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Twelve Days Across the West by Rob McGregor This is a travel story about a motorcycle trip my wife and I took across the American West – beginning in San Francisco and ending in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. We followed highways 50 and 40, which parallel the old Pony Express route from Missouri to California. It was a chance to see parts of Northern Nevada, Utah and Western Colorado that we had never seen before, and at the same time visit some of the museums and historical places that capture the life and times of the settlers of the 1860s and 1870s. Most came to Nevada during the silver boom, and a trip across the Northern part of the state make one appreciate the power that the lure of instant wealth has on the human imagination. At the end of the trip I would have an impression that a similar land boom today is drawing people to the mountains for entirely different reasons. A trip across Nevada and Utah would be dull in a car, but on a bike you are not separated from the scenery. You are part of it. You can smell the humidity when you cross a river; can feel the heat from the sun; feel the wind against your face; and almost reach out and touch the purple mountains that ring the desert. This was my first real long-distance ride – 1500 miles in all – and we took it at a leisurely pace of about 100 miles a day. We took rest days in Lake Tahoe, Virginia City, Eureka, and Salt Lake City. Riding was half the fun, but visiting the towns, taking photos and learning a little about western history was an important objective of the trip. This is more than a chronology of our ride. It is also a commentary on what we saw and learned along the way. For those of you who like to skip to the back of a book, I’ll present my “lessons learned” about motorcycle touring up front, just for the record. Here they are: 1. Get a bigger bike. We rode a Honda Magna 750 because I already owned one that I kept in San Francisco for vacations. It’s a great city bike, but a little light on the highway. The bike got squirrelly in a cross wind or when a semi passed us. If I do this again, I’ll step up to the Honda 1300. I know a lot people like the tradition and the image that goes with Harley Davidson, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s just a big, loud motorcycle. 2. Don’t be afraid. I worried that we would get into trouble on the road; that people would be unfriendly; that the desert ride would be inhospitable. All my fears subsided once we were under way, and I realized that people are generally nice to travelers and considerate of motorcyclists on the road. It’s not the 1800s any more, and we were seldom more than two hours from a convenience store or a place to stay. 3. Fill your tank often. I hate to admit it, but I ran out of gas because I forgot to turn the fuel valve from “reserve” back to “on.” The bike has no fuel gauge. When it starts to sputter, that’s the signal to switch to reserve, and it means you have about 30 miles left in your tank. If you have forgotten to flip the switch after you fill up, then the next time the bike sputters… you’re out of gas. There are some stretches along Highway 50 that will max out your range with a full tank. Fill up often. (By the way, we were saved by a Good Samaritan who lives in one of the little settlements in the desert east of Carson City. He picked us up on the roadside and filled our tank from gas cans mounted on the back of his truck. Thank you.) 4. Pack light. We had a pair of saddle bags that held just one change of jeans, three changes of underwear and T-shirts, swim trunks and a pair of tennis shoes. If you are willing to do laundry every three days, you can ride across country with surprisingly little storage space. My wife invented the “taco roll” method of folding clothes, which worked pretty well. While I sifted through layers to find what I wanted, she just pulled the appropriate rolled item out of her bag, leaving everything else undisturbed. 5. Ride with a purpose. Touring is a reward all its own, but it makes the trip much more enjoyable if you take a good camera or write an itinerary of your trip. Writing something down in a journal every night kept my memories fresh, and recaptured the feelings inspired by the days’ adventures. 