Tuesday, December 1, 2015

~ The Badlands of New Mexico ~

"On the path that leads to Nowhere I have sometimes found my Soul" ~ Corinne Roosevelt Robinson (Younger sister of President Theodore Roosevelt) 

A lonely road near Madalena, New Mexico ~ "my road to nowhere"
 Lori, Teo, Evan, and Malia have just left.  

Teo was here at our Three Rivers home to install a new 6' sliding glass door, the kind with the binds between the glass and a 4'x4' window.  He does the installations with precision and ease.  My job was to remove the outside wood panels, cut and install new panels, and put up the sheet rock.  This job wore me out and I must admit, I missed the open roads.  

So this trip out to Arizona, Utah, nearly Colorado, and New Mexico was long overdue.

I love the badlands of New Mexico!

My bike is packed, clean, and ready to go.  I sense that it too is eager to feel the wind at our face.  Denise takes a picture and with a kiss goodbye, I'm off for Ash Fork, Arizona.  

Day 1.  I stop in Barstow and my brother Leo, as usual wants to take me out for lunch, and the Mexican chili rellenos at Jennies are the best I've ever had!  Leo sees some of his friends and begins some introductions.  They listen to some details of my planned trip.  One simply says, "I've always wanted to get on a motorcycle and just go."  I reply positively to him and perhaps he will.  The weather is warm and riding in a t-shirt is perfect. My goal is to camp on USFS lands just outside of Ash Fork.  I know it will be a long day but stopping anywhere else in the hot desert just doesn't make sense.  I've learned this from other rides.

About 50 miles from Needles, California I pull into a rest stop that is closed.  Navigating between the orange cones is not hard, knowing that a few trees there will provide much relief from the hot desert sun.  To my surprise, I see another biker at the vacant parking area but his front wheel is missing and there are tools all around.  Serious repairs.  Actually, it is a lady and she explains that her husband had a problem with his front tire and rode her bike to Bullhead City, some 75 miles to get it repaired.  I ask if she needs water or anything else and she thanks me, and replies "I'm fine." 

We hear a loud roar that is the unmistakable sounds of many bikers.  Five, ten, twenty I count quickly.  They are riding very tight and fast.  After a short rest, I leave heading East and about 50 miles down the road, I see a lone biker coming West with a tire strapped behind him and feel more at easy knowing that they will soon be on the road, reunited.  I'm on the bridge crossing over the Colorado River leaving California behind and looking ahead, Arizona is welcoming me.  Once I reach Kingman, Arizona the temperature cools down.  Up ahead, I see flashing red and blue lights from an Arizona patrol car.  No make that three patrol cars, two behind the bikers, and one in front.  I do not know what is happening but the 20 bikers I saw earlier at the rest stop are all lined up.  They all wear the same motorcycle jackets but I can't make out their names.  I never saw them again for the rest of the trip and can only speculate as to what happened.

I pour some water on my bandanna to cool my neck as I continue on to Ash Fork and a new campsite called Middle Satellite.  Many of us have camped at Upper Satellite and Lower Satellite in years past.  My priorities are always the same -- get out head lamp, gather fire wood, start fire, inflate therma-rest, lay out sleeping bag, cool down some cold ones, and have dinner.  This is a no frills camp site on USFS land and no other campers are seen for miles.  It is very quite with exception of a howl from a single coyote in the distance.  This spot is my favorite of the three Satellites.  My little transistor radio tunes into some good country western stations and I'm happy after a good meal.  The stars are bright and sleep comes easily after leaving Three Rivers, some 555 miles earlier this morning.  My plan is to ride through Monument Valley in Utah and then move North into Colorado and visit with my friend Dave Essex who lives in Estes Park, but that will change.

