An earthquake measuring 6.6…

View across Lake Atitlan with two boats

The very impressive Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

6 September – Day 46

Panajachel, Guatemala (Lake Atitlan)
Distance: 0kms

We were woken up this morning by sunlight streaming in through the windows of our room. Such a contrast to yesterday afternoon, when we walked in the middle of the road to avoid the ankle deep rivers of water running down either edge of each street. After a disappointing breakfast in the hotel (which was included with our room – again, a total rip off!!), we walked down to Lake Atitlan. Wow! It reminded me a little bit of the Bay of Islands in NZ… lovely clear water surrounded by (now dormant) volcanoes. It was beautiful! So beautiful, that we decided to go on a boat tour to some of the villages dotted around the lake. Although they are accessible by road, the roads are windy and in very poor condition – so it was much easier for us to just take a boat across.

Firstly though – we moved hotels and ended up being closer to the centre for just over one third of the price. Sure, it wasn’t quite as ‘polished’ – but it was clean and quiet and more than adequate.

We could not have had better weather for a day on the water… it didn’t rain at all! Today was the first day in a while that we’ve not at least had an afternoon shower. We went to San Marcos, San Pedro and Santiago Atitlan – the first is a hippie gringo yoga/drumming/chanting town; the last is one of the biggest cities in the area with a population of 60,000.

Later that night, while sitting on the terrace at a pub, we experienced an earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale. So it was pretty big!! Although it was apparently 70km underground, which is why the buildings etc are still standing. In quick succession – ie over about two seconds – I thought:

  • I am having some sort of delayed ‘land legs’ experience after rocking on a boat for several hours today.
  • Adrian is jiggling his legs and therefore rocking the table because he is bored and/or impatient, wanting our drinks to arrive.
  • Oh wow, it’s an earthquake. I can see the walls of the building swaying.

Adrian hadn’t noticed it – or rather, he’d noticed it, but though that the ground was rumbling because a car was going past, until I said the ‘e’ word. We were on the ground floor terrace of a two story place; people started running from upstairs out on to the street. People in the market stalls across the road also ran outside – including the locals. I started thinking which was the quickest way to higher ground, just in case there was a tsunami (we were maybe 100m from the water). And then the ground stopped shaking and everything went back to normal. The diners from upstairs returned inside, the shopkeepers went back into their stalls, our drinks arrived.

Tomorrow we’re going to Antigua where we’ll be for a week! Yes, a whole week. I’ve enrolled in Spanish school for four hours a day; Adrian’s thinking about what he wants to do. I can’t wait!

View of the volcanoes across Lake Atitlan

View of the volcanoes across Lake Atitlan

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Monument Valley and a desert storm

very windy road along a cliff face

If Harley riders can do it…

Monumnet Valley

Monument Valley

delicate arch in arches national park

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

11 August – Day 20

Moab, Utah to Monument Valley, Utah/Arizona
Distance: 240kms

We started the day with an early morning ride back into Arches National Park to see the delicate arch. It was in a part of the park we’d missed over the past couple of days; and we’d heard great things about it. It was impressive – although I don’t think it was necessarily the most impressive thing in the park. It’s the whole national park that’s just so special, so amazing. If you’re ever in the area, I really recommend a visit. The system in many of the national parks over here seems to be that your entry fee is valid for 7 days, which means you have lots of time to go in and out and explore the park.

From Arches, we headed to Monument Valley via a back road that some Harley riders had told Adrian about. Gravel, multiple severe hairpoint turns, very rapid descent…

I wasn’t sure about revisiting gravel roads, but as Adrian said, if Harley riders can do it, well – so can we! I’m glad we did… it was amazing! Up there with the Beartooth Highway and several other bendy roads we’ve been on. The pictures don’t do it justice really… the turns were literally on a hairpin, on a cliff edge, next to a 300m drop, with no safety barrier. Now it was my turn for white knuckles – and Adrian couldn’t  wipe the smile off his face!

And then we got to Monument Valley. Approaching it as we did, I felt a little bit like someone stumbling across an ancient civilisation. The stones rose up from the earth in a seemingly random yet structured pattern, and looked as if they could or would be home to an ancient people – in caves, temples, cliff homes.

clothes  and a tent floor covered in red dust

Inside our tent after a desert dust storm!

We camped again tonight and it was… interesting.  A few days ago, I talked about how I scooped up a handful of Moab desert sand and let it run through my fingers – just to feel it. Tonight, obviously, the desert wanted to get a feel of me.. We experienced our first desert dust storm – wow! We had just finished setting up the tent and I was sitting inside when Adrian called me out to look at the horizon. It was strange – the horizon was starting to blur. It was as if it had been drawn in graphite pencil, and someone had gently smudged it with a rubber. And then the smudge got bigger. And bigger. And closer! All of a sudden, we – and the campers gawking at the impending dust storm around us – realised that we had about 5 seconds before we’d be hit. So everyone hightailed it into their tents to batten down the hatches… to no avail! The wind was filling my ears with sound, as if I had two giant conch shells glued to my ears and all I could hear was the rushing of the sea in the shells. Inside the tent, it was raining red dust. Literally. Although all zippers etc were firmly closed, the dust was so fine that it was just pouring through the mesh of our tent, coating us – and everything inside – in a film of desert sand. A desert storm – it was incredible!

