Saturday, July 9, 2016

Ending our trip with a familiar ride through the high desert in Arizona

The last day of a motorcycle trip is always a bit sad. We've been gone for 17 days, and on the BMW for 12 of those days yet we both would happily continue our trip. We both have work waiting for us, so we're doing the responsible thing and heading home.

We spent last night in Kingman, AZ, at a hotel near this one on the original Route 66. Kingman was founded in 1882 as a railroad siding for the newly constructed Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. There are many museums, historic buildings, and signs promoting Route 66 in Kingman, and it's fun to spot as many of them as possible.

We headed south on Route 93, a continuation of our southern ride yesterday from Las Vegas. We took the scenic route to our home in Prescott by turning onto Route 97 north, a winding 2-lane paved road with roller coaster sections that dip down into washes that flood during heavy rains. It's monsoon season now, but the skies are clear and sunny today with no threat of flooding.

We turned right onto the Bagdad Road into Kirkland, watching the saguaro cactus cover the hills and reach toward the sky. It's too cold for saguaro to grow in Prescott, and we like to spot the last northernmost saguaro on each trip, knowing that we're close to home.

We continued winding our way north, turning onto Iron Springs Road in Kirkland that takes us into Prescott. The past 2 weeks we've traveled on unfamiliar highways, looking for unexpected sights and learning about the areas we're traveling through. Today we're enjoying riding a familiar route, not needing a map or GPS to guide us home.

Over the past 17 days we've traveled 4,100 miles through 10 western states. The only western state we missed was Utah, and only because we broke down in the Nevada desert yesterday and had to change our travel plans. We're already planning a shorter trip to Utah, just because we can.

Unexpected events in Nevada

We weren't expecting to sit by the side of road in Nevada, waiting for a tow for the BMW. We also weren't expecting to spend the night in Kingman, Arizona - our original destination was St. George, Utah. We've learned that being prepared for the unexpected is key to motorcycle travel, and today was a really good example of being prepared.

To avoid the heat at the end of the day, we started a bit earlier this morning from Tonopah, NV. We headed east out of Tonopah, a one-time silver mining town, on Route 6. The road headed straight for 18 miles through a desolate valley with no trees and very little vegetation until it started twisting and climbing into the Sierra Nevada mountains, then once again was a straight shot through a valley until we reached the next mountainous area. We reached Warm Springs at the intersection of Route 6 and NV 375, which once was a thriving stagecoach stop and now is only empty buildings.

We continued east on Nevada 375, which in 1996 was designated the Extraterrestrial Highway because of many UFO sightings along this road, which is near to Area 51. We didn't see any UFOs, but we did spot small herds of cattle and horses, sometimes far off in the high desert valleys or other times grazing right next to the road. This is open-range area with no fences, and we were lucky to not see cattle standing in the middle of the road.

Once again the road stretched out for miles in front of us as we traveled through the desert valleys, then wound its way up and down the next mountain range.

About half-way down this 98-mile highway is the town of Rachel, which according to its website has a population of 98 humans and an unknown number of aliens. Mike was riding conservatively today, since operating gas stations are far apart. Tonopah is 110 miles from Rachel - which used to have a gas station - and 50 miles from Ash Springs, the closest gas station to town.

There are many signs to watch out for low-flying aircraft, and we spotted large radar installations on some of the highest peaks. Yesterday afternoon and this morning we were riding near several large military aircraft and bombing training and testing facilities.

We spotted bright blue water in the distance, a rarity in this part of the southwest. This is the Key Pittman National Wildlife Preserve, developed to preserve habitat for wildlife and birds.

Until this point, our trip was going as planned. Mike turned right onto Route 93 since the closest gas station was only 5 miles. After we filled up the gas tank, we continued right when actually we should have turned left according to our original route plan. It's a good thing we turned right, because not far down the road the charging indicator light came on, and then systems started shutting down:  first the ABS system, the speedometer, and finally the console cluster.  Finally everything stopped working, and as we were headed downhill we coasted as far as we could.

We were about 30 miles from Las Vegas on a fairly busy 2-lane highway, and luckily had good cellphone service. Mike called BMWMOA roadside assistance, two people stopped and gave us water, and within an hour we were sitting in the tow truck, headed to the BMW dealer in Las Vegas.

