Highlights of my 2012 "Western Tour"


Santa Monica Mountains, CA

Whenever I visit my brother in LA, I make sure to spend one day riding in the Santa Monica Mountains. North out of LA on the 405, left on I-10, turn right when you see the Pacific on "PCH", or Cal 1, Pacific Coast Highway. Ride a dozen miles north to Malibu, turn right on any main road, and have the time of your life.

Some of the road names you've heard of: Mulholland, Topanga Canyon. But there are so many great roads up there that you can spend days riding around exploring the twisties up there. Piuma Road, Stunt Road, Sycamore Canyon Road, it just goes on and on. The famous "Rock Store" is a restaurant where the bikes hang out on weekends, but it's rarely open on weekdays, and also it's future is indeterminate, as the owner just died a few months ago. Meanwhile, there's another little restaurant, the "Rustic Canyon General Store and Grill" on Sierra Creek Road, not far from the Rock Store, and it's open reliably and has a decent menu.

The squiggly little roads rarely have much traffic. The straighter, wider roads are the commuter arteries, and they fill up at rush hour, but not so bad that you want to give up and sell the bike.

Riding home at the end of they day, PCH was clogged up with commuter traffic (though it was moving), but since lane splitting is legal in California, you can "filter" (as the Brits say) up to the front of the queue at traffic lights and then take off ahead of the pack, so you can make decent time, even at rush hour. Just remember to fold in your mirrors and leave the saddle bags at home.


San Pedro, CA to Gila Bend, AZ

To get from my brother's place in San Pedro (just south of LA) to my next stop in Sahuarita, Arizona, I plotted a course that tried to avoid interstate as much as possible. One 'must ride' is the "Ortega Highway", or CA 74. The western end is at San Juan Capistrano, which is just 30 minutes or so south on I-5 from San Pedro. The eastern end is the town of Lake Elsinore (famous for the racing scenes in "On Any Sunday", among other reasons). The Ortega Highway is a very entertaining ride, not super technical (you can make decent time on it) but way more fun than any interstate.

From Lake Elsinore, I headed south on I-15 til I got to "County Rd 16/Pala Road/Pala Temecula Road", which takes one to CA 76, called "Pala Mission Road" at that point. CA 76 isn't in the same class as the Ortega Highway, but still a good ride. If you have time (I didn't) you can take the "extra credit" loop on S7, the "Nate Harrison Grade", according to google maps, that takes you up to Mt Palomar (and down the other side). CA 76 runs into CA 79, which takes you into Julian, an historic old mining town, with restaurants, an ice cream parlor, places to stay of the B&B variety, and a gas station.

From Julian, I headed east on 78, which starts out being entertaining as Julian is in the mountains, but soon straightens out once 78 drops down to the flat desert. A few miles out of Julian, I turned right on the "Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849" (really!), which is mostly flat and straight except for a few interesting elevation changes and curves, and the (preserved/restored) Vallecito Stage Station. From there, the road becomes S2, and takes you to meet up with I-8 in Ocatillo, CA.

From there it was mostly boring interstate, until I stopped for the night in Gila Bend, AZ, at the "Space Age Lodge". The Space Age was built in the mid 60's with a "space" theme, and despite being sold and renovated by the new owners in the 90's, is still a unique *and* comfortable, modern, etc. motel. It has a "flying saucer" on the roof of the lobby, "space age" design details all over the place, and the attached restaurant has wonderful "space" murals on all the interior walls. Free WiFi, too. A good place to stay the night. http://www.bestwesternspaceagelodge.com/index.html


Southeast AZ loop day trip

I did a day trip in Arizona, from Sahuarita, where I was staying, west on AZ 86 to AZ 386 to Kitt Peak (just to climb the mountain).

