Saturday, June 30, 2012

Out of the frying pan, into the wild fire

Almost a year since last year's ride, David and enjoyed a Mexican meal and a Scottish ale at Bogart's in Red Lodge -- this time with Daniel. We camped in the back yard of the Alpine motel, a very accommodating place just a few blocks from the downtown strip of gift shops, restaurants, pubs, souvenir dealers and outfitters. The cut-rate camping fee included breakfast.

I spent some time at the local Ace Hardware, picking up some camping essentials, and Daniel and I bought caps to protect our delicate skulls when unhelmeted.

We met Chris and Dale, two Harley riders from Hawaii who were staying at the local hotel. Everyone agreed to meet after breakfast and ride the Beartooth again -- from east to west this time. We passed Chris and Dale amidst the bison-strewn valleys and didn't see them again.

On the Yellowstone side of the Beartooth near Cooke City, the distinctive spire rises above the valley.

F/8 and be there: instant postcard!
After we crossed the northern Yellowstone and exited the park through Mammoth Hot Springs, we aimed to spend the night in Butte, Montana. We spent the afternoon battling heavy winds and watching two wild fires on the horizon, one of which got closer and closer. 
As Montana Hwy. 2 got closer to the fire, we noticed the smoke made the sun  glow red overhead.
Daniel and I stopped for gasoline and a drink at a general store/casino as the fire colored the sky. "It's not really as close as it seems," the cashier said.
An elk read the paper over Daniel's shoulder.

The local news was disturbing, but the fire reports from Colorado Springs and Boulder were even more alarming.
After spending the night in Butte, we departed for the Canadian border on a pleasant back road through the rolling hills. The wind began to build from the west as we stopped in the small town of Ovando, Mont. to refuel. Another rider, David, was there already on his vintage BMW R/100. He said the bike had done more than 150,000 miles -- mostly between Helena and Butte -- and he'd never had the cylinders off.
Just as we's filled our tanks, the wind redoubled and there was a spattering of rain as a front came rolling through. The weather report included hail. So, we decided to have lunch at the local cafe across the square from the general store where we gassed up. The power went out, but they had a gas stove. I had a great Reuben sandwich and we waited for the smoke to clear. 
The flags on the Ovando town square showed the force of the front.
A family enjoying a vacation outing on ATV four-wheelers joined us in the restaurant for lunch, then bundled up in plastic and took off as soon as the wind tapered off.
Flanman's Suzuki "Wee," as the DL650 V-Strom is nicknamed, seen from the second-floor balcony of the Butte Motel 6, shows off her shapely lines. The big yellow duffel bag holds the tent, sleeping bag, tarp and poles, air mattress, hatchet, clothesline and other camping gear. The side cases hold tools, stove, dishes, gloves, outerwear, gaiters, etc. The topcase carries clothes, computer, miscellaneous charges, maps, toilet kit, rubber sandles and anything I might need to have handy. The tank bag hold a flashlight, multi-tool, knife, chargers for the cell phone and helmet headset, a plastic "foot" to keep the kick stand from digging into soft ground, camera, maps, sunglasses, etc.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We falls in love with Yellowstone

David, Daniel and I met for breakfast at 6 a.m. at McDonald's at Sam's Town Casino, strapped on our evapo-cool vests, donned our sun glasses, applied SPF 50 to our noses and coasted out of the parking garage into an awakening Las Vegas headed for I-15 and points north.

We paused in Caliente, Nev. for a stretch. No need to cool off, it turned out.

Soon we were on US93, the Great Basin Highway -- a long, flat stretch framed by mountain ridges. At our first gas stop, we met Lon, a rider from Detroit riding a restored early-1990s BMW 850. He joined us for the next 150-mile leg before turning east.
A real challenge riding through the Great Basin was the distance between gas stations. Daniel had hoped to refuel his Buell Ulysses at this junction service station but, despite the sign, not even diesel was available -- the place was closed and the owners had moved to Utah, we were told. 

About 10 miles short of Ely, our first overnight stop, Dan ran out of gas and I rode to town, bought a one-gallon, plastic gas can, and got him going again. Ely proved to be much cooler (temperature-wise) than Vegas. I enjoyed my first -- and probably last -- elk burger at a diner in town. We camped at Cave Lake State Park. It was a pleasant, but very dusty, campground.
There was some construction on US 93 between Ely and Wells, Nev., but it gave us a chance to stop, stretch our legs and chat with some of the other adventurers on the Great Basin Highway.

