4,000 Mile Motorcycle Trip - Southwest USA
A few months ago I mentioned in passing to some friends that I would love to ride a motorcycle from my home in central Illinois to Sedona, Arizona. I had never been to the desert, the southern Rockies, or the southwest in general and it seemed like a must see... especially for a motorcyclist.
Luckily, one of my friends is an event planner for a living and he took my casual statement and turned it into a legitimate plan. I was expecting to get there "one day", but a few weeks later he sent me an itinerary and said, "When are we going?". With a bit of a surprise, and a comment about his diabetes potentially killing him young I decided to go forward with his plan. After I gave him a few dates, the trip was planned! Thanks, Forrest!
A short month later we were scheduled to hit the road. Our friend, Vincent, had just moved back from Georgia and with less than 24 hours to go decided that he too, would join in on the fun... it was time for an adventure.
AM - MAY 29, 2021
Vincent and I met at our departure point just before 6am, as that was the determined time for "kickstands up". Forrest was no where to be found but after a phone call we found out he had stayed up late the previous evening participating in what I can only assume were "questionable" activities as he needed to wash his clothes before he could run out to our meeting place. With no choice but to wait on our already late planner we stalled for his arrival. After he finally showed at 6:30 we started the bikes to hit the road and at 6:34 our first picture was taken as his "adventure bike" hit the ground 30 seconds into the trip. His tire slipped on the now settled morning dew atop a landscaping timber on the edge of the driveway. The ribbing began immediately, this trip was off to the perfect start.
Vincent and I waiting patiently for our boy to arrive.
He has arrived.
PM - MAY 29, 2021
The first stop of the day we grabbed a few snacks and water for the road, as the guys poked fun at me for checking the oil on my "boomer bike" after only 200 miles... ps she was good to go. After a long day riding interstate across Missouri and Kansas we ended up landing in Cheyenne Wells, Colorado. While this was supposed to be the boring part of the trip we still enjoyed the change in scenery. The bonus was that the comfort on the bikes was still good after 700+ miles. Cheyenne Wells is not much of a town but they did have a bar for food and a motel for our first sleep of the trip. After a sodie and supper at The Gap we headed over to the Trail In Motel to check in for the night. We couldn't help but notice a large amount of police officers patrolling the area. We assumed the heavy police presence was due to it being a border town with many marijuana dispensaries on one side and strict anti-marijuana laws on the other. Whatever it was, we were not interested in visiting with the local police, so after one round of said sodies, to bed we went.
Kansas views... and wind.
The Gap - Cheyenne Wells
Trail In - The receptionist gave us a room with covered parking for the forecasted rain.
Fog the next morning stalled us for about an hour.
Ready to hit the road... looking fresh.
May 30, 2021
Southeast Colorado and a large portion of New Mexico were to be traversed on day 2. Due to some dense fog that morning we hit the road a little later than we anticipated as we hoped to avoid surprise wildlife and take in some changing scenery.. Mid morning we finally hit some mountains near La Veta, Colorado. We stopped there for gas amongst a large motorcycle rally of some kind. As we continued on we cherished our luck as we skirted rain all the way to Taos, New Mexico for lunch. While the scenery was getting better thanks to the Sangre De Cristo Mountains, the temperature continued to climb. We hit 85 degrees in Taos, a big difference from the 40's that we set out in two days prior. We didn't mind though, as we knew that this was nothing compared to the desert heat we were heading for. After lunch, we took the scenic high road from Taos to Santa Fe. A couple quick laps through downtown Santa Fe led to disgruntled shoppers as we slowly cruised loud bikes through the crowd. We stopped briefly, mainly to give Forrest grief about his "bougie-ness", as he oogled the fancy jewelry shops and cafes. It was now later in the day than we planned so we made a quick hustle to Albuquerque, where we fought brutal cross winds at 90mph down the interstate. This pace was set by the bikes in front of us as we tried to get to our next gas stop and make a west turn where the wind may not affect us as badly. We finally arrived at our final gas stop of the day on the west side of Albuquerque and chose a likely camping location in the Cibola National Forest. We arrived near dark and while the other two were on adventure bikes I had the pleasure of discovering the off-road capability of a fully loaded Harley bagger. This time it was Vincent's turn to be the butt of jokes as his bike found the ground after he made an ill advised loop through a sand and rock filled ditch. We settled on a camp site just past dark and set up for the night. After a sip of High West whiskey and some sky watching we went to sleep. The plans for tomorrow and our arrival in Sedona were sharp in our minds.
