Summer 2016 – Day 5, Monument Valley, Lake Powell/Glen Canyon Dam, and Tar Snakes

I was eagerly anticipating taking the iconic photo of Monument Valley on US 163 heading southwest from Mexican Hat. The spot where Forest Gump stopped running. Around 8:30 AM I crested a hill and there it was before me. I pulled into the small gravel parking area on the right. I wasn’t alone. This morning there was a mini-van and group of 6 Chinese tourists milling about in the middle of the road taking pictures. My first thought was “This is great. I’ll have someone to take my picture and I won’t need to setup my tripod.” I parked in the gravel, got out my camera and took a few pictures. Almost immediately one of the men came up to me and the conversation went something like this.

Tourist: “She would like to take a picture with you”

Me: “Me?”

Tourist: “Yes, she would like to get a picture with you”

Me: “You want me to take a picture of all of you?”

Tourist: “No, just you and her”

Me: “She wants to have her picture taken with me?”

Tourist: “Yes”

Me: “Well, sure. Why not!”

I looked at her and smiled and nodded and then they were all speaking to each other in Chinese and who knew what the hell they were saying but they seemed excited and happy that I had agreed. So the group moved to the shoulder and I stood in the middle of the road with her and another man took several photos. He had a Canon DSLR and I thought well, he must be the pro in the group so these will probably come out well. Then I handed him my Nikon and asked him to take some with my camera and he obliged.

A new friend.
Myself with Lai Jianwen

I carry business cards with me that have my name and the URL of this site on it, so when we were done with the photos, I jogged back to my bike, got two out of a bag, and returned to hand one to the woman and one to the man who first approached. He looked at it rather quizzically. I explained that I had a blog where I post my photos and write about my trips. He didn’t quite understand. Something was getting lost in translation. So I told him that I had a website. I could see the gears spinning in his head and then he said “Oh, I see. When you travel, you write about your feelings”. I smiled and laughed to myself. That was a cute way to translate it! Well, I don’t know how much of my feelings I write about, but he got the idea. “Yes” I replied.

He translated for the woman who then turned and went to their car, rummaged around in her purse and came back with her business card. She formally presented it to my, holding it by two corners and presenting it to me with an imperceptible bow. I felt like a complete ass. I had handed them my cards like I was passing out leaflets, but she followed decorum. I knew better but since I wasn’t in a business setting, it didn’t occur to me. I made a mental note to remember this for the next time I’m in this situation.

Well, the card was written in Chinese. Hmmmm… I wondered who I could find to translate it for me. Then I turned it over and it was English on the other side. It turns out that the woman is Lai Jianwen and she a Governor at the China Construction Bank. I thought about this group sharing their photos with friends when they return home and telling stories about their vacation in the US and Lai Jianwen explaining about the photo taken with me.

I had a brief conversation with the man who originally approached me. He seemed to be the only one in the group who spoke English. They had flown into Chicago, rented their car and were spending six weeks touring the US. He asked what I did for a living but I wasn’t too successful in explaining what I do. I finally explained that I worked for a large company that develops software for banks, and left it at that.

Tourist: “My name is Peter”

Me: “I’m Matthew”

Tourist: “You’re Peter too?!”

Me: “No, not me too. Math-you”. Haha.

I took a group photo of them with my camera. Lingered a bit longer, taking more photos of the deserted road, then mounted up to go the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. I honked my horn as I rode away and they all smiled and waved. Fun way to start the day.

It wasn’t too much further to get to the entrance to the Park. The Park headquarters and gift shop is up on a hill, and the views from the patio are magnificent, but at that time of day, the photography was challenging. I was shooting into the sun and it was extremely hazy, probably from all of the fine sand particles in the air. I wanted to get some pictures of myself with the buttes in the background. I approached one man and asked “Can you take a picture for me?” He replied “Sure. With or without you in it”? We both laughed. I said “With me please. I can handle the ones without me”.

