Tag Archives: West U.S.

A Flagstaff to Albuquerque Motorcycle Ride on a Less Obvious Route

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride
Fellow riders take in the otherworldly landscape of Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park along the author’s Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride.

If you blindly follow your GPS, a Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride is a 320‑­mile drone on Interstate 40. That’s fine if Point A to Point B is your only plan. However, most motorcyclists are suckers for interesting byways and intriguing places, and I am no exception. 

Embracing that character trait, I planned a convoluted ride that would add about 180 miles and several hours to this trip. I was not just adding saddle time; I was also adding several historically and culturally significant landmarks. Instead of simply slaloming through long‑­haul trucks on the freeway, I would make a loop through three national monuments near Flagstaff: Wupatki, Sunset Crater Volcano, and Walnut Canyon. Continuing east, I’d visit Meteor Crater, Standin’ on the Corner Park, Petrified Forest National Park, and in New Mexico, El Malpais National Monument.  

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Before that roundabout route, I needed to spend some time in my all‑­time favorite small city, Flagstaff. I lived some of my most memorable years in these mountains. I am a graduate of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and any time I’m in the sky‑­high city is a personal joy. 

As I rolled through the campus for some serious reminiscing, many of the buildings brought back indelible memories. There is one location that is uniquely special. I spent my sophomore year in the school’s stately Old Main building when it was still a dormitory. Decades before I was a gleam in anyone’s eye, my parents took a photo on its iconic steps. The historic red Moenkopi sandstone building was constructed in the late 1800s and is the centerpiece of both the beautiful campus and my love for Flagstaff.  

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Northern Arizona University
The author stops to reminisce at Northern Arizona University’s Old Main building in Flagstaff.

After leaving the campus, I rode through Flagstaff’s charming downtown area. Iconic hotels in the area like the Hotel Monte Vista and the Weatherford cast a historic shade over the lively, rejuvenated entertainment and shopping district.

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride
Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona.

There is no shortage of things to do downtown, including the Orpheum Theater, many dining options, and unique specialty shops. The area is much more polished and refined than when I was in college. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride
Flagstaff’s revitalized downtown area, which sits at nearly 7,000 feet on the Colorado Plateau, is a hotbed of activity in both the cool summer months and when blanketed in snow.

As an undergraduate, I spent a fair amount of time “studying” in various Flagstaff watering holes, like the venerable Museum Club. This time around, as I dropped the kickstand in front of the log‑­built establishment dating back to 1931, visions of live bands and lukewarm beer flooded my memories. Some of Flagstaff’s history was lost on me while matriculating, but the slightly more mature “me” appreciates the vintage, mountain‑­chic nature of the city that lies on historic Route 66. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Museum Club
The historic Museum Club has been a fixture in the mountain city since the Great Depression era, and it was one of the author’s favorite haunts during his college days.

After leaving Flagstaff, I headed north on U.S. Route 89 toward the scenic loop through the first two national monuments slated for my ride. This first little spur of my wandering route to Albuquerque was more of a flyby, as I have visited both Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano in the past. 

See all of Rider‘s West U.S. touring stories here.

Near the northernmost point of what is fittingly called the Sunset Crater‑­Wupatki Loop Road is a significant archeological site. In the early 1100s, Pueblo communities built Wupatki, a bustling center of trade and culture. The site is well worth a walkabout. After looping farther through the otherworldly landscape of this part of northern Arizona, I came to Sunset Crater Volcano. You can see virtually the entirety of the park from the saddle along the loop road. Peering directly into the mouth of the cinder cone is no longer permitted due to foot traffic erosion; however, a long view of the nationally protected volcanic field is still a wonder to experience.

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Sunset Crater Volcano
Sunset Crater Volcano, formed during an eruption in 1085, rises more than 1,000 feet above the surrounding landscape and is visible from most of the scenic loop road.

After completing the loop road, I headed east on I‑­40 for a skinny minute to the access road for a national monument I had not visited previously. Walnut Canyon is just a short jog off the interstate through pines, oaks, and junipers. The endgame is a visually stunning canyon environment rich in rugged natural beauty and early human history. I did not walk the park’s Island Trail, a strenuous one‑­hour hike past the early cliff dwellings; however, I took in the big‑­picture experience of the park’s rim trail, which offers great views of the dwellings and the rugged topography. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument sits as a visually stunning reminder of past civilizations.

At this point in my Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride, I had been in the saddle or exploring for well over an hour, and I was only 8 miles outside of my original launching point. I did say I was not taking the most direct route to Albuquerque! My eastward trek resumed on I‑­40 and was exactly what freeway travel is designed to be: fast, efficient, and boring. My speedometer needle was pinned resolutely at 75 mph as I rolled through the tall pines of northern Arizona, which melted into junipers and then grasslands as I made my way toward the next attraction. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Walnut Canyon
Walnut Canyon, a short hop off Interstate 40, is easily accessible even in motorcycle boots.

About 40 miles out of Flagstaff, I came to the exit ramp for Meteor Crater. There are numerous “teaser” signs along the access route that are intended to build anticipation for the natural wonder at the road’s terminus. As I approached, I saw the ultimate teaser: an enormous raised, round “lip” that is evidence of the cosmic collision that occurred thousands of years ago. 

I rolled into the parking lot and secured my pass to see the crater. On my way to the viewing areas, I enjoyed a series of museums and displays that cover the history of space travel, hypothetical (corny?) representations of aliens, and the scientific nature of the meteor that found its way to earth some 50,000 years prior to my visit. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Meteor Crater
The author’s wife takes in the view at Meteor Crater, which is located between Flagstaff and Winslow, Arizona. The site offers several fascinating observational perspectives.

As I finally made my way outside the facility to the viewpoints along the rim of the crater, the massive bowl did not disappoint. One cannot help but stand in awe of the impact that created the earthen wound. There are several vantage points from which to view the crater, as well as preset telescopes for a closer look at its interesting features. Well worth the visit.

With the cosmic pockmark fading in the rear views, I was back on the interstate for a quick jaunt. Most of this ride was a survey in ancient places, but there was a little musical interlude singing its siren song in downtown Winslow. I pulled up to the intersection of Route 66 and North Kinsley Avenue, now designated as Standin’ on the Corner Park, where a flatbed Ford was conspicuously parked. 

Sure, it’s kitschy, but for anyone who has crooned along with the 1972 Eagles song “Take It Easy,” it’s a must stop. I took the requisite photo with a bronze Glenn Frey and searched in vain for the girl in that flatbed Ford. Winslow is also home to the historic La Posada Hotel, the Old Trails Museum, and Homolovi State Park.

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Route 66 Winslow Arizona
No Route 66 ride would be complete without stopping at the “corner” in Winslow, Arizona.

Again heading east, the next town of note into which I rolled was another Route 66 remnant. Just off Holbrook’s main drag rests an iconic mid‑­century attraction. Over a dozen large, conical teepees make up the historic Wigwam Motel. Those structures and the classic cars staged around the property beg for a visit and photos. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Wigwam Hotel Holbrook Arizona
The Wigwam Motel, a Route 66 fixture in Holbrook, Arizona, is worth a stop for a dose of 1950s Americana.

Just 30 miles east of Holbrook is the exit for Petrified Forest National Park. I rode due south on what would be an extended departure from any interstate highway. After paying my entry fee, I rolled into a lunar‑­esque landscape rich in pastel hues and forever views. The road through the heart of the park is 26 miles of intrigue.

I stopped at Newspaper Rock, which features hundreds of ancient petroglyphs of animals, weapons, and humans. The etched figurines tell a fascinating story, including how the exaggerated endowment on the male stick figures speaks to the fact that men never change. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Petrified Forest National Park
The author pulled off his riding gear for a walk through the Petrified Forest, which preserves fossilized logs from trees that lived 225 million years ago.

At my next stop, the park’s Crystal Forest, I pulled off my gear for a walk among the massive petrified logs that lay strewn throughout the undulations of the walking path. The path is a sojourn into a prehistoric wonderland. Logs lay as massive, independent rounds as well as segmented pieces where they fell millions of years ago. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride
Entry into New Mexico brings with it a unique Southwestern feel.

Geared up again, I exited the park to the south and continued on the longest side leg of this elongated ride to Albuquerque. I rode through the remote eastern Arizona towns of St. Johns and Springerville before heading due east on U.S. Route 60 into New Mexico. The grasslands and high chaparral landscape are wide‑­open and beautiful, making for a fun Southwestern riding experience. 

At the small New Mexican town of Quemado, I stopped for a quick look at the tiny Catholic mission on the outskirts of the hamlet, one of many such historic missions in New Mexico, before heading north on State Route 36. The high‑­desert riding continued on State Route 117 until I came to the last of my planned stops. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride
Historic missions and other religious landmarks dot New Mexico’s beautiful landscape.

The Narrows is a striking rock rim feature within the El Malpais National Monument. The road follows that sheer rim for a nice stretch before the ledge eases and separates from the tarmac. The next notable feature is a picturesque natural rock bridge to the north of The Narrows. A short walk reveals the grandeur of the La Ventana Natural Arch. After a visit, my route rejoined the freeway for the final stretch to Albuquerque. 

Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride Narrows El Malpais National Monument
The Narrows in El Malpais National Monument is a hidden treasure in western New Mexico.

Nope, this was certainly not the quickest Flagstaff to Albuquerque motorcycle ride, but it was infinitely more memorable. 

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

Flagstaff to Albuquerque Motorcycle Ride Resources

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

Riding in Beautiful Circles: A Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
A sunny June day is the perfect time to explore backroads through Oregon’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

There is just something about southern Oregon. It can be difficult to choose between the area’s rolling grasslands, towering evergreens, high mountain lakes, quaint villages, and vibrant entertainment opportunities. In fact, it’s so hard to decide that I didn’t. To sample the cornucopia of Pacific Northwest treats, I spent a few early June days on an Oregon motorcycle ride aboard a BMW G 650 X Country, a scrambler-styled variant of the single-cylinder G 650 platform sold in the late 2000s.

