Friday, April 30, 2010

High Road / Low Road

Now that I've been to Furnace Creek in Death Valley National Park, I believe I've ridden the highest paved road in North America and the lowest.

THE HIGHEST:

The highest paved road goes to the summit of Mount Evans in Colorado, at 14,240 feet.



For comparison purposes, the highest mountain in the "lower 48," Mount Whitney in California, is 14,505 feet. Mount Rainier is 14,411 feet. Mount Elbert, the highest in Colorado, is 14,443 feet. So Mount Evans is right up there!

Obviously the road is open only part of the year. And I'm sure you could experience snow year-round. My visit was on a hot (down below) August day, and it was cool and breezy at the top.

The pavement gets dicey toward the top, due to frost heaves, cracks, potholes, etc. - that's some harsh environment for Asphalt! And I had to slow for both bighorn sheep and mountain goats - lots of 'em. They charge a modest fee to take the road to the top.

THE LOWEST:

The lowest paved road passes through Furnace Creek, in Death Valley, at 190 feet below sea level.



The lowest point in North America is in Death Valley, at -282 feet. So I'm confident the road passin' thru there is the lowest pavement.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Death Valley / Southwest Spring Flower Ride

2010 Death Valley Motorcycle Adventure

As a child, I viewed the Disney documentary, “The Living Desert.” It sunk deep into my soul. Sure, the antics of the kangaroo rats were amusing. And the death-battle between the tarantula and the wasp was dramatic. But what really got to me was the thunderstorm, followed by the flash flooding, followed by… wildflowers blooming across the parched desert.

Seeing those wildflowers with my own eyes has been on my “bucket list” for many, many years.

The "challenge" for a northerner like me is... under the best circumstances, the bloom lasts for a month, roughly from mid-March to mid-April. And the roads in northern Nevada and Utah are still frequently covered with snow, that time of year. I can do “cold” on the motorcycle. And even “cold/wet” if compelled to. But “slippery” I’d rather not deal with!

Also, the amount of precipitation over the previous winter has a huge impact on whether the wildflowers are sparse or abundant in the springtime.

This last winter produced at-least average precipitation in the area. So I penciled in some dates – the week of April 12-16, 2010, along with the “weekend bookends.” (A person can go someplace in 9 days, even if only traveling 250 or 300 miles per day.)

Weather forecasting is far from a perfect science, particularly in early spring. Too many variables. But the night before my intended departure they were forecasting a wet Monday, but the rest dry. And high temperatures near 50, at least. So I decided to take the leap of faith and head out.

My faith was rewarded. I dealt with some cold, and with some wind – but in the entire nine days, I didn’t have one drop of precipitation fall on me! (Pretty sweet, for mid-April!)

Here's how it played out:

Day 1 - Boise to Ely, NV via Duck Valley and Elko (417 miles). The coldest part of the entire trip was from Boise to Mountain Home. My extra-cold-weather gear was packed instead of on me, which was a mistake. Once I was appropriately attired, much better! Lots of snow right up to the edge of the road, and frozen lakes, etc. Stayed at a cheap motel in Ely.

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Day 2 - Ely to Great Basin National Park, then across Nevada on US50, "America's Loneliest Highway" (404 miles). Great Basin NP was nice, but frankly I didn't see anything to particularly distinguish it from many places where the scenery is barren and rugged. (As compared with Grand Canyon or Glacier or Death Valley.) US50 was pretty darn lonely! (But every road in Nevada is, except for the 2 Interstates... no?) A side-wind from the south blew fiercely all day - I was leaning sideways as I rode. I had planned on camping, but they were predicting precipitation overnight and the next day. I didn't want to pack up wet gear in the rain, so I opted for a cheap motel instead.

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Day 3 - Fallon, NV to Lone Pine, CA (292 miles). As it turns out, it wasn't snowy or rainy the next morning. (But pretty cold, and the clouds were hanging low.) As I headed south, the weather improved and by the time I was riding along the east side of the Sierra Nevada, I could mostly see all the way to the tops of those mighty peaks. Bridgeport, CA is a gas rip-off! Almost $4 per gallon! I camped in a little county campground in Lone Pine, at the base of Mt. Whitney. Me and some hobos. 10 bucks - sweeet!

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Day 4 - Death Valley (239 miles). WOW! I'd never been there before. There are some wide open spaces in Death Valley! On Day 4 the weather was perfect - blue skies and high temp. around 80. But I could imagine how it would feel to be trudging across a valley that's 25 miles wide and 100 miles long on a 130-degree day, with nary a tree in sight. The vegetation is probably as green right now as it ever gets, and the wildflowers added some nice color. I camped at Stovepipe Wells, on the valley floor. (Which was a pleasant surprise... I had expected the campgrounds to be full, and had anticipated needing to ride out of the park to find accommodations.)

