Thursday, June 30, 2016

The awesome scenery of Montana, Idaho and Washington on a 327 mile ride

We didn't expect today's 327 mile ride from Missoula, Montana to Walla Walla, Washington would take us through such a wide variety of landscapes while traveling primarily west on Route 12, the Lewis and Clark Highway.

We started riding south from Missoula on Route 93, and quickly joined Route 12 headed west over the Lolo Pass through the Bitterroot Mountains, with views of snow covered 9,137' Lolo Peak.

We stopped at the visitor center just before the Idaho state line, reading about the park, the Lewis and Clark expedition that traveled through this area in 1805-1806, and watched prairie dogs hard at work.

On this part of their journey, Lewis and Clark were searching for a river connection between the Columbia and Missouri Rivers. This area is part of the ancestral home of the Nez Perce who helped  guide the Lewis and Clark expedition.

Route 12 twists and winds its way west through northern Idaho, hugging first Lolo Creek and then the Lochsa River. We knew we were in for fun when we saw this sign:   

We zoomed our way through the dense cedar forest, watching the shallow, rocky bottom rivers flow alongside us. Mike quickly passed the few cars and trucks we came upon, giving us the opportunity to enjoy the curving, twisty road.

We stopped for lunch in Kamiah at the Hearthstone Bakery and Tea House on the Clearwater River. This was the waterway Lewis and Clark had been searching for, and they were finally able to build canoes and travel on the river instead of horseback.

The restaurant is beautiful inside, with tin ceilings and Victorian decorating touches. The sandwiches and salads were wonderful, and we looked longingly at the baked goods displayed in the front case.

Not far west from Kamiah we entered Lewiston, an industrial town of about 30,000 at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers. It's the most inland seaport on the West coast, 465 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. We stopped at the 18th Street Bridge, the first bridge built across the Clearwater in 1913.

As we rode across the bridge over the Snake River, we entered Clarkston, Washington and the landscape changed completely. We were now in the Palouse, a region of large, round, rolling hills that were formed by centuries of wind blowing dust and silt and are today covered with wheat, barley, and grass - but no trees.

The size and scale of the hills is amazing. I spent most of the ride wondering how farmers were able to drive tractors up and over the sides of these steep, round hills. The wind is being put to good use with numerous large windmills scattered over the hill tops.

We ended the day riding into Walla Walla, only 13 miles north of the Oregon border. We're looking forward to tasting local wines and exploring the history of this area before we continue on our journey to Portland, OR.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Green hills in Montana

It's the 7th day of our BMW motorcycle ride from our home in Prescott AZ to Portland OR. We decided on a shorter route today, starting from Bozeman, MT and ending 265 miles later in Missoula, MT. We started on Route 191 South, then turned west onto route 84, riding through irrigated green fields with white-capped mountain ranges in the background.

Turning onto Route 287, we rode through MacDonald Pass at 6312' on the Continental Divide west of Helena. Originally known as the Frenchwoman's Road because it was a toll road run by the wife of a French Canadian, today it's the primary paved road through the area.

In Townsend, Route 12 joined Route 287. We crossed over the Missouri River, and then along Canyon Ferry, where the Louis and Clark expedition traveled. As we rode along, I like to imagine that not much in the scenery has changed since this expedition over 100 years ago.

Traveling in the Southwest means covering sparsely populated long distances, It was after 1pm before we found a place to stop for lunch, the Dinner Bell in Gold Creek. Run by a local Mennonite family, the Dinner Bell deli offers a variety of sandwiches on homemade bread and a picnic table on the porch outside to enjoy lunch.

We finished today's ride with temperatures in the mid-90's as we made our way through numerous stoplights to our motel in Missoula. The odometer on the BMW rolled over to 42,000 miles today, and we easily have another 2000 to travel before this trip ends.

Wyoming to Montana

We woke up in Wyoming, rode 502 miles through spectacular country, and spent the night in Montana. A fun day on the BMW!

