The Reindeer Ride
December 1996 & January 1997
From: Greg Pink
During my Xmas trip of 1995 I swore I would never go west this time of year again. Thirty degree temperatures and the government shutdown which closedthe national parks conspired to set my mind against another westward trip. Well, a year passed and Jon Diaz started making noises about a trip west. It couldn't be that cold again, could it? The parks will be open, won't they? Time heals all frostbite, so it started to seem like interesting way to spend the Xmas holidays. For two months, we planned this trip and the Reindeer Riders were formed. We consisted of Mike 'TIE #1' Cornett, Jon 'Rainman' Diaz, Larry 'I just want to be loved' Fears and Greg 'Pinkman' Pink. By December 21st, I was pumped.
With 52,580 miles I pulled out of the garage wearing full eclectics and questioning my sanity. After all, this was central Florida. Could it be any better further north? The plan was to meet Larry in Lake City, Florida at 6:00 and head west to New Orleans for lunch. The temperature in Lake City was in the teens as I pulled into the Motel 6. I saw Larry's bike and a strange yellow RS on the other side of the motel. Jim Fletcher was rumored to be coming, but I couldn't remember what kind of bike he had. Amazingly, the clerk had no record of Larry Fears checking in. I tried in vain to convince her that his bike was parked outside a room. This didn't work and I was getting steamed. Just then, in walks ARNO JONES! The face was right, but the location didn't make any sense. Arno lives in Tucson, AZ! After I wet myself several times, Arno said it sounded fun to be a Reindeer Rider. Wow!
He had ridden to Lake City in the hopes of doing a documented 1000-1. However, in Texas, he hit snow and ice. When the back end of his RS got squirrely while crossing a bridge, he decided to call it a night. Arno also has the slickest GPS system on his bike I've ever seen. He became our navigator.
After 100 miles, we all felt like popsicles and decided that breakfast was in order. The Cracker Barrel (which would be Jon's favorite restaurant) in Tallahassee was a welcome sign. We thawed out while the sun came up.
Mike knew of a National Park stamp that wasn't mentioned in any publications near Pensacola. We've discovered that you ask the rangers if there are any nearby parks when you stop at one. Off we went to Fort Barrancas for Larry and Arno's first Florida stamp. The sun was climbing and the weather was improving. The fort is near the Pensacola Air Base and, like many other forts along the Florida coast, dates before the beginning of our country.
With stamp in hand, we headed toward Ocean Springs, Ms. and another stamp. The temps were getting consistently higher which caused Larry to comment that he was getting downright warm. We haven't figured out quite what he meant by that. Gulf Islands National Seashore would make a great vacation destination regardless of which of the parks (Florida or Mississippi) you choose. Both parks represent the natural gulf coast and camping would be a plus. To go to the islands requires a boat trip, but the mainland area was pleasant. Arno couldn't quite figure out this stamp business. He, like most normal people, wanted to hang around and relax. I, on the other hand, was on a 'maniacal stamp hunt' as Larry would say. After all, Mike Cornett was a full 12 stamps ahead of me at this point. Let me say that Mike works 140 days a year and has a wife who keeps him in tires and Darien jackets. :-)
Time to go and we take I-10 to New Orleans. It's already getting past 2PM, so we eat gas station food and head to Jean Lafitte National Historical Park. The park itself is composed of 9 separate parks throughout southern Louisiana. Each one represents the culture of the area or a place of historical significance. The site we were visiting was where the Battle of New Orleans was fought. It contains a beautiful antebellum mansion and the actual battlefield.
We then headed to the Barataria Unit of the park which involved a ferry ride across the Mississippi. I was amazed at the number of cars which fit on the ferry. Time was becoming a problem. We got off the ferry and shortly saw a sign that read 'Jean Lafitte Park-6.5 miles.' That was all well and good, except that it was 4:55 and the park closed at 5PM. Arno decided to take things into his own hands and led us on a 100+ mph run to the park. He blew by the entrance. I stopped quickly and still have Larry's face print on my right butt cheek. The visitor's center was CLOSED! I delete the comments I had on the situation to keep this rated G. We left a SASE on the door hoping that they would mail a stamp to us. As it turns out, it was waiting for me at home.
It's getting late and we elect to dispense with the ride over Lake Ponchatrain. Arno's GPS helps us find our way to I-10 and a dash to Baton Rouge where we meet Jon Diaz at the Motel 6. As we stop for gas, Larry begins to talk with a local resident and loudly proclaims, 'You're the first Cajun accent I've heard.' 842 miles, 4 stamps
Larry was waiting for us out at his bike. He was afraid that we'd leave without him and this became a reoccurring theme especially since he had to fill up his bike every 5 miles. In Lafayette we stop for lunch and visit the Acadian Cultural Center. This park has a recreation of an authentic Acadian village. It is right near the Lafayette Airport which is a base for thehelicopter shuttles to the oil rig platforms in the gulf. I've never seen so many helicopters in one place.
I decide it is a good idea to place my Bunz-eze Cushion on my duffle bag rather than on my seat. Getting on I-10, it flies off almost hitting Arno and causes traffic to swerve avoiding it. Arno pulls up next to me and starts to point at my butt. I was getting rather excited until I reached down and realized the Bunz-eze was missing. We get off the next exit and run back assuming Jon and Larry are waiting for us. There it is! Another turn around and I'm running out unto the freeway to retrieve it. I swear it is a bit flatter and there are tire marks across the top. The other two guys have followed us, but we can't find them and begin to feel like we're part of silent movie police chase.
Back together, our next stop is Big Thickett in Texas. It's starting to rain now. After all, we are riding with Jon, what did we expect? Big Thickett is a marvelous area. This part of Texas was set aside in its natural state. We could not hear any cars, but only frogs and birds. I'll have to come back. So will Larry to retrieve a bit of his dignity. He did a very graceful dismount of his bike which landed him on his rear end. The bike was leaning precariously toward him and we were worried that it would follow him down. He lucked out but now sports some Texas mud on his Dry Rider.
