Tag Archives: gas

“That’s For People Who Can’t Read Maps!”

On the Texas Independence Trail

On the Texas Independence Trail

Map of Day 2 Ride Route

On our “National Park Motorcycle Ride” in July we stopped for gas in Gardiner, Montana.  When I started my bike the GPS announced “Turn right in fifty feet”. The woman filling up her car on the other side of the pump I was at exclaimed… “What was that!” The guy filling his truck behind her exclaimed…  “That’s for people who can’t read maps!”

To be honest I was a little annoyed… and I wanted to say something back. Fortunately, I couldn’t think of a good come back. It was probably a good thing I had left well enough alone. Thinking back I know there was a time I might have said the same thing. I didn’t have a GPS and I couldn’t figure out why I needed one. I probably would have never bought one for myself… What changed that you ask? My lovely wife bought me one for Christmas! When I got it I smiled and said thank you… thinking I would probably never use it… Besides it was just some fancy electronic gadget that I would have to learn to use. Yeah, it had only a few buttons… buttons that did many things and to know what those things are require reading the user’s manual…  I know some people consider me a bit of a geek but I, like most men, don’t like reading user’s manuals… and besides reading a map was much easier… right.

How did I end up learning to use it? To make a long story short, shortly after I got my GPS, I was put in a situation where I had to use it… In a city I did not know and I needed to get to many places. The GPS got me to those places without a hitch. Now the GPS is an invaluable tool of my travels.

Now back to the guy who said… “That’s for people who can’t read maps!” This is how I might have responded to him and other people like my former self.

Can you get this from a map?

  1. Find motels near you.
  2. Location of the nearest gas station.
  3. Restaurants nearby.
  4. Hospitals
  5. Shopping
  6. Parks, museums etc.

Can a map give you real-time information as you drive? Like…

  1. How far it is to your next turn.
  2. How far it is to your destination.
  3. Whether you will be exiting right or left from a freeway
  4. Does it give lane assignments for proper exiting?
  5. If you miss a turn can a map get you back on course (without stopping)?

Actually, to use a GPS effectively you need to know how to read a map. You must be able to read a map to plan routes… to add via points and add roads of your choosing and not just go from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. A GPS is just a tool just as maps are tools. A GPS is just a better tool…

The other advantage of using a GPS is you don’t have to read it as you are driving or riding. Reading a map while riding is hard… Unless you know the route by heart you will need to refer to the map. Reading those little road names are not easy and distracting…

Now I’ve got that off my chest… What can you add to this?

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I hope I see you down the road somewhere… Ride safe…

Planning Motorcycle Trips

166

To me, planning motorcycle trips is a necessity for a good motorcycle trip. You can never over plan but you can under plan…

In 1977 I took my first long motorcycle trip of 1800 miles. The only thing I planned was the start date, return date and destination. In spite of the lack of planning it was a good trip. Fast forward to June 2002 and I’m a lot older and I would like to think a lot wiser (I may get an argument from Janet on that point). This was my first long ride in 25 years and it was Janet first long ride ever. To top it all off it was to a place (Big Bend National Park) that is not forgiving if you have not planned. Because this was Janet first long ride, I wanted her to enjoy the ride and continue riding with me. I planned every detail of the trip. Because everything is “few and far between” in West Texas I knew where every gas station, lodging and places to eat were. I did make some mistakes. Nothing that ruined the trip but we learned from the mistakes. We have learned a lot and continue to learn more as we travel by motorcycle. This post is about my method of planning our trips.

Destination or Destinations

Every trip begins with a destination or destinations. We pick destinations in various ways. Some of the ways are…

  • Destinations come from places I have always wanted to ride or after traveling somewhere and realizing the trip would be a great motorcycle trip.
  • Friends are always telling us about some of the places they have traveled and have suggested rides. It’s always good to get first hand information, recommendations and you can always ask questions and get suggestions.
  • Some destinations come from reading blogs like this one. Some of my favorite blogs are Coyote , Moto Hobos, Observations of a Perpetual Motorcyclist, Crossings and alison’s wanderland to name just a few. The nice thing about following blogs is you can always get more information from the bloggers. Bloggers are always happy to share their knowledge. Just ask…
  • Some destinations come from motorcycle publications or travel publications. My favorite publications for destinations are Ride Texas, Roadrunner and Rider magazines.

