15 years riding!

Fifteen years ago this week I entered the world of motorcycle riding by buying a beautiful 1998 Suzuki Intruder VS800. She was a fantastic machine from the start. Taking some risk, I bid $3,250 on an ebay auction from Ohio and won. The seller promised that, “you won’t be disappointed,” and his promise was the biggest understatement of my life. I received the bike about a week later, filled the tires and gas tank, and rode home, totally unconscious of the joy that this bike and motorcycle riding would bring me.

That was May 2003, and I was a young pup of 22 years, still working my first job after college and living with my mom. My first long ride, about a month later, was from Lufkin, Texas to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and my love for motorcycle travel was born. That winter I moved to Illinois and met several people, including Kevin, Kevin, and Brian. The four of us agreed to attend the Intruder Alert rally in Asheville, NC in June and made the trip out there. I met so many wonderful people at that meeting, far too many to name here, and decided that this was the crowd for me.

On the return ride to Illinois, I learned that my company was closing and that I wouldn’t have a job when I got back. With some obligations in Texas and Pennsylvania later that summer and the recent success of a 9 day trip, the concept for big road trip covering a lot of miles and states was an easy choice. In all, I met some amazing people and visited 33 states and two Canadian provinces in 12 weeks. The handle I had given myself, “crosscountry” wast aptly chosen.

In this post I can’t show all of the pictures from that trip, or the trips in 2005 and 2006 to visit the other 15 states to the west, or to the bigger rallies. I can’t name all of the wonderful people that opened their homes to me, shared some miles, or bought a wayward traveler a meal. My gratitude to them is enduring, and many I call lifelong friends. With their support I developed a greater love for this country and the beautiful people that live here than I could have any other way.

Since those first trips on the intruder, I’ve been blessed to have other fantastic road trip experiences riding across Europe, around New Zealand, deep into Mexico and have ridden scooters in a few other places. I’ve also bought and sold 8 motorcycles, including my current DL650 VStrom, many of which took me to far away places.

My enthusiasm for motorcycle riding continues to grow. Since May 2003, I’ve ridden almost 145,000 miles to places my younger self never thought I’d visit. I’ve been truly blessed with good experiences and good friends, all of which have shaped me into the person I am now.

I plan to continue riding a motorcycle long into the future, even as free time gets shorter and responsibilities grow in number and size. It’s a passion that gripped me and won’t let go. Here’s to 15 fantastic years of riding and as many more as my body will allow.

Motorcycle Trip to the NW, Three national parks and an eclipse!

This year I saved my big road trip until August. Something special happened that month, and I wanted to do something special. Some colleagues of mine, including Paul and Becky, organized a campground near Bend, Oregon, so I went to join them. This trip was special. Emma joined me. It was her first motorcycle trip ever and my first trip taking a girlfriend with me. As you’ll see, we had a great time.

The trip was 3,400 miles all told, including side trips, and we went through 8 states.

I left Denver on the 18th of August and rode to Salt Lake City for the first night. My aunt, uncle, and cousins live there, so we had a nice evening eating pizza and catching up. I hope to see them again soon, without the 2 year break. The next morning I rode to Boise to stay with Brooks and Mallory. I had seen them at their wedding in May, but we had much more time to talk that day. Mallory made fantastic meals for us, that we enjoyed on the patio.

On the 20th, I left their place to pick up Emma at the airport. She brought some things with her, and I carried the rest, so we loaded up and headed out. That first stretch was approximately equal to the longest she’d ridden with me before, and now we were 1000 miles from home! Stopping near the Oregon border, we took the opportunity to talk that wasn’t available at the airport. She said the first stretch was good, and so we aimed west towards Bend. The road was just like Brooks had described. At first we were in a river valley, but eventually we climbed onto the high plains, where it got smoky from the nearby fires. This year has been especially bad for fires. On that stretch we rode past Burns, Oregon, where the Bundy clan took over a national forest office. The Dairy Queen in Burns was fine, and that’s where we realized that Oregon doesn’t have sales tax (but pumping your own gas is another story).

