Let's begin with a pop quiz. Take a look at any US map and what do you see above Colorado? That's right...Wyoming. And what's in Wyoming that sports beautiful mountains, gorgeous lakes, streams and even buffalo? Right again...Yellowstone!
When our annual trek to Colorado was in the planning stages for 2004, immediately it became obvious that 8 hours to the north of Colorado lay the most beautiful area that could make you swear you were dreaming. The Teton Mountains and Yellowstone National Park have been traversed by humans for over 10,000 years. It's America's oldest national park that offers a multitude of wonders: steaming geysers, bubbling mudpots, awesome canyons, diverse wildlife. So, the Tetons and Yellowstone National Park was definitely included in our itinerary. The four of us left on Thursday September 2, 2004 for a trip that turned out to be absolutely magical.
Let me introduce you to the participants:
When I got off of work on Thursday evening, I was already packed and ready to go to Dale's house from work. It had been previously decided that we would trailer our bikes to Alamosa, Colorado, mainly due to the fact that if one of us happen to have mechanical problems on the trip, there would be a way to get the bikes home. Dale, Gary and I decided to trailer together on the first leg of the trip. I traveled from Tyler to Bedford and arrived at Dale's around 6:20 that evening. Dale and Gary already had their bikes loaded in the back of his truck and trailer. All I had to do was change clothes and load my bike onto the trailer. At 7:30pm we were off for Amarillo. The plan was for us to meet Rodney in Decatur and follow him into Amarillo. After meeting Rodney in Decatur, we shot up into the panhandle of Texas and arrived in Amarillo about 1:30am. We stayed the night at a Motel 6, looking forward to our ride tomorrow that would take us to Alamosa, Colorado.
Friday, September 3, 2004
After getting up, showering and eating a hardy breakfast at the local Waffle House, we were off to Alamosa, Colorado. Gary decided to unload his bike and accompany Rodney in the ride. The sun was shining with temperatures in the 80's. Our travel to Alamosa took us down I-40 west from Amarillo until we got to Tucumcari, New Mexico. In order to see as much of the mountainside as we could, we decided to head northwest from Tucumcari along highway 104 which took us to a good spot for lunch...Las Vegas, New Mexico. Right before we arrived in Las Vegas, we stopped at a roadside park. The beautiful weather accompanied by the mountain range moving in around us, made me decide to unload my bike and ride with Rodney and Gary for the rest of the trip to Alamosa. Dale rode solo in the truck.
After eating Mexican food in Las Vegas, we continued our journey through New Mexico to Alamosa. Heading north out of Las Vegas on highway 94, we eventually hooked up with highway 518 which took us through Taos and on to Tres Piedras. Once outside Taos on highway 64, we came upon a bridge that spans the Rio Grande river. This bridge crosses the entire river gorge and shakes somewhat when traffic crosses. It didn't take me long to get a picture and head back to my bike. Once we arrived in Tres Piedras we took highway 285 north straight into Alamosa. We arrived in Alamosa around 6:00pm Mountain time. We checked into the Super 8 motel, unloaded Dale's bike off the truck and we all four rode to eat steak at the True Grit Steak House in Alamosa. Tomorrow, we leave early to ride straight up the middle of Colorado to Craig.
Saturday, September 4, 2004
After eating breakfast, stowing the truck and trailer away and loading the bikes, all four of us were off to transverse Colorado on bikes. It was cloudy and somewhat cold, but it didn't deter our spirits. While we were gone for the week, the truck and trailer stayed parked in the Super 8 over-flow parking area, an arrangement made by Dale with the Super 8 management. Our thanks to them for allowing us to do that each year.
Our travels today took us out of Alamosa on highway 17 to highway 285 and Poncha Springs. From there we traveled to Leadville on highway 24. Leadville has the distinction of being the highest incorporated city in the US with an elevation of 10,200 feet. Leadville has an interesting and colorful past. In the early days many notable gunslingers lived in Leadville such as Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp. Leadville began, like many Colorado towns, with the discovery of gold in 1859.