Route Planning

Once we have chosen the destination, we start planning our route. Not a simple task. When riding with the wives I try to keep the mileage per day from 200 to 350 miles. The wives have things they like doing, so I plan accordingly. If just us guys are riding I try to keep it under 500 miles per day and plan the route accordingly.

The routes are not always direct. We try to see what interesting things are along the way and plan stops if they aren’t too far off the beaten path. The stops can also limit the mileage per day depending on what the stops are. You can’t see something like Big Bend in an hour…

Another consideration is lodging. We might be able to travel further on a particular day but our lodging options maybe “slim to none“ in some of the more remote areas. I am a member of most of the motel chains reward programs so I check their websites to see what is available at the planned days end. Depending on the time of year, its popularity and the remoteness I may make reservations. In places like Big Bend National Park don’t expect to ride there in the spring when the cactus are blooming and expect to get a room. It ain’t happening, reservations need to be made a year in advance in Big Bend!!! Do the research before you go… Reservations are always a good idea if traveling to popular areas at popular times of the year. Unless you like sleeping on picnic tables… You should make reservations.

The availability of gas (petrol) is a consideration in route planning too. Depending on the range of your bike and the remoteness of the area it might be a good idea to know where gas stations are before you go and plan gas stops accordingly. If you don’t have many options in an area you might want to call ahead to know business hours. Sometimes they maybe closed or out of business.

I have several road atlases that are a good source for finding scenic routes. I usually google the routes to read about what touristy things are on the route as well as what others have written about the route. We don’t want to miss anything. It might be a while before we can get back to the area.

Once all the information is collected, I start planning the routes for each day. I use google maps the most. It allows me to plot a route with via points, determine mileage and if there is a question about road quality you can check the satellite view or use the street view to get a really up close look. This has been very handy over the years. I have changed routes when I realized the road in question was a gravel or dirt road. We have traveled a few of those roads and prefer not too. You can also check for motels, restaurants, gas stations or other services you may need.

Road construction could be a big issue so I check our routes before we leave. Each state in the U.S. have websites to check road construction areas.

As I map the route I enter mileage, stop information and other need information into a spread sheet. When I make changes the total mileage is recalculated. I print out the spread sheet so I can refer to it on the trip and I use it for entering destination and via point into the GPS each day. Below is the information for one of our riding days.

Itenary example, spread sheet, trip, plan, ride, motorcycle

Before I used a GPS I would printout each day as above and placed it in a map holder on my gas tank as a “quick reference” while riding. It was a great low tech method. The mileage between via points helped to know when my next turn would be and onto which road. Then came the GPS and now I don’t travel without a GPS or maybe I should say I would prefer not to travel without one..

Weather Information

The weather on the trip is good to know but the weather history is useful too. I always check weather.com for the average high, low and record temperatures and the average perception of each area we are traveling. This also helps me determine the best time of the year to travel “weather wise” and it helps to know what to pack and not to pack.

This summer we are planning ride to 4 national parks, Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier and Banff. We will be leaving Texas in 90/100 degree heat but in the parks it will be 20 or 30 degree colder in the northern higher elevations and much colder at night. Needless to say we need to pack accordingly.

I hope this is of some use to novice and seasoned riders. One thing I’ve learned while traveling by motorcycle is you can never know too much but you can know too little. Be prepared…

I hope we see you down the road somewhere… Ride safe…

Motorcycle Travel Information For The Big Bend Area of Texas

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride

Yucca at Chisos Basin with Mt. Casa Grande in background

This information about the Big Bend area of Texas was put together for motorcycle riders but much of it is applicable for people driving. I have collected lots of information on the Big Bend area for our travels. This is my attempt to organize it for others who are traveling there. I haven’t commented on everything but have included links to give you more information. So look for the links.

When you mention Big Bend people naturally think of Big Bend National Park but the Big Bend area is much more than just the park.

The Big Bend area is a geographic region in the western part of the state of Texas in the United States bordering Mexico. It is sometimes loosely defined as the part of Texas south of U.S. Highway 90 and west of the Pecos River. The area is arid, rugged, sparsely populated and has the Chisos and the Davis Mountain ranges. The area has more than one million acres of public lands which include Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park. The towns in the area are Alpine, Presidio, Marfa, Sanderson, Fort Davis, Presidio, Study Butte, Lajitas, Van Horn, Kent and Marathon.