Stu from Stu's Motorcycle Towing has a nifty hydraulic motorcycle platform that lowered flat down to the ground so Mike could roll the BMW onto the platform. Then the platform lifted back into the rear of the truck. Fascinating!

The guys at BMW of Las Vegas were fantastic. They gave us a local suggestion for lunch at BJ's Cocktail Lounge with fantastic service and food, and took the bike right in and within another hour it was repaired and we were on our way. By now it was 2:30pm, the hottest time of day, so we decided to skip St. George and headed instead to Kingman, AZ which is only 3 hours from home. The temperature peaked at 117 degrees before we got out of busy Las Vegas stop-and-go traffic, and settled to a more reasonable yet stifling 105 degrees on Route 93 south to Kingman.

We arrived in Kingman, hot, sweaty, tired, and thankful that Mike has excellent roadside assistance, two friendly travelers stopped to make sure we were OK, Stu was quick and friendly in picking up the motorcycle, and BMW of Las Vegas was so helpful and quick to repair our bike.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Lonely roads in California and Nevada

Today marks the second week of our motorcycle trip from home in Prescott, Arizona to Denver to visit our kids; through Wyoming and into Montana to visit friends Sharon and Chris; west through Idaho and a 2-day stop in Walla Walla, Washington; continuing west to Portland, Oregon where we spent 3 days; and now heading home along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway through Oregon and California, finally turning east into Nevada. 10 days on the BMW has shown us a wide variety of landscapes, small towns, large cities, and twisting highways.

Today we started our trip in Chester, California on Lake Almanor, a large reservoir with the first dam built in 1914. Chester reminds us of small towns in the Adirondacks in upstate New York, where year-round outdoor sports and activities drive the local economy.

Yesterday we ended our ride on California 36, enjoying the twisties and climbs up and down the mountains to Chester. Today Route 36 heading east from Chester is a straight road running through wide open meadows, pine forests that have been recently logged, and a short section twisting through the mountains.

Southeast of Susanville we picked up US route 395, heading southeast to Reno, NV through irrigated farmland with views of the Sierra Nevada mountain range to the west.

We rode through Reno, NV on Interstate 80 east for about 40 miles, turning off onto Route 50, which roughly follows the path of the Pony Express in 1860-1861. Route 50 is known as the "Loneliest Highway" for good reason:  the towns are tiny and spread far apart, and there is almost no traffic. We zoomed through 4 mile and 8 mile flats, sandy areas that spread for miles on both sides of the road.

We turned south onto Nevada route 316 in Middlegate Station, one of the Pony Express stops. This road had even less traffic than Route 50, with only one small, dusty town with mostly empty buildings along the 63 mile stretch we traveled. Gabbs is the home of the only magnesia mine in the United States, yet the town is considered a semi-ghost town.

The one gas station in Gabbs featured a broken-down building with no glass in the windows and 2 non-functioning gas pumps. We've been in this situation before, and Mike slowed down from 80 mph to 55 mph to conserve gas, and when we reached Route 95 we turned north instead of south to find the closest gas station. We made it to the gas station in Hawthorne with 17 miles to spare.

We noticed hundreds of dirt and grass-covered bunkers on both sides of the highway around Hawthorne, and later discovered that this is the site of the Hawthorne Army Depot, a 14,236 acre facility that was originally built in 1930 and today has over 2,000 ammunition storage bunkers with over 600,000 square feet of storage space.

As we headed south with a full tank of gas, the temperature climbed into the mid-90's even at 5,000- 6,000' elevation. A sign just outside Hawthorne stated "no services for 100 miles", another indication of how remote this area is.

We passed a few empty buildings covered with graffiti, remnants of isolated towns that are gradually disappearing into the desert until we rode into Tonopah, our destination for the night. Tonopah began with the accidental discovery of gold and silver in 1900 by a prospector named Jim Butler. Jim's burro got loose overnight, and when he found it the next morning he picked up a rock to throw at it. He noticed the rock was heavier than expected, and stumbled upon the second-richest silver strike in Nevada.

