Needles Part II

I’m going to pick up where I left off last time at Needles, Canyonland National Park. It was getting close to sundown, and the shadows were long across the road. This is typically great lighting for photos, and I took advantage. It started with my bike. From one vantage point it looked like it was flying in the sky

Some people say it isn’t a good looking bike, but I beg to differ. Just around the corner from that I found what was to be an amazing view. The light was good, and the road perfect. Enjoy

and one with the bike

There are a bunch of these, and I can’t tell which is best. To check it out click this link.

I turned a corner on the way back to the campsite posted earlier and say this. Quite nice I’d say.

I was SO happy with how these turned out.

You’ll notice that I parked my bike in the middle of the road. There were no problems with that since there is no traffic there. It worked out nicely for me since this is a beautiful park, and I wanted to take a lot of photo. Needles is an amazing place for sure!

Sundown was unbelievable.

I highly recommend visiting Needles if you are ever in Southern Utah.

JPL Pasadena

No pictures this time.  I just wanted to say that this week has been great.  I learned a lot about what goes into planning a mission to another planet while making new friends.  We worked really hard, and yesterday we submitted a 77 page document describing a mission that would fly to Ganymede, the third moon from Jupiter, and the largest in the solar system.  Ask me about it sometime, I feel like I know too much.

I’ll probably stay near Los Angeles tonight and head back east tomorrow morning.

Ride to Needles, Canyonlands and a short hike

So this next day was one of the most adventurous and fun days of the trip. I had a blast riding about 60 miles of dirt roads over mountain passes and into the Needles section of Canyonlands National Park. What a great day! And the scenery was fantastic.

It started with cleaning up camp in Natural Bridges National Monument and riding over Bear Ears Pass east towards Blanding, Utah. Jokingly I say that the Mormons had to go through Blanding on their way to settle Utah, but that’s just a joke – or is it?

It was beautiful on top of the pass, and the road was pretty good for the most part.

I found as I went up in elevation the trees got much taller and nicer. Plus the temp dropped significantly. Of course that was temporary as it got hot again on the way down.

With the photos of the trees I would be hard pressed to distinguish between this place and where I grew up in East Texas, and the cows don’t make it any easier

Coming down the view changes as I could see mountains (real mountains formed by volcanoes rather than erosion) in the distance. I got great vistas of colored sediment and National “Forest.” Many places claim to be forests but have trees shorter than a human.

I did a couple things in Blanding including buy (but not install) a bolt for my crash guards. It had fallen out a while back, but I never got around to fixing it. I ate lunch and withdrew more cash for the next part of the trip. The town itself is nice, and as I found out later, it is more agricultural than other places near there because of the higher elevation and water recapture reservoir nearby. I wanted to do more dirt and so headed over and between the mountains to the north. This also helped prevent backtracking later on by going on a side road. It sure was nice although some of the most difficult riding I did the entire trip to CA. Here are a couple shots of the ride.

Once I hit pavement it was an easy ride to Needles but the scenery was too good to not stop, and I took too many pictures just coming into the park.

And the obligatory entrance photo, of which there will be many more coming up

I quickly picked a campsite and went hiking. The site and view from there were amazing. I was really pleased with my spot (the entire park only had a handful of campers), but the real pleasure came at sunset, and you’ll see why.

You can really see the Needles for which the park is named in that last one! Quite nice

My hike had some amazing views of the Needles, Island in the Sky, and Canyons between me and the Confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. I’ll post a few here, but you can see the rest in this link.

So the sights and hike were great, but something that made the day very special was the sunset and light. My ride back to the campsite involved as many photos as the hike, if you can believe that. They turned out great.

This has been a long post, so I’ll have to write more later about the sunset and ride back. It was fantastic though!

Moki Dugway and Natural Bridges (I made it to California!)

I made it! I’m in Pasadena and arrived safely albeit extremely tired. The last couple days have been quite entertaining. Since the last post I’ve visited Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Canyon National Parks. I’ve met several cool people and rode some extremely hot days. It’s been a blast, and I’ll get to that in due time.