6. Be safe. I used to skydive, and quit when I lost a friend to the sport. If I want an adrenaline rush, I’ll take up skydiving again. Touring is fun because I haven’t hurt myself. I intend to keep it that way. Here is the log of our trip with some photos that we took along the way. I hope you enjoy it. On the day we left San Francisco, we had breakfast at our favorite café – Crepes and Coffee on Sacramento Street. I like to read at breakfast, so despite my disdain for the San Francisco press, I read The Chronicle. It was running a series of articles on the problem of homelessness, and how the problem had gotten progressively worse since Diane Feinstein made it a priority in the early 1980s. Twenty years later, San Francisco is actually drawing homeless people from neighboring communities, in part because of the city’s efforts to accommodate them. According to the Chronicle, the city gives an allowance of $285 a month to persons who can demonstrate that they are homeless (though I don’t know how). I looked up from the paper saw this guy standing on the edge of the sidewalk, facing the door of the coffee shop, talking loudly to himself. He wore a fatigue jacket and jeans, and had a cup in his hand. After a little while, he wandered away down Sacramento Street. I got up, bought a pastry and a cup of coffee to go, put some cream and sugar in it, and chased after him. “Excuse me, I noticed that you were in front of the coffee shop and wondered if you needed something to eat.” I said as I came up behind him. He looked scared and suspicious, and stuttered badly, “Y-y-y-y you saw m-m-m me at the-the c-coffee shop?” He looked at the pastry and coffee that I held out to him. “Yeah, go ahead. It’s fresh. I just got it.” He shuffled his own cup into his other hand, and gratefully took the coffee and pastry. “T-t-thank you,” he said, and shuffled away. Although I was struck by his politeness, I noticed that he was truly disabled. There was something wrong with him You know, there are a lot of assholes out on the street, and most of them need a job or a 12-step program more than they need a handout. On the other hand, there are some people who really need help, and they are the ones who deserve $285 a month. That guy never had a chance, and will be dependent on someone for the rest of his life. It’s possible to design a program to distinguish between the truly needy and the lazy or addicted, but it takes more political courage than most people in public life can muster. Ironically, pressuring the quitters and the drug addicts to get jobs or treatment would be infinitely more humane than subsidizing their life on the streets. With that thought, I walked back to the cafe and we saddled up. I didn’t want to leave thinking about the homeless, as the City has so many positive things going on. It seems to have some vital energy that is created by people who know they are living someplace special. We took a slow ride through the financial district on the way to the Bay Bridge, and I looked over my shoulder a few times as we headed toward Oakland. I always have a bittersweet sense of leaving something very special behind when I leave San Francisco. Our journey along Highway 50 began in Sacramento – the last stop on the old Pony Express route – and we stopped to celebrate with a dish of Yankee pot roast at Abe’s Cafe. It was only about an hour and a half to Lake Tahoe, which was our first day’s destination. The first day would also be my first lesson in time management, as our late start put us into Sacramento at rush hour. Interesting that rush hour looks the same in every large city in the U.S. – the only difference being the scenery you pass as you meander out to the suburbs. It is apparent that our population is outgrowing our infrastructure, but no one really seems to care. We joined the traffic jam headed out of town toward Folsum, and were pleased to find the diamond lane almost empty. This, despite 20 mile-an-hour traffic in the other four lanes. As I watched the cars exit en masse at Folsum, I thought, “Doesn’t anyone in this town know someone they can drive to work with?” I suppose they will widen the freeway before they will drive two to a car. By the time we climbed toward the mountain pass east of Placerville, the sun was low in the sky. As we climbed above 6,000 feet, and the temperature continued to drop, I realized the hazard of wasting daylight. I was getting very cold, and the combination of dew on the outside and fog inside my visor made it hard for me to see the road. We topped the crest of the pass somewhere around 7,000 feet and started down a beautiful but treacherous descent on the Eastern side. There was no shoulder, but a small rock wall the highway department had installed to act as a guard rail. The wall was only about fifteen feet to my right as I negotiated the curves leading down to the Lake. Oncoming cars made my visibility problem worse by refusing to dim their lights ('cause you know, then they can't see as well). I had visions of wandering over the right shoulder, hitting the highway guard wall and plunging into the chasm below. I was so cold my hands were stiff, but I could see the lights of South Lake Tahoe, and knew we would make it in. We spent a quiet day in South Lake Tahoe, losing money at craps and video poker. We decided to get out of the casino and take a ride up to Incline