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Arizona Route 66 Motorcycle Ride

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Oatman
Riders enjoy the winding asphalt on this Route 66 motorcycle ride outside of Oatman.

Route 66, or the Mother Road, is indelibly stitched into the fabric of the American psyche. The iconic road once traced its way for 2,448 miles from Chicago, Illinois, to Santa Monica, California. But it was more than just a long stretch of tarmac. Route 66 became a cultural phenomenon that inspired and piqued the American obsession with travel and adventure. Songs were written about it, quirky and kitschy roadside attractions sprouted beside it, and Americans longed to traverse it. The Mother Road was a main artery crossing the torso of the U.S. through which dreams and possibilities pulsed warm and red.

Related: Get Your Kickstart on Route 66 –
Riding a kickstart-only 1978 Yamaha SR500 from Chicago to Amarillo on the Mother Road

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Yearning to rediscover the road, the towns, and the magic of Route 66’s path through Arizona, I packed up my BMW R 1200 GS and set out. Fittingly, my trek began Nov. 11, the date on which the Mother Road was designated a federal highway in 1926. Arizona claims the longest rideable portion of the original Route 66, and it has a significant number of attractions and bustling historic towns.

Riding from west to east, I began my Mother Road adventure on the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation where the Colorado River separates Arizona from Nevada. After a short climb toward the mountains on Boundary Cone Road, I came to an intersection indicating that I was transitioning onto the historic U.S. Route 66. The road became curvier and more interesting, and the jagged rock formations of Arizona’s Black Mountains became more immediate as the road coiled through the rugged terrain.  

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Oatman burros
Friendly burros in Oatman weren’t impressed with my BMW beast of burden.

Within minutes, I entered the historic mining town of Oatman. In 1915, two miners struck a $10 million gold find. Within a year, the small mining camp grew to a population of 3,500. Recent census figures indicate there are now just over 100 human residents. If you include the dozens of semi-wild burros in the area, that population is much larger.

Oatman is a hotbed of activity during any motorcycle rally on the Colorado River or in Kingman.  However, my BMW was one of only two motorcycles in town on this crisp November morning. I walked the street beneath the weathered wood facades of the various shops and watering holes.

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Kingman
This ride-through photo stop in Kingman is located next to the Arizona Route 66 Museum.

Route 66 north and west of Oatman is a pure delight. The pavement is mostly smooth and intact, and it’s filled with sweeping turns and hairpins, many of which are nicely banked. There are several signs warning motorcyclists to stay aware, and these are best heeded. With the road gradually uncoiling, I made my way toward Kingman, passing several abandoned open-pit mines that dotted the rocky slopes and at least one small operating mine. 

I was ready for a cup of coffee and some gas when I rolled into Kingman, where my father was an art teacher in the local school district before I was born. It is a clean and bustling small city fully embracing its Route 66 roots. I stopped at the colorfully adorned Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner and parked amidst historic cars, trucks, and motorcycles. As I chatted with my server over a hot cup of joe, she talked about the dual nature of the city. We were in the historic downtown district, but just a little ride up Interstate 40 is the modern district with chain hotels, restaurants, and thriving industry. 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Mr. D'z Route 66 Diner
Across the street from the Route 66 Kingman sign is Mr. D’z Route 66 Diner, one of the many kitschy restaurants along the Mother Road that draw in curious, hungry travelers.

After rolling through the industrial zone in the Kingman outskirts, I headed northeast on the longest existing stretch of the Mother Road. Small roadside businesses dotted the path toward Peach Springs, each clearly embracing its Route 66 heritage with appropriate signage and vintage memorabilia. Historic gas stations were particularly interesting. While they no longer pumped fuel, they still oozed with the nostalgia of the road’s heyday. 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Burma-Shave
Between Peach Springs and Seligman: You can drive / A mile a minute / But there is no / Future in it / Burma-Shave.

