We confess, we didn't really know much about Texas, other than that there is lots of oil under it, that it is Mr. George W. Bush's home State and it is the place where most of the cowboy/western movies are based on… Well, here comes the surprise: while all of the above is true, Texas also sports a landscape diversity that lets your jaw drop – traveling from east to west, one can observe terrain that ranges from coastal swamps and piney woods, to rolling plains and rugged hills, and finally the desert and mountains of the Big Bend. Texas is also nicknamed the Lone Star State to signify Texas as a former independent republic and as a reminder of the state's struggle for independence from Mexico. The "Lone Star" can be found on the Texas state flag and on the Texas state seal today. More facts here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lone_Star_StateThen we were confronted with a number of contrasts – large cattle feed lots between hundreds of oils pumps pumping away next to large wind farms (and we're talking about 100+ turbines per cluster!). Then there was pristine nature broken up by massive industrial complexes (in particular around Houston), and by massive I mean half a dozen of refineries and chemical plants as far as the eye could see. Then there was the smell. With high winds carried the smell of thousands of cattle mixed in with long bursts of oil from the oil wells…the smell was confronting indeed. Fort Worth was a key destination for us, since it is home to the first official BMW workshop since Colorado, and we booked in our bikes to fix the waterpump and the master brake cylinder. We arrived in the late afternoon at the hotel and CB decided to quickly swing by the work shop to check if everything is in order and to confirm our spot in the workshop. Thank god he did, because it turned out that the spare part order that we placed over the phone a week ago got stuffed up and the shop forgot to include the water pump. Frantic phone calls were made to track down the relevant part, and we ended up placing an express order with the BMW distributor so it would be there in the morning. Guess what, that didnt happen. Disgruntled by the incompetence of the shop, CB took the master brake cylinder for the Dakar and fixed her up by himself in front of the hotel. Job done in less than 30 min – we were quoted 1 hour by BMW (meaning 100 bucks plus tax) for the same job… Back to the waterpump: as we arrived at the BMW dealer the next morning to drop off 'Wobbles' the said part hasn't arrived. Two hours later we finally got hold of the manager, who was very apologetic and even offered a ride on his R1200GS and free accommodation at his bachelor pad to compensate for the delay. We agreed to let the mechanic to commence the job by stripping down the bike and then wait for the pump to arrive the next day, so the job can be completed first thing in the morning. Now the irony of the entire saga: late afternoon we received a call from the shop telling us that the waterpump arrived at lunch time and the job is done. In addition, someone found a second pump that was put aside for us when we ordered the parts! Total case of miscommunication. Anyways, bikes are now back in full operating condition. With the bikes fixed we set our sights to Houston. The drive was a straight long and hot drive and after a nightmare run through Houston rush hour traffic we arrived at our horrible hotel. We are talking cheap but not cheerful here – terrible service, dirty, smelly, the works. We decided that it will be all worth it when we finally go the the NASA space centre the next morning. But alas the space centre turned out to be a disneyland playground for kids…DB was absolutely guttered. Granted, they had some cool stuff there, including a Saturn V rocket and documented the race to space very well, but it was pretty light for our liking… We raced out of Houston the next day but not before CB lost one of his earplugs for the helmet intercom and DB lost her credit card, NZ drivers license and a recently purchased Golden Eagle Pass to all national parks in the USA somewhere between Houston and the Louisiana border. So, bottom line is that Texas was rather an costly leg of our trip and left an unpleasant aftertaste in our mouths (which also could originate from the last chemical plant we passed).
