Saturday, 30 April 2011

Day 11: Flagstaff to Williams via Grand Canyon

Last night I went into downtown Flagstaff for dinner and a drink. It's a pretty cool place with plenty of restaurants and bars, and pretty lively. First I went to the Flagstaff brewery. I had a nice beer in there, but it was a bit quiet, so I ended up sitting at the bar in a neighbouring Irish bar. I got chatting to Bob, sitting next to me; and it turned out that he to was doing a bike tour around America; except he had quit his job and was taking 2 years out to do it. Nice! He was pretty knowledgeable about the places I had been to and where I was going, and recommended Rods Steak House when I got to Williams.

There's a big event at home today: Yes, it's Simon's birthday. I hear they had a street party in his honour. I hope you had a good one! There was also a wedding on I believe, so William and Kate, I hope it works out for you. Talking of Simon and birthdays, he had a t-shirt made especially for me for my birthday to wear on this trip. Unfortunately it was left at home, I'm such an idiot. Anyway Gillian thoughtfully sent me a photograph to post here. This way lots more people will get to see it:
...and the back,
Today is a day off Route 66, as I head north towards the Grand Canyon, but on the way is Sunset Crater, a volcano that erupted only about 1000 years ago. You can go up the volcanoo and see the crater if you have the time and are up for a long hike. I didn't, so I bought some postcards instead!

The snow capped San Francisco Moutains, from Sunset Crater National Park

A guy said to me today: "There are only two types of bike; those that have been dropped, and those that are going to be dropped". That was after he helped me pick my bike up. In my haste to hop off and take a few more pictures, I hadn't put the stand down properly and over she went! Luckily, as I was still astride her at the time, I was able to slow her descent to the ground although there was no way I could stop it altogether. After this kind sole helped me pick her up again I was relieved to see that there was no damage - not even a scratch.

The lava flow from the volcano, in the background.

After a good 30-odd mile ride around the Sunset crater National Park, it was time to head off to the Grand Canyon. Entering the park from the eastern end of the Southern Rim, the views were spectacular, and the was a 40 mile ride along the rim, with countless photo ops. Here's just a few that I took today:

The roads around here are great for motorcycling: well maintained smooth tarmac, which twists and turns, rises and falls, it's fantastic! The weather has been sunny and dry for the last few days, although pleasantly cool (in the 70s). In fact it's so dry that I had to buy some ChapStick as my lips were starting to dry out. I now have one more thing to add to my morning routine: put on lipstick, and re-apply regularly!

After a number of hours at the Canyon, it was getting on and time to head back south for Williams, and rejoin Route 66. The road to Williams is dead straight from the Canyon for about 50 miles, so a bit dull after the riding I'd done earlier.

Williams is a small two street cowboy town, and has a really nice feel. I didn't have a room booked, but soon checked into the Route 66 Inn, an old Mom & Pop Motor Lodge right in the middle of town. The room's big enough but could do with refurbishment as it's a bit tatty. Then again, for $39, I don't expect much. It has a bed and bathroom, has Wi-Fi and is clean, so that's good enough for me.

As I was sitting in my room, I heard some familiar voices passing by outside - yes it was Dale, Anthony, Daniel and some of the other Aussies! "We're going to Rods Steak House for dinner" they said, " Come with us". So I did. And then on to the Canyon bar which had Country karaoke going on. It got a bit messy, and I even took to the mic for a number. Hopefully, no one videoed it. What good company they are, we had a blast. Oh, and the steak was to die for - Bob, you were right!
Anthony and Daniel have a bonding session, having narrowly missed getting into a fight

Dale lets rip singing Peggy Sue!
As always, all the photos, and today's route are here:

Time for bed now, as there's the Route 66 Fun Run leaving here tomorrow, heading the same way as me - about 800 cars and bikes - and I want to get away before they do. Overtaking them would be a nightmare!

Today's Mileage: 196
Total Trip Mileage: 2289

Friday, 29 April 2011

Day 10: Gallup to Flagstaff

"... Life's a journey, not a destination, And I just can't tell what tomorrow brings ..."

I had my MP3 player on random during part of the ride today, and this song (Amazing by Aerosmith) came on. For some reason, this line jumped out at me, as it epitomises this trip, and the reasons for doing it. Anyway, enough of that.....

The Aussies were leaving early this morning for their long trip to the Grand Canyon. I went down to wave them off, and got myself ready and packed up the bike.