After Peach Springs, I rode past three sets of Burma Shave signs with rhyming slogans, reminding me of childhood. As I rolled and swayed through the high grasslands, it was easy to imagine classic cars and motorcycles plying this portion of the route.

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Copper Cart
Formerly a restaurant that opened in 1952, the Copper Cart in Seligman is now a gift shop.

Entering Seligman was the most visually nostalgic part of my ride. This small town is a well-preserved tribute to its Route 66 heritage, with every shop, garage, and diner adorned with colorful signage and logos. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a small sign for the Route 66 Motoporium. Not expecting much, I threw down my kickstand and walked into the Copper Cart to see what was inside. A bearded man said, “You look like a rider,” and pointed to a room in the back. It was filled with the motorcycles of my youth – both those that I rode and those that I ogled in the pages of motorcycle magazines of the 1960s and ’70s. Vintage Indians, Hondas, Hodakas, and Kawasakis, especially the 2-strokes, brought me back to the enchanting smell of premix laced with single-track dust that was a big part of my teenage life. 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Route 66 Motoporium
The Copper Cart in Seligman is home to the Route 66 Motoporium, a small museum full of vintage motorcycles and memorabilia.

After a lengthy trip down moto-memory lane, it was time for lunch, and the legendary Delgadillo’s Snow Cap diner was just a block away. Juan Delgadillo and his wife, Mary, opened the Snow Cap in 1953, and Juan and his brother Angel formed the Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. The Delgadillo family still owns and runs the historic diner, and I had a fantastic green chili burger and onion rings. 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Delgadillo's Snow Cap diner Seligman
This 1936 Chevy is an eye-catching fixture in front of Delgadillo’s Snow Cap diner, a Route 66 institution in Seligman opened by Juan and Mary Delgadillo in 1953.

East of Seligman is a short stretch of the original Route 66 that runs into I-40 just before Ash Fork, and I noticed a few remnants of the Mother Road that are now spurs off the roadway. Beyond Ash Fork, much of Route 66 has been fully replaced with I-40, but there are still several towns that have embraced and preserved their historic Mother Road character.

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Flagstaff
Route 66 runs through the heart of Flagstaff, a bustling city with great restaurants, bars, hotels, and nearby attractions like the Grand Canyon.

Williams, just off I-40, was the last town to be bypassed by the interstate, and it still teems with Route 66 charm. The main street is lined with historic stone buildings filled with antique stores, diners, and bars. I motored by one of the more famous watering holes, the Sultana Bar, which was opened in 1912, predating Route 66 by more than a decade.

See all of Rider‘s Arizona motorcycle rides here.

After Williams, I-40 is as attractive as an interstate can be. Views of the San Francisco Peaks tower impressively to the north, and vibrant evergreens line the road. Flagstaff is the largest city on the Arizona portion of Route 66 and is home to my alma mater, Northern Arizona University. The original Route 66 skirted the beautiful campus just to the west and north. 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Wigwam Motel Holbrook
Built in 1950, the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook is a Route 66 icon.

Flagstaff boasts several original Mother Road attractions, including the historic downtown train station that houses the Flagstaff Visitor Center. On the way out of the city, I rolled past several diners that boast the Route 66 name, but my favorite is Miz Zip’s Route 66 Cafe. Then I felt the magnetic pull toward the Museum Club, an iconic Route 66 watering hole and one of my favorite college hangouts.

See all of Rider‘s Western U.S. motorcycle rides here.

The majority of Route 66 east of Flagstaff has been replaced by I-40. While that is a shame, there is solace in the fact that many of the original attractions of the Mother Road era are still partially or fully intact on the way to the Arizona/New Mexico border. I took the short access road to the ruins of the Twin Arrows Trading Post. Up until very recently, both twin arrows still stood, but the ravages of weather and time toppled one. The trading post was a fixture on Route 66 since its opening in the late 1940s. Just across the freeway looms the new Twin Arrows Navajo Casino Resort. 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Twin Arrows Trading Post
Alas, only one arrow is still standing at the ruins of the Twin Arrows Trading Post between Flagstaff and Winslow.

