Big Sky

I had not been out west since 1986 and Steve wanted to see the sights.  We were basically going to travel the same route Ralph and I covered in '86 without the the California and Nevada portion.


Day One - Cincinnati to St. Louis, Missouri

We both took a half day of vacation and started on Thursday around 3:00. We rode a little past St. Louis traveling on I-74, and I-70; pretty boring. A Knight's Inn got our business this night.


Day Two - St. Louis, Missouri to Limon, Colorado

Another fairly boring day. The summer of 1995 was one of record high temperatures, and at times we were riding on a 10 degree lean angle into the 100+ degree wind just to continue in a straight manner. The trip across Kansas is a bit tedious, but after awhile it sort of takes your breath away. I remember looking out on the horizon, and wondering if the house I was looking at was 5 miles away or 50. The vastness is truly remarkable. Once we hit Oakley in the western portion of the state, we exited and headed west on U.S. 40. This road is almost a perfectly straight two lane country road. There are a number of small towns to travel through, and to stop and get water. Traveling on U.S. 40 is preferred to the interstate, you can travel just as fast, and in Kansas it's easy to pass slower traffic since you can see another car coming for miles. After we crossed into Colorado we began a slow bend northward towards Limon. We were skirting what looked to be a major thunderstorm, we even stopped to take some pictures. But in our hurry to outrun the storm, we almost ran out of gas. Fortunately the one gas station in Hugo was open. We pulled into the motel, where I had stayed on my last trip out west, just in time to batten down the hatches. No sooner had we covered up the bikes than the skies opened up.


Day Three - Limon, Colorado to Grand Junction, Colorado

The day started with clear skies, last night's thunderstorms were long forgotten. We rode U.S. 24 into Colorado Springs. Once through Colorado Springs we exited, and traveled a smaller road that parallels U.S. 24. In Manitou Springs we stopped at the Royal Cafe for a brew before we traversed Pikes Peak. The road up to Pikes Peak is decent asphalt until probably 8 to 10 thousand feet where it becomes gravel. With sharp turns, slow traffic, and no guardrails it is not an easy trip on an 850 pound motorcycle. The high altitude can also play havoc with the bike's hydraulics. Steve's '83 had braking, and clutch problems, and no bike runs particularly well at 14,000 ft. Once at the top the view is majestic. Walking around the visitor's center, and complex leaves you a little winded. After our normal ten minutes of sightseeing we were headed back down. I think going down is harder. We jumped back on U.S. 24 and headed west. After Woodland Park the road changed back to two lane. The road took us through a valley and back up into more mountainous areas. At Johnson Village U.S. 24 turns north leaving U.S. 285 behind. We went north until we came upon the town of Granite. This town looked a little touristy so we thought it would be a good place to eat lunch. After Granite we headed north on St.Rt. 82 toward Aspen. This is some mighty fine riding. Turn after turn of great scenery, and well kept road. St.Rt. 82 took us into Glenwood Springs where we stopped for a dip in the natural hot water springs. People have been coming here for more than one hundred years to swim, so we thought we should try it. As the steam rose from the heated water we became quite relaxed. We thought about staying here but it was a bit too early. The plan was to go back to Carbondale and ride to Delta over the McClure Pass. Rain was threatening so we jumped on I-70, and headed west in an attempt to outrun the storm. We nearly made it to Grand Junction before we got blasted. Night had fallen, and we were in the middle of a torrential downpour. We found what had to be the last room in Grand Junction at the Palomino Motel. Three cars had pulled in behind us only to be turned away.