Next morning, we continued north to Wells, where we had lunch at Bella's Espresso Diner. After two large cups of Bella's Cafe Americano, I stayed alert for the afternoon ride up to Twin Falls, Idaho, but I was up every two hours during the night. Bella herself was a tornado of activity, chatting up all the customers and storming around the dining room -- probably partook of a little too much of her own product.
We weren't sure whether the Giant 47 Pound Rooster, Rex-Goliath won the 30 gold medals, or whether the wine did, but we adopted the winery's slogan: "Long on fruit; short on attitude." Regardless, after a few hundred miles on the road, a few glasses of Rex-Goliath went down easily -- so easily, in fact, that we bought the big, 1.75 liter bottle the next chance we got.
This is a true adveture-rider breakfast: cold pizza, warm Indian Pale Ale and tap water out of a Gatorade bottle.
On the road from Wells, Nev. to Twin Falls, Idaho, we stopped at a rest area and met these Idaho dudes who were on their way to a boat race with their boat and all their other toys: guitar, paddleboards, skate boards, mountain bikes, spare V-8 boat engine and more.
In Twin Falls, we camped at a friendly KOA campground. A biker chick in black leather arrived shortly after we did on a mammoth Yamaha V-Max V-4 and pitched her tent next door. It was a toss-up which was more voluptuous, the gal or the motorcycle. When we crawled out of the sack at 6 a.m., she was long gone.
This is the Snake River Canyon where Evel Knievel attempted a jump in 1974 in the Skycycle X-2, which was a steam-powered rocket. The rainbow effect is from mist generated by the Shoshone Falls. 

A map for Shoshone Falls Park visitors shows the trail to Knievel's jump site. Knievel had  433 broken bones during his illustrious career. Flanman has had one sprained ankle. 

Our next destination was Yellowstone, but along the way, we stopped at Arco, Idaho, which is near Craters of the Moon National Park, a volcanic desert that is a little bit of the Big Island of Hawaii in the western Mainland. After riding through miles of a'a, David said: "Don't you wish we had some white rocks to spell out a message?" 

Here some park visitors climb a cinder cone of black lava.
And here, some others take advantage of a convenient ramp to check out a splatter cone. The area around Arco and Atomic City, Idaho is a flat volcanic caldera punctuated by massive buttes.

Arco is known to the casual visitor for being the first city in the United States to be powered by atomic energy and for having a cliff decorated by every graduating high school class since the 1920s. Nearby Atomic City is the home of U.S. Navy nuclear reactor research and development. 
At Pickles Restaurant in Arco, we met Four-Stroke Bill from Arkansas who pulled up at about 3 p.m. on his 250cc Kymco scooter. Bill is an enthusiastic scooter guy, having done more than 425 miles since starting out early that morning on his way to a scooter rally. He says the Kymco will hit 80 mph on the freeway.

Ah, Yellowstone!

After a pleasant cruise northward through eastern Idaho on US 93, we finally arrived in Yellowstone National Park for a two night stay at the Canyon Campground, one of a half dozen in the park.
We had barely entered the park when we happened on a welcome party of bison.
In the early morning chill, the many geysers in the park send up plumes of steam. Here's Daniel at the Norris Geysers, where a plank boardwalk lets visitors wander among the volcanic pools.
A new (to us) feature of Yellowstone are the big groups of Chinese visitors, a busload of which all crowded around to look at this unremarkable hole in the ground.
Daniel and I arrived at Old Faithful in time to have a leisurely breakfast before attending the next performance. Unlike most of the park's geysers, Old Faithful shoots both steam and water more than 100 feet in the air every 90 minutes, more or less. While we were enjoying the show, David was visiting Cody, Wyo. to have his bike's drive chain replaced. It had gotten noisy and kinky on the ride up from Las Vegas and he was fortunate to find a dealer willing to come in on Saturday and do the job.
The Lodge at Old Faithful Village is a vestige of an age of fanciful, rustic architecture. The lobby rises more than five stories with massive posts, a log ceiling and gigantic stone fireplace. After an earthquake shifted the support beams in the 1990s, visitors aren't allowed above the third story, but back in the day a band would play on a platform five stories above the lobby.
Yellowstone Lake is rimmed by hot springs and geyser fileds.
The Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River puts on a thunderous show. Notice the visitors on the observation platform on the brink of the falls at right.
A series of steel staircases -- more than 500 steps in all -- lead down to the Lower Yellowstone Falls. Daniel and I didn't go all the way to the bottom and took our time getting back to the top, resting every 25 steps or so. There was an overweight woman, red-faced and exhausted, sitting more than 400 steps down and refusing to move. "I just can't do it," she told her husband. We let the ranger at the top know that she was stuck down there. "I don't know what I can do," she said. "There's just me up here." The ranger was a petite 5-footer. Some visitors overheard us and said they'd check things out. There were many warning signs at the top of the stairs letting folks know what to expect, but ...
... after all those stairs, the Lower Falls looked much like the Upper Falls.
Sunday morning, we packed up and headed out of the park and over the Beartooth Pass. It was our best ride for wildlife: We saw a grizzly bear, hundreds of bison, deer and antelope. The pass had only opened 10 days earlier and there was still plenty of snow at the Top of the World. Here's Daniel and, in the distance, the Beartooth. 
And here's Flanman and the Tooth. It was our second visit in two years -- both times riding from west to east. This time the weather and road were perfect and the scenery stunning. So stunning, in fact, we plan to ride the pass again on Monday, this time from east to west.

Monday, June 18, 2012

What stays in Vegas, happens in Vegas

As I arrived in Las Vegas it was clear heat was a major factor. The thermometer hovered stubbornly between 103 and 109 degrees every afternoon and refused to dip below 80 overnight. Accordingly, I rose early and got my sight seeing out of the way between 6 and 9 a.m. most days. After a few day trips, it became clear that my plan to ride to Death Valley to camp was best postponed to a spring or fall trip in the future.