So, ten days into the rip I am now past the halfway mark, and I've got packing down to a fine art, and (touch wood) know where everything is. My clothes go in the left pannier. The hardware; camera bag, chargers and leads, reference books and maps, all go in the right. The stuff that I'm likely to need for the day ahead, plus my laptop is in the tourpack on the back. Even my jacket pockets are worked out: lower right - wallet, safely zipped in.; lower left - bike keys, also zipped up; top right - the iGotU GPS tracker; and upper left, any other small items that I might need (ear plugs, pen, etc). This might sound like I've got a touch of OCD (maybe I have), but it means that everything is to hand, and there's no panics because I can't find my wallet, or whatever.

My first port of call today was to Wal-Mart - I desperately needed some new socks! These procured I set off, heading out of New Mexico, and into Arizona; state number 7 of my trip.
A last view of New Mexico as I left

I didn't know at the time, but I had gained another hour. Arizona's in the Moutain Time Zone, but they don't use daylight saving, so in winter they are the same time as the other states in that time zone, but in summer they are at the same time as California.

My plan today was to visit the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. The desert is very spectacular, and once again I was faced with numerous photo opportunities, most of which I took! It's very difficult to capture something of this scale in a photo, though. Here's a few that I took today:

In these parts, much of old Route 66 has been replaced by the Interstate, and so no longer exists. In this picture you can see trucks on the new Interstate in the background, but the line of telegraph poles marks the path of the original Route 66 roadway:

The petrified forest left me a bit cold, I've got to admit. I kind of imagined a forest of trees that had been turned to stone. What it is though is a load of logs strewn about that have been transformed into rock over many millions of years:
OK maybe I was expecting too much!

A wrong turn out of the Petrified Forest State park cost me about 40 miles of riding until I got back to where I should have been, but the roads were good and the scenery breathtaking, so it was no big deal.

Next stop on the journey today was the Jack Rabbit Trading Company. This has been a major stopping point on the Route for many years. Plenty have wondered how, when the Interstate was built, this little shop got its own entry/exit ramps: there really is nothing else around. It turns out that at that time it had just been bought by a retiring Senator - maybe he pulled a few strings?
Signs all along the way had been advertising the Jack Rabbit store, and now I had reached it!

A little detour took me through Winslow Arizona, as made famous by a lyric in an Eagles song (Take it Easy?) - "... standing on a corner in Winslow Arizona ....". There is a sign on that supposed corner, and many people have had their photo taken there. I'm not one of them though, not being a big Eagles fan.

Finally, before reaching Flagstaff I took a little detour through Winona (Don't forget Winona!), and then into Flagstaff from the north.

Wow, three song references in one blog post!
Tonight I shall check out Historic Downtown Flagstaff, as theres a brewery that's been recommended to me.
Tomorrow I'm going to look at a rather large hole in the ground.

Here's today's route and all of the photos from the day:

Today's Mileage: 260
Total Trip Mileage:2094

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Day 9: Albuquerque to Gallup

Last night was a bit disappointing as the hotel didn't open the bar (a missed opportunity there, with 53 thirsty Australians staying!) so eveyone dispersed to find their own food and drink for the evening.

I set off this bright and sunny morning west out of Albuquerque, but it was really quite chilly, despite the sunny weather. After an hour I pulled over in a service station to get a coffee and warm up. Who should arrive a short while later? Yes, the Aussies!

Once again they let me tag along with them, as we were all heading towards Gallup for the night. They were visiting Sky City on the way. I thought that sounded like a casino, but it turns out it's an old town built on top of a mesa. In fact it's the oldest, continually inhabited, town in the USA. It's Indian name is Acoma Pueblo. I hadn't heard of it in my research and it sounded interesting, so I went along for the ride. And what a ride it was. Probably the best riding yet this trip. The visitors' centre was OK, but the really good part is going up to the town, and having a guided tour. I took so many pictures up there that it was hard to pick out a few for this blog. All of them are viewable via the map icon below.

 The Visitors' Centre

 From the Visitors' Centre with the mesa in the background

 Up in  Acoma Pueblo, the houses are made from rock, bound together with sand straw and clay. There is no running water, electricity or gas. The town is still inhabited today.

 Our excellent tour guide, English name Gary, who still lives in the town, shows us his back yard!

And from below, Acoma on top of the mesa.

It really was an interesting tour, made even better by our guide, who himself lives in Acoma. I also learnt something of the history of the Indian tribe who lived there, and had a pretty rough time at the hands of the Spanish in the 1600s. A well recommended detour from the route.

