A Note from the Editor:
The best things in life are often a product of two stories. There’s the pure pleasure and enjoyment of a life-changing experience, but there’s usually a good deal of preparation and anticipation before we actually make it to the big events. Consider for a moment what goes into the making of an epic road journal: the planning, the anticipation, the hard work, getting everything to gel before undertaking the first of many miles via two wheels. Yet, the journal doesn’t write itself. The photos don’t leap directly from scenic vista to online hosting service. No, the epic journeys require epic endeavors on several levels.
In this case, there’s something even more remarkable going on. In 2004, Mark (better known as Helmetdance on the Pashnit forum) completed a once-in-a-lifetime motorcycle journey over 30 days across the United States, which he shared here as one of the most popular adventure stories ever submitted via the Pashnit forum. And yet, for Mark, even the epic journey could not be a final destination. There were too many sights that could not remain once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Too many places that beckoned again, and more places still filed in the would’ve-should’ve-could’ve cabinet.
A year passed, another year of planning, anticipation and preparing. In 2005 Mark sought to perfect some of the experiences of the previous year, and raise the bar for epic road trips that he had set for himself. You’ll see that Mark did exactly what he set out to do. You’ll understand when you immerse yourself in Mark’s journey why, in the last 12 months, it’s been another year of planning, preparation and anticipation as he worked to assemble this amazing journal of an adventure “beyond incredible”. Our patience in waiting for the fruits of Mark’s work to ripen is rewarded beyond the expectations laid down by his previous journal.
Congratulations, Mark, and many, many thanks for sharing this amazing piece of moto-journalism with your friends and colleagues around the Pashnit world.
If anyone had told me on August 31, 2004 that I could ever surpass the motorcycle experience I had just completed, it would have been very difficult for me to believe them. The 2004 trip was truly “my incredible motorcycle journey”, covering 27 states and nearly 13,000 miles in 30 days – 12,939 miles to be exact. I was, and admittedly still am, relatively new to motorcycling compared to other men my age. When I started out on such a long journey, I never thought of it as trying to make up for lost time, though there may have been an element of truth in that. It’s not that I was trying to prove to myself that I could do it, though there may have been an element of truth in that as well. Looking back on it, I certainly can not deny the sense of accomplishment realized in arriving home safely and being able to look back at such a unique and incredible experience. Without any doubt, it was far and away the most amazing adventure of my life – at least until now.
The trip of 2004 left many memories to savor for a lifetime. Memories of so many places I'd never seen before, memories of adventures shared in the company of new friends who accompanied me in my journey, great memories that will remain ever vivid. A person of solitude, I savored the many miles of solo riding. I brought home a certain sense of fulfillment, and wasn’t particularly concerned about “doing better next year”.
Looking ahead, I wondered if that was even possible. Could I do better? What could surpass such an incredible journey? What would be next? What dreams of the open road would stir the imagination with passion for places yet unseen, with irresistible allure, with a siren song beckoning discovery and exploration, with the romance of adventure, without which the journey is merely a trip?
One year passed. I was determined that a trip in 2005 would be yet another great adventure, if not greater than the previous year’s. The 2004 journey provided more than a few valuable lessons learned. For example, I decided to spend the entire duration of the 2005 journey in the western United States and Canadian provinces, rather than in the less dramatic terrain of the eastern states. Having invested in better camera gear and having acquired a few photographic hints from Pashnit.com, I embarked on my journey determined do a better job of photo-documenting my travels than I had in 2004. I would put out into the deep anticipating a journey beyond incredible.
I am excited and grateful for the opportunity to share my 2005 journey with you now. I hope you will enjoy riding along for the next 13,000 miles. Fire up the engines, lets roll!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Page 3 – Night of Departure – Munster, Indiana to Ottawa, Illinois
Page 4 – Day 1 – Saturday July 30th – Ottawa, Illinois to Fort Collins, Colorado
Page 5 – Day 2 – Sunday July 31st – Fort Collins, Colorado to Leadville, Colorado
Page 6 – Day 3 – Monday August 1st – Leadville, Colorado to Ouray, Colorado
Page 7 – Day 4 – Tuesday August 2nd – Ouray, Colorado to Richfield, Utah
Page 8 – Day 5 – Wednesday August 3rd – Richfield, Utah to Truckee, California
Page 9 – Day 6 – Thursday August 4th – Truckee, California to Pollock Pines, California
Page 10 – Day 7 – Friday August 5th – Pollock Pines, California to Sonora, California Mormon Emigrant Trail, Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass
Page 11 – Day 8 – Saturday August 6th – Sonora, California to Yosemite National Park (Morning) Sonora Pass
Page 12 – Day 8 – Saturday August 6th – Sonora, California to Yosemite National Park (Afternoon) Mono Lake, June Lake, Tioga Pass, Yosemite
Page 13 – Day 9 – Sunday August 7th – Yosemite National Park to Bass Lake, California Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Little Dragon
Page 14 – Day 10 – Monday August 8th – Bass Lake, California to Kings Canyon National Park Kaiser Pass Road
Page 15 – Day 11 – Tuesday August 9th – Kings Canyon National Park to Glendale, California
Page 16 – Day 12 – Wednesday August 10th – Glendale, California to Lake Elsinore, California Angeles Crest Highway
Page 17 – Day 13 – Thursday August 11th – Lake Elsinore, California to Morro Bay, California
Page 18 – Day 14 – Friday August 12th – Morro Bay, California to Petaluma, California Big Sur
Page 19 – Day 15 – Saturday August 13th – Shotgun Tour of Marin and Sonoma Counties, California
Page 20 – Day 16 – Sunday August 14th – Petaluma, California to Red Bluff, California Northern California Coastline, Highway 36
Page 21 – Day 17 – Monday August 15th – Red Bluff, California to Butte Falls, Oregon Highway 36, Wildwood Road, Highway 3, Highway 299, Highway 96
Page 22 – Day 18 – Tuesday August 16th – Butte Falls, Oregon to Coos Bay, Oregon Crater Lake, Oregon Coast
Page 23 – Day 19 – Wednesday August 17th – Coos Bay, Oregon to Stevenson, Washington Mount Hood, Columbia River Gorge
Page 24 – Day 20 – Thursday August 18th – Stevenson, Washington to Anacortes, Washington Mount Rainier National Park
Page 25 – Day 21 – Friday August 19th – Anacortes, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia Ferry through the San Juan Islands
Page 26 – Day 22 – Saturday August 20th – Vancouver, British Columbia to Kamloops, British Columbia
Page 27 – Day 23 – Sunday August 21st – Kamloops, British Columbia to Jasper, Alberta Mount Robson National Park
Page 28 – Day 24 – Monday August 22nd – Jasper, Alberta to Longview, Alberta (Morning) Jasper National Park
Page 29 – Day 24 – Monday August 22nd – Jasper, Alberta to Longview, Alberta (Afternoon) Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country
Page 30 – Day 25 – Tuesday August 23rd – Longview, Alberta to Superior, Montana Waterton and Glacier National Parks
Page 31 - Day 26 - Wednesday August 24th – Superior, Montana to Lowman, Idaho Lolo, Bitterroot, Salmon, Challis, and Boise National Forests, Sawtooth Mountains National Recreation Area
Page 32 – Day 27 – Thursday August 25th – Lowman, Idaho to Montpelier, Idaho Boise and Sawtooth National Forests
Page 33 – Day 28 – Friday August 26th – Montpelier, Idaho to Yellowstone, Montana Caribou, Bridger, and Targhee National Forests, Grand Teton National Park
Page 34 – Day 29 – Saturday August 27th – Yellowstone, Montana to Reed Point, Montana Gallatin National Forest, Yellowstone National Park
Page 35 – Day 30 – Sunday August 28th – Reed Point, Montana
Page 36 – Day 31 – Monday August 29th – Reed Point, Montana to Rock Springs, Wyoming Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Jackson Hole Wyoming
Page 37 – Day 32 – Tuesday August 30th – Rock Springs, Wyoming to Pagosa Springs, Colorado (Morning) Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Douglas Pass
Page 38 – Day 32 – Tuesday August 30th – Rock Springs, Wyoming to Pagosa Springs, Colorado (Afternoon) Return to Red Mountain Pass
Page 39 – Days 33 and 34 – Wednesday August 31st and Thursday September 1st – Pagosa Springs, Colorado to Munster, Indiana 1339 miles in 24 hours
Page 40 – CONCLUSION
Night of Departure – Friday, July 29th
A Minor Delay
The bike has been packed for over a week. Like a little kid on Christmas eve, I’ve been almost too excited to sleep for days. I’ve been itching to put in my last day in the high-stress corporate world of downtown Chicago and slip into the more peaceful and relaxed world of the open road. Having finished my last day of work on Thursday, all that I need accomplish today is to ensure I haven’t left anything behind, then wait for Seth, my riding partner, to get off of work.
Seth and I have planned a night ride across the entire breadth of the Great Plains, riding straight through from our meeting spot in Joliet, Illinois to Denver, Colorado. A one thousand-mile straight shot down Interstate 80 to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and then a short distance further to Denver via Interstate 25, our trek will qualify for a Saddle Sore 1000 Iron Butt ride. Sleeping all afternoon, I awake at 6:30pm to find a message from Seth on my cell phone. He has left work early and is already on his way to Joliet, having left his house at 5:40. I am ready for departure in thirty minutes and estimate that Seth will arrive ahead of me in Joliet by forty-five minutes to an hour.
The bike is ready. Clean oil, new air filter, and brand new Dunlop Elite 3 tires, all installed just a few days earlier. Even the Gremlin Bell has a new mounting strap. The bike is so clean it would put a white glove to the test.
Look Ma, no bugs!
Garmin 2610 GPS and Passport X50 radar detector
I even ordered a Chase Cam for a little video experimentation
A Pakit-Rak for storage, just installed at Wing Ding in Fort Wayne, Indiana over the July 4th holiday weekend
The moment has arrived. One last check with the tire gauge and finally, at long last, it’s time to go
Garmin 2610 GPS at the starting gun
A rendezvous in Joliet - Time to Roll!
Seth has been waiting less than thirty minutes. The traffic on I-55 was very heavy this evening, slowing Seth down quite a bit. Seth rode the shoulder on the way to our rendezvous in order to make progress through the heavy traffic. Otherwise, he would have not arrived until much later. The same thing had happened to Seth last year when we met at the same location. Strangely enough, we had just talked the night before about how slim the odds were that the same thing could possibly happen two years in a row. How wrong we were to under-estimate Chicago rush-hour traffic.
We had a quick cup of coffee and explained to each other our excuses for not being there earlier. We’re finally ready to saddle up and ride. We depart for Denver at 8:30pm, even earlier than we had originally planned. Rolling onto I-80, we gleefully commence our long-awaited journey. However, as the best-laid plans often do, ours soon goes awry, only 48 miles down course. A flat rear tire on Seth’s Goldwing hints that a night-ride across the Great Plains just isn’t in our deck of cards this year. Struggling to repair the tire with fix-a-flat by flashlight on the side of a very dark Interstate 80, the tire is too badly damaged to hold it. It quickly becomes painfully obvious; its time to call HRCA to the aid of Seth’s crippled Goldwing.
While waiting for the tow truck, an Illinois state trooper on patrol stops to check on our situation. He expresses more than a little concern upon hearing the name of the towing outfit. The officer doesn’t have much to say about them, except that they aren’t particularly known for having a great “sense of urgency”. We are about to discover the real reason why they're called "Waite's", and are about to do a lot of it!
Not the way we planned it!
The tow truck driver leaves instructions to be at Leipold Motor Sales, the closest Honda Dealer in the area, at 8:00am the next morning. As Seth pays for the tow, the driver assures us that the day-shift man will be at the dealer bright and early. Before the truck pulls away, Seth grabs some gear off his bike, hops on the back of mine, and off we ride, backtracking almost 30 miles to Ottawa, Illinois. By the time we get checked into the hotel it’s already after midnight. Although the hotel is only 79 miles from my house, the actual mileage covered from my house was to the hotel is 176 miles, including shopping for fix-a-flat and backtracking to Ottawa. Not an incredible start for an anticipated incredible trip. Yet knowing this sort of thing is just part of the sport, we settle for the only thing we can until morning – sleep.
Unscheduled stop – tire problem.
Location: Ottawa, Illinois
GPS Mileage = 176 miles
Route Map: Night of Departure
Day 1 – Saturday July 30th
Ottawa, Illinois to Fort Collins, Colorado
Not off to a blistering start, the tow truck delivers the bike at 9:45, almost two hours late. The state trooper knew what he was talking about. Having paid Waite’s Towing and Recovery the night before, they don’t seem very concerned about living up to their word, but at least remain true to their reputation. The Honda dealership takes the bike into the shop as soon as it arrives. They install the new tire in a quick thirty minutes and we’re back on the road by about 10:30am.
Seth and I crossing the Illinois / Iowa border at high noon
Traveling the interstates across the Great Plains can be grueling, especially in the heat of the afternoon. The road is flat enough to navigate and straight as an arrow, passing through endless miles of corn and wheat fields. Riding in these conditions can be very tiring, almost hypnotic, which is why we wanted to ride that stretch at night. Fortunately for us we are relatively well-rested and gear into express mode, stopping only for fuel, taking longer breaks at every other fuel stop.
Seth is by far THE most enthusiastic football fan I’ve ever met. An ex-college ball player himself, his only request for sightseeing along the way is at the University of Nebraska Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. We break from our express route for a tour around the stadium.
University of Nebraska Memorial Stadium
Through These Gates Pass the Greatest Fans in College Football
While touring the stadium, I receive a cell phone message from a fellow rider. Randy from Colorado has read my Internet posting on the Riders Rally site, and wants to join us. We make plans to meet up with Randy the next morning in Loveland, Colorado.
After our brief break, we’re back on the interstate by 6:30pm. We ride hard, stopping only for fuel. Skirting around a large front of thunderstorms in western Nebraska, we pass through several miles of strong wind gusts and dazzling lightning shows in the night sky to the north. Despite the proximity of the storms, not a single drop of rain touches us. For the most part it's a very smooth, fast-paced, albeit very long ride.
In Cheyenne, Wyoming we head south on Interstate 25. Now on the home stretch to Fort Collins, a burst of energy sparks us for the last 40 miles into Fort Collins. Only a few miles north of Fort Collins, I notice a shiny object fly off Seth’s Goldwing. I try to alert Seth about it on the CB but for some reason he’s not receiving my signal and remains unaware of the missing part. Flashing the brights doesn’t work either and the traffic is too heavy to change position to try to get Seth’s attention. It wasn’t until we arrived in Fort Collins that I’m able to tell Seth about it. Seth quickly identifies a piece of missing trim, but nothing that could make us lose any sleep at this point and thankfully, nothing that would slow us down any further. It’s 1:30am when we arrive at the hotel and we still need to check in and stow our gear. Twenty-eight grueling hours after starting out on our journey, we settle down for what’s left of the night.
End of Day 1
Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
GPS Mileage = 1118 miles
Today’s Mileage = 942 miles
Route Map: Day 1
Day 2 – Sunday July 31st
Fort Collins, Colorado to Leadville, Colorado
Sunday morning, up at 5:30am after less than four hours of sleep. Fast asleep, Seth never hears me getting up or moving around in the room. I leave the hotel an hour earlier than Seth to attend 7:00am Mass in Loveland, about 25 miles south. The early morning sun illuminates my first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains. Beautiful snow-capped peaks against a beautiful clear blue sky fill me with excitement about the upcoming day’s ride.
By 8:00am we’re back on schedule, meeting up with Randy according to plan. Randy is a Colorado native who knows the area like the back of his hand, and he accompanies us through Big Thompson Canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park.
Seth, Randy, and Mark in Loveland, Colorado
Heading into Big Thompson Canyon with Randy and Seth on Highway 34 West, Big Thompson Road
Looking west into Big Thompson Canyon, you can't miss the large pipe spanning the highway, the Big Thompson Siphon. The siphon is part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, the largest mountain water diversion project in Colorado. One of the largest water diversion projects of its kind, it is second only to California's Central Valley Project in acres irrigated.
Big Thompson Siphon
Rocky Mountain National Park must be one of the most beautiful places the United States has to offer. Our first glimpse of some of the tallest peaks of the Continental Divide leaves no doubt that one has left the Great Plains behind and reached the illustrious “West”.
Entering Rocky Mountain National Park at the Fall River Entrance Station
Seth the Hawkeye!
A natural mineral lick near Sheep Lake lures bighorn sheep to Horseshoe Park. Although we keep our eyes peeled, we unfortunately don’t see any Bighorn. Home to many different species of wildlife, black bears, moose, elk, deer, coyotes, bobcats, weasels, and muskrats frequent the wet meadows around Horseshoe Park.
Magnificent Trail Ridge Road is the main corridor through the park. Trail Ridge Road climbs approximately 4,000 feet between the park entrance and the summit of Milner Pass. As we ascend into the higher elevations, forests of aspen and ponderosa pine yield to thick sub-alpine forests of fir and spruce. At treeline, the few remaining weather-beaten trees yield to the alpine tundra, a windswept and harsh environment, yet full of vivid color.
Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road is an unforgettable adventure and a breathtaking ride. The camera lens can not fully capture the grandeur of the vistas in Rocky Mountain National Park.
A windswept alpine world
At the summit of Milner Pass, the park visitor center provides many different observation points of the park’s vast expanses. A short hike to the lookout point affords yet another breathtaking view from an even higher elevation. Seth takes a few minutes to wipe down his bike as Randy enjoys looking at some other motorcycles in the parking area, and I take the opportunity to set up the video cam on the Wing’s front engine guard.
Magnificent views from Trail Ridge Road
Trail Ridge Road provides spectacular views of the majestic scenery of Rocky Mountain National Park. The highest continuous motorway in the United States, more than eight miles are above 11,000 feet. The highest point on the road is at 12,183 feet, well above the treeline and into the alpine tundra. The ascent is equivalent to driving hundreds of miles north into the arctic regions of Canada. Trail Ridge Road is a high-quality road, paved for its entire length.
Spectacular high-mountain terrain
Glacier-carved peaks on every side
Hundreds of square miles of Rocky Mountain highs
Rugged mountains carve out the skyline
We’re hungry and eager for breakfast, so we pass by a few scenic spots without stopping for photos and head straight for the Grand Lake Lodge. The breakfast buffet has everything from scrambled eggs and sausage to crepe suzettes, even shrimp and prime rib for those who prefer a heartier breakfast!
View from our breakfast table at the Grand Lake Lodge
We have no trouble packing away our fair share, but after our short sleep the night before, the huge breakfast hits Seth like a sleeping pill. While Seth takes a nap, Randy and I back-track for a few more shots with the camera.
West of Milner Pass, the road descends and follows the headwaters of the Colorado River to the park's Grand Lake Entrance. A moose feasts on greenery near the upper reaches of the Colorado River, which flows through the scenic Kawuneeche Valley.
Rocky calling Bullwinkle, is that you?
At an elevation of 10,120 feet, Milner Pass marks the crossing of the Continental Divide, where streamflows are separated east from west.
Mountain man Rufus Sage wrote an 1843 account of "beautiful lateral valleys, intersected by meandering watercourses, ridged by lofty ledges of precipitous rock, and hemmed in upon the west by vast piles of mountains climbing beyond the clouds".
“Beautiful lateral valleys, intersected by meandering watercourses” – Rufus Sage
Dramatic peaks tower above the spruce forests
A Clark's Nutcracker – one of many abundant species in Rocky Mountain National Park
Randy and I head back to Grand Lake Lodge to pick up Seth. After saying goodbye, Randy parts company and heads back home. Seth and I continue west on Highway 34 to Granby, Colorado where we head south on Highway 9.
Heading South on Colorado Highway 9
Seth and the Silver Bullet
On Highway 40, near Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado
A freight train passes through the canyon on Highway 40 near Hot Sulphur Springs
Once we reach Interstate 70, Seth decides to take the shortest route to Leadville, our destination for the evening. I still feel like exploring, so I take a chance with the threatening skies and continue south on Highway 9 toward Fairplay.
Between the towns of Breckenridge and Fairplay, Highway 9 crosses the Continental Divide at Hoosier Pass. Hoosier Pass is located at the northern end of the Mosquito Range, in a gap between Mount Democrat to the west and Hoosier Ridge to the east, on the boundary between Park and Summit counties. The pass provides a route between the headwaters of the Blue River to the north and the headwaters of the South Platte River to the south. I stop here for a photo, inspired as much by the name as by the beauty.
What it's all about
In Fairplay, I head south on Highway 285. The skies get pretty dark for a stretch through here, but except for a couple miles of light mist, I stay clear of any rain. Near the town of Antero Junction, Highway 285 becomes Highway 24. A few miles further south, Highway 24 crosses from Park County into Chaffee County via Trout Creek Pass, a county line defined by the Continental Divide. Trout Creek Pass reaches an elevation of 9,346 feet, and is located on a geological fault that runs along the Mosquito Range. At this point the Continental Divide separates the watersheds of the Arkansas River Valley towards Arkansas, and the Platte River Valley towards Nebraska.
Highway 24, Trout Creek Pass
North of Buena Vista on Highway 24
Arriving Leadville around 8:00 PM, Seth’s bike is already parked and covered for the night. The temperature has already dipped into the upper forties, but that hasn’t phased Seth one bit, he’s already iced down the beer! Now that’s a great riding partner! This night will be our first solid night of rest since leaving.
End of Day 2
Location: Leadville, Colorado
GPS Mileage = 1441 miles
Today’s Mileage = 323
Route Map: Day 2
Day 3 – Monday August 1st
Leadville, Colorado to Ouray, Colorado
I awake to a beautiful, sunny morning after a long and much needed night’s sleep. No trace remains of the rain that had passed over the area last night. It’s a very cool morning, only 37 degrees. We stop for a cup of coffee and add a few extra layers before heading down the road.
Leaving Leadville behind us, we head south on Highway 24.
Morning sun on Highway 24 with the Rocky Mountains in the distance
Fifteen miles south of Leadville we take a west bearing onto Highway 82. Just west of the intersection of Highways 24 and 82, and east of the town of Twin Lakes, the two lakes that the town is named after lie nestled in a mountain valley.
The eastern twin of Twin Lakes
We head further west on 82 and approach nearer to the mountains and rapidly begin our ascent into higher elevations as the road narrows.
Ascending the Rockies
We’ll get higher and higher...
...straight up we’ll climb
There’s something special about being in a place like this early in the morning, before anyone else. There’s little or no traffic on the road yet this morning.
Heading into Independence Pass
The higher we climb, the more exciting the ride gets. At one of the hairpins we get off the bikes to take some photos of the valley.
Looking east toward the valley and the Tomichi River
Looking west toward the Rockies from the same spot, a much different view
Mother Nature’s paintbrush at work
The beauty of the Rocky Mountains is dazzling
The final ascent to the summit
Independence Pass Summit
Starting the descent from the summit, we begin making our way west toward Aspen. One is touched by the fact that for miles and miles the countryside is still pristine and untouched. Except for the blacktop, this country still looks the same as it did when the first pioneers passed through these mountains.
It’s nice that some things don’t change much over time
And then again, it’s nice that some things do
C'mon Baby, Let's Do The Twist!
Seth heading for Aspen
Once in Aspen, Seth and I take a walking tour of the town. What a great place! We stop for breakfast at a sidewalk cafe, relax over a great breakfast and enjoying this lively mountain village.
Seth in front of Aspen’s historic Hotel Jerome
From Aspen we take a short detour to the Maroon Bells. The last time I was here you could ride all the way to the end of the road. Now they make you pay to ride a tour bus to the attraction. This is as close as we could get before they made us turn around.
Maroon Bells from Castle Creek Road
Maroon Bells from the Park Entrance
Continuing up Highway 82 through Snowmass, Basalt, and El Jebel, we take a detour on Catherine Store Road at the little town of Catherine, based on some advice from one of the friendly locals.
Looking down at Carbondale from Catherine Store Road
View of the Roaring Fork Valley, home to Carbondale
In Carbondale we turn south on Highway 133. South of Carbondale, Highway 133 glides through wide open pastureland before following a cleft in the valley and forging into the Crystal River Canyon.
Colorado Highway 133
Highway 133 is a beautiful and lightly-traveled highway. Local motorcyclists at a gas station back in Carbondale raved about what a great road this is, and they knew their home turf. This is an incredible motorcycle road through some of the most beautiful terrain in Colorado. Just north of the intersection of Highways 133 and 12, is Paonia State Park. The road twists its way for several miles through the park along the Paonia Reservoir, and it is a breathtaking ride.
Highway 133 in Paonia State Park
At the town of Hotchkiss, we head south on Colorado Highway 92, passing through Gunnison National Forest, the Black Canyon of the Gunnsion National Park, and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. One of the more memorable experiences of this road, at least for Seth, is having a wasp get into his jacket sleeve and stinging his arm. Seth, a pharmacist, was not disconcerted in the least. He broke out an aspirin, made a paste out of it and applied it to the welt. A little trick I will be sure to remember for future reference.
Colorado Highway 92
Colorado Highway 92 entering the Black Canyon of the Gunnison
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Morrow Point Reservoir
Morrow Point Reservoir from atop the Curecanti Needle
Highway 92 leads us to Highway 50, where we head east along the mirror-like Blue Mesa Lake, Colorado’s largest body of water. The Highway 50 bridge is visible for miles away as we ride eastward along the south edge of this vast lake, almost 20 miles in length. Nearing the bridge, the Dillon Pinacles come into view. Strange and beautiful, the Dillon Pinacles tower skyward, sculpted by volcanic activity of a prehistoric era. The bridge appears dwarfed by the lake, and the lake in turn appears dwarfed by the Pinacles. The hillsides are covered with acres upon acres of blue-green sage, the shrub that becomes the familiar tumbleweed when it dies. Some of the sage is fading into browns and grays, a signal that its gypsy-like afterlife is drawing near. In spring time, these shrublands come alive with wildflowers. Indian paintbrush, wallflower, and lupine dot the mesas with red, yellow and blue. Prickly pear cactus and juniper trees combine with the sage, the habitat for sage grouse, rabbits, and marmots.
The Dillon Pinnacles on Blue Mesa Lake
Highway 50 bridge over Blue Mesa Lake
Following Highway 50 east to Gunnison, Colorado we take a brief break. The change in temperature since early this morning is huge. It was in the upper 30s when we left Leadville. In Gunnison, it's over 100. I stop to soak my cooling vest in ice water. Soon I have to take it off again as we begin our ascent up Highway 135 to Crested Butte. From there it is a short distance on Highway 317 to the ski village of Mount Crested Butte. When we arrive at Mount Crested Butte, it's 58 degrees.
Mount Crested Butte
Mount Crested Butte, note the ski-lift in the foreground
On the northern outskirts of the village of Mount Crested Butte, the paved section of Highway 317 comes to an end. From here the dirt road will continue across Schofield Pass and into the town of Marble, not far from the Western boundaries of the Snowmass-Maroon Bells wilderness.
End of paved Highway 317
Heading back west on Highway 50 toward our evening’s destination of Ouray, we stop to take one last shot of Blue Mesa Lake.
Blue Mesa Lake
Ouray is my favorite spot in Colorado. The San Juan Mountains take on an especially rugged character here, and the “Million Dollar Highway” that crosses them is one of the most beautiful highways anywhere. But that crossing will have to wait until tomorrow morning, as Ouray is our destination for the night.
Nearing Ouray, Colorado
Arriving in Ouray, we eagerly settle down for a good meal and, of course, a cold beer.
End of Day 3
Location: Ouray, Colorado
GPS Mileage = 1850 miles
Today’s Mileage = 409 miles
Route Map: Day 3
Day 4 – Tuesday August 2nd
Ouray, Colorado to Richfield, Utah
Another beautiful morning, we head south out of Ouray on Colorado Highway 550. Just outside of town, the road begins a steep ascent on to Red Mountain Pass. Highway 550 is also known as the Million Dollar Highway because of the gold ore in the ground the road is built on. Passing through Uncompahgre and San Juan National Forests, this area is often referred to as the Switzerland of America, a favorite with skiers from around the world.