Riding another 30 minutes east on the interstate, I exited at Winslow, which sits on another existing stretch of Route 66. The loop into Winslow is festooned with various Route 66 advertisements. My first stop in town was to look at the impressive red sandstone St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. After snapping a photo at Standin’ on the Corner Park, I saddled up and headed to my lodging for the night, the beautifully restored La Pasada Hotel (see sidebar below). 

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride Winslow Standin' on the Corner Park
At Standin’ on the Corner Park in Winslow, Arizona, the author stands with a bronze statue of a balladeer resembling Jackson Browne, who co-wrote the famous Eagles’ song “Take It Easy” with Glenn Frey.

After settling into my room, I walked the grounds of the beautiful rail-side resort before sitting with a post-ride cocktail and watching the trains roll by. Later that night, I strolled back into downtown Winslow for some shopping and a chili relleno dinner at the tiny Brown Mug Cafe. An unassuming photo on the wall beside my booth showed a youthful Harrison Ford sitting in the same spot many decades back (he’s an avid motorcyclist, by the way, and also owns a GS!).  

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride
Some motorcycles you’ll find on Route 66 have seen better days.

After a great night’s sleep, I had one last stretch to complete my Arizona Route 66 tour. I rode the few miles to Holbrook, which is the last of the original historic towns on my eastward stretch of Route 66 and home to the Wigwam Motel. From Holbrook, it’s another 74 miles on I-40 to the New Mexico border.

I highly recommend riding what you can of any portion of the Mother Road. This Arizona stretch of Route 66 is best ridden from late spring to early fall, as the winters in northern Arizona are cold and snowy. Pack for variable conditions, and enjoy your ride down memory lane.

Arizona Route 66 Motorcycle Ride Resources

SIDEBAR: La Posada Hotel

Arizona Route 66 motorcycle ride

La Posada in Winslow is a crown jewel of the historic Fred Harvey railroad hotel empire. Designed in the 1920s by renowned architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter, it’s currently a first-class hotel, art gallery, and museum in an expansive garden setting. There is a gourmet restaurant on-site, and downtown Winslow is a short stroll away. The rooms are comfortable and well-appointed in a warm Southwestern motif, and photos of the hundreds of legendary actors and public figures who stayed at La Posada line the hallways. There is even safe designated motorcycle parking in front of the property. For more info, visit the La Posada website.

See all of Rider‘s motorcycle tours here.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Alaska Motorcycle Ride: Discovering America’s Last Frontier

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Dalton Highway
On the Dalton Highway, Sukakpak Mountain rises 4,390 feet and reflects in the Koyukuk River. Sukakpak is an Iñupiat word meaning “marten deadfall” because, seen from the north, the peak resembles a carefully balanced log used to trap marten. (Photos by the author)

It wasn’t that she was a princess. She had lived and taught on a reservation in northern Ontario where she gutted geese, chopped down trees, and drove on the ice roads. But by her own admission, my partner, Steph, was a sun ‘n’ sand type of vacationer. Riding and wild camping with no electricity was not her idea of a good time. And a hostel? Forget it. So when the opportunity arose for an Alaska motorcycle ride – taking my Suzuki V‑Strom 650 from Niagara Falls to America’s last frontier – my suggestion that she fly to Anchorage and meet me…well, it wasn’t flying. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Alaska Highway
Built by the U.S. Army for defense from the Japanese in WWII, the Alaska Highway opened the secluded northwest to travel and trade. In the background, the only wooden grain elevator remaining in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, reopened in 1983 as an art gallery.

But over the weeks – and from over my shoulder – the more she saw of my reading and planning and YouTube videos, the more curious she became.

