Category Arizona

Track: Southern Arizona

Looks like we were avoiding Phoenix

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Backcountry to CA

With only another two weeks left before joining Helge Pederson’s Globeriders, and my friend DT, from Tijuana to Guatamala City, we’re picking routes that get the most out of the short miles left in the southwest and trying to take it easy and stay safe. A two day route from Gila Bend to Twentynine Palms wound its way across flats through small villages and fit the bill of scenic, backcountry and mixed dirt and small roads perfectly.

We started out of Gila due on a dead straight road through the desert following a power line, going northwest rather than having to ride the only paved way out this far out. The road felt like clay, great, when dry, and graded flat, and followed a power line

We passed a huge canal, perhaps taking water from inland to LA. After not having seen any water for days it looked magical, running blue, clear and deep

Then it was a long fast ride cross country. Occasionally trucks would blast by at high speed, kicking up enough dust to slow us down

Up north a bit, we hooked up with a small road west road at a the truck stop of Aguila. One of the many of these small stops we’ve passed through in the extreme south that they use to film movies about out-of-luck couples who are never heard from again. They live up to the stereotype
P1020583The weather was changing

We pulled onto a side road to take a closer look at bursts of colour beside the road. Pink


And a small-flowered gorse

Unbelievably, we haven’t seen rain since Louisiana (yup I’ll catch up with the back-posts at some time) and these clouds are gonna definitely unload, so we stop dithering and pull the trigger and race west.

The Space Age

We lost a day in Tucson getting new tires. The dealers along the route have put us on the lift immediately when we’ve arrived unannounced. I gather this is standard procedure everywhere when long distance riders come through. Being treated this way is a privilege we appreciate.

Today we have to get some miles under our belt and it’s going to be a long lonely ride north of the Mexican border, with the only break being Organ Pipe National Monument, taking #86, then #85 to Gila Bend.

As we’ve mentioned before, our life surrounds gas stops. And today we’re in for a treat. The village of Why’s gas station is an epicurean paradise. All kinds of food nicely displayed, it felt like Whole Foods

Then down through Organ Pipe. It’s hard to describe how removed this is. The Tohono O’odham Nation we’ve crossed through is vast and has an uncompromising, dangerous feel to it

Down to the border town/crossing at Lukeville, maybe couple of dozen buildings all up. This may be the furthest corner from anything in the US. If not, it sure feels that way

Then we head north towards Gila and pass through the town of Ajo. The prettiest church on our route since Marja, TX

Then across 100 miles of badlands

Eventually into the town of Gila Flats, where our road crosses the major truck route I8. It’s the last stop west the whole way to Yuma. Hold onto your seats, here is the Space Age capital of southern US, partnered up with Best Western at a truck stop

We had to stay. Here’s the lobby

The rooms had planetary details outside on the posts

The pool house was a lunar base station

Kitt Peak

We needed new tires before a long dirt ride two days further on. The rear TKC was bald after only 2700 miles, mainly due to long sections of cut rock road surface. So with a day to kill we headed out west across the desert to Kitt Peak.

After a straight haul across desert that had a hostile tag to it, Kitt Peak is up an exhilarating road 6880 feet off the desert floor to a mess of impressive telescopes with an excellent interpretive centre. The beautiful telescopes go from 500′ underground (a solar telescope) to 187′ above ground in the exposed and completely isolated situation. It’s the largest observational installation in the world.┬áThe view on the way up
Twelve miles of cliff hugging bends, big drop offs and a big temperature drop
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Then the finals curves
We rode another 50 miles out west before turning around, through some desperate villages, but outside of them. No-one tries to live off the land here, it’s empty and hostile. And it’s all border patrol stuff, trucks with people-cages and dogs driving around, and the most badass border police checkpoint of the five or six we’ve been through.

N 33d 47.665′ W 110d 30.183′

Yesterday was a dull and cold ride through the Tonto Forest to the town of Show Low AZ, on our way south to roads close to the Mexican border, for the third time if we can get a stop-and-go tire change in Tucson.

But today, wow.

First of all, #77 from Show Low to Tucson, about 205 miles, is first class riding the whole way.

But about 40 minutes along we entered a canyon on a sport bike perfect two lane road with wide shoulders and rediculously good camber. It was the best sport bike road in 12,000 miles, and way better than the lauded twisties of North Virginia or anything in the Appalacians. It was track day in the mountains. I’ve seen pics of Euro mountainous ascents/descents but I can’t believe anything there is so custom bike built for lobbing hardware into. But that’s only part of the story, it gets way better and I was a bit transfixed by the spectacle.

I round a corner in this slice of heaven and there’s a mess of sport bikes in a large overview, all lined up for something, the obvious. This is about 2/3rds of the parked bikes. I couldn’t get them all in without stepping out onto the road, which is not what you want to do here. All the guys (and two girls) are fixated on watching the big sweeper hugging the canyon wall in front of them.