Traveling through the historic downtown area is a delight. It's almost as if you are back in the 1800's. While in Leadville we stopped to warm up with some coffee. As we were getting ready to leave, Dale noticed that there was fresh snow on the mountaintops.
In leaving Leadville, we traveled north on highway 91 eventually jumping on I-70 heading west. I usually don't recommend riding a motorcycle on any interstate highway due to the truck congestion, but I-70 is an exception. I-70 between Wolcott and Glenwood Springs is an absolute blast to ride! Where I-70 snakes its way through several canyons, the east bound lanes travel under the west bound lanes. I-70 sports numerous small tunnels and competes with many mountain roads in the twistie department. If you ever get a chance, ride I-70 and experience it for yourself.
We made our way to Wolcott, Colorado and stopped at a general store for lunch and fuel. Clouds were beginning to move in and the temperature was dropping. Yep, a cold front was making its way across the state. It was becoming apparent to us that if we were to make it to Craig, we were going to have to put some miles behind us. We finished lunch in Wolcott and headed for Craig by way of highway 131. The further north we traveled the worse the weather got. By the time we made it to Steamboat Springs, it was raining fairly hard and showed no signs of letting up. After spending an hour or so at a convenience store in Steamboat looking at the rain, it was finally decided that we needed to get a room in Steamboat and wait the storm out. Maybe tomorrow the weather would be better for us to head down the road.
We checked into a hotel and kept a watchful eye on the Weather Channel most of the evening. Forecasters were calling for the front to pass through and clear by noon the next day. We ate dinner at a local restaurant then called it a night hoping the weatherman was going to be right in his forecast.
Sunday, September 5, 2004
We awoke the next morning hoping the skies would be clear, but rain was still falling and the temperature had fallen to 36 degrees. Not an ideal day for riding, but with the help of our rain gear we would certainly make it. Our goal today was to make it to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. To do that, we would have to ride 400 miles, tank-to-tank, and hope the wind would be at our backs.
After eating breakfast and checking out of the hotel, we all slipped on our rain gear over our leathers. This was the first time I have ever had to do this. I've ridden in the rain before and ridden in the cold, but never in the rain and cold. By the time I got my leather jacket, chaps, rain pants, rain jacket, rain boot covers and gloves on, I felt like the Pillsbury Dough Boy. Nonetheless, we got on the road about 9:00am heading west out of Steamboat on highway 40. Fifty miles down the road we passed through Craig and headed north out of Craig on highway 13.
We crossed the Colorado/Wyoming border and stopped in Baggs, Wyoming for fuel. While filling our tanks, we noticed blue sky was popping up all around us. The front had passed through as the weatherman had predicted and for the rest of the day, skies were clear and the temperature rose to a pleasant 75 degrees. When we arrived at the intersection of highway 789 and I-80, we stopped and stripped all the rain gear off and some of the leather. Now we had clear skies for our journey to Rock Springs, Wyoming. We hopped onto I-80 heading west. Once we arrived in Rock Springs, we stopped for fuel and a bite to eat, then continued northward on highway 191 to Pinedale.
Pinedale is a beautiful city, nestled at what is considered to be the beginning of the Teton National Forest. The Tetons can be seen in the far distance. From Rock Springs to Pinedale the terrain is nothing but high desert, but once you travel beyond Pinedale, the countryside takes on a different view. We stopped in Pinedale for fuel and continued our quest to Jackson Hole. We had already traveled over 300 miles and Jackson Hole lay just 100 miles ahead. The closer we got to Jackson, the more breathtaking the scenery became. The Teton National Forest is absolutely stunning with lakes and streams everywhere. The trees are tall and highway 26 contained some very nice twisties and sweepers. A welcome sight for four bikers that had been on the road all day.
