Tuesday, February 26, 2019

~ Ride of a Lifetime ~

The article "Ride of a Lifetime was published on the Blue Rim Tours website on 3/27/2019.

Keep close to Nature’s heart… break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”  
 John Muir.

Four Corners, a ride of a lifetime.

Imagine riding your motorcycle across New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona.

I've been on these roads, always coming home with a smile on my face.  An adventure is what I call it and so does the Managing Editor at RoadRUNNER Motorcycle and Touring magazine.

I could hardly believe his words, “Would you like to join us on the Four Corners tour in the spring?”  Florian Neuhauser is the Managing Editor at RoadRUNNER Motorcycle and Touring magazine.  I listen intently about this organized motorcycle ride operated by their Blue Rim Tours - the Four Corners Tour.

I’m intrigued even before his words fade. 

The Four Corners region is iconic, perhaps one of the most sought after motorcycle rides in America, maybe the world. Epic. I’ve ridden these scenic corners across the four western states on a motorcycle.  It’s hard to say which is best.  These routes are timeless, absolutely motorcycle bucket list rides. 

Monument Valley is timeless.

Monument Valley always stays with you.

Florian continues, “This ride begins and ends in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We ride to Santa Fe, then near an inactive super volcano - Valles Calders, Aztec Ruins National Monument, Shiprock, Colorado Mining Towns  Durango, Silverton, and Ouray (the Million Dollar Highway), Mesa Verde National Park, Goosenecks State Park, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, and El Morro National Monuments.”  

Now, I’m intrigued.  “Florian, I’ve been on most of those roads except the Million Dollar Highway, and the ride sounds awesome – I’m in,”  I say almost before he finishes speaking.  "You will be part of the lead team, we'll cover the logistics," he finally adds.

The Blue Rim Tours logo is impressive and saying their manta out loud puts a smile on my face – “The motorcycle ride of a lifetime.”

This ride across the four corner states is unique, even epic.  I've never led an organized motorcycle tour, and that is a bit concerning.  But then I stop myself and recall the numerous benefit rides that I've been on with other bikers over the years.  Think about the roads, vistas, and those isolated roads across Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado.  Relax.  Breath.  Think about John Muir's words. Go for it.  Kickstands up!

One of my favorite rides in the four corners region was with our son, Keith.  It's called, "Father and son ride."  We rode from San Diego, California to La Joya, New Mexico along some lonely, scenic roads.  I remember asking him shortly after leaving Bandelier National Monument on NM Highway 4, “If we go left, we’ll end up at Bernalillo; if we go right, we’ll end up in Cuba.” He looked puzzled, later realizing that Cuba was safely along Highway 550 in New Mexico!

I tell him more about another ride over some of the same routes, it's called,  "Exploring the Badlands of New Mexico, Johnny Cash style."  Sharing an experience like this with your son, well that's priceless.

Father and son ride entering Arizona.

Cameron Trading Post - Arizona.

A few years ago on a solo ride, I camped at Canyon de Chelly National Monument and rode a horse into the sacred canyons of the Navajo Nation.  I’m not sure which I love more, riding a horse or a motorcycle.  Later, I invited my wife Denise to join me on a trip back to Canyon de Chelly; she loved it.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona is the heart of the Navajo Nation.

I had to come back to this natural wonder.

White House Ruins- Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

Amazing history before us - White House Ruins - Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

On another motorcycle ride, I remember the evening light slowly fading far above the San Juan River.  

My brother Gilbert and I build a small fire and cook our Dinty Moore stew over our primitive campfire.  They call this place, Goosenecks State Park.  We thank our ancestors for such a beautiful spot to camp and sleep comes easily on the rim etched by time.  Our first visit to this place was special, bonding two brothers beyond our earthly comprehension.  We talk about life and our love for such beauty found in Utah where our brother Moite once lived.  Tomorrow, we head towards the infamous, Monument Valley.  Gilbert has been there before but I have not.  I hope my dreams will paint a picture for me; I'm sure it will be priceless.

Monument Valley appears after a few short miles straight out of a John Huston movie.  I know this place.

Our view in the morning was incredible - Goosenecks State Park, Utah.

Our ride through Monument Valley continues just as John Huston's cameras recorded the scenes - the towering sandstone rock formations are incredible.  It’s hard to describe.  One needs to feel the wind in your face riding the miles.  Timeless.  Solitude.  Perfect.  Sacred. You'll never leave the same.  Time slows, then almost stops.  Moments.  There is a story called Hágoónee’ that you’ll remember.

My brother Gilbert and I riding towards Monument Valley. The scenery stopped us cold.

Monument Valley has beautiful people and awesome jewelry.  James taught me how to say "see you later" in Navajo.

The Land of Enchantment - New Mexico.

Out West, the roads are wide open.

This Indian is leading me to that place called - 'Nowhere.'

Near El Morro National Monument in New Mexico.

El Morro National Monument tells a story of timeless history.  In 1598, Spanish explorer Don Juan Oñate who searched for gold inscribed his name on the sandstone walls declaring his presence -“Pasó por aquí” ("passed by here").  The complete story is in my article “In Pursuit of Wildness:  New Mexico’s El Morro National Park.”

One can see fifty miles from the top of El Morro.

El Morro National Monument - a short walk on top of the mesa is a must.

Leaving El Morro National Monument - decisions.

The Million Dollar Highway is heavy on my mind; perhaps that will be a future article.  First, I need to ride those miles in Colorado with Blue Rim Tours, experience the moments, and then take a deep breath.  The words will come; the miles will see to that.

