Tag Archives: West U.S.

Riding Central New Mexico

Astronomy, History and Great Roads

motorcycle ride New Mexico
Central New Mexico is a motorcycling wonderland offering up environmental and cultural diversity only found in the American Southwest. Photos by the author.

I stand over the open side case of my BMW R 1200 GS outside the Black’s Smuggler Winery in Bosque, New Mexico. I carefully wrap the bottle of local cabernet in a t-shirt and pack it in the middle of my left side box. It has become a tradition to bring my wife a bottle of the regional wine from any state I visit without her. If that means packing a little lighter for the ride, so be it. This is early in my trek through west-central New Mexico, so the bottle of red will be my traveling companion for several hundred beautiful miles.

I head south through the arid Southwestern landscape, cutting through a portion of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge. This terrain lives up to the common perception of New Mexico. However, I know that my ride will encompass much more than desert — on a map my 400 miles will trace a big letter C through the diversity that is central New Mexico.

motorcycle ride New Mexico
Map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The first real town on my route is Socorro. The historic city sits in the Rio Grande Valley and is the seat of Socorro County. There is copious history in this region, much of it tied to the strong Mexican influence. The name translates “to give aid or to give succor,” which is a reflection of the town’s early history of importance to the earliest of Mexican immigrants, including the 1598 expedition led by Don Juan de Oñate y Salazar.

The sun is low in the sky as I roll west out of Socorro on U.S. Route 60. The road is just a bit curvier, the grass is greener and mountains emerge in the horizon. Just after I ride through tiny Magdalena, juniper trees and other low evergreens dot the landscape. The Tres Montosas peaks rise out of the high chaparral landscape to my right.

Datil New Mexico
It has been a while since a wrench has been turned in this garage in Datil.

Just as I am getting used to the treed horizon, the evergreens subside and something otherworldly replaces them. Huge, white bowls stand like strange, metallic mushrooms on the expansive Plains of San Agustin. I am rolling into the Very Large Array, a world-renowned astronomical radio observatory. Each movable antenna is 25 meters in diameter. The observatory, which dates back to the early 1970s, has made key observations of black holes, pulsars and other intergalactic intrigues. The white bowls are so spread out as to be on the horizon for several miles of my ride.

Very Large Array (VLA)
The astronomical dishes of the Very Large Array (VLA) rise impressively out of the New Mexican desert.

Once clear of the VLA, I ride up in elevation and vegetation to my stop for the night. Datil is a tiny town sitting at an elevation of 7,400 feet. I walk into the small general store that also serves as the check-in desk for the Eagle Guest Ranch. I am told by the amiable man handing me the room key that the guest ranch serves as the annual encampment for a big Moto Guzzi rally. I shed my gear in my room before heading to the guest ranch’s restaurant, which has the reputation as one of the best steak houses in New Mexico. Not having enough appetite for one of their large, fresh-cut slabs of meat, I opt for what turns out to be a delectable steak sandwich and a cold dark lager.

Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil
A room in the Eagle Guest Ranch in Datil serves as my stopover for the ride.

The morning air is cool as I roll out of Datil to the west. This stretch of U.S. 60 is lined with a mix of juniper and pine trees and the elevation brings a nice green hue that sits in subtle contrast to the desert and chaparral terrains of the prior day’s ride. Long, sweeping turns are a great warm-up to what will prove to be a supremely entertaining riding day.

Signs indicate I am approaching the aptly named Pie Town. I ride into what is basically a two pie-shop town that has garnered national attention for its quirkiness and mouth-watering baked treats. It has even been featured on CBS’s “Sunday Morning.” It is too early for pie, and I am not much of a sweets guy anyway, but I have to stop and visit the famous bakeries. Fun stuff.

Pie Town, New Mexico
World-famous baked goods are served up in tiny Pie Town, New Mexico.

With the aroma of crust and filling still clinging to my riding gear, I head farther west on U.S. 60. Again, the trees subside into high grasslands as I make my way to Quemado. Another tiny, inhabited dot on the map, Quemado features a small hotel, a few restaurants, a school and the Sacred Heart Catholic Church with its twin bells and historic cemetery. The quaint hamlet spells the end of my jaunt on U.S. 60.

I have been looking forward to the ride on State Route 32 since the employee at the Eagle Guest Ranch told me that it was the favorite stretch for the riders attending the Guzzi rally each year. Heading south out of Quemado, the road begins with sweeping turns and expansive views of the New Mexican grasslands. However, in just a few short miles, I climb into a beautiful pine forest. The trees grow larger with the climb in elevation that also brings the most winding and entertaining tarmac of the ride so far.

The beautiful road tops out at Jewett Gap, which sits at an elevation of more than 8,200 feet. After that crest, I start my curvy descent through rock canyons and then beside Apache Creek as I head farther south on my C-shaped New Mexican tour. I think back to the muted browns of the start of the ride as I take in the vibrant greens of this mountain region.

I ride into the small, bustling logging and ranching town of Reserve. I gas up and have a chat with the counter worker who is intrigued by the big GS at the pump. After telling him that I am heading south to Silver City, he tells me that I should take the short ride west past Luna where there is a great view of the entire valley. Of course I’m up for that, and I head west. The ride to Luna is fun, and the end game, that overlook, is all that the gas station attendant said it would be.

motorcycle ride New Mexico
The elevated view eastward over the town of Luna is panoramic and enchanting.

After retracing my ride to the east, I turn south on U.S. Route 180, which will be my route through the Gila National Forest all the way to Silver City. After dropping out of the forest, I come upon the Aldo Leopold Vista Picnic Area. Leopold has long been one of my favorite nature writers and his book, “A Sand County Almanac,” holds a special place in my heart and in my bookcase back home. The views from the vista are massive and their unspoiled nature would make Leopold proud. After a quiet visit to the vista, I am back on the road. As I roll though a beautiful mix of environments, I can’t help but think of some of my favorite Leopold quotes. The most fitting for this ride may be, “Wilderness is the one kind of playground which mankind cannot build to order.” Well said, Aldo.

downtown Silver City New Mexico
Silver City’s central Bullard Street is lined with pastel-hued adobe structures.