The largest city in southwestern Oregon, Medford, is geographically central to each of the riding loops and entertainment opportunities I had planned, and my lodging for the two-day exploration was the Compass Hotel by Margaritaville. While a tropically themed hotel by Jimmy Buffet may seem incongruous in the Pacific Northwest, it was an ideal home base – clean, colorful, comfortable, and fun.

(See RESOURCES at the end of the story for links to information about areas covered in this ride.)

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
The Compass Hotel by Margaritaville in Medford was an ideal place to stay during my multi-day visit in southern Oregon.

Oregon Motorcycle Ride Day 1: Ashland, a Ghost Town, and Shakey Graves

I packed the small tailbag on the BMW with water, my hat, and some snacks and headed southeast for the short jaunt to Ashland. Upon entering the lively, park-like city, I took a side ride past the theater compound of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. While the festival was dark during this trip, I have been to several great Shakespearean performances at the OSF. One of these I highlighted for Rider back in 2016 in “Chasing Shakespeare: An Elizabethan Tour of the West.” If you can coordinate your visit to Ashland with an OSF performance, I highly recommend it.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival is located in Ashland.

After my roll through the spotless little city, the real ride began. I headed out on Dead Indian Memorial Road, which began as one of the first trans-Cascade travel routes in southern Oregon. It connects Ashland and the Rogue River Valley with the Upper Klamath Basin. The somberly named road begins as a gentle sway through grasslands before morphing into an evergreen-lined serpentine climb into the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. The temperature dropped and the road coiled on the steady climb. Sweeping corners in wide-open grasslands became tighter in the high chaparral and hairpins in the tall forest. The light and nimble BMW proved perfect for the tightest of the corners on the route.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride

When I topped out into the dense forest, I took several jaunts onto the single-tracks and tight dirt roads that finger into the evergreen thickets. Again, the agile BMW was the perfect tool for the task. I came upon a sign indicating the crossing of the famed Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile hiking and horse trail that traverses the highest portions of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada ranges. The PCT was brought fully into the public lexicon through Cheryl Strayed’s self-discovery narrative Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, which was later made into a Reese Witherspoon movie. Just a few miles later, the picturesque Howard Prairie Lake began to reveal itself intermittently as strips of deep blue through the stately emerald pines. I stopped at one of the lake’s boat ramps to take in the pristine waters fronting the snow-capped peaks in the distance.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride

More great riding led me aside Hyatt Reservoir. While the southwestern forests near my home in Arizona are somewhat monochromatic, consisting of mostly one type of evergreen, the forests in this region offer up multiple hues of green from a wide array of tree varieties. I turned west onto the Green Springs Highway, also known as State Route 66, which proved to be a fantastic motorcycle road that winds back into Ashland. The first of my three Oregon loops was exactly as I had hoped it would be. After a bite of lunch in Ashland’s downtown, it was time for my afternoon loop.

See all of Rider‘s ‘Great Roads West’ touring stories here.

Just south of Medford, I turned on South Stage Road, which quickly brought me to the intersection of Griffin Creek Road, which becomes Poormans Creek Road, and then I turned onto Sterling Creek Road. Sense a theme here? These creek roads offered up wonderful stretches of entertaining tree-lined sweeping turns, often flanking – you guessed it – mountain streams.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
Buncom is a gold-rush ghost town.

At the intersection of Sterling Creek Road and Little Applegate Road, I rolled into the major reason I plotted this portion of the ride. The tiny ghost town of Buncom sits directly at the intersection, and only three of the original structures remain of the once-thriving town that was established when gold was discovered on Sterling Creek in the mid-1800s. The weathered wooden buildings, which consist of the town post office, a wooden bunkhouse, and an old cookhouse, hearken back to a time of starry-eyed dreams of riches – and likely also of dashed hopes. After some moments imbibing the history, it was time for the last leg of the day.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride

From Little Applegate Road, I turned onto Medford-Provolt Highway and rolled through farmland and thriving vineyards on the way to Jacksonville, which is a bit like a mini-Ashland with its historic brick buildings and homey atmosphere. It is also at the heart of Oregon’s prolific wine industry, so great local and regional examples are available everywhere. It was here that another highlight of the trip was planned.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is home to the Britt Festival Pavilion, a beautiful, intimate outdoor music venue. The nonprofit amphitheater, which hosts several big-name acts throughout the year, is named for Peter Britt, who opened Oregon’s first official winery in the late 1800s. The attraction for me was a show by Shakey Graves, an inventive artist in the loosely defined Americana genre from Austin, Texas. As the sun set over the Jacksonville horizon, I sat in the grass, sipped a little red wine, and enjoyed the amazing show. It was the perfect culmination of a fantastic day of riding. After the show, it was a short ride back to Medford for some rest.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
Watching Shakey Graves at the Britt Festival Pavilion in Jacksonville.

Oregon Motorcycle Ride Day 2: A Longer Loop and Crater Lake

Having gotten my feet wet with some great riding on the first day, the next day was for adding miles. In southern Oregon, that means more miles of spectacular scenery. A short jaunt out of Medford on State Route 62 got me to a portion of the road fittingly named the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway. The road sweeps through a wide variety of terrains, lakes, and rivers. Most notably, the tarmac clings to the bank of the Rogue River for long stretches.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
Crater Lake

Just after the northernmost crest of this loop, I got in line to pay the fee for my first visit to the world-famous Crater Lake. While the early June snowpack still rendered much of the national park’s roadway closed, I got to sample the spectacular ride up to the lake and several different perspectives. I have seen some of the most iconic natural landforms this country has to offer, and Crater Lake is a singularly jaw-dropping place. It is the deepest lake in the United States, and the water beneath those sheer volcanic cliffs is as strikingly blue as I have ever seen. The clouds reflected on the surface of that glasslike, frigid water makes for a surreal beauty, while the mysteries of its 2,000-foot depth add a dash of intrigue.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride
Even in June, snow was piled high around the visitor center at Crater Lake National Park.

Massive melting snowdrifts still lined the roadway and made icy inclines to many roofs in the park at the time of my tour. Runoff made riding vigilance of utmost importance as mini rivers crossed the park’s roads and water and debris were intermittently part of my rolling adventure. These road conditions and the abundance of wildlife make the “head on a swivel” idiom important for more than just taking in the scenery.

After riding out of the national park, I continued my loop ride on Crater Lake Highway to the southeast. Just after Fort Klamath, I made a westward turn and continued on the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Highway. As the highway took a southern turn, the extreme variety of the natural palate continued in spades. Expansive grasslands, towering trees, and rugged mountains took turns delighting my senses as I rolled toward Medford.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride

I motored past Upper Klamath Lake, which has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake in Oregon. In contrast to Crater Lake, Upper Klamath is shallow. On the final stretch of this loop, I rode through more majestic pines on the return to Medford. On State Route 140, I again crossed the path of the Pacific Crest Trail where it winds toward the base of the impressive Mount McLoughlin.

Just a month earlier, much of this ride would have been prohibitively cold and snowy. Even in June there were places, like portions of Crater Lake National Park, which were impassible. However, the mix of weather and topography was amazing on my three loops. I recommend this tour, or some variation of it, to any nature-loving moto-tourist. Extreme temperature variations are to be expected and should be reflected in what is packed in your panniers.

Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride

I rolled back to the Compass Hotel in Medford with a sore tail and a mind brimming with memories. My days in southern Oregon were amazing. Hundreds of miles on that BMW 650 proved to be a much more raw and visceral experience than it would have been on my bigger touring bike. More vibration? Yes. More wind? Yes. And more memories? For sure.


Southern Oregon Motorcycle Ride Tim Kessel

With 50 years of motorcycling and 30 years of teaching English under his belt, Tim Kessel has melded those two passions into a gig as a motojournalist. Maybe that’s why there is always a permanent, satisfied smile under his full-face helmet.

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Source: RiderMagazine.com

National Parks, Alpine Passes, and The Bard: A Southern Utah Motorcycle Ride

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Zion National Park
The subtle, pastel hues of southern Utah’s sedimentary rock formations meld seamlessly with the complementary shades of the asphalt in Zion National Park.

While I waited for my steaming calzone to cool in the pizza restaurant in the tiny town of Orderville, Utah, and contemplated my impending southern Utah motorcycle ride, I studied the giant world map on the wall. A sign encouraged visitors to place a stickpin in the map to indicate their home. The colorful plastic balls that served as pinheads reflected an impressive worldwide span, with a truly remarkable density in most of the United States.

Southern Utah’s Dixie National Forest and the area’s national parks have a magnetic appeal for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. For me, the promise of incredible scenery and winding roads drew me to the region on my trusty BMW. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

Day 1: Zion, a Massacre, and Shakespeare

After a good night’s sleep in a comfortable and unique forest-themed room at the historic Parkway Motel in Orderville, I geared up and headed toward Zion National Park. I had no plans for dirt forays on this tour, but my big R 1200 GS was the perfect mount for the area just in case. I rolled south through lush farmland until I made the westward turn at Mt. Carmel Junction onto State Route 9.

The midweek traffic was moderately light on what is also known as the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. The muted hues and sweeping corners on the first stretch were a nice warm-up and ultimately led to the east entrance of Zion. After stopping to pay the park’s $30 entrance fee (good for one week), I soon rolled into the shadows of striking crimson cliffs and stratified sedimentary rock formations. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Zion National Park
Tunnels carved through the sandstone are a unique and entertaining element of a ride through Zion National Park.

The scenery morphed into the striking beauty for which Zion is famous, and the road coiled to follow the natural contours of the park’s stone majesty. After a stop to admire the massive geometrical etchings on Checkerboard Mesa, the curves became increasingly tight and entertaining.

To my delight, I spotted two mountain goats posing atop two rock outcroppings. Thankfully, they held their pose long enough for me to dismount and snap some photos. Just a few miles later, I rolled through a short but impressive tunnel carved into the red sedimentary mountain. This ride was off to a scintillating start. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Zion National Park
A mountain goat stands sentinel over stratified rock formations high above State Route 9 in the eastern part of Zion.