We were on backroads to the Senner complex north of Austin. It gave us a chance to wind the bikes out. We reached speeds over 125 mph for several stretches. A local cop looked somewhat interested in our passing technique, but let it go. Larry ran out of gas, but carries a liter bottle of fuel which came in handy. Off we go to Joe's with Jon chanting 'Pork, pork,pork....' It seems he was looking forward to barbecue for several months now.
All the images we have of our renegade Listmeister will be dashed upon visiting him in his suburban setting. I'll always think of Joe in terms of Joe, Lisa and family now. Life will never be the same. They instantly made us feel at home for which we were grateful. At dinner, Jon ordered BEEF ribs. What happened to the chants of PORK for the last 200 miles? We had a good meal and retired to the Senner FAMILY Compound. The last thing I remember is seeing Arno taking a soldering iron to his new Shoei Duotec which wasn't fitting properly. 521 miles - 2 stamps
As you may already know, National Park Stamps are my life. You may also have figured that I don't have much of a life. Hostages start to develop an admiration and trust for their captures. I love my stamps and admire them greatly. They are mean mothers. Shut your mouth. Just talking about stamps.
I was bound and determined to show these stamp neophytes (read normal, well adjusted human beings here) what true stamp was all about. I slipped out of Joe's house just after 6am. Amazingly, Joe was there to say good bye. He's a truly nice guy, but the color of that RT needs to go.
Joe directed me to Hwy. 1431 which is so typical of the roads in this part of the country. With the sun starting to come up over the hills I was in heaven as I headed to Marble Falls and onto Johnson City. The site doesn't open until 8:45, but true stamp collectors have their ways. If you hang around the site before opening, you can usually talk a ranger into getting the stamp for you. I had been to this site last year, so I didn't need to view it again. The impact LBJ had on this small town is amazing. While he brought electricity to the area, many residents feel that they lost something for modernization.
San Antonio was my next stop as I headed down US 281. As far as roads go,its ho-hum, but it's also the best, if not only way to head into San Antonio from the north. Traffic was light as I hit the bypass and stopped at the San Antonio Missions. Mission Concepcion was the first stop of the four missions in the area. I had time to tour the four Catholic missions and was amazed at their condition. Restoration is ongoing which will make them true jewels. As it turns out, this is the largest concentration of Catholic missions in the US. There is also a working aqueduct in the area which is a splendid example of engineering.
Onward to North Padre Island east of Corpus Christi. I-37 is a straight,boring stretch of road. Living in Florida makes one immune to the dreariness of such highways and the miles burned on. I squeezed through Corpus Christi before a huge accident and was glad I got up early. It was still before noon.
Padre Island National Seashore is a significant distance beyond the city.The ride is well worth it as most of the dunes and barrier island is undeveloped. It should stay that way as the state has purchased much of the land outside the park. The weather was warm and the scent of salt water wasin the air. Nothing is more invigorating than this smell after a couple of cold days.
The park has an unusual distinction of collecting tons of plastic on the seashore. The ocean current from Africa comes along the South American coast where it picks up debris from the oil drilling platforms in Venezuela. From there it head north where it splits. One section heads with the gulf stream along the east coast. The other section heads to this part of the gulf coast. Along the way it has picked up commercial fishing line and various other pieces of garbage. According to the ranger, they can only keep a 5 miles section of shore relatively clean thanks to volunteers. They leave the rest alone. The area I was in looked pristine. The ranger himself was from Colorado and suffering from climate shock.
Onward to Brownsville and the Palo Alto Battlefield. This would be a challenge that would finally be resolved on Jan. 7, 1997. There is a long stretch of road to Raymondville that has no services. The RT should easily be able to make it. Passing the last gas station, the bike seemed to be sucking up fuel. Before I knew it, all bars on the RID were gone and I had 30+ miles to go. It's times like these that you become intimate with your bike. 'You can make it baby. Daddy trusts you.' Patting it on the side panels seems to help. I imagine cooing noises would also help, but I'm saving that for a last resort. In Raymondville I put over 6.7 gallons in the tank and was impressed. Jon Diaz later told me that he has put 7.1 gallons in his. Oh well.
In the Fodor's National Park book it reads 'the site is not yet open to the public.' That sounds like a challenge if I've ever heard one. Stopping at a Texas info station one of the workers went above and beyond his duties to help me find a stamp. He made over 10 phone calls and finally got an address for me. It was right in the heart of Brownsville so off I went.
Man, there are a lot of people crossing the border here. It looks more like a Mexican city than a US one. Fortunately, the streets are mostly one-wayand there are thousands of pedestrians otherwise this would be too easy. The address I have doesn't exist, but there is a Brownsville Historical Society building nearby. Brownsville needs a Restoration Society and I was unimpressed with the city. The Historical Society was closed. I wandered to the park site, but there's only a plaque. Strike 3 at least. I gave up and headed to South Padre Island to enjoy a heavenly sunset and beautiful night. I was the first to arrive and washed the bike. Why do you think every motel room has two rubbish cans? Jon arrived shortly thereafter. After waiting for Larry and Arno for a long time we went to eat. Jon order the steak special and instantly discovered why it was a special. As we walked back to the motel, Larry and Arno arrived. It turned out that Larry thought his bike looked better upside down a few hours earlier and Arno tried to impress the local police with his yellow rocket. We hung around outside and enjoyed the gulf breezes. Why do you think I live in Florida?
(as I mentioned, several weeks later I tracked down the Palo Alto offices. They had recently moved and weren't listed in the phone book yet. Information didn't have their number at the time. They are mailing me a stamp. Cool) 429 miles - 4 stamps
Man, there's a lot of fog this morning. It's time to head to Del Rio. We have to get to Amistad Recreation Area before it closes on Xmas Eve. I call them and am assured they will be open. The ride along the Rio Grande is uninteresting except for the fact that their a foreign country off our left shoulders. The weather is not clearing, but at least its not terribly cold. We eat breakfast at Dairy Queen of all places. There isn't much happening in this area of the country. Arno decides he is getting sick and must head home so he takes off.
The weather improves as we approach Del Rio. Larry and I head to Amistad while Jon goes to the motel. The park is just west of the city and looks awful closed. Several unbecoming words sprang from my mouth. Many more, thankfully, didn't make it out. The office was closed, but on the door was an envelop with at least 30 stamps and an apology. National Park Rangers are first rate people.
