Memorial Weekend Tour 2018: Northern Arizona

We often spend the Memorial Weekend with a tour to get the summer riding season into full swing. This year the plan was to head down to Arizona for a few days and enjoy the nice weather—but what started out as eight bikes wound up being three on Thursday morning when we saddled up to destinations south.

Kelly and I ended up riding with someone we didn't know, but Dave turned out to be a good riding companion and we enjoyed his company.

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Although we missed the folks who couldn't join us, we were determined to have a good time.

Day 1: Sandy, UT to Hurricane, UT

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Most of the riding on this trip was familiar (with a few exceptions) and the first day down Highway 89 was no exception. This is a great way to avoid the freeway, stay off the slab, and enjoy a great road.

We started by cruising down the west side of Utah Lake and the all-too-short Goshen Canyon. It's only a couple miles long, but is a pretty little diversion from the Interstate (I just wish it was about 30 miles longer).

We topped off the tanks in Nephi and headed toward Gunnison and Highway 89.

There are several small towns that dot the highway between Gunnison and Carmel Junction. With only one diversion onto Interstate 70 between Salina and Richfield (which you can avoid if you want to), there are a couple of really nice canyons in between the rural landscape of Central and Southern Utah.

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We thought by heading out on Thursday we would miss the crowds—and we did. We pretty much had the highway to ourselves. We stopped in Panguich at the Flying M Restaurant for lunch before topping of the bikes (lunch hit the spot). 

At Carmel Junction we hung a right and rode through Zion National Park. All in all it was a beautiful, if very familiar day, with our destination being a friends place in Hurricane and a tasty Mexican dinner before crashing for the night.

Day 2: Hurricane, UT to Camp Verde, AZ

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Day 2 was the longest day of the trip at just shy of 400 miles, but since Kelly hadn't been to the Grand Canyon and we were going to be riding right past the turnoff to the North Rim, we decided to add the extra miles and make the very worthwhile detour. We were hoping it wouldn't be too crowded on Friday morning.

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Since we didn't have the big group to get moving in the morning we were up with the dawn patrol and heading toward Jacob Lake for breakfast before going into the park. I don't think Dave was anticipating the early days, but he persevered and was a good sport. After breakfast, we had the road into the park practically to ourselves.

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Although it was really the wrong time of day to take pictures of the Grand Canyon, I'm not sure how you can look at this beautiful place and not take a couple of photographs. This is the third time in the last 12 months I've been to the North Rim and it blows my mind every time.

The road in and out of the park is really fun on a motorcycle. Especially when you don't have much traffic and can enjoy each and every little bend in the road. I know it's a different story when it's crowded, but we didn't have to fight the crowds on this morning and just enjoyed the ride.

The drop off the plateau was another fun piece of highway before it started to warm up as we headed toward Flagstaff and dropped even further down into Camp Verde. I was glad for the mesh jacket and hydration vest as the mercury hit close to 100 degrees after we said good-bye to Flagstaff.

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I enjoyed a nice shower before we walked across the street for dinner and spent a few minutes de-bugging the motorcycles before hitting the sack.

Day 3: Camp Verde, AZ to Kingman, AZ

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We rode some of these same roads a couple of years ago and Kelly and I were looking forward to a brief stop in Jerome and descending the canyon we'd climbed going the other way before. We both remembered that to be a very fun climb and were anticipating going the other way.

It was over too quickly.

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The town of Jerome is built on the mountainside as the road switchbacks up the mountain. It reminds me of Park City—both are old mining towns. This is probably what Park City would look like if you couldn't ski there. It looks like there's a pretty healthy group of artists that call Jerome home these days.

If you can't read the sign behind us, it's for a pretty eclectic little shop called "Scooter Trash." For some reason it seemed to strike a cord with us.

We decided to catch the old Route 66 into Kingman at Ash Fork. I've been on parts of this highway before, but we'd never been on the road from Seligman through Hackberry. It's hard not to imagine what it must have been like bouncing along this road before it was paved (and even after it was paved it was a pretty narrow highway out in the deserts of Arizona). It's pretty much out in the middle of nowhere—but I'd do it again.

We had a windy ride into Kingman and I was thinking it was a pain until I saw several bicyclists trying to fight the headwind. Having done that before, I realized how easy I really had it as I was pushing through the wind at 65 MPH.

Dave had never been to Oatman, so we decided to add the few extra miles and introduce him to the burrows in the street (although this is a photo of Kelly—Dave was in the candy store at the time).

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This isn't Dave either.

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Abandoned by the miners that were once working the nearby hills, the town has turned the burrows into a tourist attraction. But, we did our best to keep it "classy".

The road in and out of Oatman is a fun little ride in and of itself with plenty of low-speed twisties to enjoy. We were told that people passing through back in the day would hire locals to drive their cars along the narrow road into Oatman because they were nervous about doing it themselves. One guy once told me there were over 100 curves on that road. I haven't counted them, but there are a lot of them.

It doesn't take much imagination to appreciate the challenge of navigating an old Buick over the narrow and windy roads. Even today, there's a big difference between a freshly paved road and the same road in disrepair (I've ridden it in both conditions).