See all of Rider‘s ‘Great Roads West’ touring stories here.

Deeper into the national park, the traffic and tourist presence became denser but not so heavy as to spoil the stunning ambiance. I motored beneath sculpturesque rock formations dotted with vibrant evergreen trees. The colors were eye-popping. In stretches, the winding asphalt was crimson-hued like the cliffs, and at other times, it was the more traditional gray. After miles of riding, stopping, and photographing, I came to the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. After waiting for an oversized RV to be escorted through the tight passageway, it was my turn. 

The tunnel, which was carved during the Jazz Age of the 1920s, is over a mile long. However, it’s not the length that was so striking to me. There were intermittent arched “windows” along the span that framed glimpses of the majesty of the mountains though which I was passing. While stopping in the tunnel is prohibited, I moved at a snail’s pace to take in the living art. It was truly impressive. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Zion National Park
White Navajo sandstone looks like snow atop the red rocks.

I emerged from the tunnel, flipped down my faceshield, and rolled farther into Zion. In the distance, white-capped mountains rose on the horizon. What I assumed was snow was actually the top layer of white Navajo sandstone on towers like the Great White Throne. I resisted the temptation of wide-eyed sightseeing while navigating the narrow, winding road. Frequent stops gave my kickstand a workout.

The western stretch of the park is much more developed and thus more visited. I motored over the cool waters of the Virgin River and into the community of Springdale, which rests just outside the western entrance of the park. This bustling community sits in stark contrast to the more natural and undeveloped eastern entrance. I have to say, I preferred the latter. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Zion National Park
Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park.

With Zion National Park in the rearview mirror, I set my sights on a remote stretch of my tour. After a northern turn at St. George, I rolled onto State Route 18. This is a road that often parallels the route of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail through Dixie National Forest. The ride started with more of the red and white Navajo sandstone that graced Zion as I passed by Snow Canyon.

After several miles of the nicely sweeping road, I came upon a somber historical site. The Mountain Meadows Memorial commemorates a massacre that took place in 1857. The four-day series of attacks were carried out by members of the Utah Territorial Militia and targeted the Baker-Fancher emigrant wagon train. About 120 men, women, and children were killed in the tragic territorial dispute. 

I rode farther north through the high chaparral terrain until making a westward turn onto State Route 56. This stretch afforded me the space to use the higher gears on the GS and take in the expansive southern Utah views. Finally, signage welcomed me to
Cedar City. The “Festival City” would be my highly anticipated stop for the night. After unloading my bags in the El Rey Inn, I had a few slices of margherita pizza and a microbrew at the bustling Centro Woodfired Pizzeria near the campus of Southern Utah University. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Cedar City
Cedar City is a compact and charming Utah town.

The university is home to a world-class theatrical experience, the annual Utah Shakespeare Festival, which runs from June to October. Anytime I can infuse a bit of the Bard into my tours, I do so with enthusiasm. In this case, I had secured a ticket to a preview performance of Macbeth. I settled into my seat at the beautiful outdoor theater and thoroughly enjoyed the spirited performance of “The Scottish Play” in the warm Utah evening air. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Cedar City Utah Shakespeare Festival
From June through October, Cedar City hosts the Utah Shakespeare Festival, which has established itself as one of the premiere Elizabethan experiences in the nation.

See all of Rider‘s Utah motorcycle rides here.

Day 2: Cedar Breaks and Ski Slopes

The second day of my southern Utah tour would include a serious gain in elevation, so I layered riding shirts under my mesh jacket in preparation for the crisp morning ride. The climb out of Cedar City into the mountains of the Dixie National Forest was rapid and enjoyable. The vibrant mix of conifers beside the winding path of State Route 14 was more reminiscent of a forest in the Pacific Northwest than what one would normally find in the Southwest. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Cedar City State Route 14
Diversity is the rule of the day in southern Utah. State Route 14 carves a sinuous line through Cedar Canyon east of Cedar City.

I was glad I had put on extra layers. Even in late June, this mountainous area often reveals some lingering snow. I clicked on the heated grips for a spell in the early morning shade of the mountains as the temperatures dropped into the low 40s. Deep in the mountains, I made the northern turn onto State Route 148 and continued my curvaceous climb. (Due to winter closures on this part of the route, this ride is best done in late spring to early fall.)

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Brian Head
Located just north of Cedar Breaks National Monument and surrounded by national forest land, the ski area of Brian Head is an alpine region with incredible riding through evergreens and alongside high-country creeks and wetlands.

Just a handful of miles into this stretch, I arrived at the impressive Cedar Breaks National Monument ($10 entrance fee). The Paiutes called the area “Circle of Painted Cliffs,” and the Native name is a perfect description. It is known as a smaller, less touristy version of Bryce Canyon, which is exactly why I opted for it on this tour.

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Cedar Breaks National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument is a geologic amphitheater filled with multicolored hoodoos, spires, and steep cliffs that spans 3 miles across and a half-mile deep.

It is a natural shale, limestone, and sandstone amphitheater with a rim elevation of 10,000 feet. The road follows that rim closely, offering several breathtaking views. After taking in those vistas, my ride out of the monument was flanked by mountains still laced with snow and flowing runoff streams. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Cedar Breaks National Monument
Taking in the view at Cedar Breaks National Monument. The vast expanses of southern Utah are best imbibed slowly and completely. This is not an area to rush through.

Just out of the boundary of the national monument, I continued north on State Route 143 and rolled into the ski resort town of Brian Head, which sits at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet. Some of the forests near the town were ravaged by wildfires in 2017, but the unaffected ski slopes are lush and dense. The entire ride along Route 143 was amazing. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Brian Head

I dropped out of the mountains, and after a short leg on the interstate, I headed southeast on State Route 20. I was fully engulfed in the sweeping corners when I noticed a series of metal sculptures that looked like a mule train in the tall Utah grass. The adjacent historical marker indicated that I was at an intersection of the Old Spanish National Historic Trail. At the end of this stretch, I headed south on U.S. Route 89. I rode through the small town of Panguitch, and then I turned west on Route 143 and rode through the Dixie National Forest for the last leg of my trip. 

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Old Spanish Trail
Human history, as evidenced in a portion of the Old Spanish Trail used by traders in the early 1800s, adds texture to an exploration of the area.

I was back in the serious twisties as I passed Panguitch Lake. The expansive reservoir sits at more than 8,000 feet. Tall trees, meandering creeks, and crisp mountain air were the earmarks of the rest of the ride through the national forest. I detoured south on Mammoth Creek Road, and at Duck Creek Village, I headed east on SR 14, descending out of the mountains to U.S. 89 and back to Orderville.

My southern Utah motorcycle ride did not disappoint. My exploration proved to be an area rich in both natural and human history. The diversity of the ride kept it fresh and entertaining, and the roads were a motorcyclist’s dream.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

Southern Utah motorcycle ride Brian Head
From sandstone canyons to alpine mountains like Brian Head Peak, this is a ride of stunning views. Slow down, stop, and enjoy it.

Southern Utah Motorcycle Ride Resources:

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Backcountry Discovery Routes Releases Steens Mountain and Alvord Desert, OR BDR-X

Backcountry Discovery Routes Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert Oregon BDR-X
Backcountry Discovery Routes Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert, Oregon, BDR-X (Photo by Ely Woody)

Earlier this year, Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) released the Oregon BDR, its 12th full route, and each one can be completed in about a week. BDR has also released shorter BDR-X routes that are loops that can be done in two to three days. Read the press release below to learn more about the latest BDR-X route.

Related: Listen to Our Podcast Interview with BDR’s Inna Thorn and Tim James

Backcountry Discovery Routes Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert Oregon BDR-X
Backcountry Discovery Routes Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert, Oregon, BDR-X (Photo by Ely Woody)

The adventure motorcycling nonprofit Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) will release its next route, the Steens Mountain and Alvord Desert, Oregon BDR-X, during a live YouTube broadcast on June 7th from Mosko Moto headquarters in White Salmon, Washington. 

Hosts BDR Executive Director Inna Thorn, route co-architect Nathan Fant, and Mosko Moto CEO Pete Day will premiere the short expedition documentary film and offer viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the route.

  • Wednesday, June 7, 2023
  • Steens Mountain & Alvord Desert BDR-X Live Route Release
  • 5 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. EST
  • YouTube.com/RideBDR
Backcountry Discovery Routes Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert Oregon BDR-X
Backcountry Discovery Routes Steens Mountains and Alvord Desert, Oregon, BDR-X (Photo by Ely Woody)

The Steens Mountain and Alvord Desert BDR-X is the organization’s fifteenth route and fourth in the BDR-X series of shorter BDR-style loops. Free GPS tracks, travel resources, and a downloadable/printable map will be available at RideBDR.com/AlvordDesert.

“We created this BDR-X because Steens Mountain has to been seen to be believed. Far different than the Cascades or Rockies, this remote mountain has deep glacier-carved gorges and views down to the vast Alvord Desert that riders get to experience on the second day. It’s an awe-inspiring loop that riders will never forget.” — Bryce Stevens, BDR co-founder and route architect

Mosko Moto is the presenting sponsor of this route. The luggage and apparel manufacturer is headquartered in White Salmon, WA, and is perfectly situated between the end of the ORBDR and the start of the WABDR. For BDR riders, Mosko offers free camping at the Bates Mototel – about 5 miles from downtown White Salmon (reserve a site by email). Mosko’s Co-Founder and CEO joined the filming expedition.

“The Alvord is one of my favorite places in the world. The wide open spaces, the absence of noise, clutter, and people. Dark skies and vivid stars. It’s a very special place, and it’s far from everything, which is kind of the point.” — Pete Day, Mosko Moto Co-Founder & CEO

About The Backcountry Discovery Routes OR BDR-X 

Designed to showcase the striking 5,000-foot elevation transition from the Steens Mountain to the Alvord Desert, this remote BDR-X starts and ends in Fields, Oregon (near section 1 of the Oregon BDR). The 246-mile loop can be accomplished in two days and offers a diverse mix of surface terrain, including gravel roads, rocky double-track, overgrown dirt roads, and open desert playa making this BDR-X truly unique. This 2-day loop is accessible after the snow melts and the roads open in June.

