A few months ago, I got an email from reader Craig D, who was looking for some suggestions on roads to get from Los Angeles to Phoenix. Turns out he was meeting some friends for a tour of the Southwest. He was nice enough to follow-up with me after the trip with a report and thought it be a nice tale for Bike-urious readers stuck in the snow. So without further ado, here’s Craig!
Fall SW Moto Tour 2016
Abhi has been kind enough to share his many motorcycle trips, likely inspiring many of us to get out and ride. So after I completed a 4-day tour of Arizona and Utah this fall (with three good friends), I thought I’d offer to give Abhi a break from developing all the travel content by sharing some of our photos and tips—especially now that we’re into winter and some of us don’t get to ride as much!
This trip idea actually started 5-6 years ago in Santa Fe, when my friend Keith and I rented bikes (a Triumph Bonneville, and a Tiger) and toured around the area for a day. Since Keith and I both live in the Pacific Northwest, New Mexico’s desert scenery, ample sun, and great roads was a nice change. I’d been dying to get back to the SW ever since. Fast-forward to 2016, and I crafted a plan to get my 2012 VStrom 650 down to my in-laws’ in Arizona to force this SW trip to happen. The ride to Arizona was an adventure in itself—Washington, through eastern Oregon, to Lake Tahoe, then the Bay area, then the California coast, Los Angeles, then Arizona, all primarily on two-lane roads over the course of 2 long weekends—but the SW tour was really the highlight!
That said, I suppose each state should get at least one photo 😉 My friend John (who joined Keith, Matt, and I for the SW tour) rented a R1200GS to join me on the ride from WA to CA. Here’s his GS at Mt. Rainier, WA this summer.
Now to the main event: Northern AZ and southern UT. Our original idea was to do a loop from the Phoenix area towards Four Corners, into New Mexico, then back to Phoenix. But that seemed like too much flat open desert for only 4 days, so we planned a new route north out of Phoenix to the Grand Canyon, then into SE Utah, then north to Capitol Reef National Park, then looping back south and west through Grand Staircase and back down to AZ by way of Sedona. Full route details are at the end of this post. Here’s a Google map.
We did the ride over a long weekend, and none of us live in AZ, so we all flew into Phoenix on separate flights. My gear was already with the VStrom in AZ, but Keith threw out the challenge to the others (Matt, John) that anyone who couldn’t produce photo evidence of a helmet on the plane had to buy the first round.
Matt going through his pre-flight checklist.
As I said, my bike was already in AZ, but we needed to find rentals for the other three. There are several options in the Phoenix area, but after some research we settled on AZ Ride in Scottsdale. The staff were great, and the prices and selection of bikes were the best for what we wanted. Definitely recommend you check them out if you’re in the area.
John opted for an R1200GS Adventure. The GSA is stacked with a few extra adventure goodies (relative to the standard GS) that might be appealing to those going off-pavement and/or riding in remote areas. The main notable item is the HUGE gas tank. At 8 gallons, John never needed to stop for gas before the rest of us. It’s a big bike for sure, but if you’re already thinking of a GS, the GSA probably won’t seem much larger. The tank also added even more wind protection, as did the excellent touring windscreen. Among the four of us, I think John was the most comfortable over the 4 days.
Matt’s daily rider is a Ducati ST3, so he was excited to spend the weekend trying out something very different in the Africa Twin. Honda did a great job with this bike. Comfortable, capable, good looking, powerful, and fun. I’ll fold in more of Matt’s thoughts throughout this post, but the short version is that he loved this bike. So much that he claims this will be his next bike.
Keith opted for the FJR—more on this photo location later 😉 The FJR’s power and smoothness was amazing on the desert pavement, though at 6’4” Keith was definitely feeling it in his knees after a while, especially compared to the rest of us on upright bikes. There was also a minor issue with a faulty heated grip switch, which at one point we couldn’t turn off until will pulled the fuse. (Side note to Yamaha – please improve access to the fuse box!)
Pre-launch route discussion between Keith and Craig in the AZ Rides parking lot. As I mentioned, we had already planned our main route in advance, but my wife bought me some Butler Motorcycle Maps for the weekend so I had to us them! They don’t go very in-depth into the route descriptions, but they do give some good overviews and suggestions. They’re durable too, so that’s a plus. I think I’ll grab others for similar trips in other states.
150 miles in, the bikes are performing perfectly and everyone’s getting used to the rentals. Matt is finding one downside to Africa Twin – buffeting. No so much that he’s unhappy, but anything over 70mph is pretty uncomfortable. Not a real surprise when you look at the stock windscreen and riding position, but if he were going to buy one of these, the first modification would be a new windscreen, and maybe mirrors as well. That was Matt’s first, and last, complaint about the Twin.
