As some of the Last of the Motohicans, every year we try to plot a different course for our annual two-wheeled pilgrimage to “Sturgis“. Our motorcycle touring itinerary for 2010 was to cover a distance of 3,055 miles over 7 days. We covered the first 1,515 miles–from Miami Beach Florida to Wichita Falls Texas–in under 36 hours. That should earn me my 51st Iron Butt cert, and bought us the time we needed to relax the pace and take in the scenery over the remaining 5 days. Those last 1,540 miles took us west across stretches of old Route 66 in Texas and New Mexico, then north through the high peaks and narrow valleys of the southwestern Colorado Rockies, and finally northeast across Wyoming to Sundance, our base for this year’s “Black Hills Trailer Classic”:
After a sunny Monday morning’s coffee and cold egg breakfast at the Wichita Falls La Quinta, we headed northwest through the Red River Valley on US 287 where it parallels the famous river’s course and Texas-Oklahoma border. We made our first stop just shy of the Panhandle at a crossroads named for Quanah Parker, the “half-breed” Indian and last Comanche chief who–given he sired 25 children with his 5 wives–might very well have been its founding father. We then followed 287 on across the High Plains of the Panhandle through small towns lost in time that reminded me of “The Last Picture Show” until we reached Amarillo. From there we headed west past the Big Texan Steakhouse on I-40 and old Route 66, stopping for lunch and lots of iced tea at the Route 66 Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, where the food is just as good and the people are just as friendly as their website suggests:
A short ride west from Adrian took us across the state line into the Mountain Time Zone and the Mesalands of New Mexico. The landscape transition there from the endless flat grasslands of the High Plains to the flat-topped buttes and mesas of the High Desert is sudden, dramatic, and another one of those experiences I don’t have words to adequately describe. Let’s just call it a “must see”, as is Tucumcari, the slowly fading old Route 66 motoring mecca where we stopped to spend the night with Gail at her back-to-the-fifties Motel Safari.
Waking on Eastern time, we were up and rolling west on I-40 by 5:00am the next morning. The desert was vast and the highway was straight, so twisting the throttle got us to Albuquerque just in time to enjoy their Tuesday morning rush hour. Despite that, it was a short hop up I-25 to Bernalillo, where we gassed up to ride northwest on US 550 through the San Juan Basin Badlands “reserved” for the Zia and Jicarilla Apache Indians. There, around mid-morning, we crossed the Continental Divide for what would be the first of several times.
By noon, we had crossed the border into Colorado and ridden through the southernmost portion of the postcard-picturesque San Juan Mountains to our destination of Durango. Durango is a High Country haven of 16,000 comfortable with adjectives like eclectic and eccentric, and one end of the 45.4 mile D&SNGRR (Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad). It is well worth the ride to see, but expect to pay for the privilege. We stayed at the Best Western Durango Inn … and truly enjoyed our liquid lunch with some “loaded” riders there at Christina’s Grill & Bar.
Wednesday morning we were again packed and rolling early, excited to be on our way to what was supposed to be the high point (double meaning) of our trip, i.e. a night’s stay at the New Sheridan Hotel in Telluride. The distance we had to cover from Durango west on US 160 to Cortez then north on CO 145 to Telluride was less than 120 miles. But with all the stops for Kodak moments along the way, it took us half the day to get there. And I’m embarrassed to report that after one of those stops, we were lucky to get there at all:
For most of the way, two-lane CO 145 runs alongside the rushing waters of the Dolores River (imagine the old “Taste the High Country” Coors commercials, but set in the green of summer). And for most of the way, the shoulder is narrow and the drop-off is steep. At one particularly panoramic point, however, I was persuaded to pull over where it looked like the shoulder was both wider and paved. Wider it was … but paved it was not. What I had coasted onto was some moist gray clay. And when I put my right boot down, it just kept right on going. Fully loaded, Hidalgo started listing to the right. I was startled for a moment, but then somehow managed to jerk left and get the bike back upright before it reached that dreaded point of no return. And after giving thanks to Divine Providence, we were soon easing back onto asphalt instead of sliding thirty feet down a steep slope into icy rapids.