Before we started our ride, we took advantage of the free mineral water soak at the Thermopolis Hot Springs State Park. This is the largest mineral springs in the world, and the state park offers free 20-minute soaks in the 104 degree water. It's a fantastic way to ease out the aches and pains accumulated from several days on the motorcycle.

We planned a shorter ride today so that we would have time in the evening to spend with Sharon and Chris, friends from Vermont who now live in Bozeman, Montana. From Thermopolis we headed northwest on route 120 120 toward Cody, passing through farmland with rugged hills and mountains in the background.

In Cody, home of Buffalo Bill Cody who helped create the town at the western edge of the Bighorn Basin.  We rode past Alkali Lake with distinctive white patches from the high sodium content of the water. Fish can't survive in the high concentration of alkaline metals in the water, but it's an important stopping point for migrating birds.

North of Cody we turned west on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, a twisting road that climbs and descends through the Absaroka Mountains.

The highway is named after Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, who led his tribe on an unsuccessful bid to flee to freedom in Canada. The road goes through Dead Indian Pass, named either for the heroic attempt of the Nez Perce to escape the US Calvary through the narrow gulch, or for an unrelated incident with Native Americans.

We rode through a stretch of highway construction that had the paved road down to sand and gravel, conditions that the BMW handled without any problems.

The Chief Joseph Scenic Byway drops down onto the Beartooth American Road, heading into Yellowstone National Park. The highest point of the pass is at 10, 947' with more twisting hairpin turns and wide-open vistas of the mountain ranges.

We stopped for lunch before entering Yellowstone in Cooke City, Montana. This gold-mining town high in the mountains was originally known as Shoo-Fly until 1880 when it was named after a mining investor. Mike chatted with a man from England who was half-way through an 8-week cross-country trip riding a BMW S1000XR he had shipped here from England.

We entered Yellowstone at the Silver City entrance, and almost immediately encountered a buffalo grazing alongside the road.

We were surprised at the lack of traffic as we rode through the Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone, seeing more buffalo than I ever expected.

We stopped for a group of horseback riders as we turned onto the Grand Loop Road,

and saw several elk lounging near Mammoth Springs.

We excited the park at the Gardner entrance, continuing on Route 89 into Bozeman. Another amazing day with spectacular scenery!

Back on the bike after a weekend in Denver

We spent the weekend in Denver with our kids, using Lyft to get around instead of our motorcycle.

The first 40 miles today were on busy, congested, Monday-morning Denver traffic highways so we could get out of the city and on our way northwest. Today's destination is Thermopolis, Wyoming, the site of the world's largest mineral hot springs.

The real fun started when we turned onto US Route 40, riding what Butler Motorcycle Maps calls one of the most fun and difficult rides in the country.

Route 40 twists and turns up and over the Continental Divide through Berthoud Pass at 11,307'. The temperature dropped to 42 degrees at one point as we descended down the shady side of the pass.

This wasn't the only pass we climbed, or the only time we crossed the Continental Divide today. Route 40 continued on over Muddy Pass at 8,772' and Rabbit Ears Pass at 9,426', each time crossing the Continental Divide.

Along the way we saw numerous road signs advertising F.M. Light & Sons cowboy outfitters since 1905 in Steamboat, and then the actual store on the main street. The signs are a good reminder that this area was popular long before it became a tourist and ski destination.

Once we rode through the busy traffic in Steamboat Springs, we continued on Route 40 along the Yampa River, a mostly wide and shallow river that flows through the green countryside.

We crossed into Wyoming with wide-open views to the horizon, clear blue skies, and pronghorn antelope munching the grass along the side of the mostly open road with almost no traffic.

We continued on WY 287 North through Sweetwater Station, near where the Oregon/Mormon trail crossed the Sweetwater River during the Mormons westward migration from Illinois in 1846-47. This road is named after Shoshone Chief Washakie who was instrumental in signing important treaties and establishing this trade route.

We stopped at the scenic lookout on the top of the Beaver Rim Escarpment where trappers and traders met in the 1830's to exchange goods. We could see over the Wind River Basin to the Absaroke Mountain Range 120 miles away at the border of Montana and Wyoming.

