Tuesday, July 4, 2017

06 Backroads USA

  Almost every day, Bud or I would say, "Something different every day!" One of the most satisfying features of the trip was that each new day seemed to be even more interesting than the day before. What a great and beautiful land we live in! From the hustle and bustle of the east, to down-home Americana in the Ohio River Valley, through the rugged cow country of the west, and on to the beautiful giant trees of the far west. God bless America! I wish everyone could see it firsthand the way we did. And to make it even better, the weather cooperated all the way. Yes, we had a little rain and a few chilly days in the Northwest; but in the end, we had a great ride, and a great adventure together.

   It was the trip for which I studied the maps and actively planned for 2½ years. Bud once commented that he had waited his whole life to do it. A major heat wave was already in full swing as we prepared to leave on the 23rd of June, 1987. People would ask, "Why now? Why not wait until it's a little cooler?" My answer would be that this was our window of opportunity. If we waited, the window might suddenly close, and who knows what would happen next. Some of the higher places we planned to visit might be inaccessible later in the year due to snow. We had no way of knowing at the time that it would be one of the hottest summers ever recorded across the country.

   I made motel reservations for almost every night, and guaranteed them in advance. I planned to meet Lillian at the San Francisco Airport this time on our 16th day, and drop her off ten days later at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix. Her primary interest was visiting ghost mining towns in California and Nevada. Her airline tickets were unchangeable and nonrefundable in both directions. Since we had already canceled her reservations the previous year, I had made contingency plans for all sorts of things that could happen, but never did. Following is a daily journal of that trip:

     Day 1 - We rode through a few sprinkles early the first morning and it was overcast when we reached our first scenic highlight, a view of the Delaware River Valley from Hawks Nest along NY Rte 97. The weather began to clear soon after we crossed the Delaware River by way of a steel-deck bridge between Minisink Ford, NY and Lackawaxen, PA. Later we enjoyed a spirited ride through Promised Land State Park in Pennsylvania, and over a series of scenic country roads through the heart of Amish country.

Delaware River from Hawk's Nest

     Several years later, after whetting my appetite for long-distance back-road touring with a few other bikes, I began to plan a similar but much longer tour around the entire country with a big touring bike. I originally planned to use a 1986 Harley Davidson 1200cc Tour Glide that I bought to replace my first Gold Wing, with this trip in mind. To break it in, and get used to its handling on rough roads and tight turns, I rode it locally for a year and used it for a few longer tours, including a meandering back road tour through the west in 1986, including Nebraska, Wyoming and Montana. On that tour I picked Lillian up at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix, after which we rode a scenic loop together through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, visiting Mesa Verde and many other historic sites before dropping her off at Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix for her return flight home.

   Later, in the spring of 1987, I used it for a solo trip to Daytona Beach Bike Week where I had an ignition problem with it, for which I needed to call the dealer in Daytona. Several days later, on my return to New York, the drive belt stripped several teeth as I was coming into Norfolk, VA. I was delayed there for a day getting a new belt installed. The first dealer I called said I would have to wait a week, in spite of my telling him I was on the road. He said, "Don't tell me your problems, I have enough problems of my own", and he hung up on me. These breakdowns were the only two I ever had while traveling to and from Daytona for many years with many different bikes. A few months later I had another major failure with it on a shorter trip to Ohio to attend an AMA Life Member Dinner, which totaled three road breakdowns in a year, and it was during the break-in. The cam-follower bearings pulverized this time, and it took a week to get fixed. All three major failures occurred while I was on the road, far from home. They would have caused major problems if they happened during the tour that I was planning.

   Consequently, I lost faith in the Harley, and in my plan to use it for the upcoming 40-day back-road tour that included 98% two-lane roads where I would often be hundreds of miles from a dealer. I planned to visit 29 states, 17 national parks, and countless national monuments, national forests and Indian reservations on this upcoming tour. By May of 1987, a month before I was due to leave, I had clocked 35,000 miles on the Harley during its first year in use, and I was making final preparations for this tour. Too many problems were still surfacing that made me lose confidence in its ability to go another 15,000 miles without serious problems. I had already taken it to the dealer for more than 20 warranty problems during that first year of use, a few of which would were serious enough to interrupt my tour for several days or even longer. Admittedly, I also rode the Harley on some unpaved roads, but they were the same roads I traveled with all of my motorcycles, including some wet, and some extremely dusty. After making the final decision not to use it, I put all systems on hold and considered my alternatives. I eventually chose a new 1987 Honda Gold Wing GL1200 Aspencade, which meant delaying the trip for a full year to break it in.

  1988 was the summer that Bud Peck and I finally took the 40-day back-road tour that I had been planning for years. It turned out to be one of the hottest summers on record. I originally intended to travel alone, but when Bud heard of my plans, he was anxious to join me. He was my long-time enduro teammate in many national championships, and we traveled the back roads to Daytona together often, so I welcomed him. We saw this beautiful country from sea to shining sea, from the broad Canadian border to the blistering heat of the Mexican border. We climbed the highest mountains and crossed sweltering deserts. We experienced extremes of weather from 34° and snowing in Mt. Rainier National Park on the fifth of July to 112° in southern Arizona twelve days later. One of the highlights of our once-in-a-lifetime experience was crossing the Mississippi River on a tiny ferryboat where our two cycles were the only vehicles aboard.

  We saw enough wheat and corn growing to feed the entire world, and we saw enough cotton in the fields to clothe a good part of it. We saw beef and dairy cattle in almost every state we visited, and to quote Bud, “We never saw a skinny cow.” We saw strawberries at 50 cents a basket in California where pickers were harvesting the luscious fruit to sounds of Latin music blaring from huge loudspeakers, and we ate delicious Bing cherries and peaches in Washington's Yakima Valley until we couldn't hold anymore.

  We had our first close call in West Virginia when we pulled up behind an old flat-bed truck carrying a huge storage shed shaped like a barn that was perched precariously on the truck bed without being tied down. They looked like a lackadaisical crew to me as the whole thing was zigzagging down the road. The driver was obviously having trouble controlling the whole thing in the strong crosswinds, while driving much too fast for the conditions. The shed was teetering on the truck bed as the approaching cars were being forced onto the shoulder. Bud and I passed the car with the "Oversize Load" sign, and one-by-one we passed several other vehicles until we pulled in behind the truck with the shed. I was just about to pass him when one side of the shed rocked way up and a big four-by-eight sheet of plywood came hurtling out from underneath. I swerved one way and Bud swerved the other as the huge sheet flew between us. There was a lot of screeching of tires behind us as the cars tried to avoid hitting the flying sheet of plywood. We quickly passed the truck and got out of there.

   By the afternoon of the first day, we had passed more than 60 vehicles on two-lane roads. Most of those passes were perfectly legal and safe with the dotted line on our side, but some were not. We estimated toward the end of our tour that we probably passed as many as 2,000 cars, trucks, campers and motor homes during our forty days on two-lane roads. The majority were relatively easy to get by, but others like the truck with the shed presented varying degrees of difficulty. Some drivers would intentionally make it difficult, including approaching vehicles as well as the those we passed, especially when they didn’t like the spot we chose to pass. There were times when we would go most of the day with the motto: “pass ‘em as you get to ‘em”, which brought about many bold passes. But for the record, we had no accidents and got no traffic tickets on the entire trip.


   Our motel reservations for the first night were at an Econolodge in Elkins, West Virginia where they were celebrating a gala opening of a new wing. They served hot and cold hors d'oeuvres with mild and spiked punch. There were mini sandwiches and a special wine and cheese-tasting bar upstairs near the newly dedicated bridal suite. We availed ourselves of the buffet goodies on both floors. We never did go out for a sit-down dinner that night.

    Day 2 - The day began with a fun ride between Valley Head and Craigsville, WV on a 50-mile stretch of very twisty roads through hill country, with very little letup. To make it even more challenging, there was marble-sized gravel on several of the right-hand turns that was probably kicked up by trailer trucks when their rear wheels hit the gravel shoulders on many of the sharp turns. One of those flying stones broke the headlight lens on Bud's BMW K75, so we began to keep an eye out for a BMW dealer to replace the lens.

