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postheadericon Riding NoAZ – Part II The Flagstaff Area

Tourist Map of Flag

If you briefly return to my previous post, you’ll see how my scooter, Iron Buddy, and I wound up in Flagstaff, AZ for five days. Go ahead, check it out, I’ll wait here.

I even bought some loading ramps. I parked the van just off the curb and loaded the scoot by myself in about 15 minutes.

Welcome back, you didn’t miss anything. In a more distant post (here) I wrote about exploring the area around Sedona. I shot some video, took a bunch of pics, explored some great areas and broke down. It’s only 30 miles to Flagstaff and I had planned on exploring up there a bit but didn’t get the chance. When we decided to stay in Flagstaff this time, I was chomping at the bit to explore the area on two wheels.

I saw this massive yard full of bikes and stopped to check it out. The sign says “Sales” but most of the Google reviews about it say that the owner lets people look around, but then refuses to sell anything.

I planned to ride three of the five days we were there: shorter rides for local exploration on days 1 and 3 and riding all day to the Grand Canyon and back on day 2. We packed our stuff and the scooter and left for Flagstaff on May 20. I enjoyed driving up Highway 87 (Beeline Highway) so much last when we went to Sedona, that I chose that route again. Climbing out of Phoenix and up to Arizona Rim Country is a great drive. Once on the Mogollon Rim and to Payson, it was on to Lake Mary Road, through Happy Jack then past Mormon Lake and eventually into Flagstaff.

After the first night, i kept my scooter parked on the little patio outside our hotel room.

For security reasons, I kept the bike in the van for the first night. The next day I unloaded , check some maps and began to explore. An ongoing “problem” I found is that there is a distinct lack of paved roads in this area. I know that it is hard to many paved roads up and down all the mountains, but even the flatter areas don’t have any. Another reason is that there is a lot of Indian reservation in this area and many tribes don’t seem to want a lot of asphalt on their land. Much of the remaining land is part of National Forest, so I guess they fit into the same category. The take home lesson here is that if you have a sports car or pure street bike, you won’t be doing much in the way of exploration. If you’ve got a dirt bike, dual sport or car that you don’t mind getting dirty, there are many miles of forest service roads to check out.

There is a bit of “The Mother Road,” Route 66 that goes through Flagstaff, so I went there first. I forgot to bring my Go-Pro this day, so still pics had to be enough. I went east on Route 66 toward Walnut Canyon. The surface is poorly maintained and full of potholes and patches, but nevertheless, there is still something about being on that road. This section of 66 is only 5 miles long and before I knew it, I was at Walnut Canyon. One of the maps I looked at, clearly showed “Old Walnut Canyon Rd.” That sounded like a good way to go back to town. I had to go to the Walnut Canyon Gate to get directions to go back and find it. As it turns out, at this end, it has a Forest Rd number. It is almost entirely dirt. Not wanting a simple “out and back” ride, I decided to give it a whirl. Some of the road was in great shape:

Near Walnut Canyon, it is in great shape

Some of it wasn’t:

Can you see the deep ruts in this part?

I made it back to town but had only managed to put less than 20 miles on the scoot and I had wanted to get some idea of what my mileage was to be at that elevation, so I pulled up a map on my phone and saw what looked like a great little road with good photo ops – Elden Lookout Road. I had wanted to scout out a little of the start of my Grand Canyon ride anyway and the base of Mt Elden Lookout is on the west side of Flagstaff on Route 180. Perfect.

At the bottom is wasn’t too bad, but it was pretty steep.

I wound my way through town (always beautiful) and found the turn and started up. The first few miles are paved, then, you guessed it, it turned to dirt. One of the signs I saw said 6 miles of unimproved road, but my odometer said it was almost twice that.

The further I went, the steeper it got.

It’s hard to see in photos, but this is steep grade, with a lots of loose rocks, gravel and sand. I picked my way along and made it to the top. the view is fantastic! i took a few photos, had a monor crash when the bike slipped on hard packed dirt/rock covered in a thin layer of cinders.