Related: An Alaskan Motorcycle Adventure How-To

My late June ride across the Canadian prairies and into northern British Columbia had been an adventurous mix of wind and rain and heat so unbearable that I spent a full day in a rundown Saskatchewan hotel to recover in air‑conditioned bliss. But it wasn’t until I reached the Alaska Highway west of Haines Junction, Yukon, that I began to wonder if my riding skills would be up to the task. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

The entire 200 miles to the Alaskan border was a constantly changing mix of gravel, chipseal, and potholes, with just enough pavement to inspire complacency. Most disconcerting were the unannounced depressions caused by permafrost. Without warning, the bike would simply drop away beneath me, only to come pounding back like an unbroken bronco. Twice I was certain I was going over the handlebars. Almost as unnerving were the lengthwise ridges that attempted to grab my tires and toss me off the road. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway threads its way between Kluane Lake and the Kluane Mountains near Destruction Bay, Yukon. The entire 200 miles from Haines Junction to the Alaska border was an adventure in itself.

Between the irregular road surface and the wildlife, I was in no danger of nodding off. At one point, I was negotiating a corner on the loose surface when a large moose bolted into my path from the alders on my right. Brakes were almost useless in the gravel. She was so startled that she was still peeing as she charged in front of me, and I admit I checked myself for the same once she had disappeared into the brush. It wasn’t long before I encountered a grizzly and then a caribou on the shoulder, but they at least seemed content to stay put.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Top of the World Highway
Wild camping on the Top of the World Highway near Poker Creek, Alaska.

The pavement improved measurably near Tok. In Yukon River Camp, where I fueled up for the long ride on the Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay – one of the “most dangerous roads in America” – I partnered up with another solo rider for mutual support should the trip go (quite literally) sideways. With no shoulder and with roadsides that often plummet 50 feet to the soggy tundra, one of the greatest dangers of the Dalton is unexpectedly becoming the focus of a search party. But the weather gods smiled on us. A sprinkling of rain the day before had dampened the notoriously blinding dust without creating the slippery, muddy mess I had feared. And I marveled at the midnight sun, which kept temperatures between 35 and 60 degrees. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Porcupine caribou
While camping on the Top of the World Highway near Poker Creek, Alaska, the author was awakened by an enormous herd of Porcupine caribou passing by.

After a night of primitive camping – and a surprisingly good meal – in Coldfoot, my riding partner and I spent a full day navigating the dirt and ogling the views: from the omnipresent Trans Alaskan Pipeline to the enormity of the Brooks Mountain Range and Atigun Pass, to the endless sweep of tundra on the North Slope toward the Arctic Ocean. And of course, the muskoxen we encountered as they munched on moss and lichens. Needless to say, high‑fives and a toast were in order two days later when we successfully returned to Fairbanks. This was adventure on a new scale.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride muskoxen
Just east of the Dalton Highway (aka the “Haul Road,” which runs from just north of Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay), muskoxen roamed the windy tundra of the North Slope near the Sagavanirktok River. They live naturally only in the Canadian arctic tundra, Alaska, and Greenland. Members of the goat family, their underwool is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool yet surprisingly light.

Rolling into Anchorage, on the other hand, I was struck by how much the city was like any other. In fact, locals joke that the best part about Anchorage is that in under an hour, you can drive to Alaska. I searched out the House of Harley‑Davidson, which offers riders free camping (including restrooms and showers), and awaited Steph’s arrival.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Trans Alaska Pipeline
The Trans Alaska Pipeline runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, a port near the Gulf of Alaska, and was engineered to shift with the permafrost, withstand forest fires (as it has done here), and adapt to temperature changes of 180 degrees F (the pipeline lengthens by almost 6 feet in summer heat).

It was a little discouraging the next morning when her flight brought with it a cold front full of clouds and rain. But I was grateful she had come and determined to make the most of our 10 days together. On the way to Flat Top Mountain for a panorama of the city, we rolled along Cange Street, which doubled as an airport runway. Each home had its own attached hangar, and prop planes were parked on several front lawns. On another city corner, we encountered a moose that casually browsed a willow before sauntering across a driveway and into a backyard.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Dalton Highway
Staring down the Dalton: Is that a smile or grimace?