We arrived in Jackson Hole, Wyoming around 7:00pm. We found a room at the Elk Country Inn and promptly made our way to the best steak house in town called The Gun Barrel. The Gun Barrel Steak House was named after a town in Texas...Gun Barrel City, which is about 50 miles from where I live. After reading the history sheet provided on the menu, it seems that Gun Barrel City, Texas donated a city sign to the restaurant. So, a bond was made between this small, East Texas town and Jackson Hole Wyoming. Since I live near Gun Barrel City, I tried to get a free desert from the waiter, but to no avail.
I was intrigued by an item on the menu...Velvet Elk, so I tried it. In fact, Gary and Dale also had elk for dinner. The food was great and the atmosphere definitely lived up to its name, "Gun Barrel, where we shoot straight with you". After dinner, we made our way back to the Elk Country Inn and kept a watchful eye on the Weather Channel. Blue skies were on the forecast until Thursday or Friday. Tomorrow, we make our way past the Teton Mountains and into Yellowstone.
Gazing at the mountains while eating breakfast makes the eggs taste better. That's a perk that comes with staying in Jackson Hole. And as you ride northward from Jackson Hole to the entrance of Teton National Park, you get the sense that you are about to take a glimpse of something that will always be with you. We rode northward, in awe, up highway 26, then north westward on highway 89. To the left were the Grand Tetons...the youngest of mountain ranges, still jagged and majestic in size and beauty.
At the foot of the Tetons runs a river fed by Jackson Lake. As one passes through the park the smell of cedar and aspen fills the clean, cool air. While riding this area a person quickly gets the perspective of how small they are...and how large life is. We stopped and took as many pictures as we could. Snapping a thousand pictures wouldn't be enough for this place. We were convinced this was the entrance to heaven...and we hadn't traveled into Yellowstone yet!
Traveling northward, past Mt. Reid and Huckleberry Mountain, we came to the south entrance to Yellowstone National Park. It was evident that a fire had stricken this place years before. Dead, bleached trees were everywhere. Rodney explained to us that 10 years before, a forest fire broke out that burned for over three weeks and took out most of the trees in the park. Small, green trees were popping up everywhere, filling in the empty void left by the previous fire. The growing season is short in this area, so it's going to take a long time before these new trees reach and cover up the burned trees. For now, fallen trees are everywhere in the park...covering the landscape and clogging streams. A constant reminder that nature takes its own course.
The plan today was to travel and see Yellowstone on the eastern side, traveling northward until we reached Gardiner, Montana. Yellowstone turned out to be a photographic paradise where we stopped numerous times taking in the beauty. The wildness of Yellowstone is still alive and amazing. Here the natural world reigns. Yellowstone was set aside as a national park to protect its living residents and to preserve the mountains, geyser basins, lakes and valleys. All day long, we toured Yellowstone. With each stop our amazement grew. At the end of the day, we rode into Gardiner, Montana - our home for the night. We checked into a hotel, ate dinner at a local cafe then talked the night away about what we had seen that day. Tomorrow, we plan to tour the western part of Yellowstone on our way back to Jackson Hole...which will include seeing Old Faithful. Here are some pictures of some of the stops we made today:
Tuesday, September 7, 2004
When you wake up in a town like Gardiner, Montana, you can actually watch the sun sneak its way up over the eastern mountain range and slowly display its ray of sunshine on the western range. We ate breakfast and packed up our bikes for another day of Yellowstone National Park. Today, our plan was to see the western side of Yellowstone which includes seeing Old Faithful do his stuff.
We decided to ride under the Roosevelt north entrance way as we made our way to the pay station. This entrance way was built back in 1902 and was obviously used as the main entrance for the north side of the park for years. As we rode through, I couldn't help but think about all the horses and carriages that have traveled under the entrance way in the past.
Once under way, we traveled The Grand Loop Road or highway 89 south until we reached Mammoth Springs. Mammoth used to be a military base and has a rich history. Now, it's a town featuring cafes, shopping and plenty to look at. For one, some mornings one can see a herd of elk make their way onto the lush, green lawn across from the hotel and graze. This morning was no exception. A herd of about 25 cows and one bull made their way and started grazing on the green lawn. They drew a big crowd. Just being able to get close to the herd was exciting.