Village, which was rather disappointing except for the incredible views of the lake. We stopped at the Tahoe Biltmore casino and went to the restaurant. An indifferent wait staff avoided our table for about 20 minutes, before my wife said, "We should go somewhere else." She meant it as a principle: she doesn't suffer laziness or ineptitude, and will go out of her way to make sure that she never rewards people who don't deserve it. For that I love her. We went across the street to a little outdoor place with an awning that said, "Burger Spot." It's outside of Jim Kelly's Nugget casino, on a wooden deck. They served me the thickest, juiciest steak sandwhich I've ever had - piled high with lettuce and tomatoes, and accompanied by their own chile. If you eat there, you can go across the street to the Tahoe Biltmore to wash your hands. The Biltmore's bathrooms are real nice. The next day we dropped over Spooner Pass and into Carson City. The scenery changed abruptly from the mountains to the high desert, and would not change again until we reached the Wasatch Range at Salt Lake City. Carson City is like a small town – clean, orderly and lots of trees. It has a great public library and park near the capital. The dome on the capital is silver, as opposed to gold, as it was silver that brought the boom to Nevada in the 1870s. We spent our first afternoon in the Nevada State Museum, constructed of sandstone block in 1862 to house the second national mint (the first one being in Philadelphia). The mint opened in 1870 and minted silver coins until 1893. The first coin press, operated by steam, is on display along with a comprehensive collection of silver and gold coins minted in the building. Here is an interesting piece of trivia: the coins were minted with an eagle on one side and a seated liberty on the other. You may have heard of a “golden eagle” coin, which would be a $10 gold piece. A “double eagle” did not have two eagles on the coin. It was called a double eagle because it was worth twice as much – a $20 gold piece. Can you guess what a half-eagle is?* There is plaque outside the museum with a tribute to the “celebrated” Pony Express riders that carried mail along the route between St. Joseph, Missouri and Sacramento, California. Riders would leave from both ends of the route, stopping at stations 5 to 20 miles apart for rest, water, and fresh horses. They could make the trip in ten days, which I found both impressive and embarrassing, considering that we took twelve days on a motorcycle and only went as far as Colorado. Here are some Pony Express facts for your next trivia contest: there were 183 riders who covered 650,000 miles of ground between them and missed only one scheduled stop! They lost one horse and rider to Indians. The Ute Indians, by the way, became hostile when miners and settlers infringed on their lands. Go figure. The Pony Express had a brief history. Like the Clipper ships that carried passengers to the West Coast before the railroad, its fame far outlived its tenure. It operated from April 1860 to November 1861, when it was rendered obsolete by the telegraph. Supporting the cost of the riders, horses and stations required the service to charge five dollars to send a letter from Missouri to California. Five dollars was a lot of money in 1860. (*That would be a half-eagle just to send a half-ounce letter.) If you visit the Nevada State Museum, go down the street to the Horseshoe Casino and order the steak dinner. The steak is thick and tender, and the waitresses are video poker aficionados. One of them claims she won $10,000 on a Royal Flush playing a one-dollar machine. Inspired, my wife won $5 playing a quarter machine, which isn’t as impressive, but still very satisfying 20:1 payout. The next day was Saturday, and we rode the bike up the highway to Virginia City along with all the other bikers in Nevada. Silver was discovered there in 1849, but the town didn’t really boom until about ten years later when the famous Comstock Lode was discovered nearby. They hauled about seven million tons of silver ore out of the Comstock , which is a figure that doesn’t convey the enormity of this task until you consider that it was brought to the surface with dynamite and iron tools. The publicity of the Comstock brought thousands of settlers to Virginia City, making it one of the largest towns west of the Mississippi. By 1870 local investors completed the Virginia and Truckee railroad. Prior to that, travelers had arrived by horse or stagecoach. We visited the Fourth Ward School, built in 1876 to accommodate the growing population. The school had 1,025 students when it opened. The first floor had the primary grades; the second had the middle school, and the third floor the high school. The original blackboards and desks (with inkwells) are still there. Samuel Clemens became part of