The remaining 40 miles to Silver City winds through grasslands, rocky outcroppings and ranches as I trace the bottom curve of the big letter C. I roll into Silver City under the arching welcoming sign to the city’s downtown. In comparison to the tiny towns I have ridden through on this trip, Silver City seems like a metropolis. OK, that’s an overstatement, but the town of more than 10,000 residents is active and vibrant. Silver City is home to Western New Mexico University and, like most college towns, there is an added youthful vigor. That energy permeates the town’s historic ambiance and Southwestern flair to create a delightful cultural mix. There are even stately Victorian homes in the historic district.

Silver City, New Mexico
Silver City is a bustling college town boasting authentic Mexican food and fun lodging.

I realize that it has been a huge faux pas that I have not had a Mexican meal on my tour of New Mexico. I pull in front of the Jalisco Café to remedy that oversight. I take in the colorful Mexican-themed décor as I wait in ever heightening anticipation for my chili relleno. It did not disappoint.

It is with a full stomach that I head out on the final stage to complete the bottom, eastward arc of my big letter C tour of New Mexico. I roll onto State Route 152, and soon realize that I have saved some of the best riding of the trip for last. I carve my way on the narrow and winding road through rocky passes, and juniper and oak thickets before dropping down back into grasslands and big views.

Silver City log cabin
A well-preserved log cabin highlights Silver City’s rich history.

As I end my tour where the winding road meets Interstate 25, I think about the nature of motorcycling. If I had ridden from my start in Bosque to where I am sitting at the Caballo Reservoir on the interstate, it would have been a short, direct, boring two-hour ride. But, in making that speedy letter I into an indirect letter C, I have done what motorcyclists have relished since the dawn of the sport — explore off the beaten path. What could be done on a superslab in two hours took me two days, and that’s just the way I like it. I’ll tell my wife about it when I deliver the well-traveled bottle of New Mexico cabernet.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Favorite Ride: Mineral King and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

Yokohl Valley Road
Yokohl Valley Road presents a series of serpentine switchbacks as it curves narrowly through groves of oak trees. Tar snakes, yes. Traffic, no. Photos by the author.

The mission was simple: See some scenery, carve some curves and soak up some cool temperatures before the summer heat arrived.

Three of us left our homes in different corners of Los Angeles, California; I was on a KTM 1090 Adventure R, my brother was riding my BMW R 1200 GS and our friend was on a Honda ST1300, and we met at the Halfway House café, a popular stop for weekend riders. After a hearty breakfast — of the kind none of us ever eats on a non-riding day — we headed northeast through a string of sweet winding roads. Traversing Vasquez Canyon, Bouquet Canyon, Spunky Canyon and San Francisquito Canyon, we made our way through Lake Elizabeth and headed down into the wide Antelope Valley.

Sequoia Kings Canyon california motorcycle ride
A map of the route taken, by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

The cool morning air rose to warming levels by the time we’d run the long straight roads that climb past Willow Springs, through a forest of wind turbines to the town of Tehachapi, where we gassed up and hydrated. Then, it was down wiggling Woodford-Tehachapi Road — pausing to admire the famed Tehachapi Loop, a railroad engineering wonder that curly-cues a length of track around itself, and the César E. Chávez National Monument, a library, museum and memorial of the California farm unionizer.

I’d been impressed by the roadworthiness of the 1090 Adventure R. My impressions improved as we began the tight twists of Caliente Bodfish Road, a narrow two-lane series of sharp curves that brought out the beast in it. Mindful of the livestock roaming along the unfenced sides of the road, and not wanting to dust my riding partners, I modulated the throttle as we rose up and over the crest and proceeded north toward Lake Isabella.

KTM 1090 Adventure R
The KTM 1090 Adventure R had intrigued me most for its off-road capability, but it was on the twisties that I was most impressed.

Wildflowers carpeted the flat fields of Walker Basin, where we paused to take beauty shots of the bikes and complain about the rising heat. Knowing we had a lot of miles left to cover, and certain it was going to get warmer before it got cooler, we dashed down the mountain, past Lake Isabella, to air conditioning, cold drinks and lunch in Kernville at Cheryl’s Diner.

Revived, we scooted out of Kernville, running north along the banks of the Kern River up Mountain Highway 99, watching the trees change from willow and sycamore to oak and finally pine. This higher-speed road carves up an increasingly narrow ravine, the rock walls closing in as the corners tighten. Riding past the turnoff for Sherman Pass, we skirted Johnsondale, left 99 for the seasonally closed M-90, and summitted at 7,300 feet near Ponderosa.

Walker Basin along the Caliente Bodfish Road
Despite the early summer heat, the fields of Walker Basin along the Caliente Bodfish Road were still resplendent with yellow wildflowers.

The 25 miles of State Route 190 downhill to the town of Springville may be the most dramatic motorcycle road in California. Countless tight corners, including some tricky decreasing-radius turns, drop almost 6,000 feet in elevation through pine forests and past trickling waterfalls.

We gassed up again and guzzled cool drinks under a broiling sun in Springville before running the last leg of our first ride day — the splendid, high-speed M-296/Yokohl Valley Drive, a poorly paved length of pavement with some extremely tight hairpin turns that crosses oak-dotted ranchland. When that deposited us on State Route 198, we hooked right, slid past the edge of glistening Lake Kaweah, and landed in Three Rivers, where we’d booked rooms for the night.

Yokohl Valley
David, astride the BMW R 1200 GS, gets a good look at the soft suede hills of Yokohl Valley.

We’d done a little more than 250 miles from the Halfway House. An ample meal at Sequoia Cider Mill prepared us for a good long sleep.

Again mindful of the heat, we saddled up early and rode north to the turnoff for Mineral King. Once a prosperous silver mining area — hence its name — Mineral King got national attention in the 1960s when the Walt Disney Company selected it to build a massive mountain ski resort. Environmentalists intervened; Disney departed.

