Wednesday, August 12, 2020

3400 miles, 17 days, 4 states on the BMW

It's bittersweet whenever a motorcycle ride comes to an end, and especially so after a fantastic 17-day, 3400 miles in four in our favorite states:  Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. We planned a short, 96 mile ride today to beat the heat (and have time to do laundry) from Flagstaff to Prescott, Arizona.

Flagstaff sits at about 7,000' elevation and the temperature was in the mid 50's when we hopped on the BMW at about 7am. We headed south on I-70, riding through the tall pine forests that surround Flagstaff. As we continued south, the elevation dropped and the landscape changed to shorter pine trees in less dense forest as the temperature climbed into the low 70's.

I-70 skirts Sedona, but we could see some of the famous red rock formations off in the distance.

By the time we reached the Verde Valley about 55 miles south of Flagstaff, we had dropped to around 3,000' elevation and the temperature was in the high 80's. We no longer saw stands of tall pine forests, but rather scrubby chaparral and even cactus, reminding us that much of Arizona is high, dry, hot desert.

Thankfully the Verde Valley is the lowest, hottest point on our trip, and when we started climbing the temperature cooled into the mid 70's again. When we turned onto US 169 we were only 30 miles from Prescott and the dry grassland told us that the monsoons which provide much needed rain in the summer had not been active the previous 2 weeks while we were away.

As we rode along the familiar highway this morning, I thought about everything we had seen during our trip: mountain passes in the Rockies above 10,000', cold mountain reservoirs, rivers and streams that actually contain water (unlike most of the rivers and streams in Arizona that only have water after a rain or sometimes during snow melt), miles of riding without seeing another vehicle, a couple of fabulous dinners and times when we couldn't find a restaurant and resorted to an energy bar for our meal, a soak in the mineral hot springs in Saratoga Wyoming, a weekend with our sons in Silverthorne Colorado, hairpin turns, twisting mountain roads, long straight highways that stretch almost to the horizon. We're ready to head out again!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Riding the BMW from Colorado into Arizona

 Today's ride took us from the lush green mountains around Pagosa Springs, Colorado into the wide-open desert in northern Arizona over 370 gorgeous miles.

It was fun to see a hot air balloon as we started our ride today heading west on US 160. We rode past Chimney Rock National Monument at the southern edge of the San Juan Mountains, where over 200 homes and ceremonial buildings of the Ancestral Puebloans are preserved.

160 West took us through Durango and Cortez through the Southern Ute Reservation and the Ute Mountain Reservation, reminders that people made this area their home for thousands of years before Europeans arrived. We reached 3,000 miles for our trip - so far - in Cortez.

After riding through the San Juan mountains outside Durango, we rode past Mesa Verde National Park, established in 1906 to preserve more sites of the Ancestral Puebloans, including 600 cliff dwellings. The park towers at 6,000'-8,500' above the surrounding valley.

Whenever we head home from a motorcycle trip north of us, we have to ride through the Navajo Reservation which covers 27,000 acres in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. That's slightly larger than the entire state of Tennessee! Small towns are few and far between in the Navajo Nation, and with COVID restrictions there are many closures. We make sure to fill up the BMW with fuel before we get onto the Nation and not stop at all, if possible. Today we stopped in Cortez which sits at 6,200' elevation in the Montezuma Valley in southwestern Colorado. As we headed south on US 160, we left the green mountains behind us as we entered the desert. For the next part of our trip, the only green we would see are areas that are irrigated.

Unlike riding the twisting, curving roads through the Rocky Mountains the past few days, today's ride was on straight roads which allowed us to zoom along the highway at faster speeds. We crossed the San Juan River which marks the boundary between the Ute Mountain Reservation and the Navajo Reservation and then past Four Corners where the states of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico meet.

The landscape changed again as we rode into Kayenta, a town of about 5,000 people in the Navajo Reservation. The red rock cliffs and buttes seem to change color and even shape with the changing light from sun to cloudy skies, making this a mesmerizing ride. 

US Route 160 ends at US 89, where we turned south toward Flagstaff, Arizona, our stop for the night. The temperature rose to 99.5 degrees and thankfully a partly cloudy sky kept it a bit cooler as we rode toward the San Francisco Peaks.

Flagstaff sits at about 7,000' elevation so the temperature dropped into the low 80's. Tomorrow is a short 2 hour ride home, and the end of our 17 day motorcycle trip.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Our last full day on the BMW in Colorado

 After a weekend with our sons in Silverthorne, Colorado, we started our trip toward home in Arizona today, our 13th day on the BMW. After a short ride on I-70 West, we turned south on Colorado Route 91, riding through the snow-peaked Rocky Mountains.

