Thursday, August 20, 2015

~ Granite Mountain Hotshots ~

In Honor of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

This was to be a big trip out to Texas with stops in Arizona and New Mexico.  North Texas is more accurate. I have never been to Texas before and I want to see a State Park in North Texas called Palo Duro. Some say it is like a little Grand Canyon.  

The weather has frequently pointed me in another direction and this trip is no different. Palo Duro is near Amarillo and the day before a tornado hit the town. The winds are wild so I leave that trip for another day.  Hopefully, my brother Gilbert can join me. Riding with a partner is always safer, but I am comfortable riding solo.

Nature has once again made a change in my direction of travel, but fate will make this a memorable ride to honor the men of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

My iron horse - 2007 Yamaha Road Star.

My first day is a long one, but I make Ash Fork, Arizona before dark. My stop in Barstow was spent with my brother Leo where we eat some Mexican food at Plata's. Leo is a regular and is frequently given "extras", so we eat well.  I order the big dinner plate -- enchiladas, beans, and rice.  

Ash Fork is a small town with one restaurant where I usually have a hardy breakfast the day after my first camp. My beef stew dinner tonight is cooked over an open fire. Upper Satellite, my usual camping spot on the Kaibab Forest, is closed for restoration, so I push on a few more miles until I see a USFS road.  This is a prime spot that I have not seen before and I call this Cow Pie Camp.  

The Native American Indians burned "cow pies" to wart off the flies and mosquitoes but I did not know how well they burned, so I experimented. One large "cow pie" lasted all night long. Imagine a candle burning slowly and you have an idea of how slow they burn. The smell was like a cigar being smoked, nothing really bad. Sleep comes easily as my bike has taken me 540 miles on this first day.  

It feels good to be in the higher elevations of Arizona and the Window Rock radio station playing country music and Navajo chants puts me to sleep. Being a late sleeper has always come naturally to me and the warm sunshine wakes me up.

El Morro National Monument in Northwest New Mexico.

Today New Mexico greets me near Gallup where my bike turns sharply south on some isolated country roads towards El Morro National Monument.  Leo said that it is well worth the detour so I drive on, seeing such beautiful New Mexico country with an abundance of high plateaus and piñon pines.  The sweeping vistas are beautiful and I see only a handful of cars along the way.  The National Park Service has done a great job protecting this historical landmark and telling its story over time.  

On page 10 of Los Griego de La Joya is some history of our early Griego family led by the Spanish explorer Juan Oñate.  His name is carved in the sandstone and that's what really brings me here.  

At marker number 12, his name and his Spanish words carved into the sandstone appear -- The translation is "Passed by here the Governor Don Juan De Oñate, from the discovery of the Sea of the South on the 16th of April, 1605."   The small campground is one of the best I've ever seen so I make a mental note to camp here another day. 

"Passed by here the Governor Don Juan De Oñate,
from the discovery of the Sea of the South on the 16th of April, 1605."

El Morro NM is in my rearview mirror as my odometer changes from 79,999 to 80,000 miles, so I stop and take a picture of this moment.  The back roads pointing south, towards Fence Lake and Quemado, are new to me yet, peaceful; I do not see anyone until I reach Quemado.  I dream about the coconut cream pie that awaits me in Pie Town.  Keith and I had pies a few years ago and it was the best ever.  If you blink, you'll pass Pie Town.  The little store at Pie Town is closed, so I slow down a bit to remember earlier trips and push on towards Datil, New Mexico, and the small general store that sells meat. 

T-bone cooked to perfection at a camp called, Angle Iron.

The young man asks, "How thick do you want your steak."  I nod, as he cuts off a good size piece. 

My T-bone steak cooks slowly over my open fire at Whispering Pines.  It is dark, quiet, and a slight breeze is blowing.  My bed is set up and I look up at the stars, first finding the Big Dipper, then the North Star, and what Gilbert and I fondly call, the "Circle of Eight."  

My camp is exactly as I left it last year, and the year before that, and forever it seems.  The rocks surround my fire and the dirt dug is piled on the side should it be needed to smoother the fire.  My stirring stick is there in the same spot from before and waiting to be used.  There is no cell reception here but the little transistor radio is soon playing country-western songs from an Albuquerque station.  

