Monday, June 15, 2015

Ride north along Lake Mary Road

It was 82 degrees at home Sunday morning at 10am when we decided to escape the heat and head north - sort of. Riding north typically means the weather will be a bit cooler, but then we also have the changes in elevation that actually make the temperatures go UP in some spots even when heading north.

We rode north on I-17 to 260 East (one of the warm spots is Camp Verde until we start climbing up on the Mogollon Rim) past scrubby bushes and trees and looming rock formations that make the road twisty and fun.

We headed northeast on 87 for a short few miles until we turned left onto Lake Mary Road at Clint's Well in the Coconino National Forest. Lake Mary Road winds and twists through Ponderosa pine forests, periodically opening up for a small meadow.

Lake Mary Road is a two-lane paved road used primarily by motorcycles out for a fun day and campers heading to one of a variety of different campgrounds.

There are two lakes along Lake Mary Road. We first came to Mormon Lake, the largest natural lake in Arizona. It was more a shallow puddle than a lake, because the water comes only from snow melt and rain. Sometimes it even dries up completely, which says a lot about the moisture in Arizona, where typically the rivers are dusty sand until the monsoon season.

A few miles down the road we came to Lake Mary - and this is a real lake or more accurately, two reservoirs:  Upper and Lower Lake Mary, complete with speed boats and a sailboat.

Lake Mary Road ends up in Flagstaff at 7000' elevation, where the temperature was in the mid-70's. As we ate burritos sitting outside, the puffy white clouds turned dark and grey. We took I-17 home, riding south through a short rain squall and cool weather until the temperature reached 105 degrees around Camp Verde.

As we rode the final few miles toward home, we saw dark rain clouds all around us. Sometimes when it's hot and dry like today, the rain almost completely evaporates before it hits the ground.

We rode 230 miles over 5 hours, enjoying the wide variety of landscape and weather that Arizona offers.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why not ride the BMW to lunch?

I can't believe I haven't posted a blog since 2014! Mike rides the BMW regularly for work, and in February we rode to Apache Junction and in March to Flagstaff, but somehow my photos were lost. Today we finally put it all together:  a ride with friends to Congress, AZ that was the site of a thriving gold mine in the late 1880's to 1928, then became a ghost town, and today is the site of Nichol's West Cafe, our destination for lunch.

We started off riding west and then south on Iron Springs Road out of Prescott toward Skull Valley on a sunny and warm day with almost no traffic to slow us down. We turned onto Yavapai County Road 15 in Kirkland, then south on State Route 89 through Peeples Valley and Yarnell.

State Route 89 at one point was the primary route between Phoenix and Prescott. Today it's a favorite for motorcycles because of the twisting, turning road that cuts through the Weaver Mountains and descends 1300' in 4 miles from Yarnell to Congress.

We ate lunch at the Nichol's West Cafe, sitting outside in their courtyard surrounded by flowers and trees.

Heading home, we retraced our path back up to Yarnell. Look closely at the photo and you'll see the road snaking up and around the mountain.

Instead of turning west toward Kirkland we continued on SR 89 through Wilhoit and into the even twistier section of 89 that runs through the Prescott National Forest between the Bradshaw and Sierra Prieta mountain ranges.

We're planning a combination of short rides, overnight trips, and hopefully a longer trip or two this summer. Stay tuned!

Monday, October 13, 2014

1,145 miles through Arizona and New Mexico on our BMW motorcycle

Five days ago we started our motorcycle ride to Santa Fe in cool, overcast, and sometimes rainy weather for the first two days. Saturday we spent off the bike, walking around Santa Fe under sunny skies. Yesterday we were buffeted by strong winds the entire ride to Show Low, and today - our last day on the bike - the winds died down and the sun kept shining for a final, perfect motorcycle day.

Show Low is a town of 10,000 people located at 6200' on the Mogollon Rim. According to legend, two men decided there wasn't enough room for both of them in town and settled on a game of cards to decide who would move away. One man turned up the deuce of clubs, the lowest possible card, said "Show low it is" and won the game. The town had a name, and the main street was named Deuce of Clubs in remembrance.

Route 260 west is part of the route of the Hashknife Pony Express, the oldest officially sanctioned Pony Express in the world. The original Pony Express delivered the mail across the West for 19 months starting in April 1860, ending when the transcontinental railroad was completed. Each January volunteers in the Hashknife Pony Express deliver over 20,000 pieces of first class mail over a 200 mile route from Holbrook to Scottsdale, Arizona. We didn't see any riders on horses today, and instead had to be content watching the scenery as we climbed to 8,000' and then descended on winding, sweeping roads over a few short miles to 4,900' in Payson.

From Payson we continued descending to 3,200' in Camp Verde. The temperature rose from 50 to 73 degrees and we left the green Ponderosa pine forests for dry desert and cactus.

