The Tetons, Yellowstone, Crater Lake

 The Tetons, Yellowstone, Crater Lake


Oregon or Bust

In the fall of 2005 I was heading to Denver on a very old and tired 1984 Goldwing. For sometime I had been thinking about a trip out west. As I mentally went through all that needed to be done to the bike before a trip of that length it became obvious that it was time to get a new bike. That was a Thanksgiving week-end, and the upshot was that I rode back home on a new (to me) Goldwing and I got serious about planning the ride.

As time passed and plans progressed, I would be picking up a passenger in Denver and with all things considered, the last part of June and the first part of July became the target time.

When the time came I checked over the bike, changed the oil, packed the bike, loaded the MP3 player (you can’t go without tunes) and pulled out at 1:30 AM on Friday the 30th. The full moon was fantastic riding across the plains. With no problem other than the heat in Colorado and the boredom of I-25 I arrived in Littleton about 1:00 PM. It took about 30 minutes to load up my passenger, and we were on the road.

We headed west on I-70 and the rest of the day was a nice ride. Once you get through the tunnel I-70 is not bad for an interstate. Glenwood Canyon is always a good ride. We played tag with a couple of rain showers, but only got a few sprinkles and would up in Craig Co. We settled down in a not so great motel, but topped it of with a very good steak dinner and called it a day.

From Craig we were heading for the Flaming Gorge area north of Vernal Utah. We turned off on what looked to be an interesting road at Maybell Co.. It was a nice road, winding through the countryside without much traffic. After about 40 miles we discovered why the traffic was light. The pavement ended. So, it was either 25 miles ahead or 40 back and then more through Vernal. We elected to plunge ahead.

The road was a little rough, so it was a first and second gear ride, but the countryside was scenic. At one place we went up a 14% grade which was dirt, narrow and rough. It was interesting but I was glad it was not raining. It was not the best of decisions but nothing ventured nothing gained.

Strange to tell, the road was paved for about 5 miles in the middle. It turns out, that part was in Utah and when we went back into Wyoming it was dirt again. At least that is the way I think it was.

Eventually we hit the highway, made a left and went around the Flaming Gorge reservoir, truly a nice ride. The Flaming part is from the color of the cliffs. We had a very nice lunch on the west side of the reservoir at a café among the pines with hummingbirds for company and then it was on down the road.

In some places, it pays to gas up when the opportunity presents itself. When you head north from Green River, there is nothing for a long ways. We passed a sign that said 28 miles to the next town and I glanced at the gas gauge. We were on empty. It was 70 miles one way and 28 the other. No way were we going to make 70, so we took the 28. My passenger was a little stressed, but I assured her we could make it, and we did, with ½ gallon to spare,

After gassing up it was on the Jackson Hole. We left the dry desert and went to the piney mountains. The ride into Jackson Hole was very pretty, a good road. We decided to try and get a room in Jackson Hole, and with a little work we did, although the price was a bit much. Several people recommended Anthony’s for great Italian food, so we decided to give it a shot. It was indeed good, not as good as Giuseppe’s in Marlow, but good never-the-less.

The next morning it was on to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.  To say the Tetons are spectacular is no understatement. Coming up from Jackson Hole you top a ridge, and there they are. It is a site not to be forgotten. I had seen the Tetons several times. It would be difficult to get tired of the view.

After taking in the view, it was on to Yellowstone, which is also very impressive. There was a very bad fire there in the late 80’s and the results of that are still visible. However, Ma nature is doing her thing and repairs are in progress. On the way to Old Faithful we stopped and took some photos of a cow and calf moose. We were disappointed it was not a fully racked bull, but you have to go with what you have.

Old Faithful was good as its name. We had time to stroll around and visit the Old Faithful Inn and then only a short wait until it went off.

Yellowstone is something to for sure put on your bucket list. Yellowstone is nothing except a huge volcano. It is old but still active. That is why it has all of the geysers and such. It also has earthquakes. Mammoth Hot Springs is just a shadow of what it was the first time I visited here in the early 60’s. It might only take one more earthquake to put any of them out of business. So, if you can, see it while it still works.  Also, the Old Faithful Inn is something to see. It was built before 1910 and has and is being added onto. To stay in the main part of the Inn you need to reserve your room about a year in advance. If you want to stay there over Christmas, it is even worse.

