The Sweet Ride

Making time through the Ozark Mountains

Dragon's Tail—the road that made Deal's Gap such a hot spot for motorcyclists. Can you blame it?
Dragon's Tail—the road that made Deal's Gap such a hot spot for motorcyclists. Can you blame it?Cruiser

Have you ever heard of the Dragon’s Tail on U.S. 129? You know, the road that made Deal’s Gap such a hot spot for motorcyclists? Riders from every part of the planet travel there just to negotiate 318 curves packed into 11 miles of real estate. I rode it myself both ways and I’m here to tell you that the enjoyment derived from the Dragon pales in comparison to that which you’ll receive from riding the backroads of southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas.

Hang on tight—some of the most awesome motorcycle roads in the country are found in the Ozark and Boston Mountains. First, I had to get there, and as always, with as little time spent on the super slab as possible. I wheeled onto Interstate 270 south in Maryland Heights, Missouri and assumed my position in the center lane. Okay, the speed limit is 60 mph and these people are running 80-plus, just rockin and a rollin on their way to get their eight hours in. Wow, did you see that guy?! He pulled out right in front of me just to get to the exit lane. Couldn’t he have gone behind me? Especially if he’s getting off the highway anyway... I truly believe that instead of a driving test we should take an I.Q. test. Man, if your temperature is higher than your I.Q., you’re on the bus!

The traffic reminds me of a herd of cattle, and being a Western movie buff, I could see myself as a driver on a trusty steed, pushing those steers down the trail. In every herd there’s one doggie that doesn’t stick with the crowd, striking out on his own down the lonesome trail. I’m like that maverick, with over 37 years of striking out on my own lonesome trail, only on a bike.

Dipping up and down hills gives you beautiful little views like this one.
Dipping up and down hills gives you beautiful little views like this one.Cruiser

Twenty miles south of the starting line on I-270, I struck out on my own, leaving the crowd behind. It was U.S. 21 south that ushered me away from the crowd and, eventually, onto two lane pavement. Judging by the characteristics that make up a great country road, Highway 21 is unremarkable because of its more contemporary design. It’s wide ‘nuff to support tractor trailer traffic and has shoulders they park on. Don’t get me wrong boys and girls, it’s a nice bike ride down to the turn off—you just won’t be thrilled.

I pit-stopped in Potosi, Missouri for fuel and a bottle of tea, and suggest you do the same if you’re running this route. It’s a ways to the next stop. I met Jim Maxwell while we were putting some octane in our scooters. Jim was on a new Harley Ultra Classic, while I’m riding an Ultra-fine Kawasaki Vulcan Classic (1500)! Jim was going my way and decided to chase me down Route 21 and west on Route 32 for about 10 klicks.

The Ozark Cafe in tiny Jasper, Arkansas, is the hot ticket for a rest stop and a hearty sandwich.
The Ozark Cafe in tiny Jasper, Arkansas, is the hot ticket for a rest stop and a hearty sandwich.Cruiser

Route 32 has a little more personality, which shows itself after only a few miles. The first few minutes offer a taste of what’s to come farther down the road. There are spots on this stretch of pavement that rise to carry you over a slight hill. Then the road dips quickly and climbs again as it banks left around a curve, dropping down another hill and then climbing for another bank around a right curve. The lane straightens out for several heartbeats then repeats the whole series again, only in a different sequence. You having fun yet?

We’re riding through the Clark National Forest with pine trees walling us in on either side of the hardtop, funneling us west where Route 32 will spew us out onto Route 19 south at Salem, Missouri. So far it’s just been a little bit of foreplay, but on Route 19 we will begin our love affair with the roads of the Ozark and Boston Mountains.

On the way out of Salem is the Tye- Dye Shop—a funky shack straight out of the 60s. And hey, have you been noticing all the bike traffic ‘round here, especially café racers? I’d say that was a sign, wouldn’t you? Cruising down Route 19, the road rises then falls, dips then climbs, twists, turns and sweeps and then runs straight. It’s followed by a series of roller coaster hills, some shallow and some deep, but all of them rising in elevation. I could swear the engineers designed this road just for motorcycles. A great number of the turns are banked and a lot of the straights have whoops (a series of shallow dips) built in. I’m wondering if it’s even legal to have this much fun? Unfortunately, there are all kinds of vehicles lumbering around on this path, so caution is the order of the day. The crooks in a lot of the roller coaster hills are so deep that you’ll feel like the bike is going to launch as it crests the hill. Man, what a dream! Just remember to ride within your skill level! The roads up to this point have been very smooth and gravel-free, but they have their share of road kill.