This is a short post about the day after Monument Valley. I was scared this day; the road I wanted to take had a big warning on the state map about being gravel and switchbacks. My fear wasn’t completely without cause, the road ended up being pretty much what it claimed although my bike can handle most things I throw at it.

The road is called Moki Dugway, and it climbs 1100 feet in just 2 short miles. Driving up to the cliff was impressive. From this vantage you cannot even see where the road takes you; it is just sheer.

quite a sight huh?

Well, the switchbacks weren’t that bad, and most had some pavement right at the worst point making it easier on the bike. One of my favorite views is this looking back down. You can start to get an appreciation for how steep the walls were and how high the climb was.

and looking out into space and Valley of the Gods

Very fun stretch of road.

I continued to Natural Bridges National Monument. This turned out to be a very beautiful park with canyons and some of the best natural bridges in the world. It would also be a great staging area from which to travel due to its central location near a crossroads.

The obligatory bike pic. I’ve got a bunch of these now!

I decided to do the long hike which took me to three bridges in ~10 miles. It would have been shorter except I forgot where I parked my bike and walked an extra mile and a half. Of course I was worn out by the end of the hike and super mad at myself for not planning better. It worked out fine though, and I was stronger because of it (literally and figuratively). The ranger said it wouldn’t rain on me and sent me to hike in a canyon. Well, it rained – a lot. Things were slippery, and I didn’t take many photos of that part. The hundreds of waterfalls were nice to see though.

Canyon from above

A natural bridge so big you could fly the space station through it with room to spare, and that is big. This one was my favorite. The others were nice but not as tall or not as scenic. You can kind of imagine a 1 pixel tall person standing on the ground below this.

The hike was as amazing as the rest of the day, and you can check out the photos here. Also, the rest of Moki Dugway here.

Utah and Monument Valley

Hi Again, time for the really good stuff. Finally I was in Utah, where I want to spend the bulk of my vacation. I’m still here now actually with another day or two to spend before seeing the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The trip is getting better as I visited Capitol Reef Canyon yesterday and will see Bryce Canyon this afternoon.

I’ve learned a few things about myself this trip, or maybe I remembered a few things. Traveling is not easy, and it takes a lot of energy, especially if you are driving yourself around and sight seeing along the way. Motorcycles add to the load because you are exposed to the elements, meaning when it is hot out, you are hot; when it is windy, you are fighting a strong wind; when the road is especially bad or good (curvy roads fit this description, whereas traffic and bad asphalt fit the first) you have to concentrate that much more to protect yourself. All of this can tire you out, and then to go hiking and visit natural wonders, while exhilarating, makes one even more tired. Once my friend Mike from North Carolina asked me if I get tired of traveling. My reply went something like, “It does turn into something like work. Getting up every day and riding hundreds of miles is repetitive, but I love it.” That’s true, and I do love it.

Something I hadn’t known but was pleasantly surprised to learn is that even though things are farther apart out west, you can still see more by driving fewer miles. For instance, in southern Utah, there is a National Park, or Monument, or Recreation Area every 50-100 miles. You can stay in a new place every night and see quite a few things. I’m more used to riding 400-600 mile days and then going sight seeing. I like being here because I’m seeing a lot without riding very far. Everyone should visit southern Utah to see what I mean.

Now for the good stuff, and I do mean good. I can’t believe I’m so far ahead of this date. This was day 4 and 5 of the trip, but I’ve been do half a dozen places since then. Being behind like this isn’t such a bad thing. I tend to only remember what I liked about a place and forget the bad things like road construction or the jerk that wouldn’t pull over even though he was going half the speed limit on a road with no passing lane. I forget most of those things anyway 😀

Finally I’m in Utah! And the scenery gets really good from here. My first stop would be Monument Valley. I was reminded that Forrest Gump ran along the road there in the movie, and I wanted to see where he was. Great choice. 5 years ago I had ridden out here but skipped it for 4-corners and a more southerly route. What a bad choice that was! Before I got to Monument Valley I found myself in a wonderfully scenic part of the world that took me through Bluff, Valley of the Gods and Mexican Hat. This was an added bonus. I remember being really impressed with the geology, and you’ll see why.

