Indian Country Ride

In mid-September of 2009, I finished a multiple-manual project and found myself between work projects for several days. Any excuse for a road trip will do, of course, and I had been thinking about the Four Corners area for a time.

There were a number of places west of the actual Four Corners that I hadn’t been in this lifetime, and with a few free days there was time to visit a handful of them. The map above shows my target destination area, northern Arizona and southern Utah. The Map is courtesy of, and copyright by MapQuest. 

In addition to the multiple National Parks, Monuments, and Forests, there was the attraction of spending several days outside the People’s Republic of California, riding through Free States with my much-hated helmet strapped to the top of my luggage where it belongs. 

On Wednesday, September 16, I ran some errands in the morning, then rode east on I-10 to the junction of Route 62 near Palm Springs. A well-maintained secondary road, Route 62 runs through the desert towns of Morongo Valley, Joshua Tree, and Twentynine Palms. From Twentynine Palms the road runs east across 110 miles of desert to Parker, AZ on the east side of the Colorado River.

The photograph above is a view of the Colorado River from the Arizona side. I made it to Kingman, AZ in the late afternoon, and stopped for the night at the Motel 6. That version of the chain was a bit nicer than average and the price was right.

This photograph is of part of Eldon Pueblo. Eldon Pueblo is an active archaeological dig.

In recent years, when in the Flagstaff area, I have stopped at the dig site to photograph it a handful of times, but due to various circumstances, never obtained “fair” quality photos or any at all.

This time conditions were good: I had a good camera, and there were no people loitering in the parking lot who appeared to be “thieves in waiting”.

This photo is of the Antelope Hills north of Flagstaff on the second day of the trip. These low, rounded hills lie to the west of Route 89, north of Flagstaff.

I made a couple fair digital photographs of the hills several years before with my Kodak DC3400, an early 2.0 megapixel camera, but the example here was made with my Nikon D200 and is of superior resolution and color balance.

The following photos were captured in Monument Valley. They were made from roadside pullouts on Route 163 in northern Arizona and southern Utah. For more information, see Monument Valley

In the interest of time, I bypassed Monument Valley on my way to the Four Corners during my last pass through the area in 2004, but had heard about it from other motorcyclists.The Wikipedia entry for this area notes that lodging in the area is expensive, and I found that to be true at the end of the second day of my ride.

One motel in Mexican Hat was asking $158 before taxes for a single occupant room, and none were available in that town for under $100. After wasting a half-hour looking for a reasonable rate, I continued north on Route 163 to Bluff, UT, 25 miles away and found an adequate room for under $40 (tax included).

The following morning I rode north on Route 191 to Blanding, where I ate breakfast at a local restaurant and bought water and food at a market in preparation for camping at Natural Bridges National Monument to the northwest. I arrived at Natural Bridges late in the morning and set up camp before riding the loop through the monument to see the bridges in the afternoon.

For more information on Natural Bridges National Monument, see http://www.nps.gov/nabr/index.htm . The two photos below are of Sipapu Bridge.

The weather forecasts were calling for scattered thunderstorms in the Four Corners area to the southeast. I was far enough away from that area that I thought (or hoped) I might escape a drenching while riding.

The photo to the left shows Kachina Bridge.

After riding the loop and visiting the bridges, I returned to my campsite to eat dinner, write notes and watch the sun go down. I built a small campfire after darkness fell, and watched it for an hour or so, then turned in for the night. I’d bought a new sleeping bag before leaving for the ride, and while unrolling it in the tent, discovered that it was somewhat wider and considerably longer than any I’d had before. Along with a new ground insulation pad, it made a very comfortable sleeping place. I was quickly deep in sleep. Owachomo Bridge is shown above.

In the middle of the darkness, the sky cracked open. I sat up and listened to the thunder and heavy raindrops smacking into the leaves of the nearby trees and the fabric of the tent. Intermittant gusts of wind belled the sides of the tent inward. I moved my luggage and sleeping bag away from the walls of the tent, being careful to avoid touching the fabric, so it wouldn’t sweat and create leaks on the inner surface of the cloth. Despite those precautions, the tent leaked slowly in a couple places, dampening the sleeping bag in two corners at the top and bottom.  Sipapu Bridge is shown to the left.

After an hour and a half or so, the storm cell moved on and the rain stopped. I stuffed a shirt between my shoulder and the damp top of the bag, and moved my feet away from the damp bottom corner and went back to sleep. I’d have to apply more waterproofing to the tent before using it again, but it seemed that I had dodged a bullet. It seemed infinitely better to be in the tent than out on the road in the rain. The photo to the left shows an eastern view of Lake Powell. 

This photo is of Glen Canyon north of lake Powell on Route 95. Note the bundles strapped onto the left saddlebag. One of the two is my large tripod. It was a “practice” bundle, I guess, since I didn’t do anything with the tripod but remove it in the evenings and strap it back on in the mornings.

In Hanksville around noon, I picked up a mobile signal and was able to connect with Lisa after 26 hours and a couple hundred miles with no signal. I turned onto Route 24 and rode west through the Capitol Reef National Park.

I liked the colors of the striated rock walls of the canyons through Capitol Reef slightly better than the other areas of Utah I’d rode through, but Monument Valley in Arizona came a close second in scenery, and that part of Utah has a baseline of gorgeous, and simply gets better in places. 

It looked like a geologist’s paradise.