Leaving the green lush landscape of Colorado behind, we continued our trip south-east into New Mexico a State full of interesting history: not only was the first nuclear bomb – Trinity – developed here (in Los Alamos) during the Second World War, it was also tested here a few miles down the road at the White Sands Missile Range close to the Mexican border. Further, New Mexico was also under Spanish and Mexican reign before joining the Union as 47th State in 1912. It is also the only State that ever had a successful revolt of its indigenous people – the Chimayó Rebellion in 1837 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mexico).But that's enough history. We drove through the HOT New Mexican desert for nearly 500km, hot, tired and dehydrated till we made our next stop Santa Fe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Fe,_New_Mexico). Santa Fe was a pleasant surprise indeed. The city is famous for its art culture and architecture and in 1957 the city council passed an ordinance prescribing a 'Pueblo style' of architecture to all new and rebuilt buildings in the downtown area, resulting in amazing streetscapes with flat roof houses, lots of wood and mud-coloured stucco facades. There is also a density of art galleries only surpassed by New York city. Wondering through the historic city centre was a real treat – DB fell in love with the place. There were tons of little cafes, al-fresco restaurants and markets tucked away in some side alleys or courtyards. Indigenous artists were flogging off their stuff and the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, which was built in 1869 and worthwhile looking at. We have been to many Catholic cathedrals in Europe but Spanish/Latin American churches and cathedrals are full of colour and sparkle. The highlight though was stumbling upon a boot shop selling handcrafted cowboy boots. The owner was a real character, and we quickly engaged into an interesting conversation on boots and life in general. DB managed to convince me that we HAD to buy some Indian art…hey the official Team Berg policy is "you carry your stuff and i'll carry my stuff". Surprisingly she managed to find space for these three rather interesting totems we picked up at the Museum of Native American Art. We could have easily spent much more time in Santa Fe but riding with a stuffed front brake wasn't fun or safe so we pushed ahead into Fort Worth, Texas for some much needed repairs.
Day two in this lovely little historic town, Mancos began by having breakfast at the local bakery specialising in only yummy organic and fresh produce. DB's bike was due to be finished by lunchtime so with time to kill we took a quick walk around the small main street meeting the local art curator and milliner all who highly recommended we make the trip up to Mesa Verde National Park so once we got back DB's bike, Wobbles, we made our way.Mesa Verde National Park is located about 20 miles from Mancos and the drive through the park was as exciting as seeing the old Anasazi ruins – winding sweeping roads through pine and juniper forests climbing up to 12,000 feet was exhilarating. Once we entered the ruins feelings changed from excitement to peace and calm. The ancient ruins were breathtaking. Built into natural cave and ledge shelters eroded into the sides of sheer vertical cliffs are these surprising village ruins. The Anasazi's were ancient peoples who lived in the Colorado-New Mexico region. They initially built pit houses on the top of these plateaus where they farm but they then moved down the cliffs into the ledges. Over time as the climate changed these people moved down these high plateaus into the valleys below. The ancient ruins where not re-discovered till the late 19th Century by two cowboys. Stumbling on to this national park was a complete accident, if the bikes hadn't broken down we would have blasted through the lovely historic town of Mancos as well as Mesa Verde and so the lesson here is that a break down is never really a bad thing. Next we head back down into the desert, into New Mexico and into Santa Fe – we can't wait to find what awaits us there!
As every traveler knows the best part about traveling is stumbling upon a hidden gem, be it a secluded beach, a tiny hole in the wall sell the best coffee or in our case a wee town that we never considered even stopping for fuel. A chain of unavoidable events lead us to the tiny historic town of Mancos sitting on the edge of a highway and boy are we glad that they did.As we left the scorching heat of the Utah desert behind us we headed towards Colorado, a route to get us to Dallas as quickly as possible. The reason for such urgency was because both our bikes started to fall apart. The mighty Dakar came to a grinding halt on the main street of Moab, Utah. Jeff and CB started to perform open heart surgery right there on the street in front of an organic gelato shop and massage centre which drew a small audience that Jeff and CB seemed to enjoy. After bleeding the front brake the Dakar limped to the campground and Jeff and CB continued to work on all the bikes – our poor machines had worked extremely hard traveling almost 500km in 43 degree Celsius heat. DB’s bike, affectionately named “Wobbles” due to a damaged head steering bearing making it wobble in first and second gear, now also started to leak water and oil – indicating the water-pump seals are failing. With no one but a BMW dealer wanting to touch the machines we were at a conundrum – do we ride two hours to Mancos, Colorado and wait a week till the bikes are fixed OR travel to Dallas in 5 days and get the bikes fixed