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Friday, October 30, 2009

Rafting the San Juan River!

Customer service at times seems to be a forgotten aspect of business; however, the customer service at Pagosa Outside Adventures is awesome!

While on our summer trip (June 2009) to Colorado seven of us went rafting.  We decided on a 1/2 day trip.  I found Pagosa Outside Adventures (POA) while searching online for rafting in the Pagosa Springs area.  I took a chance and booked our trip.

When we arrived at 12:30 we were met with smiles, laughter, and energy.  The entire staff seemed excited about the trip, a trip I am sure by then they had already taken many times.  Since none of us had ever been rafting we had questions and each question was enthusiastically answered.

After everyone had the appropriate gear, we loaded the POA van and head to the launching point which was directly behind the Malt Shoppe (great place - maybe discuss in a later post).  The rules and procedures were given in a humorus yet understandable way (Photo by "Birdcage"). 

Six rafts were launch and the fun began.  The river began smooth and cold.  The trip took us through parts of the town and right by the Springs Resort & Spa, a luxury hotel that features natual hot springs.  We continued down the river and out of the town where we got to experience some level 2-3 rapids. 

We difted beside steep granite walls and mountain forests.  We saw bald eagles looking for food and we rafted by a site used during the filming of the John Wayne classic The Cowboys.  At about the 1/2 way point the rafts pulled over and we had time for a snack and necessary break.

Once back on the river the speed picked up.  We experience some whitewater, but it was never too big or too rough.  The scenery was great and there was some fun-loving splashing wars between the rafts. Our guide was very experienced and knowledgeble.  He added a lot to the experience with his commentary and humor.  (Photo by "Loose Wheel" Grant)

When we landed we all helped load the equipment back on the trailers.  On our ride back into town we saw a black bear, but none of us got a picture.  The bear ran once the vans got close.

This was a great experience and has motivated me to go rafting again.  Next time I am in the Pagosa Springs area I will be planning a full day trip with POA.  Give it a try, you will have a blast.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Willow City Loop - Be careful!

Willow City is a very small community in Gillespie County in the Hill Country of Texas.  Willow City is located about 13 miles north of Fredericksburg and two miles east on FM 1232.  The loop can be accessed from either Willow City or from TX 16 (19 miles north of Fredericksburg on TX 16 or 19 miles south from Llano on TX 16).

This popular road is county maintained and is barely wide enough for two cars.  The 20-mile or so back road is a great place to see some beautiful country and wildlife.  Gillespie County has the highest concentration of whitetail deer in all of the US so be careful, especially in the morning or evening.  There is also a good chance you will see wild turkey or wild boar.  There are several cattle guard crossings, which mean there are some free ranging cows, be watchful.

During the spring the Texas wildflowers are plentiful (and so are the cars full of bluebonnet seekers - so be alert for stopped traffic).  There are some low water crossings that after some heavy rains might be a problem, but most of the time they are fine.  Stay on the main road and do not go on to private property.

This is not a road for great curves and speed.  This Texas gem is for a relaxing ride in the pretty hill country.  If you are in the area I highly recommend that you take "the loop."  You will not regret it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

One of the most beautiful caverns and awesome roads to get there!

I love caverns.  Over the past three years my son (he is 12 currently) and I have visited six caverns.  Each cavern has it own special characteristics.  We have visited three of the five largest caverns in the world. 
[1) Mammoth - Kentucky, 2) Jewel Cave - South Dakota, 4) Wind Cave - South Dakota] and three smaller caverns.  In the past, before getting married, I visited Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico.

The cavern that has the most beautiful and colorful formations is Blanchard  Springs Cavern outside of Mountian View, Arkansas and a great "plus" to the deal is that the roads to and from are full of twisties and elevation changes!

Life magazine once stated that Blanchard Springs Cavern was "one of the most extraordinary finds of the century" and I would tend to agree.  The cave has two paved routes.  Both routes take you into a living cave with slow changing stalactites, stalagmites, columns, and flowstones.  The cavern stays at a constant 58 degress Farenheit with  97-100% humitity.  The size of the cavern is not what it is known for, but the beauty of the formations is. 

