A Tour to Remember
Motorcycling articles by Leonard R.
As with past trips, when we would be traveling for several days, we began our planning for this fall trip, in the previous late winter and early spring months. First deciding where and when we wanted to go. We usually choose the fall months for touring, because the weather is more stable, with less tourists, meaning less motor and trailer homes to contend with. Planning requires determining the maximum amount of food we could haul, medicines to last the trip and clothing for two climates, (fall and winter) We finalized our route and made the appropriate calls to campgrounds and parks making tent site reservations. A few times in the past, we didn't and was hard put to find a place to camp. Outfitting and servicing the motorcycle and trailer would be done a couple of weeks before our departure. Doing this well in advance, saves a person the headache of having to make minor repairs or adjustments at the last moment. Like an old boss once told me, "Plan your work and work your plan."
For this trip, we wanted to see Canada's Northwest. We plotted out our desired route, that would fit in with the number of days we were allotted for this trip. Originally we wanted to ride through parts of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Territory, riding on into Alaska. However after conferring with the various Provincial travel agencies, and the Dawson Yukon Territories chamber of commerce, we learned that the roads between the Yukon and Alaska were almost out of commission on the Alaska side. We were told that trucks were avoiding that stretch of road, because it was in such poor condition. To loop around this obstacle to get to Alaska, would have taken more days then we could afford. So we settled on the route as indicated by the map. For ease of understanding, I have used minutes and hours instead of miles and kilometers, when possible.
Day 1. Thursday
We decided to leave on a Thursday, to get a head start on the weekend traffic. By the time the weekend arrived, we would be in less populated area's and wouldn't have to deal with as much traffic on the mountain roads or in the cities and towns.
This day met our hopeful expectations. It was a cool morning with clear skies. Leaving our home in Fountain, Colorado, we took the short cut across the Army base to State highway 115, turning South to US Highway # 50 and then West on it. # 50 is a highway we have traveled countless times, since it takes us to our favorite mountain top towns. Highway 50 for a lot of it's length across the state, is a two lane road, winding along the Arkansas river. It's a very scenic ride, with ledges, bluffs, hills and tight curves. Often both mountain goats and Dahl's sheep can be seen on the hill sides. Because of the road only being two lane with many tight curves and steep hills, passing other vehicles is a wait and see situation. Wait for a temporary passing lane and then see if you can get around that huge motor home towing that jeep.
We anticipated a little snow when we approached the mountain top at Monarch pass, (11,312 ft / 3,448mtr) but it was clean and clear. The visitor center's facilities were open, so they were used. The air was cool, but not cold, so our lunch was eaten along the edge of the parking lot. We always enjoy eating our lunches in a park or along the road somewhere. Wherever a spot presents it's self. |
Twenty two miles past the nice city of Gunnison we passed by the Curecanti National Recreation Area. It's located along the Gunnison river and next to the Blue Mesa Reservoir, which is the largest reservoir in the State of Colorado. We have camped there a few times and it does have flush toilets and showers. It is a beautiful area and a place worth stopping for a stretch of the old legs.
We continued West to the town of Grand Junction, CO. where we filled the tank with fuel and found the KOA camp ground for the night. It was a pleasant camp ground, with a hard packed gravel drive and our cabin for the night was spotless.
Grand Junction is a sizeable town with all the big box stores you would need. There are countless chain motels in and around the city. Highway #50 takes you through the older part of town with it's quaint shops, many of which look like they originally did back in the mid 1800's. Traffic in this area during the end of the work day is as bad as a major city freeway. Of course, we had no choice but to enjoy the crazy drivers and sudden stops. Yeah, right!
Day 2. Friday
This morning started out overcast, with the prospect of rain. The air was cool, so we added chaps to our outer wear. We headed North on State highway # 139 past the Highline State Recreation Area, which has camping, a nice picnic area and a bathhouse that is near the East Salt River's beach. The campground also has flush toilets and showers. Highway 139 which took us to the small town of Rangely, is curvy and hilly but, a less traveled road upon which to make good time. Adhering to the speed limit of course. After topping the tank at Rangely we jogged left onto State highway # 64, which is a wonderful hilly and curvy road. It took us to US # 40 where we turned west to Utah. This is a more traveled road, but the scenery is worth the trouble. At highway # 40 you are just 10 minutes from the Dinosaur National Monument. A rugged landscape of steep canyon walls and rushing rivers greets the eyes of visitors to this 325-square-mile area. The park is famous for its dinosaur quarry. There are flush toilets but, no showers and no electric hook ups.
The reason we topped the tank at Rangely, is because we were told that the service station at the tiny town of Dinosaur is often closed. As it was, we saw that indeed the station was closed as we went by. We continued on west to Utah and the city of Vernal. The stretch of road to Vernal from Dinosaur, is fairly flat with a few hills and not to many curves. A person can make good time on this highway too. Vernal is a large city with all the big box stores and countless franchise motels.