My steak is ready and it melts in my mouth -- such good flavor.  The bone goes into the fire and the rest of my food is hung on a high tree branch away from the little critters that wander during the night.  The fire keeps me company well into the night; I hear no sounds tonight and the stillness of this place lets me sleep well.  The sunshine in the morning nudges me towards La Joya.  I stop for a short rest in Socorro where I buy a cowboy belt at the Mercantile and ride onto La Joya.

Robert Griego and Art Romero - 1st cousins.

Actually, I take a short detour to Belen where my cousin Tudie and his wife Erlinda live.  Tudie is my first cousin and we have a good visit.  He looks good and walks every day since his injury last year. 

La Joya is a magnet that constantly pulls me back to my roots.  This little village on the Rio Grande takes me back in time, a journey I willingly take.  My first stop is always at the cemetery where I walk slowly remembering the families who are buried there.  The stop at our grandfather, Pablo Griego's gravesite is deliberate.  I want to be sure that the petrified tree and metal plaque that Gilbert, Ruben, and myself cemented in the ground is still there.  I am relieved.  

The sun and water and time have weathered the stone and metal perfectly.  It is as we left it a year ago during the Fiestas. My random walk through the cemetery fills my head with memories of long-lost relatives.  I hope they sense that I'm here but I'm not sure.  I say goodbye to them nonetheless and head for Jewels Camp.

Our grandfather, Pablo Griego.

The fire is strong and the water hose is nearby should the winds blow dangerously wild.  This can be a very windy area.  My cooking pot is gone, so I must improvise.  The chicharrones and beef jerky from Leo's in Socorro complement my meal for tonight.  Before too long, Stanley Esquibel arrives and a smile is on my face.  He tells me about the work he has done on my mom and dad's house, all to stabilize it.  He proudly shows me what he has done and I marvel at his work.  He is a gifted carpenter but his company is even better.  Soon his brother, Vincent joins us and we talk well into the night.  Vincent brings three chairs and a very large piece of wood for our fire; all the comforts of home.  

We eat the chicharrones and drink beer from Veguita's Trading Post. The owner, Carolyn Rogers remembers me from earlier trips and has a warm friendly greeting.  She always attends the La Joya Fiestas and enjoys dancing and music.  The morning sun wakes me again and today I'm off for Abo to see my sister Elva and Robert Esquibel.  

I pack quickly and stop to say hello to Marcello Abeyta who lives on the farm next to ours.  He lives alone and the walls are filled with family pictures.  There is one of me on my bike sent to him years ago.  Some of his pictures fill gaps in my genealogy records, so with his permission, I take a few pictures.  

He then tells a story about my grandfather, Silvestre Moya...."One day when I was at Magdalena running for county commissioner, a friend asked if I knew a man by the name of Moya from La Joya.  When I said yes, he showed me a 'mochila' or blue denim duffle bag that had been in his basement for years.  The man said that Silvestre was passing through Magdalena one day and asked if he could leave it there for a bit but never returned for his mochila."  Perhaps my grandfather forgot about it or it was too far to travel back to Magdalena by horse.   

Marcello offers to make a pot of coffee but I accept a cool glass of orange juice instead.  He says that the drought in New Mexico is one of the worst he's seen; there is not a cloud in sight as I say goodbye, and head for Abo.

Abo Ruins, New Mexico.

Elva and Robert's home has comforts far from what I am used to on this trip.  The shower feels very good and soon I am eating huevos rancheros topped with red and green chili -- so good.  

That evening, the winds pick up dramatically and dust is blowing everywhere.  It is so dry that the ground can not compete with the fierce winds without water.  Soon the clouds get darker and we smell rain.  It seems to be raining towards Albuquerque but not here.  The winds shift again, and in the blink of an eye, we see lightning and hear thunder.  I mean the kind of thunder that makes you feel alive.  The storm is directly above us.  Without much warning, the raindrops begin.  At first, there is hail, hitting the ground violently.  The lighting and thunder continue and rain, rain, rain falls at last on some very dry earth.  Elva and Robert are so happy.  For me, I had sense enough to move my bike inside their garage where I'll sleep comfortably tonight.  "What if my camp was in La Joya tonight I think";  the roof over my head will keep me dry.  

