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Two Up Across America: A motorcycle adventure part 2

Braving the winds to take in Western culture

POSTED: October 2, 2011 1:24 a.m.
/For The Times

Bill Rezak and his traveling companion, Diane, stand on the Four Corners Monument that straddles four states.

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Editor’s note: This is the second of a four-part series chronicling a trip Bill Rezak made across the U.S. on a motorcycle.

Heading out of Dodge City, we went by the Harley-Davidson store and — you guessed it — purchased his and hers "Let's Get the Hell Outta Dodge" T-shirts.

We picked up U.S. 160 and headed west with 50 mph crosswinds as we rode toward Colorado. This was exhausting as we cruised along at a 60-degree angle, leaning into the wind. Suddenly, the gust would cease and the bike would quickly bob to the right three feet before I could correct it upright. Just as I did so, the net gust would hit. I was whipped by the time we stopped for lunch in Springfield, Colo.

This local cattlemen's stomping grounds was wonderful. The parking lot was full of three-quarter ton pickup trucks towing long, fifth-wheel beef cattle trailers, some carrying beef on the hoof, some empty. The conversation centered on the current drought, the price of gasoline and the price of beef. It was certainly another way to life to us easterners — except for the drought and the price of gas!

After lunch, we cruised into Walt's Corner, Colo., one of our most unique experiences. Walt's Corner features a single structure. It looks like redneck heaven, if you'll pardon the expression. The building resembled an old 1950s style gas station without the pumps. It was surrounded by an assortment of old (but not junk) cars: a 1950 Ford pickup, an Edsel, a Buick Roadmaster and the like.

It looked pretty grim, but we needed a break. We walked in a bit hesitantly and got our first glimpse of Tony Barnel, the proprietor. He lives alone and is a sculptor of some local renown with his western and Native American works on display at an art gallery in Trinidad, Colo. Some of his things were lovely and we visited with him for about an hour and bought several small pieces.

If you're ever in lonely Walt's Corner, it's worth a stop to visit with Tony and check out his creations.

There's something appealing to me about people with the strength of character to live in solitude and ply their trade.

We hopped back on the Ultra and cruised into Trinidad to spend the night. We traveled 285 miles that day. Trinidad is a town of about 10,000. Bat Masterson was sheriff there for a time.

Next morning, we headed west out of Trinidad on the Highway of Legends, Colorado 12. This is a lovely scenic route past the coke ovens of Cokedale, the Spanish Peaks Wilderness Area and one terrific vista after another for about 65 miles to La Veta, where we picked up U.S. 160 west again and cruised into Alamosa for lunch.

From there, we entered the San Juan National Forest and crossed Wolf Creek Pass at just under 11,000 feet. There was still a good bit of snow about with a temperature of about 60 F. Then, it was on to gorgeous Pagosa Springs, where we ended the day after traveling just 210 miles on fun roads full of switchbacks and rollercoasters.

In the morning, we picked up U.S. 84 south toward Santa Fe, NM. This is another vista bonanza and Santa Fe is a wonderful town in which to play for a couple of days. Besides, Diane had never been there before. So, we motored into town after a short 160-mile ride and began to enjoy the ambiance.

Shopping in Santa Fe is over the top, ranging from the tacky to the ultra chic. We checked out both.

Diane found some nice jewelry and I bought a really cool western sport jacket which I will wear to the next Good News Clinics Kinchafoonee Cowboys concert.

We ate at some grand restaurants with outdoor balconies overlooking the Santa Fe Plaza.

The Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi is magnificent. The New Mexico Historical Museum is fascinating for an easterner and the Ore House is interesting.

The Santa Fe Trail from St. Louis to Santa Fe was established in the early 1820s to facilitate trade between the U.S. and Mexico. Giant wagons weighing as much as 7,000 pounds rumbled across Kansas on this trail suffering tornadoes, buffalo stampedes and attacks by Native Americans. The railroad supplanted the Santa Fe Trail in the 1880s.

After two days enjoying Santa Fe, we headed out for Durango, Colo., by way of Los Alamos and the Jemez Mountains. Los Alamos is home to the Los Alamos National Laboratory where nuclear weapons were developed. It now does research for many of the new technologies utilized by the military and which ultimately make their way into our daily lives.

The ride through the Jemez Mountains was wonderful — no traffic and gorgeous vistas. The Valles Caldera was the highlight. This is the caldron of an ancient and gigantic volcano. The volcanic soil makes rich grazing land for all manner of large wildlife: big horn sheep, antelope, deer and elk. It covers 89,000 acres and was made a national preserve in 2000 after being purchased from a private rancher. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

The road from Santa Fe west through Los Alamos and past the Valles Caldera empties onto U.S. 550 in Cuba, NM. After lunch, it was off to the north to Aztec for a tour of the ruins there. These amazing structures housed Pueblo peoples of New Mexico between 950 and 1150 A.D. They are some of the oldest homes in North America and were the largest until the 19th century.

From Aztec, we continued north back into Colorado to Durango. In the morning, we headed west to Mesa Verde National Park. The ruins there were even more impressive than those in Aztec. The Pueblo natives repelled down from the top of the mesas and build their cities under overhanging cliffs. They carved foot and hand holds into the rock. There they lived, hundreds of feet above the valley floor - safe and secure 1,000 years ago! No one knows where they came from and why they suddenly left after about 200 years. As far as we know, they are the oldest Native Americans.

We really enjoyed learning about the Anasazi people of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico at Mesa Verde and Chaco Mountain, respectively. Next day we headed west again on U.S. 160 from Durango to Kayenta, Ariz. U.S. 160 passes through Four Corners, the point where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet, the only such intersection in the country.

The Four Corners Monument, where you can stand in all four states at the same time, is on the Navajo reservation and is operated by the Navajo. We had our picture taken there and bought several nice pieces of jewelry. I purchased a lovely bolo to wear with my new western sport jacket.

At lunch, Diane caught the eye of three folks in riding gear motioning to us to join them. They turned out to be from Vancouver, B.C., and were cruising the Rockies in the U.S.. Two of them were women, one riding two up with her husband and the other on her own bike. We shared stories regarding our experiences riding in 50 mph crosswinds.

Kayenta used to be the closest place to stay near spectacular Monument Valley. We learned at lunch that new accommodations were available right in the Valley. They were, however, quite pricey; rooms started at $350 per night! We opted for more modest digs in Kayenta. After all, we were only hanging there to sleep!

Bill Rezak is a retired engineer and college president who lives on Lake Lanier and enjoys riding the north Georgia mountains on his motorcycle. His first book will be published next year.



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