About a month prior to this trip, while riding around Northern California, I decided that I wanted to make another visit to Montana before the snow starts to fly. Linda was much too busy to take the time off, so I decided to take the BMW and cross a couple of "must see" roads off my list; the Steens Mountain Loop in Southeastern Oregon, Hell's Canyon in Northeastern Oregon, and the Lolo Motorway in Central Idaho. Also, as I planned my route, I spotted a few dirt roads that looked interesting and included them in my journey.
It was a great trip. The weather, which was a little iffy in the days preceding my departure, was perfect - clear, sunny skies and very little wind. I was able to find over 250 miles of dirt roads to play on and I’m gaining more respect for the BMW as it easily meets all challenges.
It's really amazing how much the road type influences what you see. On the freeway, hills and mountains are mowed down and draws and canyons are either filled in or bridged. Take any off-ramp and you're in McAmerica – Denny’s, Motel 6, Union 76 Fuel and convenience store and of course, there’s always a McDonald’s. On two-lane highways, things begin to look more interesting - you actually go through the towns. Although the homogenization of America is evident, there are some Mom & Pop facilities. On the county roads and backroads things get really interesting. These roads fit the terrain and travel through very small - and sometimes very old - towns. Getting food and lodging is a real adventure – most of the time you win; sometimes you lose big time. If you want to see what America used to be like, travel these minor roads.
I met a few interesting characters, as is usual. When you're traveling alone, people seem more inclined to approach than when you're traveling with someone. I never considered myself a people person, but I enjoy these contacts.
Day 1 – El Dorado Hills to Alturas
I got off to an early start - it was a fine day and already warm enough for me to wear my warm weather gear. This wouldn't last long - as I headed north past GrassValley, I gained elevation and soon I was into my cool weather gear. I may as well have left my warm weather gear at home - I never wore it again.
As I traveled the back roads north of GrassValley, I felt like I was in another time - there was virtually no traffic and no civilization between the small towns. Towns I'd never heard of: Brownsville, Challenge, Woodleaf, and Clipper Mills. What must life be like in these towns so far removed from the California most people think about? These towns feel like the small towns in Montana did 40 years ago. As I travel through each town, I wonder what it would be like to live there.
The mountainous areas in the Quincy area are quite scenic. I’m not sure why, but in our early explorations of Northern California, we completely overlooked this area until Bob & Donna invited us to accompany them on a weekend several years ago. As I motor through one spectacular view after another, I vow again to get up here more often.
North of Quincy, the mountainous terrain continues until things start to level off around Lake Almanor. Although not quite as spectacular as the scenery around Quincy, the drive continued to be very enjoyable. Instead of going through Susanville, I took a detour past Eagle Lake. On Eagle Lake Rd, there was some construction going on and I happened to be first in line for about a 20-minute wait. The flagman was a fellow around 60 and we spent the entire 20 minutes talking about being retired and motorcycle riding. I was almost disappointed when the pilot car returned to lead us through. When I reached the lake area, I stopped to eat my lunch at a BLM campground – spending an enjoyable 30 minutes taking in the beauty and silence.
Once I left the Eagle Lake area and continued towards Alturas, it soon occurred to me that I was in an entirely different kind of terrain. The land now had the feel of high desert plains. Although not flat by any means, the differences in elevation became less extreme and the transitions smoother.
As I approached Alturas, the sun was going down and the temperature was going with it. I motored through to the north end of town until I spotted a clean looking motel on the east side. Because of a few bad experiences with “mom & pop” motels, I usually stay at one of the brand name chains, but this one looked pretty good. It turned out to be good decision – the rates were reasonable and my room was clean and comfortable. After I got settled in, I drove to a restaurant the clerk recommended for dinner. I felt like I was the only out-of-towner in there. Everyone seemed to know one another and I spotted a few people looking at me with some curiosity.