Day 2.  I have a hearty breakfast at the local Ranch House Cafe in Ash Fork.  "Eggs over easy, hash browns, corn beef hash, biscuits and coffee please," and the waitress quickly writes down my order.  The older I get, I favor a good breakfast to keep me going.  I do not see or hear "gabby Hayes" a regular at this cafe.  I rarely stop for lunch.  The weather in Flagstaff is always unpredictable but today it is clear, mild, and I ride in my T-shirt towards Cameron, Tuba City, Kayenta, and Monument Valley.  It is hot and a brief stop at the touristy Cameron is needed and I try to stay hydrated.  Monument Valley is immense and magical.  So many western movies were filmed here and this scenic land seems to stretch for miles.  I see a few other bikes but not many.  One biker stops while I'm taking a picture, and yells out "need help?"  I give him the thumbs up and he's off in the blink of an eye.  

 I plan to camp near Bluff, Utah.  Years ago on a trip with my brother Gilbert, I saw a BLM campground situated along side of the San Juan River.  This will be home tonight.  It has been 300 miles since Ash Fork and my plan was to ride to Grand Lake, Colorado and camp, and the next day onto Estes Park, but that will not happen.  Just to far and I'm tired.  "Why push yourself, I tell myself."  Estes Park will have to wait for another time.  The Sand Island Campground is perfect.  There are about 40 sites and all are vacant.  I choose number 16 because it has a few trees where I plan to hang my hammock.  The mosquitoes are intense.  Denise gave me a 'bug net' that I thought I'd never use but it sure makes sleeping bearable.  I drift off to sleep under the watchful eye of the Big Dipper.

Day 3.  Instead of heading North, I'm now heading South for Shiprock, New Mexico.  The weather is warm.  I see a bit of shade near, what seems to be a small market, and stop to apply suntan lotion and drink water. This little place is called Teec Nos Pos.  There is an African American setting in a chair under the shade of his market.  After a few minutes, he comes over to talk.  He proceeds to tell me his story and I must confess, it was interesting. 

When I told him I was from Three Rivers, California, he said simply "I know the place."  "I left California years ago, the place was too crazy.  I was a bartender in San Francisco and too many cars, people, no place to stretch.  I moved here, married a Native American, and we own land out there," as he points from North to South.  "We have a nice house and I love this place.  Love to fish too," he adds.  I squeeze in a few words and say that "I love this land too.  So beautiful.  If I was born 100 years ago, and lived here, I'd be riding a horse."  He laughs. "I'm off for Taos, what's up ahead,"  I ask hoping to hear only a few quick words but that will not happen.  "Well, let's see, you'll hit Shiprock, Farmington, then Blanco, Dulce, Chama, South to Brazos, Tierra Amarilla, cut East to Tres Piedres, and then Taos.  I've been all over these parts, know it all."  I believe him. My bike fires up ......"Go safely America" he finally says as I leave Teec Nos Pos. 

On the back of my bike, an American Flag waves freely.  I hope to have it fly the entire trip, something I have never done.  I'm ok too with the name he pins on me. 

The route on my map was spoken for me to follow and the small towns appear just as he said.   The temperature on this trip so far has been between 85 - 95 degrees.  But in Chama, the temperature drops to 60 degrees.  On a bike that is cold and the temperature will drop some more.  I stop at a local market and ask for a good camping spot.  "Since you're traveling to Taos, take highway 64 East.  High in the mountains there is a BLM campground called Hope Well Lake.  Nice spot," the man explains.  People love to help when they sense it is important.  My jacket is on for the first time in 1,200 miles.  This jacket will withstand any wind or rain.  I love it, and Lori's biker patch is on the back.  The aspen trees tell me that I'm now into the high country and the temperatures continue to drop.  The campsite he spoke of is perfect.  One of the best BLM campground that I've seen.   Plenty of firewood, fresh water, and a beautiful sunset.

