Tag Archives: Great Roads West

Beartooth and Beyond | Favorite Ride

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Heading into the clouds of the Beartooth Pass south of Red Lodge, Montana. Photos by Marilyn Rich.

Hell yes! That is the only plausible answer when friends invite you to join them on an eight-day motorcycle ride through the mountains of Montana (including the legendary Beartooth Pass), Wyoming, Idaho, and Alberta, Canada.

We start our ride in Billings, Montana, on a pair of Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Classics rented from EagleRider, and head south to Laurel, where we pick up U.S. Route 212. We continue south to Red Lodge, where the road becomes Beartooth Highway and crosses into Wyoming on its way up to Beartooth Pass (10,947 ft). This is one of the best motorcycling roads in America, and it is easy to see why, even in the rain.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

West of the pass, we turn south on Wyoming Route 296, which is also known as the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway. The byway has great sweepers as well as picturesque views of the Absaroka Mountains as it climbs up and over Dead Indian Pass (8,071 ft).

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Looking down on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway.

We arrive in Cody in time to tour the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a superb display of life in the Old West. The center has five museums: the Buffalo Bill Museum, which is about his life and times; the Plains Indian Museum, which showcases art and heritage; the Draper Natural History Museum, highlighting the ecosystems of Yellowstone; the Whitney Western Art Museum; and the Cody Firearms Museum.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

We awake to a light rain that lingers until we head into the mountains west of Cody, and then the heavens open up with what my granddad used to refer to as “a real frog-strangler.” Looking over and around the windshield, I am barely able to make out the taillight of the bike in front of me, and I have no idea how he manages to follow the road on our way back to Beartooth Highway. The clouds part as we ride into Cooke City, Montana, a Wild West town where motorcycles have replaced horses at the hitching posts.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Crossing into Wyoming on the way to Beartooth Pass.

Our adventurous ride through Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park includes a wide variety of wildlife; a large RV that decides to stop, unannounced, in the middle of the road to take some pictures; and a herd of bison that crosses the highway one or two at a time, backing up traffic for a mile. When our turn comes to run the bison gauntlet, an exceptionally large bull gets ready to cross the road. We are directly behind a pickup truck, so I suggest to our riding partners that when the truck starts to move, we should stay close to its rear bumper so it looks like we’re being towed.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Buffalo looking for water in the parched Yellowstone River.

After spending the night in Jackson, Wyoming, we ride west on State Route 22 over Teton Pass (8,432 ft) and into Idaho. The winding roads, the views of the Tetons to the east, and crossing rivers with trout fisherman in waders fly casting made for a fun, scenic ride. We continue north on a stretch of U.S. Route 20 known as Mesa Falls Scenic Byway.

We cross back into Montana and end our day in Butte, once a wealthy copper mining town and more recently home to the late Evel Knievel, the legendary motorcycle daredevil. In the morning, we ride through downtown to view the mansions that signify a bygone era, and then head west through mining country. It’s Saturday morning and we are getting low on gas, so we stop in the tiny town of Phillipsburg to fill up. The gas station also serves as a general store, a casino, and a bar, all of which have numerous customers.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
The Hidden Moose Lodge in Whitefish, Montana.

We turn north from Missoula in 100-degree temperatures, finally gaining some relief along the shady roads on the eastern shores of Flathead Lake. Heading back west across the top of the lake, we encounter the largest flock of eagles we have ever seen.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Going-to-the-Sun Mountain in Glacier National Park.

We spend the night at the Hidden Moose Lodge in Whitefish, an exquisite place that serves a gourmet breakfast every morning. With full bellies, the bike feels noticeably heavier as we climb Going-to-the-Sun Road through Glacier National Park, one of the few roads that can give Beartooth Highway a run for its money. We venture across into Alberta, Canada, and visit Waterton Lakes National Park, which is the northern part of the Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Entering Alberta, Canada, at Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.

Being from the flatlands of Florida, we’re overwhelmed by the endless peaks and scenery of the Rocky Mountains. We stay at the quaint Kilmorey Lodge, overlooking the Emerald Bay of Waterton Lakes. Relaxing by the gazebo with a refreshing beverage, we’re joined by countless white-tailed deer that consume any vegetation not covered in chicken wire.

Heading south the next morning takes us back across the border through the towns of St. Mary and Browning in northern Montana. A sign on the outskirts of Browning warns of strong crosswinds, but there’s nothing more than a gentle breeze. Ten miles farther south on U.S. Route 89, the breeze becomes a 60-mph crosswind that we battle with for the better part of 40 miles.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
At Pine Creek Pass in Idaho.

The town of Dupuyer, Montana, has a population of 93 and no general store or gas station, but it does have two bars. We opt for the Ranch House of Dupuyer for lunch and are pleasantly surprised when the owner/bartender/chef cooks up a superb pulled pork dish. It’s served by his children, ages four and seven, who provide better service than waiters at many fancy restaurants.

After riding through the haze of wildfire smoke, we stay overnight in Great Falls. The final leg of our journey takes us across the flatlands to the small town of Ryegate, where we are disappointed to discover we’ve missed the annual Testicle Festival.

Beartooth and Beyond Favorite Ride
Lunch stop at the Ryegate Bar & Cafe in Ryegate, Montana.

We arrive back in Billings and return the Harleys to EagleRider. Over eight days and 1,500+ miles, I can say that there was not a single road that I would not ride again in a heartbeat. Great roads, beautiful country.

The post Beartooth and Beyond | Favorite Ride first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Colorado Front Range Figure-8

Front Range Figure-8
The Rocky Mountain Front Range is a rider’s paradise. Photos by the author.

As we sat in the crimson hue of the Colorado Front Range sunset, the stone walls of the iconic Red Rocks Amphitheatre echoed with familiar lyrics. David Crosby’s face was laced with as many crevices as the surrounding sandstone spires, but his vocals gave no evidence of the octogenarian’s age. As he was joined onstage by Jason Isbell for an incredible version of “Wooden Ships,” the last lines sparked anticipation for the next day’s ride: And it’s a fair wind blowin’ warm out of the south over my shoulder / Guess I’ll set a course and go.

Front Range Figure-8
Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado, offers amazing views.

The next morning, that course was indeed set. Our route would be a figure-8 exploration of the eastern slope of the Rockies, flanking the Denver urban corridor. As we packed the side boxes on the Yamaha Super Ténéré with water and a few extra clothing layers, that fair wind rustled the leaves in the trees around our vacation rental in Golden. Thumbing the starter, the big parallel-Twin quickly settled into a smooth idle. I shifted into gear, and my wife, Cheryl, and I were off.

GOLDEN TO ESTES PARK

Figure-8 routes have always intrigued me. It may well go back to my youth watching the insane style of racing at the state fair. Anyway, I mapped a ride leaving Golden to the northwest and tracing that general direction to Estes Park, the northernmost point on our planned ride. The return route would traverse different roads intersecting that path on the way back south.

Front Range Figure-8

View Front Range Figure-8 ride route on REVER

After a little GPS-assisted navigation out of Golden, Coal Creek Canyon Road (State Route 72) was a relaxed warm up. Wide sweepers cut through treeless grassland at the lower elevation, and with the rise in elevation came a gradual increase in vegetation. Soon, it was clear that this was truly going to be a mountain ride. Near the tiny community of Pinecliffe, the ever-tightening corners coiled into a beautiful series of cliff-lined hairpins at an elevation of 8,000 feet. The fun had really begun.

We approached Nederland, which marked the intersection of our figure-8 route. The quaint town is due west of Boulder and sits near the picturesque Barker Meadow Reservoir. After rolling through the town, we resumed our northern trek on the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway (State Route 72). The Peak to Peak is a famous ride in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains that is considered one of the most beautiful stretches of road in the state.

Front Range Figure-8
Golden is a bustling Colorado town just west of Denver with a clear emphasis on outdoor adventures. It’s also home to Coors Brewing Company.

Not a dozen miles into this leg, I spotted something moving in the woods to my right. A moose was standing in the middle of a tiny pond drinking. As we parked the Yamaha and strolled to get a better vantage point, the creature raised its broad, dripping snout and regarded us with supreme disinterest. I did not blame her. After more motorists discovered what we were watching, the shoulder became an impromptu parking lot. It was time to head out.

Front Range Figure-8
Cheryl is of no concern to a hydrating moose.

Back on the bike, we continued the curvaceous route on the Peak to Peak toward Estes Park. Intermittent sprinkles met us along the way. There were patches of very wet tarmac, indicating that we had the good fortune of arriving just after a few downpours. It was becoming clear that, despite the rough winters in this region, the road condition was remarkably smooth and consistent.