  We crossed the Ohio River on a steel-deck bridge near Pomeroy, Ohio. We stopped for the night just outside Middletown. We parked the bikes behind the motel on some fresh blacktop as we unloaded our gear. A few minutes after checking in, we got a call from the desk to say that our kickstands were sinking into the tar. By the time we got there, the bikes were already laying against each other in an ugly heap. Luckily there was no damage to either machine.

  I learned early on the trip when not to use my cruise control, which I was experimenting with on the Gold Wing. A few times, while traveling on straight roads, I would set it at a comfortable speed; and later, after having ridden several miles with it on, I would forget about it. Once in West Virginia, as I approached a fairly tight turn and got well into it, to the crucial point where the side almost touches the road, the cruise control suddenly decided that I needed a little more throttle to maintain the speed that it was set at. That’s when I learned not to use it on the back roads. I didn't use it at all on the trip after that.
Barges along the Ohio River

    Day 3 - We spent most of our third day in the Ohio River Valley where we saw mainly corn, some of which was wilted and severely stunted. It was one of the most drought-stricken areas we passed through on the tour. The corn always looked better in the morning however, after a cool night gave it a break from the heat.

  The route I chose in Indiana from Aurora to Madison was the scenic highlight of the day. A few of the towns were colorfully dressed for the Fourth of July, and I found myself singing lines from “God Bless America” as we rode. Near Lawrenceburg, we smelled a really nice aroma that neither of us recognized at first, but when we got closer, we saw the huge Shenley and Seagram signs on a few of the larger buildings, and we realized the smell was probably coming from cooking grain mash in the distillation process of the whiskey-making operation.

  Bud spotted smoke from a barbecue at a church in Waverly, KY just before we checked into a tiny four-unit motel in Morganfield. After checking in, we returned to the BBQ to partake of the holiday feast where people were standing and eating along rows of make-shift counters, while smiling volunteers kept coming back with platter after platter of delicious barbecue beef, ham, lamb and a variety of salads and other treats. It was all free. We learned how friendly the people are in Kentucky, how good their food is, and how spicy-hot some of the sauces are. The 105° temperature in Waverly at 6 PM was a harbinger of many hot days to come.

   Day 4 - We crossed the Mississippi River on a narrow steel-deck bridge at Cape Girardeau, near the southern tip of Illinois. The river seemed much lower than normal, and much narrower, which was probably due to the extended drought. All of the roads we traveled that day were excellent motorcycle roads. Our most enjoyable rides were through the Shawnee National Forest in Illinois and the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. The temperature topped 100° again by mid-afternoon.

  We located a BMW shop in Mexico, Missouri, although it was Sunday evening. After inquiring around to find out who owned the shop, Bud telephoned the dealer at his home. The guy came out and opened the shop for us. Mexico was our planned overnight stop, so we were on our evening break when the dealer came out and changed the headlight lens. I'm sure many dealers would not have been that accommodating. I thought it was a sign of Midwestern hospitality, although I suppose many small dealers would have done the same for a rider on a long road trip. By the time we got home, weeks later, I learned that my headlight lens was also cracked.


Cattle farm in Nebraska

Bales of straw in a Nebraska wheat field
Day 5 - We rode through a lot more farm country with hundreds of miles of corn, wheat and soybeans everywhere we looked. We saw combines in the fields harvesting what was probably the last of the winter wheat. The straw bales in some of the wheat fields in Missouri and Nebraska were huge and numerous. We continued through more typical Americana in southern Iowa, and we stopped for the day at an old but relatively clean tourist cabin in a friendly town called Wahoo, Nebraska.

  It had been another particularly hot 100° day, and both of us were looking forward to our daily batch of whiskey sours that Bud usually made every afternoon at the motel. Unfortunately my supply of dry mix had just run out. I searched all over town for a fresh supply before learning that dry mix was not readily available west of the Mississippi. I finally located a liquor store where the guy remembered having seen a few packages a few years back. He rummaged through a lot of long-forgotten junk in the bottom drawer of his desk and came up with five individual packages that he gave to me at no charge. Much of the printing was worn off but you could still read the labels. I brought the treasures back to the motel where Bud proceeded to mix up a 5-bag batch. I'll never forget the look on his face when he took the first sip. He would usually smile, smack his lips real loud, and say, "Boy, that's a good batch!" This time there was no smile and no big smack. He just frowned a little and said, "You know, that's almost a bad batch." We drank it though, in spite of the off-taste, but from then on, whenever Bud was asked if he ever had a bad batch, he would always mention that one we shared in Wahoo, Nebraska.

    Day 6 - After having traveled northwest for two days, we turned due west through some of the richest natural farmland we saw on the trip, with seven-foot-high corn, healthy-looking wheat, and many feeder pens crowded with robust beef cattle and hogs. The contrasting colors of the deep-green corn fields, interspersed with fields of golden wheat blanketing the gently rolling countryside was like a huge patchwork quilt that stretched miles to the horizons. West of the 100th meridian, which bisects Nebraska, we began to see large-scale crop-watering operations where it’s apparently necessary to water most crops, even in normal times. We saw the giant watering rigs in many of the western states. Some looked to be a half-mile long. I've often wondered how those huge rigs are propelled, as they roll ever so slowly through the fields to keep the crops irrigated. We stopped for lunch at a hotel-café in Hyannis, a small cow town in western Nebraska where a sign said it becomes the rodeo headquarters whenever a rodeo is in town. We entered through a pair of traditional swinging saloon doors onto an unfinished wooden floor inside and saw several guys with cowboy hats sitting at the bar.

Scott's Bluff National Monument
  After lunch we turned south toward the North Platte River Valley, stopping briefly at Chimney Rock where we climbed onto Scotts Bluff National Monument for a breathtaking view of the area. Chimney Rock and Scott's Bluff were well-known landmarks for pioneers heading west along the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Pioneer Trail, more than 100 years ago.

   Day 7 - We turned north again in the morning toward South Dakota and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Many times during the trip, Bud or I would say jokingly, "The traffic along here is murder", because we often rode for a half hour or more without seeing a single vehicle traveling in either direction. We would see very few vehicles of any kind all day. Most of our passing was done near tourist attractions, and of course later in California where I think there are more cars than anywhere in the world.

  Bud had a close call passing an old truck hauling a huge wood chipper with no directional signals. We were unable to see the truck’s taillights through the chipper. I didn't know at the time, but the guy was just about to make a left turn when I passed. He shouted obscenities and shook his fist at me. I had no idea what it was all about. Immediately after I passed, he jerked the wheel into a left turn while Bud was already making his pass. Only the fastest reaction on Bud's part avoided an accident. When the guy heard Bud’s brakes screech, he jammed on his own brakes. Bud said later that the truck tires were smoking. We wondered if the guy ever realized he didn’t have directional signals on the chipper, and that the truck tail lights were not visible.



Miniature version of the proposed Crazy Horse Monument
Flat area near the center is intended to be the arm of Crazy Horse.
    We stopped briefly at Wounded Knee in the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to read a sign that described the events leading up to the Indian massacre that took place there in 1890 when more than 250 Lakota Sioux men, women and children were killed by soldiers of the US 7th Cavalry who were ordered to “disarm the braves”. A lone Indian now stands at the cemetery gate in Wounded Knee, and in exchange for a few friendly words, he’ll describe the events that took place there in much greater detail, and also about the more recent uprising in 1970 when a church was burned and several buildings were damaged in another disturbance.
Mt Rushmore National Monument

  Badlands National Park was our next highlight, followed by Mt. Rushmore National Monument, Crazy Horse Monument and the Needles Highway. At Mt. Rushmore we saw hundreds of people standing in awe at the foot of the beautifully sculptured granite faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln. At the Crazy Horse monument, Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski apparently labored long and hard until his body was bruised and broken in a vain effort to finish what is probably the largest sculpturing task ever undertaken by a man. It's even larger than Mt. Rushmore. He died in 1982. His surviving wife and family have been trying since 1982 to keep the dream alive, but there has been very little work done on it since.