The Four Corners tour will cross three mountain passes in excess of 10,000 feet.  This past summer I crossed similar Colorado passes at Rocky Mountain National Park writing the article, Sí Se Puede honoring my brother Leo's retirement.  On a motorcycle, the air is crisp, clear with magnificent views that stretch forever, and then some.

An adventure on a motorcycle!

Blue Rim Tours calls it, “The motorcycle ride of a lifetime.” 

You decide!  I need to pack.  The miles before me beaconed me towards the four corners.

"Florian, I'm in."

I love Colorado.  I once worked for Rocky Mountain National Park, living in Estes Park for nearly seven years.

Quaking Aspens, high in the Colorado Rockies.

Riding high in the Colorado Rockies.

These bikers,  from France, riding their dream. See their story in the Bikers' Wall.

This Indian riding high in the Colorado Rockies.

Sweeping views in the Colorado Rockies.

~ In Pursuit of Wildness: Big Bend National Park ~

The article "In Pursuit of Wildness:  Big Bend National Park" by Robert Griego was originally published on the "RoadRUNNER Touring & Travel" magazine website on 2/26/2019.

As Steve McQueen said, “I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than any city on earth.” I’m not sure if Steve McQueen considered the badlands of Texas “nowhere,” but that’s where I’m riding my motorcycle on this epic adventure into the Wild West. In four days and 1,700 miles, I intend to wake up in the middle of Big Bend National Park.
I’m on a 2018 Indian Chieftain Limited for my trip to West Texas. I feel like a kid about to open his first Christmas present. I love Western movies, especially the line by Augustus McCrae in Lonesome Dove: “Ain’t nothing better than riding a fine horse in new territory.”
That’s how I feel as the warm wind hits my face along Route 66 in the Mojave Desert. This motorcycle is smooth, and I set the cruise control for 65 mph while listening to Marty Robbins sing, “Out in the West Texas town of El Paso, I fell in love with a Mexican girl …” GPS, radio, my music, cruise control, retractable windshield, endless gauges—OK, I’m spoiled as I cross the mighty Colorado River into Arizona.
It’s a long first day after 585 miles and I’m looking for my usual camp in the Kaibab National Forest, nine miles south of Ash Fork, AZ, where dispersed camping is permitted. There are no fire restrictions, so I collect firewood to cook my gourmet dinner—Dinty Moore beef stew with a few saltine crackers and a Hostess Cupcake for dessert. Sleep comes easily as the cool night breeze comforts me after crossing the hot desert. I try hard to see the stars, but it is pointless.
Taking off my helmet in front of Sofia’s Kitchen in Socorro, NM, a nice lady and her son say good morning. They are carefully looking over the Indian motorcycle. Her son speaks first: “Mom met her husband in Panama where he worked on the Panama Canal. He had a ranch near Silver City, NM, and rode an Indian motorcycle in the 1930s.” She smiles and says, “I’m 103 years old, and in two months I’ll be 104.” I give her my business card which she reads carefully.  In Spanish, she says, “I see you are a Griego. There are many Griegos here in Socorro.” I nod. She then wishes me well on my journey. “Que se vaya bien.” The icing on the cake was when she simply said, “I like your Indian.” And words from a lady who is almost 104 years old! I leave Socorro for the badlands of Texas with a smile on my face.
Texas is huge and I leave Interstate 10 heading south on Highway 118 toward Fort Davis National Historic Site. There is little traffic and the wide-open country is priceless. The National Park Service Rangers at the visitor center tell me that Fort Davis is perhaps the best surviving example of an Indian Wars’ frontier military post in the Southwest. The visitor center is full of historical pictures and surreal exhibits explaining that from 1854 to 1891, Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and on the Chihuahua Trail. I’m so happy that I stopped here on my way to Big Bend National Park.
Chisos Basin Campground at 5,401 feet is home for the next three days. Immediately I love Big Bend. I highly recommend the Window Trail (roughly five miles round trip) as well as the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to get a taste of the Chihuahuan Desert. It will lead you to the Rio Grande, and to my favorite—walking into Santa Elena Canyon. I absolutely consider this trip an honor, riding the Indian Chieftain Limited that turned heads everywhere. This machine was flawless. Marty Robbins is still singing. “… One night a wild young cowboy came in, wild as the West Texas wind …”
After 11 days and 3,400 miles out to West Texas, I found that place called “nowhere.”

Planning a Visit
The park is one of the last remaining wild corners of the U.S., with more than 800,000 acres ranging from an elevation of less than 1,800 feet along the Rio Grande to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. There are massive canyons, vast desert expanses, forested mountains, and an ever-changing river. From the forests of the Chisos down to the floor of the desert, more than 1,500 types of plants thrive in the park and support ecosystems full of pollinators, herbivores, and other wildlife. Take a ride along one of Big Bend’s roads, and discover just how much diversity and life there is in this amazing desert!
With more than 100 miles of paved roads, 150 miles of dirt roads, and about 200 miles of hiking trails the park offers countless opportunities for scenic driving, hiking, camping, backpacking, mountain biking, horseback riding, bird watching, wildlife observation, and stargazing. Additionally, the Rio Grande borders the park for 118 miles, providing options for half-day floats to extended excursions by raft, canoe, or kayak.
The park is experiencing an increase in visitation, busiest on extended weekends related to federal holidays, during the weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and during spring break in mid- to late March.
Big Bend National Park is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Some services and facilities may close or reduce hours during parts of the year. Always carry water!
$25 dollars per motorcycle; $15 individual; $30 vehicle. Big Bend annual passes, $55. The park operates three developed campgrounds; Rio Grande Village, Chisos Basin, and Cottonwood Campgrounds. The cost is $14 per night per site ($7 per night with applicable pass).
For more information or to purchase a pass, visit www.nps.gov/bibe.

Text and Photography: Robert Griego