I see mountains! It’s Thursday, somewhere west of Anton, Colorado, and after four-and-a-half days and 1,600 miles, the snowcapped Rockies appear on the horizon. My riding buddy Jay and I left our home state of West Virginia on Sunday. Now midday, we see the jagged peaks we’ve been longing for. The Great Plains were beautiful and adventurous, but we’re anxious to ride into some elevation.
In Aurora, Jay makes the required pilgrimage to a Harley shop and buys yet another T-shirt while I get a long overdue full-face helmet. Then we climb up, up, up. West Virginia, known as the Mountain State, has great riding, but its mountains are mere hills compared to the Rockies. West of Denver significant climbing and a diversion onto U.S. Route 6 leads to 11,990-foot Loveland Pass on the Western Continental Divide. Beyond that the road winds through scenic towns like Dillon and Frisco until we stop for two nights in Edwards.
Our next two travel days are memorable! Riding through the high plains beyond Steamboat Springs, the spectacular views blew us away. We stopped for gas in Maybell, Colorado, and encountered three dual-sport riders on their fourth day off-road — and they sure looked it. Our lunch break was at the BedRock Depot in Dinosaur, where delicious sandwiches and milkshakes hit the spot. Then on into Utah, climbing up to 8,300 feet on U.S. Route 191, north of Vernal. In Wyoming the land became so dramatic through the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area that I could hardly keep my eyes on the road. When a cold, wet front was forecast and we could see clouds ahead, the flat broadly curved roads allowed for high-speed fun. We beat the storms, passed the 2,000-mile mark and ended the day’s ride in Rock Springs.
Winds were a brutal distraction at the start of the next day, leaning constantly into 30-mph gusts until the wind abated near Cokeville, Wyoming, but soon after lunch in Montpelier, Idaho, the rain started. We climbed into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and it began snowing hard, sticking to trees, bushes and my windshield, but fortunately not the road. We were cold, but it made for a memorable photo at Emigration Pass on Idaho Highway 36. Dropping below the snow line, we ended the day’s ride outside of Preston, Idaho, at the Riverdale Resort. It has geothermally heated outdoor pools where we simmered for an hour. Ahhh ….
Two nights and friend farewells later, we headed north through Soda Springs, where many of the roads are posted “Open Range.” Sure enough, we rounded a curve to find a herd of cattle blocking the road. We honked, and they genially ambled aside. Idaho Highway 34 followed Tincup Creek on its way to the Wyoming border, and we paralleled the Snake River on U.S. 89/191 through the Bridger-Teton National Forest, reminiscent of our own West Virginia roads. As the valley opened, we finally entered Jackson.
We continued north on U.S. 191 through the incomparable Grand Teton National Park and into Yellowstone National Park from the south. Twice we crossed the Continental Divide at 8,000-plus feet before descending into the Firehole River valley. We enjoyed lunch and a timely geyser eruption at Old Faithful Village before riding a long circle around the park. East of Yellowstone Lake we cursed in our helmets as traffic halted. Up ahead a bison plodded along in our lane. Awestruck and humbled, we eventually rolled past this massive creature.
We exited via Yellowstone’s east entrance on U.S. Route 14 and rode over 8,524-foot Sylvan Pass, and rolled downhill for 20 long, pleasurable miles. The surroundings turned from pine green to desert brown as we passed between huge sandstone sentinels along the Shoshone River. We reached Cody, a nice thriving western town. At dinner, Jay smiled and ordered Rocky Mountain oysters. About half a bite was all I could manage of fried bull’s balls.
Continuing east on U.S. 14, we crossed a broad valley and began to climb yet again. The view behind us became breathtaking, the temperature dropped to 45 degrees and we crossed the Bighorn Mountains via 9,033-foot Granite Pass. We picked up I-90 at Ranchester, but I foolishly ignored a gas stop. My engine sputtered to a stop and we had to siphon a quart from Jay’s tank. He’ll never let me live it down.
Devils Tower was impressive. No extraterrestrials, just busloads of photo-snapping tourists. Our destination was Keystone, South Dakota, 130 miles away. Signs for Spearfish, Deadwood and Sturgis flashed by, but it was getting dark and drizzling so we roared on. Finally, we reached our hotel. We rode 510 miles over 12 hours and our backsides were numb. What’s half of an Iron Butt — a Wood Butt? An Iron Cheek?
We visited Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is much larger than Rushmore and was the highlight of our visit to the Black Hills. Under construction since 1948, the only recognizable part is Crazy Horse’s face and it won’t be finished in my lifetime.
After 3,300 memorable miles, we became horses headed for the barn. Our tripmeters were just shy of 5,000 miles when we arrived back home in West Virginia four days later. My wife greeted me by asking, “So, where to next year?”