The Peak to Peak Scenic Byway lived up to its majestic reputation, and every mile was a joy. Mountain peaks flanked the road on both the near and far horizon. The long morning of riding had us more than ready for lunch as we rolled into the outskirts of Estes Park, which is the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park and was bustling with tourist activity.

Front Range Figure-8
Spanning 55 miles from Central City/Black Hawk at the southern end to Estes Park at the northern end, the Peak to Peak Scenic Byway runs through the Front Range and is one of many on the list of great Colorado roads.

We pulled into the first diner we saw. After our patty melts arrived, the owner stopped by for a chat. When we told him about the moose sighting, he was genuinely impressed. He said we were in the middle of the elk rut, so seeing those behemoths butting heads would not be that unusual. However, he said that folks who had lived in the area for years have not seen the elusive moose. We felt uniquely lucky.

Front Range Figure-8
The historic Stanley Hotel in Estes Park is an intriguing place to spend an hour or two or a long weekend.

After finishing our lunch, we made a brief stop at the Stanley Hotel, a stately 140-room Colonial Revival hotel built in 1909. It was the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining and the 1980 film, and it served as a filming location for the 1997 TV miniseries. The Stanley was also the setting for the fictional Danbury Hotel in the 1994 film Dumb and Dumber. You can stay in the hotel, drop in for a tour, or pick up a variety of “REDRUM” souvenirs from the gift shop.

We could have spent the rest of the day in the Stanley’s historic lounge, which has an elegant carved wooden bar, a pressed-tin ceiling, and an impressive selection of whiskeys. But the road was calling, and it was time to finish our figure-8.

Front Range Figure-8
The Whiskey Bar & Lounge in the Stanley Hotel.

ESTES PARK TO BLACK HAWK

We rolled southeast out of Estes Park past a few golf courses and lush green hills. U.S. Route 36 proved to be another fantastic motorcycling road in the Front Range. Gray granite outcroppings laced with a variety of conifers lined the winding road. The riding was enjoyably devoid of traffic, and the threat of rain had thankfully subsided.

At the town of Lyons, U.S. 36 started the southern curve back toward the intersection of our figure-8. We were back in the grasslands and rolling hills for several beautiful miles, and then 36 straightened out on its southern line toward Boulder. Of course, the closer to the city that we got, the heavier the traffic became. When the 36 morphed into State Route 7, we were fully in the Boulder suburban area.

Front Range Figure-8
An impressive welcome to the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park.

When we made the western turn onto Boulder Canyon Drive (State Route 119), we were more than ready to climb back into the foothills of the Rockies. When a motorcyclist hears the word “canyon” in a road’s name, it’s like music to ear-plugged ears. Again, the Front Range did not disappoint. The road snaked through tunnels, beside evergreen-lined rivers, and beneath gray rock formations on its route west. It is a truly spectacular motorcycle ride.

When we were approaching the now familiar town of Nederland, we rolled along the banks of the Barker Meadow Reservoir that we previously saw from a distance on the first half of the figure-8. South of Nederland, Route 119 took a decidedly southern bend toward our next planned stop. In our pre-ride mapping, we discovered a pair of historic gold mining towns that have since undergone a metamorphosis as gambling destinations.

Front Range Figure-8
Central City is a well-preserved remnant of the roaring past.

We were greeted in Central City by historic buildings and narrow streets. Saloons, shops, and restored hotels graced the brick architecture. We saw the quaint and colorful history, but not the gambling, and that was just fine with us. We stopped at a brewpub on the town’s main street and had a nice chat with the bartender. The gregarious barkeep graced us with a few painfully corny jokes before answering our myriad questions about the town.

The treasure trove of local knowledge told us that the town of Central City and its close neighbor Black Hawk were hotbeds of the Gold Rush after a huge local gold strike in 1859. Later in the 1800s, the towns were connected to Denver by rail, and the boom continued. However, as they say, all good things must end, and the towns both declined with the dwindling of the mineral wealth in the 1900s.

Front Range Figure-8
The Yamaha Super Ténéré proved a worthy mount for the Rocky Mountain ride.

After a few more wonderfully bad jokes, our raconteur brought us to the current state of the area. In the early 1990s, Colorado passed limited-stakes gaming in the state, and the tiny towns picked up on the idea. He said the towns have become the gambling heart of the state, accounting for nearly 90% of Colorado’s gaming revenue. Noticing our quizzical looks after scanning the small smattering of video poker machines and one-armed bandits in the pub, he said with a smile, “Wait until you ride south.”

The merry jokester was prophetic. As we left the quaint ambience of Central City, we rolled through a bit more history before it became clear. High-rise casinos and hotels rose like specters as we rounded a corner. The dichotomy that has been created in this area emerges most distinctly in the town of Black Hawk. Juxtaposed with 150-year-old brick buildings are massive, engineered tributes to modern man’s lust for a quick buck. The irony is more than evident. Gone are the starry-eyed miners, only to be replaced by glassy-eyed gamblers.

Front Range Figure-8
Clear Creek flows through Golden and is a magnet for anglers and water sports enthusiasts. The label of Coors beer says “Brewed with 100% Rocky Mountain Water,” and this creek is its source.

We motored out of the unlikely Rocky Mountain “Vegas” and back toward our starting point. The last portion of the ride was a great mix of all that we had experienced on the figure-8 ride into the Front Range. The road was smooth and well maintained, and the scenery was spectacular. We dropped from thick forest, to grassland, to the bustle of Golden.

While not a full exploration of the Colorado Rockies, our tour was a nice overview of the roads and ecosystems of the area. The 40-degree swing in temperatures and the varied precipitation on the ride made it clear that gear choice and preparedness is vital in the Rockies. Because of the elevation, this is strictly a late spring to early fall ride. That said, we would love to return for the spring bloom or the fall leaves to explore the Front Range further.

The post Favorite Ride: Colorado Front Range Figure-8 first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Spring Trifecta: A Return to Riding, Concerts, and Baseball

Spring Trifecta
On this Spring Trifecta ride, Tim Kessel combined his three loves: a scenic motorcycle ride, baseball, and live music. Photos by the author.

I am not one to repeat most motorcycle rides, and I am certainly not one to revisit my old articles. However, there is a curious symmetry to this Spring Trifecta piece. Two years ago, virtually to the day, I wrote a web article for Rider titled, Spring Training: A Good Reason to Dust Off the Bike. I penned the piece after intertwining some great southern Arizona motorcycle rides, Cactus League spring training, and concerts at the appropriately named Innings Festival. It was a great time, but the precipitous onset of Covid-19 followed immediately cutting spring training short and rendering gatherings like music festivals a thing of the past.

This spring, with Covid loosening its talons on society, I was going to return to spring training to watch the boys of summer hone their skills and to the Innings Festival for more good music. I had already traced new southern Arizona motorcycle routes. This time, it was not a novel virus that interfered; it was a dispute between those same boys of summer and their bosses that silenced the baseball diamonds. With one leg of my trifecta of fun severed, I cancelled my spring riding and concert plans.

Spring Trifecta
Sloan Park is home to the Cactus League spring training for the Chicago Cubs.

A few weeks later, the baseball owners and the players’ union agreed to an eleventh-hour deal, and spring training was green-lighted for a late start. My routes were already in place and bats were again going to crack. All I was missing was a musical component to complete my return to southern Arizona and some semblance of normalcy. An Internet search revealed that Roger Clyne, the rock balladeer of the Southwest, was to perform at the intimate and beautiful outdoor Mesa Amphitheatre, which is just a stone’s (or hardball’s) throw away from the Arizona training facility of the Chicago Cubs. Perfect!

Spring Trifecta
Arizona’s Sonoran Desert is the perfect place for a scenic springtime ride.

As it turns out, it was perfect. My ride south of Phoenix was amazing. Towering cacti stood sentinel as I wound though Sonoran Desert National Monument. Blue skies and rugged mountains served as backdrop in my loop ride even further south through the Southwestern desert. Things like labor disputes, global viruses, and two years of missing many of my favorite things blurred in my rearview mirrors.

The night after my sojourn into the arid version of God’s country, I settled my saddle fatigued posterior into my seat at the Mesa Amphitheatre. Intermixed in the enthusiastic audience were Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers concert shirts and various iterations of baseball jerseys. Clearly I was not the only one enjoying a vibrant melding of spring activities. Under the Mesa, Arizona, stars, Clyne played his raucous mix of original songs, threw back shots of his proprietary tequila, and generally whipped his fans into a communal frenzy. I offer up a strong recommendation. Experience a Roger Clyne show as it is very easy to become a fan.