Over the past 5 days we rode 1,145 miles through high mountain ranges, past volcanic craters formed thousands of years ago, through numerous Native American reservations  and pueblos, and along roads traveled by Spanish explorers and monks over 400 years ago. We celebrated as the odometer rolled over to 29,000 miles as we rode through the Zuni reservation, navigated hairpin turns near Los Alamos, and often rode for miles without seeing a house or other vehicle. It's good to be home, but we're already thinking about future motorcycle rides through the southwest.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wind, lava fields, and an ice cave on our motorcycle ride from Santa Fe to Show low

The strong wind buffeted us all day, we walked through a 10,000 year old lava field, and descended steep wooden steps to a natural ice cave during our motorcycle ride from Santa Fe, NM to Show Low, AZ.

Yesterday the BMW stayed parked below our second floor room at the Casa Del Toro Bed and Breakfast in Santa Fe while we walked around the 400+ year old town, visiting museums, churches and art galleries. At the farmer's market we stopped by the raptor rescue and talked with volunteers holding four different raptors.

We left Santa Fe under bright blue, sunny skies and spent the first two hours riding south and then west on the interstate system before we turned onto New Mexico Route 53, part of the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway.  It felt great to leave the truck and motorhome traffic on the interstate and ride along a 2-lane road with little traffic and wide views all around us.

We rode through El Malpais national monument, where molten lava from 29 different volcanoes shaped the landscape thousands of years ago. We turned off the paved highway onto a rough, black cinder road that was so bumpy Mike said he was sure he lost at least one filling. The rough road took us to a trading post established in 1880 to serve the local forestry industry and that today is the hub for short walks to both the Bandera volcano crater and ice caves.

The Bandera crater is the largest volcano in the region, erupting around 10,000 years ago with a lava flow 23 miles long. The cinder path climbed steeply to 8,000' at the top of the crater, passing by twisted trees, steep slopes, and various lava formations.

Standing at the top of the 1,400' wide, 800' deep crater we looked down the almost 90 degree slopes to the trees and boulders at the bottom.

After climbing to the top of the volcanic crater, we walked down three steep, narrow flights of steps to a cave with approximately 20' of ice on the bottom.

The Pueblo Indians knew the ice cave as the Winter Lake, and people mined ice here until 1946. The light reflecting off the green, algae-covered ice onto the rocks makes the cave seem eerie.

Back on the road, we continued through several Native American reservations, watching the scenery vary from sparse, flat grassland that stretched out as far as we could see without a house or building in sight; to towering mesas with different colors of horizontal striped rock; to dark mountains off in the distance. We stopped in Zuni for lunch, taking a break from the wind that didn't let up all day.

We stopped for the day in Show Low, back home in Arizona. The first two days of our trip we rode under cloudy, dark skies and through intermittent rain. Today the sunshine felt great, but the wind made the ride difficult. Perhaps tomorrow everything will come together for a last, perfect ride home.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Straight roads through the desert, curving roads in the mountains, and riding in and out of the rain in New Mexico

The weather forecast was for cool temperatures and rain, but despite the weather we enjoyed a beautiful motorcycle ride from Gallup to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

We left Gallup at 9 am with temperatures hovering at 40 degrees and overcast skies. Instead of taking the direct route, we zig-zagged our way across northern New Mexico, traveling on little-used, 2-lane paved roads through the Navajo Nation and into the Santa Fe National Forest. I watched the storm clouds build to the east, and a couple of times we even saw patches of bright-blue sky.

We rode for 2 1/2 hours before we came to the first gas station, and then a few miles down the road stopped in Cuba for lunch. Cuba is the gateway for the San Pedro Parks wilderness area, and the landscape changed from flat desert to the changing colors of fall foliage.

From Cuba we turned onto Route 126, the Jemez Mountain Trail National Scenic Byway. All morning the road stretched straight out to the horizon, and now we found ourselves on a winding, curving, twisting road bordered by rocky peaks and pine forests. 

We rode in and out of rain, and several times crossed muddy red water flowing across the road.

We stopped at Soda Dam, a natural dam made from calcium carbonate deposits from the groundwater. The warm springs in the area reach a maximum of 118 degrees, and the swiftly flowing water shaped the surrounding rocks.

Most of the day we were at 6,000-6,500' elevation, and soon after we left Soda Dam the road started climbing as we headed toward the Valles Caldera National Preserve, a 13.7 mile wide meadow formed over 1.15 million years ago by a volcanic crater in the Jemez Mountains. We rode into heavy fog at 8,000', and then found ourselves above the fog as the road continued curving and climbing to 9,200'. 

We wound through hairpin turns as we started descending toward Los Alamos, site of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb in WWII. We didn't realize that Los Alamos continues as a government research center until we stopped to pass through security on our way into town. We visited the Bradbury Science Museum to learn about the history of the area, the work that went into the top-secret Manhattan Project, and the scientific research that continues today.

Route 285 falls steeply from the Parajito Plateau toward Santa Fe with amazing rock cliffs and steep canyons along the highway. 

As we rode into Santa Fe, many of the homes use a unique, tree branch type of fence known as coyote fencing because they were originally designed to keep out coyotes. 

Riding the motorcycle is all about the journey, even with rainy and cold weather. Taking the straight route may be faster, but it's not nearly as much fun.