Muffin flavoured muffins – and a (mountain) ‘bike killer’

Loz and Adie's shadow with Arches National Park in the background

Bikers on tour in Arches National Park, Moab!

9 August – Day 18

Vernal, Utah to Moab, Utah
Distance: 331kms

There was nothing to see in Vernal – so we were out on the road by 8.30am. Good to see that we’re reclaiming the morning! Adrian did his research in terms of the best biking road into Moab and it paid off big time… we had an absolutely spectacular ride through the desert. The stark, barren landscape, the red soil and yellow desert sand, the clumps of green – it was just so raw in its beauty, it was breathtaking. For me, the mountains of the trip so far have nothing on the awesome, vast power of the desert. Dead straight roads gave way to tight corners and windy climbs up and over desert mountains, where chipmunks risked death by darting across the road in front of the bike and eagles soared high overhead. Moab. Wow. The town itself isn’t up there with my favourites – but the desert gets under your skin and just draws you in.
The early start meant we arrived in Moab by lunchtime, which was good given how hot it was. For the first time this trip, I had to take all liners out of my jacket and open all vents… and I was still hot. I’m thinking I’ll need (read: wish for) vented shoes/motorbike jeans as we continue further south!!

We walked the main street and tried to find a mountain bike hire place with XXL bikes available for Adrian to hire… preferably also with size 48 clip in bike shoes. Yeah – no. Nowhere had bikes or shoes in that size, and a guy at one place actually said to Adrian ‘we don’t hire bikes to guys your size. You’re a bike killer’… which Adrian had to concede… Apparently, because the available bikes aren’t big enough, he’s got to put the seat up as high as it can go, which places significant extra strain on the seat post and bike frame which is weaker at maximum extension. Anyway, we eventually found a bike that was only a bit too small, so that’s what Adrian’s got to ride ‘Slick rock trail’ tomorrow.

We then headed out into Arches National Park to watch the sun set over the desert. The rock formations, the arches, the red and yellow desert soil – it truly is a special place. At one point, I just picked up some of the rich, ochre red sand and let it run through my fingers, hand under hand, watching as it danced in the wind back to the earth, settling with the millions of other grains of sand, millions of years old.

We climbed up to the hollows of one of the arches and sat 15m above the desert, encircled by rock as if we were sitting inside a giant, ancient hula hoop. In front of us, the sun was setting – with the landscape seeming to change colour, shape and texture with each change in the light. The rocks got darker, a rich earthy red as the sun disappeared behind one of the few, scattered clouds on the horizon. Then the sun reappeared to illuminate the rocks, glowing a bright ruby red. And as the clouds started to gather around us, the rocks changed again. And again. And again. A spectacular light show; nature at her finest.

The day was topped off with dinner at a local restaurant with live music – a guitar and cello. It was excellent! A Texan musican, Amanda Mora. Check her out: http://www.amandamora.com.

Oh and the muffin flavoured muffin? That was in the town of Rangely, Colarado, where we stopped for a break on the way to Moab. We got (very average – no surprises there) coffees and a muffin. Through the gladwrap, it looked like it might have been an apple muffin. Post-purchase, and on closer inspection, the ‘apple’ looked more like melted chocolate. And on tasting… it was impossible to tell what sort of muffin we were eating. It had no discernible flavour, leading Adrian to declare that it was a ‘muffin-flavoured muffin.’

Arches National Park, Moab

Arches National Park, Moab

Sunset, Arches National Park, Moab

Sunset, Arches National Park, Moab

Flaming Gorge

Picture of red rocks in the flaming gorge

Flaming Gorge

8 August – Day 17

Jackson Hole, Wyoming to Vernal, Utah
Distance: 458kms

It seems that as we head south and the days get shorter, the mornings get longer! Or at least later… we have definitely transitioned into holiday mode, with slower starts and leisurely breakfasts in town before hitting the road… like this morning!

We finally got going about 11am… and essentially rode until about 6.30pm, with stops only for lunch, to check out (and just gaze in wonder at) the Flaming Gorge, and also have a look at the massive Flaming Gorge dam. Our journey took us from Montana into Idaho, Wyoming and finally Utah. We passed kilometre after kilometre of farmland, of bleak desert moonscape, of state forest, of mountains, canyons and of course the Flaming Gorge. The day’s route also included a descent of over 700m, a rain shower, a phosphorous mine, a meeting with a couple who have just spent 14 years sailing around the world, and another who just motorbiked Africa.

Tomorrow we’re off to Moab, where we’ll spend a couple of days… Adrian hopefully mountain biking and me hopefully yoga and cafeing!