Virginia City’s fame when he came to try his hand at prospecting after working as a pilot on a Mississippi riverboat. His prospecting days were short lived, and he took his first journalism position with the town’s newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise, in 1863. It was the first time he used his famous pen name, Mark Twain, and when he moved on to California he wrote about his adventures as a prospector in the book, “Roughing It.” His co- editors of the paper became locally famous and apparently quite wealthy from investments in mines and real estate. The Mark Twain museum downtown houses the original offices of the paper. You can see the desk where Samuel Clemens worked; walk on the wood floors where he walked, and see the Enterprises’ original presses. The Enterprise, like the Fourth Ward School newspaper, used the metal press and California type box that required words to be constructed with raised letters on tiny metal blocks … arranged backwards so the text would read left to right when pressed against a blank page. Here’s the strangest part of this story: my wife was trained to use that press and the California type box when she was in middle school in the Mexico City public school system. “I know how to use this!” she exclaimed when we walked up to the old Territorial Enterprise press. She then gave me a detailed explanation of how to set type from the type box, transfer the ink from the round metal plate to the type, and press the sheets of paper against the inked type to create a single page of text. It occurs to me that the advent of the word processor has made newspaper publishing infinitely easier, but not infinitely better. The old newspapermen didn’t draw a distinction between reporting and editorializing, and editors were expected to back up their inflammatory rhetoric with their fists – or guns – if necessary. Today newspaper reporting maintains a veneer of objectivity by reporting events without editorial comment. The bias is introduced by the editor’s choice of which events to report, and how to present them. The newspaper editors and reporters filter all that is happening in the world, and by their choice of stories indicate which events are important. Homelessness is important. The fact that we are quickly outgrowing our infrastructure is not. The bias was more straightforward in the old days. Virginia City is a very well preserved nineteenth century western town, and is designated as a national monument. From the Fourth Ward Schoolhouse to the Mark Twain Museum; the buildings, the wooden sidewalks, and the characters in gunfighter costumes, it evokes the feeling of a mining town of the 1870s. Spending a Saturday afternoon there left us with the feeling that it is a victim of its own success, for it has become pretty “touristy.” The streets were full of bikers and weekenders from Reno, buying souvenirs and getting drunk. The deciding moment came a stretch limo got stuck in a tight intersection, unable to negotiate the corner. We maneuvered the Magna slowly around the car, trying to peer through the windows. It was so incongruous – someone driving a stretch limo through an old western town. Instead of returning directly to Carson City, we took a ride out to the ruins of Fort Churchill about 30 miles east of town. The fort was surprisingly big, and the ruins are well preserved. As the sun began to set, I had a sense of the loneliness and solitude the soldiers must have felt at a frontier outpost. There is a cemetery nearby, with an audio recording that plays a moving eulogy to the unknown soldiers buried there. The ride to Fort Churchill and back gave us a preview of the scenery that would be the backdrop for the rest of our ride through Nevada – sandy brown desert dotted with gray/green scrub brush. When we left Carson City the next morning, the “loneliest road in America” got pretty lonely pretty fast. The brown desert floor stretched out around us, ending in a ring of mountains that looked blue in the distance. The sky was clear; the road well maintained; and if it were possible to sleep behind the handlebars, I could have dozed for most of the trip. It took about eight hours to get to Eureka, including stops for road food and Gatorade. We stopped at a little cafe in Austin and had a milkshake made the way a milkshake should be made – with whole mile and chocolate ice cream blended in an old-fashioned mixer. It was dusk, and having learned my lesson about filling the gas tank, I stopped at the Shell station in Austin before the final push to Eureka. I still couldn’t fit one day’s ride into a day, and we headed out into the desert with the sun setting behind us. The desert air quickly turned cold. Even before the sun was down, there was a chill in the shady side of the mountains. The night ride was interesting, and my wife spent a lot of time