The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona-the Colorado Plateau-is something special. Something strange, marvelous, full of wonders. As far as I know there is no other region on earth much like it, or even remotely like it. Nowhere else have we had this lucky combination of vast sedimentary rock formations exposed to a desert climate, a great plateau carved by major rivers-the Green, the San Juan, the Colorado-into such a surreal land of form and color. Edward Abbey, A Voice in the Wilderness
Now, if you want to see how Pete and I express our appreciation for Abbey’s vision, read on!
Day 6, Santa Fe to Monument Valley
Santa Fe to Mexican Hat ~324 miles via Los Alamos and the Valles Caldera National Reserve and Shiprock
After our destination layover with the Delawares, enjoying their warm hospitality in the comfort of their jazzy Santa Fe digs, Suzanne’s wonderful repast and conviviality, Bob’s generous tour of the surrounding landscapes and quaint New Mexican towns along the High Road to Taos, it was time to twist the throttle.
Originally we had planned to spend the night in Mexican Hat, a small town in Utah on the San Juan River on the northern edge of the Navajo Nation’s borders on our first night of the return leg. This curiously named town draws its moniker from a rock formation that, from some angles, resembles a sombrero, or a “Mexican Hat” if Messrs. Barber’s and Osborn’s high school Spanish serves me.
Apparently New Mexico and Utah have competing features of terrain. Decide for yourself if the names given are befitting.
Having departed from the itinerary, that I had toiled over for weeks prior to launching, largely due to weather I didn’t hesitate to again depart for the road less traveled. We had ridden past the Ghost Ranch through Abiquiu from Chama a few days earlier. It wasn’t weather but our desire to camp that compelled this detour from Mexican Hat. So it was off to Monument Valley through the Valles Caldera National Reserve by way of Los Alamos, Gallena, Cuba, Nageezi, Bloomfield and Farmington where the Mormon influences bump up against the Spanish and Navajo influences at least as far as place names are concerned.
Following some confusion in Los Alamos at the site of Project Y, a top secret atomic weapons laboratory, about how to proceed through the National Laboratory to get to get to NM-4, we were granted permission to pass through the facility by a fine young soldier at entrance to the Lab. He had noted our confusion as we rode past what was the entrance to the Weapons Lab. It’s amazing how the engineers were able to camouflage the public road as the entrance to a top secret lab. We were told not to stop or take any photos until we reached the narrow twisting two lane road that quickly ascended to the Caldera. Aye, aye!
Check out https://www.atomicheritage.org/location/los-alamos-nm for the interesting history of the weapons development on “The Hill.”
Following dinner at Los Hermanitos in Farmington, we scrambled along the San Juan River past perhaps one of the most photographed ancient volcanic plugs on the planet, Shiprock., even photographed from space.
Shiprock is on Navajo Nation land and is known as Tse Bit’a’i, or “winged rock” in Navajo, according to the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. Legend holds that the rock was Earth that became a bird and carried the Navajo people to the desert on its back, settling down and turning to stone again after the journey. Navajo tradition holds that people should not climb or disturb the rocks, so they have been closed to recreation since the 1970s.
Geologically, Shiprock originated from a volcanic eruption about 30 million years ago, according to the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. At the time, the rocks were up to 3,280 feet (1,000 m) below the ground and formed the “neck” of a region of volcanic rocks that has otherwise eroded away. The formation is made from a potassium-rich magma called “minette,” according to the bureau, and is heavily fractured into a type of angular fragmented rock called breccia. While the surrounding rock has eroded away, Shiprock and some of its accompanying lava dikes remain as seen to the left of the towering Shiprock
Continuing on US-64 to Teec Nos Pos where we then joined US-160/191 past Four Corners and Red Mesa, we then turned north on US-163 in Kayenta in search of camping in Monument Valley.
Geologically, Monument Valley is a combination of rock layers formed during the Permian and Triassic Periods several hundred million years ago that have been subjected to differential erosion (by which hard rocks erode more slowly than soft rocks). The results can be quite complex and stunningly beautiful.
We arrived at the Navajo Nation Monuments in late afternoon. Fortunately the first three campsites we encountered were either full or closed. On a whim, I decided to turn onto Mitchell Butte Rd. where suddenly and serendipitously appeared the Sleeping Bear Campground.
The relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour was composed of a sublime sunset. The star filled nightfall that followed gave way to an equally striking sunrise.