Our campground was south of Bend, and we found it without too much difficulty. We arrived early in the afternoon and had time to set up, only to learn that the seam on my new sleeping pad had given up the ghost. So we added another 50 miles onto the day to replace it in Bend. This also gave us the opportunity to try some Deschutes beer at the brewery. Yum. We had dinner with the group, made plans for the morning, and went to sleep. It was a long day for me, and Emma had to get up at 3 AM to fly from Denver, so she was even more tired than me. That night was chilly and taught us some lessons about how to stay warm (in mid August?) that we had to use later on the trip too.

We got up early in preparation for the eclipse. Traffic wasn’t bad, and we should have gotten to the predetermined spot with plenty of time to spare, but our navigators – who had already been there – failed, and we found ourselves on little more than a dirt trail with a low clearance Hyundai. We never did meet up with the rest of the group, but we did find a great spot overlooking a valley to watch the eclipse. It was beautiful and awe inspiring.

I took a series of photos as the moon moved in front of the sun and back out, and Emma snapped a beautiful photo during totality. It looks like sunset, but the sun is very high in the sky.

We fought horrendous traffic to get back to the campsite, all the while fighting an overheating car. We didn’t get back until nearly dark. After sharing a dinner with the group we dressed properly and went to bed. This night was even cooler, but the extra layers worked.

It was now Tuesday, and we had a long haul from the campsite south of Bend up to Spokane. Traffic was still bad going through Madras, and Emma was introduced to the superpowers that come with a motorcycle – namely some traffic can be ignored (we rode in the bicycle lane through town, probably saving 45 minutes off stop and go). Those motorcycle super powers came in handy many times on the trip, especially finding parking in the national parks. It’s hard to justify driving a car when you know how much easier you life can be on a motorcycle.

Much of the ride was in the high plains of Oregon, and I decided that I would never want to live there. No trees, frequently windy, even cows don’t do well there. No thanks. Finally we got to some really cool stuff, the Columbia River Gorge! Wow is that beautiful. We entered the gorge on the dry side of the mountains, but it was still an amazing place to see. Thanks to the tip of a local, we rode on the north side of the river, skipping all of the interstate traffic and riding a good bit above the speed limit. That was until I remembered that we had patched a flat tire that morning. A previous plug was leaking and had to be replaced. I trusted it enough to forgo getting a new tire, and the new plug is still holding, some 2,000 miles later.

We rode into Kennewick, Washington to meet a fellow biker and old friend, Machelle. She treated us to lunch, and we had a good time catching up. The last time we saw each other was in 2005, when I stayed with her and Jesse on my way back from Seattle. It was really good to see her again.

In the parking lot I lubed the bike’s chain and was cleaning up when a man approached us. He was friendly and recommended a hotel in Spokane, which we reserved. The rest of the ride through East Washington was tiring, and we looked forward to not sleeping on the ground – but there was a big surprise. The hotel was pretty fancy, and the room was sparse except for a king sized mirror as a headboard. I’ve never seen anything like it.

After a late dinner we got some rest. The next morning we took a walking tour through Spokane and saw some interesting items, including the worlds largest Radio Flyer wagon.

We rode that morning to Harrison, Id to see Steve and Ann. I visited them in the cabin two years ago, and they were kind enough to invite me back. It’s a stunning spot, and they are great hosts. I should have taken a picture of all of us! I’m a huge fan of North Idaho. It’s so beautiful that I want to go back often. Sadly, they sold the cabin on the lake right after Emma and I left, so we won’t be able to visit them there again, but they are welcome in Denver any time, and I’m sure we’ll catch up in Austin.

After the eclipse I was excited to go to Glacier National Park. Going there and to Harrison, Id added 800 miles to the trip, but it was absolutely worth the extra mileage. We left Steve and Ann to ride into Montana (the 6th state on the trip) and up to Glacier.

After buying Emma a fleece vest (she had been wearing mine to stay warm) we found a hotel in Whitefish called the Cheap Sleep motel, and it did not live up to it’s name. I guess hotels are just more expensive up there.