Spring Trifecta
Enjoying a performance by Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers at the Mesa Amphitheatre in Mesa, Arizona.

In the couple of days that followed, I embarked on another much-needed and spirited desert ride through Arizona’s burgeoning wine country. The high grasslands of southeastern Arizona are fertile ground for both grapes and entertaining riding. I rode past isolated vineyards and unique small towns in the high desert expanse. My big BMW R 1200 GS seemed as happy to free from the stagnancy of winter, variants, and quarantines as I was.

I followed the riding with a bit of sun-warmed bleacher time watching the relaxed pace of an early Cactus League practice at the Cubs spring training facility. Listening to bats cracking and the banter of players returning to their diamond sanctuary was just what the doctor ordered.

So there you have it – one man’s return to some kind of normalcy. Baseball is back, concerts are returning, and riding is always there. There is a smile on my face. Trifecta complete.

The post Spring Trifecta: A Return to Riding, Concerts, and Baseball first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Gold Country Highs: Pass Bagging in Nevada and California

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
My Silver Fox Honda ST1300A and my honey’s Flying Purple People Eater BMW R1150 RT-P impatiently await our return so they can resume their romp down California’s Sonora Pass.

Late spring is a great time to do some pass bagging in the Nevada and California gold country. The passes are usually open by mid-May, and there is a beautiful mix of greenery, wildflowers and snowcaps in the high elevations. Today’s ride also contains a bit of adventure, as my honey and I are boldly moving into the 21st century with a pair of new helmets that have integrated headsets for bike-to-bike communication. I soon learn that it can be refreshing having voices in my head other than my own.

“I’m rolling,” I say into the microphone as we simultaneously turn northeast out of Virginia City onto Nevada State Route 341. We experience our first pass of the day within minutes as we reach 6,789-foot Geiger Summit and follow its winding path down into south Reno. Crossing U.S. Route 395, we stay on the same road, but it magically changes numbers to 431 and takes us to our second pass, Mount Rose.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

State Route 431 begins with a straight climb through the foothills, but soon changes into 20 mph curves, which are a bit tighter than the sweeping 45 mph curves on 341. We begin to see some patches of snow before reaching the 8,911-foot summit, and upon crossing it are rewarded with our first peeks at Lake Tahoe. The lake will dominate our view for many miles and we are able to take brief looks at it because the tight curves have widened out to 50 mph top-gear corners, which we follow down to State Route 28.

As we follow the roundabout left on 28, an emphatic, “I’m hungry,” booms from my headset speakers.

“Good timing,” I reply. “We’re almost to Incline Village and can stop at T’s Mesquite Rotisserie for a burrito.”

T’s is a little hole-in-the-wall place on Route 28 crammed between the Incline Village Cinema and 7-Eleven, but its lunchtime crowd shows it is a locals’ favorite. We are thoroughly satisfied sharing a tri-tip burrito and leaving their rotisserie specialties for the next time we’re in town.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Even the author, pictured in his typical sedentary position, can’t detract (much) from the beauty of Lake Tahoe.

Heading south on Route 28 again, we continue to steal glimpses of Lake Tahoe on the right as we ride along its shoreline. When 28 dead-ends, we turn right onto U.S. Route 50 and savor our last miles of Tahoe views as we head toward South Lake Tahoe.

Entering South Lake Tahoe, we avoid the worst of its traffic by taking Pioneer Trail as we cross into California. We turn left to rejoin U.S. 50 but only stay on it for a few miles because our next left onto California State Route 89 takes us to 7,740-foot Luther Pass.

Luther Pass is really only a connector road, but it is a beautiful one with granite cliffs rising on both sides and valley views to the east. Continuing on 89, we go through Markleeville and follow it alongside winding creeks as its name changes to State Route 4.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Originally part of the 1860 Pony Express route across the Sierra Nevada, Luther Pass is now frequented by somewhat shinier steeds.

Route 4 continues following creeks upstream into the Sierra and soon the centerline disappears, making it a one-and-a-half-lane road. That’s where the fun really begins. The next several miles up to the Ebbetts Pass summit of 8,730 feet are full of first-gear switchbacks with extreme road cambers. Give any vehicles in front of you lots of space. If they choose to stop for any reason and leave you stranded in the middle of a highly cambered curve, it will lead to some truly exciting moments. There are also incredible views in all directions if you can ever spare a second to take your eyes off the road.

Soon after the summit, I hear in my headset, “Some doofus just passed me on the one-lane road and now he’s heading up your tailpipe.” I check my mirror and find said doofus right behind me. As I hug the right side of the lane to let him by, I think about how much I like our new intercom helmets.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
This playground called the Sierra Nevada runs 400 miles north to south and 70 miles east to west. The incredible views are owed to formations of granite that have been exposed by erosion and glaciers over millions of years.

The ride down Route 4 is much like the ride up, but it soon becomes two lanes again and mellows out. We then begin looking for our next left turn onto Parrotts Ferry Road, past the town of Murphys. This road has more enjoyable curves and takes us to our night’s destination of Columbia, California.

Columbia is a state park set up as an Old West mining town complete with museums, people demonstrating skills of the period and stagecoaches running through town. Contrastingly, Columbia’s airport was hosting a canard aircraft show during our stay, so we also had to check that out.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Columbia, California, offers the best of both worlds! A 10-minute walk can take you from the Wild West experience of a stagecoach ride to the wild blue yonder with a visit to Canards West, the annual canard aircraft festival, typically held the first weekend of June at the Columbia airport.

After our tourist day, we continued on Parrotts Ferry Road and merged briefly onto State Route 49 south through the town of Sonora. We then turned left onto State Route 108 east, Sonora Pass Road, which was another highlight of our trip.

At 9,624 feet, Sonora Pass is slightly more civilized than Ebbettts Pass, with two lanes for its entire length. It has its share of first-gear switchbacks and my favorite views of the trip. The descent back into the valley is steep, and it quickly drops us off at an intersection with U.S. 395.

motorcycle ride Lake Tahoe
Watch out! It’s a long way down! Riders should pull off the road to ogle the Sierra Nevada views. Sonora and Ebbetts passes have many curves and few guardrails.

We blast north on 395 with our pass bagging nearly complete. A right turn onto U.S. 50 in Carson City and then a left onto Nevada State Route 341 several miles later takes us to our last pass of the trip. Approaching Silver City, we turn right and follow the Truck Route signs to Virginia City. This takes us up Occidental Grade with its 20 mph curves, offering a fine completion to our ride.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Washington’s Palouse Region

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
The wheat region of eastern Washington is a patchwork quilt stitched together with outstanding motorcycle roads and interesting farming towns. Photos by the author.

“The wheat field has…poetry,” Vincent Van Gogh once said. The muse the master painter found in wheat inspired dozens of his works. By the end of my recent tour through thousands of acres of the waving grain, I could see the wisdom of the one-eared post-impressionist.

I was the outsider, so I happily left the route planning to the native Washingtonians. My wife’s brother-in-law, Scott, and his brother-in-law, Dennis, discussed the riding merits of different roads leading to, and within, the Palouse region of eastern Washington. You’d think that any activity that begins with two mentions of “in-laws” could be destined for disaster. Not so in this case.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Cow Creek Mercantile in Ritzville is as diverse and interesting as its roof sign indicates, and the food is delicious.

We enjoyed a great meal at Cow Creek Mercantile in the historic farming center of Ritzville. For what it’s worth, I enthusiastically recommend the delectable Kraut Runza. It’s a dish certainly inspired by the area’s heavy Volga German influence. We mounted up and headed northeast on our mixed bag of bikes. Dennis was piloting his red Victory, Scott was on his vintage Honda Gold Wing and I was riding a Shadow that was way out of my adventure bike comfort zone.

I settled into the low, feet-forward riding position as we rolled past the vibrant patchwork of wheat fields that are ubiquitous in the rolling hills of eastern Washington. There is a clear visual distinction between the vibrant, dense greens of the irrigated fields and the muted hues of the “dry” farms. Much of the region looks like a huge, non-geometrical, undulating checkerboard.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
There is a concerted effort to preserve the rich farming history throughout the Palouse region. This majestic barn is a great example.

Our first stop on this Pacific Northwest adventure was the quaint farming town of Sprague. I flagged the others down when I spotted a cluster of vintage trucks and farm vehicles on the leading edge of town. With the kickstands down, we discussed the history of the place, and Scott informed me that there was an even more intriguing display of classic trucks on the other side of town. After a ride down Sprague’s brick building-lined 1st Street, his assessment proved true. I spent an inordinate amount of time amidst the patina-rich trucks strolling in a fascinating time warp.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Dozens of classic trucks sit at parade rest in the tiny farming community of Sprague.