The post Backcountry Discovery Routes Releases Steens Mountain and Alvord Desert, OR BDR-X appeared first on Rider Magazine.

Source: RiderMagazine.com

Seeing Three Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle | Favorite Ride

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS Capitol Reef National Park Mighty 5
Photos by Andrew Fodor and Nicole Fodor

Utah’s national parks – Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion – are known as the Mighty 5. All feature impressive red rock formations, landscapes, and vistas, yet each is unique. In late September, after the worst of the summer heat and crowds, my wife and I toured three Utah National Parks on a motorcycle.

We were coming from California. Younger riders or those with iron butts may choose to endure the entire journey on two wheels, but we prefer burning the hundreds of interstate miles to get there and back in comfort, and we like to bring more for a two-week trip than can fit on a bike. We rented an RV and a trailer, loaded up my BMW R 1200 GS, stocked up on gear, food, beer, and wine, and hit the road from our home in Oxnard.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

We “glamped” in RV parks, all of which had wide pull-through spots with plenty of trailer and bike parking. Once parked, we saddled up for scenic day rides. Being on a motorcycle made it easier to cruise through the national parks and slip into smaller parking spaces. At the end of each day, we returned to our campsite for a sundowner by the fire. For this trip, we purchased a National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass for $80, which paid for itself upon entrance to our third park and gave us access to other parks for a full year.

See all of Rider‘s ‘Great Roads West’ touring stories here.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle: Capitol Reef

On a perfect 70-degree clear day, we mounted the GS, departed Thousand Lakes RV Park in Torrey, Utah, and rode into Capitol Reef National Park, known for its 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. It was formed as rocks were pushed upward and erosion sliced and diced through the layers, creating deep, narrow canyons and towering monoliths.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS Capitol Reef National Park Mighty 5
Capitol Reef got its name because early settlers thought the Navajo sandstone resembled the U.S. Capitol.

We rode past Panoramic Point down a short washboard dirt road to Goosenecks Overlook. I changed the GS’s suspension setting to Comfort mode and promptly received a “Thanks, Babe” from Nicole via our helmet comms. The view from Goosenecks Overlook of the river below and the slender S-curve it cut into the canyon was splendid.

Continuing into the park, we turned right at the visitor center onto Capitol Reef Scenic Drive, a paved road that turns to dirt after 8 miles at the Capitol Gorge Road picnic area. There is so much to see in all directions that we poked along at about 20 mph. Coming back, we turned onto a bumpy 2-mile dirt road and rode through a couple dry washes to the Cassidy Arch trailhead and Grand Wash. I checked the horizon for storms, as even distant rain could quickly make those washes impassable. The scenery as we approached the trailhead changed dramatically, making the detour a must-do.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle: Canyonlands

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle Canyonlands National Park
From Grand View Point in Canyonlands, the Colorado River and Green River canyons look like a giant chicken footprint in the plateau.

Due to a late start from our campsite at the Sun Outdoors Arches Gateway in Moab, we were turned away from Arches because it was at capacity. Even in the “shoulder” season, high-traffic parks like Arches fill up early, so depending on when you go, plan ahead and reserve a timed entry ticket. Even though Canyonlands is only a few miles from Arches, it gets much less traffic, so we headed there instead.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS Canyonlands National Park Mighty 5
Canyonlands is made up of three districts: Island in the Sky (which we visited), The Needles, and The Maze.

We had to wait to get into Canyonlands too, but Nicole and I passed the time by chatting and digging into our bag of snacks. Following the requisite snapshot at the park entrance sign, we proceeded along the huge flat-topped Island in the Sky Mesa and the 34-mile roundtrip paved road that connects the panoramic viewpoints. These overlooks are 1,000 feet above the surrounding terrain, so the views are spectacular.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle: Arches

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle Arches National Park
Double Arch in Arches National Park is a pothole arch formed by erosion from above.

A much earlier start the next day paid off. We began the tour of Arches at The Windows Section, home of Double Arch, the Parade of Elephants formation, North Window, and Turret Arch. We brought shorts and tennis shoes to comfortably walk amongst the sites, as well as a picnic lunch. My favorite was Double Arch, a pothole arch with a span that’s 144 feet wide and 112 feet high formed by water erosion from above rather than more typical erosion from the side.

A brisk 10-minute walk took us to North Window, standing 93 feet wide and 51 feet high, where we stumbled upon a group of local grade-schoolers with canvas and paintbrushes in hand, tapping into their inner artist. “Don’t get too focused on the sky, or you’ll end up with too much blue in your painting,” advised their teacher. We continued on and then enjoyed the solitude and scenery of the Windows Primitive Loop trail.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS Arches National Park
Arches fills up fast, so get there early.

Back on the bike, other highlights included the Garden of Eden, Balanced Rock, and Wolfe Ranch, which is located at the trailhead that leads to the famous Delicate Arch featured on Utah license plates.

See all of Rider‘s Utah motorcycle rides here.

A Bonus Ride: La Sal Loop Road

On a cloudy 62-degree morning, we followed U.S. Route 191 south out of Moab and made our way to La Sal Loop Road, a winding paved route that climbs up into the La Sal Mountains. The temperature dropped and it began to rain, but luckily the road turned away from the storm. 

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS La Sal Mountains
Moab serves as a great base for scenic day rides. After visiting Canyonlands and Arches, we climbed out of the valley on La Sal Loop Road, where we enjoyed the fall colors of the aspens.

“Are you warm enough?” I asked Nicole, and when she answered in the affirmative, we pressed on. Just beyond the parking area for Mill Creek, we turned right onto Forest Road 076 toward Oowah Lake. This bumpy, rutted dirt road challenged me with sharp corners, steep climbs, and wandering bovines, but we were rewarded with the fall colors of the aspens.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS La Sal Mountains
We took this dirt road of the main La Sal Loop Road in order to get to Oowah Lake.

We continued our counterclockwise ride on La Sal Loop Road. We stopped at La Sal Lookout Point, which provides sweeping views of Castle Valley and red rock formations that look like the inspiration for the old cartoons with the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote. A steep descent with multiple switchbacks took us down to the warmer air of the valley floor. At State Route 128, we turned left (west) and followed the Colorado River on our way back to Moab.

Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle BMW R 1200 GS
RV camping allowed us to travel in comfort.

With so much great riding and scenery, we were reluctant to leave, but our allocated vacation time was coming to an end, so we packed up and headed home. Southern Utah is a stunning part of the country that should be on everyone’s must-see, must-ride list.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

The post Seeing Three Utah National Parks on a Motorcycle | Favorite Ride first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Backcountry Discovery Routes: BMW and BDR Collaborate on New Oregon Route

Following the success of the first partnership between BMW Motorrad USA and Backcountry Discovery Routes in 2022 with the Wyoming BDR, the two groups have announced a second partnership for a route in Oregon. The new route will be officially launched Saturday, Feb. 4, at the premiere screening of the ORBDR Expedition documentary in Portland and other select locations around the nation. For more information, read the press release below from BMW Motorrad USA.

Backcountry Discovery Routes Oregon BDR

BMW Motorrad USA is excited to announce its second partnership with adventure motorcycling nonprofit, Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR) on their newest route – Oregon. This is the second BDR route on which BMW Motorrad has collaborated, the first being the Wyoming BDR, released in 2022.

Related: New Route: Wyoming Backcountry Discovery Route

The ORBDR represents the organization’s 12th route for adventure and dual-sport motorcycle travel, with free GPS tracks, travel resources, and a Butler Motorcycle Map scheduled to accompany the film’s debut.

Backcountry Discovery Routes Oregon BDR

Luciana Francisco, BMW Motorrad USA head of brand and marketing, said BMW Motorrad is proud to partner with Backcountry Discovery Routes for the second time in two years.

“In 2023, BMW Motorrad celebrates its 100th year anniversary and also marks 43 years of BMW GS motorcycles,” Francisco said. “This is the perfect time to share our passion for the adventure and dual-sport riding communities and show our continued support for the BDR organization and what they stand for. We look forward to both new and experienced off-road enthusiasts being inspired by the scenic routes of the ORBDR.”

Related: Backcountry Discovery Routes: Two Buddies on Yamaha Ténéré 700s in Utah and Arizona

To launch of the new Oregon route, Backcountry Discovery Routes and BMW Motorrad will kick-off with a film premiere event in Portland, Oregon, and selected BMW Motorrad dealer events on Saturday, Feb. 4. Additionally, over 70 film screenings are planned through spring 2023, hosted by dealers and clubs around the country. More information on the film screening locations is available at the Backcountry Discovery Routes events webpage.

Backcountry Discovery Routes Oregon BDR

The ORBDR expedition film features members of the BDR team and special guests from BMW Motorrad USA, Mosko Moto, and Edelweiss Bike Travel as they take a first run on the all-new ORBDR. Starting in the high desert landscapes of Southeastern Oregon and exploring North into the Cascade Range, the crew tests their endurance, riding cross-state through 750 miles of lava rock, silt, sand, and steep mountain roads. Highlighting the state’s many natural wonders including hot springs, pyroducts, caverns, buttes, and glaciated volcanoes, the route and film showcases why traveling by motorcycle is one of the best ways to discover the backcountry of Oregon.

Story continues below trailer for ORBDR Expedition

Bryce Stevens, Oregon Route architect & BDR co-founder grew up in the Pacific Northwest and said he has “always been fascinated by volcanoes.”

“The ORBDR is a route filled with natural wonders of the volcanic kind. We designed the ORBDR to show off different regions of the state and keep the route ever-changing,” Stevens said. “Oregon has vast high desert in the southeast, sparse pine forests in the central part of the state, and densely forested mountains in the Cascade Range. It almost feels like three BDRs packed into one.”