Back on the road, and before you know it, we’re at the Grand Canyon. First time there for Craig and John. I’ll spare you the 100s of photos we (and every other visitor) took. Except for this one since there’s me and my VStrom in it.
And this last one, because this crow was literally making progress getting into Keith’s tank bag. A visibly distraught women tried to warn us about it in the parking lot. We were 100% convinced she was crazy, until we saw him in action for ourselves.
We spent a good night at an overpriced hotel in the park, then were up early for Day 2 with great weather and no traffic as we left the Grand Canyon. We were all really looking forward to checking out Monument Valley, and then Utah.
Quick lunch stop in Kayenta, AZ before we get into Monument Valley. Kayenta was a bit smaller than our ideal lunch stop, but we were really getting out into the middle of the desert at this point, and we were hungry! The “Blue Coffee Pot Restaurant” was, well, open.
Just outside of Kayenta we pulled over for our first good view of the landscape outside Monument Valley. Day 2 would be a long ride up to Capitol Reef NP, so we didn’t have time for the official dirt road through Monument Valley, but the scenery was amazing nonetheless.
Africa Twin, looking good. This is one of a couple of Matt’s shots on this trip that I think Honda should pay him for 😉 This photo really highlights how the parallel twin design changes the bike shape and ergonomics. Matt is loving this bike by this point – and won’t stop talking about it, even joking(?) that he’s done with his Ducati. Highlights are the price point, simplicity, Honda reliability, and “all day long comfort.” It’s a good looking bike too. Matt was worried that seat height might be an issue, but at 5’11’’ (32” inseam) he could stand flat-footed no problem. (AZ Rides said this the bike was setup for the standard seat height, but it felt lower than the reported 34”. Regardless, it was definitely comfortable.) You can also really feel the difference in riding position and handling with the twin layout. The bike really feels agile and maneuverable, and the riding position puts you closer to the center of gravity, as opposed to somewhere on top of it. It feels much lighter than the listed 515lbs. And the 998ccs are plenty of power. I personally liked the exhaust note too, but that might be because the VStrom has one of the most boring stock exhausts out there 😉
The roads, weather, and almost complete lack of traffic on most of these SW roads was just amazing. I think the view from this first shot has been photographed 1,000s of times, but I still like it, even if it’s just a straight line. The second shot is where Keith first let the FJR really stretch its legs. Wow, those 1,300 ccs can RUN.
As if Monument Valley (and the Grand Canyon) weren’t scenic enough, the second half of Day 2 had us heading north from Mexican Hat into Utah, which honestly was unbelievable. I’d never been on any of these roads, and it seemed to just keep getting better and better. I’ll resist the urge to share every cool photo, but I swear every 10 or 20 miles things changed enough to want to take yet another picture. An AMAZING stretch of road if you’re every able to get on it. Up there with the best I’ve seen in WA and CA.
Example number 1, the Moki Dugway. Utah Route 261 cruises along the flats out of Mexican Hat, and in the distance you see a nice cliff edge and SW mesa/plateau. From a few miles out, you can’t tell where the road goes, then eventually you realize the road stops at the cliff.
Which takes us back to the first photo of Keith on the FJR. The Moki Dugway is a fun few miles of narrow gravel switchbacks to the top of the plateau. Something fun to check off if you’re ever in the area. (One of the guys at AZ Rides said he last drove this road in winter in his F-150, with 3 bikes on a trailer.)
And before long we’re riding along Route 95 through the amazing Fry and Glen Canyons. This area was almost too scenic for words, with great road engineering and surface quality. And barely a car on the road.
And just as quickly as the canyons started, we’re out and cruising alone along the flats heading to Hanksville and then Capitol Reef NP. The cloud formations here were pretty cool, right along a cold front moving west to east. The temperature dropped from about 73 deg to 62 deg in about 1 mile.
The final stretch of this amazing Day 2 was on Route 24 from Hanksville into Capitol Reef NP, and then to our hotel for the night (Capitol Reef Resort). We caught perhaps the best lighting possible through the park just before sunset. The park has a ton of cottonwoods (I think?) that were changing color, which made the drive even more scenic. Plus a few wild turkeys that occasionally popped up on the road out of nowhere.
Another Africa Twin marketing shot 😉 Check out that ground clearance! This bike got a lot of attention from strangers whenever we stopped. I think everyone has seen 1,000s of GSs, and the Yamaha and Suzuki aren’t exactly works of art. But the Twin definitely catches people’s attention. It strikes a good balance (both visually, and performance) between street and dirt. More so than the VStrom or GS. Nice job Honda.
After an unbelievable Day 2, we arrive at Capitol Reef Resort. Glad to be off the bikes for a bit, ready for some food and beer. Some of their room options include teepees and covered wagons (we opted for the more traditional cabins).