The 408 miles we traveled today seem remote and desolate to us; imagine how it must have felt to pioneers and prospectors in the late 1800's. I'm glad we have a BMW motorcycle instead of a burro!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Pacific coast, redwoods, and pine forests mean twisty motorcycle roads

Today's ride was all about the weather - and the trees. We started in Gold Beach, CA at 8:30am riding through a misty fog that rolled off the Pacific Ocean and drifted down from the tops of the trees, leaving the road clear but obscuring our long-distance views over the ocean.

The temperature was in the low 50's all morning. Periodically the sun would start to burn off some of the mist, then we would round a bend in the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway and the fog rolled in again.

We soon crossed into California, and 101 veered inland through flat farmland and fields of lilies grown in this part of the country known as the Easter Lily capital of the world. Just south of Crescent City we rode into the Redwood National Forest, home to the tallest trees in the world. It's really difficult to take photos that capture these trees that grow to about 370' tall.

Route 101 twists and turns, winding its way through the forests, then along the rocky coast, and back into the forest. There are plenty of passing lanes, giving Mike the opportunity to zoom past slower moving trucks and campers so that we had open road in front of us for much of the ride.

For a minute or two the rays of the sun broke through the mist and scattered through the tops of the redwoods, creating a dazzling display of nature's power.

We turned off the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway in McKinleyville, heading east on CA 299, the Trinity Highway. The temperature rose from 60 degrees to 70 degrees in 20 minutes, and continued up to 80 degrees in another 25 minutes as the sun came out and we rode away from the ocean. CA 299 is another twisty, turning road that climbs up and down through the high ridges and steep valleys. We climbed two summits before lunch:  Lord Ellis Summit at 2263', named for a miner who petitioned the state to improve a mule road through this area; and Berry Summit at 2871'.

We know the road is going to be even more fun when we see signs like this:

We stopped for lunch in Willow Creek, at 610' on the Trinity River. We spent the next couple of hours riding along the river, over more summits, and through the never-ending forests.

We passed several construction sites along the road, stopping for 25 minutes at one point where we got off the motorcycle, stretched, and counted 115 cars going past us before it was our turn on the one-lane road.

A few twisty miles later, we rode into Redding where the temperature hit 101 degrees - a 50 degree increase from when we started our ride this morning. After a beautiful ride along the coast, through redwood forests, and on little-traveled roads, it was hot and frustrating to sit at stoplight after stoplight and ride for a few busy miles south on Interstate 5 before we turned east on CA 36. The road starts out straight, cutting through the Tehama State Wildlife Area with yellow-brown fields with periodic views of snow-capped mountains in the far distance.

Then the road really becomes fun:  twisting and turning as it climbs from 500' elevation in Redding to Morgan Summit at 5768' where the temperature mercifully dropped to the low 70's. Route 36 snakes through the Lassen National Forest, a diverse area formed by the granite of the Sierra Nevada, the lava of the Cascades and the Modoc Plateau, and sagebrush of the Great Basin.

We saw the turn for the Lassen Volcanic National Park, but will have to save this trip for another day when we can experience the hot water areas where Mt. Lassen last erupted in 1915.

We ended our trip today in Chester, a town of about 2000 people nestled in the forest on the edge of Lake Almanor. Don't miss dinner at the Burger Depot where the friendly staff, train decor, a model train that runs around the room on a ledge near the ceiling, and good-tasting food made our evening meal a delight.

We experienced a wide range of scenery and temperatures during our 367 mile ride today, with 3,148 miles total on this trip - so far.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Riding the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway

After spending the weekend in Portland, Oregon, we started on our trip home today. To get out of Portland quickly, we took 405 to Interstate 5 south, turning onto 99 West past several of the more than 400 wineries in the Willamette Valley wine region. The traffic thinned out and as we rode through rolling hills in western Oregon.

We started the day with cool temperatures in the low 60's and overcast skies, which was a welcome change from the hot days we've experienced so far with temperatures in the 90's. Part of Route 18 winds through the Van Duzer Scenic Corridor, where the 2-lane road twists and curves up and down through the pine forest.

When we turned onto 101 South, the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway, the sun came out and the clouds vanished, but the winds off the Pacific kept the temperatures in the 60's. Route 101 stretches for 363 miles along the coast of Oregon, but we bypassed the most northern portion, starting in Lincoln City where we were excited to see our first views of the Pacific Ocean.