At the motel Jon and I washed our bikes while Larry supervised. Jon adorned his bike with a set of foam rubber antlers which seemed appropriate. We were forced to eat some incredibly bad Dominos Pizza. Hey, you roll the dice and you take your chances.
More than 1 mile - 1 stamp
We were finally into the good stuff in my opinion. There is something about US 90 in west Texas that touches my soul. Maybe it's the wide open spaces or the solitude. I can't put my finger on it, but it calls out to me. I already had my story for the police, 'But officer, I thought 90 meant the speed limit.' We stayed at that speed and higher most of the day. When I mentioned this to Jon and Larry and said we would be on Hwy. 385 later they gave me a very suspicious look.
If you're in this area, just west of Del Rio, you must stop at the rest area just before the highest bridge in Texas. I took some wonderfully over exposed pictures of Jon and Larry heading across the bridge. Catching up to them afterwards was fun, but maybe slightly illegal. We passed this poor Snyder truck at least 5 more times that day.
Pulling into Marathon we had hope of eating at the Gage Motel. I had one of the best meals of my life there last year around this time. To our horror, they were only serving dinner and only to motel guests. Just see if I drive there again for lunch. :-) So we retraced our steps thinking a small diner was open in town. Pulling into their parking lot a woman walks up to my RT and starts stroking the mirror saying, 'OOOOOh, this is nice." My first thought was to back away slowly and tell her not to make any sudden moves. Then, we saw it. On the back of their pickup was a bumper sticker from A&J Cycle in Vermont, a BMW dealer. Wow! Sue had move down here from Vermont and her son had joined her. Allen, Sue's boyfriend was working in Texas and had joined them for the holidays. They kindly offered to feed us. Can you imagine anyone doing that to strangers, let alone guys as big as Larry, Jon and myself? This was unbelievable.
We followed them back to Sue's home where she 'threw together' one of the best lunch's we had on this trip. Allen was a contractor who built straw homes. These are super-insulated structures that have R values of 45+ in the walls and are high end homes. Sue jokingly referred to her home as being in the barrio (SP), but went on to say that her neighbors were some of the friendliest people she's ever met. I suspect that would be the case wherever she lived. Homes in the area can be had for $5,000.00. No, I didn't forget a zero.
Stuffed beyond our wildest expectations, we headed south to meet up with Mike Cornett at Big Bend. Last year at this time, the federal budget crisis had closed Big Bend. The mountains loomed in this distance and we could see the light reflecting off the visitor's center from a good 40 miles away. We stopped to enjoy the roadside displays and learned that the area was once a swamp. Bones from prehistoric hippopotimi litter the area. Jon and I climbed a small rise for a serene view of the Chihuahua desert. The boundaries of the desert are determined by a particular form of cactus that only grows there.
As we pulled into the visitor's center, we met Mike who had gotten there hours earlier. It was too early to go to the lodge, so we headed east to explore the park. We chased Mike as some alarming speeds. He is one smooth rider and constantly humbles me when I follow him. With 50,000+ miles, it's safe to say that the shocks on the RT are 'broken in.'
There is a small border crossing, of questionable legality at the southeast end of the park. Larry got his first close up look at Mexico and came away unimpressed. The Rio Grande isn't a roaring river in these parts. You can walk across it or take a donkey ride across. The donkeys weren't running today. Being xmas, it was rumored they had some gig at a manger in the area. We did meet a group of Mexican Army soldiers who were coming into the US at the crossing and had pictures taken. Don't ask me what they were doing, but crossing is pretty easy here.
We screamed back to our lodge rooms and were very impressed with the rooms. We were cradled by the mountains and enjoyed an almost full moon. There were no TVs or phones in the lodge so nothing spoiled the serenity. After a long wait, we had dinner and hit the sack. I'll be back to Big Bend soon. 318 miles - no stamps
The guys wanted to head to Presidio. I've been there and done that. Even though this is one of the best motorcycling roads to be found, I wanted to explore some other areas, and, of course, get some new stamps. Leaving before six, I experienced the wildlife of the area. I passed a black bear, coyote, numerous road runners (appropriate with the coyotes around, don't you think) and so many jack rabbits that I felt I was avoiding pot holes. When they want to, these rabbits are just white blurs. On the desert floor, I spent more time over the ton then I ever have. Deer tend to be around the hills and mountains, so I slowed down in these areas. Coming over a rise I was greeted by a whole herd of mule deer in the middle of the road. Hitting a regular deer is bad. Hitting one of these suckers will put your unborn offspring in traction. Their BIG and man are they stupid. Most deer will eventually get the idea and dart off in one direction. These guys can't remember what they should do at any given time and often do the really unexpected. So, they stood there. I stood there. I believe they were trying to graze on the asphalt. 'Not enough minerals in your diets fellas?" Finally, they wore out their teeth on the road and decided to move on. Sunrise was spectacular!
The roads around the McDonald Observatory and the Davis Mountains loop are fabulous. My favorite section is the climb to the Observatory. This is just past Fort Davis and the first stamp of the day. Fort Davis was built to protect the area residents, wagon trains, and stage coaches from the Apache and Comanche Indians. It is in better shape then any other fort of its time. The reason being that it was occupied for almost the entire time since it was built, but not as a fort. The remaining restoration is first rate. Onward to the McDonald Observatory.
The Observatory boasts the darkest skies in the US. I visited the site extensively last year, so just drove by. Natural beauty is what turns me on anyway and the mountains were getting me downright horny. Flying up 118 I started to see constructions signs. As I slowed down to 70mph a sign reading PAVEMENT ENDS appeared. In Florida, these are warning signs of impending problems. In Texas they act as a boundary between pavement and the lack thereof. Instantly, I was doing 70mph in several inches a gravel. The bike could have flipped over and I would have still remained in the saddle due to the degree of butt puckering I was experiencing. Many people would have to change their shorts after an experience like this. I would soon have to change my seat. As the bike slowed down, no brakes here, I worked through the construction. By the next sign, I had learned my lesson and slowed down significantly.
