19 days, 8 states, 4,300 miles
Although there’s still snow on the ground, Howard and I have been planning our next trip for a month now. After reviewing several ideas that included Arizona, Florida, and even Newfoundland, we decided to continue exploring American Southwest – New Mexico, Arizona, and a little bit of Utah. We’ll also add Kansas and Oklahoma to the list of visited states.
Last year we took US-20 to Fort Dodge, IA and then I-80 through Nebraska. This year we are limiting interstate riding and instead will take state highways and local roads whenever possible. This may slow us down somewhat, but hopefully it will be offset by better scenery and fewer trucks.
The entire trip will be approximately 4,300 miles – 2,500 miles to and from and 1,800 miles riding scenic roads. Applying lessons from last year, we’ll have shorter days in the middle of the trip limiting the rides to 130 – 150 miles per day as well as take a day off.
Day 1 Chicago – Shelbina, MO (345 miles)
The day started a little bit chilly, but by the time we reached Shelbina it warmed up promising a very pleasant evening. However right after dinner we started hearing about an approaching tornado. Sure enough, the sky turned black, and the streets quickly emptied. We could hear tornado warning sirens all over town. Half a dozen of us stood in the doorways of our hotel waiting for the sky to turn green, but other than some rain nothing happened. The tornado didn’t touch down.
Day 2 Shelbina, MO - McPherson, KS (360 miles)
You would think that one tornado was more than enough, but at about 9 PM hotel staff started knocking at the doors telling everyone to go to the basement. We all ended up standing in the doorways watching the sky. The tornado landed somewhere outside of McPherson. We just had rain and small hail.
Day 3 McPherson, KS - Guymon, OK (270 miles)
The plan was to ride 375 miles to Clayton, NM, but the weather didn’t cooperate - a cold front that was moving from north-west brought winds up to 40 mph and temperatures in the low 50s. We rode 2/3 of the planned route and called it a day in Guymon, OK.
Day 4 Guymon, OK - Tucumcari, NM (170 miles)
From Clayton we were supposed to ride to Taos, NM, but the weather forecast for Taos was below freezing temperatures and snow. So instead of riding west, we continued south-west on Hwy 54 to Tucumcari.
View from the road
Tucumcari turned out to be a great choice. The town is called a city of murals. They are the work of Doug Quarles, a former resident of the town. The murals are painted on the sides of businesses, houses, and posts. Some play off the Route 66 theme, others reflect the history of the area. There are more than two dozen of them all over town.
Day 5 Tucumcari, NM - Santa Fe, NM (230 miles)
Day 5 Tucumcari, NM - Santa Fe, NM (230 miles)
It was time to get back on the planned route. We took Hwy 104 north-west and then 518 north through Carson National Forest. Elevation started to increase after Mora with temperatures dropping into the mid 40s. There was snow on the ground everywhere.
This was our first visit to Santa Fe. It was interesting to see practically all buildings in a city of 70,000 to be built in the same Adobe style.
On the way to Albuquerque we explored a couple of side roads riding along Pecos River, through Santa Fe National Forest, and Sandia Mountains.
Albuquerque, NM - Reserve, NM (215 miles)
Hidden Springs Inn was a little rustic motel (just 6 rooms) 7 miles from Reserve with a mural in every room. It wasn’t the Hilton, but it offered this “close to nature” experience that so often escapes us. Besides, the bakery had an espresso machine and in the room we found freshly baked sweets. On top of all that dinner was delivered to our room and included a delicious lasagna as the main course.
Day 8 Reserve, NM - Eagar, AZ (210 miles)
We took Hwy 180 south, turned south-west on 78, and then took 191 north. The average speed limit on a good portion of 191 after Morenci was 25 mph, dropping to 10-15 mph on many switchbacks. There was no service for 90 miles.
The Morenci mine is one of the largest copper reserves in the world.
Day 9 Eagar, AZ - Payson, AZ (220 miles)
We continued to zig-zag, first south-west on Hwy 60 and then north-west on 188.
Day 10 Payson, AZ - Sedona, AZ (100 miles)
Village of Oak Creak
Ken, a member of Northwest Suburban Scooter Club of Mt. Prospect, moved to Phoenix some time ago and it was very nice to see him. He met us in Sedona and showed us around.
A character with a revolver stopped by while we were taking a break from sightseeing, showed us his gun and repeated three times that he takes tips.
View from Airport mesa
Sunsets in Sedona are something not to be missed. This is what we were told. One of the most popular places for viewing it is Airport mesa, where panoramic views of Sedona and spectacular long distance views of Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte never fail to elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from awestruck visitors.
When we got there, the crowd just started to assemble. We took a couple of pictures, found a good spot, and prepared for a spectacle. However nothing happened. A lady with a professional-looking camera on a tri-pod standing beside us explained that sunsets are really spectacular in Sedona… in October.
Day 11 Sedona, AZ - Flagstaff, AZ (75 miles)
Our plan was to explore Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument before checking into the hotel in Flagstaff. But the map showed another interesting place – Wupatki National Monument – 800-year old ruins of houses built by Pueblo people.
Day 12 Flagstaff, AZ - Cameron, AZ (145 miles)
Cameron is a trading post – lodge, restaurant, and a souvenir shop. And no continental breakfast in the morning.
Day 13 Cameron, AZ - Mexican Hat, UT (150 miles)
We booked a 3-hour long private tour of Monument Valley while still in Chicago. Needless to say it was breathtaking.
With the exception of the “monuments” themselves, the area is very open. Strong gusts of wind blowing sand are constant. When we returned from the tour, we found sand in our helmets and jackets we left on the bikes. A bigger problem was sand in the locking mechanism of our modular helmets. Dust remover spray from RadioShack helped somewhat, but I will eventually need to take the helmet apart and clean it.
Day 14 Mexican Hat, UT - Durango, CO (145 miles)
Day 15 Durango, CO - Gunnison, CO (230 miles)
For some reason the Million Dollar Highway (US-550) was less impressive this time around, probably because of the snow and low temperatures. The Black Canyon greeted us with drizzle and even lower temperatures. I’m glad we rode both last year when it was warm and sunny.
On the way to Silverton we passed hundreds of bikers. As we learned later, it was the annual Iron Horse Bicycle Classic – a bike race from Durango to Silverton (47 miles.) However this year, because of cold weather, the organizers cut the route in half.
Day 16 Gunnison, CO - Burlington, CO (315 miles)
Another change of the route. Instead of riding Hwy 285/24 and staying in Colorado Springs overnight, we decided to take Hwy 50/115 to Colorado Springs and continue to Burlington, CO. The most challenging part of the route was Monarch Pass - 35F temperatures and snow. This was the first time when my bike’s windshield was covered with snow while I was riding it.
Day 17 Burlington, CO - Seneca, KS (360 miles)
Day 18 Seneca, KS - Jacksonville, IL (325 miles)
Day 19 Jacksonville, IL – Chicago (245 miles)
Overall it was a great ride – new places, new experiences, and breathtaking scenery.