This is the first good rainstorm in several months and the dry ground agrees.

This historical sign is 6 miles from La Joya, New Mexico.

My bike is packed quickly, and right after breakfast, I'm gone.  My ultimate destination is not clear but a decision needs to be made by the time I reach Socorro.  The wind is blowing hard against me, from South to North.  My goal is to ride towards west Texas but the wind convinces me to save that trip for another day so I point my bike west.  

I love this ride from Socorro towards Magdalena, Pie Town, Quemado, Springerville, Show Low, Heber, Payson, Pine, and Strawberry along Highway 260.  I hope to ride as far as Happy Jack Camp, some 50 miles south of  Flagstaff, along Mary's Lake Road. 

Happy Jack Camp is on USFS land and there is a small store and restaurant nearby.  Arizona officials have closed down all forests to campfires, so I cook my meal with a Sterno can.  My normal routine is to lay out my sleeping gear first before dark sets but I have an unpleasant surprise; I do not have my therm-a-rest.  This mat keeps me off the ground and assures me restful, dry sleep.  My choices are limited so I begin to collect pine needles for my bed.  My rain gear is placed on top of the pine needles and this will have to do for tonight. Thinking back, I must have left my Therm-a-rest in La Joya. The wind was up, so I wedged my Therm-a-rest inside the gate to prevent it from blowing away.  It is red, so with my color blindness, I did not see it. Sleeping on hard ground is not easy but the pine needles help considerably.  It is a restless sleep, a little on the cold side too.

Morning is slow to arrive and I move even more slowly. I break camp without haste, and head for the cafe. Eggs over easy, hash browns, corn beef hash, sourdough bread, coffee, and water are my order.  It arrives very slowly as there are maybe 50 firefighters in this small cafe.  These are young men and they are busy eating their breakfast so I wonder if there will be any food left over for me. They are from Prescott, Arizona, and heading for fires in New Mexico.  

I share with them the lighting and rain near Abo, just two nights ago. In a flash, the firefighters are gone.  There must have been lots of eggs in that small kitchen as my order arrives and I eat, drink coffee, and think about my ride toward Flagstaff, Arizona. Mary's Lake Road is very scenic with pine trees, meadows,  and lakes. There are bicycle lanes along the highway so this is a popular route for bicyclists from Flagstaff.

Flagstaff is one of those spots on Earth where snow can fall any time of the year, so I push on quickly toward Williams. Near Ash Fork, I scout out some future camping spots in the Cibola National Forest; there is a good one off of Monte Carlo Road.  

Needles, California is my next stop where my high school friends Bobby and Sandy Martinez live.  It is good to see them again.  It is about 98 degrees and Bobby gives me a frozen water bottle for the road.  It thaws near Ludlow and the water I drink now is cold. 

Good friends, Robert and Sandy Martinez.

My sister Paula and Veronica and David's son, Joshua, join me for lunch at Plata's restaurant.  Paula insists on buying me lunch which is a repeat of my other trip, enchiladas, beans, and rice.  They both look over the pictures from my trip and we take a few more.  This one is of Paula and me.

Though I still have another 5 hours ahead of me before I get home this has been a great trip.  I did not get to Texas but I did see El Morro National Monument.  

But perhaps the best part of this trip was seeing Joshua who is now in the 11th grade.  It has been a while since I've seen him and now look up to him; he is a good foot and a half taller than me.  

I remember first seeing him when he was born at the Barstow Community Hospital. I also remember seeing Veronica with her long hair and she did not look like she just had a baby. 

My sister, Paula is the greatest fan of my stories and travels.
Ten days and 2,253 miles.


This is an Open Letter to the families of the elite Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew.....all twenty members.

I am a biker and on June 3, 2013, I was camping on some USFS land near Happy Jack, Arizona. I had forgotten my Therm-a-rest in La Joya, New Mexico so my camp was especially hard.  The pine needles I gathered helped to soften the ground, but only by the smallest margin. I did not mind too much as I love camping under the stars.  However, I did move slowly the next morning.  There is a small cafe nearby and I'm looking forward to a hardy breakfast, the next day. I think it is called the Long Valley Cafe, but I've always called it Happy Jack.

