Tag Archives: Touring

Tour Test Review | 2019 Indian Scout

Nipton California Indian Scout
Exploring the tiny community of Nipton, California, will uncover quirky secrets, like this old Chevy-turned-art installation. Photos by the author.

I knew I’d stumbled onto someplace…different…when I pulled into the packed dirt parking lot of the Nipton Trading Post, and it wasn’t just the huge glass octopus sculpture wriggling next to the highway. I rolled to a stop next to the five-room adobe hotel, which was built in 1910, almost startled by the silence after switching off the rumbling Indian Scout.

I could smell the hot, dusty leather of my saddlebags, and was very much aware of the crunching of sand and rock beneath my boots as I stood and swung a leg, stiff from hours of slogging across the desert, over my luggage roll and backrest. My skin tingled – someone was watching me.

For a few fleeting moments I was in another time, a wandering cowgirl who just rode into an unfamiliar – and dangerously quiet – town. A tumbleweed staggered across the empty dirt street to the theme from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”…OK, maybe that last bit was just in my head. I doffed my hat – er, helmet – squinting in the harsh desert light, and turned to see that I was far from alone, and yes, I had definitely attracted some attention.

Old West map Nevada
Nipton sits just over the border from the Nevada, on the edge of the Mojave National Preserve, making it a convenient launch point for Las Vegas, Lake Mead and other desert attractions.

Two middle-aged guys got out of a fire engine red ’65 Mustang convertible and were walking toward me, clearly curious about my equally iconic motorcycle. Past them, clustered around the railroad tracks, was a team – posse? – of photographers and assistants, all focused on a blonde woman in a gauzy dress, prancing up and down on the tracks. Based on the tour bus parked in the shade I deduced this was an album cover photo shoot.

I stood for a moment, taking in the rest of the tiny settlement of Nipton: the aforementioned hotel, a restaurant called the Whistle Stop Café, a trading post, a historical marker and a few houses. Farther out in the scrubby desert, past the hotel, I glimpsed a scattering of white teepees, along with a brightly painted old car and what appeared to be metal sculptures. Yep, this is the place.

Trading Post in Nipton
The Trading Post in Nipton offers basic groceries and assorted Southwestern-themed art and jewelry.

Nipton, California, current population somewhere between 15 and 20 souls, was founded in 1905 as a stop on the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad, which merged with the Union Pacific Railroad in 1910. It feels very much in the middle of nowhere, despite being just 12 miles southeast of the bright casinos of Primm, Nevada, but positioned as it is on a lonely two-lane state highway in the Mojave Desert, it’s definitely off the beaten path.

I was heading to Las Vegas for a karate tournament on a 2019 Indian Scout that we’d outfitted with some touring accessories, and rather than just slab it the whole way I’d booked a night in Nipton. This put me in an ideal position for a nice ride up to the Hoover Dam and then north into Valley of Fire State Park, before dropping into Sin City to get my butt kicked at the tournament.

Nipton California metal sculptures
Metal sculptures are scattered throughout Nipton. This one does double-duty with a swinging chair suspended beneath.

Nipton’s location is convenient for a journey into the desert, be it the nearby Mojave National Preserve, Lake Mead or Lake Havasu, or the motorcycle destination of Laughlin. And its quirkiness appealed: accommodations include the old hotel, little “ecocabins” or, my choice, teepees. The ecocabins and teepees are solar-powered, just enough to run the interior lights and to charge your phone, but there are no TVs. The cabins are heated in the winter with woodstoves and the teepees have little propane heaters, but the weather during my visit in late April was warm enough that the provided blankets were plenty comfortable.

Nipton California teepee
I chose to stay in one of Nipton’s teepees, which are nicely furnished with a comfortable bed, LED lighting, chairs/tables and a small propane heater for chilly desert nights.

I was up with the sun the next morning, wanting to get to Boulder City, the gateway to Lake Mead and the awe-inspiring Hoover Dam, for breakfast. I’d already put 263 mostly freeway miles behind me the day before, and was settling into familiarity with the Scout, which we accessorized with Indian’s 19-inch Quick Release Windshield, sumptuous Desert Tan leather saddlebags and a matching rider backrest. My karate gear took up one whole saddlebag, my street clothes and toiletries the other, so I strapped a duffel across the back to hold my camera gear.

Indian’s Scout (read our full review here) is a Goldilocks weekend tourer for someone my size traveling one-up, with an easy-to-handle wet weight of 591 lbs. (as tested), plenty of cruising and passing power, adjustable ergonomics for reduced or extended reach and a smoothly loping cadence from the liquid-cooled 69ci (1,133cc) 60-degree V-twin that produced little in the way of nuisance vibration.

2019 Indian Scout
We added Indian’s accessory Desert Tan saddlebags and backrest to our 2019 Scout, making it a nice lightweight touring machine.
Indian Scout engine
Liquid-cooled 69ci (1,133cc) 60-degree V-twin is smooth and powerful with no annoying vibes.
Indian Scout Desert Tan saddlebags
Sumptuous Desert Lan saddlebags are genuine leather, with a hard plastic inner liner to help them keep their shape. They’re rather small inside, so I strapped a duffel across the back.

That is, as long as you don’t mind stopping often for fuel; I averaged 46.6 mpg from the 3.3-gallon tank, meaning 154 miles was my limit. In the lonely desert, that translates to “fill up whenever you can,” especially since the analog/LCD instrument lacks both a fuel gauge and fuel consumption data. Otherwise, the windshield causes the fat front tire to wander a bit at times, progressing from a minor annoyance to more a disconcerting experience in a stiff crosswind, but overall I was enjoying my ride on the Scout.

It’s also undeniably pretty, especially in the Indian Red/Thunder Black livery with gold pinstriping and feathered headdress Indian graphics that accentuate the Desert Tan seat, backrest and saddlebags. As I snapped roadside photos at the Hoover Dam, the new Mike O’Callaghan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge arcing overhead, many a passing driver’s head swiveled at the bike in appreciation. Completed in 1936, the dam still produces power for California, Nevada and Arizona, although falling water levels in Lake Mead have affected how much it can output. 

Hoover Dam
The Hoover Dam provides power to parts of California, Nevada and Arizona. It’s still possible to drive across, after paying a fee and proceeding through a security checkpoint.

From there I cruised north through the Lake Mead National Recreation Area and then into Valley of Fire State Park. Valley of Fire, as its name suggests, is full of interesting and beautiful red rock formations, and there are plenty of pullouts with picnic tables and hiking trails where you can stop and stretch your legs. I turned north at the Visitor Center for a ride into the heart of the park, the road dipping, climbing and weaving through a Technicolor landscape of eroded sandstone that’s more than 150 million years old.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area
The road through Lake Mead National Recreation Area is smooth and flowing, with vistas ranging from wide-open desert to red rock cliffs to low mountains.
Valley of Fire State Park Indian Scout
Red rock formations in Valley of Fire State Park are an impressive backdrop for the red, black and gold Indian.

Tourist traffic can be heavy, especially through this section, and there are several blind, off-camber turns that can catch you off-guard, so I was happy to putt along and enjoy the scenery, my dance with the Scout a gentle sway. At 5 feet, 9 inches, I found the standard riding position to be comfortably feet-forward; shorter and taller riders may opt for the reduced or extended reach ergo kits to tailor the bike to their needs.

In fact, I was enjoying myself so much that when Scout and I returned to I-15 on the west side of the park, for a moment I wished I could turn north and continue exploring the desert’s hidden secrets, perhaps discovering more gems like Nipton. But I had made a commitment, so south to Las Vegas it was. Still, there are more roads and more secrets to uncover…where should I point my front wheel next?

Nipton UFO
More Nipton discoveries: a grounded “UFO” flies a tattered Stars and Stripes. The sculpture in the background is made of old shopping carts.

2019 Indian Scout Specs

Base Price: $11,999
Price as Tested: $15,804 (paint, windshield, backrest and saddlebags)
Website: indianmotorcycle.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 60-degree V-twin, DOHC, 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 69 ci (1,133cc)
Bore x Stroke: 99.0 x 73.6mm
Transmission: 6-speed, cable-actuated wet clutch
Final Drive: Belt
Wheelbase: 61.5 in.
Rake/Trail: 29 degrees/4.7 in.
Seat Height: 26.5 in.
Wet Weight: 591 lbs. (as tested)
Fuel Capacity: 3.3 gals., last 0.5 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 AKI min. (low/avg/high) 41.4/46.6/54.4

Source: RiderMagazine.com

British Columbia’s Beautiful Duffey Lake Loop

2009 BMW F 650 GS Duffey Lake
The author’s 2009 BMW F 650 GS parked alongside the Bridge River Road – a gravel alternative to the paved Duffey Lake Road – near the historic gold-rush town of Lillooet. Photos by the author.

