By Frosty Wooldridge
Have you ever straddled the roaring engine of a motorcycle? Ever felt it surge between your legs when you popped the clutch? Have you felt cool air rush into your face from high mountain peaks? Ever glide into a sunset with clouds basking in the ebbing crimson rays of the day’s final glory? Have you camped out in the desert under an ink black sky with falling stars punctuating the end of a glorious day?
No? Yes? Gosh darn, you’re in for a treat on this ride into the magic of Arches National Park, Utah.
Sandi and I loaded the bike with our gear for a Labor Day weekend cross Colorado trip into the stunning sights of the Mormon State. We powered our machine toward the mountains. Once on I-70, traffic thickened like the feathers on a duck. At Golden, three lanes of traffic turned into bumper to bumper gridlock. We felt like sardines in a can but still breathing with no way to escape!
We couldn’t make Twin Lakes on the West side of Independence Pass, so we inched our way up the highway toward Route 6 for a ride over Loveland Pass. The sky cleared with stars sparkling across the profiles of mountain peaks. Up we climbed into the cool mist that turned into a gray cloud bank. I felt like I drove my bike into the final moments of the Titanic on a foggy night. The road snaked through the mist while carrying us to the top.
We couldn’t see 20 feet. The rode dropped and we coasted into the darkness like a spaceship into the Zoonon Galaxy. On Impulse Drive, we broke through the mist until the sky opened again to stars and a crescent moon. Gosh, what magic!
We wove our way through the curves like a darning needle knitting a multi-faceted quilt. At the bottom, we headed to a favorite campsite on the east side of Keystone on a river. We pitched camp for a quiet night’s sleep. Cool, clean air proved the perfect companion.
Waking up to white water music soothes the soul! We packed our gear before heading down to the Sunshine Café in Dillon. GREAT BREAKFAST! Sandi loves that place. When we sat down, I said, “Got any good grub here?” “The best, sir,” the waitress said.
Soon, we raced along I-70 before turning off toward Freemont Pass at 11,318 feet. Up we climbed into pure mountain magic. Lakes and pine trees blanketed the mountains around us. Shimmering waters sparkled under blue skies and puffy aspirin-white clouds. Lots of bikes waved as we passed them coming from the other way.
In Leadville, we passed the unsinkable Molly Brown playhouse, mining sites, bicyclists and 100 year old buildings at 10,200 feet which is America’s highest city. Outside of town, we raced along in the shadow of Colorado’s highest peak, Mount Elbert at 14,455. We climbed in several years ago! Sandi loves being a mountain woman!
At Twin Lakes, we turned toward the highest paved pass in Colorado at 12,195 feet. Curling up to the top we passed braided streams, lakes, aspen and pine trees, and deer herds. Plus, wildflowers competed for our attention. Life doesn’t get much better than that ride up that pass!
We curled our way into Aspen along a beautiful river replete with rocks, trees, boulders and fallen trees. Such a tapestry of beauty!
In Aspen, we hit on a weekend artist and farmer’s market show. Over 50 tents on Main Street offered paintings, trinkets, gadgets and food. We slobbered over ourselves with Pallisade peaches that proved the tastiest of all time. “Slurp, slurp, slurp.”
At a carving shop of wooden animals and figures, we encountered a carved clock featuring a hunting scene. It stood about three feet tall and two feet wide. It depicted a hunting scene with a hunter on top, a deer hung upside down and a fox that had been killed. Price: $125,000.00. Paintings in some shops of something as simple as a buffalo looking at you cost $30,000.00.
Back on I-70, we raced along red rock mountains and high mountain mesas. Colorado in Spanish means ‘red’ and that’s all we saw in various formations. We stopped to eat at a Pallisade restaurant called Rosie’s that featured pictures of Louie Armstrong, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Bogart, Lauren Becall, Monroe, John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart in their younger years. We found it delightful to sit in a restaurant that wasn’t a fast food clone. The key word: personality!
