Blitz to Branson 2006

(lots of broken photo links. Gotta fix those.) Note: Clicking on a thumbnail will open the larger version of the photo.

Executive Summary: to Branson, MO for the 12th annual “Blitz” to Branson, a BMW rally held at a hotel! About 1700 miles, about 675-700 one way without sight-seeing with the extra miles being a Saturday ride in the area and some diversions on the way home.

Having not been to the “Blitz” for several years, it’s time and the itch is definitely there.  I have actually planned ahead for this trip and the call of the road was answered also by Robert Voglino, Mike Atkinson and his son-in-law Dale. After a hearty breakfast at the famous Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls (is there any other kind of breakfast there?), Robert, Mike and I set off for Waco to rendezvous with Dale.  I’m on the trusty 1999 R1100RT, Mike on his newer R1100RT and Robert on his Kawasaki which he rides like it’s a sport bike.  As we drive up, Dale is re-attaching the “not so new” rear tire with the hopes that the bike shop got one in which we’ll pick up on the way.

Posing for a departure shot blitz2006002.jpg we look to be ready.

Dale’s tire did come in and after a quick mounting of the tire and replacement on the bike Dale is quick with the tools we’re finally off.

We’re doing the usual “how fast can we get out of Texas and start having fun” trek up Texas 31 past Tyler, up 155 to Avinger and eventually U.S. 59 to Texarkana. It’s plenty hot so we pull into a shady spot somewhere in East Texas Somewhere near Texarkanato decide how much longer to push. Hardy souls that we are, we press on to Arkadelphia, AR.

I don’t know Arkadelphia so I turn into the first opportunity which announces not one, but two motels. The first is horrible looking from the outside but the second is decent.  After a good (but very late) meal at Cracker Barrel we turn in for the night. Finding the Cracker Barrel was interesting as my usually very fine guide skills failed (albeit temporarily)  and we ride all over Arkadelphia, but the meal is worth it.

The next morning The coffee was decent the sky is clear, the coffee is hot, and it’s time to hit the “Arkansas Scenic Byway” which is Arkansas 7. The best part of it starts right there at Arkadelphia so we are ready.

I love the Waffle House chain. There is just something kinda neat about watching a good short-order cook do his thing, and most of them at the Waffle Houses are pretty good. Sliding up to the counter blitz2006008.jpg we order up pancakes, eggs and all sorts of stuff. For someone who doesn’t like breakfast, Mike also orders up.

On Scenic 7 one of the first scenic stops we make is at the “Rotary Ann” scenic lookout point.  blitz2006010.jpg Being good Rotarians all, we perk on the name.  Turns out, it does indeed refer to the (now somewhat archaic) term for the wives of Rotary. blitz2006012.jpg The rest stop is a project of the Rotary Anns of an area Rotary club. blitz2006013.jpg It’s very nicely done and at an interesting point where an ecological reforestation project was underway.

Some of the reforestation results can be seen here blitz2006011.jpg where the far hills show the signs of having had the underbrush burned off, trees thinned, and replanting where needed.  Prior to reaching this rest stop we are riding alongside a substantial area of burn that looks as if it was controlled, sort of.  Some of it makes us wonder if indeed it was controlled but upon arriving at the rest stop we see forest service and fire personnel who are taking care of business. The beauty of a forest of mixed hardwoods is outstanding so I’m glad to see this kind of effort. I like a pine forest also, but the mixed hardwoods with their variety of textures, varying shades of green and the colorful displays in the fall are hard to beat.