South of town, the Seward Highway hugged the narrow shore between the steep Chugach Mountains and the churning waters of Turnagain Arm. At Beluga Point, we paused to watch the tidal bore, a daily surge of seawater that can be over 3 feet high and sounds like a freight train. The tides themselves, rising to 35 feet, rival those of the East Coast’s Bay of Fundy. Naturally, we had to visit the nearby Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where injured animals are rehabilitated. It was one place where we were guaranteed to see most of Alaska’s wildlife up close.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Seward Boat Harbor
Seward Boat Harbor, on Resurrection Bay, is merely an introduction to the beauty in store on the Kenai Peninsula.

Believing that my intrepid partner deserved at least one nice hotel, I had booked a “glacier view” suite in the port of Whittier. This came with the bonus of riding through North America’s longest tunnel, a single‑lane route that runs 2.5 miles under an entire mountain. Besides a fish-processing plant, however, Whittier has only two large buildings, both of which are remnants of World War II: an abandoned military supply post and an apartment building that houses nearly the entire town’s population. Without even a pretense of renovations, the top floor now serves as a hotel.

Our apartment, while clean, was clad in 1960s paneling, and the bathroom was adorned floor‑to‑ceiling in pink tile. Most bizarre was the multitude of safety bars (I counted 10) fastened to the wall in the shower. Steph had started calling it the “Bates Motel,” and I suggested the handles were for grabbing when Norman dropped by. On top of that, not only was the rain incessant and obscured the view of the harbor from our window, but when we asked about the glacier, we were told we’d have to sail 6 miles out of port and around a mountain to get a glimpse. Alaskans also joke that “Everything is sh*ttier in Whittier,” and we just had to laugh. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Prudhoe Bay
Wading into the icy waters of Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean.

However, if our night had been a low point, the next morning was a decided high. Wearing our raingear and carrying a set of hiking poles, we set out to explore Byron Glacier. Dense forests gave way to alder thickets that soon opened to lichen‑dotted boulders. Under a steady rain, we climbed the rugged upper valley where ice lay covered in black silt. Towering high above, the jagged peaks were trimmed in white fondant while sinuous waterfalls tumbled from the sheer cliffs. Ahead, shining and motionless, the bright blue glacier stood before us, a frozen river imperceptibly carving out the valley floor. Dwarfed in this vast, timeless amphitheater, we seemed no more than fleeting specks, and tears welled up in Steph’s eyes. This was travel on a new scale.

After a cozy night in a warm log cabin, we continued to Seward where we joined a day‑long boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park and Resurrection Bay, a rich marine ecosystem with craggy coves, deep fjords, and tiny treed islands. Every wildlife sighting brought a new gasp: Sea lions, otters, puffins, murres, and mountain goats were but a prelude to the humpbacks, fin whales, and orcas. Bald eagles watched us from branches along the shore. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Atigun Pass
Approaching Atigun Pass from the north on the Dalton Highway, the author pauses beside the Sagavanirktok River.

Most stunning of all was Northwestern Glacier at the head of the fjord. As a million tiny ice chunks bobbed around our boat like warning buoys, we drew ever closer and were overwhelmed by its size and the thunderous calving. The splitting columns sent booming explosions reverberating off the cliffs, followed by great walls of ice crashing into the frigid water. We stood gripped in a hallowed silence.

Arriving in Palmer the following day, we explored the Matanuska Valley, a region with a surprising claim to fame. Particularly fertile soils and summer days with 22 hours of sunlight produce record‑setting vegetables: cabbages bigger than beach balls, carrots the size of small logs, and pumpkins that must be lifted by crane. As one resident told me, “We get just as much sunlight as anywhere else – we just get it all at once.”

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Byron Glacier
The author and his partner, Steph, hiking Byron Glacier.

Along the Knik River, we were introduced to glamping in a huge canvas tent with a queen‑sized bed, an upholstered chair, and more pillows than a palace. It was a far cry from my bivy sack – and just what Steph had wanted.