Snapshots from Day 1
View from Laporte to Quincy Road
Day 2 – Alturas to Burns
I was a little anxious about today’s ride. From my GPS and GOOGLE Earth research, I couldn’t determine exactly what I would run into. It looked like about 60 to 80 miles of the road in the northwestern corner of Nevada might be dirt road. Actually, that’s why I selected that route – I could have stayed on the main highway and ensured pavement, but I was looking for a little adventure. All that notwithstanding, I’m always a little anxious in anticipation of unknown dirt roads – they can get exciting.
I was expecting to see my biggest adventure of the day later in the afternoon at the Steens Mountains, about 60 miles south of Burns, Oregon. I first heard of this area several years ago from Bob. Some friends of his had sent him photos of the area from a recent hunting trip. I have been through Burns many times and never noticed anything like what the photos showed. It looked like perfect country to explore by motorcycle and I added it to my list of “must see” areas to explore. My plan for this trip was to take a 60-mile dirt road that makes a loop out to the mountains from Highway 205. The web sites recommend this drive and warn only low cars about the road condition, so I wasn’t expecting anything too tough.
However, it was going to be a long day of riding with over 100 miles of dirt road, so I was up at 6:30 AM and out the door about 20 minutes later. I was greeted with a frost-covered motorcycle – the temperature was a lively 28°. I wasn’t too surprised since Alturas is at an elevation around 5,000 feet and it had been plenty cool the night before. I packed up the bike in the dark, fired it up, and headed for the restaurant where I had dinner the night before. By the time I finished eating, the sun was up and the road was beckoning.
As I headed east out of Alturas, the terrain was very flat as I expected. I was surprised to notice that I was soon climbing and the terrain was becoming more mountainous – I thought I’d be in a “high plateau” environment until I reached the mountains of Idaho. I was really surprised to see signs talking about ski areas and even more surprised to see signs warning that the road was closed to through traffic during winter – after all, I was on California State Highway 299 which I thought was a major route.
I eventually passed over Cedar Pass, elevation 6300 feet, and started to descend into the “high plateau” I was anticipating – as I lost elevation, the temperature started to warm up a little and I was very thankful for that. I can’t recall if Highway 299 ended at Cedarville, a small town at the bottom of the mountains, or at the Nevada border, about 10 miles further up the road – but end it did. At the Nevada border the pavement ended and I found myself on a nice, wide, gravel road called Highway 8a – it looked a lot like the views I’d seen on GOOGLE Earth.
I had a brief period of apprehension when my GPS told me to turn off on a small single-lane dirt road named Dugway Road. This road looked like it was going nowhere, and I didn’t remember seeing it on my route. It turns out to be a shortcut over a little mountain range – Highway 8a takes the long way around – and I really enjoyed the change. It was only about a mile long but it was fun. The road climbed up a couple hundred feet in the next quarter mile, then plunged about 500 feet to the plateau below where it met up with Highway 34, another good gravel road that would take me another 60 miles or so across the northwestern corner of Nevada and across the border into the small town of Adel, Oregon ………. and pavement. I really enjoyed traveling this dirt road. I was able to drive about 40 mph most of the way so it took only a couple of hours. Along the way I was treated to lots of interesting high-desert type terrain and vegetation. It was very lonely and quiet – Snapshots from this area. I didn’t see another person or vehicle until I pulled into the lone gas station at Adel.
The towns are so few and far between in this area that I was never sure where I would find a gas station so I decided to fuel up here – it was at least 100 miles to the next town and if there was no gas there, I couldn’t possibly make it to Burns. The thought of running out of gas on these lonely roads isn’t something I wanted to consider.
I stopped again for gas at the next town, Fields, Oregon. This town is also very small - not much more than a one-stop gas station, convenience store, restaurant, RV Park. There sure aren’t many people living in this part of the country.
Next stop – the Steens Mountain Loop! As I traveled up Highway 205 I kept looking off to the east attempting to see something that looked like mountains – no luck. When I turned off on the Steens Mountain Loop, I was again greeted with a wide, well-maintained, gravel road, and I headed east at a good clip. By now it was past 2:30 PM and I was glad to be making good time. I’ve found I can’t count on averaging more than about 15 mph on dirt roads and at that rate it would be dark before I reached Burns.
