One of the first things I thought about moving to Phoenix was relief. Relief that I didn’t have to be trapped by weather to not go riding whenever I wanted to in December, or whenever. Sure, it gets hotter than hell down here, but you don’t slide sideways into a ditch because of the heat, and you sure as fuck don’t have to shovel it off your doorstep in the mornings and scrape it off the windows. If you live in the desert long enough, you become a desert rat, at least I did. I’m lucky enough that my wife is on board and she loves the desert as much as I do. To me, the Desert means freedom.
I didn’t exactly know what the Monsoons were though before I moved down here. You still have the check the weather to go for long rides, because the thunderstorms down here are biblical. The dust storms that sometimes precede them are pretty epic as well. This ride had been planned 2 weeks earlier, and although I don’t really mind riding in the rain, its better if the weather is good. It looked like it was going to be nice this last weekend, and Friday morning I loaded up the bike and planned to leave early and get to Albuquerque and explore some new roads I’ve never seen. Once there, I’d figure it out where to go next on Saturday morning.
I left work around 1 and hit the road, up Arizona 97 toward Payson and into some higher country. It was around 110 degrees and pretty hot, but the road climbed quickly and I knew it wouldn’t last long.
I got out before the weekend traffic and the roads were killer, and the weather cooled down 25 degrees. It was awesome. This has always been my theory: It takes 3 days to have a good ride, at least: the first day all the bullshit drains out, the second day you feel like yourself again, and the third day is just pure inspiration. I think the more of a 2 lane road you get the faster the bullshit drains out, and as I got further and further away from home the ride just kept getting better. I was starting to realize I had a whole weekend of this. It was starting to get really damn enjoyable.
I went through Springerville AZ, gassed up, stuffed some beef jerky into my vest pocket and headed on down the road — the sun was going down and I wanted to see as much of the country as I could. I knew I’d be pulling into Albuquerque in the dark. I hit the road. The sunset was at my back and the shadows were getting tall and the weather a little cooler. Perfect riding.
About a half an hour later, it was dark. I started heading north on New Mexico 36, and decided I wasn’t going to make ABQ tonight. I knew there was a KOA in Grants that was closer, so I decided to ride there, crash for the night and figure it out in the morning. I twisted the throttle and enjoyed the ride, happy in my new plan.
You gotta love riding at night in the Desert, especially on a new road. Up north, I always worried about critters on the road like Deer, elk and even moose at night. I suck at spotting Deer during the day, let alone at night. A perk of the desert is the night riding. You can relax a little, sing out loud without looking like a moron, and enjoy the ride.
I passed some pretty cool scenery I think the last 40 miles into Grants. It was pitch dark with no moon but my headlight was picking up the sides of some massive rock formations. The turns in the road said this was interesting terrain, I just couldn’t see any of it. Another nice surprise that I’ll need to go back and check out. El Malpais National Monument is what I was missing it turns out. Even as I type this out I’m curious as to what I missed — I’ll go back again.
I rolled into Grants about 10pm. The Lady at the KOA was a sweetheart and gave me an upgrade from a tent spot to a cabin for 10 bucks. I guess the thought of setting up a tent and sleeping on the ground made me an easy sell. I called Missus Zip, watched the local news, checked the weather and was asleep in an hour.
I was up at 5. Some call it a curse to be an early riser, but by God I think its a blessing. Especially on a route 66 road trip by yourself. I was stoked, and the day was mine.
I showered, watched a couple of Episodes of the Rifleman while I drank coffee and it warmed up a little. I decided to head Toward Albuquerque on route 66 and double back toward Flagstaff
Wait though, the Rifleman — I’ve never watched it before. Two thumbs up!!
Budville New Mexico Route 66
San Fidel New Mexico Route 66
I was glad I doubled back. It rained a little here and there, but I was enjoying the 160 mile ride from Grants to Albuquerque to Grants again. I wished I’d had taken more pictures.
Grants has lots of great history — It started out as a railroad town in the 1880s, became a logging town till the 1930s, and was mostly known as a Uranium mining town till the 1980s. When the mining boom ended, Grants went through a pretty rough time. Tourism and the resurgence of Route 66 has brought it back. Its still one of my favorite route 66 towns.
I stayed on route 66 west bound, avoiding as much interstate as I could. The clouds and rain started to clear, and the sky started opening up. It was turning out to be a helluva good day to ride.
I rode through Gallup and on through the border back into Arizona.
Side note: One of the things about riding is you don’t miss much of the experience. You’re part of it, rather than just observing it. The heat, the cold, the weather, the smells. It heightens your senses I think. I noticed the predominant smell in New Mexico is weed. Most of the place smells like Marijuana, and I don’t know why. I think everyone smokes pot there. Just an observation…
Arizona Route 66!
If you don’t rubberneck and look for side roads, or have a good Route 66 map made by those in the know, you’ll miss a lot of great spots on the Mother road. The interstate signs don’t always tell you where some of the best parts of route 66 are. This is one of my favorites — the Querino Canyon Bridge.
It started getting hotter as I rolled on through Joseph city, Jackrabbit City, did a couple of laps through Winslow. I opened it up and headed toward Flagstaff.
I rolled into flagstaff KOA that evening after riding for 12 hours, feeling pretty tired and just wanting to set up my tent and crash for the night. I rolled into my tent spot and my overly-enthusiastic camping neighbor was on me before I could even shut the bike off. I could appreciate that kind of friendliness normally, but I guess he couldn’t see by the look on my face that I was beat, and it wasn’t all that mutual right now. He kept touching my bike, peppering me with questions about where I’d been, what year my bike was, how long I’d been riding….. it to the point I thought there was something wrong with this guy.
He asked what I did; I looked at him and said — “I just got out of Prison and I’m re-building my life”.
I set up my tent, called missus Zip to let her know I was ok, and crashed for the night.
Day 3: Flagstaff to Home
I woke up, showered and broke down my tent. It’d been a damn fine ride, and I could be home in 2 hours if I hauled ass, but I wasn’t ready to end my ride.
I got off the interstate as quick as I could, and hit the back roads toward Payson AZ again to head home. Another new road.
Arizona is my favorite state. It has it all: The desert valleys, lots of old history, mountainous Ponderosa pine forests, sane gun laws, the Grand Canyon, route 66 and high desert plains. I rolled down slowly off the mountain and found a couple of cool little towns I want to go back and explore again. Strawberry AZ and Pine AZ. Lots of bikers and twisty forest roads.
The traffic was heavy coming off the mountain. I was tired of following cars so I took a side road toward a historical marker in Strawberry Arizona.
I stopped and ate in Payson, and headed on down the road (and into the heat again) toward Home.
I was home by 1. Great ride. God, I love Arizona.
3 Days, 2 States, 1,110 Miles