What remains are the granite cliffs, groves of giant sequoias, rustic cabins dating from the 1870s and a narrow, patchy length of pavement that climbs 7,000 feet in a short 28 miles. It’s a slow, uneven road snaking through dense forests, past cabins hidden in the trees, hugging the side of a canyon wall that features sheer drops to the east fork of the Kaweah River far below.

giant redwood
A few miles uphill from the hot flats of Three Rivers, there suddenly appear redwood trees. This hardy survivor—the tree, that is—had been there for quite a while.

At the road’s end, in an alpine valley dotted with wildflowers and interlaced with gentle streams, we paused to fill our lungs with crisp mountain air and take the obligatory photographs. Hikers setting out for the peaks were headed for 11,000 feet and higher. We mounted up and picked our way slowly back down the hill.

Soon we were on Generals Highway, entering the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks area — I was getting to use my lifetime “senior” pass for the first time — and biting into a delightful lunch at the recently redesigned Wuksachi Lodge. An hour later, we had the keys to our cabins at John Muir Lodge. While my companions headed for the showers, I did an hour-long hike among the giant sequoias at Grant Grove, communing with the silence as the sun went down and the temperature dropped.

John Muir Lodge, high among the redwoods in Sequoia National Park
It was dusk and a chill was settling down as we parked the bikes and checked into our cabins at John Muir Lodge, high among the redwoods in Sequoia National Park.

Morning broke cold and damp, and it was 45 degrees as we walked to breakfast. It was colder and foggier when we saddled up and headed down East Kings Canyon Road toward the turn for State Route 245. Ordinarily a deliciously twisty downhill run through the towns of Pinehurst and Badger, this well-maintained mountain road loses elevation quickly through a 35-mile series of sweeping curves, each with its own impressive view of the great San Joaquin Valley.

This cold morning, though, the air temperature was just above freezing, the mist had turned to fog and the fog was turning to rain. We proceeded slowly, some of us maybe just a little smug that we had brought proper rain gear.

Old Stage Saloon at Fountain Springs
The Old Stage Saloon at Fountain Springs, said to have been founded in 1858, is famous for its fine food and strong cocktails. Our bad luck it was closed the afternoon we passed.

The unfriendly weather left us briefly as we paralleled State Route 99, but returned as we picked up Old Stage Road and climbed through Glennville and onto State Route 155 into Alta Sierra. Through a pleasant period of weak sunshine, I was able again to make the most of the KTM, carving corners as the two-lane rural roads took us up from farmland to grazing land to pine groves.

Soon the freezing rain had reduced visibility to a few bike lengths. We crawled over the summit and were still chattering in our helmets when we stopped again at Cheryl’s Diner in Kernville, this time to warm up with hot drinks.

We still had the southbound Caliente Bodfish Road to enjoy, and our reverse route through Tehachapi and Lake Elizabeth. But we’d already gotten more than we came for. Good scenery? Curves to carve? Cool temperatures? Check, check, check. Mission accomplished!

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Stage Route to Deadwood: Tracing a Historic Route to the Black Hills

Cheyenne Wyoming boots
There are at least 17 oversized cowboy boots in Cheyenne, which provides the interested visitor the opportunity for a scavenger hunt to locate all of them. Photos by the author.

Cheyenne’s population of 60,000 more than doubles during its 10-day Frontier Days rodeo, which took place a week after I arrived. As it happened, I rode into town a day after the city’s celebration of 150 years of Wyoming statehood in conjunction with the four-year restoration of its gilded domed statehouse. The crowds were gone, so I dodged a bullet. I was here to follow the stage out of town, but first, to take a looksee.

Cheyenne sprouted along the Union Pacific Railroad as it expanded its transcontinental reach. The Romanesque circa-1887 depot is a testament to that history, and a resulting National Historic Landmark. Striding around the Depot Plaza are eight-foot-high concrete cowboy boots painted by local artists to depict regional and state history. An objective, I understand, is to embark on a scavenger hunt to locate all 17 or so oversized boots stepping around the city. My visit to the Old West Museum provided me with an appreciation of the rugged rodeo riders who consider being battered and bruised a badge of honor. It’s sort of my feeling after another cross-country ride, especially as I age.

Cheyenne 1887 Union Pacific Depot
Cheyenne’s 1887 Union Pacific Depot is a registered National Historic Landmark.

My iron horse would have to do in lieu of the cowpoke transportation around here. My purpose was to follow one of the more storied stage routes, the Cheyenne to Black Hills Stage Line. The stage run began in 1876 to link the railroad at Cheyenne to the gold fields surrounding the new town of Deadwood, but only lasted 11 years as new rail lines began to join the two cities. The 300-mile trip was made in 50 hours. Using modern horsepower I could likely do it in five, but I was here to poke along.

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

Rocky outcroppings define the landscape north of Cheyenne, especially at Register Cliff where Oregon Trail pioneers inscribed their signatures into the bleached limestone. Approaching Fort Laramie I encountered a bowstring-style iron truss bridge spanning the North Platte River built in 1875. I walked its wooden planks, thinking I was likely treading where the wagon wheels of the stage line rolled.

bowstring style iron truss bridge dating from 1875 over the North Platte River helped improve access to Fort Laramie
An army-built bowstring style iron truss bridge dating from 1875 over the North Platte River helped improve access to Fort Laramie for the stage line.

The Oregon, Mormon and Bozeman Trails, the Overland Stage, the Cheyenne to Black Hills Line and the Pony Express made Fort Laramie a busy outpost on the frontier. Fort Laramie began as a fur trading post established by William Sublette’s Rocky Mountain Fur Company in 1834. It became a military garrison between 1849 and 1885, and a major staging area for conflicts and treaties with the Plains Indians.

stage route marker
Marker along the old stage line between Cheyenne and Deadwood.

