The Plan

The general idea was to fly into Grand Junction, Colorado and spend five days doing a hub-and-spoke tour of the Rocky Mountains and the Grand Valley. One of the five days would be spent driving down to Moab, Utah to ride out to, and through, the Arches National Park.

After consulting with the Farmer's Almanac, Weather.com historical data, and very helpful Grand Junction resident John Hodge, I pinpointed the last week of August as the ideal week to travel. It would be hot and dry that week, which is what I prefer.


Getting There

There were two objectives: 1) Get the bike there and 2) Get me there.

After one experience of taking the bike with me on the plane for the Berkshire trip, dragging it through the airport, squeezing it into a rental car, and dragging it into the hotel, I decided on a different approach this time.

Months in advance, I set up shipping through Bike Flights. They contract with FedEx but at much lower rates than most of us can get. About ten days ahead of time, they email you a prepaid FedEx shipping label. Drop it in a stick-on label envelope on the outside of your bike box, disassemble and pack the bike, then drop the box off at any FedEx location. After contacting the manager in advance and confirming acceptance (most will do this), I had the bike shipped directly to the hotel. On the shipping label, I hand-wrote "Hold For Arrival, 8-25-2012" and called them a couple of days in advance to remind them when it would arrive. It worked perfectly! I was able to fly with just a carry-on bag. When I walked into the hotel, the bike box was waiting for me. At the end of the trip, all I had to do was disassemble and repack the bike, change the shipping label, and drop the box off at the local FedEx. Easy-peasy.

To get myself there, I booked on United. An interesting experience. At the gate, when they scanned my boarding pass to enter the plane, they tore it up and reissued new boarding passes for both legs. Apparently, they had changed my seating without notifying me and without explanation. These were not optimal seats but the plane was full.

On the way back, there was some confusion about which gate in the small Grand Junction airport would actually be handling the outbound flight. If you're a local, you know. If you read the electronic departure board, you're confused. I finally found the right gate and got to Houston but found out the inbound plane for the connecting flight was three hours late. Once it arrived, it had more mechanical trouble. In the end, I arrived home five hours late.


Where to Stay

Grand Junction has a population of about 55,000 so it has just about all of the major hotel chains and a host of quaint bed and breakfast places. For this trip, I chose the Hampton Inn in the historic downtown area. Hampton's are comfortable and reasonably priced, serve a hot and cold breakfast bar each morning (included in the room price), along with free wifi, and fresh cookies each afternoon. This particular hotel was within walking distance of many restaurants, shops, and a grocery store. There were also four bike shops within a few blocks so any emergency bike repairs would be easy to handle.

Alternatives included a Springhill Suites across the street and a Marriott next door.


Day One - Highline Lake

The idea was to make the first day an "acclimation" ride and this was a perfect choice. General impressions of Grand Junction: It has a beautiful, quaint downtown area (where my hotel is), gorgeous homes and pristine neighborhoods, loads of well-maintained little parks sprinkled everywhere, and the people are generally so friendly that it is, unfortunately, surprising. At one point, I stopped to take a photo and had already finished when an approaching couple on bikes, slowed and apologized for disrupting my shot. They didn't. Not even by a long shot. But people are that nice here.

This is top-notch, high desert riding. Highline Lake turned out to be a beautifully maintained state park. This area is very bike friendly. Very. Highline Lake Seriously, I've never seen such a large number of the populace that rides. In just one day, I encountered three people in the process of biking to work. There were road bikes everywhere. I haven't seen that many on the road outside of an event like Bike MS or something. There are lots of statues in the downtown area, many of which are bike-related. Wow!

There are all kinds of farms and ranches here. Lots of corn growing, plenty of horses, cows, sheep, goats, and... surprisingly... alpaca.

