Colorado I

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6/24/2007  Returning to Colorado

The 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. 

As 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 in Colorado…

After 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. 

As 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!

6/25/2007  Great Sand Dunes National Park

In 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.

6/26/2007

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…

6/27/2007  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 Atlanta.  

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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