  The dark skies that had been following us for days finally caught up with us at the outset of the Needles Highway. We put on our rain suits as the first big drops fell, and not a moment too soon. The fun was taken out of the 14 miles of tight switchback curves as the rain came in torrents. Most of the cars traveling in both directions drove very slowly. It was next to impossible to pass. The twisty road was far too slick for even the boldest of passes. The rain stopped as suddenly as it began by the time we reached Custer, about seven miles past the end of the highway. A gas station attendant, seeing our wet rain suits and wet bikes, asked where we found the rain. Another heavy shower came through Newcastle, WY that evening after we checked into the motel.

    Day 8 - It was still overcast when we visited Devils Tower National Monument in the morning. Devils Tower was featured in the movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” as the place where the huge alien spaceship landed on top of the butte that rises abruptly for 867 feet out of the otherwise green, gently rolling countryside. It's an unusual sight, and a favorite spot for rock climbers. Many thousands of people also visit Devil's Tower each year for rock climbing.
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Devil's Tower National Monument
   An almost deserted road from there to Alzada, Montana was being paved. The road construction crew was laying down huge rolls of thick, black-plastic sheeting before paving over it. They were putting the huge sheets down in a fairly brisk wind that morning, and there was no place to ride except on the plastic, which is where the road crew motioned for us to go. Riding on the huge billowing sheets was a strange feeling because they looked like ocean waves while we were riding on them.

  We stopped for coffee in Alzada, MT. We planned to order either pie or Danish pastry for a mid-morning snack. The waitress said all they had was fresh, hot cinnamon rolls, so we each ordered one. We could hardly believe our eyes when she returned with them. They were about 1½ inches thick and at least 8" in diameter. At future western coffee breaks we shared a single cinnamon roll between us, but we never got one nearly as big or quite as good as the one we had in Alzada. Later that day we rode through the Northern Cheyenne and Crow Indian Reservations and Custer National Forest while approaching the famous Custer Battlefield National Monument.



Stone with shield marks where General George Custer died in 1876.
  We could see the Little Bighorn River from there. We toured the battlefield and the adjoining national cemetery that contains the remains of servicemen from many Indian wars as well as some recent foreign wars. Most of the 200+ 7th Cavalry soldiers who died with Custer were buried there. Custer's remains were later removed and reinterred at West Point. Many myths surround Custer's encounter with the overwhelming force of Indians. The version we heard at the site debunks the fierce hand-to-hand combat version that's usually shown in recreations of the battle. Although Crazy Horse and Chief Gall actually did lead attacks against the cavalry as shown in the movies, it is said that most of the men died from many hours of gunfire from relatively few Indian sharpshooters in concealed positions. Stone markers were erected at the exact spots where General Custer and each of his men died that day at the "Battle of the Little Bighorn".

    Day 9 - The stepping-off point for one of the most beautiful and inspiring days of our entire trip was Red Lodge, Montana, at the eastern end of the Beartooth Highway, which leads over Beartooth Pass to the northeastern entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Charles Kuralt, CBS's "On The Road" correspondent once called it "the most beautiful roadway in America". I had intended to go over the pass on several earlier motorcycle tours but reports of snow usually changed my plans each time. This time we were confident that snow wouldn't stop us.

  Above the 10,000-foot level we realized what Jeremiah Johnson, from the movie of the same name, must have found so enthralling about the high country. Alpine meadows, sparkling clear lakes and streams and a few rugged mountain shrubs that cling eagerly to life are all part of the spectacular setting that sparkles during the brief summer season. The high meadows are filled with red, white, blue and yellow mountain flowers, and the grass is deep green. We saw whitetail deer, mule deer, moose and several smaller animals as we got our "Rocky Mountain high" in the beautiful setting. As we stood gazing from one of the highest viewpoints, I said to Bud, “This is what I came for.” Beartooth Highway is certainly near the top of my most favorite roads.


Beartooth Pass
  Later, in Yellowstone National Park, we saw hundreds of buffalo grazing on the Blacktail Deer Plateau. Words like huge, beautiful  and tremendous best describes Yellowstone between Tower Junction and Mammoth Hot Springs where the giant fertile meadows are several miles wide, and the large buffalo herds that graze there appear like tiny dots, even through binoculars. We avoided Old Faithful and the area around the main village and camp areas because of the expected congestion, and we opted for the northwest exit from Wyoming into Gardiner, Montana.

  While getting gas in White Sulphur Springs, MT we asked the attendant where we might find some lunch. Without hesitation he said, “Take a right, then another right and it’s right there”, like he’s said it many times. We followed his directions and found ourselves outside what looked like a bar. It was a big building with no windows and a plain white door. We figured it must be the place, so we went inside and asked the bartender if he served hamburgers and soft drinks. He did, and it was one of the best lunches we had on the trip.


St. Mary Lake along the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park
  In sharp contrast, our dinner that night in Conrad, MT was the worst. I ordered fish that I returned because it was raw inside. It was a thick chunk, maybe taken directly from the freezer to the deep fryer and dipped for a very short time. When I got it back the second time it was cooked so hard and dry that I couldn't eat it. Bud said his meal wasn't much better. That dinner became our comparison standard for the rest of the trip. Weeks later, when I mentioned to Bud that something didn't taste too great, he would always ask if it was as bad as the one we had in Conrad. He said, “The moral of that story is, never order seafood in Montana."

    Day 10 - I saw a sign in Fairmont, MT that said 83,000 acres of barley for malt are grown there, and that more barley for malt grows there than anywhere in the world. We saw a tractor pulling a huge set of disc harrows in a barley field where I couldn’t see the end of the field, which faded into the horizon. The tractor would probably run in a straight line for several miles without turning.

  Glacier Park was next. It was another of the most beautiful and spectacular parks we visited. We stood at a few of the highest viewpoints on the face of Garden Wall where the road is cut into the face of the mountain, and we stared in awe across a huge ravine, called Avalanche Creek, at a huge panorama of mountain peaks and glaciers. It was like standing in a huge amphitheater. Bud said, “Kinda boggles the mind, don't it?” The road, called the “Going to the Sun Road”, is another of Charles Kuralt’s favorites. It winds for 50 miles over Logan Pass, past St. Mary Lake, and through McDonald Valley into the town of West Glacier.

  Montana is one of the few states we visited where small white markers are erected along the highway wherever traffic fatalities occurred. The crosses are about a foot high by seven inches wide, and we saw many in clusters. At one point, I saw five in a single cluster. There were so many singles, doubles and clusters around Libby that it was like riding through a cemetery.

  From Eureka, MT, near the Canadian border, we rode past scenic Lake Koocanusa Reservoir and south to Libby Dam. We then rode along the Kootenai River and through Kootenai and Kaniksu National Forest into Idaho. We saw where a forest fire destroyed large sections of the Kootenai National Forest and where another section of forest was ravaged by bark beetle infestation. It was a beautiful and interesting ride. Our overnight reservations were at Sandpoint, a tourist town on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho.

    Day 11 - We entered Washington via Rte 20 and followed it all the way across the state. We had no idea when we started the day how spectacular it would be. From our scenic entry point, we rode west through the Colville and Okanogan National Forests into desert-like terrain of the Okanogan Valley; and then through North Cascades National Park and Mt. Baker National Forest to a motel in Burlington, near the western end of the state. The scenery all the way was outstanding, especially North Cascades NP.

  The ground in the Okanogan River Valley is naturally dry. For anything to grow, the soil needs to be cultivated, fertilized and constantly irrigated. The main crops are cherries and apples. We had lunch in Omak near the Colville Indian Reservation. Later we stopped at a fruit stand where we ate our fill of Bing cherries at a price half of what you might pay at your local supermarket. The road from Winthrop to Rockport, through North Cascades National Park has got to rank near the top of the most beautiful roadways in America. The high craggy mountains on both sides of the road with its glacial streams, patches of snow and deep blue lakes, all shared in the outstanding panorama. Magnificent Douglas firs and giant red cedars dominated the forests. In and around Winthrop we saw many motorcycles on the road and we learned that Winthrop is a favorite spot for motorcyclists from British Columbia as well as from our own northwest, especially on the July 4th weekend, which it was when we came through. The spectacular scenery around Diablo Canyon is another favorite spot for bikers. We walked across the breathtakingly high see-through, steel grated bridge that spans the canyon, and we saw rushing water and a raging waterfall far below.