Red Mountain Pass
The morning air is cool and crisp as we climb toward the summit, our attention riveted on the road carved into the sheer mountain cliffs –- no room for mistakes here! Adrenaline flows early this morning as we enjoy the spectacular view, unobstructed by guardrails. An oncoming 18-wheeler rounds a blind turn on our side of the center line, leaving a narrow path between the truck and a very steep drop, a sober reminder to stay focused on the ride.
Getting up this morning takes on a different meaning
Two bikes in the Uncompahgre
Ouray has its beginnings in the historic gold and silver mining days of the 1800s. Many of the old mine structures still stand in the beautiful mountains of Red Mountain Pass, as well as newer mines that are still operational.
Remnants of a past era
On a distant mountainside stand the quiet remains of an "Old West" mine
The early morning sun casts its shadows over most of the north side of the pass, less than ideal conditions for photographing the beautiful landscape. I think to myself that I will adjust my route to pass through here again on the way home and try to get some afternoon shots.
Nearing the top
The summit of Red Mountain Pass lies on the Continental Divide, forming the boundary of the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests, and separating the Las Animas River and Uncompahgre River watersheds.
Red Mountain Pass Summit
As we make our descent on the south side of Red Mountain Pass, a beautiful valley in the San Juan Mountains comes into view.
Looking south toward Silverton, old mine structures stand in foreground
Roadway carved into the mountainside is standard fare on Red Mountain Pass
Descending into the valley
Spectacular vistas, an unforgettable ride
The pass is named for Red Mountain on the north side of the pass, a reference to the iron-laden reddish rock that forms its slopes.
A view of Red Mountain from Silverton
Heading south out of Silverton, Colorado on Highway 550, we stop one last time for more shots of the spectacular landscape.
View north into the San Juan Mountains
Continuing south on Highway 550, between Silverton and Durango, we pass through Molas and Coal Bank passes. Once heavily forested, the terrain surrounding Molas Pass was cleared by a devastating fire in 1879 and has not yet recovered, despite efforts at reforestation.
Coal Bank Pass
Once in Durango, we head west on Highway 160 through Hesperus, Mancos, and Cortez.
Mesa Verde National Park
Seth and I comment to each other on how quickly the landscape changes once we start heading north out of Cortez on Highway 666, or is it Highway 491? Once nicknamed “The Devils Highway”, the State of Colorado changed the Highway number from 666 to 491 in June of 2003, apparently convinced to do so by those who thought renaming it would make it less of a “beast”. Whatever you call it, a rose by any other name is still a rose.
Farmland along Highway 491
Crossing the Utah State Line
Amber waves of grain
It’s hard to describe the enormity of the wide open spaces that are Utah. It’s truly awe-inspiring to see such vast, panoramic expanses of land without a single house or structure, not even a fence or a cross road.
Heading west on Utah Highway 95, a few miles south of Blanding
Near Natural Bridges National Monument
Wide open spaces, all to ourselves
Utah’s vast lands are the ancient home of the Navajo, Shoshone, and other Native Americans
Snaking through the Utah desert
Vast expanses go on forever
“Temporarily closed”, the Fry Canyon Lodge is billed on its web site as “Utah’s Most Remote Desert Lodge”.
The ghost town called Fry Canyon Lodge
A sign on the road ahead marks the boundary of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
The Technicolor desert of Utah
Purple mountains' majesty
The Highway 95 bridge over the Colorado River
Traffic here in the middle of the desert is non-existent, so stopping on the Highway 95 bridge over the Colorado was not a problem. Our presence here goes totally unnoticed by anyone except ourselves.
A stop on the bridge
The Colorado River
River canyon carved over countless centuries
The traffic out here is about as sparse as it gets, and motorcycles account for a good deal of what little traffic occasionally happens along.
Great motorcycle country
As I walked back to the bike, I couldn’t get over this view looking back toward the Colorado
The view from Hite Overlook, at the edge of the cliffs opposite Hite Marina and about 600 feet above Lake Powell. To the northeast is the junction of the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers, a point normally submerged, but low water levels in recent years have led to the formation of a large area of mudflats around the confluence.
Confluence of the Colorado and Dirty Devil Rivers from the Hite Overlook
Another view from the Hite Overlook
Stormy weather ahead
Continuing north on Highway 95, we enter a stretch of light rain. Not nearly as bad as what we were expecting from the look of the dark skies. The rain was light enough that we could still enjoy the scenery. In Hanskville we turn west on Highway 24 and head towards Capitol Reef National Park.
A wet but colorful Capitol Reef National Park
Passing through the towns of Torrey, Bicknell, and Lyman the skies begin to break. Although the sun starts peaking through, the temps are in the high forties. It doesn’t get any warmer for the rest of day.
Utah Highway 24, north of Loa
Highway 24, near Burrville
The terrain in this area of western Utah takes on a dramatically different character than the desert regions we had passed through earlier in the afternoon.
Surprising variation of terrain
At Highway 119, we head west toward our destination of Richfield.
Highway 119 near the junction with Highway 24
Utah Highway 119, near Glenwood
Seth and I ride into Richfield, Utah around 7:00pm. Since we plan to part company tomorrow, we planned to treat ourselves to a steak dinner. We happily follow through, and find a great place for a final night's meal.
End of Day 4
Location: Richfield, Utah
GPS Mileage = 2290 miles
Today’s Mileage = 440 miles
Route Map: Day 4
Day 5 – Wednesday August 3rd
Richfield, Utah to Truckee, California
As has been our routine almost every day, Seth and I gas up and are ready to roll about 30 minutes before sunrise. We have about 45 more miles to ride together before parting company. The entrance ramp to Interstate 70 is only a quarter mile from our hotel in Richfield. As we roll onto the interstate, the twilight sun against the incredible Utah landscape is almost surreal. Interstate 70 appears so dwarfed by the enormous backdrop of the terrain, that it appears more like a small country road. This has to be one of the most beautiful stretches of interstate anywhere. Except for the interstate itself, the terrain is virtually pristine and untouched. At the little town of Sigurd, we exit onto Utah Highway 50 and make our way past small houses and farms. The ride is so incredibly beautiful, I wish that we had waited an extra hour before leaving so we could see it by daylight. Seth and I are both left totally breathless by the magnificence of our surroundings.
At Scipio we’ve reached the end of our trail together. We stop for one last tank of gas at the junction of Interstate 15 and Highway 50 and take the time to chat over a cup of coffee. Meeting people along the way is one of the greatest things about motorcycling. Although I’ve known Seth for about a year prior to this trip, this was the most time we’ve spent together. I’m sure anyone who has ever had the opportunity to meet Lieutenant Commander Seth will agree with me. Not only does this man have a quick wit and a great sense of humor, but he’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, a true gentleman.
The morning sun illuminates Interstate 15 near Scipio, Utah
I head south on Interstate 15 for another 10 miles to Exit 178, continuing west on Highway 50, which will be my home for the rest of the day. It’s still early in the morning and I have gotten used to seeing very little traffic on the road since we left Colorado yesterday morning. As I stop to take this picture, an eighteen-wheeler passes me and the driver waves. This same driver would catch back up to me about 3 more times in the next 50 miles or so as I stopped for pictures.
Heading west on Highway 50 just north of Holden, Utah
The terrain now takes on a much flatter character. Highway 50 is straight as an arrow, but still very beautiful in its own way. It's often said that Highway 50 is the "Loneliest Road in America", and for good reason.
The morning mist lingers low over the dry bed of Lake Sevier, stretching out for miles and miles
Skull Rock Pass, Millard County, Utah
As the road disappears into the distance, the Confusion Mountains loom on the horizon
Crossing the Nevada State Line
Highway 50 is for the most part straight and flat, but an occasional turn is enough to keep you alert
Far be it from me to advocate non-compliance with traffic regulations. Yet it wasn't that long ago when speed limits did not exist here. The road is so straight you can see clear to the horizon sometimes, not a single crossroad nor another vehicle for as far as you can see. There are so few vehicles in these parts, it's easy enough to let off the throttle when you do see one, a practice that saved me from two or three tickets. I couldn’t help but wonder what passed through the minds of the LEOs who pegged my radar detector as the digits on their radar guns spelled out "75", the limit in these parts. I cover the 425 miles of the lonely Nevada wilderness between the Utah and California borders in less than six hours.
If you love solitude, then you'll love Nevada
Highway 341, near Virginia City, Nevada
A view from one of the overlooks along Highway 341
Highway 341 turns into Highway 431, or Mt. Rose Highway, just a little ways south of Reno. I’m not familiar with the area, but from the many lodges and ski lifts I pass by it's obvious that this is a skier’s playground, and not a bad playground for a motorcyclist on vacation either! I’m having great fun as I twist my way up and around Mt. Rose. What a treat I discover as I pull into an overlook with a scenic view of Lake Tahoe. I had been in the Lake Tahoe area the previous year, but had never seen the lake from the east side. What a sight after a long day's ride! Appearing as a deep blue gem surrounded by the snow-capped facets of the mountain peaks stretching out before me, what an amazing welcome to the beautiful land of the Sierra Nevadas.
A view of Lake Tahoe from an overlook on Highway 431 in Toiyabe National Forest
Crossing the California State line in Brockway, near Kings Beach
At Kings Beach I stop to soak my cooling vest in the cool waters of Lake Tahoe for relief from the 100-degree heat. An enthusiastic call home by cell phone announces my arrival in the State of California to my family back in Indiana.
From Kings Beach I continue on a very scenic Highway 267 to Truckee. Still plenty of daylight left, I decide to head up Donner Pass road to see the legendary mountain pass for myself, stopping on the way for a brief walk along the shore of Donner Lake.
Donner Pass Road
The old Pacific Railroad’s Summit Tunnel
Donner Pass, Donner Lake in the background
Twisty ride between Donner Lake and the summit of Donner Pass
Bridge at Donner Pass
I stay in Truckee for the night, celebrating my arrival in California in a great little Italian place near my hotel, the Village Pizzaria, that served up a great linguine with clams.
End of Day 5
Location: Truckee, California
GPS Mileage = 2928 miles
Today’s Mileage = 638 miles
Route Map: Day 5
Partial Map of Route Around Washoe Lake and Lake Tahoe
Day 6 – Thursday August 4th
Truckee, California to Pollock Pines, California
I’ve never had a problem with oversleeping while traveling by motorcycle. Besides the fact that I’ve always been a natural born “morning person”, the sheer excitement and anticipation for the next day’s ride never allows me to sleep too late. I always seem to wake up before the alarm clock, and that is particularly true today. Looking forward to meeting some of the Pashnit gang, I’ve planned to meet Tim of Pashnit fame for lunch today in Folsom, along with Gary and his wife Donna (Demenshea), and Jim (Wanderlust). I’ve also allowed plenty of time to take in the sights along the way. This morning’s ride promises to be another spectacular ride on two of California’s finest motorcycle roads, Highways 89 and 50. The ride will follow Highway 89 south along the west shore of Lake Tahoe, then Highway 50 west all the way to Folsom.
The morning ride from Truckee to Folsom
The early morning has its advantages on a great road like this one. There’s hardly a car on the road as I twist my way through the towering ponderosa pines, and red and white firs of Tahoe National Forest. As I head into higher elevations, it quickly becomes apparent that my fur-lined gauntlet gloves would have been a better choice for this morning's ride as the temps have once again dipped into the 40s. As I head out of Truckee and onto Highway 89 south, the road twists its way along the Truckee River. Each twist in the road brings into view another breathtaking river vista. The sound of the water rushing along its way is loud enough to be heard over the steady purr of the engine.
An early morning view of the Truckee River
I take a moment to change my gloves, stretch out a bit, and take a deep breath of the brisk mountain air, heavily scented with ponderosa pine. Taking in my surroundings, I couldn’t be happier. It’s my first full-day of riding in the Golden State. I've finally made it back again and it sure feels great to be here on two wheels! Yet, apparently, I’m not the only one who likes it here. As I near the town of Olympic Valley, the many ski lifts in the area hint that I’m not only in motorcycle paradise, but in skier’s paradise as well.
Prime ski country
The morning chill quickly dissipates as the sun begins to rise higher in the sky. I shed the extra layers of thermal t-shirts and sweatshirts just as quickly. Highway 89 twists its way around the west shore of Lake Tahoe and provides many scenic views of the lake. Between Tahoma and South Lake Tahoe are several very scenic areas to stop for photos, including Sugar Pine Point, and D. L. Bliss and Emerald Bay State Parks.
A view from D. L. Bliss State Park
Photographing Eagle Falls turned into more of a project than I anticipated. I thought I could save a few steps by short-cutting the trail. Not hardly! The jagged cliffs made it difficult to reach a decent vantage point. But as the saying goes, “where there’s a will there’s a way”, even if I didn’t get back to the bike until 30 minutes later! If you’re ever here, you might just try walking down the trail!
Eagle Falls in Emerald Bay State Park
Lake Tahoe is the largest and deepest alpine lake in the United States. This early morning view of Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay shimmering like a blue sapphire could make a morning person out of almost anyone.
Emerald Bay with Lake Tahoe in the background
I Wonder why they call it Emerald Bay?
Heading south of Emerald Bay, Highway 89 makes its final descent into South Lake Tahoe.
Threading the hairpins
Carving the switchbacks
What a great road – and NO traffic!
Weaving an exciting ride
In South Lake Tahoe I pick up Highway 50 and head west. Highway 50 is a gorgeous road, especially the section between South Lake Tahoe and Pollock Pines, passing through such scenic points as Johnson Pass, Echo Summit, Twin Bridges, and Strawberry. Once west of Pollock Pines, the traffic starts to get a bit heavier as I start nearing the Sacramento and Folsom area. I get into Folsom around 10:30am and make contact with Tim and Gary. Tim’s at work, but Gary is home and invites me to stop by his place while we wait for lunch time.
Gary and Donna
Jim (Wanderlust), Gary (Gary), Donna (Demenshea), Tim (Pashnit), and Mark (Helmetdance) at the Cliffhouse restaurant in Folsom
Over lunch we naturally spend more time looking at maps and talking about riding than eating, although I must say that the food was very good. Here is one lone Hoosier sitting around a table with four Californians, maps in hand, all very intent on determining the most awesome motorcycle route to show to a Hoosier in one afternoon – now that is one very interesting conversation! It’s always nice to take a break from the maps and the GPS for a few hours and just play follow the leader. In fact, I later had to ask Gary to share his recollection of our route so I could reference it here.
After lunch we say our goodbyes to Tim and Donna, while Gary, Jim, and myself head out on our afternoon journey. We head north out of Folsom and take a quick jaunt down I-80 to the town of Auburn, and then take Highway 49 north to Old Foresthill Road.
The Ride from Folsom to Auburn
About a half-mile from that intersection is a rather unique site, a reservoir that never happened. The Foresthill Bridge was built to span the planned reservoir, but the plans for the reservoir never materialized after the bridge was built. The Foresthill Bridge rises 730 feet above the American River's north fork, making it the highest bridge in the State of California and boasting a half-mile long span and piers only 16 feet shorter than those of the Golden Gate.
The Foresthill Bridge
The lake that never happened
The American River, North Fork
Gary and Jim
We make our way down Foresthill Road for another 10 or 15 miles. The temps have skyrocketed since leaving Truckee early this morning and is now into the triple digits. We stop at a gas station near the intersection of Mosquito Ridge Road and gas up the bikes. I also use the break time to soak my cooling vest in some cold water and fill my Camelbak with ice water.
Once fueled up, we make our way east on Mosquito Ridge Road.
The real ride is about to start
Entering Tahoe National Forest
Gary and Jim both know the area well. They have a few photo-stops in mind ahead of time, but also are very understanding of my need to stop and take pictures and generally gawk at what must have seemed to them to be every other turn in the road.
Me, Jim, and Gary
Naturally, we stop along the way more than a few times to have a little fun with the camera, which also gives us a brief respite from the afternoon's scorching heat.
Gary is riding his wife's illustrious “Lola”
Leaning the wing
Jim on his Suzuki Madura V1200
A view from Mosquito Ridge Road
A bridge in the middle of nowhere
Taking a break in the shade
One of the amazing things to me about California is that you don’t have to go far in terms of miles from civilization to find some very remote and isolated areas. Mosquito Ridge Road sure fits that description.
The rugged terrain of Tahoe National Forest
Three bikes in the Sierra wilderness
California is truly motorcycle paradise. There are so many awesome motorcycle roads here that its really hard to pick one that is the best. Whereas in other parts of the country, people will come for miles around, even hundreds of miles, to find one good stretch of road. In California, you can hardly get from Point A to Point B without traveling down at least one great road.
Mosquito Ridge Road – 35 miles of non-stop twisties
French Meadows Reservoir
After leaving French Meadows Reservoir, we head down French Meadows Road to Eleven Pines Road, twisting our path through Tahoe and Eldorado National Forests. At the end of Eleven Pines Road, we make our way on Wentworth Springs Road and over to Icehouse Road. The surface of Wentworth Springs Road is excellent, freshly paved, smooth as silk with fast and sweeping curves.
Wentworth Springs Road
On Icehouse Road, we stop at a campground, searching for gas. Luckily the owner has a tank he uses for his own vehicles and is willing to sell us some. The Goldwing has a large tank and a range of over 200 miles in these higher altitudes, but Jim’s bike is starting to get pretty thirsty.
Mosquito Ridge, French Meadows, 11 Pines, Wentworth Springs, and Icehouse Roads
After purchasing the gas, Gary heads for home while Jim and I decide to take in one more sight, although it will mean arriving at our destination of Pollock Pines after dark. We head north on Icehouse Road to watch the sun set over Loon Lake.
The ride to Loon Lake
Late evening at Loon Lake
Taking in the colors of the sunset
The earthen dam at Loon Lake
I’ve read and re-read the Icehouse Road and Loon Lake write-up on Pashnit's Moto Roads site several times and have developed a special attraction for this place. I've never been here before, yet I’ve looked forward to coming here for a long time. The story and pictures on Pashnit convinced me that I had to see it for myself. I find it well worth the trip – and a great testimony to the incredible resource that Pashnit provides for people like me who want to plan an unforgettable trip. There is something very intriguing here, as evidenced by the many off-road vehicles that come to Loon Lake, the gateway to the OHV section of the Rubicon Trail. It’s remote and isolated, desolate yet inviting, rugged and incredibly beautiful.
Loon Lake – rugged and beautiful
Rugged terrain of Loon Lake
Colorful evening sun
As the sun sets over Loon Lake, another incredible day of riding comes to a close. Jim and I don’t leave until it's almost dark as the intense colors of tonight’s sunset are just too breathtaking to walk away from. It’s so quiet and peaceful here. I will return to this place someday.
Sunset on Loon Lake
Finally its time to head for Pollock Pines, our destination for the night.
The ride from Loon Lake to Pollock Pines
End of Day 6
Location: Pollock Pines, California
GPS Mileage = 3234 miles
Today’s Mileage = 306 miles
Map Route: Day 6
Day 7 – Friday August 5th
Pollock Pines, California to Sonora, California
Mormon Emigrant Trail, Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass
I awake this morning a tad on the hungry side. Although Jim and I enjoyed watching a mesmerizing sunset at Loon Lake last night, we were also to learn that Pollock Pines is not a good place to show up hungry if it's late at night. Apparently, the definition of late in Pollock Pines is “after 9:00pm”.
Today we plan to get an early start to take advantage of the early morning sun, and the weather couldn’t be nicer. No sooner do we finish loading up the bikes than the purr of a red Honda VFR 750 is heard as it rolls into the parking lot. V4 Fury (Kipp) shows up bright and early to join us for today’s ride, which will take us through the Eldorado National Forest on Mormon Emigrant Trail, then on to Carson Pass, Ebbetts Pass, and ultimately to this evening’s destination of Sonora.
Although we're all a little hungry, it's a beautiful morning, and all parties agree that a beautiful morning's ride on some of California’s greatest motorcycle roads (the Sierra Passes!) should certainly get the nod in favor of instant gratification in the form of breakfast. After all, breakfast will wait, but sunrise won't. It sure is great fun to ride in a group that shares the same priorities!
Kipp joins in the ride
Leaving Pollock Pines, we head south on Sly Park Road, and are only a few miles south of town when we come upon Jenkinson Lake. This photo is taken from the Sly Park Dam, at the intersection of Sly Park and Silver Lake Roads.
Silver Lake Road eventually becomes Mormon Emigrant Trail. It’s also shown as Iron Mountain Road on the map. I’m not sure where the name changes take place, but from Jenkinson Lake to Highway 88, we basically followed one road. Mormon Emigrant Trail is very light on traffic this morning, and what little traffic we do see consists mostly of logging trucks working in the area. Passing through the beautiful wilderness of the Eldorado National Forest, I delight at the discovery of what must be considered one of California's many hidden gems. Those who prefer the less traveled path are sure to find the allure of Mormon Emigrant Trail irresistible.
Photo stop along Mormon Emigrant Trail
Mormon Emigrant Trail - narrow corridor through thick, lush forest
Endless twists and turns
The road is all ours
Jim and his Suzuki Madura 1200
Recorded visions over the last 2,000 years of a mysterious "flaming red wing in the sun", have often preceded miraculous victories in battle. Witnesses have often attributed their visions to the fiery wing of St. Michael the Archangel, and so the visions are believed to be preludes to miraculous events. On a more scientific note, the dates of these recorded sightings have been confirmed by NASA, but attributed as coinciding with various appearances of Halley's and other comets. Whether in reality the visions were St. Michael the Archangel, a comet, or even a bright red Goldwing, such a vision could inarguably only be the omen of a very good day – and of course, an incredible stretch of scenic motorcycle road doesn't hurt either!
A flaming red Wing in the sun – prelude to a very good day
Jim and Kipp have been raving about a beautiful vista that is a "must-see" stop for anyone riding the Mormon Emigrant Trail. If I remember correctly, the location of this vista was just a couple of miles north of Highway 88.
Scenic Vista - Eldorado National Forest
After stopping at a curious old deserted resort at the intersection of Mormon Emigrant Trail and Highway 88, we start making our way east on Highway 88. I know we are getting close to Silver Lake from the unique appearance of the terrain, which I remember from my last trip out to California one year earlier. Located in Amador County, the terrain surrounding Silver Lake is stunning, formed by volcanic activity of ages past.
Nearing Silver Lake
Nestled in the incredible landscape on the west end of Silver Lake is the Plasse Resort. Having discovered Plasse Resort in search of a restaurant, we luckily stumble upon a hungry man’s oasis. If ever out this way, be sure to stop at the Thunder Mountain Restaurant, offering great home-cooked food and friendly service, it’s a rare find on the road. Just be sure to bring your appetite along.
Thunder Mountain Restaurant at Plasse Resort
After breakfast, we stop briefly at this turnout for Silver Lake.
Kit Carson Road Turnout – Silver Lake
Looking forward to the ride ahead, we continue our gradual climb into the Sierras.
Eastward ascent into the Sierra Nevadas on Highway 88
The ride from Silver Lake to Caples Lake is a short one, crossing from Amador into Alpine County. To give an idea of the steep ascent of this terrain, consider that Caples Lake is at 7800 feet, about 500 feet higher than Silver Lake, but less than 8 miles further east.
After we leave Caples Lake, things start happening rather quickly. A dead deer in the middle of the road with bits and pieces of motorcycle fairing laying around the carcass signals big trouble. We immediately slow down, and just beyond the deer, a shaken motorcyclist on the side of the road inspects damage to what appears to be a very new BMW K1200LT. He looks OK, and since other people have already stopped to help him, we continue on for a few hundred yards and stop to take pictures of Red Lake from a scenic pull-out. While stopped for pictures, a group of concerned motorists stop to tell us about the motorcyclist who just hit the deer, thinking he was a part of our group. It wasn't until several minutes later that another rider who actually was with the wrecked rider realized he was missing his partner and had turned around to look for him. He stopped to ask us if we had seen him and we pointed to the location of the crash behind us. I don't know of a single motorcyclist who wouldn't be sympathetic in that situation. We all know how fast things like that can happen. If things had been offset by only a few seconds, that collision could very well have involved us. Silently, I say a word of thanks in advance for a continued event-free and safe ride, and we are on our way.
We are now well into Carson Pass. It's late morning now and although the traffic is continuous, it’s not heavy. There's still plenty enough space between cars to have a little fun with the camera, although we have to stop and wait for them to go by.
Fun on Carson Pass
We continue eastward as we make our way over Carson Pass, enjoying the incredible vistas as we ride. The further east we travel, the more overcast the skies become. Its particularly dark to the south, the way we're going. Looks like we’re headed into some rain.
Carson Pass and the peaks of the Sierra Nevadas
As we head south on Highway 89, the clouds get darker and there’s now a few drops of rain in the air. Our plan is to head west on Highway 4 and to cross Ebbetts Pass. About 2.5 miles south of the little town of Markleeville, we reach the intersection of Highways 89 and 4. Jim and Kipp are due for fuel, so we stop here to fuel the bikes and grab a snack at the Carson River Resort. Our timing is perfect, as a passing cloud rains a gentle shower as we make our pit stop. But the rain is very short lived. By the time we're ready to roll, the rain has practically stopped.
I’m especially looking forward to this part of today’s ride. I have fond memories of Ebbetts Pass from last year’s ride, and aside from Sonora Pass, this is in my opinion, one of the very finest motorcycle roads in California. There’s nothing like the Sierra Passes, these are the best motorcycle roads anywhere. I hope you won’t mind that I follow up with a large number of photos. It’s hard to do justice to the beauty of Ebbetts Pass. The bikes are fueled and we're ready to ride. We begin our ascent toward Ebbetts Pass on Highway 4 west, entering the wild and beautiful Stanislaus National Forest.
Highway 4 West – ascent to Ebbetts Pass
The countryside around Ebbetts pass is rugged, wild, and beautiful. Too rugged to be anything but wilderness, there are very few signs of man here besides the road itself.
Rugged Ebbetts Pass
The road blends beautifully into the countryside. The road, like the countryside is wild and beautiful. The surface is well maintained, smooth as velvet, and as twisty as your favorite motorcycle dreams. If Ebbetts were the only motorcycle road in California, I would still come all the way from Indiana just to ride it - yes, it really is THAT good!
Twisting through Ebbetts Pass
Not only am I a lucky man to be riding Ebbetts Pass this day, but now the weather looks like it will be on our side as well. The rain has stopped and the overcast is lifting and breaking up. Looks like this is summer in California after all!
Sun trying to peek through the clouds
View of the valley – note the road in the distance
As usual, some of the best views in the road don't always come with a parking spot. And even though there isn't much traffic here at all, you never know what's coming around the turns. Sometimes you just have to park the bike and hoof it!
Worth the walk
A short walk in these high altitudes and steep roads will give a prompt indication of one's physical condition. Add to that the warm temps with the sun peeking out, and it's still better than an air-conditioned office at work!!
Now, where did I leave that motorcycle?
There it is!
As you read this, you're probably thinking about the large quantities of photos I've posted. Considering that I’ve only posted a fraction of them, that gives you an idea of the patience of my riding companions. I can hardly blame them for wanting to open the throttle up a bit and leave the camera guy behind. So that's what they did. They took off for a while to retrace some of the miles we just traveled. I didn't mind a bit, as it gave me a chance to catch up on my picture taking!
While they were gone, I take a break walking around Kinney Reservoir with the camera. Kinney Reservoir is only a mile or two east of the summit. As I wait for Jim and Kipp to get back, I have a chance to re-organize my gear and clean the bike up little. I should have brought a fishing pole!
Peaceful and serene
Should have brought a fishing pole!
View from the earthen dam of the Kinney Reservoir
Looking West on Highway 4 from Kinney Reservoir
Soon enough Jim and Kipp return from their "need-for-speed" ride and we're back on way to the summit of the pass.