Glacier National Park is a fantastic place. I can’t do it justice with photos, so I recommend that everyone who reads this make the trip up there at least once in their lives. Don’t worry about the glaciers, they’re basically gone. The mountains and valleys are totally worth the trip on their own!

Thankfully we arrived on a day with little smoke. We parked the bike and shuttled to the Logan Pass visitor center where we ate our snacks and began the 12 mile hike back to the bike. Every part of this was stunning.

A view from the trail overlooking a big glacial valley and the “Going to the Sun Road.”

There are far too many beautiful parts to show here, so please have a look at the photo gallery. I’ll post the rest of the trip hopefully soon.

I just bought tickets to Israel!

I’ve got a lot of travel coming up. Most of it is for work, but I’m able to extend each trip with added vacation days. My next trip is to Baltimore for two meetings related to SHARAD and MRO.

The next trip is to Switzerland. I’ll be there to provide radar observations and interpretations over several regions of Mars. Having been to Switzerland several times, and wanting to branch out, I thought it would be nice to visit somewhere new, so I bought tickets to Israel. It’s going to be a short trip, just 3 days and 4 nights, but I get to see somewhere new and explore more of the world. This is going to be great.

If that weren’t enough, as soon as I get back I head off to Idaho for another meeting. Yep! Lots of meetings. I’ll be taking the motorcycle that time, so there will be an added road trip after the meeting. Looking forward to that too.


Guadalajara is a big city. During the drive in, Russell and I were only saved from the confusion by blue signs pointing towards the city center – our destination for the night. Before G, Saltillo was the only large city we had actually driven through, and we got pretty turned around there due to construction and poor signage. G was easier to navigate in theory, but the traffic took some getting used to. There were lots of people, and the people turning left from a lane to our right was startling.

Upon arriving, gasoline was our first priority. After that bathrooms, ATM, and hotel took over in that order. We rode through downtown and a little past before finding the friendly PeMex. The attendant was nice and offered advice for the other things. They were all within walking distance. We chose an upscale hotel for the below ground parking. Motorcycles are common there, but ours were definitely from far away and looked more expensive than the local varieties.

The hotel we chose may have been the tallest building in town because from our view none appeared any taller. We got to our room on the 12th floor of 14 just before sundown and missed our chance to dip in the pool.

After a walk to the Walmart on another corner Russell and I were stocked with the toiletries, sunscreen, and water we needed for the rest of the trip. Not once on the trip did we drink public water, and not once did we get sick. He and I walked around the city looking for food and people watching. I also wanted to buy a notebook to keep a journal. He and I found everything we wanted and seated ourselves near the balcony of a 2nd floor restaurant overlooking one of the many plazas in downtown Guadalajara.

It was surreal. I’ve dreamt of visiting G almost my whole life, ever since hearing that Mariachi was created there. My childhood mind romanticized the city, and now I got to be there. Our dinner began with music from the square below, but eventually it turned into what can only be described as a one man protest. This guy was adamant about something, and passerby’s stopped only for a few seconds. As his incessant preaching droned on the two of us dined on a local buffet that filled our bellies and made us smile.  Sol was our beer of choice for the evening, or was it Pacifico? We enjoyed a few local brews.

On our walk – many churches!

My first thought after dining was tequila, and we made good on that instinct. Russell doesn’t drink as much as I do, but we still put away a decent amount of the bottle before leaving the hotel room again.

The view from our hotel at night – before the adventure really began.

We wanted to see what nightlife was like in the second largest city of Mexico, and after a short walk towards the now sparsely populated center we found a place lit up with a neon green “bar.” This looked liked the place. Climbing the stairs into the second level corner bar with glass windows all around we heard what the place was to be like before seeing it. And our first sight confirmed, a large man, poorly dressed, singing karaoke. It was obvious that he was the entertainment, but for us the laughs were just beginning. They haven’t stopped yet.

Russell may not want his personal life divulged, so I’ll keep it to a minimum just to set up the story. His relationship status was worse than complicated, and after talking to him I got it in my head that he needed a girlfriend. Just our luck since a single girl was sitting by herself near the door. I offered her a drink and left the two of them alone for a bit. Neither looked like they were having a good time when I returned.  Apparently the language of love isn’t universal, or at least one must know a few words to pick up chicks in a foreign country. I ended up translating a mundane translation about family and birthplaces.