Back on the road, we headed southeast on State Route 23 deeper into the Palouse. The predominate theory of the region’s name is that it is derived from the name of a Native American tribe, the Palus, which was morphed by French traders with their word “pelouse,” meaning an expanse of land covered in thick grass. When riding the region, the French word certainly fits. We motored through gentle rolling hills and sweeping corners. The vivid blue sky cut a sharp demarcation above the green hues of the wheat fields and grasslands.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
The Palouse Scenic Byway traverses a gently undulating quilt of rolling fields.

At the small farming town of Ewan, we again headed northeast. We stopped at Rock Lake, which to me simply looked like a prime fishing hotspot. However, my local riding companions said there was much more to this deep-blue body of water. It seems that Rock Lake is as mysterious as it is beautiful. There are legends of a sea monster in the cold depths of the lake that some local farmers swear is true. Then there is the story of a train wreck that dumped a load of brand new Model T Fords in Rock Lake a century ago. One thing is verified: the deep, cold lake seems to have a voracious appetite for careless anglers, as many have submerged never to return to the surface.

After several more miles of great riding through rolling wheat fields, we next stopped at a very cool farm equipment shop that had two huge tractors on sky-high poles. As we were discussing the next leg of the route, the owner (and engineer of the elevated sculptures) came out to the road to see if we needed help, and gave us directions on how to get to the centerpiece of our ride, Steptoe Butte. As he wiped the axle grease from his hands, he suggested a “winding” northern route that would add time, but also a new and different ecosystem including forests of evergreens. He had me at winding.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
An elevated display takes farm equipment to new heights above the Palouse.

We climbed out of the farm and grasslands into the pines south of Spokane. The air was cooler, and the curves more serpentine. This forested stretch was not long, but it added another layer to a great ride. We took a turn to the southeast onto the Palouse Scenic Byway. Historic barns dotted the vibrant green grasslands that comingled with the muted hues of the wheat fields. On a couple of occasions, we had to pull over to make way for massive farm machinery navigating the narrow country roads, but other than that, the route was virtually devoid of four-wheeled traffic.

Later, from the saddle of his Gold Wing, Scott pointed out a swell in the rolling land that was larger than the rest. I concluded that it must be Steptoe Butte in the distance. As we rolled closer, the butte grew subtly in size, but it was not, I thought in the moment, as impressive as I anticipated. That would change as we started the ascent up its narrow road. The majesty of Steptoe Butte State Park comes on slowly and then grows exponentially with altitude.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
The distinct contrasts of farms and fields is on full display from the road that winds up Steptoe Butte.

Once on top of Steptoe, the views were staggering. That patchwork of greens and browns that we had ridden through were on expansive display in a full 360 degrees. Short walks across the summit parking lot afforded long perspectives in every direction. I was told that the view from the butte’s elevated position is about 200 miles. We were lucky enough to be there on a day with blue skies and bulbous clouds, which only added to the natural ambiance.

Steptoe Butte has a fascinating history. At the 3,612-foot summit, the State Park Service has erected some informative interpretative panels with some of the notable ecological and human influences on the area. The first primitive road up Steptoe was cut in 1888. That same year, James “Cashup” Davis completed a two-story, 50-room hotel at the top. Davis died in his hotel in 1896 at the age of 81. The hotel, which suffered a decline in visitors over the years, closed its doors forever in 1902 and burned in an accidental fire in 1911.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Skirted by the vibrant greens of maturing wheat, Dennis leaves Steptoe Butte in the rearview mirror.

After taking in the views from Steptoe, we descended the narrow road back to the floor of the park, and then back onto the scenic byway. The entertaining curviness and undulation of the tarmac continued until we reached our next stop. We rolled into Colfax, which serves as the seat of Whitman County. Again historic brick buildings lined the long Main Street of the town.

We stopped at Eddy’s Chinese and American for some sustenance and to recount the ride to that point. My body was starting to feel the effects of the strange-to-me cruiser seating position, and the constant blast of wind on the unfaired Honda. The sweet and sour pork was tasty, and the conversation was lively as we shared the restaurant with farmers and locals.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
Dennis and Scott discuss our route options southwest of Spokane.

With bellies full, we headed west toward our staging point of Ritzville. There were several more tiny farming communities dotting the return ride. We rolled through Endicott, Benge and Ralston. It is interesting to note that no matter how compact the communities in this region, each one has a massive grain silo as a centerpiece. Most also seem to have at least some display of historic farming machinery to pay tribute the region’s lifeblood. Wheat dominates the landscape, the lifestyle and the economy of most of eastern Washington.

My amiable and knowledgeable local guides had certainly traced a wonderful circuit through a fascinating part of the country. The region is unique in its expanse, its importance to the world food supply and its beauty. The natural contours of the Palouse are dressed in a coat of many colors, and the ribbons of tarmac that traverse those contours are a motorcycling playground. I will remember fondly the wide-open beauty of the Palouse. The wheat field certainly does have poetry.

eastern Washington Palouse motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Central New Mexico

Astronomy, History and Great Roads

motorcycle ride New Mexico
Central New Mexico is a motorcycling wonderland offering up environmental and cultural diversity only found in the American Southwest. Photos by the author.

I stand over the open side case of my BMW R 1200 GS outside the Black’s Smuggler Winery in Bosque, New Mexico. I carefully wrap the bottle of local cabernet in a t-shirt and pack it in the middle of my left side box. It has become a tradition to bring my wife a bottle of the regional wine from any state I visit without her. If that means packing a little lighter for the ride, so be it. This is early in my trek through west-central New Mexico, so the bottle of red will be my traveling companion for several hundred beautiful miles.

I head south through the arid Southwestern landscape, cutting through a portion of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. This terrain lives up to the common perception of New Mexico. However, I know that my ride will encompass much more than desert — on a map my 400 miles will trace a big letter C through the diversity that is central New Mexico.

motorcycle ride New Mexico
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The first real town on my route is Socorro. The historic city sits in the Rio Grande Valley and is the seat of Socorro County. There is copious history in this region, much of it tied to the strong Mexican influence. The name translates “to give aid or to give succor,” which is a reflection of the town’s early history of importance to the earliest of Mexican immigrants, including the 1598 expedition led by Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar.

The sun is low in the sky as I roll west out of Socorro on U.S. Route 60. The road is just a bit curvier, the grass is greener and mountains emerge in the horizon. Just after I ride through tiny Magdalena, juniper trees and other low evergreens dot the landscape. The Tres Montosas peaks rise out of the high chaparral landscape to my right.

Datil New Mexico
It has been a while since a wrench has been turned in this garage in Datil.

Just as I am getting used to the treed horizon, the evergreens subside and something otherworldly replaces them. Huge, white bowls stand like strange, metallic mushrooms on the expansive Plains of San Agustin. I am rolling into the Very Large Array, a world-renowned astronomical radio observatory. Each movable antenna is 25 meters in diameter. The observatory, which dates back to the early 1970s, has made key observations of black holes, pulsars and other intergalactic intrigues. The white bowls are so spread out as to be on the horizon for several miles of my ride.

Very Large Array (VLA)
The astronomical dishes of the Very Large Array (VLA) rise impressively out of the New Mexican desert.

Once clear of the VLA, I ride up in elevation and vegetation to my stop for the night. Datil is a tiny town sitting at an elevation of 7,400 feet. I walk into the small general store that also serves as the check-in desk for the Eagle Guest Ranch. I am told by the amiable man handing me the room key that the guest ranch serves as the annual encampment for a big Moto Guzzi rally. I shed my gear in my room before heading to the guest ranch’s restaurant, which has the reputation as one of the best steak houses in New Mexico. Not having enough appetite for one of their large, fresh-cut slabs of meat, I opt for what turns out to be a delectable steak sandwich and a cold dark lager.

Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil
A room in the Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil serves as my stopover for the ride.

The morning air is cool as I roll out of Datil to the west. This stretch of U.S. 60 is lined with a mix of juniper and pine trees and the elevation brings a nice green hue that sits in subtle contrast to the desert and chaparral terrains of the prior day’s ride. Long, sweeping turns are a great warm-up to what will prove to be a supremely entertaining riding day.

Signs indicate I am approaching the aptly named Pie Town. I ride into what is basically a two pie-shop town that has garnered national attention for its quirkiness and mouth-watering baked treats. It has even been featured on CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” It is too early for pie, and I am not much of a sweets guy anyway, but I have to stop and visit the famous bakeries. Fun stuff.

