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Hot Stuff (not the Donna Summers song)

May 29, 2017

NOTE:  Once again, the length of this post will require that I break it into two, more readable, posts.  As always, I am thinking about you, the reader.

Hey!  Let’s take the Gold Wing somewhere REALLY hot, and then ride around in the heat for a few days!

That sounds like a great idea, Sweetie!  Can we make sure there is a lot of wind, too, just to make sure we REALLY feel the heat?

To be fair, it has been almost a year since we took the trip that I am now writing about, so my memory of that conversation may be a bit off.  On the other hand, I can’t think of any other way that we would have looked at the weather forecast for the four-day trip, noticed that it was going to be damn hot, and then still decided to head in that direction.

The trip we had in mind, minus the ridiculous heat, was to head from our home in Wyoming down to Grand Junction, Colorado, and then play around in that area for a few days before heading back home.  The trip was to take us to, or over, several places that my wife and/or I wanted to visit in western Colorado and eastern Utah.  Those places include:

  • Switchbacks on US 191 north of Vernal, Utah
  • Douglas Pass, US 191, Colorado
  • Grand Junction, Colorado
  • US 550, Million Dollar Highway, Colorado
  • Durango, Colorado
  • Moab, Utah (and surrounding area)

I am happy to say that we made it to all of those attractions.

Day 1

The first day was innocent enough, at first…  During the first half of the day’s ride to Grand Junction, my only annoyance was the chip-sealing of the switchbacks north of
Vernal, Utah.  I have been on this stretch of road many times, a few of them were even on a motorcycle.  I really enjoy this section of road, because, well, twisty-turny roads are AWESOME, but was disappointed to see the road construction signs as we approached the fun part of the road.  Imagine the feeling the Griswold family had after driving across the country to visit Wally World, only to find that it was closed.  Yeah, that kind of feeling…  (If I used emoticons in my writing, I would have a few of the frowny face things here, but I don’t, so there aren’t…)

After passing through Vernal, Utah, we started to get a glimpse of the weather that would be waiting for us.  That day’s high temperature in Vernal, Utah was 99 °F.  It was a good thing we took the Gold Wing, we were going to need the factory-installed air conditioning before the trip was over…

Douglas-Pass-looking-SE

Looking southeast from the top of Douglas Pass, Colorado

Douglas Pass, Colorado, is another place I have always wanted to ride a motorcycle.  I have driven over the pass many times as well, but this trip was the first time I was able to ride over it.  At an elevation of 8268 feet, the temperature at the top of the pass was much cooler than the lower elevations on either side of the pass.  It would be several days before we felt temperatures that cool again.  While we were at the top, we stopped to take in the sights.  There aren’t may sights, but we took in what we could.  For those of you that have not been over Douglas Pass, you should know that the road on the eastern side of the pass just kind of hangs on to the side of a mountain.  It’s not vertical, but it is enough to give some people the willies.  A careful eye will also pick out the remains of various land slides that have hit the area.  I don’t have any good scary pictures of the road, but here is a photo of the valley on the east side of the pass.

As we figured, the temperature heading from Douglas Pass into Grand Junction, Colorado was still warm.  We would end up seeing a high of 105 °F before we got the the hotel and called it a night.  In addition to the heat, there was an increasing southwest wind as we approached Grand Junction.

Wind Chill

We made it to the hotel, the condition of which could be its own post if I wanted to give them some free advertising, while it was still daylight, and still quite warm.  For those of you that have never tried, believe me when I tell you that there is not much of a cooling effect when riding 65 miles-per-hour in temperatures over 100 °F.  In fact, according to the wind chill calculator on onlineconversion.com, the wind chill actually goes up for that combination.

The day ended with me walking to the convenience store next door and buying two extra-large lemonades – one for each of us.  At the time, I couldn’t imagine a more refreshing way to wash down the day’s heat.

Day 1 Map

Day 1: Home – Vernal – Grand Junction

Day 2

It’s one of the nation’s most spectacular drives.

Forget standard driving safety measures like guardrails and shoulders, there aren’t any on this stretch, so swerving off the road is not advised!

The two quotes above are from the Million Dollar Highway’s page on DangerousRoads.org.  This highway, also known as U.S. Highway 550, was our goal for the day.  Sure, we had a place in mind that we were heading to, but that wasn’t the point of this day’s ride.  The plan was to ride from Grand Junction, Colorado to Durango, Colorado.  As was the case on Day 1, the temperature on Day 2 was forecast to be, and actually was, above 100 °F.   Yep, another hot one…

The trip between Grand Junction and Durango can be broken down into three sections:  Grand Junction to Ouray, Ouray to Silverton, and Silverton to Durango.  The first section, Grand Junction to Ouray, goes through relatively flat farm land.  This section was the warmest.  We reached Ouray about noon.