If I could only make one ride in British Columbia, the Duffey Lake loop would be it. No other route boasts such diversity: a fjord walled by granite mountains, temperate rainforests and flowing glaciers, merging into a dry, semi-arid landscape of sagebrush and ponderosa pine, all on the doorstep of one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Vancouver. I am not getting paid nearly enough to tell you about this gem, but journalists are their own worst enemies when it comes to holding back on a good thing.

Duffey Lake refers to the landmark close to midpoint on a loop tour that can be completed in about 10 hours at a steady pace, but is best done over two to three days, stopping to enjoy the scenery and locals, visit a winery and perhaps camp under a clear canopy of stars. The journey begins just northwest of Vancouver on Highway 99 – the Sea to Sky Highway – at postcard-perfect Horseshoe Bay, and continues northward alongside the sparkling fjord of Howe Sound lined by the Coast Mountains.

Vancouver British Columbia motorcycle ride map
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The highway was significantly upgraded for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and allows motorcyclists to zip along at a comfortable clip, watchful for police radar at the village of Lions Bay. Along the way, consider stopping to gawk at Shannon Falls, hopping on the Sea To Sky Gondola with its spectacular views or watching mountain climbers on the sheer granite walls of the famous Stawamus Chief.

Just ahead is the former logging town of Squamish, now a mecca for outdoor recreation, including kiteboarding at Squamish Spit. Café racers tend to gather at Starbucks, and cruisers at Howe Sound Brewing or Backcountry Brewing, the latter known for its amazing thin-crust pizza.

Howe Sound BMW F 700 GS
The fjord of Howe Sound offers amazing scenery north of Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Road signs warn of black bears as you continue northward to North America’s top-rated ski resort, Whistler. This perfect little village makes for a great first night’s stay, with strolls through shops in the shadow of towering snow-topped peaks, but don’t expect heavy discounts in summer.

From Whistler, Highway 99 heads to the potato-growing Pemberton Valley, and your last chance for gas for about 60 miles as you proceed eastward through the aboriginal community of Lil’wat at Mount Currie. If you arrive in May you can even catch the community’s annual rodeo.

Lillooet, British Columbia
The historic gold-rush town of Lillooet is located midway along the Duffey Lake loop tour.

As you pass Lillooet Lake, the two-lane highway begins a steep, switchback ascent into high-elevation wilderness without a hint of commercialism. The road plateaus shortly after Joffre Lakes Provincial Park, a great spot for hikes to a series of lakes, backdropped by Matier Glacier. Don’t let the alpine vistas distract you from the job ahead: lots of twists and turns, with little in the way of shoulders and the potential for patches of loose gravel.

Duffey Lake is a jewel, and makes for a good photo stop at an elevation of about 4,000 feet. It can get cold here even on summer days so be prepared for changing conditions. Continuing eastward, alongside fast-flowing Cayoosh Creek you’ll find several rustic campgrounds, the best of which is Cottonwood, which offers well-tended outhouses, chopped firewood and an on-site caretaker.

Duffey Lake
Duffey Lake is located at an elevation of more than 4,000 feet and can remain frozen well into spring.

You’ll notice some big changes continuing eastward: evergreen forests replaced by ponderosa pines, sagebrush and craggy rock bluffs, the weather becoming warmer and drier. Expect a stunning view of turquoise Seton Lake – and perhaps some mountain goats on the high cliffs – as you wind steeply downhill to Lillooet, an historic gold-rush town on the banks of British Columbia’s greatest river, the Fraser.

If you’re staying overnight, pick the newer rooms at the affordable 4 Pines Motel, just a block off Main Street. Try some wine tasting at Fort Berens Estate Winery across the river via the Bridge of the 23 Camels, a reference to some bizarre pack animals imported from Asia during the Cariboo Gold Rush of 1858. The Rugged Bean Café is your best bet in town for a soup-and-sandwich lunch.

You’ve now accomplished half of the Duffey Lake loop, and have three choices for the ride back to Vancouver. Street riders take Highway 12 along the east side of the Fraser Canyon to the Canadian hot spot of Lytton, watching carefully for hairpin turns and a landslide area where the highway is reduced to one lane.

Fort Berens Estate Winery
Drop by for tastings at Fort Berens Estate Winery, just across the Fraser River from Lillooet.

One false move here and it’s a one-way trip down a steep embankment. At Lytton, take Highway 1 south to Vancouver, or divert to Highway 7 at Hope for a quieter alternative to the bustling freeway. Street riders might also consider doing the loop counterclockwise to avoid having the setting sun in their eyes for the last few hours.

Dual-sport bikes have a couple of gravel options at Lillooet. One is Texas Creek Road, on the west side of the Fraser Canyon, which passes through remote First Nation reserves perched on elevated benches of farmland that once formed the river bottom. Access Lytton via a fascinating, free “reaction ferry” that employs the power of the river to cross from one side to the other. Note that the service can be suspended during high waters of the spring freshet.

“reaction ferry” on the Fraser River near Lytton
A free “reaction ferry” on the Fraser River near Lytton uses the power of the current to move from one bank to the other.

The second option for dual-sports is to head north from Lillooet via Bridge River Road, stopping in summer to watch the ancient scene of aboriginals catching migrating salmon to be hung from wooden drying racks. The gravel road boasts rugged scenery as it continues to Carpenter Lake, Bralorne and Gold Bridge before dropping down into the Pemberton Valley for the ride home on the Sea to Sky Highway.

Whichever route you choose, you won’t be disappointed. The diversity and isolation so close to a North American metropolis makes the Duffey Lake loop an unbeatable riding experience.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding 60 Paved Colorado Passes in Nine Days

Guanella Pass Colorado
Our goal was to cross every paved pass in the state in a single ride—a nine-day, 3,500-mile adventure taking us over many of our favorite roads but introducing others we’d previously missed, like tall and lovely Guanella Pass above Georgetown (left). Twenty-seven of Colorado’s paved mountain passes are 10,000 feet or higher. Photos by the author.

Mountain passes are the ultimate expression of motorcycling, where winding roads and magnificent vistas merge to create the supreme riding experience. For me, the legendary passes of Colorado are the crown jewels of my life on two wheels.

Over the years I’ve dreamed about riding all of Colorado’s passes in a single trip. With summer approaching and a new motorcycle in the garage, I casually suggested the idea to a friend over lunch one day. The next morning I received an email from Bruce listing almost every paved pass in Colorado, including elevation, location and road surface. A day later there was a route stitching them all together. Now we had a plan – in nine days we would ride every paved pass, saddle, divide and high point in Colorado, a total of 59 as listed by DeLorme, and we would add one more on the fly.

Riding Colorado Passes
A map of the route, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

We met at daybreak on Day One, our rides a contrast of style, substance and technology. I rode my brand-new pearl white 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour with DCT. Bruce piloted his sensibly accessorized and beautifully maintained 2000 Harley-Davidson Deuce. He took the lead and I followed the rumble of his Twin Cam 88 engine.

Colorful Colorado sign
Welcome to Colorado!

We made our grand entrance to Colorado atop Raton Pass and stopped for quick photos to document the event; a process we would repeat 59 more times. This wasn’t the lush green Colorado of previous years. Meadows were yellow, forests were dry, streams and lakes were nearly empty and the usual deep snowpack was missing. Looping west and north through the San Isabel Mountains, we bagged four more passes before stopping for the night in the tiny town of Westcliffe.

What’s the difference between a pass, a high point, a saddle and a divide? I don’t know, but Bruce insisted they all be covered lest we be accused of being slackers. So Day Two we found ourselves battling urban traffic around Colorado Springs to reach the completely unremarkable Palmer Divide and Monument Hill. That afternoon we were bogged down in the foothills of Denver heading for Floyd Hill. But in between were five high passes that brought the day’s total to eight by the time we found our motel in Idaho Springs.

Colorado wildfire
At least four wildfires burned as we crisscrossed the state, creating distant plumes, smoky valleys and up-close firefighting.

Bruce wisely insisted we make motel reservations for each night of our trip. Tourists fill Colorado every summer and many of our motels were full. The only fault in our planning was the daily mileage. Three hundred and fifty miles or so sounds quite doable, but the slow pace of mountain pass roads and tourist traffic expanded our saddle time to as much as 11 hours or more.

The highest passes are narrow threads of twisting asphalt that take you above the tree line to alpine tundra and mid-summer snow banks, with breathtaking views in every direction. Lower passes are sometimes traveled by school buses and lined with homes and businesses. Major passes are celebrated with familiar brown-and-tan Forest Service signs or green-and-white DOT signs, but lesser passes, saddles and divides are seldom marked and sometimes hard to identify.

