48 States Day 5: Enchanted Lands

Page AZ – Guymon OK
Wed Sept 23, 2020
(~797 miles)

With plans for a breakfast stop back up in Utah, I got rolling east out of Page on AZ 98 shortly past 05:00 PDT. I immediately lost an hour by crossing into Navajo lands and the Mountain Daylight time zone, so it wasn’t long before pre-dawn light began to brighten the desert horizon, silhouetting nearby rock formations with Venus shining bright overhead.

AZ 98 pre-dawn

I have ridden through Monument Valley in the past but it’s a one-of-kind place, so I’d added it onto the route for this journey despite increased riding time and miles. Already daylight when I made the turn in Kayenta, I was saddened to see the Blue Coffeepot restaurant, where Char and I had stopped for a tasty breakfast a few years back, appeared to be closed down, likely due to Covid (?).

The entrance to the valley involves a stunning ride between two sentinel rock formations that practically demand a photo stop each time you pass through.

entrance to Monument ValleyIt was just past sunrise, so I got to experience the valley in a different and more dramatic lighting than my afternoon visits of the past. I stopped for a couple photos, but mostly kept cruising and taking in the majesty of this ancient rock statuary.

Monument Valley

Monument Valleywhere Forrest stopped runningAt the far end of the valley lay my next Butt Lite X bonus – the spot along US 163 where Forrest Gump stops his epic cross country run. There were cars stopped and folks standing in the road here to pose for “the picture”, even with their dogs. It has become a popular spot since the movie, with a paved scenic pullout, though there was only one roadside tourist stand open at this hour.

I missed the required “Forrest Gump” sign at first and made a couple ueys, then spotted it slightly off the road and got the required bonus photo.

where Forrest stopped runningleaving Monument ValleyI continued north on US 163 enjoying the red rock cliffs, and crossed the scenic San Juan River in Mexican Hat, catching sight of the town’s namesake rock formation as I cruised by.

163 ends at US 191 and a few miles later I was cruising slowly through Bluff UT, my radar detector having alerted me to the presence of the local constabulary. Char and I had taken this route over into Colorado a few years back and stopped to take a photo of the distinctive twin rocks formation.

There is a Navajo trading post and restaurant on the edge of town at the base of the twin rocks. I’d spotted in when we came through but we hadn’t stopped so I always wondered about it. Today was the day to satisfy my curiosity and I had my heart set on some Navajo fry bread.

Twin Rocks CafeThe one-story Twin Rocks Cafe is tucked into the morning shadows of a nearby butte, with the namesake rock towers looming overhead. I had been concerned they’d be closed due to the high pandemic infection rates on the reservation, but they were open for business with a limited menu and outdoor-only seating.

Twin Rocks CafeI masked up and went inside to put in my order, walking into a clean modern cafe with a decent amount of roped-off seating for more normal times. I ordered coffee and told the server I wanted something with fry bread, while looking over today’s menu. He recommended a couple options, and I went for a dish similar to eggs benedict, served over Navajo fry bread, beans, and pork carnitas. Yum!

Twin Rocks CafeTwin Rocks Cafe

Twin Rocks CafeI took my (very good) coffee out on the front porch and found a socially-distanced table to wait for my food with the free wi-fi. The temperatures were very comfortable by now in the 70s and it was a beautiful morning. The food did not take very long at all and the dish smelled amazing when they set it down. It tasted even better than it smelled. I enjoyed a terrific breakfast stop while thinking about the great riding behind me and still ahead.

After finishing up, I chatted with a local rider who’d just pulled in as I donned my gear and prepped to go. I headed east from Bluff on UT 162, the same way I’d taken on the last trip, enjoying beautiful glimpses of the San Juan River splashed with fall color on my right, with stark sandstone cliffs to the left.

 

UT 162horses on CR-2414I turned left in Aneth on CR-2414, a roughly paved but scenic two laner that would lead me into Colorado. I took a lot of photos during my last time through here (also in the autumn), so I kept moving. It was no less beautiful this time, with desert wildflowers of subtle yellowish green hues growing over the road edges and complimenting the brighter splashes of yellow on the larger trees by the occasional ranch or creek bed that I passed.

This was still open range and I slowed to allow a small group of beautiful horses to pick their way across the road.

At some point, I realized I’d crossed into Colorado and must have been daydreaming to have missed the sign. I rode back about 3 miles to the border, but there was no official welcoming sign – just signs for the different county road designations in each state. I’d have to get my Colorado photo on the way out!

I was now on Montezuma County Road G in Colorado. The pavement quality gradually improved, with some good curvy sections, and I began to see more signs of habitation and agriculture as the scenery got a bit greener. I remembered this “back door” passage into Colorado very fondly and it was great to ride it again and solidify it in my memory.

