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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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