Longride's Southwest Romp
Going on a road trip is like going to a restaurant in many ways. Looking at the menu, and scanning a map both make you decide what to order, and how much. Staying in one place and soaking up as much as time will allow is like ordering the 24 ounce steak with no sides. Bouncing from place to place will be like ordering a sampler plate. It gives you a taste of everything, but you can't really fill up on just one item. If I had to describe my latest journey in dining terms I would have to say:
"Waiter, bring me the Mucho Grande Southwest Sampler?.and a couple Margaritas to wash it down."
The "Southwest Sampler" would encompass 6 states, 2800 miles, and 8 National Parks in two weeks, along with all the stunning scenery the Southwest can deliver. This would be our honeymoon trip, for my wife Jennifer and I, and we have been planning this trip since well before the wedding. She and I were hungry, the table was set, and we were ready to dig in.
MO was nice enough to provide a 2006 Harley-Davidson Electra-Glide Classic as our touring mount. This one came with fuel injection and the new CD/XM radio combo. Since I already own an '01 Classic, packing for the trip was simple. We just packed our two saddlebag inner liners and top box liner for the plane trip to L.A. and dropped them in the bike upon arrival. The bike itself was barely broken in with 670 miles showing on the clock. MO photographer Fonzie had taken on the task of running it in a bit before I arrived, so the blue, silver and red beast was ready for action.
The first leg of the journey would be from L.A. to Las Vegas. It was Saturday, and I had a couple of warnings not to travel into the desert during the day from Sean, and also Buzz Waloch, who is an MO contributor and friend. They insisted that it was just too hot out there to travel in the daytime. They suggested waiting until late in the day to start, or even make the trip at night. Their words made me think twice. I had also spoken with Fonzie about my plans at the MO office when I picked the bike up Saturday morning, and he summed up his feelings in one sentence: "Just go. It isn't going to kill ya." Their words were ringing in my ears as I was relaxing on the Redondo Beach Pier. Jen and I talked it over, and we decided Fonzie had the right idea. It wasn't going to kill us?or would it?
As we headed out of L.A. on Saturday morning the traffic was terrible. It reminded me of what we wanted to get away from. Jen pointed out a sign that read: "There are two things you can count on in SoCal. Good weather, and bad traffic." They were right. Once we hit Interstate 15 the traffic started to subside, and by the time we hit Barstow we had better traffic, and hotter weather. By the time we rolled into Baker, we realized why it was named such. It is the baker, and you are the "bakee". It was pretty hot there, but nothing we couldn't handle. Maybe stopping at the Mad Greek's for a quick snack and some cool air helped, but heading up and out of Baker, the heat didn't seem bad at all. The miles seemed to fly by, as we rode along the edge of the Mojave and then into Nevada. It wasn't hard to tell when you crossed the border.
There was casino after casino, welcoming us with open arms. We rolled into Vegas about 5:00pm and stopped to grab some water and pondered where to stay for the next couple of nights, when the Vegas version of the "Welcome Wagon " comes to greet us asking for cigarettes and money. He seemed to have been recently dipped in dirt, and his eyes were redder than any tomato I have ever seen. And he was persistent. I tried to shoo him away, but he wasn't leaving, and was starting to get seriously angry. This is not how I wanted the trip to start. He finally got the hint and started to walk, but kept hovering around. Instead of warning me about the heat, Buzz and Sean should have warned me about this! Anyway we got a place to stay and then proceeded to hit the town that night and had a blast. I also had a chance to buy a three-carat diamond ring from a nice jewelry vendor in a beat up old Chevy. It was nice of him to drive all the way out to see me, but I declined his offer.
Only in Las Vegas! The next day we planned to do a day trip to see a man-made wonder before we hit Nature's wonders.