The resort was a great stopover after a long day, which was a relief since I think there are only 2 other options within many miles. We always try to find hotels or camps where we don’t have to drive anywhere once we’re off the bikes, and this spot has three restaurants within walking distance. Perfect. When we asked the front desk which was best, they said “Well, they’re all owned by the same person, so the food is pretty much the same. Just depends on what you’re up for.” Pretty funny. Thankfully everything was great, so the owner must be doing something right, even if his/her only competition is their own restaurants 😉
Day 3 started out down Route 12, still through NP, over a pass and through yet another few sets of microclimates and hugely varied terrain and geology. Given that forecasts the week before were calling for temps about 10-degrees lower than we ended up with, we had all brought a lot of cold-weather gear, and I even installed Oxford grip heaters on the VStrom before the trip. But this was the coldest morning, and once the sun was up it was already in the 60s. Perfect riding all four days. I only wore my insulated gloves twice, and both times swapped back to summer gloves within a few miles. I did use the grip heaters though, which was nice. Those Oxfords crank out some heat!
Though only about 25 miles by road, and probably only 10 miles as the crow flies, the scenery was dramatically different from the red Canyons between Hanksville and Capitol Reef Resort the day before.
As we cruised south on Route 12, down from the greens and forests of the mountain, we were back into the rocky desert before coming up on Hogback Ridge. Anyone from the area or who has researched scenic roads in Utah probably knows everything about this stretch of road, but for the four of us coming up on it for the first time, it was yet another slap in the face with awesome roads and scenery. Here’s one (of many) sites that give more detail on Hogback Ridge, but suffice it to say this is a must see. It might not show as clearly in the photos, but this stretch is basically end to end to end sweeping S-curves on top of a ridge with sharp drop-offs on both sides. Amazing.
Another 50 miles or so, and we’re in Cannonville, UT, ready to get off the pavement for a bit and explore Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Our original plan was to take the scenic Cottonwood Canyon Rd, but the ranger told us recent rains had left the very lower portion of that dirt/clay road “potentially” impassable.
Here we are outside of the ranger station debating the pros and cons of riding 40 miles on dirt, with the possibility of having to turn around if the end was pure wet clay.
Since none of us had decent self-cleaning treads, or the interest in “potentially” hauling the 650lb FJR out of wet clay and backtracking, we opted for the confirmed passable dirt route along Skutumpah Rd. Matt finally got to let the Africa Twin loose on some dirt, while John got to see how his solid enduro skills would translate on the massive GSA.
I’m not sure if we were jaded by the epic scenery the past 3 days, or the fun 40+ mile detour on the dirt, but once we were back on Route 89 along the southern Utah border, the pit stops and photos started drying up. It didn’t help that this stretch of 89 was a bit more crowded and a lot straighter than the previous 500 miles or so!
I should have taken some photos, but Night 3 was an interesting stop, given that the bulk of our hotel was occupied by a team in town for the latest Geico commercial shoot on Lake Powell. Interesting group of folks from a bunch of companies in town from all over the country, all tied to the shoot. While it was admittedly late in the night and some libations had been shared, every time we met someone new that night, they couldn’t comprehend that the four of us weren’t also part of the team in town for the shoot. Since their group essentially takes over the hotel, it’s like adult overnight camp/work for a week.
Anyway, on Day 4, between the reality of it being our last day, a bit of back-tracking on roads from Day 1, and some self-induced time pressure to return the bikes in time for John to get to the airport for a 5pm flight out, we didn’t do much photo-taking this last day. We headed south out of Page, passed through Sedona, and hopped onto I-17 for our final few miles. I will say the morning ride out of Page along Coppermine Rd was a pleasantly mellow start (particularly after some mental slowness from the late night before). And the approach into Sedona was amazing.
All in all, truly one of the best trips I’d ever done. The roads, scenery, weather, and company were perfect. I’d do it again, and I just might have to since the VStrom stayed behind (for now) at the in-laws in AZ. I’ll have to get it back to the PNW soon, but since it’s winter up here, I’ve got time to plan.
1. AZ-87 North to Lake Mary Road
2. Lake Mary Road to Flagstaff
3. US-89N towards Page
4. AZ-64W to Grand Canyon Village
1. AZ-64E back to 89N. 89N to 160E
2. 160E to Kayenta
3. 163N to Mexican Hat
4. UT 261N to UT-95N
5. 95N to Hanksville, 24W
6. 24W to Torrey, UT
1. 12W for to Cannonville
2. Skutumpah Rd. through Grand Staircase.
3. 89S to Page, AZ
1. Coppermine Rd. out of Page, down to 89S
2. 89S to 89A to Sedona
3. Sedona to I-17