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Two Up Across America: A motorcycle adventure part IV

Scenic delights, snow and a long trek home

POSTED: October 16, 2011 1:30 a.m.
BILL REZAK/For The Times

William Randolph Hearst's elaborate estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways in San Simeon, Calif.

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

As we cruised north from Los Angeles on the pacific Coast Highway from a nice four day break with daughter, Sarah, we stopped for lunch in Lompoc. Then it was off to Cambria for an overnight stop.

Next morning, we cruised up the road to San Simeon and the Hearst Castle. In 1865, George Hearst, a wealthy miner, purchased 40,000 acres of ranchland that included the villages of San Simeon and Santa Rosa. In 1919, his only son, William Randolph Hearst, inherited the land which by then had grown to 250,000 acres. This Hearst was, of course, a renowned publisher.

He used the ranch as a get-away camp for family and friends. Hearst retained the services of famed San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan, to "build a little something" on the property. For the next 28 years, Morgan worked exclusively for Hearst to create an elaborate estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.

The main house, Casa Grande, and three guest houses are of Mediterranean Revival style. They are built upon a high rocky perch about one mile east of and with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean. It is truly an American palace and a not-to-be-missed attraction with its amazing European and Mediterranean art collection.

After a lovely guided tour of the castle, we stopped for lunch, then continued north to Palo Alto to visit old friends from my engineering days building nuclear power plants back in the 1970s. We spent a day exploring San Francisco and cruising on the Bay beneath the Golden Gate Bridge.

Oracle, the U.S. entry into the America’s Cup Race, was practicing on the bay. It’s an amazing looking catamaran with a vertical airplane wing for a sail. We watched two of these test versions flip over in the heavy bay gusts. I think they have a ways to go to work out the kinks!

After a couple of days in Palo Alto, the lovely home of Stanford University, we headed east over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. At an elevation of about 8,500 feet, we encountered beautiful Silver Lake. The temperature was about 65 F on this mid-June day, so I parked the bike for a grand picture adjacent to the three-mile long and half-mile wide completely frozen body of water.

This day, since we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere, we snacked for lunch and then continued on over Kit Carson Pass to Carson City. I have more old friends in Carson City and they took us to dine that evening.

We had planned next to head to Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks and then east to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We toured northeast 325 miles to Elko, Nev., snacking for lunch again due to the complete lack of services in the Nevada desert.

At the motel in Elko, I got on the computer to check weather in Yellowstone. To my dismay, overnight temperatures were projected to be in the 20s for the next several days with daytime temps of about 45 F. It was also snowing. In mid-June, no less!

This called for a major readjustment of plans. We decided to save the northern parks for another year and head southeast instead. We arrived in Ely, Nev., in time for lunch at the Jail House Restaurant and Casino. You can barely eat in Nevada at other than a casino!

Ely, we discovered, had a wonderful steam engine train ride into the mountains. This one was eminently affordable and we enjoyed a soot-covered ride in an open gondola car – much fun!

From Ely, we toured east on U.S. 50, The Loneliest Road, and aptly named. We explored Grand Basin National Park in extreme eastern Nevada. This was a gorgeous ride up to about 11,000-foot elevation in rugged Rocky Mountain foothills. The vistas were wonderful and the switchback, narrow mountain roads with no guard rail provided a special thrill on the Ultra. Snow was in the equation again, but not on the roads. Late that day, we rolled into quiet Salina, Utah.

The next morning, we awoke to 55 F temperatures and a light drizzle. We started out east on I-70 for lack of a better alternative. The thing I love about the interstate highways out west is that they carry little traffic. Twenty miles east into the Rockies, we had climbed several thousand feet, the temperature had dropped to about 40 F and it was raining hard.

Diane never said a word – she was tucked in behind me trying desperately to make herself small. I pulled off at an exit and asked if she was as cold and wet as I was. Our rain gear was fine, but our hands were cold and it was difficult to see well. She quickly indicated that she was. We selected the better part of valor and returned to Salina to wait things out. This was our first abort, but it proved a prudent decision.

The next day was warm and sunny as we set forth for Moab, Utah. We arrived after a beautiful ride east on I-70 that featured the spectacular Spotted Wolf Canyon. This stretch of interstate coming down the eastern face of some of the Rockies is a series of S-curves cut through solid red rock. When the road builders first began to blast their way into the natural cut, it was only wide enough for a single file walk. It’s a magnificent piece of engineering and the overlook provides an incredible view of the entire scene.

Then, we toured Arches National Park which is just north of town. The park lies atop an underground salt bed that is responsible for the arches, spires, balanced rocks, sandstone fins and eroded monoliths. Major formations are salmon-colored Entrada Sandstone and buff-colored Navajo Sandstone. They stand like layer cake over most the park.

Next morning we packed up and headed to Canyonlands National Park northwest of Moab. Views there from Island in the Sky reach from the depths of the Green and Colorado Rivers to the mountain tops above canyon after canyon for over 100 miles. It’s awesome and entirely different than anything we have back east.

From this mesa, we looked down 1,200 feet to White Rim, a nearly continuous bench along the side of the canyons. Another 1,000 feet below White Rim flowed the rivers. It was breathtaking!

After a morning exploring Canyonlands, we picnicked at Island in the Sky before departing for points east. We picked up U.S. 50 again in Colorado and boogied on into Montrose. Again, east on U.S. 50 in the morning for a spectacular ride along the Gunnison River to Morrow Point Reservoir. The road skirts along this long, narrow lake for miles. The hills and mountains rise right out of the water.

Then, it was a lovely ride on to Pueblo, Colo., where we slept over. At this point we knew that the real sightseeing was over and it was now time to push for home. We were both ready for some stability after playing road warriors for five weeks.

We were back in Gainesville well before noon June 28 after 39 days, 34 of which were spent on the bike. The Ultra couldn’t have performed better over the 7,500 miles we added to its odometer.

Will we do it again? Dunno. Might just trail the bike out west the next time and ride locally. Still, by next year we’ll probably be ready to roll again!

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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