Related: Backcountry Discovery Routes: Ep. 33 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

Joining the expedition team in Oregon was Ricardo Rodriguez, lead motorcycle instructor at BMW’s U.S. Rider Academy in Greer, South Carolina. Ricardo is a graduate of BMW’s rigorous International Instructor’s Academy and has been teaching on-road street survival, adventure off-road, and authority riding skills since 2010.

“The BDR Team has set out on a fantastic mission, helping keep public lands accessible to the adventure community,” he said. “I am very proud and excited about the relationship between BDR, BMW Motorrad, and the BMW U.S. Rider Academy. Having the opportunity to be a part of the Oregon BDR has helped build my experience as a rider and a coach. Overcoming the challenges along the ORBDR reinforced to me the value of the skills we teach daily at the US Rider Academy.”

Rodriguez continued to say that Backcountry Discovery Routes offers properly trained riders an opportunity to put their skills to the test.

“The Oregon BDR is a challenge and reward riding adventure.”

For more information, visit the Backcountry Discovery Routes website.

The post Backcountry Discovery Routes: BMW and BDR Collaborate on New Oregon Route first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Backcountry Discovery Routes: Two Buddies on Yamaha Ténéré 700s in Utah and Arizona

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700 Colorado River
Taking a rehydration break along the Colorado River while our Yamaha Ténéré 700s waited patiently.

During the long, dark winter in Minnesota, when the ground is covered in snow and ice and our motorcycles are mothballed for months, dreaming about riding in a warm, dry place gives us hope. That’s when my friend Craig and I started planning an adventure ride out West. We sketched out a route that included a mix of backroads, parts of the Arizona and Utah Backcountry Discovery Routes, other off-road tracks, and interesting sights along the way.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

In May, we flew into Phoenix and headed to EagleRider in nearby Mesa, where we were greeted by a friendly guy named Bob. After a quick paperwork checkout procedure, we packed our gear on two rented Yamaha Ténéré 700s and headed north on Interstate 17.

With temperatures in the triple digits, the frigid days of winter seemed like a distant memory, so we busted north to gain some elevation.

Related: 2021 Yamaha Ténéré 700 | Long-Term Ride Review

Even in full riding gear, we started to cool off as we rode farther north. Our bikes were unfamiliar to us, and they were stuffed to the gunwales with camping gear and other essentials. We soon grew accustomed to their added weight as we passed over the “Carefree Highway,” a 30-mile stretch of road made famous by Canadian singer Gordon Lightfoot that runs between I-17 and U.S. Route 60.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700

I have a lot of street miles under my belt, but this was my first adventure bike trip, so I wasn’t entirely prepared for the primitive roads where the gravel feels like marbles under your wheels. However, it didn’t take long for the combination of my ancient dirtbike experience and a few unplanned rear-wheel kickouts to provide a quick education on keeping the Ténéré upright. Enthusiasm tempered with caution was the order of the day.

We took County Road 59/Bumble Bee Road off I-17 to check out the Cleator Bar and Yacht Club. The name of this welcoming 4×4 oasis run by Tina Barnhart is a bit tongue-in-cheek, as it is located hundreds of miles from open water. Barnhart is also in the vehicle delivery business to such faraway places as Africa and is active in the Global Rescue Project based in Scottsdale, Arizona, which works to end child slavery and reunite children with their families.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Cleator Bar and Yacht Club
Boats in the Yacht Club’s “marina.”

The Cleator Bar is a must-stop location, complete with boats in the “marina” out back and a stage for live music. Interestingly, the entire town of Cleator, comprising 40 acres, a bar, a general store, a few other structures, and mineral rights, was put on the market by descendants of James P. Cleator in 2020 for $1.25 million, and it was sold at the bargain price of $956,000.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Cleator Bar and Yacht Club
Hanging out with Tina Barnhart while we cooled off at the Cleator Bar and Yacht Club.

Related: Backcountry Discovery Routes: First BDR-X Route and YouTube BDR Film Library

Our next stop was Crown King, located another 13 miles along CR 59 at an elevation of 5,771 feet. A high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended on the deteriorated roads. The Ténérés managed well, and we soon found ourselves taking a load off in the Crown King Saloon & Eatery, one of the oldest continuously operated saloons in the state. We enjoyed a cold drink and a hearty lunch, and the $5 bottle of scotch we bought there (on sale courtesy of Mother’s Day) served us well during the rest of the trip.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Bradshaw Mountains
We were surprised to see so much green in the Bradshaw Mountains.

Like a lot of small towns in the Bradshaw Mountains of Arizona, Crown King used to be a thriving mining community. In 1904, a railroad was built to help mining operations, but due to a lack of water and high transportation costs to process the ore, it was abandoned in 1926. The old railroad bed is still used today as the main access road to Crown King. 

While there, we met Chuck Hall, who is a great ambassador for the area – and a talented guitar picker to boot. He told us he’d lived there for over 30 years and recommended we check out the Senator Highway, on which he’d lost many an exhaust pipe from his old Dodge Neon. A former stagecoach route, the rutted road snakes 37 miles from Crown King to Prescott with many blind switchbacks, eroded surfaces, several water crossings, and spectacular scenery.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700
Craig takes a breather on part of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route.

Hall recommended we visit Palace Station, a stage stop built in 1878 midway between Crown King and Prescott. Back in the day, the station had a bar and was a social meeting center for the miners who worked in the area.

See all of Rider‘s touring stories here.

We targeted the town of Jerome for the night. This old copper mining town earned its nickname, “Wickedest Town in the West,” during its heyday in the early 20th century. After the mining bust, the town descended into desperation, greed, and crime. It was revived in the 1960s as a tourist destination, and many of its historic buildings are now filled with restaurants, shops, and hotels. Jerome is said to be a hotbed of paranormal activity, and we stayed at the Connor Hotel, which is reportedly haunted by the “Lady in Red.” We didn’t see any ghosts, so maybe she had the night off. 

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700 Jerome Arizona
Downtown Jerome, the “Wickedest Town in the West.”

Related: Backcountry Discovery Routes: Ep. 33 Rider Magazine Insider Podcast

With a long day of off-roading ahead, we left Jerome and headed north toward the Grand Canyon on a series of unpaved national forest roads. We wound our way around the contours of Woodchute Mountain, crossed the Verde River, and ascended to the Colorado Plateau at more than 6,000 feet. We could see the volcanic San Francisco Peaks rising above the plateau to the east.

We crossed Interstate 40 near Williams, and after a few miles on State Route 64, we turned onto a national forest road to take an unpaved “back door” route into Grand Canyon National Park. We hooked up with Route 64 again where it’s known as East Rim Drive and enjoyed scenic views from the Grand Canyon’s South Rim.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona South Rim Grand Canyon
Craig (on left) and me at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon – a million miles away from our home in Minnesota.

After leaving the park, we connected with U.S. Route 89 and refueled at Cameron, where the highway crosses the Little Colorado River. At Bitter Springs, U.S. 89 splits to the east toward Page, but we continued north on U.S. Route 89A, crossing the Colorado River at Marble Canyon via the Navajo Bridge and following 89A west into an area known as the Arizona Strip. We rode with the majestic Vermilion Cliffs to our right, crossed House Rock Valley, and then climbed out of the desert and into the evergreens of the Kaibab Plateau.  

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Navajo Bridge
The Navajo Bridge crosses the Colorado River at Marble Canyon, and in the background is Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

We stopped at Jacob Lake, a small crossroads that sits at 7,925 feet, and it was noticeably cooler at the higher elevation. Known as the gateway to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Jacob Lake has a gas station and a hotel with a restaurant and gift shop. The town was named after Jacob Hamblin, an early Mormon pioneer who was shown the location in the mid-1800s by the Kaibab band of Southern Paiutes. And according to the hotel staff, the lake is more of a pond.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Jacob Lake
Jacob Lake, Arizona, is near the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We continued west through Fredonia and crossed into Utah near Kanab, known locally as “Little Hollywood” because of its rich history in filmmaking – most notably Westerns, with more than 100 movies and television shows being filmed there.

Thus far we had stayed at motels, so we weren’t exactly roughing it. We decided we needed to get some use out of the camping gear we’d been lugging around. After riding through Zion National Park, where we were blown away by the majesty of the cliff faces and rock formations, we traversed the Dixie National Forest through Duck Creek Village to Hatch, where we found suitable dispersed camping.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Zion National Park
Utah State Route 9 winds through incomparable scenery in Zion National Park.

It had been about 20 years since my last camping experience. I narrowly avoided putting an eye out with the tent poles, and after the camp was set and the fire built, it felt good to relax with that $5 bottle of scotch. It was a clear night, and the 7,000-foot elevation yielded cool temperatures. With the fire all but gone, it was time to turn in for the night. I live in Minnesota and am no stranger to the cold, but I clocked 19 degrees overnight in that campsite and don’t think I have ever been so happy to see the sun start to rise. Note to self: Next time bring a sleeping bag rated below 30 degrees.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona
Around the campfire, we sampled the $5 bottle of scotch we bought at the Crown King Saloon. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the coldest night I ever spent camping was during May in Utah.

Once packed up, we put Hatch in the rear view and were soon heading east on Utah’s stunning State Route 12, known as one of the most scenic highways in the nation. We visited Bryce Canyon National Park and its many rock spires and hoodoos and rode through the vastness of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

At Boulder, we left the pavement and took the Burr Trail, a well-known backcountry route that passes through Capitol Reef National Park on its way to the Bullfrog Basin in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The trail was named for John Burr, a cattle rancher who developed the route to move his cattle between winter and summer ranges. The country was nearly impassable then and continues to be challenging to this day, with RVs and trailers “not recommended.” Southern Utah is one amazing vista after another, and this stretch featured outstanding scenery as well as many switchbacks on loose gravel that kept us on our toes.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Burr Trail
Switchbacks and elevation changes as far as the eye can see on the Burr Trail in Utah.

Throughout the trip, we’d been battered by winds that were contributing to fire restrictions in Arizona and Utah. At this point, the wind was howling, with 50-mph gusts giving us a good sand blasting. After a quick stop in Bullfrog, we headed north on State Route 276 and then south on State Route 95 to Hite Crossing over the Colorado River.