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Day 5 - Death Valley to Las Vegas (208 miles). I spent the morning seeing additional sights in the valley. Then headed to Las Vegas via Shoshone CA and Pahrump NV. In Pahrump I detoured to see the broadcasting facility formerly used by Art Bell. (If you're not familiar, Art was a legendary late night radio talker who covered topics like UFOs, Bigfoot, alien abductions, Area 51, etc. I used to listen to him when I should've been sleeping. He broadcasted out of Pahrump; mostly retired a number of years ago and lives in the Phillipines now.) I stayed with the brother and sister-in-law and their lovely kids in Vegas.

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Day 6 - Vegas to Zion Nat'l Park (285 miles). Michelle, my sister-in-law, recommended a side trip to see the new bridge just downstream from Hoover Dam. AWESOME! That thing is as much a marvel of engineering as the dam is! (Of course the dam was built 80 or 90 years ago!) It only lacked one span to complete the deck all the way across... but I didn't hang around to see if they'd lay it in place. Took a side trip through Valley of Fire State Park... well worth it! (I'd never been there before, either.) Of course, as you get closer to Zion, everything gets pretty red, except for that beautiful white temple in St. George. Camped in Zion - again, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that camping space was readily available.

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Day 7 - Zion and Bryce Canyon (150 miles). I was up in time to catch the first (6:30am) shuttle-bus up through the (Zion's) canyon. (Back when I was last there, private vehicles could drive up the canyon, but now it's all shuttle-bus, which makes sense since there are only a couple hundred parking spaces total.) I rode the bus up to the end of the line, then partly hiked, partly rode the bus back to the starting point. The morning sun was nice for photo-taking. Then it was on up the highway to Bryce. Where I was surprised to find - LOTS OF SNOW! Who knew? (I guess I should've - after all, it's 8000 feet.) The roads were bone-dry and the temperatures were pleasant, but my camping plans were foiled. I got lucky and found a reasonable ($49) motel room. Took a photo-run through the park by late-afternoon sunlight. Bryce has always been one of my favorite places. (My dad spent some of his formative years in nearby Panguitch.)

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Day 8 - Bryce to Orem via Torrey / Manti (310 miles). I've always heard that Utah Highway 12 is a good one, so I took that route back to civilization. VERY nice - a quality motorcycling experience in every way. Good pavement, great scenery. Stayed with the mother-in-law in Orem. (Unlike most of you, I have an AWESOME mother-in-law!)

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Day 9 - Orem to Boise (372 miles). If you're not familiar with the "Lone and Dreary World," you can find it up around the Utah/Idaho border on the Interstate! Plus - it's already a little bittersweet on that last day when the ol' GPS unit asks "Where to?" and I have to punch in "Go Home." But, I've grown accustomed to that family-and-paycheck lifestyle. I had to get back to the job so I can afford to straddle that Iron Pony and leave town again someday.

NO PHOTO AVAILABLE (-;

9 days, 5 states, 4 national parks, 2679 miles. Nary a drop of precipitation. I'd say a lifetime of memories, but I can't remember stuff any more. That's why I take photos. Click HERE to view my favorite 100 or so; you can selectively look at them by clicking on the thumbnails, or watch the slide show.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Grow a helmet in your garden!

In Nigeria, a new law recently went into effect, requiring motorcycle riders to wear a helmet.

Motorcycle riders are very upset. (Helmets there cost "up to $29," and they tend to get stolen.) Riders are protesting by wearing pumpkin-shell helmets.

(Passengers on the Nigerian motorcycle taxis don't like the pumpkin helmets... they believe they contain "mojo" that makes it easier for the driver to rob them. Evidently robbery is an ongoing part of life in Nigeria, huh?)

On the one hand... it's a very "green" product. Algore would much rather see garden-grown helmets than those nasty hydrocarbon factory-made ones.

But on the other hand... would it have to be approved by both the Department of Transportation and the Department of Agriculture?

Other random thoughts:
- Would you dare wear a "squash" instead of a pumpkin, to protect your pumpkin? (I'd hate to find out why they call it "squash"!)
- You could grow a shiny new helmet every year!

Story with more details HERE.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"4 Corners" Loop Ride

In early September 2008, I headed south out of Boise, for a 10-day tour of the "Four Corners" states - Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

[NOTE: Click on the map, or any photo for larger viewing options. Also - a "slide show" of my favorite photos can be viewed by clicking HERE.]

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As I'm sure you're already aware, there's only one place where there's a meeting of four state boundaries in one place. I went to that actual monument/location back in 2003, but this time I did a big loop around it.

Highlights: Grand Mesa (above Grand Junction, CO), several 11,000 foot passes (also in Colorado), Taos area, Navajo Nation, Canyon de Chelly, Flagstaff, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Moki Dugway, Natural Bridges, Capitol Reef.