Actors in period costumes strolled the grounds. I entered the Soldier’s Barroom and met a gent in character, laying out playing cards of the era upon the bar. I sidled up for a sarsaparilla, and we got to talking about the West’s adventurous opportunists, Jim Bridger, Chief Red Cloud and John “Portuguese” Phillips, the last of whom burst into the officers’ quarters on Christmas Eve in 1866 after riding four days through a blizzard to tell of the Fetterman Massacre at Fort Phil Kearney, where 83 men were slaughtered by the Sioux and Cheyenne. History comes alive here.

Soldier’s Barroom at Fort Laramie
A re-enactor in character serves up sarsaparilla in the Soldier’s Barroom at Fort Laramie.

Rawhide Buttes Station north of Fort Laramie was the next stage stop. Although I was content to stop between gas fill-ups on a long haul, the stage paused every 10 miles or so to change horses and feed the passengers. Then, with a crack of the whip, they were off once again. Dime novelist Edward L. Wheeler described the essence of stagecoach travel well in an 1877 missive:

“Rumbling noisily through the black canyon road to Deadwood, at an hour long past midnight, came the stage from Cheyenne, loaded down with passengers…there were six plunging, snarling horses attached, whom the veteran Jehu on the box, managed with the skill of a circus man, and all the time the crack, snap, of his long-lashed gad made the night resound as like so many pistol shots.”

I crossed into Niobrara County on U.S. Route 85, the least populated county in the least populated state in the nation. I approached Lusk, population 1,567. Where did all these folks come from? Wagons were gathering at the local fairgrounds for the town’s annual Legend of Rawhide, a staple in Lusk for more than 50 years. Corn hole tournaments and a team-driving contest amused the locals during the pageant. Their Pioneer Museum has on display one of the two existing original Concord coaches of the 30 used on the Cheyenne to Black Hills Line. The other resides in the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, Wyoming, an affiliation of the Smithsonian. William Cody used it in his Wild West Show.

An original wagon of the Cheyenne to Black Hills Stage Line is on display at the Stagecoach Museum in Lusk.
An original wagon of the Cheyenne to Black Hills Stage Line is on display at the Stagecoach Museum in Lusk.

Not far out of Lusk I encountered historical signage for the stage line’s Hat Creek Station, where it’s said Buffalo Bill and Wild Bill bedded down. Also among those of note who traveled along the stage road was Martha “Calamity” Jane Cannary, once a bullwhacker disguised as a male, although she was mostly a drifter known for her tall tales and delusional relationship with Wild Bill Hickok.

Deadwood cemetery Calamity Jane Wild Bill
No visit to Deadwood is complete without trudging up the hill to Mount Moriah Cemetery and visiting the final resting place of the notorious, including Wild Bill and Calamity Jane.

Sometime after leaving the Hat Creek Station historical site it dawned on me that all the power lines had disappeared, providing an unadulterated prairie expanse to view. The only ranches were miles down dusty side roads. No vehicles were in sight for miles ahead or behind, just me and the breezes rippling the prairie grassland and softly patting my cheeks behind the windscreen, bringing fragrant aromas of sage and lupine. The air was so pristine not even bugs splatted the windshield. One archivist of the stage journey described the scene this way: “There is something on the Plains that cannot be found elsewhere, something which can be felt better than described, something you must go there to find.” These are reasons why I wear an open-face helmet while on tour.

Lusk 1880 log cabin
The first log cabin in the region around Lusk was built in 1880, since relocated to the town park.

Some 60 miles later Newcastle intruded on my highway reverie. Another stage station is preserved here, the Jenney Stockade Cabin, dating from 1875. Motorcycle traffic picked up as I closed in on the Black Hills. Riders I talked to were coming from Devils Tower and Custer. Eighteen miles from Newcastle is Four Corners, site of at least one stage robbery in 1878. Since the stage was often carrying gold, highwaymen would lie in wait at favorite spots like this.

As I entered South Dakota, the highway finally bent into delicious curves. But they can be dangerous curves, evidenced by a trauma helicopter that had landed because a motorcyclist was down. Roadside memorials of white crosses are prevalent throughout the Black Hills. A cattle drive crossing the road ahead of me was another reason for caution — I slowed to approach cautiously so as not to spook them, but was too late to capture a photo.

Black Hills
Trees and a red rock mesa mark the verge of the Black Hills entering into South Dakota.

Lead (pronounced Leed) was named for the heavy ore deposits in the area. One of the largest gold mining pits in the Western Hemisphere is on view here. Noted author and humorist Ambrose Bierce managed one of the placer mining companies. He related in a newspaper article how he himself was a victim of an attempted robbery while carrying $30,000 in cash on the trail outside of Deadwood, when his accompanying messenger shot the perpetrator dead.

Deadwood South Dakota
The end of the line in Deadwood.

Numerous notorious characters got themselves shot dead just up the road in Deadwood, and I trudged the hills of Mt. Moriah Cemetery, where lie the remains of Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. The rest of Deadwood is a tourist scene I just as well avoided. You can’t even park on historic Main Street. The whole town has been described as illegal anyway since it lies within the territory granted to Native Americans in the 1868 Treaty of Laramie. One can blame Custer, who led an expedition that discovered gold here in 1874. Disputes over these Black Hills are ever ongoing, and have reached the Supreme Court on several occasions. Regardless, Deadwood became the end of the line for the stage. Mail from Cheyenne was delivered and gold from the mines transferred to strong boxes and the cycle repeated itself for the return trip.

On the northern fringe of Deadwood I encountered a scene from the movie “Dances With Wolves” at an interpretive center called Tatanka, where giant bronze sculptures of bison pursued by Indians are gathered on a hillside overlooking an expansive view of the valley below. Indeed, it was Kevin Costner who commissioned this artwork and financed the center. It’s a fitting tribute to Native American culture, and a fitting end to my ride along the stage route to Deadwood.

Tatanka—Story of the Bison
On the northern edge of Deadwood appears Tatanka—Story of the Bison, featuring bronze sculptures of said buffalo pursued by Indian riders.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Palms to Pines to the Pacific on California Route 74

Palms to Pines Highway
The Palms to Pines Highway is just what the name would indicate. It’s a climb and descent through a wide spectrum of environments. Photos by the author.

