There were eight of us, seven on BMW RTs and one on a Harley Road Glide, leaving South Texas for our annual summer ride in June 2017. For me, it was just 10 days shy of my two year anniversary from having crashed into the rear of van that happened to be stopped on a two lane Missouri highway. It took me four months to walk on my own and although I made a long ride last summer this was my first long ride back on a BMW R1200RT. I wrecked riding a 2013 RT. Last year's ride, also out West, was on my 2008 Harley Ultra Classic. So I was a little apprehensive about the ride back on an RT thinking it would be a bummer if something happened to anyone of us on this ride. The ride went fine with no incidents and all of us thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I logged 3,520 miles on the bike in nine days.
The bikes were loaded down for this ride because we had decided that camping would be part of the trip. We all carried camping tents, sleeping bags, mats and other camping gear that turned out to be unnecessary as we never made it to a campground. We typically rode late into the evening or planned to leave early in the morning, both of which are not conducive to camping or at least it was to our group that didn't want to mess with putting up a tent in the dark or spending an extra hour breaking camp early in the morning instead of riding.
As for packing, I had the new DrySpec bags; one larger bag with a semi-hard plastic liner so it stays upright which makes it easier for packing and the smaller tube type which opens at both ends for my tent, sleeping bag, and other camping gear. We never hit any really hard rain so I didn't get to test them out. Overall, I like the way they stack up, neater than other brands carried on this trip and after the second day it was a breeze to either tie them down or get them off the bike. My only negative with the bigger bag is that the opening is not as wide as the bag; therefore, it makes it harder to pack or unpack. I used it for change of clothes and left the quick grab items like rain gear in the saddle bags. Needless to say I was not lacking for anything. If I didn't have what I needed it was because I forgot to pack it and not for lack of space. What wouldn't fit would have been a cot, folding chair, or my self inflating air mattress so those stayed behind.
On the Road
I can't sleep much the night before a big ride and l guess it's tough to feel fully rested the morning of a big ride so we planned not to push it too hard this first day. We left at a decent hour and met up at 6am at a Love's Truck Stop. Love's is 24 miles from Mission so my brother and I left at 5:15am. The first day plan was to ride 530 miles West Marathon, Texas about 80 miles North of the Big Bend National Park headquarters by sunset. We had reservations for this first night, but no other reservations for the rest of the trip. We were going to be flexible for the rest of the trip. Those usually turn out to be the best rides.
Everyone made Love's before 6am. The group ranged in age from mid-40s to 73. It included my brother, Tomas, (2016 RT) a retired IT Director from our local school district; Marco, (2010 RT) a doctor in McAllen, Texas; his two brothers, Hiram (2017 Harley Road Glide), a delinquent tax attorney and David (2013 RT) an IT professional with ATT from Plantation, Florida; Albert (2016 RT), a local bank President; Ed (2017 RT), an IT professional at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Rob (2016 RT), a retired Podiatrist with happy feet and myself, Ricardo (2017 RT), an administrator for a legal services program. It might be a good plan to administer the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) test before spending so much time together, but if that's not possible then just go for it.
The weather looked good for that morning as we headed north to Falfurrias, Texas on Hwy 281 about 85 miles from Mission. The highway is Hwy 281, a divided highway, and it is the major highway headed into deep South Texas, especially 18 wheelers doing trade with Mexico. We were anxious to get off the interstate (not really an interstate highway, but the closest thing we have to one) and on to rural highways.
After stopping at McDonald's in Falfurrias we headed northwest to Encinal on Hwy 339 via Benavides to Freer avoiding as much fracking traffic as we could. Once in Freer we were really messing with fracking trucks. The drivers are good guys, but they come off oil patches tossing mud or dirt and sometimes even hardware that's not tied down. It can be a scary experience to follow those fracking trucks. Fracking had eased up the last couple of years, but it's been picking up again; therefore, so has the traffic. Encinal was about 120 miles from Falfurrias and it was our first gas stop. Downtown Encinal is basically an intersection of Hwy 44 that runs east to Corpus Christi and I35 that runs between Laredo and San Antonio. It's basically four truck stops, one in each corner with plenty of traffic moving in and out. It's like a constant 18 wheeler rush hour.
By now it was late morning and clouds were rolling in. It looked like we might hit some heavy rains so some of us put on our rain gear. As it turned out we just skirted the heavy stuff making the rain gear unnecessary.