Slumgullion Pass Colorado
Mountain pine beetles have decimated the once thick forest atop spectacular Slumgullion Pass. Four million acres of trees have been destroyed by the insect epidemic.
Colorado passes
Some passes are marked with simple green-and-white signs…
Tennessee Pass Colorado
…others with large, proud USFS signs.

Colorado’s passes exist all over the state’s western half, requiring a long, circuitous and sometimes repetitive route of almost 3,500 miles to cross them all. Usually they could be linked but sometimes the most efficient route was up and back, bagging a pass then retracing the road down. This is how we covered the Front Range passes of Golden Gate Canyon and Wondervu Hill as we worked our way north toward Estes Park on Day Three.

From Trail Ridge Road (U.S. Route 34) in Rocky Mountain National Park (the highest road of our trip: 12,183 feet), Cameron Pass is only about 10 miles to the north as the crow flies. But the Never Summer Wilderness Area and some of the highest peaks in the Rockies stand in the way. So it was south to Granby, north to Walden, then south again to the pass, backtracking to Walden and west to Steamboat Springs. A long day to be sure but 11 passes in our pockets to show for it.

Rio Grande headwaters Colorado
The Rio Grande River begins its long journey to the Gulf of Mexico in these head-waters above South Fork.

Day Four took us to Granby for the second time, south to Winter Park, across Berthoud Pass and back into the smoke-filled I-70 corridor. At least four wildfires were burning in Colorado and smoke was choking valleys across the state. The largest of them, known as the 416 Fire, was burning near Durango, had closed U.S. 550, the famed Million Dollar Highway, and threatened access to at least three passes on our list. We paid close attention to news reports each night and hoped the road would be open by week’s end.

At Georgetown we did an up-and-back to reach lovely Guanella Pass, then looped above the Eisenhower Tunnel to cross spectacular Loveland Pass. As we descended into Dillon we entered a plume of smoke and could see fire burning right above the town. Helicopters flew low over our heads, dropping water from Dillon Reservoir onto the mountainside right in front of us. Later we bagged our only dirt-road pass, Squaw Pass, when we accidently overshot Juniper Pass. South to Buena Vista and back up to Leadville gave us nine passes that day.

Loveland Pass
Colorado’s highest passes cross alpine tundra well above the tree line, where heated clothing is welcome even in summer.
Squaw Pass Colorado
Bruce’s 2000 Harley-Davidson Deuce and my 2018 Honda Gold Wing Tour peacefully coexist atop Squaw Pass, the only dirt-road pass in our adventure.
Juniper Pass Colorado
From Juniper Pass, the road snakes down toward the smoke-filled I-70 corridor.

Leadville sits more than 10,000 feet above sea level and it was just 38 degrees when we left to gather the first three passes of Day Five. We were riding the Top of the Rockies Scenic Byway and the Gold Wing’s heated grips and seat sure felt good. Being from higher country, Bruce and I aren’t bothered by the elevation but, apparently, many others are. Convenience stores and hotel lobbies sell cans of oxygen to combat altitude sickness.

At 12,095 feet, iconic Independence Pass was the highest on our list and a pure joy to ride. In Hotchkiss we enjoyed the best burgers of the trip at a pleasant little place along State Route 133 called 133 BRGR. We crossed cool, green Grand Mesa and then plunged into the 103-degree heat of Grand Junction for a 65-degree contrast and seven more passes scratched off the list.

Independence Pass Colorado
Every pass we crossed became a photo op documenting the ride as well as the elevation and appearance of Colorado’s high spots. Independence Pass was the highest of them all.

Often the little-known passes offered delightful surprises. Douglas Pass was more than two hours out of our way, but it was a gorgeous early morning ride to a beautiful red rock pass. Similarly, unpretentious Unaweep Divide was hidden in a wonderfully rugged sandstone canyon. We rode the breaks above the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to get Blue Mesa Summit then skirted Blue Mesa Reservoir and dodged a thunderstorm on our way to Gunnison, the last two passes of the day before our hotel in Salida. Another seven passes, check.

We did another up-and-back to Monarch Pass then rode south toward the rugged San Juan Mountains. As we approached Durango, we could see smoke pouring off the mountains to the north. Evidence of the firefighting effort was all around, smoke hung in the air and hundreds of “Thank You Firefighters” signs covered buildings and fences. Our desk clerk was a wealth of fire information including news that U.S. 550 was now open and could be traversed in police-escorted caravans.

Day Eight dawned with steady rain – an answered prayer for everyone in the area. Now it was the rain, not fire, that concerned us. We headed west to cross the imperceptible Gypsum Gap into Disappointment Valley. Flat and barren, this is not the Colorado pictured in tourist brochures. The rain increased as we rode back toward the mountains, so at Telluride we hunkered down in a convenience store to reevaluate our plan. Ouray, Silverton and the high passes of the Million Dollar Highway would most certainly mean more rain, and the day was more than half gone. For a moment, we actually considered skipping the passes in favor of drier riding. I suggested we cover nearby Lizard Head Pass then talk about it some more.

The weather to the pass was atrocious and an hour later we were back at the same convenience store. As we gassed up, a ray of sunlight lifted our spirits and we boldly headed for Ouray and the Million Dollar Highway. Light rain was falling as we snagged Red Mountain Pass and dropped into Silverton. With the national forest closed, the highway closed and the famed steam railroad closed, the normally bustling tourist town was virtually deserted. The headline in the local newspaper proclaimed, “Silverton Under Siege!”

Lizard Head Pass
The ride up Lizard Head Pass was cold and wet…
Wolf Creek Pass Colorado
…while storied Wolf Creek Pass was covered with dead trees.

We pressed on and checked off Molas Pass and Coal Bank Pass. About 30 miles north of Durango a state trooper led us through the burn area – about 15 miles of blackened forest reaching right to the highway’s edge. The 416 Fire had consumed some 40 square miles of forest and disrupted the entire economy of the area. Hopefully the rains would give firefighters the upper hand.

Our last night on the road was in Chama, New Mexico, with the last two passes on our list just a quick dash back into Colorado the next morning. But Colorado didn’t give them up easily. The 45-mile ride up and over the passes went from low clouds to dense fog to cold, hard rain that just wouldn’t stop.

At Cumbres Pass we took our usual quick photos but, at La Manga, we hauled out the selfie stick to get a double thumbs-up to celebrate our final pass. We’d done it! Sixty passes and a nine-day motorcycle buddy trip. We still had some 300 miles to get back home, which brought our total mileage to 3,476. A maiden voyage for the new Gold Wing, another notch on the Harley’s belt and an unforgettable adventure for two seasoned motorcycle riders.

La Manga Pass Colorado
With well over 3,000 miles behind us, we celebrate our final pass with a thumbs-up selfie.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding a Thousand Miles of Arizona Highways

Arizona motorcycle ride
Red rocks provide the backdrop for Sedona, the New Age capital of Arizona. Photos by the author.

April in the Southwest means perfect temperatures and sunny days, riding in a mesh jacket and Kevlar-lined jeans. With a new (to me) Honda Shadow outfitted with new bags to carry my camping gear, I hit the road in early April. My intent was to make a giant circle around Phoenix and Tucson, avoiding the big cities. In bloom, in high spring, the desert and mountains of Arizona’s highways beckoned.

From Lordsburg, New Mexico, I first veered south on State Route 80. Among the yucca-studded Chihuahuan Desert landscape there’s a historical marker near Skeleton Canyon, commemorating the surrender in September 1886 of Geronimo, the last Apache chief. The road eventually led to the dusty border town of Douglas, good for an ice cream sandwich and a fuel stop, before climbing to 5,000 feet of elevation and the town of Bisbee.

Arizona motorcycle ride
The Chihuahuan Desert’s hallmark is the yucca, a standout in the rolling hills near Rodeo, at the Arizona state line.

A thriving copper, gold and silver mining town founded in the 1880s, Bisbee fell into decline by 1950. Then enterprising citizens, with the help of a huge economic development grant, turned the ghost town into a tourist attraction. Big draws are tours of the Copper Queen mine, narrow streets connected by steep staircases and shopping for antiques downtown.

I camped at Kartchner Caverns State Park, next to an underground beauty of a limestone cave, before venturing farther west. A delightful road follows the contours of prime rolling hills through the snowbird havens of Sonoita and Sahuarita. Ducking under Interstate 19, I turned north on Mission Road. Lots of bicycles and motorcycles enjoyed the sparsely trafficked road, which led in a roundabout way to Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Arizona motorcycle ride
Bisbee’s Copper Queen Hotel, more than 100 years old, retains much of its former glory.

Long before any outsiders settled in southern Arizona, Father Kino founded the whitewashed mission in 1692 to benefit the local American Indian population. San Xavier Mission School, next door, has served Tohono O’odham  students from kindergarten through eighth grade for more than 150 years.

