Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rocking, then rolling out of Moab

On Monday afternoon, May 10, I left Kodachrome Basin and rode north on Utah 12 passing 9,293-foot Canaan Peak through the Escalante Canyons and over Boulder Mountain. Having already enjoyed on off-road adventure for the day -- my ride out to Grosvenor Arch -- I decided against a trip to the Devil's Backbone and the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area and made my way to Richfield, Utah -- a motel-rich environment on I-70.

Besides a cheap motel room, Richfield had a Walmart that stocked all-terrain-vehicle seat pads. I'd coveted one of these since I saw one back in Fort Davis State Park where another KLR rider had one on his bike. He said he'd found it at Walmart and I'd been searching the sporting goods departments throughout the West with no luck until now.

My new seat pad means no more monkey butt.

Tuesday morning, I was out in the parking lot taking the seat off the bike and strapping on my new prize. The only difficulty was finding and extracting a side-panel screw that managed to drop into the tight space between the bottom of the engine and the skid plate. With the new pad strapped securely in place, I took it for a ride. Ahhhh!

Stopping along I-70 I could see dark clouds dragging skirts of rain and sleet across the desert.

I-70 is not your average Interstate Highway. Leaving Richfield, it finds its way between Musinia Peak (10,986 feet) and Mounts Terrill (11,547 feet) and Hilgard (11,533 feet) and passes the Coal Cliffs and the San Rafael Swell through the high, wind-blown desert to Green River, base camp for white water rafting down the river of the same land into Canyonlands National Park.

Desert flora is lovely, dead or alive.

Taking the US 191 exit and riding 30 miles south, I was in Moab -- a relatively tropical resort town at a mere 4,000 feet above sea level. The highway had been windy and there were brief sleet showers, but no monkey butt. The campgrounds at the nearby Arches National Park were full, the thermometer was in the low 40s, and I found a nice motel room to warm up and unwind.

Wednesday morning dawned gray and chilly, with rain clouds scattered around the horizon. I packed up and rode up to Arches to see what it had to offer.

Entering Arches, you pass through a section called the Courthouse.

At Arches, layers of two different types of sandstone are eroding at different rates, creating amazing, large scale stone features. The process is not unlike what happened at Bryce Canyon, but the materials and the results are different.

Balanced Rock is one of the most famous features of Arches National Park. The formations on either side are in the process of creating new Balanced Rocks -- just wait a few million years.

A view of Balanced Rock from a different angle.

The tiny group of visitors between the stone formations show their scale.

Riding deeper into the park, I reached the arch formations. Some were easy to drive to; others required a hike up a trail. All were powerfully impressive.

One of several arches at The Windows.

Delicate Arch requires a hike for a clear photo like this and a different and even longer hike to get to where the people pictured are.

A huge boulder separated from the bottom of the Landscape Arch's span a few years ago making it even more dramatic.

Every visitor finds the sandstone monoliths compelling.

Moab has many attractions, such as mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, ATV trails and more. Unfortunately, the weather was steadily getting worse on Wednesday afternoon, it was too cold for comfortable camping and there were more places to visit. So, that afternoon I headed toward Colorado.

Not far from Moab, this sign painted on a huge sandstone cliff gets your attention.

Drive around the corner and you'll find a 5,000 square foot house blasted into the base of the cliff and one of the kitschiest tourist traps this side of South of the Border.

Stopping for fuel in Monticello, Utah, I met a guy from Washington, D.C., going toward Moab on a Harley with "DC HOG" on the license plate. He stopped for gas and to put on his rain suit and repack in preparation for getting wet. He said the weather was good in Durango.

I love those western town names that begin with D: Durango, Deadwood, Driftwood, Duck Creek, Devils Slide, Deep Creek, Deer Trail, Divide, Dove Creek, Dolores.

Mesa Verde National Park is between Cortez and Durango, Colo.

Crossing the stateline into Colorado through the Monticello Port of Entry I immediately felt and saw the difference between the states. The desert turned into green farmland, the bare sandstone cliffs into granite mountains covered with fir trees. As the geography changed, the popululation density palpably increased and with that the sense of economic vitality. Southeastern Utah produces little while southwestern Colorado is punctuated with grain elevators.

I stopped to photograph Mesa Verde at sunset. As soon as I had the camera out, a cloud passed in front of the sun. After a cloudy morning of photographing rocks, I decided to wait for the cloud to blow by. A motorcyclist stopped to make sure I was OK. I gave him a thumbs up. The cloud moved. The sun plated the mesa with gold. I had my shot.

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