Northeastern Washington State, along state Rte 20
      Day 12 - Not having a ferry schedule, we were lucky to arrive at the Port Townsend Ferry as it was about to leave at 7:45 AM. The next crossing would have been an hour and a half later. It took 30 minutes to cross Admiralty Inlet to the Olympic Peninsula. About ten miles from there a big female deer crossed the road in front of me while we were traveling about 65 mph. The deer hesitated momentarily as I went for the brakes and glanced in the mirror to see how much room Bud had before locking up,. Then both of my tires screeched for what seemed like an eternity. Bud said I waited so long to hit the brakes that he thought I didn't see the deer. About six times on the trip we had to brake for deer, but that was the closest I ever came to hitting one.

  We saw many small fishing boats at Neah Bay in the Makah Indian Reservation, from where we could see Vancouver Island, British Columbia across the Juan de Fuca Strait. The road from Neah Bay to Port Angeles was another great bike road that twisted through a thick forest of cedars and Douglas firs with extremely dense underbrush. In Port Angeles we saw the trunk of one of the Douglas firs that measured around twelve feet in diameter.

  We rode through a rain forest in Olympic National Park where thick green moss hung from the tree branches. The rain forests consisted mostly of Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock and western red cedar. We saw one huge red cedar tree with a trunk at least eight feet in diameter. The forests appeared almost tropical, with thick lush undergrowth of ferns and other jungle-like flora. Hundreds of varieties of beautiful wild flowers were in bloom everywhere we looked. Giant Piper bellflowers grew wild along many of the roadways.
Entering a rain forest in Olympic National Park
Pacific Ocean coastline

Inside Mt. Rainier National Park on the Fourth of July
  A dusty gravel road near Neilton, WA led us out to the Pacific Ocean where we rode the bikes onto the white beach sand. Many weather-beaten and surf-beaten logs were strewn all over the beach where the storms probably claimed them from the thick forest that grows out to the high water line. Once the ocean claims a tree, it proceeds to beat the fallen giant until all of the bark and limbs are gone. The surf-beaten wood eventually turns white from the salt water and weather. The temperature was in the 50s most of the day. It drizzled occasionally while we were on the peninsula, which is apparently common for the area.

   Day 13 - We started our thirteenth day in rain suits for a visit to Mt. Rainier National Park. Although the rain stopped before we entered the park, heavy fog prevented us from seeing the tops of the mountains. We did see the magnificent Douglas firs, beautiful lakes, streams and waterfalls. Most of the firs were at least six feet in diameter at the base, with the first branch as high as 125 feet from the ground. The trees were so close together and dense in some areas that there seemed to be more than a hundred of the magnificent specimens per acre. It snowed lightly at the higher elevations where there was still 80% snow cover in some areas, left over from the previous winter. The temperature was 34°, and we were wearing most of the clothes we had packed for the trip. It was hard to believe it was the fifth of July.

  The weather cleared for our descent into the warmer Yakima Valley via Chinook Pass and Snoqualmie National Forest. We rode in desert-like terrain between Yakima and White Salmon where we crossed the Columbia River Gorge into Oregon. Yakima Valley is heavily irrigated, making it an excellent fruit-growing area. We stopped and treated ourselves again to the Bing cherries. Most of central Washington is normally dry from the “rainmaker effect” of the Cascades, which extracts moisture from the clouds before they reach the valley. From north of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington, where we saw several people wind-surfing on the river, to Bennett Pass in Oregon, only 40 miles south of there, the weather changed from sunny and pleasant to cold rain and even sleet. We were unable to see the top of Mt. Hood because of the rain. In Washington and Oregon we experienced the most frequent and abrupt weather changes of anywhere in the country.

   Day 14 - There was thick frost on the bike seats in the morning when we checked out of our motel in Bend, Oregon on the 6th of July. It was a long, cold ride from there to Crater Lake National Park. Along the way we saw another serious bark beetle infestation in Deschutes National Forest, which affected primarily lodge-pole pines. Millions of dead trees were gradually being removed for about 40 miles along US Rte 97.
Crater Lake and Wizard Island

Scene in Lassen Volcanic National Park

  Crater Lake is nestled high in the Cascade Range in southern Oregon. There were patches of snow along the rim of the now-extinct volcano. The lake for which the park is named, which has no inlet or outlet, is inside the volcanic crater, which was formed thousands of years ago. The blue water of this deepest lake in the country is 1,946 feet deep and approximately six miles across. A volcanic cone in the center rises from the floor of the lake to above the surface, forming an island called Wizard Island.

  Lassen Volcanic National Park in northeastern California was the next national park we visited. I had never heard of Lassen, which has beautiful meadows, sparkling deep blue lakes, cinder-cone peaks, pumice fields, magnificent Ponderosa pines and other huge trees. Some of the Ponderosas were thriving at the 8,000-foot level, and were still more than two feet in diameter. The park road that we were on goes over the 8,500-foot-high rim, and through the mouth of the volcano. Lassen is considered to have one of the most active volcanoes in the continental US. Several eruptions have occurred there during the 20th century. We saw many bubbling hot springs and steaming mud pots along the roadway. The park is rich in hydrothermal sites like Bumpass Hell, which has acres of bubbling mud pots.

  The weather was cool and clear and the roads were free of congestion for our twisty descent from Lassen Park through Lassen and Plumas National Forests to the town of Sattley, CA in the Tahoe National Forest where we reached the northern end of  CA Rte 49, the famous "forty-niner’s route". We saw many people swimming, wading, fishing, panning for gold and just sitting leisurely on the rocks, as we rode alongside the Middle Fork River. There were Ponderosa pines, Douglas firs, mahogany, western juniper, and other varieties of trees in the spectacular forests. The first 70-mile section of Rte 49 was a great bike road that climbs out of Sierra Valley with tight turns, switchback curves and light traffic. We hadn't had that much fun since West Virginia, and there were no loose stones or gravel on the road. We had lunch in Downieville, a restored gold-rush town on the North Yuba River.

  Just before reaching Nevada City, we ran into hordes of California traffic, and our special kind of fun was over for the day. From Auburn to our motel in Sonora, we passed hundreds of cars for almost three hours on two-lane roads. Almost all passes were across double-yellow lines. The trick was to get by the cars without appearing too reckless and without offending anyone, but many motorists we passed, let their displeasure be known by honking their horns as we went by. The temperature was 100°, and I think many tempers were running high. Bud's usual relaxed comment was, “No problem.” We stopped briefly at Sutter's Mill where gold was first discovered, but otherwise we pressed on. It was late, and it was one of the few places we had no advance reservations.

Sutter's Mill
    Day 16 was not only our day to meet Lillian at the airport but it was also our day in the High Sierras. Her plane was due at 3:11, so we had plenty of time for a 200-mile rambling loop through the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including Sonora Pass, Monitor Pass and Ebbetts Pass. The special thrill we experienced earlier on the Beartooth Highway applied also to the Sierras. It was one of the most enjoyable rides of our trip with spectacular scenery and tight switchback curves around huge volcanic rocks and through some beautiful high forests with very light traffic.

  After stopping for lunch at Angels Camp, we headed for the airport across the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley, which is famous for its produce, although it seems that the only way anything will grow in that area is with heavy irrigation and a good source of water. We saw apricots, almond trees, tomatoes, grapes, lettuce and many other crops at various stages of maturity. Some of the corn was more than seven feet tall. We saw Spanish onions as big as softballs bagged and waiting to be picked up.

  We saw hundreds of spinning wind generators covering many square miles of the dry, brown hills near Livermore along the interstate. Some had giant pear-shaped blades that were perched horizontally atop the vertical shafts. A fairly brisk wind was turning everything at about the same speed. After 16 days of two-lane roads, the interstates seemed foreign and dangerous. Traffic was moving four abreast at 65 and 70 mph, very close together, almost bumper to bumper. It was obvious how California freeway accidents can involve hundreds of cars. The temperature got noticeably cooler as we neared the coast. It was foggy while we were crossing San Francisco Bay via the San Mateo Bridge. Lillian's plane was on-time. Soon after loading her luggage onto the Gold Wing, we called it a day in Sunnyvale.

