Sunday, September 29, 2013

Ride to Bagdad - Arizona

Every time we talk with motorcylists, they run through a list of places to ride in Arizona and ask us if we've been there. We probably haven't been there - yet. I count the places we've ridden in Arizona on one hand, and today thanks to the friendly and fun Prescott Star 511 touring group we added two more amazing locations to our list:  Skull Valley and Bagdad.

We met George who rides a BMW K1300S and Brad on a Yamaha FJR1300 at Starbucks and pulled out of the parking lot onto Iron Springs Road heading toward Skull Valley at about 9:30am. The sky was what I've started to call "Arizona blue", an intense bright, cloudless blue color that varies from a deep to a lighter hue depending on the angle of the sun.

I love learning about Arizona and the history behind the names of the towns and roads. Skull Valley, according to the Sharlot Hall Museum archives of the oral history project conducted by the WPA in the 1930's, was originally named by the Yavapai and Pima native Americans who fought a battle in this area. The dead were left unburied, which resulted in skulls and bones left in the valley for the white settlers to discover when they arrived in the mid-1800's.

I didn't see any skulls on our 15-mile ride down Iron Springs Road to Skull Valley (population around 743), but we did enjoy a large and spicy Mexican-inspired breakfast at the Skull Valley Diner.

We sat outside in the warm sunshine and told stories about motorcycle travels that involved riding through the Alps, Badlands, and New England; and breaking down in the brutally hot Arizona summer.

I was glad for temperatures in the 70's as we continued to our next destination:  Bagdad, about 60 miles west of Prescott. Like so many Arizona towns, Bagdad was founded by miners looking for gold and silver. Today the townsite and the Bagdad copper/molybdenum mine are owned by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold which continues its mining operations.

We climbed up and down through the rocky countryside, rarely seeing cars or motorcycles, or even houses. As we descended closer to Bagdad and the temperature climbed into the high 80's, I saw tall saguaro cactus covering the landscape. Saguaro are found primarily in the Sonoran desert, and Prescott is at too high elevation for this type of cactus.

The paved county road ends in Bagdad, where we stopped for an ice-cold drink (the bottle of water from the convenience store refrigerator actually had chunks of ice in it) before we headed back toward home.

palm trees in Bagdad, Arizona
Even though there's only one road in and out of Bagdad, everything looks a bit different going in the other direction. We ended our ride heading north on Route 89, riding through the Pondersa pines in the Prescott National Forest. This road is made for motorcycles, and we twisted our way through the hairpin turns and switchbacks, stopping a few times to look back at the pavement across the valley.

I want to go back to Skull Valley, stop in the train museum and eat another meal at the diner. Bagdad offers tours of the mine, and I'd like to explore some of the smaller roads that wind through the mountains north of Prescott. We've heard October is a beautiful month for motorcycle travel in the southwest, and we're ready to go.

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