Skirting around the southwest edge of Tucson, I picked up the Ajo Highway (State Route 86) just before it entered the Tohono O’odham reservation. The scenery was of the quintessential “Arizona Highways” variety, with saguaro, cholla, organ pipe, barrel, prickly pear, ocotillo and many other species of cactus in bloom along an undulating two-lane road. On the far side of the reservation I stopped to camp in Why, literally located at the Y where State Route 86 meets State Route 85. South of the Y, I soon rode into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This park preserves fine examples of all the varieties of cactus common in the Sonoran Desert, along with coyotes, javelina, Gila monsters, desert tortoise, jackrabbits, rattlesnakes, hawks, roadrunners and other creatures native to the borderlands.

Arizona motorcycle ride
Mission San Xavier de Bac, a National Historic Landmark, was erected in 1797, on present day land of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

In early April the desert was already heating up. I turned around at the Mexican border and headed north to seek higher elevations. After passing through Gila Bend and crossing Interstate 10, I discovered the Sun Valley Parkway. Known locally as “the road to nowhere,” this four-lane deserted highway offers a nearly irresistible temptation to speed. It was built in the mid-1980s in anticipation of a huge real estate development that fell through. Since then bicyclists and drag racers have enjoyed its 30-plus miles of pristine blacktop.

By the time I reached the palm tree-lined streets of Surprise, it was 92 degrees. What is the surprise? I wondered aloud as I ordered lunch in an air-conditioned Denny’s restaurant. According to the waitress, a woman who pioneered the settlement there was quoted as saying she would be surprised if the town ever amounted to anything. After lunch, I rode northwest through Wickenburg, then turned east up the winding curves of State Route 89 toward Prescott. Along the way I stopped to look over some steep, brush-choked country near Yarnell. A marker there honors the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who perished in a wildfire nearby in 2013.

Arizona motorcycle ride
Coyote Howls Campground attracts snowbirds who like a cheap place to park their RVs in the community of Why for the winter.

The route I chose passed through tiny towns that I had never heard of, such as Peeples Valley and Skull Valley, before arriving at the bustling city of Prescott. Its mile-high altitude, granite boulders, hidden lakes and campgrounds in the cool pines have drawn many new residents. Fortunately, the city of 40,000 supported a Honda dealer. I treated myself to a stay in a hotel, and a minor repair to my motorcycle was quickly taken care of the next morning at Star Island Motorsports. In a hurry to get back to riding the Arizona highways, I skipped touristy Whiskey Row in downtown Prescott and instead headed for a curving road leading out to the north.

State Route 89A follows a serpentine route over Mingus Mountain to the old mining town of Jerome. More motorcycles than cars were coasting around its hairpin curves and flying over the mountain pass. Built on the side of the mountain, Jerome consists of a couple of narrow streets lined with restaurants, gift shops and bars. Off to one side there’s Jerome State Historic Park, containing the remains of an active mining community of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Arizona motorcycle ride
Red Rock Crossing is an iconic landmark of Sedona.

I felt drawn to ride up to Sedona, some 28 miles northeast of Jerome, to snap some pictures of the famous red rock. A loop road winds off the main track to Red Rock Crossing; another curving road leads to Slide Rock State Park, a popular swimming hole. Prices were sky high in the New Age capital of Arizona; eventually I turned around and went back to the more down-to-earth Cottonwood for lunch. Unpretentious Crema Craft Kitchen on Main Street in Cottonwood had fresh and healthy breakfast and lunch options, with no wait and attentive service.

After camping overnight at Dead Horse Ranch State Park, I followed the Verde River upstream a few miles to visit Tuzigoot National Monument. At the site, an easy walk leads to hilltop ruins left by the Sinagua Indians. Populated between 900 and 1300 A.D., Tuzigoot’s residents created pottery as tall as they were and wove yucca fiber to make footwear.

Arizona motorcycle ride
The Verde River is a green stripe of lush vegetation in the otherwise dry country near Tuzigoot National Monument.

Park rangers directed me to another national monument some miles downstream from Tuzigoot near Camp Verde. Situated high up on the side of a cliff above Beaver Creek, a tributary of the Verde River, Montezuma Castle was home to another band of Sinagua Indians. Early visitors to this ruin assumed it was Aztec in origin, but in reality the emperor Montezuma never ventured anywhere near here.

Saturday crowds were growing at Montezuma Castle as the temperature approached 80 degrees, so I headed for the high road over the Mogollon Rim. State Route 260 turned into State Route 87, wandering through some great sweeping curves lined with tall ponderosa pines before plunging down through tiny Strawberry and Pine, to Payson. A quiet town of 20,000 people at 4,800 feet elevation, Payson boasts the reconstructed Zane Grey Cabin and a museum to commemorate the author of 64 western novels that helped popularize the Mogollon Rim country in the early 20th century.

Arizona motorcycle ride
The five stories and 45 rooms of Montezuma Castle provided shelter to a people who farmed and hunted there for 200 years.
Arizona motorcycle ride
Visitors can walk through the dwelling at Tonto National Monument to get a close-up look at life on the side of a cliff.

When State Route 260 turned back northeast toward Show Low, I chose to head into some warmer weather. Early April was still a little chilly up at higher altitudes, so I dropped down to State Route 188 and made a beeline for Roosevelt Lake. The Forest Service-run Cholla Bay Campground presented a stunning desert environment with plenty of vacant sites, even on a weekend. The main draw is the lake, a reservoir 33 square miles in size, created by a dam on the Salt River built in 1911.

A side road off State Route 188 headed to another set of ancient Indian ruins at Tonto National Monument. There, a steep half-mile hike leads to a stunning cliff dwelling overlooking the lake far below. The population in the area approached its peak between 1100 and 1300 A.D. They created Rio Salado polychrome pottery and farmed along the Salt River in the Tonto Basin. Drought, flash flooding and social conflict led most of the people to depart in the late 14th century for more favorable living situations elsewhere.

Arizona motorcycle ride
Beyond the road leading up to Tonto National Monument, Roosevelt Lake gleams invitingly.

South of Tonto National Monument, the road ran into a T. A west turn would have taken me to Phoenix, but instead I turned east and joined a procession of Sunday riders enjoying the curves and rugged desert scenery of U.S. Route 60. A few miles beyond Globe, I stopped at the Apache Gold Casino, operated by the San Carlos Apache tribe. After lunch, I tried my luck on the video poker machines, enjoying an air-conditioned break from the road even as I contributed a few bucks toward the San Carlos education fund.

Arizona motorcycle ride
Zane Grey’s real cabin burned down in the Dude Fire in 1990, but a replica was reconstructed in Green Valley Park at the center of Payson.

Then it was another hour on U.S. Route 70, known as the “Old West Highway,” to reach Roper Lake State Park just outside of Safford. Like most other Arizona parks, the main attraction is water. Roper Lake offers swimming, boating, bird watching and fishing, plus a bonus: a natural hot spring which is available free of charge to campers in the park. At 97 degrees, the water in the cement pool was soothing, with a great view of Mount Graham to the west.

Departing Safford, I followed the Old West Highway past the turnoff to the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area and the cute little town of Duncan, to the New Mexico state line. Lordsburg soon came into view. With that I was back where I had started, completing a circle around desert, mountains, winding roads, lakes, rivers and history–a thousand miles of scenic Arizona highways.

Arizona motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding Vermont’s Route 100 From Massachusetts to Memphremagog

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Vermont is still a state full of small farms. Photos by the author.

Vermont is a four-season state. It offers great skiing in the winter, sweet maple syrup in the spring and fantastic foliage in the autumn. Summer? Summer is for motorcycle riding. Vermont’s topography lends itself to incredible motorcycle roads, and State Route 100 is one of the best. Extending from Massachusetts to nearly the Canadian border, Route 100 traces the eastern flank of the Green Mountains, and it is as fine a motorcycle road as you will find anywhere.

I entered Vermont from North Adams, Massachusetts, where Route 100 zigzags through the quiet towns of Readsboro and Whitingham and loops around Harriman Reservoir before finally turning north. The first town of any size that I encountered was Wilmington, where I stopped at Dot’s Restaurant.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Dot’s is a Wilmington icon. The building dates from 1832 and has been a diner since the 1930s. When Hurricane Irene hit Vermont a few years ago, the Deerfield River backed up and pushed Dot’s off its foundation. After three years and a complete foundation replacement, Dot’s has reopened, and the restaurant is every bit as popular as before.

In the morning, after a good night’s sleep and a great breakfast at the Gray Ghost Inn, I hit the road. Just north of the Gray Ghost, Route 100 twists and turns down to the river. The same storm that nearly destroyed Dot’s also wiped out this section of Route 100. By rebuilding it all at once, many of the off-camber and reducing-radius corners were fixed, yet the nature of the road was not compromised. The miles of new pavement made this section of the road a joy to ride.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
The Gray Ghost Inn is a family-owned B&B that caters to motorcyclists and offers up a delicious traditional Vermont breakfast.