    Day 17 - We rode from Silicon Valley through Big Basin Redwood State Park on our way to Santa Cruz on the Pacific coast. We saw dramatic earthquake rifts just before entering the coastal range. And we saw many of the giant redwoods that can grow up to 24 feet in diameter. They are said to be some of the world's tallest trees, growing to a height of 360 feet. Some are estimated to be more than 2,000 years old. They are found only in this narrow strip of land about 20 miles wide by 500 miles long, near the Pacific coastline. The road through the redwood forest is very twisty because the trees are protected by law, and are never removed for road construction.
Lillian posing by a redwood tree

  Between Santa Cruz and Monterey we took a side trip from our planned route into some local farmland. We were curious to see what was growing in the area. We saw thousands of acres of artichokes, strawberries, lettuce, cabbage, avocado and other crops. Huge fresh strawberries were selling at fruit stands for 50 cents a basket and medium-sized artichokes were four for a dollar. Migrant workers were picking strawberries to Latin music blaring from loudspeakers on their truck. All of the crops were irrigated, even though the area seems to get plenty of coastal rain.

Migrant workers picking strawberries

  The spectacular 17-Mile Drive along the ocean from Monterey to Carmel goes by Pebble Beach and Cypress Point. I had intended it to be a highlight of our trip. I had traveled it by car, but never by motorcycle. But we were turned away at the tollhouse and told that motorcycles are not allowed because “the noise distracts the golfers.” I thought it was a ridiculous argument against our quiet road machines, but the entire area is privately-owned, and there wasn't much we could do but turn around and find another route.

  Just before pulling up to a traffic light near Carmel on our busy four-lane detour through a crowded urban area, I saw a young guy in a car directly behind us, hanging out of the driver's window and screaming obscenities. He jumped out at the light and ran toward me, yelling and using the foulest language imaginable, at the top of his lungs. He seemed to be getting angrier and louder, and he kept saying that I cut him off. It was a real bad scene. I couldn't remember that I cut anyone close. Yes, we pass, and yes, we lane-split, but we're always careful not to cut anyone short. I figured the best thing was to calmly say that I'm sorry, but that only seemed to enrage the guy even more. I thought at any moment he would take a swing at me. I was wearing an open-face helmet and I had both hands on the controls with Lillian on the back. I felt if I were alone, and maybe 40, or even 20 years younger, to quote the famous mayor of Carmel, he would have "made my day".

  After we got out of Carmel, I asked Bud what I had done. He said, “Nothing. Didn't you see his eyes? He was strung out on something.” I was watching his hands more than his eyes. I recalled reading about California motorists being shot in similar road-rage confrontations. The hour we spent around Carmel included that ugly scene, the rejection at 17-Mile Drive, a mediocre four-dollar hamburger, regular gas at a price higher than high-test anywhere else, and a strange new gas nozzle that prevents topping off the tank; not to mention the heavily crowded four-lane detour we had to take. I thought, "Welcome to California".

  The Coastal Highway from Carmel to Morro Bay is said to be another of the most beautiful roadways in America. While we were on it, the fog was so thick we couldn't see the famous bridge at Big Sur. At times we couldn't even see the ocean. What we did see lived up to what we heard, although it was very crowded. It was Saturday of a Laguna Seca Motorcycle Race weekend, and we saw hundreds of motorcyclists on the road in addition to the cars.

  During our short ride from Morro Bay to Atascadero, 16 miles inland, the temperature rose from 65° to 95°. We were scheduled to meet Ralph Spencer from Sun City, AZ there on his new BMW. He had planned to accompany us for a week to his home in Sun City. When we couldn’t find him, I called his home and learned that he had burned himself pretty bad, and was in the hospital. We were disappointed that he couldn’t join us, although we still planned to visit with him the following week in Arizona.
Scene along the Pacific Ocean from CA Highway 1

     Day 18 - From Atascadero, we headed east on a road I thought was our planned route, but about a mile out of town it took a sudden left turn without warning, and we charged straight ahead onto some soft dirt. It then took me a few hundred feet to stop safely and turn around. Realizing that a road without signs couldn't possibly be the state highway, we went back into town to find the right one that led us through several miles of tight curves and some of the strangest terrain I had ever seen. It twisted and turned through miles of high grassy mounds and ridges. There was a sign at the end saying that late movie idol James Dean, who loved to maneuver his Porsche along that same road, was killed in a high-speed car crash near there. Later we saw another mile-wide strip of the same odd terrain extending north and south for many miles. We learned later it was the San Andreas Fault line.

  Bud left us near Lemoore for a few days on his own side trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, while Lilli and I went in search of ghost towns, which was her primary interest. As we got gas in the San Joaquin Valley, I asked the attendant what was growing on both sides of the road for the past 15 miles. He said it was cotton. He went on to tell us where to look for pistachios, figs, apricots, raisin grapes, wine grapes, walnuts and other crops.

  I think the “turnout law” in California is a great idea, but many drivers don't observe it. The law apparently says it’s unlawful to delay five or more vehicles on a two-lane road. Several times we were crawling along in a string of more than a dozen cars, campers and trailers for miles, led by someone moving at a snail's pace. Special turnout areas are provided for slow-moving vehicles to pull over so others can pass, but they seem to be ignored.
A cluster of granite peaks in Yosemite Park

  We loved Yosemite National Park, although it was the most crowded park we visited so far on the trip. The tremendous solid granite peaks impressed me the most. They say that El Capitan is the largest single chunk of granite in the world. It's huge. We chose to skip a possible side trip to Glacier Point when our stomachs told us that we were already late for lunch. We went directly into Yosemite Village, rather than delay lunch two or three more hours with a side trip. Yosemite Falls and Ribbon Falls were much leaner than usual because of the lack of rain. A heat wave in the valley had the temperature at 95° for several days. I learned later that it's often 105° in Yosemite Park.

  We exited Yosemite through the eastern end of the park, along Tioga Road and through Tuolumne Meadows. Some of the highlights we saw included mountain climbers scaling the steep granite slopes, several deep-blue lakes, and over Tioga Pass at an altitude of 9,945 feet. We had reservations at Mammoth Lakes, one of the largest ski resorts in the area. I tested the motel pool and was disappointed when I found the water temperature to be about the same as my body temperature. I took a short dip, but it was much more refreshing as I got out and gentle breezes evaporated the water on my skin.

    Day 19 - The most outstanding highlight for Lillian was Bodie, which is probably the most interesting ghost town in the west. It has been made into a state park to reduce vandalism. A hundred years ago it was a sinful and lawless gold-mining town. “Good-bye God, I'm going to Bodie” was said to be an evening prayer that was recited by a little girl whose family was moving there. A preacher once called Bodie “A sea of sin, lashed by the tempests of lust and passion.” In its heyday, Bodie had 65 saloons and countless brothels. We rode over a few miles of loose gravel to get into the park, and later we rode over eleven miles of washboard gravel road to leave by way of a northern exit. A large percentage of the buildings had been destroyed by fire, set by vandals earlier in the century. About 100 buildings remain, including a church, a school, the jailhouse, several stores and many residences. Lilli and I walked through town for two hours or more, and visited an interesting museum. Some of the buildings in town were adorned with fancy metal siding made from patterned, Victorian sheet metal. Others, apparently owned by much less affluent people, had flattened tin cans for siding.
Gas Station in Bodie
School Room in Bodie
Hardware Store in Bodie
East end of Bodie, CA
  We tried to reach Gilbert, Nevada next, a small ghost town west of Tonopah. It was 101° in the surrounding desert at the time. After about a mile of churning through deep, loose sand, the bike’s coolant temperature rose higher than I had ever seen it. I was hot too, and exhausted from struggling to maintain control in the loose sand while riding double. We eventually decided to skip Gilbert rather than risk overheating the bike and both of us. A flagman on nearby US 95 told us later that he once got his four-wheel-drive truck stuck several miles up that road and never did find anything that resembled a town.

   Day 20 - Our search for ghost towns and partial ghost towns continued with a visit to Belmont, nestled in the hills, 47 miles northwest of Tonopah. Belmont was the county seat of Nye County in the 1860s. It was once a prosperous silver-mining town with a population of about 2,000. A large, brick building that served briefly as Nye County Courthouse is one of the only buildings remaining. Efforts by the State of Nevada were underway to restore the courthouse as a historic site. A deserted cemetery that we visited had graves of many children, which was evidence of an arduous lifestyle where only the strongest and healthiest survived.