there??? We decided to shelve the decision till the morning as we were all tired, dehydrated and suffering from mild heatstroke after a full on day of riding. Our campsite was awful – a dust bowl with rocky tent sites and guests cooking their dinners on smokey coal BBQs. DB said ‘f-that’ and went looking for a hotel – it is best not to argue with her at times like that. The next morning we all decided to take a day off and check out Arches National Park. The plan was to start early the following day to beat the heat and check out the arches. We just made it through the entrance of the NP as the aforementioned front break caused some unwanted braking action. So we returned to the hotel to swap bikes for safety reasons just to find out that Jeff and Catha turned around as well with an empty tank… On the second attempt to see the arches it was truly past 10am and the heat was rising. We managed to look at a few amazing sites, such as the Balanced Rock and some other formations, but at noon we called it quits as the temperature became unbearable. Jeff and Catha soldiered on and went on a 5 mile hike in the scorching heat. As we debriefed in the evening, we decided to stay another night at Moab and attempt the hike the next morning while Jeff and Catha jumped on their bikes after dinner to clock up a few more miles before pitching a tent under the desert sky full of stars. They still need to make it to Phoenix, AZ by Saturday morning, as Jeff needs to return to work in Alberta, Canada. We finally made it to Arches the next morning and what we saw was worth all the effort’. Seeing the Landscape Arch was definitely the highlight of the day. On the way back to Moab we were stopped by the local Park Ranger with blinking lights – just like in the movies! Apparently, CB was a little to easy on the throttle, mind you the 30 mile an hour speed limit in the middle of nowhere was just meant to be broken… worst thing was, all the paperwork, including the registration paper of the bike was at the hotel and the Ranger wasn’t too happy about it. But having Australian IDs might have helped a little as we got away with a stern warning… Leaving the deserts of Utah behind us, Team Berg continued their journey towards Colorado. Crossing the State border was like entering a different country – green, lush and the air smelling of pine right into the surprising little town of Mancos.
Not that we haven't seen enough canyons on this trip so far, however Bryce Canyon is promised as a prime natural spectacle not to be missed by the concerned traveler. Its red sandstone formations, carved by erosion over millions of years, provide breathtaking views. We also learned that this part of Utah is frequently subjected to thunderstorms, and evidence of lightning struck trees were all around us.Finding affordable accommodation in this rather popular tourist area was a different story. Since we arrived rather late in the day, a mild sense of panic arose as NO signs were increasingly switched on in front of the VACANCY bit. But in the end it was all good – we secured 2 wee cabins for Team Berg and Jeff and Catha, and as we found out that decent beer was available in the nearby restaurant the nerved started to settle.
Until recently, we have never even heard about Antelope Canyon, but our friend Anne in Cleveland highly recommended to visit this place, to a point that she threatened Jeff physical punishment if he wouldn't take us there – so he did!Antelope Canyon isn't assessable without organising a tour as it is on Native Indian land. We booked our tour company run with a local Navajo tribe business. The tour started on a back of a converted V8 pick-up truck which hammered through the town and into the desert and over over a soft sand dry river bed towards the canyon entrance in the middle of nowhere to the delight of CB. Once inside, we where blown away by a visual firework of sandstone shapes and warm colours of the setting sun that created an astonishing show only surpassed by the stories and musical performance of the guide. The canyon is only about 6000 years old formed by monsoonal flood waters up stream. As the rain waters travel down the valley and dam up in front of the canyon before screaming past inside the canyon towards Lake Powell downstream. As a result it takes about 8 hours for the water to reside and water levels can reach up to 30 meters within the canyon. The force of the water is so powerful that it has eroded the sandstone into amazing shapes – whirlpools creating curved walls and lines. Our guide demonstrated the amazing acoustic qualities if the canyons by playing the traditional flute and later singing us a song. DB was brought to tears. The canyons hold a very special place for the Navajo people as it was used countless times as an area of protection and safety during wars against enemies. It is also where the Holy People live therefore it is essential that you leave the place with respect. There are no words to accurately describe this place and the photos we took do not give it justice. It is a sacred place and a place that everyone should visit when they travel through Arizona. It meant so much to us to be welcomed into the US by the traditional custodians and owners of this amazing land. Thank you Anne, for making us go! We set up camp under a warm evening sky dinning on spicy organic corn chips and salsa in one of the best camp grounds yet – unlimited hot showers AND electrical power points at your campsite with Wi-Fi! Next Team Berg head up north east to ride along Route 12 – the All American Scenic Byway towards Bryce Canyon and Archers National Park in Utah!