North of Weston, Route 100 tucks in tight against a series of small lakes. With a few houses on the left and swimmers and boaters on the right, I felt like I was in the scene. The heat of the sun through the pine trees and the mouthwatering smell of burgers on a grill made this stretch a feast for all five senses.

In Plymouth, I took a side trip on Route 100A to Plymouth Notch. This is where President Calvin Coolidge was born and where he retired after his presidency. Elected as Vice President in 1920, he happened to be staying here when President Harding died. His father, a notary public, swore him in as our 30th president at 2:47 a.m. in the front parlor of their home by the light of a kerosene lantern.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Founded by Calvin Coolidge’s father, Plymouth Cheese makes some outstanding cheeses.

There are about 20 ski resorts in Vermont and more than half are near Route 100. I turned up Mountain Road toward Killington, the largest ski resort in Vermont. This multilane road with turning lanes, hotels and restaurants was a big departure from the rural landscape of the past 100 miles. It’s all designed for the winter ski crowds, but traffic was light today so I whizzed up past the golf course and the Killington Grand Hotel to the ski area parking lot. I hopped in the gondola to the summit and then hiked another couple hundred yards to the highest point. At 4,229 feet above sea level, the view from Vermont’s second-highest peak is outstanding, and I could see the Green Mountains rippling out in all directions.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Swimmers enjoy the cool water of the Mad River.

North of Killington, Route 100 traces through the ripples. It is a fantastic motorcycle road as it dips and swoops through the woods and around the hills through Pittsfield, Stockbridge and Rochester, where I stopped for a maple milk shake at the Rochester Café.

This section of Vermont is known for the Gaps, the roads crossing the Green Mountains other parts of the country refer to as passes. In Rochester, State Route 73 heads over Brandon Gap, while to the east, Bethel Mountain Road crosses Rochester Gap. In Hancock, State Route 125 heads west over Middlebury Gap, while the dirt road to the east crosses Roxbury Gap. The partially unpaved Lincoln Gap heads out of Warren, and State Route 17, Appalachian Gap, leaves out of Waitsfield. I could spend an entire day happily zipping back and forth on these roads.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Lower Podunk Road is two miles farther down Route 100.

Riding into Waterbury I came across the first traffic lights I had seen since Wilmington, 130 miles ago. The congestion was worth it though, as just past the final light was the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory. Here I toured the factory, which ended with a scoop of Ben and Jerry’s famous ice cream. Out in back is a “flavor graveyard,” a mock cemetery with granite headstones for discontinued flavors, or the “dearly depinted,” as they call them. RIP, Cool Britannia and Urban Jumble.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
Hard to find and just plain weird stuff from yesteryear is for sale at the Vermont Country Store.

Stowe, the next town on Route 100, is in a beautiful location below the 4,200-foot summit of Mount Mansfield. Despite being a big tourist town, it does not have a chain hotel, and the accommodations run the full range of amenities and prices. North of Stowe, the landscape opened up to rolling hills and farms. The fields were larger and the forest farther away. The road was full of sweeping turns with a rhythm and flow that made me crack the throttle a little bit more and smile inside my helmet, enjoying a thoroughly wonderful romp through the open country and empty highway. Farther on, I stopped at the Troy General Store. This is what a general store should be; the wooden floor creaked as I walked and stuff was hanging from the ceiling. A sandwich was being made in the deli, and I could smell a pizza in the oven.

Near Coventry, at the intersection with State Route 105, Route 100 just ends. After 200 miles, I expected something more than a 100 END sign, but, disappointingly, there it was. It was only 10 miles to the Canadian border so I decided to head there. I rode through Newport and along the east side of Lake Memphremagog to the village of Derby Line.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
St. Mary Star of the Sea church rises above Newport and Lake Memphremagog.
Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
The beautiful church building dominates the skyline over the lake.

The “Line,” in this case, is the border between Vermont and Canada. It passes right through the Haskell Free Library and Opera House: half of the building is in Derby Line, the other half is in Stanstead, Québec. In the reading room, the border is painted on the floor. Upon request, the librarian took my picture, where I stood with one foot in the USA and one foot in Canada. I couldn’t go any farther north without a passport.

Vermont Route 100 motorcycle ride
The Haskell Free Library and Opera House straddles the U.S./Canada border.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Voyage of Re-Discovery in Gold Country and the Sierra Nevada

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
We riders enjoy not only the twisty roads and breathtaking vistas in settings such as California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, but also the crystal-clear air and full range of scents nature pours out. The aromas from this particular combination of flowers, shrubs, grasses and conifers magically swept me back in time to relive some long-forgotten memories. Photos by the author and Katie Lee.

It was the scent in the air that did it, plucking me out of the Suzuki’s seat and transporting me back to the distant past. Not physically, of course. But my brain kept reporting I’d been swept away to relive a fond childhood moment buried deep in my subconscious. Riding along the Sierra Nevada foothills through California’s Gold Rush country, the particular combination of local trees, bushes, flowers and grasses surrounding us made my brain fold back on itself and suddenly I was 11 years old once again, trudging along a dusty wooded path at Boy Scout camp–a surreal moment to be sure. But also a pleasant reminder about the many small, unexpected joys we discover with motorcycle travel.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
The author’s wife Katie poses with the 2018 Suzuki V-Strom 1000 XT they took on the ride.

My wife Katie and I are native Californians but strangely enough we’ve never visited the Gold Country together, nor have we toured Yosemite National Park as a couple. So we started by spending a few nights along State Route 49 in the vicinity of Jamestown, Sonora, Columbia and Twain Harte, an area chockfull of historic sites and a wealth of varied activities–not to mention world-class riding roads. The open road always beckons to motorcyclists, so we riders enjoy striking our own balance between seat time and tourist/vacation activities. For this trip, Katie and I agreed on keeping a distinctly leisurely schedule since there’s so much to do and see in the area, but also because we both wanted to try and find some old haunts from our childhood years.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

A hot highway drone north from our Southern California abode brought us to Merced, which served as our jumping-off spot for the good stuff as we traced two-lane roads eastward. We took flat, straight State Route 140 to connect with Route 49 at Mount Bullion on our way to Jamestown. Here, 49 is simply spectacular: fresh pavement, rising and falling twists and turns, and virtually no traffic. In short, riding bliss.

Jamestown gave us a warm welcome, in part due to the hot weather, but this little town offers an engaging, quiet, old-time feel to the place with plenty of stops for refreshments and window-shopping. But here’s the big find: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park with its tribute to steam-powered locomotives. Railtown gives a whole new meaning to the notion of big-displacement iron as the 26-acre park includes historic locomotives, a working roundhouse, belt-driven machine shops and a horde of train-related parts, signs and memorabilia scattered throughout. Steam train rides are available on weekends April through September, and if you’re a film buff you might recognize Sierra No. 3, a steam engine circa 1891 that appeared in many movies, such as “High Noon” and “Back to the Future Part III.”

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
Railtown 1897 in Jamestown is a must-see stop for everyone visiting the area.
motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
Gear heads, history buffs, cinema fans and kids young or old will enjoy riding behind the still-operational steam locomotive from 1891.

Nowadays, nearby Columbia State Historic Park is a working town filled with historic re-creations including a blacksmith shop, an historic saloon, stagecoach rides, a gold-panning stop where you can try your luck and the Fallon Theatre, which still stages performances. We stayed in the Fallon Hotel, one of the two historic hotels still operating in Columbia, but my favorite stop had to be the ice cream shop located right between the hotel and theater. Our biggest disappointment is that we couldn’t stay longer to just soak in the atmosphere. Also close by, the town of Sonora is bigger and busier than Jamestown and Columbia, and offers much more to see and do (and buy!). Twain Harte, in turn, feels small, sleepy and relaxed, so pick the one that best suits your mood.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
In Columbia, we walked out of our lodgings at the Fallon Hotel and just a few steps took us to the stagecoach stop—talk about stepping back in time!