Mammoth is the headquarters for the park, always has been. This area contains all of the major life zones, from the semi-arid regions of the north entrance to the high peaks of the Washburn Range. Mammoth used to be Fort Yellowstone, built by the Army beginning in 1891 to protect the park. Mammoth now houses the visitor center and preserves the buildings of the old fort.
Just south of Mammoth are the unusual hot springs with their brilliant white thermals. The thermal features at Mammoth are like no other thermal areas in the park. As hot water rises through an ancient limestone foundation, large quantities of rock are dissolved and a white, chalky mineral called Tavertine is deposited on the surface. As much as two feet of Tavertine can be deposited in a year. This area is often referred to as a mountain turned inside out. Mammoth's unique landscape is in a constant state of change.
As we left Mammoth, we continued our way south on highway 89. We rode past Sheepeater Cliff, Indian Creek, Norris and Madison until we reached Old Faithful and the Upper Geyser Basin. The Old Faithful area houses the greatest number of geysers in the world. Old Faithful erupts every 55 to 95 minutes. This dynamic array of hot springs and geysers is a two-way mirror, looking back to a violent past and forward to an uncertain future. We strolled through a mall of shops and ate lunch at a self-serve cafeteria.
Time was getting away from us and soon we realized that we had to leave Old Faithful. Our plan was to try and make it to Jackson Hole before dark. Tonight we stay in Jackson Hole, just like we did the previous Sunday night and then start making our way back to Colorado on Wednesday. Once again, we made our way through Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Park. We arrived in Jackson Hole about 6:00pm. We got a room, ate dinner and strolled around the downtown area hunting for ice cream shops.
Wednesday, September 8, 2004
Once again, we were lucky enough to wake up to sunshine. We packed up our bikes and rode to eat breakfast. Today is the day we were to leave the blessed beauty of Wyoming and head back to Colorado. Our goal was to make it to Glenwood Springs.
When we left Jackson Hole, we headed south on highway 26 then we hooked up with highway 189 that will take you through Bondurant, Pinedale, Boulder and finally ending in Rock Springs. We fueled in Pinedale and when we arrived in Rock Springs, we fueled again and ate lunch. We then headed east on I-80 for the 81 mile trek to intersect with highway 789 and head south. Our destination now was Baggs, Wyoming and another fuel stop. From Baggs, the Wyoming/Colorado state line is just 2.67 miles down the road.
Our next stop was Craig, Colorado. Once there, we decided to stop for fuel and a quick drink and candy bar. At this point, we had several options in what roads to ride to get us to Glenwood Springs. After whipping the map out and taking a vote, it was decided that we would ride south on highway 13 through Hamilton and Meeker, Colorado and continue to stay on highway 13 until we got into Rifle, Colorado. From there, we turned East on I-70 for the short jog to Glenwood Springs. We clocked about 445 miles for the day. On a personal note, I found riding highway 13 to be fun and invigorating! The mountains and hills were beautiful and the road, at times, contained some nice sweepers and twisties. Another fun aspect of highway 13 was its long, straight sections. Perfect for blowing out the soot. I highly recommend riding 13 if you're ever in that part of Colorado.
After checking into the Homestead Motel, we walked to a restaurant and ate dinner. Tomorrow, we ride from Glenwood Springs to Alamosa.
Thursday, September 9, 2004
Waking up today was bitter-sweet. We were glad to be making our way back home, but we hated to leave the mountains. Today was the last day that we would be able to ride the mountains so, we made every minute count. After loading up and eating breakfast, we embarked on a journey that took us through the heart of Colorado.