Pie Town, New Mexico
World-famous baked goods are served up in tiny Pie Town, New Mexico.

With the aroma of crust and filling still clinging to my riding gear, I head farther west on U.S. 60. Again, the trees subside into high grasslands as I make my way to Quemado. Another tiny, inhabited dot on the map, Quemado features a small hotel, a few restaurants, a school and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church with its twin bells and historic cemetery. The quaint hamlet spells the end of my jaunt on U.S. 60.

I have been looking forward to the ride on State Route 32 since the employee at the Eagle Guest Ranch told me that it was the favorite stretch for the riders attending the Guzzi rally each year. Heading south out of Quemado, the road begins with sweeping turns and expansive views of the New Mexican grasslands. However, in just a few short miles, I climb into a beautiful pine forest. The trees grow larger with the climb in elevation that also brings the most winding and entertaining tarmac of the ride so far.

The beautiful road tops out at Jewett Gap, which sits at an elevation of more than 8,200 feet. After that crest, I start my curvy descent through rock canyons and then beside Apache Creek as I head farther south on my C-shaped New Mexican tour. I think back to the muted browns of the start of the ride as I take in the vibrant greens of this mountain region.

I ride into the small, bustling logging and ranching town of Reserve. I gas up and have a chat with the counter worker who is intrigued by the big GS at the pump. After telling him that I am heading south to Silver City, he tells me that I should take the short ride west past Luna where there is a great view of the entire valley. Of course I’m up for that, and I head west. The ride to Luna is fun, and the end game, that overlook, is all that the gas station attendant said it would be.

motorcycle ride New Mexico
The elevated view eastward over the town of Luna is panoramic and enchanting.

After retracing my ride to the east, I turn south on U.S. Route 180, which will be my route through the Gila National Forest all the way to Silver City. After dropping out of the forest, I come upon the Aldo Leopold Vista Picnic Area. Leopold has long been one of my favorite nature writers and his book, “A Sand County Almanac,” holds a special place in my heart and in my bookcase back home. The views from the vista are massive and their unspoiled nature would make Leopold proud. After a quiet visit to the vista, I am back on the road. As I roll though a beautiful mix of environments, I can’t help but think of some of my favorite Leopold quotes. The most fitting for this ride may be, “Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order.” Well said, Aldo.

downtown Silver City New Mexico
Silver City’s central Bullard Street is lined with pastel-hued adobe structures.

The remaining 40 miles to Silver City winds through grasslands, rocky outcroppings and ranches as I trace the bottom curve of the big letter C. I roll into Silver City under the arching welcoming sign to the city’s downtown. In comparison to the tiny towns I have ridden through on this trip, Silver City seems like a metropolis. OK, that’s an overstatement, but the town of more than 10,000 residents is active and vibrant. Silver City is home to Western New Mexico University and, like most college towns, there is an added youthful vigor. That energy permeates the town’s historic ambiance and Southwestern flair to create a delightful cultural mix. There are even stately Victorian homes in the historic district.

Silver City, New Mexico
Silver City is a bustling college town boasting authentic Mexican food and fun lodging.

I realize that it has been a huge faux pas that I have not had a Mexican meal on my tour of New Mexico. I pull in front of the Jalisco Café to remedy that oversight. I take in the colorful Mexican-themed décor as I wait in ever heightening anticipation for my chili relleno. It did not disappoint.

It is with a full stomach that I head out on the final stage to complete the bottom, eastward arc of my big letter C tour of New Mexico. I roll onto State Route 152, and soon realize that I have saved some of the best riding of the trip for last. I carve my way on the narrow and winding road through rocky passes, and juniper and oak thickets before dropping down back into grasslands and big views.

Silver City log cabin
A well-preserved log cabin highlights Silver City’s rich history.

As I end my tour where the winding road meets Interstate 25, I think about the nature of motorcycling. If I had ridden from my start in Bosque to where I am sitting at the Caballo Reservoir on the interstate, it would have been a short, direct, boring two-hour ride. But, in making that speedy letter I into an indirect letter C, I have done what motorcyclists have relished since the dawn of the sport — explore off the beaten path. What could be done on a superslab in two hours took me two days, and that’s just the way I like it. I’ll tell my wife about it when I deliver the well-traveled bottle of New Mexico cabernet.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Mineral King and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Yokohl Valley Road
Yokohl Valley Road presents a series of serpentine switchbacks as it curves narrowly through groves of oak trees. Tar snakes, yes. Traffic, no. Photos by the author.

The mission was simple: See some scenery, carve some curves and soak up some cool temperatures before the summer heat arrived.

Three of us left our homes in different corners of Los Angeles, California; I was on a KTM 1090 Adventure R, my brother was riding my BMW R 1200 GS and our friend was on a Honda ST1300, and we met at the Halfway House café, a popular stop for weekend riders. After a hearty breakfast — of the kind none of us ever eats on a non-riding day — we headed northeast through a string of sweet winding roads. Traversing Vasquez Canyon, Bouquet Canyon, Spunky Canyon and San Francisquito Canyon, we made our way through Lake Elizabeth and headed down into the wide Antelope Valley.

Sequoia Kings Canyon california motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The cool morning air rose to warming levels by the time we’d run the long straight roads that climb past Willow Springs, through a forest of wind turbines to the town of Tehachapi, where we gassed up and hydrated. Then, it was down wiggling Woodford-Tehachapi Road — pausing to admire the famed Tehachapi Loop, a railroad engineering wonder that curly-cues a length of track around itself, and the César E. Chávez National Monument, a library, museum and memorial of the California farm unionizer.

I’d been impressed by the roadworthiness of the 1090 Adventure R. My impressions improved as we began the tight twists of Caliente Bodfish Road, a narrow two-lane series of sharp curves that brought out the beast in it. Mindful of the livestock roaming along the unfenced sides of the road, and not wanting to dust my riding partners, I modulated the throttle as we rose up and over the crest and proceeded north toward Lake Isabella.

KTM 1090 Adventure R
The KTM 1090 Adventure R had intrigued me most for its off-road capability, but it was on the twisties that I was most impressed.

Wildflowers carpeted the flat fields of Walker Basin, where we paused to take beauty shots of the bikes and complain about the rising heat. Knowing we had a lot of miles left to cover, and certain it was going to get warmer before it got cooler, we dashed down the mountain, past Lake Isabella, to air conditioning, cold drinks and lunch in Kernville at Cheryl’s Diner.

Revived, we scooted out of Kernville, running north along the banks of the Kern River up Mountain Highway 99, watching the trees change from willow and sycamore to oak and finally pine. This higher-speed road carves up an increasingly narrow ravine, the rock walls closing in as the corners tighten. Riding past the turnoff for Sherman Pass, we skirted Johnsondale, left 99 for the seasonally closed M-90, and summitted at 7,300 feet near Ponderosa.

Walker Basin along the Caliente Bodfish Road
Despite the early summer heat, the fields of Walker Basin along the Caliente Bodfish Road were still resplendent with yellow wildflowers.

The 25 miles of State Route 190 downhill to the town of Springville may be the most dramatic motorcycle road in California. Countless tight corners, including some tricky decreasing-radius turns, drop almost 6,000 feet in elevation through pine forests and past trickling waterfalls.

We gassed up again and guzzled cool drinks under a broiling sun in Springville before running the last leg of our first ride day — the splendid, high-speed M-296/Yokohl Valley Drive, a poorly paved length of pavement with some extremely tight hairpin turns that crosses oak-dotted ranchland. When that deposited us on State Route 198, we hooked right, slid past the edge of glistening Lake Kaweah, and landed in Three Rivers, where we’d booked rooms for the night.

Yokohl Valley
David, astride the BMW R 1200 GS, gets a good look at the soft suede hills of Yokohl Valley.

We’d done a little more than 250 miles from the Halfway House. An ample meal at Sequoia Cider Mill prepared us for a good long sleep.

Again mindful of the heat, we saddled up early and rode north to the turnoff for Mineral King. Once a prosperous silver mining area — hence its name — Mineral King got national attention in the 1960s when the Walt Disney Company selected it to build a massive mountain ski resort. Environmentalists intervened; Disney departed.

What remains are the granite cliffs, groves of giant sequoias, rustic cabins dating from the 1870s and a narrow, patchy length of pavement that climbs 7,000 feet in a short 28 miles. It’s a slow, uneven road snaking through dense forests, past cabins hidden in the trees, hugging the side of a canyon wall that features sheer drops to the east fork of the Kaweah River far below.

giant redwood
A few miles uphill from the hot flats of Three Rivers, there suddenly appear redwood trees. This hardy survivor—the tree, that is—had been there for quite a while.