I had intended to visit the Ice Cave, but had spent so long at Acoma that I couldn't fit it in. Apparently the ride down to the cave is good, but the cave itself is not that special.

20 or so miles before getting to Gallup is the US Continental Divide. This is the point at which, rain falling to the west eventually drains into the Pacific. That falling to the East, into the Atlantic. This point is pretty high up, at nearly 7300 feet it is even higher than Santa Fe.

From here it was just a short ride to the hotel, El Rancho in Gallup:

This is a famous old Route 66 Hotel, that was built in 1937 by the brother of a movie magnate. Many film stars stayed here when shooting westerns, including Ronald Reagan, Spencer Tracy, Kirk Douglas and Katherine Hepburn. Each of the rooms are named after the stars that supposedly stayed in them. Mine is named after  Jack Carson. No, me neither, but according to Wikipedia, he had a fling with Doris Day, so who knows what he got up to in this room?

Tomorrow the Aussies and I go our separate ways, as they head up to the Grand Canyon, and I go to Flagstaff, Arizona. It has been brilliant riding with them, and they have all made me feel welcome and part of the group. I'd especially like to thank Dale, the tour organiser, and Daniel, the bike leader. I would not hesitate in recommending Dale if anyone wanted to take a guided tour along Route 66. He does 3 per year, and they are all meticulously planned and executed. Here's a link to his website, and you don't even have to be Australian.

All the photos and the route for today are here:

Today's Mileage: 172
Total Trip Mileage:1834

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Day 8: Las vegas, NM to Albuquerque

First of all, a picture or two from last night. This is Nancy trying out my bike for size. She is desperately seeking a mid-life crisis of her own - we suggested a tattoo. Thanks for these Kevin.

Today has been a great motorcycling day, and I have experience all four seasons over the course of it! The wind had abated a little since yesterday, and I left Las Vegas bound for Santa Fe. The riding was great as I travelled along the Santa Fe  trail, through the Pecos national park. The roads had a mixture of long sweeping fast bends, and more technical twisty sections. The bike, despite its size, was up to the job, and once moving is well balanced, most of the weight being low down. Manoeuvring at low speed can be hard work though.

 The old Route 66 running parallel to the interstate in the distance

A gate to nowhere!

The road undulated, but overall climbed to Santa Fe, which is over 7000ft above sea level, making it the highest state capitol in the US. This would explain why it was getting colder, and by the time I got there it was snowing.

When Route 66 was first built in the late 1920s this was the route that it took - through Santa Fe. In the 30s, the Governor of New Mexico fell out with the Mayor of Santa Fe, and ordered that the route be realigned to run directly from Santa Rosa to Albuquerque, thus cutting out the Santa Fe loop, and denying the town of its passing trade. Many people travelling the route today take this more direct later alignment, but I wanted to do this loop as I'd heard (rightly, as it turns out) that the roads and scenery were very good.
Snow in Santa Fe in April.

The architecture in the town is Adobe style, and very attractive. The centre is full of art galleries and little expensive looking boutiques. I reckon that it must have the most Art Galleries per capita than any other town I've been to. There were also more homeless people begging in the street than I'd seen since Chicago - obviously there are extremes of wealth here.

I decided to wait and see if the snow would stop so had a cup of coffee and slice of the most delicious chocolate cream pie! It did stop after a while, and I was assured that Albuquerque would be a good deal warmer as it wasn't so high, so I continued my journey along the Santa Fe trail, to Madrid.

I wanted to go to Madrid as it had been featured in a number of movies, most recently Paul, but probably the biggest selling was Wild Hogs. The film takes place during the Madrid chilli festival. Up until then Madrid didn't have a chilli festival. It does now!

Talking to a few people around town there are obviously mixed feelings about this film. Some people did very well out of it - Disney built a diner movie set for the film, pictured above, and the current owner makes plenty selling Wild Hogs memorabilia and t-shirts. Others went out of business because Disney shut the town down for 3 months over the tourist season whilst making the film.
I think my favourite film that was made here though is The Man Who Fell to Earth, staring David Bowie. I must re-watch that when I get home.

