The Final Push to Prescott

“If we’re riding on the BDR tomorrow, we’re getting up at five,” Dezso said, sounding petty adamant.

I had another friend on another road trip so very long ago that was also adamant that we get up at five. He said he’d even start off driving so everyone could still sleep. And sure enough he’d get us all up, hop in the driver’s seat and thirty minutes later ask someone else to drive because he was tired and wanted to nap.

They never did find his body.

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“No way! Seven”

“Six, “ Dezso countered, “and we’re getting up and getting on the road. We’ll stop for coffee later.”

“But there’s free coffee and breakfast downstairs!”

So we settled on 6 and free coffee, not even realizing that in a few short hours we’d pass into Arizona which doesn’t believe in Daylight Savings Time, thus gaining another hour to ride. It was my turn to panic. My odometer showed two hundred miles and I figured I had about seventy miles left. Dezso said he still had half a tank and we both know my single cylinder 650 gets way better gas mileage than his. So once the morning fog cleared out of my brain, I figured I hadn’t zero’d out my trip counter from the last fill up.

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Our first stop was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest national parks. Last year I had purchased a national parks pass and shared it with Dezso, so he did the same this year and I got in for free. I haven’t been here in decades. I remember having gone here on a family vacation, but I can’t really tell you how much it’s changed over the years. I’m pretty sure the adamant tone regarding not collecting things in the park and the search stations at the exits are a more recent addition. But if you really need a chunk of petrified wood there are a million shops right outside the park.

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I was surprised to see a lot of desert flora in the area (duh).

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I guess I didn’t know what to expect but grasses and brush grew in the area.

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We pulled in to each turn out, sometimes getting off the bike for photos and sometimes just standing on the pegs to get a look out over the edge.

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We were both suitably impressed with the park, and I’ve love to see it from the air as the maps show a large swath of geography that “looks like tye dye” covering a good chunk of the area. From the ground, there are lots of colors although none looking like an old weathered hippie.

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The landscape range in colors from faded desert tans to reds and purples. It almost reminded me of the colors of Petra, Jordan. Most of the overlooks (by definition) looked out over the landscape from the top of buttes, but there were a couple at ground level that looked up onto hills (named the Tepees) which gave a different perspective.

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Just before we crossed over I-40, there’s a pullout for Historic Route 66.

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Jack Kerouac traveled this often, so it always holds a little place in my heart. Pair that with my love of maps and travel and I’m hooked. I want to have the time (and money) to travel its length on my Ural.

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To be fair, I would also like to travel Rte 66 in a car like this.

We took a side road leading to Newspaper Rock. I assumed a place where people came to sign their names in the soft rock (there’s a place like that out…somewhere. Montana? I’ve forgotten where because I think I’ve seen a couple of them. One in Montana where Lewis and Clark signed their names and one in Nebraska or Kansas.) This one had Native American Petroglyphs instead. You could stand on a platform and use scopes to look down on a couple of large boulders that had been covered in glyphs.

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Soon we started seeing chunks of petrified trees. Dark brown chunks of rock laying on the distant landscape. Since we rode from north to south, it took a while to hit the more grand chunks of forest and they saved the grand finale for last.

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At the Petrified Forest Museum they have a park you can walk around in. Some have the upper formations of roots, some are really large in diameter, but they’re all just gorgeous to look at.

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Crystals mixed darker minerals, all showing tree rings. It really is amazing to see and I highly recommend a stop if you’re passing through.

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We stopped at almost every pullout and it only took us an hour. There’s building labeled as an inn inside the park, but it only functions as a museum. All I can think of are the millions of stars over this stark landscape that would make for some amazing photographs (provided you know what you’re doing). Oh well, another vague plan thwarted.

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The wind picked up and as we rode into Holbrook, we got hit with some significant gusts that had us leaned far into the wind and weaving in our lane. We stopped for lunch at a mom and pop Mexican American restaurant that hovered right around mediocre. We jumped back on the road and headed into Heber. We were still bucking a strong crosswind which didn’t stop until we got into a landscape with a few more trees.

The landscape started off with a windswept prairie that graduated to pinions which eventually changed to a pine forest. The temperature dropped and clouds built up. Mom wrote and said it was overcast in Prescott and so we might get some rain. Not a good sign since we still hadn’t started riding where the pavement ended.

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Why’s it always gotta rain when I want to ride off road?

Just west of Heber we picked up the AZ BDR on Rte 300. This is a section that follows the Mogollon Rim. We had climbed about 2000 feet in elevation, so we had to pull over and don some warmer layers. Just then the drizzle started and we watched the side roads to see what they ground would be like once we hit dirt. Since we’ve never ridden off-road here, we weren’t sure what the ground would be like (mud, gravel, quicksand) and since I’ve already taken a good spill in the mud, I wasn’t too keen on repeating the maneuver.

