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Dan Hughes

Moto Trip Report: Part 1. The Most Beautiful Road in America

The Motorcycle God of Wanderlust and the Goddess of Natural Wonders made me do it.

Mary, the love of my life, and the best lover ever in my life, insisted that this road trip be one for me; go slow, go fast, go where I want to, eat what, where and when I want to, stay in any motel that I want to. As usual there are no reservations and no destinations decided in advance. Look at the Real-Time Road Trip Planner and decide which of the Small-Line Roads to check out. Get to an intersection and decide which road to take. Follow the twisty roads, stop and smell the roses, take in the deep blue skies and fluffy white clouds. There was no other plan. The best Moto Road Trips don’t have Plans.

It was a most excellent Moto Road Trip. About eight weeks with every day spent in Biker Trash Paradise. Rode roads, ran roads, and toured for about 12,000 miles (19,000 km) in Western and Northwestern United States. Saw some beautiful and wondrous sights and met some interesting people. I hope do be able to do lots more of this 🙂

The narrow twisty two-lane roads are disappearing all over America. I think all these Economic Stimulus Packages are fundamentally the problem; straighten those twisty curves, flatten those hills, cut and fill to the max, and spend that Stimulus Money. We’ve got to use the few remaining narrow twisty roads while we have the opportunity. I saw lots of road construction on this trip. And I rode highly proved-up wide smooth straight flat roads where they used to not be. It’s a sad sad situation. This post is about a couple of more-or-less narrow twisty roads that need to be checked out before they, too, are gone.

I kept a pretty good journal on this trip because I was sending reports back home to Mary. I’m going to post up a couple of excerpts that focus on just a couple of the better roads that I toured.

I have some very good photographs taken throughout the tour. Let me know and I’ll e-mail you some. I also have the journal and photos in a Web site on a CD. Let me know and I’ll send you a copy.

The Most Beautiful Road in America
Many years ago Charles Kuralt declared highway US 12 running over Beartooth Pass between Cooke City, Wyoming and Red Lodge, Montana was the most beautiful road in America. I’ve ridden the road many times and for many years I thought he was correct. Especially when a few miles are spent also in Yellowstone national Park. And the road from the top of the pass down to Red Lodge was recently greatly improved making the ride even better.

And what makes the ride even more better is that the State of Wyoming completed route WY 296 over Dead Indian Pass and through Sunlight Basin to intersect US 212 just East of Cooke City. An expensive bridge-building project was the final hurdle and was successfully overcome. If you do a little planning you can ride through parts of Yellowstone National Park, through the East Entrance, a most beautiful ride in itself, catch WY 296 North of Cody Wyoming and then ride US 212 into Red Lodge. That’s what I did ! Its hard to beat this combination for great roads, wondrous sights and natural beauty. A day in Biker Trash Paradise that you’ll never forget. I can’t begin to properly describe this day.

WY 296 US 212 and Beartooth Pass
Thursday August 28: to Red Lodge MT.
Well, today was maybe the very best day in this series of Biker Trash Paradise days. From West Yellowstone to Red Lodge. I landed early yesterday in West Yellowstone due to the weather; cool, cloudy, and very very windy. The biggest winds I’ve experienced in a long time. Plus, I had to do my laundry.

The weather today was just about perfect. Cool this morning, clear deep blue sky, no wind, and a few puffy white clouds appearing in the afternoon. Opposite from yesterday in every way.

I putt-putted through parts of Yellowstone National Park in order to get to the good roads. The objective roads today were WY 296, the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, and US 212, the Beartooth Pass road. I got a bonus in US 14 / 16 / 20 (yep, the very same US 20) from the East gate of the park to Cody, WY. And the last stretch of road inside the park, but the speed limit there is kind of low. The last stretch in the park and 14 / 16 / 20 drop from high altitude down into the Shoshone River Valley into Cody. A beautiful ride for miles and miles. A very smooth and wide road with wide sweepers. Not much traffic anywhere today, either, making for a hassle-free moto tour. There’s a big fire out in the boonies away from Cody. The smoke seems to be blowing East and did not interfere with my viewscape.