I continued to look for mountains to the east and, after about 10 miles, I could finally see something. Believe it or not, those hills dead ahead in the photo at right are nearly 10,000 feet in elevation. I continued on and eventually reached the bottom of these mountains and found a small campground with a surprising number of people enjoying the area. Up to this point I had seen only one SUV and I assumed I pretty much had the area to myself.
Once I left the campground, the road got narrow, rocky, and began to climb steeply. The drop-offs got my attention and I started to watch very carefully for oncoming traffic – did I say the road was very narrow?
I continued up and up and the summit never seemed to get closer – around every corner the only way to go was up. The views became more spectacular as I went higher. See the links below to see some of the views. After more than an hour, I still hadn’t reached the top and the road wasn’t getting any better. It was now close to 4:00 PM and the GPS said it was still 37 miles to the end of the loop. At this rate I couldn’t make it back to the highway before dark and I sure wasn’t going to chance getting stranded up here. I hadn’t seen a car since the campground. Also, the elevation was over 8,000 feet now and it was getting cold enough to be uncomfortable. I didn’t want to think about how cold it might be at night. Oh …… I forget to mention that a couple of hours earlier I noticed that my headlight was burned out. Remembering that discretion is the better part of valor, I decided to continue on until 4:30 PM, then turn around and make my way to the highway by the same route I’d come up.
A few miles further up the road, I came across a couple of guys with high-dollar cameras and tripods taking photos. As I drove up, one of them turned his camera on me and took a couple of shots. I pulled up, removed my helmet and greeted them. In the chit-chat that followed, they told me I’d miss a lot if I turned around – I hadn’t seen anything yet. According to them, the road improved near the summit and I would have no problem making the remaining 35 miles in a couple of hours. I took them at their word and I wasn’t disappointed. There were three spectacular views on the way up – I took a series of shots at each place and made them into panoramic views. At each point, I thought I was near the top – I didn’t reach it until the third viewpoint where the elevation was 9700 feet.
View 1 – It looks pretty high but this is the lower view
View 2 – A little higher
View 3 – Now THAT is a view
The road also improved as they said it would, and the rest of the ride was anticlimactic - I eventually pulled into Burns just as the sun was setting. It had been a good day’s ride! A few more snapshots of the area.
Day 3 – Burns, Oregon to Clarkston, Idaho
Via Hells Canyon
It looked like another long day of riding, so I got up early and was off at first light. It was very cool in Burns and, as I headed north and gained some elevation, it got really cold. There were some puddles alongside the road from rain the previous day – they were all iced over and I was a little concerned about black ice in some of the shady areas. After about 50 miles, my legs were numb and I was kicking my butt that I hadn’t packed my long johns. Thankfully, the sun got warmer as it rose higher and the road started to descend into the town of John Day, Oregon. As I cruised through town, I spotted a clothing store and had a brilliant idea. I parked the bike, walked into the store with $7.95, and walked out wearing my new long johns – I must say they really felt good.
Today’s feature is Hells Canyon. I’ve read many things about Hells Canyon, the deepest river gorge in North America – deeper than Grand Canyon. Linda and I once saw a sign near Riggins, Idaho that pointed to Seven Devils and Hells Canyon and decided to check it out on our Gold Wing. I asked one of the locals about the road while we were gassing up and he said we’d be making a big mistake unless we had a good four-wheel drive - so we chickened out. I made a mental note at the time that someday I wanted to check it out.
Although the best views of Hells Canyon are supposed to be from the Seven Devils area, I decided to see what Hells Canyon looked like from the Oregon side. I’d been through Idaho on Highway 95 at least a dozen times, but I’d never seen what Oregon looks like north of Burns.