On Mt Elden looking down at central Flagstaff.

The previous pic is taken from the top of the mountain in this one.

I became a little concerned on the way down. Because of all the loose dirt and gravel and the fact the I was using only my rear brake, I was worried my tiny rear drum brake my give out. It didn’t. I made it back to the hotel without further incident. I  checked Iron buddy for damage and only found a few minor tears in his vinyl.

The next day I rode to the Grand Canyon. The previous post tells all about that. For day three, I considered riding out to Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Parks. If you go to the Flagstaff area, I highly recommend both places. However, I had been to both a year or so previously and decided to ride around the city of Flagstaff looking for interesting buildings to photograph. I’m a sucker for old buildings, other structures and murals.

Formerly a motel, now the Dubeau Hostel, it looks like those old motor hotels that you found along Route 66.

I’m thinking this old sign is a bit outdated.

The back of the old train station. it’s now a very nice tourist information center.

Here’s an interesting mural I found. It runs the length of this building and along another wall.

I had a great time exploring, but that doesn’t make for interesting reading, so I’ll spare you the details. On our way home, we chose to drive down Oak Creek Canyon, through Sedona then south on route 179 until it rejoined I-17. i don’t think you can have had a proper trip to this part of the state without seeing Oak creek canyon. I’ve been there many times and it’s always a treat.

This is looking south from the top of Oak Creek. Sedona is at the other end.

Here, you can see parts of the road that lead down the wall of Oak Creek Canyon.

Godzilla!

One of the critters we saw at the top of the canyon.

Route 179 after Sedona is a really nice drive as well. The road is in great condition and the scenery is beautiful. Once you get back to I-17, you don’t have to just put the accelerator down and zoom back toward Phoenix, either. The next exit south of where you enter I-17 is Beaver Creek Rd(Exit #293). If you take this exit and go east, you will come to Montezuma Well National Park. A short easy hike give a nice little Arizona history lesson. Just 4 miles further south brings you to Middle Verde Rd. From here, go about a mile east to Montezuma Castle Rd and follow the signs to Montezuma Castle Nat’l Park. Another short, easy hike brings you to some spectacular cliff dwellings.

Sunset Point has a huge sun dial as a memorial to employees of the Department of transportation who died “while serving the citizens of Arizona.”

The view off the mesa is quite impressive.

If you don’t stop at either of those places and need a quick break, or if you just want to see one of my favorite rest areas in the state, pull off at Exit 252, Sunset Point. this rest area sets at the edge of a mesa and give some spectacular views down in a little valley. The rest area is beautifully maintained and well lit at night.

One other place I can recommend going to before you get to “civilization” is the Rock Springs Cafe. If you do a Google search for “Best Pie in AZ” they come up at the top of the list. I don’t know that they are the best pie in the state, but it’s pretty darned good. Take Exit 242 and follow the signs.

I really enjoyed this trip. I was a tiny bit disappointed in the lack of nice, scenic roadways up north. The architecture of Flagstaff did not disappoint. The drive up and back was also quite enjoyable.

I put together a little video to go along with this post. Video quality isn’t as good as it could be because the part of the scooter towhich I attach the Go-Pro was loose and I didn’t realize it. I hope you get a little feel for Flagstaff anyway:

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postheadericon Riding NoAZ – Scooting to the Canyon (the Grand One.)

No photo does this place justice. you just have to see it to get any kind of scale.

I have deliberately written most of the “Riding SoAZ” pieces from a neutral perspective. Meaning that the information contained in them is good for anyone wanting to ride those areas by any 2-wheeled vehicle or even people taking the family car out for a drive. This episode will be directed specifically toward the scooterist. Actually, it is even directed toward the rider of small displacement scooters or 150cc’s or less, although some info will still be good for anyone.