After 3 days in Sin City we left the madness behind and successfully made our way out of Nevada and into Arizona. The plan was to meet up with Jeff who CB met in South America a few years back and his girlfriend Cata and ride together for a week or so and check out some of the best scenery Arizona and Utah has to offer.On the way east we stopped by the Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel built during the depression of the 30s. Pretty big, not as big as the Three Gorges Dam in China, but still impressive for something built 80 years ago. It is also the secret location of the All Spark for those Transformers fans out there 😉 We continued on our way, destination – Sedona. The ride into Sedona was challenging, to say the least with strong cross winds during the first half of the trip and some technical corners around Cottonwood during the second half of the trip. However the second half of the trip was some what surprising, after climbing several thousand feet we somewhat arrived at Cottonwood – a wee town perched on the edges of the mountain hugging the road like some Mediterranean village. By the time we reached the bottom of the hill DB was ready to throw in the towel and walk the rest of the trip, but hey, Team Berg doesn't give up. The day was long and stressful so we won't talk about it ever again. We met up with Jeff and Cata in Sedona and soon set up camp in Flagstaff. The next day we set our sights on getting to the Grand Canyon. Seeing the Grand Canyon was well worth all the struggle. It is just breathtaking what mother nature had teed up there for us. This was geology at work, right in front of our eyes. What a privilege to be here and see it with our own eyes. We waited till sun set and set up camp within the park under a billion twinkling stars in a beautiful pine forest. Best part of the day, besides the Grand Canyon itself was the hot dinner made by Jeff – Thai noodles and stir fried veggies – perfect end to a wonderful day. The next day after a yummy breakie of coconut french toast we headed north to Antelope Canyon.
On our way to Las Vegas we scheduled in a stop-over at Lake Havasu, Arizona. It was also our first ‘field test’ of all our camping equipment – but more about this later…In an attempt to avoid the big freeways, we took the smaller by-ways, one of which took us straight through Box Canyon (http://goo.gl/maps/j5KD). What we experienced was a surreal alien landscape definitly off the beaten track, CB couldn’t stop humming the song “Walking on the moon” by The Police. A few miles later the dusty dryness was then contrasted by the lush-green of the Colorado River demarcating the border between California and Arizona, and providing all the water for Lake Havasu. We booked a camping site right on the shores of the lake managed by the state park services. On paper (or rather Google maps) it looked pretty good, but once we arrive we realised that the selected and booked spot was: a) is in the desert with temperatures in the 40s
b) had no shade
c) was located next to a lake that is heavily used by recreational water vessels, including V8 race boats, jet skies and other noisy equipment. We quickly looked for a better spot offering at least some shade to pitch the tent, but then collapsed of exhaustion and had a wee nap. As temperatures continued to climb we realised that this is not working for us, we jumped back on the bike in the search for some air-conditioned premises. We settled for an old-school steak house that served meal portions of the size of (almost) a whole animal. We tried to share ONE serving of ribs, but even the two of us where only able to finish about half. Since temperatures refused to cool off, we decided to turn the evening into a ‘date-night’ and went to the movies to watch Avengers. Now hold your breath: movie tickets were 5 (yes, five) US dollars each, which included 2 servings of popcorn. Now, why would you download movies from the internet if you could watch it on the silver screen at this price? Australia, maybe its time to consider that charging 20 bucks on a movie ticket is a little too much? After the movie it noticably cooled down, but it was also pitch black since the sun set a while ago. This brought us to another problem – there was virtually no light at the campsite and our only torch was securely tucked away at the bottom of a pannier full of tools and spare parts. So needless to say there were some minor teething issues on our first night in the open, but I am sure we will improve on that (Dilu however was not a happy camper and mumbled something like ‘this was the first and last time we go camping’ or something). Next we head out to Las Vegas…woohoo!
