Dallas, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi 23rd-29th April 2016

Of the three days we spent in Dallas, we worked for two of them and at the end I delivered 47,000 words to my two thesis supervisors.  I am now applying for permission to deliver my thesis early. Fingers crossed this is granted. On the third day, we went to visit the assassination site of JFK. This was one of only two things that Dave specifically want to do in the whole of the USA. We had a lovely lunch in a great New York style deli and then wandered over to the site. On the way we passed the memorial to JFK. It felt underwhelming.

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The first thing that strikes you about the assassination site is how much smaller, closer and compact it is than it appears on the footage. The Book Depository and the “grassy knoll” are just a few metres away from where the bullets struck.

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The Book Depository

Neither Dave nor I are supporters of the “single gunman” theory or the findings of the Warren Report. For this reason we agonised about whether to go into the museum on the 6th floor of the former Book Depository which, apparently, fails to mention at all that there may be other theories about how the President died. Some campaigners on the internet ask you to boycott this museum. In the end our minds were made  up for us by the long queues (even on a Monday).

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The road where the assassination took place

It is very sad and moving standing there looking at the piece of road where JFK was shot. I don’t automatically feel sad at these kinds of places but I did here. I wondered whether the world would be different now if JFK had lived and likely served two terms. We will never know.

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The grassy knoll to the left under the trees

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The site of the assassination with the Book Depository in the background on the left

The centre of Dallas reminded me a lot of Manchester close up. There are quite a few redbrick buildings,  very reminiscent of the town centre around China Town in Manchester and they have the same tram system. The skyline is quite different though. I found it to be a low key place. We enjoyed our few days there.

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We have had to be flexible since we left Dallas as there has been a lot of bad weather which we have successfully dodged. We don’t mind a bit of rain or even a light thunderstorm but we do not want the tent to be blown away in a tornado and we have managed to avoid the worst of the weather using the internet. We did see a great couple of dust devils on the road though.

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We are now out of the desert and cannot believe how green it is here. The landscape is just like home. The grass pollen is very high, however, and I have suffered a bit with hay fever.

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Over the last three days we have passed through Louisiana and Mississippi. It is very interesting here. There are lots of shacks. Many sell crawfish, catfish and jumbo shrimp but many are also lived in by poor people, mostly African-Americans. The poverty is more akin to what you see in Asia and I have certainly not seen anything like it in western Europe. It is very sad. The people are amazingly friendly though. Everyone is interested in us and I come  out of every shop or gas station with a huge grin.

One of the two highlights of the past few days has been Natchez. This is a town on the banks of the Mississippi. The motto of this state is “The Birthplace of America’s Music” which is reference to the blues which grew out of the Mississippi delta.

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We crossed the Mississippi back in August when we left Memphis and it was good to see it again.

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Natchez was once one of the richest towns in the USA and there are more plantation homes here than anywhere else in the country.

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The centre of town is very Georgian looking and I kept thinking I was in Leominster or somewhere similar in the UK.

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We had a great night out there, met a few other travellers, had a few beers and a Thai meal. I am very interested in architecture and wanted to visit some Antebellum homes, from the 1830-1860 period but when I researched them I felt a little uncomfortable to see how these houses are visited just for their beauty with no reference to the historical context of slavery, the exploitation from which this great wealth developed. Sadly this has put me off wanting to visit any of the big plantation homes. I did learn in my research that the British were mostly responsible for bringing slaves to the USA, firstly to support tobacco production in the Virginias and later with sugar cane and cotton in the Deep South. The biggest slave owners were mostly of British descent, some owning over 1000 slaves. Three quarters of people who lived in the south did not own slaves, however.

Our best day this week was yesterday, as this was the only day we have had guaranteed good weather and been able to camp. We passed through a town called Waterproof. There was a prison there and the whole scene was reminiscent of The Shawshank Redemption. The area was quite poor and very remote and I was a bit concerned about staying there at first but the campsite was stunning and well used.

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We had our own little part of the lake to look out on.

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We saw quite a bit of wildlife, including large egrets, red and yellow birds, squirrels and anole lizards that puff their throats up red like they are blowing bubbles with gum. On the road today we also helped a terrapin, the size of a large tortoise that was stranded trying to cross  (in British English we have three words-tortoise, terrapin and turtle, whereas Americans seem to only use turtle). I also saw a large dead armadillo being eaten by vultures.

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Dave enjoyed the break. Reading his book in various positions.

SAMSUNG CSCSAMSUNG CSCThis campsite is owned by Louisiana state parks and includes electricity at each site, your own water tap, free WiFi and a laundry-all for just over 20 quid a night. We loved it there and felt very happy to be back sleeping in the outdoors.