Soon, we cruised into the vast, desolate desert of Utah. At Cisco, a ghost town of broken-down homes and machinery from 100 years ago, we turned south toward the Colorado River. To the west, the sun fell from the sky in a strawberry blazing final glory between two mountain peaks in the distance. The resulting rays burst across the heavens like the prongs on the Statue of Liberty. It blazed on the backsides of the horsetail clouds east of us. The final blaze lit the red rocks of sedimentary layers along the Colorado River valley south of us. It resembled Christmas lights speckling the mountains.
We found a campsite near the river with sagebrush and dirt. Quiet, peaceful, nature’s cradling arms! Up at dawn, we cleared camp with the sun peaking over the mountains. We jumped on the bike for a winding ride toward the curling waters of the mighty Colorado River—but with a twist!
Upon reaching the river, 1,000 foot walls of tan sandstone soared vertically. Black ink marks cascaded down the walls like water flooding over waterfalls. Holes and yawns in the rock created fascinating variations. Big boulders lined the road. The bike purred through the early morning cool air. At some points, the river reflected those 1,000 foot walls of sandstone for some amazing pictures. “This is SO beautiful,” Sandi exclaimed. “After a dozen times through this canyon,” I said, “I still can’t get enough of it.
After 30 minutes of sheer mind blowing spires, rock walls, peaks, hawks, antelope and bicyclists along the road, we reached Moab. At the Jailhouse Café, we ate a fantastic breakfast. Sandi, of course, loved her coffee.
Off to Arches! Riding into that amazing rock formation park always delights the eyes! We powered the bike up an “S” curve under “rock goliaths” that seemed to be looking down at us. They resembled the “Michelin Tire Man” with puffy arms, bodies and legs—only 500 feet tall!
Desert flowers lined the road while red rock claimed the territory for miles. Soon, we passed a formation that resembled a giant red upright organ. Next “The Three Gossips” looked like three ladies talking to each other. At one point, we witnessed a canyon where spires dominated as they poked into blue sky. We entered “Edward Abbey Country.” If you never get to Arches, read, “Desert Solitaire” which is a classic! Funny, beautiful, irreverent and spiritual!
We passed more formations that dazzled until we reached “Balanced Rock” which reminds people of a frying pan balanced on a small pedestal. Darnedest thing you’ll ever see! Seems like a small wind might blow it over. Beyond that, a dozen natural bridges create holes in the sky. You can see blue through the holes created by the eroded red rock.
Sandi stood in front of “Balanced Rock” by placing her palm up and under the rock as if she held it in the sky. I took a picture of her! Fantastic! Soon, on the road toward the end of the park, we passed what could only be viewed as a ‘church choir’ numbering in the thousands singing to us as we passed. At the end of the road, we jumped off the bike for a hike to the largest and longest natural rock bridge in the world. After a great hike, we arrived at “Landscape Arch” measuring 100 yards long. It arced across the sky as if to defy gravity, which it has for the past uncounted centuries. “That’s unbelievable!” Sandi said. “Sure shows how amazing nature is,” I said.
We met a great park ranger who reminded us that we walked where Edward Abbey walked. He proved a superb fellow and a great park ranger with a sense of humor. We rode the bike to the parking lot of “Delicate Arch.” By that time, the temps hit 100 degrees.
We grabbed a couple of water bottles for a two mile hike to the arch. Mind you, I’m hiking in my biking boots which are not meant for hiking. It didn’t bother me too much on the “Landscape Arch” hike, but I suffered a bit of discomfort. Sandi wisely brought tennis shoes and shorts. She got a tan while I got pain in my feet. We hiked over a muddy stream past an old rancher’s one room cabin until we reached sandstone rocks. Actually, we climbed on petrified sand dunes. Up we climbed under a blue sky and blazing heat. Sweat soaked our shirts. Our mouths felt like dry cotton balls. Drinking water gave a new meaning to pleasure.
