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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Capitol Reef National Park

Capitol Reef National Park was another complete wildcard in my book. I really had no idea what to expect. On the ride in the day before, I'd seen the thousand-foot ridge line stretching to the horizon and knew that it was another macro feature of the Grand Staircase. The cliff towers over the many smaller mesas and canyons nearby.

I followed the road along the ridge, stopping at whatever features looked interesting. I was particularly tickled to see the famous Chimney Rock, another remnant, I suppose, from all those years of learning about the pioneers in grade school. The road passed through the arid landscape of orange rock and dry washes and strangely shaped outcroppings until it eventually led to the park entrance.


Arches National Park

Moab is an off-roading town. The last curve of the highway emerges from between massive red cliffs that reach a thousand feet in the air and it is impossible not to notice all the jeeps and 4-wheelers parked along the street at the edge of town. There are outfitters on every corner offering to take you crawling or dirt biking or even on a stretched hummer off-roading tour. When I first pulled in, my cruiser seemed a bit out of place among all the dirt bikes that buzzed up and down the main strip.

I met my friend who had ridden in from Denver and we caught up over an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet downtown (and we definitely came out on top of that deal) before heading back to the campsite to set up. It was great catching up but we had a lot planned for the following day so we wanted to grab what rest we could. For the first evening in many, the threatening clouds didn't even produce any rain.


Canyonlands National Park

Tuesday morning I awoke bathed in sweat. We'd slept in after the full-moon photography of the night before and I'd bundled up pretty well to fight the evening chill. It didn't take long, though, before the mercury began to rise once the sun had risen above the horizon. I was left tired and uncomfortable to greet the new day.

Despite that inauspicious start, my temperament quickly improved once we hit the road and began to push towards Canyonlands National Park. The park isn't quite as close to Moab as Arches had been but it was still a very manageable hop to get there. The way began as a cross-desert trek through red dirt country and finished with long climbs among the layered cliffs and rounded domes and scraggly trees that make this part of the country unique.


The Grand Canyon: Rim to River and Back

The ride from Moab to the Grand Canyon was a long 350 mile day but took us through some of the most classically amazing western vistas I've seen yet.
Things started out fairly desolate but, by the time we stopped for brunch in Monticello, UT, we were surrounded by a huge forest and dozens of signs warning about deer accidents.

That reminder of geographic variability didn't last too long before the trees thinned out and we were again given a clear view to the horizon. After a time, the only features to break up the emptiness were the broken husks of ancient farms and the occasional high voltage transmission lines bringing power from the dirty coal units of the Four Corners area to clean-conscious California.


Four Corners and Mesa Verde National Park

I slept a solid 10 hours after the Grand Canyon hike and awoke feeling refreshed and ready for the next leg of our trip. My friend from Texas and I packed up our campsite and set off traveling east towards Colorado. Some of the journey backtracked across the same wide open desert we'd traversed a few days prior, but it was a pleasant ride and not terribly challenging. The desert transitioned eventually into a sort of scraggly shrubland.

We stopped off at the Four Corners monument, which is pretty much a tourist trap designed to sell Navajo crafts but a point of interest nonetheless.


Ouray, the Million Dollar Highway, and the Marvels of Colorado

One of the highlights of our journey northward into Colorado was to be the San Juan Skyway, also known as the "Million Dollar Highway", which winds through the heart of the Rocky Mountains. During our time exploring Mesa Verde, though, we had to keep a wary eye on the horizon, where the clouds were gathering and darkening throughout the morning. By the time we were ready to leave, a sporadic light rain had begun to fall and we weren't sure if we'd be able to ride far at all.

Under those conditions, we left Mesa Verde and headed for Durango, CO. I really don't remember a whole lot of the ride because I was busy boring holes in the clouds ahead with my eyes, trying to discern their direction and intent. There were moments when there was nothing but blue skies above the crown of the mountains and two turns later we'd be heading directly into the darkened grey abyss. Luckily for us, the actual rain held off.


Great Sand Dunes National Park and Great Colorado Countryside

The journey down from the mountain passes towards Great Sand Dunes National Park continued through the afternoon. We stopped where we could to take pictures of the marvelous countryside.

At last the passes opened up into a much bigger sort of plain, one which had flat land as far as the eye could see. The patchwork of giant squares formed by the intersection of straight country roads every few miles was divided evenly between empty barren spaces and large, dry-looking commercial farms. The mountains stretched out along the edges of the horizon to either side.


Nebraska and the Kansas State Fair

Before I'd even started my trip, I had images in my head of riding down from the mountains of Colorado and spending the next week criss-crossing a patchwork countryside of tall golden cornfields and sparse pasture lands with romantically hazy sunsets at my back and surrounded by a pleasant late summer warmth. The reality fell far short of those expectations.

Northeastern Colorado flattened out quickly and the air thickened to the point where I could hardly breathe without having to clear my throat. It was some kind of mixture of cow shit and dust that stung the eyes and lingered in the nostrils. The road cut past enormous cattle farms and stockyards with their plumes of stench so powerful as to make you gag. The rest of the land was wide open commercial farmland with nothing left in the fields but the stubble of cut stalks left behind from the harvest.


Pinballing Through the Midwest

After my plane landed in Kansas City again on Sunday morning, I left straight from the airport and rode to Des Moines, IA. The trek north through Missouri wasn't terribly interesting, consisting mostly of forests that hemmed in the highway and occasionally a nice farm or two. The countryside got prettier as I pushed into Iowa and the farms became more common. The crops weren't always harvested yet and the road was sometimes rimmed with meadows of yellow flowers that shone golden in the occasional sunlight.

Des Moines is a pretty city. It's got a simple Midwestern charm combined with patches of modernity. Clean stone buildings flanked the capitol area downtown, which played host to a street fair when I rode past. I found a nice brewery to stay in for a couple hours and soak up the local flavor.


Appalachia Again

I spent a couple days in Franklin TN (just outside of Nashville) with some good friends doing the 1,000 things that I hadn't had time to do while on the road during the past couple weeks. It was great to see them again and great to have some peace and quiet for at least a short while.

I hit the road again on the next major leg of my trip beneath a beautiful blue sky and feeling pretty good about the road ahead. I was particularly excited to get another crack at Eastern Kentucky, a part of the country that left me wanting more after my first time through. After such a long time without seeing much besides flat horizons and forests, I couldn't wait to get into some real hills.

The highway driving was better than it had been in the midwest since the road actually curved and climbed and the weekend truck traffic was light. Even the trees to either side, which spread thick gnarled boughs wide across the way, were an improvement over the monotonous forests of before.