The Arid Journey: Motorcycle Touring the American Southwest

When you go by motorcycle, the ride is sometimes more rewarding than reaching your final destination. From the June 2001 issue of Motorcycle Cruiser magazine.

Motorcycling is about the trip, not the destination. I still find it amazing how many people (including spouses) do not understand this basic tenet.

This year our loose riding group completed its seventh trip to attend the annual Valkyrie Owners Association (VOA) meeting in Crawford, Colorado. On the way, we had a chance to tour Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in Utah. There were only three of us this year--a significant point since one member lives in the Boise, Idaho, area and the rest of us reside in Portland, Oregon. The Portland contingent met at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday to ride the 420 miles to Boise. Two hundred miles were spent on Washington Highway 14, which offers a more scenic view of the Columbia River than you'll find riding Interstate 84. At 6 that evening, we picked up our Idaho member, which completed our group--at least for this trip.

We really weren't looking forward to the next day. Although the weather was clear and warm, most of the day would be spent haplessly droning on Interstate 84. We rolled along at 5 mph above the 75 mph speed limit and were shocked by how many 18-wheelers passed us traveling at least 20 mph faster. When we arrived in Spanish Fork, Utah, the temperature had risen to 97 degrees Fahrenheit, yet soon after we checked into our rooms the sky opened up and dumped inches of rain, flooding the parking lot. We decided the motel food would be OK after all.

We left Spanish Fork on Utah 6, headed for Interstate 70 and Grand Junction, Colorado. Eight miles out of town the temperature changed dramatically. There was frost everywhere--and this was July! So we stopped and dug out all the heavy clothes we'd packed, which still weren't enough to staunch the chill.

The next morning found us rolling from Montrose, Colorado, to Crawford and the VOA gathering. The entire main street of the town was lined with made-in-the-U.S.A. Valkyries of every color and with every modification imaginable. We had time to visit the infamous [but since closed] Mad Dog Ranch Fountain Cafe owned by Joe Cocker and his wife (who rides a Honda) and were also able to join other groups for a series of local rides. All this fun packed into one day suited us fine. The road was calling.

We were headed to Cortez, Colorado, and the Million-Dollar Highway, U.S. 550. We had no idea how it came by that name, but after encountering rain, sleet and a bit of snow plus bumper-to-bumper traffic we knew we wouldn't go back on that road for a million dollars.

The town of Cortez isn't particularly memorable, but the neighboring Mesa Verde National Park and the Anasazi ruins made the day's ride (and weather ordeal) worthwhile. Anyone with an interest in our First Nation's history should make Mesa Verde a must-see stop. Happily, the road into the park is fantastic for motorcycles, and can't even be ruined by all the motorhomes.

Considering none of us had ever visited this part of the country we all agreed there was a lot to see. On the way to Bryce Canyon National Park we made the requisite stop at Four Corners, where I picked up a set of Navajo grips for my Valk. We then headed for Page, Arizona, to cross the Colorado River and have a look at the Lake Powell dam. This lake is a topaz jewel set in the painted hills--truly awesome. As we crossed the dam, we spotted a thunderstorm to the west and decided to pick up the pace. We beat the storm and arrived at our destination dry, for a change.

Our challenge for this final leg of the trip was to visit both Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks in a single day. That morning I surprised our group with a dawn helicopter tour of Bryce Canyon. This was a spectacular treat we all endorse heartily. That took care of one park, and by 8 a.m. we were riding toward Zion. This beautiful network of canyons should only be seen from a motorcycle--the top down and enough speed to keep cool. We couldn't resist stopping for a walk beside the river at the end of the canyon, where time seems to have stopped 200 years ago. We left Zion for Ely, Nevada, and hardly saw another soul all afternoon. This is an area where to see gas is to get gas.

Day seven of our journey saw us all the way back to Boise, via Idaho Falls on Highway 93 through the Clover Valley. This is a part of the country where the roads are so straight and empty you can see tomorrow. Set at 6000 feet, the Valley is surrounded by snow-capped peaks whose size is lost in distance. Needless to say, this was a great place to clean the carbon off the valves.

We enjoyed a leisurely dinner in Boise to celebrate another annual road trip, blessed with no injuries, mishaps, tickets or any type of mechanical malfunction. Three thousand six hundred and twelve miles of motorcycle bliss in seven days. What more can you ask for?

If you'd like to share your favorite ride that is 100 to 500 miles long and includes at least one interesting stop, send details of the route and your contact information to Motorcycle Cruiser, 6420 Wilshire Blvd. Floor 17, Los Angeles, CA 90048-5515; or e-mail Jamie.Elvidge@primedia.com.

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Utah's Bryce Canyon
Doing the standard tourist thing--standing in four states at once--at Four Corners.
Mesa Verde
Wide open spaces
The author
Ouray, Colorado