Day 4.  The ride from Hope Well Lake to Taos is incredibly beautiful.  It is cold but scenic.  Cows and horses graze in the meadows with a stream between them.  It's about an hour and half ride to Taos.  There in the distance is an odd sight.  A blue school bus on the lone prairie with smoke coming from a made-shift flue.  It doesn't look like the school bus can move, even if it wanted to.  Must be a brave soul to live way out there in the middle of nowhere.  Then again nowhere is a place I usually find myself too.

My plan is have breakfast at Ricky's in Taos.  This is one of the best places for breakfast in New Mexico.  I can taste the huevos rancheros now.  "Do you want red or green chili," she asks as she pours coffee.  She sees that I can not decide.  "Why not have both" and with her suggestion my food arrives with a side of sopapillas and red and green chili on my eggs.  I order more red chili and sopapillas; the sweat is rolling down my forehead but this is perhaps the best I've ever had. I hope to find Lindsey at a country shop called Horse Feathers.  I met him years ago and a cowboy, for sure, right out of the old west.  Back then, he sold me a road runner buckle and a pair of stars that are on my bike.  I'd hope to show him but he is no longer there.  Sold the business I hear.  The store is closed but I peer through the glass full of cowboy memorabilia.  So long Lindsey, as I stare into the past.  This is going to be a full day of riding.  Off for Glorieta, New Mexico to see my grand niece, Alyssa.

My niece, Olivia, and husband Tommy's daughter, is working at a youth camp in Glorieta.  It would be special to see her, though I don't know how much she remembers about me.  But family is family and at the security gate, I ask:  "I'm from California and hope to see my grand nice.  Her name is Alyssa and she works here."  Several calls are made, their security is tight, but they escort her to the main office.  She tells me about her work and the vast area "at this Baptist Youth Camp ...lakes, hiking trails, camping, cabins.....at times there are 3,200 kids living here."  She is happy to see me and with a farewell hug I'm back on the road towards my home village, La Joya the place where I was born.  Actually, before La Joya, I stop to see my first cousin Tudie Romero and his wife Erlinda.  These are difficult times for him as he recently lost his left leg to diabetes.  His spirits are high and we laugh and have a good time.  "La Joya is like a magnet, it is always pulling me back," I tell him.  His heads nods in agreement.  Farewells with him are always hard but I move onto La Joya.  "I love you," he says and the same words go back to him as I close the door behind me.

I quickly set up camp behind my mom and dad's adobe house in La Joya.  It is called Jewels Camp.  The skies are dark, rain is likely but none falls as I barbecue a steak that I bought at the Veguita Trading Post.  Stanley Esquibel comes by to say hello and we eat snacks and drink beer by the fire.  I like Stanley.  He works hard and proudly says that "my hay is growing fast and needs cutting; the chili plants are this high," as he points to his hip.  "Robert, are you coming to the Fiesta's next month?  "I hope so, especially if you have some green chili," I reply.   He laughs.  "I'll have some good, really good green chili for you."

Day 5.  Another fine breakfast, this one at Sofia's Kitchen in Socorro.  You guessed it, huevos rancheros.  This is the second best breakfast spot in New Mexico.   As I ride up, there is bike parked out front.  The license plate tell me that he is from Texas.  I pick a table and quickly see that he is seating nearby.  Bikers do not waste time and we quickly exchange our hellos and where are you going/where have you been.  Seems he went out to Twenty-nine Palms in California to attend a wedding and that he is from a place near Houston, Texas.  He likes to ride the lonely, quite roads and avoids the interstate at all costs.  I like him and we talk.  He just returned from the route I plan taking home.  "Lot's of rain and elk in Arizona," he explains and I listen.  After breakfast, we ride to San Antonio -- not Texas -- but New Mexico.  My uncle, Valentin Moya, was stationed there during the CCC's and one could call this a "one horse town."  Sunset magazine put it on the map recently when they rated the Buckhorn Tavern in San Antonio, New Mexico as the best hamburger (with green chili) in America.  We are so full from Sofia's Kitchen that we must save this meal for another trip.  They describe the hamburgers as big as a "big rig's hub cap."

