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.

Preventative maintenance.

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.

Headlight Dinner

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.

Camp Avalon

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.

Sedona shop

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.

Monument Valley