Ride Report: Day 9

Day 9 / Saturday, September 5, 2009

The night wasn't as cold as expected and after packing up, I sat down for a nice hearty breakfast prepared by Devin of bacon, eggs, mashed potatoes and cantaloupe. Karen confirmed that they do eat a lot of potatoes, being from Idaho and all. Devin said there were three roads heading out across the Great Divide Basin and I should take care not to get lost as no one hardly ventures through there. I pointed to the GPS and said my goodbyes.

My camp neighbor, Devin and his kids inviting me for breakfast.

Saying my goodbyes after a nice evening and breakfast of talking about their rancher lives and sharing about India.

Atlantic City, for having such a grand name is currently a small rustic mining community in the hills near South Pass. It also had its hey day in the late 19th century and was formed due to a gold rush in the area. It gets its name from being the first city on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide. These days, it's own for its Mercantile store, which was established in 1893 and still serves food and drink to the passing traveler.

This area is also famous, particularly, South Pass, for allowing the great migrations out west in the mid-19th century, such as the Oregon and Mormon trails to find a suitable level crossing of the Rockies instead of the rough terrain in Montana or further south in Colorado. Devin mentioned that there was a site in the basin dedicated to Mormons who had perished while trying to cross it, showing how tough this journey was for the migrants.

I was expecting to have a much easier time, but still stocked up on water and fuel, just in case anything happened on this high remote desert. The road into the basin starts off with about 30 miles of washboard and then smoothens out to hard-packed mud. From previous ride reports, I gleamed that this wouldn't be too tough of a section for riding with an injured foot and was glad to note what a pleasant ride it was. The road follows the gentle curves of the terrain and even with no trees around, as the constant wind restricts vegetation to small shrubs, I still felt very much in contact with the natural world, with no civilization present for at least a 50 mile radius.

The Great Divide Basin, formed by the Continental Divide splitting around this high elevation desert is endorheic, meaning water falling inside the basin can't drain to the oceans as it's circled by mountains and instead evaporates or seeps into the ground. It was formed due to a geological feature known as an anticline, where the ground is pushed up by tectonic forces and the edge of the sedimentary layers slope downward, with the oldest rock coming up at the center. Erosion from the mountains has filled in to create the flat basin over the eons, but pockets can form under the folds in the ground and allow oil and natural gas to collect. The one truck that I crossed in the basin was heading to a remote oil field as the basin is considered to harbor useful natural resources, such as oil and possibly uranium ore. As a sign of our times, there is currently debate on whether to extract the resources or preserve the basin as a national monument of wilderness area. I know we need the resources for our energy hungry lives, but we also need more wildernesses. The trick is trying to do both without any detrimental long-term impacts.

I stopped for frequent breaks along the way and enjoyed sitting in the silence by the road side and listening to the wind, imaging this same wind howling past early expeditions as they crossed into the open West. I saw numerous pronghorn running freely through the landscape and joined in as I cranked open the throttle a bit more.

Heading down into Atlantic City.

I wondered how it got such a grand name being so far away from the Atlantic Ocean and then read it was the first town on the Atlantic side of the Continental Divide and a famous mining town from the late 19th century.

The Atlantic City Mercantile store, in operation since 1893.

Heading up out of town onto the...

...road across the Great Divide Basin

Looking ahead at 150 miles across the basin, a high elevation desert.

It's actually a very nice, beautiful landscape with the single lane road adding intimacy to the bare surroundings.

I took frequent breaks to rest the bones and take in the beautiful silence with a harmony from the wind.

Being a geologic basin means it's cutoff on all sides by mountains, as the Continental Divide splits around it.

The yellow sage-brush by the side of the road were the only bright colors across the landscape. It smellt great.

Prong-horn sprinting off at great speeds across this open land.

The gentle-rolling terrain and good road condition made for a nice ride.

The hard packed mud road surface could soon be impassable when wet, but what a beautiful day it was today.