And below is a GPS grab of about a five mile section of the road. (There’s another 50 miles of it, but not as dramatic.) Yup, 5 miles or so seems long for the track below but these corners are really huge, and banked, with runoff. The pic above, was at the top right of the pic below, just to the left of the ’60’.
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So we pulled in, careful not to line up with these gladiators. Then the main event: in the near distance a screaming of rip-your-face-off engines was bouncing off the canyon walls, magnifying the sound to the point it hurt . ┬áThen two bikes appear downhill, about 500 yards away, and you couldn’t hear anything below a yell due to the giant speakers of the canyon walls assaulting you. And opposite the viewing area these very solid riders came at us at seriously high speed, carving to the left in front of us, flat out. And the position was excellent for watching them exit the medium sweeper and set up for the next corner, a right that they scrubbed very big speed for. I’ve never heard a sound like it or seen a situation like this. They did this in groups of two, sometimes three. It was very impressive. After two came by there was a long gap, maybe 5 minutes before two more would set off, sometimes with a nice wheelie to the canyon base and some warm up turns for a mile or so before turning around and showing us their attempt at maximum impressiveness. The two girls laughed every time at the boys on full display.

The riders nearly all come from Phoenix.

Some road pics. There were only a couple of pullouts so not the best, but enough to get the idea. Like this corner?

At the canyon bottom, just to get into things and create some noise before over the bridge and up to the right

Fast and open with a big carousel, you can peg it here between the 100K turns

We waited until there were as few riders as possible and eased out, trying not to be noticed, which was impossible as the audience watched your every move. A perfect time to leave the kickstand down I thought.

So there’s my vote for the best bike road in North America of those I’ve seen so far. The post title coordinates will get you there.

Then on to Tucson through beautiful hills
P1020485We explored some dirt roads but none of them advanced us closer to Tucson so we reversed them. This one was almost artificial

Then, as we approached Tucson, cactuses began to appear straight out of a postcard. We’d never seen these before and they looked almost comic. We found a rocky road that led us across a plain of them

Finally the beautiful city of Tucson. Here’s an excellent pic of a girl checking tire pressure and topping up while her boyfriend stared at his shoes, with the hills behind the city behind

Track: Navajo and Hopi Reservations

810 miles, Page to Chinle X 2.

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It seems one of the authorative books on the Hopi is The Book of Hopi by Frank Waters, five time Nobel nominee and student of the Hopi. I bought it, took a day off, and read it. A lively quote:

* Here we discover the ‘natural language of the spirit’ speaking in loud, clear tones. Here we find the sustaining power of the religious sense and the clue to understanding. Here we may find our salvation. As so often happens, the clue was in our own back yard all the time *

A bit strong at first glance maybe, but you’d have to read the story. It starts here


I woke up in Chinle to no power. A 50 mile radius had been taken out by a car hitting a power pole. This isn’t a problem except for no coffee. So it was an early start to the nearest gas station with power, which took an hour or so.

Today’s route was into the Hopi Reservation. The reservation lies smack in the middle of the Navajo Reserve. It’s about 2500 square miles with about 10,000 Hopi living mostly in nine villages on top of three Mesas, called First Mesa, etc.

The ride took me about 70 miles into the reservation, then a dirt loop on top of a very large mesa for about 25 miles, then down to the village of Second Mesa. Then I was going to play it by ear. It turned out to be the most surprising day of the tour yet.

Coffee’d up we rode across a somewhat greenish and uniform desert

Through small canyons as we approached the first mesa

And arrived at the Hopi town of Keams Canyon

We rode around the town. The Hopi were curious to see us and stopped to watch us crawl by. The attention we were getting was uncomfortable, but I guess considering what the new year brings, we’d better get used to it. Something remarkable about Hopi homes is how uniform they are. The Hopi seem to have one idea about what a home should look like and they all stick to it. All. The homes are very basic, very utilitarian and very comforting somehow. More on this later.

Continuing through the town, the road turned to dirt. A sort of white talc and slippery. So it was up on the pegs, throttle smooth, speed quick, foot on the rear brake and up onto a mesa. The riding was magnificent. At times we rode along the edge, sometimes across flatlands and for a long section, slightly below the rim.

Along the ridge before the drop offs

We weren’t so lucky later. Miles of washboard, covered in waves of windswept sand.

If ever there was a time for a break, it was when that stretch finished.

Wandering around the intersection I found this at the side of the road. It is now in my ‘found objects’ bag, along with things like acorns from the old oaks of the Appalachians.

Back on the road to Second Mesa we passed Hopi houses. As I noted earlier, they’re all very similar, and very basic.

There was no gas at the collection of small buildings at Second Mesa, but off to the north was this strip of brand new road. And at the top of the strip there was a cluster of buildings.

(The previous rides through Hopi backcountry and the pics to follow are strictly against Hopi laws. I had no idea that what I did was wrong. Hence this post being a couple of days late: I had to get a ruling, which I did. I am told that if these pictures aren’t used professionally then I can post them on a personal blog. And I’m forgiven for riding the roads)

Then up into the village of Sipaulavi

The three square openings are to a Kiva. Kiva are usually below ground and where Hopi spiritual ritual occurs. Hopi’s have direct contact with the spirit world in Kivas. More later on this.

Beautiful. Everything seems exactly right.

First Mesa. This is the oldest continuously inhabited place on the continent. All this is incredibly beautiful, and I wanted to know much more about the Hopi.

A view down from Second Mesa

As we watched form this spot a Hopi appeared right in front of us. He’d taken the short cut home and climbed the Mesa. His said name was Atkin, he liked Lucinda, and I asked questions about the things in view. The discussion was distant – he was patient if somewhat cool.

The 70 miles south to Winslow, across the huge plain, and the occasional buttes, where I had some thinking to do.

(As it happens a young Hopi used to run across what you see below from Second Mesa to Winslow and back regularly. Someone noticed, and he won the 1912 Olympic 10,000 meter event, and his record stood for 52 years)