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Foothills Parkway to Death Valley (long post)


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Last Thanksgiving, my brother hatched an idea; why don’t we fly to Las Vegas, rent two bikes and ride around Death Valley? Why would I want to rent a bike when I have a perfectly good 2002 R1150RT in my garage? I told my brother that I’d meet him in Vegas, but after looking at the rental rates for a two week voyage around the west, he didn’t want to rent either. So, for his part, he chose to buy a 1986 Kawasaki Voyager XII. It was low mileage, pretty clean and turned out to be a good bike. All he really needed to do was put a new set of Metzlers on it and it was ready for our fun filled extravaganza. It’s no 1150 RT, but it’s a good bike. I really don’t discriminate when I’m riding. I don’t care what you ride when I ride with you as long as you are a safe, capable rider, and your bike isn’t loud.


The original plan was to have our wives ride with us. However, my wife never really liked to ride, so she bowed out early. I thought I’d just go solo, but soon after, I had a niece and sister both wanting to take the pillion position. Not wanting to say no to either, a compromise was worked out. My sister and niece would take turns driving a car and taking the pillion. I have to admit that at first I wasn’t crazy about having a chase car to keep up with but it didn’t take long to change my mind about that. A cooler in the trunk with iced down water, Cokes, lunch meat and fixings, the chase car was soon a rolling chuck wagon and made any stop an oasis.


Day 1: September, 17


September 17, dawned cool but clear. At 6:30 am, with the bike (over)loaded, the chase car in position, and a loose idea of where we were going, the three of us started from Maryville, Tennessee, on our way to Memphis, to meet my brother. The drive to the land of Elvis the drive was pretty uneventful except for one piece of rolling Americana; the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. For the three of us, it was the first time to see it in person. I have to say it must be quite a draw due to the rolling traffic jam that accompanied it.


At the I-40/55 junction we met with my brother and his wife and headed off for our day’s destination; Fort Smith, Arkansas. As we approached Little Rock, the wind picked up considerably and the skies darkened. At Little Rock, the skies opened up and we rode in a torrential downpour. Seeing how it was part of a line of thunderstorms, I told my brother that I didn’t really think it would last to long. I was wrong. The rain and strong wind lasted until we pulled off the road in Clarksville, Arkansas, for the night. Day 1 lasted 600 miles and I was thankful for my dry First Gear rain suit and boots.


Day 2: September, 18


The Little Rock weatherman said that Monday would be dry and windy. He was wrong on one count. The day broke with very light drizzle, but by the time we got the bikes packed for today’s adventure, the skies opened up and it poured on us from Clarksville to Fort Smith. After that, the rain subsided and by lunch time, the skies were clear but the strong wind stayed with us; for 7 days in fact. The rest of the day was pretty uneventful and nothing noteworthy in the way of scenery. We ended Day 2 at Amarillo, Texas, after 500 miles of riding. Dinner that night was at the Big Texan steak house and we billeted at the Frontier Hotel right next door. The dinner and lodging were great and I would recommend them to anyone.


Day 3: September, 19


This Tuesday morning found the skies crystal clear, but still very, very windy. Our first stop was just outside Amarillo, at the Cadillac Ranch. The cars have been moved from their original location, but they are still easily accessible from the interstate. While it is not a spectacular site, and certainly boring to the locals, Cadillac Ranch is one of those unique tourist attractions that you really can’t pass up the first time through. But, one stop will last you a lifetime. We continued to ride I-40 westward and had old Route 66 just a few feet off to our right. I was eager to jump off the interstate and get on 66, but in places it just stops without warning, so I fell subject to the group’s better judgment and stayed on the freeway. Day 3 was another 500 mile day in the saddle and Gallup was a welcomed sight. A good night’s rest at the El Capitan hotel and a hot meal with first rate service at the diner just around the corner provided an end to another wonderful day of motorcycle travel.


Day 4: September 20


This Wednesday morning found the wind subsided to a comfortable level. Little did we know that this was the calm before the real storm. For the first 15 or 20 miles we were able to ride on old Route 66 out of Gallup. From there, it was back to I-40 until we got to exit 311 and our entrance into the Petrified Forest. As we started into the park, the wind started picking up to 30 or 35 knots. It was hard work, but we were able to eat a picnic lunch and watched the dust start kicking up in the Painted Desert. As we left the Petrified Forest and wandered down into the Painted Desert, visibility started dropping due to the huge dust storm. It reminded me of my four years in Lubbock, Texas, flying out of Reese AFB, and watching most of New Mexico blow into town every spring and fall.