For those of you who are not familiar with the Big Bend area of Texas… everything is “few and far between”. You need to know where lodging, food and gas are  found well in advance of your trip. Weather can also be a big issue depending on what time of the year you plan to visit.

Big Bend National Park

What I like about Big Bend National Park is its vast size that covers more than 800,000 acres. Much of the park is accessed by paved roads so it lends itself to us road bikers. For adventure off-road riders or 4×4 there are many roads for you. There are many trails for hiking. The temperatures can vary by as much as 30 degrees due to the elevation differences. The best time to visit is in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming. There is so much more to Big Bend that I could never do justice describing for you. So you may want to check out some of the links below.

http://www.nationalparks.org/explore-parks/big-bend-national-park

http://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

http://www.visitbigbend.com/en/

Boquillas Canyon Big Bend National Park

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Because Big Bend Ranch State Park is only accessible by high clearance 4 wheeled vehicles or off-road bikes we haven’t had the chance to explore the park… yet… So you can check out what the park has to offer with the link below.

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_br_p4501_0152h.pdf

Weather

Because of the elevation differences in the area there are temperature differences of 30 degrees or more. In Big Bend National Park it may be 98 degrees at Santa Elena Canyon and in Chisos Basin some 20 miles by road the temperature can be 68 degrees. The reason is… 5665 feet difference in elevation.

Below are the averages for Alpine. These can vary from place to place in the area due to elevations. This table is provided only to give you an idea what the averages are. I would recommend you to check the particular town and areas you plan on visiting to get an accurate number. You can check with www.weather.com or any of the other websites.

Month Average High Average Low Record High Record Low Average Precip.
January

60

30

81

0

0.54

February

64

33

86

-2

0.59

March

70

38

91

10

0.46

April

78

46

97

20

0.6

May

85

55

101

29

1.48

June

90

62

107

38

2.62

July

89

64

106

52

2.74

August

87

63

103

49

2.93

September

83

57

101

36

2.6

October

77

40

97

21

1.4

November

69

38

87

-2

0.47

December

60

31

83

-3

0.59

Lodging

Cabin we stayed at in Chisos Basin Lodge in Big Bend National Park

During the spring when the wildflowers are in bloom lodging can be hard to come by and reservations are STRONGLY suggested. If you want to stay in Big Bend National Park during that time you should make reservations a year in advance! If you don’t you most likely won’t get a reservation. “A word to the wise is sufficient.” Even for towns (Alpine, Marfa, Marathon etc.) outside the park it would be a good idea to make reservations well in advance of your trip.

Big Bend, motorcycle, ride, April

Mission Lodge in Terlingua where we stayed…

Big Bend Area of Texas

Carriage House in Marathon where we stayed

Gas stations

Gas stations are a big issue when traveling by bike in the Big Bend area. It is a long way between gas stations so keep your tank topped off. In places like Marathon they roll up the sidewalks at 5:00 so most businesses are closed. There was only one gas station in Marathon and it closed early! So don’t get there late and expect to get gas.

Big Bend National Park has over 100 miles of paved roads so bikes with limited range need to keep their tanks topped off at one of the two gas stations in the park. The gas station at Panther Junction is the most centrally located gas station and is the only station in the park that has premium gas. The second gas station is at Rio Grande Village and it only has regular gas.

Outside the park, gas can be found at the junction of hwy 118 and 170 in Study Butte. Top off your tank. It is 80 miles to Alpine and 68 miles to Presidio to the next gas station.

When leaving the park via Hwy 385 top off your tank at Panther Junction in the park. It is 68 miles to Marathon from Panther Junction.

Distances Between Points

Alpine – Study Butte: 80 miles

Study Butte – Panther Junction: 24 miles

Panther Junction – Marathon: 68 miles

Marathon – Alpine: 31 miles

Alpine – Marfa: 27 miles

Marfa – Ft. Davis:  21 miles

Ft. Davis – Alpine: 24 miles

Ft. Davis – Balmorhea: 37 miles

Marfa – Van Horn: 74 miles

Ft. Davis – Kent: 53 miles

Food

Places to eat can also be an issue for the same reasons as gas stations.

Big Bend National Park:

Chisos Basin Lodge Restaurant  – Good food at a reasonable price.