The short hop to Hoover dam was relaxing and easy. There is a bit of road construction around the dam, as it appears that a road is being constructed that will route around the dam instead of going over the top. Hoover Dam was without precedent, the greatest dam of its day, and it still is a world-renowned structure. It meets the domestic water needs of more than 18 million people in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson, and other southwestern cities, towns, and Indian communities in Arizona, Nevada, and California. The power generation for use in Nevada, California and Arizona is more than 4 billion kilowatt-hours a year. That is enough to serve 1.3 million people. It was Sunday September 11th, and the security was high the day we were there. The tours were closed, but we did our own tour and walked the whole area and took many pictures. The dam is an awesome sight, and it's hard to conceive how this impressive wall could be built at all. We also gazed across Lake Mead where the boats were cruising and the skiers were out. So Hoover Dam not only provides water and electric power to the southwest, but recreation as well. Back in Vegas that evening, we did the town up again. Up and down the strip we went with me losing my cash, and Jen making it back. I know there was a reason I brought her! Heck, I was ready to call Sean for a quick loan for gas money. We went back to get some sleep. A new destination was forthcoming.
We headed out of Las Vegas with our sights set on Arizona. We rolled over the top of Hoover Dam this time, and hit 93 south to Kingman, where we took Route 66, the mother road. There we traveled at a relaxed pace, reliving the past glory of 66. We passed small towns with small roadside motels and old-time burger joints and ice cream parlors. It reminded me that traveling is not just the destinations, but the journey that makes the ride. City life is all about deadlines and bottom lines.
Route 66 is about enjoying the road. No hurry.
Stay a while. We stopped a bit, bought some things, and just relaxed. The trip was starting to take shape. We were now out of the cities and into the road. Relaxation isn't a destination, but a state of mind, and 66 has taken us there. We stopped in Williams and got ready for the next day's ride.
Heading up 64 North we see the cars and tour buses that all have one destination, which is the Grand Canyon. Take rock, the Colorado River, and give it a few million years, and you get one of Nature's most awesome sights. We pulled up to the South Rim, and walked over to the lookouts at Mather Point, and got blown away by the beauty and scale of what we beheld. The canyon is so massive that it takes many minutes for the mind to catch up with what the eyes are taking in. The sight is almost dizzying to the senses. It was a perfect blue sky, and I felt we had just stepped inside a postcard photo. We took picture after picture, but they can never capture what we were seeing in person. We rode along the rim and stopped at all the lookouts, and each one was more amazing than the last. We rolled away from the canyon without words to describe what we had just seen. What we also noticed about our trip to the canyon was that 9 of every 10 visitors seemed to be German or French. We thought this was interesting, and would make our trip a bit more interesting in days to come. Out of the Grand canyon and heading East we took 89 North to 160 East through the Navajo Nation. The desert scenery was awesome, as some of the painted cliffs and dunes provided us with plenty of scenery for the ride. We stayed in Kayenta, which is the gateway to Monument Valley.
We left early the next morning heading north on 163 through Monument Valley, which was the backdrop for many a Hollywood western for many years. The spires and mesa's rise out of the ground to form a beautiful landscape across a barren area. Riding through it, we saw many people stopped along the roadsides taking pictures of it in the morning sun. We crossed the border into Utah, which happens to be my favorite state for scenery, and is still the best kept secret in the country, so don't tell anybody about this gem. We found later on that the secret is already out. We stopped at a small café on the San Juan River that was built next to a huge rock wall. There was great food and few Americans.
All the rest of the occupants were French. So away we went through the city of Bluff, where I almost missed the turnoff onto 162. Jen was alert enough to notice we should be turning, even though the map said Route 163 and the road sign said Route 162. We had another interesting excursion not far up the road. It appeared on the map that we needed to turn off on 262 to get to the Four Corners Monument. Turning south on 262, we soon ran out of pavement, which turned into a washboard rutted gravel road. After about two or three miles of teeth rattling Geezer-Glide wrestling fun, I stopped and Jen and I decided two things: first, we think we were going the wrong way and second, if it was the right way, we were going to take a different way. The big Harley is good for many things, but off-road riding isn't one of them. So we backtracked the miles with me again fighting not to fall down while my eyeballs were rattling, and this was at about 15 mph! So we get back to our starting point and stop at a service station to check the map again at which time two BMW riders pulled up. Now I figure if two Beemer dudes can't help me who can? It turns out we shouldn't have turned off at all and we were now on the way to the Four Corners.
To me, the four Corners monument is kind of corny, but it's one of those places that is so out of the way from everything else, you just go there to check it out.
