29 June to 1 July Kms travelled – 25,909
It was a real struggle to drag myself away from that great hole in the ground that is the Grand Canyon. But it was not long before I realised that there were many more sights to see along the Colorado Plateau, as Idris and I enjoyed the early morning emptiness and cooler temperatures. Heading further east along the 64 we were soon blessed with a view of the Little Colorado River Canyon and a quick chat to local Navajos as they set up their craft stands in anticipation of the day´s tourist trade.
As the 64 turned into the 89 north, and a quick refuel, we were well and truly back in desert country, and desert temperatures to boot! A junction and a decision ahead, saw us turning north east along the 180 towards Monument Valley. But it was still a way off yet, with the road and countryside passing Tuba City and the Hopi Indian Reservation not offering any particular inspiration to burst into song... or not even a quick hum of some long forgotten cowboy ditty. But no matter, sometimes on this trip you just need to do the miles... so it was miles that we did, with another nice interlude chatting to some local Navajos as we headed into their lands. Sometimes difficult to understand (perhaps they thought the same about me) these fascinating people are quick to approach and engage in conversation (and bum a smoke if you have any)! I was reliably advised that I was about to head into some the prettiest country in the US... well they would say that wouldn´t they!
There is no doubting that some desert landscape can hold a wondrous attraction and, indeed, be breathtakingly beautiful in a way that contrasts completely with snow capped mountains. And this was just some of that type of desert. Those friendly first nation chaps don´t lie. By the time I had turned into the 163 at Kayenta my eyes had feasted on the sights, and I rode with increasing anticipation of what was to come. In no time at all I was stopping and snapping my camera at those distinctive sandstone formations so loved by the Hollywood directors of yesteryear. But I had not yet arrived at Monument Valley. The sights improved as the colour of the sand darkened and the temperatures increased. And then there it was!
Riding up the short side road into the Monument Valley Park ($5 entry) visitor centre and dismounting Idris I couldn’t help feeling a bit of a John Wayne swagger fall into my step as I strode towards the purchase of some much needed cold water. This feeling was only further exaggerated when you saw the famous promo poster of John Ford´s blockbuster Stagecoach and looked behind it to see those monuments to mother nature´s design in the flesh. If it wasn´t for the heat and the fact that the desert breeze was flinging the finest sand I had encountered to date into my face, I could have stood and gazed for hours. This was a similar moment to that I experienced at the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, and one that convinced me that the 17 mile sand and dirt road out into the park should be attempted. I was there after all...
But my enthusiasm and lack of skill in riding soft sand (and some patches were really soft, like talcum powder) caused me to wobble to a halt after only about 500 metres. I was riding a fully loaded bike in the heat of the early afternoon with swirling winds pushing the fine grit into every uncovered orifice. I was also losing fluids rapidly (not only as I was figuratively peeing myself) and gasping for breath.
Riding soft sand is hard work. Riding soft sand takes great skill. And riding soft sand was clearly beyond my capacity in handling this fantastic machine, as I had almost fallen on at least 5 occasions and dug in twice on this short stretch alone. The Adventure Bike was clearly greater than this Rider. I admitted defeat, took some shots, and wobbled my way back to the safety of the black-top visitors car park, where I had to replace the fluids I had only recently taken on!
But was I disappointed? Well, yes of course I was. Just looking at that run out amongst those red hills is enough to get any ABR salivating. But it did motivate me to take time out on my return to develop my off road riding further... perhaps in time for a run to Morocco? On the positive side, I did ride in a desert, but not on a horse with no name, but a bike called Idris!
Adopting a philosophical mindset, and with a quick look at Idris´ lower half (which had now taken on a good dusting of red red sand, making it look like all the metal bits had suddenly turned to rust) we hit the road north. Mexican Hat was the next town we rode through, and I couldn´t help wondering how this remote town could have gained such a curious name when we turned a bend to be met with a bizarre rock formation on the right, which looked just like a Mexican wide brimmed Sombrero. That would be it then!
