Saturday, July 07, 2007

The National Parks and some other places

I'm the fire starter

In order:

Zion Canyon- Saw it first thing in the morning so the light was quite nice. You have to get one of the free shuttle buses along the canyon due to the volume of traffic in the summer.


Grand Canyon (the less touristy North Rim)- I'd read you need to book several months ahead for this campsite so it was no surprise that when we turned up, the stoney-faced Park Ranger woman on the desk told us they were full with no exceptions. The pitches were all pretty huge but she was adamant that there were no free spaces and the nearest camp ground was the service free National Park site about 16miles back the way we'd come. We asked a couple who were just setting up their tent if we could share it and amazingly they were ok with that. We offered to go 'halfers' with them on the cost but they refused so we ended up with free accommodation. We thought we'd wait till just before sunset to go and walk to the canyon, only 1.5 miles away but by the time we'd finished faffing with the dinner and dishes, it was getting late so we took my bike. We asked a Park Ranger in a car the quickest route and set off out the camp ground. Once on the road, I saw a Park Rangers car behind me so thought it was the guy we'd just been speaking too but my assumption was quickly dispeled when the lights came on the siren bleeped. 'Not again' I groaned as I started to pull over but the voice on the p.a. instructed me to 'pull in at the lodge car park'. The car pulled up behind me in the car park and what can only be described as 'Junior Cop' stepped out, a different one to the Ranged we'd spoken to. Apparently, I'd just gone through 3 stop signs in the campground and speeded on the road outside- just what I need! My excuse that we were in a hurry to catch the canyon before it got dark didn't cut it, neither did my assumtion that if there is no other traffic at a junction, I thought it was ok to drive through. When Junior Cop handed me my ticket for $75 (he'd reduced my heinious crimes down to just 1 stop sign), I said 'fantastic' in a slightly sarcastic tone. Junior Cop didn't like this, turning around like Robocop this time and said 'excuse me?'. 'Er, nothing' I smiled. Anyway, apart from over zealous coppers, the Grand Canyon was amazing and rather large. The next day, we packed up early and rode to some of the empty viewpoints were we had our breakfast without hoards of other tourists.

Its quite Grand, this canyon

Bryce Canyon-In a word 'stunning'. The canyon is full of odd shaped pinacle-like rock formations. We saw it sunset so again the light was pretty good. We have camped at all the parks and at least this one (Ruby's Inn Campground) had a pool to get out the heat again. Lots of Harleys going about the place though but hey, this is the USA so we'd better get used to it. The next day, we did a little hike to see a rock that vaguely resembles Queen Victoria.

Bryce Canyon

Harleys- get used to em!

We then spent a few days in Moab, Utah where we also checked out Arches National Park, but it was really hot and busy. Lots of big stone arches as you'd expect though. Then it was Dead Horse Point Park which has a view to rival any at the Grand Canyon. A bit of bike work on the KLR was required so we used the facilities at Arrowhead. Moab is a bit of a meca for mountain biking and trail riding but the heat was ridiculous so we had to give it a miss, maybe further north though.

We stopped in a small place called Leadville in Colorado, where there's a great hostel - The owner, Wild Bill is a right character, originally from Mississippi and grew up being neighbours with BB King and is also pals with Bonnie Rait etc and blues music naturally flows from the kitchen stereo (check out the music on his 'menu' page). The town is located on the crossroads of the Continental Divide trail and the Trans-Am trail so its full of walkers including a couple of guys who were walking from Mexico to Canada. They'd already covered 900 miles in only 2 months so only about another 2,000 to go guys! When we arrived, we were greeted like old friends and even though it was pretty full, we were given a private bedroom downstairs. Wild Bill does a cracking 'all you can eat' dinner and breakfast which was just what we needed to fill the void left by the stomach stretching of Las Vegas. Leadville, being a former mining town is a facinating wee town too and Bill filled us in on some of the local legends and history. We were really sorry to be leaving only the next day as it would be easy to stay a lot longer!

The very friendly Leadville Hostel

From Leadville, it was an easy ride through some spectacular mountain scenery past Vale and Aspen ski resorts to Boulder, Colorado where we were staying with Chris and Erin Ratay who are legends in the overland biking comunity as they got into the Guiness Book of World Records for a team covering the longest distance on bikes (4 years and 101,000 miles). They were great hosts, putting us up in their beautiful home which as you'd expect, had a garage full of lovely motorbikes. We managed to get stuff sorted out, use their computer for internet (as its getting progressively harder to find any now), repair my leaking Thermarest sleep mat and naturaly, work on the bikes. Chris also showed me the correct technique of how to pick up a really heavy bike like mine on your own, so that only took me 8 months on the road to find that one out! We also managed a couple of nights out on the beers, although embarassingly, we were totaly out of practice!

Now watch and learn- the 'correct' bike lifting technique

Boozin' in Boulder

We stayed about 3 days with the Ratays, but it was time to push on to Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks to the north. Grand Teton was yet another very pretty place, in a valley banked by the Teton mountains with Moose and Bison running free. Nice. We got chatting to a group of Goldwing riders in the campsite and one of them gave me a shot on his 1800cc, 900lb machine. Having no insurance, I was slightly nervous as I think he liked guns a lot but I had nothing to fear. It was a bit unwieldly to ride round the campsite although very comfy. He was probably as relieved as I was when I brought it back in one piece! There are also bears in the area (something we'll need to get used to) so the campsites are equiped with Bear-proof boxes for storing food, water, kitchen utensils and even your toothpaste. Slightly paranoid, we filled ours to the brim with our smelly stuff (of which we have a lot) in the hopes that Yogi didn't feel the need to come knocking on our tent.

Then it was Yellowstone, which has a north and south 'loop' roads so we camped in the south to start with. Being a very organised place, the showers were about 2kms away from where we got a pitch and it cost $18 as we weren't allowed to camp in the Hiker/Biker section like we were in Teton which only cost us $5 to camp. The south loop contains a lot of smelly sulphorous pools and of course Old Faithful, which went off more or less on time but for some reason, the one just down the road seemed to be gushing for a lot longer and a tad more spectacularly, oh well! On the way back down the east side of the loop, the road went through a totally stunning valley complete with winding river and herds of Elk and Bison. Despite the bear warning signs, we still hadn't seen one and were getting worried that we weren't going to when we came across an 'animal jam', ie someone spots something from their car and jams on the brakes to take a look, then everybody else does the same. Anyway, assuming it was probably yet another bison or moose, we pulled over and parked up. Walking back up the road, we were relieved to find it was not one, but two black bears having a bit of a forage in the berry bushes down in the valley below. The ranger who had turned up to sort out the traffic warned that if the bears decided to start coming up the hill, we'd all need to leave but they pretty much followed the creek allowing us to get a decent look through the binoculars.

From Yellowstone, our route took us through Bozeman, and finally up to Glacier National Park at the far north of Montana. We weren't going to stop for the night in the park so we stuck to the Going to the Sun road which cuts past a stunningly clear lake where we just had to jump in to cool off. The road eventually starts climbing up the side of the mountians, giving incredible views over the valleys below, definitely one of the bestest roads on the trip. So after a final camp in St Mary's on the other side of the park, the next stop will be Canada, one of my favorite countries.

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