Saturday, July 14, 2018

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: New Mexico's El Morro National Monument ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness: New Mexico's El Morro National Monument" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 08/23/2017.

New Mexico has some of the best, less-traveled parks in America. Whether you go north or south, east or west, it is so rewarding.
This state is rich in history with scenery straight out of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings. Everyone loves New Mexico, especially on a motorcycle. I was born in the small village of La Joya, along the Rio Grande River, so I’m partial to The Land of Enchantment. Once a year, I find myself riding my motorcycle across some of the state’s most scenic, isolated highways in my pursuit of wildness.
In my rearview mirror is Interstate 40. A sign points me to Sanders, where I’ll take Highway 191 south. The slower pace agrees with me as I turn east on Highway 61 to El Morro National Monument. My brother Leo always said I should do this ride. “You’ll find a small campground there and you can hike high on top of the mesa … the views are amazing.” But his next words immediately caught my attention: “Juan de Oñate passed through here and inscribed his name on El Morro.”
In 1598, Oñate made a pilgrimage across the state in search of gold. He found little of it, but his mark on our history is inscribed in sandstone here. I love this park. It is peaceful and rich in New Mexico’s history. There are nine campsites, most are covered by shady trees, and the price is right: free. Soon I’ll have my gourmet dinner—beef stew, tortillas, green chili, and a Hostess CupCake for dessert. It’s been a long day, so I’ll save the walk to the visitor center, Inscription Trail, and the Headland Trail for the morning.
My little transistor radio picks up KTNN, a Window Rock, AZ, radio station providing Indian cultural education, news, and country music. The Navajo chants comfort me after a long day, but the occasional country-western music is what I really hope to hear. The station does not disappoint me. This is a quiet spot and the sky is incredible. Shooting stars pass by like Indy race cars, one after another. I wonder if Juan de Oñate also looked up at the night sky in awe or if was he busy planning for the next leg of his expedition. As another streaks across the sky, I know he loved these stars too.
In the morning my small fire is ready for my cowboy breakfast of coffee, Spam, tortillas, and a bit of green chili. Sipping my coffee, I glance toward the huge sandstone bluff that I’ll soon climb. It rises 200 feet above the surrounding land.
Inscription Trail is a must and can be done in a short hour. There are hundreds of Spanish and Anglo inscriptions, as well as prehistoric petroglyphs. They are all valuable, but I am looking for a particular one. “Pasó por aqu픝 (“passed by here”) begins the inscription, a message left by Don Juan de Oñate, the first governor under Spain of New Mexico. According to family genealogy, one of my first ancestors, Juan Griego, accompanied Oñate in 1598 as he colonized New Mexico. The park brochure tells me that Oñate “… brought 400 colonists and 10 Franciscans north, along with 7,000 head of stock. From the beginning, hard winters, lack of food, and the great distances from Mexico caused hardship and discontent among the colonists. Oñate’s explorations finally killed the last hopes for quick riches. Returning from one of these expeditions, Oñate inscribed his name at El Morro on April 16, 1605—the first known European inscription on the rock.”
I’m feeling good, and the Headland Trail is only two miles, so off I go. Leo had said that the views of the Zuni Mountains, the volcanic craters of the El Malpais area, and the El Morro Valley are incredible. So with each deliberate footstep, I climb a bit higher. It is warm but walking feels good and I can easily see 50 miles in all directions. Perhaps Oñate stood here as well. As an explorer, he was always trying to see what might be up ahead, and this is an excellent view of the sweeping land below.
The trail is easy so I continue to the Ancestral Puebloan ruin, Atsinna, or “place of writings on rock.” Between A.D. 1275 to 1350, as many as 1,500 people lived in this 875-room pueblo, which was near the only water source for many miles. According to the National Park Service, “The Puebloans, ingenious farmers of the high desert, were master builders. Their earliest structures, half-buried pithouses, evolved into above-ground pueblos by A.D. 1000. Soon the Puebloans were building many of their villages on mesa tops, perhaps with defense in mind or perhaps simply to be high about the plain.”
A rich history lesson in just two miles. I’m not the least tired, but walk back down to my camp. In the morning, I plan to head farther south toward Pie Town along Highway 60. I can taste the coconut cream pie now.
There is little traffic on these lonely roads. A shortcut to Pie Town exists, but it is on a dirt road (603), so I continue on toward Quemado on the paved road. The little cafe at Pie Town is closed. In years past, I have camped on the free forest land across from the cafe and have eaten pie, but not today.
My ride past Datil, Magdalena, and Socorro is peaceful. I am returning home to La Joya.
Juan de Oñate would have loved a slice of coconut cream pie too, but he was likely thinking about gold as he inscribed his words on the sandstone of El Morro: “Pasó por aquí.”
Planning a Visit
El Morro National Monument is a fascinating mixture of human and natural history. Take a hike to the infamous rock rising 200 feet above the New Mexico desert between Gallup and Grants. This massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable waterhole hidden at its base made El Morro (or “Inscription Rock”) a popular rest stop. Beginning in the late 1500s, Spaniards, and later Americans, passed by El Morro. While they rested in its shade and drank from the pool, many carved signatures, dates, and messages for future travelers to see.
To Do
Cool autumn weather makes October a prime time to explore the park. Activities include hiking, Ranger-led activities, camping, star gazing, picnicking, kids activities, and exploring the visitor center museum. Hit the museum, then take the short, pleasant hike to Inscription Rock. A tougher two-mile round-trip trek climbs to the mesa top for expansive desert views and ruins of an Ancestral Puebloan village.
El Morro National Monument is closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s. Summer hours are: visitor center 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; trails 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you plan to hike the trails, it is important to be back at the visitor center by 5 p.m.
El Morro is a fee-free area, including the campground, which has nine campsites.
For more information, visit
Text and Photography: Robert Griego 

