6/24/2007 Returning to Colorado
road out of Valle Vidal led to Highway 522 just before the Colorado border.
Across the border, the small two-lane highway changes numbers to
Highway 159 leading us to San Luis. San
Luis advertises quite enthusiastically that it is the oldest surviving
settlement in Colorado, originally settled in 1851.
It is posted on billboards leading into the community and written
with carefully placed white rocks on the nearby hillside.
We passed through town and stopped at the outer edge where there was
an Internet café. Unfortunately
they were closed, so we walked back through town and ate at Mrs. Rios
Mexican American Restaurant. After
lunch, we walked back to the bikes and I realized that I was missing my
sunglasses. These are
prescription sunglasses that I had purchased specifically for riding before
we left Atlanta. I went back
over the path we had taken and checked the restaurant twice.
I was upset with myself that I had been so reckless.
I had to accept that they were gone.
We both left San Luis feeling pretty crappy.
we continued north, we were amazed at the sight of the massive sand dunes
rising up between the flat prairie land and the impressive 14,000km snowy
mountains in the distance. We
arrived at the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in the afternoon.
This National Park has the tallest dune in North America.
It looked so unworldly to me – these huge mounds of sand rising up
taking a rest for a while under a shade tree, we set up camp and went to
check out the visitor’s center. The
weather took a quick turn and it began to rain.
We rode to the only nearby (overpriced) general store for some
creature comforts and the rain passed us by as quickly as it had emerged.
After an early dinner, we stored our food and personal items in the
bear-proof boxes provided at each campsite and walked toward the dunes to
watch the sun set with amazing colors.
Darren clicked photos as deer wandered through the prairie and into
the campground with little regard for the campers and RVs.
the sun worked its was down, I felt my stomach churn from Mrs. Rios lunch.
Making multiple trips to the bathhouse, I was regretting that the
town of San Luis ever existed. Luckily
the attack only lasted a couple of hours.
Later in the evening we met a family in a pop-up camper.
The son (about 5 years old) was very proud to show me his bicycle and
explained that it was able to ride through grass, gravel, dirt and even some
sand - just like our motorcycles. The
father was a friendly fellow who was raised in Hawaii and had brothers (that
he visited often) living in Alaska. We
enjoyed some laughs and conversation around their campfire until the park
ranger informed us that we should keep the noise down – oops!
Great Sand Dunes National Park
the morning we awoke with the plan to hike the dunes.
We agreed to remain in the National Park a second night in order to
have plenty of time to enjoy the area.
We filled our camelbaks with water and headed off to hike up the
dunes. Dried and scruffy plant life, intermingled with cacti, lined
the worn path leading from the campground to the dunes.
Before hiking up the huge hills of sand, we had to cross the Medano
Creek at the base of the dunes. Medano
Creek was very shallow, but very wide and very meandering. Due
to fresh sand continually falling into the creek, it never finds a permanent
and stable streambed, so it runs the easiest course until the next shift of
wind or deposit of sand. We
hopped through the shallow water before starting uphill.
Everyone says that the trick to climbing sand dunes is to stay on the
ridgeline of the dune. Sometimes
it helped a lot, sometimes not. It
was a long and strenuous battle with many breaks, but we made it to the top
of High Dune. High Dune (at
650ft.) is not actually the highest dune of the park, but it does appear
that way from the main parking lot. From
it’s summit was could look out over the dunes with a 360 degree view and
pick out Star Dune, the tallest dune in North America at 750ft.
We took some photos and chatted with other travelers at the summit
before strategically working our way back down.
The hike took aver 3 hours to reach the summit and only about 30
minutes to return to the creek at the base! At the bottom we removed our
shoes and enjoyed the feeling of the warm water running over our feet as we
walked through the river to reach the trail that led back to camp.
In camp I stationed my chair in the shelter
of a shade tree and refused to move. I
sat out the heat of the early afternoon reading a book in the shade.
