Life is about change. Accustomed to the routines in life, we may not often think about how quickly circumstances can and sometimes do change. As a resident of Atlanta, Georgia for 27 years, I had a familiar love-hate relationship with the city, knowing it’s good features and bad, and making the city’s Appalachian Mountain surroundings my riding turf since I began riding motorcycles as recreation, then as a way of life. Fairly recent layoffs for both my wife and myself necessitated the sale of a home, and the decision to let employment opportunities lead the way in deciding whether we would stay in Atlanta or consider living elsewhere.
“Elsewhere” ended up being some 2,700 miles away, when my wife, Lora, got offered a job in Seattle. Under the circumstances, you do what you must, and while she moved to Seattle in the early part of summer 2010 to start work, I remained in Atlanta to organize the move of household goods and belongings across the country. I had promised myself that in the process I would take the opportunity to ride through some of the areas of the US I had never had the chance to ride before. Having my brother, Joe (a resident of Punta Gorda, Florida), volunteer to come along for the cross-country drive and pilot the “chase vehicle” and bike-hauling trailer would allow me to ride the motorcycle on several days of the travel week.
Starting out on Sunday the 17th, we began the cross-country trip. It would be a long driving day to Rogers, Arkansas, where a good friend, Jodi Lightner, sales manager for the Aloft hotel, had offered to put us up in a room if we could get there by Sunday night. This made it an almost 12-hour travel day, but we got to Rogers around 10 p.m. and were treated to a really great room at the Aloft, a very cool European-styled hotel. Thanks to Jodi!
The town of Rogers was a really nice surprise. Located off of I-540, it’s an island of new construction with a surprisingly cosmopolitan feel featuring yearly motorcycling events that take advantage of the Ozark Mountains just east of town. The next morning, a mid-October Monday dawned as a day of near perfect conditions with temps in the 70s and very low humidity—a beautiful autumn day in the mountains. I began my first riding day going east on State Road (SR) 12 through the Beaver Lake area, passing through Prairie Creek, and winding my way through Hobbs State Park before turning on SR 45 which headed south then west into the foothill town of Fayetteville. With Joe (manager and driver of the Winnebago) trailering behind, I took Hwy 71 south out of Fayetteville, a fine country highway which runs along the western border of the Ozark National Forest, making a stop at the scenic and serene Fort Lake Smith in the process. Highway 71 is a great alternative to I-540, the north-south interstate extension that runs just west and parallel to 71, and is the preferred choice for two-wheeled travel. The necessity of keeping to a schedule did not allow the time to take in more of the recommended routes in the Ozarks, but from what I saw on the afternoon’s ride, it is an area well worth a more thorough exploration. Next time, I guess. Arriving back at I-40, we put the bike on the trailer to head further west, finishing the traveling day at Oklahoma City where we got a room for the night.
The next day was a travel day, designed to get us further west and allow more riding time. From Oklahoma City, a full day’s drive past Albuquerque brought us to the small town called Grants, New Mexico. Studying the map after dinner, Joe found SR 53, a scenic loop road out of Grants that went south then west and features the state park El Morro National Monument.
On Wednesday morning I got the bike off the trailer for the second ride of the week. SR 53 is a nice high-desert scenic road, and like most roads through the Southwestern US interior, it meanders largely devoid of traffic through the desert foothills and a few small towns. On the way El Morro National Monument is famous for Native American petroglyphs and name-and-date carvings by various travelers and explorers who passed through the area. Dates carved read from 1605 into the mid 1800s, but the petroglyphs certainly predate these. What looked to be an El Morro tarantula walked by, and I got him to pose for a pic.
Near the Arizona border we got rain, which soon became sleet. At first I thought it was gravel on the road…until the ice crystals started pelting me. Joe later told me that he realized what the “white stuff” was when he saw a truck going in the other direction covered in ice. At that point he looked back to catch me frantically flashing my bright lights and turn signals, and though he couldn’t hear me, I was also yelling, “Joe, pull the car over man, pull the car over!” When riding I usually try to deal with the weather as a part of the experience, but draw the line at ice on the road. I was very glad I had the option of putting the bike back on the trailer. SR 53 becomes SR 61 over the Arizona border, and leads to Hwy 191 north and back to I-40. After a short detour through the Petrified National Forest we headed on to Flagstaff and got a room at the Courtyard by Marriott and dinner at a restaurant next door.