Jen enjoyed it a lot, and the whole point is to see the exact location where four states meet. Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado all join in this spot and they have a monument with flags flying and Indian craft shops and fry bread. The highlight of the visit, and Jen's favorite story of the trip, is when we met this cute little Indian boy named Shane. Shane wanted to know what Jen's name was, and when she told him he looked at me, and then asked her what her dad's name was. The little guy thought I was her father! Damn, I don't look that old do I Sean? We hit the road into Colorado and Route.160 east to the next national park.
Mesa Verde N.P. is the next stop that day. I really didn't know much about it, but after the visit I came away impressed. Even if there was nothing to see up on the mesa, the ride up was incredible in the switchbacks, elevation gain and views down to the valley below. I was happy with the ride alone, but then we got to see the cliff dwellings of the ancient Pueblo tribe. Not much is known about how this society lived, but the small cities they left behind were nothing short of incredible. I couldn't imagine living in this region with the rough winters and unpredictable weather. It is hard to believe that these dwellings were built in the 1200's and that the inhabitants only lived here about 100 years. Nothing is known as to why they left, or where they went. The history here is interesting and the dwellings are amazing. If you ever have the opportunity to go to Mesa Verde you won't be sorry. After the ride back down we rolled into Durango for the night and slept like rocks after our long day. Durango was founded by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, surveyed in 1880 by Rio Grande Southern surveyors.
The narrow gauge steam railroad, historically connected the mining town of Silverton with the coal and smelting operations of Durango, is now the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, offering daily trips north to breathtaking views of remote wilderness that otherwise would be inaccessible. We followed 550 north, which parallels the rail line and is dubbed the "Million Dollar Highway". I'm not sure if it cost one million to build or they named it for the million dollar views you get. The route goes over high mountain passes. Coal Bank Pass rises 10,640 ft. before dropping into Silverton, and Red Mountain Pass is 11,075 ft. before dropping into Ouray. Route 550 is the perfect motorcycling road; lots of curves, switchbacks, elevation changes and stunning scenery. We followed 550 to Montrose which is just a few miles away from our next stop.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison N.P. was one of the emptiest parks we visited, but certainly lacked nothing in the way of spectacular scenery. No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It looks as though the earth burst at a seam and you can look down to the center. Just as the Grand Canyon is awesome in it's expansiveness, the Black Canyon impresses with it's compactness. I've never seen such awesome scenery in such a small area. Working our way back to 550, we headed back north to Interstate 70 to get to our new destination in Utah.
We arrived in Moab, Utah that evening, but not before being thoroughly entertained by the ride in on Route 128 off Interstate 70. This narrow road starts in the desert and then starts to parallel the Colorado River after a few miles. You are then transported to a canyon with those classic, red rock walls that Utah is famous for. It was late evening and the sun darted in and out of the canyon as we rode. It was an excellent way to roll into town. Since it was about 7:00pm we decided to grab a bite to eat before checking into a hotel for the night. This would turn out to be a bad move. It seems the German and French tourists have massed here, making a hotel room in Moab very scarce. So after checking about 12 places and running out of options fast, a fellow biker gave me a tip on a place across the street from where we were. At this point it was about 9:00pm and I just wanted to get a room, so I bolted across the street and got in a line of about eight people. Luckily we got the next to last room they had, or we may have been sleeping with the bike that day. We would stay two nights here, because Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park were waiting.
Water and ice, extreme temperatures, and underground salt movement are responsible for the sculptured rock scenery of Arches National Park. More than 2,000 arches are found here, the greatest density found in the world. We started playing Rorschach test with the rock formations, naming them as we went by. With the desert landscape backdrop, and the rock formations and arches rising up out of nothing, the scenery here is very different than we have seen thus far. It's a short ride form Arches to Canyonlands. We explored the "Island in the Sky" region from the north. "The Maze" and "The Needles" are two other areas of this 527 square mile national park. Views from Island in the Sky reach from the depths of the Green and Colorado rivers to the mountaintops and above. They stretch across canyon after canyon to the horizon 100 miles distant. The views from the overlooks rival those of the Grand Canyon. A bonus is that you can drive down into the canyon if you so desire. We watched people driving down Shafer Trail, but I had no inclination to follow them after our last off-road excursion.
