This is a continuation of Part-1 HERE, of our 4000-mile journey to 4-Corners that led us through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, South Dakota/Sturgis, Montana, Northern Idaho, Washington and then back to Oregon.
Cortez to Meeker, CO – When we plotted our original route to 4-Corners, I don’t think any of us imagined riding in such dry, scorching heat through unimaginably desolate terrain. It seemed like the buzzards were the only thing alive and they were circling patiently overhead for a couple days. As a result, we decided it was time to head north for some cooler weather.
On this morning’s departure the buzzards had taken the day off. We headed east on Highway 160 toward historic Durango and the Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. We stopped at the Durango Harley-Davidson dealer and picked up a t-shirt and exchanged some information about where to ride with other motorcyclists. We then headed north on Highway 550 toward Silverton and then Highway 110, over what is also called the “Million Dollar Highway” toward the little the town of Ouray — “The Switzerland of America.” We allowed for plenty of time to ride this route as the winding roads go through mountains and we knew there would be stops for photos and time to enjoy the vistas, waterfalls, deserted mining towns.
The GPS displayed 10,708 feet when we crossed over the summit and started to descend into Silverton. I’m not sure what the town is like in the winter with its 300+ inches of snow that falls each year. We stopped for fuel and a soda break then rolled onto the main part of the Million Dollar Highway – north from Silverton to Ouray. I’ve heard a couple different reasons about why it has its name. It is either because it cost a million dollars a mile to build, or because the fill they used to make up the road has traces of gold and silver contained within it. Whichever is true, it is still a great name for a road. The road itself is a terrific ride, but there are some parts where you have to pay close attention with steep drop-offs and no guard rails. In other places the road hugs the side of a steep slope of a mountain and in others, it has great bends which are ideal for motorcycling.
About 20 miles from Ouray after going around a mountain switch back the weather changed quickly. We could see dark clouds rolling up the mountain valley, the temperature dropped 15 degrees and it started to spit some moisture. We pulled over and hunted for rain gear which somehow had relocated to a deeper part of the hard bags in the days of searing heat. It was a good call, because in less than 15 mins there came lightening and a gully washer. As we rolled through Ouray it was hailing BB sized hail and the road was literally flowing with a mud/water mix. We could see blue sky and kept rolling through the weather. By the time we arrive in Ridgeway it stopped.
We finally arrived in Meeker and overnighted at the Elk Mountain Inn. We ate a Mexican dinner at Ma Famiglia which was an extremely satisfying meal with great service. We discussed riding to Sturgis since we were headed north and needed to start thinking about our return route. The next morning coffee was on early and the hosts were very pleasant. We wanted to clean the motorcycles after riding in the mud flow outside Ouray the previous day and they offered us a hose, buckets and cleaning soap.
Meeker to Torrington, WY – We were up early to clean the mud residue off the motorcycles. Afterward we rolled north toward Craig on Highway 13/789. Once we passed into Wyoming we headed east on Highway 70 where it passes over the Continental Divide and then descending onto the junction for Highway 230 north. We picked up Highway 130 east and rode by Lake Marie and Mirror Lake while crossing through the Medicine Bow National Forest.
In Centennial we stopped for fuel at the Trading Post and then continued east on Highway 130. At Laramie we got on I-80 east and headed toward Cheyenne. It was a quick trip to Cheyenne and then we headed north on I-25 and then at Exit 17 is where US Highway 85 (Torrington Road) branches off to the northeast.
We arrived in Torrington fairly late in the day and tried a couple of motels which were full of bikers before ending up at the Motel 6. It was the only place with vacancy and that should have been a red flag. It was being renovated or had closed and then sort of reopened, but didn’t know what it was going to be in final form?
All the signs were removed from the building and significant remodeling was stalled. We were fortunate to have A/C and a bed/shower, but I can honestly say don’t stay at this place until they get it finished. We ate dinner at Deacons Restaurant and the hearty steak meal helped offset the strange motel situation.
Torrington to Rapid City, SD – On this morning we got up early and traveled the 8+ miles for a photo op on the Nebraska state line. We did a U-turn and headed back onto the route that is known as the “Traditional” way for riders to get from northern Colorado to Sturgis.
We started to notice a lot more motorcyclist as if the NO vacancy signs weren’t a clue the night before.
We continued on Highway 85 north and headed to the town of Lusk. Lusk was full of Bikers, and coincidently was having a big parade. We had planned to get fuel there, there was a long wait at the gas station and one of the law enforcement officers who had traffic block mentioned that we should just head to the next town.
This stretch of road is heavily patrolled, but despite that we witnessed a number of bikers running near 90mph, though I don’t recommend it. In fact, we came up on the first accident of the trip on this road. It looked like an overloaded motorcycle dumped their load and skidded off into the ditch. If anyone had been hurt they were already gone by the time we rolled past as the tow vehicle was picking up the motorcycle.
About halfway between Lusk and Newcastle is Mule Creek Junction with a nice rest area and it’s possible to head east on Highway 18 from there into Custer, SD which is what we did.
We rolled through Custer and past the Crazy Horse Mountain Monument and stopped in Rapid City. We paid double the going rate for a room at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel and spent the remainder of the day and evening enjoying the typical Sturgis activity.
We were only in town for 24 hours, but managed to hit The Knuckle Saloon for refreshments, One-Eyed Jacks Saloon for dinner, and see plenty of billboards, souvenirs, belt buckles, t-shirts, music and people watching on Main Street well into the evening.
Rapid City to Billings, MT – The next morning was another early rise. It was a beautiful sun-drenched morning.
There was a quick sausage biscuit (yeah, we eat well on the road!) at Burger King and it was on the road again. It was going to be an “Interstate Day” – all the miles would be on the freeway. We motored west on I-90 toward Sundance then Gillette and Sheridan.
As the miles clicked by I gazed out over the landscape, it was not hard to imagine the challenges faced by those who struggled to forge a living from this land 150 years ago. It says something about the human spirit that they even tried. When you’re rolling along on the freeway you soon learn to really hate semi-trucks and RVs.
These behemoth’s create their own wind patterns and take no issue with trying to out run motorcycles cruising above the speed limit!
Much of this route is prairie with long stretches of straight road. Just outside Hardin we rolled past the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument at the Highway 212 junction. We’ve ridden Hwy 212 a couple of times when returning from Sturgis, but this time we needed to make up some miles.
Passing by Little Big Horn I remember seeing the 135th anniversary signs of the battle. It was late 1875, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians left their reservations, outraged over the continued intrusions of “whites” into their sacred lands in the Black Hills. They gathered in Montana with Sitting Bull to fight for their lands. The following spring, two victories over the US Calvary emboldened them to fight on in the summer of 1876 – the Battle of Little Big Horn.
A couple years ago I blogged about the Guidon, an artifact found/auctioned off from that battle.
It had been another hot day and we arrived in Billings at the Holiday Inn Express on the edge of town. It was a new hotel and had all the amenities. We headed to the pool and then I remember having dinner at a Subway shop up the road followed by some DQ ice cream. There were a number of bikers returning from Sturgis who overnighted at the hotel and we made some new friends.
Photos by author.