Guadalupe Mountains was the next stop of the morning. Wind gusts in the area are significant and requires some heavy concentration. The mountains are part of an ancient marine fossil reef. The views were again captivating. Carlsbad is just up the road.
In New Mexico, the legal speeds dropped to 55mph on the back roads. C'mon guys, let's get real here. In a few miles, I saw more police than I saw in all of Texas. Ok, I get the idea, I'll slow down. It felt like I was crawling all day. The Caverns are about 20 miles from Carlsbad, the city. At the entrance to the park is White's City. This guy has a great location and owns everything in town. Fortunately, the prices aren't outrageous, but the town has gotten somewhat run down since the last time I was through. Passing the entrance, there's an 8 mile access road to the visitor's center. I've been here several times before and highly recommend the long tour to everyone. This is the finest collection of stalactites and stalagmites found anywhere in the world. You can have lunch 750 feet below ground. I've mailed several postcards from here in the past. I had mixed emotions about leaving without taking the tour and elected to hang around outside and take in the view of the valley. I could here languages from all over the world as I sat outside. America can be a great in places like this. Look ma, no billboards!
Passing through Carlsbad city I passed the motel we were staying at that night. Unbenounced to us, several riders had planned to surprise us in Alpine, TX that night. Oops. Sorry guys, we screwed up royally. I had thoughts about trying to make Gila Cliff Dwellings, but the slow speeds and long distances dashed those plans. I elected to head for White Sands National Monument instead.
Most of US 285 in the area and US 82 are BORING until you start to get close to Cloudcroft. Snow was appearing under the pine trees. In Cloudcroft, people were ice skating in town. The air was crisp, but not cold and the ski area was being very profitable for its owners. The pass out of Cloudcroft might be the best view in the country. Through the pine mountains, you can see the desert and white dunes in the distance. Spectacular. I turned around and rode down again.
In Alamogordo, I stopped at White Sands National Monument. This area contains some of the worlds largest gypsum field. The dunes are up to 60 feet high and are constantly shifting. It's amazing how many areas of the country have sand dunes like these.
Fortunately, they weren't testing any missiles at the military base. There are times when Hwy. 70 closes for an hour due to missile testing. The RT would make for an interesting target. I hope nobody was looking as I drove through. I headed south on I-25 to El Paso and the Chamizal National Memorial.
This area commemorates the settling of a border dispute that lasted for a hundred years. The constantly shifting river would change parts of the border in this area. People who lived in Mexico one day might be US citizens the next. President Kennedy set the wheels in motion on this and eventually, the concrete banks were added to the river for 5 or 6 miles and the border problem was settled. The National Park has the flavor of a city park and the center has some fabulous murals on its walls. Not thinking, I had passed another time zone and it was now 3:30. A decision had to be made. Carlsbad was a long way away. I elected to head west and miss the rest of the group for the night. In Demming, NM, I called it a night. 747 miles - 4 stamps
The rest of the Reindeer Riders are suffieciently east of me. After talking with Mike Cornett the previous night, I know where we are going to meet in Tucson. Arno sounded really ill when he left us and we don't want to impose on him and Karin.
I stop in the same gas station the rest of the guys will stop in. Only in American can you buy high tested unleaded, a double-scoop tootie fruitie ice cream cone and a DSS satellite dish in the same place. I'm concerned about the condition of the dirt road to Chiricahua National Monument, but the paved road is significantly longer. An old fella at the gas station says, 'You can't go 90 on the road, but it's ok.
Heading south from Bowie I'm amazed at the number of pecan farms that dot the highway out west. When I think of pecans the word Georgia is automatically placed out front. Arizona pecans, I think not. Sunrise, once again, make my spirits soar like the ravens flying nearby. Five miles south of Bowie the pavement ends and a perfectly fine dirt road begins. The nearer I get to Fort Bowie the worse the road gets, but the more scenic the area. I'm within touching distance of the mountains and feel like an early horse soldier riding to the fort. According to the Fodor's Guide, there is a 1.5 mile walk to the ruins at Fort Bowie. I'm nervous about leaving the bike alone out here and elect to ride to Chiricahua instead. After another 14 miles of dirt I hit a great highway that has sections which unseat me. I'm yelling gleefully at the top of my lungs for no apparent reason. The cows are unimpressed. Chiricahua is the 'Land of Standing-Up Rocks.' I'm not sure what to expect. After touring the visitor's center and seeing the pictures of the park, I know I've stumbled upon a jewel. After telling the ranger my sad story about Fort Bowie she reaches behind the counter and pulls out a secret map to the place. It shows a service road and a parking lot 400 yards from Fort Bowie. Man, Mike Cornett is going to be pissed when he hears of this.
I tour the scenic roads in the park and am dumb struck. Why haven't I heard of this place. Judging by the four cars I saw the whole time I was there, no one has heard of this place. Bryce Canyon is my favorite park and this is a mini Bryce. I'm in heaven. The road up to the best views of the rocks is steep, twisty and has glorious views. I can't believe what I've found here. The park is so deserted that I stop in the middle of the road to change the film in my camera. You must go here folks, but don't tell anyone or I'll have to kill you.
As I'm driving out of the park the resident white-tailed deer make a dash across the highway. I was so close to one of them that I could have picked white hair of his butt. Yes, it was a he. I told you I was close. At the entrance station, I asked the ranger if they had any toilet paper. The said I looked like I saw a ghost. No, I almost was a ghost. We talked for 15 minutes about the park and still no cars came. The rangers at these remote locations love the company and have great stories.
So, back to Fort Bowie. Oh boy, back on the dirt road again. I keep looking for the GS insignia on the RT, but can't find it. Down the hidden road and up to the rangers station and quarters. A steep walk up a hill and I'm at the visitor's center. This is my first two part stamp. First comes the border and then the date in the center. Fort Bowie is at Apache pass where water could be found readily. It was the headquarters for the war against the Apaches and was the place where peace talks were held with Cochise. On Bowie Mountain, he had a vision that he couldn't be killed. That's when the real fun started. It's easy to see how a band of Indians could hide out in this area.
