November 21, 2015
Taking an extra day off in Ely was the right thing to do. The weather was still just ahead of us and to continue riding into it didn’t make much sense especially with the Colorado rockies entering the picture in a couple of days time. Ely was an interesting town. We walked around town and noticed that many of the business signs that made the town look alive as we rode through were actually just remnants of something that had existed or were completely unrelated to the business that was currently occupying the space. From a distance it made the downtown seem alive when in reality most of the new businesses were setting up along the Great Basin Highway which carried HWYs 50, 6 and 93 north/south. Part of HWY 50’s appeal has been seeing the effect of commerce roads and the by-product of “disappearing americana.” These places seem to struggle against the pull of freeways and interstates, while maintaining a glimpse into a different time – a view of America before consumerism. It reflects a time when what you built was of greater relevance than what you bought. But, from the outside, it seems that they’re losing that fight.
I’d been fascinated with the Bonneville Salt Flats from a young age. As a child I was lucky enough to see a British contender at a car show and was immediately into all things fast. Being a couple of hours south of this shrine to speed meant there was zero reason to miss it. We headed north on HWY 93 towards Wendover which is the gateway to the Bonneville Salt Flats State Park. The road was a pretty laid-back ride set in the canyon. The mountains here are almost desert like sporting a totally different vegetation than the what we’re used to in the Canadian rockies.
After a quick bite (and awesome fuel spill) in Wendover we headed east toward the speedway. Access to Bonneville is by a long straight road that felt like it was taking us into the middle of the dried lake bed. In the distance the light bounced off the basin and created the illusion of a vast pool of water. After all, this was the Salt Flats. But as we approached the staging area of the speedway we saw it wasn’t a mirage at all. The storms had laid about three or four inches of water along the flats. From where we stood the speed track extended ten miles into the distance and all of it was under water. It was so beautiful. We took it all in and imagined what it would be like to watch something speed off into the distance going faster, and faster as it seemed smaller and smaller. Half-way back on the access road we stopped to walk along the part of the flats that was now dry. It really is hallowed ground there.
Back on the bikes we headed along the I80 – one of the only times in a month of riding that we’d been on an interstate. The road was straight as a pin and seemed to unfurl infront of us for an eternity. Early on I laughed at the signs that decorated the road warning of “Dozy Drivers” but soon enough I found myself willing my eyes open. The last time we pulled into Salt Lake City we were entering from the north. In the dark. With no headsets and no GPS. All the way in were in the middle of big-rigs jockying for position and we had to be on our game. This time, coming in from the west was easy. The traffic was light and we were quickly into our hotel – Little America. We’d stayed there during the ’09 World Superbike races with Nita’s brother Mike and our friend Joel. It was a little quieter without them this time but it’s still a nice, inexpensive place to stay in. Out for dinner at Squatters and we were asleep nice and early.
It was actually a tweet from Bret Edge (@bretedgephoto) a photographer located in Moab that had us thinking about heading there. I’d seen his pics (they’re fantastic) and they reminded me of the beauty in Arches National Park. They ride out of Salt Lake City was it’s usual mayhem – it seemed the north/south route was much busier an reminiscient of our previous experience. Luckily we were only on it for forty minutes and then onto HWY 6 all the way back to our old friend, HWY 50. That highway was nice. It meandered through a steep valley with a wonderful light that seemed to stretch the peaks next to us even higher. We passed some railway workers who waved as we passed. That would never happen in car. People wave and even the grumpiest cynic can’t hold off the fuzzies when a group of kids in a playgroud run to you waving and smiling. We’re exposed and people know were either doing something different or crazy. They decide.
Past the railway workers and in a couple of hours everything is desert again. But at this place, we turn into a canyon and the rocks turn a shade of red that seems completely alien. The landscape has changed again, as we decended the rock on either side of us seems to rise up and create these massive red, textured walls. You couldn’t believe the color. So, so red. The light was soft and the shadows were falling across the cliff-faces. After stopping at the hotel in Moab, we headed back to Arches National Park two-up on Nita’s bike. The park is so much bigger than we expected. The road was a lovely ride that offered up so many great vantage points. Every stop revealed something amazing. Massive rocks balanced precariously atop tall, narrow fingers of stone. It was right out of the roadrunner. Then miles of petrified dunes – which are exactly what that: ancient dunes that are now stone.
Around another corner and four spires of rock rise and looked like ancient sculptures of Kings. Heading into the park they stand in line, facing us. Leaving the park they appeared to stand back to back. We stopped and hiked into an arch hidden within sheer plates of sandstone that rose hundreds of feet. Through a narrow section of stone, the path opened into a wonderful opening. Red sand covered our boots and, just to our right we saw our first arch up close. They’re quite something to see up close and, from what we could tell, this was a small example. Still, impressive to see. We continued to ride from stop to stop and the park continued to take our breath away. It’s stunning. It was one of those places that absolutely lived up to the hype – I’d never seen anything like this.
As the light faded we weaved our way to Devils Garden before heading back to Moab for the night. The experience of the park stayed with us, and we spent dinner talking about it’s overwhelming beauty. Back at the hotel we fell asleep almost instantly.
Our route had deviated from anything that made real sense. We’d headed north to see Bonneville and south to see Arches. Nita found some great places to stay in Vail and, since it was off-season, the prices were manageable. So rather than spend 7 hours on the bikes we decided to break the trip to Denver and Woodys Wheel Works over two days. Heading back to HWY 50 and then northeast on HWY 6 meant that if one were to look at our route on a map we’d created something similar to the shape of a heartbeat on an EKG. Still, we were in no rush and Vail sounded fun.
The temperature remained pretty decent as we set out to Vail. The sun was with us most of the day and only a few clouds threatened to bring snow and rain as we hit the passes in the Colorado rockies. The road seemed to guide us easily between storms and dropped us neatly at the door of the hotel. Vail is a beautiful ski town. In fact, HWY 6 was lined with beautiful little towns along the rockies. Vail, in particular, reminded me of Oberau in Austria. The main town was accessible only by foot traffic and had an abundance of cool indie coffee shops, restaurants, pubs and a little retail. The temperature had taken a slight dive and rain was starting to fall. The night had called for snow and rain but it wouldn’t accumulate. We had a great dinner and turned in for the night. The next day would bring Denver, traffic jams, freeways and new wheels for Nita’s bike. But tonight would be quite peaceful.