Monday, July 9, 2018

~ Where East meets West ~

"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect" ~ Chief Seattle

Leaving Three Rivers at 6 am as the sun in the east peaks over Sequoia National Park

Rarely do I ride 1,800 miles just because a stranger suggests an awesome ride.  "This ride is in Utah," he said.  I had just met Scott in Springerville, Arizona, and he was already persuading me on a great ride in Utah, near his home.

He called it the Nebo Loop, a place near Spanish Fork, Utah.  Never heard of it, let alone been there.  He seemed like a real biker so I listened.  "Utah is so beautiful, and this ride on the Nebo Loop is awesome; I know you'd love it."  Apparently, he owns a fly fishing shop.  His card read 'Scott's Fly Fishing Shoppe.'

Honestly, I thought I'd never see him again.  But fate has its own ways of correcting our misjudgments.  So, 900 miles later, I was looking for Scott's Fly Shoppe where we agreed to meet in Spanish Fork, Utah.

I left Three Rivers, California two days earlier.  The alarm clock rudely rang at 5 a.m. and reluctantly I got out of bed.  My first stop was only ten miles down the road when I saw the sun poking its head over the Sierra Range in Sequoia National Park.  I always try to connect with someone or something on each of my trips.  It's just something I do to allow the karma to follow through me on another adventure.  The morning sunset was that karma.

The hot desert sun across the Mojave Desert was intense.  I applied tons of sunscreen and drank gallons of water.  The temperature, as I passed Las Vegas, was 107 degrees.  The hot wind would be with me until I reached Utah that evening.

As I approach, Cedar City, Utah there is a large fire burning to the west.  I would later hear from my nephew Ruben who works for the U.S. Forest Service in fire management that this fire was huge.  He would later tell me that he and his crew would be redirected from Mesa, Arizona back to fight the fires in Utah where a second large fire broke out.

The XX fire near Cedar City, Utah
I had never been to Cedar Breaks National Monument so that's where I'm heading.  Cedar Breaks sits at over 10,000 feet and looks down into a half-mile deep geologic amphitheater.  At this higher elevation, the air is cool and such a relief from the hot desert.  There are wildflowers everywhere and though it is windy, I immediately like this National Park Service gem.  The night sky is crystal-clear and sleep comes easily after the punishing hot desert winds.

I plan to do a story for RoadRUNNER Motorcycle Touring & Travel magazine, so I can't spill all the beans just yet.  But here are a few pictures from this amazing National Park Service area in Utah.

Entering Cedar Breaks NM

Cedar Breaks NM, at the awesome North View overlook

Robert at the North View overlook, 10,435'

My awesome Yamaha Road Star
I meet Scott at his Fly Shoppe in Spanish Fork early in the morning.  He introduces me to his friends and takes me into his fly shoppe which is rich with feathers, hooks, poles, and art.  Little did I know but Scott is also a musician and gives guitar lessons.

A biker, a fly fisherman, a musician.