After Old Faithful it was on down the road, past hot springs, paint pots, geyser basins, beautiful scenery and oh yes, wild critters. There were Elk with and without radio collars, and a couple of bulls with large racks and a traffic jam for a bear, but no bull moose. We took the loop ride around the park: a very nice road with not too much traffic which, considering the time of year was surprising.

 We left out the West entrance and headed west. We stopped for the night in Idaho Falls in a forgettable Motel 6. It got the job done, and that is about it.

In the Geologically recent past there has been a whole bunch of volcanic activity in Idaho of which Craters of the Moon State Park is a very recent example. There have been many lava flows there in the past, some of it very recent. It is amazing to see how lava just oozed out and around everything.

Water is life. If you have heard that and wondered what it means visit an arid landscape. In Idaho and other areas, where there was water, things grow. Where there is not, nothing grows. Well, usually sagebrush, cactus and other such things grow, but nothing people can get much use out of. Eastern Oregon and most of Idaho are in the rain shadow of the Cascades. This means very little rain falls.

As the afternoon wore on it was getting drier and hotter. We spent quite a bit of time down in canyons which reflected the heat. Nice roads and scenery, but it will make you a little parched.

It was about this time that we found out that  the speed limit in Oregon is 55 mph. The only exceptions are the interstate. We found that out when Officer Friendly told us we were clocked by a plane at 78. He gave us a warning which surprised us, and we went on our way. I will say, maybe 78 is pushing it, but if anyone in Oregon is doing 55 on the highways, we did not see them.

By the time we reached Bend Oregon, we had covered over 600 miles. Thunderclouds were rising in the west and it was looking stormy. We were both ready for a motel with a bar, pool and a nice bed. We got the bar and the bed, but the thunderstorm closed the pool. We made do with another drink.

The next day we were heading to Eugene to visit relatives. We took a scenic road through the 3 Sisters area. According to the guy at the gas station, it had only been cleared of snow for a short period of time. It was a narrow winding road, but for sure, worth the time. It wound up the eastern side of the mountains, crossed through a lava flow that was so recent no trees were growing on it and then down the western side into a different forest.  On the east side it was ponderosa, juniper and sage brush. This is the rain shadow side. On the west side, it was Douglas Fir ferns, and a very thick under story. This is the side most of the water gets dumped on. Without a doubt, not what you would see in a Colorado forest.

The road to Eugene was down a very pretty river with orchards everwhere. It was a slow go, but you can’t see a lot when you are doing 78 mph down a crowded road.

We only got a little lost finding the relatives house. None of could remember how long it had been since we had seen each other but we all agreed it had been a long time. We had a short but pleasant visit. Then, it was time to hit the road.

Eugene was as far west as we were going. In fact, it is a little hard to go much further west. So, we headed south and then picked up a road heading east. We were heading for Crater Lake.

It was a little warm getting out of town. Not Oklahoma or Texas hot, but warm.

Then we started gaining altitude and things cooled off. Both of us were a little amazed. Here it was the 4th of July; we were going up a very pretty canyon with camping spots all over the place, and very few people.  Given the time and place we expected lots of traffic, happily, we were wrong.

 We came into Crater Lake from the north. Doing this you are running up a grade, a few trees, but nothing very spectacular, then you top a ridge and there it is.

Crater Lake is about 5 or 6 miles across and the deepest blue you have ever seen.

 A short geology lesson is in order:

The Cascades are volcanic. They are formed by the melting of the Pacific plate as it dives under the North American plate, a subduction zone if you will. Anyway, Mt.Mazama was one of those volcanoes.  About 7700 years ago, it blew its top and It would have made St. Helen’s look like a belch. It blew, and what was left, caved in and created what is called a caldera. Sometime later, Wizard Island was formed by a small vent inside the caldera. Then, over the years, the caldera filled with water from snow and rain. There is no outflow, just some seepage. So, the water level stays fairly constant.  The water is over 1900 feet deep. And, just to make things interesting, there are still active vents on the bottom.

It turned out to be a good thing we had scheduled out trip for July. The road around the rim was only half open. The other half was covered with 10’ of snow and there were snow drifts in the parking lot.

 As a side note, Yellowstone is also a caldera, about 480 times as large as Mt. Mazama and it is much more active.

From Crater Lake, we headed south to Klamath Falls for a well deserved rest. We went by a very pretty lake on the way. There was one boat on it. If this had been in Oklahoma on the 4th there would have been people all over it and boats and trailers all over the road. In Oregon, nothing, one boat on the lake, none on the road, we saw a sign for a marina, but did not see the marina. We concluded Oregon folks are strange.