From the Painted Desert, we picked up US 180 back north to Holbrook, Arizona. After a fuel stop and water break it was up I-40 just a few miles to pick up Arizona Hwy 77 to the north. It was on this highway that we got to put our rain suits on again. Two torrential downpours were still accompanied by the wind. The wind at one point, in conjunction with the wet roads, made me wonder if my RT was going to get blown out from underneath me. Needless to say, we didn’t make very good time on this day due to the agonizingly slow speed we had to drive. We continued on AZ 77 up to AZ 264, which we took east to US 191. As dusk fell, we rolled into Chinle, Arizona. What we didn’t know was that there are only three hotels in this quaint little town in the middle of the Navajo nation. This was made worse by the fact that there weren’t any rooms available and the nearest hotel was in either Kayenta, or Window Rock, Arizona. Either one was over 50 miles away and would require riding unfamiliar roads in the dark and rain. Fortunately for us, Linda Widefoot at the Comfort Inn (Canyon de Chelly) told us to standby for about 30 minutes as she thought there would be a cancellation. Just as we hoped, there was a cancellation and we were treated to some of the most luxurious accommodations we had the whole trip.


With the very strong winds and heavy rain, we were only able to make just a little over 300 miles.


Day 5: September 21


This Thursday morning dawned clear, but cold. Off with the BMW Venting Machine and on with the cold weather gear, and thankfully, great working heated hand grips.


Prior to the ride, we walked across the parking lot to the restaurant. We planned on breakfast, but got the thrill of a lifetime when we arrived. The highlight of the entire 14 days of the trip was getting to meet Teddy Draper, a Navajo code talker. We were honored that he allowed us to eat breakfast with him and talked to us for 1 ½ hours about his fellow Marines and code talkers. Sgt. Draper told us about his Marine Corp induction, his experiences in boot camp and then about his training to be a code talker. During this training these Indian men were sequestered in a barracks with a chow hall off to one end and were not allowed to wander outside at all. “The entire base was off limits to us Indian boys” Sgt Draper told us. “It’s very hard on an Indian to hole him up for an entire month and not even let him go outside.” We found that he served bravely and was wounded in battle on Iwo Jima. Most of his platoon was killed just trying to get across the beach. Teddy made it to safety only to find that some of the necessary accessories for the switchboard were missing. His Sergeant ordered him to go back to the beach for the supplies. He stripped to his skivvies and boots, and with only his rifle and helmet for protection, ran back to the beach for the straps. On the way back he had to hide behind the dead Marines on the beach to protect himself from the hailstorm of bullets. He told us that he thought he had literally died and that this was Hell. After being hit in the face by an exploding Japanese hand grenade, he was discharged from the Corps. He was told to never tell anyone what he did. Later when he applied for Veterans benefits, he was told there was no record of him serving in battle. It took Teddy Draper, an American war hero, 60 years to get acknowledgement of his valiant service and to receive his veteran benefits so he could receive medical attention to his badly damaged face and sinuses. I probably will never again meet someone as interesting as Teddy, and we all owe him, and all the other WWII vets, a great debt.


We finally got on our bikes and rode up US 191 to the town of Many Farms. There, we picked up a Navajo highway, and I can’t remember its designation, but it took us across the Black Mesa, through the small, quaint town of Chilchinbito, then on north to Keyenta. Even though I didn’t remember the number of this highway, the scenery was spectacular and the road was better than anything else we rode in Arizona. From Keyenta, we rode north on US 163 through Monument Valley and the Utah state line. From here, we backtracked back through the Monument Valley, but the opposite direction made the view just as good.


After dinner in Keyenta, US 160 led us west through Tuba City and over to AZ 64 which we followed to the Grand Canyon National Park. After viewing the spectacular sights the Grand Canyon offers, we rode down AZ 64 south into Williams, Arizona.


We arrived in Williams, again at sunset, and even though we only logged just a little over 300 miles this day, our minds were full of the beauty that nature offers to those who ride the back roads, and the spellbinding stories of a true war hero told only to those who will stop long enough to listen.