Route 101 hugs the coastline, sometimes on top of high cliffs, and at other times heading inland winding through the pine forests. We stopped at one of many scenic lookouts to get an even better view of the waves crashing onto the rocks.

We crossed several bridges on Route 101, with one of the most beautiful the Yaquina Bay Bridge, built in 1936.

Much of this area is thickly forested, with Route 101 twisting through the Siuslaw National Forest and the Cape Perpetua scenic area that begins at Waldport and extends for 40 miles south.

We stopped in Florence for lunch, and as soon as we were south of town were stopped for 45 minutes by a paving project that had traffic backed up for miles. I counted 291 cars waiting for their turn to pass through the one-lane construction area. This area is part of the Oregon Dunes, where the sand dunes can be 500' tall and stretch 2.5 miles inland.

101 Winds further inland, running between Coos Bay and the Pacific Ocean. Coos Bay is home to 6 marine terminals able to handle deep-draft, ocean-going ships. Many of the ships carry wood products from the local forestry industry.

We ended our trip today once again riding along the coast, watching the spray from the crashing waves fill the air with mist to our right as the road hugs the cliffs to our left.

We're spending the night in Gold Beach, where had a fantastic dinner at Spinner's Seafood Steak and Chophouse, and ended the evening watching the sun set from the beach outside our hotel.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Riding west along the Columbia River

We started today in Walla Walla, Washington, riding west on Route 12 through farmland and low, rolling hills. After 35 miles we turned onto Route 730, and the rest of the day followed the Columbia River to Portland, Oregon.

The Columbia River at this point is also called Lake Wallula due to the dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers that create the 26,000 acre lake. I was expecting to see a river, not a wide lake that stretched as far as we could see.

We crossed the Columbia on Route 82, and then quickly turned onto Oregon Route 14, a 2-lane paved road that closely follows the river shoreline and is part of the Lewis and Clark scenic byway system we've been following since we left Bozeman, Montana earlier in the week.

The landscape surrounding the Columbia gradually changed from dry, rounded hills without trees to steep rocky cliffs, and finally to heavily forested cliffs as we continued to head west.

Along the way we almost constantly saw hundreds of windmills in Oregon and Washington, sometimes far away and a couple of times close enough that we could watch the three large arms turning slowly.

The mile-wide Columbia gorge at almost sea level creates strong thermal winds that power the windmills. We felt the headwind on the BMW, and watched people enjoy riding the winds using brightly-colored parasails and windsurfers.

Train tracks also closely follow both sides of the Columbia, sometimes right next to the road. At one point Mike counted 115 train cars plus 3 engines as we caught up to - and then passed - the train heading west.

We saw 4 dams on the Columbia that create wider 'lakes'. The dams on the Columbia and other rivers in the Northwest provide 40% of the total hydropower in the US. We stopped to look out over the river at the McNary Lock and Dam, opened in 1954.

There is very little car traffic, and almost no truck traffic on Washington Route 14 because of the 7 tunnels along the way built in 1933-1937.

The power of the wind, enormity of the Columbia River, huge scale of the windmills, and the twisting, winding highway that follows the river were awesome. The most majestic views today, however, were of Mt. Jefferson, at 10,495' the  second highest point in Oregon in the Cascade Mountain Range. It was named in 1806 by Lewis and Clark for President Jefferson.

We crossed over the Columbia for the final time on the Bridge of Gods, a 1,131' long toll bridge built in 1926. The bridge has steel decking that makes Mike ride extremely cautiously because of the potential for the steel to be slippery. Lewis and Clark had to portage around this area because of the Cascade Rapids.

Oregon Scenic Route 30, an old, narrow 2-lane paved highway winds through the dense forests on the south side of the Columbia. It's a gorgeous drive with several waterfalls visible from the road. Unfortunately, on a Saturday afternoon during the 4th of July holiday weekend, we were stuck in miles-long traffic jams as people jockeyed for limited parking spaces.

We ended the day in riding through busy Portland city traffic, reminding us why we much prefer little-traveled, 2-lane roads on the motorcycle. We'll stay in Portland through the weekend, then start our trip back home to Arizona.