I wasn’t sure of the roads through the Hells Canyon area. Some of the descriptions were a little cryptic and I wasn’t even 100% sure the roads I picked went all the way through from Hells Canyon to Lewiston. Since I didn’t have a headlight, I wanted to give myself plenty of time, so I kept pushing on until I arrived in the Hells Canyon area around noon. After taking a break for lunch, I proceeded on Forest Road 39 which, according to my GPS, went entirely through the Hells Canyon Recreation area and continued through to Joseph, Oregon. From Joseph, it was less than 100 miles to Lewiston. My concern was that Forest Road 39 might not go all the way through or it may be impassable due to some weather in the area a couple of days earlier. If I couldn’t get through, I’d have to backtrack and add another day to my trip. I needn’t have worried. It turns out that Forest Road 39 is paved, in good shape, and goes all the way to Joseph. In fact, it was almost boring – just another good road with spectacular scenery.
Unfortunately, it afforded a somewhat less than spectacular look at Hells Canyon. I could find only one view worth photographing. I’m not crossing Hells Canyon off my “must see” list yet – next time I plan to check out the Seven Devils area from Riggins, Idaho.
When it become obvious that Forest Road 39 was going to be routine, I decided to hurry it along so I could reach the BMW dealer in Clarkston before closing time. I was getting tired of worrying about getting caught out in the dark and wanted to get my headlight replaced.
After leaving the Hells Canyon area, the road descends into a large, green valley. The small towns of Joseph and Enterprise in the south end of the valley are very picturesque - framed by green fields and snow-capped mountains. I thought this is what the Bitterroot must have looked like before it started to fill up with people.
Heading north from Enterprise, Highway 3 soon runs parallel to a huge, canyon similar to Hells Canyon, but somewhat smaller. I’m not a geology major so the following is just what it looks like to me. The mountains look pretty high and probably are 8,000 to 10,000 feet. The valleys and general lay of the land are fairly high with elevations in the range of 4,000 to 5,000 feet. The canyons are huge and probably a couple of thousand feet lower. For the most part, the highway runs along the high ground about 4,000 feet high. Soon after entering Washington, however, the highway crosses a series of these canyons and plunges to the bottom – my GPS recorded an elevation of 1300 feet at one point. Within about 20 miles it climbed back up out of the canyon and then began a more gradual descent into the Clarkston/Lewiston area. This was a very spectacular stretch of road – and quite fun, I might add.
It looked like I was going to hit the BMW dealer before closing time. It was about 4:00 PM and I was only 25 miles out. Just as that thought went through my mind, I spotted a fellow at the side of the road, tinkering with his motorcycle. This is pretty desolate country, so I stopped to see if he needed assistance. It turns out that he had a fuel leak and had just completed a field repair. He was riding a late model BMW – I’m not sure of the model – and the fuel leak was under pressure. He didn’t know how long it had been leaking and was concerned about his fuel supply. I offered to follow him into Clarkston to make sure he didn’t get stranded. His field repair did the job and after about a mile, he gave me a thumbs up. I must say, the entrance into Clarkston is one of the best rides I’ve ever had. The highway plunges at least a couple of thousand feet and the highway sweeps down and around in a series of perfectly engineered curves and switchbacks. This guy seemed to know the road and led the way at a very brisk pace. With him leading the way, I was able to travel much faster than I would have by myself and I’ll remember that ride for a long time.
At the bottom, elevation 1200 feet, he pulled into a parking lot and I pulled in alongside. He told me he lived only a few miles away and offered me dinner and a place to stay for the night. I kind of regret not taking him up on it, but I didn’t. I sometimes wonder why I’m so anti-social.
It was only a few miles to the BMW dealer and I made it with 15 minutes to spare. They had a bulb for my headlight and I was glad to get that fixed.