After returning to Kingman, we stopped for the night at the Best Western Kings Inn and Suites. I mention it because it was a great place to stay, with a friendly staff, and absolutely beautiful rooms. I've payed two or three times what we paid for the night and not been in any nicer a room. If you ever happen to need a place to stay in Kingman, this is the place.

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While going through the nightly ritual of cleaning up the bikes, we met Yop and Sonja from the Netherlands. They had shipped this beautiful GMC pickup across the ocean to drive across the United States for vacation. They visited with us for about an hour as we cleaned the bikes before heading to dinner.

Day 4: Kingman, AZ to Hatch, UT

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Another another early start and we were on our way to Boulder City, NV and points north. I love the little stretch of road along Lake Mead out of Boulder City and it didn't disappoint. It feels like a canyon road—although there is no canyon. The weather was beautiful as we pushed north. In fact, with the exception of only one really hot afternoon, we'd been in really pleasant temperatures the entire tour—and this day was no exception.

It started to warm up as we approached Overton, so we switched to mesh before heading back into Utah. With only a few miles on I-15 we jumped off the Interstate at Littlefield for the climb up Utah Hill. The ride through the little Arizona towns of Littlefield and Beaver Dam are part of the old Spanish trail and was the primary route to Southern California from Utah from the earliest days of the settlements there.

I remember driving this route as a kid with my parents before the Interstate was completed. It's not very well-traveled now—we had the road completely to ourselves, but it's our preferred route north into Utah. We enjoy riding through the Gunlock valley and over the mountains into Enterprise and on to Cedar City. It's a great stretch of highway and a fun ride into Cedar.

After a late lunch at the All American Diner, we got ready for the climb up Cedar Canyon past Duck Creek and back onto Highway 89 to Hatch. It looked like we might get some rain going over the pass, but we only got a sprinkle or two. The temperatures did drop into the 40s, which was a big change from what we'd been in the last few days.

Cedar Canyon from Cedar City to the Junction with Highway 89 is one of the most beautiful mountain passes we ride. One winter in February after a few days in Arizona to escape the cold, we went over on dry roads, with the snow piled up six or seven feet high on the side of the road—but we didn't want to miss the chance to ride the pass and wanted to head home via 89. Don't miss an opportunity to take this ride if you get the chance, it's well worth the detour.

Dave didn't have a warm jacket or any extra layers (he had expected a summer ride), so after we peeled his frozen digits off the grips in Hatch, he finally warmed up.

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We stayed in a place I'll only mention, The Bryce Zion Inn, to steer you away. It's an older place (which isn't a big deal we stay in a lot of older places), and the rooms seemed to be pretty clean, but I had locked the keys in the room and forgotten something and needed help around 8:30 in the morning and couldn't find a soul to help me. I even went back into the employee's part of the hotel and can't even really describe what I saw.

There were dirty dishes and filth everywhere. I couldn't tell which linens were clean and which were dirty. It looked like the boys who had helped us check in the night before never clean up anything. I was OK with the room until I saw what it looked like went on behind the scenes. All I can really say is, "Wow."

To make a long story short, when I couldn't find anyone I knocked on the trailer door where it looked like they stayed to no answer, so I got out my tool kit and broke into my room to get the key and my cell phone (that I'd somehow left behind).

I cannot recommend this place and the Trip Advisor and other reviews simply can't be up to date. It does not deserve the rating it has on those sites. I seldom bash on a place like this, but this is not someplace I can recommend in the least. What's more, this place was actually more expensive for the night than the Kings Inn in Kingman and on the other end of the scale. We will never stay there again. You should do yourself a favor and avoid the place.

Day 5: Hatch, UT to Home

The forecast for the day was cold and rain, so we decided to get an early start and cruise up 89 to home rather than add the extra miles in Escalante and Torrey as planned. Later in the day, the black clouds and rain over the mountains to the east confirmed that we had made the right decision.

In the morning when Kelly looked at the temperature and said, "It's 38 degrees," it was hard to fathom that it had been around 100 degrees just a couple of days before.

We had breakfast at the Flying M in Panguich and the waitress recognized us from lunch a couple of days earlier. We've eaten there before and the breakfast is pretty good. After 20 miles in 38 to 40 degrees it was nice to wrap my fingers around a warm mug.

We got rained on, but not as much as we thought we would. It was still an enjoyable (although somewhat colder) ride home. The weather turned around with blue skies and sunshine in Nephi as we blasted up 1-15 in the holiday traffic to home.

The short version is simply that it was a great tour. We spent some time on familiar roads, discovered a few new gems, Kelly got his first taste of the Grand Canyon; and Dave got to visit Oatman and Route 66. We had great company, long days in the saddle, good food, and spread a lot of BS around the dinner table each night. The machines performed well. We returned home safe. And, I can't think of anything that would have made the trip better—I even got to break into a hotel room.

Kelly and I discussed taking Sue and Chris and doing a Grand Canyon tour sometime down the road. I did this with one of my oldest friends Steve, a few years ago, I may even give him a call to see if he wants to rent a bike so he and his wife Sandra can join us (we had also talked about such a ride). He rides a Buell X1, which I don't think would be a good bike for a two-up tour.

Northern Arizona over the Memorial Weekend was a great way to spend a few days in the saddle. I can't wait for the next trip.