I think we will stick to the pavement. The one-two punch of Arches and Canyonlands made one heck of a day for sight-seeing, and Eddie McStiffs Pub with their local brews and laid back atmosphere made a nice finish to the day.
The next morning we set off to what will be our longest day yet. We get to I 70 and head west to 24 south to Capitol Reef National Park. We found Capitol Reef to have a wide variety of landscapes, from cliffs to dark sand hills, to moon-like landscapes. As we stopped for some pictures, a couple of tour buses full of French tourists also stopped and they took pictures of us, the motorcycle, and the two cyclists that were there also. We also checked out the petroglyphs, which are ancient Indian wall carvings. Nobody really knows the meanings of these drawings, but I think I translated one that said: "What in the heck are you doing out here?" I can't imagine ancient Indians living out here, but they did. We continued on through the Escalante Staircase, and passed some awesome scenery on some very narrow roads crowded with tour buses. I should have known something was up with all the tour buses about, but I didn't think about it then, but we certainly had to think about it later when we went to get a room in the little town of Henrieville.
We were informed that not only were there no rooms available there, but there were none available for at least 30 miles. Our plan to pull in and see Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park the next day was gone. We went forward and checked every motel, hotel, cabin, and anything else where a person could possibly stay and we found nothing. So we arrived at Bryce Canyon and made the visit late that afternoon.
Bryce Canyon, for those that haven't seen it in person, has the most unusual scenery in the country. Pillars of rock called "Hoodoos" by the locals are spread throughout the canyon and gleam bright orange, yellow, white and pink shades forming an incredible sight to behold. Most of the park looks like a giant fairy castle, and in fact, there is one lookout called Fairyland Point. The incredible view that the canyon provides with the gleaming sunset casting shadows, was really stunning to see. The highest lookout is almost 9,000 ft. elevation, and it started to get quite cold up there. As we worked our way out of Bryce, we still had no idea where we were staying that evening. We worked our way through Red Canyon, which was a really nice road out. There were small tunnels of rock and seemingly blood red canyon walls surrounding us. As we hit Route 89 south, we came to the small town of Hatch. We inquired about lodging that night and snagged the last room in the place. The sun was going down and it was getting pretty cold, and we were warned that if it was windy our heater pilot light would blow out and we would have no heat. Damn if we cared. We were ready for a hot shower, food and a beer. Well, maybe two beers. We both slept well that night. We just had a 12 hour day and Jen and I were beat. Zion was waiting for us tomorrow.
Zion National Park is my personal favorite and from watching the Discovery Channel I found out it is Donny Osmond's favorite park in Utah also. After seeing that fact on the boob tube, I was thinking of changing to a different favorite, but I still stick with Zion. Even Donny couldn't scare me away. It's that good. It has such a variety of landscapes from the oddly etched Checkerboard Mesa, to the soaring read cliffs and hoodoos, to the mountain peak backgrounds, all with lots of greenery mixed in to form an array of colors and shapes that change with every turn of the road. And that is the best part. You get to go in the canyon and not just look at it from above. You can get up close and personal with it. One of the coolest parts of the park is the long tunnel through the mountain that has holes cut in it for windows. Driving through a mountain isn't something I get to do every day. Zion is definitely a "must see" for anyone in the area. It was still pretty early and we worked our way over to Interstate 15 to head back to Las Vegas for more fun and games. Of course, the games weren't much better to me than the first time around a couple weeks ago, but Jen was keeping things in the black for us. The best part about the return trip is I got to meet the same guy trying to sell me the same ring as the last time. I guess he didn't remember me. By the next day we would be heading to Carlsbad, CA to visit MO contributor and friend Buzz Waloch for a tour of the San Diego area.
Up to this point in the trip we didn't get much cold, and zero rain, but today would be different. The forecast was for showers for a good part of the ride, and for once the weatherman was correct. It was already raining lightly when we left Vegas, and then proceeded to get hammered with rain and hail in the desert. The rain subsided for a while, but by the time San Bernardino came around the rain and hail came back with a vengeance. This is sunny California? Not until we got near Carlsbad did the rain stop and the sun finally came out. We got a really nice room across the street from the ocean, and had dinner at a little beach café and watched the sunset.