Yellowstone National Park

Waterfall in Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone National Park

By Adrian

7 August – Day 16

West Yellowstone, Montana to Jackson Hole, Wyoming
Distance: 202km

Rocks in yellowstone national park

Yellowstone National Park

Seriously I don’t know how Harley riders ride without a full-face helmet. Maybe I’m a bit soft but I copped a dragon fly in the neck on the way back into Yellowstone and it stung like a %&$#@. Another indeterminable bug decided to provide Lauren with an up close view of its yellow guts on her visor. There also tends to be a general lack of consideration regarding what happens when skin hits asphalt, the majority of riders wear T-shirts and… here we are as I sit, a guy pulls up on his Harley in a T-shirt, shorts, shoes and a baseball cap… backwards… bet that’ll do a lot when someone runs into you! It’s getting hotter the further South we go, however both of us are still donning the full swag of protective gear favouring a bit of sweat over any other potential consequence!

The other side of Yellowstone is its natural thermal features of hot springs and geysers. Upon entering back into Yellowstone to continue South, and after experiencing another three ‘bear jams’ where driving etiquette gets firmly shoved out the window, we arrived at the Lower Geyser Basin where pools of boiling water and steam gushed to the surface emitting that pungent odour of rotten eggs from the sulphur. Continuing on, Old Faithful was the next obvious stop, being a geyser that that regularly explodes in a fountain of superheated water. For a natural phenomenon, it really is an enjoyable spectacle and provides a scene similar to the fountain on Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra although not quite as high.

Hot sulphur pools in Yellowstone National Park

Sulphur pools, Yellowstone National Park

The rest of the day was spent tootling along at frustratingly low speeds and waiting at multiple roadworks that seem to involve extensive delays for what appears to be very minor work. Arriving in Jackson Hole quite hot and very interested in exploring the menu of one of the local coffee shops, we sat down and observed our surroundings deciding that they deserved closer inspection. We found a motel close to the centre of town and unpacked our gear to complete our shortest day ever of 202km. The rest of the day was spent moseying around the various shops and chilling out. Lauren found a yoga session running from 5.30 til 7.00 while I found a nice tavern selling microbrew beer and proceeded to sample the menu. We had live country music with dinner and dropped by a bar with a swinging jazz band for a nightcap on the way back to the motel.

6 August – Day 15

Red Lodge, Montana to West Yellowstone, Montana
Distance: 246km

The Beartooth Highway is one of the top motorcycle roads in the USA, extending from Red Lodge to the Eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Sure we could have dropped a couple of 100 kms off the route by entering through the North, however having now ridden this highway I can now understand its popularity. It was chockers full of Harley riders in both directions, some off to Sturgis some just seeing the sights like ourselves, all of them enjoying the twists and turns up and down the mountain. The terrain changed from pine forest to alpine meadows to jutting rocky outcrops, all of which provided a beautiful backdrop. A bit of a crosswind combined with precious cargo meant I didn’t test the handling limits of the Beemer, suffice to say I had plenty of fun.

The last time I rode through Yellowstone back in 2007 it was breathtaking and it remains one of the must-see National Parks in the USA. The plethora of wildlife lining the roads is simply amazing with herds of buffalo (in the hundreds if not thousands) roaming the plains as we rolled by. Arriving at the Eastern entrance enabled us to explore parts of the park I hadn’t been lucky enough to visit previously.

The Upper and Lower falls of the Yellowstone River are dramatic and the view magnified by the stark multi coloured sandstone walls rising up each side. We managed to wrestle our way through the other snap happy tourists to take a few photos which will show up later. Somehow at the second viewpoint we managed to find ourselves walking the 320 odd steps down to into the valley along Uncle Toms Trail to get an up close view of the lower (larger) falls. Needless to say, dressed in motorbike jeans and boots, the walk back up was not as easy as it was down. Lauren leapt up the stairs, heart barely beating, patiently waiting for me to stagger breathlessly to catch up. I had justified going down by determining that the 320 steps could be taken two at a time on the way back up, who was I kidding?

We decided to head for West Yellowstone for the night and given the weather was looking good and the hotels were either booked or damn expensive, the decision was made to camp (yes our 3rd night in a tent). We found a dusty patch in a campground on the edge of town hoping to save some coin. That’ll be $43 + tax thankyou. Hmmm… When you are tired, can’t be bothered looking for anywhere else, and kinda scared of bears (camping wild) you do cough up ridiculous money for a place to pitch a tent!

On the way into West Yellowstone, we hit our first ‘Bear Jam’. I had informed Lauren of the ridiculous notion that a traffic jam could form in the middle of a National Park due to the sighting of some form of animal. Needless to say we were caught in one where some bugger decided to stop his car in the middle of the road somewhere ahead to observe a reindeer. Common courtesy tends to go out the window and by the time everyone else gets there the animal is no longer seen and everyone else is left to ponder what it was that caused the jam in the first place…

Hot sulphur springs in Yellowstone National Park

More sulphur pools in Yellowstone National Park

Hot sulphur springs in Yellowstone National Park

Still more sulphur pools in Yellowstone National Park

Beartooth highway

Beartooth pass – you can see from the small segment of road in this pic why Adrian (and all other motorbikers) like it!