looking up at the stars. By the time we got to Eureka, it was really cold, and we were stiff and tired. The night manager at the Eureka Inn directed us up the street to the Owl Club bar and grille, the only place that was serving dinner at 9:30. I sat at a table, dumbly looking at the menu, with road noise still in the back of my head. When the waiter said, “Our special tonight is ribs,” my wife and I both nodded and handed him the menus. He came back with large slabs of baby back ribs that drooped over both ends of the plates. The side dishes were corn on the cob, baked beans, salad and hot rolls. It was a very pleasant surprise, considering that half an hour earlier I thought we would be eating Cliff bars for dinner. I stopped at the bar on the way out of the restaurant and asked the bartender if she could sell us a couple of bottles of water. She looked surprised, and said, “No. The water here is fine.” Then, as if speaking to a small child, make the OK sign with her thumb and forefinger, “It’s great.” I waited till I got outside and then just burst out laughing, “I love this town!” When we stepped out of our hotel the next morning, we heard country music blaring from a big red pickup truck. The bumper sticker said, “I may be a bitch, but I’m the pick of the litter.” We went to the EZ Stop next door for a couple of Red Bulls and then did the self-guided tour of the town. The buildings in the town are numbered, and the guide pamphlet gives a surprisingly detailed account of each of the buildings. Here is a sample entry: #26 Nevada Club Bar. The southern portion of this establishment was originally called the Tiger Saloon. It gained a very notorious reputation when on separate occasions, gunfights in the saloon resulted in the death of two men. After the August 1880 fire, the saloon was rebuilt as a two-story frame structure in only 13 days. The saloon and dance hall continued to operate into the 1890s…. The famous Jackson House, a restored bar and hotel, has sadly gone out of business. There is a “For Lease” sign in the window, offering an opportunity for someone who wants to get away from the city and manage an historic boarding house. We left the next day for Ely accompanied by the beautiful fall weather that we had enjoyed since the start of our trip. On a motorcycle you are susceptible to conditions that you wouldn’t notice in a car, and soon the wind kicked up and blew across Highway 50 in sudden gusts from the South. This made the Magna a little light on its feet, and I slowed to 55 mph. The occasional highway sign warning of “loose gravel” or “fresh oil” slowed us further. A little frustrated with our progress, we stopped in Ely just long enough to visit the Northern Nevada Railway Museum and took some pictures. The one stop that I had really wanted to make was a detour to the ghost town of Hamilton, just south of Antelope Summit. Unfortunately, the road was gravel. A road bike is squirrelly on gravel, especially when loaded down with bags and a passenger, and I didn’t want to take the chance that we would lay it down on a corner. We pressed on. Instead of heading toward the Great Basin (named by John Fremont in 1845), we turned north on Highway 95, heading for West Wendover. This was the last gambling town before the Utah border, and I had a score to settle with the craps table. The gusting wind was now at our backs, as was the sun, and the ride was smooth and fast. Highway 95 follows a narrow valley north along the Schell Creek mountain range. The narrow desert bordered on both sides by mountains was a refreshing change of scenery from the flat expanse of endless scrub brush. Once again we found ourselves riding late in the evening, and the setting sun made a yellow and grey patchwork out of the sage and scrub brush on the desert floor. The light hit the mountains from the side, creating contrasts of light brown and shady blue. That night I battled the craps table to a draw, but my wife had a hot streak and won about $500 playing $25 chips. We spent part of our winnings on a suite with mirrors everywhere and a big hot tub next to the bed. The next morning we rode past the Utah Salt Flats and headed into Salt Lake City. We hadn’t really planned to spend a day there, but the weather had turned windy and cold. Conditions that the Pony Express riders would have laughed at cause me to tremble and shake with fear, so we decided to stay in town and see the Temple. The day off gave us a chance to do laundry again, and I took the Magna to a Honda dealership on State Street for an oil change. There is nothing better than fresh oil for your bike. We walked about six blocks south on State Street for lunch at a very authentic little Mexican restaurant called Mi Rancherita. I filled up on machaca and huevos. A visit to the Temple Square reminded me why I don’t visit more often. Temple