So finally, we are today in Jackson, Mississippi. We need steering head bearings for the bike and managed to source some here but they will not arrive till tomorrow so we had to stay overnight. The people are lovely but the whole place is slightly scary. Two locals advised us not to stay here, including one skinny guy wearing a camouflage jumpsuit who looked like an archetypal methhead and chatted with me for quite a while outside AutoZone. So we are ensconced in our safe chain hotel the Comfort Inn, with our takeaway food waiting for tomorrow to arrive.

Our plans for the next few days are loose because of the weather but we are heading towards the Great Smoky Mountains. It would be good to be there in three days but who knows?

 

 

Tiger at 25,000 Miles

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To celebrate 25000 miles in 9 months Silver has started losing oil past the dipstick o ring. Since returning to the USA I haven’t been able to get Mexican Mobil 1 (5w50) and so I took the bold decision to mix oils and top up with USA Mobil 1 (15w50). Scaremongers and alchemists will say I should do an oil change, and I guess they’re right, but I just haven’t had the opportunity. I’ll try to get a new o ring.

Other problems? The GPS has been blowing 10A fuses every now and then since Guatemala and chose this morning to start immediately blowing replacements. I put a 15A in and stood well back.

Steering head bearings have gone again. I say again, I just rotated the top one last time, in Berlin. I have a spare.

Hugger needs fixing.

Cheap Bridgestones do not look like they’re going to go the distance.

Phoenix to Tuscon, Arizona-camping in the desert 14th-19th April 2016

We spent 3 days camping in the desert at two locations in Arizona. First at the Lost Dutchman State Park near Phoenix. This is right next to Superstition Mountain, so called because of the rumours, going back more than 100 years, of gold in them there hills. Gold has never been found. The Lost Dutchman apparently got lost searching for it.

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The area was beautiful, especially as the sun was setting.

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It was only 15 minutes ride from the outskirts of Phoenix and we were able to visit the cinema to see Midnight Special. If you have not seen it, I thought it was a very good film. Not life changing but it kept me enthralled the whole time.

We moved on to a very remote location called Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This is only 7 miles from the Mexican border at Lukeville and it felt strange being so close to Mexico again.

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We passed through a tiny town called Ajo (garlic in Spanish) but decided to wait till the final town of Why before getting food supplies. Big mistake as Why had only one gas station and nothing else. We decided to ride on to the campground and found it to be very remote and beautiful but we still had no food. We headed to Lukeville at the border, 5 miles away. There was again only a gas station but we did manage to get ice cold Heineken and Doritos and (oddly) cups of instant oats (the perfect camping breakfast for vegans). No dinner though, they only had Spam and Pot Noodles.

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After a few beers, we dipped into the food bag and came out with some red lentils and half a bag of wholewheat fusilli. An odd dinner seasoned with some Cajun spice mix but enough to soak up the beer.

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We soaked up the beautiful, desert atmosphere. It was very reminiscent of Baja California. Many of the saguaro cacti are in flower. You can see the buds in the silhouette below.

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On the way into the campground there is a sign that says “Illegal immigration and smuggling takes place in this area. If you see anything suspicious report it to the Visitor Centre”. No wonder the campground was half empty. On the way back to Tucson, we encountered three road blocks/check points manned by scary looking US agents and about ten different patrol vehicles, hiding in the bushes (it was like an episode of Breaking Bad). We saw nothing like this when we crossed at El Paso a month ago but this area is much more remote and perfect for smuggling. We were glad we had decided to move on.

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Today we begin the long journey east. We plan to be in Dallas for Saturday, in time for the Everton v Man. Utd. FA Cup semi-final, being played at Wembley. We have 1000 miles to cover before then. We will go via Roswell, New Mexico.We will spend 3 days in Dallas before heading towards New Orleans. We wanted to see Santa Fe and Taos but it is too cold up there for us and we also need to make progress and zig zagging north to south when you want to go east, slows you down. We will be sad to leave the desert but we only have 4 more weeks before the bike goes off to the shippers and we need to get to the Deep South and see something new.

 

 

Distilled Water

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Well, you live and learn. In the USA, the distilled water used to top up batteries and cooling systems is the same as the water sold for humans to drink. I tried a few auto spares shops before being told to just get it off the shelf in Walmart, along with all the other drinks. I’m pretty sure distilled water is bad for humans and I don’t think my radiator needs a dash of citrus, for taste.

Moab, Utah to Phoenix, Arizona via Flagstaff 10-16 April 2016

On our last day in Moab we decided to forgo Arches National Park, as it just seemed so congested when we rode past and instead we went on a fabulous ride on Highway 128 to Cisco. This is one of the most stunning valley rides I have ever experienced.

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We had the road almost entirely to ourselves. The red rock landscapes just went on and on as we followed the river through the valley.

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We thought we would stop for a coffee at Cisco at the end of the ride. We were shocked to arrive and and find it was a ghost town.