A few hours later, I push on to Magdalena and Pie Town.  I hope to have a big piece of coconut cream pie and a cup of coffee as I'm a bit sleepy.  There it is just ahead, Pie Town, but the sign on the door says that they are open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  And yep, today is Wednesday, no pie today.

Remember what my Texan friend said, "lot's of rain and elk in Arizona."  I do not see any elk but the rains fall all across Arizona.  The lighting bolts are fierce and intimating.  In all directions you can see the huge bands of rain that bend with the wind.  I have all my rain gear on and with each mile I can feel the rain dripping inside my boots.  It is hitting my face and it feels like blowing sand during a desert wind storm.  It is a very heavy downpour but I am so thankful for all the beauty around me.  I thank God for everything, including the rain as I push forward.  I plan to camp near Heber, Arizona.  The rain is heavy and even if I found a place to camp, it would be very soaking wet.  I know that Payson, Arizona is a big place and call ahead for a room at Motel 6.  Sleep is easy, dry, and comfortable.  I did not see any elk but it was mentally draining looking for them in the rain.  It rains very hard all night.  I sleep soundly.

Day 6.  My goal today is to camp in Laughlin, Nevada.  There is a nice campground called Davis Camp, along side the Colorado River.  I'm now on Mary's Lake Road that points towards Flagstaff.  In years past, I have seen hundreds of elk in the meadows but not this time.  I pass Happy Jacks and remember the Granite Mountain Hotshots and offer a small prayer for them.  The forecast is for 50% rain in Ash Fork and it looks like more of the same.  At a rest stop, some 20 miles from Laughlin, I get a "severe weather alert" on my cell phone.  The message is clear -- "seek shelter, expect heavy rain and wind."  It is dark in the direction I plan to go.  The wind picks up and you can see, smell, and then feel the rain.  Lighting bolts flash continuously. I wait under the roof of an abandoned gas station for the storm to pass.  Time passes slowly.  I finally push onto Laughlin.  Inside the Riverside Casino it is dry and plan to have a bit of fun playing Wheel of Fortune and the roulette table.  To make a long story short, it rained all the way to Needles where I took shelter once again at a Motel 6.  Two nights in a row at motels is not normal.

Day 7.  The rains are gone and replaced by the desert heat.  Barstow is my next stop.  My sister Elva is home and she makes me lunch and the cold ice water is so refreshing.  My sister Paul and her husband Louie are home too and she makes me lunch, even though I told her that I just ate.  "Never mind, eat again" she says.  And so, I leave Barstow for Three Rivers with a very full stomach.  Alyssa is Paula and Louie's grand daughter and they enjoyed seeing the pictures of us in Glorieta, New Mexico.  After Bakersfield, it is cool as I pass the orange groves and see the biggest sun dropping right before my eyes in the West.  I want to take a picture, but instead just look at the wonderful sight as I ride.  The wheat fields glow in its shadow and it gets a bit cooler.  I pull into Three Rivers and home about 9:00pm. 

The American Flag traveled the entire trip waving behind my dependable bike.  Riding with the American Flag is something I'm likely to do again.  And as for Monument Valley, it was awesome...a must bike ride.

The odometer records 2,497 miles . . . . .


Monument Valley is a must bike ride

Campsite #16, Sand Island Campground
Campsite, Hope Well Lake
Campsite, Hope Well Lake
Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, near Taos, New Mexico
Horse Feather, Taos, New Mexico
Lindsey of Horse Feathers - Taos, New Mexico
Horse Feathers
Taos, New Mexico
Off for Glorita, New Mexico
Jewels Camp - La Joya, New Mexico
My mom and dad's adobe house - La Joya, New Mexico
Buckhorn Tavern - San Antonio, New Mexico
Open highway 60 - near Pie Town, New Mexico

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

~ Veterans Day ~

“Vietnam helped me realize who the true heroes really are in this world. It's not the home-run hitters.” - Willie Stargell

Bikers all across America salute our veterans. Some organized bike rides make the hair stand up the back of your head.  