The fire trucks parked out front do not register in my mind -- I am only thinking of coffee and hot food.  As I walk into the small cafe, I quickly see a whole bunch of firefighters. "This is a big mistake I whisper to myself."  I see one waitress moving quickly and I can only imagine how long it will take for my breakfast.  The waitress is very fast and coffee and water are on my table.  

Time is on my side so I relax. I begin to look at the young men next to me. They appear to be very well fit, happy, and so enjoying their breakfast with such enthusiasm. Secretly, I hope there are a few eggs left over for me.  They all look like they could be movie actors in this period of time. They remind me of my son.

When the waitress hears my order -- eggs over easy, hash browns, with corn beef hash, she writes down my order quickly and pours more coffee. The young firefighter next to me says, "that's what I ordered; it was very good." I see this as an opportunity to make small talk, so I ask...."What fires are you coming from?"  Many quickly begin to talk at once....what, where, and how they left the last fire. I am impressed.  "Where are you going now?"  "We are going to fires in New Mexico," they say almost at the same time.  I tell them that I just came from New Mexico and that two days ago there was severe lighting and rain.  I tell them that I like their shirts, and the words Granite Mountain Prescott Fire sticks in my mind.  I wished them well and say lastly, "Be safe."

Quickly the fighter fighters move towards their trucks and are gone, or so I thought.  A young man comes back into the cafe and simply says, "Thank you, sir."  At the time, I thought he must be a bit homesick but I appreciate his comment immensely. 

On July 1, 2013, the headlines immediately caught my attention. Nineteen firefighters die in Yarnell, Arizona.  They are the elite hotshot crew from Prescott, Arizona. I read slowly knowing that the guys I met earlier were part of the Granite Mountain crew. Maybe this tragedy involved another crew. The words became harder to read but I continued and at the end "....the elite firefighters are known as the Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew..."  

They are the same guys I had breakfast with at the cafe; tears fill my wife comforts me but does not really know why I am upset. I begin to explain the news and my connection to these young men.

Even now, days later, I can not stop seeing those young firefighters in my mind having breakfast at that small cafe. To their family, my tears do not stop and I send you my most heartfelt condolences.

To the survivor of the twenty-man Granite Mountain Hot Shot Crew, "Thank you, I am so proud of you and your service."

  /s/ Robert Griego

Robert Griego

Monday, August 17, 2015

~ Mount Whitney Ride ~

The weather has been hot in Three Rivers and Barstow.  "Gilbert, how about a ride up to Lone Pine and Bishop to cool off" is what I plan to say.  I pitch the idea and he likes it; "I just need a few days to get things set up at home."  I travel South, cut across Lake Isabella, over Walker Pass, and down towards our meeting spot.  "Meet me at Brady's at the Mobil gas station about 11am," he said.  This is a good meeting place as he heads North/West from Barstow. 

The ride on highway 395 is a biker's dream.  Scenic, good roads, and always climbing to higher elevations.  We camp at the Lone Pine Campground, I marvel at the massive mountains.  Mount Whitney, covered in snow, is looking down on us.  We barbecue some steaks and corn and look up at the dark skies.
After a fire-cooked breakfast, we move North.  At Big Pine, we decide to ride up along Highway 168 towards Deep Springs and Oasis.  Near the top of the pass, we see a sign that reads 'Gilbert Summit, Elev 6,374 ft'.  We stop for a picture and neither of us has been up here before.  "Let's continue on and make a big circle back towards Mammoth" I say and we've soon off for Oasis where we'll turn north on Highway 266.

This is all new, so we go slowly.  We hope to hit highway 6 and ride East to Benton.  There is a gas station in Benton and a small market.  We buy some supplies and ask the lady, "Is there a place nearby where we can camp?"  She asks, "where are you going?"  We tell her eventually Bishop, but we want to see Mammoth Lakes first.  "You can go the civilized route or the wild route," she says as she points towards the West.  We almost say at the same time, "the wild route."  "OK, you can camp along the way" and we thank her.  We find a small dirt road leading up into the hills and love the place.  We call this camp, Paiute Ridge.  We did not think it would be this cold and the ride from camp towards Mammoth Lakes was one of the coldest.  The temperature last night hit a low of 29 degrees and the fire helped keep us a bit warmer.