Square contains the Temple, the Tabernacle, and two visitor centers that relate and elevate Mormon history through dioramas and exhibits. They also serve as venues for the faithful to proselytize the gentiles who wander in. Well that’s understandable. Still, the fresh-faced acolytes that swarmed about the Temple Square like bees from the hive out to gather pollen made me feel a little… uneasy. The greeters in black uniforms and the employees inside the visitor centers all used a friendly smile and casual greeting as a first step to initiate contact. You feel rude if you ignore them, but I didn’t come for an enthusiastic introduction to the Truth about God. The experience reminded me of the approach used by timeshare salesmen at Mexican resorts, where an overly-friendly smile and a “Where are you from, amigo,” is a prelude to a sales pitch. In Mexico they will give you a free jeep rental if you agree to show them your credit card and sit through a two-hour presentation. (If you go through that, as far as I’m concerned, you have paid for your jeep rental.) To be fair, the Mormons don’t ask to see your credit card, and they aren’t really that pushy. On the other hand, there’s no free jeep rental. I am glad we visited the Temple Square, for it reveals something of the American character, and so fits in with the purpose of our trip. If there is any religion that can be said to be truly American it is Mormonism. (Well, I suppose paganism in truly American, but you know what I mean.) I say American instead of Western because Mormonism was born in New York State, and moved west as a result of religious persecution. I believe Mormonism is the only widely practiced religion that was not imported to the Americas by settlers or immigrants. It was born here in the early-nineteenth century when Joseph Smith was approached by an angel and directed to unearth some golden tablets buried under a rock. The angel gave Smith the ability to translate the text inscribed on those tablets into English, and the resulting scripture was recorded as the Book of Mormon. Although the gold tablets are not available for inspection, the Book of Mormon can be found right next to your Gideon Bible in any hotel room in Utah. As part of a trip back into American history, the beliefs of Mormonism deserve some mention. Upon reading the tablets, Smith discovered the fate of the fabled lost tribe of Israel. They weren’t actually lost. They sailed to the New World long before Columbus, and the Native Americans are their descendents. This remarkable interpretation of history sets the scene for the most significant aspect of Mormon belief. It is this: after Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem, he appeared to his lost children here in North America. Jesus walked and spoke in the New World long before European settlers arrived, and the legacy of His teachings is in the texts inscribed on the gold tablets. As a side note, archeological evidence shows that Native Americans actually arrived from Asia over the frozen Bering Straight some 20,000 years ago, but this evidence is recent and Joseph Smith was born in 1805. At that time the theory that indigenous Americans were descendents of the lost tribe of Israel had some currency. When Europeans beheld the cities of the Mayans and Aztecs, they were impressed to the point of amazement. Cortés compared Tenochtitlán to Seville in his diaries. Reflecting their Eurocentric view of the world, later scholars theorized that ancient American cultures must have had contact with Greek, Roman or Egyptian cultures, and this led to the hypothesis that the Lost Tribe of Israel may have carried ancient knowledge to the New World. Smith would have been familiar with this theory, and would logically have incorporated it into the Book of Mormon to account for Jesus’s appearance here. This flawed view of Meso-American history raises some questions about the legitimacy of the Book of Mormon, for surely Jesus would have known the true origin of the American Indians, even if Joseph Smith did not. True or not, what is interesting to me about these assertions is what they reveal about the need for Americans to see themselves as unique and morally superior to their European brethren. Mormonism places North America on an equal footing with the Holy Land from a religious perspective. The visit from Jesus and the existence of an American holy scripture raises America up from second-hand status to an equal partner with the Old World. This too is the Holy Land. The survival of Mormonism into the twenty-first century reveals something about American pride – and naiveté – that is reflected in other aspects of American culture. We named our towns after European cities, copied European architecture, built castles in the desert, and elevated our conquest of the West with the label of Manifest