Day 7, Monument Valley to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon
Monument Valley to North Rim of the Grand Canyon ~275 miles through the Navajo Nation
The alpenglow of sunrise yielded to the cerulean skies of the morning. A relatively modest 245 mile day lay ahead giving us time to find a campsite and take in a few view ropes of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim.
Back on US-163 to US-160 we intended to take AZ-98 to Page and check out how puny Lake Powell had become. But we missed the interchange and ended up continuing on US-160 through Tuba City where we took the two lane US-89 north on freshly oiled two lane roads with no markings and passing lanes about every 5 miles through Willow Springs and Bitter Springs to Marble Canyon. Something about freshly oiled roads with intermittent passing lanes that increases the pucker factor by 2x when on a moto.
Upriver from Marble Canyon is the Glen Canyon Dam behind which is Lake Powell. When considering inclement weather enroute to Santa Fe from Chama on our planned route, we gave consideration to using the ferry at Halls Crossing near Bullfrog to avert the rain, at least according to NOAA radar. However, since the lake level was so low that along with several other launches, the ferry wasn’t operating. Not an option.
At Jacob Lake we headed south on the Grand Canyon Highway (AZ-67) over the Kaibab Plateau to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but not before securing a campsite at the Demotte Campground.
Campsite secured, it was off to the North Rim!
The crowd wasn’t too distracting from the awesomeness of canyon of the Colorado River as appreciated from the North Rim. After what would be our dinner of sammies from the North Rim Deli in the Pines, we made our way back to the Demotte campground.
Our cheery and accommodating camp hostess, Darlene, made sure we had a bundle of wood for a campfire as the chill of the evening descended. There were a group of spirited high school kids from The Holbrook Indian School who were camped just above us. We later learned they were hiking the “rim to rim” trail the next day and were intent on securing wood for their campfire from the surrounding forest as the afternoon shadows lengthened and temperatures dropped.
The boys raucously went about breaking large branches with rocks. They didn’t have any tools, in fact they declined a saw offered by a fellow camper, but as we were later informed by one of the boys from the group who offered us their unused timber for our campfire, Pete asked if they camped much. A suppressed chuckle coursed through the group, and one of the lads replied, “We’re Indians, we know all about camping…”
From the Holbrook Indian School website, “Outdoor School is one week of classes that take place in the great outdoors. Every year, the eighth- through 12th-grade students help to plan and coordinate the details of the trip. Each year the students travel to one of five locations that have been selected: Grand Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, the Rocky Mountain National Park, and one city trip to San Diego that includes a day of tidepooling at La Jolla Beach. For many of the students, the trip to San Diego is the first time they’ll get to see the ocean and learn to navigate a big city.”
It brought back many of my most cherished memories from my teaching career when I accompanied students to the Jack L. Boyd Outdoor School at Fish Camp in the Sierra Nevada just south of Yosemite. I hope the lessons of the Miwok material culture still resonate with the kids who were lucky enough to attend.
Day 8, North Rim via South Rim to Seligman
North Rim to Seligman ~293 miles by way of the South Rim and Route 66
We awakened to a bright clear sunrise as temps had dipped enough through the night to dust our tents and motos with a layer of glistening hoarfrost. A quick coffee powered by the JetBoil to defrost our innards and the low angled light of the sun soon dried the gear.
By now adapting the itinerary was the thing. Our choice for today: check out the conga lines at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon or deal with conga lines in Flagstaff. Don’t get me wrong about Flag or the South Rim, they’re both enjoyable stops that given time and inclination offer many opportunities for enlightenment. But we were destined for the desert, Route 66, with more rain on the horizon. Gotta get to gettin’…
We stopped for breakfast at the Jacob Lake Inn where just before ordering a French toast combo, I received a call from my wife about our 12 year old Labrador, Luna. We had been watching her decline as she was reaching the Rainbow Bridge phase of her life. Her ability to walk was compromised to the point that she could no longer stand and a trip to our veterinarian who had cared for her from a puppy, was not available. The vet who consulted with my wife and granddaughter about Luna’s fate only added to my remorse for leaving on this fool’s errand of a trip. Not only was the decision to euthanize Luna made by my brave wife, reluctantly, but there were other issues with loved ones at home. Needless to say, I was saddened beyond words to be so far away from my family, unable to say good-bye, to our Luna Long Toes or provide support to my wife and granddaughter for the difficulty of laying her to rest…
By the afternoon, I had to shake my sadness induced silence and tear obscured vision to summon the strength to not be such a buzzkill. Our first stop would be the South Rim of the Grand Canyon so I tried to lose my sadness in the depths of the canyon that John Wesley Powell described as:
The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself. The resources of the graphic art are taxed beyond their powers in attempting to portray its features. Language and illustration combined must fail.