As it was the 4th of July we treated ourselves to a nice motel with a pool, not closed, spa, nice bar, and a nice room.

We were concerned about the route home across Nevada and Utah. My passenger is not a big fan of the heat. So, we pulled out early and headed east. It was 44 degrees while we went over the mountains. It warmed up as we went, but never got bad. The road to Winnemucca is through some of the emptiest places you will see. However we did manage to get stopped by cattle being herded down the highway and some road construction.  When we had come through here in 1999 there were no services for 147 miles. Now there is a nice place about half way.

We had a nice lunch in a Basque restaurant in Winnemucca and then hit the big road (I-80) east. It was warm, but not real bad. For sure it was not as bad as it could have been. The highest temp was around 90 and it was cloudy. Considering what the temperature could have been on the 5th of July we were not complaining.

By the time we hit Wendover it was about 5:30 and the sun was heading down. From previous trips I remembered the Blue Iguana in Salt Lake City and we decided great Mexican food was in order. We blew across the Great Salt Lake in a short time. No one was interested in our speed.  The road across in interesting, like nothing else I have seen.

We hit Salt Lake, checked into a nice motel I had knew from previous visits, got back on the bike and hit the Blue Iguana for cervezas y margaritas and some very good (really most excellent) seafood enchiladas. We also did a quick ride around Temple Square. It was a long day:  we had covered right at 700 miles. That is a long day whether in a car or on a bike.

The next day, we intended to make it to Denver, again, a long day. We only got lost once getting out of Salt Lake City and then it only took a few miles down a county road to get back on track.

The day was cool and overcast. The day before storm clouds had chased us across Nevada.  According to the weather channel, moisture was moving north and should cover most of New Mexico and all of Colorado. It looked like they were going to be right.

We rode through Vernal, Rangeley, and Meeker and picked up the big road (I-70) at Rifle. We were sprinkled on at Meeker, but nothing serious. Luck stayed with us all the way. Several times I was sure we were going to get wet. Every time the road turned. We did get sprinkled on just east of the I-70 tunnel, but nothing like it could have been.

 We pulled into Littleton about 5:30 after another 600 mile day.

 I have a brother who lives in Farmington NM. Over the years he and I have done quite a bit of riding. I talked with him and he and I agreed to meet the next day in Gunnison and go for a ride.  That night, the storms that had been chasing us finally caught up with me but by then I was safe in a nice dry house.

It is approximately 200 miles from Denver to Gunnison and we were to meet at 10:00. I left about 5:30 and had a nice ride until Monarch pass where the forecast bad weather finally arrived. When I finally met up with my brother he looked even wetter than I did. We both decided the current weather conditions left something to be desires, so we elected to go west where it looked like it was clearing.

It was a pleasant ride to Montrose and then Ridgeley where we had a good lunch in the True Grit Café. After that, it was on the Telluride for a beer with 3 or 4 games of pool then over Lizardhead Pass and then on down through Delores. We were thinking about heading west and then south, but the clouds again decided that was probably not a good idea. While we gassed up at Cortez the clouds indicated folks at Mesa Verde would have been having fun with the storms.  Storms in a desert climate are often quite impressive.

We headed south from Cortez and made it into Shiprock before it was time to get back into the rain suits. We pulled into Farmington about 15 minutes after a serious cloudburst. Water was running through every low spot and the fire department had the roads blocked. They didn’t know if the bridges were there or not. Fortunately, we knew the back roads and we got to the house and found a very good dinner and drinks and so ended a very nice but wet day.

Bright and early the next morning I headed east to Dolce. I had planned on leaving before the sun came up but decided finding mud across the road in the dark would not be the hot ticket so I delayed until dawn. That fear proved unfounded, there was little traffic and the road was good.

The last days of any trip are usually the same. Just get it done. There is not much that can be said about a trip down I-40. I hit some rain after Amarillo, but just enough to get a little wet and that was it. When I came through Western Okla. it was 100 degrees.

It is somewhat over 13 hours from Farmington to OKC. I have been that way many times and it has not changed.

Like most rides, this one had its good points and a few not so good points. Weather, whether traveling by motorcycle, car, truck, foot, etc, is something you have to be prepared to deal with. Over the years I have acquired the necessary gear, so even if the weather turns bad, we gear up and keep riding.

One thing to keep in mind, make sure the passenger has gear at least as good as yours. Nothing will ruin a ride like a cold wet passenger.