Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Further west than I'd imagined

Silver City, N. Mex. was already further west than I'd planned to venture on this ride, but Jerry from Vancouver, B.C. had warned me not to get to the snowbound mountain passes of Colorado any sooner than necessary. That's what brought me to Silver City, but what got me out of town was nice people and a lot of good luck.

On Sunday morning, after Jay Hemhill had brought me a bicycle brake cable to jury rig my clutch, I secured the new wire a little better with a wire rope clamp I found at Walmart.

Not what the engineers at Kawasaki had in mind, but it worked.

After a couple of hours on Google and my phone, it was clear that I wasn't likely to find a replacement KLR clutch cable before Tuesday at the earliest if I stayed in Silver City, but there was a Kawasaki shop in Tucson, Ariz. -- about 175 miles to the west -- that was open on Sunday! I figured with an early start I might get there around noon.

I couldn't untie all the knots I put in the end of the cable and I was worried with the extra kinks under the clamp it might break, so on my way out of town I stopped at Jay's bike shop, which also kept Sunday hours, and picked up another bicycle brake cable just in case.

They call it Silver City, but just outside of town there's a big copper mine.

After a pleasant start on a two-lane road through rolling hills and past a large copper mine, my path to Tucson was mostly I-10. The wind had died down further and I made good time. At a truck stop, I had a bite to eat and called the Tucson Kawasaki dealer.

"We don't have one in stock. The earliest I could get one in for you would be Thursday or Friday," the parts department guy said. A five day wait for a part that eventually wears out and breaks on every KLR they've ever sold between 1987 and 2010.

There was no point in turning around. Tucson had far more dealers -- one of which might have what I needed. So, I kept going.

Stopping at Saguaro National Park to the southeast of the city, I discovered all their campsites were "primitive" -- so primitive that campers had to backpack to them. No wi-fi, no food, no electricity, but they did have a nice map showing other places to camp in the area.

I called Catalina State Park, about 14 miles north of downtown Tucson. Yes, they had plenty of sites, electricity and showers. There was no wi-fi, but they had good cell phone service and restaurants -- even a Walmart -- right across the street from the entrance.

A pair of 15-foot saguaros greet visitors to Catalina State Park.

I pitched the tent. It was much warmer here in the valley than what I'd gotten used to in the high desert and mountains, and there ws no shade to speak of, but there was a pleasant breeze.

Not much shade in Catalina State Park, but a very nice facility nonetheless.

That afternoon, I took a ride into downtown Tucson. Despite its vast suburban sprawl, it's a small town, with a few relics of its Mexican heritage, a few museums and a government center. The old cemetery on the main north-south road had huge, beautiful shade trees. The living get scortched, but the dead stay cool in the shade.

At dusk, the mountains above the campground glowed in the sunset.

After dinner at a nearby Chilis, I booted up my Blackberry mobile broadband connection with the phone tethered to my laptop. Just as the connection came up, Mary came online from Honolulu and we had a long video chat on Skype while the twilight faded into darkness. I got out a little flashlight so she could see me.

Before I left home, Mary said I should stop and see her cousin Lana Hock in Phoenix if I got out that far. I'd forgotten about it, figuring there was no way I'd get that far west -- but there I was in Tucson, 125 miles away. And I needed an address for a new clutch cable to be sent. Mary agreed to contact Lana and see if she'd be up for a visit.

Morning in the campground was equally beautiful.

So, I was up early Monday morning and got in touch with Lana, who was willing to have me ship the brake cable and even stay for a few days. Armed with her home address, I got on the phone to Motorcycle Superstore and they agreed to have a cable there by Wednesday.

Jim Hansen, president of South Dakota's Black Hills BMW Riders, stopped by for a chat as I was packing up for Phoenix.

The phone ran. "Hi, this is Mike," a voice said. "I have an old KLR at home and I'll drive it into the shop this morning and we can take the clutch cable off it and get you on your way."

"That's great. Where are you Mike?"

"Silver City."