Morning was a little brighter as we set off for Homer, a small town on the southwest side of the Kenai Peninsula. Twisting through wooded Cooper Landing and Soldotna, the Sterling Highway turned south and followed the coast along Cook Inlet. From Clam Gulch, we skirted the edge of the cliffs all the way to our destination. When keeping my eyes on the road became impossible, we pulled over and tramped through a field to the precipice, where we could see Sadie Peak across sparkling Kachemak Bay standing in snow‑covered glory high in the equally glorious Chugach Mountains.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Northwestern Glacier
Northwestern Glacier is one of many photo ops at every turn in Kenai Fjords National Park.

The only thing I knew about Homer was that the Salty Dawg Saloon was perched on the end of a spit. As old as the town itself, the diminutive building has served as a school, post office, railway station, and grocery store. In 1957, it became a saloon, and shortly thereafter, as the story goes, a patron who’d grown tired of waiting for his friend stuck a dollar bill to the wall for him to buy a drink if he ever showed up. The ensuing tradition has resulted in every surface being completely papered in dollar bills. Unable to find room for my own bill, I wedged a Loonie (a Canadian dollar coin) into a picture frame and apologized (equally Canadian) to the bartender for my 76‑cent contribution.

Thirty minutes east of Homer, we bounced down a rutted dirt road to our accommodations on the Kilcher Family Homestead. In the early 1940s, professor Yule Kilcher left war‑torn Switzerland to find peace in the wilds of Alaska, where he and his wife built a log cabin and raised eight children. Living a subsistence lifestyle and clearing fields, the family eventually acquired 600 acres, where they continue to live off the land. 

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Stellavera Kilcher
Stellavera’s garden-shed-turned-lodging on the Kilcher Family Homestead.

You have undoubtedly heard the music of Jewel, one of the Kilcher grandchildren, and may even have seen episodes of their Discovery Channel series, Alaska: The Last Frontier. One daughter, Stellavera, lives off‑grid in a yurt near the cliffs and converted a garden shed into a surprisingly enchanting Airbnb. Enclosed in clear corrugated roof panels and furnished with a queen bed, heater, and lots of books, the structure – and the outdoor shower – gave us stellar views of Kachemak Bay and the ice‑glazed mountains beyond. It was spectacular.

Before we knew it, we had to return to Anchorage, where I needed to do some scheduled bike maintenance and Steph caught a flight home. The weather had deteriorated the day she arrived, and although it never kept us from the many activities we had planned, we joked that the sun would return the day she left. That is exactly what happened. Under a clear blue sky, I rolled out my bivy again, anticipating the next leg of the journey and happy to have spent 10 days with Steph in a land unlike anything we had ever known. She still loves the beach, of course, but now all she can talk about is when we can go back to Alaska, where wonder is on a new scale.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Kachemak Bay
Fireweed adds vibrant color to the cliffs facing Sadie Peak on the far side of Kachemak Bay near Homer.

Alaska Motorcycle Ride Resources

See all of Rider‘s touring stories (organized by region and state) here.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

A Scenic (and History-Laden) Southern Utah and Arizona Loop | Favorite Ride

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Zion National Park BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
There are several hairpins just west of the 1.1‑­mile Zion‑­Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which separates distinctly different parts of Zion National Park in southern Utah.

Living at 6,000 feet in Cedar City, Utah, most of my winter riding involves heading south, which offers a quick drop in elevation and less chance of the falling white stuff. So that’s what I did a week before Christmas, giving myself a gift of a one‑­day ride through some southern Utah and Arizona history.

See all of Rider‘s West U.S. Motorcycle Rides here.

The day promised unseasonably warm temperatures…eventually. Just after the sun peeked over the mountains, the ambient temperature was in the upper 20s, but doing 80 mph on the interstate meant I was closer to single digits. Thankfully, the BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America I was riding offers great wind protection, and with my California Heat heated apparel (see California Heat gear review here), I didn’t need to use the bike’s seat or grip warmers.