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There are many of these scattered across the country but I have never come across one quite like this.

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It was a major water stop for steam trains in the past and then became abandoned following the building of the interstate highway nearby which bypassed the town.

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It was pretty spooky with rotting cars lying around. We had the feeling a few people still lived there and did not want to risk getting off the bike to wander around.

We rode from Moab via Page to Flagstaff, Arizona. It is much colder up in the mountains and we got caught in a full on hailstorm on our way into the town. We loved it there and ended up staying in a motel in the centre of town for three nights. We got lots of work done (I am up to 45,000 words!), enjoyed the local health food supermarket and had a couple of trips out-one for beers and burgers and the other to Lowell Observatory. This is one of the most famous observatories in the world, where Pluto was discovered. We waited for a clear night and were treated to views of the moon through a small telescope and views of Jupiter through the huge, historical Clark telescope. We could see four of Jupiter’s moons and brown stripes on the white surface of the planet. Very cool. We saw a skunk on the way back.

We rode to the famous meteor crater nearby. This is apparently the finest preserved meteor crater in the world. The meteor hit about 50,000 years ago and created a hole a mile across.

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Research taking place here has enhanced understanding of meteor craters across the whole solar system. Although this is in the middle of nowhere, the visitors centre is really state of the art.

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We had an amazing ride down off the mountain into Sedona from Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon is really very special. The atmosphere in the canyon was amazing. It reminded me of the atmosphere at Big Sur.

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It was wonderful to be back in pine tree country after a week in the desert. The air smelt amazing. We saw a coyote cross the road in front of us.

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The red rocks of Sedona are extraordinary but I really felt the town that they have built and the widened road to serve the tourist industry were  big turn offs.

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We stayed away from the main tourist area and stayed instead in the Verde Valley on a nice campsite. We got raided by racoons in the night who ate EVERYTHING, including a whole, raw, sweet potato and a pound bag of ground almonds. Lesson learned.

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We had a great ride out to Jerome. This was once a thriving copper mining town and then became a ghost town around the 1950s. Fortunately, it has recently experienced a revival being adopted by artists and other bohemian folk and is now a popular tourist attraction. We were lucky that we arrived early in the morning and avoided the crowds which were building up as we left.

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We rode through the nearby Mingus mountains, enjoying the winding roads and we both agreed it was the first “real ride” we had experienced in months. There were a lot of other bikers around, mostly on Harleys and the area seems to be a popular bikers meet point.

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After two nights in the Verde Valley, we left for the Lost Dutchman State Park, east of Phoenix. I must admit that I thought the ride and campsite would be humdrum. I could not have been more wrong.

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The whole route was stunning; mountainous and green at first and then mountainous and desert with huge saguaro cacti everywhere-very reminiscent of Baja California. It was very windy though, making the air dusty and riding and camping a challenge.I was kept awake last night by the coyotes howling but the bird song this morning was wonderful. The desert is so green and full of wildlife at this time of the year.

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We are now enjoying a second day on the campsite. I will share some photos of the site next time as it is extraordinary. We will head back to the Mexican border tomorrow to Organ Pipe Cactus National Park. We have come full circle in the last month since we arrived in the USA. Once we leave Arizona made week, we will then start heading east to New Mexico. The USA really is the gift that keeps on giving.

That’ll be a(nother) cheap laptop

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HP Stream 11 lasted 6 months till some idiot lightly knelt on it in the tent. $200 laptops really aren’t very robust so this time I’ve spent $300 and got one that is actually kidproof.

Lenovo 11e Chromebook was ordered but Windows 10 Pro version was delivered (to the campsite!). I think that puts me about $100 up but I was looking forward to exploring Chrome OS. Currently downloading Ubuntu and refusing to trust Windows with any of my passwords in the meantime.

Moab, Utah 3-7th April 2016

For the last few days we have been staying in Moab, Utah. This is at the heart of red rock country and the base for visits to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. The best thing about Utah at this time of the year is that, while the skies are blue and daytime temperatures warm (ish), you are surrounded by views of snowy mountains. We loved the ride here as the mountains got closer and closer.

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Despite what you hear, Utah has bars and they are open on Sundays. We tested this and met a very nice barmaid who has moved here for the outdoor sports (like most people here).

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Everyone here looks very fit and the place is full of rock climbing and mountain biking shops, as well as places that rent all terrain vehicles (like a cross between a quad bike and a jeep). The Americans love their outdoors like no other nation I have experienced. Yesterday, we went for an amazing visit to Canyonlands National Park.

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This is the least visited national park in Utah but has views better than the Grand Canyon. It was really, very beautiful. It was also pretty quiet.SAMSUNG CSC

We had some views to ourselves.

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Dave enjoyed scrambling up rocks.

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And sitting on the edge (he then went home and played with his train set).