One of my constant objectives is to avoid travel on the Superslab. It's essentially impossible to travel off the Interstate from Boise to Provo, but other than that, I probably only had maybe 50 miles of Interstate travel, on the entire 3200-mile trip.

Another constant hope/desire is to not have inclement weather. And I got REAL lucky on this trip. I experienced one day (the "Grand Canyon Day") when the sky was overcast. And I put on my rain gear - twice. But I literally spent more time putting the gear on, than getting rained on. Sweeeeeet!

I stayed with friends 2 nights, in motels 2 nights, and camped 4 nights. Other than the price of gas - which was still hovering around $4/gallon in most places - the trip was a bargain.

Just off the road near Moab:
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Colorado High Country:
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Crazy New Mexico Geology:
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Canyon de Chelly, Arizona:
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Sunset Crater, near Flagstaff:
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Grand Canyon:
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Monument Valley:
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Moki Dugway:
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Natural Bridges:
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Glen Canyon:
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Capitol Reef:
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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Cowboy Country Tour - ID/WY/MT

For centuries, this country was home to huge buffalo herds, stretching as far as the eye could see. And Indians, who lived off the abundance of the land. Lewis and Clark were the first white explorers to this neck of the woods, at the beginning of the 19th Century. They were followed by mountain men - explorers, trappers, prospectors. Later followed by pioneers, seeking their piece of ground and the American Dream. And cowboys.

WY - Teton Range

100 years after Lewis and Clark, western artist Charles M. Russell settled in Great Falls, Montana. From there, he ventured out to portray the American West - the world of cowboys - in his artwork. His home and studio - and a big museum full of his work - still stand in Great Falls, and was perhaps the centerpiece of this particular adventure. (I ventured to the area over 8 days in the summer of 2004.)

MT - Big Sky Country!

MT - Glacier, near Logan Pass

Other highlights included:
- Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks,
- A loop side-trip to enjoy the Wind River Mountains, Atlantic City (Wyoming, not New Jersey!), and retracing some of my pioneer forefathers' footsteps along the Mormon/Oregon Trail (South Pass is where they crossed the Continental Divide... in the center of a high mountain prairie),
- Big Sky Country of western Montana,
- A side trip to Cardston, Alberta,
- Glacier National Park (including the lesser-known "Many Glacier Road"),
- Flathead Lake
- Highway 12 in north Idaho - Motorcycle Nirvana, home to the legendary sign: "Winding Road Next 77 miles."



Click on the photos, and the map, for larger views.
More info:
- More photos, and/or a slide show - click HERE.
- Google Earth detailed route and points of interest - click HERE. (Note - you need to have Google Earth installed on your computer, for it to be useful).

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Remembering Evel

Legendary motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel passed away last week, in his hometown of Butte, Montana.

My path crossed with Evel's on several occasions.

Far as I know, Evel's first visit to Boise was in the late 60s. The purpose of the trip was to promote himself (his lifelong mission), and to jump over some cars at Meridian Speedway.

(I'm not sure whether that visit was before or after his ill-fated attempt to jump the fountains at Caesar's Palace in Vegas. That stunt took place in December '67, and is arguably what made Evel a celebrity (once he awoke from a crash-induced coma).)

I was a motorcycle-loving teenager, and eagerly made plans to go see him at the Speedway. I also remember, it was early-on in his notion of jumping over a canyon.

He originally had wanted to jump over the Grand Canyon - a goal worthy of his greatness. But the National Park Service immediately said, "No Way, No How!" So his vision diminished, and he set his sights on the Twin Falls Canyon. (At the time, Idaho's bureaucrats wouldn't get in the way of progress...)

He had brought the original "Sky Cycle," and parked it in front of the old Dodge dealership, down at 16th and Main, on a trailer. If memory serves, it was a 650 Triumph. (Although it may have been a Harley - those two brands were his favorites. But always painted red, white, and blue.) It was no ordinary motorcycle - it had small rocket engines mounted on either side, behind and underneath the pilot's seat. The rockets were silver, about the size of coffee cans, with the front end rounded off, cooling fins (?) wrapped around the main body, and a rocket nozzle emerging out the back. I believe they were designed to run on hydrogen peroxide, but I don't remember the details. I do remember that I thought it was awesomely cool to be standing so close to it, and touching it. Evel was hanging around in his white leathers, emblazoned with blue stars and red stripes, and eagerly talking to reporters. (His tastes in attire were similar to Elvis'. He was not a wallflower.)

The "gig" at Meridian Speedway went flawlessly.

The guy could handle a motorcycle! Before the jump, he spent 10 or 15 minutes working the crowd into Evel-frenzy, by racing up and down the track, aiming for the ramp and then turning aside at the very last minute. He could wheelie like nobody's business... standing on the back of the seat! He wheelied all the way around the (1/4-mile, I believe) oval track, and coulda kept going!