The road North out of Cody heads downhill for several miles to the intersection with WY 296. I’m now thinking that WY 296, along with US 12, the North Cascades Highway, and US 212 are certainly in the top five of the most beautiful roads in American. US 14 / 16 / 20 will be in that list, too, in my opinion.

WY 296 starts uphill to Dead Indian Pass before dropping down to the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River and the Sunlight Basin. I have photos from the pass and a few down in the valley. As usual, it is impossible to capture the scale of the mountains and valleys in a photo. The big mountains that you see with your eyes almost fade into the horizon in a picture.

Another wide smooth highly proved-up road. But this one has tight turns as well as wide sweepers. I was tempted to turn around and ride it again and bypass the Beartooth Pass, but maybe another time. It’s interesting that riding a road in the other direction is almost like riding a different road. As you approach the intersection with US 212, you get good views of the beartooth for which the highway is named.

US 212 also starts uphill for the pass at close to 11,000 feet. There’s not much I can say that I haven’t already said several times. A beautiful ride of the first magnitude. I have some photos and I’ll try to send a few.

I ran across a mighty fine motel in Red Lodge this afternoon. The Alpine Motel is local and small and very very clean. Nice really large rooms. I mean really big. No microwave, but coffee maker. The latter is a Life Necessity and since Mary and I carry our own coffee, it’ll be a great early morning tomorrow. The real kicker, however, will be breakfast. It will be prepared and served outdoors. And it’ll be an actual cooked breakfast; not one of those faux ‘continental’ thingys. The place has cabins with kitchenette. Mary and I will park here for a couple of days on our next Moto Road Trip.

All together made another perfect day in paradise.

The North Cascades
Monday August 11: to Concrete WA
Today I landed in Concrete WA; named for all the cement that was produced here to make all the hydro-electric dams around, including for The Grand Coulee Dam. It’s another Biker Trash Grade motel. The major feature of this one is the very small shower. The smallest I’ve seen since Tuggles Gap, VA back in 2003 or 2004. There is one major difference between this one and Tuggles Gap. This one is not covered with iron oxide. While the oxide is a quite natural process, some say it makes the showers un-inviting. And some say it makes them disgusting.

Today the Road of Intended Travel was WA 20, the North Cascade Scenic Byway. I got to the road from Grand Coulee Dam, the actual dam and a city having the same name, by way of a WA 155 to Omak. It seems that WA 155 is another secret road that is curvy, kind of narrow, and lightly traveled. It was a good ride.

WA 20 is probably the most beautiful road in America. Many years ago Charles Karult, after many years on the road, including shacking up in Wyoming with a woman that was not his wife, concluded that US 212, The Beartooth Highway between Cooke City and Red Lodge, was the most beautiful road in America. I’ve ridden US 212 several times, the last in 2004 with Mary. Mary and I rode across WA 20 in 2004 and now I’ve ridden it again, and I think WA 20 beats US 212. The scenery along the North Cascade route is spectacular and beautiful. Plus you’re riding right there in it. The road does not simply go up one side of a pass and then down the other. It’s more like the roads in the Canadian Rockies that run more nearly parallel to the mountains. WA 20 goes on and on through the North Cascade Mountains.

On the East end of the road, it climbs rapidly out of a classic Western dry high plain and into the Evergreen forest. That in itself is a wonderful stretch of riding, going over a pass and the down into another valley where Twisp, Winthrop, and Mazama are located. The ride between Winthrop and Mazama is incredible with the steep mountainside across a wide valley.

From then to the Western end at Marbelmouth it’s nothing but beautiful mountains. I’ll try to remember to send some photos.

I stopped here in Concrete at a pretty good Mom-n-Pop. They, Mom-n-Pop, have moved here from Louisiana and you can tell because “they talk funny” as I have heard referred to me all my life. It’s a nice place and they are working on it to make it better.