We climbed through Fremont Pass at 11,318' where we crossed the Continental Divide once again. The highway up to the top of the pass was very easy riding with gentle, sweeping turns. The descending route was more fun with tighter corners, but no hairpin turns.

Leadville started off as a gold and silver mining town, and mining continues here today with Climax Molybdenum Company, a subsidiary of Freeport-McMoRan continuing operations in this area. The National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum is in downtown Leadville, and while we didn't have time to stop today, we would love to come back to Leadville at 10,151' elevation and spend some time.

We turned south on US 24 in Leadville, riding alongside the Arkansas River that starts in Leadville where we glimpsed rafters and kayakers enjoying the August day as we followed the sweeping turns of the highway.

This part of US 24 is the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Byway, and we rode north through here a few days ago.

The Collegiate Peaks are several mountains, some higher than 14,000', named for famous East Coast universities such as Yale, Princeton and Harvard. We made a quick lunch stop in Buena Vista, which we learned is pronounced "Booyna-Vista" to rhyme with 'beautiful'. We continued south on US 285 through the Upper Arkansas Valley with shadowy mountains to the east and west as we rode on the straight highway through irrigated agricultural fields. 

The landscape changed as we passed Poncha Springs, climbing up and over Poncha Pass at 9,025' elevation, one of the lowest elevation passes in the Rocky Mountains. 

We were now riding through the where the Rio Grande River is born. The valley lies at above 7,000' elevation and is 74 miles wide, giving us long-distance views across the irrigated fields to the mountains as we zoomed along the straight 2-lane highway.

We had one more pass to cross before we ended the day's ride, and after we turned west onto US 160 we once again we crossed the Continental Divide over Wolf Creek Pass at 10,857' elevation.

The approach to Wolf Creek Pass is sweeping, gentle turns and then the descent heading west featured tighter turns and steeper downhills. We came down into the Upper San Juan Basin as we rode into Pagosa Springs where we are spending the night.

Today's ride featured high, snowy mountains with twisting roads; and straight highways through irrigated agricultural land. It's our last full day in Colorado as tomorrow we'll cross into New Mexico and Arizona as we head home.

Friday, August 7, 2020

High mountain passes and wide open high elevation valleys - fun in Colorado on the BMW

 We left Colorado Springs a bit later than usual this morning for a shorter day's ride to Silverthorne, Colorado, retracing yesterday's route at the beginning on US 24 west through Manitou Spring to Woodland Park where we picked up Colorado 67 north to Deckers. We went from heavy, 4-lane traffic on US 24 to a quiet, sweeping ride on 67 which is much more to our liking. We turned north onto County Route 126 and followed two motorcycles for a few miles, enjoying the twists and turns through the high elevation forest.

The quiet ride ended when we turned south onto busy US 285, following traffic through the mountains. This highway follows the path of a former railroad line from Denver, and at times we saw the South Platte River at the base of the mountains.

US 285 winds up 10,000' elevation Kenosha Pass where the Colorado Trail, a 567 mile hiking trail between Denver and Durango, crosses the highway.

The descent down the western side of the Pass is much more steep, with some hairpin turns to keep it fun. At the bottom of the pass we entered South Park, a wide valley at around 9,000' elevation that is surrounded by steep, tall, snowy mountain peaks.

This is ranching country, and while it was a warm 74 degrees today in early August, we imagined what it would be like in this area in the middle of winter where 145" of snow is the average for the year.

We turned north on Colorado 9 in Fairplay, founded in 1858 during the height of the Pike's Peak gold rush. Fairplay sits at 9,953' elevation and at around 800 people, it's the largest town in South Park. We stopped at the Brown Burro Cafe for lunch before continuing north out of the South Park valley on Route 9 as we climbed up 11,542' Hoosier Pass and crossing the Continental Divide.

The 8% grade made the descent down Hoosier Pass a lot of fun with twisties and hairpin turns.

Route 9 continues into Breckenridge, a popular ski resort and on this Friday afternoon it was also packed with summer tourists.

We turned east on I-70 for about 3 miles to the Silverthorne exit, our stop for the weekend as we spend some times with our sons who live in the Denver area. We'll be back on the BMW on Monday, starting the last 3 days of trip as we head toward home.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Winding roads in Colorado on the 11th day of our Summer 2020 trip on the BMW

It was another bright, sunny morning when we left Salida, Colorado and rode east on US 50. This is one of Mike's favorite roads:  steep rocky walls alternating with more gentle, rounded hills through a canyon with the Arkansas River running alongside the road. 

Train tracks run along one side of the Arkansas River, and we were surprised to see a line of empty railroad cars that stretched about 2 miles sitting on the track with no engine in sight.

We turned north onto Colorado 9 and after a few short miles continued north on County Route 11, part of the Gold Belt Tour, a scenic byway that travels through many of the towns that were an important part of the gold mining boom in the early 1890's. There was hardly any traffic and we enjoyed long views of the mountains, wide open valleys, and sweeping, twisting roads.

Our route took us through Cripple Creek, originally the site of ranches in its 9,000' elevation valley until one of the largest gold strikes was discovered in 1890. In three years the town's population went from 500 to 10,000. Today the population is around 1,200, and while gold continues to be mined here, Cripple Creek is now more of a tourist destination. Much of the town has been restored and is part of the historic district, and in 1991 gambling became legal. We rode through about 10am on a Thursday and the town appeared almost completely empty.

We continued north on Colorado 67 when we started to see far-off views of snowy Pike's Peak.

Pike's Peak is a 14,115' tall mountain in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, just 12 miles west of Colorado Springs. Our goal was to ride to the top of the mountain via the 19-mile Pike's Peak Highway. However, when we got to the entrance we discovered that due to construction at the summit, we could only ride up 13 miles and then would need to take a shuttle the rest of the way. We're not interested in riding in a bus filled with people, so we turned around and rode into Manitou Springs for lunch and to consult the map.

With the skies threatening rain we decided to ride a short route continuing north on Colorado 67 past Woodland Park which bills itself as the 'city above the clouds' at 8,465'.
Route 67 twists and turns through the Rocky Mountains, and when we turned west onto County Route 126 the road followed the South Platte River.

We rode through sections of the forest burned in the 2002 Hayman Fire, a haunting reminder of the damage fire causes in this dry part of the country.

The skies got darker and when we saw a flash of lightning we decided to turn around and retrace our route back to Colorado Springs where we're spending the night. While we weren't able to ride up Pike's Peak as planned, we had a beautiful day in the Rockies.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Exploring Colorado's mountain passes on the BMW

We've been riding around Colorado for the past few days, discovering new roads that we haven't been on before and riding favorite roads for a second time. We started off heading east from Pagosa Springs on US 160 East, riding past green fields and ranches bordered by the mountains.

Soon we started climbing up in the San Juan mountains, heading up Wolf Creek Pass

The steep road winds and twists up to the top of the Pass at 10,857' where we crossed the Continental Divide for the first time today before we descended down the eastern slope past the Wolf Creek ski area.

In South Fork we turned north onto Colorado 149, the first time we've been on this road and what a find! 149 is the Silver Thread scenic byway that traverses remote parts of the state that were once important in silver mining, and today is an outdoor lover's paradise. The Rio Grande River flows along the highway, which twists and turns to match the river's path.

We followed the Rio Grande through the mountains to the small town of Creede, which in the late 1800's was home to over 10,000 people due to the booming silver mining in the area.

As we continued north past Creede, we stopped at a scenic overlook and discovered we were looking at the headwaters of the Rio Grande where it starts at an elevation of over 13,000' in the San Juan mountains before it travels 1,885 miles to the Gulf of Mexico.

A couple also stopped at the overlook told us about a waterfall just a couple of miles further north, so we turned off the highway to see North Clear Creek Falls, a 100+ foot waterfall formed by volcanic activity 27 million years ago.

Back on the highway, we continued north, climbing up Spring Creek Pass and crossing the Continental Divide for the second time today at 10,889' before we descended down toward Lake City.

The mountains weren't done with us yet as we quickly ascended up the even higher Slumgullion Pass at 11,530'. 

The descent down the north side of Slumgullion Pass at times is a 9% grade, and the sweeping turns made this section a fantastic motorcycle ride. We descended down into Lake City at 8,661'. Much of the town is part of a historic district with many of the original homes from mining days restored to promote tourism. We stopped for lunch at the Lake City Cafe and enjoyed one of the best meals of our trip.

149 continues north along the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River and through Independence Gulch.

149 ends at US 50, just past the Blue Mesa Reservoir.

We turned east onto US 50, our final leg for the day. We rode through Gunnison, then retraced our route from 3 days ago up and over Monarch Pass - at 11,312' our last crossing of the Continental Divide for the day.

We're spending the night in Salida and planning an earlier start tomorrow with a goal of riding to the top of Pike's Peak - 14,115'.