Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Riding through the prairie

We started the 3rd day of our cross-country motorcycle trip in Clayton NM, in the northeastern corner of the state. We started on U.S. 56 east, riding through the Kiowa and Rita Blanca National Grasslands that straddle the New Mexico and Oklahoma state line.

As we were looking out over the sea of grass to the far-off horizon, an Oklahoma state trooper pulled us over for riding 7 mph over the speed limit. The friendly and professional trooper gave Mike a warning, and he and his partner told us about the area and how their families have ranched and farmed here for generations.

I took advantage of the time to take photos of the BMW and the buffalo grass growing along the side of the narrow highway.

Oklahoma was the first of the 19 states we plan to ride into so that we've been on the BMW in all of the lower 48 states, and soon after Oklahoma we rode into Elkhart, Kansas, knocking off our second new state. We then headed south on OK 95 through the panhandle, crossing into Texas at Texhoma and our third state.

We were mesmerized by hundreds of windmills that spread across the horizon. Texas has more windfarms than any other state, which fits with the saying that 'everything is bigger in Texas'.

Continuing with the 'everything is bigger in Texas' theme, as we were riding south on TX 136 we passed by a huge cattle feed yard, and then what seemed like hundreds more windmills.

As we rode south on TX 270 we left the flat prairie grasslands behind and wound our way down a 10% grade into Palo Duro Canyon.

Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the United States, behind only the Grand Canyon. It's 120 miles long and 6 miles wide on average, with the widest section topping out at 20 miles. In the 1890's William Hamblen created a rough road through the canyon using old Native American Indian trails. The road was finally finished in 1928 and paved in 1954.

We stopped at the top of the canyon to get a better view, and took advantage of the picnic area to take some additional photos.

Energized, we got back on the BMW to finish up today's 366 mile trip through more flat prairies to our destination for today, Childress, TX. Like so many towns in this part of the country, it was established because of the railroad and it continues to be a busy commercial hub.

The majority of the time today we rode on straight 2-lane paved roads with grasslands, ranches, and huge agriculture fields on both sides of the road. Infrequently we rode through small towns of less than 500 people where the main streets were lined with mostly closed brick buildings. Days like this demonstrate the vastness of the United States, and the resilience of the people who live in these quiet open spaces.

Tomorrow we continue to ride east through West Texas and into Oklahoma, looking for more adventures.  Here is today's route

Monday, July 30, 2018

Twisties and an unexpected trip through Colorado

Day 2 of our cross-country motorcycle trip started in Farmington, NM. We left at 6:45am to beat the heat and the potential rain/hail - and neither one happened. We stopped to put on the warmer jacket liners as the temperature dropped down from 68 to 65 degrees, and then it kept on dropping to a low of 51 at one point.

We rode east from Farmington on U.S. 64 east, climbing a high plateau. There was very little traffic, but we saw plenty of cattle - some right next to or even in the middle of the highway - and deer.

When we started in the morning Mike reminded me that U.S. 64 twists and turns quite a bit, and it would be easy to miss a turn. In Chama, we missed our turn and instead of continuing east on U.S. 64 we headed northeast on what turned out to be Colorado 17. It was an absolutely beautiful ride, climbing through two passes in the San Juan Mountains that topped out at over 10,000':  Cumbres Pass and La Manga Pass.

When we saw the sign that we were entering Colorado, we knew we had missed a turn. The scenery was so gorgeous and the twisties and hairpin turns so much fun that we kept heading east until we reached the intersection of U.S. 285 South where we stopped to double check the map and a photo opp with the engine of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, a narrow gauge RR line constructed in 1881 to support mining.

After a quick ride on U.S. 285 South we turned east again on U.S. 64 toward Taos, riding through wide-open valleys with distant views of the mountains.

U.S. 64 winds directly through Taos, colonized in 1615 by the Spanish and today a quirky tourist town in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.

We continued east on U.S. 64, part of the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway roads that are made for a BMW motorcycle.

