importance of preserving these pearls of nature, creating its first national park in 1872. Rocky Mountain National Park would be established years later in 1915 and since has delighted millions of visitors with its natural treasures. Fortunately for us, our path to Sturgis ran smack dab through Colorado, so we packed the bags of the 2012 Victory Cross Country Tour and charted a course for the Rocky Mountains.
A thunderstorm the night before left the morning air at Glenwood Springs crisp and clean. The twin bell towers of the Hotel Colorado sat stoically above the Cross Country Tour as we gave it a quick wipe down on the street below, giving us a chance to peruse Victory’s latest tourer. Its new topcase is huge, easily passing the two full-face helmet standard that seems to be the barometer by which touring motorcycles are judged. The fairing lowers are new, too. Not only do they match the style of the bike, but they have vents a rider can open to channel air to their lower body. There are also a couple of small cubby holes which hold about a gallon each. Combined with the big saddlebags, it’s hard to argue against Victory’s claim that the Cross Country Tour has class-leading storage. To further shield riders from buffeting, Victory bumped up the height on the Cross Country Tour’s windscreen as well, and its handling and power would soon be thoroughly tested as we climbed over the mother of America’s mountain ranges.
The Hotel Colorado, built in 1893, is in the National Historic Landmark Hotel registry. It served as the starting point for our Rocky Mountain adventure.
Fortunately for us, the little girl in Victorian garb said to haunt the halls of the Hotel Colorado didn’t pay us a visit the night before and we were able to get a good night’s sleep. The hotel’s rustic rooms have housed the likes of former presidents Teddy Roosevelt and William Taft, and though it’d be cool to revel in the splendor of the “Grand Dame of the Rockies” and soak in Glenwood’s famed hot springs for one more day, the wanderlust inspired by open road is tugging at me from the inside, so I heed its call.
Last night’s storm is a distant memory as the sun greets us outside the historic hotel with perfect riding weather. We jump onto I-70 which runs in front of the hotel. The posted speed is 55 mph, which is fine by us because we’re in no hurry to leave the beauty of this stretch which cuts through Glenwood Canyon. To our right, thrill seekers cling to yellow rafts rushing over the turbulent brown waters of the Colorado River. A freight train passes by on the other side of the canyon, the railroad tracks tucked in so tightly to the canyon walls you expect to see sparks flying from the train scraping by. Cliffs climb a thousand vertical feet on both sides of us as the chasm narrows and snakes through the red-rock canyon. Rolling along, we’re barely tapping into the power of the Victory’s 1731cc V-Twin as it churns below us with nominal vibes.
Before long we abandon the Interstate and head north on 131 toward Rocky Mountain National Park. There’re no towns and hardly any traffic on this strip of brown hills and scrub brush. The next stint on County Rd 1 is a little curvier. It’s pleasant to be on a big bike you can attack bends in the road at speed on confidently as the Cross Country Tour handles predictably and is rock-solid stable leaned over. Soon we’re rolling through Kremmling, a rustic town with a strip of weathered storefronts with Wild West charm. It’s also a smart place to fuel up before heading into the park, unless you’re confident you’ve got enough gas to make it to Estes Park on the other side. From there it doesn’t take long before we arrive at the Grand Lake Entrance Station to pay the $10 fee for motorcycles. Surrounded by peaks, it’s hard to believe we’re already at almost 9000 feet above sea level. Pine forests dot the countryside above the sprawling meadows. A mile into the park we’re already pulling over at a high mountain meadow in the Kawuneeche Valley to watch a bull moose grazing in the distance, his broad rack barely visible above the tall green grass. Snow still covers the tops of the “Never Summer Mountains” to our left, but the fields are carpeted in green and the campgrounds are full of tents.
(L) It costs motorcyclists $10 to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park and is worth every penny. (M) We were barely inside Rocky Mountain National Park before we were pulling over for our first photo op of a moose grazing in a meadow. (R) Kremmling, Colorado has storefronts with Wild West charm.
The road beyond begins to climb as we roll over switchback after switchback. Residual dew from the night still sticks to the road in dark corners, so we kick the Victory into second gear to let the grunt of the bike power us up the grade and keep our wheel spin at a minimum. The electronic fuel injection of the Cross Country Tour is having no problems with the elevation as the road winds up and up. The path spits us out at the Continental Divide at Milner Pass where a sign states the Continental Divide separates the watersheds and rivers which drain into the Pacific Ocean from the drainages of the Altantic. Out of curiosity we conduct our own impromptu “Bill Nye, Science Guy” experiment and pour a little water out to see which side of the divide gravity would push it down. In our case, the pull toward the Pacific was stronger. After a quick break at the Divide, we’re back on the bike again. The closer we get to the mountain tops the more bent and twisted the spruce and firs are, the toil of wind and weather worn on their gnarled trunks and limbs.