County Road GColorado receiptI finally came out onto US 160 in Cortez and headed south several miles to a large travel center in Towaoc, for my Colorado documentation receipt. No receipt was forthcoming from my pump, so as I was headed inside I spotted Ken and Marc pulling up to the pumps. After taking care of business inside, I stopped to chat for a minute and discovered they had missed the breakfast stop at Twin Rocks, so were looking to stop in somewhere soon for a bite.

I set off once again and enjoyed views of Chimney Rock from the highway, en route to the state border.

Chimney Rock near Cortez

Colorado state lineAt the state border on US 491, I turned around to get my photo of the Colorado sign, then proceeded slowly south again looking for the New Mexico sign. There wasn’t one, just a welcome to the Navajo reservation lands. Guess I’d have to get this one on the other side as well.

Continuing south presented some distant views of the famous volcanic Shiprock formation.

Shiprock

In the town of Shiprock, I turned on US 64, which would take me most of the way across New Mexico today. Unfortunately, the first 50-60 miles of it, getting through Fruitland and Farmington, weren’t much to write home about. Lots of agricultural landscape, town traffic, stop lights, and low speed limits kept a tight cap on the fun-factor. This was all the more frustrating after pretty much setting my own pace for the last few days.

San Juan River Blanco NMThe San Juan River lay just south of the highway, providing irrigation for the farmlands of the area. After finally crossing a peaceful stretch of the San Juan near Blanco, the landscape began to get more rugged and interesting as the highway aimed towards the distant eastern mountains.

Now that I’ve ridden through northwest New Mexico, I’d change the route next time. I would have opted to stay north in Colorado a bit longer, riding east through Durango, then perhaps cutting down through Ignacio on CO 172, then down by Navajo Lake State Park in New Mexico. Based on the map, probably would have been quicker and more scenic, putting me back on US 64 right as it began to get good.

US 64 in NMThe landscape grew crinkly and vegetated once again, and I enjoyed the curves through the hills and shallow canyons onto the Jicarilla Apache Reservation. This was some really beautiful southern Rockies riding, with the roadside wildflowers setting off the blue sky.

US 64 on Apache reservationMerging with US 84, I came down into a valley and through Chama and Tierra Amarilla, before diverging once more with US 64 to climb eastward into the mountains of Carson National Forest towards Taos. There were distinct rain clouds and showers visible against the fair weather blue skies. The road was wet in several sections, though I only caught a few sprinkles here and there – my first precipitation of the trip and it was lovely!

48 States Day 5: Enchanted Lands

US 64 in NM

Coming out of the twisty mountain roads onto a vast high plain, the city of Taos is visible from a long way off, tucked into the roots of the next distant mountain range. So many mountains and plains and deserts on this trip, and yet each scene has its own distinct feel. I began to pass some of the oddly-shaped eco-homes I’d heard about, that appear to be half-buried sculptures on the open landscape.

Taos NM

Taos in the distance

Taos NM

Taos NM

Rio Grande GorgeWhile browsing the maps at home and looking for points of interest near Taos, I’d noted the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, just west of town and plugged it into the route. There is a rest area here and I stopped for a short break. I walked over to get some photos of the gorge and spotted Ken and Marc as they breezed through the parking lot, leap-frogging past me on the route.

The gorge was beautiful, though you had to take one of the hiking trails to get to the choice unobstructed views, which I didn’t have time for. I wish I’d taken the time to walk out on the bridge’s sidewalk for a clear shot of the deep canyon, but I snagged one from the bike as I motored slowly across.

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Taos had been described to me as a “new agey” type place, similar in vibe to Sedona AZ. I’d have to agree that the two seem very similar, packed with shops, restaurants and galleries, though the trees in Taos lend a decidedly more mountain than desert feel. Certainly the traffic looks like a problem in both places. Here’s another town I’d love to return to and spend a day and night to walk around.

Taos NM

New Mexico receipt

As it was, I cruised straight thru on route 64, passing by Ken and Marc’s bikes parked outside a local burrito joint. I pulled in to get my documentation receipt for New Mexico at an inconveniently located Allsups (opposite side of the street and non-stop traffic lines going through town).

On the map, US 64 looks a motorcyclist’s dream on the eastern side of Taos, but getting out of down on the quick windy curves was an exercise in patience due to the line of slow moving cars and absolutely no passing zones for several miles at 30mph limits. I finally broke free and was able to enjoy the beautiful riding for a few short miles before being brought to an almost-halt by a line of cars behind a huge RV navigating at 10-15 mph down the tight switchbacks from the pass into Angel Fire.

My V1 alerted me to law enforcement on the long straightaway to Eagle Nest Lake, which was fortunate as my throttle hand can get a bit heavy after being cooped up in so much frustrating traffic. Rounding the lake, there were some more curves to enjoy, this time mostly unimpeded, through Cimarron Canyon State Park and along the Cimarron River coming down for good out of the Rockies.