Gassing up in the already-toasty Palm Desert morning sun, it is hard to imagine that I will be riding in the cool, tall pines in less than an hour, and visions of serpentine hairpins dance inside my steaming Shoei. The rapid elevation change on the famous (some would say infamous) California State Route 74 is a major part of its appeal to motorcyclists.

Route 74 is the stuff of motorcycling lore. This is not the Tail of the Dragon; it’s the whole mythological creature. The dragon’s head breathes fire into the Coachella Valley. Its claws cling resolutely to the rugged cliffs above the desert. Its wings spread into the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains, and its coiled tail cascades down the Santa Ana Mountains to dip in the cool waters of the Pacific. OK, enough metaphor, let’s get this ride started.

California Route 74 map
California Route 74 snakes from Palm Desert to the Pacific Ocean. Map of the route taken by Bill Tipton/compartmaps.com.

Palms to Pines

Yes, summer is hot in the Coachella Valley desert. The upside to spending time in the upscale town of Palm Desert in the dog days is that as the mercury rises, the resort prices plummet. I am fresh off a great night’s sleep in an air-conditioned suite that cost me a fraction of what it would have in the winter. I’ve chosen Palm Desert as my staging point since it is the true gateway to the mountains through which Route 74 carves.

Palm Desert
Palm Desert is the logical starting point for the westward Palms to Pines to the Pacific ride.

I ride on palm-lined streets skirted by sprawling golf resorts on my way to the base of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains. Just as the road starts to coil, I pass a sign that warns of “Sharp Curves and Steep Grades.” While motorcyclists consider that kind of verbiage an advertisement, not warning, it is a prologue that should be read earnestly by those of us on two wheels. There will be several subtle and not-so-subtle reminders along this westward trek that the 74 is a route that demands respect.

California Route 74
Signage warns of the steep and serpentine nature of Route 74.

Route 74 starts with a bang. The hairpins that grace the mountains climbing out of the desert are remarkably tight. I carve through gray rocks and increasing foliage as I use only the lower gears on the big BMW GS. There are numerous pullouts for slow vehicles, but I encounter few of those as I got an early morning start on this mid-week day. The road is well-paved and narrow. The sheer number of curves as well as the variety of turn types requires me to stay vigilant.

California Route 74
The climb out of the Coachella Valley is rock-lined and spectacular.

After about a dozen miles of these supremely entertaining curves, I roll upon the Coachella Valley Vista Point. It is not often that a rider gets to relive a great stretch of road so immediately. Looking down from the vista point, the road I just traveled resembles that ribbon candy that so many of us found in our Christmas stockings as children. When I can finally stop staring at the serpentine asphalt, I raise my gaze to a truly impressive and panoramic view of the vast desert valley from which I have just ascended. As I walk away from the rock wall of the overlook, I notice a bronze placard on a granite stone. The sign is an eloquent plea for motorists to respect the road and ride or drive safely. A second powerful reminder.

placard at the Coachella Valley Vista Point
A placard at the Coachella Valley Vista Point gives travelers information and a warning.

After the viewpoint, the winding road continues for several miles before the route relaxes a bit on the mountaintop. The road is now lined not by palms, but rather by towering pines. This part of Route 74 carries the name “Palms to Pines Scenic Highway” for good reason. At one point, I intersect the Pacific Crest Trail, which has enticed distance hikers and soul-searchers for decades. The PCT is the setting for the intriguing movie “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon. The film is based on a memoir of self-discovery and healing by Cheryl Strayed.

More mountain riding leads me past the blue waters of Lake Hemet. The morning shadows shiver on the lake’s glassy surface as I stop for a look. I chat with a maintenance worker who tells me the lake is a favorite for some “Hollywood folks” like Halle Berry and the Kardashians.

Lake Hemet is a cool respite in the California hills.
Lake Hemet is a cool respite in the California hills.

There are some small clusters of mountain cabins as I continue. Crisp, cool air blows through my mesh riding jacket and I notice that the bike’s display indicates an air temperature of 66 degrees. I can’t help thinking back to how that same instrument was reading 92 as I pulled out of Palm Desert earlier in the morning.

I reach a crossroads at the tiny community of Mountain Center. A left turn at the Y spells the continuation of Route 74. A right turn leads to another leg of the Palms to Pines Scenic Highway. While my ultimate goal in this tour is to find my way to the Pacific on Route 74, I can’t resist the temptation of sampling the curves on an out-and-back jaunt on Route 243. As I trace my way to and through the mountain community of Idyllwild, I am supremely glad I took this side adventure. I ride about 25 miles toward Banning before retracing my curvaceous path back to Route 74. Fifty miles well spent. 

Palms to Pines
The scenic designation of the Palms to Pines is spot-on.

Back on my intended path, I embark on a spirited descent off the mountain range. After riding more miles through the conifer-rich environment, I roll into a wide valley. The San Jacinto Valley rests as the midpoint of this ride. To extend that early metaphor, this is the saddle on the back of the dragon. The valley city of Hemet serves as my stop for a spot of lunch and a bit of map study before the next leg of my westward ride to the sea.

For a motorcyclist, that’s what a GPS map route should look like.
For a motorcyclist, that’s what a GPS map route should look like.

Ortega Highway to the Sea

For a while after Hemet, Route 74 becomes flat and sedate as it cuts through the communities, farms and ranches in the San Jacinto Valley. It even blends with Interstate 215 for a brief stretch. However, after ducking under Interstate 15, the fun begins again as I embark on the segment of the road that carries the Ortega Highway designation. 

This portion of the ride begins with a little reflection and reminiscing for me. I pull into The Lookout Roadhouse, which is a popular stop for motorcyclists either before or after riding the Ortega Highway. I take a seat on the rocks outside the tiny diner and gaze down at the expansive Lake Elsinore. Yes, Lake Elsinore was the setting for much of the action in the ultra-classic, maybe quintessential, motorcycle movie “On Any Sunday.” As a preteen, the 1971, Bruce Brown-directed movie stoked my burning, lifelong passion for motorcycling. The place also served as the inspiration for the naming of the sport-changing Honda Elsinore motocross bike. That screaming machine became one of the unattainable objects of my adolescent desire (the one that didn’t wear cutoff jeans and halter tops). 