The tree line soon disappears altogether as we enter the alpine tundra. The road crests at 12,183 feet, making it the highest major highway in North America, but even at this height we’re still surrounded by taller peaks. When we started our ride into the park, the temperature readout in the Cross Country Tour’s display flashed 88 degrees but has now
dropped to a chilly 53. Just past the Alpine Visitor Center, a herd of bull elk sit in a field watching motorcyclists pass by on the road below. Powerful and regal even sitting down, this is their country after all as we are only visitors. It’s a treat being able to ride to such great heights, where mountain faces have been carved by glaciers and wind and high mountain lakes sit in natural bowls. We savor the beauty as long as possible before heading back down the Estes Park side, continuing on our way to Sturgis. The stretch cuts through verdant stands of Ponderosa pines as it winds downhill and several spots of the road have new gravel and tar so we keep our speed down. With dusk approaching, we push through Loveland to join the exodus of bikers traveling up I-25 on their way to the rally, finally calling it a night in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Our lodging for the night would be as equally historic and haunted as the Hotel Colorado. Cheyenne’s Plains Hotel is draped in plenty of classic Western décor and has its own tales of hosting the prestigious, from wealthy oil tycoons to cattle barons. Its floors are also said to be haunted by the ghosts of a trio involved in a love tryst, a newlywed husband who took up with a prostitute in the hotel bar who were both shot dead in an upstairs room by the vengeful wife. The next morning, the Depot Plaza across from The Plains Hotel was bustling with energy from the Saturday Market. Fresh-baked pastries and locally grown peaches served as a tasty breakfast. After loading up the Cross Country Tour, we’re on the road again making a quick sprint up I-25 before turning off on the straight stretch known as 85. The plains are flat and chaffs blowing in the field are dry and brown, but patches of tall green corn stalks occasionally interrupt the monotony. Surprisingly, there were few troopers out, allowing us to drop the Cross Country Tour into sixth gear and open it up. The motorcycle travels with the same stability at 85 mph as it does at 55. With no respite from the sun, we
open the vents and angle the deflectors of Victory’s Comfort Control System until we’re getting a good breeze in the face. We broke the monotony of Wyoming’s plains with pit stops at kitschy places like the Fort Laramie Frontier Trading Post. Further up the road, watching the coal-filled freight cars at Lusk is like turning back the clock a hundred years. To see the first trees of the Black Hills National Forest is a welcome sight, as were 90-degree bends in the road. The Cross Country Tour stuck fast as we tilted it side-to-side on the twisting route outside of Lead on our way to Deadwood.
The next week would be a blur. Between covering custom bike shows, attending industry parties, test riding bikes and partying at the Legendary Buffalo Chip, we were ready for a break from the Lazelle Street grind, so at the end of the week we charted a course for Devils Tower. At a little over 80 miles away, it’s a quick day trip from Sturgis. The rocks on the plateaus along I-90 leading to the tower are an unnatural red. In less than an hour we’re jumping on Wyoming 14 and heading north. The road rises and dips over rolling hills. Soon the columns of Devils Tower could be seen rising against the sky in its perch above the Belle Fourche River.
The tower is an anomaly above the red sandstone and siltstone cliffs below it, the igneous rocks dominating the landscape like a masterpiece on a potter’s wheel. It’s easy to see why the location is held sacred by the local tribes. Hiking the foot path that circles the tower, rock faces take on a new personality around every bend. The wind whispers through the trees as black-winged birds ride pockets of hot air high overhead. Climbers cluster three wide on rocky pillars as others rappel off the vertical face. Majestic and magical, even its origin holds mystery as scientists can’t agree on exactly how it was formed. I prefer the romantic version of the Kiowa and Lakota Sioux who say it was created when a group of girls playing nearby were chased by bears atop the rock. Fearing for their lives, the girls dropped to their knees and prayed to the Great Spirit. Hearing their prayers, the Great Spirit made the rock rise toward the heavens to keep the girls out of the reach of the bears. The marks on the side of the tower were made by the bears’ claws as they unsuccessfully continued to try and climb the rock. When the girls reached the sky, they were turned into the stars known as the Pleiades. (Courtesy of Wikipedia) Riding out of the park, we notice the fields surrounding the tower house some of the biggest prairie dogs around.
The pillars of Devils Tower take on a new personality around every bend, lending to its magic and mystery.
At the end of our 10-day tour to a pair of the crown jewels of America’s national park system we logged over 1500 miles on the 2012 Victory Cross Country. It’s an impressive touring platform. We can attest that its new Comfort Control System works. The saddle is all-day comfortable, the taller windscreen shelters riders nicely, and its engine delivers the goods in the mountains or on the straights. One of the most impressive features is how it handles with minimal input for a bike tipping the scales at over 800 pounds. We are impressed by how much you can pack this mule down with, too, thanks to its phenomenal amount of storage. It was a pleasure taking in as much of the magic of this beautiful country we call home as possible from the perch of its saddle, traveling over 12,000-foot mountain ranges, across the plains of Wyoming and all around Sturgis. Thanks to Victory’s Cross Country Tour, we did it in both style and comfort.
* Check out Motorcycle USA’s Ride Guide for more great routes in Colorado or Wyoming. Better yet, load up your own favorite local run.