We rode down highway 82 south eastward past Carbondale and Basalt. The next stop was Aspen. I had never been through Aspen before. I can see why it is such a popular tourist attraction. The area was beautiful and stunning. It looked as though someone dropped a town right in the middle of a thousand aspen trees. But, the best was yet to come. As we snaked our way down highway 82 out of Aspen, we came to Independence Pass. Out of all the passes we've ridden, Independence turned out to be the most treacherous and the prettiest. As we made our way up the mountainside, the road in several places went to a one lane road. Nothing like getting cozy with an RV on a mountainside. We stopped at several roadside areas to take in the view.
We reached a height in elevation of about 12,000 feet before we started descending. The air had cooled about 15 degrees as we climbed. Now, on our way down, the temperature was starting to warm up. Continuing on highway 82, we eventually rode through Twin Lakes and hooked up with highway 24. Heading south on 24 took us into Buena Vista. There we stopped for fuel and talked about which road to ride next. After some discussion, we decided to ride Monarch Pass on highway 50 before heading south again to our final destination.
Monarch Pass is fun to ride and at the top of the pass is a store where one can buy something to eat or look at a plethora of information about the area. This is the place where we got caught in a storm last year complete with rain and sleet. This year, the weather was great, sunshine with mild temperatures. Not much complaining going on here. After finishing up a meal of nachos and sandwiches, we headed down Monarch Pass on highway 50 to Gunnison where we stopped for fuel.
Now, here is where the ride gets really interesting. After leaving Gunnison, we traveled west on highway 50 and then turned south on highway 149. Staying on 149, we passed through such towns as Lake City and Creede. To get to Creede from Lake City, one must ride through Slumgullion Pass and Spring Creek Pass. These are areas that we found to be beautiful and majestic in nature. The aspens were just beginning to turn yellow and the mountains were gorgeous! While in Lake City we stopped for ice cream. When we stopped in Creede, the first thing we noticed were the cliffs sitting prominently above the downtown area. I had to stop and get a picture.
Once out of Creede, we followed 149 to South Fork where we linked up with highway 160 that took us through Del Norte, Monte Vista and finally, our destination...Alamosa. Not a bad day's ride. We checked in at the Super 8 and went to the True Grit steak house for our last steak dinner of the trip. Tomorrow, we pack up and head home.
Friday, September 10, 2004
Friday morning came quicker than we wanted it to. Our plan today was to load the bikes on the truck and trailer and head for Amarillo. Dale, Gary and I loaded our bikes while Rodney decided he would ride the way home by himself. Rodney left Alamosa at about 6:00am, while Dale, Gary and I left at a modest 9:00am.
Our travels in the truck to Amarillo would take us a different route than we came. We decided to head out eastward from Alamosa on highway 160 until we reached the small town of La Veta. There we turned south on highway 12 which would eventually take us to Trinidad, Colorado. Highway 12 turned out to be a fantastic highway that sported some beautiful mountains as well as geographic features that kept our interest.
Somewhere near Cuchares Pass, I had Dale stop the truck and allow me to take a picture of a small barn with an advertisement on it. The ad read, "Bright & Early Coffee. Something to crow about". It's not everyday a person sees something like this. This picture turned out to be one of my favorites from the trip.
Continuing on highway 12, we reached Trinidad where we jumped on I-25 for the ride to Raton, New Mexico. There we stopped to eat lunch. Then we continued on highway 64 through Clayton, then highway 87 to Dalhart. Once in Dalhart, highway 385 took us south to Vega, where we hopped onto I-40 eastward for the quick ride to Amarillo. We arrived in Amarillo around 5:00pm, where we checked into a motel and went and ate a good meal of Mexican food and ice cream.
Saturday, September 11, 2004
Today was the finale. Time to get going and get home! We left Amarillo around 8:00am driving along highway 287 heading south eastward. Somewhere near Decatur, we stopped for a bite to eat. We arrived at Dale's house in Bedford at 3:00pm.
Then we unloaded the bikes, said our goodbyes and Gary and I headed to our respective homes. I arrived at my home in Lindale, safe and sound around 6:00pm. Below is a map of the entire area that we covered.
All requests to use material from this page should be sent to Robert Hilliard.