The open road: 2010 summer trip day 3

If you are just finding this, go here to start at the beginning.

Day 3: Tropic, UT to Ouray, CO — 528 Miles



[click to go to an interactive map]

As I look back at the route above, the day only covered ~240 miles as the crow flies, but, it was 528 miles of good fun on the odometer and it promised to get into a small taste of Colorado’s mountains. After yesterday’s low mileage day, I was motivated to get going in the morning and was packed and rolling down the road around 0700 (home time). I had 2 days left (after this day) to get to Dallas, so, I was making the best of it.

Got a fairly early start heading out of Tropic

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1600sec, 56mm focal L. @35 MPH, ~4.7mi from prev photo, map

Interestingly enough, not far from here is Kodacrhome Basin State Park, so named after the National Geographic folks came through to shoot it for an article. Apparently Kodak was more than happy accept the endorsement and free advertising from the state of Utah.

UT 12 — Through the valley and over the hills

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 56mm focal L. @52 MPH, ~0.4mi from prev photo, map

This area of Utah is full of plateaus that abruptly fall away into a valley, or just another plateau. I’m a sucker for the exposed sedimentary geology and forever amazed at how erratic the erosion leaves the cliffs with random hoodoos and outcroppings.

Falling plateaus

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1600sec, 70mm focal L. @51 MPH, ~2.5mi from prev photo, map

With the audio repaired and crank’n some tunes, this section of UT 12 was easy going with enough fun parts to keep the rider focused in between long stretches of gawking at the hills around. The only thing really slowing me down was the scenery; pure bliss with a road like this almost entirely to myself.

UT 12 — There’s usually good fun to be had when things are posted at 30 MPH.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.2, 1/1250sec, 38mm focal L. @62 MPH, ~8.7mi from prev photo, map

This area is part of the geologically diverse Grand Staircase. There’s some good maps of the geology here.

Up at the plateau’s edge

Nikon D70, ISO 200, ƒ/4.0, 1/500sec, 24mm focal L., ~0.8mi from prev photo, map

UT 12 — Just east of Escalante.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @61 MPH, ~23mi from prev photo, map

When I got to this section of road, I had to stop and take a gander. Not only is there a nice little set of sweeping switch backs, but, the painted sandstone formations were quite the sight to take in. The Henry Mountains are just off frame to the left and, according to the roadside marker, they were one of the last areas to be mapped out and named in the continental U.S. due to the extreme ruggedness of the terrain.

UT 12 — A fun little drop down.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L., ~0.2mi from prev photo, map

But, a word of caution: while the pavement is solid and inviting, many of the inside corners were full of gravel — chose your line carefully and be ready! Even though I went back and rode this section thrice, it was actually less fun each successive time after seeing how dirty the corners were.

UT 12 — Too bad it was gravelly.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/3200sec, 18mm focal L. @51 MPH, ~0.2mi from prev photo, map

While backtracking through here, I ended up passing the same car three times (twice in my direction, and once on coming) — I sorta wonder if they actually noticed what was going on as it’s not like there was much other traffic.

Navajo Sandstone — Love the geology of this area.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L. @62 MPH, ~0.2mi from prev photo, map

Ohhh, look, I captured a UFO de-cloaking in the next picture! Maybe I should send a copy to the good folks in Rachel…

UT 12 — Oasis in the valley created by the Escalante River.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @45 MPH, ~2.4mi from prev photo, map

UT 12 — Following Calf Creek up to the next plateau.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 18mm focal L. @39 MPH, ~0.6mi from prev photo, map

Other than the speed limit, this was a fun little section of tarmac nestled into the river basin cut through the sandstone. The contrast of the lush green against the red and white cliffs made for a pleasantly cool (visually and literally) morning ride.

UT 12 — through the valley of green. The speed limit is 35.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/640sec, 18mm focal L. @31 MPH, ~0.3mi from prev photo, map

The canyon winds its way up to the tip of a peninsula of the next plateau, leaving a great view of the area just covered. This overlook provided a great view of what was being missed up above the canyon cliffs. If you look closely at the center of frame, you can see the stripe of road hugging the bases of the cliffs.

Looking back — through the canyon that UT 12 comes up.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 70mm focal L., ~2.2mi from prev photo, map

UT 12 — It’s 1000′ slide down either side of the road.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.2, 1/1250sec, 35mm focal L. @46 MPH, ~1.6mi from prev photo, map

This section of road is like no other I’ve ever ridden. It is following the spine of a peak that lets you look down both sides of of a steep drop off. As much as I wanted to just blaze through each corner, I couldn’t help but slow down so I could get a better look at what could be seen down each side. It’s really hard to see from the pictures, but, look at it from the air and you’ll get a much better sense for what it’s all about.

Ridge top — Another shot showing the drop off.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1600sec, 31mm focal L., map

Calf Creek turns into a slot canyon in this section. I bet it’d be a fun hike through.

Looking back — Calf Creek cut straight into the sandstone.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/500sec, 50mm focal L., ~617ft from prev photo, map

After a brief spell following the ridge, the road works its way down to the town of Boulder. Cresting a hill, I was treated with the sight of a nice (albeit short) section of tight sweepers to play on.

UT 12 — Another stretch I turned around and road thrice.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000sec, 18mm focal L. @45 MPH, ~4.2mi from prev photo, map

Sandstone mesas

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 27mm focal L. @52 MPH, ~0.9mi from prev photo, map

Each of the sediment layers must have a hard crust separating them to cause the layers to form these “steps” as it erodes away.

Close up of the crazy patterns in the sandstone

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.0, 1/1250sec, 56mm focal L. @43 MPH, ~0.2mi from prev photo, map

UT 12 — a complete change of scenery.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.0, 1/1600sec, 18mm focal L. @61 MPH, ~9.3mi from prev photo, map

After Boulder, the road climbs from 6500 to 9500 ft to cross over a forested mountain range to get to Torrey. It offered another great view of the Escalante Canyon region that I just passed through, with the Kaiparowits Plateau behind it.

After the big climb — Looking back over the sandstone region left behind.

Nikon D70, ISO 200, ƒ/5.0, 1/200sec, 52mm focal L., ~1.0mi from prev photo, map

Leading up to this, I must have taken almost a dozen pictures leaned over into corners. Nothing all the spectacular (photo wise), but, it serves as a reminder as to the fun to be had on this stretch of road.

Looking east — at the edge of the forest, overlooking the desert.

Nikon D70, ISO 200, ƒ/5.0, 1/200sec, 62mm focal L., ~9.2mi from prev photo, map

UT 24 — Heading east from Torrey. Getting close to Capitol Reef Natl Park.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @50 MPH, ~11mi from prev photo, map

At Torrey, UT 12 ends and connects up to UT 24 to head east across the Capitol Reef National Park and crosses through a 100 mile long monocline known as the Waterpocket Fold. The area is so named due to earlier prospectors being sailors, thus calling any formidable obstacle a “reef”, and the white sandstone capping the reef resembled capitol domes — thus “Capitol Reef”.

Unweathered top

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.0, 1/500sec, 50mm focal L., ~3.3mi from prev photo, map

Peaks of Capitol Reef — the many hues of red.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.0, 1/640sec, 22mm focal L. @59 MPH, ~3.0mi from prev photo, map

Throughout Capital Reef, my head might as well have been on a swivel. Too many interesting things to look at. Sadly, I didn’t have the time to stop and look at the petroglyphs carved into the sandstone.

UT 24 — Following Fremont River through the canyon.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.0, 1/640sec, 31mm focal L. @52 MPH, ~3.7mi from prev photo, map

UT 24 — crossing the monocline.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000sec, 46mm focal L. @68 MPH, ~8.3mi from prev photo, map

The thing that I didn’t realize at the time about this area is how the monocline created such wild variations in soil and rock. Imagine the vertical stack up of the Earth’s crust tipped over sideways and spread out horizontally. It’s kind of like wiping a deck of cards across a table — you can see a peak of each card’s face, but it’s layers of the Earth instead.

Delicate spires

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/1000sec, 40mm focal L. @68 MPH, ~0.8mi from prev photo, map

Fragile cliffs — It seems like a good stiff wind would blow over that sliver on the right.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/640sec, 40mm focal L. @69 MPH, ~12mi from prev photo, map

UT 24 runs into Hanksville where I stopped to get some petrol and scarf down some sustenance. While I was fueling, three gents came into the station and I couldn’t help myself but to talk to them for a bit. The “leader” was riding a very well used/loved Honda V65 with all sorts of homemade farkles. It was loaded to the gills with a huge tail bag while pulling the trailer you see below.

I forgot his name, but the group was headed to Leadville, CO.

This guy was awesome

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/100sec, 18mm focal L., ~8.2mi from prev photo, map

Now, before I continue, I just want to state for the record that when I’m retired and living off whatever means I happen to have, I sure hope I’m having as much fun as these guys were. If that means I’ll be pick’n through the moto bone yard to keep a stable of toys running, so be it! The rest of the world can piss off with their shiny new bikes because I’ll be making the best of it and having just as much fun.

But, take a close look at this trailer and realize how it takes recycling to a new level. Moto wheels+axles+brakes, a fork leg for the tongue, front brake master cylinder and lever working against the fork compression to provide trailer braking, front brake splitter to feed the left/right calipers plus various moto brake hoses. I’m sure there’s more…

I bid them farewell and hoped to see them on down the road.

Trailer brake system. — how many moto parts can you count?

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/30sec, 52mm focal L., map

UT 95 — heading down toward Lake Powell

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/7.1, 1/400sec, 40mm focal L. @70 MPH, ~29mi from prev photo, map

After the 276 junction, UT 95 follows a river cut down to Lake Powell. The canyon was full of great sweepers, but alas, the tar snakes in 100˚ temps made for a certain amount of pucker factor.

Underneath the water of Lake Powell below these cliffs lies the old boom town of Hite, according to a sign at this overlook.

The far end of Lake Powell — was tempted to stand on the cliff edge and look down. Really tempted…

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/1600sec, 18mm focal L., ~8.4mi from prev photo, map

While I was busy taking in the scenic overlook, the 3 guys from the Hanksville gas station had just passed by as I was pulling onto the highway. They were making a steady pace, but, after 5 or so miles, I had to pass them by…

UT 95 — followed the trailer group for a while.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.2, 1/1000sec, 38mm focal L. @53 MPH, ~0.6mi from prev photo, map

Colorado River

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 52mm focal L. @57 MPH, ~2.0mi from prev photo, map

Side trip — since I was passing by…

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @52 MPH, ~30mi from prev photo, map

90+ miles from Hanksville, the turn off for Natural Bridges drew me in. It’s a 5 mile side trip to get to the ranger station, which made for a fine place to hose off with some water and turn on the swamp-cooler effect inside my gear. The park has 3 natural sandstone bridged over a river bottom and they built a one-way road looping around with turn-outs at all of the overlooks.

Driving through the park and stopping at the overlooks was a borderline “meh” waste of time. The bridges blend into the background behind them and it just looks like another ravine. After stopping at a couple of overlooks, I’d seen enough and decided it was time to get back to the business of making miles. I felt bad for all the bored teenagers sitting in cars waiting for their parents to come to the same conclusion.

Don’t get me wrong — if you’ve got the time, plan on spending half a day and do some hiking so you can walk under, over, and around them to get a real sense for how cool they are. In the picture below, the span of the Sipapu bridge is 268 ft — it’s not small!

Look carefully — this was the best of the bridge overlooks.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000sec, 40mm focal L., ~2.1mi from prev photo, map

UT 261 — This stretch is a destination of its own.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1600sec, 70mm focal L. @67 MPH, ~23mi from prev photo, map

At one of the Bay Area STN dinners, some folks recommended that I take UT 261 while in the area, because it just such an oddity. Check out the map.

I had hoped to get a shot of the entire road, so, I took off on trail that lead around to the side of the cliff where I thought I’d get a good vantage point.

Side detour — was looking for a good overlook.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.2, 1/1600sec, 34mm focal L. @14 MPH, ~1.1mi from prev photo, map

Overlook — with my dual sport F800ST

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000sec, 70mm focal L., ~421ft from prev photo, map

My trusty steed — more pictures of the bike … deal with it!

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 46mm focal L., map

I didn’t find the view I was looking for, so, I settled for this. I believe the ridge on the left is hiding the view I was look’n for.

UT 261 — 1200′ ft down a cliff

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L., map

UT 261 — Really, who thought this was a good idea?

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L., ~1.0mi from prev photo, map

I can actually, kinda, sorta understand why they chose not to pave this stretch — fairly well forces people to slow down for it. Dirt and gravel roads don’t bother me at all on the bike (other than making a mess of it), and this proved to be no different. Just take it slow in the corners and don’t try to stop quickly.

UT 261 — rolling the gravel drop off

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1250sec, 18mm focal L. @23 MPH, ~0.4mi from prev photo, map

UT 261 — the inspiration for Charlie Brown’s shirt.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1250sec, 70mm focal L. @73 MPH, ~4.3mi from prev photo, map

The temperature was a few degrees hotter at the bottom of the cliff. It was about 3:00 and the temps peaked out at 107˚F for the day. I keep a 3L Camelback on the bike to stay hydrated while motoring down the road — a life saver in these conditions.

Get’n toasty — thermometer shows 105.8˚F, almost the highest seen for the day.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/640sec, 62mm focal L. @78 MPH, ~2.8mi from prev photo, map

Anvil Mesa

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1000sec, 62mm focal L. @56 MPH, ~2.1mi from prev photo, map

Round about here I stopped at a gas station to fuel up and noticed a F800ST and R1200RT parked under the shade of a tree with their owners nowhere to be found. Went inside to pay the fuel bill and saw a couple lounging in the AC with their full riding suits hanging down below their knees. After trading notes on the F8, I bid them farewell to let them finish contemplating whether to call it a day and check into the motel next door.

Might even still work

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/13.0, 1/60sec, 18mm focal L., ~14mi from prev photo, map

On the way out of some podunk town the radar detector started beeping with a weak signal that just didn’t go away. A few miles later I rounded a corner and was about 100 yards behind a white Ford Bronco rolling my direction. I normally wouldn’t have given a second thought about it — except this time because the radar detector was still chirping, now with a slightly stronger signal. He was moving a few miles under the speed limit, just baiting the trap for me to blow by. After what seamed like an eternity, he eventually turned around and headed back into town. Twas one of the many saves the that Mr. Redline gets credit for on this trip.

UT 162 — and the moon showing its face.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/1600sec, 18mm focal L. @83 MPH, ~8.4mi from prev photo, map

By the way — welcome to Colorado, and all that.

Why do I have a bizarre desire to climb to the top of a butte like this and just hang out for a while?

Chimney Rock

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/2000sec, 70mm focal L. @12 MPH, ~40mi from prev photo, map

US 160 up to Durango was pretty much just a crap, crowded road. But, heading north on US 550 out of Durango and seeing the narrow gauge Durango & Silverton steamer heading into town brought back fond memories. Around 1984, my family took the trip aboard D&S, following it up the sheer walls of the Animas River canyon. Even at the ripe old age of 10, I remember thinking how there just couldn’t be enough cliff edge to support the train and was slightly terrified that a derailing would be the end of us all.

I hope it’s still running in a few years so I can take my wife and 3 girls on it.

Old memories

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/640sec, 25mm focal L. @66 MPH, ~52mi from prev photo, map

US 550 — Finally out of the traffic leaving Durango.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/1000sec, 18mm focal L. @56 MPH, ~23mi from prev photo, map

Have to admit that the first part of the “Million Dollar Highway” was less than inspiring. But, the traffic thinned out 20ish, or so, miles out of Durango just in time to open up for the some of the better parts of the road.

North Twilight Peak and Twilight peak — both over 13000 ft.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/800sec, 46mm focal L. @48 MPH, ~1.4mi from prev photo, map

US 550 — One of the many valley loops.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/250sec, 18mm focal L. @51 MPH, ~0.5mi from prev photo, map

Molas Lake — at 10500 ft.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/2000sec, 18mm focal L. @52 MPH, ~5.5mi from prev photo, map

The town of Silverton is nestled into a small valley at 9300′, surrounded by peaks as high as 13k’. The highway is open year-round, but, folks must go stir crazy in the winter months with a seemingly vertical horizon of white towering above.

Silverton, CO

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/1600sec, 38mm focal L. @41 MPH, ~3.9mi from prev photo, map

The stretch of road from Silverton to Ouray is how the “Million Dollar” moniker came to be. I don’t think it’s true that the fill dirt actually has low-grade gold ore, but, there are numerous gold mining remnants visible from the road.

There’s one thing that is certain about this awesome stretch of road — the speed limit is low. The absence of traffic left plenty of room to enjoy the fresh tarmac while that nagging voice said, “you know you’ll be lucky if you only get a speeding ticket…”

US 550 — Why it’d be really easy to get in trouble here…

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.5, 1/320sec, 18mm focal L. @60 MPH, ~5.7mi from prev photo, map

US 550 — A million dollars was more than worth it! Yeeee HAWWWW!

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/800sec, 18mm focal L. @40 MPH, ~3.0mi from prev photo, map

US 550 — surprisingly enough, it’s a year-round road.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/250sec, 18mm focal L. @44 MPH, ~4.7mi from prev photo, map

US 550 — Did I mention this was a fun road?

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/500sec, 18mm focal L. @62 MPH, ~716ft from prev photo, map

I assume these women were fundamentalists of some sort. I didn’t see a parked vehicle that they may have been associated with, and me thinks they were on their way into town…

US 550 — Out for a walk?

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/640sec, 18mm focal L. @33 MPH, ~1.0mi from prev photo, map

US 550 — steep penalty for messing up (yeah, yeah … bad pun).

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/3.5, 1/500sec, 18mm focal L. @43 MPH, ~0.4mi from prev photo, map

Looking back — the road is literally carved into the cliff side.

Nikon D70, ISO 500, ƒ/4.0, 1/250sec, 29mm focal L., ~538ft from prev photo, map

Upon nearing the town of Ouray, the overwhelming desire to turn around and ride back to Silverton almost won me over. But, it was already dusk and I just felt like I’d used up enough traffic and LEO karma for the day that I’d better not push my luck. It’d been almost 12 hours since leaving Tropic and it was time to be done for the day.

Ouray is another tiny town nestled into a small valley at the modest elevation of 7800′. It’s fairly touristy, but I found a reasonable motel off the main drag that offered a pool and hot tub. The folks playing cards by the pool thought I was nuts to go swimming, but, after spending much of the day in +100˚ temps, a few laps in the brisk pool made the heat of the day a distant memory.

Later, I started yak’n with local carpenter in the bar and he tried to convince me that the problem with America lies in the popularity of Nascar. If it weren’t for Nascar, we wouldn’t need to import all that foreign oil and America would prosper. Interesting viewpoint that wasn’t backed up with any facts, but it lead to a cordial exchange over a couple of pints and we all walked away smiling.

Continue reading Day 4

2 comments to The open road: 2010 summer trip day 3

  • Leo Butler

    Very cool writeup! I’m very jealous. :-)

  • John!
    Thanks so much for sharing what you so masterfully chronicled for all of us out here. I’ve traveled many of the same roads and share many vantage points from your album. I was at one disadvantage, however is that my many of my shots were through the windshield of my 1-ton dually crew.. An F800ST fairing would have been a whole ‘nuther level! Thankfully, a pair of Yammy TTRs were in the trailer we pulled behind us, so we got to get offroad a bit whenever we stopped. We took a couple of days in Silverton and explored the highlands above the town.

    I have a few photos on facebook of one the several trips out that way;
    http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/profile.php?id=1559090924&v=photos.

    Thanks again! You have great skill at writing (and photography!), and I sincerely appreciate what you shared.

    Best
    Jeff Szkutnik

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