Saturday, May 1, 2010
The canyon was ... well, grand
"You came all the way from Maine on a 650?"
That's an increasingly common comment now that the adventure has nearly reached the West Coast.
Thursday morning, after three days enjoying Lana Hock's luxurious Scottsdale condo while writing and editing the monthly newsletter I do for the Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations, the KLR's clutch cable was restored and I was ready to move on. I decided I'd head for Flagstaff and then, on Friday, the Grand Canyon.
Lana caught me putting a foot into my packing.
Her Suzuki won't be going to Nebraska this year.
The Phoenix area is surrounded by beautiful scenery and fun mountain roads, but getting out of town is a challenge. Eventually, you make your way through the stop-and-go boulevards wending through gated communities and golf courses to the 101 Loop, which takes you to US 60. You've climbed 1,000 feet by the time you turn on AZ 89 toward Prescott. The next 50 miles takes you higher and higher -- 3,300 feet higher, in fact -- on a wonderfully alpine road.
I stopped at a cycle shop in Prescott, which bills itself as "mile high." My excuse was I was looking for a couple of quarts of 10W40 synthetic for an upcoming oil change, but the real reason was I needed to warm up and put on another layer.
The shop sold sleek Moto Guzzis. "There's more stuff in the back, if you want to take a look," offered the owner. About a third of the large garage was filled with vintage Guzzis, some with shiny polished aluminum tanks, a couple of cafe racers and one or two track bikes. It was Jim Niermann's version of paradise.
"Are you collecting Guzzi's or do they just follow you home?" I asked.
"Mostly, they just follow me home," he said.
There had been a few snow flurries on my way into town. "Is Flagstaff as high as Prescott?" I asked.
"Higher," he said. "About 7,000 feet."
"How' bout the Grand Canyon?"
"The same. About 7,000."
"Geez," I said. "I was really happy back in Scottsdale when it was in the 90s and I saw the weather was going to be cooler the rest of the week."
"Be careful what you wish for," he said.
Humphrey's Peak, outside Flagstaff, is the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet.
I originally planned a route through Sedona, but leaving Prescott, I could see cold, dark clouds moving in from the northwest and opted for I-17 and hoping I could make it the 93 miles to Flagstaff before they caught up with me.
The flurries turned into a steady snowfall. I tucked in behind a semi hauling a load of rebar at 45 mph and held on tight. Although the snow thoroughly coated me and the front of the bike, the roads remained clear with no accumulation. About five miles from Flagstaff, the skies cleared and there was snow-capped Humphrey's Peak rising above a colony of snug-looking motels at the junction of I-17 and I-40.
Next morning, all the snow still hadn't melted off the KLR.
Friday morning brought partly cloudy skies, but no threat of snow. It was still cold, with ice on the ponds and puddles, but the wind was manageable and I high-tailed it down I-40 toward the 50-mile turn-off that runs north to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
The National Park Service has the area around the visitors' center all torn up, building new roads and paved paths, so visitors had to find their way down detours fenced off with orange plastic netting. There was no sign of any canyon until, without warning, I found myself right on the rim.
Holy cow! That's one big hole in the ground.
My first view of the Grand Canyon -- it seemed almost bottomless.
I asked someone to take my picture just to prove I made it.
At the time, the cloudy weather did nothing to diminish the power of the spectacle, although later when I was selecting photos for the blog I wished there had been more sun to bring out the color.
It's hard to capture the breath-taking enormity of the canyon in pictures.
They say remarkably few people fall off the edge. Those that do don't survive.
I'm no Ansel Adams, but you don't need to be to make fantastic images at the Grand Canyon. As they say: "F/8 and be there."
After a stop in the Grand Canyon Village deli for a sandwich and to warm up, I headed back down the 50-mile stretch back to I-40 and turned the KLR west toward California. The trip, I decided, was going to be transcontinental. Having had a taste of snow in the mountains, I'd give Colorado's Rockies a chance to warm up a bit before heading back east to Nebraska.
I-40 follows the path of the old US 66, sections of which are bypassed and now marked with "Historic Route 66" signs, in part to bring tourists into the little towns that once relied on California-bound traffic for revenue. I rode the piece from Exit 139 to Seligman, enjoying a break from the trucks roaring west on the Interstate. The kicks you get on Route 66 are different these days.
Sections of old US 66 remain after I-40 absorbed most of the right-of-way and traffic.
At Kingman, Ariz. the elevation had dropped to a balmy 3,340 feet and I had to make a decision. It was about 6 p.m. I could take US 93, cross the Boulder Dam in the dark and arrive at Las Vegas around 9, or I could stay on I-40 and stop at Needles, Calif. in about an hour.
Having decided to go transcontinental, I chose Needles and continued across the Mojave desert, squinting into the sunset and thinking about a run from L.A. up the Pacific Coast Highway -- the legendary Highway 1 -- to the Bay Area.
The states I've motorcycled so far. I had my first motorcycle in Colorado back in 1965.