The canyon from the South Rim reminded me how absolutely elemental we are in scale, time, and place and my sense of how unified we are all within an indifferent Earth, bound by its land, waters, and sky, that my sadness lifted. I was not even discouraged by the crowd. Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to be a rebel, please excuse the “taxed-out graphic art” below…
Unlike the North Rim, I was discouraged by the crowd that was massed at the Maswik Lodge so we decided to find a warm caffeinated beverage in Tusayan just outside of the park. We have this running mockery bordering on scorn for motorcycles parked in front of a Starbucks. And what did we find? A Starbucks in front of which we parked our bikes…
Williams, our original destination for the evening was replaced by Seligman, now anxious to ride the original “all weather highway” as weather was once again threatening. We discovered that the “original” Route 66, was in ruin just west of Williams where the roadbed disappeared under the eastbound lanes of I-40 . So, we jumped on the interstate to Ash Fork onto a replica (in highway engineering terms, a “realignment”) of what John Steinbeck dubbed,”the mother road” in his novel The Grapes of Wrath.
My father, his father, and sister, were a displaced farm family, like the Joads and thousands of real-life Americans who fled drought and poverty in Oklahoma, Texas, and neighboring states during the Great Depression and traveled west along Route 66 in search of employment. Riding comfortably with no hardships, save a little rain, with all of our needs easily obtained, and convenient destinations left me feeling impressed by my family’s struggle to make my life so abundant.
Westbound from Ash Fork we rode on Crookton Road segment of historic Route 66. All the alignments of Route 66 then resurface at Exit 139, where they head towards Seligman as the longest remaining segment of Route 66 in the whole of the U.S. that ends at Topock on the Colorado River at the California state line.
Per our usual decision at the day’s end, with clouds once again gathering, we opted to stay indoors in what we hoped to be an iconic Route 66 motel for the night. Upon entering Seligman, we began our quest for finding this iconic Route 66 lodging. Seligman has a population of just under 800 so we weren’t expecting to find much. That was until…
Anxious to secure lodging, the motel appeared to be closed as there were no vehicles in the parking lot nor was there an attendant in the office. However, there was a note with a phone number taped to the window of the office door. We called the number and the fellow on the other end explained that indeed the motel was open and he would send his wife from their other motel to open the office as he was coaching a youth basketball team.
Kim arrived from their other property in town, the Deluxe Inn. She and her husband acquired the properties from his parents and were in the process of restoring/renovating them. The hotel wasn’t of the same vintage as the Y Motel in Chama as the Supai opened in 1952. The early 1950s postcard upper left states:
SUPAI MOTEL SELIGMAN, ARIZONA. Phone – 953. Seligman’s newest and finest motel. (In center of City on Highway 66.) Tile baths, tubs or showers. Air-Conditioned by Frigidaire, panel type heat. Franciscan furniture, spring air mattresses, carpeted floors. Owned & Operated by Mr. and Mrs. H. Lanier.
The spirited inn keeper, Kim, recommended we park our motos under the cover of our room’s porch. She also recommended two restaurants, not the Copper Cart or the Snow Cap, both closed, but Lilo’s Cafe featuring German cuisine and the Roadkill Cafe/OK Saloon. Having dropped gear we walked to dinner at the Roadkill Cafe, since OK Saloon was included in the name, where the menu featured Deer Delectables, Bad-Brake Steak, Fender Tenders, Caddie Grilled Patty, Splatter Platter, Swirl of Squirrel, Big Bagged Stag, and Highway Hash.
The very entertaining bartender Larry was servicing a table in the bar where Pete and I sat for our buuurrrrguuurrrs. He was Googling drink recipes as he had returned to post-Covid lockdown employment, reinventing himself as a bartender and plying the assorted exuberant patrons with elixirs and concoctions decreasing their inhibitions in direct proportion given his pours. I only hoped they walked next door to their lodging… To the Deluxe and hopefully not the Supai!
The evening ended sitting in front of our room, enjoying the relaxation, rehydrating and reflection hour with a few of our fellow road-tripping and deer hunting guests, as by then there were no vacancies despite the display on the brilliant neon sign at the Supai, once upon a time, “Seligman’s newest and finest motel.”