Coming out of the mountains we are now in Jasper (that would be AR, not TX). Now biking is not too different from “real” life in that everything is planned around meals.  It’s about lunch time — well, close enough — and, luckily, I’ve been here before. Not just in Jasper, but HERE: blitz2006015.jpg.  This small deli has hand-made sandwiches made by a funny old guy in a Tam O’Shanter who is all business. He seems out of place here in Northern Arkansas but he makes a good sandwich.  Suddenly, while checking out, my eye is drawn to the side. There, sitting lonely and defenseless in the case, is a chocolate chip cookie sandwich filled with a white cake icing. Robert quickly agrees to help me scarf it down.  The monster cookies is quickly put out of its misery. After lunch we continue up Scenic 7 through Harrison, AR and on to Branson. Then there it is. The dreaded route 65 traffic headed into Branson. It was either 2003 or 2004 when we last did the Blitz and the roads are identical today as then. A summer 2007 expansion is promised by huge signs along the way. It’s now about 3PM and hot. Glancing down at the RT’s temp gauge reveals a constant 6 bars pushing to 7 every time we slow down.

But we finally make it to the rally site — the Branson Towers.  Many are already gathered and the hotel front is all ours blitz2006017.jpg.  The “ours” would be the Internet BMW Riders club — a club that exists only in an internet email list and the imagination of the Presidents.  Yes, it’s plural, because each is a President.  Avoids the necessity of committees, you see. Here are a few more of the gathering Presidential carriages: blitz2006018.jpg Total mileage to Branson (by GPS) is 686 miles.

Remember I mentioned those meals?  After checking in, kicking tires with some old IBMWR friends and checking to see who has goodies that I don’t have on my RT, we walk across the street to the All American Cafe for a meal. Finding a sign on the front door indicating a/c outage leads me to ask if we can eat outside on the deck. Recovering from initial indecision and frustration, Alana decides that’s doable and away we go. She’s even a decent photographer. blitz2006019.jpg. The food is quite decent and satisfying. Later that evening we will enjoy another Blitz tradition — the ice cream social.  $2 gets you cobbler with a huge scoop of ice cream.  blitz2006021.jpg

Saturday brings rain early, but by 9:30 it’s looking better. Storm clouds still linger to the East so it’s easy to take Robert up on his suggestion to  head West and South to Table Rock Lake.  blitz2006024.jpg He had learned that the Hudsons have a time-share there so we are curious to see that the lake looks like. Turns out it’s huge. It’s like a hand with 15 fingers splayed out in every conceivable direction.  We continue a meandering route around some of the lake and its many peninsulas, finally heading more West and South, ultimately finding ourselves in that wonderland “town in a canyon” Eureka Springs.

Once again it’s mealtime so what do we have to do? Eat of course. I again have been here. Not just in Eureka Springs, but HERE: blitz2006027.jpg where we dine on the deck. blitz2006026.jpg.

Someone just this morning told Robert of a wooden-planked bridge and also a federal trout farm with gargantuan trout. The “Golden Gate” bridge at Beaver, AR is pretty easy to find. blitz2006028.jpgblitz2006029.jpgblitz2006031.jpg

And sure enough, it’s wooden-planked: blitz2006030.jpg I have my three companions do a little ride across the bridge to get some perspective of its size and here we have the fearless three, braving yet again the “funny” feeling wooden planked road surface. blitz2006033.jpg.  Using my dandy new Nikon L4 almost miniature digital camera with movie mode, I even capture them in action  — see attachment below. Caution, it’s a 1. something gb file (.mov format).

We then wind our way back North into Missouri once again and work our way up to Hwy 248 and back into Branson. The total excursion is not all that long, but we found some wonderful new roads. I have never before been West of Branson except across hwy 86 just out of Eureka Springs straight East to join 65 and into Branson, and while this area is more populated, it’s still quite rural and the roads are excellent. In fact, Robert remarks the wonder of roads being built by engineers and nicely banked. Dinner this night finds us at Charlie’s Steak, Ribs & Ale where the common-drive fan system is fascinating blitz2006035.jpg along with the other rustic decor.blitz2006036.jpg

Saturday at the Blitz is always fun-filled with the ring-leader, Voni Glaves, pictured here in the red. But then she’s always in red. blitz2006037.jpg Voni is a redhead, rides a red bike, and wears red leathers. And she does ride. In 1999 she established a new women’s record in the BMWMOA mileage contest at 73,660 miles in six months.  Her husband Paul is a pretty serious rider as well and here is the only bike in the world — his — that has more gadgets on it than mine does. blitz2006038.jpg.