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Fortunately (or un) Rte 300 was paved for a while. We stopped for a photo-op looking out from the Mogollon Rim and could see the wall of rain approaching. Still optimistic we continued on. Eventually the pavement ended, turned to eroded pavement, then gravel, and finally hard packed dirt which slowly turned to mud in the rain.

We turned around based on my “recommendation.”

On the plus side it knocked a couple of hours off of our trip.

We back-tracked a mile or two and rejoined Hwy 260 and rode into the Verde Valley. As we descended in elevation and the rain stopped we had to take off more and more layers until we were sweating in our Kevlar. We passed quickly through Cottonwood, and started our climb into Jerome.

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Yeah, this is Arizona, so it is best to leave people alone.

Jerome is a fun little town with a motto of “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” It used to be an old mining town and is the home of Caduceus Cellars, expensive wine made by the front man of the band Tool and Puscifer. I would normally scoff at such a wine, and I did so until I tried it on a previous trip. In fact wines from this area are pleasant and I’ll usually buy a bottle for special occasions (like the one I’m saving for when I finish my second novel) or friends who’ll cook me a nice meal. But paying $40 for a bottle of wine is something I’ll rarely do. There are too many great bottles under $20 that are just as, if not more, enjoyable.

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(Looking toward Sedona)

Since I still had a fair amount riding left to do today, and had been riding for two days straight and was tired, I just popped in and purchased two bottles of wine I had previously enjoyed without doing a tasting. Now it was the final stretch into Prescott. We were tired and saddle sore and Mom had mentioned dinner at a deli near the house. I was sad that I didn’t get a chance to ride off-road, but we’ve got the Rawhyde class and Colorado BDR coming up in a month. Stay tuned for more reports!

Galloping to Gallup

Yeah, I bet that title has never been used before.

This was the first real ride of the season and I was anxious to stretch the legs of the proverbial pistons in my F 650 GS. Dezso had started out a couple of days before me as I still had work left to do. He departed from Cortez as I left from home with an expectation to meet in Montrose for a late lunch.
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My route took me over Monarch Pass on US 50 which I don’t remember having done on the GS before (I’ll have to consult my maps). Weather was near perfect and I started out to partly cloudy skies and 60 degree temps. Leaving the house after rush hour let me leap onto the highway and ride at highway speeds on C470, getting me into the mountains a whole lot quicker than normal.

I didn’t stop until Monarch Pass for a photo op. Out to the west I could see storm clouds building and dumping. I tried to consult weather maps on my phone, but was surprised to learn I had no cell coverage on top of Monarch. Well, it wasn’t like I could take an alternate route to Montrose anyway.

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I gassed up in Gunnison, sending texts to Deana and Dezso and letting them know my status. The clouds continued to build, but they appeared to move southward and in the end I stayed dry. Dezso was already waiting for me at Don Gilberto’s Mexican restaurant and a storm built up just to the west of town. We expected rain and got a few drops as we rode out, but the storm also moved south and we ended up chasing it to Ridgeway.

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I had this plan to ride over Ophir Pass near Telluride as a little off road practice. From Ridgeway I had wanted to stay on US550 to catch Ophir Pass, but construction had closed the highway down until 6:30 that night and that storm looked ugly from where we sat.

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Instead we turned west on HWY 62 toward Telluride. Outside of Ridgeway Dezso realized he had needed to gas up. But neither of us really wanted to turn around and a quick consultation of my mental map reminded me of a gas station outside of Telluride where we could stop.

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We finally hit rain on our way into Telluride, which ruled out any chance of attempting Ophir Pass from this side. So we pressed forward on pavement.

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Near Lizard Head Pass the off-and-on drizzle finally left us and we dried out quickly.

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Hwy 145 is a nice winding road that takes you from mountain passes and aspens, down into the high desert lands in the Four Corners region.

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Dezso had camped at Mesa Verde the previous night (turns out the campground has wifi), and since I’ve been there many times including mapping, I didn’t feel the need to stop in again.

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In Cortez we had to make a decision. Since we couldn’t attempt any off road riding here in Colorado, we decided to ride part of the Arizona BDR tomorrow. With that in mind, we decided to push on to Gallup. We had every intention of camping (honest!), but we traveled through Native American reservations and there aren’t any opportunities for camping. Dezso even went so far as to ask in Shiprock, NM. But the woman shook her head and said, “You don’t want to camp here.” I got online and booked a hotel room in Gallup.

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We rode the remaining part of the ride in the dark, switching to mp3 players to pass the time. Despite the rain spoiling our off road ride, it was a good day back in the saddle. And since there was no dirt, at least I wasn’t falling down. (Dezso and I signed up for the Rawhyde off road course in Colorado in July, so we’ll see how much that’ll help my riding.)