Scott Masters in front of his business, 'Scott's Fly Shoppe'
An awesome sign above the door

Scott explains how he ties unique, one of a kind flies

Scott's shoppe is full of flies and art
He provides options and I select the Nebo Loop Byway which I had never been on before.  This byway crosses the Uinta National Forest between the cities of Nephi and Payson.  Our motorcycles cruise easily to over 9,000 feet in elevation.

Scott and Robert riding the Nebo scenic loop
The views of of Utah valley, the Wasatch Mountains, and 11,928 foot Mount Nebo is breathtaking.  Scott is in the lead, so I can play tourist and comfortably look at the scenery.  He pulls over often for pictures and I am impressed.

"I've seen elk and mountain lion just over there," he tells me.  "The Nebo loop is one of my favorite rides," he adds.  I agree.  A very special ride with a new friend.

Two bikers on an awesome ride

Scott's ride is a Truimph
My ride is this awesome, dependable Yamaha Road Star

"Thanks Scott, an awesome ride. Give me a moment to remember the Nebo Loop"

I'm now heading west on Highway 6 for Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  I plan to camp there tonight, after some 150 miles.  The road is often described as the "Lonely Highway' but for me, I love the wide open country.  It's rare these days to see for fifty miles without another soul in sight.

Amazing. Adventure. Alive.

It's evening as I approach Great Basin NP
When I travel, I do not keep track of time or days so when I arrived at Great Basin National Park all three campgrounds are full.  It is Friday and the busy summer months are here.  As I circle the last campground, a young biker flags me down.  "All of the sites are full," he says.  "You're welcome to camp here at my site."  Tired, and thinking that it could be another 100 miles before I found a suitable campsite, I thank him.  This will be home for tonight.

Sharing a camping site with this biker at the Baker Creek Campground

"My name is Jim, and I'm coming down from Oregon."  He was a young guy in his late 20's and rode a cool looking Harley-Davidson; kind of reminded me of 'Easy Rider.'  Talk flowed easily.  Apparently, he didn't enjoy camping alone and me on the opposite side of the fence.  I'm glad I took up his offer and we share tales and a few beers that I just grabbed at the general store in Baker.  For such a young guy, he was traveling extensively and I'd call him a real 'adventurist.'  He turned in early as he was planning an extensive 15-mile hike in the morning.

I leave Jim a note as I leave.

Perhaps, we too will meet again. You never know Easy Rider.

My note to Easy Rider

I love this ride towards Ely, Nevada and eventually, I plan to camp on some U.S. Forest Service land between Benton and Bishop, California.

My brother Gilbert and I camped there before and we named the camp 'Paiute Ridge.'

I build a small fire, cook my stew over an open fire, eat my Hostess Cupcake, and gaze at the stars.  It is quiet.  No one around for miles.  My sleeping bag is inches off the dirt and the stars are so bright as I move my finger easily across the entire universe.

My camp site, Paiute Ridge

Near Independence along the Sierra Range.  Almost home.

Tomorrow, I hope to make home.

Arriving home as the sun sets in the west after 1,803 miles, satisfied from a ride out to place called the Nebo Loop

Saturday, July 7, 2018

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: Pinnacles National Park ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness:  Pinnacles National Park" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 04/24/2017.

