Sunday, May 26, 2019

224 miles on the BMW on familiar roads with some surprises

I'm going to start by describing the end of our 224 mile trip today, from our home in Prescott to Wickieup, AZ for lunch (there's a surprise here) and home on some of our favorite roads. As we were heading into Skull Valley getting close to Prescott Mike told me he had a surprise:  the largest cottonwood tree in Arizona. To be exact, this is a Freemont cottonwood, named after John Freemont who was an explorer and governor of Arizona in 1878. This particular tree was planted in 1917 along with 3 other cottonwood trees to mark the corners of a 2-acre plot of land. You can see Mike, who is 6' tall, standing in front of the tree with his arms outstretched. This tree is almost 47' around, so it would take Mike and 8 other similar-size people to join hands and circle this tree.

Back to the beginning of our trip. The weather is cooler this year than usual, so we decided to ride in an area that is usually too hot the end of May:  Wikieup in the Big Sandy Valley in the Mohave desert. Wikieup is the Mohave Native American word for shelter or home. It's a small, fairly bleak stopping point on US 93, the major road between Phoenix and Las Vegas. Our reason for riding to Wikieup was to finally enjoy lunch at Lucia's, famous for homemade food and pie. First surprise of the day - Lucia's is closed on Saturdays.

We started our ride heading south out of Prescott, through the Bradshaw Mountain twisties on AZ 89. We were thrilled at the lack of traffic in front of us so Mike could zoom around the hairpin turns. As we continued south we rode out of the pine forest and through rocky countryside.

Even though we're in the desert, because of all the rain and snow this Winter and Spring there is a lot of green and blooming desert flowers and cactus. One of our favorites is the ocotillo, a shrub with spiny stems which is not a surprise because every plant in Arizona seems to have spines or spikes.

Look carefully and you'll see the bright red flowers on the ocotillo.

We rode 89 south down in elevation to Congress where we turned onto AZ 71 which took us to US 93 North. We celebrated with a little motorcycle dance when our odometer rolled over to 14,000 miles. Eventually this will be all 4-lane divided highway, but currently there are large sections of 2-lane paved roads. We rode through the Joshua Tree scenic byway where both sides of the highway are covered with the iconic Joshua trees.

The Mormon settlers named these spiny trees because it reminded them of the bearded biblical leader Joshua. Governor Fremont - the same one I mentioned earlier about the cottonwood tree - called them "the most repulsive tree in the vegetable kingdom". We love that they're only found in the Mohave desert and have adapted beautifully to the desert environment.

When we discovered Lucia's was closed on Saturdays, we backtracked to Dazzo's Chicago Style Eatery which Mike thought featured German food. It turns out they feature Chicago-style hot dogs.

We came home on one of our favorite roads, AZ 96 East which is a sweeping 2-lane paved road with several sections of roller coaster hills that make my stomach go up and down. It's been recently repaved, and the riding was fantastic. This part of Arizona is covered with saguaro cactus.

We followed AZ 96E to Yavapai County 15 to Kirland, and then north on Yavapai County 10 through Skull Valley and more twisties in the Prescott National Forest. I lost count of the number of cattle guards we rode over; you know you're on little-traveled roads basically in the middle of nowhere when cattle guards are a regular feature.

We love to ride to new places and explore areas we've never seen, but it's also fun to enjoy a ride close to home on familiar roads. You never know what surprises might lie around the next bend in the road.

Follow our route here:  To find the cottonwood tree, in Skull Valley turn east onto Old Road N at the railroad tracks, and the tree is about 1/2 mile down the road.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

A spontaneous motorcycle ride

While we were leisurely enjoying Sunday morning we decided to be spontaneous and go for a motorcycle ride. The big question:  where should we go? Last weekend we took a longer ride to Flagstaff, and wanted to go somewhere different. It was going to be in the mid-70's so we didn't want to go south to a lower elevation and more heat.

That left heading north to Ash Fork. Ash Fork is the kind of place that you go through; it's not usually a destination. At the intersection of Arizona 89 and Interstate 40, it's a spot to stop and fill up your gas tank on your way to someplace else. In our minds, there are two things in its favor:  it's on part of the old historic Route 66 and it is home to a fantastic BBQ restaurant: Lulu Belle's.

There's basically only one paved road from our home in Prescott north to Ash Fork:  Arizona 89. It's a straight, 2-lane paved road with no twisties, sweepers, or mountains to climb. It's a zen-like ride north as we watched the grasslands meld into pinyon pine forests, with the hint of mountains to the east, north and west backing up all the high desert grassland.

Because of the wet winter and spring, the normally brown grasslands flaunt bright green colors, making the grazing cows and horses extremely happy. One of things we love about riding the motorcycle is that we're closer to nature than riding closed up in a car. The cliffrose bushes are blooming, making the air fragrant with hint of sweet perfume. On a walk this morning before the motorcycle ride I sniffed each blooming cliffrose bush along our path but couldn't detect a specific scent. Yet riding along the highway, every breath was filled with their fragrance.

We had heard about Lulu Belle's BBQ from many of our friends, and this was our first time there. What a treat!

Most of the buildings in Ash Fork are old and crumbling, but Lulu Belle's is big, bright, airy and comfortable. The wooden tables are anchored with lacquered tree trunks and the high ceilings offer a lot of space for Western memorabilia.

Mike had the pulled pork sandwich and I enjoyed a BBQ chicken sandwich - both were spicy, hot, and incredibly delicious. The buns and bread even come branded!

After lunch we rode on the old Route 66 through Ash Fork, which was founded in 1882 as a siding for the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, which later became the Sante Fe Railroad. It takes its name from the confluence of three forks of Ash Creek. Ash Fork has a sad and tortuous history:  the original town burned to the ground in 1893 which wasn't uncommon in the West. The Sante Fe Railroad moved it's main line 10 miles to the north in 1960, and approximately half of the town's population relocated along with it. A fire known as "The Big Fire" in 1977 destroyed most of the downtown, Interstate 40 opened not long after and rerouted travelers away from the town, and another fire in 1987 destroyed most of the remaining buildings.

There are a few decaying buildings left in town, along with a building that was originally a Texaco gas station with an early 1960's Chrysler DeSoto on the roof. According to a Route 66 guide, this car was driven by Elvis at one point. Truth, local lore, or advertising? You be the judge!

We retraced our route home, enjoying the bright Arizona sunshine and zooming along with very little traffic to get in our way. Today's ride wasn't filled with exciting riding or an opportunity to explore new areas. But as Mike likes to say:  any motorcycle ride is a good ride!