The motel I planned to stay in turned out to be almost next door to the BMW dealer. It was a Quality Inn Conference Center sitting at the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. It looked a little pricey and, when the desk clerk told me they had only Jacuzzi suites left, I was ready to leave for more economical accommodations. I asked about discounts (why not?) and he said he’d see what he could do. He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse – king bed, suite with couch and easy chairs, 36-inch TV, refrigerator, microwave, and a Jacuzzi - $80. I’ve stayed in fleabags and paid more. In addition, there was a nice swimming pool right outside my sliding glass doors, and some nice looking ladies lounging in the area. Did I mention that it was very warm in Clarkston – about 85° and sunny with no breeze? Quite a change from the 60s at higher elevations.
There was also a nice restaurant on the premises, and a full breakfast – any on the menu - was included in the price of the room. It was a really nice facility and I spent an hour or so enjoying the amenities before having dinner. After dinner I soaked in the Jacuzzi for about 30 minutes and then crashed. Tomorrow I would encounter the Lolo Waterway, which figured to be my big adventure of the trip. I’ve read volumes about it and still didn’t know exactly what to expect.
Day 4 – Clarkston, Idaho to Ken& Sharon’s House
Via the Lolo Motorway
I’ve heard and read stories about the Lolo Motorway for years. According to the Forest Service Web site, the Lolo Trail is an ancient Indian route that provided the people who lived on the Columbia Plateau access to the buffalo on the Great Plains and provided access to the salmon-rich rivers of the west to the people who lived on the Great Plains. Lewis and Clark used this route in their historic journey, and Chief Joseph traveled this way with his people in their famous flight from the US Army. In the 1930s, the CCC scratched out a primitive road along part of this trail – this road is known as the Lolo Motorway.
I’ve traveled the general route over Lolo Pass and down the Clearwater River many, many times. Highway 12 is a well-known motorcycle road and is famous for this sign which has been photographed by many a motorcyclist and published in many journals. Every time I drive this road, I look off to the north and wonder where the Lolo Motorway could be – it looks very rugged out there.
Normally, I wouldn’t worry much about being able to navigate this road. I’ve read several accounts of motorcycles making the journey and nobody has ever mentioned having any difficulty. My only real concern was that I might be a little late in the year – the week prior a storm passed through the area and dropped some snow at higher elevations. It seemed possible that some of it might still be around. Also, it seemed possible that a slide or slipout may be blocking access – there might be a fallen tree I’d have to get around.
No matter how I sliced it, I was going to have to travel about 120 miles on dirt roads and I’ve learned that it’s not realistic to expect average speeds much greater than 15 mph over any stretch of dirt road. At that rate I’d be out there around eight hours and this time of year there is only about 13 hours of daylight. An early start seemed smart.
I was the first customer in the restaurant and I was on the road at first light. I ran into my first dirt road around 10:00 AM and the official start of the Lolo Motorway around 11:00 AM – plenty of time to navigate the remaining 75 miles before dark. I called Linda on my handy-dandy satellite phone and told her where I was and asked her to call the local sheriff if I didn’t check in again before dark. This stretch of road is very remote and I didn’t want to chance getting stranded overnight if there was a problem.
Only one problem. The Lolo Motorway officially starts at a junction of four dirt roads. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure how it happened, I happily took off down the wrong road. Although my GPS kept telling me to turn around, I continued on for almost an hour before finally deciding I was lost. The road was so wide and in such good condition, I kept wondering when the adventure was going to start. After a while, I began to think this ride was highly over-rated. Finally, I saw a sign that said Highway 12 was 20 miles ahead – this couldn’t be right. Highway 12 should have been over 50 miles away. At this point it dawned on me that I probably took the wrong road at the junction. I briefly thought “to hell with it, I’ll just go the 20 miles to the highway and call it a day”. This thought didn’t last long – I’d been thinking about this trip for years and I wasn’t going to give it up. I turned around and headed back. When I reached the junction again, and studied the situation, I quickly verified that I had indeed taken the wrong road. By now it was coming up on 1:00 PM leaving me a little over six hours of daylight to traverse the trail. It was 73 miles and I figured I could average 12 miles per hour so I decided to go for it. I called Linda again, told her about my screw-up and told her I’d call again when I hit the highway – I told her not to worry until after 10:00 PM.
