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Touring Northern Arizona

Written by  December 31, 2003

On a recent trip to Phoenix for a wedding, Ramona and I decided to extend our trip and do a Fly and Ride. We picked up a 2003 Heritage at Chosa's Harley-Davidson in Mesa just east of Phoenix. We took AZ 87 north toward Payson and Winslow. At the suggestion of a fellow Harley rider we talked with at a rest stop, we visited a unique place just north of Payson which is the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. If you have ever been to the Natural Bridge in Virginia then imagine putting two or three inside this natural bridge in Tonto. It was immense! Continuing our ride northward, we arrived in Winslow and rode a short segment of historic Route 66. Just as we parked at the motel, I noticed the skies were getting very cloudy.

The next day, a freak cold front was socked in northern Arizona and the temperature at our destination, the Grand Canyon, was sixteen. Just a week before, the temperatures were 78 to 82, so we had not dressed accordingly. Layering up with everything we had, we decided to retrace our trip southward back to the warmer environment of Phoenix. About twenty miles down the road, we had to stop to put on our raingear because of a light drizzle. Farther down the road, the winds picked up accompanied by more rain, light snow, and sleet. It was a brutal fifty-one miles to Cliff's Well and a service station and restaurant where we had hot chocolate while huddling around a genuine wood burning stove. We knew getting to a lower elevation and the desert floor would bring us steadily warmer temperatures. After arriving back in Phoenix, we reconfigured our route and set out for Wickenburg on US 60.

The next day we rode AZ 89 from Wickenburg towards Prescott and stopped in Yarnell at a small biker restaurant for breakfast. Continuing on to Prescott, we toured Whiskey Row and visited the Palace which is the oldest bar in Prescott. We took AZ 89A out of Prescott which contains many switchbacks and is a stunning motorcycle road with sweeping vistas at high elevations. We then came upon Jerome, which was the site of the largest copper mine in the world. It is situated on top of a mountain and was a ghost town from 1925 until 1952. During its heyday, over $800 million in copper was mined in this town of 15,000 people with various bars hosting 125 ladies of the evening. From there we proceeded to Sedona.

Departing Sedona the next day, we rode to Flagstaff via US 180. This took us by the snow capped peaks of Mount Humphreys, which is the highest point in Arizona at 12,670 feet, then spent the afternoon at the Grand Canyon where the temperatures were in the high fifties. We then rode south to Williams, which was the last major town that I-40 bypassed and eliminated Route 66. There are still long segments of Historic 66 in the Williams area. While there, we had burgers, fries and shakes at an authentic Route 66 restaurant.

From Williams, we took I-40 west toward US 93 and then north to Hoover Dam. There, all vehicles crossing the dam were stopped, questioned and randomly searched. A bypass is currently being built and is scheduled for completion in 2007. We stopped for snacks, but five chipmunks got to them before we did.

Upon entering Las Vegas, we promptly got lost and sought directions to the Strip. (Note to self - Bring GPS on all future trips). We asked one well-meaning person for directions and she asked us, 'Do you want to get there sooner or quicker?' Puzzled, we settled for 'sooner.’ We found a motel just off the Strip and walked up to the Harley-Davidson Café. We also visited a few casinos before settling into the MGM. Don't laugh, but I quit when I was $9 ahead and Ramona quit when she was $12 ahead. We departed with money in our pockets and left MGM to lick its wounds.

We left the next morning and went south through Lake Havasu on AZ 95. Lake Havasu has the distinction of now being the home of the London Bridge and it definitely isn't falling down. In order to make our return flight home, we returned to Phoenix via Wickenburg.

This was a great trip and if you ever get a chance to tour northern Arizona, don't pass up AZ 89 and 89A from Wickenburg to Sedona. Until next time, enjoy the ride.

Story and photos by Bill Barham and Ramona Carter who live in Raleigh, North Carolina.