Wild and beautiful Stanislaus National Forest
Ebbetts Pass lies in the furthest Northeast quadrant of Stanislaus National Forest, in an area surrounded by designated wilderness lands. To the east lies Toiyabe National Forest, and a few miles to the south is the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, with the Mokelumne Wilderness only a few miles to the west.
Asphalt ribbon through deep forest wilderness
Three bikes and the road
Trying the big 70-200 zoom lens
More fun than a roller coaster
Ebbetts Pass - nearing the summit
Ebbetts Pass - The Summit
When one reaches the summit of the pass, you won't miss Mosquito Lake. It's like looking at a painting. And that little cabin, does someone actually live there? What a slice of heaven this is!
The stunning beauty of Mosquito Lake – can this be real?
Having reached the summit, the rest of the ride is downhill, and soon takes us back into civilization. Turning south on Highway 49 at Angels Camp, we will soon be in Sonora, our destination for the night. About 10 miles north of Sonora, we pull into a turn-out for a few shots of New Melones Lake.
New Melones Lake
Highway 49 bridge crossing New Melones Lake
What an incredible day's ride we had today. After checking in at the Gold Lodge Hotel, we find a great place to eat in Sonora and celebrate over a thick slab of prime rib.
End of Day 7
Location: Sonora, California
GPS Mileage = 3418 miles
Today’s Mileage = 184 miles
Route Map: Day 7
Partial Route: Mormon Emigrant Trail
Partial Route: Silver and Caples Lakes - Carson and Ebbetts Passes
Day 8 – Saturday, August 6th
Sonora, California to Yosemite National Park
Sonora Pass, Mono Lake, June Lake, Tioga Pass
Early Saturday morning at the Gold Lodge Hotel in Sonora California. It’s still dark. Surely, most of the hotel guests are still sleeping while Jim, Kipp, and myself are busying ourselves with preparations for today’s ride, one we’ve been anticipating with great excitement. What in the world could ever top yesterday’s ride over Ebbetts Pass? We hope to find the answer to that question today as we ride Sonora Pass!
Last year’s ride over Sonora Pass left me with only one regret, that I had not taken nearly enough pictures. This year would be different. I feel more confident and relaxed on the bike now. Last year’s ride through the passes demanded all the focus my inexperience could muster. I admittedly was not as relaxed as someone with more miles under their belt. But a lot of miles have passed since then. I’ve been kicking myself ever since last year for not capturing the memories of that spectacular ride with the camera. Well this year is going to be different. I’ve already warned my riding companions that I don’t plan to head back to Indiana with an empty camera, thus the large number of photographs in this thread.
I’ve devoted more pics to this day’s ride than any other, and for good reason. Sonora Pass gets my vote as the best motorcycle road I’ve ever ridden – anywhere!
Six o’clock in the morning, the first glimmer of twilight appears in the eastern sky. The sound of motorcycles approaching in the distance is rapidly getting closer. My pulse quickens as Strega 51 (Phil), DR Motard (Drew), and Slo Rider (Matt) roll into the lot. Their arrival means that departure time is almost here. If many of the hotel guests were still asleep 60 seconds earlier, the sound of Phil’s hot V-Twin RC51 must have eliminated the need for many alarm clocks that morning. I think they should all be very grateful to Phil for providing a free wake-up call!! I also hope that the owners feel that way, just in case I ever return to the Gold Lodge.
A few minutes later, all six bikes pull out of the hotel for one of the best motorcycle rides I have ever experienced. A quick fuel stop, and we’re off on our way toward Sonora Pass on Highway 108 east. Taking Phil’s advice, we cover the first 30 miles quickly to get further into the California back country. Glancing at the names of the towns as we passed through Mono Vista, Twain Harte, and Mi Wuk Village, I couldn’t help imagining the origins of these most unusual names. As we crossed into the Stanislaus National Forest, civilization quickly fades once again into a memory. Only thirty miles east of Sonora and we’re already into deep wilderness country. We take advantage of perhaps the last opportunity for miles for coffee at the General Store in the tiny little town of Strawberry.
Strawberry General Store
A statue of Bigfoot on the front lawn of the store captures my attention. I think to myself that this must be the chic thing to do around these parts. Maybe there’s a local Bigfoot club where the members trade the latest and greatest Bigfoot news, where to get the best Bigfoot statues, trade Bigfoot movies and so on. That’s when I read the sign posted on the bulletin board: “Last Sighting, Leavitt Falls...” There was a date, even a description including the sex. This can’t be for real! The locals believe otherwise, they take the legends seriously. One thing is certain, I have come a long way since leaving Chicago! Enough of legends, its time to get back to the ride.
Taking off the morning chill with some hot java
Highway 108 bridge at Strawberry
Strawberry is located in the Stanislaus National Forest and Tuolumne County, on the south fork of the Stanislaus River. The Sierra Nevada wilderness is something that must be hard to take for granted, even for the folks who are lucky enough to live here.
South Fork, Stanislaus River
Drew and Matt behind Kipp’s VFR 750
Phil’s RC51 Rocket
Last year I had happened upon what has to be one of the most spectacular vistas in the Sierra Nevada’s. None of the guys I was riding with had ever been here before, so for a few brief moments the Hoosier had the honor of showing the Californians something of their own state. The turnout for the Donnell Reservoir vista is 15 miles east of Strawberry.
Donnell Reservoir Overlook, Elevation 6311 Feet
This morning’s skies are sunny and blue. I’ve looked forward to this day’s ride for a long time, and the weather couldn’t be more perfect. As we continue the ascent to Sonora Pass, I make good on my resolution to take plenty of pictures. The morning sun is working its magic.
Early morning on Highway 108
Could there be a better way to spend a Saturday morning?
Since I’ve taken tail-gunner position, the rest of the group opens throttles at will. Not only am I riding the biggest and slowest bike, but I’m gawking at the scenery at every turn, hunting for another vista at which to aim the lens and capture the scene in my memory card. I’ll never forget taking this next photograph. For some reason this spot captures the essence of the Sierra passes. I have taken so much time to find the right shot that the group has ridden far ahead. Noticing my absence, they backtrack to find me. As the day progresses they get used to my camera antics and just wait up the road for me to catch up. I truly appreciate everyone being so patient with me.
Enchanting morning in the Sierras
Kipp under the Highway 108 bridge at Eagle Creek
The air in the High Sierras is cool and crisp, no need for the cooling vest that had been basic gear only a few days earlier. Pristine and clean, the air is laden with sweet fragrance of douglas fir and ponderosa pine, species very abundant here. I enjoy every breath of fresh air, every glimpse of Mother Nature in her glory, every finely engineered turn in the road, and every instant response of clutch and throttle, the harmonious congruence of nature and technology.
From this point the road takes on a steeper grade as the summit nears. A large sign warns of very steep grades and winding narrow roads ahead! Awesome! That’s why we came here! The sign reads, “26% Grades, Steep Winding Narrow Road, Vehicles Over 25 Feet Not Advised, 1 Mile Ahead”. This must be the right place!
A steel gate along the side of the road marks the spot beyond which the road is closed to traffic during the winter.
Closed in the winter beyond this gate
The majesty of the Sierras
A hole blasted through a huge, thick wall of granite is evidence of the enormous undertaking required to forge a road through a mountain pass. Well-known to many bicyclists who ride Sonora Pass as “The Window”, this man-made parting of solid granite marks a spot where the road levels out from its very steep ascending grade.
Passing through The Window
Steep 26% grade approaching The Window
Two ponderosa pines mark The Window
When approaching three or more turns in a series, visible from a single point like these ( or “snakes” as I like to call them), the dilemma one is confronted with is this; to enjoy the thrill of carving out the turn on the sides of the tires, or to try to capture that same thrill through the lens of a camera. Actually there is no dilemma at all. I’m on vacation and I can do both!
Mountain road snake
High Sierra adrenaline rush
The peaks of the mountain ridge get closer with ever turn in the road
A scenic vista point provides the opportunity to rest and for group shots of the riders and their bikes.
Mark, Matt, Jim, Kipp, Phil, and Drew
Matt – sitting on top of the world
Watering the horses
Where we just came from
Where we’re going
A turnout provides a vantage point to capture some of the riders on their ascent to the summit.
Kipp on the VFR 750
Jim on the Madura 1200
Drew on the DR650SE
Glimpsing skyward and behind (west) from my vantage point, the peaks appear very close now and the trees are getting thinner. We must be almost to the top. It’s easy to get lost in the beauty of this place.
Same turnout, looking east toward the summit
Most of the group is ahead of me now. Our plan is to meet at the summit.
A view near the top
A large sign marks the Mono-Tuolumne County line on Highway 108, the summit of Sonora Pass. The rest of the group is waiting for me, and bikes are already lined up for a shot. Surely this sign has shown up in countless photographs of travelers like these over the years!
The Sonora Pass Summit
Above the Sonora Pass Summit
The other side of the road
Directly behind the bikes stands a large historical marker. I’ve always found the history behind the place very interesting. The sign reads:
The idea of a wagon road through this pass connecting Tuolumne County with the mining towns of Mono County was first called to attention by Andrew Fletcher in 1862. The original trail through Sonora Pass was opened for pack animals in September 1862. The trail passed over this divide, departed from the route of the present highway one mile west, climbed northwesterly though St. Mary’s Pass, Elev. 10, 040 ft, then down the canyon of the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River. In 1863 the route was resurveyed and relocated from Sonora Pass down Deadman Creek and the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. The wagon road which established the general location of the present highway, was completed through this pass in 1865.
STANISLAUS NATIONAL FOREST
If only those pioneers of 140 years ago could be standing on this spot with us now. What would they think of these strange 2-wheel machines? What would they think of all the brightly colored gear, the armor, the helmets? In their wildest dreams they never could have imagined the travelers and powerful vehicles using their mountain trail today. With their dauntless pioneer spirit that built this place, I’m sure they’d be showing us a thing or two on these bikes in no time! What gratitude we owe to the courageous heroes of those days, who suffered hardship to tame this land. Without their sacrifice, we would never be here today, using this road for our sheer enjoyment.
View from the summit
I leave the summit of Sonora Pass this morning with the satisfaction of having accomplished something very special. What a thrill it is to stand here and look down on the valley below. What an even greater thrill to have come here on a motorcycle. Time to head for lower elevations.
A last look from the summit before departure
Descending the east side of Sonora Pass through Mono County and Toiyabe National Forest is spectacular. Winding through steep downhill grades, scenic Leavitt Meadows comes into view, traversed by the West Walker River.
The grade approaching Leavitt Meadows – delightfully steep!
Leavitt Meadows and the West Walker River
Leavitt Meadows lies in a canyon two miles long and a half-mile wide
Toiyabe National Forest, Mono County California
The group has ridden far ahead of me and is at the intersection of Highways 108 and 395 where they stop to wait for me. Drew is fixing a problem with his bike that would have 99% of us on the phone calling a tow truck. The front brake rotor on Drew’s DR650SE had warped, causing the front wheel to bind up. Not a problem, at least not for Drew!
Emergency road repairs
Repairs to Drew’s bike complete, we head south on Highway 395 into the town of Bridgeport for lunch and fuel.
Lunch at Pop’s Galley, Bridgeport, California
Morning Route – Sonora to Bridgeport
Day 8 – Afternoon
Bridgeport to Yosemite, Mono and June Lakes
Continuing south on Highway 395, the mountains of Yosemite National Park are visible to the west, with Mono Lake to the east. The blue sky is full of scattered rain clouds today and rain can be seen falling from some of the clouds in the distance. As we head east on Highway 120 toward Mono Lake, it appears that we might get wet before the afternoon is over.
Rain over Mono Lake
Mono Lake and Highway 120, the Lee Vining Canyon Scenic Byway
The Mono Craters – Inyo National Forest
View from Highway 120, looking west toward Yosemite
Winding past Mono Lake
Highway 120 is a great road for motorcycles. It’s wide open, traffic is non-existent, and the spectacular scenery is typical of California.
Strangely enough, our ride through the desert is the only cloudy part of today’s ride, with a brief stretch through some rain. Seven miles west of the town of Benton, we turn off Highway 120 onto Benton Crossing Road. Benton Crossing Road is about as deserted as it gets. Out here in the middle of the desert, the terrain is surprisingly hilly and the road is full of twists and turns. The ride is never boring.
Strega 51’s RC51 on Benton Crossing Road
Looking west toward the mountains
Taking a break on Benton Crossing Road
At Highway 395 we head north again. Mammoth Lakes on Highway 203 is the next stop, urgently needed as the tanks are running dry. After fueling, we ride the June Lake Loop, encompassing June, Silver, and Grant lakes on Highway 158. This short detour was well worth it, a very scenic ride. The distance around the loop formed by Highway 120 and Benton Crossing Road, from Lee Vining to June Lake, is about 100 miles.
Continuing north on Highway 158 past the city of June Lake, we ride past Grant Lake. Larger than June Lake, Grant Lake is actually two interconnected lakes.
View of Grant Lake from Highway 158
Afternoon ride, Highway 120, Inyo National Forest, June and Grant Lakes
Heading north on Highway 395 for a short 2 miles, we begin the final, highly anticipated segment of the day’s ride, heading west on Highway 120 on to Tioga Pass. From Highway 395, its only twelve miles across Tioga Pass to the east entrance of Yosemite National Park.
Colorful Tioga Pass
Just beyond Tioga Lake lies another milestone in my journey, the east gate of Yosemite National Park.
Arriving at Yosemite National Park
Seventeen miles from Yosemite’s east gate is the breathtaking Olmsted Point. Looking east over Tenaya Lake, Tenaya Peak is directly behind the lake in the picture below, with the Cathedral Peak in the distance. The spectacular vistas of Olmestead Point leave me breathless.
Is it live or is it canvas? The magnificent view from Olmsted Point
Looking west from Olmsted Point
Wind-battered and tenacious, sculpted by the elements
From Olmsted Point, Jim and Kipp bid farewell and start to head back home to Dixon. Phil, Drew, and Matt ride ahead to the campground we have reserved for the night.
Heading west into the park on Tioga Pass Road
Today’s ride has been one of those unique and special memories that I will savor for a lifetime. The incredible California motorcycle roads, the spectacular scenery, hospitable and exciting tour guides, all combining to create the motorcycle ride of a lifetime. I want to thank my riding companions, Jim, Kipp, Phil, Drew, and Matt for not only being great tour guides, but for being so patient with my obsessive-compulsive picture taking, and for making my experience in California one that I will never forget. California has to be the best place in the world for motorcycling.
Last shot of the day – Yosemite’s Tioga Pass Road
End of Day 8
Location: Yosemite National Park, California
GPS Mileage = 3737 miles
Today’s Mileage = 319 miles
Partial map of afternoon route from June Lake to Yosemite Village
Route Map: Day 8
Day 9 – Sunday August 7th
Yosemite National Park to Bass Lake, California
Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Little Dragon
I reserved a cabin months in advance in one of Yosemite’s campgrounds. Although the accommodations are less than expected, we all sleep fairly well. We rise early to make Glacier Point by sunrise.
Phil and Drew lead the way to Glacier Point as they live nearby and are very familiar with Yosemite. Our ride to Glacier Point left me with a very strong impression of Phil’s bike. I have referred more than once to Phil’s RC51 as a hot bike. Not only is Phil’s bike fast, but the custom exhaust system emits a low-toned throaty rumble which is sheer music to the ears of any sport bike fan. I ride a cruiser, and I must admit that I too was drooling over Phil’s awesome machine. I will never forget riding behind Phil’s bike as we passed though a tunnel in the park. The sound waves reverberating off the walls of the tunnel literally felt like someone was beating on my chest, a memory I will never forget. Whether a fuel stop or a scenic vista, if there were people there, Phil’s bike was turning heads.
Our timing is perfect. We arrive at Glacier Point as the sun is rising, embracing Half Dome in sun beams like a mother holding a baby in her arms.
Sunrise behind Half Dome, from Glacier Point
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point
Phil discussing the finer points of the sport with a hang-glider preparing to launch from Glacier Point
Hang-gliders at Glacier Point
As we walk about Glacier Point enjoying the view and watching the hang-gliders, our group is joined by another rider. Mike (Thisisme) and I made plans to meet today in Yosemite. We originally planned to meet at the campground in Yosemite Village, but had no idea how impossible it was going to be to find each other there. Luckily, Mike and I discussed the ride ahead of time, so Mike’s had no problem finding us at Glacier Point. After all, there aren’t that many folks walking around the park in motorcycle gear!
At Glacier Point, I bid farewell to Phil, Drew, and Matt. As we head back into Yosemite Valley on Glacier Point Road, my three riding companions quickly disappear through the many twists and turns ahead. It’s been great fun guys!
Mike and I continue our ride into Yosemite Valley where we take a few shots of some of the main attractions.
View of El Capitan and Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point Road
Tunnel on Big Oak Flat Road
On our way out of Yosemite Valley, we stop for fuel at the Crane Flat store. It’s only about 10:00am, but its already sweltering hot with temps well on the way to triple digits. Hot weather preparations include filling the Camelbak with ice and water and soaking my mesh riding jacket with a water hose. All fueled and ready to ride, Mike and I say goodbye to Yosemite.
View from Highway 120 near Hodgdon Meadow
Route through Yosemite
After exiting the Big Oak Flat entrance station, we stop for one last look into Yosemite National Park.
Half Dome view from Evergreen Road, outside the Big Oak Flat Entrance
Continuing on Evergreen Road to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
Mike and me
Middle Fork Tuolumne River
Bikes on the bridge
Spillway at Hetch Hetchy
O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
View of the Tuolumne River from O’Shaughnessy Dam
From Hetch Hetchy we backtrack to the little town of Mather, where we ride Mather and Cherry Lake Roads to Highway 120 west, near the town of Colfax Spring.
View from Rim of the World Vista Point near Colfax Spring
Continuing on 120 west through the towns of Colfax Spring, Groveland, and Big Oak Flat, we got stuck behind several slow cars. Detouring on Old Priest Grade Road, which could just as easily be called “Very Steep Grade Road,” we pick up Highway 49 south at Moccasin.
Ever since my first glimpse of the Little Dragon on Pashnit.com, I’ve planned on riding it myself. Today is the day. Mike and I are both feeling the effects of the intense afternoon heat. Triple-digits or not, I can’t pass through without getting some good shots of the Little Dragon, trying out both lenses in the process. Mike, just like everyone else who has met me along the way, was very patient while I took a ton of pictures, despite the high temperatures.
Little Dragon, Big Fun
Approaching the Merced River, a pulse-quickening glimpse at what lies ahead
The first series of turns opens up to this view back toward the river
A second overlook after an exciting series of ascending turns
Varying the lens angle
The Little Dragon and Merced River
Three tiers of the Little Dragon
Having completed the Little Dragon, Mike heads home when we get into the town of Bear Valley. I stop to refresh my Camelbak with ice and water and head for Bass Lake, about 47 miles up the road.
About 15 miles south of Mariposa, the William Sell Bridge is part of a wide sweeping turn on Highway 49 crossing the East Fork of the Chowchilla River. I pull off on the south side of the bridge for this view, looking behind me. Locals warn that the north side of this bridge is a favorite spot for LEOs, noting that they frequently stop here to take pictures of a slightly different variety.
William Sell Bridge along Highway 49
End of Day 9
Location: Bass Lake, California
GPS Mileage = 3976 miles
Today’s Mileage = 239 miles
Route: Day 9
Day 10 – Monday, August 8th
Bass Lake, CA to Kings Canyon National Park, California
Kaiser Pass Road
Last night’s accommodations were nestled in the hills around Bass Lake. This morning, one of those hills would prove to be the end of my right mirror. With the bike packed and ready to go, it occurs to me I have left my cell phone in the room. After setting the bike on its side stand, an ear-piercing sound worse than chalk on a blackboard spins me around on my heels. Turning to assess the damage, I spy my right mirror dancing about the blacktop in hundreds of little pieces. Quickly righting the bike, making sure it is securely parked this time, I retrieve the phone and am on my way with a very fragmented rear view in my right mirror.
Passing through the beautiful back roads of Madera and Fresno Counties, my mind quickly turns from the shattered mirror to the beauty of my surroundings. The early morning air is cool in comparison to the triple-digit heat of the previous afternoon. A few miles south of Bass Lake the houses and barns of the surrounding communities yield to more open countryside. Winding past fence-lined pastures aglow in the morning sun, I make my way south through Madera County on enchanting Auberry Road.
Countryside aglow in the morning sun
Lightly traveled and winding through gentle rolling hills, Auberry road is a more relaxed ride than the mountain passes I’ve been riding for the last few days.
Carrying only one camera body can be more than a minor inconvenience when changing lenses. Traffic is non-existent this morning, allowing me to change lenses without the worry of dust that passing cars can kick up.
Scenic fence-lined highway
Continuing south on Auberry Road, the county line dividing Madera and Fresno Counties runs down the middle of man-made Kerchoff Lake, created for hydro-electric power generation on the San Joaquin River. Auberry Road crosses into Fresno County on the east side of Kerchoff Lake, passing the old powerhouse where it is affectionately known as Powerhouse Road.
Powerhouse Road is a twisting route through Fresno County and the town of Auberry. Just south of Auberry I head east on Highway 168. In Shaver Lake I stop for a morning cup of coffee at a local gas station, where I should top off the tank. Continuing north on Highway 168, the road begins a steep ascent into higher elevations.
Tamarack Ridge Sno-Park, on Highway 168, about 5 miles east of Shaver Lake
Delving deeper into the Sierra National Forest, the road becomes narrower and the traffic thinner. Enchanted by the beautiful scenery, I miss the alleged road sign warning of no fuel ahead. Unaware of the pending fuel shortage, I continue along my merry way.
Highway 168 near Huntington Lake
Winding upward into the Sierras
A mile or two beyond Lakeshore, the divided highway ends and Kaiser Pass Road begins. Kaiser Pass Road is by comparison tight and rough, but an incredibly beautiful road. Passing through some of deepest wilderness of the High Sierras, this road is more suited for an enduro bike than my Goldwing. For the next 20 miles, I ride mostly in first or second gear, being very careful through the single lane turns, at times wondering if the bike would overheat as I watched the temperature gauge drift higher and higher toward the red zone. I stop several times along the way to allow the engine to cool. Besides the rugged pavement, there’s a lot of sand and gravel on the road, and the bark shed from the pine trees can get thick in places. Combine those conditions with tight narrow turns and no guardrails, and staying focused on the road comes naturally. "Goat trail" is undoubtedly a more accurate description of this narrow, circuitous, one-lane ribbon of asphalt than "road", but being here and seeing this place makes the rough ride more than worth it, especially since this spot appears to be the most remote location I have reached yet since leaving home.
Kaiser Pass Road
Rugged but beautiful
It soon becomes apparent to me why there is no write-up for Kaiser Pass Road among the Pashnit Moto Roads. To use the word "road" in the same sentence with "Kaiser Pass" could easily be construed as misrepresentation. To call a spade a spade, this is a hideous excuse for a road, and is at best slow going on a motorcycle. Blind turns offer oncoming vehicles in a single-lane with little room to pull over. To bring a big bike up here is probably not recommended, but the overwhelming beauty of this incredible wilderness might be enough to persuade an adventurous soul to do it. Although slow going, the ride is safe and uneventful.
Threading through dense forests of Red Fir and Jeffery Pine
Situated midway between Yosemite and Kings Canyon National Parks, 70 miles northeast of Fresno, Kaiser Pass provides a narrow portal into the Central High Sierra.
Portal to the Central High Sierra
This wilderness country is a rugged as it gets. Stories tell of small planes going down in these parts that have never been found. The Kaiser Wilderness lies to the west, the John Muir Wilderness to the south and east, and the Ansel Adams Wilderness to the north. This rugged road provides access to a landscape otherwise accessible only by backpacking. The road extends 22 miles into the mountains, requiring more than an hour to cover.
The "Goatiest" of Goat Trails
There is no way to get from the western slope to the Eastern Sierra by passenger car, although Kaiser Pass Road probes deep into the Central Sierra. This area is the largest area in the Sierra where no paved pass exists to cross the mountain range. The only access to the Eastern Sierra by vehicle is through Yosemite and Tioga Pass, or 100 miles south via Highway 178 in Kern County.
Isolated and pristine
Kaiser Pass is characterized by dense Red Fir and Jeffery Pine forests that extend up the gradual south slope of Kaiser Ridge. Another magnificent species along Kaiser Pass is the Western Juniper growing among the massive white boulders, some bigger than cars. The junipers’ massive trunks lean in the direction of prevailing winds and support evergreen tufted branches twisted by years of snowfall and fierce winds. The top of the ridge is in the alpine zone.
A rare clearing in the forest near the South Fork of the San Joaquin River
Kaiser Pass Road crosses the South Fork of the San Joaquin river in a clearing with a massive granite outcropping that many ATVs use for a parking area and backpacking trailhead.
South Fork San Joaquin at Kaiser Pass Road
I stop for a short break at the South Fork to take a few pictures of the bridge.
Bridge over the South Fork San Joaquin River
Although the South Fork is calm at this juncture, it is also a favorite with white-water fans and becomes much more turbulent upstream.
The mellow and calm face of the San Joaquin
Along the way is Mono Hot Springs Resort. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the resort was built in 1935, a few years after Southern California Edison completed this stretch of road as part of the Big Creek hydroelectric project. I ask the store attendant if I can buy some gasoline from him. He seemed to enjoy grilling the "obviously-not-from-around-here" stranger about not reading the road sign back at Huntington Lake warning of no gasoline in these parts, but he graciously grants my request.
Mono Hot Springs Resort
Although I originally planned to ride the last seven miles from here to Florence Lake, it’s getting late and the going is much slower than expected. Much more secure with a full tank of gas, I turn around and head back toward Huntington Lake. The High Sierra Ranger Station, located about seven miles east of Kaiser Pass, is a good place to stop for maps, information, and even free wilderness camping permits.
High Sierra Ranger Station
High Sierra Ranger Station
Circuitous and narrow with little or no shoulder
Wing in the High Sierra
Winding along Kaiser Ridge
A road sign marks the entrance to Sample Meadow campground
Remote, isolated, and secluded
Wing on Kaiser Ridge
Morning route from Bass Lake to Mono Hot Springs
A road sign marks the junction with Highway 168 and the end of Kaiser Pass Road. Blue water appearing through the trees signals my approach to Huntington Lake and re-entry into the realm of civilization.
Once again able to travel at normal speed, the temperature gauge is soon back into the normal zone, along with my peace of mind.
Heading south on Highway 168
Just east of the town of Prather I veer off of Highway 168, opting for a less-traveled route including Lodge, Tollhouse, Burrough Valley, and Watts Valley Roads. Winding a circuitous path southward through Fresno County, it takes almost an hour to cover the twenty-mile distance to the town of Trimmer, nestled on the north shore of Pine Flat Reservoir.
Pine Flat Reservoir near the town of Trimmer
At Pine Flat Reservoir, I pick up Trimmer Springs road, yet another hidden California gem, and well worth the detour.
Near Pine Flat Reservoir on East Trimmer Springs Road
As late afternoon settles in, I set a course eastward through the heart of California’s beautiful San Joaquin Valley on Highway 180. Filled with mounting enthusiasm as my destination draws near, Kings Canyon National Park is the last stop on today’s itinerary.
Entering Kings Canyon National Park
At the west entrance to Kings Canyon National Park, stand the ancient sequoias of Grant’s Grove. The Grove houses the General Grant Tree, which is the official Nation's Christmas Tree. The General Grant is a national shrine, honoring our fellow Americans who have lost their lives defending our freedom. Grant’s Grove was once a separate national park known as “General Grant National Park”, created by the same legislation as Yosemite and Sequoia parks. In 1940, General Grant National Park became a part of the newly established Kings Canyon National Park.
