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Member's Travelogue: West We Go!
A View from the Back
By Cindy Culp

WW media header(Most motorcycle travelogues are written from the perspective of the rider. This one is from the perspective of the pillion, though I occasionally toss my thoughts in as well. - Jim Culp)

Tornados had just ripped through the south, devastating Tuscaloosa and the southeast, and the Mississippi River was flooding. Was it a sign of things to come or just a sign that you have to be flexible when taking a motorcycle trip out west?

Once you get an idea in your head, like riding out to see the Grand Canyon and visiting as many National Parks as possible via motorcycle, it's hard to get it out of your head. So our motorcycle journey begins.

Touring the USA by motorcycle is a dream I've had for years. Now since we've both retired we are trying to make the dream a reality.

We decided to make this ride in May before school was out and temperatures got too hot between Nashville, TN and the Grand Canyon almost 2000 miles away. Growing up in MO, I know that travelling across the plains in May can be dicey due to thunderstorms and tornados which can develop at any time. In fact I repeatedly stated, "We just need to get across Kansas." We decided to take the chance and hope that Mother Nature's fury was going to take a breather. We were prepared for hot, cold and rain, but there was still one weather condition for which we were not prepared.

It had already been a strange year weatherwise with an overabundance of snow and now severe and deadly storms. Right before we took off from Nashville on Saturday May 5th, the Mississippi had swelled over its banks and flooded Cairo, IL where we had initially planned to cross into MO. Is this our first sign? This meant more interstate riding, which by the way I don't like. So we headed to Saint Louis where we would spend the night. We hit rain for a brief time around Paducah, KY and as we turned west on I-70 we had some wind to contend with, but no real issues.

The light rain and wind we experienced on this leg were harbingers of things to come.

On Sunday May 7th, we rode on to Kansas City, MO to celebrate Mother's Day with my Mom and Dad. Now for getting across the plains; we left Kansas City on Tuesday, May 9th and headed to Dodge City, KS; we encountered considerable wind and temperatures in the 90's as we traveled back roads through the scenic Flint Hills of Kansas. Soon we turned west on US 50. "HOLD ON!" Between the wind and the truck blasts on this two-lane road, the ride became extremely tiring. Could this be another sign of things to come? Finding the hotel, walking in old Dodge City and dinner ended the day in a relaxing way. It does seem that Old Town Dodge City has seen better days.

By wind, Cindy means steady winds of 15-20mph with gusts to 30mph. The wind was coming from the south-southwest and was really impacting her as design of the GL1800 Gold Wing places the pillion at the back of the still air pocket formed by the windshield. I was much better protected, being closer to the windshield.

The following morning came with thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches. It was time to "get the heck out of Dodge" so we loaded up and headed for our next stop, Walsenburg, CO. Unfortunately the rain found us outside of GardenCity, KS and, yes, we still had wind and those terrible truck blasts. We'd planned to camp at a state park nearby but since it was raining when we arrived in Walsenburg we opted not to and checked into a motel.

We also had road construction which meant that the road spray wasn't just water. It was a pretty nasty ride for part of the way but the rain stopped for a while. When we crossed into Colorado, the wind shifted almost 180 degrees, now coming from the northeast. It was still strong and gusty but it pretty much eliminated the truck blasts.

Thursday morning's weather looked good in Walsenburg, but there had been snow just north of us in Pueblo and Colorado Springsas well as 1-1 ½ inches of snow in the mountain passes above 9,000 feet. That wasn't good since we had to go over N. LaVeta Pass, CO (9,413 feet) and Wolf Creek Pass, CO (10,856 feet). Using our net book, which proved to be a valuable tool on our trip, we were able to ascertain the current road conditions. We decided to delay our departure to allow time for the roads to clear. That gave us some time to try and change the burned out headlight we discovered the day before. Should be easy, right? Not on a Gold Wing. 

WW media headerAfter much frustration and losing a wire clip, we returned to the web to locate a Honda dealer in route to Cortez, CO, our next stop. Our timing was good as we headed out about 10:00 on US160. There was some snow but the roads were clear and it was a beautiful ride. We stopped in Durango and while we ate lunch, we left the mechanic to change the bulb and fish out the wire clip that got dropped into the bike's fairing. It was then on to Mesa Verde National Park.

Note to self - ALWAYS take your maintenance manuals; the owner's manual isn't much help for things like replacing headlight bulbs. By the way, I figured the wind the first day probably blew out the headlight.

The Mesa Verde's visitor center is located halfway through the park which is on top of the mesa. This is a twisty road but we managed to get there 15 minutes before they closed. Due to our late departure that morning we didn't make it to the end where the Cliff Dweller ruins are, but we did walk around some ruins not far from the visitor center. Then it was making our way back down. For some reason it seems to be scarier going down a twisty road that seems to be on the edge. The KOA Kamping Kabin was waiting for us in Cortez where we had a nice view of the mesa.

Mesa Verde is a beautiful park that we really didn't get to explore. Perhaps another trip is called for.

Friday morning brought sunshine and warm temperatures. Our first stop was the Four Corners Monument where we took pictures, bought coffee and a few souvenirs.

We then set off for the Grand Canyon. The day warmed up considerably and we arrived at the national park through the east gate around 3:00pm. We stopped at the Tower Visitor Center to get a good look at the canyon before heading to the campground. The sight was magnificent. The magnitude of the canyon is beyond description. It was worth the ride! We set up camp in Mather Campground, where we had reservations, and parked the bike until Sunday morning. The shuttle system at the park provided us with access to many points of interest and we could walk the rim as much as we desired. We had perfect weather and none of the wind which I had read was typical of the canyon.

Campground reservations are pretty much required at Mather Campground. The shuttle system was GREAT!

WW media headerSunday we took off for Kanab, UT where we would stay with a couple we located through the Motorcycle Travel Network (www.motorcycle-travel.net).The scenery along this route is so different from anything one would see back east. The colors were vivid as we traveled Route 89 along the Pink Cliffs and then 89A crossing over the Colorado River toward the North Rim of the canyon. You wouldn't believe the balancing boulders at the Cliff Dwellers, AZ. 

(Return next month for the final part to "West We Go!") 

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