Here’s a little bit of background before we get started. My wife and I recently spent a 5-day vacation in Flagstaff, AZ. I have recently started taking a scooter along on these trip so that I have a certain period of time where I do what relaxes me most – riding. When I bring a scooter, my wife brings along her quilting stuff so she can do what relaxes her. See how nicely that works out?  We had decided that I would do short rides on two of our days there, and one day, I would do a longer ride. My wife suggested that I use the long ride day to go up to the Grand Canyon. That sounded great to me. The thought of posting a pic of the Iron Buddy on the edge of the Grand Canyon really appealed to me.

Riding in the Desert – It’s all fun and games til someone’s bones are bleached in the sun.

Riding in southern Arizona has taught me the value of route planning. Gas stations tend to be few and far between out here. Well, northern Arizona is no different. From Flagstaff, there are two possible routes to the canyon. I did a bit of research in our hotel room before heading out. I not only needed to take distances into account, but elevation changes as well. Iron Buddy is carbureted and my mileage suffers a bit at elevations above about 6000 feet. I did a test ride the second day we were there and found that my max speed at 7000′ was 50mph, indicated, meaning I was actually only going 45-46mph. Hmmm, decreased mileage AND speed, that was sobering.

First, there is US 89, north out of Flagstaff, to the town of Cameron, AZ (pop 885). At Cameron, turn west on Route 60 to the canyon. It is approximately 50 miles to Cameron and another 50 miles from Cameron to Grand Canyon Village. Elevation-wise, this route looked pretty good. Flagstaff and Grand Canyon Village are at 7000 feet, but US 89 drops as low as 5000′ on it’s way to Cameron, before beginning to climb again. Unfortunately, I had to rule this route out once I looked at potential fuel stops. I had not brought my gallon gas can with me this trip and only had a 750ml fuel bottle as reserve. I could fill up as I left Flagstaff  and again at Cameron. I could make the 50 miles to the village, but at that elevation and the fact that I would having to climb grades at highway speeds, I wouldn’t make it back to Cameron. The reason? I could not count on my usual 60-70mpg. I figured 50-60mpg may be more realistic. (I learned that lesson on the Iron Butt ride.) My 1.5 gallon tank would get me about 75 miles. 10-15 more miles from my fuel bottle still left me at least 10 miles short of Cameron.

Mt Humphrey still has snow!

Route #2 uses Route 180 west to the community of Valle, AZ, then north on Route 64/180 to Grand Canyon Village. It is 50 miles from Flagstaff to Valle (same as Flag to Cameron) but a little less than 30 miles from Valle to the Village. According to Google maps my last gas would be at Valle, (Google wound up being wrong about this.) but that wouldn’t be a problem, since I knew I could make it 60 miles on my little tank of fuel. What about elevation? This route is a bit more challenging. Route 180 climbs to just over 8000′. It then drops at 6000′ at Valle before climbing back to 7000 ‘ at Grand Canyon Village.

Looking to the east

I had initially considered making a loop and taking 180 and Route 64 yp to the Canyon, then continuing east on 64 to Cameron and back to Flagstaff. I wish i could have done this, but I had to work on the fact that Google said there was no fuel, on that route, between Valle and Cameron. That is right at 80 miles and I felt it was cutting it too close. It is pretty desolate in this part of AZ and cell phone coverage can be spotty, at best. If I am ever up there, again, on a bigger bike or in a car, I will do the loop.

The high desert plateau is flat and empty, as far as human habitation is concerned.

So, how was the ride, you may be asking? It went well and I had a lot of fun. However, the ride back to Flagstaff was also one of the most challenging 80 miles I’ve ever ridden. The forecast that day, late in May, was for temps about 75 degrees with winds 15-20mph. I don’t enjoy riding in the wind very much, but there was no way I was going to miss out on riding to the Grand Canyon.

On the way out of Flagstaff, you pass the Pioneer Museum and the Museum of Northern AZ. I stopped at neither, but might do so another time. Road conditions on Rte 180 are below average near Flagstaff city limits but are average to above average the rest of the was to Valle. I suppose most of that is due to heavy traffic getting to/from the ski resort just outside of town.