Day 6: September 22


This is the day we planned the trip for; a day on Route 66 from just west of Williams to Kingman, Arizona. In 1964, our parents took us kids on vacation in their ‘64 Pontiac Bonneville down the length of Route 66. While I was a young shaver and didn’t remember a lot of that trip, I did remember enough to make it emotional. My older sister and brother remembered a great deal more. The pit stop in Seligman was anticlimactic due to the rush of three tour bus loads of souvenir snatchers. Once we returned to the road, we lumbered along at a slow 50 to 55 mph just so we would have time to take in the sights and let our minds race back to 1964. I think a time or two, I could hear that 400 cubic inch Pontiac engine roar and I think I smelled a faint scent of Brylcreme wafting from my dad’s hair. He is gone now, but on that day he was right beside of me.


One of the unexpected surprises on this trip was the section of Route 66 from Kingman over to Oatman, Arizona. The road is very twisty and has enough elevation changes to make it most interesting, especially when loaded heavily and riding two up. Oatman, was another tourist trap, but it was amusing to see the wild burros roaming uncontained through the streets and sidewalks. As we passed through, we witnessed a wild burro commandeering a frantic mother and her children in a stroller. We pulled up and stopped long enough to distract the burros to let the harried woman make a getaway. From Oatman, we rode on down to I-40 and took US 95 north to NV 163 into Laughlin, Nevada.


Ramada Express Hotel and Casino in Laughlin, tried their best to ruin our trip. At check in, we told them we had 5 adults and they charged us for a room with two beds and a roll away. At midnight, the cot still hadn’t arrived. The front desk said they would send one right up. When the bellhop came to our room, he told us that we could not have one due to fire codes. The front desk manager wasn’t about to do anything to make it right, either. She invited us to leave if we weren’t happy. At midnight, we weren’t about to saddle up and ride to another town in search of another hotel, so we paid over $100 for me to sleep on the floor. The losers wouldn’t even bring me an extra pillow and blanket. I would not stay there again for any reason. I advise you to do the same. All the management could do was to say that they were “sorry”. And indeed they were.


Day 7: September 23


After a perfectly crappy night in the Ramada, I was more than ready to leave Laughlin. We backtracked down US 95 to old Route 66 again and passed through Goffs, California, and rode over to Amboy, California. We went to Amboy because we heard it was being revitalized. When we got there, the only thing up and running was the cute little Post Office. There was one man in town in charge of seeing it put back on the map, and even though they had a pretty good start, they have a long way to go.


Heading back east out of Amboy, we followed an unmarked road north up through Kelso and into Baker, where, after a fuel stop, we picked up CA 127 into the southern end of Death Valley. The south end of Death Valley was spectacular and all the rain we endured earlier had cooled the temperature down to only 95 degrees.


Just past Furnace Creek, we turned east on NV 374 and rode into Beatty, Nevada, at dusk. We found the Phoenix motel, a bit rustic and one block off the beaten path, but they offered us a room and a sleeping mat for under $40 with the biker rate. They welcome us all there and were very helpful and courteous. If you’re in Beatty, look up Joe, Carrie Moog, and Gypsy, the ever vigilant guard retriever, and tell them you read about them. Also, a special thanks to owner, Tal Leveritt for making bikers welcome and offering a sizable discount to us.


Day 8: September 24


Leaving Beatty, this sunny Sunday morning we headed back west into Death Valley for a tour of the northern portion. On the way we stopped in at Rhyolite to visit the infamous bottle house. Not much had changed since our visit in ’64 except that the bottle house had gotten a new roof. We noticed that the Rhyolite Mercantile was up for sale, but on closer examination, we found that it had to be removed from the site. So much for a second career in tourist scalping!


From Rhryolite, cruising out across the valley and just starting up the mountains east of Death Valley, my trusty old RT, “Artie”, turned over a milestone; 50,000 miles. I’m not positive, but I think I felt his Tupperware swell just a little with pride as he powered up those mountains. I’m sure this was just one of many more major milestones we will enjoy together.


While in the north end of Death Valley, we made the obligatory stop at Scotty’s castle. It was interesting, but I’m not sure I’d pay the fee to endure another tour like the one we had. The park ranger meant well, but her delivery wasn’t award winning. During our visit in ’64, I remember having to wear little paper shoes to protect the carpet and seeing the water run over the quartz rocks to keep the house cool. All of that is gone now, and I understand that things must change, but it did take away from the memories of long ago.