The Lookout high above Lake Elsinore is a popular hangout for motorcyclists.
The Lookout high above Lake Elsinore is a popular hangout for motorcyclists.

When I finally pull myself away from visions of Steve McQueen, Malcolm Smith and silver Honda 2-strokes, I am ready to tackle the Ortega Highway. I am fully aware that the Ortega has a reputation – not just for great curves, but also for a healthy dose of danger. It has even been purported to be haunted. I stop at a sign beside the road placed there by the family of a fallen rider. It is yet another reminder that discretion, attention and moderation are needed on this road. This stretch of Route 74 has had more than its share of motorcycle tragedies over the years. It is something that I will keep in the forefront of my mind as I ride to the Pacific.

Ortega Highway
The Ortega Highway portion of the Palms to Pines to the Pacific ride demands heightened caution for motorcyclists.

The Ortega is every bit as fun and challenging as the eastern Palms to Pines segment. I find the road surface a bit more variable than in the mountains east of Hemet. Some of the turns are deceptively tight. A road feature that I find reassuring is the inclusion of a heavy rumble strip between the yellow lines in the center of the road. It is a noisy reminder for cars and trucks to stay on their side.

The ride in the Cleveland National Forest is beautiful. A mix of pines, massive oaks and thick underbrush line the wandering tarmac as it passes through the Santa Ana Mountains. This heavily wooded but dry forest is particularly susceptible to massive wildfires and I ride by several “extreme fire danger” signs. I also ride intermittently beside creeks, rivers and small lakes. There are lots of reasons to stop, look and refocus before continuing the descent toward the Pacific on this western incarnation of the dragon’s tail. 

Ortega Highway motorcycle ride
The high chaparral terrain of the lower Cleveland National Forest speaks to the diversity of this ride.

My mountain ride becomes decidedly more urban as I approach the ocean. I ride though San Juan Capistrano before making my final roll into the beautiful Dana Point Harbor. I let the BMW rest in the shade of the palm trees of Doheny State Beach as I watch the surfers pulling their boards from car tops. “On Any Sunday” meets “The Endless Summer.” Documentarian Bruce Brown would be proud.

Doheny State Beach
Doheny State Beach is where the tarmac ends and the Pacific Ocean begins.

Riding California Route 74 is a motorcyclist’s dream. The diversity, the views, the curves and the thrills are magnetic. It is a ride that demands your respect, attention and discretion, but the payoff is one of the best motorcycle adventures in the West.

Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point Harbor is the picturesque endgame of the westward Route 74 ride.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

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

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

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

Northern Utah Loops

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
Northern Utah is an enticing mix of high country views, rugged mountains, intriguing history and fantastic roads. Photos by the author.

I unfold a Utah map on my outdoor table at the Main Street Deli in Park City’s bustling downtown. After placing my gyro sandwich plate over the state’s southern half, I study the upper portion of the map. With my yellow highlighter, I carefully trace out my two enticingly twisty, yet distinctly different loop rides. One emanates southeast of Park City and the other extends to the northeast.

This picturesque hamlet will be my home base for an exploration of Utah’s high country. Nestled in the mountains due east of Salt Lake City, Park City was the site of much of the competitive activity of the 2002 Winter Olympics. The town rests at the base of the ski run-lined mountains that are its winter lifeblood.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
Downtown Park City is full of restaurants and shops housed in historic brick buildings.
Northern Utah motorcycle ride
Northern Utah motorcycle ride

Park City buzzes with activity in all seasons. In winter, ski boots and fur-lined parkas are the attire de rigueur. However, mid-summer is the perfect time to pull on the riding boots and armored jacket and hit the road. The upscale village offers (slightly) discounted lodging for summer activities, like my planned double-loop foray into some of the most varied and striking motorcycle riding the Southwest has to offer.

After wiping the Greek tzatziki sauce from my whiskers, I am ready to throw a leg over my BMW R 1200 GS for an afternoon ride.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The historic Miners Hospital in Park City is now a community center hosting a variety of meetings and activities.

The Southern Loop – Wide Open Spaces

Following a short ride east through the historic buildings, ski chalets and bustling activities of Park City, I start my ride on U.S. Route 40. The long, sweeping corners are lined with grasslands and a wide variety of summer wildflowers. In no time, I am riding with the blue waters of the Jordanelle Reservoir to my left. The substantial body of water is virtually treeless, offering up miles of views.

Just a few miles after the reservoir, I roll through clean and tidy Heber City. Like most of the Mormon-founded towns in Utah, Heber City features a mix of modern homes and buildings as well as historic pioneer-era structures.

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

After Heber City, the human element fades, and the grasslands and low trees again define the landscape. Traffic is refreshingly light, and the undulating pavement is smooth and fun. The farther southeast I ride on U.S. 40, the curvier the tarmac becomes. This is a relaxing ride that requires little on the technical riding front, but offers much in terms of long-perspective visuals.

Strawberry Reservoir is the next notable water feature on the ride and it is substantially more expansive then the Jordanelle. I make the turn into the Strawberry Reservoir recreation area, and stop by the U.S. Forest Service depot that rests at the entrance to the area. The tidy Forest Service facility is a treasure-trove of information on the Dominguez–Escalante Expedition of 1776. The Spanish expedition was conducted to find and map a route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the Spanish missions in California.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The 1776 Dominguez–Escalante Expedition sites highlight the ride.

The paved roads that flank the reservoir are too much to resist, and I spend a fair amount of time exploring the lake’s shoreline. Having heard of the great views and interesting endgame offered after a ride south of Strawberry Reservoir on Forest Road 42, I decide to give the big BMW a little light dirt duty. The well-groomed 10-mile gravel and dirt road ultimately leads to the entertaining and paved Sheep Creek Road. The road turns out to be a wonderfully winding stretch that is virtually devoid of traffic, and yes, the views are spectacular.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
Sheep Creek Road is a serpentine ribbon through the undulating high chaparral landscape.