We ride in their honor. Today is no different.  

Mike Ulibarri is my high school buddy.  Mike was an awesome athlete in high school, baseball, and cross-country where he excelled. I was on the cross-country team, but not anywhere close to Mike's talents. We graduated together from John F. Kennedy High School in Barstow, California. We were the first graduating class at this new high school  -- an honor.  I went on to college at San Jose State and Mike joined the Army.  At Fort Ord, he set most of the physical fitness records!  Records that stand today.  A real athlete.

All Gave Some, Some Gave All

Mike is low-key but a real biker.  In high school, I called him "motorcycle Mike."  I only heard about the Veterans celebrations by chance when reading an article in the Barstow Desert Dispatch.  He was front and center in remembering and honoring another friend, Gene Christiansen who was reported missing in action in Vietnam. It was then that I heard about the Veterans Day Celebrations that occurred every year at the Barstow Cemetery, exactly on the 11th month, the 11th day, at the 11th hour.  My open letter below to the Desert Dispatch was to honor Gene.  His name appears on panel 33W70 on the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Gene Christiansen, "You are not forgotten"

My first ride was called the 'Freedom Ride.'  Days before, I had sent out flyers encouraging other bikers to join me on this ride to Barstow. I'm not sure what I expected, but having other bikes would be a very positive sign. My brother, Gilbert, agreed to ride with me and meets me at the Foster Freeze on Main Street of Barstow at 9am. I had sent flyers to some of the bike shops. To make a long story short, I arrived promptly at 9am after leaving Three Rivers at 5am. Gilbert was there but no one else. We would be the Vietnam escort to the cemetery.  Our 'Freedom Ride' is an honor. Our American Flags wave freely behind our bikes.  We stop by the memorial on Main Street that honors Gene Christiansen. We continue respectfully to the cemetery. Silently, I say a prayer for Gene, "Can you hear me, Gene, this is Robert."  Silence. Our bikes make noise as we ride toward the cemetery.

The ceremonies are very respectful. Those that speak, do not mix words. Words of thanks, freedom, and America rings out.  Flags abound. At precisely 11am, there is a slow-moving Air force plane that flies overhead.  Precision by our military.  There will be many such days ahead in the years to come, precisely at 11am, on the 11th day, on the 11th month.  In 2011, we added the 11th year to the sequence.

These moments are shared all across America.  'Taps' stops us all cold in our tracks.   The 'twenty-one gun salute' wakes us up abruptly.  We remember.  We honor.  We give thanks.

Twenty-one gun salute.

Locally, the call for bikers to escort the traveling Vietnam Wall to Orosi and Tulare was met by thousands. 

As we rode into Orosi, I felt like it was an honor parade. Little kids waved, and old men stood at attention, proudly with their right hand at their head in salute.  Banner abounds. 

They feed all the bikers and thank us for escorting the traveling wall.  No, we thank you for this honor.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Desert Dispatch, editorial letter by Robert Griego

Even Einstein knew, that at the speed of light, you could only be in one place at one time.  As the Barstow community came together last May 30, 2002, to honor a fallen soldier, I was here at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in Three Rivers, California.  I read earnest the kind words spoken at that ceremony by my high school friends Mike Ulibarri and Bobby Martinez. I too was a graduate of John F. Kennedy High School that summer in 1967. Barstow has always been home for me though I have not lived there since I left for college in 1967.

My name is Robert Griego and the National Park Service has been my life now for thirty-two years. The National Park Service, along with our entire Nation, honors the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. 