Cimarron Canyon State Park on US 64All of a sudden the mountains were done…boom! At Cimarron begin the great plains once again and the view from NM 58 was a striking difference in terrain after the last few days.

NM 58 near CimarronIt felt odd merging onto interstate as I took I-25 for five quick miles south in a brief rain shower to Springer. There was a nice rainbow over the active railroad tracks as I came under the interstate. I continued east through wide open lands from the western terminus of US 412, getting sprinkled by a shower here an there, but nothing of major concern.

US 412 in NM

In Clayton, I turned south on US 87 and hit the Texas state line right around sunset. Remembering I still needed the New Mexico sign, I turned around at the next cut-through and got that as well.

Texas state lineNew Mexico state line

sunset in Texas

Texas receiptOnce I turned back around, I found myself in Texline, and decided to stop for my receipt there rather than continue on to Dalhart, just in case Garmin could find me a quicker way north to my destination in Guymon OK. I filled up but no receipt was forthcoming, so inside I went and waited while a couple of good ole boys finished jawing about their transaction.

One of the men looked me up and down and said (big Texas drawl), “you must be on a motorcycle”.

When I told him I was, he said, “I knew it because nobody would dress like that unless they were riding a good long way on a motorcycle.”

It was pretty funny (esp looking back on it) and he was friendly enough (a rider as well), though I was eager to finish up the day and get to my hotel at this point. I answered a few more questions about my trip and my bike’s fuel capacity while getting my receipt (which was a good one), then bid him a good night.

Garmin didn’t make any adjustments to my route after skipping the next waypoint in Dalhart, though I have since spotted a couple farm-to-market roads on the map that I might have used to cut directly back north to US 412. Regardless, I continued southeast into the Texas panhandle on US 87 as evening wore on, making the planned turn onto US 54 northeast in Dalhart. The roads were ruled by tractor-trailer trucks in this area, and the highways were arrow-straight through the darkness. I was back on alert for deer, though there was enough traffic to lower my individual chances of being the lucky vehicle.

Oklahoma state lineWhen I hit Texoma right around 9pm CDT, I spotted the Oklahoma welcome sign just a few seconds too late. I pulled over into a side street and turned around, then across the empty highway and quickly made a U-turn to pull over just before the sign.

Since there was no shoulder, I’d planned to pull into a parking lot but saw that it was gravel at the last minute so I simply pulled over by the sign with my flashers on. I was partially in one of the traffic lanes but the road was basically empty and there was plenty of room for any vehicles to use the other northbound lane. I dismounted and got this quick photo of the bike and sign, then hopped back on to get moving.

At that moment, a police SUV, that must have been watching me from nearby, came out of nowhere and pulled around behind me with lights flashing. WTH? I pulled off my helmet and earplugs immediately and waited for the officer to approach. I usually break out my license and registration immediately, but in this case I had no idea what the problem was.

Apparently, he didn’t like the fact that I had just completed an “illegal u-turn”, was stopped in a travel lane, and that “just because I’m on a motorcycle doesn’t mean I don’t have to follow traffic rules”. Ooh boy, someone’s bored this evening. I was respectful and agreed with the officer on all counts, explaining that I was just getting a photo of that sign yonder (gesturing) and hadn’t thought there was any harm in pulling over very briefly since we were within town speed limits and there was little traffic. After considering me briefly, he let me go with another scolding, and so I continued onward into the welcoming state of Oklahoma.

Round Top Burgers & PizzaIn another half hour, I arrived at the Comfort Inn of Guymon OK and quickly checked in. There was a cool looking local burger joint right across the street that still looked open, and I didn’t want to miss my chance for an easy meal.

After a shower, I walked across the highway to Round Top Burgers and put in my order. There was only one group of local teenagers in the place getting a late night meal. Even though they were probably looking forward to closing up in 20 minutes, the service was very friendly, and I ordered one of their bacon cheeseburgers (cooked med-rare!) and some sweet potato fries. I took in the cool decor and sipped lemonade while I waited for my to-go order.

Round Top BurgersRound Top Burgers

burger and friesArriving back in my room with the goods, I enjoyed a very fresh-tasting burger while tweaking tomorrow’s route and booking my next hotel. I’d been keeping an eye on the current tropical storm in the Gulf (Beta?) but it was looking like it was on it’s way out through the Carolinas already and I’d only be catching some outer bands tomorrow evening.

It was going to be a long (and probably less interesting) day tomorrow heading due east across the breadth of Oklahoma then rejoining the interstate system in Arkansas. But it was still new territory for me, so I looked forward to seeing what the new day would bring.

Click here for more photos of today’s rideMap of day 5 route

6 comments on 48 States Day 5: Enchanted Lands

    1. My pleasure Trevor, thanks for reading. That’s probably the best compliment I could receive for these write-ups. Our country deserves to be seen off the superslab!

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