Leaving Ouray, the road snakes up the side of a mountain a couple of times before heading south into the mountains.  I’ll be honest, I can try to describe the view and the road, but I think the following six-minute video, shot by Jim O’Callaghan (thank you very much, Jim) will do a much better job, especially if you like smooth jazz…

The second section, from Ouray to Silverton, is, in my opinion, the most spectacular of the three sections.  While we were riding this section, I don’t think anything negative happened that was worth writing about (I’m trying to cut this down a bit).  This section goes over Red Mountain Pass, elevation 11,018 feet.  I think this is the highest elevation that this bike has seen.  Frequent readers will remember that we took a Gold Wing up Pikes Peak several years ago.  We were on our first Gold Wing for that trip, so my previous assertion is still true.  With any luck, we will head to an area with roads that are even higher up this summer.  Right now, I’m thinking either Rocky Mountain National Park or Glacier National Park.  Both are high on my riding wish list.  With a little more luck you may even be able to read about the ride this year…

Hwy-550-Tunnel

Silverton, Colorado is the break point between the second and last sections of Hwy 550, at least for the purpose of this write-up.  It’s a nice little town, nestled in a flat valley surrounded by high peaks, but unless you actually stop and look around, you just won’t see much of it because the highway just skirts the edge of town before heading back up into the mountains.  As we headed back into the mountains, we were left with a great overlook of Silverton, assuming that we wanted to turn our heads like an owl.  We would have a better view on the way back.  The rest of the trip into Durango was also largely just a post-card view-fest.  We ran into a little bit of road construction, and a little bit of rain found us, but neither were worth more than the passing mention they are receiving here.

Durango is a neat town.  Like many of the places we visit, I have been there before, but never on a motorcycle, and I have never just walked around the town.  Once we rolled into town, we made a couple of passes up and down the main streets (either we were looking for a place that looked good to eat, or we just wanted to make sure that EVERYBODY could see that we were now in town).

After our main street passes, we parked and walked around for a bit, still looking for a good place to eat.  For lunch/dinner, we settled on Steamworks Brewing Company.  Because it’s been a while since we were there, I can’t remember the specifics of the food we had, other than we both enjoyed it, and I think it was a bit spendy – though still worth it.  After lunch, we walked around the downtown area a bit more, and then mounted up to retrace our route back to Grand Junction.

Thinking back on the walking around we did I realized that many of the places we visit have a glaring similarity.  I have found a common theme that connects these tourist-trap towns:  T-shirt shops.  I have a strong feeling that if people stopped buying and wearing T-shirts, then many towns, to include Durango, West Yellowstone, and Sturgis, would go out of business.  I know…  I know…  You are yelling back at your monitor something to the effect of “But these towns have bars, too!  The bars will keep the towns up and running.”  You may be right.  The way I see it, if T-shirts go out of style, the country will have to go one of two ways;  either the country will become better dressed, better mannered, and more sober, in which case these towns may be doomed, or the country turns the movie Idiocracy into a documentary, resulting in an anarchistic hell-hole, complete with the electrolytes plants crave…

Sorry about that – where was I?  Oh yeah…  Leaving Durango, retracing, yep, here we are.  Again, we ran into rain, construction, a great view of Silverton, roads seemingly holding onto cliffs for dear life, and heat while we headed back to our hotel.

On the way back, we traversed Red Mountain Pass, again.  For me, it was just as awesome as the first time.  For my wife, well, I don’t want to put words into her mouth, but I feel safe to say that it was just as, uhhh, something for her as is was the first time, too.  No matter…  I was driving, so I decided to stop at the top of the pass this time around and get a picture.  Some guys like to take pictures of their family members at the places they visit;  I like to take pictures of my bikes in the places we visit…

Gold-Wing-Red-Mtn-Pass

I will say that the temperatures had cooled a bit by the time we dropped out of the mountains into Ouray, so while it was still warm, it wasn’t enough to make you read any more about it.  I don’t remember if it was windy or not that afternoon, leading me to assume that it also wasn’t windy enough to comment on.  Once we got back to the hotel, a little after 8 PM, we had two more lemonades as night-caps and easily fell asleep.

Day 2 Map

Day 2: Grand Junction – Durango – Grand Junction (336 miles)

 This is the end of the first part of this post.  I will publish the second part – eventually.  If you want to be notified when the second half is published, enter your email address into the box about the “Follow G26 MotoBlog” button at the top-right of this page, then click on the “Follow G26 MotoBlog” button.

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