We bought her another drink, and that’s when I realized something – her beers, while much smaller than ours, cost 5 times as much. Someone once told me that since prostitution was illegal, it was more socially palatable to buy a girl overpriced drinks from which she would get the kickback from the bar. This had the added benefit of making sure the bar was always stocked with available women. Well, that’s what we had, and I thought it was hilarious. Somehow, after a few more tequilas and beers, I invited her to join us on a motorcycle trip to the beach, riding with Russell, and even told her which hotel we were in. Thankfully that never came to fruition, but what happened next is still hard to believe.

The bar only had a few people in it, and few were talking, but a man with a video camera came around asking everyone to dance for one song. He wanted to film a commercial to put on Mexican television. After a little coaxing Russell found both his left feet and took his date on the floor. Another girl appeared, willing to dance with me, and we danced our asses off for that one song, during which the videographer had us move around the room to shoot from many angles. I’m sure anyone seeing that commercial will wonder what the odd pair of gringos, one with a bald spot, the other well over 6 feet tall, were doing dancing with local girls in a Guadalajara bar. I hope one day to see it.

We retired to our hotel safe from temporary love and not so secretly hoping the girl wouldn’t show up the next day expecting to ride to Puerto Vallarta. And for more than a few reasons it’s good she didn’t, but we’ll get to that in the next post.

After a late start we asked the valet where one might find breakfast on a Sunday morning, and he gave good advice. Breakfast was fantastic, one of many good meals we had on the trip. Before heading out we took one more stroll around the center to see what people did during the day.

It was a lovely place, and I look forward to going back.

Discovering Mexico, Day two

Russell and I woke in a foreign land. We were hundreds of miles south of anywhere familiar and hungry for more. Mostly we were hungry. After dining in the same restaurant that hosted the wonderful buffet of the night before we packed up ready for the day. FYI, breakfast was as we would see many times on the trip: tacos and an orange Fanta. The Fanta is of course to pretend something healthy.

Packing up.

On the road we were back to desert; it would last most of the day. It was beautiful.

The roads varied but were generally well maintained and with low traffic. Only occasionally did we have trouble passing a truck in the mountains. The KLR kept up for the most part with the VStrom, and I would have no qualms about taking it again. Of course it wasn’t me riding it. Somewhere along the way we passed a sign for ruins. Russell and I hadn’t discussed side trips, and I wanted to ask what he thought. He agreed it was a good idea, so we turned back to see what there was.

Before we even got to the ruins, which were extraordinary by the way, we found something else of immense proportions: nopales, or prickly pear as we know them. These things were unbelievable, and I expect that in my life I’ll never see any this large again. They make what we have in Texas look like babies!

These weren’t the biggest we saw, but they were right off the road and easily accessed.

The ruins were truly amazing. Archeologists are not sure who made them or exactly when, but they are far out of place for the Mayans or any other Mexican civilizations. The city is called “La Quemada,” presumably for the city of the same name not too far westward. We enjoyed hiking to the top of the hill that seated the ruins and took photos from above.

I took a lot more. Check them out here.

The next stop was at a tequila or agave plantation.  They offered free tastings, but as we were only halfway through the day and more hungry than anything, we just stopped for photos.  It was quite a sight!  Who knew agave grew so well and was so cherished? They went on for miles near the town of Tabasco. This wasn’t the only plantation we saw on the trip, but it certainly was the biggest. Of course we purposefully avoided the major traffic roads that would lead to the touristy areas. This would be especially true the third day of the trip when we took the load least traveled.

As we moved south the scenery changed, and before long it was impossible to call the terrain desert. Instead plants were more frequent and greener. Trees versus prickly pear or Joshua Trees appeared, and eventually we found a river in a valley. This was quite interesting, and we enjoyed the curvy roads that followed the river and cliff faces.

Once when nature called we pulled over to find tall brown grass and some burros tied to the river. Here was the view.