All of these stops proved delightful, but we also scheduled time to just roam around local roads on the V-Strom 1000 too. We both spent our childhood years growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, and this portion of the Sierra could be easily reached for day trips throughout the year. And so I had to ride up State Route 108 to revisit the place where I first strapped on snow skis, Dodge Ridge. At nearby Pinecrest Lake, Katie and her family spent summer days trout fishing. And up the mountain we stumbled upon the Strawberry Inn, the lodge where Katie’s parents made their first stop on their honeymoon in 1947, on their way to Idaho for more fishing. For no reason at all we decided to go poke around on Old Strawberry Road, which meanders around on the north side of Route 108, crisscrossing the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. Understand that while 108 is a great road for motorcycling, the entire area is laced with miles and miles of back roads that don’t even show up on large-scale maps. It’s fun and easy to set up looping day rides along deserted byways, and again we only wished we had more time to just go see what’s on the other side of the mountain.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
For this trip, we kept a more leisurely schedule and were rewarded handsomely. Taking time to wander down tiny spurs such as Old Strawberry Road led us to isolated little gems such as this spot beside the rushing Stanislaus River. We shoulda brought a picnic lunch along…

Eventually, it came time to literally head over the mountain as we rode Route 108 up and over to Bridgeport in the Eastern Sierra along U.S. Route 395. Although you’re smack dab in the middle of Big Country–Sonora Pass sits 9,624 feet high–it’s only 97 miles between Sonora and Bridgeport with an approximate driving time of 2 hours–no sweat at all on a bike. A portion of this gorgeous expanse of high-mountain goodness suffered greatly at the hands of the huge Donnell Fire in the summer of 2018 and although the scars will last for a long while it’s still spectacular country. A short hop south on U.S. 395 led us to State Route 270 and another California State Historic Park, the gold-mining ghost town of Bodie. The final three miles to Bodie turns from paved road to dirt, which the V-Strom handled easily, even with our two-up load. Once a thriving town of 10,000 people, Bodie is now preserved in a state of “arrested decay,” and no food or gasoline is available so come prepared.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
An entertaining three miles of graded dirt road brought us to the gold-mining ghost town of Bodie.
motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
The entire site is preserved in a state of “arrested decay” and many, but not all, buildings are open to visitors.
motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
At its peak, 65 saloons lined the mile-long Main Street in Bodie to serve nearly 10,000 residents.
motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
Be sure to set aside enough time to cover the area and view the many artifacts and buildings.

Our overnight stop at the Double Eagle Resort in June Lake had us wishing for a longer stay, but early in the morning we rode to the shores of Mono Lake to meet with Nora Livingston, a naturalist and guide with the Mono Lake Committee (monolake.org). Nora shared some of the history and ecology of the area that includes unique tufa tower limestone formations, and an ancient saline lake that covers more than 70 square miles, holding trillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies that nourish millions of migratory birds every year.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
The Mono Lake Committee offers field seminars during summer and autumn; we enjoyed a private mini-tour of this fantastic setting.

From U.S. 395, Route 120 traverses 9,941-foot Tioga Pass as you enter Yosemite National Park, which is indeed one of the greatest natural wonders in the world. Low speed limits and tons of vehicular traffic slow your speeds–so just go slow! You’ll want to take in the awe-inspiring views anyhow, and plan on making lots of stops to enjoy the vistas fully. In fact, it’s best to bring a lunch along so you can just hang out at one of the many scenic pullouts along the way and take in the views. 

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley was the favorite spot for naturalist John Muir, but in 1913 San Francisco was allowed to clear-cut, dam and flood the valley to create a source of drinking water.
motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
Many gorgeous scenic stops remain throughout Yosemite; this one offered 360-degree views, each magnificent in its own right.

Canny readers will note an ongoing theme lurking in the background of this story: our continuing wish to spend more time enjoying the area. If we could do it all over again each overnight stay would last two nights to allow more time for exploring and whimsical stops. Especially when considering the many incredible secondary roads in the area, we barely scratched the surface. Nonstop twisty, turning mountain back roads, gorgeous mountain scenery and virtually zero traffic outside the main roads in Yosemite. What’s not to like about that?

In fact, maybe next time I can go looking for that old Boy Scout camp I remember so fondly….

Sierra Stopovers

Thanks to some help from the good folks at the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau (VisitTuolumne.com) and the Mono County Tourism bureau (MonoCounty.org), we tapped into some excellent options for overnight stays, all with plenty of history, atmosphere and memorable surroundings.

motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country
motorcycle ride Sierra Nevada gold country

Fallon House in Columbia State Historic Park: Situated right in this California State Historic Park, a night here feels like you’re immersed within a Wild West movie. parks.ca.gov

The Inn on Knowles Hill in Sonora: Sited on a picturesque hilltop overlooking Sonora, this bed and breakfast features lush appointments creating a turn-of-the-century experience, plus a sumptuous breakfast. knowleshill.com

McCaffrey House Bed and Breakfast Inn in Twain Harte: Spacious and well-appointed rooms in a secluded wooded setting, located just off Route 108. mccaffreyhouse.com

Double Eagle Resort and Spa in June Lake: Spacious cabins, spa services and a fly fishing pond for guests up in the high Sierra combines mountain living with full-on resort facilities. doubleeagle.com

Groveland Hotel in Groveland: Modern renovations make this historic hotel a delight, one that’s within easy reach of Yosemite National Park. groveland.com

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Iron Range Ramble: Riding Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region

The Emergence of Man Through Steel
The Iron Man statue is actually named “The Emergence of Man Through Steel” and honors miners’ work through the Industrial Age. Photos by the author.

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey,” says the motorcycling adage. That’s true! Most highlights of motorcycling are experienced during the ride. I choose journeys with an interesting place to turn around (destination) before heading back home. Riding the Iron Range in northeastern Minnesota provides wide choices of appealing destinations and journeys, riding through forests, hills and curves in Minnesota’s “arrowhead.”

Northern Minnesota motorcycle ride
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Aptly named due to the huge iron ore mining economy formed in the late 19th century, we started our ride from the town of Mountain Iron, at the Holiday Inn Express. Riders will appreciate the covered parking for a few motorcycles. The Iron Range Tourism Bureau publishes ride guides every year. My wife Jean and I picked up one at the inn and selected potential routes to try during our few days “on the Range.” We modified and combined our routes to fit in a few destinations that piqued our interests. After our complimentary breakfast, our journey began.

Downtown Cook’s main drag, River Street, is just beggin’ for a parade.
Downtown Cook’s main drag, River Street, is just beggin’ for a parade.

The Mines and Pines tour was our warm-up ride for Memorial Day weekend. Heading north on U.S. Route 53 to Cook, turning west, we rode through the rural settings on Trunk Highway 1. Logging and farming appeared to be the main economic activities. Heading south on County Road 5 there was a noticeable change from farming to tourism as we rode to McCarthy Beach State Park for a break. Out of the saddle, we rehydrated, and off we went.

Mines and Pines tour
The northern part of the Mines and Pines tour is filled with rural settings.

Finally, we arrived at the “mines” part of the Mines and Pines tour. We ended up at the Iron Man, a tribute to the miners who worked the iron mines. After a quick lunch under the shade tree at The Stand, we were refreshed and ready to explore our destination for the day, the Minnesota Discovery Center. The Center is an exhibition of the mining and cultural artifacts associated with mining in the Range. A rail trolley used for transporting miners to and from the mines is still in operation for tourists. Some of the original buildings, homes and boarding houses still stand and are well maintained, providing a glimpse into the past’s daily life above ground.

Minnesota Discovery Center
The mine trolley is still running. Our conductors shared the history and evolution of mining technologies
with us on the loop around an open pit iron mine.

We finished back at our starting point and went out to dinner. We discovered a nice new restaurant in the neighboring town of Virginia, The Northern Divide, which provided an excellent dinner and outstanding service.

The next day was dark and gloomy in the north woods of Minnesota. Another adage for motorcyclists is, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad wardrobe choices.” We mustered up the right perspective with, “Today is a good day to test our rain gear!” Since it was raining, we decided our journey should take us to an indoor destination. More than indoors, we picked an underground destination. Trunk Highway 135 runs from Gilbert north to Tower. It’s smooth and wide, and the forest is cut back from the roadway, providing good visibility for any deer, moose or other forest creatures that might wander onto the roadway.

open pit mine
All the public mine overlooks were closed due to expansion of the mining operations, but we knew a guy who knew a guy who could give us a private tour of the new overlooks still under construction. Mining technologies allowed more efficient open pit mining of lower grade ore. Although the iron ore in the Soudan Mine is much higher quality, steel can be produced at lower costs with ore from the open pit processes.

After we arrived at Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park, a three-minute elevator ride took us down 2,341 feet below the surface. From there we rode a trolley in total darkness. Arriving at a “stope,” a steplike excavation that is formed as the ore is mined in successive layers, we could see and hear how miners worked one of the richest iron ore mines in the world.

Minnesota Discovery Center
James, our guide, is a geologist and miner with experience in underground mines in North America and South America.

Back on the surface, the rain had stopped but the roads were still wet. Back in our rain suits and off we went to Ely via Trunk Highway 169. The journey on the two-lane road was through heavy forest and light traffic, just the way it should be. We had two destinations in Ely, the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. I can’t say enough about these attractions. The quality and educational value of the displays are superb! We arrived at each just before feeding time, so the wolves and bears were up and active. Both centers have large glass viewing areas great for photographers.

black bear
As the bears meandered back into the woods, it’s time to get back on the motorcycle and head for dinner ourselves.