Riding east over to Scotty’s Junction, we picked up US 95 again and followed it to Las Vegas. Too tired to go to the strip, we crashed (metaphorically) in a Holliday Inn and rested for the next day’s ride. Another day with not a lot of miles logged, but a day full of beautiful scenery and precious memories.


Day 9: September 25.


After waking from the best night’s sleep of the whole trip, we ate our breakfast at the Holiday Inn and loaded our bikes for today’s journey. We thought it would be a short trip over to Hoover Dam, but we didn’t take into account the road construction induced traffic jams made all the more worse by the two fallen cranes at the construction site. After passing through the security checkpoint before the dam, it still took us over an hour to finally get across the dam. At least most of it was down hill and I shut off Artie’s engine and just coasted most of the way…mind you two or three yards at a time. This gave me an excellent chance to get somewhat used to the RT’s servoed brakes in the “manual” mode. While not what I’m used to, they are usable and this gave me more confidence in the braking system on my bike.


US 93 out of Boulder City led us down to Kingman again and then on down to Wickenburg, Arizona. On the way there, we stopped in the friendly little town of Wikieup, Arizona, for a picnic lunch and fuel. The winds of the previous week had subsided and we were treated to several days of calmer winds, although cooler temperatures.


With just barely over 200 miles on the odometer this day, we were now officially headed back for home.


Day 10: September 26.


Our goal for today was to make it through the Saguaro cactus fields and be within striking distance of White Sands, New Mexico by night fall. Riding US 60 down to Loop 303 got us around the Phoenix area with little fanfare where we picked up I-10 eastbound.


A fuel and ice cream stop in Picacho, Arizona, was a source of fun and souvenir hunting. What wasn’t fun was me dropping my AGV helmet, while suiting back up, and breaking my face shield. I don’t usually ride with my visor raised, and I certainly didn’t enjoy riding down the freeway with no visor at all. I told my brother that the first bike shop we passed, we would stop. We didn’t pass that shop until Tucson. We dropped into Performance Cycle Center, and even though they didn’t have a visor to fit my helmet, the helpful staff at the parts counter went the extra mile and called around Tucson until they found a visor for me. The new visor was waiting for me 5 miles away, through rush hour traffic, at Renaissance Motorcycles, a dealer in Tucson specializing in Italian bikes, scooters, and thankfully, AGV helmets.


With the new visor in place, and my wallet $50 lighter, I was ready to roll down the highway in comfort once more. Unfortunately, my boo boo cost us a two hour delay and Deming, New Mexico, was as far as we made it at nightfall..


Day11: September 27.


After a good breakfast, we were back on I-10 from Deming to Las Cruces. At Las Cruces, we picked up US 70 which provided us with yet another beautiful, scenic ride.


On up in the White Sands National Park, we were treated to a spectacular view. The weather was remarkably sunny, the temperature only in the mid 80s, and once again our minds filled with memories from 1964.


After a picnic lunch at White Sands, we continued along US 70 through Ruidoso into Roswell. The trip from Alamogordo to Roswell was spectacular as well. Riding along the Billy the Kid highway, it was easy to see why Billy was able to evade the law as long as he did. Hiding places abound in this part of the country. Climbing the mountain into Ruidoso also gave us a chance to see a lot of wildlife, including bear.


In Roswell, we left US 70 and picked up US 380 which we would ride for several hundred miles. By the time we reached Plains, Texas, we were ready to stop, but lack of lodging in this small town meant we’d have to move on. Brownfield was not too far off and once again we pulled into the edge of town just as the sun was setting; and in spectacular manner. My brother decided to stay at the first motel we came to, and as luck would have it, it was cheap…and so were the accommodations. After dining at the local Pizza Hut, we returned to the hotel to find the parking lot filled with both the Brownfield police cars in what looked like a filming of Cops. It was an uncomfortable night, but as a good friend of mine says of times like these, “at least you’re making memories”.


Day12: September, 28.


An early departure from Brownfield got us on the road while still cold, and windy. I suggested we wait until we got to Post, Texas, to eat breakfast at George’s restaurant. All were glad that we did. George’s was, as usual, very good. I don’t think any of us had to pay over $5.00 for breakfast and the food was great.


After breakfast and a fuel stop, we got back on the road and enjoyed a drop in wind and a rise in temperature. The rest of the day was just another one of those great days to be riding bikes. At Haskell, Texas, we jumped off US 380 onto US 277 to Wichita Falls. From there we took I-44, a toll road, into Oklahoma City.