My next stop is going to be the Coranado National Monument which takes me through Tombstone. If you drive right through Tombstone on the main highway, you'll wonder why you came. If you wander west one block, you'll take a step back in time. Sure, it's touristy, but it fit the bill for me. On the street corners are hawkers soliciting patrons for their bars and restaurants. They are dressed in period costumes. Between that and the stage coaches driving up and down the street I feel drawn back in time. Asphalt streets ruin the feeling but are a necessity. I each lunch and head out partner. Smile when you say that!
One of the locals put me on a back road to Sierra Vista. I'm amazed at the size of this town. Aren't we out in the middle of nowhere? The local police, who are everywhere, must not think so. Many people are getting performance awards, but I slip through. It seems to take forever to get to Coranado. The park commemorates Vasquez de Coronado's search for the fabled cities of gold. The visitor's center has architecture that fits the area perfectly. I feel I'm in a Mexican ranch house. There is a dirt road which heads to Nogales and my next stop. I'm buoyed by the last dirt road and ask the ranger about this one. She says it's not as good as the last one I was on and says that the paved loop is just as fast. This can't be true as it looks almost 100 miles longer. I'm going for it.
The climb to the top of the mountains on the Mexican border is encouraging. It's twisty and has a washboard surface. I'm wondering if the RT will hold together. At the top I'm rewarded by an unbelievable view. I can see the twisty dirt road snaking down the mountain. In either direction the view is clear for miles and I can see the valley floor both east and west. Wow! This was worth the trip and should be considered if you go. I believe the road on the valley floor must be better than the road up the mountain and down I go.
My map doesn't show any route numbers, but it doesn't matter. I'm never going to make it to Nogales at the 15 mph speed I'm forced to take most of the way. There are no houses, but I see a school bus warning. The few intersections have hand made signs pointing the way to Nogales. They are hidden by bushes so that I must backtrack several times. I do pass several cars. Four guys in a truck who look like they belong to the Arizona militia point me in the right direction. This could become a scene with some duelling banjo music, western style, very easily. I resolve not to squeal like a pig no matter how much they want me to. They are a good group and off I go. Sooo EEEEE?
The road looks like it's getting better so I'm doing about 55. Then it changes to several inches of loose sand. The RT is twisting all over the place and I'm pretty damned scared. Falling in the sand will probably minimize the damage, but I'd just as soon stay vertical. Luck is with me and I'm going 15 mph again. After swallowing half the dirt in Arizona, I'm back on asphalt headed to Tumacacori.
As I pull into the parking lot, a couple of Harley riders are there. The bikes are absolutely spotless. I pull up with a bike so dirty that I can't read the speedometer anymore and say, 'Man, they need to get someone in here to dust this state.' I know they are thinking 'crazy beemer rider' and we have a nice conversation. I visit the mission, which isn't nearly as nice as the ones in San Antonio. This area was once considered to be the northern frontier of Spain.
Everything on I-19 to Tucson is in kilometers. The exits go by kilometers as does the 'mileage' between exits. This blows my mind. Several other areas of the country have both, but this is strictly metric. The klicks, click off and I'm in Tucson for a stop at Saguaro National Park and its unique collection of cacti. They look like people reaching for the sky. Suburbia is knocking at the parks front door. Those house weren't here in 1979 when I came here last. It's somewhat depressing. I head to the motel to wait for the rest of the herd.
They arrive about an hour later and we regale each other with our adventures. This might be the best part about riding with other people. Everyone has their own stories and this sure beats TV. Mike can't believe I have the Fort Bowie stamp. The bike is so dirt I don't even cover it and fall asleep praying for rain. 330 very hard miles - 5 stamps - I'm still hacking up dirt
I was bound and determined to equal Mike's number of stamps today. He was over 10 ahead of me at the beginning of this trip and I wanted to make it interesting again. So, at O'dark 30 I left the motel. Mike was going in a different direction anyway. Jon was visiting friends and he and Larry were going to Iron Horse.
The Fodor's guide stated that Casa Grande would be open at 7am. I was there at 7. It wasn't open. I want my money back. Instead, I watched the local law enforcement giving driving awards from the Coolidge McDonalds. Shortly thereafter I went back to the ruins and hung around the entrance. Within a few minutes a park ranger opened the gates and invited me in. These were the first ruins I have seen that are covered with a modern-man made roof. There are 60 prehistoric Indian sites at Casa Grande which contain buildings and many pictographs. These were fascinating, but the tale of the Hohokam Indians was very typical of prehistoric Indian cultures. Their civilization was flourishing and then it disappeared. They even had sporting events held in an oval ball court. As time when on the sporting events diminished for no apparent reason. What happened here?
It was going to be a ruins type of day. I headed toward Tonto National Monument. The ride north from Roosevelt is a great one as I headed over the first mountain pass and hugged Roosevelt Lake. My mind can not deal with lakes in a desert area. There's no greenery along the shoreline which just doesn't make sense to someone from the east. The sky was an azure blue and the temperature made me glad to be on a bike.
At Tonto I was treated to a spectacular cliff dwelling. It's not accessible as they are at Mesa Verde, but it's location is much more scenic. The Salado Indians lived and farmed the area around the 13th century. It was interesting to see the difference between this and Casa Grande. The next stop was Montezuma along some wonderful forest roads.
I passed through towns of Pine and Strawberry. The forest scents of Pine made me stop and just enjoy the smells for awhile. Soon I was in Camp Verde and heading for Montezuma's Castle.
The sight was the most crowded site I've been at for awhile. Traffic was backed up for 1/2 mile. Having a bike sure paid off as I squeezed down the right side of the traffic into a spot just made for a motorcycle. There was a definite look of envy on the faces of those trapped behind the wheel. The Castle was similar to Tonto, but on a slightly larger scale. This building has 20 rooms and was built by the Sinagua Indians. They were also farmers and a trend seems to be developing. These Indians were probably not much of a warring race, so they built their homes high in rock faces. You can't fight what you can't reach. Onward to Tuzigoot (crooked water in Apache).
