Velociraptors on the Loose!

Trip Start May 21, 2014
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Trip End Jun 07, 2014


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Flag of United States  , Colorado
Wednesday, May 28, 2014

We say goodbye to Moab, and ride northeast on UT-128, along the Colorado River.

The entire length of this highway has been designated the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway, part of the Utah Scenic Byways program. Residents of Moab often refer to UT-128 as the "river road."

It's a spectacular river canyon, pretty much made for a Harley. The road follows the southern bank of the Colorado River. The sheer sandstone walls of the gorge along UT-128 are recommended on vacation guides around the world.

The gorge widens where the highway passes by Castle Valley and Professor Valley, where many western films have been shot, including Rio Grande.

Today, the river is a muddy shade of brown, typical of when the river is runny freely.

After about 40 miles, we turn onto US-6, which takes us to I-70. This stretch of road is known as the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, honoring a Civil War veterans association.

We continue on I-70 East for about 35 miles, not exactly my favorite thing to do. I find Interstate riding to be boring, not nearly as exciting as riding a river gorge or mountain road. But sometimes, it's the only way to get where you're going, so I suck it up and we roll into Colorado.

***

On Aug. 1, 1876, President Ulysses S. Grant signed a proclamation admitting Colorado to the Union as the 38th state. The name Colorado has a Spanish origin. It refers to red, as in the color of the reddish soil of the plateaus.

Colorado has a reputation for being a state of active and athletic people, reportedly with the lowest obesity rate in the nation. People here are both healthy and happy: Colorado is one of two states to legalize both the medicinal (2000) and recreational (2014) use of marijuana.

As we cross the border into Colorado, we see little immediate evidence of its legal marijuana use. No billboards announcing weed for sale, no roadside bake sales, no vending machines. Vending machines? Yep. In the posh resorts of Vail Valley, the nation's first marijuana vending machines are open for business. Last month, a vending machine spit out its first products, including edibles and pre-rolled joints. The machines are called Zazzz. Great name.

For more on Colorado's pot scene, click here.

***

At Fruita, we turn off the Interstate to visit the Western Colorado Dinosaur Museum. We're in the heart of dinosaur country. We see real bones from dinosaurs such as the Apatosaurus and Allosaurus. There are full-size cast skeletal mounts of the Velociraptor (made famous in the movie Jurrasic Park), Stegosaurus and Mymoorapelta, among others. Click here to see the memorable velociraptor kitchen scene from Jurrasic Park.

Leaving the museum, we head south on CO-340 and then Rimrock Drive for a short ride to the Colorado National Monument Visitors Center.

To learn more about Colorado National Monument, click here.

The Colorado National Monument’s feature attraction is Monument Canyon, which we ride on our way to Palisade, Colorado, just east of Grand Junction. Monument Canyon includes rock formations such as Independence Monument, Coke Ovens and the Kissing Couple.

The Kissing Couple is a 400-foot-high needle of sandstone that has a vertical split near the top, separating it into two seemingly intertwined columns, like two giant lovers locked in a timeless embrace. The Kissing Couple, first ascended in 1960, is quite popular among rock climbers.

We’re on Monument Road for about 15 miles, and it is quite spectacular.

The canyon is every bit as awesome as any we've seen on this trip. There's currently a raging debate, locally and in Washington DC, over whether to turn Colorado National Monument into a National Park.

My opinion -- and I don't get a vote -- it ought to be a National Park.

As we leave Colorado National Monument, the road takes us to Grand Junction, whose notable residents include:
  • Owen Aspinall, former Governor of American Samoa, who was born here. Along with traditionally garbed island chiefs, Aspinall was one of the first to greet and congratulate the crew of Apollo 10 after their return to Earth.
  • Dalton Trumbo, Academy Award-winning screenwriter (Exodus, Spartacus, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo). There's a fountain on Main Street honoring him.
  • Capt. Richard Wank, former TWA pilot, until the airline rudely declared bankruptcy on his 60th birthday, and was taken over by American Airlines. Capt. Wank grew up in Grand Junction, and is my first cousin, once removed. There are no known statues or fountains honoring him.
We slog through Grand Junction, riding in the vicinity of 1345 Chipeta Ave., where Capt. Wank grew up, long before he ever entertained fantasies of flying. Chipeta, or White Singing Bird, was a Native American woman and the second wife of Chief Ouray of the Uncompahgre Ute Tribe. You’ll hear more about Ouray and Uncompahgre over the next few days as we ride the Rockies.

One more note about Grand Junction: the biggest party in town all year long is going on right now. It's the week-long Junior College Baseball Tournament, the national juco championship. Ten teams began play on May 24, and the title game is this Saturday at 7 pm.

The games are played at Suplizio Field, near Colorado Mesa University (CMU), which plays it's games there, along with the minor league Grand Junction Rockies, a farm team of Major League Baseball's Colorado Rockies. My pick in Saturday's title game: Miami Dade.