And then I saw it! From a distance was Monument Valley. My heart was racing; just a few more miles and I’d be there!

But then there was a sign for Valley of the Gods, and the road was unpaved – one of my other goals was to learn more dirt and gravel riding. This was the perfect road for that and for its quality. And the decision to turn came easily.

Valley of the Gods

Since I always take pictures of the bike, I threw one in of myself this time

Here is a link to more of that ride.  Too many photos to post here.

And a couple more shots of the awesome geology and a new (temporary) favorite of my bike

For the next 20 miles this was my view

And then I was there! The view was amazing, and the image of Forrest Gump running there appealed to me.

I asked a Frenchman (very common sight in Utah) to take this picture. He didn’t understand, so I took the same picture of him and asked for a replication.

After checking in at the hotel I took a ride to the Indian Reservation that contained the “Monuments” and awaited sunset.

And all the photos from that ride.

Mesa Verde and thoughts on this trip

I’m in Moab, Utah, the initial destination of my trip. I’ve been wanting to get here for years now – after seeing all the fun other bikers have had in this area. There’s great riding both on and off road and half a dozen national parks within a couple hours. This place is a motorcycle wonderland.

In the last couple days I’ve visited Mesa Verde, Monument Valley, Natural Bridges, Canyonlands, and Arches National Parks (and Monuments). I’ve never seen a place like this before, so dry, so tall, and so beautiful. There is so much variation in the scenery and geology, it’s fun just to figure out what made things the way they are.

Before the new stuff, I wanted to mention something from Mo’s. While we were sipping Tecate and Jack Daniels out on his property about half a dozen shooting stars came over head. I’m not sure if there was any special shower, but it was nice. One that streaked the entire sky was so bright it classified as a fireball. Both of our jaws dropped as we followed it across the sky. Later, Mo and I took a walk that would both stretch my legs from the long days of riding and inspire me to do more hiking that I’m used to doing on trips like this. That was a good walk.

I headed from Mo’s cabin north to Farmington, where lunch and a teleconference awaited me. The primary destination of this trip is Pasadena, CA, where I’m participating in a workshop designed to train young scientists how to plan a mission to another planet. The teleconferences are preludes and introduction – can’t miss those! Before long a dust storm threatened to trap me there, and it was time to hit the road again. The pictures don’t show it well, it just looks like rain, but this was a fierce dust storm that made it hard to breath.

Stopping along the way, I awoke to find rain approaching, so it was a hot ride into the park with raingear blocking the breeze. Finally I arrived at the park. I’d been at Mesa Verde before, but being young and dumb I missed the most important part, the cliff dwelling ruins. Turns out they are what makes the park special, not the view from above.

The first picture is the front point of the “Green Mesa.” The second shows what it looks like when you leave in the entire scene. This is a good trick to learn in photography, and I use it often.

My campsite was nice, and being so late I wasn’t able to do much sight seeing, so I did some required housekeeping and bought tickets for two tours the next day.

Here you can see a local, the view from above the campsite, and me. I hat met a woman named Pam who does photography out of Sedona, AZ, and we chatted quite a while. She gave me some pointers on where to visit in Utah, and I answered questions about physics and metaphysics. She also shared her blueberries and cantaloupe, which was great because my food preparation involves nothing fresh. In fact, perishable items are difficult to keep in a cramped, squished, 100 degree black plastic box. So it was a nice change.

Next came the reason for the park visit: the ruins tours. Boy was this an experience. Everyone should go there and see these fantastic structures. I won’t bore this already declining audience with facts or trivia I learned on the tours and just post a few pictures with links to the full album.

And the link to more.

So, something I’ve see a few times is this sign below. I think it’s a good thing, although it did make for long transits around the park, but at least people are working.