Miles: 62.7


Day Two - Colorado National Monument

This is the crown jewel of Grand Valley bike riding and a route I had been looking forward to for months. The National Park Service put a webcam on the roof of the visitors center and pointed it at the canyon. The camera faces east so the best time to view the rock formations is the middle to late afternoon when the afternoon sun is lighting the canyon walls.

The weather threw a surprise at me on the morning of this ride in the form of an early morning rain storm. On the plus side, the clouds kept the temps down for the 2800+ feet of climbing up the side of the mountain and they cleared off later to give pleasantly sunny views. Unfortunately, clouds have a tendency to gather near the tops of the mountains and just sit.

After a long, long climb, stopping frequently to take photos, I had lunch at the National Monument visitor center and sat for almost two hours waiting for the clouds to part. They finally did for about two minutes so I got a decent shot. Colorado National Monument

Coming back down the mountain seemed to go a bit quicker. ;-) The speed limit was posted as 25... but I figured that was for everybody else, not me. Not going to say how fast I was going but I did grossly exceed it a few times.

Tried to shoot some video while riding but it didn't work out so well. Turns out the camera mounted on a gorilla pod is too shaky so I shot a little by hand. The total thing is less than three minutes long. A part of it is a little shaky but then it settles down.

Miles: 42.0


Day Three - Orchard Mesa Loop/Palisade

Now THIS is my kind of touring! What a great ride. Down by the Colorado River, out into the orchards and vineyards, stopping at lots of little mom and pop shops, turning around in the charming little town of Palisade for lunch, back down along the river on the Colorado River State Park trail, and ending up at Dairy Queen for a blizzard at the end of the ride. Modest climbing and a "Yeehaw" downhill that'll get your heart pumping!

The morning started off with the strongest breeze so far on this trip: a headwind of about 15-17 mph but it dissipated after about an hour and a half.

The intention was to photograph every orchard and vineyard I encountered. Yeah... that lasted about an hour and then I gave up on that idea. Holy cow; they're everywhere!!!! My friend John Hodge had recommended stopping at a certain peach orchard as they often give away peaches that are too ripe to ship out. Mount Garfield in the background behind a vineyard Unfortunately, I forgot the name. So, I ended up stopping at a lot of them. LOL Before lunch, I had already had four full peaches and a little piece of fudge. Peaches that are so ripe you have to lean over to eat them or the juice runs down your face and drips on your clothes. Know what I'm talking about?

Palisade, Colorado turned out to be one of those cute little towns you might find on a post card, nestled between the Colorado River and Mount Garfield. Photos will be posted shortly.

And, once again, everyone I met was friendly and helpful and nice. Great place to visit and this was a top-notch "touring" ride.

Miles: 45.1


Day Four - Arches National Park, Moab, Utah

Up early, dawn on the high desert, hit Moab, Utah, and stopped at Denny's for breakfast. The waiter at Denny's suggested I just leave the car there while riding the three miles back to the Arches National Park entrance. Very nice of him and a good idea since I could come right back inside for a cool drink and a snack after the ride.

There are no services inside the park. That means no food, only the occasional terlet facilities, and the only water was all the way at the far end. I packed two 24 oz bottles of Gatorade, a bottle of water, a banana, and a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch. ...and off I went in search of another adventure.

What an adventure it was, too! The temp was forecasted to reach 99 in Moab, and it did, but it seemed even hotter on the valley floor inside the park. After paying the entry fee, I rode up and up and up. Made it to the top and stopped to see some interesting rock formations. Now, there are fascinating rock formations every direction you look. Everywhere. After a while, I stopped taking photos of all but the most interesting ones.

After a short but fast downhill, I arrived at Balanced Rock. It was an easy hike around to the side that was sunlit. From there, I went on to Windows. This was the place I had been looking for and is usually the arches shot you see in publications. What I didn't know was that the arches were about a 3/4 mile hike from the parking lot. ...and I didn't bring a lock for my bike. South Window Arch in Arches National Park, Moab, Utah Yes... I picked up the fully-loaded bike and hiked back to see the arches. It was well-worth it!! Back at the parking lot, the ranger said I was tough for carrying it all the way up and all the way back. Tough... or brainless. Sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference.