The following day was the best riding of the week. West of Flagstaff there is an original section of Route 66 (the Mother Road!) that runs for about 90 miles and loops north from the interstate through the Aubrey Cliffs and the southern end of the Hualapai Indian Reservation. Taking I-40 about 55 miles west from Flagstaff, we got to the exit for Historic Route 66 just before Seligman and visited the tourist town as we entered Route 66 there. It’s well done and set up to have a little fun, and worth the stop. We pulled the car and trailer over to a wide road shoulder, and after taking a few minutes to clean up the bike from the previous day’s ice storm (it’s bad form to ride a dirty bike on Route 66, right?) I rode on to Kingman and then north on Highway 93 towards Hoover Dam.
Both Route 66 and Hwy 93 are magnificent roads. The high desert and mountains take on the colors of the minerals that make them up—mountains layered red and orange iron oxide, yellow limestone, and blue carbon-based minerals. Combined with the surrounding green of pine trees and scrub, it makes for some simply amazing scenery.
We stopped the entourage (motorcycle leading car and trailer) at Hoover Dam, to look at it, walk over it, and take it all in. Simply put, you have to see the Hoover Dam to comprehend the how massive the structure is, the astounding engineering feat it was to build it, and the gigantic scale of the place. Photos may give you an idea, but unless you see it in 3-D, you cannot get a sense of the phenomenal achievement that is the Hoover Dam.
After eating lunch at the High Scaler Cafe on the Nevada side of the dam, it was off to ride through the Lake Mead National Recreation area close by. Taking Hwy 93 back for 3.5 miles leads to a right turn on Lakeshore which in turn leads to Northshore Drive, the two roads that take you through the Lake Mead area, and they seem simply made for two-wheeled travel. On a weekday afternoon, traffic of any kind is virtually nowhere to be seen as you take one scenic curve or hill after another, each one revealing another stunning vista with the lake’s turquoise blue contrasted by the surrounding land’s orange, pink and yellow. I know of few other areas in the country where the landscape is so startlingly beautiful as in the desert southwest, and this is one of the most picturesque areas of them all. If you are anywhere close, it is an area not to be missed.
Another motorcycle-friendly feature of the area is the ability to find lodging close by, as roads leading west away from Lake Mead head straight into Vegas, about an hour’s ride away. One of these roads is the Valley of Fire Highway, which has the added attraction of leading you through the crowning glory of this area, the Valley of Fire State Park. You simply run out of adjectives to describe places like these after a while, and words only diminish them. All you can do is let your eyes absorb a landscape that you could swear belongs on another planet, except you can breathe the air. We arrived just in time for a full moonrise in the eastern sky, in one of those rare photographer’s dreams when every part of the scenery combines for a one-of-a-kind photographic opportunity.
By the time we got through touring from Route 66 to the Valley of Fire, it had been a very long riding day. After getting the bike back in the trailer we headed for Las Vegas, getting a room at a Hampton Inn on Dean Martin Blvd.
With the forecast of colder winter weather in the following few days, and the requirement to get to Seattle by the end of the weekend, we decided to head north by the fastest route. On Friday morning we took I-15 through Utah and into Idaho, and on Saturday, we traveled through Oregon towards Washington. As we neared the Washington border, we got rain, and in the eastern sky a double rainbow appeared over a huge area of open farmland. It was our last stop for photographs and the only time I ever remember seeing a full unbroken double rainbow, let alone having an opportunity to get a photograph of one. It was another amazing sight in an amazing travel week. Arriving in Seattle at about 7 p.m., I was happy to see Lora, and have a week of great travel behind us. After 2,700 miles and some great riding days, it was good to be “home” again. B