Dinosaur Country

“Dinosaur capital of the world,� proudly proclaims the quaint – bordering non-existant – town in the northwestern corner of Colorado. It is hard not to feel drawn towards Dinosaur City, after riding through so many desolate areas, where one can easily imagine, prehistoric creatures are romping through the wild when your back is turned. You’d almost believe that they manage to hide, the moment you turn, only….they’re so massive, animals like that just can’t hide.
Well, even after being extinct for millions of years, they still managed to hide their remains from us. Dinosaur national monument was closed because the building was liable to collapse. Constructed on an area concentrated with dinosaur bones that have been petrified in a layer of earth that was bulging upwards and exposing the prehistoric layer which actually operated to wreck the building. So, our highly anticipated glimpse of dinosaur remains was lost and we had to settle for the crudely disproportionate cement Triceratops near the city park. It was pathetic. I even went to the visitor’s center to solicit a few pictures of what I might have been able to see, but was met with a shut door bearing a sign that said “Closed�. Our travels continued along the 139, winding for about 35 miles to the Douglas Pass and then descended for the final 40 miles into Grand Junction. Kokopelli pictographs depicted a mysterious flute player with dreadlocks along the sharp sandstone cliffs. Our mountainous environment had been replaced by the desert canyons, only hinting at the marvels we would see when we got further south into the Canyonlands, and Arches National Park.

We pitched our tent back in a side canyon, far enough to lose view of the road. After our typical hearty breakfast the next morning of rice, beans, eggs and sausage we continued up the pass. It was a steady incline most of the way, until maybe the last 4-5 miles when it painfully tore it’s way upwards at a much more strenuous grade. Winding up and around the mountain, light patches of snow that had hid behind various bushes soon grew to envelope the entire roadside surface. Cars passed us and gave us enthusiastic thumbs up accompanied with a positive howl. Eventually we reached the top just before sundown. I watched a car slowly meander it’s way down the extremely steep, windy downhill, it’s lights would flicker in and out of visibility until it faded completely into the mountains. I looked forward to following the trace of lights down that same path. The wind howled past me, and caused me to shiver.

Many mountain passes hesitate to drop, generally winding along a ridge for a mile or so before falling back into the valley. This pass reached a peak and instantly bent towards lower elevation, and the top offered an amazing view of where we came from and where we were headed. It was so steep that there were hardly any places to set up camp, but behind a snowplow shed there was enough room for our humble tent. There was even firewood to make a fire, which we would have enjoyed a bit more if we would have set it up further from our tent and didn’t have to constantly worry about flying embers burning a hole in the fabric.

Riding downhill the next day fulfilled all my expectations. Hugging the turns at 35-40 mph, I could even pass cars as they raced us to civilization. After the initial steep descent it became gradual, letting gravity pull us towards Grand Junction for the next 35 odd miles. At some point during the 2 hours of downhill bliss, I almost forgot about the toils of yesterday’s riding.

We met up at a gas station and saw Goat hobble in shortly after we had sat down with a pint of ice cream. He had gotten run off the road and into one of the most evil patches of goatheads any of us had ever seen. It was as though the tread of his tire had incorporated a steady stream of the prickly seeds to add traction. They turned his tube into Swiss cheese and required methodical removal so that the new tubes wouldn’t be burdened by remaining shards in the tire.

Grand Junction was a cool bike town, with lots of bike related sculptures lining main street. At the library we met a man named Rob Wells. He approached Goat in the library and spoke as if he was talking to somebody on another level of the building, “I shouldn’t try and communicate, because I’m deaf. But I was wondering where you guys are headed on those bikes?� Goat scribbled on a piece of paper, “The southernmost tip of South America.�

The man held the paper and a great beaming smile covered his face. He spoke about how he had traveled halfway across the country on a bike when he was younger and loved to hear more about our trip. He lived alone and had not spoken more than 40 words in the past 4 years. Because of a hereditary issue, he had lost his hearing completely 14 years ago. He invited us to stay over at his house and gave us directions.

They were simple enough. Head down the highway until you reach 19-1/2 street and turn right. Keep going until you reach K Street, make another right, my house is 3rd driveway on the right. It had gotten dark by the time we had managed to leave the city and we were eager to get some rest. 19-1/2 street came soon enough, but K street was another 45 minutes away and his driveway was another 25 minutes from there. The expansive 3 story house seemed out of suite for a man living on his own, and we were unsure we had the right house.