The General Grant
Our Nation’s Christmas Tree
The General Grant Tree is the third largest of the sequoias at over 267 feet tall, 40 feet across at its base, and over 107 feet around. Estimates of its age range from 1500 to 2000 years old.
The General Grant, 267 feet tall
President Calvin Coolidge designated the General Grant as the Nation's Christmas Tree on April 28, 1926. Proclaimed a National Shrine on March 29, 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the official dedication was made that year on Veterans Day, November 11, by the president's personal representative, Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz. Each year during the Christmas ceremony, park rangers place a large wreath at the base of the Grant Tree, remembering those who gave their lives.
The General Grant dwarfs a park visitor
It’s getting late in the afternoon and I still have thirty-five miles to ride before reaching the road’s end, deep in Kings Canyon. Enough time to ride in, but not enough time to ride back out and get to a hotel for the night. Deciding this country is too spectacular to ride at night, I decide to stay in a campground for the night when I get to the end of the road.
From Grant’s Grove the road winds through forests of pine, fir and cedar. The highway ascends the ridge of Kings Canyon, formed by the South Fork of the Kings River, for several miles. The terrain is surprisingly dramatic, rivaling the beauty of the more visited parks such as Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
View from the Yucca Point Overlook
Breathtaking Yucca Point
As Highway 180 descends into the area of the park known as Cedar Grove, it follows the powerful Kings River for another 15 or 20 miles, presenting vista after vista of cascades over huge boulders, waterfalls, and steep walls of granite.
Picturesque Grizzly Falls
Cedar Grove is perfect for those who want to get as far away from civilization as possible by paved road. Located at the eastern end of King’s Canyon, this incredibly beautiful area is overlooked by the majority of travelers. This is the perfect get away for those wanting to combine an incredible motorcycle ride and the solitude of Mother Nature.
Cedar Grove Entrance
View of the canyon from road’s end
Late evening in Cedar Grove
The weather this evening is beautiful for sleeping under the stars. Hoping the bears will be more attracted to the other camper’s food than to me, I roll the sleeping bag out on a picnic table and gaze into an ocean of countless stars.
Afternoon route from Mono Hot Springs to Kings Canyon National Park
End of Day 10
Location: Kings Canyon National Park, California
GPS Mileage = 4269 miles
Today’s Mileage = 293 miles
Route: Day 10
Day 11 – Tuesday, August 9th
Kings Canyon National Park to Glendale, California
Packing the bike is light work this morning. I roll up the sleeping bag, still slightly damp from the morning’s dew, and squeeze it into its compression sack. Cinching the sack closed, the volume of the sleeping bag reduces to about a third of normal. Sleeping bag stowed, I put the rain cover on the Pakit-Rak and am ready to roll.
There are few signs of movement yet this morning among the tents and RVs as the Wing quietly rolls out of campground and onto the park road.
Early morning on the Kings River
Highway 180 winds past miles of beautiful cascades like these in the powerful Kings River
The ride through Cedar Grove and Kings Canyon is quiet this morning. Lingering smoke casts a haze over the canyon.
Kings Canyon Scenic Byway
Morning in Kings Canyon
Highway 180 is a great motorcycle road too!
Map of Highway 180, Sequoia National Forest, Kings Canyon, and Cedar Grove
Entering Sequoia National Park on Generals Highway
What impresses me the most about riding Sequoia National Park are the miles and miles of the largest trees I have ever seen in my life. The enormity of these massive, magnificent giants is sure to fill even the most stoic soul with jaw-dropping astonishment. There is much to see and explore in Sequoia. I didn’t take time to venture off the main road today as I am heading to Los Angeles to meet another rider this afternoon. But I have made a mental note of this place. The next time I come to California, I will devote more time to this beautiful park.
A view from Generals Highway in Sequoia National Park
Map of Sequoia National Park
The Generals Highway, which is also California Highway 198 is another great motorcycle road. There are miles of tight turns, and switchbacks in the park. As I head south on General’s Highway, it seems that there are few if any straight sections of road. Not far from the south entrance of the park stands this curious tunnel. When the road was first built in 1938 it actually passed underneath Tunnel Rock.
The National Park Service website states, “The Civilian Conservation Crew dug the tunnel beneath this rock in 1938, long before anyone imagined the number and size of the modern vehicles that would use the road. Widening of the Generals Highway in 1997 made it impossible to pass safely through the opening, so Tunnel Rock was by-passed. However, a pull-out adjacent to the rock will still allow visitors to walk through the tunnel.”
Tunnel Rock pre-1997
Tunnel Rock post-1997
South of Sequoia National Park on Highway 198 near Three Rivers
At Highways 198 and 65, I head south on Highway 65. Stopping for fuel in Bakersfield, I call Gixxerdale on the cell phone to let him know that I’m less than 100 miles from our rendezvous point in Palmdale, CA. As I head toward Palmdale on Highway 58, I pass over Tehachapi Pass. At the little town of Mojave, I head south into Palmdale. About 2pm, I finally have the pleasure of meeting Gixxerdale of Pashnit fame, known to others simply as Dale.
Meeting Dale at the Del Taco on Palmdale Boulevard, Palmdale, CA
As Dale and I head west on Lake Elizabeth Road, my tour guide recommends the Rock Inn as a must-see place for anyone passing through these parts on two wheels.
The famous Rock Inn, of Lake Hughes, CA
I ask Dale to show me his favorite motorcycle roads. Dale picks a route perfect to fill the remainder of the afternoon.
Upper Lake Hughes Road
Lake Hughes Road, about midway between Lake Hughes and Castaic Lake
Lower Lake Hughes Road, near Castaic, CA
North East arm of Castaic Lake viewed from Lake Hughes Road
Map of Ride with Dale from Palmdale to Castaic on Lake Hughes Road
At Castaic Lake, Dale and I part company, taking separate directions on Interstate 5. We plan to meet early tomorrow morning for a ride of the Los Angeles Crest Highway and points beyond. I head into the LA suburb of Glendale for the night. Perhaps just a little bit too reminiscent of my Chicago home turf, I am careful to take all of my gear in for the night, and to park the bike where I can see it from my hotel room window.
End of Day 11
Location: Glendale, California
GPS Mileage = 4634 miles
Today’s Mileage = 365 miles
Route: Day 11
Day 12 – Wednesday, August 10th
Glendale, California to Lake Elsinore, California
Angeles Crest Highway
My home for night has been the Days Inn of Glendale on Pacific Avenue. Eager to leave my urban surroundings behind, I forego coffee for now and quickly pack the bike. It’s a short eight-mile ride on the Ventura and Glendale Freeways to Jay’s Shell in La Canada where Dale and I have planned to meet for our morning ride on California Highway 2, specifically, the stretch more affectionately known to motorcyclists as the Angeles Crest Highway. Jay’s Shell is a popular place for Angeles Crest riders to meet, conveniently located near the beginning of the Angeles Crest, at the intersection of Interstate 210 and California Highway 2.
I arrive ahead of Dale with just enough time to fuel the bike and enjoy my morning coffee with two of LA’s finest, who arrive in their black-and-white at the same time. As Dale arrives on his sporty GSXR, I watch the reaction of the two LA Sheriff’s officers. A turn of their heads and a focused glance are sure signs that they’re keenly aware of the potential of Dale’s machine. I wonder if we’ll see them hiding around a turn on the Angeles Crest, notorious for radar traps. Or perhaps they’re more likely wishing they didn’t have to work today so they could be doing what we’re about to do. In any case, I suppose someone has to work today, and I’m glad it’s not us.
As Dale and I roll out of Jay’s Shell, I am filled with the anticipation of a ride that I have heard so many great things about, and I am not to be disappointed. Making my way up the Angeles Crest for the first time, there is little traffic on the road in our direction, but quite a bit of traffic heading into LA for the morning in the oncoming lanes. Winding our way up through the twists and turns and into the mountains, I am surprised at how quickly the urban surroundings of LA change into one more rural and scenic.
View from Angeles Crest Highway just below the Angeles Forest Highway junction
Twenty-eight miles out of La Canada, we arrive at the well-known Newcomb’s Ranch, a very popular spot for Angeles Crest riders. Arriving before opening time, we have a few minutes for pictures in the parking lot before having a hot cup of coffee – actually it was more like three hot cups of coffee!
Famous Newcomb’s Ranch
Apropos vanity plate
View of Angeles Crest from Newcomb’s Ranch
Angeles Crest has been closed this summer a short distance beyond this Newcomb’s due to rock slides. Unable to continue further on Angeles Crest, we backtrack about ten miles to Upper Big Tujunga Road.
Angeles Crest near Upper Big Tujunga Road
Upper Big Tujunga twists a serpentine path through the San Gabriel Mountains and the Angeles National Forest. Although short, only nine miles from Angeles Crest to Angeles Forest Highway, it’s an exhilarating ride with many fast sweeping turns. A short ways after making the turn onto Angeles Forest Highway, we stop once again for a shot of one of those nice sweepers.
Angeles Forest Highway just past the turn off from Upper Big Tujunga Road
Another nine miles down Angeles Forest Highway, we take a turn on Mount Emma Road as we make our way toward Big Pines Road.
View looking behind us on Mount Emma Road south of Palmdale
Just beyond the town of Valyermo Dale pulls off to the side off the road to warn me about some tight switchbacks ahead on Big Pines Highway. He wasn’t kidding either. The road begins a rapid ascent through a series of narrow, repetitive turns. Thinking I’m ready for the big one, it sneaks up on me despite my best intentions and I take the turn a little wide. Fortunately there is no oncoming traffic and there is no harm done, but I am very unhappy with myself for making the mistake. Making a mental note, the potentially serious feau-pax burns an impression into my memory as unforgettable as the incredible scenery, a very sober point of caution for future reference.
Tight switchback on Big Pines Highway
Continuing on Big Pines Highway, we arrive at the fork in the road called Big Pines, and the intersection with Highway 2. It is at this point that we would have hit Big Pines Highway had Angeles Crest not been closed.
Big Pines Highway in Angeles National Forest
Arriving in the town of Wrightwood, we stop for lunch at the rustic and charming Grizzly Cafe. A chat with the waitress reveals that we are only two in a long line of motorcyclists who stop here for a bite to eat on their tours. While we are talking, another group of riders pulls into the lot.
Brunch at the Grizzly Cafe in Wrightwood
Mr. Grizzly himself
Leaving brunch, we continue another three miles on Highway 2 and then head east on Highway 138, then stopping for fuel near the Interstate 15 junction at Cajon pass. Located between the San Gabriel and San Bernardino Mountains, Cajon Pass was formed by years of tectonic plate movement along the San Andreas Fault. Providing one of the few geographical access points into the Los Angeles Basin, Cajon Pass has a long and illustrious history. From such early explorers as Jedediah Smith, Ewing Young, and Kit Carson, to the native Americans Utes fleeing encroaching civilization, to horse thieves and cattle rustlers, and eventually the Mormon settlers who stabilized the region, the pass has provided a crossing through the transverse mountain ranges of the area. Today, Cajon Pass boasts the highest volume of domestic and international rail traffic of any mountain pass in the world.
Morning Route, Angeles Crest to Cajon Pass
Winding our way through the San Bernardino National Forest, we continue on Highway 138, passing Silverwood Lake in the Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area. Lake Silverwood is part of the California state water project that brings water to Southern California. The former town of Cedar Springs is located under the lake.
View of Lake Silverwood from Highway 138
Beyond the town of Crestline, we turn onto Highway 18, also known as Rim of the World Drive. Due to construction, we are unable to head east, our desired direction, and have to head south toward San Bernardino until we can find a point to turn around. The panoramas from Rim of the World make the temporary detour more than worthwhile.
Highway 18, Rim of the World Drive
Rim of the World Drive
Rim of the World Drive
Once back on course, we continue making our way east, heading toward the towns of Rimforest and Running Springs on our way to Big Bear Lake.
Rim of the World Drive, near Big Bear Lake
On the north side of Big Bear Lake sits the little town of Fawnskin. Its not very big, but being from out of state, I can only say that if someone had shipped me to this place in a box with my eyes blindfolded, I would have guessed I was in California the minute I laid eyes on the orange and pink buildings.
The quaint little town of Fawnskin
Defunct custom cycle shop
Leaving Fawnskin, we wind our way through Big Bear City and once again into the beautiful San Bernardino National Forest. Outside of Big Bear, Highway 38 again ascends to higher elevations as it courses between Sugarloaf Mountain and Onyx Peak, climbing to 8,443 feet at Onyx Summit. At this point the skies ahead begin to look threatening, and Dale and I stop for a moment to discuss the thunderheads in our path.
Ascending Highway 38 toward Onyx Peak
From this point we begin a gradual descent into Barton Flats, a forested flatland above the Santa Ana River. Mount San Gorgonio partially appears on our left, the summit cloaked by heavy cloud cover. Mount San Gorgonio boasts the highest peak in Southern California at 11,499 feet.
Descent toward Barton Flats
Our descent continues into Mill Creek Canyon, where Highway 38 becomes Mill Creek Road.
View of Mill Creek Canyon from pullout on Mill Creek Road
From the pullout on Mill Creek Road, its only another 10 miles to Interstate 10, via the route the GPS plotted out for us through the backstreets of Yucaipa. Stopping for fuel at Interstate 10 in Calimesa, Dale and I bid farewell and head our separate directions on Interstate 10. Thanks Dale, for another day of incredible California riding, its been a rare pleasure for this flatlander. Godspeed.
2002 Suzuki GSXR 1000, “The Gixxer”
Afternoon Route, Cajon Pass to Calimesa
Twenty miles east of Calimesa on Interstate 10, San Gorgonio Pass presents a unique spectacle. Spread for miles across the surrounding landscape, hundreds of modern windmills, some appearing to tower over one hundred feet into the air. The closer I get, the more of them I can see. The sprawling windmill farm goes on for miles, like a man-made forest of giant mechanical trees. To someone who has never seen one of these in real-life before, it's a rather bizarre sight. Researching the windmill farm on a Palm Springs website, I discover that there are over 3100 windmills here of many different types, generating enough electricity to power more than 2,000 homes, including the entire city of Palm Springs and some of the surrounding area, producing 600-900 megawatts of power. I don’t know what they call this place, but I think a good name for it might be, “Don Quixote National Forest”.
Windmill farm on Interstate 10 near Palm Springs
Taking a brief interlude from the day’s ride, I exit on Highway 111 and then onto Tramway Road. An engineer by profession, I have always wanted to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, rising high above the rugged Chino Canyon just north of Palm Springs. The twenty-six months of construction between July 1961 and September 1963 required 23,000 helicopter missions, all without mishap, to haul the men and materials needed to erect four of the five supporting towers and a 35,000 square foot pavilion at the top, overlooking the Coachella Valley. The first tower at the canyon floor, which did not require helicopters, is the tallest at 227 feet. The Tramway cars rise almost 5900 feet in elevation along a 12,800 foot run of cable. An truly magnificent engineering achievement, the Tramway has been designated as a historical civil engineering landmark.
View of the Chino Canyon from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
The last treat of today’s ride is still ahead of me. Making my way through the cities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Highway 74 is flat and straight, until I reach the outskirts of Palm Desert. Suddenly, Highway 74 begins a rapid ascent into the Santa Rosa Mountains in a series of switchbacks and repetitive turns that is sheer motorcycle nirvana.
Approaching the Santa Rosa Mountains
Highway 74, south of Palm Desert, California
Highway 74 switchback
More twists and turns than a bowl of spaghetti
Snaking through the desert
Palm Desert roller coaster ride
The rest of the evening’s ride is mild by comparison. Continuing on Highway 74 through the towns of Hemet, Homeland, and Perris, my original plans were to make the Pacific Coast tonight. As darkness settles, I decide to save the rest of the ride for daylight, and settle in for the night at the Lake Elsinore Travelodge.
Evening Route, Calimesa to Lake Elsinore
End of Day 12
Location: Lake Elsinore, California
GPS Mileage = 5014 miles
Today’s Mileage = 380 miles
Route: Day 12
Day 13 – Thursday, August 11th
Lake Elsinore, California to Morro Bay, California
I awake to a sunny morning and make my way out of the city of Lake Elsinore, riding past the lake of the same name. Twisting and winding through Cleveland National Forest on Highway 74, or Ortega Highway, the morning rush hour traffic is heavy but moving. The congestion of commuters heading to work in and around Los Angeles distracts from what would otherwise be a great ride. Making my way through Riverside and Orange counties, I pass through the little town of San Juan Hot Springs and the legendary nesting grounds of the Mission Swallows, San Juan Capistrano.
The sun fades behind a cover of gray and the morning air takes on a bit of a chill, signs that the pacific coast is near. The water is calm this morning as it comes into view around 8:00 am. Pausing at the Capistrano Beach Park in Dana Point, I take a few minutes for a barefoot walk on the beach, celebrating the occasion with a knee-deep dip in the Pacific Ocean.
Arriving at the Pacific Ocean in Dana Point
A few more miles up the beach I stop for fuel. As is my usual routine, I copy the down the gallons and the location from the receipt into my notepad: 5.6 gallons, Laguna Beach, California. As I sip from my freshly filled coffee mug, I am taken in by my surroundings. The streets are alive with roller bladers and bicyclists. Across Highway 1, there’s a park with an outdoor basketball court, a game in progress, and a few yards away on the beach, a volleyball game. I decide to take a walk around the neighborhood. There’s art stores and music shops and all kinds of interesting restaurants. Quite the lively place, and I’d love to spend more time here. From the looks of it, it must be a great place to live. Finding it very difficult to leave, I get back on the bike and continue.
About 11:00 am I arrive in Malibu, another tough place to just “pass through”. Enchanted by this pier, I spend another hour watching people fishing from pier, playing on the beach, and many people who showed up with wetsuits and surfboards.
The Malibu Pier and Surfrider Beach
Lake Elsinore to Malibu
The sun begins to burn through the morning mist as I make my way north through Ventura and Santa Barbara. The ride through San Marcos Pass and the Santa Ynez Mountains on Highway 154 is beautifully scenic. Detouring off Highway 154, Old Stagecoach Road provides a great motorcycle ride, albeit a short one – an exciting 5 ½ mile stretch of exhilarating twisties. Not only exciting but also historic, Old Stagecoach Road dates back to Wells Fargo and the stagecoach days. Many historic buildings dot the roadside. Cold Springs Tavern is one of the better-known, and a very popular spot with motorcyclists. This was the only way across the Cold Springs stretch of San Marcos Pass until the Cold Springs Arc Bridge was built in 1963. Today, the Cold Springs Arc Bridge is the largest single arc bridge in North America.
Old Stagecoach Road Crossing under Highway 154’s Cold Springs Arc Bridge
Santa Ynez Mountains from San Marcos Pass Road
Approaching Cachuma Lake on Highway 154
Bradbury Dam at Cachuma Lake
San Marcos Pass and Stagecoach Road
Flower Fields near Los Olivos
More Flower Fields
Arriving in San Luis Obispo early, I take a little time to walk around yet another very cool city. If ever I move to California, this place is high on the list. Stopping in an internet cafe, I log onto Pashnit for the first time since leaving home almost two weeks ago. My new-found friends have already posted many tales of the previous day’s rides through the Sierra Passes, Yosemite, and the Angeles Crest. After a few quick posts, I take a walk around the city. The only bad thing about today’s ride is not being able to spend more time in the wonderful towns I have been in.
Just north of San Luis Obispo, I have planned to meet Erik (1911) and friends at Highway 101 and El Camino Real near the town of Santa Margarita for a tour of Pozo and Parkhill Roads. Some would say that the assortment of bikes on this evening’s back roads tour is a bit unusual – two big Harleys, a sport bike that none of us could keep up with, and a Honda Goldwing. Nevertheless, it was a great ride indeed.
Erik’s 2005 ZZR 600
Beautiful Black Hog
The Harley Contingent - right to left: Pam, Steve, Connie, and Jim
Along Pozo Road stands an old landmark in these parts, the Pozo Saloon. The only business in the county still operational from the original era.
The Historic Pozo Saloon
Pozo Saloon, circa 1858
Erik had good reason for wanting to show me the back roads of San Luis Obispo County, they are incredibly beautiful!
Erik had heard about my penchant for old barns, and made a point to show me this beauty, west of the little town of Creston on Cripple Creek Road.
Old Barn on Cripple Creek Road
Old Barn on Cripple Creek Road
Erik in his colorful trademark helmet
Once in Morro Bay, Erik takes me to a great place to eat, The Great American Fish Company, located right on the ocean. Of course, I indulge in what any visitor would indulge in on his first night at the Pacific Coast, an assortment of delicious seafood.
Evening Route, Santa Margarita to Morro Bay
End of Day 13
Location: Morro Bay, California
GPS Mileage = 5407 miles
Today’s Mileage = 393 miles
Route: Day 13
Day 14 – Friday, August 12th
Morro Bay, California to Petaluma, California
This morning’s ride north through Los Padres National Forest and into the Big Sur Region of the Pacific Coast covers a stretch of California Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, considered by many to be the most beautiful stretch of highway anywhere in the world. On a motorcycle, the ride is more than scenic, its a thrilling combination of hairpins, switchbacks, s-curves, and sweepers through the rugged terrain of the Pacific Coast. Heeding warnings about the weekend traffic, I’ve planned my ride to hit Big Sur on a weekday, and get started at sunrise to minimize any encounters with traffic. The ocean mist blankets the coast this morning, but it’s just high enough to allow visibility of the dramatic oceanfront, and indeed adds a very charming, almost surreal element to the morning ride.
About 2 miles north of the San Luis Obispo / Monterey County Line, I become fascinated by an exceptionally picturesque switchback at the Salmon Creek Trailhead. I stop several times, backtracking to absorb the panoramic features. About 1 mile in distance from start to end, it rises to an inverted cone-shaped rock on the coast named Salmon Cone.
Near the Salmon Creek Trailhead looking south
The road descends for about a half mile toward the Salmon Creek Trailhead where it switches back up the side of the mountain toward Salmon Cone.
Ocean mist over Highway 1
About half-way toward the switchback on the south side of the creek
The turn at the upper right is where the first photograph is taken from
Switchback at Salmon Creek Trailhead
Aerial view of Salmon Creek from Californiacoastline.org
View north from Villa Creek Vista Point
View north from Villa Creek Vista Point
View north from Villa Creek Vista Point
View south from Villa Creek Vista Point
San Martin Rock, Cape San Martin
Willow Creek Vista Point
Willow Creek Bridge
Jade Cove and San Martin Rock
Approaching Mill Creek
Approaching Kirk Creek beach, a campground can be seen on the cliff overlooking the ocean, as Nacimiento-Fergusson Road rises eastward into the hills.
The Big Creek Bridge is the first Big Sur bridge I was introduced to by native Californians last summer during my first motorcycle trip to California. I was so impressed by the beauty of the location and by how the bridge seems to blend so naturally into its surroundings. I have looked forward to returning to this beautiful spot with great anticipation.
Big Creek Bridge from North Gamboa Vista Point
Big Creek Bridge
Big Creek Bridge
Big Creek Bridge, arched substructure
Big Creek Bridge, arched substructure
Aerial view of Big Creek Bridge from Californiacoastline.org
The fuels stops along Big Sur are sparse and priced accordingly. After plunking down over $19.00 for 4.8 gallons of gasoline, I head north out of Gorda, having the dubious distinction of selling the most expensive gasoline I have ever purchased in my life at $3.99 per gallon. But my grumbling is short-lived as I am soon lost once again in the grandeur of my surroundings.
Just South of Little Sur River Mouth
View south toward Point Sur – The Silhouette of the Point Sur Lighthouse is visible on the western slope
Little Sur River Mouth
View south toward Point Sur
Ascent to Hurricane Point
Looking south from Hurricane Point – The Little Sur River Mouth and Point Sur in the distance
View from Hurricane Point
View of Bixby Creek Bridge from Hurricane Point
Deep blues and aquas of the Pacific coves
Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge and Hurricane Point
Hurricane Point from Bixby Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge
Bixby Creek Bridge
Aerial view of Bixby Creek Bridge from Californiacoastline.org
Rocky Creek Bridge
Aerial view of Rocky Creek Bridge from Californiacoastline.org
View north toward Rocky Point from Rocky Creek Bridge
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Beautiful but bad, Iceplant
San Francisco from across the bay
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge from Conzelman Road
Pulling my cell phone from my pocket, I call my sister from the vista point. Just getting off work in San Francisco, she recommends against fighting traffic to meet in San Francisco, and we decide to meet at her home in Petaluma instead. The traffic leaving San Francisco is horrendous, my first real taste of a California-style rush hour. As I creep through traffic I am surprised by two motorcycles passing on the dotted white line. Suddenly I remember, lane splitting is legal here. While contemplating whether to split or not to split, another group of bikes pass me, Harleys no less. I pass through traffic on the white dotted line, my first ever attempt at lane splitting. Thinking this is very cool, I quickly become accustomed to my newly discovered time saver, and arrive in Petaluma forty-five minutes ahead of my sister. Parking the bike and carrying my gear inside, I look forward to a couple days of rest and relaxation.
End of Day 14
Location: Petaluma, California
GPS Mileage = 5685 miles
Today’s Mileage = 278 miles
Route: Day 14
Day 15 – Saturday, August 13th
Shotgun Tour of Marin and Sonoma Counties
Today’s tour of Marin and Sonoma counties is by auto passenger as my efforts to convince my non-motorcycle-friendly sister to ride two-up on the Wing prove fruitless. Yet I am content enough to ride shotgun in her Acura for a day as our visits are rare and I could use a little rest. First order of business is to drop the bike off at Northbay Motorsports in Santa Rosa for an oil change and general going over.
From Santa Rosa we head down Bodega Highway into the little town of Tomales where we take Dillon Beach road east to the coast and the town of Dillon Beach.
From Dillon Beach we head back to Highway 1 and south to the little town of Marshall, where my sister is hoping to show me a great little oyster place.
Highway 1 near Marshall
Heading back to Tomales, the countryside is rolling and scenic in typical California fashion. This farm is visible from the center of town.
View from Highway 1 in Tomales
Many of the buildings in Tomales date back a good many years, as does this beautiful church, the Church of the Assumption of Mary, which dates back to 1860.
Church of the Assumption of Mary, Tomales
Church of the Assumption of Mary, Tomales
Heading north on Highway 1, we make our way through the picture postcard town of Bodega Bay, a quiet coastal town, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, The Birds. One of the local attractions is Sonoma Coast State Beach.
Sonoma Coast State Beach
Sonoma Coast State Beach
Heading north on Highway 1, we turn east on Coleman Valley Road. Just beyond the turn, a grove of Eucalyptus trees catches my attention. These are very common in California, so much so that you can’t go far in these parts without seeing hundreds of these groves along the roadside.
Eucalyptus Trees on Coleman Valley Road near Highway 1
As we make our way toward the city of Occidental, a scenic roadside vista of Coleman Valley comes into view.
Coleman Valley Road
Old Coleman Valley School
In Occidental, my sister makes sure to point out the street that the good townsfolk have named in my honor. I wonder how they knew I was coming?
Bittner Road, Occidental
End of Day 15
Location: Petaluma, California
GPS Mileage = 5685 miles
Today’s Mileage = 0 miles
Day 16 – Sunday, August 14th
Petaluma, California to Red Bluff, California
Northern California Coastline, Highway 36
Rolling once again before sunrise, DaleC is already pumping fuel into his illusion red Goldwing as I arrive at the Shell Station near Highway 101 and Washington Avenue. A few short minutes later we’re joined by Dorian Blue on his Goldwing in illusion blue. It’s reunion time for these three riders, all us met for the first time on my previous year’s journey through California. It’s great fun catching up on the events of the last year, as well as the latest modifications to the bikes, over a cup of morning java.
From Petaluma, its a 45-mile ride to the coast through the towns of Sebastopol, Forestville, Guerneville, and Monte Rio on windy Highway 116.
Highway 116 near Northwood
Highway 116 hits the coast near Jenner. Just north of Jenner we stop to view a large gathering of seals on the sand at Sonoma Coast State Beach.