We had violated our “never pass gas” top-off policy in Bullfrog, expecting to find a place to refuel in Fry Canyon. Given the time of year and possibly other reasons unknown, the gas pumps were closed in Fry, so we pushed on through some gorgeous country that might’ve been easier to appreciate if we weren’t worried about our dwindling fuel.

At one point, we pulled over to assess the situation. Craig had been smart enough to fill his reserve bottle, which he poured into his tank. My bike was still showing a couple bars of fuel left. I tip my cap to the Yamaha Ténéré 700. Even though my fuel gauge was blinking “empty” and both of us were expecting the pullover of shame, we made it all the way to Blanding. The Arch Canyon Inn was a welcome stop, but being informed that it’s a dry town put the “bland” in Blanding.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700
Travelers in a strange land. Parts of Utah felt like being on another planet.

Leaving Blanding and getting on the Utah BDR was like visiting another planet. The Butler and Comb washes, the Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods were some of our favorite parts of this trip. With all the distinct rock formations, it was a challenge to stay focused on the trail and not get distracted by the scenery. In most cases, one blown turn can mean disaster, but the rewards are more than worth the risks. Again, caution saved the day.

The southern terminus of the Utah BDR is in the town of Mexican Hat, which I assumed was named after a mountain resembling a sombrero. Turns out, it is a distinctive disc-shaped rock about 60 feet in diameter that’s perched atop a smaller base at the top of a mesa. I’ll always remember it as the site of my first involuntary dismount from the Yamaha during a charge up a softer-than-expected mound of sand.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700 Mexican Hat
At the southern terminus of the Utah BDR in Mexican Hat. Behind me is the town’s namesake rock and below me is softer-than-expected sand.

Related: (Mis)Adventures on the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR)

The area around Mexican Hat borders the northern section of the Navajo Nation into Monument Valley. This area is considered the sacred heart of Navajo country, and you can’t help but marvel at how iconic the straight-line stretch of road is as it leads into the horizon, framed with towering sandstone rock formations. Hiking in the park is highly restricted, with only one path that can be hiked without a guide. Monument Valley Trail Park had been previously closed after a movie crew was caught filming without a permit. It is now reopened at a reduced occupancy limit, but no motorcycles are permitted on the 17-mile loop due to deep sand dunes in the area.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700
Dispersed camping near Hatch, Utah.

Back in Arizona, we cruised paved highways to Flagstaff and then down into Sedona. Determined to camp at a lower (read: warmer) elevation, we found the Lo Lo Mai Springs Outdoor Resort. Lo lo mai is a Hopi Indian word that represents a greeting with many meanings, similar to the Hawaiian aloha. It also means “beautiful,” which the owners of Lo Lo Mai Springs say is where the resort’s name originated. The area borders spring-fed Oak Creek, which is a valuable and rare natural water source in this part of Arizona. The campground had some welcome amenities and was a lot warmer than the prior camping stop.

Backcountry Discovery Routes BDR Utah Arizona Yamaha Ténéré 700 Monument Valley
Monument Valley.

We spent our last day exploring some of the Arizona BDR tracks in the Coconino National Forest near Sedona and Flagstaff. With time running out, we finally hopped on State Route 87 and burned the final miles to Scottsdale, where the town was alive with nightlife.

Returning the bikes was bittersweet. Bob welcomed us back, relieved that the Ténérés had only a layer of dust and a bit less rubber on their tires after 1,591 on- and off-road miles. As we grabbed an Uber to the airport, I could not help but realize the vast additional riding world that adventure motorcycling opens up. Soon after getting home, I put one of my streetbikes up for sale, and an adventure bike could be in my future.

The post Backcountry Discovery Routes: Two Buddies on Yamaha Ténéré 700s in Utah and Arizona first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Valley of Fire and Lake Mead in Nevada | Favorite Ride

Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
The roads in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park cut through some of the world’s most stunning red rock formations.

Johnny Cash sang about fire, murder, heartbreak, and sin, and I think he would have appreciated the symbolism of this ride, given its route. Northeast of Las Vegas is one of the most visually stunning state parks in the Southwest. The added bonus for motorcyclists is that the park’s roads trace through the crimson landscape like slithering black mambas. A ride through Valley of Fire State Park and Lake Mead National Recreation Area makes for a fantastic motorized respite from the neon bustle of Vegas. 

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

The Las Vegas Strip, with its massive themed casinos, sidewalk solicitations, and congestion, is not my cup of tea. That’s why my staging point for this ride was Fremont Street. While still over-the-top, this area has the feel of an older, more genuine version of Vegas.

The night before my ride, I watched a cover band play classic rock tunes under the lights and video canopy that spans Fremont and enjoyed a variety of street performers. The next day, I put a couple bottles of water and lunch in the saddlebags of my BMW R 1200 GS and mounted up. 

Read all of Rider’s BMW coverage here

Fremont Street is well north of the traffic and congestion of the Strip, so getting out of the city was much more convenient than it would have been if I had opted for lodging at one of the mega-casinos. On my way out of town, I rode past the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum – Vegas-themed tributes that were added to my post-ride entertainment schedule. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area Nevada
The Las Vegas Wash runs as a tributary to Lake Mead, adding yet another unique visual element to this great ride.

The cruise northeast on the Las Vegas Freeway (Interstate 15) was a nice warm-up to this loop ride. The muted hues and desert views were expansive as I climbed out of the neon valley. There were a few floating cotton balls in the otherwise intense blue of the mid-morning Nevada sky. The line where the horizon meets the sky was as crisp and sharp as I have ever seen. 

After 30 miles of motoring on the freeway, I diverted the GS eastward onto the Valley of Fire Highway. The two-lane tarmac starts as a gently curving and undulating climb into the gray stone mountains that were part of the striking delineation I enjoyed just miles before. However, the monochromatic gray soon gives way to vibrant blotches of crimson. Contemplating the name of the Valley of Fire State Park, I couldn’t help but imagine those red spots as flare-ups caused by the wind-carried embers of an approaching wildfire. 

Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
The various hues of the desert landscape in the Valley of Fire make for a ride with an almost cinematic feel.

My first stop in the park was at the aptly named Beehives. There is little doubt what all the buzz is about. Cringe-worthy puns aside, the Beehives are a spectacular object lesson on the artistic creativity of erosion. The hives are stratified tributes to the power of wind, water, and time.

Valley of Fire State Park Nevada Beehives
The Beehives are whimsical sentinels that add to the region’s other-worldly feel.

By the time I got to the turnoff for the park’s visitor center, I was fully engulfed in the figurative flames of the Valley of Fire. I live near Sedona, Arizona, and I have ridden extensively through the red rocks of southern Utah, so I have a solid base of reference for the hue of red sandstone. Valley of Fire is something different. The terrain carries a deeper, more blood-like patina in this region. It is stunning. 

Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
The smooth and well-maintained winding roads through the Valley of Fire are tailor-made for motorcycling.

I bought a $10 park pass at a self-serve kiosk and rode up Mouse’s Tank Road. The endgame of this beautiful ride was a short hike on The White Domes Trail, where I enjoyed a drink of water and a snack and took in the majesty.

I am not usually a fan of out-and-back routes; however, this ride, carving through the curvaceous rock formations of the park, is fantastic in both directions. It’s only about 6 miles from the visitor center to the end of Mouse’s Tank Road, so the ride through the heart of the park is short but very scenic.  

See all of Rider‘s touring stories by region/state here

Valley of Fire State Park Nevada
The mix of elevation changes and a smorgasbord of turns makes the ride through the Valley of Fire very entertaining.

Back on the Valley of Fire Highway, I was awed at the beauty around me. The road follows the undulations and sinews of the red rocks. I made a final stop at Elephant Rock and meandered up the trail in my Sidi boots. It was well worth the wear on the soles of those expensive kicks. Elephant Rock is yet another of the park’s formations that is stunningly indicative of nature’s wonders. 

If this were a full daytrip rather than a through-ride, I would have stopped and hiked several more of the park’s features, like Arch Rock and Atlatl Rock with its Native American petroglyphs. The park is deserving of more exploration than I was able to give it. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area Nevada
A fellow biker gives the universal salute as he rolls through Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Back on the BMW, I made my way to the end of the park’s highway at its intersection with North Shore Road (State Route 167). The referenced shore is the bank of Lake Mead. The “shore road” moniker is a bit of a misnomer. The Southwest’s unprecedented drought has drawn the reservoir down to a record low, so I was quite some distance from the lake. While not a waterside trek, the ride in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area is entertaining and beautiful. I was back in that fringe environment where red outcroppings dot the gray landscape. The fire was to my back this time. 

Lake Mead National Recreation Area Nevada
The terrain within Lake Mead National Recreation Area is stark, barren, and beautiful.

Farther west on my return toward Vegas, the flatter, muted desert landscape returned. Cactus, desert brush, and the occasional dwarf palm dotted the horizon, and the final leg was relaxing as I traveled back from the Valley of Fire to the valley of neon. With proper gear choices, this is a ride that can be made virtually year-round, and I will certainly be back. From the City of Sin to the Valley of Fire, it’s a heavenly ride indeed. The Man in Black would approve.

The post Valley of Fire and Lake Mead in Nevada | Favorite Ride first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride: Rolling Through the Rockies

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
Rugged mountains, evergreen spires, historic towns, and fantastic curves highlight this loop ride through western Colorado.

As I sat in the grassy courtyard of the Retro Motel in Cortez, Colorado, the quaint motel’s name struck a chord. It dawned on me that “retro” may be the theme of this western Colorado motorcycle ride. Merriam-Webster defines “retro” as something “fashionably nostalgic.” That seemed fitting as I contemplated a loop ride that would take me deep into the Rocky Mountains and through some of western Colorado’s iconic towns. The most famous of these towns are deeply rooted in frontier history but have since taken on the upscale air of ski-chic and Western high fashion.