Backtracking west on Highway 169, then south on Highway 135, our destination for the night was The Lodge at Giants Ridge. It’s open year-round for skiers, travelers and golfers. Tomorrow’s ride would be over to the north shore of Lake Superior.

The North Shore Scenic Drive is a must for any rider. Our destination was Two Harbors, where all the iron ore from the mines comes by rail then ships out to destinations all over the world. County Highway 110 winds through Aurora and Hoyt Lakes, then County Highway 11’s sweepers took us into Silver Bay. I mentioned to Jean, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many shades of green.” The north woods were waking up from the long winter and the brilliant sunshine illuminated the greenery from every angle. Following the designated scenic route, we leaned into the curves going up and over the rolling forest terrain.

Baldwin Yellowstone Mallet #229
Built during World War II, this is one of the “locomotives that defeated Hitler.” Manufacturing the Baldwin Yellowstone Mallet #229 was a higher priority than military tanks and ships. It was so powerful that it pulled ore trains that would require four diesel locomotives today. An average of 10,000,000 tons of ore are shipped every year.

Reaching Silver Bay, we turned southwest on Trunk Highway 61. The road hugs Lake Superior’s north shore. It is smoother and straighter than it used to be, but the scenery is still a beautiful shoreline drive all the way to Two Harbors. Along the way we stopped at The Rustic Inn Café. It has the best pie on the north shore. Although the day was sunny, it was also cool and windy. With a hot cup of coffee, a warm piece of pie and a scoop of ice cream, I agreed with my GPS navigation when it said, “You have reached your destination.”

Source: RiderMagazine.com

The Alley Sweeper Motorcycle Rally In Portland, Oregon – 2019

The world is changing—and fast. The rise of social media has placed us just a few clicks away from sharing any harebrained thought with the collective hive mind. This newfound power can be a honed, double-edged sword if you’re hoping to get your kicks in the murky gray areas of legality, ideally without falling under the ever-watchful eye of Johnny Law. Such was the ballad of the Alley Sweeper Urban Enduro.


Related: Motorcyclist Alley Rally Video 2019


This moto rally can be traced back to its 2009 inception by the hands of Portland, Oregon’s Sang-Froid Riding Club, after club member Zac Christensen got the notion that an urban enduro through the city’s less-affluent neighborhoods and sprawling network of derelict alleys might be a good idea. Where some might see a troubling disparity in public maintenance allocation between these areas and Portland’s wealthier districts, Sang-Froid saw an opportunity for adventure in the long-forgotten back passages that fell through the cracks.

And they weren’t the only ones. Word spread through all channels of social media like wildfire, as subsequent years saw the annual run’s attendance balloon to more than 400 riders. The alleys choked to a standstill as hordes of would-be scofflaws all dove in for a piece of the action, and it became clear a tactical correction needed to be made. So in 2015, the event was “officially” shut down. Clever. Its leadership became decentralized and eventually morphed into the clandestine Alley Liberation Front. The tide receded and the hysteria fell back into obscurity as only a handful of the most dedicated miscreants set to work planning future years quietly among themselves.

Their strategy apparently worked, as the good word of the Alley Sweeper never came to me by any cliché Instagram post or wide-reaching Facebook promotion. Oh, no, my call to the Urban Enduro was conceived by a hushed whisper over a jar of moonshine, in the back of a short bus loaded to the gills with 200cc minibikes. You see, when Speedfreak Speed Shop gets together with the Gambler 500, we just can’t seem to help ourselves. “Let’s do the thing on minibikes,” Gambler Godfather Andy Munson cracked with a firewater grin. Some friend—surely the traffic courts already had a price on my head, yet he knew it wouldn’t take much more than the promise of senseless adventure to sucker me in.

So it was written, so it was done. A few weeks later I found myself on hallowed ground outside FoPo Tavern, the rally’s decade-old traditional starting point. Alongside me was a haphazardly assembled squad of guerilla fun-havers, our arguably illegal Coleman minibikes hastily camouflaged with homemade “49cc” decals and $13 bicycle safety flashers. Thrifty Southeast Asian riders would’ve stared in wonderment.

And, indeed, so did a few bystanders as I walked through the field of oil-burning dreams; a sea of dual-sport enduros of every make under the sun, easily matched by a population of either unplated or suspiciously plated dirt bikes. Not to be left out of the scramble, and true to “keep Portland weird” form, a subset of vintage bikes, mopeds, and a Ural sidecar also littered the scene. All told there were about a couple hundred participants. Eventually we made our way to the only real evidence of organization, a lone folding table with a stack of “course” maps, stickers, and event T-shirts. We were just in time, as the event unceremoniously kicked off and groups began sporadically blasting away down the street.

Further inspection of our map revealed less of a defined course, and more a vague suggestion of highlighted neighborhoods whose alleys needed liberating. Good enough for us; we ripped our pull-starts and unleashed our miniature machines on the nearest four-lane public thoroughfare.

The previously gloomy sky now pierced with daggers of morning sunlight, we joined another cluster of bikes as they veered off down a nearby side street. Surprisingly, after all the talk of irritated homeowners coming out to protest the mob of hooligans invading their neighborhoods, we were instead greeted by families either lining the sidewalks or perched over their backyard fences, happily cheering us on as we launched into the first set of alleys.

Smiles widened and cheers broke out when I picked the front wheel up past a group of kids, and into a jungle of overgrown bushes, blackberry vines, and knee-high weeds. Instantly the draw of this urban enduro made itself clear as we ripped through the undergrowth, vines and branches clawing at us like antibodies fighting off foreign intruders.

Eventually the tangle would recede, and our little 200cc motors could sing up to their de-governed, 30-whatever-mph top speed as we hilariously picked our way through a flotsam of refuse. It was a symphony of chaos. Intoxicated with glory, we dodged random cinder blocks, grimy couches, and abandoned shopping carts through the lingering curtain of two-stroke haze. Truly, this was the most sublime form of anarchy.

Soon enough though, the neighborhood fun-police got wise to the incoming waves of two-wheeled delinquents and made their opposition known. We passed a disgruntled homeowner standing in the alley in nothing but his morning bathrobe, scrutinizing us with a look of simultaneous awe and irritation. There were warnings of a guy throwing steel chairs at riders a couple of blocks away. And when we stopped on an inconspicuous side street for some minor bike repairs, we were kindly confronted by a lady who made herself known as “the one who went on the news last year to speak out against all this.” Her biggest complaints were a few minutes of noise, and some mud being splattered across the pristine gravel surface of the public right-of-way behind her home. Insistent though she was, I wasn’t hearing anything worth ceasing my onslaught of alley recreation.

So we carried on, as the day passed in a frenzy of adventure. We’d find ourselves lost in the labyrinth of overgrown passages, but it never took long to spot another band of roaming marauders to link up with. The rally, in truth, was a free-for-all perfected, and somehow all the chaos still led us to the aptly chosen finish line at the Alley Way Bar.

There awaited the final challenge for anyone all but completely lacking in self-preservation: a crudely constructed plywood jump that, to anyone on a suspensionless death machine, was more of a joke than any serious suggestion of flight without consequence. But ho! The siren song sings its promises of glory, and the call to Valhalla proved irresistible to our Speedfreak comrade and resident luck-pusher, Tyler Reitzer. Prior to that moment, I’d always wondered when we would meet an altitude that was beyond our skill level. Turns out, it’s somewhere around five and a half feet. The alley accepted its offering of broken man and machine, and glory was granted as Tyler sank into a handily presented wheelchair to the sound of onlookers’ thunderous applause. He thumbed his nose at death, and raised a final thumbs-up of defiance before being wheeled into the bar for a victory drink.

Even with his freshly scalped knees, our wounded friend was in agreement; it had been the perfect day. The smiles and thumbs-up had made up for the occasional chair-throwing protester, and the laughably senseless thrills easily compensated for any injuries sustained. This was the kind of fun that some would argue should be illegal. The kind that would’ve been quickly extinguished, had it continued above ground, a monster built of its own success and social-media hype. But thankfully the Alley Liberation Front had the foresight to know better, and take this last bastion of legally ambiguous depravity back under the radar. So, for now at least, it still lives there, safe from the outside world and ready to bestow foolish thrills upon any hooligan worth his weight in bad decisions—as long as you know where to look.

Source: MotorCyclistOnline.com

Touring The Andes Mountains On An Indian Scout

While riding out the Maipo Canyon in Chile, just southeast of Santiago, the Andes mountain range greets you with a rugged beauty. Sweeping canyon roads meet active volcanoes and raging white waters of the Maipo River. Although some of this canyon has been mined, there is still untamed wild lying just beyond the quarried hills.