We saw numerous signs for the Philmont Scout Ranch, 214 square miles of high adventure training for Boy Scouts that started operating in 1938. Unfortunately, the Morris Creek Fire started in this area the end of June, destroying over 1600 acres and leaving the danger of flooding and mudslides in its path.

We also rode by signs for the EX UU Ranch, established in 1848 and today the largest private ranch in the country with over 180,000 acres.

The scope and expanse of the wild countryside in this part of northern New Mexico is hard to wrap my mind around. We rode for miles without seeing any signs of humans except for the paved road we followed, reveling in the quiet landscape.

We turned onto NM 21 in Cimarron, then east onto U.S. 56 in Springer, riding the final 85 miles through wide open prairies.

We're spending the night in Clayton, NM, a town of about 3000 people established as a water stop for the railroad in the 1880's and today the county seat. President Teddy Roosevelt passed through Clayton in 1905, thanking the local men who volunteered in his regiment. The Hotel Eklund was built in 1898, and our third story was added in 1905.

We ended our day with a walk for Mike and run for me through the town followed by dinner in the historic saloon of the Hotel Eklund, where we saw the bullet holes in the ceiling above the bar that were fired by an enthusiastic customer when the telegraph operator brought news that Warren Harding was elected president.

We rode 397 miles today, and the odometer on the BMW that we purchased the end of March rolled over to 3000 miles. Stay tuned for where we'll be when the odometer rolls over to 4000 miles! Tomorrow we continue east, riding through 3 new states:  Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  Here is the route we have taken so far

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Cross country BMW motorcycle trip begins!

Mike and I have been planning a cross-country trip on our BMW motorcycle for months. The goal is to ride the BMW in every one of the lower 48 states. Because we lived in Vermont before we moved to Arizona 5 years ago and we love traveling on our BMW, we only have 19 states left. However, these states are spread throughout the country. We're starting our trip on the southern route:  heading east from Arizona through the southern states all the way to Florida. Then we turn north through the east coast states and stopping in Vermont for almost a week to visit family and friends before we head west to eventually ride through the northern states. After South Dakota, we plan to ride through Colorado to visit our oldest son and then finally back home to Arizona.

We'll be gone 5-6 weeks depending on weather and whim. It's the first time we haven't had a set return date on a trip, and we're loving the freedom of taking the trip one day at a time.

Today was our first day of the trip, riding on familiar roads from Arizona to Farmington, NM.

After a short ride north on I-17, we turned east on AZ 260, riding through pine forests leading to the top of the Mogollon Rim. The benefit of starting out at 6am on a Sunday morning is that we saw very little traffic, and most of the day had the roads to ourselves - except for some of the local wildlife. Just before we turned north onto AZ 87, we saw two large female elk grazing in the forest just off the side of the highway.

The landscape changes from forest to high desert on AZ 87 north to Winslow, with long-distance views to the shadowy mountains to the north and west. Winslow is famous for being part of the Eagle's song "Take it Easy" where there is a statue 'standing on the corner in Winslow Arizona' and it's on the old Route 66 that crossed the U.S. from Chicago to Los Angeles.

From Winslow, we continued north on AZ 87 through the Navajo and Hopi reservations where we saw more horses and sheep than cars.

At Second Mesa on the Hopi Reservation we turned east on AZ 264, and then north on AZ 191 where we stopped for lunch in Chinle. The Navajo Nation covers 27,000 square miles, and the smaller 2,500 square mile Hopi Reservation is surrounded completely by the Navajo Nation. Riding through both of these reservations the miles slide by quickly because of the lack of traffic and people, plus we make great time on the lightly traveled roads.

4 years ago we discovered Indian Route 13 that winds through the Chuska Mountains between Lukachukai in Arizona and the Red Valley in New Mexico. It's one of our favorite motorcycle roads because of the steep, twisting, winding road that runs over the Buffalo Pass - our first mountain pass of our trip.

After crossing in New Mexico we rode past Shiprock, the remainder of a volcanic eruption 30 million years ago. The prominent rock formation that rises 1500' above the desert is sacred to the Navajo.

