Brothers Coming Home | Sturgis in Reverse Part 3 - Baggers Magazine
"Sometimes, home is the road, and family is who you live with. This time, I got to have a little of both." - Billy Bartels
They say you never really know anybody, even your own family. That’s probably truer with a sibling you didn’t grow up with (or even know existed for years). But there are some bridges you just shouldn’t cross; things you don’t need to know. I’m not naming names, and I’m not going into detail, but after pushing open an ajar hotel room door in Monticello, Utah, what I was greeted with can only be described by two words: naked calisthenics.
I’m the fifth of six boys. My dad’s been married three times, with two boys per mate. Growing up I only knew my two oldest half-brothers and my younger brother, the closest in age at six years younger than me. Little did I know that on the far side of the country, my two closest (half) brothers were growing up, just four and five years older than me. So while we get along well, and have much in common, every once in awhile something like naked calisthenics comes up and thoroughly shocks me.
My brothers Glenn and Scott (as well as Glenn’s employee, Leo, an honorary brother after this trip), and I woke up in Monticello after a very long day through southern Wyoming and a whole slice of western Colorado. We awoke not to explore Canyonlands National Park (like most of the rest of the hotel), but because it’s the perfect launching point to go on my favorite ride across Utahwhich we decided to ditch out on (see part two, last month).
Unlike our last day in the saddle, this one was not to be 600 miles of backroads from dawn till dusk, but rather a leisurely ride about 350 miles to Prescott, Arizona. So with a less challenging itinerary ahead of us, we had time to get coffee from a prime little caf across the street (the Peach Tree Juice Caf), grab the free continental breakfast, and yes, somebody engaged in a little naked calisthenicsor teabag-enhanced yogawhatever the kids are calling it these days.
Monticello had beautiful views and not much else, so we skedaddled out into the warm embrace of southern Utah. Unlike the historic stonework edifices of the Colorado silver towns we’d seen the previous day, the ones in this part of the world were a bit more modern and strip-mall-ish. While enterprising Mormons settled it in the same time period as the silver-rush towns, these were peasants not flush with cash, so they were mostly built with long-decayed wood. Monticello (and the surrounding towns) is a boom town, but not of silver, uranium rather. So most of the older buildings in these parts are ’50s era.
The roads of San Juan County immediately around Monticello are mostly flat, or at best rolling hills, though very scenic. Surrounded by impressive mountain ranges, it goes on like this until the first drop. This area just west of the Rockies is an elevated plateau, so every once in awhile you get to an area where erosion got the better of it and there’s a massive mesa wall that you pass through to the next layer down. The land in this area has been eroded away into a series of mesas with numerous cliffs and canyons, all rough-hewn and (relatively) young at only a few tens of millions of years old. The first couple drops through a cliff face and onto the next plain was near a town called, appropriately enough, Bluff, in honor of the red cliff directly over the town. If you can handle living in a town of 300, I can think of few prettier places to live than this 19th century farming community, the first settlement in the area.
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.
It starts with a climb away from the freeway, deeper into the pines, then plunges almost a thousand vertical feet into Oak Creek Canyon through a series of tight switchbacks. If you like to ride on the edge, do yourself a favor and do not follow a motorhome down this road. Instead pull off at the overlook park to your left just before the road drops into the big cut at the top. It’s worth the stop and is a nice little spot for a picnic.
I’m pretty sure the rocks at the top of the canyon are the same stunning red as the ones at the end, down in Sedona, Arizona, but you’d never know, since they’re covered in trees. After the epic switchbacks, the road follows Oak Creek along the bottom of the ravine, and as the elevation drops, more and more of the red rocks start poking out of the many trees. Down in Sedona it’s mostly the proud rocks standing with some trees for adornment, but about halfway down when it’s still an even mix is a place called Slide Rock State Park.
This is the swim I’d been looking forward to all day. Luckily, it was still a toasty 80-something in mid-afternoon. We attempted to roll in the gate to the park, thinking that motorcycles that take up a quarter of the space of a car might score a discount off of the $30 parking feeand were disappointed. Luckily for us there is plentiful free parking along the road. As you might imagine, it fills up quick and requires a bit of a walk, but motorcycles can cram into the spaces cars can’t, so we didn’t walk more than mile, about the same as the walk from the pay lot.
