Boondocking the Nation: 17 Days, 8300mi, 1 Motel
LaPlata Canyon > Canyonlands, UT
The pitter patter of raindrops on my tent stirred me awake. It was 5:45AM and I had slept magnificently after my warm meal and campfire. I packed up the wet plastic gear, mindful to dry it later when I stop for the night. Exiting La Plata Canyon in the grey pre-dawn, I had my first Reindeer sighting as it ran across the roadway, its large antlers
dancing away through the Sage. I made west for Mesa Verde and filled up the tank in Mancos. I noticed the “Frybread and Green Chile” restaurant open for breakfast and have been kicking myself for not stopping ever since. I wanted to try Frybread on this trip and regretfully have not.
I ascend Mesa Verde up a winding road to the mesa top.
It is too early for the construction I will encounter on my exit. I eat a pop tart and drink a cup of coffee waiting for the visitor center to open.
Riding through the park, I am presented the vast discrepancy between the green hills of verdant Colorado to my left and the arid brown desert to my right.
Warmer weather is on the way…eventually. It begins to sprinkle as I pull in to the Palace Ruins and take a photograph of the exceptional 800 year old site.
Continuing back to the Spruce Tree Dwelling, the barren landscape of blackened Pinyon Pine is otherworldly. The natural lightning sparked forest fire of 2003 have left bleak and eerily quiet areas through the park.
Parking under the cover of an overhanging tree canopy, I don my rain gear and descend the modern rain soaked paved footpaths. I note the steep cliffs to my side and can only imagine the skill and effort required by the natives to scale up and down to their home using only hand and foot holds straight up the rock.
The Spruce Tree Dwelling is in a state of “stabilization” by the Park Service employees and archeologists. Restoration entails reconstruction while their emphasis is on maintaining and preserving what still exists.
I speak to the tall ranger of Native American descent and he invites me into the underground kiva below his feet.
Descending the wooden latter to the ceremonial sacred chamber, I can only imagine how special spirituality was to these people of the canyon walls.
I spend some time taking in the smell, dirt floor, dry environment and smells of the kiva before climbing the ladder out the small opening above.
My hike out of the canyon in my stich’ with thermal layers underneath left me hot and sweating by the time I crested the rim. Because the wet under layers can be a dangerous combination with evaporative wind-chill on a motorcycle, I take time to examine artifacts and information within the visitor center.
Walking back out to the bike, the rain has stopped but the thick fog has set in.
The 20mi back to the main entrance is filled with 20-30ft visibility and many one-way flagmen signaling construction delays. I make it back out and under the ceiling cloud layer then set on toward Cortez.
At Wal-Mart, I stop to get a replacement butane/propane mix bottle for my single burner Brunton Piezzo Stove but they do not carry the specific bottles. I leave empty-handed and ride SW toward the Four Corners area.
The clouds burn away and I am soon flying through the yellow dessert on arrow-straight roads in the land of the Ute Mountain People.
Representing for the Cat Herders and BWDR :super
I make the Four Corners soon and forego the touristy $3 fee and congestion of campers and holiday makers. A pic of the sign out front will do me just fine.
I clean the residue of white salty dried rain drops from my visor and windshield then head north into Utah for Arches National Park.
Continuing through the desert, I watch as gas prices soar from $2.99 to $3.06 to $3.09 and finally $3.12 where I finally stop in Blanding, UT. Sure, I could have made it further but it is not worth the risk of running dry.
Horses just graze around the town beside the roadway with no fences or concern.
The scenery slowly changes from Sage brush hills to sandstone cliffs and eroded curious rocks balanced on precarious parapets.
Massive wind turbine blades are stopped along the side of the road awaiting a truck repair.
I stop shortly to refill my water bottle and camelback at the “Hole in the Rock” tourist curiosity home built completely inside the sandstone wall of a cliff.
Eyeing the massive storm cloud directly ahead, I manage to elude the falling rain bands and keep dry in the desert as the La Sal Mountains absorb the moisture.
Moab materializes from the valley dotted with adventure travel services, pizza joints, SW style MX food and the adobe architecture characteristic of the southwest. I lust after the Moab Microbrewery but Arches call and it is sadly already 3:00PM.
Entering Arches up the twisty switchbacks, the road spills out into a surreal landscape of formidable towers and valleys forcing me to look over my shoulder for Road Runner and Wiley Coyote.
I am unfortunately only able to spend a few hours in this complex and massive park. Edward Abbey would shake his head with disappointment. Alas, I make an effort to see Delicate Arch, hiking to the distant upper viewing area, Fiery Furnaces and the renound Landscape Arch.
The hike to Landscape Arch through the steep sandstone walls and sandy desert made me wish I had left the stich back at the bike. It garnered many quizzical looks from beat red tourists in Polo shirts, Tevas, shorts and sunhats.
I took my photos and left my footprints in the red sands. Leaving the park at 5:45, I was mildly concerned as to where I was going to sleep for the night. I discovered finding cover in the desert is not as simple as the deciduous forests back east. I needed to weigh my options as fast as the falling sun shading a myriad of hues on the warm sandstone cliffs.
Never did see a Bighorn. Looks like I'll have to come back :deal
While procuring my Arches sticker, I asked the helpful ranger at the visitor center who suggested camping at Big Mesa off Rt. 313 on BLM lands just NW of Arches. Just the advice I was looking for!
In the parking lot, I got a call from Dad asking why my SPOT Tracker had stopped in Mesa Verde. It turns out I had improperly set it to tracking and all my friends and family following back home were becoming concerned. I turned it on while sending off a few emails in the parking lot then made my way out of the park.
A rainbow greets me as I leave and I take it as a sign of good luck.
I turned onto 313 and chased the sun driving deep into the dark canyon then up to the rays over the rim of Big Mesa. Once topside, I turned at the sign for Big Mesa Group Campground and found it deserted except for one VW Westphalia popup camper van. The roofed awnings and picnic tables were just what I needed to park the bike, set up my tent under and lay out wet gear to dry in the breeze.
I ate my first meal of the day, Chicken Ramen, at 6:30PM while savoring the dynamic colors of a desert sunset. 3G mobile access granted permission to send friends photos of the day’s incredible scenery and my nifty sleeping shelter. After my meal, I make some coffee and have Snickers while watching the sun’s light fade away.
Crawling into my bag, I am reminded that the locals always know the best spots. It’s a good policy to ask when in doubt.
I keep my boots in the tent just in case whatever lives in this hole decides to pay them a visit.