Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gravel roads on the BMW

Our BMW R1200GS is designed for on or off-road riding, and yesterday we decided to head off-road. We'd heard about a route using county roads, partly gravel/sand/dirt; that ends up in Williams, about 65 miles northeast of Prescott. It was sunny and warm for November, a perfect day to explore.

We rode north on paved highway 89 out of Prescott, and turned east onto Yavapai County road 71 at the Drake Cement plant in Paulden. Chino Valley and Paulden are ranch country, with wide open fields on both sides of the highway.

Just past the Drake Cement plant, county Road 71 turned into gravel, so we slowed our pace as Mike navigated the bumpy road. It's easy to imagine what people in wagon trains saw when they headed West in the 1800's, because the landscape hasn't changed. This is open range country, meaning cattle wander freely without fences.

We passed one ranch with large solar panels outside the house, necessary in this area where there aren't any power lines. Otherwise, we had the road to ourselves as we traveled through grassy ranchland with far-off views of the mountains. At times the road was soft gravel, at other times red sand. We crossed washes that flood in the summer monsoon rains, and as the road climbed into higher elevations, the grasslands gave way to chaparral.

We felt like we left the wilderness behind us as we turned north onto paved Country Road 73. Even though we were about 20 miles south of Williams, we saw only a couple of pick-up trucks as we now sped through the pine trees in the Kaibab National Forest.

We pulled over at Vista Point, looking out over the forest, before we continued on to Williams.

Williams is a weatherbeaten small town that beckons tourists interested in the old Route 66 or taking the train into the Grand Canyon. At 6,766' elevation it's cooler than Prescott, but today the bright sunshine and unseasonably warm late November weather meant we could sit outside and enjoy lunch at Cruiser's Route 66 Cafe.

We took the fast route home, heading west on Interstate 40 then south on Arizona 89. As we passed by the Drake Cement plant I looked off to the east, thinking about how different it is to ride slowly on gravel roads where instead of paying attention to traffic we could gaze out over the countryside and let our thoughts wander.

Sunshine: a perfect reason for a local BMW motorcycle ride

It was a beautiful, sunny, warm November day - and perfect for a short ride to Bagdad, Arizona, a copper mining town about 60 miles west of our home in Prescott. It's a twisty, fun road on little-traveled 2-lane paved county roads that remind us why we love riding the BMW. We took Iron Springs road west out of Prescott, and along the way passed a train and several people on bicycles. We actually saw more bicycles today than we did cars.

Saguaro cactus don't grow in Prescott because it gets too cold here, but just west of us, on the one paved road into Bagdad, we start to see saguaro covering the rocky hills as the climate warms up.

We joined several other motorcycle riders in The Diner in Bagdad for a late lunch, and chatted with a couple of guys riding dirt bikes as we got ready to leave. One day we hope to travel the old dirt roads from Prescott to Bagdad, but today we decided to retrace our route and head back home.

While we love exploring the country on the BMW, it's fun to ride familiar roads and enjoy our local sunny skies.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

50,000 miles on our BMW R1200GS

Today we rode our 50,000th mile on our BMW R1200GS.

We started from home with the odometer at 49,972 and decided to mark the occasion of hitting 50,000 miles by riding out on Williamson Valley Road. The north/south road is paved and busy with local traffic near Prescott, but as we rode north the houses thinned out with views of Granite Mountain to the west. This used to be ranch country, and today many of the ranches have been developed into subdivisions with names like Inscription Canyon, American Ranch, and Talking Stick. My favorite, however, is Hootenanny Holler, which sounds like it belongs in the mountains of Appalachia instead of the Arizona high desert.

The subdivisions end and Williamson Valley Road turns to dirt, continuing to wind north 45 miles toward Seligman. Williamson Valley is named after Lt. Robert Stockton Williamson who was a government surveyor in this area in the 1850's. This is truly ranch country, with no houses or structures except for long lines of fences and a lone windmill as far as we could see in every direction.

About 4 miles down the surprisingly well-maintained dirt road we stopped to celebrate our 50,000th mile. We purchased the BMW in July 2012 in Albany, New York when we were living in Vermont. We rode to Kentucky in 2013 and 1 month later across the country to Arizona when we moved here. In the past 4 years we've ridden through every western state, many of them more than once. We rode through a hailstorm in southern Arizona, across snowy mountain passes in Colorado, along the Pacific Coast Highway, across the Mississippi River, through more midwestern cornfields than we'd like to remember, during hard rain downpours, on days so hot I felt like I was melting inside my motorcycle gear and on other days so cold I couldn't feel my hands even inside my heated gloves.

Mike's thinking about a new motorcycle in the near future, and until then we'll continue to put more miles on the R1200GS, looking for the next curving road with no cars in front of us and the beautiful countryside all around.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

BMW motorcycle ride for lunch - and more

What to do on a sunny Sunday morning in October when we don't have anything on our schedule? A motorcycle ride to Cottonwood for lunch!