The rain already seemed like a million miles away. The other thing that seemed a million miles away was my cell phone. Although I recovered it later, it really made the last days of this trip a pain in the butt because all of the contact numbers I needed for the trip were on the phone. So I left Buzz a message from the hotel and we met up the next morning. On the short ride to his home, I noticed the weather was perfect. When Buzz told me this could be a
January day in Carlsbad, I started to think he is one lucky S.O.B. We also had a running joke during the ride wondering if anyone actually worked in the San Diego area, because most of the population seemed to be at the beach. It was Wednesday, but you would never know it by how many people were just hanging around. We did take an excellent ride touring the San Diego area, and Buzz knows all the hot spots. From the beaches to see the seals, a great lunch spot to eat, to the mountain twisties overlooking the desert, and the shop that sells the best apple pies in the land, he had it covered. We covered about 180 miles that day and pushed the Electra-Glides we were riding pretty hard. Dinner with Buzz and his girlfriend Casey ended an excellent day. It turns out Casey's father grew up only a few miles from where I lived in the Chicago area. No wonder she was so cool! It's a small world after all.
So far, I've written much about the trip, but little about the bike.
The Glide was an excellent traveling partner for the most part. Let's clear up a couple things first. It never broke, didn't leak any oil, no parts fell off, and it averaged about 45 mpg for the entire 2800 miles. Not bad, eh? For two up touring, it ranks up with the best, in my opinion, and I have ridden many other touring bikes. The saddlebags and top box hold an enormous amount of gear, and we constantly marveled at how much we brought when it's all spread out on a hotel bed. The liner bags make packing and unpacking the bike a five minute operation. With the fuel injection it starts instantly and can be ridden off with no warm up. There are no flat spots in the power band, just a nice sold pull from the engine that has more torque than ponies. There is no need to wind it up. It just grunts up hills and into headwinds at low revs. This bike is geared a little taller than my '01. Doing 75mph at only 3,000rpm makes for a relaxing ride. The gentle vibration is enough to feel slightly, but never tires or puts extremities to sleep. The XM/CD radio provides the soundtrack for the ride if need be, and has excellent sound quality. The negatives of the bike are few, but they are there. The pilot portion of the stock seat pretty much sucked after 150 miles, but the passenger seat got rave reviews from Jen for comfort.
The handlebar-mounted fairing can cause the front end to wiggle some during crosswinds at certain speeds, and the rear suspension isn't really all that great two up unless the air adjustment is pumped to the max. The big Glide handles well enough, even in the twisty sections, but push hard enough and hard parts start to grind on the asphalt. About the same time the frame seems to have grown a hinge in it, and you aren't quite sure both wheels are following the same lines. The bike lets you know if you push any harder you will soon be doing your best imitation of a lawn dart.
All these handling shortcomings were noticeable while I was chasing Buzz through the canyons, and we were having a great time, but the Electra-Glide wasn't made for such foolishness. This is a bike that can cover the miles in style and comfort, is able to be modified and customized as many ways as you have ideas. It isn't everyone's cup of tea, but if you have a significant other that loves to ride shotgun, this bike is one of the best. My former significant other, and current wife came along with me. She is the perfect riding partner. She took all the pictures, kept us organized, made the hard days easier, and the good ones better. She won't read these last lines until this article is posted on MO, and I want to say that I love her more than anything in the world. My life is better with her in it.
So there isn't much left to the trip, save the trip back to L.A via Interstate 5 to the 405. It was a short journey where life and limb are in constant danger, but we made it back unscathed. With almost two weeks on the road, the trip was at the end. There's always a bit of sadness at the end of a journey. We had seen and done so much in such a short time that it seemed like we have a lifetime of memories on the road. Eleven hundred pictures to jog the memories many years from now, but there are so many more memories that never got captured like the sun on your face on a cold morning, or the smell of the pine forests at 10,000 feet, or the sound of the ocean waves at sunset. Those things we will never forget while ingesting our Mucho Grande Southwest Sampler. I'll be ordering another as soon as I can, because even though it took two weeks to sample this region, it would take a lifetime to digest it. Thanks again to the MO crew for all their assistance, and thanks to my friend Buzz for taking the time to show us around. See you down the road.