Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Day 97 to 98 – to Flagstaff, USA

26 to 27 June    Kms travelled – 24,590

Having been made to feel at home in Phoenix I was refreshed and readied for the continued journey north, which started with a pre-rush hour dash across - or what felt more like, above - the city before quickly hitting desert landscape once again.  So often had desert featured during this journey.  But as that aspect of the countryside would soon come to an end (I only had a few more days of the dusty stuff to go) this latest version of a desert vista again threw up something different – this time in terms of the plant life.  

The most impressive saguaro cacti soon littered the views on both sides of the road and I started to feel as if we were entering some sort of giant movie theme park.  Then came the Joshua Tree forest – both weird and wonderful in equal proportions.  Such views seemed so familiar from years of Hollywood productions, but when seen in the flesh so to speak, you should not underestimate the wonder and impact you feel.  I am really here – and I still feel like a kid watching Saturday morning cowboy flicks!  But enough of me wittering on about the scenery, the roads were starting to offer a similar measure of stimulation as I headed off the 93 and over the asphalt rollercoaster that is the 97 around Millar Mountain to Bagdad.  I needed only about 100 metres of this wonderfully (though relatively) slow riding route to realise why it is so loved by the local two wheeled community.  And I was heading to Bagdad – home to a famous old school American diner for a beast of a late breakfast.  Cool!   And cool in both senses, as we were quickly heading up into the hills with a considerably more comfortable ambient temperature, the day looked good.  And it only got better!

Sitting down into the red vinyl seats I ordered coffee and the breakfast special from the lovely inked ladies keeping house at this spotless establishment.  What came was the most wonderful feast of boiled ham off the bone, eggs, hash browns, biscuit and country gravy (a white sauce with black pepper) – with refill after refill of good fresh coffee.  

I was stuffed, but it was probably the best first meal of the day I have ever eaten – at least in memory, and I won´t be forgetting this one in a hurry.  If you´re ever in the area, get yourself to Bagdad – glory in the roads and refuel at the diner – easy to find, you won´t miss it...  until you leave!
My map had indicated that I needed to return back down towards Phoenix before turning off towards Prescott, my destination for the day.  But that was not the case.  On the ground I was happy to find that there is another road (96) that cuts across the mountains, through Skull Valley (what a great name) and towards Prescott.  And as “on the ground” was where I was, I decided to take advantage of the short cut.  And away we rode stopping for a refresher at a roadside shop in Skull Valley and chatting to a couple of local bikers – who confirmed my plans for the next day would be an equally great ride. 

So it was only early afternoon when we rolled into Prescott and parked up on Whisky Row.  Being even higher up than Bagdad this was undoubtedly the first afternoon where I had sat outside without bursting into sweat since Panama!  And what a beautiful town.  Still retaining its old world charm, Prescott was clearly geared up for tourism.  But that didn´t interfere with the relaxed look and feel of the place as I spent a few hours wandering round the shops and bars that circle the court house square which dominates the centre, and chatting to a number of local characters.  
Dennis (one of the locals) and I spent an interesting hour swapping stories, and we also chatted to Jungle Jeff about the hard times he had led from Vietnam and onto the streets of the US.  Good people, and so was Clark White, the ABR I first met on Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and who had kindly agreed to put me up for the night now I was passing through his home town.  We, his lovely lady, and a mate went out for dinner and took in a beer at the Palace Hotel Saloon bar.  It was there where I learnt the story of the fire in days gone by which threatened to engulf the street, resulting in the Palace Hotel´s drinkers picking up the wooden bar and carrying it out to the steps of the courthouse – where they continued drinking until all had been rebuilt - .following which they carried the bar back in again where it stands to this day.  All I can say is that must have been some whiskey, as that is an impressive chunk of wood!

Clark´s mate was Matt, who happened to be the online editor for the Overland Journal publication, and I was invited the following morning to visit the Overland International offices.  Saying farewells to Clark for his most gracious hospitality, we rode out the short way the following morning to the home of overland travel in the US – where Idris pretty much stole the show having been talked into a photo shoot for the magazine (it is such a vain machine!).  It is a nice looking bike though and difficult to find in the Americas as Yamaha have yet to import the 660 Tenere into North America.  Thanks for the hospitality guys, your time, your coffee, and your advice on routes up through Canada and Alaska.

The route north from Prescott was turning into a must do, as quite a number of travellers and locals had already highlighted the way we should go this day.  Out of town and up into the hills was an auspicious start, and as we passed through the curious town of Jerome we caught a glimpse of how life must have been for the miners which worked the area in the past.  The views weren´t half bad either as it was winding back down through Old Cottonwood and some flat plains and towards an impressive red rock escarpment. 

The base of the rock wall which dominated the skyline was home to Sedona, another striking location with buildings constructed from the same red red rock which featured the local landscape.  So much so in fact you almost had to stop and look hard to see some of them as they blended into land.  But this small town was home to the start of a beautifully tree filled river gorge which wound its way up and through the escarpment, providing a great ride and even greater views.  I had noted that a number of motorbike tour companies include this area in their guided rides – and it is no wonder.

Climbing up onto the high plains, which were again littered with the greenery provided by forest after forest, we soon found ourselves coming to a halt for the day at Flagstaff.  The town was not quite as big as I was expecting, but it did sport a lovely old world town centre and plenty of accommodation, restaurants and bars.  That, combined with the seriously dark clouds now speeding their way across this big sky, was enough to convince me to settle in for the night with dreams of what the land of canyons would offer the next day.

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