New Mexico and Colorado

Text: James T. Parks • Photography: James T. Parks, Steve Brown

It's early September and the summer tourists have abandoned the 130,000- square-mile red rock landscape known by geologists as the Colorado Plateau. It contains the largest concentration of scenic wonders in America. Roughly centered where the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet, the plateau was once home to the Anasazi, a vanished Native American culture that began living in this arid environment as early as 1200 BC. The prospect of seeing the archeological remnants of this ancient Puebloan culture promises to make this trip an unforgettable adventure.

It's early September and the summer tourists have abandoned the 130,000- square-mile red rock landscape known by geologists as the Colorado Plateau. It contains the largest concentration of scenic wonders in America. Roughly centered where the states of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona meet, the plateau was once home to the Anasazi, a vanished Native American culture that began living in this arid environment as early as 1200 BC. The prospect of seeing the archeological remnants of this ancient Puebloan culture promises to make this trip an unforgettable adventure.

The Colorado Plateau

My nephew, Steve Brown, fires up the red Kawasaki KLR's big, thumping 650cc single, as I hit the starter button on my orange KTM Adventure. It promptly roars to life with the joyful staccato beat of its magnificent V-twin engine. We ease out of Steve's driveway in Albuquerque, NM and begin our journey on the starkly beautiful, but unforgiving, Colorado Plateau.

Hundreds of millions of years ago, shallow seas deposited layers of sediment several miles thick. Over the eons the seas receded and those sedimentary layers were forced deep into the earth where intense heat and pressure fused them into rock. Later, tectonic plate movement caused the entire western US to begin rising some 5-to-10 million years ago, forming the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountain Ranges. But the thick rocky crust of the Colorado Plateau didn't bend and fold from those forces. Instead, it was uplifted largely intact and then eroded into the dramatic red rock landscape we see today.

After topping off our fuel tanks in Cuba, AZ, we ride northwest into an enormous landscape that's largely devoid of modern civilization. A thin ribbon of two-lane asphalt snaking its way across the plateau, seems a tenuous human lifeline in this world of stone. There's no place to take shelter if a storm suddenly develops. Although the temperature is in the 80s, the combination of very low humidity and an altitude ranging from 6,000-to-7,000 feet makes for comfortable riding. The feeling is both exhilarating and humbling, out here where the colossal forces of nature rule over mankind.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2010 back issue.