Darren went exploring a bit on his bike, but was not gone long.
The heat of the day combined with the sandy off-road conditions (and
spent tires), led him back to camp.
In the late afternoon we rode just outside
the National Park to Zapata Falls. A
few other travelers has warned us not to miss these falls and the park
rangers had told us it was a good place to go to get relief from the heat in
early summer. The 3 miles of gravel road winding gently up the hill was
terribly rutted and joggled our bikes around quite a bit.
When we arrived at the parking lot at the trailhead, we noticed that
my PVC pipe had once again loosened and we spent a few minutes reattaching
it, which required the annoyance of removing the panniers.
Once this was resolved, we headed up the easy ½-mile trail to the
river that ran from the waterfall. We
had to walk up the fast-moving riverbed into a cavern to see the waterfall.
Other visitors warned us that the water was very cold.
We changed into our water shoes and headed towards the river.
The water was so ice cold that the skin on our feet and ankles felt
like it was getting burned. The
river was running very quick and we had to maneuver around the rocky
riverbed carefully to avoid falling into the icy water. Crawling
carefully along rocks to avoid prolonged periods of time in the water, we
made our way around the bend of the river into a cavern where the water was
violently pouring in from a hole about 30 feet above.
The force of the water was impressive and the knowledge that it was
coming from a high snow-covered mountain even impressed me even more. It was definitely refreshing to be out of the heat and soak
my feet in ice water, although a little painful when they began to thaw…
When we returned to the parking lot at the trailhead, Darren realized
that he was missing the antenna to the bike-2-bike communication (although
we haven’t been able to use it). We
rode slowly back down the 3 miles of rutted gravel road looking for the
antenna and I was lucky to find it.
After we scavenged wood from other
campsites for a good fire and had dinner, Darren was ready for an early
night of sleep. I, on the other
hand, had trouble falling asleep. I
could not stop thinking of my stupid sunglasses.
I knew if I could just go back to that town, they would be there at
the restaurant where we had eaten. I
finally woke Darren and told him that I wanted to return to the town the
next day. He was remarkably okay with the idea. After the discussion, I was finally able to sleep soundly.
We left the sand dunes and split up for a
short while. Darren’s tires
were getting dangerously low on tread, so he opted not to ride back to San
Luis with me. I quickly rode
the 16 miles back to San Luis and the restaurant we had eaten in.
I was relieved to find the sunglasses behind the register.
While I was doing this Darren picked up the required Habitat Stamp
that we would need to backcountry camp in Colorado’s Wilderness Areas.
The clerks in the sporting goods store were two brothers.
Three other customers asked for fishing products but they did not
sell fishing products. Darren asked if they had thought of selling fishing
products and the clerks said ‘No, not really, although about every 3rd
person asks for it.’ Darren
found this very amusing!
We reunited and followed a dirt road that
the clerks had recommended. The
scenery became very dry and desolate until we rode down a hill to open
farmland. We rejoined the TAT
before it intersected sealed Hwy 69.
We followed a forest access road into a National Forest area that
Darren had already ridden with our Canadian friend, Mark.
It began as high plains farmland and gradually changed as we climbed
higher into the hills. Thick
forest lined the road as we climbed along the steep path.
We met a couple on a Triumph Tiger and stopped to chat for a while. The weather began to turn rainy as we pulled into the place
where Darren and Mark had camped. We
waited out the rain for a short while and decided to continue riding.
We turned off the TAT at the
tiny town of Wetmore and rode through high cliffs and massive rocks
that lined the paved road.
As the landscape opened up to rolling
grassy hills the wind picked up and the clouds rolled over the sun.
I yelped as the first piece of hail pelted me in the chest.
We pulled over and huddled over our bikes as we were repeatedly
slammed with quarter sized (Australian 20-cent piece) hail.