Here we noticed the vegetation really begin to change, and as we climbed out of the valley we noticed a strong temperature change. Things were really cooling off!

The valley went on for many miles, probably 20 or more, and we passed several nice pueblos, including Jalpa. Once we climbed out of the valley the scenery changed dramatically. It was now a high desert, without the vegetation we had seen before, and much cooler. The elevation was probably 2000 meters or more. As we approached Guadalajara traffic picked up significantly, and we could no longer pass the people in front of us. Finally we were 20 kilometers from Guadalajara and entering a valley. It was beautiful and of the same vegetation we saw earlier.

The odd thing was that G was supposedly the second largest city in Mexico, and within 20 minutes of it there was no evidence of millions of people living there. We crossed another valley and started up again with still no sign. The road was fun, and there were even a few bicyclists taking advantage of the steep roads. Finally, with just 6 km to go, we came out of the valley and saw it – one huge city. Guadalajara was out in front of us in it’s full glory. The outskirts we saw at first were as poor as imaginable, and they butted up against the cliff that we had just ridden up. It was a striking contrast of pure nature to pure poverty. Within a few minutes we were into the heart of the city and looking for a good place to stop.

This here is a good place to stop as G was too interesting to split up into two posts. The road there from Zacatecas had been great, and some of those sights will live with me forever. Until next time

More Mexico

Where we last left off, Russell and I were on our way south past Monterrey.  We were riding toll roads for the quickness of it all and even more quickly realizing the expense was too great.  The tolls themselves varied from 40 Pesos to 180 Pesos, or about 15 dollars.  This was extreme! And we hadn’t budgeted for so much cost so often.

The geology of the area was increasingly interesting. After turning west from Monterrey towards Saltillo, more than once we found mountains made of tilted rocks, layered horizontally but eventually nearly perpendicular to the horizon. It was worthy of our attention, and I snapped only a few photos wishing for more. Some of the best sights were not a stops, and I hadn’t yet gotten permission from Russell to stop just for photo breaks. Eventually it did become necessary to stop as the scenery was just too good, but we weren’t there yet.

Finally, past Saltillo, we decided that regular roads were the way to go. This caused a little mixup in directions – the toll roads are slightly better with road signs, and Saltillo had several detours that caused us to lose the road we had planned to take. This was fine, and actually I think we were better off because of it. The road was smaller and slower, but traffic was light, and the scenery fantastic. There are no pictures of Saltillo, the place we first saw American stores such as HEB, Walmart, Autozone, Churches Chicken, and more. It was a little hectic, and we just wanted to get back on the road. The city was on a plateau and very arid. I bet the night skies are fantastic there.

Once south of town, and on a correct road, we began to boogie. We crosses between mountains and through large valleys. The most impressive ones had sights for more than 20 miles. Several were home to large Joshua Tree forests, and we must have passed 40 miles of the mesmerizing plant. Finally it was time to stop just for a photo break, and it was worth it!


And this one I had Russell pose for.

The day was extremely entertaining. As the sun set we approached Villa de Cos, a small town north of Zacatecas.  We had been warned to drive only during the day time, and after more than 8 hours in the saddle, our first long day, it was time to break.  We pulled in to a roadside hotel and restaurant.  This turned out to be great except for the lack of hot water.  The restaurant was a buffet and our first exposure to real Mexican food.  Both of us were impressed!  I really enjoyed the chile relleno while Russell’s favorite was the pork with green sauce.  Everything on the buffet was fantastic.

We also tried out a few new beers and sat for over an hour playing cribbage in the restaurant.  The two of us did look out of place, but everyone was friendly and accommodating.  My Spanish was coming back slowly but surely, and I felt really comfortable.  It was the perfect day of riding and reflection.  By that night all of my anxieties were gone, and it was the beginning of a real adventure.

Riding at sundown

Stay tuned for the next day when we discover some Ancient ruins and reach fantastic Guadalajara. And the rest of the photos from that day are here.