We ride the winding, twisting hairpin turns on 89A into Jerome several times each year because the narrow 2-lane road through the Black Hills mountain range in the Prescott National Forest is a gorgeous route made for motorcycles. Tall pine trees cover the hills, stone walls tower over the side of the highway, and off in the distance we can see the high cliffs of the Mogollon Plateau.

89A winds into Jerome, an old copper mining town precariously perched on the side of a mountain. On the way into Jerome we followed two slow-moving cars so we had to content ourselves with poking along while we watched the scenery. On the way home, however, Mike took advantage of the clear road in front of us to zoom through the hairpin turns.


Cottonwood lies in the Verde Valley along the Verde River, one of the largest perennial streams (meaning that it has water all year; many streams and rivers in Arizona and the Southwest are dry except during the rainy season) in Arizona. Our favorite lunch spot is Bocce where we like to sit outside while we enjoy the Sunday lunch special of 1/2 pizza and house salad. Today we watched numerous Corvettes of various vintages drive up and down the main street, part of the local Verde Valley Vettes poker run.

Because it was such a beautiful day, we took the long way home on the old Black Canyon Highway. Originally built in the 1870's, it was the main stagecoach route from Phoenix to Prescott. Today part of it is incorporated into I-17, and there is about an 8-mile section that runs from the Prescott Country Club subdivision in Dewey-Humboldt to the La Quinta Inn in Prescott. Parts of the road are still dirt, but probably not as bumpy as during the stagecoach days. The BMW is built for off-road riding and it's always fun to get off the pavement and ride on dirt.

Arizona-blue skies, mountains off in the distance, hairpin turns, dirt 'highway' - today's ride reminded us of why we love living in Arizona.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Local, familiar rides

We spent 5 days riding a BMW in Ireland last month, and while we thoroughly enjoy riding and exploring new places, this weekend we decided to ride a familiar loop near home. The summer monsoons have ended, and while a few puffy white clouds gathered over the Mogollon Rim, we had clear weather for the afternoon. The end of summer monsoons also means cooler temperatures, so instead of wearing my vented light-gray motorcycle pants and a cooling neck wrap, I opted for standard black motorcycle pants and both warm layers to my motorcycle jacket.

We rode a favorite loop:  north on I-17 for a few short miles to the General Crook Trail exit, where we hooked up with Arizona 260 heading west. General George Crook fought for the Union Army during the Civil War, and after that war, like so many career soldiers, was stationed in the southwest. In 1871 he established a supply route that connected forts Verde (Camp Verde today, where we exited the interstate), Apache, and Whipple (now home to the VA Hospital in our town of Prescott).

When we exit I-17 and turn onto 260 West we're treated to views of the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment of limestone and sandstone that rises 4,000 feet over the landscape to the south. Route 260 winds and climbs onto the Rim, with the temperature dropping 20 degrees as we gained elevation. We sometimes see bighorn sheep on the hills alongside the road, but today our primary company were several groups of motorcycles heading to an event in nearby Cottonwood.

We turned northwest onto 87 for a short distance, and then headed more directly north onto Lake Mary Road. We passed several trucks carrying quads used in hunting, and even saw a couple of elk in the back of pick-up trucks. Mostly we rode through forests with open meadows carpeted with green grass from the summer rains.

One of the grassy meadows is technically Mormon Lake, but the only water today was a large puddle perhaps the size of our house's footprint surrounded by boggy grass. Mormon Lake is the largest natural lake in Arizona, which says a lot about the water supply in our high-desert home.

Lake Mary, on the other hand, always has enough water for fishing and boating. That's because it's a reservoir, actually two reservoirs, built in the early 1900's for drinking water to supply Flagstaff.

We didn't realize that there is a significant paving project on Lake Mary Road, and passed the time while we were stopped on the now one-lane road talking with another motorcycle rider. We swapped stories about the amount of time we've spent stopped for construction, riding in the rain and hail, and favorite local roads.

Lake Mary road eventually became a busy road when we reached Flagstaff, where we stopped at Tourist Home Urban Market for a fantastic lunch which included wild blueberry pie and a large loaf of pizza bread that we brought home.

The best part of the trip over, we chose the fast way home, riding south on I-17. At least the scenery is some of Arizona's finest - the red rock formations of Sedona framed by the white sandstone and limestone cliffs that I-17 climbs and winds through.

We've ridden this way several times, and each time I'm awed by the wide-open views, hawks lazily circling on the updrafts in the sunny blue sky, and the winding highway that leads us through scrubby high desert into the ponderosa-covered mountains. Every day we're on the BMW is a day to be treasured, even a familiar ride close to home.