I told him I was in Tucson already. I'd called the "we fix all brands" motorcycle shop Saturday evening and left a message just in case somebody came in on their day off and got it -- the yellow-pages listing said they were close Sunday and Monday. Mike came in on his day off.

Like I say, there are plenty of nice people in Silver City.

As I was packing, Jim Hansen from Rapid City, S. Dak. coasted into the campsite on a bicycle to check out the KLR. Jim is a pathologist and a BMW adventure and touring bike rider with lots of experience, including trips to Alaska. We swapped stories and he admired my cobbled-up clutch repair and invited me to give him a call if I ever made the trip to Sturgis. "I avoid that place, actually," he said. "500,000 people and at least half that many motorcycles."

We discovered we'd both read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, loved the first half and struggled to finish it.

Beautiful Arizona scenery, left, enormous, ugly copper mine, right.

I avoided the freeway to Phoenix and headed up into the hills instead, looping around through Winkelman, Kelvin and Superior on AZ 177, which threads it's way between the Mescal and Tortilla Mountains. Near Superior, I found the Ray Mine, an excavation so big that it eventually ate up the old Mexican mining town of Sonora. The mine company tore Sonora down and built a new town at Kelvin to house the miners.

Photographs don't show the gigantic scale of the Ray Mine.

These huge Terex Titan trucks are dwarfed by the mine's size.

The tiny specks in the center of this photo are the trucks pictured above.

"If you stay here, I have to be in the blog," Lana told me. She's a financial planner based in Scottsdale, where she has a spectacular condo near the center of town. She also has a Suzuki Boulevard S83, a 1,400cc V-twin cruiser, with only 100 miles on it.

Lana Hock and her sleek Suzuki.

I took the opportunity of being at Lana's for a few days to get to work on the monthly newsletter I put together for a Hawaii nonprofit, but Tuesday afternoon we saddled up to see a few sights and put a few more miles on Lana's bike. We rode over to Camelback Mountain, Scottsdale's scenic landmark, where she snapped my picture on her cell phone.

Flanman on Camelback.

Wednesday evening, Mary Skyped me. "Are you going to California?"

I said I didn't know. I'd been working on the newsletter and web site for two days straight and my mind hadn't had space to weigh the options. Being only a few hundred miles away, going to the Golden State was a real temptation, though.

Doing a transcontinental ride wasn't the original plan. It was: Ride south, stay off the Interstate as much aspossible, meet Jim and Angie in Austin, circle around through western Colorado, meet Mary in Nebraska for her family reunion by Memorial Day weekend and see some National Parks along the way.

But I'm much further west than I'd planned.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A bike guy delivers in the clutch

I pressed the button to light up my watch. 11:25 a.m.? Had I slept right through checkout? I squinted. 4:55 a.m. That's better. Rolled over for another 90 minutes. Got up, showered and found Dave Harrison outside readying to go find a shop to help him fix his muffler.

He suggested we take a couple of photos of the bikes all loaded up:

Green bike went north; red bike went south.

I wasn't sad to leave Carlsbad behind. There's a reason they don't call it "Carlsgood." It left me with this impression: a scruffy collection of franchise restaurants and motels shuffled together with run-down mobile homes and metal sheds. Friday's wind storm didn't help.

The winds had calmed down to 20 to 30 mph with 40 mph gusts -- I could handle this and stay in my lane when the big Peterbilts rolled by at 75.

First town of any size I reached was Artesia. After Carlsbad, I had low expectations and was blown away by the town's apparent prosperity, organization and beauty. Some benefactor had underwritten three or four epic, larger-than-life western bronze sculptures, a la Remington, that were strategically placed at the entrance, middle and exit of the historic and bustling downtown. No Walmart in sight, but there were headquarters buildings for several petroleum/energy companies.

West of Artesia, a snow-capped mountain appeared on the horizon.

