Summer 2016 – Day 4, Million Dollar Highway, Four Corners, Moki Dugway

The day started with fantastic mountain riding in cool temperatures and ended in the hot, dry desert of southeast Utah.

Bear Creek Falls Overlook is only about 10 minutes south of Ouray, so no sooner had I started then I stopped for photos. Absolutely breathtaking. Somewhere between Ouray and Durango (I don’t remember exactly where) traffic was stopped in both directions as road crews cleared rock that had been blasted earlier that morning.

Bear Creek Falls Overlook. Ho hum…

West of Durango

After reaching Durango, I headed west on US 160 toward Four Corners. The road was being resurfaced. I learned later that this is called Chipseal. A thin base of hot bitumen is laid down on the existing pavement, and then gravel is embedded into it. We passed the road work single file on the left side of the road. Just like the Million Dollar Highway south of Ouray, the drop off is as extreme as it looks and there are no guardrails. These photos are frame grabs from my GoPro footage.

I found myself wondering how frequently these are needed.

Four Corners

As I descended the mountains, I hit the beginning of the heat wave that enveloped the Southwest in June. I found myself wishing that I had worn my mesh Air Glide jacket instead of the Odyssey. The Odyssey has vents that can be opened and in all honesty, when moving it is bearable up to the mid-nineties (full disclosure: I don’t mind being warm but I hate being cold). The airflow through the Odyssey is just perfect. When moving, the evaporative cooling effect kept me cool and comfortable, but once I stopped, it was like being in a steam bath. It was in the mid-nineties at Four Corners Monument and I got more than a few odd looks as I stood in line to take some pictures on the landmark.

This was also Mr. Happy’s first appearance on the trip. When I pulled him out, I overheard people saying “Aww, he must have a little person at home he is taking that picture for.” Uh, actually no. I think that he is more of an Aerostich goodwill ambassador. For fun, checkout Mr. Happy…Travels. You can see this Mr. Happy on that site at the Highest Elevation on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Four states at once.
Four states at once.
Four Corners.
Four Corners.
Mr. Happy at Four Corners!
Mr. Happy at Four Corners!
Four Corners.
Four Corners.

Moki Dugway

I had seen pictures of Moki Dugway but didn’t know where it was. By chance, as I was planning my trip, I learned that it was in Utah and after visiting Google Maps, realized that my route would take me very near it. It became a must-visit landmark. It is on Utah Rt 261 just north of Mexican Hat, Utah. The road was constructed in 1958 to haul uranium ore from mines in the valley. It is the only unpaved section of 261. It is three miles of steep, unpaved gravel and sand switchbacks that rise 1200 feet from the valley floor to the top of Cedar Mesa. It is featured on dangerousroads.org.

Additionally, there is a campground 4.5 miles from the top at Mulie Point which was why I packed my camping gear. It just seemed like too rich of an experience to pass up. Up until two weeks prior to departure, the temperatures had been in the eighties during the day which would have made for cool and comfortable camping at night. The heatwave put an end to that fantasy.

When I got there the temperature had hit 104°. Dry, dry heat. I had been drinking water all day long and couldn’t seem to get ahead of my thirst. I bought myself an extra gallon of water at a convenience store, strapped it on the bike, and headed north on 261 to the Dugway. I stopped at the bottom to take some pictures of the Mesa and setup the GoPros, one on my helmet and one mounted on my right side engine guard. The ride up was challenging and when I got to the top I have to admit that I felt relieved.

The turn onto Mulie Point road was on the left and I headed to the campground. The road was firm gravel at the beginning, but quickly turned into 5-6 inches of sand as fine as talcum powder. I tried my best to stay in the ruts created by cars, but caught the deep sand, drifted to the left side of the road and dumped Big Blue. The GoPros were still running so I got two great perspectives of the event! Watching it later just made me laugh. No injuries – I wasn’t going that fast and the sand was soft. The only casualty was my left glove which must have snagged on my Zumo mounting bracket and ripped as I left the bike.

I got up and dusted myself off. As I stood there, the wind whipped up a huge cloud of the sand and I watched it blow down the road toward me. Chuckling, I closed my face shield to keep the sand out of my eyes as it blew over me. There wasn’t a soul around. It was very quiet and peaceful, probably around 5:30pm and the light was approaching the golden hour. It would have been a good evening for photos but for my current situation.

I had only gone about a tenth of mile before dumping the bike. There was no way I was going to do this for another 4.5 miles. It had been a long day, starting with the Million Dollar Highway in the Colorado Rockies and ending in the sand at Mulie Point. After collecting myself, I decided that it was time for Plan B. Plan B involved paved roads leading to a motel with ice-cold A/C. I grabbed the handlebar and passenger grab handle, put my butt up against the bike, squatted low, used my legs and tried to lift the bike. It didn’t budge. It was loaded with gear and just too heavy. Instead of the bike going up, I was sinking in the sand.

It reminded me of that episode on Long Way Round where Ewen McGregor and Charlie Borman are riding in deep sand and dump their bikes every 100 yards or so. Where was Charlie Borman when I needed him? So I unloaded the bike, bag by bag, sweating in the one-piece monkey suit and thinking how glad I was that I bought the gallon bottle of water.

Finally, with the bike unloaded, I got it upright and turned around and I drove back to where the road was firm gravel. Then I walked back to my bags and carried them back to the bike, one by one. Back and forth, sweating in the monkey suit and slowly fading from the heat and fatigue. As I was retrieving the last bag, a car went by, headed to the campground. “Everything ok? Need any help?” I responded “No thanks, I’m good”, while thinking “I wish you had driven by 10 minutes ago!”.

After reaching the bottom of the Dugway, I again felt relieved and glad to be back on asphalt. I headed to Mexican Hat and stopped at the first motel I found, the Mexican Hat Lodge. It’s not an award winning establishment by any stretch of the imagination, but they had two rooms left and there was a restaurant on premise. Well, I wouldn’t call it a restaurant. More like an outdoor grill where I could get dinner and a beer. And they had a pool. And the A/C in my room felt great as I finally got out of the Odyssey. I put on my bathing suit, enjoyed the pool for a while and changed into some clean clothes for dinner. Plan B was working out well.

Dinner was cooked on a table grill that was suspended by chains over a wood fire and the cook would put the meat on the grill and swing the table back and forth over the wood. Novel. Patrons ate outside on a patio which was actually quite comfortable once the sun went down. There was a gentle breeze blowing and it was a nice ending to a very full day.

UT 261, Moki Dugway
UT 261, Moki Dugway
The view from the Dugway.
The view from the Dugway.
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A Goldwing rider from Jacksonville, FL.

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