As you enjoy the twists and turns of US-160 heading east, rumbling past the Chimney Rock National Monument, the rugged San Juan Mountains, and cruising through picturesque Pagosa Springs, turn on US-84E and head south towards “The Land of Enchantment.”
Even though the beautiful mountain scenery of Carson National Forest and the prairies of Kiowa National Grassland will tempt you into an overnight stay, continue riding on US-64E to be seduced by Clayton Lake State Park.
Upon reaching the town of Clayton, stock up on last minute supplies and make sure to fill up your tank, and continue for what’s left of your three hundred seventy-five-mile journey coming from Durango.
The short thirteen-mile ride into Clayton Lake State Park from Clayton is on smooth blacktop road with the occasional sweeping turn. Navigating through rolling grasslands and with Rabbit Ears Mountain serving as the backdrop, time seems to slow down, if not stop all together.
Downshifting into second gear and taking that last sharp turn, you are greeted by the sign welcoming you to the state park. At the eco-friendly visitor’s center, you are more likely to be greeted by rabbits and Pronghorn deer enjoying their grass buffet than rangers at this hidden gem. Drop your envelope with the ten-dollar camping fee inside the drop box, and continue to your chosen campsite.
The gravel roads leading to the primitive sites are not smooth, but in first or second gear, it is easily handled by any motorcycle including a fully dressed touring motorcycle. Seeing roadrunners sprinting across the road is common as they take cover in the bushes.
Regardless of the site you choose, you are guaranteed a view of Clayton Lake and a shelter that provides shade during the day, complete with a ten-by-ten level concrete pad. The posts of the shelter double as a way to hang dry your clothes after a wash. You will also have a picnic table and a nearby fire ring guarantees you a warm meal at night, maybe the catch of the day from the lake which is well-stocked with walleye, large-mouth bass, and rainbow trout.
With the sun setting behind the mountains late into the evening, prepare yourself for a show like no other. Clayton Lake State Park has the distinction of being recognized by the IDA (International Dark-Sky Association) as one of only twenty-six parks worldwide that is certified as one of the best stargazing spots in the world. Be prepared for “star parties” on the first Friday of each month at the Lake Observatory which is open to the public. Imagine seeing the rings of Saturn for the first time in your life thanks to the computer controlled telescope.
After a hot shower in the nearby restrooms, before you crawl into your tent, make sure to remove the rainfly in order to truly experience falling asleep underneath a starlit sky that resembles thousands of LED lights sprinkled on a black canvas. At night, with temperatures in the fifties, the cool evenings mark the end of a perfect day.
As the morning sun peaks out behind the mountains and coyotes howl in the distance, a cup of perfectly brewed coffee starts your day while taking in the scenery of the mountains, grasslands and Clayton Lake.
Once the caffeine kicks in, start with a short hike from your campsite to the quarter-mile trail that leads you to dinosaur tracks dating back to more than one hundred million years.
In 1982, the combination of excavating a spillway and a flood, washed away silt only to reveal the unexpected treasure. The dinosaur tracks are protected by a boardwalk and the self-guided tour has stations throughout providing information on the discovery. Besides stargazing, with more than five hundred well-preserved dinosaur prints, Clayton Lake S.P. also boasts one the most extensive collection of dinosaur tracks in the United States.