BEHIND THE CURTAIN AT OZ – the site for the 2015 Four Corners National Rally
Mark sent me an email regarding a dual sport ride in Colorado with a tag line about a rally prep ride up to Cortez, CO. sometime in October. “Wanna?” Hell yeah! But I had to beg-off on the dual sport ride as Reta and I were going two-up for an extended ride through California’s Big Sur to Mike Corbin’s place for a little nip and tuck on the saddle. Besides we where in need of a little “us time”, any excuse would do.
Late September the prep ride emails started flying in earnest. Mike B and the Bradman would be there along with some folks I’d not met before. Fred Boothe along with a couple of friends would also be there as they were on an annual multi-week ride in the Southwest. We’d meet and stay at the Baymont Inn and Suites, rally central for the Nationals.
Mark and I would be coming in on the Southwest route dodging I-40 by way of old 66 through Kingman, Peach Springs Seligman up the Crockton cut off almost to Ashfork before droning the slab to Flagstaff. Thereafter it’s through the Indian Nations to Teec Nos Pos and onto Cortez.
Our third fuel stop of the day, deep in the Nations, was at Moenkopi part of the Hopi Tribal lands along Hwy 160, Navajo Trail. While it’s part of the Painted Desert the painter must have been low on paint and inspiration; by Painted Desert standards it’s kinda drab, maybe it was a work in progress never completed.
However pushing past Marsh Pass, a gap, between the Black and Skeleton Mesa’s the painter had definitely lifted his standards. The mesa walls and vertical lifts were a vermilion, cinnabar red, with dustings of tan and charcoal gray in places. The edges of Laguna Creek were green and lush; monsoon season in the Southwest had just ended.
It’s almost spring colors the exaggerated contrasts and hue’s of the desert. Vibrant oil paints mixed with watercolors on a canvas before us. It’s good to be back. The deep azure blue sky contrasting the pastel colors, reds, tans, browns and light grays of the distant mesas. The rolling plateau floor’s a mix of watercolor browns, tans, and varying shades of green desert plants punctuated by the vibrant oil color greens of the Pinion trees, the jet black asphalt road and the rich, yellow, broken center strip constantly being consumed as we ride north.
Off in the distance are clusters of extended family homes, here and there; dotting the landscape mostly modular and a mix of older stick builds. Still further back from the road are some traditional Navajo Hogan’s. I even saw what appeared to be a pit house as we rode east past Tes Nez Iah, Red Mesa to Teec Nos Pos then turning north onto the short leg into Cortez.
It’s Six o’clock Mountain Time as we pull into the parking portico at Baymont Inns and Suites. Nice “digs” the place is spacious, friendly, well organized and has an indoor, atrium, pool and spa for those pool parties. Mark you did well my friend, I’m liking this place and I haven’t even seen the room yet.
Cortez Colorado is located in the extreme southwestern portion of the state. Good for the folks living in the Southwest. Not so good for the folks living in Bar Harbor Maine as your travel will be a few clicks longer no doubt. The site is a great choice for a COG national soiree as it’s somewhat out of the way but very accessible. Think of it as a base camp. One day you can go up the road, about 15 miles, and play in one of the worlds largest geologically formed natural fort’s home to the Anasazi, Ancient Pueblo peoples and their cliff dwellings, in Mesa Verde National Park. Next day perhaps a little knee scrapping along some awesome roads in the San Juan and Uncompahgre National Forests to places like Telluride, Sawpit, Placerville, Ouray, Silverton and Durango. Perhaps you’ll want to save Durango for another day and ride the narrow gauge railroad up Animus Canyon to Silverton with us. I’ve also heard there’s another rafting trip in the works. There’s so much to see, so much great country to enjoy and so many super roads to ride. Only one problem…so little time to take it all in. Hmm, maybe we’ll just have to extend this little soiree deeper into the summer.
Mark and I check in and get a hotel map our rooms are located on the backside and have a view of Mesa Verde. We ignore the bike barn out front and ride to the backside. Rounding the corner we see a gaggle of bikes, yeah, looks like they’re all here. Fred and company are talking on the lawn near the bikes; Mikey is on the second floor balcony holding a cup…looks like the party started without us. Brad and Mrs. Brad are out enjoying the fall colors and getting some away time together. They’ll be here tomorrow afternoon. Cool, the Sun’s sinking below the horizon let’s get some grunt and grog I’m hungry.