From there, I went on to Delicate Arch. That was a mistake. It wasn't all that spectacular and it left me with a five mile uphill climb in the upper 90s. I've lived in the desert and know how to manage myself for heat exhaustion. I made the tactical decision to not continue on and do the six miles to the end of the road. I turned back here, took it slow and easy up the five mile slope, rested in shade when possible, and hydrated.

When I crested the top of the hill and saw the visitor center down below, I was so happy that I sang "Hallelujah" at the top of my lungs all the way down the mountain. :-)

Miles: 42.0


Day Five - Reeder Mesa Loop

What a way to end the tour! Okay, I'll admit... it didn't start off to be a good day. Woke up with a sore lower left back... probably from schlepping my bike up the trail at Arches yesterday... and had to walk across the street for some Aleve. It didn't help. Every pedal stroke was a twinge and every bump was a pain. I finally decided to ignore it and ride anyway. ;-) Also, there was one rain cloud in the area and it appeared to be in the general direction I was headed... so I packed the rain jacket.

The ride out was kind of... unexpected. After crossing US 50 (could have turned left and would have eventually ended up back in Orlando) and heading out into the county, there was nothing. Nothing. Just raw desert. And a 14 mph headwind. Passed through one small town but it didn't have a gas station or anything. Further on: climbing and climbing and more climbing. At one point, I (silly me) thought I was on top and on flat terrain. But it was still so slow pedaling. About 5 or 6 mph was all I could squeeze out of it at one point. The road had recently been repaved with some sort of composite. Recently enough that rocks were sticking to my tires. Twice I stopped to knock off the rocks. Once I stopped to check if the rear tire had gone flat and a couple of times I even questioned my physical conditioning. It was that hard to pedal!

Turned out I was gradually going uphill the whole time. Plus, the road may have been a little sticky and slowing me down some. When I rounded a curve, I discovered I was at the top and there was a lush mountain valley in front of me. Mountain valley crossing Kannah Creek as seen from Reeder Mesa Yep, I was headed down into that!

If you ever do this route, there is a cutoff road that would avoid some of this climbing. Don't take it! Deal with the climbing. It's worth it. When I descended into the valley, there was a small park next to Kannah (kay-nuh) Creek. No tables but large boulders, plenty of shade, the babbling creek next to me, and outhouses. A great place for lunch! After some food and rest, it got even better. The next nine miles were down hill!! I pedaled maybe twice for about 100 yards each. Nine miles! If you take the cutoff road, you miss all of that. Don't take the cut off road. Don't miss that.

Back in town, I stopped at Eagle Rim park. It's up on top of an overlook over the Colorado River and is a nice park with gazebos and a skate park and restroom and such. Could have gone on to the hotel... it was only two more miles... but this was the end of the tour and it was a beautiful afternoon and I just felt like relaxing there for a while.

What a great trip!

Miles: 53.3


The GPX Routes

Local resident John Hodge has done an excellent job of publishing maps of bicycle routes in the general area. They are annotated with notes including water stops, rough crossings, etc, and were an invaluable resource in planning the routes from the hotel. His maps are located here.

Using John's maps as a starting point, I used RideWithGps.com and plotted the following GPX routes:

These routes were then downloaded to my computer as GPX files and installed in my Garmin Edge 800 GPS device to keep me on track. It worked perfectly.


Slideshow of photos

Click here to open an automated slideshow of the photos from this tour. Hope you enjoy.


Conclusion

This was a fantastic high desert tour! There is some climbing, so be forewarned. Some of the rides have NO services so over-plan on the amount of water and food/snacks you want to take. Feel free to download the GPX routes listed above or create a free account on RideWithGPS to create your own routes. (I won't create them for you.)

If you have any questions or feedback, please feel free to contact me using the link below.