Day Four: Mountains of Sand!
We had finally made it to Colorado - and we were really ready to start seeing the state by motorcycle! Unfortunately, nature had different plans. As we stepped outside and started packing the motorcycle up, a heavy fog rolled in and brought some light drizzle with it. Rain again!
Apparently, rain was going to be a large part of this motorcycle trip.
Even with the fog and the cold temperatures of the morning, we decided to get going and start the day heading down US 350 to see the Comanche Grasslands. With the fog, we could only see about 10 yards in front of the motorcycle, so it was pretty slow going most of the way. But by about mid- morning the fog and rain cleared and we were absolutely dumbfounded by the beauty of the Grasslands!
The ride on 350 through the Comanche Grasslands is an absolute delight, and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the area (whether on a motorcycle or not). Traffic was almost non-existent: we passed three cars the whole time we were on the road.
Highway US 350 is about 80 miles long and follows the segment of the Mountain Branch of the Historic Santa Fe Trail. The highway starts in La Junta, Colorado and ends in Trinidad, Colorado.
From the Grasslands we took the motorcycle down US 350 and picked up Interstate 25 North in Trinidad, Colorado. After traveling on I25 for a while, we hung a left on US 160 and headed east towards the Great Dune National Park. (See the official site here: http://www.nps.gov/grsa/)
Off of US 160 you hang a right on CO 150 to actually get to the dunes. CO 150 is an incredible motorcycle road that affords some really breathtaking views (see pictures below.)
The Great Dune National Park is another one of those things that you have to see if you're in Colorado. Imagine sand dunes the size of mountains in the middle of mountains! The whole area surrounding the dunes was beautiful in a stark, open range type of way.
The dunes are completely out of place at the edge of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. Consisting of pure golden sand, the dunes cover an area of approximately 35 square miles and reach heights of 700 feet above the San Luis Valley.
Beside the dunes, the San Luis Valley is notable for having some of the longest stretches of straight road in the US, including a 35 mile section of CO 285 between Monte Vista and Saguache. Unfortunately, we did not have time to see this road for reasons that will become clear shortly.
After we parked the motorcycle, we decided to have a quick lunch and then hike up one of the dunes. (It typically takes 1-2 hours to hike a dune and then 30 minutes to get back down. The view is well worth it!)
Remember how I said rain was going to be a large part of this motorcycle trip?
After we got back to the motorcycle, I noticed a very black cloud formation quickly moving in over the mountains from the northwest. My stomach dropped. I was not looking forward to being stuck on a motorcycle in the rain. So, we decided to try and outrun the storm.
Quickly packing the Harley up, we raced out of the park and onto 160 heading east. Unfortunately, the storm really had some steam behind it and was catching up to us quickly.
We kept in front of the storm for a while but, it finally caught up with us on 160. When it did catch us, that storm let us know it was there with rain drops the size of golf balls and high winds. Those rain pellets hurt so much that I thought my face was going to get ripped off! I was really wishing for a full face helmet at this point. Thank God I had bought a windshield for the Road King a few months back. Needless to say, it was quite slow going for the next 50 miles.
Luckily, the storm let up right before South Fork, Colorado, but we noticed another one blowing in from the South East. So, rather than take a chance of getting pelted with rain again on the motorcycle, we headed north on CO 149 higher into the mountains.
Apparently the motorcycle gods were smiling down on us because after about an hour of riding on CO 149 I happened to notice a small camping sign, smaller than a license plate, on the side of the road. After turning the motorcycle around, and convincing my wife that I actually did see a sign, we rode back to explore some.
Now, most people know that Harleys are not meant for off-road riding or really even gravel road riding. Apparently, I am not one of those people. /p>
To get to the campsite that this little sign was tempting us with, we were going to have to do a little gravel/off-road riding. I was too tired to have a debate with myself on whether this was a smart choice, so off we went down the gravel road (if you could call it that - it was really more of a gully)!
Exploration is always rewarded, right? In this case it was true. At the bottom of the road we found a completely secluded campsite with only three sites. The sites were spread so far apart that you could not even see the other two campsites from your site. On top of that, we were right on the Rio Grande river! Talk about luck.
We were the only ones there, so we parked the motorcycle at the best site, unpacked the gear, and got a campfire going pronto to warm up.
By this time, all of the clouds had cleared and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the mountains. This is what motorcycle camping is all about. We remained alone with the Rio Grande bubbling right behind us the whole night.
Waking up to rain is never pleasant, but rain and fog? That's just ridiculous. We could only see about 10 feet in front of us which made the going very slow. I'm not sure what the first 20 miles of the Grasslands look like because I couldn't see them.
Once the fog burned off, we were in for a real treat. No traffic, great roads, and beautiful landscapes!
See that hill up there? The road actually hugs the side of it and even cuts into it at places. From the road you can see 20 miles to your right and then the mountains just shoot out of the ground making for a pretty incredible valley.
This is another one of my favorite shots from this trip. I really love how the road integrates into the picture.
There is a military base just passed the Grasslands. You can pull off and they have a visitor's lot that you can read about the history of the base at. In addition, they had different tanks and guns that you could look at up close. I think I'd put my money on the Harley ...
One thing to know about the Grasslands is that there are a lot of birds and they like to fly right in front of you in big flocks as you're cruising down the road. One of them didn't pull up quite fast enough and got "chromed" by the Harley.
