8 days of Utah, Colorado and a little New Mexico

The #8WireMotoventures Blog covers motorcycle adventures, both on and off-road throughout the western United States, with route information, some amenity information and highway/off-road route recommendations. From dirtbag camping through 5 star luxury resorts, we will try to cover it all. Additionally there will be one gear review per month.

All words and pics by Colin Cornberg unless stated.

 

Christina and I decided to escape our incredibly slowly approaching summer and dip south for an 8 day moto-camping trip. We drove the van south and parked it in Santaquin, UT about an hour south of SLC. We rode two-up on the 1982 KZ1100 ‘Cowasaki” I had just built, with a minimal gear list including sleeping bags, a tarp, one change of clothes, an msr stove, some tools and a little food. The trip itinerary went like this; note that the mileages below are not actual including finding campsites, taking a wrong turn, or any scenic distractions…

Day 1 April 23rd Santaquin, UT to Bryce Canyon National Park, UT 210 miles

Day 2 Bryce Canyon national Park, UT to Goose Necks State Park, Mexican Hat, UT 305 miles

Day 3 Goose Necks State Park, Mexican Hat, UT to Pagosa Springs, CO 205 miles

Day 4 Pagosa Springs, CO to Vermejo Park Ranch, Raton, NM 262 miles

Day 5 Experiencing Vermejo Park Ranch

Day 6 Vermejo Park Ranch, Raton, NM to Montrose, CO 338 miles

Day 7 Montrose, CO to Moab, UT 161 miles

Day 8 Moab, UT to Santaquin, UT 196 miles, Then back to Montana in the van

With our hearts set on a warm week of riding, we were off from Santaquin on a windy but warm day, temps were in the 60s and we were happy to be in the sun. Riding below 3500rpm all day with the freshly rebuilt engine with only 100 miles on it, we took it easy, cruising 2-lane road the entire way to Bryce Canyon. It was a Sunday in Utah, so we found a couple much-needed gas stations closed, but still made it to Ruby’s Inn at Bryce with about 5 miles of gas left. We found a campsite in the park’s North Campground and hiked a small portion of the rim trail before dinner and shared a campfire with our neighbors. As with any motorcycle trip, we were already wishing we had more time to soak up the sights.

A gorgeous glimpse of UT 95 

A gorgeous glimpse of UT 95 

 

The next morning started off with coffee, breakfast and phone charging at Ruby’s inn. Both the coffee and food were below average but with limited options we were happy to inside out of the cold. The ride from Bryce through Escalante and Capitol Reef on highway 12 is one of the best motorcycle roads I’ve ever ridden, highly recommended! We got high up around 10,000ft over a couple sections, and things got cold, but the stunning scenery kept it real. Heading south on 95 to Mexican hat via lake Powell and the Moki Dugway was also and amazing ride.  The Moki Dugway lives up to its reputation; insane drop-offs, breathtaking views, plenty of braking holes and me wishing were sending it up hill instead of down. That being said, the 1982 KZ1100 street bike with Michelin Commander II street tires handled it just fine.

Descending the Moki Dugway

Descending the Moki Dugway

There are two different restaraunts in Mexican Hat, but only one that serves liquor, The ‘Olde Bridge Café Grill’. Since it was my birthday, we headed to the grille for margaritas.  Camping at the nearby Goose Necks State Park is always wild. The canyon of the San Juan River drops thousands of feet to the river, as close as 50 feet from your campsite. However, this time the wildest part was the wind, causing sand to be blown into our sleeping bags all night. You can’t have it all, all of the time.

We woke to the spatter of raindrops and sinking hearts. We got breakfast at Duke’s, which is a strange but decent,  very modern and well kept, middle-of-nowhere 3 star hotel/restaurant.

Monsoon Conditions on UT 162

Monsoon Conditions on UT 162

From Bluff, UT to Cortez, CO we got soaked. When you don't take rain gear, you will need it. After a quick Walmart parking lot oil-change and Laundromat stop in Cortez we pushed on. We rode past Green Mesa National Park through the beautiful southwest Colorado high desert and climbed up in the alpine town of Pagosa Springs, CO.

We were cold and didn’t want to sleep in another sandstorm, not to mention that it was going to be below freezing in Pagosa springs that night, so we got a room at the Pinewood inn. If you are after a clean and inexpensive room in Pagosa Springs that is motorcycle friendly, The Pinewood inn does the job. While in a town named after a hot spring we thought we should soak. So we splurged and got passes to ‘Pagosa Hot Springs’. There are a few different places to soak in town. Although our pick had the most pools and maybe nicest facilities, the customer service was seriously lacking and the pricing was a little out of control.

Christina was after a good ‘Old-Fashioned’, so after a quick google search we were at the ‘Alley House Grille’. The Alley House just opened 6 weeks prior to our arrival and surprised us with the level of class and quality of food, beverages and service. With Entrees priced from $20-$50 we found ourselves splitting a delicious beer-sourdough based Margherita Pizza and sipping on some of the best 'Old-Fashioned' cocktails we had ever had. Thumbs up to the ‘Alley House Grille’ in Pagosa Springs, CO.