Seals at Sonoma Coast State Beach
Note the large bull seal in the center
Its no coincidence that many of the folks I ride with also happen to ride Goldwings, as I’ve made contact with my riding partners either through Pashnit, or through Riders Rally, a site for Goldwing owners.
The combined riding experience of these two guys is impressive, to say the least. Dorian, a former air-force motorcycle instructor, has helped put together motorcycle training programs for the military and for civilian law enforcement agencies. Dale has been to almost every corner of the United States by motorcycle and then some and must have one of the most mind-boggling collection of photographs anywhere.
Dorian and DaleC
He doesn’t call himself Dorian Blue for nothing!
As we head north on the Pacific Coast Highway, another thrilling series of switchbacks awaits. What a great ride!
Switchbacks between Muniz Ranch and Meyers Grade Roads
Switchbacks between Muniz Ranch and Meyers Grade Roads
At first I was a bit disappointed by the lack of sunshine on this morning’s ride, but soon discovered that the coast has a special quality even in the ocean mist. The high overcast kept the heat of the sun at bay, making the morning ride cool and pleasant, no need for cooling vests out here, a nice change of pace from the blistering triple-digit heat of last week. The ocean mist is just high enough not to impede the visibility too much, and gives a special quality of its own coastal vistas, bringing to mind romantic images of deserted beaches, fishing piers, and salty dogs.
Riding the ocean mist near Point Arena
We stop to take a break at a roadside pullout next to a scenic meadow. We’ve been on the road about three and half hours since leaving Petaluma. Time to head for home, Dorian reluctantly turns 180 degrees and heads back south the Bay area. The time shared on the road with my west coast friends seems to pass far too quickly, but that’s how it is when having so much fun.
Scenic Seaside Meadow
Dale and I continue up the coast. Still south of Point Arena, the dramatic cliffs of Bowling Ball Beach catch our attention.
Schooner Gulch (foreground) and Bowling Ball Beach (background)
Heading north through Point Arena and the little town of Elk, we stop at this cozy river inlet near Albion. A fishing boat heads for the river, making his way home from the sea.
Albion River Inlet, near Albion
Passing through seaside towns of Mendocino, Fort Bragg, and Westport, we continue to be delighted with endless views of the California Coast from Highway 1, like this one from the bridge at San Juan Creek.
San Juan Creek (foreground) and Hardy Creek (background), near Hardy
Making our way into California’s Redwood country, the skies begin to break. It’s early afternoon and Dale and I are running slightly behind schedule. Our plan is to meet Hugh of Pashnit fame in Fortuna. Dale knows of a great place to eat in town, the Eel River Brewing Company. Hugh’s been expecting us for a couple of hours now. A quick cell phone call let’s Hugh know we finally made it to town and he meets us at the restaurant.
Hooking up with Hugh in Fortuna
Everyone is looking forward to this afternoon’s ride east on Highway 36. It’s almost 3:00 pm by the time we finally start rolling south out of Eureka. We pick up Highway 36 east in the quiet town of Hydesville. Highway 36 is a great motorcycle highway, and the ride east through California’s Humboldt County is beautiful. One of the first stops of the afternoon is at the entrance to Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, where we take a few photos and get a bit of local information from one of the park rangers.
Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
Highway 36 winds it way through redwoods, and follows the banks of the Van Duzen River for several miles. A few miles east of Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park, stands this curious old concrete bridge crossing the Van Duzen, now closed to traffic.
Old concrete bridge over the Van Duzen River
Passing through the little town of Dinsmore, we wind through Six Rivers National Forest, climbing toward the summit of South Fork Mountain. We stop at the summit of South Fork Mountain near South Fork Mountain Road, and also the dividing line between Six Rivers and Trinity National Forests.
Highway 36 at the Summit of South Fork Mountain
Unfortunately, due to our late arrival in Fortuna this afternoon, Hugh is unable to ride with us for as long as he had planned. After a brief rest at the summit of South Fork Mountain, Hugh heads back to Fortuna , while Dale and I continue our journey through the pristine forests of Northern California.
What lies ahead will turn out to be one of the most awesome stretches of motorcycle road I have ever ridden. California has a hidden gem in Highway 36. Only a few miles east of South Fork Mountain, Dale and I pause to have a little fun with the cameras on this twisty section of Highway 36 near Forest Glen.
Highway 36 in Trinity National Forest
DaleC Riding the Twisties
Carving a Slice of Blacktop
DaleC in Motion
Highway 36 has to be one of the best motorcycle roads anywhere. Have I said this once before? Then let me say it once more. If you’ve never ridden this road, you have to come out here and ride it. The road surface is well maintained, the ride is smooth and fast. Twisting through endless miles of beautiful northern California wilderness, this is a “must ride” road, and well worth going out of your way for.
It’s now late in the afternoon. We make our way through the last stretches of Trinity National Forest, through Wildwood and Platina, and enjoy the last hour of daylight winding through beautiful Tehama County.
The temps are much hotter now than they were riding up the coast this morning. A stretch of Highway 36 about 9 miles east of Platina passes through an area burned out by forest fire. The wooden supports for a highway guardrail are still smoldering, the guardrail lays on the shoulder next to the blackened posts. The smell of smoke is still heavy in the air, and the heat from the smoldering trees becomes very intense in one area. A posting at a local ranger station, now closed for the evening, indicates that the highway was only re-opened two days ago. It had to be closed as the forest fire crossed the highway, consuming everything in its path. Even portions of the blacktop show fire damage. The level of destruction is stunning.
As the sunlight gradually beings to wane, we near our evening destination of Red Bluff, arriving just after dark. But tomorrow morning we will ride this stretch again on our way back west. I’m already looking forward to riding it again in tomorrow’s early morning sun.
Highway 36, Tehama County
End of Day 16
Location: Red Bluff, California
GPS Mileage = 6153 miles
Today’s Mileage = 468 miles
Route: Day 16
Day 17 – Monday, August 15th
Red Bluff, California to Butte Falls, Oregon
Highway 36, Wildwood Road, Highway 3, Highway 299, Highway 96
California is very unique in its wide variety of terrain. The topographical features can vary dramatically in a relatively short distance, even from one county to another. This seems particularly true in Tehama county, home to Mount Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Yolla Bolly and Trinty Mountain Ranges, and the Middle Eel and Ishi Wilderness Areas. This is truly an area of spectacular and beautiful contrasts.
Dale and I meet for morning coffee in the lobby of the Red Bluff Days Inn and are ready to roll just before sunrise. Tuning into a local TV station, the weatherman’s forecast is for another triple-digit day. Preparing for a hot day’s ride, I fill the Camelbak with ice water and shift the cooling vest to the top of the trunk in case I need it later.
I’ve looked forward to this day with mounting enthusiasm, as today’s ride will cover yet four more renowned California motorcycle roads, Highways 3, 299, 96 and the highly acclaimed Wildwood Road. Heading west out of Red Bluff, we backtrack on a portion of Highway 36 that we rode yesterday evening.
Heading out of Red Bluff on Highway 36
The morning sun on Highway 36 gives the highway a totally different appearance than it had last night. The morning air is still cool and fragrant. Highway 36 is both exciting and scenic, a sensory experience bound to peak the adrenaline of the most unflappably staid soul, this is Seventh Heaven for motorcycles.
Morning sun on Highway 36, Tehama County
Whatever may have been lacking in this morning’s coffee is more than compensated for by the morning ride on Highway 36. Bathed in the morning sun, the landscape takes on a golden glow. Slipping through the rolling terrain, the bikes glide through the broad sweepers as effortlessly as a bird in flight.
As Highway 36 nears the Trinity National Forest, the terrain starts to take on a more mountainous character as we approach the foothills of the Cascade Range and Yolla Bolly Mountains.
Rolling foothills of Beegum Gorge – Shasta County, just east of Platina
When we reach the junction of Wildwood Road, Dale decides to stop at a local store and gas station for a cup of coffee while I ride about ten miles farther west to a scenic point we noticed last evening, hoping the morning sun might be more cooperative at this time of day than it was last night.
The traffic is light this morning, I practically have the road to myself. Highway 36 winds continuously through this section of Trinity County, it seems there isn’t a straight section of highway within miles of here. Coming from an area of the country where the county roads are laid out on a one-mile grid pattern, I thoroughly enjoy every second of the ride.
I reach the spot which caught my attention the night before, recalling the pull-out on the side of the road where a California state trooper waved as we passed his parked squad car. I look around for a good shot with the camera but can’t seem to find one. There are vistas that look beautiful in real life that just don’t lend themselves to being captured in a photograph. I try to find the best angle I can.
Expansive Trinity National Forest
Looking back east into the morning sun, I take a moment to appreciate the beauty of this highway. I wonder if anyone has ever counted the number of turns per mile on this highway. Something tells me it’s up there with the very best.
Highway 36 – A motorcycle “dream road”
Route: Highway 36 – Red Bluff to Wildwood
I head back down the road and join Dale for a cup of coffee. Refreshed and ready to ride, we head north on the illustrious Wildwood Road. I had heard great things about Wildwood Road both from my riding partner and native Californian, Dale, as well as the great article by Tim on Pashnit. Only 16 miles in length from Highway 36 to where it ends at Highway 3, yet Wildwood Road is true to its name. This is one wild and winding road passing through a very wild part of the Northern California wilderness. As for the little town of Wildwood that is supposed to be somewhere along this road, I must have blinked, I never saw it!
Wildwood Road is your kind of adventure if being far off the beaten path is your goal. There is hardly a cross road or a structure of any kind along the entire path.
Wildwood Road – Serpentine path through beautiful wilderness
Wildwood Road ends at Highway 3 in Trinity County, about 4 ½ miles east of Hayfork. Highway 3 is another one of California’s highly prized motorcycle gems. No sooner do we begin our journey east on Highway 3, do the reasons why become clear.
Highway 3 – Trinity County Slalom Course!
Looking backward from the same spot
Highway 3 bobs and weaves its way through Trinity Forest, an exciting combination of ascending and descending grades through fast sweepers and tight switchbacks.
One of many exciting series of turns on Highway 3
Route: Wildwood Road and Highway 3 – Wildwood to Douglas City
In Douglas City, we head north on Highway 299. Highway 299 is a slightly faster road than Highway 3. The turns are more gradual and sweeping, and high in thrill factor. Following the Trinity River Canyon for many scenic miles, this is a fantastic and spectacular motorcycle road,.
Highway 299 follows the Trinity River Canyon for many miles across Trinity County
Highway 299 crosses the county line from Trinity to Humboldt County about four miles south of the Highway 96 junction in Willow Creek, also crossing from Trinity National Forest to Six Rivers National Forest. A spectacular vista of the South Fork Trinity River Canyon awaits.
Entering Six Rivers National Forest
Scenic Vista of the South Fork Trinity River
We continue on Highway 299 to the town of Willow Creek, where we stop for lunch and fuel. From Willow Creek, we head north on yet another amazingly scenic California motorcycle highway, Highway 96, which continues to follow along the Trinity River Canyon.
Route: Highway 299 – Douglas City to Willow Creek
About three miles north of Willow Creek is a spectacular series of turns, with no shoulder. Unable to safely park the bike in this spot, I continue up the road about ¼ mile and walk back for the picture.
Highway 96 north of Willow Creek
At Weitchpec, Highway 96 crosses the Klamath River at the confluence of the Klamath and Trinity Rivers and the north side of the Hoopa Valley Indian Reservation.
Awesome ride, Highway 96 along the Klamath River
The Klamath River
Further north, the Orleans Suspension bridge crosses the Klamath river in Humboldt County near the city of Orleans. The existing bridge was completed in 1967, but at least two other bridges have occupied this site during the last century. In 1921, a wooden bridge on this site dating back to 1912 was destroyed by fire. A second suspension bridge built in 1940 was destroyed by flood in 1965.
The Orleans Suspension Bridge near Orleans in Humboldt County
Near Somes Bar, Highway 96 crosses from Humboldt to Siskiyou County, and from Six Rivers to Klamath National Forest. The H. Lyle Davis Memorial Bridge crosses the Klamath River in Siskiyou County. Built in 1970, this bridge is named after a highway worker who died operating heavy equipment during the construction of Highway 96.
The H. Lyle Davis Memorial Bridge on Highway 96 over the Klamath River in Siskiyou County
A view across the H. Lyle Davis Memorial Bridge as it curves across the Klamath River
H. Lyle Davis Memorial Bridge at the Klamath River
A view of Highway 96 north from the H. Lyle Davis Memorial Bridge at the Klamath River
Klamath River between Cottage Grove and Clear Creek
Klamath River between Cottage Grove and Clear Creek
Dale and I roll into Happy Camp around 4:00 pm. A day of riding in triple digits has left us looking for a place to find a cold drink. Slightly worn out from the heat, we rest for a while in the shade. The sun has dampened our clothes, but not our enthusiasm. After a short break, we’re ready to roll once more. As I walk to back to the bike, I am startled by a rare Sasquatch sighting, and catch the illusive creature on camera as he is about to abscond with the Wing.
Local purloiner caught in the act at Happy Camp
Dale accompanies me another 64 miles down Highway 96 to the Junction of Interstate 5, stopping here for a while to rest and chat about the fabulous day’s ride we have just shared. But its already after 5:00 pm and I still have another 100 miles to cover before the end of the day, of which the last few miles will be deep into the wilderness of Oregon’s Rogue River National Forest. Dale and I say our good-byes after having shared with Dale two of the most incredible riding days of my life. Thanks Dale, it’s been great fun.
Route: Highway 96 – Willow Creek to Interstate 5
Heading north into Oregon on Interstate 5, I cross the Oregon border at exactly 6:00 pm.
Entering the State of Oregon
I leave Interstate 5 in Medford, Oregon and head north on Highway 62, making my way north through the little towns of White City, Eagle Point, Shady Grove, and Trail. In Prospect I figure I better stop and get something to eat as there will be nothing in the way of food beyond this point. I find a great little place to eat in Prospect, The Prospect Cafe & Trophy Room. Once inside, it was soon apparent why they call it a trophy room!
Cougar Mount – Prospect Cafe & Trophy Room
Cougar and Deer Mount – Prospect Cafe & Trophy Room
Cougar Mount – Prospect Cafe & Trophy Room
After dinner, I stop at a local grocery store to pick up a few food items to carry me over until morning. It’s been a very hot day, so I also pick up a couple of tall cold Coors to enjoy once I arrive at the cabin. It’s only another 11 miles to the cabin from here, but they prove to be a rugged 11 miles through the beautiful Rogue River National Forest. When I arrive at the cabin, there are several black-tail deer grazing in the adjoining pasture. I park the bike and carry in my gear at sundown. Perfect timing, and a beautiful end to an incredible day’s ride.
Black tail deer at Imnaha Campground, Rogue River National Forest
Black tail deer at Imnaha Campground, Rogue River National Forest
Route: Highway 96 to Rogue River National Forest, Oregon
End of Day 17
Location: Butte Falls, Oregon
GPS Mileage = 6566 miles
Today’s Mileage = 413 miles
Route: Day 17
Day 18 – Tuesday August 16th
Butte Falls, Oregon to Coos Bay, Oregon
Crater Lake, Oregon Coast
Last night’s arrival at Imnaha Guard Station was after sunset but before dark. Having climbed to an elevation of 3800 feet the night before on narrow gravel roads, I have already gained an appreciation for how deep I have forged into the Oregon wilderness. Not a single vehicle passed me on the road from Prospect last night, nor have I seen another human being since leaving there. Daylight reveals the beauty of the Rogue River National Forest surrounding me.
Nestled in the southwest portion of Oregon's magnificent volcanic Cascade Range, Imnaha Guard Station was built in the 1930s, replacing a one-room Forest Service shack built there almost twenty years earlier. The cabin was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The cabin is located on the old Geyser Springs Trail, once used for fire watch communications in the 1920s. The cabin was used as a fire-watch or "guard" station by the Butte Falls Ranger District through the late 1960s.
Imnaha Guard Station
Morning affords my first glimpse of Imnaha Creek, only yards from the cabin. The gentle sounds of the water gurgling past the cabin lulled me to sleep last night. Descending through the Cascades on Imnaha and Butte Falls – Prospect Roads, I stop on a bridge over the Middle Fork of the Rogue River. Turning the engine off reveals the tranquil sounds of the forest, only the sounds of rushing water and the morning songs of birds remain.
Middle Fork Rogue River from Butte Falls – Prospect Road
In Prospect I head north on Highway 62. Not yet 7:30, I glide north through the forest without a car on the road. As I near Crater Lake National Park, the road becomes a smooth, swift narrow corridor through tall evergreen forests of sugarpine. The road around the rim of Crater Lake is 33 miles long, with at least twenty scenic overlooks of the sapphire blue water. At 1,958 feet deep, Crater Lake is the seventh deepest lake in the world and the deepest in the United States.
Highway 62 inside Crater Lake National Park
Final ascent to Rim Drive
Crater Lake was formed after the collapse of an ancient volcano known today as Mount Mazama. The ancient volcano erupted almost 8000 years ago with a force 42 times as powerful as Mount St. Helens.
Sapphire blue Crater Lake
Crater Lake was a sacred place to the native Klamath and Modoc Indians, and shrouded in secrecy. It was believed by these tribes to be the sacred dwelling place of an Indian god. The Indians would not acknowledge the lake’s existence to outsiders, and believed that death would come to those who gazed upon its sacred waters. Because of their secrecy, the lake remained unknown to the white man until 1853.
Early morning on Crater Lake
Dark blue water surrounded by sculpted cliffs
Rim drive overlooks miles of forest wilderness
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States
One of many creeks flowing through Crater Lake National Park
Backtracking this morning’s route, I head southwest on Highway 62 through Prospect and Jackson County. Highway 62 crosses the Rogue River at a wide spot on the east side of the Lost Creek Reservoir.
Highway 62 bridge over Rogue River, Lost Creek Reservoir
View of the Rogue River from the Highway 62 bridge
In Trail, Oregon, I change course, heading south on Rogue River Drive and taking Highway 234 to Gold Hill. A brief interstate stretch on I-5 to Grants Pass leads to the junction with Highway 199 south, which leads once more across the border into the upper Northwest corner of the Golden State.
Re-entry into the Golden State
Highway 199 twists its way through beautiful Del Norte County, winding its way through the Smith River for Canyon for several miles.
The Smith River, Highway 199 in the background
Highway 199 passes through the small but hugely impressive Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park. The shade from the canopy of the giant redwoods is welcome relief on a very hot day.
Two giant redwoods dwarf the Wing in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park
Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park, and the Smith River, are named after Jedediah Smith, an explorer of the early 1800s credited with exploring the interior of Northern California, pioneering a trail southwest from Utah’s Great Salt Lake across the Mojave Desert through the San Bernardino Mountains into California.
Riding between feet of Giants
My brief fifty-one mile ride across Del Norte County comes to an end near the Pacific coast, the last page of one chapter in the finest adventure story of my life. I leave the grand State of California behind for now, in hopes that my return will be sooner rather than later.
The Oregon Coast Highway begins
A short distance beyond the border, Highway 101 merges with the coastline once again at the southern end of an incredibly beautiful twelve-mile corridor known as Samuel H. Boardman State Park.
Seaside near Samuel H. Boardman State Park
The Oregon coastline takes on a character all its own. Wide expansive beaches, massive rock sculptures towering from the coastal waters, steep rugged cliffs, secluded coves and natural rock bridges, all combine to create a unique and enchanting world.
View from Highway 101 through Samuel H. Boardman State Park
The landmark Isaac Lee Patterson bridge, also known as the Rogue River or Gold Beach Bridge, precludes passing through the City of Gold Beach unawares. Built in 1931 and completed in January of 1932, this beautiful concrete sculpture spans 1939 feet across the mouth of the Rogue River. At that time, it was the most advanced concrete bridge in America, and the longest structure between San Francisco and the Columbia River. It has been recognized by the American Society of Civil Engineers as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Historic Landmark Isaac Lee Patterson bridge
The ride north from Gold Beach passes miles of rugged coastline.
View south, Oregon Coastline north of Gold Beach
View north, Oregon coastline north of Gold Beach
Humbug Mountain State Park, a popular whale watching spot, offers dramatic views the Pacific and the jagged coastline.
Beach along Oregon’s Humbug Mountain State Park
Humbug Mountain State Park Coastline
Just north of Humbug Mountain State Park lies the City of Port Orford, Oregon. Battle Rock Park in Port Orford offers scenic views of the coastline, and is the historic location of an 1851 battle between local Indians and the first settlers of the coastal town.
View from Battle Rock Park, Port Orford, Oregon
A short fifty-one mile ride from Battle Rock Park ends at my destination for this evening’s ride, beautiful Coos Bay, where a sampling of the region’s seafood fare is the apropos and enjoyable conclusion to a scenic day’s ride.
End of Day 18
Location: Coos Bay, Oregon
GPS Mileage = 6943 miles
Today’s Mileage = 377 miles
Route: Day 18
Day 19 – Wednesday August 17th
Coos Bay, Oregon to Stevenson, Washington
Mount Hood, Columbia River Gorge
Departing my hotel at 7:00 AM, I roll onto Highway 101 north, following the Western bank of Coos Bay. The early morning sun begins to illuminate the Coos Bay Bridge, now known as the Conde B. McCullough Memorial Bridge, an architecturally striking cantilever bridge spanning Coos Bay. Completed in 1936, its 5,305 foot length was the longest of any bridge in Oregon at the time of its completion.
Sunrise over the Coos Bay Bridge
For the first sixty miles of this morning’s ride, Highway 101 runs one to two miles inland. Forests of Sitka Spruce dominate this Pacific Maritime environment. The morning mist is heavy, obscuring most views of the Pacific below through occasional openings in the lush forest. The mist lifts slightly by the time I reach Siuslaw National Forest in Lane County.
Misty morning on the Oregon Coast
Heceta Head Lighthouse is located approximately 14 miles South of Yachats at Devil's Elbow State Park. The Heceta Lighthouse and Light Keeper's house date back to 1894 and are both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Perched atop a promontory 205 feet above the ocean, it is the brightest light on the Oregon coast, visible over 20 miles out to sea. It is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in the U.S.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Heceta Head Light Keeper’s House
Beach at Heceta Head Lighthouse
Bridge and Tunnel over Cape Creek at Heceta Head
Seal Rock State Park
Three miles north of Lincoln City, I leave the Pacific Coast in my mirrors and head inland on Oregon Highway 18. Passing through McMinnville, Dundee, Newburg, Sherwood, and West Inn, and skirting the southern limits of Portland, I pass through miles of Oregon’s scenic orchard and vineyard country . About 100 miles after exiting Highway 101, I head east at the town of Boring on Oregon Highway 26. The ride is anything but boring as the road ascends through Mount Hood National Forest.
Although Mount Hood National Forest is my original destination for tonight, I've adjusted my route to travel further. To get an earlier start on Saturday morning for the Canadian portion of my trip, I plan to be on the Friday morning ferry out of Anacortes, Washington, rather than the Friday evening ferry I had originally planned on. My goal is to arrive in Anacortes Thursday (tomorrow) night and there is still over 600 miles of road between here and there. I plan to ride another 100 miles today.
My original destination for this evening is Camp Creek Campground. Established seventy years ago by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1936, this beautiful campground is located in the Mount Hood National Forest at an elevation of 2200 feet of elevation in a lush and mossy temperate rain forest of old growth douglas fir.
The old hand water pump is still functional
Once part of a cabin, the old stone fireplace dates back to the original era. Several other of these stone fireplaces are located about the campground.
Circa 1936 stone fireplace was once part of a cabin
Unspoiled Camp Creek
Stopping for a photo at the campground marker
The junction of Highways 26 and 35 is lies directly to the south of majestic Mount Hood. The most spectacular views of Mount Hood are on Highway 35 to the south and east sides of Mount Hood. Here, Highway 35 winds its way through Barlow and Bennett Passes before snaking its way along the Hood River and into the city of Parkdale.
Barlow Pass on Highway 35, south of Mount Hood
A view of Mount Hood from Highway 35 approaching Bennett Pass
Twisting along the East Fork Hood River south of Parkdale
At Parkdale, I turn around and head back in the same direction I came. Having seen Mount Hood, the idea is to head back toward Troutdale at Interstate 84, and follow scenic Columbia River Gorge.
In Troutdale I take I-84, also known as the Columbia River Highway. For an interstate, this is a very pretty stretch of highway, offering exits for the many scenic waterfalls along the gorge. Multnomah Falls is one of 77 waterfalls on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.
620 foot high Multnomah Falls and Benson Bridge
The Bridge of the Gods crosses the Columbia River in Cascade Locks, Oregon.
Bridge of the Gods across the Columbia River
Stunningly beautiful, Columbia River Gorge cuts through 80 miles of the Cascade Mountains, defining the Oregon - Washington border along its length.
At Cascade Locks, I turn around and head back west along the Columbia River Gorge, but this time taking the Historic Columbia River Highway instead of I-84. Historic Columbia River Highway runs parallel to the Columbia River and I-84, but is slightly further inland and follows the higher elevations of the mountain ridges along the gorge. Historic Columbia River Highway is a slightly slower but beautifully scenic alternative to the interstate. Twisting through mature shade trees and past historic inns, the highway offers stunning vistas of the Columbia River Gorge climbing as high as 900 feet above the river. Built between 1913 and 1922, many of the original stone walls and bridge embankments still remain.
Historic Columbia River Highway
Columbia River Gorge from the Crown Point Vista House
The historic Crown Point Vista House sits atop a cliff 733 above the Columbia River. Some cliffs along the Columbia River reach a height of 4000 feet.
Crown Point Vista House, 733 feet above the Columbia River
I am so enchanted by the incredible views from the Historic Columbia River Highway and the Crown Point Vista House, that I forget about one minor detail, fuel – or the lack of it. Glancing at the dash, my attention focuses on the fuel gauge, needle on empty. Removing the filler cap, I peer into the tank to see the last few remaining ounces of gasoline only half covering the bottom of the tank. Peering across miles of beautiful scenery, it occurs to me that I am basically miles from nowhere. The last fuel was in Cascade Locks, and I’m sure that my remaining fuel will not cover the twenty-two miles back to Cascade Locks. Times like these are what the GPS was made for, and I suddenly realize a new appreciation for mine. Checking for the nearest fuel to my location, the GPS indicates a gas station in the tiny little town of Corbett, only three miles down the road. Running on fumes, the Corbett Country Market now appears even more beautiful than the surrounding countryside! I thank my guardian angel as I fill my empty 6.6 gallon tank with slightly over 6.5 gallons of fuel. Wow, that was just a little too close for comfort!
This map shows the area of the Columbia River Gorge near the Crown Point Vista House that I almost had to walk! The map shows how the Historic Columbia River Highway parallels I-84, following a much twistier path.
Detail of the Columbia River Gorge near Crown Point Vista House
From Corbett, its less one than mile back to I-84 via Corbett Hill Road. It’s late in the evening and I’m ready to head across the river into Stevenson, Washington for some dinner. Interstate 84 follows the Columbia River Gorge on the Oregon side of the river offering a scenic ride that far excels the vast majority of interstate highways.
Interstate 84 through the Columbia River Gorge
Before heading into Stevenson for the night, the overpass at Corbett Hill Road and I-84 offers a beautiful view of the sunset.
Sunset over the Columbia River
The Bridge of the Gods, part of the Pacific Crest Trail, crosses the Columbia River from Cascade Locks, Oregon to Stevenson, Washington.
Bridge of the Gods, Washington side of Columbia River
Arriving in Washington at the close of another day
Crossing the Bridge of the Gods leaves a short two mile ride to a fabulous Mexican dinner at Joe’s El Rio Mexican Café in beautiful downtown Stevenson. Next time you’re in Stevenson, don’t miss it! After dinner, the Econo Lodge in Stevenson becomes home for the night.