A pickup truck stopped and Darren hopped off his bike to speak with
the driver. Apparently he
offered for us to climb into the cab for shelter, but Darren noted that the
back window of the truck was busted open and hail was coming into the truck
as well. He thanked the driver
and declined the offer. We
tried to ride further, but had to stop once more before the hail slowed down
enough to continue. We stopped
at Super 8 Motel for cover and used the Internet in the lobby to answer
emails while waiting out the storm. We
were unwilling to pay for $69 hotel room, but we did agree to get a hotel
for the night, so we moved on to the more densely populated tourist town of
Canon City to search for a cheaper option.
Once we reached Canon City, it took quite a
while to find a reasonably priced hotel.
Another motorcycle traveler and his wife (on a Harley Davidson) were
also staying at the hotel. We
chatted for a while before cleaning up and heading out for dinner.
Canon City was a gateway city for Railroad Tours and seemed to cater
to tourists. We found a local
pizza shop for dinner and walked down the road to a local bar. It was not very busy. The
bartender was a very hairy bohemian type who served me a strong white
russian. Locals were actually
friendlier than expected in a run-down bar in a touristy town.
Back at the hotel we stayed up watching television coverage of Paris
Hilton and realized that while we have been removed from mainstream society,
we had not missed a thing…
Back to Civilization
We slept late in the morning and did
laundry before leaving the hotel. The
dryer was very slow and we ended up being almost noon before we left Canon
City. We spoiled ourselves by
having lunch at a Chili’s – using a gift certificate that I had been
carrying from Atlanta for the occasion.
We decided that we were in need of some
more rest and recovery time. We
contacted Chris and Spice (rtw101) to take advantage of their generous
offer to stay with them in Boulder, Colorado.
We rode along the highway through Denver.
Although the traffic was thick in the late afternoon, I liked the
look of the city as we passed through.
I got a kick out of seeing an advertisement for Lynard Skynard
playing at their amphitheater! I
was also impressed with the courtesy of rush-hour drivers in comparison with
We arrived at Chris & Spice’s home
just after 5 pm. Chris
was out of town finishing up a work assignment, but Spice was kind enough to
open her home to us. We
went to dinner on a rooftop restaurant along the mall in Boulder.
We were thrilled to enjoy this meal with travelers Chris and Erin
Ratay (UltimateJourney), who spent 4 years traveling the world on their
motorbikes. They had also
opened their home to a couple of motorcycle travelers, Mike and Michelle,
who had traveled up from South America and were headed to Alaska. We found both Chris and Erin to be extremely friendly and
entertaining and are looking forward to hearing their presentation at the
upcoming Horizons Unlimited meeting in Silverton, Colorado.
6/28 – 7/4/2007
Boulder, Colorado with Chris & Spice Jones
We cannot express enough gratitude to Chris
and Spice for their hospitality. Each
night with them we were treated to great company, wonderful travel stories
and helpful advice. During the
work days we (meaning Darren) performed necessary motorcycle maintenance,
spent time reading and writing (that would be more my agenda) and generally
enjoyed a week away from the daily duties of breaking camp, setting up camp
and outdoor cooking. Highlights
of our week in Boulder includes evening walks I took with Spice around her
neighborhood, the Saturday Farmer’s Market and catching up on all the
tasty food that we missed while being on the road (like Thai and Indian).
Chris Jones returned from his work assignment on Saturday night and
Darren really enjoyed the camaraderie of another motorcycle enthusiast.
Darren especially enjoyed Chris’s experience of competing in the
Lisbon – Dakar Rally last January.
They took a few rides together outside of Boulder and really tested
the limits of testosterone.
On the Fourth of July, Chris and Spice
really outdid themselves by grilling some fantastic barbeque ribs and shrimp
fritters with all kinds of great side fixings.
After the hearty meal, we all rode to a nearby park where we sat in
our camp chairs watching fireworks explode over Boulder. It was a great ending to a relaxing week!
We look forward to seeing them both again soon!
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