An hour or so later, after stopping for gas at Mountain Top Fuel in Rico and crossing over Lizard Head Pass, we rode by the entrance to uber-exclusive Mountain Village (elevation 9,545 ft) then on down and right on the only road leading in or out of the fabled snow-skiing resort town of Telluride (base 8,750 ft, slope 12,570 ft, peak 13,150 ft). A few minutes more and we were parked on Colorado Avenue and checking into the New Sheridan Hotel, where a biker-friendly concierge named Elaine welcomed us like we were old friends.
This was not my first visit to Telluride or the New Sheridan … but it was my first visit since 1984. Back in the day, Telluride was renowned for more than one kind of snow, and it would not be surprising to walk into the historic New Sheridan Bar and see bowls of peyote passed around as party favors. But like I say, that was back in the day… Much tamer now, Telluride remains a storybook town as rich in modern culture and “Old West” history as most of its trust-fund residents are in net worth. It is in many ways more enchanting and exclusive than Durango. So like the elevation, the prices in Telluride are even higher. Nevertheless, washing down a Chop House steak with a cold beer at the New Sheridan Bar should be on every biker’s bucket list.
One night in Telluride was all our budget would allow, so Thursday morning we were packed to leave long before the sun crested any of the towering peaks surrounding us. And at daybreak, we resumed our trek north along the narrow, winding San Juan Skyway. Contending with a combination of early morning fog and icy drizzle, it took us the better part of an hour to ride the 16 twisting miles to Placerville and turn west on CO 62. We soon rode out of the rain after that, though, and the skies cleared enough for us to see that impossible-to-photograph horizon-spanning series of sky touching peaks–anchored by Mount Sneffels (14,150 ft) and popularly called the “Sneffels Range”–that I long and wrongly thought gave Ridgway (correct spelling) its name. There we turned left at the only stoplight in Ouray County, and headed on up US 550.
We were north of the imposing San Juan peaks now, and the landscape opened up more and more as we got closer to Montrose. Being a bit claustrophobic, DP and I felt relieved to have all those narrow valleys and confining slopes behind us. And the distant rounded buttes, vast open valleys and arid terrain from Delta to Grand Junction looked so much like the Davis Mountains and Big Bend that I felt right at home. From there we turned east on I-70 to Rifle, then followed CO 13 to the Wyoming border. CO 13 is not designated as scenic on the HOG manual maps, but it certainly should be: Rugged hills … unusual rock formations … rustic relics … unmarred natural beauty … CO 13 has it all.
At the Wyoming border CO 13 becomes WY 789, and just north of there we stopped for gas in Baggs (as should anyone riding through). At an elevation of 6,245 feet, we were still “riding high” by Florida standards, but the terrain was now far from mountainous. We were approaching the crest of the Wyoming High Plains and would roll over the Continental Divide two more times as we made our turns east on I-80 and into Rawlins. There we checked into the clean and extremely affordable La Belle Motel. And as the sun was sinking in the west, a storm was rising to our east, producing a light show in the sky no photo could capture.
Our internal clocks still running two hours ahead, on Friday morning we were once again up long before the sun. Not wanting to miss any vistas, though, we waited ’til daylight before heading north on US 287 then east on WY 220 to the heart of Cowboy Country and Casper. It was then a short ride up I-25 to the Edgerton exit, a turn east on WY 387 to Wright, a quick jut south on WY 59 to WY 450, then east again to Newcastle along a stretch the HOG manual map says is scenic but isn’t. From there on up US 85 to WY 585 and into Sundance, however, we were in the Black Hills … and it doesn’t get much more scenic than that.
Until next time, Ride Long, Ride Free!
Bruce Arnold aka IronBoltBruce
Record-holding long distance motorcycle rider … bikers’ rights activist, proud member of The 100 … political agitator targeting social injustice and piercing the veil of our two-puppet system to expose the institutionalized greed of the Kleptocracy pulling all strings Left and Right … like Thomas Jefferson, an aficionado of ethnic aesthetic and a philosophical anarchist who accepts the State as a necessary evil under which the best government is less government.