Miles of empty desert, occupied only by an occasional cow, stretched westward from Aretesia, but soon an ominously white shape appeared on the horizon. Spring had not arrived on that particular mountain. Meanwhile, there was me, the KLR, the road, a fence and lots of nothing for as far as I could see -- except for that white mountain.

There was a whole lot of nothing out in the desert.

Eventually, the road began to curve, trees appeared, then hills, then a stream running alongside the road. Then pastures opened up -- green pastures. Willow trees grew next to the stream. The road rose higher and higher through the Lincoln National Forest and the Sacramento Mountains. A chilly morning became a cold morning. I stopped and zipped up the vents in my jacket and riding pants.

At 8,500 feet, I came over the top of the pass through Cloudcroft, a lively ski resort that was packed with Saturday morning activities -- and covered with snow.

The main drag in Cloudcroft on a chilly Saturday in late April.

I stopped to fill the gas tank and noticed an old guy climbing a ladder with a broom to sweep snow off the awning of Dave's Cafe.

I never figured out why sweeping snow off this roof was necessary.

The footing up there wasn't as good as the old guy expected and I pulled out the camera figuring I could document his downfall. He changed his mind and stopped sweeping.

From Cloudcroft, I headed down. Around a turn, the distant valley appeared -- blanketed in white! More snow? Snow in the valley?

Arriving in Alamogordo, I discovered it wasn't snow after all. It was White Sands, the National Monument and Missile Range. Up close, the sand was a light tan, but from a distance, it looked like snow.

More desert, another mountain range and I was in Las Cruces, then Deming, where I had lunch at a Wendy's, deciding not to tempt Montezuma to return for more revenge.

I turned northwest on a windswept, incredibly straight, flat road -- NM 180. Vehicles materialized as blobs on a shimmering horizon like boats on an ocean, taking shape and becoming real as the distance narrowed. I hung off one side of the bike to counteract the cross wind, like hiking out to sail a dinghy upwind.

Silver City reminds me a little of what Boulder, Colo. must have been like 30 years ago -- well, if there had been a Walmart in Boulder in 1980. Nice little town with a funky main street, Broadway, lined with cool shops selling organic foods, gifts, ferns, seeds and berries. At the end of the main drag was Gila Hike and Bike. I was looking for a road map and considered stopping at the bike shop to see if they had one, but decided to go to Walmart instead.

Map in hand, I rode out into the nearby mountains toward Gila National Forest, where there was a campground. The scenery was great and the twisty mountain road through the woods was a relief after 400 miles of desert.

The campground, when I found it, was a little too rustic. The facilities were an outhouse, some concrete picnic tables and metal hoops for campfires. To get to the campground, required fording the foot-deep Little Cherry Creek -- there was no bridge, just a rocky creek bed.

Only two campsites were inhabited. I asked myself if I wanted to be out here alone in the cold with the cougars and bears tonight, or back in a nice warm motel room. The motel won.

THEY TELL YOU to pack a spare clutch cable when you take a long motorcycle trip. I didn't.

As I pulled into the parking lot of the Silver City Motel 6, I stalled the bike. Strange, I thought. I checked in and got back on to ride around the corner to my room and stalled again. The clutch wasn't engaging enough to free up the transmission. I turned the tension adjuster on the clutch lever and watched as the last few strands of clutch cable broke.

Stuck. It was 6 p.m. on Saturday in a small mountain town in remote southwestern New Mexico.

The motel manager suggested I call autoparts places. I called several. No luck. The local motorcycle dealer had gone out of business. The fix-all-brands Harley shop was closed until Tuesday.

The thought crossed my mind: I will be staying in the Silver City Motel 6 until Tuesday, the earliest a new cable might arrive by FedEx.

I remembered when, in 1973, I stopped for the night at a motel in Edison, N.J. and the key snapped off in the ignition of my Saab 99. I spent three days in that motel waiting for a replacement key to arrive from Saab of America. I'm not sad they are going out of business.

Then, I remembered Gila Hike and Bike. Bicycles have cables for brakes and shifters. One of those might work. I called.