Mexico, reflections and day one

It is due time that I write up a recent trip to Mexico that my friend Russell and I shared on motorcycles.  This trip was to be a minivoyage of our original grand design to ride to Panama.  Due to time constraints and concerns of money, our little jaunt would become a reconnaissance mission for hopefully future ventures.  In this journal I will try to faithfully reproduce our adventure from both memory and written notes compiled during the route.

We departed in the ominous circumstances of nightfall and bad traffic from the northside of our Austin community.  Roads congested with red lights and exhaust encouraged us to take a less direct path through town, and before long our bikes were pointed south to Mexico and past the famous Austin City Limits sign.  That first night was to be a short one of only two hundred forty miles – to the US side of the Mexican border in Laredo, Texas.  It was cold, the coldest riding we would face until our return, and several stops to increase our insulation and add fuel both to our bikes and our bellies made it as comfortable as possible.  The stretch of Interstate Highway 35 took us through San Antonio and saw our, thankfully, one instance of mechanical failure.  A quick repair emboldened our hearts, and we arrived at our reserved destination only slightly worn for the wear.

The next morning was to afford the best shower we’d find until being home again.  That day started slower than planned but proved useful.  We drained our bank accounts of some American funds and used those to purchase Mexican Pesos at an incredible rate that beat even the day traders.  Unwisely we converted only $100 each, but had we known the rate was so good it would have influenced the purchase.  We also decided that travel liability insurance was prudent, and after receiving temporary coverage for our planned time abroad we asked for some favors from the nice salesman.  He provided copies free of charge and valuable advice that aided our border crossing.  Before long we were on the road again, just the 3 miles to the river that separated first world US of A from its much poorer and yet somehow content southerly neighbor.

The border was intimidating.  In fact, up to this point I had been nervous about the whole idea of going to Mexico.  It was something I’d been dreaming up for years, and maybe that and normal trip beginning unease factored into my jitters, but the reality of danger was certainly on my mind.  Warnings from friends and family of death and dismemberment filled our heads, but thankfully this proved to be all mental, and not once in the whole trip were we molested either by bad guys or the police – the latter my greatest fear.  In fact, to give a little foreshadow, the people we encountered were as friendly and warm as one could ask, and I am encouraged to do a similar trip at any possible juncture.  It took a couple of days for me to feel completely comfortable, and by the second day I was right at home, on the dream-like road trip that I imagined.

The border itself was docile and easily crossed.  Only a toll booth stood between us and the customs office visible from the northern banks of the Rio Grande River.  With little difficulty we made our way through the paperwork and bureaucracy.  This was my first opportunity to practice the Spanish that had at one time been a daily language for me.  It came back slowly, but I understood enough and could communicate at a level that got us through the office and back on the road.  Stopping to properly dress for the next long stretch, plan the route, and snack, Russell and I both gave big smiles of enthusiasm before mounting our steeds powered by internal combustion.
Here he is at the customs office and soon after at the first immigration checkpoint fifteen miles southward – where his camouflage colored military food canisters attracted attention from the young army men stationed at the border patrol.

We continued our tour south on the main highway/toll road that led us towards Monterey, our fist large city.  We had made this entire stretch in the morning with the intent of catching the worm so to speak.  It served the secondary purpose of getting past all of the feared border danger while the drug lords and gangsters were asleep.  We saw none of that.  Actually, what we did see was at first about 10 miles of small-time salvage yards with old American cars tossed into lots with little regard.  That and a lot of desert.  Had we began our journey in daylight, rather than the night before, we would have noticed the transition from the relatively lush surroundings of Austin to the shrub desert of south Texas.  Instead we were surprised (only slightly) to find a very brown terrain surround us and distant mountains sleepily looming in the distance.  We passed between ranges with little effort, and at no time was there a worry about weather.  In fact it was getting warmer and more pleasant as we went.  The week we left was to be the first of two bad cold periods in central Texas, and we missed it entirely while enjoying the wonderfully clear and warm days that Mexico provides in winter.
A few desert pictures

After one more military checkpoint and toll we were on top of Monterey and all of the pollution and congestion that comes with.  The soldiers by the side of the road were polite and comedic.  They were young again, as it often seemed to be, and curious about our motorcycles.  Mostly they were interested in Puerto Vallarta, where the girls allegedly all wore bikinis and unknowingly filled these young men’s dreams.