Now it was more fantastic riding to Albuquerque, where I am staying tonight. I pulled over at one point to take some photos, and who should come past in the other direction - yes, the Aussies. I'm at the same hotel as them again, so I expect some more revelry in the bar tonight. In the mean time, I can't resist one more shot of the New Mexico landscape:

Today's route and more photos are here:

Today's Mileage: 149
Total Trip Mileage:1663

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Day 7: Amarillo - Las Vegas, NM

After a good drink and chin-wag with Croc and the Aussies last night, I had to set my alarm nice and early in order to make sure I was up in time for the 8 o'clock start - yes, I'm back on a timetable! It was chilly when we left, but I knew that as soon as the sun rose higher it would get soon heat up, so decided to go with the warm weather gear from the outset this morning. Most of the Aussies were travelling in cars, but there were 8 bikes, and I was going with them.

Our first stop was after a short ride to the Cadillac Ranch. Here, there are about 8 or ten half buried Cadillacs, nose down, and aerosol spray cans are left lying around so that visitors can decorate them. So the display is constantly changing:

A little further on and another photo op at Magnolia Filling Station. This place actually pre-dates Route 66 by a couple of years, and once again has been restored to how it used to be.

It was nice to be riding with a group for a change, and I appreciated being invited to tag along. I was great to have some company at the various stops along the way, and to have someone else take my picture for a change! It also reminded me of the downside of being in a group - the extra time it takes to do anything, for example at fuel stops you can't fill up and leave - you have to wait for all 8 bikes to refuel. Same with photo stops or when stopping for lunch - you can't continue your journey until everyone is ready to go.
Spot the English bike!

Moving along we came to Adrian Texas. This is officially the mid-point of the route - it's the same distance to Chicago as it is to Los Angeles. Time for a photo at the sign marking this point, and coffee and pie at Fran's MidPoint Cafe. Fran was the inspiration behind the Flo character in Disney's movie Cars. She's a sweetheart!
Here I am at the middle of the Route - but not yet the middle of my trip. Not sure why I'm standing like that?

And the obligatory group shot with all the Aussies, one American, one Zimbabwean and one Brit. I'm  front right.

Just before we left Texas we visited Glenco, a ghost town, and just one of many examples of how the new Interstates affected towns along the old Route 66.

And then we were entering New Mexico, and suddenly gained an extra hour as we moved to Mountain Time. This is the sixth state of the nine I'll be visiting this trip.
Yes that really is me behind the mask!

Lunch was in Tucumcari (Two-come-care-ee). A first for me - I had salad! I really could not face any more fried food, and getting my five a day has been proving challenging. There are some nice murals on the walls of the buildings around town, and also a Route 66 sculpture:

And so it was that we eventually arrived at Santa Rosa, the Ausies' stop for the night. Having said my goodbyes and thanking them for allowing a pom to join them, I set off, once again on my own. A brief visit to Bozo's Auto Museum, and then to drive the 60 or so miles to Las Vegas, New Mexico (the little town with a big name!).

All the time we'd been driving west into a head wind, and this combined with the long, long climb out of Santa Rosa meant the bike wasn't able to maintain 70mph in top (6th) gear. I started to worry that there might be something wrong, but when I turned off north for Las Vegas the head wind became a side wind, and only then did I realise just how strong it was. I drove the remaining 40 miles canted over 45 degrees to the left, just to go straight!. No wonder the bike was struggling riding into it!

Las Vegas NM is the complete opposite of its namesake further west. It is a quiet, old fashioned little western town. The hotel I am staying at tonight is the Plaza, built in 1882,and has a very Victorian feel to it. I rather like it after some of the impersonal hotel rooms I've slept in recently. Also, it was used in the Coen Brothers movie No Country for Old Men (what am I doing here then?) for the hotel scenes (even though the film was set in Texas).

Having unpacked I made my way to the hotel bar, as you do, and was chatting to a couple (Joseph and Chtistine) who had a nice little Harley Sportster parked outside. As we chatted a guy walked in and ordered a beer, and then announced that he would buy everyone in the bar a round. We happily accepted, upon which he paid, finished his drink and left. I don't think he'd said a word to anyone other than the barman, who later said he'd never seen him before! How peculiar. Anyway thank you, who every you are!

After that I got talking to a group of business colleagues (Amy, Leah, Lisa, Kevin and Nancy - Hi y'all). They are museum specialists, and were in town looking at how a local state park could improve its displays and exhibits at their visitor centre. After a couple of drinks with them they invited me to join them for dinner which was very kind, and very entertaining, especially when we found all the local restaurants seem to be closed on a Monday. Needless to say, we ended up back in the bar, but my pizza was very good. As well as everything else, I also learned something about American history today!

And now it's time for bed, and tomorrow I head for Albuquerque, where I may run into the Aussies once more.

Today's route and more pictures can be found here:

Today's Mileage: 251
Total Trip Mileage:1514