Day 13: September 29.


Today started late for us. We rode I-40 in a strong crosswind to Conway, Arkansas. Here we took US 64 to near Bebee, and then US 67 north to where it dead ends into AR 367. At Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, we switched to US 412 and took that all the way to I-55 at Caruthersville, Missouri. I-55 then led us directly to Sikeston and our destination for the day, Lambert’s Café, home of the “throwed rolls.”


We didn’t make nearly the time we thought we would, so it looked unlikely we’d make Lambert’s before they closed at 9:00. Getting on I-55, we rode like we were on the Orient Express and made it to the restaurant with 10 minutes to spare. The good folks at Lambert’s took us in and made us feel right at home. The big advantage to arriving so late is that the great service was even better. We ate our meal, accompanied by several “throwed” rolls, tipped well, and spent the night just down the road at the Holiday Inn Express for our last night on the road.


Day 14: September 30.


Our party split up at the beginning of the ride today. My brother and his wife headed back to Ohio, while the rest of us rode I-55 south to US 412 through Dyersburg, Tennessee, on south to Jackson, where we picked up I-40 for the last leg to Maryville. No pictures on today’s ride, just a sense of get-there-itis and a good night’s sleep in our own beds again.


Post ride report.


After 5,555 miles I put the RT in the garage for a much deserved rest. Monday, I pulled Artie out of his berth and began the post ride clean up and checkup. The most notable item was the incredible amount of bugs! During the first three or four days of the trip, we really didn’t get too many insect hits, but they made up for it the last week! Clean up was a pain!


Mechanically, the reliable 1150 RT just honed its reputation all the more. I had changed the oil, one week prior to leaving, and made the decision to switch to Mobil1, 15W50. The week prior to leaving I logged 1200 miles doing Deal’s Gap and Cherohala plus a three day ride with one of my Harley buddies. In one month’s time I logged 6,755 miles on the RT and total oil consumption was ½ quart. Not bad at all, if you ask me.


The brand new Metzler 880 radials are flat spotted worse than anything I have ever experienced in the past. But, as I have reported, we rode in gale force winds for days on end. There is plenty of rubber, just not enough “round” rubber. Since getting back I have ridden the Dragon, aggressively at that, for two days and the tires are coming back to a reasonable shape.


Total squawks after 6,000 + miles? Innumerable dead bugs, ½ quart of Mobil1 oil, one blown MotoLite bulb, slight sand blast damage on the fairing and windscreen, and two saddle sores. When compared to the scenery we experienced, the stories told by local legends, and the memories that were made and refreshed, it turned out to be one heck of a trip!





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Enjoyed reading your tale; been on some of those roads and want to ride on the others.

Try doing your pictures as attachments. I've also experienced trouble with adding pictures but that one always seems to work OK.

See ya. Bill

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I tried to post a few pics, but I couldn't figger out how to make it happen. Sorry!

Hey, if I can figger it out, so can you. There are some recent posts in the Discussion Board Support that'll 'splain everthin'.

Don't be a schmuck like I was. grin.gif

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We crossed paths in Little Rock . . . my son and I rode into the storms on the evening of the 18th - downpours and lots of lightning . . . we were headed to Petite Jean for a night of camping but hid out in a motel instead. The 19th we rode in drizzle till noon, then into Oklahoma under clear skies. Went north across the panhandle to NM and CO . . . great weather, but lots of wind. 1150 ran great - this was my first long ride in quality, padded, bicycling shorts . . . best $70.00 I've spent on motorcycling this year - HIGHLY recommended.

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We crossed paths in Little Rock . . . my son and I rode into the storms on the evening of the 18th - downpours and lots of lightning . . . we were headed to Petite Jean for a night of camping but hid out in a motel instead. The 19th we rode in drizzle till noon, then into Oklahoma under clear skies. Went north across the panhandle to NM and CO . . . great weather, but lots of wind. 1150 ran great - this was my first long ride in quality, padded, bicycling shorts . . . best $70.00 I've spent on motorcycling this year - HIGHLY recommended.


That wasn't you pulling the trailer with the blue RT was it?? And I sure wish I had the bike shorts. Of all five riders on that trip, I was the one with the sore bum. I did 900 miles in one day last year coming home from New Mexico, but for some reason, when I ride two up, I get a serious case of ichial calousities.

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