It was early afternoon, and we had no plans for tourism.  Our goal was to get as far south towards our destination of beach – any beach – and away from the border as possible.

Best photos of 2010

It’s a little late, but I’m finally getting to my best and favorite photos of 2010.  I did some decent traveling last year, and the best of photos mostly come from that.  They include parts of my two trips to Colorado in the spring and the long motorcycle trip to California this summer.  Plus there are a few from Monterrey, especially the aquarium, taken in December.

I’ll just show the absolute best, and you can flip through the entirety of the ~60 photos here.

Here was a trip to Rocky Mountain National Park in March about. Snow was everywhere, and three of us, Prateek, Charles, and I, had a good time hiking. We were really tired by the end of the trip and rested well for the upcoming science meeting.

Some others

The next trip to Colorado was by motorcycle in May for a conference about extra planetary sand dunes. We visited Great Sand Dune National Park on a fieldtrip, and it was beautiful. The weather was much more conducive to riding then, and I really had a blast heading through Palo Duro Canyon and north-central New Mexico to southern Colorado.

Palo Duro from above

And another from the park.

Always a favorite part of the year is adding liquid helium to the super-conducting magnetometer. Here you can see cold helium outgassing, as it does it freezes the air around it, and you get air-cycles. Sometimes we even get oxygen drops, but be careful, even though they are liquid they will flash freeze your skin!

The next trip actually went through Colorado, but it took me much farther through Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Utah has so many amazing places that I could do a best of Utah 2010, but I’ll stick to the few best of the best from that trip.

Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado is a most picturesque place.

It’s almost impossible to choose Utah pictures, but here we go. These are all from Monument Valley or nearby Valley of the Gods.

There are more in the link above

Possibly the most beautiful place on earth is Canyonlands National Park, especially the Needles section. Within a few minutes I took all of these amazing photos and more.

Here are a few from Arches, Natural Bridges, and Capitol Reef National Parks

Those were great, but Bryce Canyon National Park was just gorgeous. And there are several more in the link above.

As it should be, the Grand Canyon is the highlight of any trip, and I was not let down for good quality scenery, even on the way in.

These others are definitely work a click.

More in the link

Of course the stated purpose of that trip was a week long summer school at Jet Propulsion Laboratory. I got to see the upcoming Martian rover while there. It only moved about a foot at the time, but people were happy with that.

Mt. Wilson Observatory tops my list

As does Saguaro National Park

New Mexico has so many highlights I can’t really put them all here, but this from White Sands National Monument takes the cake and may be my personal favorite of the year.

In September I was back in Pasadena, California for another conference, and afterward I took a trip to Santa Barbara for a day. It was pretty. That day happened to be September 11th, and there was a large memorial to that day setup with flags for every person who died that day. Most were Americans, but you can see some other flags in the photos. The one I show is a favorite of Gary Paul, and I like it too.

My last big trip for work in 2010 was to San Francisco for a giant conference. Afterward I stopped by Monterrey for some relaxation and wine tasting. They have a great aquarium there where even an amateur like me can take fantastic photos. Here are just a few of the best.

My favorite from the aquarium turned out to be this one, and that is surprising since it was just a single shot taken in passing. This leads me to believe that one should always have his camera ready.

Actually before I even got to San Francisco I stayed with family in Berkeley. On the first morning at their house I awoke to this view – one that has won me many points with my photographer girlfriend.

So I put a lot more in here than was required, but there are just too many to choose from that were fun to take and look at. I hope you enjoyed, and if you want to see the rest just click here.

Bryce National Park and best ride in Utah

From Capitol Reef the ride down HWY 12 through Boulder to Escalante is amazing. Elevation changes bring drastic swings in temperature and curvy roads. The rock colors change as you pass through millions of years of geologic history, and the beautiful formations make for an exciting ride that you’ll constantly want to stop to take pictures. In all, this was the best “ride” of the entire trip. I saw no roads to equal this one, and everyone should get a chance in their life to ride it.

A couple views from the overlooks as I passed by.

