Tuesday, July 13, 2010

In Search of Fossils and Trains

Today the boys and I split up, so that I could cover more ground, do more things. They weren't sure they were up to the aggressive (for them) itinerary for the day. We'll meet back up this evening in Ontario OR.

I got a good early start, leaving the hotel in Green River at 7:30 AM. This would get me to the Fossil Butte visitor center right at 9:00 AM opening time. It was a beautiful, crisp morning, the air was clean and cool and every color shone clear and brilliant in the early sun. I made my way up the interstate to U.S. 30 and found myself overtaken by two BMW riders headed the same direction. A short delay at a flag man stop, and we were underway again behind a pilot truck.

The park ranger was just opening the gates to the park when I arrived at Fossil Butte National Monument. This was a special stop for me for two reasons: I was here 3 years ago for a stamp and - more important - I would be able to purchase my Senior Pass! I wanted to buy it at Chattanooga last month on the day after my birthday but there was no park ranger there at that time who could take my money. So now I am the proud owner of my very own Senior Park Pass, good for the rest of my life.

New Park Pass in wallet and park stamp in Passport book, I got back on the road continuing north a ways on US 30 to the Highway 89 turn-off. It was along these stretches that I began to see my first prairie dog towns of the trip. A few even scooted across the roadway in front of me and I had to dodge one or two of them to avoid hitting them.

The road started out flat and relatively straight but it didn't take too long for the road to get exciting! Soon I was twisting my way down toward Bear Lake, rapidly losing altitude. Around one bend and the lake came into view in front of me, a large, deep blue expanse rimmed with sandy beach. Gorgeous!! As I got down to lake level, the road skirted the shore of the lake all the way to the quaint tourist town of Garden City. On the southern outskirts of town a small park appeared and I turned into the parking lot, got off the bike, and walked to the edge of the lake to soak in its beauty. The photo op's are at the tops of the hills on the approach roads but there's no place to pull over to capture the absolute beauty of this lake, so photos taken on the shore will have to do.

Through the town and a turn onto US 89, I continued my journey toward Logan UT. US 89 starts a steep ascent out of the town, offering more specatular views of the lake before disappearing into the mountains. The Beaver Creek tumbles down the mountain along side the road, its waters finding their way to the lake. As the road continued to climb higher, it crossed Logan River at one point, and from there onward, the river and the road traveled together. The pass through the mountain was narrow and beautiful and I found myself surrounded by high rocky ledges densely covered with evergreens of all varieties. It was hard to believe that earlier that day I had been riding through desert-like terrain west of Green River.

Forty miles of this spectacular road and I found myself in the college town of Logan UT. A gas stop and break in this town, and I then continued south on 89 as the landscape changed back to the desert-like UT terrain. I connected with I-15 for just 3 miles before exiting onto UT 83 toward Golden Spike National Monument. I expected "dreary and boring" but got excitement. Not because the road itself was exciting, (it was flat and straight) but because it skirted along the north side of the Great Salt Lake! Very cool! I alternately rode past pools of water and dry lake bed, white with salt the entire way along this road, until I turned left toward the park.

This park was WELL WORTH the out-of-the-way ride to get to! The visitor center is spacious with a theater, a large book store, and a really nice covered patio area with tables and chairs, the perfect place to sit, relax, and wait for the re-enactment of the steam trains to begin. I had some snacks and water on the bike so walked back out to get them, and then munched a light lunch while watching the re-enactment. It was amazing how cool the breeze was in the shade compared to the heat under the rays of the sun. Afterward, I walked out to the trains, their hot engines ticking and softly chuffing, and I could smell the burning wood of their fire boxes.

It was a nice break to the day, and I was ready to get back on the bike and continue northwest toward Ontario OR on mostly interstate. Exiting the park, from the high promontory, I had a spectacular view off to the east of the Great Salt Lake. A nice finish to this little side trip!

I had one more detour to make, this to the town of Hagerman and the Hagerman Fossil Beds National Park. The turn off the interstate took me onto a nice, tiny little country road with lots of roller-coaster hills past and around farms and fields. This road brought me to US 30 north and into the tiny little town of Hagerman ID. Along the way, I was riding between two bluffs: The one on the south side to my left was the typical permian basin-type buttes, their sedimentary layers visible along it's eroded faces. To my right, on the north side of the road, the bluffs were composed of lava rock, black and jagged and sitting much higher. The narrow valley in the middle was carved by a small river. It was an interesting contrast!

The visitor center sits right in the center of town and I parked in front and went inside to get a stamp and look at the exhibits. The Hagerman Horse fossils are the best known and there was a fine example on display inside the visitor center.

Now it would be a long stretch on I-84 toward Ontario OR and the nice, new Holiday Inn Express. Somehow, despite the many stops along the way, I still managed to arrive at the hotel ahead of the boys. Checked in, showered, and I headed out on foot for the nearby Sizzler Steak House and one of the best salad bars ever, a nice sirloin steak, and baked potato. It was a very good and productive day; 550 miles but with an early start and long daylight hours and plenty of stops along the way, it hardly felt like a long day and I regretted not talking the "boys" into sticking with me and my itinerary as I doubt they rode fewer miles than I did, and I'm certain I had a prettier route and more interesting things to see.

Tomorrow: We split up again as I head north toward WA state and the "boys" head straight west on 26 toward Redmond OR.

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