As we left the Grasslands and started heading towards the Dunes, the views from CO 160 were pretty incredible. It wasn't exactly a curvy motorcycle road, but it didn't really matter because the views were so spectacular.
Here we are heading towards the dunes on CO 150 off of 160. The dunes sit in a very flat valley and this road pretty much cuts right through the middle of it (150 is about 15-25 miles before you get to the actual dunes. It was absolutely incredible to ride through.
The valley is surrounded by mountains... pretty spectacular.
Through part of the valley the road cut through this large valley of yellow daisies! Another one of my favorite photos...
Far off in the distance, just below the mountain range, you can see the dunes starting to pop up as you ride along CO 150.
Now you can really see them! We're getting close.
... and finally, here we are at the dunes! The parking lot is right behind us.
That's my wife way at the of that first little dune. The top of the tallest dune is still a long way up!!!
Here are some shots from the dunes.
Remember that storm that I told you about? This is what it looked like from the parking lot. Once I noticed this we started packing a lot more quickly...
I think the storm is gaining on us.
Even though that storm was gaining on us fast. We had to stop and jump off the motorcycle to get this shot. It's another one of my favorites from the trip. After this I don't have any more pictures of the storm because we basically hightailed it out of there, only to get eventually caught by it. Oh well.
After all the commotion with the storm, we found this great campsite along the Rio Grande...
Here's a campfire concoction that we came up with that ended up being quite good. (That's a roasted marsmallow on top of the Oreo cookie)
Remember that road / gully down to the campsite that I told you about before? Here are some pictures of it - I would definitely not make a habit of taking a Harley on these types of roads. (This is the next morning as we are leaving the campsite)
great read , ive had the rt.50 trip on my mind for years, time, money, life been kinda in the way. havent done a trip this long ever, but hoping to get around to it by next summer. i thoroughly enjoyed the pics and story, thanks for sharing!
Mon Aug 11, 2014 at 7:36 AM
Great ride brutha. I rode for 2 weeks with some friends from NC to out West, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, S Dakota and circling back around to NC. It was a great ride. Loved your story and pics. Thanks for sharing. Dave
Sat Aug 27, 2011 at 12:02 AM
I took a nine day trip from East Tennessee to Vermont in September. Trip was great,we had only two days with any rain (first and last). Vermont has some great areas to see and to ride.
I am planning on a Highway 50 ride next summer. Your log and pictures have given me some great ideas.
Other than the gravel, it sounds like most of the road surfaces were in good shape.
Sat Oct 17, 2009 at 11:00 AM
i'm planning a coast to coast trip on hwy 50 on my restored/modified honda 750 four in spring of 2010. was going to do it this year but the restore ran longer than expected and i still want to get the bugs out.
Tue Jul 28, 2009 at 12:04 AM
Totally enjoyed it, better than a RT.66 trip.Would like to do the RT.50 from beginning to end one day.......
Fri Sep 26, 2008 at 6:36 PM
Poker Alice in Lake City opened the 2008 season with new owners. Best to pass it by until matters get sorted out.
Plan your trip to ride 149 during daylight hours. Ride at night and you will miss some of the best Colorado has to offer.
Tue Jul 15, 2008 at 7:32 PM
Oh no...you were so close. My favorite road in the whole U.S.is just west of there. It's hwy 92 through the Black Canyon. just west of Gunnison is Blue Mesa Resevior and at the Dam,(which is a sight in itself)is hyw 92 it goes to Crawford,where Joe Cocker has his "Mad Dog Restaraunt" bikers riding in get a free bandana. All his gold and platinum awards are hanging on the wall. He lives on a ranch not far from there.anyway it is a beautiful ride you can ride the whole Canyon or cut back to Delta to get back on hwy 50.I have traveled thousands of miles on my harley all through the states and Canada many times and anytime I am anywhere near colorado, I will go out of my way to ride this stretch of road,sometimes twice in one trip,especially in the fall. Oh well... I guess you will just have to take another road trip. RIDE SAFE...Scott
Wed Sep 26, 2007 at 10:39 AM
Hi Chachi - we packed pretty light - you're forced to when riding two-up for over a week. Bare essentials only plus a laundry stop. No problems whatsoever with the wind in Colorado - riding was smooth and easy. It was a little gusty in Kansas, but still not bad if you are expecting it.
Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 9:52 AM
How light did you pack ??? Any problems with wind in Colorado ??
Fri Aug 3, 2007 at 11:33 AM
Great story! I grew up in Colorado unitl I joined the Navy which brought me out to Maryland. I think I might be riding US 50 back to Colorado to see the folks because of your story. Thanks!
Sun Jun 17, 2007 at 10:45 AM
Great story and thanks for the advice about raingear...I have been planning a multi-day trip from Lynchburg, VA down the length of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the end of the parkway in North Carolina. Its about 500 miles of twisties, mountain passes and so on. The one thing I hadnt really though very hard about was raingear and I realized after reading your story I had best get something better than I have for this trip. While I am down there, I'll be riding the Dragon's tail. I plan to take some notes and photos and write something to post here when I get back.
If you have any other advice for a first-time multi-day traveler, I am all ears.
Sat May 5, 2007 at 5:58 AM
Great pictures! You need a map of the trip.
Thu Jan 11, 2007 at 8:52 PM