After leaving Mesa Verde things got dryer, hotter, and farther apart. This is good and something you should expect in the desert. The geology also got much more interesting. After some food shopping in Cortez, CO, it was west to Monument Valley (I’d already visited 4-corners and didn’t want to do that again, plus, as I understand, it is under construction, and you can’t stand at the point right now anyway.)

So that’s enough for now. The really pretty geology is coming up!

Riding through New Mexico

I’m really enjoying my trip so far.  Right now I’m sitting in a restaurant overlooking Monument Valley.  Around me are tall statuesque columns of rock towering above the surrounding desert.  Everything is red, even the buildings, except where little green specks of plant life dot the terrain.

I woke up in Lubbock refreshed. After a good breakfast it was time to head out. If you had asked me what I was doing in Lubbock I would have had to answer, “nothing.” That’s because there is nothing to do there. In fact, it’s a great place to update your blog.

Something you’ll notice if you ever drive there it that it smells like oil pumps, that’s cause there are so many there. One thing that does overcome the oil smell are the feed lots for cattle. It’s amazing just how strong this place smells like money, and by money I mean shit. To be honest, I only passed a few, and they were right near the New Mexico border.  And that is where the trip really began – when I left Texas and ventured into new territory.

Amherst, the shittiest place in Texas.

I found this funny: LLano Estacado means “Staked Plain,” but this sign, which happens to be right next to a cactus which resembles a stake, says it’s for the escarpments. That doesn’t even make sense.

It is pretty out there and not completely flat. And as you can see it does rain quite a bit.

Towards Santa Fe the topography gets more interesting, and you see canyons and cliff faces above green valleys. Quite nice.

At this point I was getting a little worried about my friend Mo. His name is Marco, but in college he was dubbed Mo by a drunk fraternity boy, and it stuck. None of his family call him that. He lives in Albuquerque, but he and his family took the week off to spend time at their property near Cuba, NM. I’d never been there and thought it would be fun to see, but he hadn’t called me or given directions. I texted him a note asking how to get there and hoped he’d come through. It turns out cell phone signals don’t do so well up there.

Finally, while eating a spicy italian sandwich from Subway I got the text. This happened just as a big rain storm was coming from the east, so I hi-tailed it out of there towards Los Alamos. It’s nice there, and I liked crossing the Rio Grande river with the canyon and cotton wood trees. While in Los Alamos I got turned around and asked a passerby for directions. Turns out I was real close, but the security there made it difficult to find the way. This guy was so obviously an academic, he could have passed for a professor in any large university: thin white beard, funny hat, sandals with socks, pink-orange polo, and shorts. Plus he sounded like he was high on drugs.

From Los Alamos I found roads 4 and 126 to Cuba. Part of the way was “gravel,” so I thought it would be fun to take the Vstrom.

A view along the way. This place has a name like “Large Valley” or something similar.

Then came the dirt road. It started out pretty nice with hard packed dirt and loose gravel on top. As the road climbed though, the dirt loosened, and eventually it was outright sand. I’m new to the “off road” motorcycle riding, and it became difficult. Eventually it got so thick that I lost it after a curve, and right before the pass too.

This stuff was like moon dust. When the bike stopped sliding I couldn’t even see it due to the cloud that was surrounding us. It was like driving on several inches of talcum powder – and no fun. Thankfully neither the bike nor I were damaged. I took this opportunity to answer nature’s call and continued riding feet down for the next 1/2 mile when the road packed down again.

Finally I was in Cuba and ready to see Mo. He was there with a sister, brother-in-law, 3 nieces, a nephew, and both parents. The mom gave me dinner, and we all roasted marshmallows until late. Mo and I camped out a short ways away while the family slept in the cabin – thankfully. It was a nice spot, and the sky quite clear between clouds. We BSed till late over some Tecate and Jack Daniels laughing about old times and friends we have or haven’t seen in years. It was great to see Mo again, and I look forward to getting back.

Wish I had taken a picture of him and his family who were gracious hosts and quite nice. I departed for Farmington where I could do a teleconference and grab some lunch. Lunch was interrupted however by a dust storm you’ll have to see to believe. I’ll talk about that and Mesa Verde next time.