At the road’s end, in an alpine valley dotted with wildflowers and interlaced with gentle streams, we paused to fill our lungs with crisp mountain air and take the obligatory photographs. Hikers setting out for the peaks were headed for 11,000 feet and higher. We mounted up and picked our way slowly back down the hill.

Soon we were on Generals Highway, entering the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks area — I was getting to use my lifetime “senior” pass for the first time — and biting into a delightful lunch at the recently redesigned Wuksachi Lodge. An hour later, we had the keys to our cabins at John Muir Lodge. While my companions headed for the showers, I did an hour-long hike among the giant sequoias at Grant Grove, communing with the silence as the sun went down and the temperature dropped.

John Muir Lodge, high among the redwoods in Sequoia National Park
It was dusk and a chill was settling down as we parked the bikes and checked into our cabins at John Muir Lodge, high among the redwoods in Sequoia National Park.

Morning broke cold and damp, and it was 45 degrees as we walked to breakfast. It was colder and foggier when we saddled up and headed down East Kings Canyon Road toward the turn for State Route 245. Ordinarily a deliciously twisty downhill run through the towns of Pinehurst and Badger, this well-maintained mountain road loses elevation quickly through a 35-mile series of sweeping curves, each with its own impressive view of the great San Joaquin Valley.

This cold morning, though, the air temperature was just above freezing, the mist had turned to fog and the fog was turning to rain. We proceeded slowly, some of us maybe just a little smug that we had brought proper rain gear.

Old Stage Saloon at Fountain Springs
The Old Stage Saloon at Fountain Springs, said to have been founded in 1858, is famous for its fine food and strong cocktails. Our bad luck it was closed the afternoon we passed.

The unfriendly weather left us briefly as we paralleled State Route 99, but returned as we picked up Old Stage Road and climbed through Glennville and onto State Route 155 into Alta Sierra. Through a pleasant period of weak sunshine, I was able again to make the most of the KTM, carving corners as the two-lane rural roads took us up from farmland to grazing land to pine groves.

Soon the freezing rain had reduced visibility to a few bike lengths. We crawled over the summit and were still chattering in our helmets when we stopped again at Cheryl’s Diner in Kernville, this time to warm up with hot drinks.

We still had the southbound Caliente Bodfish Road to enjoy, and our reverse route through Tehachapi and Lake Elizabeth. But we’d already gotten more than we came for. Good scenery? Curves to carve? Cool temperatures? Check, check, check. Mission accomplished!

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Stage Route to Deadwood: Tracing a Historic Route to the Black Hills

Cheyenne Wyoming boots
There are at least 17 oversized cowboy boots in Cheyenne, which provides the interested visitor the opportunity for a scavenger hunt to locate all of them. Photos by the author.

Cheyenne’s population of 60,000 more than doubles during its 10-day Frontier Days rodeo, which took place a week after I arrived. As it happened, I rode into town a day after the city’s celebration of 150 years of Wyoming statehood in conjunction with the four-year restoration of its gilded domed statehouse. The crowds were gone, so I dodged a bullet. I was here to follow the stage out of town, but first, to take a looksee.

Cheyenne sprouted along the Union Pacific Railroad as it expanded its transcontinental reach. The Romanesque circa-1887 depot is a testament to that history, and a resulting National Historic Landmark. Striding around the Depot Plaza are eight-foot-high concrete cowboy boots painted by local artists to depict regional and state history. An objective, I understand, is to embark on a scavenger hunt to locate all 17 or so oversized boots stepping around the city. My visit to the Old West Museum provided me with an appreciation of the rugged rodeo riders who consider being battered and bruised a badge of honor. It’s sort of my feeling after another cross-country ride, especially as I age.

Cheyenne 1887 Union Pacific Depot
Cheyenne’s 1887 Union Pacific Depot is a registered National Historic Landmark.

My iron horse would have to do in lieu of the cowpoke transportation around here. My purpose was to follow one of the more storied stage routes, the Cheyenne to Black Hills Stage Line. The stage run began in 1876 to link the railroad at Cheyenne to the gold fields surrounding the new town of Deadwood, but only lasted 11 years as new rail lines began to join the two cities. The 300-mile trip was made in 50 hours. Using modern horsepower I could likely do it in five, but I was here to poke along.

Cheyenne to Deadwood motorcycle ride map
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Rocky outcroppings define the landscape north of Cheyenne, especially at Register Cliff where Oregon Trail pioneers inscribed their signatures into the bleached limestone. Approaching Fort Laramie I encountered a bowstring-style iron truss bridge spanning the North Platte River built in 1875. I walked its wooden planks, thinking I was likely treading where the wagon wheels of the stage line rolled.

bowstring style iron truss bridge dating from 1875 over the North Platte River helped improve access to Fort Laramie
An army-built bowstring style iron truss bridge dating from 1875 over the North Platte River helped improve access to Fort Laramie for the stage line.

The Oregon, Mormon and Bozeman Trails, the Overland Stage, the Cheyenne to Black Hills Line and the Pony Express made Fort Laramie a busy outpost on the frontier. Fort Laramie began as a fur trading post established by William Sublette’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1834. It became a military garrison between 1849 and 1885, and a major staging area for conflicts and treaties with the Plains Indians.

stage route marker
Marker along the old stage line between Cheyenne and Deadwood.

Actors in period costumes strolled the grounds. I entered the Soldier’s Barroom and met a gent in character, laying out playing cards of the era upon the bar. I sidled up for a sarsaparilla, and we got to talking about the West’s adventurous opportunists, Jim Bridger, Chief Red Cloud and John “Portuguese” Phillips, the last of whom burst into the officers’ quarters on Christmas Eve in 1866 after riding four days through a blizzard to tell of the Fetterman Massacre at Fort Phil Kearney, where 83 men were slaughtered by the Sioux and Cheyenne. History comes alive here.

Soldier’s Barroom at Fort Laramie
A re-enactor in character serves up sarsaparilla in the Soldier’s Barroom at Fort Laramie.

Rawhide Buttes Station north of Fort Laramie was the next stage stop. Although I was content to stop between gas fill-ups on a long haul, the stage paused every 10 miles or so to change horses and feed the passengers. Then, with a crack of the whip, they were off once again. Dime novelist Edward L. Wheeler described the essence of stagecoach travel well in an 1877 missive:

“Rumbling noisily through the black canyon road to Deadwood, at an hour long past midnight, came the stage from Cheyenne, loaded down with passengers…there were six plunging, snarling horses attached, whom the veteran Jehu on the box, managed with the skill of a circus man, and all the time the crack, snap, of his long-lashed gad made the night resound as like so many pistol shots.”

I crossed into Niobrara County on U.S. Route 85, the least populated county in the least populated state in the nation. I approached Lusk, population 1,567. Where did all these folks come from? Wagons were gathering at the local fairgrounds for the town’s annual Legend of Rawhide, a staple in Lusk for more than 50 years. Corn hole tournaments and a team-driving contest amused the locals during the pageant. Their Pioneer Museum has on display one of the two existing original Concord coaches of the 30 used on the Cheyenne to Black Hills Line. The other resides in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, an affiliation of the Smithsonian. William Cody used it in his Wild West Show.

An original wagon of the Cheyenne to Black Hills Stage Line is on display at the Stagecoach Museum in Lusk.
An original wagon of the Cheyenne to Black Hills Stage Line is on display at the Stagecoach Museum in Lusk.

Not far out of Lusk I encountered historical signage for the stage line’s Hat Creek Station, where it’s said Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill bedded down. Also among those of note who traveled along the stage road was Martha “Calamity” Jane Cannary, once a bullwhacker disguised as a male, although she was mostly a drifter known for her tall tales and delusional relationship with Wild Bill Hickok.

Deadwood cemetery Calamity Jane Wild Bill
No visit to Deadwood is complete without trudging up the hill to Mount Moriah Cemetery and visiting the final resting place of the notorious, including Wild Bill and Calamity Jane.

Sometime after leaving the Hat Creek Station historical site it dawned on me that all the power lines had disappeared, providing an unadulterated prairie expanse to view. The only ranches were miles down dusty side roads. No vehicles were in sight for miles ahead or behind, just me and the breezes rippling the prairie grassland and softly patting my cheeks behind the windscreen, bringing fragrant aromas of sage and lupine. The air was so pristine not even bugs splatted the windshield. One archivist of the stage journey described the scene this way: “There is something on the Plains that cannot be found elsewhere, something which can be felt better than described, something you must go there to find.” These are reasons why I wear an open-face helmet while on tour.