Once upon a time, it was called Pinnacles National Monument, but today it is America’s newest national park. That’s where this story begins.
Graduating from San Jose State, getting married, and landing my first permanent job with the National Park Service all within one week was a miracle. “We’d like to offer you a job as an Administrative Assistant at Pinnacles National Monument.” I accepted without even knowing where it was located. I have always loved nature and the great outdoors, but my degree in business administration and management was pointing me toward a career in a big city. So this offer from the National Park Service was a dream come true.
A one-room cabin was our first home, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, and living on the east side of Pinnacles was the beginning of a special journey. Our son, Keith, was born in Hollister, 35 miles away.
Pinnacles is located in central California among the chaparral, oak woodlands, and canyon bottoms. It was formed some 23 million years ago by erupting volcanoes. Today as you enter the park, the green pastures are heaven for cows and horses. You will likely see peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and the inspiring California condor.
It is rich in history, as described in the National Park Service publication The Heart of the Gabilans: An Administrative History of Pinnacles National Monument. I recently spoke with the author, Timothy Babalis. His words bring to life the hard and meaningful labor of the young men who made up the CCC. My dad was part of that era, working for the CCC in Arizona and New Mexico. He made $30 a month constructing roads, campgrounds, bridges, lookout towers, and building for the U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service. He was required by his contract to send $25 home monthly to help his family. President Roosevelt’s New Deal put millions of young men to work after the Great Depression. Today, the efforts of the CCC can be seen in most national parks. Here at Pinnacles, their fine rock work can be seen on buildings, bridges, and the High Peaks trail system.
This little-known monument became Pinnacles National Park on January 10, 2013. Pinnacles is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the National Park Service. Birders, hikers, climbers, and nature lovers fall for it immediately. It is a rock climbing paradise. I was on the Mountain Climbing Search and Rescue Team for three and a half years and climbed nearly all the routes. The rock climbing passion is still with me today.
The movie Jonathan Livingston Seagull was also filmed here, and that was an exciting day for us. The movie producers and camera crews came to tell a love story about a seagull and it put Pinnacles on the map, though visitation was still considered low in comparison to other national parks.
I’m a biker at heart and my favorite ride is west on Highway 198 from Visalia, past Coalinga, then north on Highway 25 to the east side of Pinnacles National Park. The road winds through the valleys and opens up with vast grasslands where content cows and horses graze. You might even see the tule elk, which are making a comeback. There are a few sharp curves to wake you up, but overall it is peaceful and relaxing. One hundred years ago it would have looked much the same. In the spring, wildflowers profusely color the landscape.
I’ll camp a few nights at the east side Pinnacles Campground, hike the High Peaks Trail looking for California condor, and walk the short Bear Gulch Trail to the reservoir. Perhaps the best time to visit is March or April to enjoy the wildflowers. But my favorite time is the Fourth of July, camping and then riding into Hollister for the annual Hollister Rally held July 1 – 3. This event was suspended for many years but has come back in full force. Johnny’s is a must, a central point for all motorcyclists. The music rocks, the food is great, and you can see bikers roll down San Benito Street by the thousands. Hollister was made famous by Marlon Brando in The Wild One.
If you are thinking about a new motorcycle, sit on a corner and just watch the variety of bikes rolling into town. There is an Indian dealership on the north end of Hollister that I love to visit. Sometimes I’ll continue my ride westerly on Highway 156, stopping at San Juan Bautista State Historic Park, and then on to Monterey and Carmel. This route is only 40 miles. Highway 1 south toward Big Sur, San Simeon, Cambria, and Morro Bay is pure joy, but that’s another story.
I meet so many bikers on the road who know very little about the national parks. They are often amazed to learn that there are many types of park passes that can cut down on your budget when visiting. I’m always encouraging fellow bikers to buy an annual pass because an annual pass permits entrance for two motorcycles if the two people who sign the pass arrive at the same time on two motorcycles, regardless of the number of people on each motorcycle.
You will not be disappointed with the easygoing country ride to Pinnacles National Park, hiking some of the trails, camping, viewing the California condor, and maybe topping it off with a ride to the Hollister Rally. As Brando might have said, it’s a bit on the wild side.
Planning a Visit
When Pinnacles was signed into legislation in 2013, it became the country’s 59th national park. Located southeast of San Francisco in the Gabilan Mountains, it sprawls across 26,000 acres of ancient volcanic ground. Because it is less well known than Yosemite, Yellowstone, and other California parks, it offers solitude without scrimping on sights. Here you’ll find everything from sprouting wildflowers and hundreds of bee species to caves and—if you’re lucky—a California condor. Temperatures can be extreme in summer. If visiting then, pack plenty of food and water and stay hydrated!
To Do
Rock climbing, day hiking, wildflower viewing, birding, stargazing, caving, picnicking, camping, Ranger-led activities, and a visitor center and nature center.
Open 24/7/365, weather permitting. Highest visitation is in fall and during spring wildflower season. It is very common for the campground to fill on weekends and during holidays. Arriving in the middle of the week will improve your chances of a campsite.
Fifteen dollars per motorcycle or vehicle; $10 individual; $25 annual. All passes valid up to seven days for Pinnacles National Park. Interagency annual passes are $80 and offer admittance to more than 2,000 national parks and federal recreation lands. Ten dollars for seniors; free for U.S. military.
For more information or to purchase a pass, visit the NPS website at
Text and Photography: Robert Griego

Monday, July 2, 2018

~ A Motorcycle Legend ~

“You become what you think about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson.     

~ Robert Griego, Yellowstone National Park ~

His name is iconic, especially in the world of motorcycles, and beyond.

Perhaps, we took the same trails across Montana.  He pursued quality, and me, wildness.  He rode a Honda Super Hawk, 305cc, and I once rode the Yamaha Cross Country Sport, 305cc.  In the day, I raced against his bike and it was faster.  But speed is not what he wrote about, rather he spoke about movement.  His energy was in pursuit of something unique, something that he wanted desperately to find - he called it quality.