As you make your way through the foothills of the Chilean Andes and enter the canyon, you begin to know the winds that helped shape these walls, a force named “el Raco” It is on these tremendous winds that you may see the likes of a soaring dinosaur. After all, giants still roam these mountains. If you’re lucky, perhaps you might catch a glimpse of one while leaning through a turn: the Andean condor, soaring high above on the rising thermals.

The fossil records show that Andean condors have remained nearly unchanged for millions of years.

Andean condors, one of the largest flying birds in existence, have been an extremely important cultural symbol in the Andes for thousands of years. In the high mountains, the condor represents the upper world, the heavens, one of the three realms of existence, while the puma or jaguar represents the earth, and the snake the underworld.

Condors are important symbols for the United States as well. When their numbers dwindled to a mere 22, all remaining individuals were captured and brought into captivity. It was then that captive female Andean condors (Vultur gryphus) were released into the wild in California. This project has been a success, bringing back California condors (Gymnogyps californianus) from the brink of extinction. The female Andean condors have since been recaptured and reintroduced to their native habitat in South America.


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Past conservation concerns focused on the use of lead ammunition for hunting because condors’ digestive systems are strong enough to absorb large quantities of the lead when ingested from scavenged gunshot kills. Hunter-killed carcasses often have lead remnants from lead shot or fragments from shotgun slugs, leading to secondary toxicity. Lead poisoning is apparent in the condor’s crop (an enlarged part of the esophagus where the bird stores food before digestion); reportedly it turns bright green. There has been much effort to end the use of lead ammunition within the range of Andean and California condors, but concern still exists.

Here in Chile and just across the Andes mountains into Argentina, toxic agricultural poisons like carbofuran are illegally used by ranchers to combat predators. When these carcasses are scavenged upon by condors, more deaths ensue.

Last year outside of Mendoza, Argentina, 34 Andean condors were found dead next to the corpse of a puma, all due to carbofuran. Such a tragedy is as heartbreaking as it is needless. Further education outreach and enforcement is needed, but carbofuran is extremely inexpensive and regulating such a vast land is difficult.

We need condors. Condors serve essential roles for humans as important carrion feeders that help limit the spread of disease, and with their tremendous size, their survival in the native habitat is important for ecotourism in South America.

There is no better way to have a sense for the extreme environments that these gigantic birds inhabit than riding on two wheels among the Andes. There are volcanoes to climb and hot springs to soak in, or you could simply make a lunchtime stop at Santuario del Río like I did, where you can take in the sights and sounds of the Maipo River gorge on a back patio. Although the winds of El Raco blow strong, it is the raging Rio Maipo that truly formed the canyon and now serves as the main source of water for the entire capital city of Santiago.

With surrounding horses and the huasos who ride them (pronounced “wasos,” meaning Chilean cowboys), there is a nostalgic Western feel to these country roads. Settled beneath the San José volcano is El Volcán, an old boom town that supported those working the copper and mineral mines until it was abandoned in the mid-1900s. Now succumbing to dilapidation, a rusted and crumbling tower still stands amid the tumbleweeds, giving the area an eerie, post-apocalyptic feel.

Let’s not allow creatures as grand and enigmatic as the condor to become ghosts like the deserted mining village of El Volcán. When we travel with a desire to appreciate the landscape and animals that live within it, we help preserve an ecosystem through our tourist dollars. Let those offering services know what matters to you and ride with respect into these lands, enjoying all that they have to offer, leaving no trace and taking only memories.

Source: MotorCyclistOnline.com

The Story Of A Motorcyclist’s Valued Treasure—The Wallet

There was just no getting around it any longer. The wallet I’ve had for 21 years was close to expiring. It’s sad. I noticed the subtle hints of distress about a year ago when the stitching began to come apart, loose threads sprouting out like little errant, frayed black hairs. Then, a few months ago I noticed that the main crease was wearing extremely thin and the first hint of a tear was barely visible. I was in denial, pretending I could nurse it through several more seasons of motorcycle trips by being a little more careful with it, being a little more gentle with the daily ritual of sliding it into and pulling it out of my back pocket and in and out of various riding jackets. But, as these things go, once the rip took purchase it escalated with a vengeance.


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As my trusted wallet began its rapid decline over the past few months I began to think of everywhere it’s been with me. It dawned on me that wallet had been along on every single motorcycle outing and every overseas trip I’d taken in the last 21 years. It had been there on every one of my trips up the Pacific Coast to attend the World Superbike and MotoGP races at Laguna Seca (as a matter of fact it’s older than some of the riders currently piloting factory machines on the grid). It has been tucked into the pockets of various riding jackets on myriad motorcycle trips, from arid deserts to cold mountain summits, endured sweltering heat to frigid cold. It has been through the rugged Baviaanskloof of South Africa and submerged in a stream crossing crash in the foothills of California. It crested the Great Atlas Mountains of Morocco with me as well as experienced the sublime serpentine roads of Tuscany. It was with me one night in the Pyrenees when I was caught in a torrential and frightening lightning storm that left it saturated with so much Spanish rain that all the ink-written items tucked away in its folds were turned to unintelligible rivulets of blue ink.

That wallet had been taken out and opened over the years at an endless string of gas stations to retrieve a credit card to refuel a multitude of motorcycles. It accompanied me to every domestic and international press launch I’ve attended during my motorcycle journalism career. That wallet was opened in a hospital in Italy to retrieve my Blue Shield card when I shattered my collarbone and broke five ribs after tucking the front end of a Ducati 999 at speed on the Imola circuit. And, it was my steady and loyal, nonjudgmental partner in crime whenever I had to show an officer of the law my license when caught exceeding the speed limit. It had been there, through it all, without complaint, without demands.

Perhaps that walk down memory lane will help assuage any notions of me being too sentimental over a fold of leather. If it were possible to extract them, there are enough experiences imbedded in its grain to produce a fairly interesting novel. All this sentimentality is born out of a simple reality in life; when something doesn’t cause you any anguish it’s all too easy to take it for granted—until it’s too late. Most guys reading this will no doubt consider their own wallets and the fact that these things are our dutiful companions through thick and thin. They are the things that go with us, often at speed, into our two-wheeled adventures. They are the rectangular forms we reach out and feel for when riding—through layers of leather or denim or textile—to ensure we have not left them behind at a gas station or restaurant. They share status with ignition keys and helmets as one of our most important and essential possessions.

The sojourn with my wallet started in 1991. I stumbled onto it in a fine men’s store while shopping with my girlfriend. It was so wonderfully uncomplicated; a single, thin fold of fine leather with a place for a license and three credit cards. Perfect. My interest instantly waned when I saw the dangling little white price tag read $50. I couldn’t justify spending that for a wallet. However, my girlfriend—a very sophisticated and fashionable woman—said that a wallet was a very important accessory for a man. She proffered that most males sport very little in the way of jewelry or ornamentation (this was long before tattoos were accepted into social norms) and therefore a wallet, like a watch, becomes an important symbol of status for a man. In other words, when you present your wallet it reflects something of who you are. Her words struck me as genuine and true, so I paid the then princely sum of 50 dollars and transferred all the contents of my old battered wallet into the new one. It’s true. Having a nice wallet does make you feel a little classier. Twenty-one years. I wonder what that is in wallet years? Fifty dollars. That works out to about $2.38 per.

Over the ensuing years I watched the wallet transition through various stages. The board-like stiffness fresh from the store quickly vanished. The leather gradually softened with the natural oils from my hands in the daily ritual of sliding it into and drawing it out of a plethora of pockets. It took on the natural curve of my hip and became a comfortable, almost invisible companion. Over time the leather was aged to exquisite smoothness.

Now, sadly, my dear wallet was finally giving up the ghost. The tear down the fold could be ignored no more. The only thing holding the two halves together was the silk liner with the brand name Bree vaguely visible in a black-on-black design. And so it was, that on a recent press launch to Madrid I finally decided it was time to replace her. I perused the small avenues off the main drags in search of a small shop that just might have a wallet that spoke to me. Finally, after a half day of milling about, I entered a quaint leather shop and saw it; a thin, simple, single fold-over wallet with a license area and slits for five credit cards. It was made of beautiful, soft black Spanish leather. It was on sale for 28 euros ($37).

On the return trip from Madrid I used my new wallet to obtain my boarding pass—its first official duty. I sincerely hope this wallet gets to enjoy the kind of wonderful experiences the old one did. I got to thinking about my old one, which was tucked away in my gear bag in the holds of the jet, and decided I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. Wherever the cow is that gave up some of their flesh to provide the makings of my old wallet can rest peacefully knowing that its sacrifice was put to good use. Since that wallet has served as a kind of trophy for so many of my various adventures in life, it deserves to be on display. Therefore, I have decided to frame it.

Source: MotorCyclistOnline.com