Saturday, September 24, 2022

Ajo to home with some wandering in the middle


After a heavy rain with hail last night, we were thrilled that the roads were dry when we started for home from Ajo, AZ at 7am. The ride north on AZ 85 was uneventful, and as we rode along we decided to not retrace our route from Thursday but instead continue on 85 north until we reached Indian School Road.

The Garmin GPS kept suggesting that we take the I10 to the 303 and finally north on I17 - all interstate highways that we wanted to avoid. We realized too late that AZ 85 did not go as far north as we expected, and spent some time wandering around, looking for a paved road that would get us back to Vulture Mine Road into Wickenburg.

After stopping at yet another intersection with a dirt road and consulting the Butler motorcycle map, we realized that we needed to backtrack, take the I10 for about 9 miles, and then we would be back on little-traveled, 2-lane, paved roads.

The Butler map proved correct, and we were soon back on the winding paved roads that led to Vulture Mine Road.

We crossed the same muddy wash from Thursday, today with more mud but no problem at all for the BMW.

I wanted to be sure to get a photo of Vulture City - settled in 1863 to house miners from the Vulture Mine, Arizona's most successful gold mine, it grew to 5000 people. The mine closed in 1942 since it was considered a non-essential mine, not needed for WWII efforts and the town became was abandoned.

Some of the buildings have been restored and it's now possible to book a tour or hold a special event in the town.

The rest of our ride was uneventful as we wound up 89 from the valley into much cooler temperatures in Yarnell, then continued home on very familiar roads.

When I spotted Thumb Butte, I knew we were very close to home. We really enjoyed Ajo and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and being back on the BMW for even a short 3-day trip reminded us how much we enjoy motorcycle travel. We won't wait a year for the next trip!

Friday, September 23, 2022

Ajo, Arizona and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

It was a sunny late-September morning for a ride into Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona.

 After a quick stop for breakfast at Granny's Kitchen in Why, AZ, we continued south on AZ 80 to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Why supposedly takes its name because it is at a 'Y' intersection of highways 85 and 86. The highway intersection has changed, but the town keeps its name and Granny's Kitchen is a fantastic stop for breakfast or lunch.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established in 1937 to protect and preserve this scenic area in the Sonoran Desert that borders Mexico. It's the only place in the US where organ pipe cactus grow wild.

The organ pipe cactus is the second largest columnar cactus in the US (saguaros are taller) and grows up to 23' tall. Arizona is the northernmost limit of the organ pipe cactus which are extremely sensitive to frost.

We watched a 15-minute video in the visitor center and Mike talked with the park service staff about riding the BMW on the dirt/gravel/sand roads in the park. They suggested we head out on Puerto Blanco Drive since the Ajo Mountain Drive is closed for construction and turn around where the road becomes one-way because the next section has a number of sandy washes.

Mike stuck to the more hard-packed truck tracks on the loose gravel/dirt road, and we were really happy that the hillier parts over the washes were paved.

We saw only 2 other vehicles over the 10 mile ride, and enjoyed looking at the wide variety of cactus and other desert plants with the mountains in the backdrop.

We then decided to continue south on AZ 85 4 miles until we came close to the border before we turned around and headed back north to Ajo.

By this point it was late morning and the temperature was in the mid-90's so that we felt like we were riding in a convection oven. We decided to park the BMW, get out of our motorcycle gear, and walk the 3 blocks to the town square.

Ajo was the site of the New Cornelia copper mine, and in 1914 John Campbell Greenway came to town and decided to design the town with wide streets and beautiful planned public spaces in the Spanish Colonial Revival style. At the mine's peak 7000 people lived in Ajo. After the mine closed in 1985 many people left and the town declined. Thanks to the International Sonoran Desert Alliance townspeople came together, wrote grants, and were able to bring in millions of dollars to revitalize the town's historic buildings plus bring together people from the Tohono O’odham Nation, Mexico and the United States to preserve and enrich the environment, culture, and economy.

We enjoyed an outdoor lunch from the Ajo Farmer's Market and Cafe, walked around the historic square and looked at the many murals that cover many walls in the downtown area. Tomorrow we ride back north to Prescott, looking forward to cooler temperatures.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

On the bike again - finally!

 It's hard to believe that this is the first time we've gone on an overnight BMW ride since June of 2021. It's been a busy year, and we decided to finally go on a trip we've planned a couple of times - to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona. As usual, we took the less-traveled road - and boy, was this less traveled!

through Skull Valley

cattle in Peeple's Valley

We started off on familiar roads, heading out of Prescott through the ranching communities of Skull Valley and Peeple's Valley and then enjoying the twisty descent from Yarnell toward Wickenburg

In Wickenburg we turned south on Vulture Mine Road. Mike had been here with a friend recently, but all of this was new to me. Vulture Mine Road twists and turns through the Sonoran Desert and over the course of the next couple of hours we saw only a handful of cars.

There were plenty of saguaro cactus and we were glad for the overcast skies that kept the temperature in the low 90's. 

We turned onto Aguila Road, and while we had passed plenty of low areas warning of flash floods, this was the only time the road was still covered in mud from recent rains.