This sticker pretty well says all you need to know about BMW riders. blitz2006039.jpg

And here some of them are gathered for the Saturday night fun. blitz2006040.jpg Voni and Paul are about to “preside” over the silliness. Awards are given for the rider coming the longest distance, the youngest, the oldest, the one with the least miles or the most miles on the bike they rode here.

One of the more colorful of the group is Helen 2 Wheels (Hell on 2 wheels, get it?). blitz2006041.jpg.   She and Voni make a pretty good stand-up comedy pair before the night is over. Their “Voni’s now a bad girl” routine blitz2006045.jpg was pretty cute. She’s retired from teaching now and can let her hair down. And Helen’s now the good girl? I don’t think so!

And speaking of colorful, I did not get his name but this fella is 82 years old and still riding. blitz2006043.jpg

Alas, it comes time to go and we leave Sunday morning about 8:30. Now the night before, I had posed the proposition that we could get home in one day if we just got up a little early and didn’t waste time.  That idea was shot down pretty quickly as everyone had planned for Monday off and we might as well take it. So we head off pretty leisurely back across the bottom of Missouri and down into Eureka Springs, Arkansas and down the “pig trail” as it’s called, AR 23. The weather is almost clear and the air is cool, just right for riding. Down below Ozarka after crossing the Mulberry, White and Buffalo rivers, I make a snap decision at AR 22 to go East to Paris (Arkansas, that is). Hey, if we are taking two days, let’s see some scenery. I’m planning from Paris to take them over Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas. We eat on the square right across from this fabulous courthouse. blitz2006046.jpg From there we do the mountain, more wonderful roads and vistas, then even further East on AR 10 to 27 and down to 28 where we start back to the Southwest, arriving at Mena around 2 or 3.  After traversing most of the Talimena Skyway we’re on U.S. 259 (one of the better U.S. highways) and on to Broken Bow where now it’s hot and we’re sweaty. blitz2006047.jpg Suddenly, the talk shifts to getting home that night. It’s 5:30 now and we’re a mere 400 miles from home. While talking about keeping options open we press on. Interstate 30 appears and we jump on that for speed and after dining at Furr’s in Sulphur Springs we realize we’re only about 300 miles from home and it’s only 8PM. For Dale and Mike, Waco looms near.

We push and get to Waco where they drop off about 11. Robert and I discuss it and after fueling we decide to go a little further and see how we feel. It’s now 11:30 but the air is cool and the traffic is not too bad. “A little further” turns out to be home, some 800 miles after we began this morning to make a 2-day trip out of it. Tired, but happy to be home and sleeping in my own bed, I quickly drop off to sleep and am unconscious until morning.

Cloudcroft 2004 — substitute for Falling Leaf rally

OK, we were chicken. Robert Voglino and I were headed to the Falling Leaf Rally in Potosi, MO. That is until we checked the weather forecasts and when everything from Arkansas to there and back again was 80% chance of rain, at which point we did the only sensible thing. Potosi is in far Eastern Missouri, just Southwest of St. Louis and the weather had been very wet there and was forecast to remain so.

We turned away from the weather and went to Cloudcroft, NM instead. The trip is chronicled here in a gallery of photos, many of which are linked in the text.

Robert, riding his Kawasaki 1500 Vulcan, and I, on the venerable BMW R1100RT, got away on Thursday Oct. 7 after taking a last look at all of the weather possibilities and making a decision to west. After a hearty breakfast at the Hungry Hunter in Llano we headed straight west on Texas 29 to Menard, then up to Eden and west to end up through Andrews, eaded for Artesia, NM which is the jumping off point for Cloudcroft. That trip is always pretty uneventful until Artesia. Very little socially redeeming value. Just outside of Eden and all the way to San Angelo we were in the heavy rain that we had observed on the radar earlier that morning. It proved that our new frogg toggs would work! After that we had nothing but perfect weather.