20 minutes later, Jay Hemphill arrived at Motel 6 with a selection of bicycle cables. "Oh, wow, a KLR," he said when he spotted the bike. "I used to have one just like it and took it for long trips. One day I went outside to ride it home and it was gone. Somebody must have come with a truck and just hauled it off."

Jay Hemphill, owner of Gila Hike and Bike, my saviour.

One of the cables fit the clutch lever well enough and was long enough to reach the transmission. After thanking Jay, who had been working late after his shop closed, I pulled the broken cable out and threaded the new one through.

There should be a fitting on the end of the cable where it attaches to the clutch. I tied a couple of knots for a Q&D fix.

With the new cable rigged, I rode to Walmart and bought some wire rope clamps to replace the knots I'd tied in the clutch end of the cable. The clamps should secure the cable well enough to make it to a Kawasaki dealer for a replacement.

The metal pin that attaches the clutch cable to the lever broke off.

The fates continue to treat me gently. If the clutch cable had parted 20 minutes earlier, I would have been stranded 15 miles up a dead-end canyon. Instead, it broke in the motel parking lot, two miles from a bike shop run by a really nice guy who used to ride a KLR and was happy to drop it off on his way home.

Oh, the cable cost me $3.

Jay threw in free delivery.

The 2010 Wobble, so far.

Friday, April 23, 2010

It's an ill wind ...

It was sunny. The temperature was 62 degrees. No traffic. Fresh tank of gas. But I was going nowhere today.

The wind howled, blowing 45 miles per hour right on my nose with side-wind gusts up to 60 as I tried to ride to Alamogordo from Carlsbad, N. Mex. I made it about 15 miles up the highway, tucked in behind the windshield. The GPS said I was going 32 mph on a road with a 75 mph speed limit.

Welcome to New Mexico.

My tool tube reinforced and remounted.

I'd had a pleasant stay at Jefferson Davis Mountains State Park, taking a day off for laundry, updating the blog and a few other chores, such as reattaching my tool tube, which holds the bike's tool kit plus a set of sockets, a multi-tip screwdriver and a utility knife.

I'd attached the tube -- originally designed to hold welding rods -- to the front engine guard with a couple of hose clamps. Stopping at a gas station in Arkansas, I noticed one of the clamps had broken and the tube was hanging by a single fastener. So, I took it off, but adding a little weight forward and low on the bike is a good idea and I wanted to rehang it.

At Ace Hardware in Fort Davis I found a drain pipe coupler, about four inches long made up of two hose clamps and a thick plastic or rubber hose four inches in diameter. I cut the hose into three strips and re-clamped the tube, this time with rubber strips to cushion the vibration.

The KLR parked next to a shiny new BMW. Notice the similarity?

The sign at the laundromat in Fort Davis said go to the office for change. It was part of an RV park run by a curmudgeonly manager who inhabited a dark office hung with Vietnam veteran memorabilia. The sign on the door said knock first and then ring the bell if no one answered. I followed the instructions. Eventually the door cracked open.

"Yeah. What do you want?"

Change for the laundry.

"OK. Come on in."

Do you sell laundry detergent?

"Used to, but it got to be too big a hassle. You're gonna need $3.50 to get a load dry."

OK, give me $5 in quarters.

He crossed the dark room and pulled out a jug of liquid detergent. "You got a container?"

No, just this plastic bag of laundry. Just dump it in here. It's all going in the washer.

He poured a cap full of detergent into the bag -- even offered a second cap full, which I declined.

"Don't hold it over the rug. Might leak."

The McDonald Observatory is on the highest road in Texas.

Laundry done, I rode out to the McDonald Observatory, now operated by the University of Texas, which is about 15 miles north of Fort Davis on a marvelously curvy road.

I arrived too late for an organized tour -- in fact, the visitor center was about to lock up -- but there were no signs telling me to keep out, so I drove right up to the main observatory, parked the bike and took a walk around.

Next to the 170-inch, serious telescope facility there were a couple of those tourist telescopes you put quarters in for two minutes of sight seeing. Something foolish about that.