In Vernal we caught highway US # 191 and turned North. Just 3 miles North of Vernal, is Steinaker State Park. It has camping but, no electric or showers. However it does have flush toilets. Another 5 miles down the road is Red Fleet State Park. It too has camping, no showers but does have flush toilets. About thirty minutes north of Vernal, you pass the Flaming Gorge Reservoir and ride through the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area. We learned that, centuries ago, Fremont Indians had lived here. Evidence of their passing, exists in the petroglyphs that adorn the rock faces of many caves that line the gorge. Again we choose a road side lunch along the road inside the park.
We continued on north to Rock Springs, Wyoming, where we found the KOA camp ground. We decided to eat at one of the many cafés, where highway # 191 and Interstate highway 80 intersect. We counted seven franchise motels in this area, so accommodations are plenty. Although Rock Springs is small, it has great stores for anything you would need.
We found the campground to be large and pleasant. We must have been close to an airport, because as we set up our tent, we watched motorized hang gliders flying about until dusk. Later in the evening we enjoyed the music and songs of other campers around their camp fire. It had been a good day.
Day 3. Saturday
We slept well and rose early. Repacking the trailer was getting easier and we seem to be settling into the rhythm of what each has to do to make our departures quicker. Our tent is a three person dome tent. We opted for a three man, so there would be a little more room inside. After removing the sleeping bags from the tent and any luggage, I proceed to take the tent down. Judy meanwhile organizes the luggage, cook stove and the pots and pans bag. We then both wipe down the ground tarp placed beneath the tent the night before. Upon the still open tarp, we fold and put the tent into it's bag. Then we roll up the sleeping bags and tuck them into their respective tote bags. After this is done, we fold and roll the tarp making sure it is dry on both sides and put it in the tent bag. Then everything else is placed, in the trailer in it's specific spot. For a while we relied on diagrams I had made of where each object went in relationship to other things and the trailer. After a while, the diagram was not needed. Packing the trailer the same way each time, maintains the balance and weight distribution. That way, once things are figured out, we don't have to stop a few minutes down the road to re-arrange everything. (**See Pulling a trailer) Well... sometimes when riding a motorcycle you have to re-arrange your pants a bit, but that doesn't count.
After breaking camp, a quick breakfast and with dishes done, we started North from Rock Springs, only to find a road crew spraying both lanes of the highway with liquid tar. So we turned around and went west on I-80 for a short distance, where we turned north on State # 372. This brought us to the small town of Fontenell. Saying it was a small town was easy, since there is only a general store, which doubles as a café, post office, hardware and clothing store. No houses or other buildings. We saw several vehicles getting gas and after conferring with our maps, we decided we should get gas too. After getting gas, we sat at a table enjoying the shade and a cold beverage. Now, everybody knows Judy is a magnet to animals. We had no more and sat down, when a Tabby cat jumps on the table and proceeds to tell Judy all about the days happenings and the local gossip. A few minutes later, the dog in the one dog town, arrived to express his greetings. (We learned years later, that the Fontenell general store has closed for good and has deteriorated badly.)
After hearing all the local news from the cat we headed northwest, on Wyoming's State highway # 28. After about a half hour of riding we went through the tiny town of Farson, with a few boarded up stores. As we neared the far edge of the town, we could see about 5 miles out, looming before us a very dark bank of clouds. The clouds were producing wide, bright bolts of lightening firing straight into the ground. We had just passed an abandoned old 1930's gas station. The kind where a canopy extended from the building to the two single pumps. The kind with a drive that is only long and wide enough for a model T car. So, we retreated to that old building and parked the bike and trailer beneath the canopy roof. While waiting for the storm to reach us and the lightening to pass us by, we delightfully put on our rain gear and broke out the thermos of coffee. Having ridden in storms before, we knew that once the front with it's lightening passed by, we would probably only be riding in rain. As the storm breached us, it started hailing marble size balls of ice. But we were well protected under the canopy. A few minutes later a fancy huge motor home pulled up on the outside of the pumps where the canopy did not extend. The passenger of the RV rolls down her window and shouts to us, asking if we would please move the motorcycle, so they could park under the canopy. They didn't want to get dents in their mansion on wheels I guess. I know I must have given them the most dumb founded look they had ever seen. Mentally I thought, are you crazy? But, instead I just yelled over the crescendo of hail, "Oh, we are headed for Canada," hoping they would think I misunderstood their question. I told Judy to stop laughing and drink her coffee. It took about 20 minutes for the storm front and hail to move on by and after that it was just a gentle rain. So, we tightened our collars, donned the helmets and left the RV couple. I'm sure they are still pondering those deaf motorcycle people.