Big Bend National Park Texas. Nice view

Restaurant at Chisos Basin Lodge

Marathon:

Places to eat in Marathon are very limited and only a couple of places are open after 5:00 PM. Some of the eating places have come and gone. One of our favorite places is “Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit” but it is not always open. You can get great fried pies and coffee at Shirley’s.

For other options check this link: http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45467/Texas/Marathon-TX-restaurants

Big Bend area of Texas

Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit in Marathon

Alpine:

Alpine is a small college town and has many places to eat from fast food to fine dining. Our favorite fine dining restaurant is Reata Restaurant . It is a bit pricey but the food is great.

For other dining options can be found here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45342/Texas/Alpine-TX-restaurants

Marfa:

The only place we have eaten is the Dairy Queen but there are several good restaurants there. For a list check this link. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45468/Texas/Marfa-TX-restaurants

Fort Davis:

There aren’t a lot of places to eat in Fort Davis. The one place that is always open and a place we like to eat is the Fort Davis Drugstore. Good food at reasonable prices. For other places check this link: http://www.fortdavis.com/restaurants.html

McDonald Observatory:

The Star Date Café at the Observatory is open for lunch on some but not all days. Check this link for hours and dates.  http://mcdonaldobservatory.org/visitors/StarDate_cafe.html

Study Butte:

We have eaten at the Big Bend Resort and Adventure Restaurant because it was close to the hotel. The food was good and reasonable. For other dining options check here. http://www.visitbigbend.com/en/plan-your-trip/wheretoeat/269-wheretoeatstudy.html

Presidio:

Every time we visit Presidio we always eat at El Patio Restaurant. Eat there and you will know why. For other options check here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45497/Texas/Presidio-TX-restaurants

Van Horn :

Van Horn is an interesting little town, with many motels, gas stations, restaurants and history. When in the area you should plan stopping here. One of our favorite restaurants in Van Horn is Chuy’s 1959. Chuy’s has great Mexican food and reasonable prices. John Madden makes a point to stop here whenever he is passing through. For more place to eat check here. http://www.urbanspoon.com/n/301/45547/Texas/Van-Horn-TX-restaurants

Towns in Big Bend Area

Alpine  – Alpine is a small college town, with motels, shopping, gas,  and good restaurants. Sul Ross University has a Museum about the Big Bend Area that is a must see. We have stayed in Alpine several times and enjoyed our stay and would recommend it a central place to stay to visit the surrounding areas. One of the more fun places to stay is the Old Holland Hotel. It’s probably not for everyone but is worth looking into.

Fort Davis  – Fort Davis is a small West Texas town with a lot to offer. There is a walking tour that takes in much of the town. It is rich in history and friendly town folks. Just outside the town is Fort Davis National Historic Site. Of all the forts we have seen, and we have seen a lot, Ft. Davis is our favorite. It’s like stepping back in time.. because. We haven’t stayed in Fort Davis but plan to someday. It does have several places to stay in town and has a great place to camp at near by Davis Mountain State Park.

Lajitas Resort – The resort is always a fun place to stop and take a break. We haven’t stayed here but it would be a nice place to stay if you want some pampering. Check out the link for more information.

Big Bend area of Texas

Lajitas Resort

Marfa   – Is an artsy town… Yes, you read that correctly. If you are into art this is the place to be in West Texas. There are lots of things to see here and it offers some neat places to stay such as the El Cosmico.

Marfa Texas in Big Bend area

The Hotel Paisano in Marfa

Marathon – Home to the famous Gage Hotel. The Gage is a must see, stay or eat. Besides the Gage there are several other places to stay in Marathon. Reservation are recommended because of its proximity to Big Bend National Park. You don’t want to get here and not have place to stay. Restaurants seem to come and go but the restaurant in the Gage is always there for your fine dining pleasure. Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit is a place to get good pastries and coffee… if it is open. Gas is limited and not always open after 5 or 6 in the evening.

Big Bend area of Texas

Gage Hotel in Marathon

Presidio  – Presidio is as close as you can get to Mexico without being in Mexico. We always enjoy stopping here and we always eat at El Patio for some good authentic Mexican food. Don’t forget to stop at Fort Leaton just outside of town on Highway 170.