Destiny. That we took the next step of religious self- anointment should not seem peculiar in this context. The next day the weather was beautiful, and we left Salt Lake City going south on I-15. We turned east at Alpine and headed up Highway 92 – the Alpine Scenic Drive. There is a visitor’s center just up the road after you enter the park, and a trail leads to the Timpanogos Cave. Park rangers give tours through the cave, which is really a system of caves connected by tunnels built in the 1930s. The hike from the visitor’s center through the caves and back takes about three hours. We skipped it, as we intended to make it to Vernal before sunset, but took time for a slow ride up American Fork Canyon to the Sundance resort. This was by far the most beautiful part of our trip. The road meanders up into the Uinta National Forest, colored in brilliant reds and yellows by the fall leaves. The scenery was just spectacular. We stopped at Sundance to look around, and would have ridden the chairlift up the mountain and stayed at the resort if we had had more time. In fact, I wish we had spent the night. The descent out of the Wasatch Range into the Utah desert was much like the descent out of Lake Tahoe. In short order we were surrounded by a flat sandy landscape filled with rabbit brush. About an hour and a half east of the mountains you come across the Strawberry Reservoir, which looks like a miniature Lake Powell – as if some giant hand came out of the sky and filled the desert valley with water. Just beyond is Fruitland, which as far as I can tell is just a little store on the side of the highway. If you turn north at the Fruitland store and go about 300 yards up a gravel road to Muirs Smokehouse, you can have a great lunch of smoked meats and enjoy a view of the valley. It’s about another hour and a half to Vernal, which I remembered from my travels as a spot in the desert. Now it has movie theaters, a Wal Mart, hotels, restaurants, and a Honda dealership. There is a fossil museum about ten miles east of town, which was built into the side of a hill that contains the fossil beds. In the 1920s thousands of dinosaur fossils, dating from 150 million years ago, were excavated and sent to museums. The techniques for extracting the fossils reminded me of the mining techniques from the 1870s – lots of hand labor with iron tools. When they stopped excavating, they left many fossils in place, and you can see hundreds of exposed fossil bones in the rock wall inside the museum. My wife took a picture of me standing next to the fossilized thighbone of Diplodocus. The day we arrived at the museum was September 20th, which was the last day of summer. It was a beautiful day with clear skies and no wind at all. The park entrance fee is normally $10, but that day it was free because, I was informed, it was National Public Lands day. Considering that odds that we would arrive at the fossil beds on the one day out of the entire year when admission is free; on the last day of summer; and under beautiful sunny skies, I decided that a small offering of thanks was in order. We performed a short ceremony among the rocks, offering pieces of jerky and dried apple to whichever pagan gods are the patrons of motorcyclists. I got some extra satisfaction by doing it while we were still in Utah. We rode into Steamboat Springs, Colorado late that evening and found that the town was having its Autumn Festival. (Apparently pagan rites are more widespread than I had previously thought.) The streets were full of people welcoming the onset of winter and the ski season. Steamboat Springs seems to be booming. The town has grown appreciably since I was there for a skydiving boogie in 1998. The downtown area has many more restaurants and shops, with a noticeably more upscale tone. They are building new hotels near the base of the ski area, along with retail stores and restaurants. The area from Steamboat through Granby and south to the Vail Valley is all becoming a year-round recreation area. A log home development and golf course near Granby, for example, is selling out quickly to buyers from Denver who want vacation homes in the mountains. The last land rush is on, and the draw this time is not silver or gold but recreation. Everyone wants to get out of the city. This was our last stop before we put the motorcycle away in storage. It had been the longest and best road trip I have taken. I had expected to learn more about the nation’s loneliest road, and the mining history of Nevada, which helped fill in my vision of how the West developed. That was pretty interesting. What I didn’t expect was that a trip through Nevada and Utah would teach me something more about Colorado, by way of offering a contrast. I guess that’s the lesson for travelers everywhere – the more you see of other people and places, the more learn about yourself.