Taking a lunch break just sitting down in the brush there. The temps were very favorable.

Coming across civilization towards the south end of the basin. Oklahoma, that way.

Nearing the end of the basin.

Bah, tarmac might be more convenient, but it doesn't look natural.

The pavement started after about a 100 miles from Atlantic City and I rode the telling Mineral Exploration Road out of the basin to take US-287 into Rawlins and cross one of the networks of a great civilization, the Interstate.

After a hearty lunch of fried chicken at the gas station, it was onwards into Colorado, where I was going to meet up with my riding friend, Mike, who was coming up from Denver to join me for the next three days. Mike moved out to Denver last year from Chicago and before that, was in Louisiana. Being a skilled dirt-rider, I got his blessings before my first dual sport trip into Mexico and was hoping to pick up a few more skills.

I picked up Sage Creek Road south of Rawlins, which was a good broad gravel road, with washboard in places and the shrub landscape slowly morphed into forests of aspen and pine as part of the Medicine Bow National Forest. It was good to be riding among trees again. Near the intersection of Sage Creek and WY-70, is the famous Aspen Alley, a narrow corridor shrouded with tall aspens. Your voice echoes in there and it feels humbling to be right next to such tall trees. The white bark of the closely spaced trees gives the illusion of entering a sacred place, but the green tops bring you back down to earth. I was hoping to camp here for the night, but I had to keep going to meet up with Mike.

WY-70 was a nice remote twisty piece of tarmac heading to the Colorado border. The mountain views in the setting sun made the ride very enjoyable. Just north of the border, the route turns on Routt County Road 129, which had a road closed sign meant for winter, but wasn't fully obvious to me. While trying to see if I needed to re-route around here, a local trucker confirmed the road was indeed open and that sign was meant only for winter.

The well-graded gravel road criss-crossed back and forth across the state borders as it followed a valley heading east. Numerous farms and ranches dotted the valley and the sunlight as dusk painted a beautiful golden hue across the stunning landscape. I turned south into Routt National Forest and was hoping to run into Mike soon as daylight, she was a disappearing as I headed deeper into the forest.

South of Rawlins on Sage Creek Rd.

Entering Medicine Bow National Forest near the Colorado border.

That wretched Mountain Pine Beetle killing so many trees.

Some good elevation change.

The beautiful Aspen Alley, a corridor of closely spaced white-barked green-topped trees.

Now that they're dead, we might as well cut the pines down and use them.

So will this area be all Aspen trees then?

On WY-70 heading to the state border, a nice road with gentle corners.

The beautiful landscape of south-central Wyoming.

I didn't know if the bottom lines on the board meant the road was closed only in the winter. Some passing locals cleared the doubt.

Crossing back and forth across the border for the next few miles.

Passed lots of charming farms nestled in this narrow valley along the border. The rain clouds added to the lighting.

The setting sun adding warmth to the nice ride through this lush valley. Heading towards Hahns Peak off there in the distance.

About 20 miles south of the border, a bright noisy light was coming up at me and I high-fived Mike as we met up. He said he found a good place to camp for the night and we started setting up before darkness fell. It was a good spot with a view of Hahn's peak. Mike confirmed with the rangers that as long as we were about a 100 ft from the road, we could camp where ever we wanted. As the tents went up, I gathered firewood and Mike rounded up some stones to make a fire ring. Sitting on the panniers, around a crackling fire, eating dinner and seeing the full moon rise from behind a ridge was a great way to end another day of fantastic riding.

Entering Routt National Forest

It was getting late in the day and I would be camping in the forest as soon as I met my friend Mike coming the other way from Denver.

Being dusk, the cattle were out en masse. The campground owner in Montana joked about the hazards of cows saying that you'll likely run into black cows at night and white cows in winter.

Mike's XR650. He would be joining me for the next 3 days over Labor Day Weekend.

Next: Day 10, Northern Colorado

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