  In Manhattan,  another former mining town, a tiny abandoned church sits high atop a hill overlooking a few occupied buildings and several abandoned buildings that probably still hold memories of a prosperous and colorful past. Round Mountain, north of Manhattan, was another gold boomtown that we visited, which seems to be reviving to some degree with renewed mining activity. Later we searched in vain for signs of Hannapah, but found only jeep tracks leading to deserted mines, but no buildings.

Taken near the entrance of Area 51, heading toward Tonopah

  After a 2-day tour of the ghost towns we were able to find, we returned to Tonopah to rejoin Bud. We visited the mining museum there too, which is an interesting historic display of central Nevada mining operations, and of the people who lived and worked there. There was also a large display of old mining paraphernalia around the outside of one building. The museum features mostly the towns of Goldfield and Tonopah. We also visited Goldfield, which was once Nevada's second largest city with a population of 40,000. Only a few hundred people live there today.

    Day 21 - We saw another sign as we left Tonopah with Bud that said the next gas was in Caliente, 196 miles. At one point we were delayed a few minutes by roadwork and had to wait for a pilot car. The girl who stopped us said she had been at her flag post for an hour and a half and had seen only three cars. She was there alone. Cows were grazing in the desert on whatever they could find to eat, which wasn’t much. I didn't see any sign of water for miles. I assume the cattle probably tank-up in the morning and graze for food all day in the scorching heat. The natural flora consists mostly of range grasses, tumbleweed and sagebrush. We saw a few spiny Joshua trees and some scrawny cedars and juniper bushes. Central Nevada was mostly hot and desolate, with sagebrush, range grasses and sand, and a few ranches spaced many miles apart. It's a wonder how the cattle can find enough to graze on. West of St. George, Utah we saw alfalfa, hay and potatoes growing, which were being coaxed to survive by huge watering systems. Nearby, Snow Canyon State Park had picturesque scenery with brown and white sandstone outcroppings, interspersed with fields of black lava. The afternoon temperature in St. George was 102°. The sun felt like a sun lamp that was too close to the skin.

  Day 22 - We located Grafton, another ghost town, near Zion National Park, although we were unable to find an entrance to the town. We tried several possible accesses but they all had signs like "No Trespassing", "Keep Out" and "Not the road to Grafton." Eventually we saw it only from across a stream in a farmer's field where we could see only a few old buildings through binoculars. Zion seemed like a small, but beautiful park. The highlights included spectacular sheer cliffs, canyon landscapes and sparkling streams. A road with switchback turns led us up to a mile-long tunnel, beyond which we rode along Mt. Carmel Highway to get into the park. Most roads we rode on in Zion had a reddish tint, which was probably made from crushed native stone. The highlight of our day was Canyon Scenic Drive where we had spectacular close-up views of the mountains.

  Bryce Canyon National Park in southern Utah has crimson-colored spire-shaped rock formations called hoodoos. We stopped at several viewpoints for 20 miles along the canyon rim and took photos. Hiking the many trails in the canyon between the odd rock formations seems to be a favorite activity of many of the visitors. We were content with viewing the panoramas from the rim.

  Dixie National Forest and Cedar Breaks National Monument offered other unique scenic highlights. From Panguitch, Utah we climbed steadily from the Sevier River Valley through a beautiful aspen, spruce, pine and cedar forest to above the 10,000-foot level where we found huge alpine meadows filled with red, white, blue and yellow mountain flowers. A huge flock of sheep was grazing in a meadow near the 10,000-foot level. We saw many more of the salmon-colored rock formations from the Cedar Breaks overlook, which offered a beautiful panorama. On one of the highways I got a strange feeling on several of the turns, where both wheels would squirrel a little as if there were ridges in the road surface. When we stopped in the high meadows for a photo, I noticed that the road underfoot felt strange. Although the tar wasn’t sticky, my feet moved around on the surface and left half-inch-deep footprints wherever I stood. I tried to be extra careful riding on the tar roads in that area after that experience, especially on the tight turns where the traction would actually give-way a little.
Bryce Canyon National Park

  Day 23 - We rode to the north rim of the Grand Canyon from our motel in Kanab, Utah. The temperature dropped several degrees as we neared the rim at the 8,000-foot level. The brisk, clean air felt refreshing after the heat of the past few days. I thought the scenery along the northern approach was far nicer than along the approach to the south rim, which I used on a few earlier trips. We saw aspen, pine trees, and beautiful meadows. There appeared to be very little water in the Colorado River. I heard that the river was getting smaller every year because of increased usage for irrigation and recreational use upstream, but seeing it was a still surprise. At the distance that we stood from the river, it would probably appear small anyway, although it was definitely narrower than I remembered from ten years earlier.

  Along US 89, inside the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona, we got a spectacular view of Echo Cliffs and the Painted Desert. There were layered shades of salmon, gray, white, brown and blue. The temperature rose to over 100° near Cameron. The hours of the dry heat eventually got to Lillian. She said, “Please stop. I think I'm going to faint!” She was very pale and weak. I was quite sure it was mostly from dehydration. The temperature was 105°. She laid on the ground as I quickly put together an ice pack with ice from our cooler. She also sipped ice water while I filled a clean tube-sock with ice to cool her neck, head and face. I had very little ice left. I tied the sock at the top and she rode with it around her neck. We stopped for lunch a short while later and stopped again for a fresh bag of ice and drinks. Every twenty minutes or so I would find a way to get out of the sun so we could refill the sock with ice and give her more water. We rested for about 20 minutes in the shade before descending into Sun City where I knew it would get much hotter. Bud said, “How could it possibly get any hotter than this?” An hour later in Sun City it was 111. And to think that only ten days earlier it was below freezing in Mt. Rainer National Park.

  Day 24 - Our Sun City stop was the first that I had scheduled for servicing the bike, which we did in Ralph's garage in 112° heat. Although we had covered 9,000 miles so far, my plan was to merely change the oil and filter, inspect the machine, and make minor adjustments. I had mounted two long distance tires a few days before we left with hopes that they would go the distance. We spent much of the day visiting with Ralph and Trudi. Riding in the 112° heat, especially in town, is like standing in front of an open blast furnace. Some people who have never felt 112° might say, “Yes, but you don't feel it because it’s dry heat.” This myth became a joke between us. People who never rode in that kind of heat might also think that the breeze on the bike would make it feel cooler, but it has the opposite effect. When the air temperature exceeds the body temperature, it tends to raise it above 98.6°, which dehydrates the body even faster. To compound the problem, in stop-and-go traffic, the air behind the fairing at slow speeds is at least 5° hotter than the ambient temperature because of the heat from the engine. The pool water at the motel was also more than 100°. It wasn’t even refreshing to take a shower when the water from the cold-water tap was higher than 90°. I'll be happy living out my years in New York's Hudson River Valley.

  Day 25 - The heat doesn't let up much at night. The temperature at 6 AM was 91°. After seeing Lillian off safely at the airport, Bud and I headed southwest toward Gila Bend and Why, where it was already over 100° by 10 AM. West of Phoenix, we saw a lot of cotton growing. I mentioned to the woman proprietor of a small general store in Why, “It gets pretty warm around here, doesn't it.” She looked at me as if I had insulted her with an understatement, She enunciated indignantly, “It gets HOT here!” We saw many giant saguaro cactus and lots of other strange flora in the Papago Indian Reservation. Saguaro grows only in the hottest deserts.

  I had one of the closest calls of the trip when a huge vulture that had been feeding on a small carcass on the left side of the road, took flight directly across my path. At 70 mph, which was the speed we were traveling, he would have shattered my windshield, and in all likelihood knocked me clear off the motorcycle. I ducked and braced for the impact that never came. Bud said the huge bird made a spectacular evasive move and missed the top of my windshield by less than an inch. It’s a good thing I ducked!
Petrified Forest National Park

  We stopped briefly in Cochise County to peer down into the Lavender Pit Mine, a 950' deep, open-pit copper mine where 380 million tons of ore were extracted before they went out of operation in 1976. The nicest scenery of the day was through Coronado National Forest, near Huachuca City where we saw a lot of yucca plants and century plants that were blooming. Contrary to popular belief, century plants bloom more than once in their lifetime.