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There are steep, dirt roads here that were trails used by native Americans and then used by drovers. It would be great to have a 4X4 to get to the valley bottom and look up at the canyons from below. You can drive from one side to the other.

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It is still pretty chilly on the bike, even though it is really sunny so thermal underwear and down jackets under the leathers are still necessary (Michelin Man style), which makes hiking quite tricky.

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We managed to walk a mile. It would be nice to camp closer and walk from the tent but the campgrounds in the park are booked until the end of June. On a clear day, you can see for 100 miles apparently.

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Nearby is Dead Horse Point. This is where the final scene of Thelma and Louise was filmed. There is a narrow road about one car wide, where they used to corral the horses into the “point” which is now a car park. They would then choose which horses they wanted and leave the rest to die (!). Hence the name. If you have already been to Canyonlands, then I would not recommend paying the extra to go to Dead Horse. It is just a different and less impressive view of the same canyon system. We were not tempted to drive off the edge.

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We will be here till Saturday. Tomorrow we will visit Arches National Park and do a short hike and we then head to Sedona in Arizona, where we hope to spend a few days before heading to New Mexico. We booked our flights to Hong Kong this week, for July 24th. I have also been working slowly on the thesis. I hope to be up to 40,000 words by the end of the week. We have 6 weeks left of the trip but time seems to have slowed down for us and each day is a gift.

Palm Springs to Monument Valley via Grand Canyon 26th-31st March 2016

We have had such a great few days, marred only by terrible internet that has made it impossible to post to the blog about all the amazing things we have seen. We came down off the mountain in Idyllwild just in time before the snow came in.

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There was very low cloud on the way down but the desert is never far away and it warmed up pretty quickly.

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I love that about this area you can go sand to snow in less than an hour.

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We had a great day in Palm Springs looking at modernist architecture, drinking beer and eating Vietnamese food. We saw the house where Elvis and Priscilla spent their honeymoon.

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It took us two days to ride to the Grand Canyon. It ranged from fairly chilly to very cold. Actual daytime temperatures ranged from about 4-14 celsius but there is a wind chill of minus 15 on a bike travelling at 60mph so we have really felt it as we do not have winter bike gear. We have also ridden across a lot of very exposed landscapes at a pretty steady 2000m altitude. On the first day we rode through Joshua Tree National Park.

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It was  amazing but the empty vistas outside the park were just as beautiful in my opinion.

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Our visit was short because of the cold but I would like to return here when it is warmer.

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We spent the rest of the day riding slog the old Route 66. I thought Wyoming was vast and empty but there really is nothing in this corner of the California high desert.

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We camped overnight at Needles, CA where locals drive a 30 mile round trip to the supermarket. The campsite had great facilities bit was right on the highway and even Dave complained about the noise and fumes.

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There was an amazing sunset (no photoshop).

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The next day was much colder. I was riding with thermal underwear top and bottom, fleece trousers and a down jacket under my leathers plus a hat under my helmet and tow pairs of gloves and I was still frozen to the bone. It started to snow as we waited in the queue at the Grand Canyon National Park. You know you are near hyperthermia when you start to tremble badly. Fortunately our room at the lodge had a bathtub and excellent heating and we managed to warm through. We spent the evening drinking craft beer (yuk) and eating pizza.

It was no problem for us to get up for sunrise as we are early risers and we were awake and raring to go by 4.30am. We walked along the rim for a couple of miles at dawn expecting to find crowds. There were none.

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Very few people seem to get up to watch the sunrise ever the canyon (at least at this time of the year when it is minus 4).

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It was wonderful.

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Later on we rode out of the park via  the Desert View entrance win the east and were treated to some amazing sights.

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We did not even have to get off the bike for some of them. We also saw elk and mule deer.

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The ride across Navajo land to Monument Valley was again vast and fascinating as the landscapes changed constantly. We stopped at an old trading post for lunch. I balked at paying $400 for a Navajo blanket.We arrived in Monument Valley on the border with Utah to thick cloud, again freezing cold. SAMSUNG CSC

 

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We stayed at Gouldings Lodge. This is a former trading post on Navajo land run by the Navajo and with amazing views across to the tribal park of Monument Valley. The trading post was set up by Mr. Goulding in the 1920s and in the 1950s he wrote to John Ford, the film Director with some photos of the area and invited him to make a film there. The area was used for making many, very famous films, including Stagecoach and She War a Yellow Ribbon, both with John Wayne. There is a great little museum that displays many fascinating photos from the time and you can see the cabin that was used on set by one of John Wayne’s characters.

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We were assigned an odd little room next to the car wash.

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In the morning, we were treated to some wonderful views as we rode out of the area.

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Although it was cold, the stunning blue skies and amazing scenery kept us cheerful. Including snowy peaks in the distance.

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We are now in Moab, Utah for a few days of exploration in the red rock landscape and on empty roads.

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