He camped along the trail, traveling a simple life, allowing his motorcycle to connect with the world.  All of his encounters added to his mission.  He saw poor examples and great ones.  He focused on the great ones, often trying to convince his son about the better road to follow.  His travel was usually alone, time for him to talk with himself.  He camped lightly on the land and tuned his bike along the way, something he did well.  He often attempted to use the same motorcycle logic to tune his thoughts and often getting stuck in meaningless dialogue, or so he thought.  “Quality, but what is it,” he said.

Montana's Beartooth Pass is directly in front of us.  He spoke about going up this mammoth pass at 10,947 feet, but we are going down the steep zigzag switchbacks towards Red Lodge.

Ruben Griego, Beartooth Pass
He is here, I feel it.  I feel so alive.  The coldness is replaced by the immense wild, landscape.

Today, I am riding a Yamaha Road Star with ample power driven by 1700cc.  Yet, he rode a Honda 305cc and his ride seemed surreal.  I say that because his son was on the back of his bike, and their camping gear was strapped on the back of his motorcycle.  I can not compete with that, and only hope to experience some of the things he might have seen on his cross country trip.  He paints a picture that puts me right there with him.

We are approaching Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area where I once worked.  We lived in Fort Smith and loved being among the Native American, Crow and Cheyenne. 

The Bighorn River is perhaps one of the best trout fishing spots in the world.  There are two inexpensive campgrounds on either side of the river.  On my last trip, my nephew Ruben spots a large black bear running along the shore on the other side of the river.  We do not know why she is running, and then, 100 yards behind are three little bears trying hard to catch up.  In the wild, they must learn to move like this when their mother is ahead of them.  Perhaps, there was a male black bear around or worse a mountain lion.  Today, their little legs would be tired but they learn a valuable lesson.  A nice distraction as I continue reading his book.

Robert Griego, Bighorn River

Robert Griego, Bighorn River

Ruben Griego, Bighorn River
Bighorn Canyon is not far from Beartooth Pass as the eagle flies.  I know how rugged this land is, so I continue to read his words with admiration.  He is riding double, going up and over Beartooth Pass on his bike with spitting snow; I have been there.  I feel the coldness.  What he sees is incredible.  As I turn the pages of his book, I want to say to him ride on.  However,  I know the coldness around him will slow him down.

The words on the page now tell me that they are in Washington.  Their buddies have returned home and he and his son continue to pursue their dreams.  Both struggle with the miles and their thoughts but in the end, they realize that they fulfilled their dreams miles ago, maybe over Beartooth Pass when life was simple -- cold with breathtaking views.

I once took a trip with my son from California, across Arizona, into New Mexico.  

Without really knowing it, it was on fathers day.  For me, it was magic.  We rode, camped, and the land looked similar to what he traveled.  The ride was special and allowed me to finally finish his book.  I've been reading his book for many, many years. 

Older now, I think I know what he was trying to tell me.  Life is about living in the moment, even when changing the spark plugs on your motorcycle.  Accomplishing any task with creativity and passion, doing the very best you can, and then some. You need to feel the wind on your face, feel your bike, I mean really feel it, and allow it to move you from one world into another.  A biker knows what I mean.  Then there are those time when the machine will not move or is in need of immediate mechanical attention.  Self-reliance is knowing that we can do more than we imagine when it comes from our soul, our heart.  Don Shula once said “It’s the start that stops most people.”

"Think about the kickstand," I tell myself.  A simple piece of metal.  It is attached to your machine and your left leg automatically kicks it into place to do its job.  It holds the weight of the bike.  It rests in perfect harmony until you raise it up.  We all have such things that hold us up, even when the weight is heavy.  Think about it.  How often do we acknowledge this simple fact in life?  It could be a friend, family, religion, nature, or your machine.  Logic, creativity, and soul apply to everything in life.

Robert M. Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, knew this and much, much more.  He is an outstanding ambassador to the motorcycle world and beyond.  Towards the end of his book, he writes “We do need a return to individual integrity, self-reliance and old-fashioned gumption.  We really do.”  Thank you, Robert Pirsig, for your words of inspiration. 

You were right all along. 

The self is more important than the machine.  Yet the machine helps move our soul.  Without the kickstand, the machine falls repeatedly.

For me the soul and machine provide balance, all in the pursuit of wildness, even if only within myself.

Montana's Beartooth Pass