From Encinal to Del Rio was another 150 mile run and we made it in time for a late lunch at Rudy's BBQ. Continuing west beyond Del Rio there's not much in the way of civilization just a lot of West Texas. It's what we were waiting for even if the weather was hot.
Langtry home of Judge Roy Bean's Saloon is usually a must stop for us. It's now a Texas Highway Department (TxDot) Information Center and if you want free Texas Highway maps or other reading information on Texas this is the place to get it. Since Langtry is not exactly a major city, it gets very little traffic so it's in very good condition and never crowded.
After getting our maps we're off to Sanderson and then Marathon to our overnight stay at the Marathon Motel & RV Park. We made Marathon about 6pm and tallied about 530 miles this first day staying ahead or behind rain storms so the weather was almost pleasant for summer in the Southwest.
Marathon is a great little town, population 470, most famous for the Gage Hotel built in 1927 it was and still is a must stop if you're passing through. If you're staying overnight you can visit the White Buffalo Bar or dine outside by the fireplace. It's a little pricy, but you're paying to get a piece of history. The hotel is great to spend the night at with your significant other, but for a bunch of guys, the motel is best. The motel has cabin like rooms that will take two to a cabin. They're like duplexes, each with a porch, small table and chairs. The best part of the motel is their patio area which has lots of sitting area, a great garden, and best of all, a huge fire place supplied with fire wood ready to light up.
Marathon is one of our favorite stops. It's the gateway to Big Bend National Park and a short ride to Alpine with it's own historic hotel, the Holland; Marfa and its hotel El Paisano (where the cast from the movie, Giant stayed) and McDonald's Observatory outside of Fort Davis. If you're there for a couple of days the River Road, Hwy 170 between Lajitas and Presidio is a must ride. Fifty miles of curves and small hills that hug the Rio Grande River makes it like no other ride.
Of course, this is entry to the great Chihuahuan Desert with the Chisos mountains in the park, the Davis mountains nearby and the Guadalupe mountains close to Carlsbad at the Texas-New Mexico border. It just a fantastic landscape making Big Bend my favorite national park. There's desert, mountains, canyons, river water, and a night sky that will amaze you.
We closed out day one gathered around the fire place talking about the day's ride and waiting to witness a west Texas thunder storm. It didn't disappoint as about 9:30 those huge rolling black clouds made it directly overhead. It was a frog choker filled with an amazing light show. Within a half hour or so the storm kept moving SSE into the Big Bend National Park area and northern Mexico. It was a great night cap for a great day of riding, pizza, beer, and general philosophizing on the things important to us. Nobody had to ask, "Why we ride".
The bikes, washed off from the rain, were clean and ready to go the next morning. By 9am we were in downtown Marathon having breakfast before pointing the bikes north to Fort Stockton then Pecos and eventually Carlsbad, New Mexico. Not much to say about the landscape from Fort Stockton to Carlsbad, it's flat desert land sprinkled with oil wells through Pecos and into New Mexico. Around Pecos at the intersection of Interstate 20 it's a real traffic jam with oil rig 18 wheelers crawling through the intersection. It's no fun getting stuck behind a convoy of tractor trailers on that highway. It's also a challenge getting around them as trucks rule the road. Another push north and its New Mexico. It's a 200 mile ride from Marathon, a ride generally void of hills, valleys, or even trees. If you're traveling into New Mexico from Texas it's better to stay on I10 West or go north off of I10 in Junction, Texas on Hwy 83. Avoid Pecos if you can.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
One of our group had never been to Carlsbad Caverns National Park so we took the afternoon to make it to the caverns. Hiram went down into the caverns with Marco and David while the rest of us stayed in the Headquarters Gift Shop or cafeteria. We also sat outside enjoying the clear day views. Much of the landscape is like the Texas panhandle so it's not too interesting, but the caverns sit up high and provide a nice view.
Typically we usually keep going northwest from Carlsbad and into Roswell then on to Santa Fe, but this time we decided to keep going west. So after the caverns we dropped back into Texas as we made our way along Hwy 62 through the Guadalupe Mountains National Park into the western end of El Paso next to Anthony, NM. These 200 miles plus the morning ride made our day over 400 miles. The Guadalupe Mountains National Park probably doesn't get too much traffic because of its out-of-the-way location, but it looks like a great park for camping. It was just our second day of riding and we had already been through three national park areas; Big Bend, Carlsbad, and Guadalupe Mountains.
