I should rename this blog the "birding" blog. Since I've stayed off the interstates for some of the first day and most of the second day, I have been treated to a wide variety of birds, ones that I don't see in Texas and that I wouldn't normally see while on the bike. But more of that later.
This morning I walked out of the hotel at 8:00 AM but couldn't pass up the opportunity to razz a guy whose pickup was parked right at the hotel's front door. It had a BMW R1150RT in the bed, so he was game for being teased. We chatted quite a bit before I headed to my bike. He followed me to see what I was riding. More chatting - turns out he'd bought that bike a year or so ago from a Continental pilot who lives in the Houston area - and I got on the road at 8:30, a bit later than I wanted, since I had an extremely ambitious day planned. It would include two national parks and several AMA grand tour stops before reaching my destination in Sidney for the night, more than 700 miles later.
First stop was Washita National Battlefield, west of Cheyenne OK. It was easy to find, but I missed the entrance to the visitor center! I was so busy waiting for the group of rabbits to finish their gabfest in the middle of the road that I didn't even notice I was stopped right in front of the entrance drive. So a u-turn later and I was inside talking to the young park ranger who just happened to be from Jersey Village area of Houston. He really knew his stuff and we spent a good 45 minutes or so in front of the diorama as he explained the logistics of Custer's raids on Chief Black Kettle's people.
On to Fritch TX and Lake Meredith NRA, but not before having to outwit a pack of black dogs as I exited the park area. They were lying in wait. After getting the NRA stamp and the Alibates Flint Quarry stamp, I headed north and rode across the Sanford Dam, which is at the north end of Lake Meredith. This area is surprisingly rugged, heavily corrugated terrain with steep aroyos. The ride across the dam gave great views over the lake.
Now it was north and west toward Dumas but rather than get onto 287, I took FM 1060, which was out in the middle of absolutely nowhere! But it did go past miles and miles of oil derricks and quite a number of shiny new cattle sheds. Looked like calf feeders? Not sure, there were no signs, but they had clearly had pens and very large silos attached at either end. Anyway, this road reconnected me about 20 miles north of Dumas onto 287 and I was quite glad to be back on a trafficked road again.
Next stop was in Boise City, for gas and a quick bite to eat, and then to the Cimmaron history museum, where there's a bonus Santa Fe trail stamp. It's not dated, and might not have been worth the stop, but it didn't take long. Further up the road, into Colorado, a small town earned me some AMA "Italy in America" grand tour points, and it was now time to really push on, as I was now about 2 hours behind schedule.
I made good time going up 287 until traffic came to a stop for construction in the middle of nowhere. Judging from the long line of cars and trucks stretching for nearly a mile ahead of me, I knew it must be a long stretch of one-lane road. I stopped the bike, took off my helmet and drank some water as we sat there, me frying in the hot sun. About 30 minutes later we began to move and, yes it was a several mile long stretch. Once free of the pilot car and reduced speed limit we should have been able to pick up speed. But the long delay resulted in a huge bottleneck of 18-wheelers and cars now moving and accordioning at between 45 and 55 mph. As we passed through Lamar the backup became worse, as the 18-wheelers jockeyed for position at all the red lights. Fortunately I was able to break away from all this onto CO-196.
What a great little road! Here I saw many goldfinches and I think I even saw a Mountain Bluebird! This road was also home to many prairie dogs! For miles and miles, I could see prairie dog mounds out in the fields. Many little guys were sitting in the middle of the road, and they'd scurry to the shoulders as I rode by.
This road took me to 385 north, which I'd be taking all the way to Sidney NE. It was long, mostly straight, and completely deserted! Miles and miles of wheat and corn. The wheat is being harvested now, and I saw many giant harvesters in the fields working. I'd rarely see a car or truck, and occasionally the road would pass through a small, nearly abandoned little town.
Many miles later, I reached I-70 where I gassed up in preparation for a short diversion east toward Goodland KS for an AMA photo opportunity. At the gas pump I chatted with a local man who was putting gas in his truck. He said that he and his wife both ride and had just returned from a trip west into the mountains. He was surprised to hear how far I'd ridden so far.
In Goodland is the world's largest easel, upon which is perched a giant replica of Van Gogh's Sunflowers. It was easy to find and I posed my bike and the AMA flag for the photo. With that accomplished, I returned back to CO and 385 by backtracking on I-70. My original route was to go north out of Goodland to St. Francis, but I kind of liked the idea of a 75 mph speed limit and no small towns, to get me down the road a little faster.
More deserted road, more wheat, more occasional 90-degree jogs. As I rode north I could see rain ahead of me. It was pretty far off and moving west to east. It took more than an hour to catch up with it, and fortunately the heaviest stuff and blown east of me. But I still did ride through it, and it was refreshing after the heat of the day.
I reached Julesburg at I-76 just as it was getting dark. The sky was starting to look a little threatening again, in the direction of Sidney, but at this point I was only 40 miles away. Those last 40 miles, however, were ridden in rain and lightning. I didn't care! It was getting late, it had been a long day and I was so close to the hotel.
Finally! The exit was right there, the Days Inn visible from the highway. I stayed here last year on my way to Lolo MT and - even better - I could exchange some accumulated points for a free room.
Tomorrow: More national parks and arrive in Gillette!