After hundreds of miles of desert, this buffalo ranch near the western border of Capitol Reef looked much too green and out of place.

At the junction of Route 62 I turned south, following that road through Burrville and Koosharem and west toward Kingston. I rode south again on Route 89 toward Panguitch watching the thin gray funnels below the clouds to the south. It looked like wisps of rain, but I discounted it because I was more distracted by the many flying bugs in the valley filled with farms – bugs that seemed intent on commiting suicide on my face.

Stopping in Panguitch for gasoline, raindrops began smacking on the bike’s paint and chrome as I replaced the gas cap. It appeared to be a minor, attempted rain that I would ride out of in a hundred yards or quarter mile.

Piulling out of the station, I putted down the main street in third gear, staying under the 35 mph speed limit. Within two blocks, the rain was a steady pouring. I argued with myself for a four more blocks. Should I pull over and put on the rain gear? I was already wet, but my clothes were not soaked through yet. I might drive out of it quickly.

The cloudburst renewed itself, poured down heavier, and I pulled off to the edge of the street to quickly locate and pull on my hooded rain jacket.

Fumbling with the velcro on the front of the jacket, I remembered the last time I wore it. Three years before, I had pulled it on in Witchita while gazing at a black bank of cloud in the west. It looked like a steady, heavy fall, and it turned out to be sixty miles across. Forty miles into it I watched an amazing crash; A compact car pinballing down a long land bridge, caroming from guardrail to guardrail and spinning off chunks of body parts.

The rain that started at Panguitch stretched out for six miles. When it cleared, I pulled over to the shoulder in front of a farmhouse and put the rain jacket back in the bag on the luggage rack. With the air temperatue in the mid-seventies, my clothes were dry in a half hour.

I rode past the junction of Route 12, the road to Bryce Canyon National Park. It was late afternoon, and I was close to ready to stop for the day. Bryce would be there in the future, and it would be a handy excuse to travel. I started checking prices at motels for the next 50 miles. After the seventh stop, the prospect for a room looked poor. All the inexpensive motels were full, and the others too expensive. I decided I might not find anything until I rode farther south to Kanab.

In the village of Mt. Carmel I spotted a small motel as I rode past it, and stopped thirty yards down the road. I walked back to the motel Office and walked inside. No one was in the Office. I looked outside at the row of rooms. There wasn’t a door open, so it was unlikely that anyone was cleaning.

I stepped back into the office and found a note on the single desk. The note directed me to fill out a check-in card, cross off the room on the list on the clipboard outside the door. If I chose to pay now, I’d call a phone number, and someone would come to the office. Otherwise I could pay in the morning.

I filled out the card, found a room on the clipboard and crossed it out, then rode the bike acoss the loose gravel parking lot to the room, #3. The door was unlocked, and the key hung on a nail just inside the doorframe. It was a pleasant surprise to find a self-check-in motel; The price was right, coming to $40 taxes included, and the room was comfortable and clean.

But don’t bother with the restaurants in Mt. Carmel Junction. I couldn’t get served in one (just bad staffing), then walked across the street to the other for dinner, an incredibly bland marinara on overcooked Penne, and something that looked remarkably like garlic bread, but tasted exactly the opposite. Figuring that it is hard to screw up breakfast, I went back to the same place in the morning, and had a bad breakfast (I can’t fathom how the scrambled eggs were cooked that badly).

The next morning I paid the owner who was cleaning rooms while I packed up the bike, then rode south on UT 89 through Kanab and down into Northern Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau on Route 67. Photo to the left: Aspens changing color on the Kaibab Plateau.

The Kaibab Plateau lies north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Route 67 is a slow road with posted speed limits that are never higher than 55 mph, but with good scenery along the shoulders, it’s a good road to go slow on with its winding curves through woods coming up to the edges of the asphalt, long, open meadows, and aspens tinting the woodland yellow.

The last photograph is from Imperial Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Though I had been to the South Rim a handful of times, I’d never seen the northern side. The canyon seems to go on forever, but I’ve always found it hard to get a representative photo, simply because it is so big. There’s the old saying that if you can’t get it all in the frame, step back. But I guess I would need to step into orbit to get the shot that would fully satisfy me, so that will have to wait.

I made it back to Williams after riding back north through the Kaibab again. It was an afternoon to ride fast. Or fast and lucky. Rolling south on Route 89 through the Navajo Reservation, I rounded a curve at 85 mph to suddenly stare into the windshield of a parked state official’s white car. You know the kind; Hat, Badge, Gun. Since it was a 60 mph stretch, I immediately thought I’d just won the speeding ticket sweepstakes. I let the engine slow, and cruised, putting steadily along at 65. And waited. Watching the mirrors, waiting.

I finally realized the cruiser was out of sight of my mirrors. I don’t know what happened, but I apparently held the “Do Not Get A Speeding Ticket” card for a minute.

Leaving Williams at 6:00am with the electric gloves on the next morning, I slowly peeled off layers of clothing as the mountains gave way to the desert. With temperatures hovering between 85 and 90 farenheit, it wasn’t a bad time to be passing through the desert on a motorcycle. Because I could, I stopped at Roy’s in Amboy and bought a couple gallons of gasoline. It was expensive gasoline, as it was in the 70s and 80s, but it’s nice to have the place open again. My tires touched my driveway just before 2:00pm. A nice 400 mile home stretch.