This site is very near Montezuma but has an entirely different style. The first thing you notice are the nearby 'fields' containing copper castings from nearby mining. The casting were pumped into these fields and they now luck like a bizarre rice farm. The Sinaguan Indians were great traders. There was evidence that they had exotic parrots which they used in rituals. The parrots came from many hundreds of miles away. I was surprised that you could walk around the dwellings at this site. They are built on the top of a small rise and will never survive the foot traffic they receive. So now I had to make a choice. It was still early, but Phoenix was getting farther away. If it wasn't for the party at Skipper's house, which I was really looking forward to, I get some more stamps and find a motel in Flagstaff. I elected to go north and see what there was to see.
I hopped on the slab and headed for Walnut Canyon just outside of Flagstaff. The freeway exit is there only for the National Monument. There was snow around the parking lot here and the view of the mountains from inside the visitor's center is a must see. There are more cliff dwellings here built by the Pueblo Indians (who are known as the Sinagua Indians. Remember them from Tuzigoot? I need to come back here as the scenery captivated me. Two more stamps were nearby and I had to have them.
There was snow on the road to Sunset Crater Volcano and I had to be a little careful. The area was still covered with lava rock and vegetation was starting to make a strong comeback. This is surprising since the last eruption was over 700 years ago. I expected to see more vegetation at this point. The area is breathe-taking. As much as I wanted a stone as a souvenir, the warnings along the road convinced me otherwise. In some places the lava rocks were so smooth that they had to be placed there by man. They looked more like sand dunes.
There is a scenic road that leaves Sunset Crater and heads to Wupatki National Monument. The change of scenery is dramatic. You leave the pine forest of the crater and find yourself back in the high desert. The Pueblo Indians were here also. They seem to have mastered building free standing dwellings. I had to take the road back to the crater since I enjoyed it so much. Speeds increased exponentially on the way back.
By now it was getting late and I was over 100 miles from Skipper's house. I called and told them I'd be a little late and to warn Mike that I had a pile of stamps. Technology is wonderful in that I did this from a rest area in a national forest south of Flagstaff. I made the run south wondering why I-17 is 65 mph? Even roads in a much more crowded Florida are 70mph. Let's get with the program.
Skipper's directions were perfect and they needed to be as well hidden as he was. As I pulled into the driveway there was a throng of people already enjoying themselves. It was amazing to see this group. My pink neon license plate frame was an immediate hit. Paul and the lady in red were there from Kansas. Paul had a new 650. I immediately received the Voni handshake. Butch, Fulton, Susan, Mick, and Chris came all the way from San Diego and points north. Dave Norton doesn't really drink beer, he just likes the saying for his sig file. Michael should be a long tall Texan like Mike Cornett. Ira was there fully dressed this time as was Russ Locke. Thanks for the offer of lodging Russ, but after Ira you probably won't ever do that again. :-) I'm sure I'm missing many people and I apologize for my failing memory. It's the stamp's fault.
Skipper and Kathy were fabulous hosts. There home is a thing of beauty and could have easily held a hundred guests. There son Jacob has grown like a weed since I met him in Durango at the national. We took many pictures. Mike Cornett, it turns out, either had one more stamp than me, or we both had the same. I think he has one more. We stuffed ourselves on some great food. Thanks for the vegetarian chili. Do you deliver? Larry had a good appetite from his recent tech session with Paul Glaves. Nothing could have been better than being among that group that night. I felt like I was among family the way that family was meant to be. Much too soon, we were falling asleep on the air mattresses. We'll have to do this again real soon.
490 miles - 7 stamps
Today, the Reindeer Riders split up again. Mike and I were heading to Mexico. Larry, forgetting his insurance card, went with Butch and the gang. Jon was meeting us for breakfast.
Skipper dutifully took Jacob to church and told Mike and I that we'd meet for bagels later. I got up and washed half of Arizona off the RT while Mike packed. Skipper wisely parked his Toyota next to where I was washing the bike and I got carried away. Looking around the development, I couldn't believe the amount of grass. This is the desert after all. Aw, what the heck, it's only water. I say this as I'm washing the bike. So, I'm a hypocrite.
Mike and I met Skipper for some great bagels. Jon soon joined us and complained that I had more cream cheese than he did. Between the previous nights dinner and this breakfast, we almost couldn't mount the bikes. I believe I heard a spring snap, but ignored it. Mike and I headed toward Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Jon elected not to go to Mexico. With a name like Diaz, he thought for sure he wouldn't be let out.
The ride down 85 to the monument was B-O-R-I-N-G. Mike decided to liven things up a bit. All I did was glance down at my map and Mike was gone. Darn. I can barely see the guy. Now the RT is screaming after him at speeds above 120 mph. The lights on the Arizona State Trooper's car gave me a slight pause. Oh hell, I wanted to cry like a little girl. Mike was already pulling over and I pulled in behind him and waited for the inevitable. When the trooper got out of the car I did something I've never done before. I begged, implored, pleaded, beseeched while I confessed and conceded our stupidity. Mike, on the other hand, was going to take it like a man. The trooper was very pleasant considering our stupidity. He asked Mike for his driver's license, etc. I was pulling mine out, but he wasn't interested. Can you believe he gave Mike a WARNING? Wow. This was much better than getting free pie. We were good boys after that.
Onward, at a very legal speed, to Organ Pipe. We were in the Sonoran Desert which is the only place in the US that these cacti grow. After talking to a group of riders from San Francisco, we headed south, bought Mexican insurance and crossed the border at Lukeville.
We were definitely in Mexico. The roads went from US quality to a crater's of the moon landscape. The frequent police checks along Rte. 2 got our attention.
"Do you have drugs?"
And we did as fast as we dared. Even though the speed limit for 80kph, most of the traffic was driving much faster. The intra-city buses drove at a much higher speed. We probably stayed at 65mph for most of the trip while we were dodging the chuck holes.
The view of the desert, from this side of the border was fantastic. The farther we went, the sparser the vegetation and the more frequent the armed police. We saw a pickup pulled over that was getting a VERY thorough examination. The police looked pissed.