And a link to all the pictures

Austin to Lubbock, California ride day 1

The day started late.  I finished packing, cleaning, planning, and then took a nap.  No point leaving tired.  After filling the tank and running an errand I snapped the obligatory trip start odometer reading.  And I got one of the bike.  A woman gave me a hard time for taking a picture of my bike in an REI parking lot then gave me advice on where to go on the trip.  It didn’t matter that her recommendation would take me about 500 miles north of where I told her I was going.

About 60 miles into the trip I slow down for a stoplight and hear an unfamiliar rattle. In fact, any rattle on this bike is unfamiliar. Not thinking much of it I passed an Ace Hardware. I’d already been planning a stop at Target to pick up the things I forgot: ear plugs, swim shorts… A side of the road stop revealed a loose chain guard, and I turned back to pick up the required hardware. Barely an hour out of town and already having mechanical failure! Easy fix though, and I picked up the ear plugs and sunglasses to make the trip go easier.

The temperature wasn’t bad; it reached the low 90s before clouds set in. The rest of the day was shady and breezy making things quite pleasant. I rolled on and on, only stopping for a hamburger and a short nap about 30 minutes later. Things went smoothly until I saw this.

and then a few more

and then a few hundred, then thousand more. Evidently I had ridden into the largest windfarm in Texas, no in the US, no, in the world! Us Texans have to do things BIG!!! From my vantage I could see a few hundred windmills, but that was just over one little rise.  I measured the distance from the first sighting to the last, and it was over 15 miles.  On both sides of the road for as far as I could see were windmills.  A conservative estimate would be 2000-3000, but that’s surely a low number.  The windmills went on for miles beyond what I could see, and probably more likely were there 10,000 than 3,000.  Pretty impressive, but that wasn’t all.

and then I met the definition of juxtaposition. In case you don’t know what that means, just look at these images

I had tried to take new roads today. Going north and west usually lends itself to the same old highways, but that gets boring, and my map of highlighted roads never fills out that way. So I took some new roads and was surely pleased. I also avoided the interstate except for an 8 mile stretch that saved me about 30 minutes. Stopping for gas I found a gas station with an inordinate amount of pretty girls. That’s when I realized it was time to call some people and take a break from riding.

Back on the road north I found even more windmills, but not as dense as before and only on one side of the road. Still, the impression one gets when riding through there is that these people are serious about wind energy.

Finally the topography changed, and the flat plains gave way to colorful mesas covered in brush or flowers. It was a sign that the Llano Estacado was ahead. The Llano is about 900 feet above the surrounding plains, and for the most part smells like crude oil. It is also the home of Lubbock, Texas and the Texas Tech Red Raiders. I had a hard time not throwing the horns m/ as I passed the TT signs.

Here are some mesas to get an idea of what it’s like riding up to the Llano

Notice in the last one how the clouds break near the topographic change. Pretty interesting, and seen better here on the slope up to the Llano near Post, Texas

Finally I arrived in Lubbock and quickly found a hotel with a pool and hot breakfast. Here I’m relaxing thinking back on a nice day riding in the Texas panhandle and looking forward to New Mexico Mountains.

Here’s a link to all the photos and a slideshow if you want.

and for those of you who don’t ride motorcycles, a view of the cockpit and what you might see if you take the opportunity to ride.

The first is looking down, the second what I actually see while riding.

American southwest tour

I head out today for a couple weeks riding in and around Moab and the national parks there.  I’ll head to Pasadena, CA for a week then back to Austin.  The bike is mostly packed, and I’ve said my goodbyes.  Been looking forward to this trip for quite some time.

My goals are to do some riding, do some hiking, and see lots of beauty.  The WeeStrom has a new rear tire, new chain, and is loaded down pretty good.

I’m looking forward to both seeing old friends and meeting new ones along the way.  Got my trusty camera packed and ready to snap some good photos, so be ready for more posts soon.