Presidio Texas

El Patio Restaurant in Presidio

Presidio Texas

Ft. Leaton outside Presidio

Study Butte / Terlingua  There are several good places to stay here with several places to eat and get gas. Again it is recommended to make reservations if you are planning to stay. It is easy access to Big Bend National Park.

Van Horn

Roads

Hwy 118 –

Texas

Map of Highway 118

From Kent to Study Butte, Hwy 118 has it all. There are over 150 miles of riding fun with great motorcycle curves and amazing desert scenery. To the north Hwy 118 runs through scenic, alpine of the Davis Mountains with tight twisting and smooth curves. The McDonald Observatory, sits at 6800 ft and is a must see in the area. Ft. Davis was originally a military outpost to protect settlers from area Indians. The fort is being restored and is a state historic site. Of all the forts we have visited in Texas and elsewhere it is hands down our favorite and another must see. Just outside Alpine are the semi-desert Del Norte Mountains. Further south you drop into the desert plains of the Chihuahua Desert, where you can see the distant mountain scenery of the Christmas and Chisos Mountains. Chisos mountains are much more rustic and colorful as you approach Study Butte and Big Bend National Park. The desert mountain area is filled with unusual lava landscapes, rustic mountain scenery, smooth, fast sweeping curves. There are many wonderful vistas and spectacular panorama views around each curve.

Big Bend area of Texas

Hwy 118 with Alpine in background.

Hwy 170 –

Map Highway 170 Texas

Highway 170 is known to bikers as the “River Road.” Highway 170 extends from Study Butte to Presidio. From Study Butte heading west you will travel through the mining town of Terlingua, now a ghost town with a population 25. Terlingua is the home of the “International Championship Chili Cook-off”.

Big Bend area of Texas

Rest stop on River Road Hwy 170

From Lajitas is your ride down “one of the prettiest roads in America.” About 9.5 miles from Lajitas, on your left, is the old movie set Contrabando. Several movies were made there and is worth a look.

Big Bend area of Texas

Contrabando movie set on Hwy 170

The River Road is a spectacular ride through lush, twisting river valleys through red and purple rock rising to 1000 feet above the Rio Grande River. The road is an excellent motorcycle road; twisting and dropping to the canyon floors along the Rio Grande river. You ride through the Bofecillos Mountains formed by two ancient lava flows to the “Big Hill.” At a 15% grade it is the steepest of any regularly traveled Texas highway. Just outside Presidio, take time to visit Fort Leaton State Historic Site. It is one of Texas’ most unusual historic sites. Fort Leaton is a massive adobe fortress built-in 1848 immediately after the Mexican War.

Hwy 385 –

map highway 358 Texas

Highway 385 is the gateway of Big Bend National Park. For the most part Hwy 385 is a typical West Texas highway with scenic views of the mountains in the distance. Once in the park it becomes more scenic and ends at the park welcome center at Panther Junction.

Big bend area of Texas

Hwy 385 looking north to Marathon.

Hwy 166 Loop –

map highway 166 Big Bend area of Texas

The mountains and plains around Fort Davis are a rider’s paradise. . The Scenic Loop mileage is about 75 miles. The elevation changes from about 5,000 feet in town to a maximum of 6,270 feet with lots of ups and downs of several hundred feet in-between.

Hwy 17 –

 

Motorcycle Touring Logs, long distance motorcycle touring, long distance motorcycle travel, motorcycle ride, motorcycle riding, motorcycle road trips, Motorcycle Touring, motorcycle travel, motorcycle trip, travel

Hwy 17 Ft Davis to Balmorhea

Highway 17 from Fort Davis to Balmorhea is one of my personal favorite roads in the area. The scenery is a must see if you are in the area. At times you think you are not in West Texas.

Leaving Fort Davis you travel through scenic Limpia Canyon in the Davis Mountains. There is a maximum speed limit of 55 mph. In Limpia Canyon, the road is narrow and has many nice motorcycle curves, with speeds as low as 40 mph. There are also several picnic tables in the canyon where you can stop and take in the wonderful scenery. There is one large picnic area just before reaching Wild Rose Pass. About 1.8 miles past the pass, the road widens and the speed limit increases to 70 mph from there into Balmorhea.

 Our Motorcycle Rides to Big Bend

If Big Bend looks like something you would like to do, you might like reading about some of our rides there. The above information was invaluable when planning these trips. These can also be good road trips if you are driving.

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