2003 BMW Rally at Paonia, Colorado
July 18 to 20, 2003
By Joe Tokarz
Ever since our ride to west central Colorado last spring we’ve
been looking for a reason to head that way again. Well, the 2003 BMW Rally at
Paonia Colorado was just the ticket.
This ride was expected to be a bit different due to the promise of heat and more
heat. So Andrew (my youngest son recently relocated from Phoenix) and I each
invested in a Cool Vest and mesh pants. He already had a mesh jacket and I, a
perforated leather unit. The results of the vest and pants were extraordinary.
Both kept us comfortable even in the barren high desert south of Grand Junction.
The plan was to reach Santa Fe the first day and Paonia the second. That worked
out fine. No hitches until Santa Fe, when I noticed my Dunlop 220 was nicely
squared off with only 2000 miles on the skin. A post mortem on this concluded
that the 1300 mile Hill Country trip the week before combined with slightly
lower air pressure and my riding style shortened the useful life of the 220. It
would get me to Paonia and around the area but not likely to get me home. In the
end I got a BT-020 in Grand Junction, expecting more mileage from a touring type
We took 380 to Post and 84 to Clovis, then to Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa then on to
Santa Fe. We made it a point to take one of our favorite roads from I-40 to
I-25; it’s called NM 3, a great two-lane country road through ranch country.
It’s about 30 miles long with nice turns and hills. Half way, is a tiny town
called Villanuevo at the bottom of the valley. It’s cool and green down there,
with a look of a south of the border town.
Heading out of Santa Fe the next day up 84, we stopped for
pictures at Abuelo NM. The lake there is slowly drying up from lack of rain and
snow. It’s down significantly from last year. On to Pagosa Springs, CO, then Rt
160 and Rt 149 to near Gunnison. West on 50 past beautiful and cool looking Blue
Mesa Lake. At the dam, Rt 92 presents itself in an unpretentious way but the
next 35 miles is the most technical riding we’ll encounter the whole trip. Along
the way is Morrow lake and dam. Plenty of twisties on 92. Watch out for
critters, I missed a good-sized deer by about a foot. I was getting into a grove
but a bit more tired than I realized. There are two decreasing radius turns on
92 and I managed to be surprised by the first one north. I’m lucky there were no
southbound traffic and a guardrail if I needed it. A little way up the road, we
stopped at a rest area on the mountain to get my heart beating again. We were
greeted by a Triumph Trophy rider from South Dallas. He was waiting on some
friends, one having problems with his GS. Standing there talking, 3 chipmunks
scamper up and one stands up begging for a handout. We tell them to move on
because we don’t have food and like they’re fluent in English, drop down on all
fours and head for the brush.
Morrow Lake and Dam taken from Route 92
We made it to Paonia by late afternoon and made the Rally
rounds. The city goes all out to accommodate the riders and in return they raise
some cash for town improvements. The rally was a great cluster of sights and
sounds. Beemers, a tent city, live music and dollar beers from the Legion. It
don’t get no better than this!
Tent City at the Rally
Saturday, on the advice of Mike Moon, we headed to Grand
Junction to get the tire. The area south of GD and west of Grand Mesa is the
most inhospitable land around. Not a spec of vegetation, not even rocks. Just
ice cream cone colored earth piled up as undulating hills, ravaged by erosion.
Did I mention HOT!
We traced the road back to Paonia past the mountain coalmines with a turn around
point at Carbondale. The locals say “those that follow the eclectic lifestyle”
(hippies) are moving from Carbondale to places like Paonia because the wealthy
are making it too expensive to live there.
Back in Paonia that night, the local “eclectic lifestyle” types come out for
some fun. Exiting the Victorian dinner place we heard distant jungle drums. We
homed in on them to find a group of music lovers swaying to the beat. There were
5 drumbeaters, an old guy in the middle, with 4 young guys. One was doing his
best Brad Pitt impression. There were 3 middle-aged ladies dancing like in a
trance. Round and round, they went, hands waving in the air. 3 more guys with
balding, white and straggly Rasta pony tailed hair, wearing clothes direct from
Jimmy Buffett’s island haberdashery. By this time, the flame spitter and his
assistant, dressed in velvet and looking like something out of sideshow, were
getting their props ready. It was about that time we noticed we were the only
visitors in the group so we headed back to our hotel room for a beer.
We left at 6 am for home Sunday with Clovis in our sights. Back to 92 with
temperatures hovering at 50. It was COLD until we got past Blue Meas. Back to
Gunnison for breakfast and then 285 south to Saguache (Sa-Watch). Stopped to
look at a car called Alicia. Like a Picasso, It looked like a production car
from one angle but hand made from another. The owner told the story of how his
high school music teacher in Ohio, made the car from a ’38 Buick and a bunch of
other stuff. He loaded the dash with gauges and named it after his wife Alicia,
casting 3 brass medallions with her name and cross symbol.
'38 Buick - "Alicia"
285 then 84 south to Taos and beautiful RT 518 to Las Vegas,
NM. Taos has earth ship homes dug into the desert. Self contained and built from
old tires and dirt. The short cut to Tucumcari is 107 miles of Rt 104. About 20
east of Las Vegas we stop to decide if we want to challenge the enormous gray
and black wall of storm clouds ahead with lightening bolts blasting across it in
the distance. We press on but Andrew has to stop. Front tire puncture. See
that’s what you get when you try to use good judgment! So we pulled out the RT’s
tire plugging kit. With Andrew reading the fine print, replicated in all
civilized languages, I do as I’m told; step-by-step while the wind is swirling
so strong that we put rocks on the tool bag to keep it from being blown away. No
matter, I spit on the patch and it works, the tire holds air. We head back to
Las Vegas to fully fill the tire. Now that we’re believers, we pick up some
additional patching supplies.
Back on Rt 104, Tucumcari is a welcome sight but the sun has set by the time we
reach the Clovis city limits. The bed that night seems extra comfortable.
Monday we headed out for Lucas, TX by way of Littlefield and Brownfield to 380,
to home. We made the center of Lucas at about 7 pm. The last leg of the ride had
more stops to stretch, drink plenty of water and soak the vests.
We had a great time and learned a lot about 750 and 450 mile days in the saddle.
Both bikes had brackets for highway pegs and that addition helped keep my leg
joints in usable condition. It’s fun to still be able impress your 27 year old
son with simple things; like signaling a passing train to blow the whistle. Or
ride hands free at 90mph.
We’re already planning our next rides in the fall; I don’t think heat will be a
Enjoy the ride and Live
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Revised: January 05, 2018.