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On the way up to Pike's Peak Me on top of Pike's Peak. Steve on the summit


Day Four - Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah

Unbeknownst to us we were about to embark on a day that would make the whole trip worthwhile. Heading south on U.S. 50 we progressed towards Montrose where U.S. 50 turns east, and straight ahead lies U.S. 550; otherwise known as The Million Dollar Highway. As you pass through Montrose and head towards Ridgeway the San Juan mountains loom in the foreground. After gassing up at Ridgeway we began the best 100+ miles I have ever ridden. The trek to Ouray just whets our appetite for what was to come. The town of Ouray looked like a fantastic place to spend some time. The town was founded by miners in 1875. It sits 7800 ft. above sea level, and does not get much sun in the winter due to its location at the bottom of the north slope. Just south of Ouray lies Red Mountain Pass, the highest pass on the Million Dollar Highway at 11,008 ft. This pass is what prevented the railway from coming through this area. The road was originally built in 1883 as a toll road for wagons, primarily traveling to the silver mines in Silverton, and Durango. In 1921 a Model-T could travel from Durango north to the top of Red Mountain Pass but could not get down the steep, treacherous road to Ouray just 12 miles away. So they spent 1 million Harding-era dollars to complete this 12 mile stretch, and that is how the road got its name. As we crossed over Red Mountain Pass and down into Silverton we were awestruck. In Silverton we ate lunch with some other bikers, and watched the narrow gauge railroad take tourists down to Durango. We continued south over Molas Divide, and through the Purgatory ski resort. We rode through Durango but did little sightseeing. We did stop at the local Radio Shack where Steve replaced his CB with a new one. After Durango we had planned to go to the four corners region but it was getting late and we set our sights on Moab. Heading west on U.S. 160 we began some serious canyon carving, and made Cortez in no time. At Cortez we got on U.S. 666 (what a name) and headed northwest . After dinner in Monticello, UT we headed north on U.S. 191 and in to Moab. Moab is a cool little town, the mountain biking capital of the country (world?). Our luck would once again hold out as we found an older motel with one room left just as we were about to think about riding on to the next town. They intended to keep this last room vacant due to a leaking roof. Needless to say we jumped on that at a discounted price. After some local brews, and grub from Eddie McStiff's brew pub we called it quits. Every road we traveled on this day was superb, from The Million Dollar Highway to the canyons in Utah, what a day!


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The town of Ouray Colorado. Our lunch spot in Silverton Colorado. Downtown Silverton
The Durango-Silverton narrow gauge Railroad Silverton Courthouse  


Day Five - Moab, Utah to Garden City, Utah

Leaving Moab a little later than usual we headed north out of town staying on U.S. 191. As soon as we crossed the Colorado River we passed the entrance to Arches National Park. As tempting as that was, we had to choose between that and the Canyonlands National Park, we chose the latter. Once in the park we experienced great roads. Pristine road conditions, no blind corners just turn after turn. The first stop was Dead Horse Point State Park. This spot was where a herd? (gaggle?) of wild mustangs were left stranded and died, looking at the Colorado River 500 ft below them. I have seen a number of famous photographs taken from this vantage point. Once in the actual National Park we went to the Island in the Sky region of the park.  This area is famous for the twisting roads. This area would give Deal's Gap in NC a run for the money. It is not nearly as compact. Superb riding all along St.Rt. 313. Back onto U.S. 191 and again headed north we rode. U.S. 191 makes a brief merge with I-70 at Crescent Junction. Just east of Green River, where we ate lunch, we saw a sign on I-70 that read "no services on I-70 for the next 107 miles". When we are moving down the interstate at 85+ mph that is quickly approaching our gas tank range limit. We quickly got off I-70 and continued north toward Salt Lake City on U.S. 191. As we passed through the town of Colton I was almost hit in the head by some golfer's errant tee shot (must have been a left hander). The ride to I-15 at Provo was uneventful, the roads were nice but straight, and not much scenery. We rode from Provo to Bringham City through SLC in the late afternoon so we really saw very little, we were concentrating on the fairly congested highways. We exited and traveled north on U.S. 89 toward Logan. We gassed up at Logan, and rode past Utah State University, what a nice looking campus. The ride from Logan to Garden City is very nice. The road twists along with Logan Creek (I think that is the right name) on the right and cliffs on the left. There was some good looking camping spots, but we chose to continue riding, we did not want to stop riding this road. As dusk cam upon us we found ourselves at the edge of Bear Lake. We stopped at the crest of the hill overlooking the lake and you could really notice the turquoise color of the water. This lake has some significance regarding rare fish in it, but I can't quite recall. I do remember the motel was The Greek Goddess, and they served a pretty nice dinner that night.