After a slug of coffee and a nibble of the motel’s grab-n-go breakfast, I headed north out of Cortez on State Route 145. In no time, I was rolling through the tiny town of Dolores. From there, I began a beautiful ride that follows the Dolores River for a long stretch and gains elevation. The route is a pleasant mix of short straights and sweeping corners. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride

Scan QR code above or click here to view the route on REVER

As I parted ways with the clear waters of the Dolores, the corners tightened and the air cooled. After a spirited ride, I motored into the historic silver mining town of Rico, which was settled in 1879 and still boasts impressive historic structures for such a tiny place. I dropped a kickstand at the town hall and the community church, both of which were constructed in the early 1890s and are remarkably well-preserved. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
The whitewashed Rico Community Church was built in 1891 and restored in 1993.

I had gained almost 3,000 feet in elevation in the 50-mile ride from Cortez, and the mid-September leaves were changing on the winding road out of Rico. The road coiled even more as I rolled through the vibrant greens of the western Rockies. 

See all of Rider‘s touring stories by region/state here

Rockin’ in the Rockies

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
Overlooks in the Rockies often reveal the great tarmac that is to come.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been in this area, and memories occupied my thoughts as I made the short jaunt into Telluride. The Victorian silver mining town, which sits in an impressive box canyon, was founded around the same time as Rico. The area’s economy has shifted from mining to skiing and tourism. Telluride is now distinctively upscale while retaining its Victorian charm. I rode past high-end boutiques peddling their pricey wares from within historic brick facades. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Telluride
A painter practices his art on the outskirts of Telluride.

My reminiscing hit full tilt as I made it to Telluride Town Park, where my wife and I attended the Ride Music Festival a couple of years back. The setting is amazing, with a precipitous tree-covered mountain face as a backdrop behind the permanent concert stage. All the town’s festivals are held in this must-attend venue for music lovers. One of my favorite festival memories was listening to Pearl Jam fill the box canyon with their soaring melodic riffs. On my most recent visit, Frisbees and softballs filled the air, but I could almost hear Eddie Vedder still echoing in the evergreens. 

I climbed out of Telluride to the northwest. It was good to be out of the congestion and back on the curvaceous tarmac of western Colorado. The traffic picked back up as I approached the city of Delta. After making it though the slow-and-go, I headed northeast toward Aspen. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
Snow-laced mountain passes are ubiquitous in the Rockies of Colorado.

This stretch is mountain motorcycling at its best. Tight curves and relaxed sweepers are the rule here, and the Rockies, which were snow-laced at the time, make the perfect backdrop. The road’s condition was remarkably good considering the weather extremes in this area. I had to slalom around the occasional pothole, but that is about it. 

It was on this leg that I happened upon one of those “happy surprises” on a motorcycle tour.  From a distance, I saw what looked like rows of mud nests made by cliff swallows – except much bigger. As I got closer, it was clear the structures were man-made and much more uniform. It turns out I was riding alongside the historic Redstone coke ovens. These brick-lined ovens were built in 1899 and were used to burn the impurities out of coal to produce “coke” for use in steel production. Fascinating stuff.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride coke ovens
The Redstone coke ovens are a fascinating roadside attraction. Built in 1899, the brick-lined ovens were used to burn the impurities out of coal to produce “coke” for use in steel production.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride? Or High Plains Drifting?

I gassed up in Carbondale, which is the northernmost point on this loop ride, and then headed southeast on State Route 82. The road here was not what I had expected. Most of this stretch heading to Aspen opens up into what you might expect on the high plains of Wyoming. There are amazing views, as much of the area is wide open or lined with only intermittent lower vegetation. It was a relaxed and entertaining stretch on this last portion of the day’s riding. 

As I rolled into Aspen, I couldn’t help but think of that ridiculous scene from the movie Dumb and Dumber when Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels are nearly frozen solid when they ride into town. Thankfully, I was not on a minibike, and my gear was much more appropriate. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
Local wildfires had cast a hazy pall over the otherwise idyllic landscape.

Aspen is a ski, shopping, and outdoor recreation mecca in the Rockies. Ski slopes lead from the surrounding mountains and seemingly terminate directly on the town’s main street, which is lined with stately buildings dating back to the 1800s that are impressive in both their size and architecture. After a short ride crisscrossing the roads of Aspen’s historic district, I unpacked the panniers at my lodging for the night. The Aspen Mountain Lodge was clean and comfortable, and its bubbling hot tub was just the thing to shed the day’s miles from my lower back. 

My September evening walk through Aspen was an interesting mix of history, excess, and mountain charm. I strolled past families frolicking in the town’s park, women wearing outfits that likely cost more than my motorcycle, and the delightfully eclectic mix of structures throughout the town. After a couple of slices of gourmet pizza and a local brew, I settled back into my room for the night.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Aspen
A boutique in Aspen exemplifies the town’s eclectic nature.

The Ride to Independence 

I awoke the next day with a smile because I would get to ride one of the most thrilling roads in the Southwest, which culminates in the thin air and sweeping vistas of Independence Pass. With bags packed and fuel topped off, I headed southeast deeper into the Rockies. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Twin Lakes
Historic log structures dot the landscape in western Colorado.

Almost immediately after leaving Aspen’s city limits, the road coils into a narrow black ribbon of entertainment. The climb is steep, and the traffic is refreshingly sparse. At times, the road narrows to a single paved lane. The skeletal remains of the area’s mining heyday rise from the undulating grasslands. Spire-like evergreens reach stoically skyward, and snow traces the gray rock peaks like the marbled fat on a good steak. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
The bones of historic mining structures add visual texture to this ride.

Before I knew it, I was there. The road cresting the tundra above the tree line led me to signage indicating I had reached Independence Pass. At an elevation of 12,095 feet, the summit is the highest paved pass in Colorado (but not the highest paved road; that honor belongs to Mount Evans at 14,130 feet, located about 70 miles to the northeast). I was happy that I was on a fuel-injected BMW GS, as this elevation would be rough on a carbureted bike.

See all of Rider’s BMW coverage here

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Independence Pass Continental Divide
Independence Pass is a thin-aired highlight of this western Colorado tour.

After the requisite photos and a moment to breathe in what little oxygen this elevation provided, I came down from the pass. 

The other side of the summit was every bit as thrilling as the climb. Hairpins nearly as tight as those you’d find on a bathroom vanity abound. It’s a 1st-gear descent for the first few miles past Independence Pass, and the views are spectacular. 

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
The visual definition of a “hairpin” curve on the southern descent of Independence Pass.

Eventually, the turns relaxed until I reached one of the few straight stretches on the loop. After that, I headed southwest on U.S. Route 160. This ultimately leads to Wolf Creek Pass. Yes, that’s the one in the 1970s song by C.W. McCall. I rode down from the nearly 11,000-foot pass amid numerous warning signs about the precipitous grade and what it can do to truck brakes. There were two runaway truck ramps on the descent that spoke to the danger.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Wolf Creek Pass Great Divide
The famed Wolf Creek Pass is a shining star of the Great Divide.

I threw down the kickstand at the viewpoint to enjoy one of the most impressive vistas on the trip. The view serves as a topographical foreshadowing of a descent through jagged rocks and vivid conifers into a grassy valley. The few miles between here and my final stopover did not disappoint.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride
The view south on U.S. Route 160 is stunning and expansive.

Soaking in the Last Stop of the Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride

I entered Pagosa Springs road-weary but satisfied. This is another town rich in history but with the added draw of the steaming waters of the Mother Spring aquifer. I made my way to The Springs Resort and Spa, an upscale and visually stunning property that boasts two dozen soaking pools fed by the aquifer.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Pagosa Springs
The natural hot pools at The Springs Resort and Spa in Pagosa Springs are perfect for soaking away the stiffness of the road.

The pools range in temperature from 88-112 degrees, and all offer amazing views of the San Juan River and surrounding mountains. After sampling several of the hot pools, I retired to my comfortable suite and drifted off with visions of the day’s amazing ride dancing in my head.

All that was left of my western Colorado loop tour was a relaxing ride due west back to my starting point in Cortez. There was, however, one more iconic town left on the docket. After about 50 miles of gently curving highway, I came upon Durango.

Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride Durango
Durango’s Strater Hotel is one of many stately, historic structures on this ride.

This southern Colorado town is situated on the banks of the Animas River and, like all the others I have visited, has a rich history and well-preserved downtown area. I picked up a to-go sandwich and sat by the whitewater park to watch kayakers navigate the rapids. I put up the kickstand for the last time on the trip on the short jaunt back to Cortez. 

Obviously, this is a summer ride. The extreme elevations make for an early winter and late-arriving summer. Some stretches on this route are permanently closed in the winter. Pack with the expectation of large swings in temperature and precipitation. Plan well and enjoy!

The post Western Colorado Motorcycle Ride: Rolling Through the Rockies first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com

Motorcycle Camping on a Honda CB500X and Husqvarna Norden 901

The following motorcycle camping trip story was part of Rider‘s adventure-themed November 2022 issue, which also included stories on the TransAmerica Trail, Trans Canada Adventure Trail, and the Trans Euro Trail.

Motorcycle camping trip
Rider’s editor-in-chief Greg Drevenstedt (left) and American Rider’s editor-in-chief Kevin Duke share a fireside toast. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

Buried deep in my iPhone is a text message I sent to my riding buddies on Feb. 29, 2008 (lucky leap day, as it turns out):

I got the job!! I’m Rider’s new Road Test Editor! Woohoo!

I had just returned from my second interview with Mark Tuttle, Rider’s former editor-in-chief. We had met up for a motorcycle ride, and during lunch at a beachside cafe, he offered me the job.

Working full-time at a motorcycle magazine really has been a dream come true. It’s been an honor and a privilege to ride hundreds of new motorcycles and travel all over the world. But one of the most rewarding parts of my job has been getting to know fellow motorcycle enthusiasts who work in the industry – passionate, intelligent, talented individuals who have become not only trusted colleagues but true friends.

