to lush pine forests and rolling hills covered with green grass.

We saw a herd of elk and not far down the road a herd of buffalo. I've been looking for buffalo since we moved to Arizona last year, and these are the first I've seen. As we rode through Mancos, CO we caught our first sight of the Rockies towering in the distance.

We stopped for lunch in Dolores, CO, a small western town on the banks of the Dolores River that flows out of the San Juan Mountains.

The Depot Restaurant advertised the best burgers in Colorado, and also offered elk and buffalo burgers - perhaps from the same herds I saw earlier? I opted for the regular cheeseburger.

Mike talked with a motorcycle rider who was heading out of the mountains. He told us that the black clouds we'd been watching all morning were in fact a rainstorm coupled with cold temperatures, so we put on extra layers of clothing and rain gear before we started north on Colorado 145.

Since the raincover on the waterproof bag the Bennies borrowed from us flew off in the wind yesterday, they jerry-rigged a black plastic garbage bag cover that stayed put for the rest of the windy, cold and rainy ride.

Less than 10 miles later the temperature dropped - and kept dropping into the high 40's as we climbed toward Telluride on the San Juan Skyway through the heart of the San Juan Mountains. The road twisted and swooped around the corners with foggy views of the snowy (snow in July???) peaks all around us.

We rode into the Telluride ski resort for a very welcome cup of hot chocolate and a rest out of the cold rain.

We parked the bikes at 9300', our highest elevation for today. I added another clothing layer before we got back on the bikes and headed down toward the intersection of Colorado 145 and 141 where the rain finally ended and we were surprised by the amazing Unaweep Canyon.

Until this point my camera was safely tucked under my jacket liner, motorcycle jacket, and outer raingear. Even with a few scattered drops of rain I couldn't resist pulling out the camera to take pictures and video of the towering redstone cliffs that rose vertically on both sides of the road.

We've ridden through the red rock canyons in Sedona, AZ but this canyon kept going for almost 100 miles of jaw-dropping scenery. The canyon cuts across the Uncompahgre Plateau, often with a small stream keeping us company along the side of the road. We saw fewer than 5 vehicles through the entire canyon, which meant we could zoom on the sweepers or slow down to look around to all sides to take in the views.

We finally dropped out onto Route 50, and spent the last half-hour of our trip riding into Grand Junction and watching the sun start to set.

The day started off on a potentially negative note with a flat tire on Tom's bike, and ended with a ride through an unbelievable canyon. What will tomorrow bring?

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