Heading out on 86, at one point I caught a "flash" in the rear view mirror. I idly wondered what that was. Two weeks later, my son got a nice letter in the mail with a picture of somebody who could be me on a BMW, allegedly going 56 in a 45. Actual legal advice is to just forget it, as it's not a ticket (says so right on the letter) and Arizona isn't about to assign a detective to the case to find out who was "driving" the vehicle.

AZ 386 (the road up Kitt Peak) was fun except they had "recently" chip-sealed it, so there was a little stray gravel here and there.

From Kitt Peak, I rode back east a little to pick up AZ 286 and go south to the little village of Arivaca. The Gitane Cantina (Gypsy Cantina) was a nice little bar with decent hambergers, and surprisingly, free WiFi. After lunch and a fill-up at the Arivaca Mercantile, I continued east on the Arivaca Road over to I-19, but instead of taking I-19 back north to Saruarita, I was able to ride "South Nogales Road", which is pretty much frontage road all the way back to Sahuarita.

I carried a one gallon of gas on the luggage rack of the R80RT, and this enabled me to ride deep into the reserve on the BMW's gas tank, as I know I had 40 miles of extra capacity in the red can. I highly recommend this when out in the empty back country. That can represented real "peace of mind".


Mt Lemmon day trip

During my January, 2011 trip to NM and AZ with William, I had ridden to the top of Mt Lemmon in Tucson, but I really wanted to do it again when there wasn't snow on the ground and black ice lurking in every turn.

So one day I plotted a two-lane course from Sahuarita, AZ (which is about 25 miles south of Tucson) to Mt Lemmon, which is just north-east of Tucson. The trip to the base of the mountain is nothing to write home about, being mostly dead straight flat roads, but the mountain road itself is wonderful and long enough to make the trip worthwhile. Plus, there are a couple of restaurants at the top, so you can have lunch up there. At 9157 feet it's pretty high up for this sea-level dweller, and since Tucson is at 2389 feet, you get to ride up much of that 9157 feet climb. A good half-day out.

To finish the day, I visited the "ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center" in Sahuarita, AZ. This is a gift shop/exhibit and tour of one of the huge copper mines in Arizona. Worth a visit if you like seeing dump trucks the size of small office buildings, mile wide open pit mines, etc. Cost is a quite reasonable $6.


Sahuarita, AZ to Albuquerque, NM

Eventually it was time to leave Sahuarita, AZ and head back to Albuquerque, NM, to spend some time with son William and Kate who would be flying into ABQ in a few days. I plotted a mostly two-lane route from Sahuarita to Albuquerqe, but it's hard to avoid I-10 and I-40 in that area.

The highlight of this day's ride had to be "The Coronado Trail", which is now part of US 191, but a few years ago was called US 666. If you google it, the Coronado Trail has all kinds of reviews about how hairy it is, but honestly, the scariest part is that it's 75 miles without any services at all except for a few picnic tables and one or two restroom facilities.

The southern part of the Coronado Trail is the gnarley bit, it starts out in Clifton, AZ, and there's a huge copper mine there, you can probably see it from space. The road there is quite twisty and "technical" and you're unlikely to exceed 30mph for the first hour or so. But then, the further north you go, the less tight the curves become, until near the top it's all 50mph or better sweepers through pine (or burnt away) forest.

The scariest part of the Coronado Trail was a 10 mile section in the middle where AZ DOT had done their "tar snake" thing. Tar snakes are tar lines covering cracks in the roadway, and any motorcyclist who rides out where it gets really warm knows to watch for them, as when the tar is hot it gets "greasy". I'm fully aware of this, but I have *never* experienced anything like the loss of traction I experienced on this ride. The BMW was literally *all over the road*. I even stopped at one point to look down at the tires to make sure they had air in them, as a totally flat tire can feel like this.

I ended up creeping along at 10 to 15mph, aiming the BMW between the tar snakes as best I could, but sometimes I couldn't avoid riding on one, and then one end or the other would "step out" a few inches and scare the crap out of me.