Finally he jumped. Over a bunch of cars, lined up side-by-side. I can't remember the number, but enough to be pretty dang impressive! He left town without any more broken bones than he had when he arrived. No small feat.

He came back a couple years later, and jumped over a bunch of cars (more than the previous time), out at Firebird Raceway. I was there for that one, too. But by then he was more of a celebrity than before, and my only exposure to the guy was watching his jump.

In the summer of 1972, there was an "Evel Woodstock" in Twin Falls.

That was a year before the actual "jump" attempt on the canyon, but he was already promoting the event.

I went with a couple of motocross-racing buddies and we spent a long weekend camping down there. Besides Evil's posturing (the main event), there was a series of motocross races at the jump site. My friends raced in the amateur classes; the pro races attracted world-renowned pro racers, mostly Europeans, who were our heroes.

By '72, ol' Evel was already pretty busted up. He still wore his trademark star-spangled white leathers. But his walk looked painful, and with the aid of a jewel-encrusted cane. He didn't let his crippled state hold him back, though... he was all over the place, and was quite approachable - as long as you approached him with the deserved reverence. After all, he was Evel Knievel! I don't remember talking to him, but I remember standing five feet away from him, and listening to him talk.

Late on the night we got there, three guys pulled in to the campground. They were from Arkansas or Oklahoma, and told us they had been driving for two days to get there. Sadly, they were also under the impression that Evel was going to do the jump. They were sorely disappointed when we clarified - that Evel was onsite, but no jump was planned for a year.

The main event was rather anticlimactic. The Evel faithful gathered 'round and listened to him promote himself and his jump plan. Then he got into his "Sky Cycle" - which by then had evolved into a rocket-ship and no longer bore even a vague resemblance to a motorcycle - and fired it up. It was on the ramp, aimed in the proper direction. But it was tethered by a shiny steel cable. I was standing next to the cable, and it vibrated crazily as the "Sky Cycle" jumped about, desperately wanting to blast into the void. (I later jokingly told my buddies it's a shame we didn't have cable cutters - we could've sent him early!)

Of course, the next year he went. He never got to his destination. He blamed it on equipment failure (premature parachute ejection). But the event brought together one of the biggest crowds in Idaho history, was broadcast live on "Wide World of Sports" (is that a sport?), and put Twin Falls on the map. (I wasn't able to attend; in '73 I was serving my mission in Uruguay - but I heard about it even down there. The fact that I was from Idaho made me an authority.)

Now he's gone. I s'pose it's a miracle he lived to 69 years. Who woulda thunk? (He looked a lot older than that, toward the end. And he even promoted a line of powered wheelchairs.)

So, was Evel a modern-day gladiator, or a side-show freak? Depends on who you ask. In either case, he was a unique individual, and I can unhesitatingly say he enriched my life, in a small and strange way.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Great Northwest Tour '07 Recap

Well, another excellent adventure is in the books.

I left Boise on 7/28, and before I returned on 8/7, I accumulated 3000+ miles, mostly in Washington and British Columbia.

The first thing I usually get asked: "Did you get rained on?"

Yep - for maybe an hour, on Day 2, in Mount Rainier National Park. (Sadly, the great mountain was obscured by clouds.) That was the only time I put on my rain gear... it sprinkled a couple other times, but not even enough to make the ground wet.

Day 2 was also the day I had a fairly significant setback... when I had a U-turn mishap and set my motorsickle down on my left leg... with my foot facing backwards. (Ouch! I hate when that happens!) That took place in the shadow of Mount Rainier, and some kindly Good Samaritans helped me get out from under my ponderous beast. (Thank goodness they came along or the bears and coyotes would've had me!)

Fortunately - amazingly - I didn't sustain any major damage, although I had a nasty ankle sprain and my foot was purple and painful for a couple days. And my motorsickle sustained ZERO damage - my foot and leg provided cushioning. (Ha!) I'm glad I decided to ride on and complete the trip.

The scenery was dominated by beautiful water - oceans, lakes, rivers, creeks - lush foliage, and snow-capped mountain peaks.

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Highlights:
- Riding on the beach near Hoquiam.
- Hoh Rain Forest, in Olympic National Park. (I've never seen so much "moose moss"! Since the sun was shining through the trees, it didn't seem too rain-forest-like.)
- Hurricane Ridge, also in Olympic NP (just out of Port Angeles).
- Vancouver Island. I rode to Strathcona Provincial Park / Gold River one day, and Tofino the next. Awesome!
- Highway 99, from Vancouver to Lillooet. The road is narrow and twisty in places; the scenery just keeps getting better.

I carried my passport with me (which I usually don't), and left my gun at home. Crossing the border in both directions was problem-free.

Click on any of the photos to see bigger views; click HERE for more photos and/or a slide show.