Post dinner it’s time to hold court out on the rear BBQ deck and pass the antifreeze it’s cold out here. Talk turns to COG dome, then to why we’re here, besides warming up the bottom of the chairs and sipping antifreeze. For Fred and company it’s a layover day on Saturday. For Mark, Mikey, Rob and Kent (a friend of Mikey’s) they’ll be doing a pre ride for the 2 up Challenge event. I beg off the ride since Reta and I will be partaking of the event in June. Besides I want to do a photo shoot up on the mesa and see somebody about some tickets in Durango.
Next morning we meet for a continental breakfast. The room is spacious the food and coffee good with a reasonable variety of goodies to satisfy most everyone’s tastes. Then it’s off to the bikes and a day of work and play. I did mention play?
It’s a short ride east on 160 to the Park turn off. The road takes you into an up sloping valley and the entrance to Mesa Verde. This Park is a very unusual place. Perhaps it’s best not to think of it as a park but rather as a gigantic fort with giant walls protecting all it’s inhabitance from the outside world. It’s a world unto itself complete in every aspect, a place where people lived and prospered, where a sophisticated agrarian/hunter culture developed protected from the plunder and looting of the outside world. For over 700 years the Ancestral Pueblo People lived here. In the late 1200’s, over a two-generation span, they left moved away. I spent the better part of four hours in the park and only got a general overview of what it has to offer. If it where not for the Park’s speed limits large sections of the road would be a knee scrapper’s paradise. Time to move on I’m burning precious daylight and I don’t what to miss dinner.
Up the road another 28 miles is Durango. Hwy. 160 passes through farms, ranches and fields before climbing over a mountain side hump on the south side of the San Juan’s then twisting and turning its’ way to the town of Durango. The town owes its existence to the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad (D&RG) both made famous by C. W. McCall’s hit song Silverton Train. It’s a bucket list train ride for anyone with any interest in trains and/or a desire to ride up the Animus Canyon. For us it’s a must do, can do, will do.
The train station is in Old Town Durango just off the 160/550 intersection. Old town is fashionable and trendy while retaining its’ charm. Chicks in high boots and skintight jeans, old cowboys with their toes pointed inward from hanging on a horse, Starbucks and Lone Star they got it all.
The train station’s more my style it’s been renovated but not remodeled. The bathroom’s still got an old functioning steam radiator for heat…brings back memories. I meet a station manager, she gives me an overview and I tell her why I’m here. She also informs me she books the group excursions on the train. Bingo, we have a possible winner. I ask her if I can shoot photos at the platform. “No problem. Do you know about our museum?” No but I will in a minute. She tells me about it and hands me her card. I’m off on a photo shoot.
Inside the museum I find the girl of my dreams, oh yeah they’ve got trains there too. She’s 7 years older than I am and somewhat a lady of the world you might say. I show her picture to some of the guys back at ride central. They just laugh, “ what would you do with that?” they ask. Ok, ok, I never said I was playing with a full deck or wasn’t a fry or two short of a Happy Meal. But ain’t she beautifully, more inconspicuous laughter.
Saturday evening dinner’s at a Mexican restaurant two blocks down the road or so says Mark. Mikey looks down the road and says where? Just beyond the gas station is Marks reply. Oh, you mean that gas station way down there? We explain to Mikey he wasn’t talking about city blocks. Besides after filling up and fueling up we could probably use a little walk.
Group post dinner evening social is held on the Baymont’s rear BBQ deck. It’s a time for some liquid libations, stories, jokes, pokes and friendly banter. A little COG politics and stories behind the stories then it’s time to call it a night but not before a group photo. Soiree participants, left to right: Fred Boothe, Doug, Rob, Mark, Mike, Bert & Brad. Camera shy participants included Kent, the man behind the lens, Mrs. Brad and Fred’s other riding buddy who had retired for the evening. Hmm, my mind being what it is I wondered did he retired to his room or that indoor pool party going on, maybe he’s just young at heart. Mrs. Bert doesn’t let me attend those pool parties anymore, bummer. Oh well, tomorrow we ride back.