In Mammoth Lakes, vehicles have ski racks on top and we get some funny looks as we try to find a cafe for breakfast.  A lady sees us pull up and says "those sure are pretty bikes."  Not exactly how a biker would describe our bikes, but she is nice.  Our bikes are dirty from last night's camping we explain.  "Sure, camping at the casino I was freezing last night," she says.  We agree with the freezing part and it took her a while to realize that we really camped out last night.  "Oh my" is all she said.  The breakfast was a nice trade-off for the cold ride this morning.

We explore some of the nearby high elevation lakes, like Convict Lake, which is covered in snow.  We ride into Bishop, buy some items for dinner, and follow the road upward to Lake Sabrina where we will camp.  It will be cold up here, so we buy some firewood from the campground host.  We see only a few other campers so we pick a nice spot next to a stream.  After dinner, we do our usual star gazing.  The skies here are bright and the stars within arms reach.  Looking upward, we both see a strange sight almost at the same time.  Gilbert asks, "did you see those two lights?"  Joking I say, "it's the beer Gilbert."  There are definitely two lights high in the sky coming towards us.  One light is bigger than the other.  Both lights travel at the same speed, crossing the massive sky in seconds.  In just a few seconds those lights disappear.  They are not planes, no blinking lights.  No rockets, no after trail.  Apparently, we are the only ones to see the lights in the campground.  In the cafe the next morning, locals were talking about the 'little green men' that traveled over Bishop in the night.  We did not enter their conversations, but we know that we saw something too.  It was a few days later that I googled, 'strangle lights' in the Sierra's near Bishop.  One post had a video of what we saw but no explanation.  The NASA web site was factual.  If you were at this elevation at these coordinates, on this date, you might see the Space Station and the Space Shuttle in orbit, 255 miles above the earth.  We will never forget our Lake Sabrina camp out. An awesome sight, good camping, and another great ride. 

The odometer records 945 miles . . . . .

~ Hollister Run ~

This is where it all began, Hollister, California.  Marlon Brando saw to that in the Wild One.  Hollister is where our son, Keith was born when we worked and lived at Pinnacles National Monument.

The area is easy riding along Highway 198 west of Coalinga and north on Highway 25.  In the spring time, the wildflowers are everywhere.

The Pinnacles Campground is great.  The little market there sells some last minute supplies, cold beer and ice.  Gilbert and I love to camp here and the ride into Hollister is packed with bikers for this event.

We ride up San Benito Street and bikes are everywhere.  The music is loud and not too good, but it is free.  If you are ever looking for a bike and not sure what you what, these are great opportunities to see a wide variety of stock and custom bikes.

Gilbert and I have all our usual camping gear strapped tightly behind our seat.  We do not see anyone else with similar gear.  We ask people to take our pictures and we do the same.  People are in a good mood and the town council has actively resurrected this bike rally.  It is a big source of revenue for Hollister and surrounding towns.

We buy our t-shirts which is a must.  I like the eagle on the back of one shirt and buy it.  Gilbert is a bit more picky but manages to get us a good price.

Along Highway 198 towards Pinnacles National Park
Along Highway 25 towards Pinnacles National Park

Campsite, Pinnacles National Park

Easy ride to Pinnacles National Park
Off for the Hollister Bike Run
Campsite, BLM's Upper Laguna Mountain near Pinnacles NP

Sunday, August 16, 2015

~ Wild Winds at Pagosa Springs ~

"I can't change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination." Jimmy Dean.         

Wild horse roaming high above Canyon de Chelly National Monument

This is a solo ride out to Pagosa Springs, Colorado.  "The wind, the open road, and my motorcycle," this is my mantra.

I will follow back roads through Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico.  My goal is to take as many small highways as possible, 60 miles per hour is considered fast.  I leave Three Rivers at 8:30 am with my usual stuff, plus a tent as I have that funny feeling that rain may be out there.  My bike is ready, I changed the oil the night before and it is clean.