Having sweated enough for the day, we rolled into Bluff for an early stop and some much needed air con and a shower. It was now 45 degrees and with sand blowing everywhere my skin had taken on such a reddish tinge that it would have been a great match for my hair, if the grey had not already started to set in. I rested.
I think the next morning I was struggling to understand exactly what the time was having crossed a number of time zones. I said goodbye to the land of the canyons and headed towards Moab. Each traveller is different, but for me these excessive temperatures each day were not only sucking the fluids and energy from me, but also my patience. I had had enough of being hot and I wanted to see green again. I needed to make progress this day. I needed to get north. So the 191 beckoned, and Idris responded as we ran through some wonderful rock formations, and an even deeper red in the hills around Moab.
The 191 to Duchese took us over a high mountain on the side of the Roan Plateau, which provided the necessary altitude to offer a welcome respite from the searing heat of the day. And also provided some more interesting road riding as Idris was allowed to clear the dust off the edges of its tyres. Around a bend, now taking it easy as I had seen a sign about fire-fighters working in the area, and we were into a narrow V-shaped valley, with the road running along about half way up on the one side, and the other being a complete blanket of smoke and flame!
Flagging down one of the nearby crews as soon as I could, I enquired whether it was indeed safe to continue down the valley. I got a thumbs up, with further some hand signals indicating that the wind was blowing the flames away from my side of the road. I also got a final shout before heading off that I shouldn´t hang around too much... so I didn´t! Perhaps some intrepid photo journalist would have taken the time to capture the sights of an up close raging wildfire, but I must confess my only thoughts were echos of the fire fighter´s advice – and that was to run away... and run away as quickly as I safely could.
Fortunately the run down the valley into Duchese was a nice run, and I had soon left the flames behind with the road putting a smile back on my face. I did spot a few oil pumping stations along the base of the valley, which was a curious sight, and one that led me to think they were the reason why there were so many brave folk on the mountain trying to control events. But that soon passed as we headed down back into the more sweaty lowlands. The town was a pretty small affair, but they were also acting as the local base for the fire fighters drawn in to tackle the mountain blaze, and they did have a friendly hotel for the night and a local diner with a great fish and chips!
The cooler evening was also a good time to get in some routine bike maintenance, which was also the first time I noticed an unusual feel to the rear damping on the bike´s suspension. I needed to keep an eye on that I thought as I hit the hay for the night. The morning´s early sunrise also brought to light the grey dusting of wildfire ash that had settled over Idris overnight, which countered the still red dust clinging to its underside. It was probably time to start thinking about giving it a clean.
But that would wait. We were on the road again, and setting a good pace as I wanted to get into damper country. Before long we were climbing up through valleys with improved greener vegetation. Then we were in a forest with a full on mountain view, and I finally let myself think we had escaped the freaky heat.
Nope! We were heading back down again, and the degrees seemed to pile on as each metre of decent was clocked up. And then we were back into open flatlands with a distinctly scrub desert type view. Unlike some of the deep south of Argentina, however, this landscape was broken up with the odd feature... a river, a dam, the odd hills and twisty bits... which was nice.
Then we were sent by the road up the side of a high escarpment, where the road ran along the length of its edge for miles ahead. The wind was being channelled along the valley below, and roared its way up the side of the hill to hit the traffic atop side on. They had built miles of wooden wind-breaks which had some limiting effect, but I couldn´t help wondering why they built the road in such a place in the first instance. The problem I found with riding in high side winds is not so much the slower speeds that such weather demands, but the energy you expend controlling the bike over long periods.
So it was with aching limbs and a sweaty brow that we rolled into Rock Springs to stop for the day, it was mid afternoon. I did manage to have a little look around this interesting town, which I couldn´t help calling Rock Ridge (ref Blazing Saddles) which even came out a few times in my conversation with some locals, sparking puzzled looks. I was tired, OK! So after a wonderful steak (nope, not campfire beans!) I went to bed early to the sight of one of the most spectacular wildfire boosted sunsets I have ever seen.