On the other side of San Luis Rio Colorado we went through a toll booth. Oh boy, we're going on a freeway. Think again Reindeer Boy. The speeds went down. I guess we were paying for the guy with the rifle posted on the top of the toll booth. Mexico is getting very scary in this area. Our destination was Mexicali where we would cross the border and head to El Centro.
DON'T, DON'T, DON'T ever do this. Mexicali was a nightmare. It was miles and miles of city traffic that didn't seem to have an end. We passed the usual statues proclaiming the greatness of this hero and that, but didn't think we'd ever see the border. At least traffic w-a-s s-t--i--l--l m----o----v------i-----------n---------------g. Oops, I guess I spoke to soon. We couldn't even see the crossing booths from where we were. This was not good. At least we had the street vendors to keep us amused. I somehow conveyed the message to a couple of young kids that if they tried to wash my windshield one more time they would end up as the ingredients to some taco. The bike was getting hot and I elected to push for awhile. Yes, you too can have that body you've always wanted by my simple program of Bike Aerobics. Just two hours a day pushing your bike and you'll look like Arnold. Owning a Harley is a plus. Finally we were through the crossing. No, I still don't have any guns.
Looking at Mike, I could tell he was getting burned out. So was I and we hopped on I-8 to San Diego. Crossing the mountains here is one of my favorite things to do. We immediately blew away most of the other traffic chugging up the grades. One more border patrol check and we were in San Diego. Mike led us to the Hays' hacienda. How could we tell we were at the correct place? The garage door was covered with large, unflattering pictures of the Reindeer Riders. Butch, you're a trip and the carpeted garage just reinforces that fact. Several of the San Diego group was there and we, once again, gorged ourselves on some fantastic cooking. Wow, burp! I'd drive out there again just for the food which included a peanut butter and jelly cheesecake made by Fulton.
I polished the RT much to the chagrin of Larry's bike. Entomologist were starting to gather outside the garage hoping to have a chance to look at Larry's collection. Butch and Ester made us feel right at home. It was as if I never left earlier this summer. Thanks folks and thanks to the kids who slept in the garage so we could have their beds. We slept the sleep of the fed, happy and satisfied. -I forgot to record the mileage - 1 hard to get to stamp and one driving award for Mike
The morning started with a 'thrilling' ride to Denny's for breakfast. The next time I see Ester, I'm going to check the DOT and Snell rating on her helmet. Butch got us there in a hurry. Susan decided to both thrill and horrify us with a spill in the parking lot. Fortunately she was ok and Fulton now has something to add to the newsletter. Breakfast was typical Denny's fair served by the most competent waiter I've had in a long time, anywhere.
Mike had to get an exhaust manifold bolt fixed on his new K while I had to go visit Thurlow Gloves. After riding for the past three months using my Swiss cheese gloves, it was time for a change. Fulton led me over and then played Pony Express Rider by delivering messages between the two groups. While at Thurlow a bike rider on a business trip showed me the trip computer in his Avis/Hertz rental car. This thing was fabulous and spoke directions to you while you drove. I've got to get one of these things.
Mike's bike required more work than he expected, so we rode to Cabrillo National Monument with Mike on the back of Fulton's bike. Warm, sunny California was anything but. It was foggy and no sun was visible. The site is named after the discoverer of this part of North America and the site represents his first landing. Whales were rumored to be off shore, where most good whales should be after all, but we couldn't see them for the fog. Butch and Martin, the lucky bastard, work along the spit of land leading to the Park. It's a tough job, but someone has to do it. There's a lovely lighthouse on the site and a nice view of San Diego. On a sunny day this site must be stunning.
Before we knew it, we were back at the cycle shop, Mike was collecting his bike, and we were saying good-byes. Larry elected to stay in San Diego for another day. Jon had left earlier for an ill-fated run up the west coast. Mike and I were licensed to hunt stamps, and so we did.
Our first stop was to be the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. With some previous detective work, we knew there would be a hidden stamp here. Northward to LA (the real one, not Lower Alabama Corky). Guess what? There's lots of traffic around LA at anytime of day. We got to experience lane splitting on a freeway without much lane space on fully loaded touring bikes. Hey, it worked. We became like Blue Angels on maneuvers as we zipped in and out of traffic and out of LA.
The recreation area visitor's center is in a privately owned business complex. They are not allowed to have the typical park signs and thus, don't get many visitors. The rangers were extraordinarily happy to see us. They both shouted out, "Visitors," as we walked it. This was a lot of pressure on us. :-) The park is a real jewel just northwest of LA, but seemed to be more of a city-type park than a national one. Next stop Channel Islands.
We passed through a nice section of farmland on the way to the visitor's center. We also drove by Mike's high school haunts and I could tell he was doing some heavy reminiscing. The Channel Islands have a great variety of plant and animal life that is unspoiled by the city sprawl of LA. It costs about $50 to ride the boat over to the islands from Ventura. We didn't care to visit the island, but I'd love to spend a weekend there someday. Instead we dove headlong into LA rush hour.
Surely we are far enough north of LA where this shouldn't be a problem. It became evident that even San Francisco is not far enough north of this mess. Our previous practive in heavy traffic just whetted our appetite for some stupid, high speed maneuvers. We flew through traffic like avenging angels. Lane splitting became second nature. Before we knew it we were in the clear and high fiving each other in a rest area. We drove through Palm Springs and called it a night in Indio. For dinner we stopped at a wonderful little Mexican restaurant that gave us huge portions of good food. Mike practiced his Spanish on the waitress, but we didn't get any free pie. Take my word for it, Mike doesn't need any Spanish practice. He could have taught the waitress a few things. Is at dumbfounded and feeling like a stranger in a strange land. Full of beans we went to bed and perfumed the motel room for the rest of the evening.
About 500 miles and three stamps
Man, it sure does get cloudy in the desert. Why is it raining? Last time I looked, Jon "Rainman" Diaz wasn't with us anymore. Mike and I took I-10 for one exit to the entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. The southern visitor's center was barely inside the park. We asked if they could make a local call to Mojave National Preserve to double check that there was a stamp in the park. They said there weren't any local call because they had no phone. One ranger also mentioned that the Hole-in-the-Wall Center was closed because the ranger was sick. This meant to Baker or Barstow for a stamp. Man, it's sooooo close on the map. In reality it would add several hundred miles to the trip. Mike made the only sane decision and decided to go to Tonto. I, being the brain-damaged individual that I am, headed to Baker through some extremely desolate desertscape.