We turned west onto Old US 80, which while it now is a twisty 2-lane paved road that winds through irrigated farmland and solar panel farms, historically it was originally a wagon road between Santa Fe, NM and San Diego, and then part of the southern highway route from Georgia to San Diego developed in the early 1900's and completely paved by 1939.

We crossed over the Gillespie Dam bridge built over the Gila River in 1925-1927 and restored in 2012.

We hadn't gone through a town since we left Yarnell early in our trip, and were happy to stop for lunch at Little Italy in Gila Bend. Prince Harry actually ate here when he was at Luke Air Force Base for helicopter training. The pizza was great! 

We continued south on US 85 which runs straight through the desert on the way to Mexico.

Storm clouds were building which kept the temperature hovering just under 90 - a cool day here in the Sonoran desert. We rode into Ajo, our stop for the night, just before it started raining. Like so many places in Arizona, Ajo was a former copper mining hub. 

We rode about 200 miles today - a short day for us but through a part of Arizona where we haven't been before. Tomorrow we continue south to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Last day of our 2-week, 2800 mile motorcycle trip through Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming

 The last day of a long motorcycle trip is bittersweet. The days fall into a rhythm: wake up, go for a walk or run, eat breakfast, pack up the bike, ride, unpack, eat, sleep. Repeat. With a small amount of baggage space on the BMW, and needing to carry raingear and cold weather gear, we're limited to just the essentials and basically one or two changes of clothing. Life is simple and we get to either explore new parts of the country or revisit favorite roads. Yet home beckons, even though the first couple of days home are filled with laundry, running errands, and catching up on work.

We started our day in Flagstaff, about 100 miles from our home in Prescott, AZ. We've ridden these roads more times than we remember, yet I'm still taken by the high desert beauty. Flagstaff is at about 7000' elevation with tall, green pine trees and tall mountains. We drop down to about 5500' elevation in Prescott, riding through dry grassland and desert scrub bushes. We watched a couple of trains heading to or from Flagstaff as we rode west along I-40, reminding us of the trains we saw in Wyoming earlier on this trip.

When we turned south on US 89 outside Ash Fork, we knew we were about 1 hour from home.

This is the driest time of year in a part of the country that typically gets only about 16" of rain per year. However, we're in the midst of a deep drought, with only .5 inches of precipitation since October 2020; normal would be 3.6". We left Flagstaff at 8am to beat the heat, and met our goal by arriving home just about 10am to 83 degree temperatures.

Riding 2800 miles over 2 weeks seems like a lot, but break it down into daily rides typically averaging around 5-6 hours and it seems like we could almost continue riding without a break. Home and work calls, but we're already dreaming about our next trip on the BMW.

Friday, June 11, 2021

376 miles on two roads from Colorado to Arizona

 Our route today was simple:  US 160 West from Pagosa Springs, Colorado to US 89 South to Flagstaff, Arizona. We started out at 8am with temperatures in the mid-50's and ended the day pushing 90 degrees. 160 West took us past Chimney Rock National Monument between Pagosa Springs and Durango.

An archaeological site that preserves hundreds of ruins from the Ancestral Puebloans who lived here over 1000 years ago, Chimney Rock is in the San Juan National Forest. Not far down the road we passed Mesa Verde, another site where the Ancestral Puebloans lived for over 700 years, building cliff dwellings that exist today. We celebrated as our odometer rolled over to 32,000 miles. 

In Durango, US 160 becomes the San Juan Skyway, twisting 236 miles through the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado. We were only on this route for a few miles, continuing on 160 West while the scenic skyway turns off onto CO 184.

We rode through Cortez, just outside the Ute Mountain Tribal Park. The park is currently closed due to COVID, but we rode past Sleeping Ute Mountain. According to legend, the mountain is the sleeping Great Warrior God who battled evil, was hurt, and lay down falling into a deep sleep.

Until Cortez the scenery was green - irrigated fields of grass and hay and dark green pine trees on the mountain sides. Continuing west past Cortez brown is the dominant color as the desert takes over.

US 160 goes past the Four Corners Monument, the only place where four states meet: Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. This is another casualty of COVID, closed by the Navajo Nation to minimize the spread of the disease. We saw several groups of horses today as we rode through the vast  Navajo Nation, and I wondered how they manage to survive on the scarce brown grass. The 2-lane paved highway stretches straight through the desert, only occasionally sweeping in wide turns.

We stopped in Kayenta for lunch at Subway, repeating our lunch stop the first day of our trip almost 2 weeks ago when we rode east on US 160. There aren't many places to stop and eat on the Navajo Nation so we made sure to take advantage of places we know are open. After lunch we continued west on US 160, riding through flat areas that stretched out to hazy cliffs in the far distance that alternated with high rock cliffs and craggy canyons.

We turned south on US 89 with long-distance views of the San Francisco Peaks in Flagstaff, AZ, in front of us.

The temperature climbed and hovered around 90 degrees even as we climbed in elevation to about 7000' in Flagstaff. After 7 hours of travel today, we were ready for an air conditioned hotel room and an early dinner followed by a walk around busy downtown Flagstaff. Tomorrow we head home, finishing our 2-week trip through the Southwest.