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Ken riding in Islands-In-The-Sky - Canyonlands National Park Dead Horse Point State Park in Canyonlands National Park.


Day Six - Garden City, Utah to Livingston, Montana

We rose early and began riding shortly after dawn. U.S. 89 north took us into Idaho briefly and then into Wyoming. The fabulous road conditions continued. Once we left the lake region we quickly began to gain altitude as we approached Wyoming. Once in, we ran through the valley with the Salt Range on our right and the Caribou National Forest on our left. At Alpine, WY we passed by another beautiful lake; the Palisades Reservoir. The great scenery continued as we rode into Jackson Hole. We ate lunch at the Cowboy Bar where we sat at the bar on saddles. As we continued north we rode past the Grand Teton National Forest on our left. The tourist level increased so we concentrated less on the roads, and just absorbed the scenery. After several photo stops we entered Yellowstone. We stopped at Old Faithful but we had just missed one of events, and would have to wait for about an hour. I don't think so. Off we rode, on the western portion of the park. I had no idea of the devastation the 1991(?) fire had left on the park. We exited at Mammoth Hot Springs and continued north on U.S. 89. Once into Montana the range just seemed to open up. We had the Gallatin National Forest on our left and right and it truly seemed we were in the middle of nowhere. When we rode into Livingston in was getting dark. A motel with washers and dryers caught our eye, so we stopped for the night. We went to a local drinking establishment; an old railroad bar, and knocked a few down before we called it a night.


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Ken on U.S. 89 in Wyoming


Day Seven - Livingston, Montana to Rapid City, South Dakota

We left Livingston headed east on I-90. The wide open range made this portion of the trip enjoyable. As we turned south towards Wyoming we stopped to view The Little Bighorn National Battlefield. This is the spot where Custer had his last stand. The park was quite interesting. There small two lane roads that take you through Custer's and Reno's last movement that led to their demise. This is perfect viewing from the seat of a motorcycle. As we rode toward Wyoming the Bighorn Mountains began to show. We stopped in Sheridan for lunch. We somehow found Buffalo Bill Cody's old tavern and inn, The Sheridan Inn. We continued on I-90 until we exited on St. Rt. 585. This took us into South Dakota. We rode through Lead and Deadwood. These are a couple of neat old towns, but slightly on the touristy side. We rode into Sturgis one week after the big event, and it seemed pretty quiet. After a small jog back on I-90 we got off at Rapid City to find a motel. After we unpacked we went to the lighting of Mt. Rushmore. I had never been there at night. It was certainly a different perspective. The patriotic crowd was definitely into it. We stopped at a brew pub in Rapid City for dinner called the Firehouse Brewery. We dined on Buffalo Burgers. It is worth a stop.


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Little Bighorn National Battlefield. Little Bighorn Valley The Sheridan Inn where Buffalo Bill used to hang out.
The old locomotive across from the Sheridan Inn Mt. Rushmore at night.  


Day Eight - Rapid City, South Dakota to Adair, Iowa

We started the day going east on St. Rt. 44. This is nice road through the rolling foothills of the Black Hills. We rode through the southern portion of the Badlands National Park. The roads were in terrible condition. We decided we had seen enough and chose not to ride back through the park on St. Rt. 240. We jumped on I-90 and set out to make some serious time. The rolling hills eventually gave way to prairie land. The ride was nice, but it was the interstate. As we began to approach Des Moines we thought we would start looking for a motel. After several stops we realized we were not going to find a room. What the hell could be going on? We were able to find a great city park in Adair. This park even had showers. We threw up the tent and we were set.



Steve at Badlands National Park. The road going through the Badlands


Day Nine - Adair, Iowa to Cincinnati

All interstate the whole way home; how boring! 660 miles.


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