***

Eventually, I end up among the fruit orchards of nearby Palisade, elevation 4,728 feet. My old friend from Boeing in Seattle, Eldon McBride, lives here with his wife Kathryn. I'll be staying with Eldon and Kathryn tonight at their home not far from the Colorado River.

Palisade lives in the shadow of Grand Junction, but has its own vino vibe. It’s known for peaches and vineyards. Among the best uses of grapes here: Canyon Wind Cellars, De Beque Canyon Winery, Varaison Vineyards and Winery, and Talon Winery. There’s even a winery named after Eldon’s wife: St. Kathryn Cellars.

Seriously. Click here to learn about it.

***

After some R and R at the McBride home, the original plan was to head for the Grand Mesa, known as the world’s largest flat-topped mountain. A mesa is an elevated area of land with a flat top and sides that are usually seep cliffs. Mesa is Spanish for table; mesas get their name from their characteristic table-top shape.

The Grand Mesa is about 500 square miles, and reaches a maximum elevation of 11,333 feet at Crater Peak. The top of the Grand Mesa is a layer of basalt poured by lava about 10 million years ago.

We ride CO-65 to and through the Grand Mesa. It’s also known as the Grand Mesa Scenic and Historic Byway. The road climbs to more than 10,000 feet, and passes by the Powderhorn Ski Resort.

Just past Powderhorn are dozens of small mountain lakes that offer trout fishing, hiking, canoeing and other mountain experiences.

All that beauty on the Grand Mesa will have to wait for another day, though. It's too much fun catching up with Kathryn and Eldon, so we decide to skip the a Grand Mesa, and instead have a drink and a home-cooked meal.

***

Since Riding the Rockies With Gary is the name of this blog, I should take a moment to share some Rocky Mountain basics.

The Rockies stretch more than 3,000 miles from the northernmost part of British Columbia, in western Canada, to New Mexico. On this trip, we plan to go as far north as Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado.

We’ll become familiar with the Continental Divide, a natural boundary line separating the watersheds of the Pacific Ocean from those of the Atlantic Ocean. Technically, a continental divide is a drainage divide on a continent where the drainage basin on one side of the divide feeds into one ocean or sea, and the basin on the other side feeds into a different ocean or sea.

The Continental Divide runs north-south from Alaska to Northwestern South America. In the continental U.S., it follows the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

The Rocky Mountains were initially formed as many as 80 million years ago, when a number of geological plates began to slide underneath the North American plate. Since then, further tectonic activity and glacial erosion have sculpted the Rockies into dramatic peaks and valleys.

The northern Rockies were once explored by Lewis and Clark, around 1805. Now it’s time for Ray and Gary, circa 2014.

***

A number of popular songs have been inspired by the Rocky Mountains, among them "Rocky Mountain High" (recorded by John Denver in 1972) and "Rocky Mountain Way" (recorded by Joe Walsh in 1973).

Rocky Mountain High, written after Denver’s move to Aspen, is one of Colorado’s two official state songs; the other is "Where the Columbines Grow."

Click here if you want a Rocky Mountain High.

"Rocky Mountain Way” is not among Colorado’s official state songs, but it may be one of the most commonly performed tunes whenever Joe Walsh picks up a guitar in front of a crowd. It’s Number 57 on Ultimate Classic Rock’s list of Classic Rock Songs.

Click here if you want to see Joe Walsh perform his signature song with Brad Paisley on CMT.

The Rockies have the highest peaks in mainland North America. The biggest one is Colorado’s Mount Elbert, at 14,440 feet. Colorado has more than 50 mountain summits that are 14,000 feet or higher. They’re known as the 14ers.

Click here to see a full list of the 14ers.

The lowest among the 14ers, if that’s the right word for it, is Sunlight Spire, in the Needle Mountains. It’s 14,001 feet above sea level.

And that’s today’s introduction to the Rocky Mountains. Tomorrow, we introduce ourselves and our Harleys to the Rockies.

***

Day Seven Summary: Velociraptors on display, the Kissing Couple, wining in Palisade, thinking about the Grand Mesa, ready for the Rockies.

Click here to view today’s route, from Moab to Palisade.

What will tomorrow bring?
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Comments

jwc on

For more info (probably than needed) on John Denver his real name was Henry John Dentschendorf, Jr. He took the stage name from the city in the state he would eventually make his home. He wrote "Annie's Song" in the ten minutes it takes to go from the bottom to the top of Bell Mountain on the ski lift.

Captain Richard Wank on

They removed the monument to ME?

Jim And Barb on

Love all the history you give. Much more interesting then when in school.
Guess this is where you do the 14,000 foot climb with all those peaks.

judy Hirsch on

I hope the McBrides had a bed for Ray.

Paula Matos on

Thanks, Gary - and ride CAREFULLY through those mountains! Rich and I crossed the Continental Divide too, but we were on our bicycles! That's harder.

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