End of Day 19
Location: Stevenson, Washington
GPS Mileage = 7379 miles
Today’s Mileage = 436 miles
Route: Day 19
Day 20 – Thursday August 18th
Stevenson, Washington to Anacortes, Washington
Mount Saint Helens, Mount Rainier National Park
Up well before daylight, thoughts of today’s attractions have me wide-awake. Unable to sleep, I head for fuel at the Main Street Convenience store in downtown Stevenson. Apparently a popular gathering spot with the locals, several people are already discussing current events over coffee and breakfast. While standing in line to pay for my coffee and a map of Washington State, the bright red Goldwing with Indiana plates has aroused no little interest and is suddenly a lively topic of conversation. “Where are you from?” “Where ya’ headed?” “You came all that way on a motorcycle?” “You’re going where!!??” “On that!!??” Happy to throw in their two cents worth, the map is surrounded by plaid shirts, caps, and coveralls, friendly experts tracing out the best route to Mount Saint Helens, carefully explaining the best roads to take and which roads to avoid. One gentleman particularly familiar with the local wildlife cautions me about the abundant elk and deer in the area around Mount Saint Helens. Finishing my coffee, I thank the accommodating gents for their help as I tuck my coffee mug back into the left saddlebag. The pre-ride ritual begins as I zip up the jacket, start the IPOD, don the gloves, secure the chin-strap, snap the chinbar closed, and mount the bike. Taking a deep breath of the cool, crisp morning air, I start the engine and roll into the start of beautiful morning’s ride.
The Columbia River reflects the eastern sky’s early red-orange glow as I wind my way east along the northern banks of the gorge and into the town of Carson. Heading north out of Carson on Wind River Road, also known as Forest Road 30, signs of civilization quickly wane as I enter Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The centerline disappears and the road narrows, snaking its way through miles upon miles of lush, old-growth douglas fir and western hemlock forests. I stop to don the fur-lined gauntlet gloves as the elevations rise and the temperatures drop into the upper thirties. Continuing north on Meadow Creek Road, I turn in a westerly direction on Curly Creek Road. A spectacular view of Mount Saint Helens appears around one of the endless turns. I pull into the McClellan Viewpoint to absorb the beauty of my surroundings.
Early morning view of Mount Saint Helens from McClellan Viewpoint, Curly Creek Road
Dating back to 1897 as part of different federally reserved lands, Gifford Pinchot is one of the nation’s oldest national forests, taking its current name in 1949. Wildlife is very abundant, I spot many deer and elk, just like the locals in Stevenson said I would. According to a placard at the McClellan Viewpoint, the area is also home to black bear, cougar, and mountain goats. In a stretch of less than fifteen miles, I spot over 40 elk. Cornering through the turns, the bike surprises several large groups of elk along the roadside. One group contains more than ten elk, but they disappear into thickly wooded and steep mountainside before I can even stop the bike, much less reach for the camera.
Heading west along the Swift Reservoir on Forest Road 90, I pass through the tiny little town of Northwoods and head north on enthralling Forest Road 25, offering breathing views of Mount Saint Helens. Signs of devastation, a few lifeless tree trunks among green new growth trees stand as a reminder of the May 18, 1980 eruption that flattened or buried 230 square miles of forest beneath volcanic deposits.
Mount Saint Helens from the Clearwater viewpoint, Forest Road 25
Route through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mount Saint Helens Vicinity
Openings in the thick forest provide an occasional glimpse of Mount Saint Helens and the surrounding smaller peaks of the Cascades. Stopping in the small town of Randall I take advantage of a local Shell station although the tank is still half full. Heading northeast on Highway, the road follows the Cowlitz River for several miles. At Highway 123, I bear north into Mount Rainier National Park.
Arriving at the Southeast entrance to Mount Rainier National Park on Highway 123
Mount Rainier’s peak appears shrouded in clouds in this view from Stevens Canyon Road
Breathtaking view from Wonderland Trail near Box Canyon
A short walk from a roadside picnic area offers a view of the dramatic Box Canyon, formed by the Muddy Fork of the Cowlitz River. Only a few feet wide, the river cuts a narrow channel through the rocks that is one hundred feet deep, but only twenty to thirty feet wide.
One of the main vista points and visitor centers in the park is located at the aptly named town of Paradise. The road to Paradise is an incredible ride throuh the dramatically steep terrain surrounding Mount Rainier climbing higher and higher with each switchback.
Mount Rainier reaches an elevation of 14,410 feet, the highest peak in the Cascade Range. One of the world's oldest and most massive volcanoes, its last major eruptions were more than 2000 years ago. Although presently dormant, it is not extinct.
Heavily glaciated Mount Rainier
One of Mount Rainier’s distinctive features is its spectacularly sharp rise, over 800 feet above the surrounding mountains and valleys.
Rockslides are a constant maintenance item on the Park Roads
The picturesque valleys of the Tatoosh Range were formed by ancient lava flows and are now heavily forested.
Looking southwest into the Paradise River Valley, Tatoosh Range
Winding through Paradise Valley
Spectacular peaks of the Tatoosh Range
Its easy to understand why this place is named “Paradise”
Clouds over Nisqually Glacier
Colorful wildflowers on mountain meadows complement the snowcapped peaks
I continue to the southwest entrance of the park, called the Nisqually entrance. Backtracking eastward, I stop at Longmire to explore some of the history of the park.
Historic Gas Station at Longmire
Switchback near area called “The Bench”
Jagged mountainside of Stevens Canyon
Tunnel in Stevens Canyon
View looking west into Stevens Canyon
Once back at the east side of the park I head north along Highway 123 toward the White River entrance of the park. Just near the intersection of the Mather Memorial Highway (410) and Sunrise Park Road, the road opens up into a spectacular vista of Mount Rainier. This is by far the best view of the mountain I saw during my stay in the park. Here, Governors Ridge flanks the White River to the south and Sunrise Ridge to the north. The smaller peak in front of Mount Rainier is Goat Island Mountain. At the focus of this incredible view is the main summit of Mount Rainier, Columbia Crest, reaching an elevation of 14410 feet. Emmons Glacier covers most the east slope of Mount Rainier with Little Tahoma peak to the left at an elevation of 11138 feet and Frying Pan Glacier just to the east.
Spectacular view of Mount Rainier near the White River entrance
Highway 410, near the east entrance to the park at Chinook Pass
Chinook Pass entrance to Mount Rainier National Park
Leaving Mount Rainier National Park
Route through Mount Rainier National Park
Highway 410 through Yakima County is a quiet and beautiful ride, winding its way along the American River and passing through Wenatchee and Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forests.
Highway 410 along the American River, Yakima County, Washington
In Yakima I take a brief detour from Washington’s beautiful back roads on Interstate 82, heading north for about 40 miles to Highway 97.
View of Vanderbilt Gap agricultural valley in Kittitas County from Interstate 82
In Ellensburg I head north on Highway 97. From the rolling farmlands of Ellensburg, Highway 97 begins a gradual ascent through the Kittitas Valley, reaching a plateau that overlooks the Swauk Prairie. Once crossing Blewett Pass, the terrain becomes more rugged and wooded. The 50-mile stretch on Highway 97 ends at Highway 2 in the town of Peshastin where I head west on the final leg of today’s ride.
Only a few miles west of Peshastin lies the unlikely town of Leavenworth, unlikely because one would not expect to find a Bavarian village in the middle of Washington State. All the buildings in Leavenworth are styled in a Bavarian theme, giving the feel of Oktoberfest although is yet mid-August.
Passing from Chelan County into King County, Highway 2 crosses Stevens Pass at an elevation of 4061 feet, two thousand feet above the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway's 7.8-mile long Cascade Tunnel.
Highway 2 follows the beautiful Skykomish River for miles. Enchanted by the river I stop for a brief hike along its banks. The Skykomish is a favorite for white water rafting and as well as steelhead and salmon fishing.
Skykomish River along Washington Highway 2
In Everett I head north on Interstate 5 for forty miles. The remains of my right mirror signal finally give way and vanish into the road behind me, no longer magically clinging to a few stubborn strands of wire as it has since dropping the bike in Bass Lake, California almost two weeks ago.
At Highway 20 I head west into the coastal town of Anacortes where I plan to catch a ferry tomorrow morning to Vancouver Island. After a wonderful seafood dinner at Randy’s Pier 61, I settle in for the night at the Anacortes Inn.
End of Day 20
Location: Anacortes, Washington
GPS Mileage = 7898 miles
Today’s Mileage = 519 miles
Route: Day 20
Day 21 – Friday August 19th
Anacortes, Washington to Vancouver, British Columbia
Ferry through the San Juan Islands
Today’s journey will be spent crossing the international border between the United States and Canada – over water. I plan to cross the border by ferry at the Haro Straight, the body of water separating Washington State’s San Juan Islands from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. The crossing will include two sailings. The first ferry will sail from Anacortes, cross the Canadian border, and arrive in the town of Sidney on Vancouver Island. The second ferry will sail from Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island and arrive in Tsawwassen, just south of Vancouver.
View of Mount Baker from Anacortes
I spend the morning hours enjoying a more relaxed routine than I've become accustomed to. Since the ferry is not scheduled to depart Anacortes until 12:30, I use the morning hours thoroughly cleaning and detailing the bike, including removing the road grime, and polishing the chrome trim and aluminum wheels. I purchase my ticket and roll the bike into its place in line by 11:30, admiring this shiny new BMW 1200GS while waiting to board.
One of the Washington State Ferries
The bridge of the Elwha
Ferry on Rosano Straight
U.S. Coast Guard on watch
Many a beautiful pleasure craft..
..out for a cruise
Seagulls at Orcas Island
Checking in down below
Flightseeing over Seattle
Gotta try that sometime
Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington
Another cool boat
The beautiful San Juan Islands are part of Washington State, just inside the US / Canadian border. The islands of Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and Shaw are the largest of the group, with several smaller islands interspersed between them.
View from the auto deck
An enchanting ride
After disembarking the ferry at Sidney, it’s a short ride to Swartz Bay to board the second ferry.
Canadian waters off Vancouver Island
Mount Baker’s snowcapped peak reflecting the sunset’s orange glow
On the deck of BC Ferries’ "Queen of Vancouver"
View from the bow
Port side view
The scenic ferry ride between the Islands of Saltspring, Portland, Prevost, Pender, Mayne, and Galiano suggests that the ride that lies ahead on tomorrow’s journey can only be another notch up on the scale of adventure. It’s been a relaxing and refreshing day, traveling little more than 90 miles, and most of that over water.
I spend the night in the amazing city of Vancouver. The night life on Vancouver’s busy Granville Street is just too lively to resist. I enjoy exploring the wide variety of night clubs into the wee hours of the morning.
End of Day 21
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia
GPS Mileage = 7992 miles
Today’s Mileage = 94 miles
Route: Day 21
Day 22 – Saturday August 20th
Vancouver, British Columbia to Kamloops, British Columbia
Exploring Vancouver’s famous Granville Street until 3am does not make getting up this morning particularly easy. But I must get rolling as I’m meeting a fellow rider today, a Canadian from the city of Kamloops, British Columbia. An extra cup of coffee and a large breakfast brings me back to life – well almost anyway. A cell phone call to Alan in Kamloops tells him that I am happily, albeit sluggishly, on my way. We plan to rendezvous later this morning in the town of Pemberton, not exactly midway between Vancouver and Kamloops.
The morning ride out of the city through the streets of Vancouver climaxes in historic Stanley Park, a large section of forested land at the northern most tip of Vancouver set aside in the city’s early days. The roadway through the park is lined with vintage streetlamps and mature trees. Emerging from Stanley Park is the southern approach span to the Lions Gate Bridge, the portal across the Burrard Inlet and a Vancouver landmark. The main span of the Lions Gate is 1550 feet, with a total length of 4978 feet. The two main towers of the bridge are 364 feet tall. The construction of the bridge began on March 31, 1937 and was financed by the Guinness family of beer brewing fame. The bridge was opened to traffic on November 14, 1938.
Heading north across the Lion’s Gate, I leave behind the city of Vancouver with a desire to return to one of the most spectacular cities I have ever seen.
Lions Gate Bridge spanning Burrard Inlet
The ride along Highway 99 offers spectacular views of peaks towering above the waters of Howe Sound, North America’s southernmost fjord. Highway 99 is referred to here as the “Sea to Sky Highway”, and for very good reason. Following the eastern shore of Howe Sound and rising in elevation for approximately 25 miles, the ride is intensely scenic and breathtaking.
Nestled along the shore of Howe Sound lies Porteau Cove Provincial Park, a mecca for divers because of the several ships intentionally scuttled in the waters to create man-made reefs.
Porteau Cove Provincial Park
Placard describing the Nakaya, one of several scuttled ships in Porteau Cove
Porteau Cove – scuba paradise!
Stunning vistas of the Tantalus Range are continuous along every mile of Highway 99 as it winds its way along the shore of Howe Sound and into the resort village of Squamish. The Tantalus Range is part of the Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains in southern British Columbia.
Tantalus Range lookout
Obviously I have a strange sense of humor, the sign on this dumpster made me laugh at the thought of being afforded such special privileges.
Special privileges for tourists only
As I make my way north toward the ski resort of Whistler, the abundance of chalets along the side of the road are an obvious sign that this area is a skier’s paradise, but other sports are also popular here.
Nicklaus North Golf Course, Whistler
The landscape is dotted with alpine lakes reflecting the mountain peaks like gems against so many mirrors. Highway 99 follows beautiful Alta Lake for several miles, but I’m unable to pull over safely. Water flowing from Alta Lake on its south end reaches the Pacific via the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers, while water flowing from its north reaches the ocean via the Harrison watershed and the Fraser River. There are so many lakes here, one could spend weeks in the area exploring them. Above the lakes of Whistler tower the glaciated peaks of Blackcomb and Whistler Mountains.
“Sea to Sky Highway” north of Whistler
Alan and I plan our arrival time in Pemberton with uncanny precision. Alan’s ride from Kamloops to Pemberton was almost twice the distance as my 95-mile ride from Vancouver, but we allowed extra time for my picture taking. Rolling into town, I’m stopped by a red light at the main intersection in town at the same time a blue Goldwing approaching from the other direction stops at the same red light. It can only be Alan.
Meeting Blueblazer 49, aka Alan, in Pemberton
Alan’s Thank You note to the boss
Alan and I fuel up in Pemberton and stop for a bite to eat at the local McDonalds. Riding north out of Pemberton, we pass beautiful Lillooet Lake and follow the Lillooet River as we head higher and higher into the mountains.
The Lillooet River coursing through the Pemberton Valley
High above Lillooet Lake lies Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, named after the three small Joffre Lakes. Lower Joffre Lake is only a short hike from Highway 99, so Alan and I decide to take a look.
Stopping for a short hike at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Lower Joffre Lake is well-worth the short walk. It is a beautiful sight in vivid shades of turquoise and aquamarine, reflecting the glacier-encrusted Mount Joffre and Mount Matier in its waters.
Lower Joffre Lake
Lower Joffre Lake
As we wind our way higher into south-western British Columbia's vast Coast Range, 9100-foot Mount Matier towers into the sky, the highest summit in the Joffre Group.
9100 foot Mount Matier
Approximately 22 miles east of Pemberton on Highway 99 lies picturesque Duffey Lake Provincial Park. Duffey Lake is a pristine high-alpine lake. The park is located in the Cayoosh Range with breathtaking views of Mount Rohr, habitat for grizzly and black bear, deer, and mountain goat.
Duffey Lake and the glacier-covered peak of Mount Rohr in the Cayoosh Range
Continuing east of Duffey Lake, we make our way into the Cayoosh River Valley. This is a very remote area of the Coast Range, with no other roads to the south for more than 130 miles, and the nearest road to the north about 30 miles.
Coursing through the Cayoosh River Valley
Spectacular scenery along the Cayoosh River
The views through the Cayoosh River Valley are spectacular, but the hairpin turns and steep drop-offs demand careful attention.
View west into the Cayoosh River Valley
This area is very popular with tourists from all countries of the world. At this roadside pullout, Alan and I meet a group of riders from Germany.
Chatting with a group of riders
From the roadside pullout we continue east as the road descends through a series of repetitive tight turns into the city of Lillooet. I pull off to the side at one of the turns and wait for our German friends to pass by.
A couple miles west of Lillooet, we encounter beautifully picturesque Seton Lake. Seton Lake is actually a freshwater fjord draining into the Fraser River at Lillooet. Like so many of the beautiful mountain lakes in British Columbia, Seton Lake has a turquoise hue. The water of Seton Lake was once even a more brilliant blue, but diversion of silt-laden waters of the Bridge River into Seton Lake by BC Hydro since the late 1940s has dramatically changed the color. This picture is taken at the very eastern tip of Seton Lake.
Picturesque Seton Lake
Continuing north on Highway 99 we are met by yet another breathtaking view, the Fraser River Gorge near Lillooet flanked by the tracks of the British Columbia Railway.
Fraser River Gorge near Lillooet
Fraser River Gorge near Lillooet
North of Lillooet the landscape opens up into panoramic vistas of rolling foothills of the Coastal Range. The photo below shows an interesting railway tunnel cut through a mountain on Red Ridge as Highway 99 continues along the Fraser River.
Highway 99 north of Lillooet and the British Columbia Railway tunnel on Red Ridge
A few miles east of the small town of Pavilion, and about 30 miles east of Lillooet, lies Pavilion Lake.
Highway 99 at Pavilion Lake
The afternoon sun sinking lower in the western sky afforded this shot of Highway 99 and a passing motorcyclist. After I take this shot, he stops and asks me to email the picture to him when I get home.
Passing motorcyclist on BC Highway 99
Two Wings on BC Highway 99
Continuing east on Canada Highway 1 at Cache Creek, we head for Alan’s house in Kamloops. Between the small town of Savona and the city of Kamloops we stop at a scenic overlook for a shot of Kamloops Lake.
End of Day 22
Location: Kamloops, British Columbia
GPS Mileage = 8282 miles
Today’s Mileage = 290 miles
Route: Day 22
Day 23 – Sunday August 21st
Kamloops, British Columbia to Jasper, Alberta
Mount Robson National Park
I spend Saturday night as a pampered guest at the home of Alan and his wife Judy. I am treated to an excellent home cooked Italian dinner – with Canadian beer of course, topped off with a most restful night’s sleep. Alan and Judy’s kind hospitality is a very welcome treat after so many miles on the road.
Sunday morning I sleep later than my customary pre-dawn routine. I attend the 7:00 am Mass at Kamloops’ historic Sacred Heart Cathedral. Alan meets me in front of the cathedral after Mass, and we’re ready to roll.
This morning’s ride follows the North Thompson River on scenic Yellowhead Highway 5. As we head north out of Kamloops and the Okanagon Valley, we share the surrounding terrain with very few people. We pass through the small towns of Heffley Creek, McClure, Louis Creek, Barriere, and Darfield, yet the terrain along Yellowhead Highway is for the most part uninhabited. The greenish-blue hue of the Thompson River paints a beautiful picture as it flows through the forested hillsides and grasslands of the Thompson Plateau.
North Thompson River from Yellowhead Highway 5, just north of Little Fort
Two Wings along the Yellowhead Highway
When the first explorers came to the Thompson Valley in search of gold in the 1860s, the region was inhabited by native bands known as First Nations people. Many places in the area take their names from battles that took place between First Nations bands such as the Okelhs, Canims, and the Chilcotins. The Valley was settled shortly after the turn of the century.
View north along the North Thompson River, just north of Clearwater
Canadian National Railway Bridge crossing the North Thompson River just north of Clearwater
A work train crosses the river
Another view of the North Thompson
North Thompson River between Birch Island and Vavenby
View north from bridge over North Thompson River at Avola
View east near Blue River
View north on Yellowhead Highway just south of Valemount
Alan and I stop for lunch in Valemount, about 200 miles or 320 kilometers north of Kamloops. After lunch Alan and I part company as he turns back for home. At Tete Juan Cache, 12 miles north of Valemount, Yellowhead Highway 5 meets Yellowhead Highway 16. From here I head east toward Mount Robson Provincial Park.
Fraser River east of Tete Juan Cache on Yellowhead Highway 16
View east of Yellowhead Highway 16 with Mount Robson in the background
The peak of Mount Robson was veiled by cloud cover during my pass through the park. Mount Robson is the highest in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet.
Entering Mount Robson Provincial Park
Mount Robson is famous for being one of the most beautiful and impressive sights in British Columbia. Yellowhead Highway that passes through the park takes it name from a blonde-headed early 19th century fur-trader and trapper. Mount Robson Park is home to a myriad variety of wildlife including mule and whitetail deer, moose, elk, black bear, grizzly bear, coyote, cougar, wolf, caribou, mountain goat, big-horn sheep and almost 200 species of birds.
The Robson River and Mount Robson
Moose Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park
The tracks of the Canadian National Railway along Moose Lake
View of Mount Fitzwilliam in Mount Robson Provincial Park along the British Columbia and Alberta border
An artistic sign marking Mount Fitzwilliam
A view of Yellowhead Highway 16 and Mount Fitzwilliam
The British Columbia and Alberta border is 48 miles east of Tete Juan Cache. This is also the border between Mount Robson Provincial Park and Jasper National Park.
Leaving beautiful British Columbia behind...
Crossing spectacular Yellowhead Pass at 3,730 feet, the overcast skies begin to clear as the afternoon sun casts a warm glow on the snow-capped peaks of the Canadian Rockies.
Red Wing on Yellowhead Pass
Yellowhead Highway 16 crossing Yellowhead Pass
The Mietta River
An old CNR locomotive on display in Jasper
The national flag of Canada
End of Day 23
Location: Jasper, Alberta
GPS Mileage = 8571 miles
Today’s Mileage = 289 miles
Route: Day 23
Day 24 – Monday August 22nd
Jasper, Alberta to Longview, Alberta
Morning – Jasper National Park
Today I awake to blue sunny skies, a welcome sight after the overcast skies over the second half of yesterday’s ride. Today’s ride will take me through the amazing Jasper and Banff National Parks of the Canadian Rockies. I’m excited that the weather has cleared up for what is bound to be one of the highlights of my month-long journey. The Canadian Rockies are considered by many to be the most spectacular landscape in North America and many say that Icefields Parkway Highway 93 through Jasper and Banff is the most beautiful highway in the world. Having experienced California’s Sonora and Ebbetts Passes and Pacific Coast Highway, I can’t help but be skeptical of such dramatic claims, yet the awesome peaks that surround me are truly magnificent and seem to whisper, “believe!, believe!” Am I hearing things? Not really, but the splendor of these mountains truly touches the soul. Breathtaking vistas that defy description, majestic ice-covered peaks, striking sheer faces, powerful waterfalls, pristine rivers, brilliant blue lakes, and endless forests all combine to create a very moving experience of nature at its finest. Though not the tallest peaks in north America, they have a uniquely rugged character. These ancient mammoths engulf huge uninhabited areas larger than some states and home to a vast array of wildlife. Which part of North America you call “the most beautiful” is of course a matter of personal taste and such superlatives will never find a 100% consensus. Yet nobody would deny the inspiring beauty of the Canadian Rockies or argue that today's ride is sure to be unforgettable.
The town of Jasper attracts travelers from all over the world. It is an interesting place to walk around, although as one would expect it is built around the tourist traffic. Having seen my share of Jasper the night before, I’m ready to explore the vast expanses of the park.
Today’s one-day tour of Jasper and Banff National Parks will barely scratch the surface of the 6,764 square miles enclosed by these two huge parks, equal to the combined area of Connecticut and Rhode Island. If you consider the surrounding protected areas of Mount Robson, Yoho, Kootenay, Glacier, and Mount Revelstoke parks, the combined area is nearly as large as Massachusetts.
By sunrise I’m fueled and ready to ride. Thinking that a ride on the Jasper Tramway might afford some beautiful sunrise shots of the surrounding peaks, I head to the lower tram station on Whistler Mountain only to find that the tram doesn’t start running until 10 am. Not wanting to wait around for three more hours, I forego the tramway ride and keep going. One could easily spend two weeks in Jasper and Banff National Parks and still not see it all.
Sunrise from Whistler Mountain outside the town of Jasper, Pyramid Mountain in the distance
There is still very little traffic on Icefields Parkway Highway 93 as I head south into Jasper National Park. The temperature is under 40 degrees this morning and the morning mist is still rising slowly over the Astoria River, a view virtually unchanged from what the aboriginal peoples saw from their canoes hundreds of years ago.
Morning mist on the Astoria River, Franchere Peak in the background
A park pass is required to ride the parkway as it is intended to be a scenic route and not a transportation corridor. No trucks are allowed in the park. Hopefully, this is an area that will always be respected, protected, and preserved for future generations.
The exquisite beauty of this place soothes the soul and heals the spirit. Here it is easy to regain a sense of peace and perspective. Here, life’s problems fade away into the immensity of nature.
Franchere Peak amidst the morning calm on the Astoria River
Needless to say, all this water has me thinking about fishing. The Canadian Rockies are a fisherman’s paradise with some of the finest fishing anywhere in North America. A variety of fish can be found in Jasper including pike, Rocky Mountain whitefish, Rainbow Trout, Lake Trout, Brook Trout and Bull Trout.
Pyramid Mountain aglow in the morning sun
The road is quiet and peaceful as I wind my way through the park. The splendor of the Canadian Rockies unfolds before me as I approach the Winston Churchill Range. The further south I go, the taller and more numerous the peaks become.
View south toward the peaks (left to right) of Mount Christie, Brussels Peak, Mount Lowell, and Mount Geraldine
About 18 miles south of Jasper, I stop for a while to tour Athabasca Falls. The 75 foot high falls are not known so much for their height like many famous falls, but rather for their sheer power, exploding into torrents of white water as the Athabasca River converges and crashes into a narrow gorge. Athabasca is the Cree Indian name for “where there are reeds”.
Powerful Athabasca Falls
Whirlpool Valley, a deep cavern cut by swift waters
The Athabasca River thunders into the gorge
Walking around falls there is a constant spray and mist in the air, so much so that I get wet and have to shield the camera lens to keep it dry. A very popular attraction, its best to come early to beat the crowds.
Water flows over layers of hard quartzite cutting into the softer limestone below
Massive Mount Kerkeslin towers above the Athabasca River and dominates the view as one travels south along Icefields Parkway from Jasper. Located at the south end of the Maligne Range on the east side of the Athabasca River, Mount Kerkeslin is the highest peak in the Maligne Range.
I get off the bike and take a walk down to the Athabasca River for a picture of the river. This is wilderness and there are no trails leading from most of the roadside pull-outs. Dense stands of fir and spruce blanket the mountainsides. Much snow accumulates here during the winter protected by the forest canopy. The moisture from the winter snow is retained throughout the year. These sub-alpine “snow-forests” are carpeted with mosses and mushrooms that thrive on the moisture from the winter snow.
Moon shine above Mount Kerkeslin
Icefields Parkway dwarfed by Mount Kerkeslin
Mount Fryatt is easily identified by its unique horn-shaped peak. It is named after a British merchant seaman who was executed during WWI.
Continuing south along Icefields Parkway, the Endless Chain Ridge appears as several mountains all rolled into one.
Looking north-northwest to Endless Chain Ridge from the Icefields Parkway
The Winston Churchill Range is located at the southern end of Jasper National Park. From the confluence of the Athabasca and Sunwapta Rivers in the north the range is bounded by the two rivers until its southern end at the peak called Snow Dome. This range of mountains contains some of the most rugged and difficult to access areas in the Canadian Rockies.
Mount Weiss, Winston Churchill Range
The Sunwapta valley is one of the most beautiful parts of the ride on the Icefields Parkway. The panoramic vistas of the valley are magnificent.
