Thursday, May 17, 2007

Trip to Great Southwest - Days 1 and 2

It felt good to be back in the saddle and headed into the Southwest after the "snow-and-ice" experience to Illinois in April (luv ya, Claye!!). The 5:30 AM departure was surprisingly easy to accomplish after being slothfully retired and sleeping in every morning. That was worrisome and I slept fitfully all night - an early start was necessary, since I'd be heading straight through downtown Houston coming from the south, in order to head north to Ft. Worth and then to Amarillo.

My first stop was in Huntsville to put on more clothing. There was a noticeable drop in temperature as I headed north. One hundred miles later, the low fuel light came on, which was about 25-30 miles sooner than I'd anticipated. A strong headwind was responsible for that. Despite this seemingly slow pace, I still made it to Decatur at nearly the appointed hour, to meet my friend Brenda. She'll be riding with me as far as Amarillo, spending the night there, then turning around to ride home to McKinney. It will be a good opportunity for her to become familiar with her new BMW R1200RT. It's a beauty, and it fits her well.

Brenda took the lead and set a perfect pace as we headed northwest up 287. Her GPS took us to a Subway for lunch in Wichita Falls, where we took a leisurely lunch and discussed the merits of Garmin Zumo vs. Quest II GPS's. We topped that off with a DQ at our next gas stop, a fitting Texas-style mid-afternoon break.

The hotel in Amarillo was right next door to a Cracker Barrel, so we were all set for both dinner and breakfast the next morning. The Texas state HOG rally will be in Amarillo this weekend and we were already seeing large groups of Harleys parked in the hotel and restaurant parking lots. I was to see many groups of Harley riders headed east toward Amarillo as I rode west toward NM.

The next morning, we packed up, hugged and said goodbye, and I continued on I-40 toward Gallup, NM and Brenda headed for home.

I-40 between Amarillo and Albuquerque is one long nearly-continuous stretch of construction! It
slowed my pace considerably, and I was watching the clock very closely, since I wanted to be sure to make El Morro National Monument in time to walk the trail to the base. I ran into a cold rain near Tucumcari, and had to pull over to add a layer. What the heck, I went ahead and put on my Gerbing liner and changed out my gloves to a winter waterproof glove and was so thankful I'd done that, as the rain, mixed with small hail in places, continued all the way to Albuquerque. A sole, sad-sack Harley rider was sitting huddled up under the overhang, wearing nothing but a t-shirt and a cheap plastic poncho. He watched as I took off my textile jacket, pulled on a fleece pull-over, put on my Gerbing liner, and put my jacket back on. He continued to watch me as I put my neck buff on, pulled my helmet back on, plugged myself into to bike, and rode off. Wonder how long he sat there!

Once I dropped down off that mountain ridge coming into Albuquerque, the rain stopped, the temperatures climbed, and the sun popped out. I got off I-40 to head up to Petroglyph National Park to get my stamp. Here I chatted a little with the ranger and bought a beautiful book to peruse later. I knew I didn't have time to continue up the road to where the trails started, and was sorry for that.

So, after a fill-up at the Flying-J-from-Hell, on the western edge of Albuquerque (more wasted time), I got back onto I-40 and pressed on to Grants, NM where I'd be getting off the interstate and onto beautiful SR-53 to drop down to El Malpais National Monument and El Morro National Monument.

El Malpais, or "badlands," is stunning! And so is SR-53 to get there. Out of nowhere, the hills become populated with tall pine trees, and I had to wonder if I'd been transported to another part of the country. Along the eastern side of the road, a huge mesa with colorfully striped layers of sandstone and rock looms above the flat plain. Gradually the terrain becomes more hilly, the road more windy and wooded. El Malpais is a protected conservation area filled with lava cones and domes and is indescribably pretty.

Continuing on another 25 miles or so on SR-53, I approached El Morro and could see it off in the
distance. It is a giant sandstone bluff, which juts straight up more than 200 feet above the land and was a landmark for the local natives eons ago, bearing the inscriptions of indians and spanish explorers. The trail closes at 5:00 and I arrived just too late to get onto the trail, which would take me to the base where these inscriptions are. But, still, it was impressive and very photogenic.

Continuing west on SR-53 for another 20 or so miles, I rode through historic Ramah, settled by the Ramah Navajo Indian trip. I continued to SR-602 which would take me up to Gallup for my second night's stay. I ran into a small patch of hail and rain as I headed north, but thankfully it didn't last long, since the hail stones were larger than those I'd encountered on I-40, and they hurt!

As I approached the town, I headed east on a small road which would take me to the eastern end of Old Route 66 were it intersects with I-40 on the eastern edge of town. Here I could pick it up and ride it through Gallup's little downtown and on to the western edge where it intersects again with I-40. This stretch is one of the longest continuous original pieces of this historic highway. The town of Gallup is well-preserved and thrives on events held here throughout the year.

I couldn't help but notice the large number of motorcycles in town, and when I checked in at the hotel, the clerk asked me if I was here for the Ride to the Wall. Well that would explain it! I checked at the official website and Gallup NM was the scheduled stop for May 17.

It is now Friday morning and I will be headed toward Williams, AZ with stops at Painted Desert National Park, Petrified Forest, and Walnut Canyon National Park before I continue into Williams this afternoon. A dozen or so women from all over the southwest will be congregating in Williams this weekend and I'm really looking forward to seeing some of these women again, and meeting others for the first time.

This will be an interesting weekend in Williams, since we have learned that the Hell's Angels have their Red & White meeting in Williams at the same time we'll be there. We've been told that they've taken over every vacant hotel room in town, and that there will be a high law enforcement presence. Hmmm....could be interesting.

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