Day 9, Seligman to Shoshone
Seligman to Shoshone ~284 miles by way of Peach Springs, Truxton, Valentine, Hackberry, Antares, Walapai, Hualapai, a deluge in Kingman, Bullhead City, with washouts on the way to Searchlight, Baker and the Mojave Preserve to Shoshone
Off to an early start en route to our favorite high desert destination between Baker and Death Valley Junction, the Shoshone RV Park and Campground, we would first have to cross three state boundaries. The Route 66 portion of the ride was relatively dry as we sped down long stretches of straight as an arrow pavement next to the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe through once prosperous rail towns that like Seligman, that were trading on nostalgia and a sentimental yearning for Route 66’s past as present day tourist stops.
And now for some of that nostalgia, Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe featuring Johnny Mercer and the Pied Pipers with Paul Weston and his orchestra from MGM’s 1946 production of the Harvey Girls, “A Gay and Lusty Romance Musical” with “Two-Gun Judy Garland…” The Harvey Girls Trailer
Kingman, still thriving as a railtown along side of the historic road’s role in American history that is celebrated at the Route 66 Museum, set inside the Powerhouse Visitors Center. Murals, dioramas and a library at the Mohave Museum of History and Arts trace local history. Locomotive Park, featuring a 1928 steam engine, and the Kingman Railroad Museum document the city’s past as a 20th-century railway hub. None of which we saw, virtually trapped in a Denny’s as the clouds burst…
Downpour at Denny’s, Kingman Arizona a short video.
After a couple of hours sitting out the front as the lightning and horizontal rain ceased, we returned to our bikes to helmet-up and make our way. Helmets we left on the mirrors of our motos. Exposed. Wet. Thankfully it wasn’t terribly cold, so they dried in no time once underway.
US-93, AZ-68 took us across Golden Valley where we encountered light-flashing Highway Department vehicles positioned where washes from the flash flooding covered the road, none of which were impassable by the time we arrived, but required caution crossing as water, sand, and rocks made for less that ideal pavement on a two-wheeled platform.
With miles to go we crossed the Colorado River for the last time on the trip just below the Davis Dam entering Nevada on NV-163 to Palm Gardens and US-95. Reaching Searchlight we then headed west on NV-164 crossing the border into California passing through Nipton, approximately 12 miles southeast of Primm, Nevada and the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility that shone eerily with a dark, clouded sky backdrop. I shoulda’ stopped to take a picture. Since the interwebs is full of pictures, how about this one?
Nipton, by the way, could be yours as it’s for sale for a mere $3 million doll-hairs. From the LAist:
I’m a fan of Brent Underwood’s YouTube channel, Ghost Town Living. It seems buying an old ghost town and monetizing a YouTube channel is a thing these days. Not quite reaching I-15 we turned south onto Ivanpah Rd. It only took about ten miles for me to grasp that we were headed to Kelso in the opposite direction of our destination. We then headed more or less in the correct direction on Morning Star Mine Rd. to the small town of Cima. Originally Cima served as water stop for trains going up the long Kelso Valley grade. Later, Cima functioned as a shipping center for mines and ranches in the area. For us it functioned as a route correction back to Barstow Road, a.k.a. I-15, and the Shell Station west of Mountain Pass where we paid $5.90 for a gallon of Premium. Thankfully, I only needed 3.96 gallons.
Off to Baker zooming on I-15 we paused to stretch and delayer from the cooler rain influenced gear into the lighter desert gear and check to out an interesting vehicle on the side of the road.
In a bit under an hour, we’d be in Shoshone. If my calculations are correct, Jim “Jet” Nielsen and his 700mph jet car, who incidentally holds 4 land speed world records but prefers not setting them on salt beds, could make in about 5 minutes…
Pete and I set off from Baker on CA-127 across the Mojave National Preserve. From the National Park Service website:
Singing sand dunes, cinder cone volcanoes, a large Joshua tree forest, and carpets of spring wildflowers are all found within this 1.6-million-acre park. A visit to its canyons, mountains, and mesas will reveal long-abandoned mines, homesteads, and rock-walled military outposts. Located between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, Mojave provides serenity and solitude from major metropolitan areas.
Across the Mojave National Preserve a short GoPro clip.
We arrived at Shoshone as the sun was sinking in the west below the Greenwater Range.
The story of Shoshone is interesting. The current owner of the town, Susan Sorrells, didn’t buy the place, she inherited it. Her family’s fascinating story can be found at The Mojave Project: Reimagining the Amargosa .