So much for wide, well-maintained gravel road. I immediately found myself on a narrow, single-lane road with no gravel – only dirt and rocks. For the most part, it was pretty good with a few rocky portions on some of the steeper grades. During the early part of the trip there was not much view – the trees lined both sides of the road and blocked what view there was. I didn’t even see a place to pull over and take a look. Eventually, though, I did see plenty of views. The road travels the tops of the ridges, dipping down once in a while, then back up to get from ridge top to ridge top and continue the east-west direction. The road stays fairly high, never getting below 5,000 feet, and sometimes getting close to 7,000 feet. At the higher elevations, there was still some snow from the earlier storm, but the road was clear – if a little muddy in places.
Some Snapshots of the Lolo Motorway
Lolo Motorway Panorama
Around 3:00 PM, I stopped to take a break and have some lunch. As I sat there enjoying the solitude, I heard a vehicle approaching – the first sign of human activity I’d seen since I gassed up in Kamiah. A fellow in an SUV pulled up and we started to chit-chat about the great day and the trail. He was all by himself – he said he had a camp a few miles ahead and he was just out looking around. He said he hadn’t seen anyone but me on the trail for the past couple of days and he was enjoying the quiet. After a bit, he took off and I finished my lunch. I figured to catch up with him pretty quick and hoped I wouldn’t have any trouble getting around him. I needn’t have worried – about 15 minutes down the road, there he was, camera in hand, taking pictures of me as I drove on by his camp.
The rest of the trip was uneventful. I saw lots of scenery, but I was damn glad to hit the highway. The first couple of hours were fun ………. Eventually though, it was just a lot of work herding that bike over the road.
Strangely, I didn’t see a single living thing out there except insects and a couple of birds. No squirrels, no chipmunks, no snakes, no deer, no bears …. Nothing. I guess I made too much noise. In California on roads like this, there are rodents of all kinds trying to commit suicide-by-motorcycle and deer are a constant concern. Maybe the critters in Idaho are smarter.
I made it pretty much on schedule. I think I hit the highway about 6:30 PM with plenty of daylight left. I tried to call Linda but couldn’t get a signal in the canyon. I continued on to the top of Lolo Pass where I was able to reach her and tell her I was OK. I told her I’d call again when I arrived at Ken and Sharon’s place.
When I pulled in to Ken’s and Sharon’s place it was shortly after dark – getting close to 8:00 PM. Sharon, the great hostess that she is, had a huge roast beef dinner waiting in the oven – man was that good. I hadn’t eaten anything of substance since breakfast, and I was starving. I was having such a good time stuffing my face and exchanging war stories that I forgot my promise to call Linda – when the phone rang, I remembered. Linda got very worried when I didn’t check in and finally had to see what was up. I felt like a real scumbag……………
I didn’t get much time to visit with Ken – he had to be in bed before 10:00 PM so he could get up about 4:00 to pick up a load. I went to bed early too – I was a tired boy.
Day 5 and 6 – Ken & Sharon’s House to Hamilton
Hanging with the Family
Sharon went into work a couple of hours later than usual and I was able to share a cup of coffee with her. Ken was long gone. After Sharon left for work, I fixed myself a couple of eggs, enjoyed the view from their really quite terrific house, packed up and headed towards Hamilton. I took the East Side Highway from Florence and took my time cruising down the familiar roads. I took a drive through the Metcalf Wildlife Refuge north of Stevensville and saw a few eagles – quiet, peaceful and quite scenic with the fall colors.
I don’t remember what time I pulled into Dad’s driveway, but I’d guess around noon. I spent some time visiting with Dad and Paul, then called Jay and Sandi to let them know I was in town.
I spent the next few days relaxing around Hamilton and visiting with the various folks. We solved many of the world’s problems over breakfast and dinner at the 4B’s Café and the Coffee Cup Café. We got a little loud sometimes and I could see a few glances from worried patrons. I must say that all of us kids have rather extreme views and sometimes it seems easier just to kill everyone who disagrees with us – I would guess that at least once in every conversation someone expresses that view.