CO 141 Gateway Colorado
Sunday July 27: Gateway Colorado
Wonderful. Just when you think it can’t get any better it does.
I left Granby on US 40 heading West for the smaller lines on the Real-Time Road Trip Planner and high passes. CO 134 and Gore Pass is the first Road of Intended Travel, followed by CO 131. Great rides having very little traffic. I pick up US 6 with the objective of getting to CO 133 at Carbondale and then over McClure Pass. More great riding and great roads and beautiful and spectacular scenery. I stop at the top of the pass and take a few pictures. A family pulls into the pullout and the lady chats me. She tells me some great places to go and I don’t mention that I’ve been to all of them before and will be going to some of them again. I guess the NY plates on the bike mean that I haven’t been here before. Her husband’s brother (or sister) works at Skidmore. It’s a small world.

I ride CO 133 into Delta and now I’m wanting to ride CO 141 through Gateway. CO 141 is very likely the last undiscovered road in Colorado. Road Running Biker Trash paradise for sure. And moto touring, too. It’s a beautiful ride all the way from the intersection with US 50 South of Grand Junction to Telluride, and beyond.

From US 50 the road heads downhill all the way to Gateway. The canyon / valley is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been in. A few isolated ranches now and then, especially after the canyon opens up as the road descends, with green hay fields surrounding the steams. Steep rocky cliffs beyond the valley floor. You’ve got to see it to appreciate it.

I get to Gateway and it’s getting very hot again. And it’s getting late in the day because I’ve been having so much fun I’ve lost track of time. Two days in a row in Biker Trash Paradise.

Mary and I were here in 2004. It’s a very long way to the next place for reliable motel rooms. It’s Sunday and those places might not be so reliable, so I decide that I better stay here. I get the last room and it’s kind of expensive. It’s a suite with den / living room, separate dining area, kitchen, bedroom and bath. All elaborately furnished; really elaborate. It blows my room budget big time. I discover that I got the last room because there’s a Corvette rally stationed here.

Gateway was the last undiscovered place in Colorado. I say ‘was’ because it is in the process of being discovered. Mr. Hendricks, Founder, CEO, President, and Chairman of The Discovery Channels has discovered the place. He is in the process of transforming the place into yet another Destination Resort complete with a MacMansions Gated Community plus golf course. All this for the Idle Rich.

The natives thought it was a good thing at first, but now they are not happy. For the good things, he has provided a gas station and a mini food store thus saving many miles of riding for the natives to buy these necessities. The small ranches that are here now will be destroyed for the pleasures of The Idle Rich. The once pleasant views will now disappear and all the natives can see will be the Triple-Ugly MacMansions inside the Gated Community which will be off limits to them. MegaMillion MacMansions sitting on MegaMillion plots of land surrounded by putting greens. Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful viewscape?

And now, Uranium mining has been approved by the State of Colorado for an old mine way up on the plateau behind the Resort. The old processing mill at the mine site can’t meet today’s standards, so a new plant will be built down the canyon road in Naturia. Mr. Hendricks has decided that he doesn’t like the idea of the truck traffic running up and down his road so he has opposed the mining. Of course this means that the natives would not have the potential jobs, but that is not one of Mr. Hendricks’s concerns.

The processed ore will also have to be hauled away from the new mill, too, and I noticed that the roads beyond Naturia are already kind of beat up. The heavy truck traffic will do them no good.

The ride all the way into Telluride on CO 145 is also beautiful.

Tensleep Canyon Wyoming
Friday August 29: to Gillette WY
Cloud Peak Skyway, a WY Scenic Byway, is beautiful. The Skyway runs from Worland to Buffalo WY. Only about 40 miles are actually scenic Byway, the remainder is your basic wide open spaces of rolling hills.

Starting out the ride from Red Lodge MT to Worland is so so. Only the first few miles out of Red Lodge have mountain views. These quickly fade in your rear-view mirror as you moto down into the valley from the high country. Very nice but the mountains disappear far too fast.