I found a post on the IBMWR list by somebody who had the same experience just recently, and who sent a message to AZ DOT complaining about it. Inspired, I sent them a message, too. We'll see if they reply; they promise a response in a few days.

I thought the whole ride would take me two days, but when I arrived in Alpine, AZ, at the "top" of the Coronado Trail, my planned stop for the night, at 1PM, I decided I'd ride the rest of the way the same day. I'd left uncharacteristically early at 7:30, so I had a lot of daylight to ride in. The rest of the trip to Albuquerque was "good" or "ok", depending on if I was on two lane roads or I-40. I ended up spending 10 1/2 hours on the road, probably a personal record. Not that many miles (600-ish?) but a lot for me.


Sandia Peak day trip(s)

Albuquerque is around 5000 feet above sea level, which is one reason that the climate is so reasonable (i.e. 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix). But Sandia Peak towers over Albuquerque, at 10678 ft, and it has both a lovely road that ascends it, as well as a cable car (the locals call it a tram). The road is another great motorcycle road, if you like twisties, and there is a restaurant at the top, though to get to it from the parking lot at the top of the road you have to negotiate a 1.8 mile trail through the woods, over to where the tram terminal meets the restaurant.

The tram is a nice, though spendy ($20) ride, with great views of Sandia Peak above you and Albuquerque below you. It's worth having lunch at the restaurant at the top as long as you've come all this way; prices were not as expensive as they could have been. There are various hiking trails radiating out from the restaurant/tram area, but at 10000 feet, we sea-level dwellers (Kate and I) weren't feeling all that much like a vigorous hike. You really *can* feel the altitude if you try to exert yourself.


BMW Wrap up

The stock seat on the R80RT was "ok" in that I survived the trip, but really, it was only good for about 3 hours before I started to squirm about. The bike itself was great, getting between 35 and 55 miles per gallon (realistically, 40mpg was what I came to expect).

A special thanks to Mike Kowal for the (phone) tech support he gave me during the entire 5 week odyssey.

Mark's race car
Moto Guzzi Classics (Mark's shop)
Mark's race car
Vallecito Stage Station, California
Vallecito Stage Station, California
Lobby of the Space Age Lodge, Gila Bend, AZ
The Space Age Lodge, Gila Bend, AZ
Mural inside the Space Age Restaurant, Gila Bend, AZ
Desert flowers in George and Eileen's garden, AZ
Eileen in her garden
Javelina in Todd's back yard, Sahuarita, AZ
Javelina in Todd's back yard, Sahuarita, AZ
Javelina in Todd's back yard, Sahuarita, AZ
Javelina in Todd's back yard, Sahuarita, AZ
Javelina in Todd's back yard, Sahuarita, AZ
Javelina in G&E's back yard, Sahuarita, AZ
Sahuarita copper mines as seen from Adam's airplane
Sahuarita copper mines as seen from Adam's airplane
bad telephoto shot of Ryan Airfield
beginning of annular eclipse
Bill and George's enormous telescope
eclipse (note sunspots)
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse
Eileen
eclipse
eclipse
eclipse at sunset
Titan missile in silo at the museum
Titan missile museum tour guide in control room
Titan missile museum tour guide in control room
Titan missile in silo at the museum
Titan missile in silo at the museum
Titan missile silo
bad pic of Bill with Wyatt and Doc Holliday statues, Tucson train station
gila monster at G & E's front door
gila monster at G & E's front door
view from top of Mt Lemmon, Tucson, AZ
copper mine, Sahuarita, AZ
copper mine, Sahuarita, AZ
copper mine, Sahuarita, AZ
Bill with truck tire, Sahuarita copper mine
Lensic Theatre, Santa Fe, NM
view from top of Sandia Peak, Albuquerque, NM
view from top of Sandia Peak, Albuquerque, NM
view from Sandia Tram (cable) car
view from Sandia Peak hiking trail
Sandia Peak Tram car
view from Sandia Peak Tram car
view from Sandia Peak Tram car
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