Joshua Tree Park was full of police radar. I saw four cars hidden amongst the hills taking pictures. This was going to take forever. The area is actually where two deserts, the Colorado and the Mojave meet. Joshua 'Trees' are named for the prophet Joshua as they appear to be a man/woman with his or her hands raised to the heavens. Much more interesting to me was an area called 'Cholo Gardens.' Cholo cactus appear almost feathery and this was the largest collection I've ever seen. Organ Pipe had some of this cacti variety, but not in the numbers in this one area. This little valley appeared to be a nursery for these cacti. A ride over the next rise and the numbers diminished greatly. Very impressive.
I stopped at the north visitor's center in 29 Palms and they called ahead to Mojave. I was committed at this point or, at least, should have been. 29 Palms is the site of a large Marine Corps Base. These guys must be tough to survive out here. From 29 Palms (yes, the song was on continuous play in my head) I rode up Amboy Road to, where else, Amboy, population 20. There's a gas station and diner, but the RT wasn't thirsty yet. There's also a neat little crater on the outskirts of town.
Running through the Mojave Desert bored me to tears. There are some sand dunes and cinder cones, but the vegetation was not at all interesting after Joshua Tree. Passing over I-40 I was tempted to just forget the whole thing, but stamps is stamps. I was happier to see Baker than probably anyone in the history of this small town. The stamp is in a visitor's center at the base of a giant thermometer. It read 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Amazingly, an attendant at the local gas station recognized my Iron Butt license plate frame. He said that those guys pass through here all the time. Hmmmmmmm. With stamp in hand I got to head south through, you guessed it, the Mojave Preserve. Nooooooooooooooooooo.
During another time of year, I would have taken I-40 east and got more stamps along the way. In New Mexico, the National Park sites would be closed on New Year's Day, so I thought I'd surprise Mike in Tucson. I felt it would be too late to call Arno, but wished I did. As boring as the road through the Mojave was, US 95 south of Needles was even worse. It was the Mojave Road with motorhomes. I paid $1.99 for gas along the way. At the station the guy said the reason it wasn't higher was because they couldn't figure out how to get $2 to show on the pumps. Nice guys. I pushed on toward Phoenix across I-10. It was good to be out of California and headed east.
A huge traffic jam in Phoenix (radios are great on bikes) caused me to scoot down 85 to I-8 and on to Tucson. It was raining in Tucson. There are some things that should never get wet; dogs, Lucas Electrics and deserts. The desert smelled like a cross between wet cardboard and cold white rice. Whew! I pulled into the motel as Mike was putting the key in the motel room door. It was good to see him again and we were both glad to have someone to share New Years with. Dinner was pretty bad, but it was close. I couldn't ride another mile. Sorry Mike. Two old farts went to bed well before Dick Clark.
706 miles - two stamps which cleared out Southern California-yippeeee
It was time to make some long, boring miles and get home. There were many signs that said Cross Winds along the way. For the life of me I couldn't understand why they were so mad.
I was burned out on stamps, besides, nothing would be open today and I got all the stamps in the southern part of the US now. There were a couple in Louisiana, but I couldn't think of that now. I hopped on I-10 and pointed the bike east. The miles wore on. How did I cross the country in one shot earlier in the summer? It seemed like an impossible task now. The ideal position to be in would be east of Houston so I wouldn't have to ride through the morning rush hour. Time changes would be working against me and by the time I got east of San Antonio, I was spent. I'll get up early and try to squeeze through Houston tomorrow.
911 miles - no stamps
Mike calls leaving at 5AM 'Pinktime' which is when I left and headed toward Houston. The fog was incredible thick and it went right through me. At 6:30 AM traffic was already backing up in Houston. The HOV lane was almost deserted. If I lived in LA or Houston the first thing I would do is find someone to ride with. Why sit in traffic every morning like most of the population in these two cities does? Before I knew it I was east of the city and stopping for breakfast. The sun was burning off the fog.
Louisiana has several Jean Laffite National Park Sites. They are all unique, but all have the same heading. The stamps will show 'Barataria Unit,' 'Lafayette Unit,' etc. There are nine sites in all, but only six have stamps. I had two more to get to have the complete set and stopped at Eunice for the Prairie Acadian Center. This center serves as a community center as well as a national park headquarters. I was quite impressed at the forethought used in establishing this dual-use building. The exhibits have motion detectors which, when activated, will begin a selection of local music or language. I enjoyed the fact that the hand made fiddle used a box of Tampa cigars.
The next stop was the Prairie Acadian Center in Thibodaux. I passed by Avery Island, of hot sauce fame and continued down US-90, a thoroughly uninteresting road. The center in Thibodaux contained many of the same displays, but was more focused on fishing and living in the swamp. The buildings were very similar and must have been designed by the same firm. There was a display of ornate Mardi Gras costumes. It's time to get moving.
I have never passed through New Orleans without getting in a long traffic jam. Today I was in luck. There was on accident going west, but the east bound lane was clear. Onward to Mobile the tunnel and bridge. The fog was so thick across Mobile Bay that traffic was slowed to 20mph. It took forever to get across the bridge. By the time I passed through Pensacola, I was ready to call it a night. Getting up at a normal person time I headed home the next day.
2 days - 827 miles - 2 stamps
And so it ends. The trip was about a 10,000 miles in which I spent time with some of my best friends in the world. Stopping at the Senner's, Brown's and Hays' houses were highlights of the trip. Thanks for your hospitality folks. It was unbelievable to see all the other presidents at these stops. Seeing each other so infrequently makes those visits much more memorable and meaningful. We've got to do this more often.
Thanks to Mike Cornett, Jon Diaz, Larry Fears and Arno Jones for making this a trip I'll never forget. You guys are the best, even though you can't keep up the stamp collecting pace, especially you Mike. :-)
Greg "Bounce" Pink
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