As you can see, the rocks change colors, but also the vegetation changes as you go up and down in elevation. Some places are pure desert while others are forested and cool.

Bryce National Park is one of those famous ones with some really amazing scenery. People from California can make it there in a day, plus there is all the regular daily traffic, so it is very crowded. Some of the other parks are best known for their variety in landscape and scenery, and there is no way you could see all the best parts them all in a day, but Bryce it different. The park itself is probably best described a one hit wonder with some of the strangest rock formations you’ll ever see. That doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful. It surely is that!

But first the bike at entrance shot. She sure does get around.

I took nearly 200 photos in the park. If you want to see them all click here. These are just a smattering of the amazing sights.

There are trails that go through the Hoodoos as they are called. Click here to see the hike. It’s just too many photos to post here. I’m already way overbudget.

A couple more before I go.

Bryce is a great park and so beautiful. Go see it.

Crossing Utah to Capitol Reef

I’ve been home for a while now but am still plugging away at the blog. Being home has kept me distracted, but the memories of the trip haven’t left me yet. I remember at the end, after turning back from LA, how much I just wanted to be home. I boogied back thinking that would be best, and maybe it was. Of course now I want to go riding again. Never satisfied! It is good to have these pictures and words to look back on. And it all makes me think about the next big trip.

After the nice night and night sky at Natural Bridges I finally planned to head west. I’d spent the last 5 days on the eastern side of Utah enjoying the parks and monuments there, but many more things awaited exploration on the other side of the state, and for the first time in nearly a week it was more than 2 hours to the nearest park. Utah is high density with national parks. My first destination was Capitol Reef, somewhere I had barely heard of, but it would turn out to be a really nice place worthy of more time than I gave it. Still, I had to get there, and the road that-a-way was quite nice.

As I understood it there were only a couple of ways to get there, and most involved crossing or going around Lake Powell; the ferry was $25! I decided to take a more land based route which took me near Hite, UT and through some beautiful scenery. I really enjoyed first the windy canyon roads then the long lonely wide open spaces.

Crossing the Colorado River was nice. The gorge there is striking, and it is odd to see that much water after being in the desert for so long. But that was fleeting.

Then there was the wide open

Getting towards Capitol Reef was fun. The scenery changed, and the geology definitely made a turn for the better. It was no longer flat layered rocks eroded into cliffs. Instead sloping layers covered by red rocks told of sand dunes that had been buried and preserved. These were cool to look at.

Then I entered the park and took the standard bike photo. This is an important part of my collection, and I’ve got a couple dozen like it, most of which still have the VS800, but many now with the VStrom.

The park is gorgeous. I rode to the visitor center to plan the day’s hikes and scenic roads. There aren’t many roads, and you can do them all in a couple hours, but there is plenty of hiking, so it was a good idea to make some sort of plan. There was a video playing that talked about the Mormon settlers that called this area home. They made a life there and set up schools. The community was strong even until the park was created and they had to move. To this day the orchards and structures still exist, and they turned out to be great sights in my visit. But first I heeded the weather, which promised to soak me through. I figured it would be good to go into town, Torrey, unpack and grab some lunch. On the way out I snapped these.

After lunch it was time for some gravel roads and hiking. First was to a place called “the Tanks.” The trail was easy, and the rain had cleared most people away. So it was quite an enjoyable hike through a narrow canyon and former road.

And the tanks themselves were nice

Some more cool scenery on the way to the next trail

Where I found an apricot orchard! and much more. It was quite an odd sight in the desert. The river that runs through this valley was used to supply the water everyone needed to live and cultivate food. This was literally the fruit of their labor. Since the fruit was ripe I picked some and enjoyed eating in a nice cool place in the shade of a tree.

I stopped by the country store for an apple pie and coffee. It was unreal this place.

From there I took another hike which was splendid. I won’t post all the pictures here, only the highlights, but you should check out the rest in this link because it was so nice.

On the way out of the park I found a couple nice sights including a great rainbow.

It was a great day, and I really enjoyed Capitol Reef. It is one of those places in the world that everyone should visit.