One of the reasons I like to travel is to see things in real life that otherwise I could only see in pictures. Our Wild West motorcycle tour confirmed this for me: there is nothing better than seeing something that someone else once showed you in a photograph with your very own eyes. To stand and gaze in wonder at awe inspiring scenes that you might be forgiven for thinking were created on a sound stage in Hollywood is simply fantastic.
There was plenty of opportunity to do that on our adventure. We rode by some of the most iconic views in the world, with every mountain pass and valley offering something different for our eyes to feast upon. Everything from busy sprawling cities such as Los Angeles and Las Vegas, well groomed towns such as Williams and Solvang (a little bit of Denmark), and settlements with little more than a General Store and a handful of houses like Cool Springs and Hackberry. Then there were some of the most photographed views in history (personal opinion!)…
The Grand Canyon
There really is no comprehending how big the Grand Canyon is. Even when you are stood right on the edge of the cliff, one mile up from the Colorado River and 14 miles from the opposite cliff, it still looks remarkably like a picture. It is simply humungous, absolutely ginormous. I promised myself before we went that I would make sure I took a moment or two to simply stand and stare, and I took plenty of time to do that.
We stayed just down the road from the entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park and so were able to visit in the evening and the following morning. The viewing area at Mather Point, close to the visitors centre, is paved and has fences and barriers to allow you to get to the edge of the Canyon without worrying about falling. We spent about an hour there in the early evening sunshine, with just a little haze in the distance, wandering up and down the paths trying to work out how high up we were and how far we could see. We watched as a group of people sneaked closer and closer to the edge a little further round, wondering if we would dare be so brave if we had the opportunity. I reckoned yes. LincsGeek said no, and was inclined to agree with some children and their dad who were exclaiming “Man, that’s crazy right there!”.
To make even more of the views LincsGeek and I took a helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon in the morning to see it from the air. Quite a number in our tour group did; it’s one of those things that features on many people’s bucket list, and for good reason. We had a really smooth flight with Papillon Helicopters from Grand Canyon National Park Airport that lasted around half an hour and took us right over to the North Rim, crossing the Canyon. We could see for miles as we flew over a forest of pine trees, much of which was scorched by the sun and showed the scars of fire, and were treated to bright blue skies and perfect conditions as we made our way along the ridge and around the edge of the Canyon. Music played on our aviation headsets when we weren’t talking to each other and I have to admit the choice of Star Wars as we reached the South Rim of the Canyon did make me laugh.
After our flight we headed back into the Grand Canyon National Park on the bikes and along Desert View Road to the Desert View Watchtower. It was here, at Navajo Point, that LincsGeek took my favourite ever photo of me – sat with my feet dangling over the edge, looking across the desert rock, with the brightly coloured Colorado River below. The best view I have ever had the pleasure of seeing? Yes, I think so. One I will never forget. One I will never fully understand.
The Grand Canyon in the Morning, Monument Valley in the evening, this was a particularly spectacular day it has to be said. We had our chance to get up close and personal with the home of almost any Western movie you’ve ever seen by going on a guided tour from Lookout Point at the end of Monument Valley Tribal Park Road.
We sat on the back of a modified pick-up truck, which provided us with sheltered but very bumpy and incredibly dusty transport deep into the red desert. Our guide for a couple of hours was a Navajo native who told the history, explained the geography, and sang (it’s okay, I didn’t join in). We were taken through the valley and got to see the various rock formations and sites of particular cultural interest close enough to touch. There were clusters of huts and even some wild horses to add to the scene. By the end of the tour my white t-shirt and face were red and when I washed my hair the water came out brown, but it was well worth all the dust and dirt to get right inside the Navajo tribal area and see this area off the bikes.
So many famous movies have been shot in Monument Valley – from Stagecoach and The Searchers to Forest Gump and Back to the Future III to name just a few. I mustn’t forget Easy Rider, of course, and this is a shot of me riding out of the Valley that will forever make me smile.
Valley of the Gods
When your tour guide tells you “today we’re going to ride a bit of dirt road” and you are riding a big fat 1600cc Harley Davidson that is probably a little too heavy for you, you are forgiven for getting a bit nervous. “It’s only six miles”, Jeff said, “it’s slow and you have to be careful, but it’s well worth it”.
With this in my mind I was a worried when we reached Mexican Hat in Utah and turned left onto the 261. Apart from the Eagle Rider guides, one of the riders in our group had done this tour before and told me it was fairly easy, but I ignored him! The road was low and flat and straight and we could see a huge mountain area in front of us – I knew that was where we were headed. There were signs warning us that in a few miles there was some unpaved road and that it was not suitable for large or towing vehicles. LincsGeek, a much more confident rider than me, was in front and promised he’d coach me along (via our helmet intercoms) if needed as long as I kept my distance. Once we reached the end of the tarmac the road instantly went up. There were tight bends and switchbacks (hairpin bends to us Brits) on what wasn’t quite dirt but rather a very dusty loose gravel road on a steep incline. It was definitely hard work but quite fun once I relaxed into it and remembered I was not a bad motorcyclist. We stopped at the top to take in the view, and instantly thanked Jeff for taking us this way. Another awe inspiring scene for the memory bank, another image worthy of any movie.
Actually, the whole of Utah could have featured in any movie I’ve seen. What an awesome State! After the Valley of the Gods we went back down into the valley and up onto the next mountain – over and over again all day. The scenery changed with every valley, with more vegetation each time as we rode miles and miles of well-maintained road. There were a few ranches, complete with skulls at the entrance gates, but other than that saw very little civilisation. It was complete wilderness just like in the Westerns you see on BBC2 on a Sunday afternoon. At one point we were 9,600 feet up – just shy of 3,000 metres – the views were always clear and stunning: rocks, sand dunes, plains and ranches.
“To Explore Another Day”
I could easily spend a couple of weeks exploring much more of Utah than we did. It lends itself so well to motorcycling, with some great roads with lots of interest, and was probably my favourite State on the tour. Sorry California, Arizona and Nevada but I was warned Utah would take my heart and it certainly did that. In the interests of balance, perhaps I should add that LincsGeek prefers California overall but both loved everywhere we visited.
We stopped in Bryce Canyon for a short time to have a look at yet another spectacular view that took our breath away. After spending an hour or so there we headed out to Zion National Park for a ride along the red roads, around the switchbacks, through the tunnels, and with yet more stunning scenery. The combination of red rocks and green trees was different again to anything we’ve seen. There wasn’t opportunity for photos this time, which was a shame as we both loved the views. The riding through Zion was very slow and hot, but LincsGeek liked the way everything was more ‘up close’ in Zion and could have spent much longer there if time had allowed. Both Bryce and Zion are well and truly on the “go back to” list.
Then there are the places we didn’t even touch. The Grand Staircase, Capitol Reef National Park, I’m sure there are 100s of other places we could have ridden to if we had the time. Another day. Definitely another day.
Read the Wild West Series