I stayed at the local Day’s Inn. Various people always offer to put me up, but I find it more convenient to hit a motel. It gives me a little more freedom to come and go, I can indulge in my gross habits, run around naked at night, and let my stuff fill up the room. Anyway …………
The first night, as I was unloading my junk and moving into my motel room, a couple of fellows approached me and introduced themselves. They were both in their 50s and also on motorcycles. They were from Texas. It seems that some years ago, they met at a business conference of some kind in Salt Lake City. During a coffee break they discovered their mutual interest in motorcycles and decided to rent a couple of bikes and take a short tour. They were so impressed with the west that the following year they decided to do the same thing – fly up to Salt Lake City, rent motorcycles, and take a short drive. In the following years, the drives got longer and eventually they were taking a two-week tour each year. This year, one of them had a Harley and the other a BMW K1200 LT. I guess part of the game is to try out various bikes – I don’t recall what kinds of bikes they owned. We spent about an hour talking about the relative plusses and minuses of a variety of bikes and telling war stories about our travels. Eventually, it started getting too cold outside and we all went our separate ways. I must say it again – I really enjoy these encounters with all types of people. These guys looked like very prosperous businessmen – CEO types. I’ve had the same conversation with rednecks in pickups, kids on their crotch rockets, young family men on their ten-year-old bikes, old retired guys on Gold Wings, and biker dudes on their Harleys. It’s funny how so many types of people share this common passion.
I never like to overstay my welcome, so bright and early (not too early) on the third day, I headed back for home.
Day 7 – Hamilton, Montana to Arco, Idaho
My “get out of town” ritual consists of breakfast with Dad, Paul and Jay. Sandi, Pete, and Janie all have to work and seldom are able to make it. After breakfast, we say our good-byes in the parking lot and I’m on my way – usually about 11:00 AM. This time was no different.
I thought I’d take a little more direct way home – I was actually getting a little homesick. I had no adventures planned – just a different way to Arco, then a round-about route to Wells. From Wells, I planned to shoot home via Interstate 80.
The trip to Arco was routine – the weather remained perfect and the roads were just as good. I saw a lot of fall colors and took lots of photos. Instead of going down the Salmon River south of Salmon, which is my usual route, I took Highway 28 toward Mudd Lake, and then cut across Highway 22 to Arco.
Not too far south of Salmon, I spotted a signboard that described some charcoal kilns built in the 1880s to supply fuel for a nearby smelter that had been built to process ore from the Viola Mine. Four of the original 16 kilns remain standing today. I decided to take the self-guided tour and headed off down a dirt road. It was kind of surreal standing by these 120-year-old artifacts. In 1889 there was a city across the valley named Nicholia with a population of over 1500 people. The entire valley is now deserted – it’s hard to imagine that all that activity was going on here. Only these four, crumbling structures remain. A lot can happen in a hundred years.
This route to Arco is actually shorter than my standard route down Highway 93 and I arrived in Arco fairly early. I checked into a motel – I can recommend the DK Motel – went to a local grocery store and bought a pocket book. After eating dinner at Pickle’s Place, I read the book by the light of the first nuclear power plant in the world. Arco was the first town in the world to be powered solely by nuclear-generated electricity. So maybe the first plant isn’t still producing power – maybe it is, I don’t know.
Snapshots taken along the way to Arco
Day 8 – Arco, Idaho to Elko, Nevada
Again, I was brushing my teeth before the sun was up. I planned to take the long way to Wells by heading toward Salt Lake City before cutting to the west on county roads around the west side of the salt flats - adding about 100 miles to the trip. Still it was only about 320 miles to Wells, but I wasn’t sure about the roads and I wanted to get as far as possible today so I could make my final day a little easier.