Suddenly the trip was already worth it. It’s 90 miles from Artesia to Cloudcroft and the last 60 miles on U.S. 82 is a gently curving road with a nice mixture of high speed sweepers and 25 mph tighter turns. The valley is carved by the Penasco River and is dotted with narrow farms where the valley floor allows. The steep mountainside along the roadway will occasionaly have a mule deer scurrying up the almost vertical walls. A benefit of travelling by motorcycle is yielded in the harvest season when the mildly sweet fragrance of tree-ripened apples fills the air.

On the way up the mountain to Cloudcroft we stopped at the apple and apple cider stand that I’ve seen for years and never stopped at. We bought apples (that were delicious) and pistachios. Turns out they grow both in the area and we were the better off for it. Just before reaching Cloudcroft we made the turn on 244, the road that goes through the forest and Mescalaro Apache reservation to Ruidoso. We knew the campground we wanted to try for and sure enough there was room. The campground is one of many U.S. Forest Service campgrounds in the area run by Recreation Resource Management. We stayed in Silver Saddle which is only about 2 miles down 244 just Northeast of Cloudcroft.

We found a spacious site that would hold both tents. It was dark before we finished setting up our site and then headed for town to eat. Robert knew about the restaurant at the Aspen Motel and we were not disappointed with the results. We each had the chicken-fried steak and really should have just split one. Lots of cream gravy, green peas, mashed potatoes (skin on) … delicious! Met a couple of guys on Honda VTX 1800’s. Larry is a banker in Childress and was travelling with his son (a city cop) and they were headed to Tuscon to visit another son who is in the Air Force out there. Turns out we knew a lot of people (or just knew OF some) in various places so it was a fun visit. Larry also happens to be a Rotarian so with the three of us we created an impromptu make-up meeting.

Sleeping that night was wonderful. There was not a hint of cloud in the skies and the stars looked as if they had enveloped us. The first day had been 565 miles long and we were ready when it was time to turn in. The temperature dropped to about 42-44 degrees that night but it was clear and dry. Dry is the key word there!

The next day was set aside for local touring. After another trip to the Aspen for breakfast we struck out for Sunspot, home of the National Solar Observatory. It has some great exhibits such as this Martian composite photo and a number of hands-on experiment style demonstrations such as showing how refraction occurs of the sun’s rays, a miniature mirror telescope, and explanation of different wavelengths of light and an infrared camera showing the results of photography in the infrared spectrum. Here’s Gil at infrared. At the high point of the observatory grounds we could look westward to White Sands with its huge expanse of rolling white sand dunes with another mountain range in the background. If you are not yet fascinated by the idea of an entire National Monument to sand, these photos will open your eyes.

We continued the day’s trek down the Sacramento Canyon Road toward Timburon but eventually had to turn back because the road was closed due to construction. Backtracking just a short way we then took a side road, the Upper Rio Penasco Road, for a few miles down another picturesque canyon until the pavement ran out. Undaunted by that, Robert took a side road, sans pavement, where we discovered some really close-up views of aspen stands. After following that canyon road for probably a couple of miles and taking a number of photos of aspens in a full turn of color. The Rio Penasco and the Upper Penasco area have an extensive history in pioneering and logging, some of which is recounted here.

After lunch (some great Mexican food at the Aspen) we then took route 130 which loops around to the South of Cloudcroft around to Mayhill and back to Cloudcroft. Having overeaten at lunchtime, we went by the grocery store and picked up some fruit, cheese and crackers. Oh yeah, and some awesome blueberry streusel cake! What started out to be a healthy meal went downhill in a hurry. Back at camp, after picking up some firewood for the cool evening we enjoyed our impromptu dining under the canopy of stars blended with the towering pines. A family had moved in “next door” with some small children and we enjoyed hearing them giggle while playing, occasionally punctuated by a parent reigning them in slightly. I enjoyed staring at the fire for a long while, a fact which Robert commented upon. I think he was afraid I had gone into a trance! We turned in fairly early in anticipation of a long ride the next day. Surrounded by the pines and endless sky and the gentle sounds of pines rustling in a light evening breeze, I snuggled into the sleeping bag and quickly drifted off to sleep. We only rode 130 miles on this day but it was a full day of activity.

