Okay, I said the Rockies were tricky… the Million Dollar Highway was ten times as challenging.
I started off in Montrose and headed south on 550, planning on being in Durango in a couple of hours. It was only 100 miles, so…
Boy was I off in my estimate. After passing through some interesting countryside that was a mixture of high peaks, rivers and lots of green, I started to climb mountains again.
By the time I reached Ouray I knew I was in for it. The elevations of this part of Colorado approached that of the Rockies, but the turns were tighter, the roads were narrower, and there were no guard rails. 3 hours later I emerged on the other side of the San Juan Mountains completely exhausted and exhilarated from the trip up, over, and down.
Here are some visuals:
I was running a bit late at this point, as I wanted to visit my friends Lillith and Jonathan at their farm south of the Petrified Forest and be there in time for dinner, so I called and checked in with Lillith when I reached Cortez, CO.
From Cortez, CO, I headed down route 160, through Four Corners.
I got a bit of a chuckle calling my friend Tracey from Four Corners:
Tracy: Hi! Where are you!
Me: I’m in New Mexico… now I’m in Arizona… nope, now Utah. Okay, now Colorado…..
You get the point. Here is a visual aid:
After this I headed south into the Arizona desert, leaving 160 at Mexican Water and heading due south on highway 191. This runs through Navajo reservation land and down the eastern side of the painted forest. I saw some beautiful, if bleak, countryside over the next couple of hours.
Finally, I reached US-40. Jonathan and Lillith live south of 40 by about 40 miles, so I was going to have to go either east or west and then backtrack a couple of dozen miles. But wait! I had a great idea – I’d just cut through the Petrified Forest, and come out on route 180 about 20 miles from their driveway. From the map it appeared that the road through the Petrified Forest ran straight south and would save me many miles.
I took route 40 west about 30 miles and got off at the part exit, entering at about 6pm. The park closes at 7pm, and it was a bit grey and threatening rain, so the park was pretty deserted. I paid my $5 and headed south, but didn’t stop to take any pictures at this point. I soon realized that the road that looked to be 10 miles of shortcut on a map was really about 25 miles of winding road that led through a prehistoric landscape. After about 5 miles of this, the storm broke, and I had to pull over and put on my rain gear. The next 50 minutes were spent using every twisty and turny riding skill I’d developed the past few days as lighting crashed around me, high winds buffeted me and the bike around the narrow roads, and light rain swept at me in every direction as I rode through the prehistoric landscape.
Finally, I made it to route 180, and turned east towards my destination for the night. The wind nearly stopped at this point, which was great, but the rain redoubled in ferocity, and I was soon riding through heavy rain. Eventually I found the driveway, and slid my bike down a mile or so of slippery Arizona mud and gravel. When I got to their house, Jonathan and Lillith had been dealing with a mini-crisis. They live in a geodesic dome, and hailstorms of the previous week had punctured some roof windows, leaving L&J to find a flood in their home when they came back from some errands. They had it under control and patched by the time I arrived, so after catching up for a bit and drying various things off we all collapsed into sleep for the night.