This would be our last day in Texas for a while so we made sure to stop at a What-a-Burger for our last fix of good Texas hamburgers before entering New Mexico.
We started our third day in Anthony's Catholic Church for mass before moving on to Mesilla, NM. It was an 8:30am Mass and the church was packed, the services were all in Spanish, and Rob was absolutely the only anglo in the house. That didn't bother Rob.
Mesilla, once part of Mexico, but now in the US was a popular Western town back its day and visited by such characters as Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and Pancho Villa. The Plaza in Mesilla is nice with lots of small shops and eating places. It was still early so the local merchants were just beginning to setup for the Saturday afternoon crowds. We have been here a couple of times either riding or driving through. It's always a nice peaceful stop.
We kept riding west, dropped off I10 and headed south to Bisbee, Arizona via Hwy 191. It is about an 80 mile ride from I10 to Bisbee, and if you see one other vehicle along the way you're doing well. I think all of us love these highways that just go on and on with nothing to disturb the ride. You get a lot of time to think about things, pray, and just basically get your life in order.
Well, after that yoga meditation we roll into Bisbee. One of the first things you see is this giant mining hole that's copper colored. The mining quarry replaces any need for a chamber of commerce sign advertising what this town was all about. Bisbee was, at one time, a famous copper mining town and it lies north of the famous Copper Canyon in Mexico. A stone's throw from Mexico, Bisbee is now a hip small town with lots of young people that have left the fast lane for life in Southern Arizona. It's hard to imagine that this little town was once the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. The mining work ended in the 1970s, but the town is still humming along.
We then rode through Tombstone and on to Tucson to end another day of 400 plus miles.
We stayed at a Sheraton in Tucson with a conveniently located iHop next door which we walked over to for breakfast. Ed, a growing boy, decided to eat an omelette that had to be delivered by forklift along with biscuits, toast, gravy, and pancakes. As soon as we were on our bikes Ed just dropped his bike while sitting on it. Something about the new higher higher center of gravity.
Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, AZ
We stopped in Tucson to make a return visit to the Pima Air & Space Museum home to hundreds of grounded air force planes. It's a great museum for all things airplanes.
Anyone interested in airplanes can spend a couple of days just looking at all the planes and their history. It's a guy's bucket list item and always a good visit. Albert and Rob took the bus tour into the airbase while the rest of us joined a guided tour of three hangers and all its planes. Of special interest to Tomas and me was the tour of the WWII aircraft as our dad served in England during the war as a crew chief mechanic. Of course, you can get up close and even partially into some of the aircraft on display. The tour covered air flight from the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk to today's modern jets.
Leaving the Museum we rode North up to the REI Store in Phoenix to pick up some thermal mugs so we could carry water and stay hydrated. After having lunch we then moved on to Sedona. It was a short day of riding since we were in the museum until about 2pm. We totaled 230 miles that day.
It was a hot day on the ride between Tucson and Phoenix as temps reached 112 on I10, but they would dip to 108 in spots. It's much too hot to ride with your visor open and once you close it the sweat starts to pour down your face. Not the best of riding in such heat, but as we moved north it began to slowly cool off. Sedona is off the main interstate and noteworthy for its red sandstone formations so it's worth making it a stop. The area was inhabited by Indian tribes for a long period, but most of the development in the city is from the 1980s and 90s. We got into our hotel after dark and after much of downtown was closed so we rested up for the night. By morning we were moving on to Utah.
Arches National Park, Moab, UT
Riding northeast towards the Four Corners area we made our way toward the Utah state line as we wanted to reach Moab and stay over at the local KOA. There's plenty of Native American culture along this route, but for the most part it is sparsely populated.
We were now in Utah where it was still hot, but not like the heat back in Tucson. At night it was cool and enjoyable which made it nice after a 400 plus mile ride from Sedona to Moab where we settled for the night. We got two KOA cabins which were basic, a bunk bed and one other bed only with mattresses and not much else. We used our own sleeping bags for the night and that's as close to camping as we got. We decided to rough it on dinner so we started a fire in the BBQ pit and made hot dogs that we purchased at the KOA store. The store had food, fire wood, and beer; the three essentials for survival. The hotdogs were really good, but before the night was over David ordered pizza to be delivered. So much for the roughing it!