A band of three-wheelers was ready to take on the infamous road.
A band of three-wheelers was ready to take on the infamous road.Cruiser

Route 21 was nice and 32 was even better, but Route 19 is why we ride motorcycles! Route 19 will stimulate your riding libido like a forbidden mistress. You won’t be able to get enough while you’re on, and you can’t wait to get back to her when you’re away! Below Eminence, Missouri, Route 19 really comes alive, but I suggest you stop in Eminence anyway, ‘cause you’ll be needing fuel. Don’t pull over until you’re leaving town, past the cemetery. Gas was cheaper there when I passed through.

This was about the time U.S. 160 crossed Route 19, so I leaned right and headed west. And was I ever surprised. For a major artery that guides a good chunk of traffic east and west across the southern part of Missouri, it turned out to be a pretty fun road. It had a nice series of whoop-de-dos, a bunch of hills to crest, lengthy sweepers, long throttle-twisting straights, and plenty of smoothness— considering the truck traffic.

I passed through West Plains, Missouri, home of country music’s Porter Wagoner and felt that I should get a room. I bivouacked at the Cloud 9 Resort, which is private.

I was on the road again by 9am the next morning and back-tracked to Caulfield to jump on route 101 south to Arkansas’ U.S. 412. Route 101 is a short connector with a lot of attitude that kicks in right away starting the day off just right. Leaning right on U.S. 412 put me heading west toward Harrison. Along the way I pass through the town of Yellville which one local referred to as “Yellowville.” Uh-Oh I just remembered that I’m in Arkansas and I left my passport at home.

Hang 'Em High: Wayne Carr's Arkansas Wind Chimes stands as a testament to the curvaceousness of the roads in these parts.
Hang 'Em High: Wayne Carr's Arkansas Wind Chimes stands as a testament to the curvaceousness of the roads in these parts.Cruiser

In Harrison I connect with Route 43 south and begin my all-twisties workout all over again. I’m actually climbing a mountain, crossing to the other side, then descending only to climb the next one. Somewhere in the midst of all these turns I picked up Route 74 heading to Jasper, Arkansas. Believe it or not, deliveries to these small towns nesting in the mountains are made by tractor-trailers.

Just a few miles west of Jasper on Route 74 I stopped to check out Wayne Carr’s Motorcycle Tree. Wayne owned a construction company and managed to retire at the ripe old age of 47, moving from the northern U.S. to Jasper. Because these mountain roads are so curvy, they draw a lot of bike traffic. Being an All-American Boy, Wayne noticed all the iron from other countries sweeping past his front door, and took that as an affront to our economy. So he decided to send a message of his own. He went about and procured some Japanese motorcycles to hang from a tree in his front yard. Wayne also placed an American-made , ‘46 Chevy flatbed truck next to the tree, then hoisted a 650 Honda on the truck bed. He calls the motorcycle tree his Arkansas Wind Chimes. It’s definitely a Kodak Moment.

Doesn't this just make your wrist twitch and want to gun the throttle?
Doesn't this just make your wrist twitch and want to gun the throttle?Cruiser

At the town square in Jasper, you’ll find the Ozark Café—a destination restaurant with over 70 percent of its business brought in by passing motorcyclists. After eating there I could see why. The Mushroom Swiss Chicken sandwich I devoured was absolutely succulent—it set off an explosion of delight for my taste buds! The sandwich alone truly was worth the 400+ mile trip, and you’ll never meet friendlier servers than Anna Finley, Maggie Weeden, or Dawn Dulle. Stop in and tell owner Tim Ray that Hombre sent ya.

The way out of town is on Route 7 north. I have to say, I didn’t believe the ride could get any better than what I’d already been through, but it did. Route 7, along with 43 and 74, are all in the Boston Mountains, and—like water— all these roads take the path of least resistance making them unbelievably curvy! They have so many S turns, switchbacks, 90-degree cutbacks and sweepers (all without guardrails) that the task of negotiating them requires a rider’s full attention. Route 7 carried me back to Harrison, Arkansas where I filled up the tank, then retraced my trail to the Cloud 9 Resort, where I pitched my tent for the night.

At breakfast I recounted the last two days of riding, while looking forward to the ride home—it would be along the same trail I took to get here. This was a journey that’d be catalogued into my list of most memorable road trips. I was anxious to get home and share road stories with my buddies. I accelerated from the resort and smiled as my long exhaust played a love song that is near and dear to my heart. The road opened up her arms and welcomed me back.