We reached “Delicate Arch” in the afternoon with blazing 101 degree heat. When we climbed a ridge, we finally came down to the arch. It’s on the side edge of what can only be described as a tan-colored toilet bowl. Below, it looks like someone poured carrot cake batter down the sides that froze into place. On the side of the toilet bowl, the arch looks totally out of place, as if it couldn’t possibly have been created. Some say it looks like a cowboy’s chaps from the waste down. I thought it looked like a doughnut sliced off at the bottom third and all that was left was a hole and the sides of the doughnut stuck into the rock.
“Go over there and I’ll take a picture of you inside the doughnut hole,” I said. “Okay,” Sandi said.
She carefully made her way across the red sandstone rock until she reached the hole in the air. I took a shot. It is way too cool!
On the way back to the car, some two miles, my feet started feeling like I was walking on the red hot waffle iron prongs. “Gees,” I said. “My feet burn with each step on the rocks.” “Let’s rest,” Sandi said.
After a short rest, we hiked down, but it got more painful with every step. What a sissy I am, whiner, complainer, baby, spoiled brat and worse. “Would you carry me?” I asked Sandi. “Sure dear,” she said, picking me up in her arms like a groom picks up a bride. She took two steps, “That’s as far as I go with you.”
“What about my feet?” I said.
“Cowboy up,” Sandi said. “Or, hard ridin’ motorcycle dude it up! I’m not carrying you any further. What kind of a sissy man did I marry anyway?”
After crawling over the rock on my belly for the last half mile to save my feet, I reached the bike. Once again, with my butt in the seat and my feet safely on the pegs, I was a hard ridin’, Skoal chewin’, Buffalo Bill type bad ass of a Sturgis Mountain Man! Ain’t no mountain I can’t climb and ain’t no wild cat I can’t whup. I got ma woman, the current 21st century of Mrs. Daniel Boone, my ride and my boots on. How can it get any better than that?
What did we see at “Delicate Arch” that delighted us? I think we touched on the essence of strangeness and wonder of creative process. In that geologic place, life does not crowd itself. It respects its limits. A sheer simplicity covers the land with just the right amount of life and non life. Nature features barren rock garnished with wildflowers and cactus. Pinion trees grow out of sandstone that defy one’s imagination. Everything spells freedom, yet desolation.
Time passes slowly which slows it for a visitor. Millions of years formed those rocks and arches. God’s creative process etched in the stone for a moment in time and just in time, we witnessed the grandeur.
We rode into Moab for a fabulous Mexican dinner and a Corona at La Miguels. It tasted fabulously, mouthwateringly good. I drank seven glasses of water and a beer.
Later, we gassed up near dusk. The air still held heat like a blast furnace. At the edge of town, we turned right back up that magic river canyon along the swirling waters of the Colorado River. Sunlight burned dazzling pictures into the fading blue sky. Horsetail clouds pranced above topaz cliffs. Nature ruled! That blazing globe accented pinnacles, minarets and sandstone walls. Those grand spires sang their own visual songs. As Abbey said, “There’s a loneliness of loveliness.”
Ahead of us, crimson rays sprayed across the Western sky. We powered the bike into the gathering night. Sandi gave me a hug from behind. I looked back to see a smile on her face and sparkle in her eyes for a day well lived. A silver moon slipped into view as if floating on a slow moving current in the night sky. One by one, stars sparkled through the darkness. Above us, the Big Dipper formed across the emptiness of night. Not to be forgotten, constellations like Scorpio, Sagittarius and Draco weaved their enchantment for our appreciations. And, like a diamond in the rough, Venus shown in brilliant wonder.
In a flicker of time, all evolved into darkness. Just the road, our headlamp and the purr of the engine! Up out of the canyon, we headed across the endless plateau of desolate wonder on our way home.
A falling star ripped white hot across the sky as if punctuating a grand weekend of marvels into a stunning final visual. The engine purred, the road sped past, the night air cooled and we rode our iron steed into the night.