First hint of mountains.
High Road Santa Fe/Taos
Racing the sun just outside of Albuquerque.
Campsite in daylight the next morning.
Elk pelt from a hunter... or an animal sacrifice... or a ufo mutilation... anybody's guess
May 31, 2021
Day three was filled with stops and scenery. We left New Mexico fairly early and made it to Arizona quickly. After a quick gas stop and sticker search we headed into the heat on our way to Flagstaff. The quick elevation change on the outskirts of town dropped the temp from the mid 90s to the high 70s. We headed straight to REI for some last minute camping gear and snacks and then headed back downtown for some lunch at Dirty Birdies. After a cold soda we climbed back on the bikes and made our way to Sedona, a twenty three mile trip down the famed AZ 89A, through Oak Creek Canyon. This road makes several large elevation changes, marked by the tight switchbacks that motorcyclists love. The scenery was spectacular, despite a bit of a Memorial Day crowd. Just over halfway down we stopped and took a swim/cool-off in the creek before riding the rest of the way into Sedona adorned with crocs and swim trunks. We stopped at the Open Range steakhouse for supper and looked up likely camping locations. Much of the land in this area is Coconino National Forest, but very little is open to dispersed camping, something to be aware of. For this reason we ended up finding and staying at a privately owned campsite near Cathedral Rock, Camp Avalon. The manager, Hoss, was very gracious and the views and nearby Oak Creek made for a very pleasant stay. We stayed up chatting and created our game plan for the next day, with the main goal being North Rim, Grand Canyon.
Oak Creek - AKA Ice Bath
View from the parking lot at Open Range Steakhouse.
It got even better from the Open Range balcony.
June 1, 2021
With a shorter day planned we slept in a little longer than we had on the previous days. I woke up a tad earlier than the guys and went down to the creek to enjoy the peacefulness of the morning and sounds of running water. After a quiet encounter with a lone wood duck, I headed back to camp and we loaded the bikes and shot back to Sedona to check out some of the local shops. We perused the souvenir shops for stickers to put on the bikes and see what the fossil and rock shops had to offer. A gentleman in the local leather shop mentioned Nicholas Cage owned a home in the area and we wondered if it was the massive mansion in the hills we had seen in the red rocks that morning. We eventually headed back to Open Range for lunch before jumping on the road and pointing north towards the Grand Canyon. This was our first taste of real heat as we rode through the low, flat desert north of Flagstaff. We made a gas stop at Gray Mountain on the highway and snapped a few pics of the art that graced an abandoned hotel/fueling station. Just a couple hours down the road we ran into the Colorado River and the Navajo Bridge that crossed it near Lee's Ferry. This was one of the first paths across the Colorado River and was built in 1927/1928. We stopped for a few pictures and headed back south to backtrack our way to North Rim. Before our arrival there, we stopped at Jacob's Lake Inn for some fuel and water. It was now back in the 70's and the short ride through Kaibab National Forest to the Canyon was much more comfortable. The meadows along the road warned of buffalo and elk, but mule deer seemed to be the more valid concern as they darted across the road on several occasions. We quickly arrived at North Rim and took in the scenic views from the lodge and nearby trails. Our timing was perfect. It was sunset. The colors of the slipping sun filled the valley and bounced off the jagged walls of rock below. We visited with some travelers from Chicago and as daylight waned we jumped back on the bikes to find a camping spot up the road. Another designated camp site had open spots thanks to the pause in traffic, post Memorial Day. We had our first campfire, as it was permittable here, and hit the hay. Tomorrow, was Zion NP.
Calmer portion of Oak Creek behind our campsite in the morning.
Scenic pull off on 89A between Sedona and Flagstaff.
