A couple of drops later brought us into Valley of the Gods, with red cliffs surrounding us and red and multicolored spires and mounds poking up from the floor. We passed through the town of Mexican Hat here, named after a sombrero-shaped hill outside of town that’s been known to attract tourists. So far, we’d taken US-191 to US-163. If you look at a map or ask Google, it’ll route you on the more-traveled US-160, but besides being not half as pretty, it’s actually a few miles farther.
The next drop was into Monument Valley. I’d never made it here in all my travels, despite really having a hankering to do so since my teen years. I was a big fan of the TV show Airwolf from the ’80s about a stealth supersonic attack helicopter (I was 13, gimme a break!). Anyhow, they called the hidden base for the ’copter the Valley of the Gods, but the visuals they showed were of Monument Valley. So I’d always wanted to go there to check it out first hand.
It was not disappointing. These large upthrust and layered fingers and fists of colorful Navajo sandstone were larger than life and stood proud like gods. If I hadn’t been jonesing for a swim later on this blustery day, I might have stopped to shell out the bucks at the Navajo tribal park on the Utah-Arizona border.
While still in Monument Valley, we needed to make one stop. My mom had an odd request. She wanted a picture of the boys at mile marker 345. Filipinos have this thing about birth order, and she really wanted a picture. She didn’t care where, Sturgis to LA, just a sign and us. As luck would have it, she got the picture and it even had a cool background.
Counting down on the mile markers, I could see a cool pair of mini monuments right by the right side of the road. In the back of my head I was thinking how I could angle the shot to get them in it, but there was no effort necessary, they were right across the street, along with a large parking area and a Navajo craft stand. Sweet. A few minutes of hamming it up, and we were back in the saddle. Having Leo along obviously helped as I didn’t have to break out a tripod. Not that I brought one.
The next 100-plus miles on US-160 and US-89 were pretty uneventful and drab. But there’s something special about riding with your brothers (literally and figuratively in this case), making it enjoyable. And an MP3 player, a satellite radio, and a Bluetooth headset in your lid helps too.
When 89 rises up off the high desert floor into the trees, you know you’re approaching Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is all Route 66 kitsch and pine trees, and we weren’t shopping for either, but as a good-sized city it also had cheap gas that we felt obliged to fill up with. My brothers really wanted to sit down and eat something, but I talked them into just grabbing some snacks at the Gas N Grub (not the real name of the gas station, it was probably a Phillips 66) and motoring on so we’d have time to stop at Slide Rock for a swim. For the first time in literally hundreds of miles we had to hop on the interstate (17 if you’re keeping track) for a short stretch, and the first time at all in a big city. Our lax group rider habits developed on the trip on damned near deserted roads meant we had a fairly chaotic entrance into the afternoon bustle of Flagstaff. We sorted it out just in time to hop back off at 89A.
If you look at a map of central Arizona, you’ll see that SR-89A roughly parallels I-17. And if you’ve been down I-17 from Flagstaff to Phoenix, you’re probably thinking (like I was the first time), How different could the scenery be just a couple miles west? After all I-17 is just a long gradual descent from piney high desert to the flat Valley of the Sun. SR-89A is a world apart.