Utah is one of the few states where even interstate riding offers great views. Descending the Black Ridge south of Cedar City, the mountain terrain changes from gray and sage green and reveals distant red rock mesas. Exiting Interstate 15, I took State Route 17 to Hurricane and connected with State Route 59.

After a quick climb out of Hurricane, SR‑­59 flattens out and heads south. Just a few miles outside of town, jagged peaks painted in rust, deeper reds, and oranges rise in the distance. Much of this area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and numerous dirt roads meander from the highway.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Zion National Park BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
If you keep your eyes open on the east side of Zion National Park, you’re likely to see a mountain goat…and much less tourist traffic. Plus, the curvy road is open to motorcycles all year.

Within an hour, the temperature had risen nearly 20 degrees as I rolled into the small twin cities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, an area locally known as Short Creek. Much has already been written about this area that is both the last U.S. stronghold of the FLDS church (read: polygamists) and the non‑­FLDS members struggling against that stigma, so I’ll just say they have a beautiful place to live.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop REVER map

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Continuing on, the road isn’t especially exciting, but the scenery remains impressive. Crossing into the Kaibab Indian Reservation, the road heads east, paralleling red cliffs to the north. To the south, on a clear day, you can see as far as 60 miles into the Arizona Strip – a wedge of that state between the north side of the Grand Canyon and the Utah border – without any signs of humanity. The desolation makes it easy to imagine life a couple centuries ago. However, not far onto the reservation is a sign for Pipe Spring National Monument, an oasis in the desert where Mormon pioneers erected a fort in 1872 for protection against some of the very people whose land they had settled on. Located a half mile off the highway, the museum and fort are worth a visit.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Pipe Spring National Monument
The fort at Pipe Spring National Monument was built as both a ranch house and protection for settlers during the Black Hawk War. It later served as a refuge for polygamist wives.

Farther east, I picked up U.S. Route 89 in Fredonia, and 7 miles later, I rode into Kanab, Utah, known as “Little Hollywood” for its filmmaking history, particularly old Westerns. My family likes to come here in February for the annual Balloons & Tunes Roundup hot air balloon festival. The historic Parry Lodge is a fun place to stay, and there’s a good mix of dining options.

Outside of town, the road cuts into the red rock, climbing and then dropping again into Mt. Carmel Junction, with the landscape colors changing from red to white to yellow. 

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Kanab Utah BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
The only thing missing from this photo taken in Kanab, Utah, (aka “Little Hollywood”) is a locomotive.

Taking State Route 9, this diversity of landscape continues with almost every twist and turn, both in tones and textures, leading to the east entrance of Zion National Park. For most of the year, you can only get up the road into Zion’s main canyon via shuttle, but as spectacular as the towering cliffs in the main canyon are, I much prefer riding on the east side, which is always open. It’s like an alien landscape, and with the slower speeds, you get to enjoy both the views and the numerous curves.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Zion National Park BMW R 1600 GTL Grand America
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is closed to personal vehicles most of the year.

On the west side of Zion is Springdale, a typical national park gateway community with lots of lodging and dining options (depending on the season), as well as art galleries and novelty shops. Just a few miles past Springdale is Rockville, where you can detour on Bridge Road to cross over the Virgin River on the last surviving Parker‑­through‑­truss bridge in Utah. Continuing 3.5 miles on this road, which turns to dirt about halfway, takes you to Grafton Ghost Town, where parts of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were filmed.

Southern Utah Arizona motorcycle loop Rockville Bridge
The Rockville Bridge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1924, it enabled the first direct link from the Grand Canyon North Rim to Zion National Park.

Staying on SR‑­9, it’s about 16 miles from Rockville to close the loop at SR‑­17 in La Verkin, where I made my way north and back home. Like the places I’ve ridden through, this Favorite Ride is now in the history books.

Southern Utah and Arizona Loop Resources

See all of Rider‘s Touring stories here.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com