Art Project - Gray Mountain, AZ
Navajo Bridge - Colorado River north of the Grand Canyon.
North Rim at sunset.
June 2, 2021
After waking up to the sunrise in Kaibab we chatted with a fellow biker as he made up camp. He had just moved to the area and was troubleshooting his camping gear for his new location. After wishing him well we packed up and hit the road to Zion National Park. As we were getting close we came through the city of Kanab. Vintage Harleys and Indians were everywhere! As we continued to Zion we found that there must be some type of rally as the roads were filled with vintage motorcycles amongst the regular crowd of tourists. Since coming home, I have found that indeed the AMCA (Antique Motorcycle Club of America) was hosting a meet in Kanab at that time. I wish I would have gotten better pics of the bikes in the area, but I was too enamored with the cliffs and rock formations that surrounded us. After riding through the park we had lunch at Whiptail Grill. The food was great, the wait was not, as most tables sat empty while patrons waited in the street. This was possibly a covid restriction or related staffing problem. Either way, the delay crunched our time allowance as we headed back through the park and on to Page, Arizona. Our plan here was simple, see Lake Powell and find a place to stay. Shortly before reaching Page we could see the lake from up above. We were unable to spare time to run down to the marina but we did get a chance to stop at the dam and take a peek. I'm certain it is a place that deserved more of our time. However, we decided to carry on with a possible pitstop at Horseshoe Bend. Horseshoe Bend is what it sounds like. It is a sharp 180 degree turn in the Colorado River on it's way south. Unfortunately, the state of Arizona has set road blocks to force a fee and a hike to the site to witness it. National Park passes do not afford you the right to see it, as it is state managed. Honestly, that's a bit of a shame. Since it was so close to dark, we were hot, hungry and tired we decided to head to a hotel and book a room. We did some laundry, swam in the pool, showered for the first time in a couple days and grabbed some Taco Bell before hitting the bed. Tomorrow, we were heading back to Colorado.
Zion National Park
AMCA member bikes
Lake Powell in the distance, view from the dam on the Colorado River.
June 3, 2021
We awoke with the plan to make it to Telluride, Colorado. However, while loading the bikes we ran into a fellow rider from Seattle, Ismail. He mentioned that he was heading to Durango, Colorado that day. We checked the map, and after considering the roads and sites that were en route to Durango we decided to head there as well and possibly try to make it up the Million Dollar Highway (U.S. 550) before dark and find a hotel in Ouray. Ismail, was going to make a few pit stops first but we wished him well and set off for Durango, letting him know we would stay in touch and possibly meet up later. After another quick stint across the desert into Navajo Nation we decided to split off and take the more scenic route through Monument Valley. The buttes in Monument Valley looked as if they were placed there by accident as they jutted several hundred feet out of the flat, vast desert surrounding them. We didn't waste the scenery and stopped on several occasions to gawk at the uniqueness of the monuments and take a few pictures. From there we rolled on to Durango. Durango was a bustling town at the base of the San Juan mountain range. We were losing daylight and decided to stop for fuel and begin the trek up Million Dollar Highway. We planned to stop in Silverton, Colorado for food and a campsite. The first stretch of the MDH was as good as promised with snow covered mountains, open meadows and a climate change as we climbed in elevation. We rolled into Silverton near dark, what a beautiful town. We decided that this is surely the "Silvertown" that Joe Dirt mentioned finding Brandy. It's a quaint mine town with beautiful scenery, tucked into the mountains at over 9,000 feet of elevation. We decided to head to Avalanche Brewing Company for some cold sodas. After visiting with the staff and enjoying a few we decided to skip the food, despite it looking very good. We had some camp food left to eat and needed to get to our site so we started to head out. After we made this decision a strong rain rolled in leaving the temperature in the high 40's and Forrest's enthusiasm for camping in the gutter. However, I would be lying if I said that it required much persuasion to talk Vincent and I into a night at the local motel. We unpacked and ate our meals at The Triangle Motel and ultimately ended up back at the Avalanche after a quick hike. Luckily, they kicked us out by 9:30 and the single car worth of traffic was easy to dodge as we headed back to the room and made our plan to run the rest of the MDH in the morning and cover as much ground to the east as possible. The trip had already checked so many boxes in such short order. However, it was still a somber realization that our trip was coming to a close. We had many miles to go but many of them would be on the interstate heading back to Illinois.