We all know the movie classics such as ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas‘ with Johnny Depp or ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ with Nicolas Cage, “The Hangover” with the Wolf Pack and of course the Ocean Eleven+ movies which set certain expectations for this place Sin City/Las Vegas. Describing it as ‘madness in the desert’ wouldn’t give it the credit it deserves and not even Surfers Paradise in Australia during school break comes close what we have seen here. Its pure self-indulgence, excess, extravagance and full of superlatives – but hey, its good fun. If there are three words to describe Vegas, it would be unlimited BOOZE, CLEAVAGE and GAMBLING 24/7. The question is here, however, is Vegas ready for Team Berg??But lets start at the beginning – the ride from Lake Havasu AZ was quite something. We decided to take a little detour to go through the Mojave National Preserve (http://goo.gl/maps/b3Ax) with more breathtaking desert landscapes. The road leading up to it was actually on parts of the original Route 66 with great photo opportunities. Arriving into Vegas posed some minor navigation difficulties – 40 degrees heat, a break down in communications equipment, crazy traffic and blinking lights galore everywhere really didn’t help but we managed in the end – after a few stops, pep talks and sweaty undergarments. On a side note, American motorists have to be amongst the most tolerant and considerate drivers when it comes to motorcyclists. Maybe it is the fact that they think we are crazy for riding thorough the desert in full amour and 40 degree heat or they sympathise with us as our bikes will never be as fast as their monster trucks therefore are very forgiving and considerate – we will never know. All we do know is that we are extremely grateful for their patience especially when we drive lost and confused – like when we arrived into Vegas. We got a hotel booking in the Flamingo right in the heart of the Vegas gambling district, which is generally referred to as The Strip. We thought that the hotel place is massive, with 3,600 beds and god knows how many gambling machines on the ground floor but heard that there are places with double that amount. Checking into the hotel however was the most excruciatingly painful process we’ve ever experienced. CB stood in the check-in line for about an hour just to get the room keys to have a well deserved shower but at a price because we were early, check in in Las Vegas is after 4pm!
Smelling much nicer and a change of clothes later we took a late afternoon stroll along The Strip. Hunger kicked in quickly and we found ourselves in a margarita bar offering a dining experience second to none – waitresses dress as pirates on stilts, a semi-naked chick climbing a paper mache volcano and sliding down a water slide terminating in a margarita tank and a table service that puts most hospitality service in Australia and elsewhere in the world to shame. We quickly learnt that margaritas in Vegas are pretty potent and should only be drunk if you eat three square meals a day. We don’t recall much of the rest of the night but the next day we did notice half a take-away mug of margarita on the side table, a half eaten lime pie and $5 less in the wallet possibly due to a wee gambling spree at the 1 cent slot machines??? Total crazy first night for Team Berg in Vegas.The next day we left the Strip to the Speedway Racecourse offering the opportunity to the concerned motorist to sample some of the finest road-going machines currently available – Ferrari, Lamborghini, McLarren – the list goes on. The purpose of the trip was to finally give CB his feverishly awaited birthday present – 10 laps in an Audi R8 V10. And here are the specs of the machine he drove.
Power: 525hp at 8,000rpm – Torque: 391Nm
Top Speed: 196mph – Acceleration: 0-60mph in 3.7s
That did the trick and put the biggest smile in CBs face. What the specs above don’t show is the tremendous stopping power decelerating the car in seconds from near top speed to a cornering velocity that would send off most other cars. It is a experience not to be missed. The trip to the Speedway however was an interesting one. We drove past the glitzy lights of the Strip and towards the real Vegas – ramshackle old motels and casinos full at 10am with locals, vacant lots, long lines outside nuberous pawn shops, people pushing trolley’s…it was the darker and sadder side of Vegas. One can easily we blinded by the reality of gambling yet this industry supports so many too. It is a double edged sword.