It was chilly when I started to pack my bike but there was no frost – it was too windy and dry. As I walked over to Pickle’s Place for breakfast, I was thankful for my long johns – the past three days' temperatures had been balmy and I had reverted back to my ordinary California underwear.
I finally found out where all the Idaho potatoes come from. In all my travels through Idaho, I’ve never seen enough potato farming to justify all of Idaho’s horn blowing. Today I finally saw it. Hwy 39 from Blackfoot through Aberdeen around the back side of the American Falls Reservoir was filled with potato trucks running in both directions. The heavy activity continued until I hit Interstate 84 at American Falls. I was able to stay off the freeway by taking a frontage road to Hwy 37 and continued my journey south. From here, the agriculture thinned out, although it looks pretty green around a few farms along the way.
I was enjoying my ride so much I forgot how far it can be between fueling stations. I passed up an opportunity in American Falls and another in Rockland because the signs were telling of a couple of other towns - Stone and Snowville - a little farther down the road.
When I passed through Stone and found no gas, I began to get a little worried. If I couldn’t find gas at Snowville, I was in a little trouble – I had only enough gas to go about 50 more miles. If there was nothing in Snowville I was going to have to get on the interstate, head for Salt Lake City, and hope I ran into civilization. When I pulled into Snowville, I was happy to see a part of McAmerica built at the interchange – gas station, restaurant, and store. I gassed up, had myself a cup of coffee and continued on.
The rest of the journey to Wells was routine. I enjoy the lonely, desert roads almost as much as the mountain roads, although opportunities for photos don’t seem to present themselves. This shot is the only photo I took after I left Arco.
After leaving Snowville, I picked up Highway 30 which led me across the vast emptiness to Wells. Actually, I did have a little adventure along the way – I almost forgot it. About 50 miles from Interstate 80, I decided to stop and have a drink of water – it was actually quite warm. I pulled over at a wide spot, opened my trunk in the back, and picked up my water bottle – it was empty. Since it was nearly full a couple of hours earlier, I was really surprised - a minor disaster. I quickly emptied my trunk and scoped out the damages. My BMW user’s manual was toast. Luckily my registration stuff was in a baggie and OK. My tool bag was soaked along with my first aid kit. I had a lot of stuff in there that doesn’t like water – flashlight, voltmeter, movie camera, electric tire pump, PDA, spare batteries for all my electronic toys. Luckily it was all sitting on top of the toolkits and other bags and was only damp. I spread everything out to dry and decided I’d take a break for about 30 minutes. After a while, I remembered how thirsty I was and dug out some canned fruit, my last four-ounce can. Then I started to fret a little. This was a desolate road and I hadn’t seen a car in either direction since I left Snowville about 75 miles back and I still had about 50 miles to go. I got a little paranoid thinking about all the bad things that can happen in the desert to idiots without water.
I needn’t have worried. It didn’t take too long before things dried out and I was reloaded and back on the road. In about an hour, I was at the Four Way Café in Wells gulping down a large iced tea.
It was still fairly early, so I continued on to Elko, which is an easy one day’s ride to home.
Day 8 – Elko to Home
Up at 7:00 AM, quick breakfast at the motel, hit the freeway, zoom home, run into the house, grab Linda and give her a big hug and a kiss. IT’S GOOD TO BE HOME, SAFE AND SOUND.
The last few years, I’m always a little surprised when I finally arrive home from a long trip. Before every trip, I seem to have a premonition that this is the trip I’m going to crash – I realize these feelings are totally irrational and go anyway. Still, it’s hard to shake completely and it’s always in the back of my mind. An old motorcyclist told me years ago: “When you stop being afraid of them, it’s time to quit riding them.” I’m here to tell you that I’m still afraid of them.
Next motorcycle trip - Georgia barrier islands in May 2007.
I shot hundreds of photographs on this trip. I selected what I consider the best ones and organized them into a series of photo albums - Click Here to see them.
At some of the more spectacular views, I shot many overlapping photos and stitched them together into Panoramas. You can see them by Clicking Here.