Riding through trees is very different from riding around Tucson.

Talls trees give way to smaller trees and shrubs as you go west toward Valle.

The 40 miles to Valle was uneventful. There was very little traffic along the entire route. There is a 3 miles-long 6% grade downhill that was made interesting by the wind. As the elevation decreases, you leave the Ponderosa Pine forest and onto a high desert plain. There was lots of dry grass and occasional scrub bushes.

See what’s left of Dino at Bedrock City!

Valle is a hoot. There is an airplane museum (Planes of Fame) located at their tiny airport. There is a new gas station/gift shop here as well. There are a couple of small hotels and, if you have an RV or are camping, you’re in for a real treat. Bedrock City is here. If you love Route 66 kitsch, then you will LOVE this place.

I gassed up, took a few pics at Bedrock City and headed toward the canyon. Traffic really picked up on Route 64. I stuck to the right side of the road and kept on going. Most folks gave me plenty of room as the passed. I met many, many motorcycles all along the route. Virtually all waved as they went by.

Why spend the money on renting a helicopter ride? See the same thing safely, in the IMAX theater.

Just before you enter Grand Canyon National Park you pass through the tiny town of Tusayan, AZ. This is where Grand Canyon Airport is located, where many folks take plane or helicopter tours of the canyon. I was quite surprised as I got here and saw construction everywhere. There are hotels, an IMAX theater, restaurants and (shame on you, Google) a gas station.

I saw my first Elk in the wild! there are three in the pic. Can you see them all?

NOTE: It is $25 per car or $12.50 per motorcycle to enter the park. Your other option, if you frequent various national parks, is to buy an annual pass for $80. That’s what I did.

My first attempt at a pic with my scooter at the canyon. You can just see it through the trees.

I rode into the park, looking for a place to get a couple of good pics. I had only been to the G.C. by train before and so I wasn’t familiar with where to go. I checked my complimentary map and finally found a good place to go. Because there is a walkway all along the canyon rim, you can’t really ride to the edge.

“Dude! I wanted all of me AND my scooter in the picture with part of the canyon.”

So, I killed the motor and pushed Iron Buddy up the pathway, looking to make sure there were no Park Rangers nearby. I had someone snap a couple of pics (His aim wasn’t too good.) took a few myself, posted a couple to Facebook, texted my wife then turned around and headed back toward Flagstaff.

This beautiful meadow area is about 12 miles outside of Flagstaff on Route 180.

The 25 miles back to Valle was particularly difficult. The wind had picked up and at times my speed was down to 45mph. I had to keep reminding myself to relax my grip because I kept squeezing tighter and tighter in fear that the wind would rip the handlebars out of my hands. This made my arms and shoulders pretty sore. I had gassed up in Tusayan, then again in Valle.

A place for a weary traveler to catch a spiritual “breather.”

I caught a bit of a break once I was back to Rte 180. The wind was at my back quite a bit of the way. I stopped a couple of times to take pics. About 15 miles outside of Flagstaff, there is a lovely little interdenominational chapel, facing the forest. I stopped for a few pics and to stop and give thanks for a safe journey. I felt much better when I hopped on the bike for the last few miles.

For a 150cc bike, the Buddy did great. Were my fears of poor mileage confirmed? Sort of. Not counting my initial fill up as I left Flagstaff, I put gas in the scooter 4 times on this trip. Here are the stops and the mileage for each leg:

  • Flag to Valle – 58mpg (Lots of downhill)
  • Valle to G.C. to Tusayan – 63mpg (Low speed sight-seeing)
  • Tusayan to Valle – 48mpg (Serious headwind)
  • Valle to Flagstaff – 56mpg (Tailwind, but lots of climbing)

All things considered, it was a beautiful trip. It is one well worth taking and one that I  heartily recommend, providing you do it safely.

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