Later in the afternoon after a power nap (a weary motorcyclist’s greatest friend) we headed off to try out possibly the biggest pancakes in the world as we still hadn’t had any breakfast yet. What many people don’t know is that CB is not only a motorbike nut he is also a connoisseur of pancakes. No matter where in the world we are we must have pancakes. In Buenos Aires we walked for 40 mins looking for a pancake shop as described in the Lonely Planet. So there was no stopping him searching for pancakes in Vegas. The Hash House a Go Go must serve the largest meals on the planet. The pancake CB ordered was the size of a large pizza. Needless to say he did manage to eat most of it and rate it highly yet not as high as this mysterious pancake he once ate in Amsterdam.Later we took a midnight stroll along the Strip to soak up all the atmosphere and see the bright lights. Now from experience living in New Zealand and Australia you are fully aware that around 1am in the morning people are drunk senseless and are either having punch ups, puking in the gutter, the girls walking around barefoot with their boob-tubes slipping crying for their mates to support them up into a cab, inhaling fast food or all of the above (which is the most likely case). Vegas with its 48 oz margarita jugs and endless amounts of booze was a complete surprise. Sure most people were a little to half drunk but there were no police on the road, no beefy bouncers ready to crack your ribs on the pavement, no sleazy and gross scenes you usually get on a Friday night along George Street, Sydney. The experience here was awesome – everyone declaring their love for each other, commenting on their cool clothing, screaming our EDC (we’re still not sure what that was all about) and generally happy and just having a good time.
Reason #124 why we love the USA. A pit stop at a cupcake joint to scope out professional cupcakes and compare them with Dilu’s creations later we drew the night to an end. Loving Vegas all the way.Next we head to the Hoover Dam and resort town of Sedona, AZ to meet up and ride along with a good mate CB met on his South American adventure.
Do you remember the first time you picked up the U2 album The Joshua Tree and wondered why on earth there was a tree on the cover sleeve…or even what the tree was (in the days before Google and Wiki)? After many hours listening to that wonderful album we were finally made it to the infamous park to see the Joshua Tree. Joshua Tree National Park is situated a few miles north-east of Palm Springs. The alien landscape that welcomed us was bone dry, rugged and full of endemic flora – such as the Cresoate bush, Fan palms and of course the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia), which is a member of the Agave family. Until recently, it was considered a giant member of the Lily family, but DNA studies led to the division of that formerly huge family into 40 distinct plant families of which the Joshua tree is a part of. Just some trivia on the side…We started out early in the morning to avoid the searing heat of the desert which not only saps all moisture from your body but also quickly tires you out, too. We were the only people in the park so early in the day which allowed us the luxury to take our time viewing all the amazing flora and stop where ever we wanted. It is humbling to stand by the side of the road and listen to nothing but the wind whistle by, the odd bird song and be surrounded by massive hills eroded and crumbling from decades of heat and frost. The drive though the park also offered some amazing views back into the Coachella Valley – home of the San Andreas fault-line. The valley superbly collects smog, dust and other air pollutants from power plants, traffic and other human activities in LA…such a pity yet still an amazing phenomenon. On the way back to the hotel we got hammered by serious cross-winds as we passed a massive wind farm north of Palm Springs, well, rather an accumulation of all imaginable wind turbine types ever produced since the 80s, ranging from small 2-bladed turbines to state of the art 3-bladed Vestas machines. We ended our stay in Palm Springs by taking the Aerial Tramway cable car up through breath taking heights to Mt San Jacinto offering the most amazing views over the Coachella Valley and Palm Springs (this time from the western rim). Up the top of the mountain was most surreal with a restaurant, souvenir shop and bar…we are still not quite sure what the purpose of it all was, but hey, it was an amazing ride and view nevertheless. Next we head through the Mohave desert towards Arizona and into the wee inland party town of Lake Huvasa City. Should be fun as we scored a campsite right on the lake shore! Team Berg over and out