We couldn’t just knock to get him to answer the locked door, because he wouldn’t hear us. And naturally, there was no doorbell. So we waited outside his house while the neighborhood dogs yelled at us relentlessly. We feared a lynch mob would follow the cries of the dogs, wondering who was disturbing the peaceful rural neighborhood. Eventually we saw Rob through the window and got his attention with a flashlight we shined through the window at him.

He was a healthy old man, probably around 70 years old, but active enough that you would never know. He had a full head of grey hair and brilliant smile, accented with wrinkles that transformed his entire face into a glowing statement of happiness. Bushy eyebrows adorned his face like wreaths, adding a good measure of depth to his profile. After the grand tour of the house he proudly built, we rolled out our Thermarest and got a good night’s rest.

Next was Thanksgiving and he loudly shuffled into the main room. His voice bellowed through the empty house, “Today is Gobble-Gobble day, you guys want to go to the mission and get a Turkey Dinner.�

We all thought that Thanksgiving day was still a few days away and woke up excited about the prospect of free food. All three of us were taken back, when his car screamed out of his driveway and onto the road. We were not used to being in a car, speeding across the countryside at 55 miles per hour. Despite his rushed pace, we had arrived at the mission way too late. It was only 2 o’ clock but everybody was gone and there seemed to be no leftovers. Rob suggested we go to the grocery store (K-Mart) to get some food and have our own “Gobble Gobble Day.�

We sat down around his table and enjoyed a huge meal. It was fascinating to communicate with somebody who had spoken so little, and who was so eager to exchange words. Of course we had to write everything down, and he unknowingly yelled at us with his every word. But ultimately, there was something surreal about spending Thanksgiving with somebody we just met, and quickly finding a comfortable space with each other. It was definitely a holiday we will not forget..

We departed the next morning and he gave us two self-addressed envelopes for us to write to him. Earlier in town, we had been told about the Kokopelli trail, that began in Fruita, a few miles west of Grand Junction. Said to be well-signed and would take us all the way into Moab on an off-road route. We blasted our way onto a trail among dozens of cyclists heading out for a quick ride. They warned us about a few hike-a-bike sections that would be challenging and gave us some advice on which routes to take. The well graded gravel road we began on ended and took us into a technical singletrack section which then became an even more impossible hike-a-bike section that we were told of. We cautiously maneuvered our bikes down steep ledges and narrow paths. Sometimes we pulled the bikes, often, they pulled us down the hill. It had been too long since we had been on the trails and relished even the misery of the hike-a-biking. Though, I can’t speak for Sean who’s grunts and moans spoke more of pain and misery than any kind of enjoyment. By the end of the day, we were all singing the same tune, when it had gotten dark and we had been battling our way up the same hill for the past hour. Extreme exhaustion set in, and we had pedaled or pushed our bikes, at most, a whopping 20 miles. Sean seemed the most disturbed by the hike-a-bike section and was relegating himself to sleeping on the steep hillside. Goat and I grabbed his bags and guitar against his wishes and carried them to the top, making it easier for him to get his bike up.

Throughout the night, trains snaked their way through the valley that we had ridden along. A massive serpent of steel, followed the beaming headlight and disappeared into the darkness of a tunnel. I had many nostalgic moments that night thinking about my adventures riding the rails. I had once hopped on a gondola railcar in the summertime on the same tracks, which would soon conform around the Colorado River and veer towards Salt Lake City.

The next day offered a much more steady stream of riding. Bits of slick rock here, sandy sections there, in between technical rocky ledges. Kokopelli trail was truly incredible, offering incredibly diverse riding conditions among some of the most beautiful scenery on earth. Canyons and rock formations manifested themselves in unearthly shapes and contours, leaving you to momentarily question what planet you are on. Sean had a lot of trouble with flat tires that day and found himself tailing a good ways behind. His misery on the hike-a-bike was always the most vocalized, often to the discreet humor and entertainment of Goat and myself. The light in the sky began running to the horizon shortly after I had just pushed my bike up a lengthy steep section. I asked Goat, “You seen Sean lately?�

“Nahh, not for awhile.�

“He had a flat tire, I haven’t seen him since.�

“Hmm. Hope he’s all right. I sure don’t want to have to push up that hill again.�

And then we saw him turn the corner in the distance.