Utah Back Country Discover Route, Part 2. Moab to Moab

The next portion of the BDR started in Southeast Moab and looped through the LaSalle Mountains before dropping into the Colorado River Canyon near Fisher Towers along Hwy 128. If anyone has just a couple of days in Moab, I’d recommend riding this portion. And when I return on my Ural, I plan to ride this part again.

We grabbed a quick smoothie for breakfast, meeting a Tenere rider who was out breaking in his bike. After swapping stories and destinations, we rode out of town on Sand Flats Rd, past the landfill, stopping inside the recreation fee area where high clearance 4X4s lined up to try their skills on sandstone ridges. I certainly wouldn’t ride it on my Beemer, but I would have considered it on the Ural. And I’m sure we would’ve made quite a sight since the Ural could have fit under most of those trucks.

Due to the silt factory we rode through yesterday, I wanted to bang out my air filter before we got any farther down the road. I pulled off the panel and opened up the air intake, but didn’t get a lot of dust out of it. I did find a seemingly large amount of oil in there which freaked me out, but after research on F650.com it turned out this will happen if you fall over. I sopped up as much as I could and replaced the panels.

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Photo courtesy of Dezso Adai

With that taken care of we started up the road again, stopping to take photos and videos as we rode through a landscape that looked like a vegetated Martian surface. The campsites here made me want to camp the next time through, but the idea of needing to reserve a campsite then didn’t cross my mind. It turns out campsites in Moab fill up rather quickly, but we didn’t learn that until the end of the day.

The landscape was red sand dotted with low scrub and the occasional juniper trying to break rocks in half with roots and patience. Rock formations like the backs of monsters broke through the ground in arcs of sandstone and the tracks of 4X4s showed the recreation trails through this playground. We passed some cyclists and dodged sand drifts in the road, climbing further into the mountains and away from the crowds.

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No longer on the desert floor, the roads had gravel on them which required different skills to avoid slipping. Aspen and pine forests closed in with the occasional house or pasture coming into view. Somehow we missed the Kokopeli Trail, but didn’t mind too much since the roads we rode were still new to us. The next time we’re back, we’ll ride this missing section. We consulted the maps when we reached the Mountain Loop Road, turned left and headed back down the mountain until our next turn onto the proverbial road less traveled.

Despite Dezso’s warning that there would be more sand along this portion of the route, we had somehow forgotten to let air back out of our tires. Over the course of the day these gravel and dirt packed roads had started building my confidence (Seriously. Riding is a mind game. You want—need—a certain amount of confidence in order to tackle what’s in front of you, but not so much that you’re riding like an idiot.) I do know I lack confidence in many areas that can only be eradicated with hours spent riding. And I plan on getting as much hands-on experience as I can and follow up with a few classes also. But for now, I had hands-on experience right here in the field.

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At Castleton Road, we returned to dirt and gravel roads, once again passing a few cars and trucks out for pleasure drives, or dropping off cattle which had started moo’ving (Sorry) to higher pastures. We were still up in the mountains, but the topography had changed again. We returned to junipers, red dirt, and rocky outcroppings.

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We stopped a few more times for food, photos, and breaks, and two times in a row I (cough) experienced a sudden shift in Coriolis Effect. Each time I stopped, I would suddenly list to starboard and topple over. I couldn’t explain it. Perhaps I was tired; perhaps I thought I rode my Ural. But it only happened twice before I stopped doing it.

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The route took us on Onion Creek and Hideout Road, which dropped down into the canyons. We started to warm up with the drop in elevation, but the weather held and kept things perfect all day. We hit farmland, and returned to sagebrush country except when following creeks and other water sources where trees grew.

Continuing on Onion Creek Rd, we rode the spine of some of the erosion that happened in geologic time, able to look down from both sides of the road.  It was a great twisty, dirt-packed road that afforded lots of photos and videos, and we took our time, fearing the end of the ride was near and not really ready to let it go.

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The road dropped into a narrow, red canyon that had many small stream crossings. I got my boots wet over the course of splashing through, and soon enough my socks were soaked.

I really need better boots.

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Photo Courtesy of Dezso Adai

It’s times like these that I wish I had a camera mounted to my bike so that I could snap photos whilst I ride. Chances are the camera couldn’t capture the height and red of the canyon walls, but still wanted to try (just another thing to add to my wish list, right?). Campsites appeared full of campers so we rode on. We had talked about camping, enjoying a fire, and trying some night photography, but as we rode through each campground all we saw were reservation tickets posted before each site. Lesson learned, we road back into town and got our same room from last night and then went straight for margaritas.