A very nice couple came up, both wearing motorcycle gear. They were George and Laura from California. They were headed to Arkansas for a BMW event. The day before, they had ridden the 17-mile loop road through the park. They were both riding adventure touring bikes, he a BMW 1200GS and her a Yamaha Super Tenere. I shared with them my experience the previous afternoon at on Mulie Point Rd. They said that the road here was similar. It starts out as firm dirt and gravel and pretty quickly turns to deep soft sand. But they both did it. Good for them!

Today was not going to be a high-mileage day. I would only be on the road for a few hours as I traveled to Page AZ to see the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. The temperature was rising rapidly and I wanted to get moving and get some airflow. Here’s where I entered Tar Snake country. Lots and lots of tar snakes. Slippery bastards, especially unnerving when leaned over in a curve. The bike felt like it was slipping sideways as the tires passed over them. Were the Avons contributing to this? Perhaps, but I couldn’t know for sure. I couldn’t recall ever riding over tar snakes with the factory Bridgestones, so I had nothing to compare it to. I suspected that the high heat was making the tar soft and I was right.

Check out this photo. I took it when I got to Page. No wonder the front of the bike felt like it was going sideways.

Tar Snake in 100 degree weather in Page, AZ.
Tar Snake in 100 degree weather in Page, AZ.

I had passed the Salt River Project-Navajo Generating Station outside of Page. Little did I realize that just on the other side of the highway lay Antelope Canyon. While it wasn’t on our original plan, we would be back in less than a week to take that tour.

I stopped for the day in Page and got myself a room at a motel but it just after noon and the room wasn’t ready yet. So my plan was to get lunch, tour the dam and then come back later in the afternoon when my room would be ready. I got lunch at a Subway and as luck would have it, there was a hardware store in the same shopping plaza. Before I left on the trip, I had lowered the Laminar Lip so that the top of it was even with the top of the windshield. I had found that the previous position was just little too high. The Lip comes with a little cone-shaped rubber spacer that goes between the Lip and windshield, but I hadn’t reinstalled it when I move the Lip. This resulted in a whistling noise at any speed above 50 mph and it was driving me nuts. I found that if I stuck my finger in the space between the lip and the windshield, the whistling stopped. So I went into the hardware store looking for something that I could stuff in there that might do the trick.

An employee asked if he could help and I told him what I wanted to do, and after thinking about it for a moment, he said “how about a piece of packing foam?”. Yes! That would do it. So he disappeared into the back for a few minutes and then returned with a piece of medium density black foam, about a 1/2″ thick. He gave me a piece that was about 6″x12″, far more than I needed. I pulled out my pocket knife, cut a piece about an 1″ wide and 3″ long, wedged it between the lip and the windshield and it worked like a charm! Problem solved. I saved the remainder in case the little piece blew out and I needed to replace it.

It was a short ride down the hill to the bridge that crosses Colorado River, the Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell. There was plenty of parking before the bridge and great photo opportunities. The bridge has sidewalks on both sides of the bridge and the speed limit is very slow over the bridge with little traffic so I could easily go from one side to the other. The bridge is fenced in, but they have created windows through which you can put your camera to take clear photos without including the fencing. The temperature was around 98-100 and once again I found myself wishing that I was wearing my Air Glide instead of the one-piece Odyssey. I had been glad for the protection when I hit heavy rain outside of Chattanooga and it was perfectly fine in the mountains of Colorado. But certainly not ideal for the desert Southwest in June.

I then rode across the bridge to the visitor center, where there is a back patio with a wonderful view of the dam and Lake Powell. I skipped the tour, but did watch the movie about how the dam was made. The bridge was built to support the building of the dam, and the town of Page AZ was created to house the workers and their families. Prior to building the bridge, it was a 200 mile drive to cross the river. After the bridge, it was a 30 second ride.

By mid-afternoon I had enough of the heat and headed back to the motel where my room was now ready. I took a swim in the pool, then chilled in my room and relaxed. For dinner that evening, I walked to a pizzeria that occupied the former Canyon King steamboat that had operated on Lake Powell for 30+ years. Just one of those oddities that makes travel fun.

Former riverboat
Former riverboat
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Matthew Dragiff

A Goldwing rider from Jacksonville, FL.

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