  Day 26 - The Morenci Mine near Clifton is one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. Billions of tons of ore have been extracted from Morenci, which is still an active mine. Trains that haul the copper ore from the mine look so small that you have to look carefully to spot them, even through my binoculars, as they move around deep in this tremendous pit.

  US Route 666 (later renamed US Rte 491) from Morenci to Alpine has more turns and tight switchback curves than any road I have ever traveled. We saw one S-curve sign in the mountains that said “10 mph - Next 6 Miles”. There was no traffic at all on the road. The scenery through Gila National Forest was the nicest of the day. A brief rain shower with a little hail at the 9,000-foot level didn't dampen our spirits, although one might actually get tired of the seemingly endless switch-back curves.

  Thousands of petrified logs and pieces of logs were lying around on top of the sand in Petrified Forest National Park. The original trees were buried under mud, silt and volcanic ash as long as 200-million years ago. The lack of oxygen prevented them from decaying, and the original wood fibers were gradually replaced by silica deposits from the soil. Later the area rose far above sea level and the natural erosion process eventually exposed the petrified logs. We visited several viewpoints in both the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. It’s said to be bad luck to take pieces of the petrified wood as souvenirs, and it's also illegal.
Canyon de Chelly National Monument cliff dwellings

  Canyon de Chelly National Monument is a beautiful spot located inside the huge Navajo Indian Reservation. Canyon de Chelly typifies the colorful southwestern Native American culture, which once served as an ancestral stronghold for the Navajo. Many ruins of prehistoric dwellings can be seen against the canyon walls that drop 400 to 700 feet straight down to the canyon floor. Native Americans still live and farm in the canyon, as well as on the high ground above the canyon.

  Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Utah is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation. Every spectacular freestanding butte and rock formation in the valley is unique, and many have names. Many early western movies were made there, including “Stagecoach” and “My Darling Clementine.” Nearby, Valley of the Gods and Mexican Hat are equally colorful attractions with similar buttes, mesas, and desert landscapes that seem to change color as the sun moves across the sky. Except for the San Juan River, which flows north of Monument Valley through Mexican Hat, no other perennial streams flow in the valley. Very few people live in or near the area because of the harsh, dry climate.
Mitten Buttes in Monument Valley
  Day 28 – The ancient ruins at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado were the most interesting and educational of all the parks that we visited. The Anasazi, meaning “ancient ones”, who lived and farmed there in 1300 AD, were believed to have suddenly left and abandoned the cliff dwellings. There is no sign of a reason for their leaving. We visited the spectacular Cliff Palace, Spruce Tree House and several other dwellings from viewpoints along Chapin Mesa. We also browsed through the archeological museum before taking a scenic 21-mile drive with sharp curves and steep grades to many of the viewpoints on top of the mesa.

  US Rte 550 from Durango to Montrose, CO was another of our favorite roadways. We climbed through the San Juan National Forest, over Coal Bank Hill Pass (10,640 feet) and Molas Pass (10,910 feet), to the historic mining town of Silverton at an altitude of 9,318 feet. Our scenic highlights of the day included many spectacular snowcapped peaks, abandoned gold mines, and finally the ride over Red Mountain Pass (11,018 feet) and along the "Million Dollar Highway" to Montrose.
View of the Cliff Palace in Mesa Verde National Park

  Day 29 - after arriving at Bud's sister Posey’s home in Grand Junction, we enjoyed a full day of socializing. She took us in her station wagon on a tour of Colorado National Monument with its red-rock formations and sheer cliffs for a picnic lunch in an aspen grove atop one of the huge mesas. Western Colorado has the largest mesas we saw anywhere. That evening we had a great home-cooked steak dinner with fresh sweet corn at Posey’s home. Bud changed his rear tire there with one he had shipped earlier.

  Day 30 - From Grand Junction we returned into the Rockies alongside the Colorado and Roaring Fork Rivers on a spectacular climb through some high mountains toward Independence Pass at 12,095 feet. We rode through spruce and aspen forests with steep, rocky cliffs and rushing white-water streams close to the road. I met a car towing a house trailer on one steep uphill curve as we approached the divide. The guy was apparently being pushed much faster than he cared to be by his heavy load. If I had been in a car he would certainly have knocked me clear off the road into the Roaring Fork River. I swerved toward the shoulder, as far as I dared, while the car and huge trailer took up the entire road.

  East of the divide we had another spectacular view of the snow-covered mountain peaks and beautiful alpine meadows. We went over the divide again at Freemont Pass, and were almost to Loveland Pass on our Rocky Mountain ramble when a state highway employee rushed out to stop us. He said a truck was on fire on the east side of the divide, and traffic was backed up for at least a mile both ways on the narrow, cliff-edged highway, unable to turn around. We detoured through Eisenhower Tunnel and headed south for Pikes Peak on a gravel road over Guanella Pass at 11,665 feet. It was a disappointment to miss Loveland Pass. I was there before with Lillian in a rental car while on a business trip to Boulder for IBM, although Bud hadn't ever been there.

  Our ride to the 14,110-foot summit of Pikes Peak was exciting. It was the highest altitude we reached on our trip. The last 15 miles of the climb was on a steep gravel road without railings that was smooth to the very edge with sheer drops of several hundred feet. Following me too close on too many dirt roads took its toll on Bud's air cleaner. He had to stop and rap out some of the dirt before we reached the summit. Later we descended side by side on the extremely dusty section of the road to avoid the problem.

   Day 31 - At Royal Gorge, Bud took the aerial gondola ride across the 1,100-foot gorge and back. Because of my inner ear problem, I chose the more sedate Royal Gorge Route railway car ride at the foot of the gorge. Later we walked out onto the bridge together to see the river far below. I recalled seeing on TV where people jumped off the bridge with long bungee cords tied to their waists. They would drop most of the way to the Arkansas River before reaching the end of the cord's stretch. The wooden planks on the bridge clattered loudly as we rode the bikes across later.

  US 50 from Royal Gorge to Poncha Springs is a 50-mile stretch of scenic, twisty bike road along the headwaters of the Arkansas River. Many people were white-water rafting, fishing and camping. We turned south over Poncha Pass into a beautiful 10-mile-wide valley that got progressively wider and more scenic as we rode south. While getting gas at a small general store in Villa Grove, I commented to the attendant what a nice day it was there. The guy turned to me with a smile and said,  “It's always nice here.” Rte 17 from Antonito, CO to Chama, NM is another of my personal favorite roadways. It goes over La Magna Pass and Cumbres Pass into a beautiful alpine meadow with blue, white, lavender and yellow wild flowers. The grassy hills are accentuated with occasional deep-green evergreen trees as cattle grazed in the deep green meadows. A small steam-powered train that carries passengers on round-trip excursions from Chama was chugging up through the valley while we were there.

  A spectacular western lightning storm struck as we neared Antonito. A long and almost transparent curtain of rain draped all the way to the ground from the bottom of a huge dark cloud more than 10,000 feet up. Suddenly a huge bolt of lightning streaked down through that thin curtain, all the way to the ground. The fierce-looking streak shimmered for a full second before it cracked very loud and disappeared. Similar long bolts of lightning flashed several times close around us as we rode into the valley. It was one of the most awesome and terrifying displays of nature I ever saw. It made me feel very small and insignificant.

  The road through Carson National Forest between Tierra Amarilla and Tres Pedras in New Mexico was another very scenic ride with wide sweeping turns, high meadows and spectacular views of the San Juan Mountains. We could see lightning storms and rain showers in the distance. From Questa to Eagles Nest, past the Red River Ski Area was another highlight, as was our ride through Cimarron Canyon State Park near the Philmont National Boy Scout Ranch.

  Our original plan was to visit Bud's brother John in Amarillo for 2½ days, but when I heard during our trip that Big Bend was one of the more spectacular national parks, I decided to split for my own side trip while Bud went to Amarillo. We also needed a break from each other after spending so much continuous time together, especially after we were unable to replenish our supply of whiskey sour mix, which always relaxed us in the evening and relieved the tensions. Before reaching Raton, I put together a three-day revision to my route sheet to visit Big Bend.