After setting up camp, we strolled over to the Crowbar down the Old Highway 127 past the Maury and Bernice Sorrells house. As far as we could tell, the only private residence in Shoshone.
After buurrgguurrs and beers I asked David, our waiter where folks who worked in Shoshone lived since there didn’t seem to be any houses except for the Sorrell’s. It turns out he was a Covid layed-off waiter from one of the restaurants at the sheik Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas who was commuting from Pahrump to work as a server at the Crowbar. From our perspective, Covid had given him the opportunity to step up in the world. IMHO, Shoshone may not have what Las Vegas has, but Las Vegas comes up lemons, bananas, and cherries to what Shoshone has.
On our way out of the restaurant we met two motorcyclists, Mark on a BMW R9T and Ray on a BMW 1200 RT from the Bay Area on a trip like ours, or rather, one we’d done before. They were staying at the Shoshone Inn, part of the Sorrells grand slam of owning all of the commercial businesses in town. They were headed to Kernville from Shoshone having toured Zion and Bryce on their sleek and shiny German machines.
As usual, we procured beverages for the relaxation, rehydration, and reflection hour and met fellow campers Ann and Dave from Chicago and New Jersey by way of a sand-to-shore motor tour of the Mojave and Death Valley from their home in Salt Lake City. Their destination, Morro Bay in search of wineries. They were an affable couple who like us last spring, just by chance, discovered the Shoshone RV Park and Campground.
Day 10, The Home Stretch Shoshone to Merced
Shoshone to Merced ~442 miles a very long day
Given the pressing desire to return home to help out with my wife’s mother’s affairs, join my family in mourning Luna’s passing, and concern that the next weather front to come through was forecasted to close the passes over the Sierra to get back home, we decided to forego plans to go to Rhyolite and Goldfield. No disappointment, only new opportunities to return.
The new plan instead was to head to Panamint Springs for lunch and decide whether to camp in Lone Pine where we stayed last spring or Independence where we stayed a couple of years ago on another adventure or press on. (Posts of those trips can be found on the home page.)
Since our favorite desert oasis, food and beverage dispensary, and campground was closed, we headed to Lone Pine for lunch at the Bonanza Mexican Restaurant. Hunger sated and weather updated we made the decision to press on and make our way over Tioga Pass before a storm, headed our way, was predicted to be cold enough for snowfall to close the pass. This atmospheric river was equally likely to complicate Walker Pass to the south on CA-178 and snow was just as likely to close Sonora Pass on CA-108 or any of the passes to the north .
A quick refuel at the Woah Neli-Deli along for a cocoa laced coffee and we were off once again crossing Tioga Pass as the shadows lengthened. There was no less beauty in this segment of the ride, but we were homeward bound, road weary and anxious to return so my phone was tucked away. We arrived home right around sunset, glad to reunite with family but satisfied that yet another moto tour to celebrate was complete and no accidents or mechanicals befell us.
Edward Abbey has best expressed how I am drawn to the Mojave, Colorado Plateau, and Basin and Range through which I’ve pedaled in my youth and throttled more recently. In his words:
The geologic approach is certainly primary and fundamental, underlying the attitude and outlook that best support all others, including the insights of poetry and the wisdom of religion. Just as the earth itself forms the indispensable ground for the only kind of life we know, providing the sole sustenance of our minds and bodies, so does empirical truth constitute the foundation of higher truths. (If there is such a thing as higher truth.)
It seems to me that Keats was wrong when he asked, rhetorically, “Do not all charms fly … at the mere touch of cold philosophy?” The word “philosophy” standing, in his day, for what we now call “physical science.” But Keats was wrong, I say, because there is more charm in one “mere” fact, confirmed by test and observation, linked to other facts through coherent theory into a rational system, than in a whole brainful of fancy and fantasy. I see more poetry in a chunk of quartzite than in a make-believe wood nymph, more beauty in the revelations of a verifiable intellectual construction than in whole misty empires of obsolete mythology.
The moral I labor toward is that a landscape as splendid as that of the Colorado Plateau can best be understood and given human significance by poets who have their feet planted in concrete — concrete data — and by scientists whose heads and hearts have not lost the capacity for wonder. Any good poet, in our age at least, must begin with the scientific view of the world; and any scientist worth listening to must be something of a poet, must possess the ability to communicate to the rest of us his sense of love and wonder at what his work discovers.
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