White House Runis, Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Day 1.  The day starts cool in Three Rivers but quickly gets hot as I approach Bakersfield.  I ride in a t-shirt but my leather jacket is strapped just behind me.  I make a quick stop in Barstow and see my brother, Gilbert for a short spell.  The cold water he offers is refreshing and we talk.  

I do not have concrete plans but I outline for him the direction I'm planning to take - "At Flagstaff I'll leave Interstate 40 and follow some isolated roads that point east past places like Leup, Dilkon, Indian Wells, Greasewood, Gando, and then Window Rock, Arizona.  I have never been to Window Rock but I have listened on my transistor radio the Navajo chants and country music.  The station is a good companion on the trail; I plan to see Window Rock."

My odometer says that I have gone 540 miles and it is a first long day; I make camp at Upper Satellite, just outside of Ash Fork, Arizona at 7:40pm as the sun sets.

It is comforting to be in a spot that I've stayed before, especially when dark is near.  The fire starts slowly but there is plenty of fire wood.  It must have rained a few hours earlier as the ground is very wet.  The chance of rain is 50% but I do not set up the tent; I am lucky, only stars above all night long.  Sleep comes easily as my fire burns well into the night.

Me, looking down on Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Day 2.  My arrival at Window Rock is wet forcing me to take shelter under a dry roof at a gas station.  The parking lot quickly floods and the thunder and lighting are warning me to stay put.  I am amazed to find that this gas station sells tamales.  I buy three green chile tamales and down a 20oz Gatorade to stay hydrated despite the rain.  

Twenty minutes pass and the storm only grows stronger.  Some Native Americans see me next to my motorcycle and stop to express their concern.  They impress that I need to be careful as the roads frequently are not passable during these flash flood.  I heed their warnings and stay put.  When I do leave, mud has crossed the roads in several spots and I am going slowly in what can be described as a steady rain. 

My goal is Canyon de Chelly National Monument.  My brother, Leo has always spoke highly of this sacred place on the Navajo Reservation and I hope to make camp at the Cottonwood Campground.  I really do not like the formal campgrounds but with the steady rains I accept what's in front of me.  The noise of the other campers, barking dogs, and the lights shining from the restroom makes for a poor sleep.  

Late in the night, two guys quietly set up their tent in campsite next to me.  In the night, I see what appears to be two coyotes and later a fox searching for food from the trash cans.  They don't bother me and I don't bother them.

"...let it fly in the wind..."

Day 3.  My sleeping bag is dry, no rain fell last night.  Breakfast is six donuts and orange juice, eaten as I break-up camp.   The two guys who are next to me are waking as well.  I saw them come in late last night as they set up their tent.  

They did so with minimal noise and were very considerate.  They both are friendly and greet me with a "hello mate."  I offer them the remaining six donuts.  They are Aussies exploring America, taking several months to travel our country.  They are heading to Four Corners, then Rapid City, South Dakota.  The one using crutches, asks, "Ever been there for the big motorcycle rally?" I nod.  Then I talk briefly about my ride there last August.  

Reaching into his pocket, he say "I want to give you a gift."  He talks about the braided strings in his hands that represents the history of his flag.  He said a small prayer to the skies, asked that it be blessed, and hands it to me much as a Native American might do.  My donuts were repaid with a kind gesture.  "I'll I tie it on my belt and let it fly in the wind," I say. "It will keep me balanced on my journey."

To this day, it rides with me in the wind.  I fire up my bike and I'm off to explore Canyon de Chelly National Monument in warm sunshine, my braided strings tied securely to my belt.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

There are six hundred foot cliffs in front of me and I peer down cautiously.  It is quiet; I mean very quiet.  The valley floor is lush and my first thoughts are this is a perfect ecosystem like Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, Africa.  On the Navajo Reservation horses roam freely and can be seen crossing the road.  Several come very close to the edge of the canyon where there is better grass.  

The area is so quiet that I see why Leo felt it was such a special, sacred land.  

I stop at another lookout and several Navajos' are selling their art work, laid simply on a hand make rug on the ground.  I buy two ear rings for Denise, that I pack carefully in my saddle bags.  The sandstone art work is beautiful and a young Navajo man says it is full of messages about their culture. 