  Day 32 - The 107° in Carlsbad, NM made me wonder if I was doing the right thing by heading south into the extreme heat again. It began to get to me after several hours, in spite of stopping often to drink ice water and put water in my shoes and helmet. I experienced lightheaded spells several times, at least partly from the tension of our having been together for more than a month. The long ride alone afforded me many hours of reflection on the trip, including an awareness of the greatness of this beautiful land. I thanked God for this opportunity to see it all. I thought about the agriculture, anthropology, volcanology, geology, earth sciences, and other things I had seen. We saw where the earth’s plates buckled, shifted, split, rose thousands of feet, eroded and exploded, and we saw where it rained a lot and where it hardly rained at all; and we learned many of the reasons why. We saw where gold, silver, copper, molybdenum, lead, oil and other minerals were extracted from the earth, and we learned where many crops, trees and other flora thrive, and where others barely cling to life or are unable to survive at all. The temperature reached 108° in Pecos, Texas where I stopped for the night.

  Day 33 - I left Pecos before first light in an attempt to avoid the heat, but by the time I got to Big Bend it was already 105°. Many areas of the park reminded me of the surface of the moon. Big Bend is a volcanic park with lava rock, pumice and large craggy volcanic outcroppings everywhere. The flora consists mainly of cactus, creosote bush, yucca, sotol and mesquite. Whatever rain falls in Big Bend, falls in the Basin, an area where green leafy shrubs, mountain mahogany and other small evergreen plants and trees seem to thrive. Posted signs warn of mountain lions. I saw where the Rio Grande River cuts through the picturesque Santa Elena Canyon, which is a familiar scene that's often shown in promotional photos of the Rio Grande Valley.
Rio Grande Valley along Texas Farm Road 170

  Farm Road 170 from Big Bend to Presidio is one of the most scenic roadways I've found in Texas. It affords spectacular views of the Rio Grande Valley. Rain sometimes washes the sand and water across low areas of the roadway as flash floods rush toward the river. I rode over 16 percent grades, off-camber turns and several deep dips where an inch or more of soft sand covered the road. Taking it easy was the order of the day, and "hot" was certainly a good name for it. I welcomed the light rain showers late that afternoon while heading for Fort Stockton. I didn’t stop to put on my rain suit because the cool rain felt so good. Having the 1200 Gold Wing certainly has its advantages.

  Day 34 - On my return north to rejoin Bud, I passed through Delaware Basin, probably one of the richest oil fields in America. I saw hundreds of pumpjacks drawing the heavy crude from the otherwise dry, mesquite-covered wasteland north of Monahans. After rejoining Bud in Amarillo we passed many miles of field corn that appeared to be at least eight feet tall along the southern edge of the Great Plains. We also saw massive grain elevators and huge, beef-cattle feeder pens in the Panhandle.
Small farm in Oklahoma that was abandoned in the 1930s dust bowl

    Day 35 - We enjoyed the least expensive meals and motel room of the trip in southern Oklahoma where we paid $24 for a very nice double room at a motel in McAlester. I had the complete baked chicken dinner in the motel dining room for $1.99. People were outgoing and friendly everywhere we went in Oklahoma. We saw several abandoned houses that were probably originally owned by people who migrated west during the big drought and dust storms of the 1930s, but otherwise we saw fertile, abundant farms.

   Day 36 - We stopped to visit with "Jack Piner" and longtime enduro rider Leroy Winters at his Honda cycle shop south of Fort Smith, Arkansas. He gave us a tour of his place and showed us his more than 30 species of ducks, white swans and rare black swans, and he showed us his homemade ultra-light helicopter and his collection of 1960s Hondas. He said the ducks and swans occupy an area of his backyard where he once had a luxurious swimming pool. Leroy took us in his huge vintage Cadillac stretch limo to lunch, and he insisted on paying. We talked a lot about old times and bygone enduros like the Jack Pine, Little Burr and Berkshire International where the three of us competed in the same events.

  Day 37 – We inspected my rear tire before we left Leroy's shop and agreed that in spite of its 14,000 miles, it should have at least another 1500 miles of rubber left to get me home. But after a very spirited ride of only 80 miles through the Ozark Mountain curves from there to Eureka Springs, followed by another 80 miles of rough road from Bakersfield to Doniphan, MO, I checked it again and it was bald all the way around. Only a few hundred miles of spirited riding had done the tire in. About 60 miles of it had an extremely coarse surface that made the tires roar, which probably might have made it wear faster.
We boarded the Dorena Ferry to cross the Mississippi River

  We approached the Mississippi River over several scarcely-traveled Missouri farm roads through seemingly-endless fields of corn, sorghum, soybeans, cotton and rice, and we eventually found the Dorena Ferry landing. We watched the tiny boat as it plied its way across the river toward us with only a single car aboard. The actual landing was a gravel road on the levee with a few planks laid out to support the steel ramp that the boat carried. The purser said that one car or two motorcycles was the minimum load for a crossing, and that the fare was $3.00 per bike.

  As soon as it backed away from the levee with only the two of us aboard, the tiny tugboat section pivoted around to a pushing position while the barge section remained steady. Meanwhile, the purser collected a total of only $6.00 for the crossing. He and the tugboat pilot were the only two aboard, except for Bud and me with our bikes. It took ten minutes to cross the river to Hickman, Kentucky, a typical, small river town where we landed against the eastern levee. The purser said that the river was ten feet below normal. There were no cars waiting as we rode the bikes up and over the dirt levee into Hickman. A short while later I located a rear tire at Abernathy's Honda and Harley-Davidson shop in Union City, TN. I changed the tire at our motel in Clarksville that same evening. I was carrying a bead-breaker this time.

Along Rich Valley Rd, SW Virginia

VA Rte 42
   Day 38 - From Clarksville to Bland, Virginia we enjoyed a full day of twisty roads through scenic farmland and national forests that epitomized our trip. It was one of our most enjoyable days. We had very little letup from thousands of curves and hills past countless corn and tobacco fields in northern Tennessee, through the backwoods country of Kentucky, and finally through the hill country of southwestern Virginia. We entered Virginia on some seldom-used roads near Cumberland Gap, and covered 475 miles that day, which included a great deal of passing on two-lane roads.

    Day 39 - One of my all-time favorite country rides is in western Virginia where a series of seldom-used county and state highways run parallel with the West Virginia state line for about 280 miles, from Benhams to Harrisonburg. The valley is always neat and clean, and the ride took us through many scenic areas with small farms, silos, barns, homes and picturesque white churches while cows grazed on the steep, sloping hillsides, and the small family crops grow among the green rolling hills. It all accentuated the beauty of my favorite ride through Virginia.

   Day 40 - Every time I plan a trip, I try a different route across Pennsylvania. We began our last day in Chambersburg and passed many colorful farms between Doylesburg  and New Bloomfield. We saw Amish farmers driving horse-drawn buckboards along the country roads, and we passed the Pennsylvania National Race Course for horses, Indiantown Gap Military Reservation and the Flying Dutchman's Motorcycle Race Course before traffic began to get heavy around Pen Argyl. We crossed the Delaware River at Portland Bridge into the heavier traffic of central New Jersey.

  Before we split for our respective homes, we had lunch at a small country diner in northern New Jersey where we reflected on the trip. One of the things we talked about was why people go to foreign lands to ride when there are so many outstanding things to see right here in our own beautiful USA. Even though we saw a great deal during our 40-day trip, it barely scratched the surface. There is still so much more out there to see. Even though Bud seemed reluctant to make any commitments for next year, I could tell that his appetite for long tours had been whetted. He mentioned possibly doing the Alaska trip with me sometime in the not too distant future, which he had dreamed about for many years. My thoughts were also about someday being able to take a summer-long solo tour with a much smaller, single-cylinder motorcycle around small-town USA, covering all of the lower 48 states and meeting and talking with many of the people along the way.

(Hundreds more photos of this tour can be seen under "Photos - Back Roads USA" using the Index on this blog)

The next chapter is:   07 Copper Canyon on a Gold Wing

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