View south through Sunwapta Valley toward Mount Kitchener
Sunwapta River and Mount Kitchener
Looking north on Icefields Parkway. Eastern slope of Mushroom Peak on the left, Endless Ridge Chain in the background, Tangle Ridge on the right
View north on Icefields Parkway. Eastern slope of Mount Cromwell in left foreground, Diadem Peak (left) and Mushroom Peak in background, Tangle Ridge in right foreground
Stutfield Peak (left), Mount Cromwell (right)
The near-vertical cliffs of Mount Kitchener loom impressively above the Parkway.
The Sunwapta River Valley is beautiful beyond description as well as enormous. The tremendous scale of the mountains is easily lost in a photograph. The Icefields Parkway appears tiny in comparison to the surrounding landscape, although several turns are visible before it disappears around a turn in the valley in the photograph below.
Sunwapta River flows past the peaks of Mount Engelhard, Diadem Peak, and Mushroom Peak (left to right) in the distance
Ascending the northern slope of Mount Wilcox, a scenic pull-out provides a breathtaking view of the Sunwapta River Valley.
High alpine vista of (left to right) Stutfield Peak, Mount Cromwell, Mount Engelhard, Diadem Peak, and Mushroom Peak
View looking north of Icefields Parkway winding along Tangle Ridge
Mount Athabasca is one of the highlights of the ride along Icefields Parkway. Located in the Columbia Icefield near the south end of Jasper National Park and between the Sunwapta and North Saskatchewan River Valleys, it can be seen for miles and is a classic example of the tremendous grandeur of the Canadian Rockies. Almost the entire mountain is above the treeline. The mountain was named in 1898 by J. Norman Collie, who made the first ascent.
Southeast view through Sunwapta River Valley toward Mount Hilda (two small peaks on left), Mount Athabasca, and Mount Andromeda
People come here for a lot of different reasons. Mountain climbers, fisherman, hikers, campers, bicyclists, all love to come to Jasper. Of course, motorcyclists also find Jasper a great place to visit. This stretch of Icefields Parkway approaching Mount Athabasca and Mount Andromeda is at least one reason why.
Approaching Mount Athabasca, and Mount Andromeda
Mount Athabasca, and Mount Andromeda
Even before Mount Athabasca comes into view it is already obvious from where Icefields Parkway gets its name. There are several expansive icefields located in Jasper and Banff National Parks. Mount Athabasca and the Athabasca Glacier are located in the largest one. The Columbia Icefield is one of the largest icefields south of the Arctic Circle, covering an area of nearly 125 square miles and feeding eight major glaciers including the Athabasca, Dome, and Stutfield Glaciers, all visible from the Icefields Parkway.
Glaciers form from layers of snow that accumulate and remain after each summer’s melt. Some glacial ice on the Rocky Mountains is hundreds and even thousands of years old. Beneath the enormous weight of its surface layers, the glacier becomes elastic and flows slowly downhill. A glacier will retreat or advance depending on the rate of melting. In recent years the Athabasca Glacier, like most other glaciers in the world, is retreating rapidly, an indication that the earth’s climate is warming.
I take a brief intermission, stopping at the Icefields Visitor Center, an impressive structure located across Icefields Parkway from Mount Athabasca. The visitor center is built high on an outlying slope of Nigel Peak. A large outdoor terrace provides an excellent vantage point for photographing Mount Athabasca. From here I try a few shots with the 70-200 telephoto lens.
A glacier flows like frozen taffy on Mount Athabasca
Snow and ice against a blue sky
The Glaciers of Mount Athabasca are part of the vast Columbia Icefield
I’ve reached the southern boundary of Jasper National Park where Icefields Parkway continues into Banff National Park. I’ve timed it about right, now able to devote the rest of the afternoon to my trip through Banff National Park and on to Longview, Alberta.
Jasper National Park is like no other place on earth. This is one of nature’s finest works of art, truly a gift from God to his children. Here we can see in nature the work of a skillful hand like no other, an inspirational design by a master architect that could hardly be the result of random events or chance. This is a place where we can come to cast our troubles to the winds and be healed in mind and spirit. The experience of such overwhelming beauty is analgesic, removing the burdens from a man’s heart and inspiring hope and joy. To have the good fortune to experience Jasper on a motorcycle is like taking a double dose.
Leaving Jasper National Park
Entering Banff National Park
Day 24 – Monday August 22nd
Jasper, Alberta to Longview, Alberta
Afternoon – Banff National Park and Kananaskis Country
Having said farewell to Jasper National Park I don the helmet and prepare for the second half of today’s journey, a ride through Banff National Park.
One last glimpse north into Jasper Park toward the peaks of Mount Athabasca, Mount Hilda, and Mount Nigel (right)
Mount Athabasca is not only massive but also located very close to the parkway, dominating the view for many miles in both Jasper and Banff National Parks.
Looking southwest to Mount Athabasca from Icefields Parkway near Sunwapta Pass
Icefields Parkway crosses Sunwapta Pass just after entering the park, just to the east of the southernmost edge of the Columbia Icefield. Descending a switchback turn roughly six or seven miles into the park, the Parkway enters the North Saskatchewan River Valley.
Bridge over Nigel Creek viewed from the switchback turn above
The peaks of Cirrus Mountain rise high above Icefields Parkway which follows the base of the mountain through the valley. Once into the valley, the Parkway is so close to Cirrus Mountain that its peaks can no longer be seen. The sheer walls of Cirrus Mountain seen in the center of the photograph below are known as “Weeping Wall” because of the many waterfalls that cascade down its cliffs.
North Saskatchewan River Valley, Cirrus Mountain (left), east slope of Mount Saskatchewan (right)
Continuing south through the valley I stop several times for pictures. While stopped for the photograph below, I pace up and down the road for fifty or sixty yards in either direction looking for a good vantage point. As I walk back toward the bike a large black bear crosses the road 40 yards in front of me, having run out of the woods from the mountain side of the road. Both of us stop in our tracks for a moment as we spot each other. The bike – and the camera – are only another 10 yards in front of me. I take one step toward the bike hoping to retrieve the camera in time to photograph the bear, but the bear disappears as quickly as it appeared.
Looking north at some of the smaller peaks on the north slope of Mount Wilson
Mount Wilson covers a large area, paralleling the Icefields Parkway north of Saskatchewan River Crossing and Highway 11 to the east.
Mount Wilson from the Highway 93 Bridge over the North Saskatchewan River
The North Saskatchewan River rises in the Columbia Icefield of Jasper National Park and flows over 1000 miles across Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba, eventually emptying into Lake Winnipeg. The river has played a significant role in Canada’s history, providing an east-west route across Canada, facilitating exploration, trade, and settlement for more than 100 years from the time explorers and fur traders first appeared in 1807.
The waters of the North Saskatchewan River flowing through Banff National Park are breathtaking and spectacular.
View east of the North Saskatchewan River from the Highway 93 bridge
The brilliant aqua blue water of the North Saskatchewan River paints a dazzling picture as it meanders through hundreds of islands, called river terraces, dotted with fir and spruce in the shallow waters downstream of the confluence of the Mistaya and Howse Rivers, referred to as Saskatchewan River Crossing.
The North Saskatchewan River meandering past Mount Wilson, Mount Cline, Lion, and Lioness Peaks
Mount Outram is located on the west side of Icefields Parkway. The view in the picture below is taken from the Icefields Parkway bridge looking across the North Saskatchewan River. Mount Outram is not actually located on the North Saskatchewan, but on the confluence of the Howse and Glacier Rivers, which is beyond the turn in the river below.
View southwest across the North Saskatchewan River toward Mount Outram
South of Saskatchewan River Crossing, the parkway enters the picturesque Mistaya River Valley and Waputik Mountain Range, which parallels the Icefields Parkway from the North Saskatchewan River to the Bow River.
View north toward Mount Wilson
Looking northwest to Epaulette Mountain (left), Kaufmann Peaks, and Mount Sarbach from Lower Waterfowl Lake on the Icefields Parkway
View north of White Pyramid on the left, Mount Murchison straight ahead, and myriad distant peaks to the north
The summit of Bow Pass rises 6849 feet displaying incredible vistas of the Mistaya Valley. From here it is a short walk to the Peyto Lake overlook, providing a most spectacular view that would be a pity to miss. Peyto Lake is a large glacial lake with a distinctive bright blue color that is typical in this part of North America. Peyto Lake is the origin of the Mistaya River. The shape of Peyto Lake closely resembles the silhouette of a wolf.
View across Peyto Lake from Bow Summit towards Caldron Peak (left) and Mount Patterson
The Mistaya River Valley affords expansive views including distant peaks to the north beyond the headwaters of the North Saskatchewan River, including Sunwapta Pass and the Columbia Icefields.
Dramatic vista of the Mistaya Valley from the Peyto Lake overlook on Bow Summit
Continuing south through the Bow River Valley, Icefields Parkway crosses Bow Pass and then opens up into a vista of Mount Dolomite and surrounding peaks.
Dolomite Peak (left), Three Brothers, and Noseeum Mountain
At the town of Lake Louise, Highway 93 ends and meets Trans-Canada Highway 1 which continues south through the Bow Valley and then out of Banff National Park. After a quick stop in Banff for fuel and a cold Gatorade, I continue south along Highway 1 through the Bow Valley. Mount Rundle is just south of the town of Banff.
Mount Rundle near the town of Banff
About six miles south of Banff I cross out of Banff National Park and continue on Highway 1 past Canmore through the Bow Valley. The Bow Valley is incredibly beautiful and less-traveled than neighboring Banff and Jasper Parks. About 22 miles past the park boundary, I head south on picturesque Highway 40, entering the Kananaskis River Valley and Alberta’s famed Kananaskis Country. A world-class ski area, Kananaskis could probably be called the Vail or Aspen of Canada.
Looking southwest to Mount Baldy from Highway 40-
Highway 40 is an incredibly beautiful and quiet ride. There are very few vehicles out here. The road is closed from mid-December until June 1st, but only to motorized traffic.
Looking west toward Gusty Peak (left), Mount Galatea, and The Tower (tall peak in distance)
The valley is narrow and surrounded by tall jagged peaks. I was particularly enchanted with a short stretch of Highway 40 snaking its way past Mount Kidd.
Highway 40 winding its way north along Mount Kidd
As I stop to take pictures of lonely Highway 40 and Mount Kidd, two riders happen by on motorcycles, adding a familiar flavor to the picture.
Motorcycle on Highway 40
Two motorcycles on Highway 40
Two motorcycles in the distance on Highway 40
Two motorcycles disappearing on Highway 40
Highway 40 is the highest paved road in Canada, reaching it highest point of 7239 feet at Highwood Pass along Highwood Ridge.
Descent from Highwood Pass, high above the surrounding peaks
Beyond Highwood Pass, Highway 40 quickly descends out of the Rockies and becomes Highway 541, where it takes a northeasterly path. Within a very short distance the terrain rapidly changes as the highway descends into Alberta’s grasslands, Canada’s premier cattle country. About 30 miles east of Highwood Pass, I reach the Junction of Highways 541 and 22 at the town of Longview.
I had planned to spend the night here but there isn’t much around. I pull into the first motel, only 100 yards south of the turn at Highway 541. Although there isn’t much else around, it turns out to be a very nice place. A friendly clerk, and I should add motorcycle-friendly as well, greets me at the front desk and checks me into my room at the Blue Sky Motel.
Next door there is a rustic looking restaurant with a weather-beaten tin roof. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, I think to myself that it’s probably a local cowboy hangout. Well that sounds just fine, as I could happily make due right now with a burger and a beer. Once inside, it is not at all what had I expected from the outside. The tables are draped with linen tablecloths and there are several groups of people seated, and dressed in a way that made me feel that I should have worn something besides jeans and a tee-shirt. I am greeted by the owner, a jovial lighthearted sort who quickly puts me at ease and welcomes me in. His accent is heavy and he identifies himself as Moroccan. A Le Cordon Bleu Chef trained in Paris, he enjoys walking around the tables telling jokes and making the guests laugh. I was not expecting to be so entertained, nor was I expecting the dinner that was laid before me, which was without exaggeration the finest steak dinner of my life. Expensive? Not at all, quite reasonably priced. If you are ever in Longview, Alberta, do not miss the opportunity to treat yourself to a dinner at the Longview Steakhouse!!
End of Day 24
Location: Longview, Alberta
GPS Mileage = 8894
Today’s Mileage = 323
Route: Day 24
Day 25 – Tuesday August 23rd
Longview, Alberta to Superior, Montana
Waterton and Glacier National Parks
Today’s ride will take me back home to the United States. It’s about 120 miles to the point where I will cross the border at Glacier National Park, but not before exploring the Canadian side of the border in Waterton Lakes National Park.
This morning’s ride is chilly, in the upper 30s. I cruise straight south on Highway 22, riding past miles and miles of cattle ranch country. It appears that a lot of this land is one very large and expansive ranch. I’m happy to stop after about eighty miles in the town of Pincher Creek, where I defrost with some hot coffee and breakfast.
I arrive at the entrance to Waterton Lakes at 9:00 am. At first I decide against spending the time to explore the park because of the heavy cloud cover over the valley. I stop for a picture at the sign and continue toward the US border.
Waterton Lakes National Park entrance on Highway 6
Beyond the entrance to the park on Highway 6 is a scenic overlook of Middle Waterton Lake. I stop here for a few pictures, and end up waiting for the clouds to lift before leaving.
Middle Waterton Lake under cloud cover
Middle Waterton Lake and surrounding peaks
Cloud cover slowly lifting
Cloud cover rising above Middle Waterton Lake
It’s now about 10:30 in the morning. Since I have waited for the clouds to lift, I decide to turn around and go back to Waterton Lakes Park, hoping that the skies will continue to clear.
Sportsman on Upper Waterton Lake
The Prince of Wales Hotel is one of the most photographed hotels in the world. Located high on a bluff overlooking Waterton Lake and the town of Waterton, it was constructed in 1927 by the Great Northern Railway.
Historic Prince of Wales Hotel
Cameron Lake is located about 10 miles west of the Waterton Lakes visitor center on Akamina Parkway at an elevation of 1300 feet.
Wildflowers along the road
Upper Waterton Lake lies within a deep valley created by the surrounding peaks
It doesn’t look like the sun is going to show itself this morning and its already high-noon. Hoping to have a little better luck with the weather State-side, I head for the border and Customs.
Crossing the international border into the United States on Chief Mountain Highway 17
The US side of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park
A word to the wise
Making my way toward the town of Saint Mary on Highway 17, which is also known as Chief Mountain Highway, I stop for a minute to take a picture of the guest of honor. The peak is obscured by clouds and I have to wait for the clouds to drift past, at least enough to see through the mist.
In the town of Saint Mary I stop for fuel and a snack. Still hopeful that the skies will break for my ride through Glacier National Park, I delay for as long as I can. I have rented a lookout tower from the US Forest Service near Superior Montana for the night which is over 200 miles down the road. Sun or no sun, I can’t wait any longer. I enter Glacier National Park at 2:00 pm.
The Saint Mary entrance to Glacier National Park
It does not look like the sun is going to show itself today, but at least its not raining and the broken overcast does tend to add a dramatic effect. Although today’s overcast sky does not do justice to Going-to-the-Sun Road, it is still a thrilling ride along beautiful valleys on a narrow roadway that is literally carved into the face of the mountain in places. This engineering wonder is a spectacular 52-mile two-lane highway that crosses the width of Glacier Park east and west, crossing the Continental Divide at an elevation of 6,646 feet on Logan Pass. Completed in 1932, Going-To-The-Sun Road was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Looking west, Mount Reynolds dominates the view on Logan Pass
Just east of Logan Pass lies a beautiful expansive valley.
Looking east into the valley just east of Logan Pass from same spot as photo above
Another view into the valley
View east from the visitor center at Logan Pass, Going-to-the-Sun Mountain is on the right
It would appear that the marmots are not hurting for food
View looking west from Big Bend toward Haystack Butte (center)
View west from “The Loop”, Mount Oberlin on left
View west toward Heaven’s Peak (just left of center)
Mount Cannon (center)
Mount Cannon and Heaven’s Peak
Although I had beautiful weather on yesterday’s ride through Jasper and Banff National Parks, today I have not been as lucky. Resigning to the fact that the sun is not going to show itself, I forego some of the most beautiful features of Glacier National Park, and will have to save those for my next visit here. I did not take photographs of Saint Mary’s Lake and Wild Goose Island, one of the most photographs scenes in the Park, nor did I stop to photograph enchanting Lake MacDonald.
I make a resolution to return to this part of the country to devote two weeks to Glacier National Park in Montana and to a more in-depth exploration of Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta. Although this trip has barely touched the surface, I have a better idea of those places I would like to come back to and spend more time.
Since the sun is not in the scheme of things for today, I decide to sit back and enjoy the riding for the rest of today’s trip.
Series of turns on Going-to-the-Sun Road
After leaving Glacier National Park, I head south to Kalispell, Montana where I pick up Highway 93 south. Highway 93 makes its way around the west side of Flathead lake. Finally, the sun starts to appear as I near the south end of Flathead Lake near the town of Poison. I continue south to Interstate 90, where I head west to the town of Superior. For the remaining 70 miles on I-90, the skies are as clear as a bell.
It’s just before sundown when I arrive in Superior and I have about 45 minutes left before dark to find the lookout tower where I will spend the night. As my luck would have it, the GPS doesn’t always have the road mapping correct, and it takes me on a dead end path. By the time I can find a local in town who knows where the Thomson Peak Lookout is, it is already dark and I have to ride about eleven miles between 5 and 10 mph on a windy gravel road to get to the top of the mountain, something I have no desire to try again.
When I finally arrive at the lookout, the moon is shining bright enough to light up the forested peaks of Lolo National Forest. The lights of the town of Superior can be seen in the distance. The lookout tower looks very similar to an aircraft control tower with a balcony encircling the top. Although it wasn’t easy getting here, it is a great place to be with only the moon and stars to keep me company.
This is the life.
End of Day 25
Location: Thompson Peak, Superior, Montana
GPS Mileage = 9347
Today’s Mileage = 453
Route: Day 25
Day 26 – Wednesday August 24th
Superior, Montana to Lowman, Idaho
Lolo, Bitterroot, Salmon, and Boise National Forests, Sawtooth Mountains
Although the skies were starry and clear when I arrived at Thompson Peak last night, the clouds have returned this morning. At first sight of the clouds I’m disappointed, thinking another cloudy day’s ride is in store. But a glimpse toward the west shows signs that the overcast is breaking and sparks hope for good weather.
I plan to ride the eighty-five miles back to Missoula this morning before eating breakfast. Before heading out, I take a few pics of my very unique accommodations for previous night, an active United States Forest Service fire lookout tower. The only caveat to my thirty-five dollar reservation for the Thompson Peak Lookout is the condition that there are no fires in the area. As luck would have it, there were none around this year.
Not a typical hotel room - Thompson Peak Lookout
Thompson Peak Lookout is located in Montana’s beautiful Lolo National Forest, home to many different species of wildlife, big wildlife at that. Although I didn’t see any, I must say that the thought did cross my mind a few times last night while trying to find my way up here in the dark.
Surrounding Peaks of Lolo National Forest from Thompson Peak Lookout
Thompson Peak is the tallest peak in Lolo for miles around, and the view is panoramic even on a cloudy day.
It’s been a while since I had something to eat, so I gather up my gear and am on my way shortly after rising.
Preparing to depart Thompson Peak
By the time I reach Missoula the skies are clear. I stop for some breakfast and some much-welcome hot coffee. I fuel the bike and head south through Montana on Highway 93, a beautiful ride loaded with fast seeping turns through the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains.
Highway 93, ten miles south of Hamilton, Montana
Near Sula, Highway 93 follows the East Fork of Camp Creek, which looks much more like a river than a creek. A popular fishing location, I spot many fisherman wading the waters.
Highway 93 near Sula, Montana
View of Bitterroot National Forest from Highway 93 south of Sula, Montana
Crossing from Montana into Idaho on Highway 93
Lost Trail Pass is located on the border of Montana and Idaho. Although the crossing on Highway 93 is referred to Lost Trail Pass, it actually only intersects the original Lost Trail Pass originally attempted by Lewis & Clark. Although Lewis & Clark attempted to cross here in 1805, they failed. Lewis once wrote that they “were in perpetual danger of slipping to their certain destruction.” They lost the trail on the Idaho side and had to turn back disheartened. Thus the name “Lost Trail Pass.” It wasn’t until the 1850s that the first wagons and horses crossed here with great difficulty. Even today the original Lost Trail is so unspoiled and remote that the exact route is unknown.
Lost Trail Pass, Highway 93 at the Montana – Idaho State Line
Lewis & Clark would undoubtedly feel a great sense of accomplishment at the sight of Highway 93. Imagine what they might think about these two wheeled machines, how gracefully and effortlessly we sail over this terrain on our motorcycles. Considering the great hardships and sufferings they endured just trying to find the way across, I am sure these great explorers would be amazed.
Switchback on Highway 93 about two miles south of the state line
Even with today’s modern equipment and engineering, it is not easy to build a highway through this kind of terrain. The series of turns in the photograph above continues below through what is called North Fork Valley.
North Fork Valley
North Fork, Idaho is named for the North Fork of the Salmon River which flows into the Salmon River here. Highway 93 follows the Salmon River from North Fork to Challis, where Highway 93 and the Salmon River diverge. The Salmon River Valley is an incredibly beautiful ride, in some places the Salmon River Canyon is deeper than the famous Grand Canyon.
Salmon River at North Fork, Idaho
Cliffs along the Salmon River Canyon near North Fork
High-desert terrain of the Salmon River Valley
The Salmon River flowing through the Bitterroot Range
The Salmon River Valley generally parallels the Northern Rocky Mountains along the eastern Idaho border with Montana, which includes several major peaks over 10,000 feet. Salmon, Idaho is located at junction of the Lemhi, Bitterroot and Salmon Mountain Ranges and is one of the most remote areas in the continental US.
Just north of Salmon, Idaho, the Beaverhead Mountains in the Bitterroot Range of the Continental Divide form the eastern border between Idaho and Montana
Continuing south from Salmon Idaho, the Salmon river runs between the Lehmi Range on the east and the Salmon Range on the west, creating a narrow twisty high-desert canyon that is scenic and great fun to ride.
Near Ellis, Idaho
View north through the Salmon River Valley near Ellis
Wing in the Salmon River Canyon
Another lone motorcyclist winding through the valley
Beautiful and desolate high desert canyon
I had never heard of Highway 93 before leaving on this trip. I selected this route because it looked rather isolated on the map, and isolated it is, but beautiful as well. I am sure this has to be a very popular motorcycle road in these parts, but it would appear that the locals are keeping this secret to themselves.
Alone in the desert
Between Ellis and Challis, Idaho the highway becomes very twisty with numerous tight turns through a narrow and rugged canyon. In places the canyon floor is only as wide as the river and the road next to it.
North of Challis on Highway 93
In Challis I head west on Highway 75 and into the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. Highway 75 is even less traveled than Highway 93 and I feel as if I have the highway to myself. Highway 75 follows the Salmon River all the way to Stanley, where the river and the highway take a southerly turn. It’s about 6:00pm now, and the east-west direction of the valley is perfect for some late afternoon shots.
Just east of Clayton, Idaho on Highway 75, the road sign is pointing to the turn-off for Spud Creek
Highway 75 near Clayton
Highway 75 near Robinson Bar, Sawtooth National Recreation Area
Arriving in Stanley, Sawtooth Mountains in the distance
In Stanley I pick up a few provisions for the evening. I head west on Highway 21, and this road is by far the most remote of any road I have ridden since I left Kaiser Pass in California. Also known as the Ponderosa Pine Scenic Byway, the traffic practically fades to nothing and the forests get thicker. With tall fir, spruce, and ponderosa pine blanketing the landscape, and the road getting narrower, I slow the pace down a few clicks and my “critter alert” kicks into high gear.
It’s 72 miles to Beaver Creek Cabin from Stanley, another US Forest Service cabin that I’ve rented just outside of Sawtooth Recreation Area in Boise National Forest. From Lowman, the last vestige of civilization along my route, it’s another 14 miles south to the cabin through a very remote area of Boise National Forest. It’s also a great motorcycle road, twisting its way through hairpins and switchbacks as the road winds its way this remote wilderness. The road climbs higher and higher, past steel gates used to close the road in the winter months.
Upon arriving at the cabin, I notice a large pile of freshly split firewood, with even more firewood stacked in the shed. Thinking I certainly won’t be needing firewood in August, I bring in my gear and enjoy the dinner I picked up earlier in Stanley. Soon after sundown, I step outside to a very chilly evening, and realize that the firewood will come in very handy tonight after all. At an elevation of 5,100 feet, it can get cold at here night, even in August. I start a fire in the wood-burning stove, which keeps the place nice and toasty until morning.
At an elevation of 6,260 feet, Stanley, Idaho is frequently listed as the coldest place in the contiguous 48 states. I will come to appreciate this little-known piece of trivia much more in the morning.
End of Day 26
Location: Lowman, Idaho
GPS Mileage = 9784
Today’s Mileage = 401
Route: Day 26
Partial Route: Stanley to Lowman
Day 27 – Thursday August 25th
Lowman, Idaho to Montpelier, Idaho
Boise and Sawtooth National Forests
I awake to sunny skies, looks like the weather is on my side once again. I gather the gear together and carry it out to the bike. Man, it really feels cold out here. I can’t believe it but I have to wipe the frost off the seat and the windshield. It’s still August! I pull out every extra layer of clothing I have which includes a long sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt, and a liner that I brought along from my cold-weather riding jacket. I start the bike to let it warm up while a check of the thermometer reveals the cold truth – its only 26 degrees this morning! I don’t know if this is the coldest spot in the country this morning, but it certainly gets the prize for being the coldest spot on my trip so far.
Beaver Creek Cabin, south of Lowman, Idaho
The 72-mile ride into Stanley in 26 degree weather is brisk to say the least. I make the best out of it by taking some videotape of Highway 21 along the way. By the time I get to Stanley it feels even colder, but I don’t look at the thermometer. All I want is some hot coffee.
I take a little longer to eat breakfast this morning than usual and spend a little time chatting with some locals in the restaurant who seem to enjoy watching me shiver and take great pride in Stanley’s claim to fame as often being the cold-spot in the lower 48. Once the temperature rises a little, I take a short ride west on Highway 21 to Stanley Lake and Mount McGown, the local star of the Sawtooths and one of the most photographed spots in the State of Idaho.
McGown Peak reflecting in Stanley Lake
McGown Peak and Stanley Lake through the trees
A marker along the roadside identifies McGown Peak
Road to Stanley Lake
Heading east back to Stanley I stop along the roadside.
West of Stanley on Highway 21
Sunrise on the Sawtooths
By 11:30 the temperature has warmed up enough to continue. I head south from Stanley on Highway 75 through Sawtooth National Recreation Area. The Sawtooth Mountain Range is nearly 15 miles wide and 30 miles long. Highway 75 is top-rate motorcycle road offering both stunning views and excellent road surface. Not only are the views breathtaking, but the ride itself is equally thrilling. There is a wide variety of twisties here from wide sweepers to tight hairpin switchbacks. Be sure to bring plenty of film or memory cards for the camera as every turn in the road offers another beautiful scene.
An overlook at Galena Summit provides breathtaking views of an expansive valley along the Big Wood and Salmon Rivers. Numerous mountain streams converge in the Sawtooth Valley forming the headwaters of the Salmon River where its 900 mile-journey to the Pacific Ocean originates.
Placard provides historical facts about the area
Salmon River Valley and the Sawtooth Mountains
View from the Galena Summit Overlook
Timeless peaks carved by ancient glaciers
At the summit
View from Galena Summit of the roadway below
Descent southward from Galena Summit
Once beyond Sawtooths, I make my way through south-central and south-eastern Idaho toward my evening destination of Montpelier. The landscape of southeastern Idaho a mix of rolling lowlands interspersed with foothills of the Southeast Idaho Ranges, a subrange of the Western Rocky Mountains. There are seven major southeast Idaho Ranges, two of which are the Peale Mountains and the Bannock Range. As I near Soda Springs, I stop to take shot of this expansive valley with mountains in the distance. Based on my estimated location, these are either the foothills of the Aspen Range of the Peale Mountains, or they may be part of the Bannock Range, slightly further west.