I see similar images from the rock painting at the Blue Crossing campground (In Search of POP25).  I ask the young man where he learned about the images he paints.  He said that his grandmother taught him.  "She is 85 years old," he says respectively "and lives over there".  His hand points to the horizon in the east.  "She still rides a horse" he adds.  

I thank them and I'm off on a quiet highway towards Many Farms, Round Rock, Rock Point, Red Mesa, Teec Nos Pos, and then Four Corners.  

I have always wanted to be here, where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet.  There are broad sweeping views and it is a very easy going ride.  I point my bike towards Cortez, Colorado.  At the little fruit stand, I buy some jerky, apricots and apples for lunch.  As I am leaving downtown Cortez, I see the two Australians from the Cottonwood Campground at Canyon de Chelly National Monument walking down the sidewalk.  

"Howdy cowboys," I say as I pull up next to them.  They are surprised to see me.  We remind ourselves how small the world is and that we are lucky to see each other again so quickly.  I notice that the one with crutches sees the braided strings tied to my belt.  There are no words spoken, but his eyes approve.  To the east, the skies are getting darker and that's the direction I'm heading.   First Durango, Bayfield, then Pagosa Springs.  My plan is to camp on Forest Service land just outside of Pagosa Springs which is about 7,100 feet but the weather will change that.

It is raining hard as I enter the Pagosa Springs city limit where a sign reads, "Welcome."  I am relieved that I had the sense to put on all my rain gear earlier because now the rain begins to fall.  The rain intensifies and my plans to camp are useless.  The rain is coming down so hard that I loose sight of the road.  It is no longer safe, so I am looking for any shelter.  Fifty yards ahead, I see a gas station but I'm not sure where the curb is as the roads are flooded.  I go slowly and pull into the gas station that is covered. 

The cowboy pumping gas into his truck said says, "You just made it, friend."  It was only later that I heard that this was considered the first monsoon to hit Pagosa Springs this year.  I've never been very good at predicting the weather and this is my first monsoon.  I had hoped to cross Wolf Creek Pass at 10,587' heading north but the skies in that direction are black and forbidding. 

My new direction is south on Highway 84 towards Chama, New Mexico.  The rain decides to follow me and my ride well past Chama is wet.  In Cebolla, the rain slows down when I spot a little market.  I buy some cold ones, beans, and tortillas for dinner further along the trail.  I really do not want to camp in the rain, so I push on towards the Carson National Forest.  Not too far from Cebolla, I spot a welcomed sign - "Echo Amphitheater Campground.  This will be home for tonight.  

It is still raining but I'm lucky as camp fires are permitted.  My priority is my tent.  It will keep my gear dry but I stumble setting up the tent.  My head is getting very wet, and it strikes me, "Why not put your helmet on Robert." The tent goes up quickly and I toss all my stuff inside, all while wearing my helmet.  My next priority is fire, and still wearing my helmet and that must be a comical sight.  Most of the down wood is wet but I begin collecting small dried branches from the nearby pinion pines.  At the base of the trees, I find pine needles that will help encourage the fire or so I hope.  I place my can of beans near the fire and my tortillas lay on the wire grate that I carry.  After dinner, the rain continues, but inside my tent sleep comes easily. 

This area is so quiet and the sandstone walls seem to be looking down at me; there is no one else here.  It is simple, perfect, beautiful.  I call this place, God's Camp. 

Echo Amphitheater Campground

Day 4.  The morning light wakes me up shining brightly off the sandstone walls.  I quickly take some pictures forgetting that it is not raining.  I have a traditional cowboy breakfast --  coffee, spam, and tortillas.  Still, there is no one else here.  The ride from here forward is breath taking; I later learn from my friend Tom Farrell that City Slickers and Silverado were filmed nearby.  He also tells me about the huge fires nearby that have been finally contained. 

The back roads on Highway 96 towards Coyote and Gillina are scenic and peaceful.  I tell myself that I would love to own land in this area.  I make my way south towards Cuba where I get gas and decide that a traditional New Mexico breakfast would be my reward for last night.  I never knew that we had a Cuba in the United States. 