David was visiting friends in San Diego and called to say he'd discovered vests motorcyclists can soak in water and wear under a mesh jacket to stay cooler as the water in the vest evaporates. I picked one up and tried it out. It wasn't perfect, but it was much cooler than riding with no vest. David called back and asked me to buy him one, too. He couldn't find one the right size in San Diego.

Meanwhile, Daniel and his wife were vacationing at South Point Casino. I met them there for dinner and for a look at a few acres of slot machines and gaming tables.

The day after I arrived in Vegas, I noticed what looked like brake fluid leaking from my left front brake. I was hoping the bleeder was loose and I could solve the problem just by tightening the screw, but it turned out that the seals had failed on the left fork tube and it was gushing fork oil. Carter Motorsports had the seals in stock and replaced them in about three hours, while I dozed in the customer lounge.

My first sight-seeing trip was out past Henderson to Boulder City to see Hoover Dam, the colossal engineering project that created Lake Mead, provided water and recreation for local citizens and generated the electricity that powered Las Vegas' neon and slot machines.

From Twentynine Palms (A), I rode to Amboy (B), Kelso
(C) and Cima (D) before getting on I-15 to ride into Las
Vegas, Crossing the state line at Primm, Nev. From Vegas,
next morning I got up early and rode down to Hoover
Dam (F) before it got hot. At 5:30 a.m., it was 81 degrees,
but by 9 a.m. it was already in the 90s.
At Hoover Dam, once known as Boulder Dam, a "bathtub ring" of
calcium shows how far the lake is below high water.
A young Japanese tourist offered to take my picture and artfully framed
my head in the arch of the new bridge downstream from Hoover Dam.
His friend said "You lucky. He is professional." I had to show him
how to turn on flash fill though -- the sun was still low on the horizon
and the shadows were deep.
Signs of the times: "Spy v. Spy" graphics on the "Hoover Dam
Security Zone" warning signs. There was a security checkpoint with
armed guards, but they just waved me through. As the early bird,
I had my choice of hundreds of empty parking places, but the dam tours
weren't open yet.
Lake Mead is a popular playground for Las Vegans seeking a little
relief from the heat.
Friday evening, I got together with my wife's cousin Holly, her husband
Bob (front), Holly's son Billy for pizza, wine and conversation.
When I stepped out of the house on Saturday morning, a hot-air balloon
soared overhead.
Red Rock Canyon is a favorite of Las Vegas cyclists. The
geology is unusual: Layers of older granite on top of younger
stripes of red sandstone.
The desert has its own unusual animal hazards.
The Red Rock Canyon walls dwarf two automobiles and a
bicyclist in a white shirt on the road below. (Click photo for a
larger version)
After cruising around the red Rock scenic by-way, I stopped at Bonnie
Springs Ranch for a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar.
Warning signs announce that there is a fine of $500 for feeding wild
burros and horses. This male, called a jack, who was wandering along
the road into Bonnie Springs Ranch with a harem of three jennies, didn't
seem a bit wild.
Sunday morning, I was up at 5:30 and on the road before 6, heading
north to Valley of Fire, which lies about 60 miles north of Las Vegas,
between I-15 and Lake Mead. In the hazy morning light, the state park's
craggy ridges lined up in rows.

Besides ancient petroglyphs, a stone arch is one of the park's main
attractions. I met another early-morning visitor who said she saw a
mountain goat butt a water faucet open, take a drink and walk away.
She said she went to turn off the faucet, but it was swarming with bees.
Warning signs mention that the local bees are Africanized -- she left the
water running.
As at Red Rock Canyon, Valley of Fire's geology features layers of
varying colors of rock, folded and smushed together, then eroded into
interesting shapes.
Leaving Valley of Fire, I rode back through the Lake Mead National
Recreation Area, hoping to get breakfast at Overton Bay. The ranger at
the gate said Overton was closed because of low water, but I could
probably get something to eat at Echo Bay. "Wolfgang will whip you
up something." Arriving at Echo Bay, I found a fisherman cleaning his
catch, but the restaurant and hotel had been closed for two years. I got
a Snickers and a Gatorade at the gas station and told the cashier what
the ranger said. "Aw, he was just messing with you," he said.
At Echo Bay, I soaked my hydro-cooling vest in the rest room sink and
wore it the rest of the way back to Las Vegas. The road through the Lake
Mead Rec Area was smooth, fast and curvy -- just the way we like 'em.
Returning to the city, I got a good look at the Strip from the east side.
One more day of preparations on Monday, then David joins us and we
strike off for the north early Tuesday.
My Sunday morning ride up to Valley of Fire (B) and Echo Bay (C) and
back was about 150 miles. The first half was in the cool of the morning;
the second was hot, but tempered by the water-soaked cooling vest.
According to the weather map in the Las Vegas paper, the high in Ely,
our first stop on the trip north, would be a mere 88 degrees -- very good