Foothills of the Southeastern Idaho Ranges
East of I-15 on Idaho Highway 30
Rolling into the small town of Montpelier in Southeastern Idaho around 7:30, I take advantage of the laundry facilities at the Best Western Inn, my home for the evening. Now less than 20 miles from the Wyoming border, I spend a little time reviewing the route for tomorrow’s ride through the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.
End of Day 27
Location: Montpelier, Idaho
GPS Mileage = 10159
Today’s Mileage = 411
Route: Day 27
Day 28 – Friday August 26th
Montpelier, Idaho to West Yellowstone, Montana
Caribou, Bridger, and Targhee National Forests, Grand Teton National Park
Rising to another beautiful day I grab some breakfast and head east on Highway. Less than 20 miles from Montpelier, I cross the Wyoming border at 8:15.
Crossing the Wyoming Border on Highway 89
Riding through the Thomas Fork Valley, I can see the mountains of the Sublette Range to the east and the Pruess Range to the west with elevations in the area ranging from 6,000 feet to 9,600 feet. Crossing into Bridger National Forest about six miles from the state line, I enter a scenic stretch of highway through Salt River Pass. This is a lonely and beautiful stretch winding through a semi-desert terrain. I passed through here one year ago during a rainy spell. Though I could tell my surroundings were quite picturesque, I couldn’t enjoy them very much because of the rain and felt like I had missed some great photos. Today’s weather more than compensates for any lost opportunities.
Salt River Pass, Bridger National Forest
Beyond the town of Alpine, Wyoming, Highway 89 takes on an exciting new dimension as it enters the territory of the Snake River Canyon.
Highway 89 through Snake River Canyon
Steep inclines and sweeping turns through the steep canyon afford incredible views of the emerald green and blue waters of the Snake River.
Snake River Canyon, Highway 89 hugs the canyon wall in the background
The Snake River divides two majestic mountain ranges. The Snake River Range lies on the west and north side of the river, the Wyoming Range to the south and east. The canyon is a popular attraction for fisherman and white water enthusiasts.
Snaking through the Snake River Canyon
The mountainsides are blanketed with towering ponderosa pine, spruce, and fir trees, home to bald eagles and osprey that feed on the plentiful trout in the waters below.
Emerald green and blue waters of the Snake River, Teton National Forest
Stopping briefly in Jackson Hole, I take a short walk through the old-fashion western town with wooden plank sidewalks. Not quite the old-west town of days past, it retains a hint of the old west with a touch of Gucci thrown in. This is a favorite playground of the rich and famous.
Broadway and Cache Streets, town square, Jackson Hole
Wooden plank sidewalks add a flavor of the old west
Not much on tourist attractions, I quickly have enough of Jackson and continue north on Highway 89 to today’s highlight, Grand Teton National Park.
Entering Grand Teton National Park with the Tetons in the distance
I detour from Highway 89 to ride Teton Park road through the park. Entering the park in Moose, I continue north. There are numerous vista points along Teton Park Road to enjoy the view from.
South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot
Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot
I have planned a hike to a spot in the mountains that I attempted to find last year but missed. My destination is Amphitheater Lake, my starting point will be the Lupine Meadows trailhead. Although I attempted to make the 4.8-mile hike last year, I missed a turn in the trail and ended up in Garnet Canyon instead. Today the weather is much nicer and I know to watch for the turn in the trail. I turn off of Teton Park road onto the stone paved road leading to the trailhead. I grab my camera and my Camel-Bak, and start out on the strenuous uphill trek.
The Lupine Meadows trailhead features an awesome view of Mount Teewinot, the Shoshone word for “many peaks”.
Teewinot Mountain from the Lupine Meadows trailhead
High in the Tetons, hiking provides spectacular views of the peaks not possible from below.
The mountains are the habitat of many different species of wildlife including mule deer, black bear, and grizzly.
Mule deer doe
It takes 4 ½ hours to cover the 4.8-mile distance from the parking lot, a difficult uphill climb the entire way. Tired out, I take a rest upon my arrival at Amphitheater Lake.
Amphitheater Lake quietly saddled below Mount Owen, and Teewinot
Disappointment Peak, Mount Owen, and Teewinot rise over Amphitheater Lake
Last year I met a black bear along the trail but didn’t have the best camera gear with me for photographing wildlife. I hope that I might see a bear up here again this year, and come prepared with a digital camera equipped with a 70 – 200mm zoom telephoto lens. I leave Amphitheater Lake somewhat disappointed at not seeing any bear along the trail, although I hear reports from hikers going the other way that they had seen a sow with her cubs – not a good situation to find yourself in.
Tired and eager to get back to the bike, I hope to cover the distance back to the bike much quicker since I will now be walking downhill. Downhill hiking, however, also requires caution. You have to watch your footing because the trail is steep and full of large rocks. I try to keep up a fast pace, walking with my head down to watch my feet. I come around a turn in the trail and glance upward, what I see causes me to come to a fast halt in my tracks. There is a large black bear sow standing right on the trail less than 15 yards in front of me. The stories of the mother with her cub are fresh in my mind and my anxiety level skyrockets as I scan the area for cubs. I can’t see any, and the sow appears to be totally unconcerned about my presence. I take a few steps back and kneel behind a large boulder and watch. I raise the camera and release the shutter. The click of the shutter catches her attention. She looks up. Then again, click.
Surprise along the trail
I am almost trembling, half with fear and half with the excitement of getting such great pictures of a bear. What I don’t realize while I am kneeling here is that just because she is ignoring me doesn’t make this a safe situation. What I come to find out later is that bears that totally ignore you are in fact more dangerous than those that react to your presence but leave you alone.
Bears that totally ignore you are the most dangerous
Because they are not the least bit afraid of you
You never know what kind of experience the bear has had with other humans. You don’t know how stressful her search for food has been during the last few days and weeks. These experiences have the potential to stress a bear. Every minute they spend feeding is essential to their survival, and when they can’t find food they are threatened, whether or not that is your fault matters not. That’s why this situation was more dangerous than I realized and I should have spent the time slowly backing away rather than taking pictures. Luckily for me things did not go awry.
She always had one eye one me
On a less dangerous note, the hike back to the trailhead also crossed paths with these two fawns.
Mule deer fawns
Views of the valley below stretch out for many miles.
Bradley Lake (foreground) and Taggart Lake
It takes me a little over two hours after leaving Amphitheater Lake to arrive back at the trailhead. Still high on adrenaline over my bear encounter, I make a cell phone call to a hunting buddy in Indiana to share my excitement. Soon after I am back on my way north through the park.
Teewinot Mountain and Mount Moran from Jackson Lake
At 8:00 pm I arrive at the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Still eighty miles from my destination outside of West Yellowstone, I forego any further pictures until morning.
Entering Yellowstone National Park
In West Yellowstone, Montana, I enjoy a great dinner at Bullwinkle’s Saloon and Restaurant and enjoy one of the favorite local brews, Moose Drool beer.
End of Day 28
Location: West Yellowstone, Montana
GPS Mileage = 10425
Today’s Mileage = 266
Route: Day 28
Day 29 – Saturday August 27th
West Yellowstone, Montana to Reed Point, Montana
Gallatin National Forest, Yellowstone National Park
The mercury dips into the mid-thirties overnight in West Yellowstone. Luckily for me the US Forest Service cabin that I rented last night is equipped with two wood burning stoves, one in the bunkroom and a cooking stove in kitchen.
The morning sun is bright as I sleep in a little later than usual this morning. Today will be an easy mileage day, covering only in the neighborhood of 275 miles. I plan to take a ride through Yellowstone National Park on the way to a friend’s house in Reed Point, Montana where I will rest for a couple of days before heading back home to Indiana.
Basin Station Cabin, West Yellowstone, Montana
Basin Station Cabin reflects the morning sun
All the comforts of home – well almost!
Heading east through West Yellowstone on Highway 20, I enter Yellowstone National Park at the west entrance and make my way toward Madison Village along the beautiful Madison River. I spot a trio of river otters playing in the water as I stop to view the river.
A North American River Otter frolics in the Madison River, Yellowstone Park
Making my way through West Thumb Village on Grand Loop Road, I spot a large bull bison walking down the shoulder of the road.
Bison Bulls can weigh up to 1800 pounds
A little further along the road I spot a large herd of Bison grazing in an open meadow.
Bison Grazing in Yellowstone
Stopping in Canyon Village, I take some time to visit Artist Point, which offers some of the most spectacular vistas in Yellowstone Park.
Yellowstone River just above Upper Falls from bridge on Artist Point Road
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is a breathtaking sight to behold.
Placard describing a highlight of Yellowstone Park
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
There are several trails and vista points in the park to explore and view the canyon and the Upper and Lower Falls.
Lower Falls crowns the head of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
Spectacular view from Artist Point of the canyon and Lower Falls
Slowly making my toward the north entrance of the park, I head west from Canyon Village on Norris Canyon Road, where I spot a cow elk grazing in a large valley.
Cow elk grazing near Norris Canyon Road
Yellowstone Park has its share of great riding as well as breathtaking scenery.
Approaching Mammoth Village on Highway 89 north
Mount Everts, Yellowstone National Park
Mount Everts from Highway 212, Yellowstone Park
Pronghorn Antelope, Yellowstone Park
North Entrance to Yellowstone Park at Gardiner, Montana
After leaving Yellowstone Park, I head north on Highway 89 to Livingston, Montana where I jump on I-90 for a short sixty-mile stretch to Reed Point where I park the bike for a couple of days to rest and hang out with some friends. My buddy and his wife own a few ATVs, which we put to good use this day exploring a section of the Yellowstone River that runs near his house.
End of Day 29
Location: Reed Point, Montana
GPS Mileage = 10701
Today’s Mileage = 276
Route: Day 29
Day 30 – Sunday August 28th
Reed Point, Montana
I have planned to spend today visiting with my friends and the bike doesn’t leave the garage. We spend the day exploring the Yellowstone River Valley and the surrounding environs near his home. The closest town to Reed Point of any size is Columbus, which is about 30 miles to the east. These folks probably live deeper in the boonies than about 99 percent of the rest of the American population, and that is no exaggeration.
As we start riding along the banks of the Yellowstone River, we spook a bald eagle that swoops out of a tree right next to me. I couldn’t grab the camera in time, but I have never been so close to an eagle before, which was about 40 feet from me when it broke into flight. What an enormous wing span.
Riding ATVs along the Yellowstone River near Reed Point, Montana
Even though this spot is some 130 miles to Yellowstone Park, it is so beautiful here that it could be part of the park. How would you like to have this view from your back yard?
Yellowstone River, Reed Point, Montana
View from the deck
View from the deck
After dinner we take the ATVs out to see if we can spot any wildlife in the area. We are hardly out for thirty minutes when we spot a fairly good size eight-point mule deer and a smaller buck.
Muley in the sage
Big eight-point rack still in velvet
Stopping to check me out
Looking over his shoulder for his companion
Why doesn’t this ever happen when I’m hunting?
Last glance before disappearing over the ridge
End of Day 30
Location: Reed Point, Montana
GPS Mileage = 10701
Today’s Mileage = 0
Day 31 – Monday August 29th
Reed Point, Montana to Rock Springs, Wyoming
Yellowstone National Park, Grand Tetons National Park, Jackson Hole Wyoming
There never seems to be enough vacation to do everything you would like to do, and I would love to stay with my friends here in Montana for another week, but sooner or later I do have to get back to work. I’m already pushing it, because I told my boss I would be back to work this Thursday and I’ve been wanting to go back to Red Mountain Pass in Colorado on the way home ever since Seth and I passed through there on Day 4 of the trip. So I set my sights for Ouray, Colorado and plan to be there by tomorrow afternoon. As luck would have it, the quickest way to Ouray from Reed Point, Montana is to head straight back through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. I head back west on I-90 to Livingston where I take a southerly heading on Highway 89.
Yellowstone River from vista point north of Miner, Montana
Yellowstone River from vista point north of Miner, Montana
I don’t intend to spend much time in sightseeing in Yellowstone today but have reserved a little time for a few pictures along the way. Mammoth Hot Springs is one feature of Yellowstone I have not yet seen.
Steamy Mammoth Hot Springs
Mammoth Hot Springs – a step into the surreal
The water from the springs is hot enough to scald
Yellowstone’s Golden Gate Canyon was named in 1883 or 1884 at the time the first stagecoach road was built through it. Here, an interesting bridge deck curves around the sheer face of the cliffs. The original bridge was built in 1885 of wood. The first concrete bridge was built in 1901, widened in 1934, and totally rebuilt in 1977.
Mountainous and twisty stretch through “Golden Gate” south of Mammoth Village
Concrete bridge at Golden Gate
Steep incline roadway cutting through Golden Gate
Hot Spring at West Thumb Geyser Basin
This spot on Highway 89 overlooking the Lewis River is one of my favorite places in Yellowstone.
Exiting Yellowstone National Park by the south gate, I make one last pass through the Grand Tetons.
South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot form a picturesque backdrop for this ranch
Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot, together form the “Cathedral Group.”
The Cathedral Group rises behind a peaceful ranch setting
I stop in Jackson Hole for something to eat. Being on the road for over thirty days can tend to isolate a person somewhat from current events. It’s now about 5:30 pm. As I wait for the burger I just ordered, the big screen TV is broadcasting news of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans over ten hours ago. Though Katrina has been a cause of alarm for over a week, this is the first news I hear of Katrina. Although several attempts to call close friends about 120 miles north of New Orleans fail, I later find that their area was spared any major damage.
Each of the four corners of Jackson Hole’s town square are adorned with gates fashioned from elk antlers
The final leg of today’s journey takes me through southwestern Wyoming into the town of Rock Springs. I check into the Best Western Outlaw Inn, looking forward to my last day in the Western US before heading back home.
End of Day 31
Location: Rock Springs, Wyoming
GPS Mileage = 11157
Today’s Mileage = 456
Route: Day 31
Day 32 – Tuesday August 30th
Rock Springs, Wyoming to Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Morning – Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, Douglas Pass
This morning’s ride starts in the town of Rock Springs, Wyoming. Located in Sweetwater County, this is Wyoming’s vast high desert country. As one heads south on Highway 191, the immediate impression is that of having left civilization far behind and being alone in nature.
High desert country, Sweetwater County Wyoming
Southeastern Wyoming is deserted and isolated. I count less than 10 vehicles heading north as I cover the 52 miles between I-80 and the Utah state line. Although the landscape seems totally empty at first glance, there is more to the desert than meets the eye. I spot several jack rabbits, including a couple that take their lives in their hands as they dart across the road in front of me. As I stop for pictures, I can hear the birds that have built their nests in the sagebrush. The high desert is home to antelope, deer, and even an occasional elk that graze on the grasses and sage. The desert is also home to eagles, osprey, hawks, coyote, sage grouse, fox, and large herds of wild horses. This is also the domain of the western rattlesnake and the scorpion.
Miles and miles of open country
The sage-covered desert mesas are surprisingly colorful
Entering northeastern Utah in Daggett County, the peaks and ridges of the Uintah mountain range loom in the south. The Uintah range is the only major range in the United States which runs in an east-west direction.
A cattle guard spans the road at the Utah State line
Foothills of the Uintah Range
Approaching Flaming Gorge Reservoir from the east side, Highway 191 climbs to 8,000 feet, crossing an impressive, deserted, and intensely colorful landscape of peaks and valleys. Flaming Gorge Reservoir is formed by a damn on the Green River which originates in Wyoming and flows eventually into the Colorado River and the Gulf of California. Flaming Gorge Reservoir extends some ninety miles north across Utah and into Wyoming.
Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Flaming Gorge Dam spans Red Canyon and rises 500 feet above the Green River. Completed in 1964, it required six years to build.
Flaming Gorge Dam
Marker on a vista overlooking the Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Highway 191 bridge crossing Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Highway 191 bridge
Highway 191 bridge
Beyond Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Highway 191 begins a steep ascent into the Uintah range.
View looking north of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Red Canyon
Ashley National Forest between Flaming Gorge Reservoir and Vernal, Utah
Highway 191 north of Vernal, Utah
Crossing the Colorado State Line on Highway 64
Just east of Rangely, Colorado, I head south on Highway 139. About 36 very isolated miles south of Highway 64 in Garfield county, Highway 139 crosses Douglas Pass at 8,268 feet.
The landscape south of Douglas Pass, like most of the country I have ridden through this morning, is isolated and remote. My reason for choosing this route was to return to Red Mountain Pass just south of Ouray on my way back to Indiana. I ride the 155 miles from Douglas Pass to Ouray without stopping, eager to have plenty of time left this afternoon at Red Mountain Pass for taking photos.
Day 32 – Tuesday August 30th
Rock Springs, Wyoming to Pagosa Springs, Colorado
Afternoon – Red Mountain Pass
Return to Red Mountain Pass
Heading south on Highway 550 I make my way into the historic Victorian mining town of Ouray, surrounded by the jagged snow-capped peaks of San Juan Mountains. The view of the San Juan Mountains that appears as one enters Ouray from the north is one of the most spectacular and breathtaking mountain views I have ever seen. The rugged beauty of the San Juan Mountains, formed millions of years ago by volcanic activity, leaves an unforgettable impression.
It’s been exactly four weeks since I last rode the incredible Million Dollar Highway 550 through Red Mountain Pass in Colorado’s Uncompaghre National Forest. With the tallest peaks of Red Mountain Pass lying to the east, most of the pass was covered in shadows the when I rode through here with Seth on the morning of Tuesday, August 2nd. I made a resolution to return here on my way home, reserving plenty time for pictures and hoping the weather would be on my side.
I arrive in Ouray mid-afternoon and this time the pass looks much different, bathed in sunlight and backdropped by a practically cloudless blue sky. Eager to get some photographs with the sun in prime afternoon position, I continue directly into the pass.
Immediately after passing the last block on Ouray’s Main Street, the road begins a series of steep switchbacks past the Amphitheater, a huge monolithic wall of granite on the east side of Ouray.
The Amphitheater marks the north end of Red Mountain Pass at Ouray
A view of Abrams Mountain from the first turn-off above Ouray
The town of Ouray is listed on the national register of historic places and began as a silver and gold mining town in the 1870s.
Placard denoting the discovery of gold and silver here in 1875
An unlined hard rock tunnel cut through a granite ridge
Jagged peaks, steep inclines, sheer-faced cliffs with no guardrails between the shoulder and drop-offs reaching hundreds of feet hold one spellbound and humbled, not to mention wide-awake!
Looking north Mount Hayden in the background
Sheer cliffs, no guardrails, awesome beauty
Ascending the guardrail-less hairpin turns of Abrams Mountain is both thrilling and humbling. There is no room for stupid here. My heart speeds up a few clicks as a semi rounds a turn on my side of the double yellow, a common practice here to keep their trailers off the cliffs. Don’t ride the yellow line on these turns!
Steep ascent of 12,812-foot Abrams Mountain
A view north through the valley
Highway 550 follows the traversal of the Uncompaghre Canyon to the summit of Red Mountain Pass. Here Red Mountain Pass crosses the Continental Divide at 11,018 feet and is the origin of the Animas and Uncompaghre Rivers.
Tight turns in rapid succession through spectacular canyons
A rushing creek echoes through Uncompaghre Canyon
Wing on the Million Dollar Highway
An avalanche tunnel or snowshed provides protection from frequent, heavy snowslides
View north through the canyon
Highway 550 slalom course
Narrow canyons, sheer cliffs
Red Mountain is actually three mountains, named Red Mountain One, Red Mountain Two, and Red Mountain Three.
Crystal Lake with the three Red Mountains in the background
Red Mountain Pass is home to many mines that date back to the late 1800s and early 1900s. Now silent, these old structures are a reminder of the history of Southwestern Colorado.
A mine structure from a past era sits silently on the mountainside
Mounds remain a century later
San Juan Mountains adorn the valley to the north
Ascent to the summit
Numerous switchbacks climb Red Mountain
Every turn brings the peaks closer
Winding toward the top
Once booming mines, now ghost towns
The water in the high mountains streams has a a brownish red color due to its high sulfuric acid content. The acidic water would destroy the metal machinery of the old mines.
Bear Creek flows in the foreground past an old mine site
Higher on the mountainside, these structures show advanced signs of disrepair
Turned around and looking north from the summit
A series of s-curves on the north side of the summit
A thrilling sequence of turns contributes to one of the best rides anywhere
View south toward Silverton through the valley, another old mine structure in foreground
Descent through the valley past beaver ponds on the right
Leaving Red Mountain Pass behind
Continuing south on Highway 550 through the town of Silverton, I feel like I have accomplished my mission. I wanted to come back to Red Mountain Pass when I could see the mountains and canyons aglow in the sun. The colors of Red Mountain Pass seemed to come alive for me today. The price I have to pay is an Iron-Butt ride back to Indiana tomorrow. But the sun is still shining and I plan to spend the rest of the daylight reaching as far east into Colorado as I can before dark, that many fewer miles I will have to ride to get home tomorrow.
As I head south toward the town of Durango, I enjoy the last of the evening sun as it lights up Molas Pass.
Molas Lake and the Grenadier Mountains from the Molas Pass Overlook
By the time I reach Coal Bank Pass the landscape is swallowed up by the evening shadows. I consider stopping for the evening in Durango, but figure there are a couple hours of daylight left, so I decide to continue east to the town of Pagosa Springs. As I head east on Highway 160 into Archuleta County and the San Juan National Forest, I descend through Yellow Jacket Pass into lower elevations. Once again I am surrounded by forests of spruce, fir, and ponderosa pine.
I arrive in Pagosa Springs just after sundown and enjoy a tasty dinner at the Hogs Breath Saloon. It’s been a well-timed ride today, leaving me ample time for a good night’s sleep before the final leg of my trip, a 1340-mile marathon back home across the Great Plains.
End of Day 32
Location: Pagosa Springs, Colorado
GPS Mileage = 11635
Today’s Mileage = 478
Route: Day 32
Days 33 and 34 – Wednesday August 31st and Thursday September 1st
Grand Finale – 1339 miles in 24 hours
I awake this morning with that “last day of vacation” feeling, knowing that my return to work is imminent. My goal had been to return to work tomorrow, but that doesn’t seem likely considering the fact that I am still over 1300 miles from home. My plan is to ride straight through, but I figure that will take the best part of 24 hours.
I arise early and am fueled and ready to roll by 6:00 am. The hotel does not have breakfast ready yet, but they do have coffee made. I eat a muffin and an apple with my coffee and figure I will stop along the way when I get hungry.
As I leave Pagosa Springs and head east on Highway 160, a large DOT road sign flashes news of construction 25 miles ahead on Wolf Creek Pass. Wolf Creek Pass is located in Mineral County and San Juan National Forest. The construction is underway on the east side of the Wolf Creek Pass summit. Traffic is being routed around a new 900-foot tunnel and the half-mile of highway to the east of the tunnel. Traffic is delayed as oncoming traffic is allowed to pass through the single open lane. The roadway has been stripped of pavement and the earthen road bed is wet, rough, and uneven. It’s slow going through the construction zone, but its early morning and the air is cool, so the ride is not that bad. Once through the construction, I enjoy the ride across the summit of Wolf Creek Pass. Once beyond Wolf Creek Pass, the terrain soon changes from the forested foothills of the San Juan National Forest to the open plains of Eastern Colorado.
Once I hit the wide open plains I switch from sight-seeing mode to Iron-Butt mode. I try to enjoy the back roads for the first part of my trek to Indiana while maintaining a more-or-less straight line route.
At Walsenburg, Colorado, I leave Highway 160. But rather than get on Interstate 25 here, I maintain a straight northeasterly line on Colorado Highway 10, a very lightly traveled 75-mile straightaway from Walsenburg to La Junta. Highway 10 is so straight and lightly traveled that a relatively high speed can be maintained safely out here. There are so few oncoming cars, that I ease off the throttle when another vehicle approaches, but I never see a police vehicle along the way. Not realizing there would be absolutely nothing between Walsenburg and La Junta, I do not fuel the bike in Walsenburg. Pushing the fuel range to the limits, I travel 240 miles between Pagosa Springs and La Junta with a “gradually increasing” anxiety level. As I near La Junta, I watch every tenth mile click off on the odometer, knowing that I must be very close to running on fumes. In La Junta, I fill the Wing’s 6.6-gallon tank with 6.1 gallons of fuel, more margin than I had feared but still too close for comfort. Luckily, the Wing being fuel-injected gets better mileage in the higher elevations, otherwise I could have been in trouble.
From La Junta, I continue east on Highway 50 through Las Animas and Hasty, and then head north on Highway 287. At Highway 96 I head east. Highway 96 crosses Highway 385 at Sheridan Lake. From this point east it changes from a secondary to a tertiary highway with very little traffic, a great place to make up some time. Ten miles further east, I cross the border into Kansas and the wide-open Great Plains.
Crossing the Kansas State Line on Highway 96
Leaving the State of Colorado
I continue east on Highway 96 for another 10 miles and turn north on Highway 27 at the wide spot in the road called Tribune. In Sharon Springs I make my second fuel stop, 399 miles into the ride and this time only 159 miles since my last stop in La Junta.
From Sharon Springs I travel east on Highway 40 for about 55 miles. I now leave the secondary roads behind and travel on the interstate for the remaining portion of the trip to Indiana. At Oakley, Kansas, I get on I-70 at Exit 189 and head east, making my third fuel stop at Exit 206 just north of Wilson, 585 miles into the ride and 186 miles since my second stop.
The fourth fuel stop is 773 miles into the ride and 188 miles further east at a turnpike oasis on I-70 about 6 miles east of Lawrence between the east and west bound lanes. It’s now between 6:30 and 7:00 pm and I’ve been on the road almost 13 hours since leaving Pagosa Springs. I make a quick cell phone call to my brother to tell him where I’m at, and I’m back on the road.
The fifth fuel stop is 979 miles into the ride and 206 miles further east at Exit 175 in New Florence, Missouri. It’s now about 9:30 pm. I feel good because I have traveled almost 1000 miles in less than 16 hours. But the trip is starting to take its toll on me. I’m starting to feel tired and there are still almost 400 miles between here and home.
In St. Louis I take a northeasterly heading on I-55 and begin to make my way north through the State of Illinois. My fifth and final fuel stop is 1156 miles into the ride and 179 miles further east at Exit 109 in Williamsville, Illinois, just north of Springfield. It’s now just after midnight and I’m running on adrenaline. I consider checking into a hotel, but decide to wait and inch down the road a few more miles.
It takes me the rest of the night to travel the remaining 181 miles to home. I make three stops at rest areas along I-55, taking one to two hour naps on picnic tables. At 6:00 am I pull into my driveway, 24 hours after leaving Pagosa Springs and 1339 miles downstream. I call into work and agree to come back to the office on Monday of next week. I fall into bed after thanking our Lord for 34 days of safe travels, and a safe return home.
Grand total for 34 days: 12,974 miles
Route: Days 33 and 34
End of Day 34
Location: Munster, Indiana
GPS Mileage = 12974
Today’s Mileage = 1339
It’s been an incredible 34 days, a fantastic journey through the most beautiful sights that North America has to offer. It’s been a lot of fun writing it all down, reliving the journey as I translate the memories into one of the greatest stories of my life. I hope my story combined with my photography has given you a taste of my experience. If it has, then I have accomplished what I set out to do when I wrote it. It truly has been my pleasure to share it with you.
May all of your travels be safe.
The link below will open a Microsoft Streets & Trips file of the entire route for my thirty-four day journey. You will need to have a program on your computer capable of opening ".est" files, such as Microsoft Streets & Trips in order to open this file. This file will provide the ability to zoom in on a specific area to allow seeing more details such as road numbers and towns.
For those of you who can't open the link, this is what the entire route looks like: