a.k.a. "I didn't know it would be so mountainy..."
Since I first met Penny, I had been trying to describe what it was like for me to ride through the Rocky Mountains. Despite my best efforts, I don't think I was ever able to fully convey what the mountains have to offer. The phrase "Mighty as an elephant, small as a mouse, all in the same mile" oftentimes holds true for this magnificent area of the country.
On June 23rd, Penny and I left our home in Streamwood, IL for a 12 day adventure out west so that I could show her what she had been missing, and explain in ways that no words can express what the mountains, desert, and everything in between are all about.
For now, here are some pictures, and a few short blurbs about the days. I'll get around to a full trip report soon.
As something different, you will see pictures listed below as "PPOV:" or Penny's Point of View. These were taken by Penny while riding with a disposable camera to give the pilon's perspective of the trip.
Day 1: (Streamwood to Newton, Iowa)
Yeah, we're not in Illinois anymore. Yes, Iowa is nicer than Illinois - to ride through at least. We left early from work, and put on a quick 300 miles today.
Day 2: (Newton to Kimball, NE)
Today was a long day in the saddle, but it went by quickly and painlessly. We did 600 miles to Kimball, stopping about every 100 miles for gas and or tourist traps - anything to keep Penny happy, especially on a 600 mile day. Kimball was a small town, with small town food. We ate at a local restaurant that featured a salad bar with all homemade foods and dressings. Being in cattle country, they served up a great rib-eye.
Day 3: (Kimball to Grand Lake, CO and Rocky Mountain National Park)
The fun began today. After breakfast in Cheyenne and a stop at the rodeo museum, we headed into Colorado and enjoyed route 14, just north of the National Park. The ride across route 14 is really nice. It starts out in a river canyon, and then rises to almost 10K feet of elevation through the mountain pass, twisting along all the way.
In Cheyenne, a stop at the rodeo museum
A view of Route 14 through the river canyon
A roadside stop at the top of the pass on route 14
An ugly CBR600F3 that an older gentleman had...ummm...modified slightly
A beautifully restored Triumph
We arrived in Grand Lake late in the afternoon, grabbed a hotel, and took a run through Rocky Mountain National, which happened to be during the evening feeding time for the elk and moose. We probably saw 100 elk, a moose calf, and there was not a better sight than the 4 bull elk feeding across a mountain lake from where we stood, each of them with a beautiful, still fuzzy, rack.
Welcome to Rocky Mountain National Park
PPOV: Heading into Rocky Mountain National Park
A blue bird in the park
Tad and the ST with the Never Summer mountains in the background
A snowy mountainside in the park
PPOV: A herd of elk on the mountainside
An overhead shot of a small herd of elk
A few elk feeding in a roadside field
Three of the bull elk feeding across the lake
A close up of the fourth bull elk, fuzzy rack and all
Day 4: (Rocky Mountain National Park, Independence Pass, Carbondale, CO)
The next morning, we made an early run through the park, spotting another moose (it might have been the same one we saw the day before), and more elk but not as many as the night before. The clear blue sky made for incredible vistas today, and the marmots were out in full force today. They look like really fat squirrels and make a horrible high-pitched screeching sound to call others.
Penny in Rocky Mountain National Park
PPOV: "Hey, don't look down!!"
A shot of the sun glistening off the Never Summer Mountains
A curious marmot in the park
A shot of the tundra above the treeline in Rocky Mountain National
We then headed down to ride across Independence Pass, taking Penny to over 12,000 feet, which she probably could have done without. It was here that the altitude started to bother her, and she proclaimed that she "didn't know that it would be this mountainy." She did very well, but was happy to descend out of the mountain pass and back below the tree line. On the way down towards Aspen, we were momentarily delayed by a grizzly bear that was wandering down the road. They have the right of way.
PPOV: My favorite lake on the way up to Independence Pass
Penny at Independence Pass - twice as high as the Blue Ridge Parkway
A view of one of the "no-guardrail" switchbacks on the way up the mountain
The baron landscape at Independence Pass
PPOV: The bear, left hand side of the road ahead
Day 5: (Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Monument, San Juan Skyway, Cortez, CO)
We enjoyed an all you can eat breakfast at a ranch off highway 133 this morning that we just happened upon before continuing south. The Black Canyon of the Gunnison area is very nice, and route 92 across the north side of the canyon was declared a "Don't miss" road by Penny for those who like twisties. The left handers are a little scary when your runoff is a 1000 foot drop into the canyon.
PPOV: Heading down Route 133, a great morning ride
One of the lakes in the canyon
A deep canyon crevice which the road (on the right) traces
Due to the fires near Durango, instead of taking 550 (The Million Dollar Highway), we headed through Telluride on the San Juan Skyway. The ride was very scenic and passes one of the fourteeners (the mountains in Colorado that are higher than 14K feet). The sky was quite smoky from the nearby fire, but the views were incredible, and the mountain basin around Telluride is awesome. The elevation today kept us away from the sweltering heat in the valleys.
A stop near Telluride
A stop near one of the fourteeners
PPOV: A mountain lake, along the San Juan Skyway
Day 6: (Four Corners, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon North Rim, Kanab, UT)
Heading towards Four Corners, we saw our first evidence of the wildfires. After a stop at Four Corners and a good breakfast near Mexican Hat, we headed through Monument Valley. Early in the day today, it wasn't too hot, and the ride was very enjoyable. There's no better sight than riding down the highway right towards those beautiful mesas.
PPOV: A mountain wildfire near Four Corners
The classic shot of Monument Valley from the middle of the road
The ST parked roadside
Getting closer to the mesas...
...before watching them disappear behind you
Heading across Arizona, temps climbed into the 100s, and we experienced the "hot oven effect" with our helmet faceshields....keep them closed. As we ascended to the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the temps dropped, and we enjoyed a great afternoon lunch overlooking the canyon before heading to one of the more remote overlooks.
PPOV: Braving the sweltering heat, Vermillion Cliffs
Penny at our lunch spot at the Grand Canyon
A green view of the Grand Canyon
A view deep and far into the canyon
Penny and Tad with the ST at the Grand Canyon
Day 6: (Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Torrey, UT)
We headed into Zion first thing in the morning. What an incredible park. The canyon walls are painted with so many different colors of rock, and the tunnel through the mountains is very eerie. It's possibly the most beautiful park I've ever seen, but they are all so nice that it's really hard to put one ahead of the other.
Welcome to Zion National Park
The road winding through Zion
A treelined mountainside
PPOV: A view of Zion Canyon
A mesa in Zion
Bryce Canyon continues to be one of the more unique places I've seen, and the many views and vistas of the canyon make for a great place to visit, even if you don't have time to do any hiking or exploring. The rock formations are just incredible.
A view of the rocks in Bryce Canyon
The different colors of the formations
A further back view of the same area
More rock formations
We finished the day heading across Route 12 in southern Utah, a truly magnificent road, not only for it's twisties, but for it's ever changing landscape. It does get a little scary when you're riding with no shoulder on either side of the road. Just ask Penny. :-)
A lunch stop with grey and brown landscape surrounding
A twisty section through some red rock
With lots of green trees around for contrast
Day 7: (Capitol Reef Nat'l Park, Natural Bridges Nat'l Monument, Canyonlands Nat'l Park)
We did some exploring this morning in Capitol Reef, and I even convinced Penny that it was OK to do some off-roading on the ST to get a better look at the mesas (it was gravel, not really off road). The park was beautiful, and after the scenic drive, we spotted a few deer in a nearby field. I had to get their attention by pulling a Beavis...."Hey Butthead!!"
Near the entrance of Capitol Reef
A few green trees set among the red rock mesas
On a sideroad in Capitol Reef, an amazing echo chamber
A vertical shot of one of the mesas
Another shot of the mesas
PPOV: The view from the scenic drive, heading North
Hey Butthead!! Look over here...or something
After a "scary-breakfast" (for Penny, not for me), we headed through the Glen Canyon area. There is a really nice vista and a great shot of the road that I saw a few years ago, and it was great to go through there again.
A shot of the water in Glen Canyon
One of my favorite scenic roads shots anywhere in the US
PPOV: Penny's shot of the scenic road
Further on down the road was Natural Bridges National Monument, and despite the heat, we headed into the monument. Once there, it cooled down a bit and the breeze off the high desert was quite refreshing, as were the views.
Natural Bridge, the oldest one in the monument
Canyonlands was another place that I didn't have a chance to see my last time through here, and we took the opportunity to head to the Needles Overlook of the Canyon. It was about 25 miles off the main road, completely desolate, and right on cue, about 2 miles into it, a tumbleweed....ummmm..tumbled across the road. On the way out, we were treated to another classic western sight: a dust tornado.
A shot north into Canyonlands
Very hazy, a shot down into Canyonlands
Penny and the ST at Canyonlands
Day 8: (Arches National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Vernal, UT)
We tried to avoid the heat of the day (it was 100 in Moab yesterday) by seeing Arches early this morning. We rode through, stopped at the Delicate Arch overlook so that Penny could see the arch on Utah's license plates, and then rode to Devils Garden, before turning around and heading back to the Windows - an area where many small arches, and a double-arch resides.
PPOV: Phallic Rock, Arches National Park - hey, she took the picture
One of the arches near The Windows
Double-Arch - the middle arch is actually two arches
PPOV: One of the balance rocks in Arches
PPOV: Riding towards another balance rock
We headed out of Moab on route 128 which twists through a river canyon surrounded by tall red rock mesas the entire way. The ride was incredible, as was the ride up route 129 in western Colorado. I was expecting this part of Colorado to be high desert, but we were instead treated to a couple of mountain passes and numerous deer before we got back into the desert, and the oil pumps.
A shot of the river and mesas
The ST after a nice twisty section
PPOV: The road winding along the river in Utah
Penny and the ST near a working oil pump
We made it to Dinosaur National Monument, only to find out that the Dinosaur bones were back in Utah. We took a quick ride into the Colorado canyon side of the National Monument where we encountered the "cannibalistic wingless grasshoppers" of the monument, as they were explained to us by the ranger. They are somewhat large, get run over by vehicles, and then more of them come onto the road to eat their carcasses. They get hit by vehicles, and so on. There were thousands of them. After our crunching was complete, we headed back to Utah to see the fossils. While it was setup for easy viewing, it was not touristy, and the monument was quite impressive.
Day 9: (Vernal, UT to Douglas, WY)
We headed back into Colorado before turning north into Wyoming to hit a road that a guy on a Triumph told us about a week earlier. The ride late this morning in Wyoming got nicer as the elevation increased. There were deer and antelope all over the place, and once we hit the highest of elevations, we were treated to an incredible mountain lake, just below the treeline. This is a ride through Wyoming that is not to be missed.
PPOV: A mountain lake, somewhere in Wyoming
A waterfall from the nearby mountain lake
An incredible clear mountain lake, just below the treeline
PPOV: Tad having some fun through a twisty section
We planned to head a bit north, but our plans were foiled when the road was closed, so we had to hop on the Interstate through Laramie and Cheyenne. There are so few roads in the area that we had to choice to slab it up to Douglas, setting ourselves up for a nice ride across the grasslands in the morning.
Day 10: (Mt. Rushmore, Badlands, Murdo, SD)
Heading across the grasslands in northeastern Wyoming today, the antelope were out in full force. We'd see a few scattered here and there, and entire herds would be grazing in nearby fields. The morning air was still cool, and the ride was very peaceful and calming.
A herd of Antelope in a nearby field
PPOV: The morning shadow on the road
Mt. Rushmore, and the Black Hills in general, were as crowded and touristy as ever. Now that I've been there twice, I can't say that I ever care to return. Call someplace paradise...
The Badlands, however, were incredible today. Incredibly clear, incredibly beautiful, incredibly hot. The roads through the Badlands a very eerie, and Penny described it as "it's like you're on the moon."
The Badlands, South Dakota
Another shot of the eroding rock formations
Day 11: (Murdo, SD to Home)
After touring the antique car museum in Murdo last night, seeing the General Lee and a Tucker among other things, we headed out early across South Dakota. I couldn't avoid the Corn Palace as I was not riding by myself. After just a quick stop, we were back on our way.
Storm clouds up ahead in Minnesota caused us to pull over for a few minutes at the Spam museum. It just happened to be there, and was a good way to wait out the storm. We weren't planning on making it home, so we were in no hurry.
A happy Penny at the Spam museum
We broke off from the Interstate, and headed across northern Iowa on some backroads, thinking we'd stay in Decorah for the night. The town left a little to be desired, and there weren't any non-smoking rooms available, so we went to the next town. There we found a festival and no hotel rooms within 100 miles, so we decided to make it home. It was an easy ride, and the cool night air was a nice way to end the trip.