The Director of the National Park Service, Fran Mainella, has asked the Park Service family to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance this Memorial Day.  In a letter to all National Park Service employees, she said “…Last Memorial Day, the National Park Service joined civic groups, business leaders, and families across the nation in a moment of remembrance to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms. For Memorial Day 2003, I again ask the Park Service family to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance and to reflect on the significance of this important day. “

Her words are important, especially at a time when our Nation has again felt the pains of war and we again take time to honor those men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.   

Barstow has many veterans to honor and here a few: *Sebastian Griego, Leo Griego, Rick Aguayo, Louie Mata, Mike Ulibarri, Fred Dokie, *Clarence Griego, Charles Lemus*, and *John Lopez.

Undoubtedly there are hundreds more.

This Memorial Day I find myself standing face-to-face with panel 33 W 70 on the Vietnam War Memorial here in Washington DC.  I came to honor a fallen soldier from Barstow who was my good friend, *Gene Christiansen.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Hundreds gather to welcome wall in Cutler-Orosi

  • 9:00 PM, Nov. 2, 2011
Veterans and others escort the Vietnam Veteran Tribute Wall from Goshen to Cutler-Orosi on Wednesday. DONNA-MARIE SONNICHSEN
Written by Donna-Marie Sonnichsen
Some saw it as a chance to heal, others to show respect that they felt was long overdue.

Vietnam veterans, veterans from other wars and even those who never served gathered by the hundreds in Goshen on Wednesday to provide a motorcycle escort for the American Veterans Traveling Tribute and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall tribute headed to Cutler-Orosi.

With collective engines rumbling loudly, they rode in staggered formation in front of and behind the three trucks it took to carry the 380-foot wall, which was to be assembled in Cutler early this morning.
Emotions ran deep and even the biggest and burliest people were not immune to being overtaken by emotion.
It took Vietnam veteran and ex-Navy SEAL Rick Morales Jr. of Armona eight failed attempts before he could bring himself to see the wall that carries the names of his two older brothers. But in the end, he triumphed and was better for it.

"They don't call it the wall that heals for nothing. I was able to see my brothers' names and I was able to see their faces the way I remember when they left, and it helped me let go of some of the things I wasn't proud of," Morales said before breaking down.

Morales put in 22 years in several wars and police actions, enlisting when he was 16 after hearing of his brothers' deaths.

"Being Native American, from as far back as I know, my family served. This is our land and historically we've always fought for our land. Not just because we're Native American. It's also because of all the people that came here to get that American Dream."

The memorials will be on display following today's opening ceremonies and will remain open to the public until being dismantled Sunday.

There will be an honor guard manning it at all times, and not just for security, said Ray Moreno, a Vietnam veteran who helped organize the event.

Returning Vietnam vets were shunned, demonized, and neglected because they served in an unpopular war.

"Johnny Cash said it best in a song [Drive On] about the Vietnam Vet....'It took them 25 years to welcome me home,'' said retired National Park employee Robert Griego of Three Rivers," and that's what we're doing is welcoming them."

He was not a Vietnam vet, but always carries a piece of paper with the names of nine classmates [from Barstow, California] who are among the more than 58,000 names on the wall, as well as a 10th name from his New Mexico hometown [La Joya].  "It's time to stand up and salute them."

Respect. Honor. Heroes.

A memorial in honor of Gene Christiansen.

"I always carry the names of my friends who are not forgotten"

Mike Ulibarri and Robert Griego.

Veterans Day Freedom Ride.

Mike Ulibarri, Tudie Martinez, & Dennis Strickland.

Warnell Roberson, we grew up together in Barstow, CA.

Bikers from Southern California honor our Vets.

My bike rests and so does my brother, Moite Griego

My brother-in-law, sister and brothers

Mrs. Ramona Griego, "Gold Star Mother" of Clarence Griego.  Barstow, CA
Robert Griego, Robert and Elva Esquibel, Gilbert Griego.  Barstow, CA

2011, Cutler-Orosi Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall Escort:

 2013, Tulare Vietnam Memorial Traveling Wall Escort: