Published: July 1st 2008June 22nd 2008
Corah Hollow Road
A beautiful alternative to the highway to go east from the bay area
There are so many details I want to capture about this trip that I'll probably end up writing too much... bear with me... This was really an interesting trip and I faced it differently than from the past ones. I divided this incredible 3,200-mile journey day by day for easy reference. Let's start... Map of the trip
Saturday, June 6th 2008: Mountain View (California) to Lee Vining (California) Mountain View, Central, Montague, Fremont, CA 238, Sunol, Foothill, Plesanton, Livermore, Tesla Rd, Tracy, CA 120 (236 miles, 378 Km)
So, let's start with order. First of all I must say the planning of this trip has been head and shoulders above the previous adventure to Colorado. Although I am not a big fun of Google (I hate monopoly) I realized one of the best tools on the web to plan a route is Google maps and I guess I made a very good use of it. I would have liked to upload the route to the little hand-held gps I am now always using and I even found some supposedly working programs that do that, but I was unable to run it on my computer... so I
Don Pedro reservoir
printed the whole thing on paper and brought it with me. The main objective was to avoid highways (Google maps have a nice option for it) and not to end up riding too many miles in one day (the target was 300-400 miles, not more... but I screwed up that part...).
Friday Jonathan had me over for dinner and Lubab cooked a fantastic steak that fed me very well. I had AAA maps and I bought everything I needed, but Jonathan still managed to give me some more earplugs (better than the ones I bought). I should have woken up at 6:00 AM but, as usual, I wasn't able to do it; still very sleepy I managed to get up at 7:00 AM and leave by 8, which is not too bad afer all. The destination for the day was the "near" Yosemite national park. The temperature in San Jose was probably around 80 Fahrenheit, but I knew up in the Sierras I would have frozen my ass. By the time of this trip I still had Jonathan's heated vest from few weeks before when I went to Nevada, so I was never too worried about the cold weather
Don Pedro reservoir
which, as I was perfectly aware, would have been forgotten in just a couple of days.
One of the few options to get to Yosemite from the western entrance is through CA 120, a nice winding road that includes the dreaded Tioga Pass, closed most of the year for harsh conditions. There are many highways that bring you to CA 120 but, as I promised myself, no highway was to be tolerated. Not even in Mountain View or in the Slicon Valley. I followed Google's direction to in order to travel west without hitting the highway and I have to say it worked pretty well. I passed very near work in Milpitas, then I got to Plesanton and finally I saw its tiny downtown. I continued to Livermore, very well known place for the huge amount of physicists who live there and subsequently rode the beautiful Coral Hollow road to get to Tracy. Tracy, which has a small municipal airport, is nothing but a country town; many nicely cultivated fields were background of this very first initial part of my trip.
Those litte country roads brought me eventually to CA 120 near Manteca. That part of CA 120 is
Right after Tioga pass
not nice at all; the real gateway to the Sierras is the little town of Oakdale, where I stopped for a coffee and a soup in a motorcycle bar (I bet nobody I know would have had the guts to get in that place).
Once I left Oakdale the road started climbing up and, in just a few hours, the elevation went from sea level to almost 10,000 feet; the temperature dropped and I had to stop to wear an extra layer of cloth (I was wearing: T-shirt, jersey, jacket winter linen and jacket completely closed, in June!). I soon got to the park entrance and I was delighted to see the motorcycle entry fee was $10 as opposed to $20 for a car: finally I found a place where a motorcycle rider is not penalized! In Italy any toll is the same for cars and motorcycles and that thing pissed me off forever.
When CA 120 became really winding and beautiful I frequently stopped either for pictures or just to admire the view, but I wanted to get to destination as soon as possible. Accommodation in Yosemite, especially Lee Vining (near Mono Lake), is really pricey in
Pretty nice and quiet campground for the first day. But boy, how cold it was!
summer, so I opted for camping (also because the first day I still had energies). Browsing online I found a number of campgrounds all near Lee Vining (I didn't realize how close to each other they were), so I wanted to get there, pitch my tent and maybe go for a hike.
There was still quite a considerable amount of snow at the border of the road, but it was never a threat as three weeks before when I was in that area.
I finally got to the Tioga pass; I really can't remember when the last time I passed there is, but I assume years ago (no kidding). I always remember that damn pass closed for snow and ice, it's really incredible. What I do not understand is how the Sonora pass, the only alternative staying in the high part of the Sierras, is not by far as impassable as the Tioga (although it does stay close all the winter months).
At the very summit of the Tioga pass there is a toll booth and I must confess the view isn't that great. From there CA 120 is downhill and, in less than one hour, I was
Benton hot springs. I didn't see any hot springs... I need to check if there are any...
at the Aspen campground, just before Lee Vining. The fee for the night was $14 and the campsite was more than decent; the mandatory bear boxes saved all my stuff from the night freeze and I was pleased to have a nice creek just a few feet away.
Apparently I ended up in a campground designed for people who like fishing; I don't know why, but I reckon people around were a bit strange. Nobody talked and nobody was looking at me when I was walking; I wanted to get a hold of the camp host but I couldn't find him. I just wanted to know if there were easy hikes around, because I still had 3 hours of sunlight and I wasn't feeling tired at all (beauty of the first day). I talked to a hippie with a dog (he let the dog jump on my new jacket... I wanted to strangle him with the leash) and, after I realized everybody was fishing and had no clue about anything, I walked to the main road and followed it for about 45 minutes. A bit disillusioning I must say; there was no nice view nor nothing interesting to see. The
A quick stop in the desert heat on US 6...
road was a dead end and a noisy power plant was the reward for getting there. Beside, it was not even a trail and I crossed cars of people who were searching for a quite spot (to fish, of course).
I went back to the campground and met three motorcycle riders with whom I spent the rest of the evening (I guess I went to bed at around 10.00PM). The REI ready-to-eat meal I brought was not bad at all and the guys offered me peanuts and some highly-alcoholic beer. Actually I had a little pocket flask full of Vodka that was supposed to last for the whole trip, but I finished it that very first night talking to those fellas... no comment. The guys had been everywhere in the past and gave me some good suggestions about New Mexico, but I could not really change my plan after all the effort I put upfront...
Before sleeping I tried my new kick-ass camping light for books that I clipped to the ebook I bought some time ago and I kept reading "the world is flat" (I am going very slow on the reading, I didn't finish it in two
This is the kind of motorcycle you may find in Nevada... crazy.
months). The only issue that killed me every camping day was not having a proper pillow; when I was back in Italy I had a small inflatable one that was small and effective but I still have not been able to find one here in the US.
The night, as expected, was freezing indeed and the temperature dropped to 34 Farenheight (almost 0 Celsius); in the morning, when I was disassembling the tent, my hands were frozen and I was asking myself why I slept in Yosemite... (answer: because it's a beaufitul park).
Sunday, June 7th 2008: Lee Vining (California) to Caliente (Nevada) Lee Vining, CA 120 West, Benton Hot Springs, US 6, Nevada, Tonopah, Extraterrestrial Highway, US 93, Caliente (342 miles, 547 Km)
Still pretty cold from the early morning temperatures I went to a gas station in Lee Vining where I had breakfast and I refilled the motorcycle (at the highest price per gallon of the entire vacation). I had seen the lake just a couple of weeks before, but this time it looked different, maybe for the early light and the absence of traffic on the road. Mono Lake is unique and is the
The first part of the extraterresrial highway
source of an aqueduct that provides drinking water to the city of Los Angeles and, sadly, it is exsiccating a little bit year after year. California's government is very sensitive to the water issue and in Cisco, where I work, they replaced all the urinals with water-free ones, claiming they save 45,000 gallons per year per urinal. I really hope beautiful Mono Lake will stay there for a long time, but who knows.
For the first time I continued to ride East of Mono lake on CA 120 and the view changes dramatically in very few miles; I was literally shocked. The elevation didn't drop much and - as a matter of fact - didn't drop much for the entire trip since most of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico form a big plateau. But the forest changed its look, remembering much more the dry Nevada style rather than the green Yosemite park. There were a lot of dead trees that had been cut and I recollect people chopping the wood and putting it in their trucks. Just a few weeks back I was talking to an Italian friend and he was telling me that this is a big difference
Another view from the extraterrestrial highway
between US and Italy: nobody in Italy would ever leave a dead tree in the forest, because the tree is life: with wood you can heat your house in winter, make forniture, sell it for the very same reasons; in a poorer country like Italy a big piece of wood lying on the ground would be gone in one hour, but not here. Seeing those people collecting the wood seemed strange after the comment we made that day.
The temperature was still pretty low and I had all the layers of the day before, but that was soon to change. As usual I sighted a plethora of nice unpaved roads that I'd like to drive with a 4 wheeler (I may go this summer sometimes). Pretty soon I got to the little town of Benton Hot Springs, a very tiny far-west style town where I didn't see any sign for hot springs at all...
I was approaching the border with Nevada and got to the end of CA 120 (which seemed to continue, though, but I later discovered it was a dead end for real). I continued the journey on US 6, which is not much of an
The sign was very funny...
highway like the name may suggest; the landscape changed once again and now it was through and through the typical Nevada dry-desert view. I was already pretty tired and stopped in Tonopah, a little town that used to host workers of the nearby gold and silver mines (source Wikipedia, hehe). My the initial idea was to get there the first day, but I'm glad I did not do it since it would have been definitely too long of a drive. Tonopah is a popular stop for whoever, like me, is crossing the desert. I didn't see many motorcycle riders and the few that I spotted were riding big cruisers; at the gas station I saw a guy with a trailer on the bike! And I was struggling finding some room in mine! (I attached a picture, I am sure only in America having a trailer on a motorcycle is legal).
Once again driving in those Nevada roads had a magic effect on me; I forgot about all my problems (assuming I have any) and I felt really free. I guess anybody stressed by work and life should take a trip to Nevada and spend some time there; I am
Rachel is a town of few souls along the extraterrestrial highway. This was a little store that was selling food and some bizarre souvenirs.
sure those dry mountains have some therapeutical properties... if you don't believe it just try it. Beside, the vast majority of Nevada is still rather inexpensive, at least compared to the costly Bay Area.
After a few lonely miles I got to the junction with Nevada State Route 375, known as Extraterrestrial highway because in the past many UFO sights happened here. I really didn't see too many cars in there and the temperature was about perfect, maybe a little bit on the cold side (I was shocked, chill in Nevada in June). I rode good 30 miles before getting to the only micro town along the way, Rachel. All you can find in Rachel is a little store/restaurant where I got a coffee and a bagel and bought a couple of souvenirs (a nice t-shirt and a poster). Of course every gadget is based on extraterrestrial life, the nearby Area 51 (which is in Arizona anyway) and the desolation of the place. A few miles before Rachel I stopped for a picture and a car stopped to ask if I needed help, I suppose because many people get in trouble in the desert.
At any rate, after
KR State park
Road that goes to the Kershaw-Ryan state park in Caliente, Nevada.
a maybe 45 minute stop I was on my way to Caliente, Nevada. I still had 80 miles to go and I was confident I woudn't need any more gas for the day. The junction with US 93, also called Big Basin Highway, was closer than I expected and I got to Caliente rather early (maybe at 4.30PM).
In theory I had a reservation at "Shady motel", which was lost. However all the motels in town had vacancies; after all there are not so many people hanging out in those places...
I wanted to go for a hike and asked if there was something nearby: I was recommended the Kershaw-Ryan state park, only 6 or 7 miles away. Caliente's name proved to be right and it was hot indeed; it was nice to ride the motorcyle with shorts and t-shirt with a the motorcycle way lighter than it was in the morning.
I found the ranger and paid the $3 entrance fee (fair price for what you get there, I guess). In the whole park there was only one family that was taking a bath in a tiny swimming pool and that's it! I had the whole place for
Trailhead of the Kershaw-Ryan state park. This only trail brings to the top of a small canyon.
The park had only a 3-mile trail (I guess it was even less than that) that gets to the top of a small canyon. Nothing impressive, really, but a very nice walk. The ranger gave me a lilttle guide that was explaining the different plants (most of them dead...) and that's when I got to discover the name of the bushes you see all along the Nevada desert: big sagebush.
I headed back to the motel for a shower, I the went to the only casino-pub-restaurant they had in town; at the bar I talked to a nice man from the state of Washington that had been in Baja California for a few months with his wife (I guess they retired). There was also free pool and I played a local shark who beat me...
I headed back to the motel early even though I had the option of another bar nearby but the bed was more inviting, so I ended up watching some television and falling asleep early.
Monday, June 8th 2008: Caliente (Nevada) to Navajo national monument (Arizona) Us 93, NV 319, Utah, UT 56, UT 18, UT 9, Zion national park, US 89,
Page, AZ 98, US 160, AZ 564, Navajo national monument (361 miles, 578 Km)
KR State park
View from the top of the canyon in the Kerwhaw-Ryan state park
That night I really thought my 512-Mbyte memory was not going to be enough given the rate I was shooting pictures; fortunately I spotted a "Radio Shack" in a little shopping area near the motel and I went there as first thing in the morning after an abundant breakfast as the usual casino-restaurant. The official breakfast was "pouched eggs + hash browns"; they serve it everywhere, no matter where you are. Another bad thing I noticed is how much butter they put in the toasted bread and, I may be crazy saying this, but I conjecture that the hottest the place is, the more butter they use! In Nevada the bread was near to be disgusting for all the butter they used... I looked around and everybody was overweight; the weitress alone was probably two or three times myself.
I refilled the camel back with 3 liters of fresh water and hit the road: the destination for the day was a free-of-charge campground in Arizona at the Navajo national monument. I was thinking I was late on my schedule, but the shop where I
Near Enterprise, Utah. I was very surprised to see any grees there and I still ignore where they take the water from.
got the memory opened only at 10.00 AM and I was using that as a justification. Few miles of US 93 brought me quickly to NV 319, thru which I crossed the border of Utah. While I was riding US 93 there were some roadworks and I was forced to go 20/30 miles an hour and I smelled the sage from the big sagebushes, just like I had read the day before in the park guide. I have to say I never noticed that and I find it very curious.
While I was riding I saw "Dixie national forest" and I started smiling thinking how little fantasy americans have for names; Dixie was also the name of the "town" (I am not even sure it is a town) that I was trying to reach three weeks before with the motorcycle and got stuck in the middle of nowhere...
I rode UT 18 straight south and noticed how much greener Utah was. It's really hard to believe, as usual. Maybe in Nevada there would be opportunities to get some water and have some fields and cultivations, but they simply don't care because they make more money with the casinos
Red hills, Utah. Doesn't look like so, but there was a lot of traffic.
and they can afford to buy primary goods from greener states: it's the only possible explanation for such an abrupt change. I recall big fields and irrigation systems near Enterprise, just across the border.
UT 18 is a pretty drive and on that road you soon discover how amazingly nice Utah is. They have green, mountains, deserts all in very few miles.
I passed through Snow Canyon state park and the mountains out there are really pretty; I recall going through St George on this road called "red canyon road"; that was just one of the many country roads and still it was abslutely amazing. The only down side of that area was the traffic; loads of trucks and cars that were not giving me a break. As soon as I stopped for a picture and some rest in the red canyon road zillion cars passed in front of me; even a AAA truck stopped thinking that I needed help!
At any rate, I was able to connect to UT 9 after filling up my gas tank and having some lunch (Wendy's, I still remember). It was very hot by that time, maybe 95 degrees and I discovered
Zion national park
at the fast food that the time was 1 hour ahead, so I actually had lost one hour! I already left late that morning and that extra hour really killed my schedule.
I was blaming myself for not considering the time change and I was stressed with traffic, so I remember being pretty annoyed while I was having lunch.
After few miles of beautiful UT 9 you get to the Zion national park; the entrance fee was $10 for motorcycles and $25 for cars, just like in Yosemite. I really didn't expect much from the Zion park was suprised from the absolutely stunning views you get for miles. Zion is magnificent; those rocks and mountains create a really unique effect that I never experienced before. I wanted to take a million pictures, but it was hard to stop on that tiny road and many professional photographer have done a much better job I could possibly do my little camera...
The park is very well maintened and they discourage people from driving their cars through, providing a big car-park and free shuttles; for this reason the traffic was not bad at all. I was doing the "regular" tourist though;
Zion national park
I realized it when I stopped at a "vista point" and saw tons of people taking the same standard picture, so I refused to take it. Everywhere I go I like not to be "the silly tourist"; I don't care about getting where everybody can get, I need more, but Zion would have required too much time.
I rode the remainder of UT 9 and merged to US 89 that brought me to Arizona. The road was long and boring until the Glen Canyon; I saw a sign saying "panoramic view" and I climbed this little gravel road that was going to the top of the canyon and I saw one of the best views of the trip. Very naively I ignored that Page and the Glen Canyon exist because of the Colorado river and only in this trip I realized how important the Colorado river is for all the southwestern states.
Few miles later I got to Page and I stopped to fill up and for a sandwich at Subway. I know for sure my look was crazy at that point; I was hot and starving when I was sure people at Subway made a strange face when
Zion national park
they saw me. I had a sort of deja-vu; I knew for sure I had been in Page before but I could not realize when. Now that I'm home and writing this journal I checked the route I rode when I went to Colorado and that's when I was in Page. Incredible how easily I can forget everything if I don't write it.
I continued on AZ 98 until the junction with US 160 and rode those miles dreaming of drinking the cold 1-liter beer I bought in Page. I was afraid AZ 564 was unimproved and I thought a lot about it, but I turned out to be wrong. My directions were imprecise because I selected a wrong point as destination and that's why Google wanted me to do crazy stuff. Getting to the Navajo monument was a piece of candy, but when I got there it was pretty late (for sure past 6 PM) and nobody was at the tourist information kiosk.
I knew from Internet camping at the Navajo monument was free; after talking to a guy driving solo a big SUV I got to the to one of the campgrounds and found it completely
Zion national park
empty (there were a couple of options, I went to the "canyon view" campground because the name was promising well). The guy I talked to showed up minutes later and he said "nobody here? This is fishy, I am going to leave" and he bailed out. I was the only one there for at least one hour, but I was never worried. Later on somebody else joined me. The atmosphere was pretty odd, but the weather was very good and I didn't mind the solitude of the place; it wasn't too hot, fortunately, and that night I slept very well.
I remember talking to a crazy lady with a dog that was telling me "junipers are very nice, I want a collection of pictures of junipers"; "junipers are nicer when they are dead and that's kind of sad". He offered me to go to a walk but I refused and went to take some pictures of the sunset (which are not any good, now that I see them...).
The Navajo monument is nice but probably it would not be worth it to go there unless you want free camping or you are passing by; the near Kayenta is pretty
Zion national park
pricey and they asked me 150 bucks in any motel, since the proximity of Monument Valley (one of the Motel was called "Monument Valley motel").
I was really happy to be camping again; I continued reading the ebook and went to bed early, since I wanted to get to Santa Fe early in the following day. Dinner was very scarce and consisted in a Subway cookie and some beef jerky, but for some reasons I didn't feel hungry at all (I am sure there is a "right" way to eat when you go for long trips; maybe I can still improve in that direction).
I spotted at least one trail going down to the monument and I assume it would have been nice hiking that; maybe it was only a matter of hours, but probably it's better to do that in late summer when the temperature is not so severely hot.
Tuesday, June 9th 2008: Navajo national monument (Arizona) to Santa Fe (New Mexico) AZ 564, US 160, US 64, New Mexico, Shiprock, US 550, Cuba, NM 126, NM 4, Los Alamos, Santa Fe (366 miles, 586 Km)
That night I was thinking I could continue on
A very nice view point in the glen canyon
a non-maintened unpaved road and go back to US 160 as my directions suggested, but didn't find it. I went to ask the information center that was open when I woke up and asked the its exact location, but the native-american woman working there told me there was no such road in the vicinity and the only option I had was to to go back the same way I came. I felt almost offended and I thought "Jesus, you don't even know the roads a mile away from here". Then, while I was driving, I realized I had the wrong directions since I set my destination a little bit off in the map and that's why that road wasn't there... I was sorry for thinking the woman was incompetent, but that's an indication of how tired I was the day before.
I was driving US 160 and I was approaching the four corners, destination where I had already been during my trip in Colorado; for this reason I decided not to go there again and proceed directly to New Mexico (the four corners are nice though, that's the kind of things a non-american would certainly enjoj). Riding that road
This is what you see along the highway... incredible
was another deja-vu; I knew for sure I had been there already and somehow everything made sense in my mind. The truth is that I could not remember any detail and any sign or place looked completely new to me.
US 64 kept me company for quite some time, until I got to Bloomfield, where I entered US 550.
Driving in New Mexico I couldn't help noticing how many religious references there were on the road; I saw way more churches that you would normally do in California and the rest of the states I visisted. Catholic associations were everywhere: at one point I even saw "Road maintened by Christian Motorcycle Association" and I thought it was kind of crazy. The best sign was "Jesus is watching you" right in front of an adult store.
US 550 to Cuba was truly boring and I used it to relax and blank my mind, like I always do when I am weary. I decided to go to Cuba after the suggestion of Jack Hines, the guy who sold me the GS I am riding. He recommended NM 126, a beautiful unpaved road that goes over the Santa Fe forest and
That was my accommodation for the night...
gets to NM 4, near Los Alamos. This decision proved to be brilliant and I really thank him for all the inputs he gave me (he sent me at least 8 different itineraries and this is the only one I followed, but all the remaining ones are in my pipeline...).
I stopped at a gas station and saw a cop, so I decided to ask what the road conditions were. I am serious, that cop looked at me the same way the sheriff looked at Rambo when he approached his town: I was literally shocked and felt wery unwelcomed. I asked "is it allright if I do NM 126?". He said "No, it's an unpaved road, you have to be careful", but the glance he gave me was really scary. I later talked to the lady that worked at the gas station and she said "that's a beautiful road, you are going to enjoj it with the motorcycle but you have to be careful". That sounded better, so I was very decided to do it.
The little tourist information kiosk was closed and I had no clue how long the road would take; the first 10 miles or
What a nice picture (JK...)
so were paved and I gained some elevation there. I remember seeing the sign "transition from pavement to dirt" and I thought "what the hell, Jack never mentioned that road could be difficult". The first stratch of the road was easy and truly pretty; a lot of campgrounds are available in that area as well as lakes for fishing and trails for hiking. I even saw a FexEx van at one point, which made me think how what I think adventurous is actually perfectly regular. But boy - I tell you - you can go to the center of the Earth and still see UPS and FedEx!
The last part of the road was quite sandy and I had a little troubles balancing for the weight of the bike: full tank, two full-to-explosion saddle bags, fully loaded tank bag, camel back with almost 3 liters of water and a rolled bag with the camping equipment were certainly not helping. As usual in those situations the main goal was not to drop the bike; at any rate I saw cars every once in a while, which gave me a lot of confidence and eased my nerves.
At the very
Yeah yeah, it's just an experiment.
end of NM 126 there were road works, like in the rest of New Mexico: I guess the New Mexican government is trying to renew the highway system and I even saw one sign confirming it. For some reasons I always thought the richness of a state can be determined by the road conditions and, for this very reason, I always think a country is welthy if I see people working on the roads but I understand it is a stupid assumption. However those remote roads are in much better shape than anybody would ever expect, especially considering how few people go there. New Mexico does not look by any means any poorer than Arizona or Utah, just to make it perfectly clear.
NM 4 impressed me for the amount of green that I saw; the picture of New Mexico I had in my mind was completely different (pretty much what I found in the south of the state). That green valley made me reconsider the whole idea of the southwestern states; there sure are many things I still don't know and I'm ready to discover them in the near future.
I was on NM 501 when I
I saw a lot of religious things in New Mexico, but this is very funny
saw some checkpoints and I had to stop, but I really didn't understand why. Then I checked the name of the town and it was "Los Alamos"; I thought "Do you want to see it is THAT Los Alamos?". Being a WWII fanatic I was well aware the atomic bomb was designed in a place with that name, but pretty much every state in the US has a town called Los Alamos, so the probability of that remote mountain town being THAT town was very thin. But a few miles over those buildings removed any doubt; I saw the Los Alamos research center and a bunch of signs for a science museum. I asked directions to some locals and they redirected me to the little downtown, where I got in the Bradbury science museum.
The museum is free and when I got in I asked the girl working at the reception "Is this THAT place?" and she said "in the room on your left there is the reproduction of the two atomic bombs dropped during WWII". I was really interested and I was reading the panels with great curiosity. Once again I thought how crazy those years were. Unfortunately
Along highway 160
I didn't have much time and that museum deserved a full day to be visited. There is a big section about the modern age of the atomic energy and a lot of facts about uranium, plutonium, disposal of nuclear wates and much more. After visiting the little gift shop I hit the road with direction Santa Fe, my final destination for the day.
When I was approaching the city I got to the highwayt but did only one exit; I discovered reading my printed directions that there was a street parallel to the highway; the idea is very interesting. I guess they do it so that you can follow the same route as the highway even with a small motorcycle or a bike, doing exacly what you would do with the car. I messed up a few turns but I was able to get to the motel downtown Santa Fe.
The motel, a travelodge, gave me one of the best rooms I have ever seen, but I spent very little time there...
I headed downtown with a very detailed map taken at the reception and discovered Santa Fe is a super-pretty town and much smaller than I thought
Tons, tons of these little roads. I'd really like to ride them all!
(about 70,000 people). Plenty of art galleries characterize the town; it hardly seemed an American city and one of the few signs of globalization was a Starbucks located a very interesting building (the door was 20 cm thick).
Quite ironically I had dinner in a place called "San Francisco cafe" and I truly enjojed a main course of fish and vegetables. I asked the weitress to recommend me a place for a beer and she sent me to the "Cowgirl", a pub that turned out to be outstanding. They had a room with 4 or 5 pool tables and I moved there just because the entire place was crowded despite being Tuesday and I could not find a seat. That's when I ask a dude called Tom if we wanted to shoot some pool. He was with a quite nice friend who used to be in the army and we spent the entire night talking and drinking beer. It was a real blast; they told me I shouldn't go to El Paso and spend one more day in Santa Fe (and they turned out to be right...).
At one point I had the idea of filming ourselves playing
The sign is pretty explicit I'd say...
pool and that's when I discovered I broke the display of my digital camera; I had it in my pocket and probably I was leaning against the pool table and put too much pressure on it. I was really pissed off: I had decided to change it anyway, but that was not the right moment for that to happen. The guys told me there was a Best Buy in town and I thought my best bet was to go there as first thing in the morning and get a replacement. The rest of the night is still pretty vague in my mind; I remember being outside the pub and seeing a lot of very pretty girls, but that's about it. I walked to the motel - which was maybe 10 minutes away - and I was too intoxicated to either watch television or read.
Wednesday, June 10th 2008: Santa Fe (New Mexico) to El Paso (Texas) US 285, NM 3, US 54, Texas, El Paso (357 miles, 571 Km)
Best Buy was actually opening at 10 in the morning and I was quite early when I got there, so I had to spend some time. Those minutes seemed
Another nice sign...
never ending to me, because I thought I was throwing away precious minutes of my vacation... I bought a camera that is pretty much the equivalent of what I had, except that it is a little newer; I did it so I could reuse the batteries I had that were already charged and the same memory.
I left at almost 11:00 AM from Santa Fe and I experienced the only day of my vacation I really wished it went differently; I drove a lot of miles on US 285 south, sharing the road with a plenty of trucks that were making the air particularly dirty. I was thinking, while I was driving, that all the smog would accumulate on the valve of the camel back and I was actually polluting myself drinking from there... and I still believe it was pretty disgusting driving there.
The only relief was NM 3, a desolated road that cut from US 285 to US 54, but it was rather short. I don't think I crossed more than two cars on NM 3; a big forest was at about half time and I figured that was the only reason why that road existed;
That's the unpaved part, really really pretty
I was trying to imagine what hiking over there would be, but by now I know you cannot guess what you'll find behind the corner in any of the US states.
Fort Bliss is a big military reservation that, for many miles, is split by US 54: as a consequence there are not many alternatives to get to El Paso from Santa Fe, unless one wants to do 600 miles instead of 350... All the roads are restricted and the signs pretty scary (they didn't say "you'll be shot if you trespass, but they conveyed that message). The temperature was nearly unbearable (for sure above 105) and I was really angry because of the traffic. I wanted to get to El Paso early and do some shopping or something else: God only knows what I was expecting from El Paso.
After a test of endurance I got to the border with Texas; the welcome sign said "Proud home of president George W. Bush". I was thinking if they would change all the welcome signs when the presidency is over... I really don't know. The speed limit in Texas is 70 mph, but at night it is reduced to
Another view of NM126
65; this surprised me and is arguable; in Germany, as far as I know, the only roads with no speed limits don't have any restriction at night, but they DO have a speed limit during the day and they DO enforce it. I later discovered also New Mexico has double speed limits.
The unfortunate (for me) truth is that El Paso is a rather big city as opposed to the little town that I was assuming; the traffic was crazy - the same as any other major city - and the temperature the hottest I experienced in the whole vacation (even at night).
After I got to the motel (which was pretty far from downtown) I drove to the city center. I was very nervous and I drove east instead of west for good 15 miles in a very crowded road where everybody was driving pretty fast (in fact it reminded me of any Italian city). When I got downtown... I found nothing. The "nice" historic downtown is in Mexico and I didn't bring my passport (on purpose); another problem of going to Mexico is the insurance, since the American insurance does not cover Mexico and you have to
Yet another view...
get a different one if you want to get there.
Still very unpleased I went to an Italian restaurant where I ate some spectacular spaghetti done by an Italian cook and headed to a pub the server recommended me. The pub was a couple of blocks away, on the left side of the main road. That pub may have been the last think I saw in my life: the traffic light was red for who was turning left and green for who was going straight; I had to turn left but I was standing in the wrong lane. I heard a car breaking very hard and I smelled the burnt rubber of the tires. He avoided me by 10 cm and he was coming from behind. I didn't mean to write this but I just got the sad news that a good friend, Bubu, died in a motorcycle accident. That night I did realize how volatile life is and I was meditating while drinking my pint...
That night I saw an interesting documentary about the life of Roman Polanski; I always heard his name but I never realized that he was sadly famous for a long trial (he
was charged of rape of an underage girl). My mind was blank and I didn't feel like reading or watching a movie.
Furious the "mistake" I had made that I started looking at the map and see if I could modify the route for the following day and make it a little bit more interesting.
On the big paper map I brought the scenic routes were dotted and I seeked for any detour to the apparently not-too-interesting route I had planned; after few minutes everything was figured out in my mind, so I fell asleep decided to wake up early and face the toughest day of the entire trip.
Thursday, June 11th 2008: El Paso (Texas) to Tucson (Arizona) I25, NM 26, NM 27, NM 152, NM 90, I 10, US 191, AZ 186, Chiricaua National Monument, AZ 181, US 191, I 10, Tucson (503 miles, 805 Km!!!)
I knew that any change in the program may potentially result in many more miles (and I mean MANY) and I could not afford to alter it too much because I had to be back by Sunday (more than "had-to-be" I mean "was-committed-to-be"; once again I went with my
The historic route 66 passes in the heart of Santa Fe
guts and decided to go for the completely brand-new plan B.
That morning I rode I 25 North for several miles until the town of Hatch, New Mexico, where the junction with NM 26 is. Right at the border Texas/New Mexico I got off the highway and went to a tourist center where they confirmed the roads I wanted to drive were worthwhile; that removed any indecision I may have had till then and, quite happy about changing my mind at the last moment, I continued riding.
NM 26 is a nice ride with virtually no traffic; the nice part, though, is NM 27, another country road that heads north. NM 27 is so tiny that in Google Maps you really have to zoom to see it, but it was completely paved. The dry landscape was nice and one of the attractions was a ghost town called Lake Valley town. I did visit the ghosh town, but only briefly. I also spoke to the man that was working (or living, I don't know) there and asked him how far the nearest gas was from there; he told me that it was at least 80 miles in the direction
Cathedral in Santa Fe
I was riding. I made a quick calculation and thought I could do it easily since I was riding an average of at least 40 miles per gallon, but I didn't consider that NM 152, which I reached in maybe half hour from the ghost town, is a mountain, winding road. The little town of Hillsboro, right at the junction between NM 27 and NM 152, totally deserved at least a quick stop, but I was worried about the gas and the time, since I had to ride a lot of miles that day. I continued on my way and remember going really slow in order to save gas.
Even though I was preoccupied I kept admiring beautiful NM 152; as the old man at the ghost town told me, that little road goes through two mountain ranges and I drove through many miles of forest. The gas gauge kept going down and every bar that was disappearing was only increasing my anxiety; I started thinking if I made a mistake somehow and where I should have refilled to avoid that annoying situation, but it was not worth crying over spelt milk. NM 152 is a perfect motorcycle ride
I was SO TIRED
and I am sure after some rain that is going to be really green and beautiful, but the temperature can be scary (can easily drop to 20, 30 degrees in winter).
After one hour of pain I got to the junction with US 180, which is a 3 lane-highway. All my problems went away in no time and I was sure I would make it to Silver City, the next town with a gas station. Silver city had a big traffic jam caused, once again, by roadworks. I was tired and I really wanted something cold in a coffee shop; I managed to get to the historic town center and I did find a nice coffee-shop/internet cafe. That was the only time in the whole vacation when I checked my email; I thought about writing to somebody that I was still alive, but I didn't. Reading mundane news and seeing the usual email traffic made me a little sad, but I forgot it in an eye blink when I closed the web page. The reason why I wanted Internet was to use Google maps and estimate how long I had to drive for the rest of the day; I
A nice sunset in Santa Fe
reckon it was about 1.30PM when I got to silver city.
Unfortunately I was to drive still many miles if I wanted to do what I had in mind, which was reaching the Chiricahua National monument, Arizona. NM 90, a not-so-interesting New Mexican road, brought me to I 10 for yet another time. Hitting the highway was tolerated after what I had done that day and I was still due to do; the only drawback of getting to Arizona from the interstate is that I could not stop and take the usual picture with the state welcome sign, hehe.
Wilcox was the place where I made the decision of going all the way with my new plan; AZ 186, which was a scenic road in my map, was nice but not great in my opinion. When I got to the Chiricahua National Monument it was maybe 5.00PM (well, I messed up with the local time anymore that I really didn't know if I was 1 hour off in my estimations, but I knew that Arizona never changes its time and I was pretty sure it was the same as California). At any rate, nobody was working at that
Going south of Santa Fe
point and, when I entered the park, the last rangers were leaving. I felt entitled not to pay the $5 entrance fee, because there was no self-pay option. I drove a winding-road and I got to admire this indeed very nice rock formation. It's incredible how hidden this place is and you would never tell from the main road that valley is concealing such a rare beauty.
I got to a dead-end with a nice vista point; I tried to take some pictures but, now that I look at them, I realize that what you can capture with a picture is nothing compared to the real thing; I really think Arizona is incredible. They have such nice places for hiking, four wheel driving, motorcycles. Thanks to the Colorado river you can even have a boat in a place that would otherwise be as dry as the Sahara desert. They have snow for sure in the winter (the Gran Canyon is completely white in December and January), but I never noticed any sky resort; I'll investigate...
Out of the park I headed South (folly, I had to go North!) just not to ride the same 40 miles again and
A nice shortcut from US 285 to US 54
I completed a small loop around Wilcox. As a result, after at least 2 hours I was 20 miles further on I10, not bad! I recall stopping to a really windy rest-area and stratch my back; Tucson was still very far from there, I could not believe it. I drove I 10 remarkably fast, with peaks of 90/95 miles an hour, because I just wanted to get there. I reached the Motel 6 where I had the reservation and took a shower; I felt a completely different person.
I decided to head downtown Tucson for some dinner, just to discover that there was nothing in the downtown area. I found a bus station, a lot of desperate people waiting for the bus, no shops, no restaurants, some businesses that were closed. I was truly disappointed once again. I wanted to find a local restaurant or anything similar, but I could not find it! I returned to the Motel and I followed the suggestion of the girl at the reception, so I had dinner at the restaurant one block away and I went for a Jack Daniels in the nearby Howard and Johnson motel, where I found only old Mexican
Corona, New Mexico
This is the first picture I shot with the new digital camera
people talking loud and singing crazy Mexican music coming from the Juke Box.
I hit the bed pretty early that night; I watched some television but the only channel where they were running Family Guy has broken audio, another reason to sleep early.
Friday, June 12th 2008: Tucson (Arizona) to Parker (Arizona) AZ 86, AZ 85, Old US 80, Salome Rd, US 60, AZ 72, AZ 95 (346 miles, 553 Km)
Rather disappointed by Tucson I hit the hot road with destination Parker, Arizona. Once again I didn't have that many options to get there and avoid the highway and AZ 86 kept me company for quite a while. I remember the traffic was slow because of an extraordinary sized load: I have never seen anything that big being transported.
That part of Arizona is super-dry and I saw nothing but Cactus; I also had a couple of nice pictures. I was driving towards Ajo, a city with a funny name if I think how we say that in Italian (I started laughing when I thought that people from Sardinia use "ajo" as "goodbye").
AZ 85 is another lonely road that brought me to Gila Bend.
Somebody erased the word "proud"... curious.
I stopped for a fill-up and a coke and I remember the incredible temperature; when I asked at the counter if they knew the outside temperature they said 106. The motorcycle riders I found the first day in the campground in Yosemite told me to use a wet towel in very hot conditions and so I did; I took a towel, wet it and put it around my neck. Nothing changed and the towel went completely dry in just few minutes. It was simply unbearable.
According to the directions I printed I had to find "Old US 80" but something went very wrong and I ended up in a non-maintened road that was going nowhere. After a couple of minutes I ended up in a really strange neighborhood (I remember this guy staring at me from his pickup, it was jus strange). I used the GPS to see where I was going and I was able to hit he highway; it was so hot that I was giving up any hope and staying on the highway all the way when I decided to exit and go to the little tourist information center I saw when I was refueling. I
Because of the heat the side stand dug a hole in the asphalt... you judge the temperature
found an old man and an old woman talking; the man was really nice and knew all the roads around, so he directed me to the old highway 80. He said "that's the best route to get where you want to get", so I was pretty happy at that point.
I was drinking a lot and every time I was stopping at a traffic light I was sweating like a pig, but the road was very nice. All of a sudden I realized something was odd; there were a lot of cultivated fields! I had farmers all around me and I could not understand where the water was coming from. Then I noticed that the old US 80 goes around a river, which I thought artificial but is not. In fact that river is the Gila river and the town Gila Bend is called that way because of an almost 90-degree turn the river does just there. I kept seeing farmers for quite some miles (I mean a dozen of them, the road was anyway desolated) and I even crossed a saloon where I would have stopped if I was not that exhausted.
Just before Palo Verde I
Spanish is way cool (and that made me laugh)
headed north-west on the Salome Highway, which eventually crossed highway 10. I could tell on the map that part of it was gravel and I didn't really understand why they paved the entire road except those 10 miles; I decided to go for it and save the extra miles, which turned out to be allright. It's nice how the word "highway" is used sometimes; that road forgotten by God was actually classified as highway...
I do not recall much of Salome, where the "highway" ended and from there a few miles of US 60 brought me to AZ 72 and AZ 95, which brought me to my end destination.
That night was camping time in an RV park; I called the lady before leaving from Mountain View and for the 10 bucks I payed I could not expect any better. I was probably the only one with a tent over there and I had a perfecly flat piece of land with grass. I even took a shower and it was more than decent. I was delighted.
I checked on the map what was the river passing thru Parker; once again I thought I had to brush up
No wonder they are good in the rodeo...
my geography: the Colorado river. No wonder why there are dams, parks, cultivations. The RV park was built along the river and I went there and took some pictures; the temperature of the water was about perfect for a bath, but I didn't bring my swimsuit. I opted for the casino; I didn't have much cash in my wallet so I wasn't too warried about losing too much.
The casino was just behind a small canyon and the walk was pretty rough (there were cans and bottles of people partying in the RV camp); just outside the casino there was an arcade place and a cinema; I thought it was perfectly designed for parents who have to leave their children somewhere when gambling.
The casino was really pretty inside, the only down side is that it did not have a roulette table...
However, I went in and started playing some black jack; my 40$ soon became $80, so I hit the restaurant for some dinner; I ordered a pizza so big that fed me that night and the entire following day! Back to the black jack table I had one of the most unlucky sessions one may possible have
Lake valley silver boom town
(I was playing only 5$ every hand); the dealer was smiling and saying that I was very unlucky indeed. After losing that money I didn't really feel like playing anymore. I went to the arcade place and shot some pool (they had one table in good conditions); it was still pretty early, so I headed to the cinema. I watched "The incredible hulk": stupid me. I don't want to comment on how stupid that movie is. I will always remember this scene: he's on a little bed, chained, and is undergoing the transformation from human to hulk; what the movie shows is that his weight increases so much that he starts bending the legs of the bed. You cannot swallow that after years of physics, really...
Saturday, June 13th 2008: Parker (Arizona) to Hungry Valley (California) CA 62, CA 177, I 10, Joshua Tree national park, CA 247, CA 18, Minor road till Lancaster, CA 138 (378 miles, 605 Km)
Waking up in the morning was a sort of traumatic experience; I went to bed rather late and I meant to sleep until 8.30 or 9, but I didn't remember what camping in really hot conditions is about;
I like to take pictures of old cars... I have a collection by now
by 7.00AM my tent was a small oven and I started sweating a lot but I was too sleepy to wake up. I remember we used to do that when camping in Croatia with my all-time friends back in Italy; in the morning we were jumping out of the tent and sleeping at the shade of a tree. And so I did; I managed to find a small spot, but the sun kept moving and I had to move too. It wasn't relaxing sleep at all. And then the final blow: the sprinkler system was activated and I was sprayed me with cold water! (well, I wish it was cold). That was a clear sign it was time to go...
In very few minutes I got to Earp, the first California city after the Colorado river. I will always repeat how amazingly fast the scenary changes; California 62 is a typical san-bernardino-county road. CA 62 is also called Aqueduct road for obvious reasons, coming from the Colorado river. For a good part it goes parallel to the railroad, which gave really that idea of far-west I always liked. Along the way there were some people living in RVs; they
In a gas station in Wilcox, Arizona, the day I set a record for mileage
probably have to drive 30 miles to get anything, I don't really understand why they do that.
My next destination was Joshua Tree National park and I wanted to ride through it from South to North (which turned out to be a smart choice); CA 177 was the ideal road and brought me to Interstate 10 in less than an hour. I stopped in a rather singular gas station in a place called "Chiriaco summit", where there was a sort of war museum (free); it was too hot for me and I just took a picture of the tanks I could see from outside.
In order to get to the Cottonwood Springs Road, which is the entrance to the park, I decided to drive thru a non-maintened road which was supposed to be no-brainer; unfortunately I found a dead end and I was forced back to I10. We are talking about 105+ degrees at this point of the day.
It didn't take me long to get to the visitor center, where I payed the $5 fee to go thru the park with the motorcycle. The landscape changes continuously; you'll see a lot of washes, hills, mountains, plateus,
Chiricahua national monument
It's way more impressive being there...
cactus gardens, joshua trees (duh!), birds. A friend of mine was talking to me before I went there and he defined the Joshua Tree National Park as "not so nice". I totally disagree with him.
The North part of the park is the nicest and I'm glad I kept it last; I am so interested of the history of the deserts and its curious facts that I stopped at every panel (and there were a lot of them) despite the heat; that park is another 4 wheel drive destination for the future, as I saw a bunch of tracks just for that purpose that go... nowhere.
The average speed in the park was really low for the continuous stops (I even tried to take pictures without stopping the motorcycle... but didn't work out too well).
In a few hours I was in the town of Joshua Tree, just outside the north entrance of the park. From there I took CA 62 (again), followed by CA 247 and CA 18.
I remember stopping in a gas station of a place that looked like a freak town; somehow that looked very familiar to me. Then I checked the signs on
Exausted, at the summit of the Chiricahua national monument
the road and I was 30 miles away from Barstow. I knew it! Barstow and Victorville and some of the most strange big towns in the Southern California desert and I really mean it. I went to Barstow a number of times in the past (I recall the best time being with Gianni, when he was riding his Harley Davidson) but I had never been to Victorville; this time I just passed in the historical town center and I must say it does not look as weird as Barstow...
At any rate, the avoid-any-higway project leaded me to some "interesting" places; After one exit of 395 I started going north-west thru a series of roads that were arranged in squares; I was going north a few miles, west a few miles, north a few miles, west a few miles... for quite a long time. I wasn't really worried about the gas, but every time I had to take a left turn to go west or a right turn to go north it was because the road was becoming unpaved and non-maintened. If any of those roads were closed at one point I had to ride back for quite a
What a desolation, but there was some annoying traffic
long time. I was surprised to find a saloon and a church in a place where it's really hard to think anybody would go for a beer or for a benediction... After 30 or 40 miles I was in the north area of Lancaster (it would be interesting to sleep there one night, at least to see who lives there).
From Lancaster CA 138 was simply going west, towards the Hungry Valley recreational area, where I meant to spend the night. I recollect that stratch of road to be never-ending; I wanted to get there faster and I wasn't really paying attention at the road anymore. The only thing I remember is that I realized all of a sudden the landscape was identical to the bay area! Dry hills on a curvy road; same as going to Livermore or anywhere in the East bay.
I stopped at a gas station to buy some beers and fill up (believe it or not but that night I ate the leftover pizza from the day before... and it was still good!). Hungry valley had a lot of campgrounds, but meant for RVs; being a vehicle recreational area I was expecting noise...
but not that much. The camping area was a gravel, squared piece of land where only 3 or 4 RVs were staying overnight, but until dark there were ATVs running like crazy around me and dusting me to hell. It wasn't too relaxing, really, especially because I wanted to read something. I went to my tent right after the sunset and I read quite a while, but I could still hear the crazy motorcycle and ATV riders around me (I slept with earplugs).
Sunday, June 14th 2008: Hungry Valley (California) to Mountain View (California) Cuddy Valley Road, Mil Potrero Highway, Cerro Noroeste Road, CA 33, CA 198, CA 25, CA 152, Monterey Road, US 101 (320 miles, 512 Km)
In the morning, when I woke up, I passed in front of the ranger booth and a nice woman with a smile asked me "Just passing by?" and I thought "should I pay $10 for what I got here? Meaning, dust and noise?"; I coudn't help it and, with a smirk, I said "yes, I am only passing by; nice park by the way". I used that money for an abundant breakfast (I skipped lunch that day) and I
Coca cola forever
This truck was way cool
was ready to hit the road for the last day.
The road that was supposed to bring me North for a long stretch was CA 33 and, in order to get there, I drove through the nearby hills through the nice Los Padres National Forest. The view was really pretty and I have a couple of really nice shots up there. It was also quite elevated, being above 5,000 feet. I didn't really cross any town or any trailhead, though.
After a while I got to a tiny town and I thought its elevation was about the same as what we define "mountains" in Italy, but it did look completely different (too dry); I'd love to visit those places in the winter and see how they look, probably green and white for the snow.
The junction with CA 33 came pretty soon and put an end to the prettiest part of the ride for the last day. CA 33 descended to almost to see level and was a long, boring road where I speeded big time (very stupidly, since California cops patrols the most isolated place you may think).
I was riding in Taft, a small town along
The biggest load
This damn thing created quite a traffic jam, I never saw anything that big being transported.
CA 33, when I saw a lot of wells. I soon realized they were drilling oil all over the place and I totally ignored there could be oil in that part of California. All those wells are pretty ugly to see, but they didn't seem to make a lot of noise, at least. I saw tons of them; when I got home I checked online and discovered that oil was found at the end of the last century and they have been drilling since then. The modern "Chevron" owns the majoriry, if not all, of the wells I saw. Beside that educational facet, CA 33 does not really offer much. It was hot, but not "desert-hot" and I was glad I would be home in a few hours and relax a little bit.
My next turn was towards CA 198 West in Coalinga; CA 198 is one of the prettiest roads around here for a day-ride. I remember going there with Gianni a few years ago and enjoying that curvy road quite a lot. In my mind CA 33 was a lot greener, but last time I rode there was the most rainy year I ever experienced since I
I touched it, I wanted to make sure it stings. It does.
moved to California (I guess 2006). CA 198 went very fast, but not because it's short, just because I was used to incredible distances by that time.
I drove north on CA 25, another beatiful road, that brought me to Hollister. When I got to Hollister's downtown I really felt I was home. From there I avoided the highway as much as I could driving Monterey road (which I found only by luck), which runs parallel to US 101. I was home after a few hours, after talking a 25-minute massage in a nearby shopping center!
This trip has been a dream; I saw beautiful and remote places, I met brilliant people. I am dreaming of doing another road-trip again, even if I just got back: I have so many things going on in my mind I am overflowing with ideas. I really hope I'll have another cross-country adventure in the near future, but I guess it won't happen this year. But, as everybody knows, never say never.
The total distance covered was 3,209 miles(GPS data).
I used a total of 67 gallons of gas, giving 47 miles per gallon average (20 Km/l).
There are more photos below