The Wingman

One of those friends is Kevin Wing. He’s one of the best motorcycle photographers in the business, and his work has been featured in Rider, Motorcyclist, Sport Rider, Cycle World, and other leading publications since the ’90s. Wing is responsible for countless inspiring covers and vivid images that bring this magazine to life, and he deserves way more credit for his contributions than we could ever give him. 

Motorcycle camping trip
Like many photographers, Kevin Wing avoids the limelight. I managed to capture a selfie with him (right) and Duke during a lunch stop.

Wing was the photographer on my first Rider photoshoot. A month into my new job, Tuttle asked me to photo model on the Buell XB12XT for the June 2008 cover feature. Wing was patient with my inexperience, coaching me on how to ride 2 feet off the back bumper of a minivan for tracking shots. 

Wing is also a perfectionist. He’ll call for as many photo passes as it takes – sometimes dozens of them in a single corner – to get the lighting, focus, angle, and other details just right. On the Buell shoot, I struggled to do repeated U-turns on a steep, narrow road for the cover shot. When I blew it one time and ended up in the weeds, he snagged a few embarrassing frames of me trying to extricate myself.

Motorcycle camping trip Husqvarna Norden 901 Honda CB500X
Enjoying fresh pavement on Lockwood Valley Road aboard the Husqvarna Norden 901 and Honda CB500X.

If I’m honest, I’ve never felt like the “talent.” I’m a rider with middling skills who is always trying to compensate for a lifelong habit of cocking my head to the left, inspiring a few riding buddies to nickname me “iLean.” The real talent is the guy behind the camera.

The Dukester

Another industry veteran I’m proud to call my friend is Kevin Duke. He started out at Motorcyclist in the late ’90s and was an editor at Roadracing World and Motorcycle Consumer News before taking the helm as editor-in-chief at Motorcycle-USA.com and then Motorcycle.com. When the EIC position opened up at our sibling publication, Thunder Press (which became American Rider last May), I was stoked when Duke landed the job.

Motorcycle camping trip
The Honda CB500X is more at home on the pavement, despite its adventure styling and 19-inch front wheel.

Over the years, I’ve attended dozens of press launches around the world with Duke. He was at my first press launch in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in the spring of 2008, one that will forever live in infamy after one guy crashed (me), nearly every other journalist got a ticket, and one unlucky soul was hauled off in handcuffs. But that’s a longer story best told over a couple of beers…

In January 2013, Duke and I attended the global launch of the BMW R 1200 GS “water” Boxer in South Africa, an event that got cut short on the first day after a British motojournalist crashed and ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

Following the fatal incident, the mood at the launch was somber. We had a free day before our flight home, and Duke and I decided we needed to do something life-affirming. So we borrowed a BMW X1 and drove to Bloukrans Bridge, which, at 700 feet above the Bloukrans River, is the site of the world’s highest commercial bungee jump.

Motorcycle camping trip
Can you tell which one of us had completed the Bloukrans Bridge bungee jump and which one was awaiting his fate?

I was nervous during the entire two-hour drive there, hoping Duke would chicken out so I could do the same. But he never did, and we went through with it. The jump was two seconds of sheer terror followed by one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.

The Motorcycle Camping Plan

Duke and I oversee a small editorial team as we work collaboratively on Rider and American Rider. Duke is a former racer and can wheelie anything on two wheels, but now that he runs an American V-Twin publication, his opportunities to ride bikes not made by Harley or Indian are limited.

“Hey Duke, we’re working on this adventure issue for Rider. How about you take the train up here to Ventura, and we’ll go for a ride? Bring your tent and sleeping bag.”

Motorcycle camping trip
As a full-sized adventure bike with long-travel suspension, the Husqvarna Norden 901 is well-suited for stand-up riding off-road.

We both spend way too much time riding a desk chair, so he didn’t hesitate to accept my invitation. We had a pair of adventure bikes – a Honda CB500X and a Husqvarna Norden 901 – in the Rider garage, and we’d be joined by Wing on our Yamaha Tracer 9 GT long-termer.

Related Stories:

You know what they say about the best-laid plans. Duke missed his 6 a.m. train, pushing our departure back by two hours. Deadlines, a bum knee, and aftereffects of a Covid booster slowed down my last-minute packing, so by the time we hit the road it was noon.

Motorcycle camping trip
Introduced last year, the Norden 901 is Husqvarna’s first foray into the adventure/travel segment. Husky is owned by KTM, and the Norden is built on the same platform as the KTM 890 Adventure. It’s powered by an 889cc parallel-Twin that makes a claimed 105 hp at the crank, and it has throttle-by-wire, a 6-axis IMU, and a full suite of electronic rider aids. MSRP is $13,999, and the touring cases with carriers add $1,030.

First, the Ride

From my house, I can hit California Route 33 with a rock. It peels off U.S. Route 101 near the beach, and after winding through small hamlets like Casitas Springs and Oak View, Route 33 passes a biker hangout called the Deer Lodge and becomes one of the best motorcycling roads in Southern California, entering the wide-open spaces of Los Padres National Forest. I even wrote about the 33 in my cover letter when I applied to Rider back in 2008:

A motorcycling treasure sits in Rider’s backyard. The triple-crown of the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway (Route 33), Lockwood Valley Road, and Cerro Noroeste Road has it all: breathtaking vistas, peg-scraping switchbacks, fast sweepers, and top-gear straights.

Motorcycle camping trip
In Honda’s lineup since 2013, the CB500X has grown into its role as a light, affordable adventure bike. Built around a 471cc parallel-Twin, in 2019 it got a larger front wheel, more suspension travel, and other upgrades. Updates for 2022 include a lighter front wheel, a lighter swingarm, a new inverted Showa SFF-BP fork, and dual front disc brakes. MSRP is $7,199, and Honda’s accessory tankbag, light bar, and panniers bring the as-tested price to $8,517.

Even better, these roads have minimal traffic, especially on a Tuesday. “The Kevins” and I have ridden together many times, and we enjoy a brisk pace. We pushed our bikes hard and gnawed the chicken strips down to gristle. And then, out of nowhere, we received an unexpected gift.

Covering about 25 desolate miles from its junction with Route 33 to the small community of Lake of the Woods, Lockwood Valley Road has suffered a long history of neglect. It was in rough shape when I first rode it 15 years ago, and over the years, it has only deteriorated further. One tricky section is a tangled knot of first-gear corners that go through narrow desert canyons and washes. On one of my first test rides through Lockwood Valley, I dumped a $20,000 BMW R 1200 HP2 Megamoto in a patch of sand that caught me off-guard, cracking one of the magnesium cylinder heads and nearly putting my dream job at risk.

As the Kevins and I turned onto Lockwood Valley Road, we saw that the top layer of pavement had been scraped off. A few miles later, we came upon the paving crew. And then … nirvana!

Motorcycle camping trip
The recently repaved Lockwood Valley Road was a delight.

All the twists and turns that were such a challenge when the pavement was cracked, patched, potholed, and strewn with sand and rock-slide debris became a jet black, eerily smooth roller coaster like those plastic Hot Wheels tracks you could twist into acrobatic shapes and loops. We were gobsmacked.

The Actual Motorcycle Camping

An army marches on its stomach, and so does a crew on a photoshoot ride. We’re all remote workers these days, so rides like these give us a chance to see each other face-to-face and have some laughs. While we sat around a picnic table and scarfed down an XL combination pie at Mike’s Pizza, Duke revealed that Wing had also been the photographer on his first shoot – 25 years ago to the month. We commiserated about the recent heat wave, inquired about Duke’s and Wing’s kids, and discussed the length of my beard. By December, I should be eligible for a part-time gig as Santa.

Motorcycle camping trip
As California Route 33 follows the winding path of the Ventura River through Wheeler Gorge, it passes through a pair of tunnels built in 1931.

We waddled out to the bikes rubbing our distended bellies, saddled up, and made our way through the alpine community of Pine Mountain Club before spiraling our way up Cerro Noroeste Road to the top of its namesake mountain. Cerro Noroeste is surrounded by the Chumash Wilderness, and sprawled across its 8,300-foot summit under the shade of enormous Jeffrey pines is Campo Alto Campground.

Motorcycle camping trip

When my brother and I first camped at Campo Alto back in ’06, we had embraced our Tennessee heritage, bringing little more than a box of fried chicken, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and bed rolls tossed in the bed of my F-150. We’ve taken Rider staff camping trips to Campo Alto, so it seemed a fitting location for our most recent escape. A week after Labor Day on a Tuesday, it was deserted.

Motorcycle camping trip
Shaded by enormous Jeffrey pines, Campo Alto Campground is perched atop Cerro Noroeste at 8,300 feet in Los Padres National Forest.

As the Kevins set up camp, I rode down to the general store in Pine Mountain Club and stocked up on beer, chips, sandwich fixin’s, and firewood. We soon had a toasty blaze going and cold cans of IPA in our hands. Heavy rains had spun off from Cyclone Kay and soaked the mountains only a day or two before, and the petrichor mixed with the smell of pine and wood smoke.

“Hard to believe we’re so close to home,” Wing said. “Feels like we’re a million miles away.”

We had ridden less than 100 miles since leaving Ventura, and it was probably half that to the campground as the crow flies. But we were on the top of a mountain surrounded by wilderness, and there was no one around but us.

Motorcycle camping trip
“Trust me, Duke, if we just bomb down this hill, go over the river, and through the woods, we’ll get home an hour earlier.”

After the sun went down, it dropped into the 40s, so we huddled close to the fire, sipped some 10-year-old Henry McKenna bourbon, and told war stories about press launches, photoshoots, close calls, and embarrassing moments. (Yes, I told the Gatlinburg story.)

Motorcycle camping trip

Ours was an adventure with a little “a.” We didn’t do much preparation or planning, nothing went wrong, and we were back home in less than 36 hours. But we slept in tents under the stars, had fun, and asked, “Why don’t we do this more often?” Even a brief escape with good friends does wonders for the soul.

The post Motorcycle Camping on a Honda CB500X and Husqvarna Norden 901 first appeared on Rider Magazine.
Source: RiderMagazine.com