Lusk 1880 log cabin
The first log cabin in the region around Lusk was built in 1880, since relocated to the town park.

Some 60 miles later Newcastle intruded on my highway reverie. Another stage station is preserved here, the Jenney Stockade Cabin, dating from 1875. Motorcycle traffic picked up as I closed in on the Black Hills. Riders I talked to were coming from Devils Tower and Custer. Eighteen miles from Newcastle is Four Corners, site of at least one stage robbery in 1878. Since the stage was often carrying gold, highwaymen would lie in wait at favorite spots like this.

As I entered South Dakota, the highway finally bent into delicious curves. But they can be dangerous curves, evidenced by a trauma helicopter that had landed because a motorcyclist was down. Roadside memorials of white crosses are prevalent throughout the Black Hills. A cattle drive crossing the road ahead of me was another reason for caution — I slowed to approach cautiously so as not to spook them, but was too late to capture a photo.

Black Hills
Trees and a red rock mesa mark the verge of the Black Hills entering into South Dakota.

Lead (pronounced Leed) was named for the heavy ore deposits in the area. One of the largest gold mining pits in the Western Hemisphere is on view here. Noted author and humorist Ambrose Bierce managed one of the placer mining companies. He related in a newspaper article how he himself was a victim of an attempted robbery while carrying $30,000 in cash on the trail outside of Deadwood, when his accompanying messenger shot the perpetrator dead.

Deadwood South Dakota
The end of the line in Deadwood.

Numerous notorious characters got themselves shot dead just up the road in Deadwood, and I trudged the hills of Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where lie the remains of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. The rest of Deadwood is a tourist scene I just as well avoided. You can’t even park on historic Main Street. The whole town has been described as illegal anyway since it lies within the territory granted to Native Americans in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie. One can blame Custer, who led an expedition that discovered gold here in 1874. Disputes over these Black Hills are ever ongoing, and have reached the Supreme Court on several occasions. Regardless, Deadwood became the end of the line for the stage. Mail from Cheyenne was delivered and gold from the mines transferred to strong boxes and the cycle repeated itself for the return trip.

On the northern fringe of Deadwood I encountered a scene from the movie “Dances With Wolves” at an interpretive center called Tatanka, where giant bronze sculptures of bison pursued by Indians are gathered on a hillside overlooking an expansive view of the valley below. Indeed, it was Kevin Costner who commissioned this artwork and financed the center. It’s a fitting tribute to Native American culture, and a fitting end to my ride along the stage route to Deadwood.

Tatanka—Story of the Bison
On the northern edge of Deadwood appears Tatanka—Story of the Bison, featuring bronze sculptures of said buffalo pursued by Indian riders.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Palms to Pines to the Pacific on California Route 74

Palms to Pines Highway
The Palms to Pines Highway is just what the name would indicate. It’s a climb and descent through a wide spectrum of environments. Photos by the author.

Gassing up in the already-toasty Palm Desert morning sun, it is hard to imagine that I will be riding in the cool, tall pines in less than an hour, and visions of serpentine hairpins dance inside my steaming Shoei. The rapid elevation change on the famous (some would say infamous) California State Route 74 is a major part of its appeal to motorcyclists.

Route 74 is the stuff of motorcycling lore. This is not the Tail of the Dragon; it’s the whole mythological creature. The dragon’s head breathes fire into the Coachella Valley. Its claws cling resolutely to the rugged cliffs above the desert. Its wings spread into the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, and its coiled tail cascades down the Santa Ana Mountains to dip in the cool waters of the Pacific. OK, enough metaphor, let’s get this ride started.

California Route 74 map
California Route 74 snakes from Palm Desert to the Pacific Ocean. Map of the route taken by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Palms to Pines

Yes, summer is hot in the Coachella Valley desert. The upside to spending time in the upscale town of Palm Desert in the dog days is that as the mercury rises, the resort prices plummet. I am fresh off a great night’s sleep in an air-conditioned suite that cost me a fraction of what it would have in the winter. I’ve chosen Palm Desert as my staging point since it is the true gateway to the mountains through which Route 74 carves.

Palm Desert
Palm Desert is the logical starting point for the westward Palms to Pines to the Pacific ride.

I ride on palm-lined streets skirted by sprawling golf resorts on my way to the base of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. Just as the road starts to coil, I pass a sign that warns of “Sharp Curves and Steep Grades.” While motorcyclists consider that kind of verbiage an advertisement, not warning, it is a prologue that should be read earnestly by those of us on two wheels. There will be several subtle and not-so-subtle reminders along this westward trek that the 74 is a route that demands respect.

California Route 74
Signage warns of the steep and serpentine nature of Route 74.

Route 74 starts with a bang. The hairpins that grace the mountains climbing out of the desert are remarkably tight. I carve through gray rocks and increasing foliage as I use only the lower gears on the big BMW GS. There are numerous pullouts for slow vehicles, but I encounter few of those as I got an early morning start on this mid-week day. The road is well-paved and narrow. The sheer number of curves as well as the variety of turn types requires me to stay vigilant.

California Route 74
The climb out of the Coachella Valley is rock-lined and spectacular.

After about a dozen miles of these supremely entertaining curves, I roll upon the Coachella Valley Vista Point. It is not often that a rider gets to relive a great stretch of road so immediately. Looking down from the vista point, the road I just traveled resembles that ribbon candy that so many of us found in our Christmas stockings as children. When I can finally stop staring at the serpentine asphalt, I raise my gaze to a truly impressive and panoramic view of the vast desert valley from which I have just ascended. As I walk away from the rock wall of the overlook, I notice a bronze placard on a granite stone. The sign is an eloquent plea for motorists to respect the road and ride or drive safely. A second powerful reminder.

placard at the Coachella Valley Vista Point
A placard at the Coachella Valley Vista Point gives travelers information and a warning.

After the viewpoint, the winding road continues for several miles before the route relaxes a bit on the mountaintop. The road is now lined not by palms, but rather by towering pines. This part of Route 74 carries the name “Palms to Pines Scenic Highway” for good reason. At one point, I intersect the Pacific Crest Trail, which has enticed distance hikers and soul-searchers for decades. The PCT is the setting for the intriguing movie “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon. The film is based on a memoir of self-discovery and healing by Cheryl Strayed.

More mountain riding leads me past the blue waters of Lake Hemet. The morning shadows shiver on the lake’s glassy surface as I stop for a look. I chat with a maintenance worker who tells me the lake is a favorite for some “Hollywood folks” like Halle Berry and the Kardashians.

Lake Hemet is a cool respite in the California hills.
Lake Hemet is a cool respite in the California hills.

There are some small clusters of mountain cabins as I continue. Crisp, cool air blows through my mesh riding jacket and I notice that the bike’s display indicates an air temperature of 66 degrees. I can’t help thinking back to how that same instrument was reading 92 as I pulled out of Palm Desert earlier in the morning.

I reach a crossroads at the tiny community of Mountain Center. A left turn at the Y spells the continuation of Route 74. A right turn leads to another leg of the Palms to Pines Scenic Highway. While my ultimate goal in this tour is to find my way to the Pacific on Route 74, I can’t resist the temptation of sampling the curves on an out-and-back jaunt on Route 243. As I trace my way to and through the mountain community of Idyllwild, I am supremely glad I took this side adventure. I ride about 25 miles toward Banning before retracing my curvaceous path back to Route 74. Fifty miles well spent. 

Palms to Pines
The scenic designation of the Palms to Pines is spot-on.

Back on my intended path, I embark on a spirited descent off the mountain range. After riding more miles through the conifer-rich environment, I roll into a wide valley. The San Jacinto Valley rests as the midpoint of this ride. To extend that early metaphor, this is the saddle on the back of the dragon. The valley city of Hemet serves as my stop for a spot of lunch and a bit of map study before the next leg of my westward ride to the sea.

For a motorcyclist, that’s what a GPS map route should look like.
For a motorcyclist, that’s what a GPS map route should look like.

Ortega Highway to the Sea

For a while after Hemet, Route 74 becomes flat and sedate as it cuts through the communities, farms and ranches in the San Jacinto Valley. It even blends with Interstate 215 for a brief stretch. However, after ducking under Interstate 15, the fun begins again as I embark on the segment of the road that carries the Ortega Highway designation. 