Our new friend, Ismail.
Lunch stop at Twin Rocks.
Sunset rainbow at Avalanche Brewing Co. in Silverton, Colorado.
June 4, 2021
We woke up at a decent hour and got the bikes loaded. Before heading to Ouray, we decided to wait until the shops opened up so we could get a few stickers marking our stop in Silverton. After a little shopping we hit the road and as we headed down the main drag out of town, Ismail came in past us and gave us a big wave! We went ahead and got onto the highway and the views were even better than the first portion we had ridden the night before. We decided to stop on one of the pull offs for some pics and see what Ismail was up to. As we were taking pictures he pulled in behind us and we caught up on the previous day's events. We decided to ride together up to Ouray for some coffee and hustled down the sharp switchbacks and curves, trying to maintain a compromise between taking in the scenery and enjoying the road itself. We rolled into Ouray and found a coffee shop, Mouse's Coffee and Chocolates, where Ismail graciously picked up the tab and terrorized the locals with his sense of humor. As we walked back to the bikes, we saw the local police had enjoyed our parking spot so much they decided to take a closer look at who owned the bikes parked there. After a quick and kind conversation with the cop we headed off to the north to jump on US 50 and head east as Ismail moved his bike to finish his coffee and head back west to Telluride. We hustled down the highway and stopped in Montrose for a quick lunch and gas. We jumped on US 50 to head east and despite some road closed signs, we decided to push on as Google Maps seemed to think it was passable and the scenery and curves looked excellent. However, about 20 miles down the road we were stopped by a flagger who turned us around, a 45 minute detour on our ride back home. So, without much thought we ran right back to Montrose and headed north so we could hop on I70 and head east. I'm not sure what we missed on 50 but I can say that I70 through the heart of the Rockies is nowhere near as boring as one would expect for interstate. Steep climbs, declines, tunnels and curves were enjoyed all the way through Denver for supper at the local Chili's in Aurora, Colorado. We enjoyed our last big meal of the trip and decided to ride an hour or so into the dark to find a hotel on the Colorado border before the long 700 miles of Kansas, Missouri and Illinois that would face us in the morning. Luckily, the jet blackness of eastern Colorado and the local deer population caused us no harm and we stopped in Burlington, Colorado to settle in for our last night on the road.
Main drag - Silverton, CO
Scenic view - MDH between Silverton and Ouray
June 5, 2021
We awoke and made our homeward bound plans. Forrest would split off from Vincent and I and head through Nebraska on his way back to Wisconsin. We wished him well, expressed our gratitude for the memories made and moments shared as he took off just before us. Vincent and I hit I70 and rolled a long straight line all the way back through Kansas City before turning north and then running over to Hannibal, Missouri. We stopped, fueled up for the final stretch of our 10 hour ride, and expressed our blessings from this trip. A quick cheers and we hit the road the rest of the way home... a week well spent atop two wheels experiencing a large portion of the country was now complete.
That's A Wrap
After arriving home, we spent the next couple of days unpacking, cleaning up, reminiscing and relaxing.
There are much more convenient ways to travel, but a motorcycle is an outdoorsman's/woman's best friend. You're in the elements at all times. You soak up the sights, sounds and smells that you simply cannot experience in a car. You can quickly pull over and hop off for that quick walk into the wild. Your camping gear is crammed into small storage spaces, forcing you to pack the bare minimum and truly rough it... except for those nights when a motel spares you a wet and cold campsite. This was just one more adventure mixed into a lifetime of experiences, both behind us and in front of us.
What a trip!
Never take the world around you for granted. It is both smaller and greater than we can imagine. We have been blessed with a beautiful planet. It is filled with amazing lakes, rivers, oceans, deserts, forests, Forrests, plants and animals. As humans we are afforded the ability to consciously experience the differences and beauty in nature as well as the difference and beauty in people and culture.
Don't waste it, it was put there for you.
"How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small."