Heading up Wolf Cr. Pass CO

Heading up Wolf Cr. Pass CO

The next morning we were almost immediately up and over the 11,000ft Wolf Creek Pass, climbing 5000ft from Pagosa Springs, this road is a dream. We just wished it were warmer. Late April is probably a little early in the year for that kind of elevation. Through southeastern Colorado, which is largely agricultural land but with a couple more passes taking us above 9000ft we made it to I-25 and down to Raton, NM. From Raton we headed west, on a county road for 5 miles and then on the property of the Vermejo Park Ranch for another 44 miles until we reached the ‘Headquarters’.

While I make ends meet living in Philipsburg, Montana by building and fixing motorcycles, doing welding/fabrication work and helping out at the local brewery, Christina works at the local luxury resort, The Ranch At Rock Creek. As a member of the National Geographic society of Unique Lodges, the Relaix and Châteaux family of 5 star properties and known as being the most expensive hotel in the US, The Ranch at Rock Creek has luxury experiential-travel dialled in. In short, we had a friend who was now working at The Vermejo Park Ranch, which enabled us to stay there for two nights and experience a small part of what the 590,000 acre property has to offer.

Sun sets over 590,000 acres of Vermejo Park Ranch, NM

Sun sets over 590,000 acres of Vermejo Park Ranch, NM

The history of The Vermejo Park Ranch is fascinating, in short it is now being the largest contiguous piece of privately owned land in the lower 48. Owned by Ted Turner, and being the flagship property of Turner Expeditions, the Ranch has an incredible focus on sustainability, environmental restoration and sustainable guest activities. With amazing views, wildlife, century old luxury accommodations, great atmosphere and friendly service, The Vermejo Park Ranch is sure to make it’s way to top tier of Luxury experiential-travel as it enters into that market. Our two nights and full day off the bike, spent hiking and seeing the sights was an amazing experience we won’t forget any time soon.

After Vermejo, out plan was to continue south through Taos and across New Mexico back to Utah, trying to stay low and warm. A sudden weather system delivering rain and snow to almost of the state changed these plans. We had to hustle to get out of the weather. We rode North to Walsenberg, CO then took highway 69 to the beautiful canyon town of Cotopaxi and then west on highway 50 to Montrose, CO. As we neared Monarch Pass, it was apparent we were going to get wet and or cold. As we hit 10,000ft it began to snow, all the way up to the 11,300ft summit and down to the valley on the other side. Only hitting one patch of black ice near the summit, we made it to Gunnisson, CO where we got warm and fed at ‘Gunnisack bar and grill’. The afternoon through the Black Canyon area to Montrose was another insane stretch of highway with hand-dragging corners and perfect asphalt. When in Montrose, be sure to grab a beverage at the ‘Town Hall Tavern’ and/or grab a slice of surprisingly great pizza from ‘Colorado Boy’, which is on the same block.

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Highway 128 between I-70 and Moab Photo: C Wernikowski

Highway 128 between I-70 and Moab Photo: C Wernikowski

After a relatively long and cold day on the cycle, we elected to get a room in Montrose. The Quality inn was clean, inexpensive and had a hot tub. In the morning we were glad we hadn’t camped with 2 inches of snow on the motorcycle. We waited for things to dry out a little and were on the road to Moab via Grand Junction, I-70 and then the cut off via the ghost-town of Cisco, UT and Highway 128. If you are heading to Moab from the east, definitely take this option, highway 128 was one of the better roads of the trip. After fuelling up in Moab, we headed to Arches national park, went for a hike and rode through most of the park. Finding a campsite that night was difficult with the Moab Car show being on the same day. We ended up sleeping under the tarp in the parking lot of an overflow campground along the banks of the Colorado river, actually a pretty scenic camp spot!

Carpark camping on the Colorado river Moab, UT

Carpark camping on the Colorado river Moab, UT

The final day we had a great breakfast in Moab at the ‘Love muffin café’ and rode north to I-70 and east on highway 6, up and over Soldier Summit and back to the van in Santaquin, and home to Montana. Every moto-camping trip has its stories and lessons. This one was pretty trouble free. The ‘take-aways’ from this one were to always have rain-gear, don’t try to drink coffee inside the ‘Loco’ gas station in Grand Junction, pay more attention to elevation with route planning and that two-up trips are a lot more fun than some would expect!

Recomended routes from this trip are the following:

UT-12 from Bryce to Torrey, UT-95 From Hanksville to JCT 26

UT-261 south to Mexican Hat including the Moki Dugway

UT-128 from Cisco to Moab

CO-160 from Bayfield to South Fork including Wolf Cr. Pass,

CO-50 from Texas Creek to Montrose including Monarch Pass and the Curecanti National rec. area.