“Think we should stick around and watch him suffer up his hill?� I asked.

Goat merely replied with his infectious laugh. We stood there catching our breathe and watched Sean get closer and closer. Darkness was setting in and we had been out of water for most of the day, so we opted to continue our path towards hydration. We sped through a singletrack section weaving through thick bushes and trees. The trail spilled us onto a paved road dropping quickly downhill. We saw on the crude map we printed up from the library that we were near the river and imagined a nice campsite around there. We hurried towards the water. My head was pounding from the dehydration. We toured the campsite and abandoned ranger station looking for the next section of the Kokopelli, and found nothing. “It would be all-right, deal with that tomorrow,� I thought.

We sat idly, waiting for Sean, since there was little we could do. He had the water filter, the cooking equipment and the weather was clear enough, so there was no reason to put up the tent. We got impatient and filled our Drom bags with water and purified it with iodine, while we eagerly waited for both Sean to appear and the water to be ready. 30 minutes later there was still no sign of him and we greedily began drinking the water. Instantly, a sense of sanity returned that we didn’t even realize had been lost. Exhaustion will do that to you, makes it mighty difficult to think clearly.

We built a huge fire hoping that would signal him. There wasn’t really any turns to take, we couldn’t really imagine him getting lost, and began to worry that he might have had debilitating bike problems. We dragged some coals under the grill and cooked individual oatmeal packets in my metal coffee cup. It was a really sad meal, and we worried about Sean. We rolled out our beds and went to sleep, figuring we would be able to work this out tomorrow with a bit more light. No sense wandering around in the dark.

After a short spell of sleep, a tremendous wind blew through our campsite. I could hear various things we left on the table blowing towards the nearby river. I jumped up to rescue them. Momentarily after getting back in my sleeping bag and feeling that familiar, comforting warmth of the Primaloft insulation, rain started sprinkling down. I got up and started dragging myself under the picnic table. I was too tired to realize that we had the top of the tent, but Sean had the pole that supported it. We frantically began staking out the tent, shivering all the while. Through the narrow and dim beam of my headlamp I was able to find a stick that could support the pyramid shaped tent, and our home was built. We hoped Sean was able to set-up a decent shelter as well. (Later we found out that his shelter involved his bike and it fell on him periodically throughout the night) As usual, however, the rain stopped the moment we got our tent set up anyway.

We woke up the next day without a sign of Sean. Being the master map readers that we are, it took us a little while to realize that the trail actually took a turn before hitting the river, a little more than half a mile back. By the time we got there, we could see his tracks in the sand. They ended abruptly about a mile into the trail. “Sean… SEEAAANNNN?!!!� We yelled. Nothing.

We followed his tracks back to the road, and did our best sleuthing trying to find where his tracks went. We discovered absolutely nothing. It was about 1:30 when we finally decided to go back up the paved road to the trail, thinking he might have left a note. We stashed our bags behind a bush and began our search for him. Our plan was to leave a note at the various junctions he would have encountered and then we’d wait out the day at the bottom of the hill, at the last place we saw his tracks. A group of dirtbike riders came motoring up behind us. One of them peeled off his goggles and lifted up his helmet and said, “You looking for another rider?�
“Yeah..Yeah. How’d you know?� I replied.

“We saw him a good, what?� He looked around the group for verification as he continued, “four hours ago, maybe more.�

Another rider chimed in, “He decided to take the freeway, said he had flats and got separated from you two. Didn’t know what to do and said he’d meet you in Moab. Oh. And just to mention there’s supposed to be a big storm coming, maybe a day or two.�

They put back their goggles, strapped their helmets and wished us luck.

“Damn, that man left four hours ago? We weren’t even awake by the time he chose to hit the pavement.� I said, astonished.

“And he has a good portion of our food, not to mention all the cooking equipment and the other half of the tent.� Goat added.

“Well…shoot.. Let’s continue on down the Kokopelli. No sense in taking the road, just yet.� I said.
“Of course,� Goat agreed.

“Shoot..man.. Good thing one of us wasn’t hurt, that was a sketchy sketchy maneuver to leave like that, no note, nothing. Damn his road fever� I said while shaking my head.