This portion of the ride begins with a little reflection and reminiscing for me. I pull into The Lookout Roadhouse, which is a popular stop for motorcyclists either before or after riding the Ortega Highway. I take a seat on the rocks outside the tiny diner and gaze down at the expansive Lake Elsinore. Yes, Lake Elsinore was the setting for much of the action in the ultra-classic, maybe quintessential, motorcycle movie “On Any Sunday.” As a preteen, the 1971, Bruce Brown-directed movie stoked my burning, lifelong passion for motorcycling. The place also served as the inspiration for the naming of the sport-changing Honda Elsinore motocross bike. That screaming machine became one of the unattainable objects of my adolescent desire (the one that didn’t wear cutoff jeans and halter tops). 

The Lookout high above Lake Elsinore is a popular hangout for motorcyclists.
The Lookout high above Lake Elsinore is a popular hangout for motorcyclists.

When I finally pull myself away from visions of Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and silver Honda 2-strokes, I am ready to tackle the Ortega Highway. I am fully aware that the Ortega has a reputation – not just for great curves, but also for a healthy dose of danger. It has even been purported to be haunted. I stop at a sign beside the road placed there by the family of a fallen rider. It is yet another reminder that discretion, attention and moderation are needed on this road. This stretch of Route 74 has had more than its share of motorcycle tragedies over the years. It is something that I will keep in the forefront of my mind as I ride to the Pacific.

Ortega Highway
The Ortega Highway portion of the Palms to Pines to the Pacific ride demands heightened caution for motorcyclists.

The Ortega is every bit as fun and challenging as the eastern Palms to Pines segment. I find the road surface a bit more variable than in the mountains east of Hemet. Some of the turns are deceptively tight. A road feature that I find reassuring is the inclusion of a heavy rumble strip between the yellow lines in the center of the road. It is a noisy reminder for cars and trucks to stay on their side.

The ride in the Cleveland National Forest is beautiful. A mix of pines, massive oaks and thick underbrush line the wandering tarmac as it passes through the Santa Ana Mountains. This heavily wooded but dry forest is particularly susceptible to massive wildfires and I ride by several “extreme fire danger” signs. I also ride intermittently beside creeks, rivers and small lakes. There are lots of reasons to stop, look and refocus before continuing the descent toward the Pacific on this western incarnation of the dragon’s tail. 

Ortega Highway motorcycle ride
The high chaparral terrain of the lower Cleveland National Forest speaks to the diversity of this ride.

My mountain ride becomes decidedly more urban as I approach the ocean. I ride though San Juan Capistrano before making my final roll into the beautiful Dana Point Harbor. I let the BMW rest in the shade of the palm trees of Doheny State Beach as I watch the surfers pulling their boards from car tops. “On Any Sunday” meets “The Endless Summer.” Documentarian Bruce Brown would be proud.

Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach is where the tarmac ends and the Pacific Ocean begins.

Riding California Route 74 is a motorcyclist’s dream. The diversity, the views, the curves and the thrills are magnetic. It is a ride that demands your respect, attention and discretion, but the payoff is one of the best motorcycle adventures in the West.

Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point Harbor is the picturesque endgame of the westward Route 74 ride.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

British Columbia’s Beautiful Duffey Lake Loop

2009 BMW F 650 GS Duffey Lake
The author’s 2009 BMW F 650 GS parked alongside the Bridge River Road – a gravel alternative to the paved Duffey Lake Road – near the historic gold-rush town of Lillooet. Photos by the author.

If I could only make one ride in British Columbia, the Duffey Lake loop would be it. No other route boasts such diversity: a fjord walled by granite mountains, temperate rainforests and flowing glaciers, merging into a dry, semi-arid landscape of sagebrush and ponderosa pine, all on the doorstep of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Vancouver. I am not getting paid nearly enough to tell you about this gem, but journalists are their own worst enemies when it comes to holding back on a good thing.

Duffey Lake refers to the landmark close to midpoint on a loop tour that can be completed in about 10 hours at a steady pace, but is best done over two to three days, stopping to enjoy the scenery and locals, visit a winery and perhaps camp under a clear canopy of stars. The journey begins just northwest of Vancouver on Highway 99 – the Sea to Sky Highway – at postcard-perfect Horseshoe Bay, and continues northward alongside the sparkling fjord of Howe Sound lined by the Coast Mountains.

Vancouver British Columbia motorcycle ride map
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The highway was significantly upgraded for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and allows motorcyclists to zip along at a comfortable clip, watchful for police radar at the village of Lions Bay. Along the way, consider stopping to gawk at Shannon Falls, hopping on the Sea To Sky Gondola with its spectacular views or watching mountain climbers on the sheer granite walls of the famous Stawamus Chief.

Just ahead is the former logging town of Squamish, now a mecca for outdoor recreation, including kiteboarding at Squamish Spit. Café racers tend to gather at Starbucks, and cruisers at Howe Sound Brewing or Backcountry Brewing, the latter known for its amazing thin-crust pizza.

Howe Sound BMW F 700 GS
The fjord of Howe Sound offers amazing scenery north of Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Road signs warn of black bears as you continue northward to North America’s top-rated ski resort, Whistler. This perfect little village makes for a great first night’s stay, with strolls through shops in the shadow of towering snow-topped peaks, but don’t expect heavy discounts in summer.

From Whistler, Highway 99 heads to the potato-growing Pemberton Valley, and your last chance for gas for about 60 miles as you proceed eastward through the aboriginal community of Lil’wat at Mount Currie. If you arrive in May you can even catch the community’s annual rodeo.

Lillooet, British Columbia
The historic gold-rush town of Lillooet is located midway along the Duffey Lake loop tour.

As you pass Lillooet Lake, the two-lane highway begins a steep, switchback ascent into high-elevation wilderness without a hint of commercialism. The road plateaus shortly after Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, a great spot for hikes to a series of lakes, backdropped by Matier Glacier. Don’t let the alpine vistas distract you from the job ahead: lots of twists and turns, with little in the way of shoulders and the potential for patches of loose gravel.

Duffey Lake is a jewel, and makes for a good photo stop at an elevation of about 4,000 feet. It can get cold here even on summer days so be prepared for changing conditions. Continuing eastward, alongside fast-flowing Cayoosh Creek you’ll find several rustic campgrounds, the best of which is Cottonwood, which offers well-tended outhouses, chopped firewood and an on-site caretaker.

Duffey Lake
Duffey Lake is located at an elevation of more than 4,000 feet and can remain frozen well into spring.

You’ll notice some big changes continuing eastward: evergreen forests replaced by ponderosa pines, sagebrush and craggy rock bluffs, the weather becoming warmer and drier. Expect a stunning view of turquoise Seton Lake – and perhaps some mountain goats on the high cliffs – as you wind steeply downhill to Lillooet, an historic gold-rush town on the banks of British Columbia’s greatest river, the Fraser.

If you’re staying overnight, pick the newer rooms at the affordable 4 Pines Motel, just a block off Main Street. Try some wine tasting at Fort Berens Estate Winery across the river via the Bridge of the 23 Camels, a reference to some bizarre pack animals imported from Asia during the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1858. The Rugged Bean Café is your best bet in town for a soup-and-sandwich lunch.

You’ve now accomplished half of the Duffey Lake loop, and have three choices for the ride back to Vancouver. Street riders take Highway 12 along the east side of the Fraser Canyon to the Canadian hot spot of Lytton, watching carefully for hairpin turns and a landslide area where the highway is reduced to one lane.

Fort Berens Estate Winery
Drop by for tastings at Fort Berens Estate Winery, just across the Fraser River from Lillooet.

One false move here and it’s a one-way trip down a steep embankment. At Lytton, take Highway 1 south to Vancouver, or divert to Highway 7 at Hope for a quieter alternative to the bustling freeway. Street riders might also consider doing the loop counterclockwise to avoid having the setting sun in their eyes for the last few hours.

Dual-sport bikes have a couple of gravel options at Lillooet. One is Texas Creek Road, on the west side of the Fraser Canyon, which passes through remote First Nation reserves perched on elevated benches of farmland that once formed the river bottom. Access Lytton via a fascinating, free “reaction ferry” that employs the power of the river to cross from one side to the other. Note that the service can be suspended during high waters of the spring freshet.

“reaction ferry” on the Fraser River near Lytton
A free “reaction ferry” on the Fraser River near Lytton uses the power of the current to move from one bank to the other.

The second option for dual-sports is to head north from Lillooet via Bridge River Road, stopping in summer to watch the ancient scene of aboriginals catching migrating salmon to be hung from wooden drying racks. The gravel road boasts rugged scenery as it continues to Carpenter Lake, Bralorne and Gold Bridge before dropping down into the Pemberton Valley for the ride home on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Whichever route you choose, you won’t be disappointed. The diversity and isolation so close to a North American metropolis makes the Duffey Lake loop an unbeatable riding experience.

Source: RiderMagazine.com