Slide Rock, as you might imagine (or see from the pictures), is a spot along Oak Creek where water washes in shallow (or not-so-shallow) pools over moss-covered sandstone, forming a natural series of waterslides and swimming holes. As a bonus, this section of the canyon is one of the most scenic, so it’s an ideal spot to take a break swimming and sunning in cool, snowmelt water. Leo volunteered to watch our stuff (and check out the girls in bikinis) while we slipped, slid, and swam down the stream. In the interest of packing light, I’d only brought my boots. Try not to hold it against me.
Swimming always stokes the appetite, and as we’d been living on gas station snacks since breakfast, ours were on tilt. We rolled into Sedona and quickly selected Savanna’s Steak House off a Yelp.com recommendation (aren’t smartphones cool?). We were a little early for dinner, having arrived during happy hour, but since the cook had just gotten in, and we were the only ones in the joint, they fired up the grill early. A very accommodating crew, and the food was excellent.
Sedona is one of those places that looks like it should have been a National Park, but homesteaders beat them to it. The town nestles into the pines and red rock outcroppings, surrounded by natural beauty. Unlike some places where private citizens beat the government to a place of beauty and barricaded it all off, Sedona settles into its surroundings harmoniously, the views equally good from just about anywhere in town.
SR-89A continues down into and through the Verde Valley, passing through Cottonwood (usually the cheapest place around here for a room), and on up the far side of the valley to the quirky little mining town of Jerome, Arizona. If ever there were a perfect biker destination, Jerome is it. It’s a compact town perched on the side of a mountain, overlooking the whole Valley to the north. We’d arrived right near sunset, and the place was gorgeous. With its extreme topography, the blocks of the place are built right on top of each other, stacked like a wedding cake. We stopped to look around a bit at the old 19th century buildings, but wanted to not have to do much riding in the twisties in the dark, so got out quick. We did spare a minute to check out Maynard James Keenan’s (Tool’s lead singer) Caduceus Cellars tasting room, but since we were riding on, didn’t imbibe.
We were looking to get to Prescott for the evening so that the final day’s ride back to LA wasn’t too strenuous. As it happened, we had just enough light to get into Prescott, Arizona, as the streetlights came on. The first half of 89A between Jerome and Prescott is not to be missed, winding through the hills, with clear sightlines and killer views.
Prescott is an old town from the beginning of Arizona’s American settlementthe first capital of the territory. Due to its age, and an early fashion in the area for Victorian homes, it’s been called the most Midwestern-looking city in the West. Bottom line is that it looks very different from most towns in this part of the world.
We stayed right on the town square at the Hotel St. Michael. I might tell you that we chose this beautiful old joint for the history or for the view of Courthouse Square, or because we could park out front and watch our bikes. But the real reason is that it’s stumbling distance from the historic bar zone Whiskey Row, and they had a double-sized room (four beds and huge) with a view of the square for about $100. Our cheapest night of the trip happened to be in the coolest old hotel. The old bartender at the downstairs bar was a hoot as well, telling stories and serving up some mean appetizers from the kitchen.
Most of us awoke on the final morning of our trip not looking forward to getting back. Or to the long slog down Interstate 10 to finish things off. So we spent a goodly amount of time nursing our coffees at the caf out front of the hotel, staring off at the tree-lined square, or mesmerized by our high-powered cell phones.
It had been a good trip. It’s not a bad thing that nothing too challenging happened. No rain, no killer winds, heck, no extreme temperatures, one way or the other. These were all good things, since I (as is my habit) was the only one with Gore Tex and heated unterthings, while one of my brothers (who shall remain nameless) was rockin’ tennis shoes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Sometimes, home is the road, and family is who you live with. This time, I got to have a little of both.
We did have one final treat in store before turning up the iPods for a long run through the dez. SR-89 South out of Prescott is as good a road as I’ve ridden, twisting down from the high-altitude plateau of Prescott down to the Valley of the Sun. It starts in the trees, but then drops into the high desert. The final miles before hitting the flat, sandy plain are split north and southbound, so there are no worries about a car crossing the double yellow and taking you out. I highly recommend the viewpoint turnout to the left, which has a commanding view of the desert for hundreds of miles.
I’d go on, but compared to the glories of the prior day, nothing that happens on an Interstate can compare. I’ve been on far too many trips through flat-ass desert for anything to stand out. The mad dash through LA traffic was heart-stopping, and we got split up and went three different ways, but we all arrived safe and sound in Marina del Rey within a half-hour of each other. All with dazed expressions and big smiles on our faces, and already planning to do it again as soon as possible. B
**Route 66 Riders **
2611 W SR 89-A
Sedona, AZ 86336