Just after the town of Farson, we passed by the ghost mining town of South Pass City. It is under restoration, but the short road to the town at the time, was hard packed gravel. Since we were riding in the rain and going slower then scheduled, we decided we were behind on our schedule and the muddy road leading to the village, didn't look all that appealing anyway. But, if you ever get near there, stop and have a look around. I have since researched a little information about the site and it does sound like a neat place to visit. Several shops are restored and are operating similar to the old gold rush days.|
We entered Lander and caught State highway # 789 through Riverton and turned right onto US # 26. We continued on #26 for a short way and turned NW onto US #20. I personally had to smile as this same highway passes through the center of my home town, in Iowa, nearly a thousand miles away. I knew we were near the town of Thermopolis, because, in spite of the rain, there was the odor of rotten eggs. My son Adam and I had been here in 1993 and the smell was still the same then. Judy on the other hand, was new to the smell, so leaning forward she asked me if the motorcycle was burning or something.
Thermopolis claim to fame is it's hot sulfur springs. What a claim eh? It's said that bathing in them is a cure all, for most anything. Judy and I decided we would just take everyone's word on that. Pinching our nose, we passed through town making a right turn going North West onto State highway # 120. We stayed on this nice less traveled highway for an hour and a half, reaching the city of Cody, Wyoming.
We had not been able to secure a cabin reservation at the Cody KOA campground and so went to the state park for a cheaper tent site. However, we learned upon or arrival at the Buffalo Bill State Park, that they had no showers. (Believe me, we needed them.) So, we spent the extra few dollars and stayed at the Super 8 motel in town. Which was great, because we didn't have to cook, either supper or the next days breakfast, since there was a café nearby and the motel provided a free breakfast. Cody is a sizable town having several franchise motels and fast food restaurants. The town could provide anything you might need.
Day 4, Sunday
We departed Cody under clear skies, as the storm had subsided sometime during the night. We turned north on State Highway # 121. After riding about half an hour and just before crossing into Montana, we went to the tiny town of Clark, Wyoming. It's only a minute off the highway. We spent the required 2 minutes to tour the town. We learned that a Monastery was coming to town and a few years later it did. Friends tell us now that the Monastery is in full operation and that it sells coffee via mail order. If you are interested, just goggle Mystic Monk Coffee. After use of a gas station's facilities we continued north to Interstate 90, then turned west. This is 10 minutes outside of Billings, Montana, which is a large metro area.
I forget myself sometimes, but the scenery for the last couple of days was just beautiful. Mountainous, but with gentle rolling roads and pleasant curves. Flat topped Mesa's, lakes, forest and everything the west has to offer. Traffic by big city standards was low and we were never hurried or hassled by other vehicles.
We continued west on I-90 for another three and a half hours, before reaching our days destination of Butte, Montana. We passed many small towns, but elected to press on. We did stop midway at Livingston, Montana, which is on the interstate highway, to top off the gas tank and have lunch at a city park. Livingston is a sizeable town with a few franchise motels and stores that would have anything you would need. We also learned that the Gallatin National Forest is a short distance from the interstate. We were told there is camping, with flush toilets, but no showers.
Before reaching Butte, we passed the large metro area of Bozeman, Montana, but did not stop. However we could see signs displaying the names of countless franchise motels. On our way to and past the small city of Whitehall we passed lakes and rivers of great beauty. We stopped a few times along side the road to take in the wonderful panoramic views.
Although Whitehall is a small city, we did see several franchise motels. We suspect it is large enough to have anything you would need. Riding on, we finally reached the metro area of Butte and our home for the night. Time to stretch those legs and buns. We stayed over night at the 2 Bar Lazy H RV Park. It appeared to have been an old KOA, which for some reason stopped being a KOA. We didn't know about this camp ground when we were making reservations and thought we would have to stay at one of the many motels. But, upon inquiry while getting gas, we learned of the 2 Bar Lazy H. Had we known ahead of time, we could have rented a cabin for the night. As it was, we rented a tent spot and was placed as far away from the bathrooms as possible. Night time bushes work too.
While Judy set up the camp stove on the picnic table to prepare out supper, I set up the tent and got the sleeping bags in place. Then I checked the motorcycle and trailer over for loose bolts or nuts. All seemed fine. As we were doing our duties, a pickup with a topper pulled in next to us. We greeted the two men and through conversation they were in the area scouting for a future elk hunt, later in the fall. We also learned they were "city slickers" and probably had never had a rough day camping in their life. After listening to their bragging and manly accomplishments, Judy and I referred to them as the "Big White Hunters." It was late and getting very chilly so Judy and I went to bed early. Our tent site was near an electrical outlet, so we plugged in our tiny electric heater. We have both a tiny electric heater and a tiny propane heater, both of which are priceless to us. I designed wood boxes for both that allow the heaters to sit on top, with out fear of them tipping over. The electric heater we allow to run all night, but the propane heater is turned on only in the early hours of the morning. Mainly to conserve fuel. So, we slept quite well that night.
Continued in PART 2