Cloud Peak Scenic Byway, a stretch of Highway US 16 starts in Worland and ends in Buffalo, but it takes a few miles out of Worland to get to the mouth of the canyon and start uphill to the pass. The mouth of the Canyon is at Ten Sleep, and the canyon is known as Tensleep. The Powder River starts high up in the mountains and runs down the canyon.

Once you get to the canyon proper, it’s a beauty for sure. Spectacular country side, wide sweepers and a few switchbacks as the road turns to gain altitude and stay on the canyon wall. Many of the roads the past few days are built on canyon walls and steep hillsides. Mother Nature will be reclaiming Her land along major stretches of these roads. I recall that the Beartooth Pass road lost seven sections in one winter. You can also see that Mother Nature has started Her work already in many places. I have a few photos from the canyon and I’ll try to send one or two.

The Powder River Pass hits about 10,000 feet. After cresting the pass, the road stays high up for miles. It’s much cooler up here and adds to the joy of the moto touring. Lots of evergreen trees, and valleys, and canyons. It’s a great ride. Not much traffic again today.

After crossing the Big Horn mountains, the roads heads downhill into Buffalo. All population centers all over the West will be down in a valley, and generally on a river. When you’re on the high plains you can see the towns coming up by the green vegetation, Cottonwood trees usually, on the horizon. You can also spot the vegetation that grows naturally along the path of the stream on which the town will be located. When you’re riding high up in the mountains you know you’re heading for town where the road starts downhill. Some of these downhill runs are miles long. You can feel the temperature increasing and on a hot day you known you’re going to be really hot when you get to town. By the same token, some of the uphill runs are also miles long. And you know you’ll be cool when you get to the top.

The ride from Buffalo to Gillette has no positive attributes what so ever. I rode US 14 / 16 so as to avoid the I-State. A sign that says 70 miles to next services is a good clue of what is in store. More rolling hills, maybe some cows and maybe some hay fields. And these days you’ll usually see gas pipeline construction in WY and SD.

There is a place with a name, Spotted Horse, population 2, that has an extremely run down cafe / beer joint. I stopped for some water, but I would not eat there. I had miles and miles to acquire an appreciation for the intrinsic beauty of high semi-arid desert plains. There is a beauty there, it’s just not as obvious as the spectacular mountains parts.

I saw many boys and their toys heading into the woods for the long weekend. Many pick’em ups, with camper shells, pulling campers, pulling trailers, pulling campers which were pulling trailers, and carrying three or four ATVs. Probably going out to scout for ‘their Elk’ before huntin’ season.

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November 14, 2008 - Posted by | moto touring |

3 Comments »

  1. I agree that the North Cascades Highway may be the most beautiful drive in the country. British Columbia has some that rival it, though.

    Comment by jae | November 17, 2008 | Reply

  2. Sounds like a really fun trip!

    One of my favorite roads is the old “back way” from Chico up to Paradise. Also, Highway 70? I think it is up to Quincy. And if you get a chance, take the road that cuts across the N.E. corner of California on the way to Oregon. There is a really neat park (all lava beds and desert on top) where you can go down into a lava tube with perpetual ice in the bottom!

    Comment by E.M.Smith | March 2, 2009 | Reply

  3. E. M.,

    We haven’t been on CA 70, but have been in the area. We have ridden CA 89 from near Roseville through Almanor and on up to Mount Shasta, spending a couple of days in that pretty little town.

    One of the better rides for me has been CA 33 out of Taft down to Maricopa and across the Los Padres National Forest, and then taking CA 150 landing at Carpinteria. CA 33 in the National Forest is among the better roads that I’ve ridden; probably on my top-ten list. Wonderful road conditions and beautiful countryside. Some great long views of the canyon going down the Western side.

    From there we headed N. W. toward the CA coast and into OR and missed the N. E. parts of CA. Found a most excellent Pink Flamingo Aloha shirt in Florence.

    Comment by Dan Hughes | March 3, 2009 | Reply


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