Clouds throw shadows over the grasslands seen from the scenic overlook above the campground -- the one spot that had cell-phone service.

The view from the other side of the overlook includes the road to McDonald Observatory and the Jefferson Davis Mountains.

Leaving Fort Davis, I was about to suffer Montezuma's revenge.

The campground at Fort Davis was a favorite with motorcyclists. Jerry, a Canadian riding a stylish Honda ST1300 sports tourer, had ridden down from Vancouver, B.C. with his wife, who'd had enough motorcycling, thank you. He had lots of useful advice about highways, byways and mountain passes, but was going to have to turn for home before making it to Big Bend.

Dave had two KLRs, which he pulled on a trailer behind his motor home. One was a dead ringer for my bike -- same year and green color. We were campground neighbors and had several chats about the bikes, which he insisted were incredibly reliable, even though his green bike was laid up with something in the engine making a bad, expensive noise.

Thursday morning I set off for Guadalupe National Park in New Mexico, riding out past McDonald Observatory on a lovely morning. By the time I reached Kent -- a tiny watering hole on the I-10 -- my guts were grumbling and I was regretting having lunch at a Mexican restaurant the day before. I checked out the drugs available at the Kent Mercantile -- Anacin, Rolaids, Midol -- and picked a Sprite out of the cooler.

"How you doing?" asked the young guy at the register.

"Not so good. My stomach's kind of a mess."

"Hey, I know all about that -- I got ulcers and stuff. Hey, I've got some Pepto Bismol out in the car. Maybe that'll fix you up."

He came back with a fresh bottle of pink liquid and poured me a shot. I paid him for the Sprite and offered him a dollar for the Pepto.

"No way," he said. "Hope you feel better."

Guadalupe Mountain has camping but no food.

I found some Imodium at at a truck stop on I-10 and made it to Guadalupe Mountain, which has cell-phone reception, wi-fi at the visitor's center and a very nice campground. There is, however, no restaurant, store, snack bar or vending machines. The nearest food is miles away. Although I wasn't in the mood to eat, I figured someday I would be and decided to keep going to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

The Caverns are about 40 miles from Guadalupe at the top of a mountain. A sign next to the road on the way up read "No camping or overnight parking." There was, however, a restaurant in the opulent visitor center, which included a sizable gift shop and a bookstore.

I ate a turkey and cheese sandwich, drank some bottled water and considered taking the elevator down into the cavern. At that point I began to ache all over. Finding some place to bed down became top priority and I headed back down the mountain, found a motel room and slept for 15 hours.

Next morning, I actually felt OK and went back up the mountain -- I wasn't going to ride 3,000 miles to Carlsbad Cavern and not see it.

I thought Mammoth Cave was special until I saw Carlsbad.

Descending 750 feet into the cave, I asked the ranger driving the elevator what the difference was between Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Carlsbad. She said these caverns were created by sulfuric acid dissolving the limestone inside the mountain. In Kentucky, it was much milder carbonic acid, which is the stuff that puts bubbles in soft drinks.

The "Big Room" walking tour winds through more than a mile of spectacular formations.

Carlsbad features stalactites, stalagmites and a daily bat fly-out at dusk.

Having done enough spelunking for a lifetime in just a couple of weeks, I mounted the KLR and headed northwest through the city of Carlsbad toward Alamogordo. When I stopped in Carlsbad for gas, the wind was blowing hard. Leaving the city, I struggled to keep the bike on the road.

About 15 miles from Carlsbad was Brantley Lake State Park. I rode in, checking out the white caps on the brown, dammed up lake water. The campground was mostly inhabited by RVs, but the few tents were leaning and flapping in the gale. Spending the rest of the day trying to keep a nylon cocoon tethered to the ground held no appeal. So, I turned back to Carlsbad.

In my room at Motel 6, the Weather Channel was excited about major weather, including tornadoes in Mississippi and high winds throughout the south and urging residents to take shelter in basements or interior rooms. The local report was winds of 45 mph and gusts to 60 with a forecast of moderating winds on Saturday and a very pleasant Sunday.