My picture does not show the colors well at all, but you can see the formations are spectacular.  The colors are amazing.  The tour guide provided us with some great information about the discovery and preservation of the cavern.


Now the ride to get there is awesome.  We took AR 16/9 from Clinton, AR to Mt. View and greatly enjoyed the 35 miles of scenic windy roads.  When we left the caverns we were riding back to Mena, AR.  We rode west on AR 14 to Harrier then west on AR 27 to Marshall.  At Marshall we took AR 74/16 west to AR 7.  AR 16 is awesome - see picture below. We head south on AR 7 to Russellville and on to Mena.

If you get the chance to ride up to Mt. View you will greatly enjoy the ride, but make time to visit one of the most beautiful caverns in America - Blanchard Springs Caverns.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Swamp Tour in Louisiana

One of the great aspects of a motorcycle trip is that I enjoy getting off the beaten path and seeing new things. So, while on the way back from Florida in July 2008 my son and I stopped in Baton Rouge to go on a swamp tour.

After some Internet research I chose the Alligator Bayou Eco-Swamp Tour.

Alligator Bayou lies south of Baton Rouge, a few miles off of I-10. Even though you are not many miles away from the constant flow of traffic, you feel like you are out in the “boonies.” Once you pull into the gravel parking lot you can see that the owners take great care to have minimal impact on the environment.

We were heartily welcomed by the staff and owner. There was a small shop where one could purchase a drink, a snack, and/or souvenirs. We walked up to the swamp/bayou and looked in front of the pontoon boat that we would later be riding and we saw a big alligator waiting for a snack.

The tour began with a short walk to a man-made pond where the tour-guide waded in with small gators and snapping turtles. He gave a talk about the animals and fed a few of them. He even handed one of the visitors a gator, showed him how to hold it, and then allowed him to walk around so that all of us could pet the gator.

After the presentation we walked to a larger area where the guide called up “Goliath” – a huge alligator that crawled out of the pond knowing that he would be feed. The guide fed Goliath and continued telling us about alligators. We also walked out on a deck above some more ponds with a lot more gators.

After the walking tour we boarded the boat and headed out for about an hour tour. We saw more gators as well as other wildlife. The guide brought out a nutria (large rodent) and a possum that he had on board. He explained a lot about the animal and allowed visitors to pet it. At one point we docked on the side of the bayou and viewed some of the oldest know Cypress trees in America. He also presented the visitors with the opportunity to hold an alligator.

We enjoyed the sunset on the bayou as we made our way back to the dock and the tour headquarters.

The guides were informative and fun. They love nature and strive to preserve it.

My son and I loved the tour. We hope to go again.

I highly recommend you stop by Alligator Bayou for a tour.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It gets HOT in Texas- stay cool while riding

It can get really hot in Texas and in a lot of other states during the months of July and August. Just because the temperature gets 100+ does not mean that I am going to stop riding, especially now that I have a Hyperkewl vest.
Hyperkewl vests use a Polymer Embedded Fabric, which absorbs water into the polymer crystals. During use, the water evaporates slowly helping cool the wearer. 1-2 minutes of soaking the vest will provide 6-12 hours of cooling. The amount of time seems to vary based on air circulation. For example, if you wear it over your shirt as the outer layer, it will evaporate quicker than if you have a vest or mesh jacket on top of it.

The inner portion is water repellent and does a good job of keeping water from the user. You naturally feel some moisture due to the evaporation and if you do not press the excess water off the outside and dry of the inside you will get a little wet. As you ride you will get your jeans a little wet, but it dries quickly.

I used my several times this summer and I like it. I wore it during a 4th of July parade and I am glad I did. I did not feel like I was in air-conditioning, but I did feel the coolness. I later bought another one for my wife or son, whichever was riding with me.

