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 . . . . .

1 comment:

  1. I am honored my spirit is along with you for the ride...riding freely in the wind. xoxoox