In Carlsbad, flags were beating themselves to pieces.

Flanman ready to ride again once the winds tapered off.

I heard a motorcycle outside my room and looked out to see a Honda XR650 dual sport parked next to the KLR. I went out and met Dave Harrison, a fellow adventure rider from Orange County, Calif.

Dave's bike had lost the end of its muffler and he was hoping to find a shop that would drill some holes so he could refasten it. We agreed to check back with each other in about an hour and go get something to eat.

Dave told me he'd spent some nights sleeping in his gear leaning against his bike.

Harrison had been on the road for about three weeks travelling through Wyoming and Colorado on his way to New Mexico. He'd run into some snow, stayed with friends and fellow bulletin board members and done some camping along the way -- occasionally in places not intended to be campgrounds.

True to his Southern California roots, Dave's bike was considerably modified with an over-sized gas tank, heavy-duty rack, steering stabilizer, windshield and the after-market muffled that had disassembled itself.

We went to Pizza Hut and compared notes. He was headed south and I north.

Two adventure riders passing in the night.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Big rocks, muddy water and sunny skies

They call it the Lone Star State, but after sunset there are billions of stars in the sky.

Judge Roy Bean was "The Law West of the Pecos" and, after a restful night in the desert at Seminole Canyon, I loaded up the KLR bound for Lantry, the next stop on US 90 headed west. There's a reconstruction of the judge's saloon/courtroom and a gas station selling barbecue sandwiches, bull whips and rattlesnake eggs in Langtry. I had a sandwich for breakfast, topped off the tank and continued west.

The Pecos River has cut a gorge that divides West Texas from the lush, green east.

I discovered the KLR's Corbin seat -- added since last summer -- was much more comfortable five inches aft of where I'd been riding on it. I rearranged the back-seat luggage, stacking two skinnier dry bags where I'd had one fat one. Finally, I had a couple of comfortable riding positions to chose from.

A Border Patrol SUV drags the dirt road next to the US 90 so new, illegal footprints will show up overnight.

Law enforcement efforts to keep the border closed are conspicuous in West Texas. Near Comstock, I was stopped for an "inspection" at a road block, which turned out to be little more than answering the question: "Are you and American citizen?" While I answered, a K9 team sniffed the bike for drugs.

Meanwhile, I passed a Border Patrol SUV every ten miles or so on the highway, some of them dragging tractor tires behind them down the dirt road paralleling the highway. I asked a state worker cutting grass at a rest stop why they were dragging the gravel roads. "It's so they can see the footprints of the illegals," he said. I thought that would be quite a trick, since the gravel roads were hard and stony, unlikely to show footprints.

Near Sanderson, a gaggle of bison scrounged the range for a meal.

Despite their size, I discovered buffalo are shy critters. Spotting three of them along the highway, I pulled off and dug out the camera to catch a quick shot before they hustled themselves out of range. If their ancestors had done as well, there might still be herds of bison in these parts, I suppose.

There was enough room out of the rain under the tin roof for the picnic table, my tent and the KLR.

I arrived at Big Bend National Park with the rain to find no room at the Chisos Mountains Lodge. Luckily, there was a campsite open. I hauled the picnic table to one side of the sheltered concrete pad and found enough room to pitch my tent under cover. There was even enough space to park the KLR, although a ranger stopped by in the morning to tell me to move it to the pavement.

The lodge had good food and wi-fi, but no cell phone service. After a nice meal of chicken alfredo and a couple of glasses of wine, I booted up the computer to let Mary know I was alive and well and to post some photos for my High-Speed Wobble followers.

Out in the parking lot I stopped to talk to Larry, a fellow rider on a beautiful 2010 Kawasaki Concours 14 sport touring bike. Next morning, I ran into him again in the dining room for breakfast and we talked about our rides. Although his Concours was only two months old, he already had 12,000 miles on it. The cockpit was outfitted with radar and laser detectors, a snazzy, waterproof ZUMO GPS and an iPod. There was one other gadget mounted on the handlebars I didn't recognize. "What's that?" I asked.

"Garage door opener," he said.

Larry had a high-paying job in Florida, but left it to ride his motorcycles after he'd developed a heart condition. On the road, his health improved, he said, and if his heart was going to mean a shorter life, he figured he wanted to spend it doing what he enjoyed most.

He has houses in Asheville, N. Car. and Florida and a collection of motorcycles both places. The Concours was his latest acquisition, but he has BMWs, too. He said he used to have a KLR, but didn't ride it much after he got a Suzuki V-Strom, a similar dual-purpose machine with a more powerful, two-cylinder engine. "I have a lot of respect for KLRs, though," he said. "I know this guy who used to ride Harleys and said he had to fix something once a week. Then, he got a BMW and only had to fix something once a month. Finally, he got a KLR and hasn't had to fix anything yet."

Larry said he sold his KLR to a rider who was headed to Alaska with a group. They were all riding KLRs, because of their reliability and road worthiness and so they only had to carry one set of spares for the whole group.

Big Bend's Chisos Mountains were spectacular in the morning sunshine.

Larry said the ride to Boquillas was "for tourists," and he was headed to Castolon instead. I said I thought I'd check out Boquillas first and then ride to Presidio in the afternoon.

The Chisos Mountains rise out of a beautiful desert.

The mountains dwarf the KLR in the morning sun.

A tunnel opens up the road to Boquillas Canyon.

The towers of the Chisos.

The prickly pear cactus were in spectacular bloom.

At Boquillas Canyon, Mexicans crossed the Rio Grande to leave geodes, wire scorpions and decorated walking sticks for tourists to buy.

This visitor from south of the river crossed over on horseback to arrange his wares.

Prices for the souvenirs listed on a piece of cardboard.

Souvenir vendors come and go across the river by horse and canoe.

More prickly pear blossoms.

After my visit to Boquillas, I stopped for gas near the park headquarters and, after a few minutes, Larry pulled up. "You made the right choice," he said. The previous night's rain had washed over the road to Castolon and left several inches of mud, closing it.

We decided to ride together through the Big Bend State Park to Presidio, stopping along the way at Terlingua, home of the International Chili Championship.

The Roadrunner Deli provided chili for lunch and some advice from a Gold Wing rider from Fort Davis.

The chili at the Roadrunner Deli was spicy and hot, with onions and cheese but absolutely no beans or tomatoes. Shortly after was arrived another rider, on a white Gold Wing, stopped in for lunch. He was coming down from Fort Davis and had just ridden the river road to Presidio that we were planning to take.

Larry enjoys an after-lunch cigar overlooking the Rio Grande.

Leaving Terlingua, Larry got his first look at the Rio Grande and was not impressed. The river is shallow and muddy in these parts. "I don't understand why they use the term 'wet backs,'" Larry mused. "They ought to call them 'wet knees.'"

Further up the road, the river showed it could cut magnificent gorges.

Little river, big canyon.

Presidio was a hot, dusty little city -- not much of a destination -- but the road to it along the Rio Grande was spectacular, once we were a mile or two from Terlingua. The engineers didn't do much grading, blasting or filling and let the road follow the river, twisting through swales and cresting hills, where I believe I caught air a few times. There were plenty of 15 and 25 mph ess bends and long sweepers.

The river might not have impressed Larry, but the road did.

From Presidio, we turned north through Marfa, into the grasslands and up to Fort Davis, arriving about 4 p.m. It had been a full day and I decided to stop at Fort Davis State Park to spend the night. Larry, on the other hand, was ready to hit I-10 and keep going. We wrote email addresses on a piece of paper I tore out of the notebook in my tank bag and tore it in half. It'll be interesting to see if we reconnect.

From "Skyline Drive" above Fort Davis there's a splendid view of the grasslands north of Marfa.