“Damn good thing the dirtbikers ran into us. We would have waited around all day for him� Goat said.

We loaded up our bags and continued down the Kokopelli. It was very strange riding without a trio. The trail helped lift our moods, as it was some of the most incredible riding we’d been exposed to since we began the trip. Epic singletrack and steep four-wheel drive roads absorbed our thoughts. One particularly memorable stretch of singletrack spanned along the riverside, at points tunneling through thick brush and undulating up and down with lots of little technical turns and drops. Challenging for a fully loaded Xtracycle, but we made off pretty well. I can remember watching Goat burst down an amazingly steep rock garden, filled with 12� boulders, as if he was on smooth pavement. I gingerly followed. It came as a surprise to me when I finally caught up to him and saw he was clutching his shoulder. He managed to fall on an insignificant flat turn, because of an issue unclipping his feet from the pedal. His shoulder took a good hit and it was not okay. We finished the day with a steep and likely miserable hike-a-bike for him. We set up camp under some cottonwood trees next to the river.

We built a fire and cooked the rest of our food one little cup full at a time. Our hunger spawned a bit of innovation and Goat grabbed an extra cog while I filled up some aluminum cans with dirt to set in the fire. We balanced the cog in between the cans and pushed coals underneath and grilled up the Jimmy Dean sausage to perfection, complete with cassette grill marks.

That was unfortunately the end of the Kokopelli for us since Goat’s shoulder was injured and our food supply was non-existant. We begrudgingly detoured to highway and began following the river towards Moab. There has been very few towns we’ve gone through and not been warned by somebody of an impending storm, “the big one� as we joke. The towns that didn’t warn us were usually the towns that were already blanketed in snow or drowned in rain, and they all seemed to say with disbelief and upturned palms that it is never like this at this time of the year. We faced a merciless wind most of the ride pulling behind it a powerful snow storm. As beautiful as it was, the delicate surface of me eyeballs were being attacked with sand particles and my riding was subjected to brief gusts of wind that would alter the direction I was hoping to take my bike. About ten miles out of Moab we saw a flagger stopping cars and I planned on asking her if she had seen another rider ahead of us. She was gorgeous, and it was shocking to see such a beautiful creature to be working a construction job out in the middle of nowhere. Whatever I was going to say or hoped to say pretty much turned into a pathetic slew of stuttered gibberish. I pedaled on, trying to make sense of the brief encounter, seriously wondering if she had been some strange windblown mirage.

“Goat. Did you s..� I began.

He interrupted, “Yeah.. What the heck was she doing working that job?�

“Well I doubt there are as many people who can stop traffic as well as her. I suppose she’s perfect for the job.� I replied.

We reached the edge of Moab and saw a sign that said “Bike Trail To Moab� and had an arrow pointing under the overpass. We followed it, saw that it started out as a nice paved path and quickly wound up and around and onto the very busy highway 191, with a tiny shoulder for cyclists. Semi-trucks blew past as and literally left us in their dust. I was behind Goat and was knocked off my bike by a dustdevil of incredible strength. Goat heard my cries and laughed as he watched me get worked by the tornado of wind and debris.

I saw Sean at the library and said dramatically, “Damn you Sean. You left us for dead out there. That was such a sketchy move.�

“Yeah, I’m sorry. I realized that after I left. I screwed up.� He replied sincerely and apologetically.

“Did you se..� I began.

“Yeah. The flagger. She was gorgeous.� Sean interrupted, “Why was she…�

Then it was my turn to interrupt, “I have no idea.�

One thought on “Dinosaur Country

  1. Lee Blackwell says:

    Sure enjoying reading your journals.I spent a night by that train tunnel on the Kokopelli Trail also. Quite a trip yer doing. Let me know if you’d like a place to stay at Tubac which is south of Tucson.

  2. Lee Blackwell says:

    Sure enjoying reading your journals.I spent a night by that train tunnel on the Kokopelli Trail also. Quite a trip yer doing. Let me know if you’d like a place to stay at Tubac which is south of Tucson.

  3. Lee Blackwell says:

    Sure enjoying reading your journals.I spent a night by that train tunnel on the Kokopelli Trail also. Quite a trip yer doing. Let me know if you’d like a place to stay at Tubac which is south of Tucson.

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