Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Summer 2007 Tour - Day 12

Day 12
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Durango, CO to Williams, AZ
454 miles

As always seems to happen on those days when I most desire an early start…well… it didn’t happen. I decided to skip breakfast and just hightail it west to Mesa Verde National Park.

Some ominous road construction signs outside the park were making me nervous, especially the one that said “Motorcycles Use Caution.” The gate attendant reassured me that the roads were easily manageable.

After a quick stop at the visitor’s center, I headed down the park road to the “Mesa Loop”. I didn’t have time to actually hike down to one of the cliff dwellings, and a ranger at the visitor’s center said that the loop was the best way to quickly experience the park.

The road toward the loop was very much under construction. I used to say that the worst rain grooves I’d ever experienced were on US101 just north of Los Angeles. These were FAAAAAR worse. Initially I was taking it slow and cautious until I realized that a little bit of speed smoothed things out nicely.

It was hot. Walking around the “Pit Houses” (early structures built by the Indians who lived in the area), I was constantly sipping from my camelbak. I was making lots of quick stops, so it made no sense to remove my helmet and gloves.

Interestingly, the Indians didn’t construct the famed cliff dwellings until very late in their occupation of the area.

It was just past noon by the time I got to Cortez. I had a quick lunch before dashing west.

My big goal for the day was to make it to the Grand Canyon while there was still light to see. With this in mind, I decided to skip the big tourist trap at Four Corners. I crossed into Utah on scenic UT-262.

I turned north on UT-261 for a brief visit to Goosenecks State Park. The view at the end of the park road was spectacular. The winding San Juan River has managed to entrench itself 1000 feet below ground level in an ever-deepening canyon. I’ve never seen anything like it!

Returning to UT-261, I carefully turned south. Just a few miles north was Mokee Dugway and the infamous 1100 foot descent over three miles of steep unpaved switchbacks. Perhaps someday I’ll be back with a more capable motorcycle (or rather, a more capable Rocketbunny).

Heading southwest on US-163, the unmistakable sight of my next trip highlight soon appeared in the distance.

The mesas and buttes of Monument Valley have been photographed countless times. I felt somewhat sheepish adding my clicks to the multitude.

I crossed into Arizona at Mexican Hat. This state line crossing was more exciting than most because Arizona is one of my “missing” states….that is… a state that I’ve driven through but never RIDDEN through.

It’s really a shame that the scenery at the state line consisted of a Native American bazaar.

From that point, the ride was mainly just a race to get to the Grand Canyon during daylight hours. The ride in was tantalizing, with glimpses of the beginnings of the canyon to the north and the sun inexorably setting to the west.

I paused to take a deep breath at the entrance to the park…. Before crossing roughly 100 feet of dirt to get to the gate (under construction!).

Just past the entrance, I parked the R1200ST in a half-full parking lot at Desert View and carefully stowed my gear. I grabbed my camera and walked down the path, passing the 1933 Indian Watchtower, a combo gift shop, visitor’s center, and fire lookout tower.

The canyon was glorious at sunset.

To the west, layers of rock in shadow…

To the east, bold warm colors…

After a quick stop into the gift shop, I rode west to Canyon Village and another view.

I decided not to take the time to walk out onto this viewpoint, but it brought back some memories.

I was last here in late November 2004. My boyfriend of the time had never seen the Grand Canyon. We were headed to Texas for Thanksgiving and decided to make the 80 mile round trip off the interstate.

The snowflakes coming down as we drove up the access road should probably have told us something. Arriving in the deserted parking lot, we carefully walked out onto the viewpoint (very icy).

I stood there and ruefully told him, “Right there, stretched out before us is the most amazing, thrilling view of the Grand Canyon…. Trust me!”

The canyon was a white-out that day and he got his views of it from a large panoramic picture in the visitor’s center where we went to warm up.

With my 2004 trip on my mind, I wasn’t terribly concerned about the ride south to Williams, AZ. The sun had officially set (according to the GPS) by the time I was halfway down what was in my memory as a fairly straight road.

As it got darker, I realized that the shine of my headlights was far too white. I stopped to look and found that the halogen headlight in the top slot had blown and I was running only on the HID in the lower slot.

I found a car to light my way and continued to Williams, where I a found a hotel room and satisfied a strange craving for fruit.

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