So what about that interesting endgame? I visit the strange, semi-submerged ghost town of Thistle, which was completely flooded when a massive landslide dammed the Spanish Fork River in the 1980s. After exploring the wet ruins and imbibing the eerie ambiance, I retrace my ride back to Strawberry Reservoir. This out-and-back is something you can omit from the ride if you are not comfortable with a short foray off of the tarmac.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The partially submerged town of Thistle is a fascinating and surreal stop.

I rejoin U.S. 40 for several more miles of sweeping turns accented with outcroppings of rock formations and low cliffs before heading north on State Route 208. After that stretch, I head back toward Park City on State Route 35. This northwestern ride is a delightful climb back into the mountains. The terrain morphs from grasslands to chaparral to forestland in a span of about 40 often-curvy miles. That forested segment would be a foreshadowing of the next day’s ride.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
Northern Utah’s roads offer up panoramic views punctuated with snow-laced mountains.

I roll back into Park City after 230 miles of moto entertainment. I settle into my room at the Shadow Ridge Resort Hotel and then shower up for a walk to the downtown district for dinner and to catch the Mark Cohn concert at the historic Egyptian Theater. The revived theater is an intimate 300-seat venue, which, in addition to concerts, serves as a site for the annual Sundance Film Festival. Both Cohn and the Egyptian prove to be completely enjoyable.

My day ends with a local microbrew and then a slow and satisfying walk, not “in Memphis” like Cohn had just crooned, but rather through the cool night air of Park City. The stroll back to my hotel is a fine culmination to a fantastic day.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The historic Egyptian Theater is an entertainment staple in Park City.

The Northern Loop – Mountain Lakes and Waterfalls

I intentionally leave a full day for the second of my loop rides. Map study and Internet searches have revealed a full slate of reasons to throw down a kickstand along the route. Mountain lakes, rivers, waterfalls and forest vistas are on tap.

I leave Park City in the same direction as the day before, but just a few miles free of the town, I start my northwestern sojourn into the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest. Just miles into my ride on State Route 150, also known as the Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, it becomes crystal clear just how different this ride will be than that of the prior day.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest covers nearly 2.5 million acres.

The long, lazy sweepers of the lower loop have been replaced with tighter, more technical corners on this northern ride. The evergreens that line the roadway increase in height with the rise in the elevation. Vibrant forest greens color my ride into the Uinta Mountains.

The blue-green waters of Beaver Creek skirt the early miles of the climb up  Route 150. When the route turns northward, it is the Provo River that flows along the ride. At about the 40-mile point in the loop the rushing and tumbling Provo River Falls are a great first stop.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The cold waters of the Provo River Falls cascade below towering evergreens.

After the falls, the road becomes increasingly twisty and entertaining. There are even a fair number of hairpins to keep things lively. The traffic is a bit heavier than I had experienced on the southern loop, but it is far from frustratingly congested. Much of the traffic that I encounter is made up of other happy motorcyclists.

Deep blue mountain lakes begin to dot the alpine landscape, and each one offers its own unique visual appeal. My first shoreline stop is Teapot Lake, which sits cold and still with a great view of snow-laced Mount Watson over its far shore. Even in late June, the white stuff is in abundant supply on the mountains at this elevation.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The author looks over Teapot Lake to rugged Mount Watson.

After Teapot, I don’t even get out of second gear before I come upon the more expansive Lost Lake. For the next several miles, bodies of water with names like Moosehorn, Mirror and Butterfly sit just off of the pavement on both sides of the winding road. For me this high-mountain lake region is the highlight of my riding in northern Utah.

The next miles of Route 150 follow more rivers as the road carves through the national forest. The northern ride takes me by a smattering of cabins and lodges. It should be noted that most of this scenic byway is devoid of any services so plan your gas and sustenance needs accordingly.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
The impressive Slate Gorge was cut by the Provo River.

Shortly after a cluster of cabins called the Bear River Lodge, the forest of pine and aspen trees transforms into a high-elevation grassland environment. The road is straighter and the riding landscape is rolling and wide-open. The snowcapped mountains diminish in my rearview mirrors.

At about the 75-mile mark of the ride, I pass into Wyoming. I am riding in what would still be Utah if the state were a true rectangle. It’s as if Wyoming, which became a state six years before Utah, laid claim to that geometric distinction by biting off the ear of Utah. The small handful of miles that I will spend in Wyoming is punctuated with a stop in the town of Evanston. After a quick fuel stop, I look for a place for some lunch. Jody’s Diner, a quaint retro eatery, fills the bill.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride
There are trout in those riffles, but the author didn’t pack his rod.

There is more entertaining riding to be had, so I head out of Evanston to the northwest on Wyoming Route 89, which becomes Utah Route 16 as I reenter the Beehive State. It’s when I turn onto State Route 39 (the Ogden River Scenic Byway) that the real entertainment begins. This 50-mile stretch of my ride serves up the longest sustained lineup of curves on the entire loop. The pavement conditions are variable, so I exercise caution on the new-to-me route. At Huntsville, I head south on State Route 167 and finish my return to Park City via Interstates 84 and 80.

In the end, this tour is really a tale of two distinctly different rides. The southern loop is defined by sparse traffic and wide-open spaces that equal a relaxing and view-infused experience. The northern route is an alpine route that ramps up the riding entertainment with winding mountain roads. Needless to say I will be back, map and highlighter in hand, to trace more of what this region has to offer.

Northern Utah motorcycle ride

Mirror Lake Scenic Corridor Recreation Area

If you are going to get off your bike and explore the lakes, streams and hiking opportunities in the Mirror Lake Scenic Corridor Recreation Area along Utah Route 150, you will need to stop at one of the self-serve recreation fee stations. A three-day pass carries a $6 fee and it is $12 for a seven-day pass. For more information contact the Heber-Kamas Ranger District at (435) 783-4338.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

One Ride, 47 National Parks

A map of the route taken by the author, covering all 47 U.S. national parks.
A map of the route taken by the author, covering all 47 U.S. national parks.

