Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Scenic byways and lost highways on the BMW motorcycle

What a gorgeous ride we had today! We love riding on roads with little to no traffic and jaw-dropping scenery, and today's ride had it all. We left Grand Junction at 6:30am both to beat the heat and to avoid late-afternoon monsoon weather. Summer is monsoon season in the West, with thunderstorms, hail, and often torrential downpours that cause low-lying areas to flood. Definitely not a good time to be on a motorcycle!

We started our day riding south on CO 141, the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Byway. We were on this road a couple of years ago heading into Grand Junction, and we weren't disappointed with the trip in the opposite direction.

People lived in these canyons and river valleys on the Colorado Plateau at least 10,000 years before the arrival of the first Europeans - the Spanish. Miners came here in the late 1800's looking for gold, copper and other minerals, and today there are a few, isolated ranches scattered across the valleys.

I spotted a ruined sandstone building to the side of the highway, and later discovered that it's the Driggs Mansion, a one-story sandstone house built around 1918 by Italian stonemasons, using local stone from nearby canyons. Today it's on the Colorado State Register of Historic Properties.

Soon after we passed the Driggs Mansion, our odometer turned over to 49,000 miles. We reached 48,000 miles on the first day of this trip, and have a few hundred more miles to go before we reach home. 

The Dolores River runs through the canyon, with rock cliffs that tower over 1000' above us on both sides of the 2-lane road.

We stopped to learn more about the Hanging Flume, a 10-mile long engineering feat built in the late 1800's to funnel water from the Delores River to provide enough pressure for hydraulic gold mining for the Lone Tree Mining Company. The wooden trestles cling to the rock canyon walls hundreds of feet above the river below, and originally supported wooden boxes to channel the water. 

Look closely at the right side of the canyon wall, and you'll see what's left of the original Hanging Flume. Here's a close-up:

We continued curving and twisting our way south on CO 141 through more canyons until we reached Naturita, a small town of around 650 people where CO 141 turned into a wide, open valley, leaving the canyons behind.

This section of CO 141 is marked by Butler Motorcycle Maps as a 'Lost Highway', meaning it's remote, often without cell service or stops for food or gas, and very lightly traveled. We loved it! At one point I saw a sign stating "Disappointment Valley" and I could easily understand how someone might be highly disappointed moving here.

CO 141 ends at US 491, on the northern edge of Canyon of the Ancients National Memorial. We headed northwest, quickly crossing into Utah and stopped in Monticello for lunch. Much of this part of the West was settled by Mormon pioneers in the late 1880's, and from 1948-1960 it was the site of several uranium mines. Today there are 27 windmills outside town.

We turned south onto US 191, riding through small towns on the dry Colorado Plateau, and encountering a mama cow and her calf running alongside the highway on the Ute reservation. Most of the day we rode through open range land, with the possibility of cattle or horses near or on the highway - and the cattle have the right-of-way!

Our last turn of the day was onto US 160, riding past Carson Mesa and Comb Ridge toward Kayenta in the Navajo Nation. 

We rode 288 miles in about 8 hours, taking our time to enjoy the changing scenery, bright blue skies, and the highway mostly to ourselves. Tomorrow we'll end our week-long journey, and hopefully miss the monsoons!

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