We wound our way down the escarpment into the Wind River Valley and the Shoshone Reservation. Route 20 is the Wind River Scenic Byway, and scenic doesn't even come close to describing the twisting road that snakes along the river through the steep and rocky gorge.

The scenic byway ends at the town of Thermopolis, our stopping point for the night. It's the first time we've been on the motorcycle in Wyoming, and we loved the changing scenery and roads tailor-made for motorcycles.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Twisties and sweepers through the Rocky Mountains

A long day on the BMW is worth it when we get to ride through hairpin turns and long sweeping turns in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

We started the second day of our trip in Farmington, NM and quickly crossed into Colorado near Durango. We stayed on US Route 550 heading north, winding and twisting our way on the Million Dollar Highway that runs through Silverton to Ouray.

The 2-lane, narrow road, lack of guardrails, steep drop-offs and jaw-dropping scenery make this one of our favorite rides.

Gold was mined here in the San Juan Mountains with 13 peaks that top 14,000'. This area likes to call itself the "Switzerland of America" because of the steep, forested, and snowy peaks.

Once we passed through Ouray we continued north on Route 550 into Montrose, passing through a wide, green valley along the Uncompahgre River.

In Montrose, we turned east on US Route 50, a ride we've done several times. Route 50 runs along the Gunnison River and the 20-mile long Blue Mesa Reservoir.

We rode through steep, craggy gorges that opened up into wider valleys, and spotted several rafts zooming down the rapidly running river.

We twisted our way up and over Monarch Pass on the Continental Divide in the Sawatch Mountain Range, with panoramic views as we descended down into the valley and along the Arkansas River.

We chose a new route for the final miles north to Denver, starting with 9 North just west of Canon City on the Gold Belt Scenic Byway that runs along the western slope of Pike's Peak where gold was discovered in 1890.

Riding on winding, sweeping, 2-lane paved roads with almost no traffic, we enjoyed views of steep, wooded hills, snowy mountain peaks, and rushing streams.

To get into Denver, we rode the final miles of the day on highways packed with later Friday afternoon traffic. From Denver, you can see the snow-topped Rocky Mountain Peaks that we rode through earlier in the day.

We're spending the weekend in Denver with our kids, and will get back on the BMW on Monday, heading north into Wyoming.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

First day on Mike's retirement ride

It's been far too long since we've been on an extended BMW ride, and this trip checks off several boxes:  Mike just retired from AFLAC, we're seeing our kids in Denver, heading to Portland OR so I can run another marathon (state #49!) and stopping to see friends along the way. We're not sure exactly how many days we'll be on the road, which adds to the fun.

We loaded up the BMW and left home at 6:30am to try and beat the heat, which basically worked since the temperature only hit 100 degrees for a minute or two late this afternoon. Thank goodness for overcast skies!

We've seen a wide variety of wildlife on our motorcycle rides, but this is the first time we've seen bighorn sheep in Arizona. They weren't afraid of us at all, waiting patiently while we turned around so we could take photos.

I'm always amazed at the changing scenery when we ride through Arizona:  tall pine forests, wide open pastureland, scrub brush, multicolored rock formations, and even irrigated farmland.

We stopped for lunch in St. John's, the county seat of Apache County along the Little Colorado River. We saw the sign for El Camino's restaurant and were glad we went a couple of blocks out of our way to enjoy the friendly staff, quick service, and great Mexican food.

Our original plan was to ride through the Lukachukai Mountains, down into the Red Valley in New Mexico, and past Shiprock, the 'winged rock' sacred to the Navajo. We turned right when we should have stayed straight, and enjoyed riding through Narbona Pass, which winds through the caldera of an extinct volcano.

At the top of the 8,721' pass the temperature dropped to 77 degrees, and then rose sharply to the high 90's and flirted with 100 degrees as we descended the winding road with 100 mile views across New Mexico. We ended our 442 mile ride 9 hours after we started, spending the night in Farmington, NM.

Tomorrow we head for Colorado and the Rocky Mountains!