From Shiprock we left the peaceful 2-lane highways and headed north on the busier 4-lane divided highway US 491 to the town of Shiprock, then east on US 64 along the San Juan River into Farmington, our stop for the night.

Starting our cross-country trip on familiar roads gave us the opportunity to ease into the routine of motorcycle travel. Tomorrow we continue east riding through the mountains of northern New Mexico. More steep and twisty roads are in store - our favorite!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

BMW ride on a hot day for pie

We decided the hot weather - temperatures in the high 90's today in Prescott - wasn't going to stop us from riding the BMW. The question was:  where to go? Flagstaff, at 7000' feet elevation is cooler, but we didn't have enough time today. Going south to lower elevations where the temperatures would be well over 100 degrees simply wasn't option. We decided to ride on familiar roads to a new destination:  pie in Wikieup.

Bright, Arizona blue skies and twisty 2-lane paved roads with almost no traffic made this a zen-like ride. Usually we see several groups of motorcycles on this route, but today we saw only one other bike, a Harley, which we quickly passed.

We headed west on Iron Springs road out of Prescott, riding through the Prescott National Forest. We're currently in Stage II fire restrictions which basically mean we can't do anything that might cause a spark:  campfires, charcoal fires, outdoor smoking, operating equipment like chainsaws, and even our town's 4th of July fireworks have been cancelled. All the vegetation is various shades of brown, with a few green bushes scattered around as a reminder that once the monsoon rains start, the desert will come to life again.

Iron Springs road becomes Yavapai County Road 10, and we periodically ride across cattle guards. Instead of miles of fences to keep cattle off the road, cattle guards are basically a series of metal pipes laid across the road over a ditch. When cattle (or people with smaller feet, like me) try to cross, their legs fall into the openings between the pipes and they are stuck. Cattle learn not to cross cattle guards, and I've learned to walk around them.

In Kirkland we turn right onto AZ 96 west, with the highway snaking through the mountains. It seems like we would be climbing higher in elevation, but actually Prescott is at 5500' and we descended through Skull Valley at 4260', Kirkland at 3900' and Hillside at 3850'. A few miles past Hillside we turned onto AZ-97 south for about 14 miles. This is one of our favorite motorcycle roads, reminding us of a roller coaster as we zoom down hills through areas marked 'do not enter when flooded', then zip back up the next hill. There are no straight stretches of road here, and we see only one car over the 14 miles of up and down, twisty fun.

AZ-97 takes us to US-93, a 4-lane divided highway which is the main road between Las Vegas and Phoenix. Luckily we only have about 30 miles to ride through the Big Sandy Valley in the Mohave Desert to Wikieup, a town of less than 200 residents. Wikieup is a Mohave word for 'shelter' or 'home'. In the winter, hundreds of RVs make their home here, but today it was 102 degrees and there were no RVs in sight.

We stopped at the Cool Water Cafe, part of the Hidden Oasis RV Park for lunch, sort of on purpose. I had heard that there was a great restaurant in Wikieup with amazing pie, and when Mike googled restaurants in Wikieup he found the Cool Water Cafe advertising pie and thought this was it. After all, how many restaurants can there be in the tiny town of Wikieup? (apparently there are 5). I saw a sign for Luchia's 4 miles down the road and realized THIS was the restaurant I'd heard of. It was hot, we were hungry, and the Cool Water Cafe had pie. We made a quick decision to stop and enjoyed our lunch of a sub for Mike and panini for me, with homemade blackberry pie for dessert. We were the only people in the Cafe and chatted with the owner about the numerous solar-powered bobble heads on the window sill next to our table as she made our lunch.

After cooling off with ice cold water and lemonade in the air-conditioned cafe, we retraced our route, climbing from 2000' elevation in Wikieup back to the cooler 5500' elevation in Prescott.

At one point today Mike said it felt like he was riding through hot air powered by a hair dryer, and I said it felt more like a convection oven. We're not about to let the heat stop us from enjoying the BMW and the Arizona countryside. Especially when there is pie involved.