The KOA camp grounds are a few miles outside the city of Moab. Moab is a small city with a neat downtown area. We rode in for a breakfast before heading to Arches National Park. Arches, as we discovered, is a really popular National Park and it was fortunate that we ended up at the park early in the morning. By the time we exited the park the lines into the park were long and it was heating up.
Arches is an amazing park with rock formations that are out of this world. Only Marco was prepared to do some serious hiking. Somehow in the middle of crowded parking lot he stripped down to running shorts and shoes. He was ready to tackle any hike whereas the rest of us, with our riding boots, had limitations. We hiked over to the closest arch, about a mile from the parking lot without any problems. You typically run into people from all over the world at national parks and this was no exception. We had a Vietnamese lady guiding David onto a rock formation so that he could see a series of arches from one vantage point. She was a good guide, but I chose to just stay put and not follow her instructions. We had a good morning at Arches even though Rob got lost, but caught up with us at the park's exit. By now the lines into the park were really starting to stack up.
By noon we were on our way north to Hwy 70 then east to Grand Junction, CO. We did a half-day ride approaching 250 miles to Aspen where we found decent lodging since it's off-season. Those that have been to Aspen know that it's a high dollar place so we just walked over to a Whole Foods Store and bought beer and snacks for dinner in one of our rooms.
Walking downtown Aspen
Close to the Whole Foods Store was a "Stash" store for those that want to buy marijuana. We had to drop in and check it out. Right away the lady behind the counter welcomed us and said, "Hi, you want to get high?". I told her that I was on a motorcycle and needed my balance. She asked if I'd ever been high before to which I gave her the line from the movie, Romancing the Stone, 'I went to college'.
Independence Pass Continental Divide - CO
By nine in the morning we were off to Independence Pass. Although it was June there's still plenty of snow up at the pass with its peak elevation of 12,095 feet.
Independence Pass: Elevation12,095'
We made our way down Independence Pass and headed to Fairplay, CO to see David's grand-daughter. This was a nice ride as things flatten out, but we're still at a high elevation. Makes for great scenery.
We had a good lunch at a Chinese Restaurant where the staff was from Korea, Spain, and Taiwan. The food was good and the visit with David's family was nice. Their place is on a wide open high prairie backed up by a running stream that their lab loves to run through.
Pike's Peak CO
From Fairplay we rode over to Pike's Peak with good weather and little chance of rain. As we made our way up the mountain it started to rain a little and by the time we made the gift shop, about six miles from the summit, it was starting to get bad. The Ranger told us that we had to go slow because of the sleet and snow, but that the snow plows were trying to clear the road. Seeing that I had a fairly new bike I chose to turn back down the mountain as did Albert. The rest of the guys went ahead, but they were also turned back about two miles from the summit. A rider coming down told them that he had dropped his bike because there was too much snow slush in the parking lot area. The Ranger at that point told the guys that it might be better to turn back which they did.
Down at the base of Pike's Peak the weather was perfect. You'd never know that up top it was a mess.
We decided to ride to Pueblo, CO for the night.
The Ride Home
Okay, we'd been on the road seven days with overnight stays in Marathon, El Paso, Tucson, Sedona, Moab, Aspen, and Pueblo. It was time to start heading back. Heading back is usually a fast forward for us. When we left Pueblo we rode into the Texas Panhandle and somewhere close to Amarillo Marco, Hiram and David split up with us as they headed east towards Florida. Marco and Hiram escorted David as far as New Orleans before heading home on Sunday, the tenth day of the ride.
Ed, Rob, Albert, Tomas and I headed south and ended the day in San Angelo, a 645 mile ride from Pueblo. We had a late dinner close to our hotel. We were up early Saturday and we made it back to the valley by about 4pm. We went from San Angelo to Junction on I10 and into San Antonio before heading south into the Rio Grande Valley. It was nine days and 3,520 miles on my bike. Marco and Hiram with their little detour to New Orleans, in ten days, racked up 4,350 miles and David's ride home to Plantation totaled 4,531.
It was a great ride. We got to see thunder storms, 112 degree heat, and snow covered mountains in the 40's. To me the highlights were Bisbee and Moab's Arches National Park, but the rest of the trip was all good. The ride back home was a little hot, but that's to be expected in June, especially is South Texas.
Lunch in Phoenix
Coming off 112 degrees!
Here's a link to a map of our route.