Forty-seven national parks, 17,335 miles, 67 days, three flat tires, two forest fires, three boat rides, temps ranging from 31degrees and sleet to 106-degree blinding heat–and no speeding tickets–equals one extraordinary and unforgettable motorcycle trip of a lifetime!

When I told my friends and family of my planned motorcycle trip, a visit to each of the 47 national parks last summer, there were plenty of questions from everyone. “Are you crazy?” “How many other riders are joining you?” “Is your life insurance paid up?” “What type of gun are you taking?” And finally, “Why?” But I had heard it all before on my previous trips to the four corners of the U.S. in 2013 and to all of the lower 48 states in 2014.

Next gas: 145 miles on Route 62 just west of Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Next gas: 145 miles on Route 62 just west of Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Next stop, El Paso, Texas.

It all began last winter when my wife surprised me by sending me a link to a website that mapped out an efficient way to visit each of the 47 national parks in the lower 48 states, riding the least amount of miles. When I began to plan the trip, I realized that picking a date to leave Chicago in order to avoid all the tricky weather conditions in the various parts of the country was harder than I expected. The Midwest has the tornado season in the late spring, Florida has hurricanes beginning in June, Death Valley has 120-degree heat in the summer, and the cold and snow could still be around in the mountains out west in early summer. I made the decision to leave on May 1 and hoped that I would be able to avoid most of the weather issues.

Planning the route for the trip was easy. I used the map that my wife had shown me and, although I didn’t have any time constraints, I still plotted the estimated distances and traveling times between the parks to help me plan for places to stay while on the road. I found that Google Maps, set to “avoid highways,” gave me the best routes with the most interesting scenery.

Multi-colored rock formation in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona
Multi-colored rock formation in Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona.

Traveling through 17,000 miles of back roads, I was able to discover roads that many motorcyclists can only dream of riding. Imagine riding the seven-mile bridge in the Florida Keys, just you, your bike and miles of ocean all around you until you reach the next island Key. Then there are the desolate, lonely roads, like U.S. Route 62 heading out of Carlsbad, New Mexico, where “Next Gas 145 Miles” signs warn you of the barren and isolated landscape. Utah State Route 12 through the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area delivers magnificent vistas as far as the eye can see and is a motorcyclists’ dream, with hundreds of sweepers and a few free range cattle to make things interesting.

An incredible sight from Dante’s View (5,476 feet) down to the floor of Death Valley at -282 feet.
An incredible sight from Dante’s View (5,476 feet) down to the floor of Death Valley at -282 feet.

Some of the best conversations on motorcycle trips begin with a simple question: “So, where are you headed?” Bonds develop quickly between riders, and this trip held no exceptions. There were the two riders I met in Alpine, Wyoming, from Portugal and Gibraltar. They invited me to plan a trip with them to ride in Morocco.

And then, while touring Sequoia National Park, I met another pair of riders from Los Angeles. We became fast friends and now we regularly keep in touch and I plan to connect with them on my next ride out west.

A little road impediment in Sequoia National Park--be sure to duck when riding through on a tall BMW R 1200 GSA!
A little road impediment in Sequoia National Park–be sure to duck when riding through on a tall BMW R 1200 GSA!

I am frequently asked, “What is your favorite national park?” I don’t have a single favorite, but rather a Top Three. Dry Tortugas National Park covers an entire island and is located 70 miles west of Key West in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. The fort there was historically significant during the building of our country (Google it).

Zion National Park, one of our nation’s most majestic parks, is accessed via Utah State Route 9 and covers 146,596 acres of multi-colored canyons that take your breath away.

Red rock formations in southern Utah.
Red rock formations in southern Utah. It’s tough to take a bad photo with this as your backdrop.

Lastly, Kings Canyon National Park is set between Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park in central California. Although this park isn’t as well known as some of the others, it reminds me of riding in the Alps in Europe, withroads that are carved on top of mountains with unforgiving 1,000 foot drops. Riding the winding road alongside a raging, overflowing river trying to accommodate last winter’s massive snows was exhilarating.

The beauty of this canyon ride is that you get a bonus at the end: you get to turn around and do it all over again.

A typical road in Kings Canyon National Park.
A typical road in Kings Canyon National Park. It reminded me of riding in the Alps!

Every national park has its own personality, beauty and history. From Acadia National Park in Maine with its rocky shores, high winds on Cadillac Mountain and seafaring history, to Big Bend National Park in Texas, running along the Rio Grande river, each park is special in its own way. At one vista point, I was able to walk across the Rio Grande into Mexico and then back again. For perspective, Big Bend is larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. Approaching Big Bend from Alpine, Texas, on State Route 118 presents a desolate intimidating roadway, especially as temps hit 106 degrees.

A classic Yosemite National Park picture: nothing but magnificent views wherever you look.
A classic Yosemite National Park picture: nothing but magnificent views wherever you look.

Entering Death Valley National Park, I was uneasy with the extreme desolation, especially knowing that I was only one flat tire away from a crisis. At 3.4 million acres and 1,000 miles of roads, this is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states.

Food is always an important component of any trip, from lobster reuben sandwiches at Keys Fisheries in Marathon, Florida, to BBQ at Lockhart’s in Dallas, Texas, which is always served on butcher paper. I prefer to search for the mom & pop places to eat and try the local delicacies.

This trip of a lifetime gave me valuable insights regarding the beauty of our national parks and how precious they are to us. My advice is to visit as many of these national treasures as possible, I guarantee you will not be disappointed!

31 degrees and sleeting in Crater Lake National Park.
31 degrees and sleeting in Crater Lake National Park. Missed seeing the crater by 3 minutes…clouds rolled in.
One of the more magnificent roads through North Cascades National Park.
One of the more magnificent roads through North Cascades National Park.
An iconic image of the Grand Tetons.
An iconic image of the Grand Tetons. A picture-perfect day for a ride in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Source: RiderMagazine.com