On Cuba's main street, I ask some ranchers' for the best Mexican food.  They almost at once point to El Bruno's Restaurante y Cantina.  I order huevos rancheros with green chile, potatoes, coffee, tortillas, and sopapillas without ever looking at the menu.  I ate until I could barely move.  

The back roads are straight but isolated.  I try not to think too much about what would happen if I broke down out here but it is in the back of my mind.  I am near Chaco Canyon Cultural Center but I turn south towards Grants as the rain begins to fall again.  My rain gears is on me when a big downpour appears from nowhere.  The roads have big dips and they are filling fast with water and mud.  I travel slowly towards Quemado, New Mexico and then west on Highway 60 beneath huge lightning bolts that criss-cross the landscape.  

At the New Mexico and Arizona border, it rains so hard that I'm forced to seek shelter at a picnic area.  The area is flooded waters in minutes.  I have now gone a good 100 miles past where I had hoped to camp.  I push on towards Springerville, Arizona but the skies look too dark, so I decide to move towards Show Low. 

I find some excellent, dry land on the Sitgreaves National Forest and most importantly I can see the stars.  There is plenty of fire wood and I have a good fire that burns all night long, listening to some good country music helps erase those long miles.  I perk up when I hear Johnny Cash and now I know I'm in heaven.  If one continued on this dirt road south, you would end up at McNary, Arizona.  My dad's brother Ben lived there.  As kids, we loved to visit him.  He operated a saw mill and the air was heavy with the smell of smoke.  His small cosy cabin near a pond was always warm and I loved the smell of fresh green chili.  He was a big man with a big heart.

Day 5.  The morning greets me with sunshine and the rain is behind me.  I decide to go for Laughlin, Nevada and camp near the Colorado River.  It will be a 450 mile day but this is about the only spot to balance out my next leg to Barstow, then Three Rivers.  Laughlin is hot when I arrive, about 105 degrees. I get a campsite and I quickly jump into the Colorado River.  The water is cold at first, but so refreshing.  I make a small contribution at the nearby Edgewater Casino.  I like this place because they allow bikers to park in their valet parking.  It is safe because the valet guys are always around and I always see many bikes here, all with their gear kept on their bikes.  The payouts seems good too, at least on most visits.

Back at camp,  I sleep soundly.  That is until I feel something grabbing my sleeping bag by my feet.  I see that it is a skunk which I quickly chase away.  Both of us were a bit surprised.  

Day 6.  I get up early to beat heat and head for Barstow.  At a desert rest stop, I stop for water.  A young Native American girl is selling jewelry.  I buy something for Lori, stop at a post office along the way, and send them to her with this note:


This is my thanks for the Los Griegos patch and t-shirts that are perfect!  I will wear them proudly, as I ride mile after mile on my bike.

Here are some small gifts for you.  They were offered to me by a Native American Indian in Arizona.  I selected the ankle bracelet for you and the young lady picked the matching ear rings.  She said that the markings she carved on the earrings represented the wind.  I thought about that for a few minutes and decided they were perfect for you from me.

When I ride, all of natures elements are with me.  The sunshine, the darkness, the rain, the snow, the hail, and the sleet.  But only the wind is always with me.  It is a constant in my face along the trail and shares my endless miles.  So too, you will always be with me along the trail, flying freely with the dad.
The cool weather over the Tehachapi Mountains is a brief relief before dropping down into the hot Bakersfield lowlands.  Denise greets me about 4:30pm when I arrive in Three Rivers.  I quickly grab her gift from my saddle bag even before I stop; she loves her ear rings.

I am still thinking about this sole ride.  I sense that she sees that in my tired eyes.  I'm home.

The movies, City Slickers and Silverado were filmed nearby

My bike is pretty dirty and so am I.  The wind is written all over my face.  When I finally sleep, I dream about Billy Crystal and Jack Palance in City Slickers and my motorcycle sitting at the Highway 84 and 96 intersection, not knowing the direction to choose.

Tired, I came home with a smile on my face, something Billy Crystal felt too in City Slickers.
The odometer records 2,416  miles . . . . .