Suddenly the night was punctuated with a group pulling into the site next to us, at about midnight, whereupon they commenced to clank and bang and rattle everything in, on and around their truck and pop-up camper and to talk and laugh as if it was the middle of the day. My thoughts varied from asking them to quiet down, to getting the camp host to do so, to screaming obscenities, to shooting out their camper tires! Instead, I put in my ear plugs and made the best of it. I do have to admit that after we arose fairly early we didn’t bother to keep our voices down. The devil made me do it.

It’s now Saturday and we decided to have a night at the Big Bend National Park up in the Basin. There is a lot to do in the Big Bend but all we planned to do was to camp up in the Chisos Basin but the campground was full when we got there. Ugh! Now what to do? Back down the mountain, now racing dark, and then 23 miles toward Boquillas Canyon to the Rio Grande Village Campground that I was fairly sure would not be full. Even with the aborted run up to the Basin that part of the trip was also memorable. I’ve read that the trek from the desert floor to the Basis has several different ecosystems. It’s a magnificent vista of rugged mountains all the way up the approximately 5-mile drive.

We got in and had a great night’s sleep at a site with thick, deep grass. Almost like your mattress at home! Robert, as is his occasional custom, just tossed out his air mattress and sleeping bag and slept under the stars without benefit of tent. Little did we know that in this dry desert there would be a heavy dew. He was a bit soggy the next morning as was my tent which I had pitched without the rain fly, again depending on the dry weather. That night I had been able to open the top of the tent with only mosquito netting (necessary) between me and the open sky where we could see the Milky Way almost from horizon to horizon. We slept well that night with 432 miles under our belts for the day.

The desert was flourishing. Rains had been good last spring and through the summer and the desert floor was as lush as I’ve ever seen it. For anyone who has not been to the Big Bend National Park, it’s a “must-see” kind of place. The contrasts afforded between the desert and the mountains, all punctuated by the Rio Grande River with the canyons it has carved over the eons is unique and beautiful in many different ways.

Sunday the 10th was just “get home” day. We took the fast route out of the park up U.S. 385 to Fort Stockton where we jumped on the super slab to Junction and then 377 to Mason, Llano and home. That day yielded 452 miles, 1622 total miles for the trip. Our total travel time was 35 hours, 22 minutes for an average speed of 45.8 mph which included all of our stops along the way for sightseeing, photos, rest stops and meals. Total cost for gas on the trip (have not yet refilled) was $89.30. All fuel was over $2.00 per gallon for premium. Total gallons 47. Total cost for meals, snacks, camping fees and gifts was $115.55 for a grand total cost for four days of $204.85. Not bad for the amount of miles travelling.

A short trip, but another good one and it was dry. As of this writing I’ve not checked the reports, if any yet, on the “Big List” of Beemer riders to see how the weather turned out to be in Potosi but I’m sure we had the better of it.

Sipapu – Bavarian mountain weekend

See http://www.nmbmwmc.org/sipapu.htm for details.
This is about 30 minutes South of Taos. Great rally. Primarily BMW but other makes invited as well. A few details from their site:

The Sipapu ski area is located about 25 miles southeast of Taos on NM 518. Our rally officially begins on Friday morning and ends on Sunday. However, many attendees have been extending the rally by arriving earlier in the week. Superb camping sites are available on-site. Dorm room bunks are also available free of charge on a first come, first served basis for Friday and Saturday night. If you arrive earlier in the week or stay later you are required to pay a fee. The Sipapu ski area offers motel type accommodations for the rally that are usually booked by June. However, cancellations do occur and a call to the lodge is recommended. Other camping, cabins and motel services are located in the area. The town of Taos offers all the national chain motels.