During my trip to Florida I carried the vest in a big zip-lock bag so that I could pour some water in the bag and let it soak. I also could keep it from getting other items wet.

If you ride much in the hot weather I would recommend a Hyperkewl vest. It is worth keeping yourself from getting over heated. No one needs to get over heated when out riding.

Yes, I would buy it again and I will be using mine in the hot weather.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

UT 128 - A great ride!

I realize there are a lot of great roads in the US and each has its own special aspects.  State Road Utah 128 is one of those great roads.  The road is designated the Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway & is part of the Dinosaur Diamond Prehistoric Highway which is a National Scenic Byway.  Due to the blind curves and no shoulder large vehicles (55,000+ pounds) are prohibited from using it.

UT 128 connects US 191 on the north end of Moab to I-70 west of Grand Junction, Colorado.  UT 128 runs beside the Arkansas River for about 28 of the 43 miles.  The road has sweeping curves, some tight curves and a good number of small hills that can make your stomach drop if you moving a long at a good pace.   Link to map

We started on the west end of UT 128 after we left Arches National Park.  We filled up and I sure am glad we did, as it was about 90 miles before we passed a gas station or store.  Make sure you and the bike are ready before you take off.

We started off following the curves of the river with steep sandstone walls on both sides.  The road was in great shape and at 3:30pm there was not a lot of traffic.  There are several camping sites along the road so one must watch for traffic.  As we traveled east the road leaves the canyon and rises from 4000 feet to 6000 feet above sea level and crosses the arid desert area until UT 128 intersects with I-70.

This was a fun and scenic road.  I would love to ride it both directions in the same day.  Is it the type of road to make sure you ride, even if it means adding miles to your trip?  Yes!

Friday, October 2, 2009

I love a good breakfast

Starting a day of riding with a good big breakfast is my idea of "fueling up," especially since most days I grab a bowl of cereal before heading to work. Over the years I have tried many places for breakfast and I have found four (two in Texas and two in Colorado) that stand above the others.

Bill Smith's Cafe in McKinney, Texas has been open for over 50 years and they cook up good food 365 days a year! Bill's is serve only breakfast and lunch. Doors close at 2pm M-S and 12noon on Sunday. The hash brown casserole is very good and a great departure from the common hash brown. The pancakes are fluffy and flavorful. The "Papa Smith's Special" consist of eggs, sausage, bacon, or ham, and pancakes or French toast. All of the food is fresh and is cooked to order. They also serve great omelets and big breakfast burritos. You will not be disappointed, but you will be fueled up for a great ride.

The second Texas cafe with top-notched breakfasts is Lucy's in Celina. Lucy's breakfast burrito is the best around. Filled with eggs, sausage or bacon, & cheese the big burrito covers the plate. Service is great and the atmosphere is country friendly. The renowned FM 455 runs right past downtown Celina and Lucy's so the ride to Lucy's is a great warm-up ride before breakfast. Drop by and you are most likely going to see bikes in the parking lot as this is a popular place for bikers and we all know that bikers enjoy eating, so it must be good!

Estes Park, Colorado lies nestled among the Rocky Mountains and is the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park. There are numerous eateries to choose from, but for breakfast the Bighorn Restaurant is the place to eat. The sizeable portions, fresh ingredients, and fresh mountain air makes this an awesome place to fill up before a day of riding and/or hiking.  The pancakes, homemade waffles, and huge omelettes will make you glad to stopped by.  This is a great place and you will enjoy it.

The Hungry Bear is my all time favorite breakfast place. Located west of Colorado Springs in the town of Woodland Park (8437 ft above see level and only a few miles from Pikes Peak) the Hungry Bear serves up fruit-filled crapes, awesome pancakes, fresh eggs, and many other tasty treats. The 4X4 will fill you up with 4 pancakes, 4 eggs cooked to order, 4 pieces of bacon, and 4 sausage patties. The crapes are a departure from the normal breakfast and when filled with fruit are very refreshing. This is one place I would without a doubt ride many extra miles to enjoy their food and atmosphere. Give it a try.