Praising Arizona: Riding the Grand Canyon State
The great state of Arizona—which combines endless vistas of scenery beyond description with incredible riding opportunities has always been a favorite of mine. As luck would have it, Harley-Davidson and Best Western International hotels invited American Rider on a multi-journalist press junket in Arizona to kick off a new joint marketing venture between the companies and sample some of the possible rides and lodging available through their recently introduced Gold Crown Club International Ride Rewards Program (see sidebar). What better way to reacquaint myself and my traveling companion, Cathi, with the grandeur of the Grand Canyon state than on the saddle of a Harley!
The three-day adventure started and ended in the state’s largest city, Phoenix. After flying in, we stayed the first night at the Best Western Tempe by the Mall (yes, that’s its actual name, guess where it is). This newly renovated hotel with casual Southwestern ambience offers well-appointed rooms with free high-speed Internet access, cable TV, microwave, refrigerator, and a deluxe continental breakfast. There’s also an outdoor heated pool, a hot tub, and exercise facilities.
We went to dinner that night at the Four Peaks Brewing Company in Tempe.
Four Peaks is the largest brewery in Arizona, producing 10,000 barrels annually, and their brew pub is a great place to hang out, relax, imbibe, people watch, and enjoy a tasty meal.
Early the next morning we went to the huge new 45,717-square-foot Buddy Stubbs Arizona Harley-Davidson dealership to pick up the rental bikes and get geared up for the ride. The bikes were in pristine condition and the professional and efficient staff provided an extensive safety briefing before our send-off. Rental prices vary according to model, from $125 to $149 per day. The three-day special rate for the Heritage Softail we chose was $330, plus optional insurance.
Buddy Stubbs’ 3,000-plus-square-foot motorcycle museum—which is considered to be the Southwest’s premier collection—is housed within the Tempe Harley-Davidson dealership. With more than 100 rare machines from 1903 through the present and over 30 different motorcycle brands represented, this museum is a must-see. Make plans to visit this collection, open at 6:00 PM every Friday and 12:30 PM on the last Saturday of the month.
After final preparations, we merged into traffic and got underway. Once outside the hustle and bustle of Phoenix, the open road brought a sigh of relief as we rolled the throttles on. Our tour route took us north on State Highway 87 past 7,128-foot Mount Ord toward Payson. As we slowly ascended, telephone-pole-sized saguaro began to be replaced by ponderosa pines. We refueled and took a quick break in Payson, a town of 14,000 nestled a mile high on the Mogollon Rim (a 200-mile-long plateau between the Mazatzal and Sierra Ancha mountain ranges).
Continuing north toward 7,000-foot-high Flagstaff, the elevation steadily rose and the temperature dropped, a welcomed reprieve from the triple-digit heat in Phoenix. About 10 miles north of Payson is the Tonto Natural Bridge state park with a lovely waterfall. Plan at least an hour to enjoy it.
Beyond Tonto Natural Bridge, you’ll roll through quaint villages with names like Pine, Strawberry, Long Valley, and Dairy Springs, before arriving in Flagstaff. We had lunch at Charly’s in the old part of town. Resplendent with antiques galore and cozy fireplaces, this charming restaurant in a historic hotel near the train station features everything from great burgers and sandwiches to salads, steaks and Southwestern fare.
After our hearty lunch, we topped off the gas tank and headed out for the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Following State Highway 180 north, the trip should take about two hours with no stops. The first part of the ride skirts around the tallest mountain in the state, Humphrey’s Peak, at 12,633 feet, and also passes the Arizona Snowbowl ski area. This is the highest portion of the ride, so plan accordingly for cool weather year-round and plenty of snow and ice in winter. About 50 miles from Flagstaff, Highway 180 merges into Route 64. Take that northbound route following signs for the Grand Canyon. It’s a straight shot from there to where we stayed for the night, the Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn. We checked in, dropped off our gear and rode into the park to see the Canyon in late afternoon light.
Sunrise and sunset are by far the most dramatic times to see the Grand Canyon. Make sure to set aside time to do this and bring a good camera. Admission to the Grand Canyon National Park on a motorcycle costs $12 per person and is good for a week at both North and South Rims. The South Rim road only offers a few overlooks, so plan time to be at nearby Hermit’s Rest, or Desert View Point, which is roughly 25 miles from the entrance toll booth.
The Best Western Grand Canyon Squire Inn is a three-diamond AAA-rated hotel with 250 rooms including traditional, deluxe and suite accommodations. There’s a pool, spa, salon and restaurant. We dined in the Coronado Room on site with an excellent selection of cuisine.
After breakfast the next morning, we took a one-hour flight over the canyon on Grand Canyon Airways in a Twin Otter Vistaliner turboprop that was perfectly suited to the role of sightseeing. Early morning is a great time to go, when the light is dramatic and the sun hasn’t had a chance to develop thermal updrafts that cause turbulence. Cost is $119 per person, and well worth it as this was one of the highlights of our trip. The plane flies over areas of the canyon that you can’t see from the rim and the view from the air is spectacular. Bring a camera!
Leaving the Grand Canyon, we aimed our Harley’s headlight south on Highway 64 to Williams. Along the way we stopped at the Planes of Fame Museum in Valle-Williams, Arizona, which currently has nearly three dozen warbirds and other classic aircrafts on display along with a selection of vintage automobiles.
From Valle-Williams we headed east briefly continuing toward Flagstaff before traveling south on Highway 89A to Sedona via Oak Creek Canyon. The Grand Canyon is 140 miles and at least three hours of travel time from Sedona. Rand-McNally named Highway 89A’s circuitous and panoramic path through Oak Creek Canyon one of the most beautiful drives in America.
Sedona is the center of the fabulous red-rock country, with its ancient sandstone hoodoos and spires standing sentinel over the timeless mountains which surround this hideaway resort town. Right after our arrival, we had a tasty lunch on the back porch of the Hideaway Restaurant and Lounge, overlooking the hills that are so much a part of Sedona.
For a pleasant afternoon diversion, we took a Pink Jeep tour into the back country for a close-up look at Sedona’s fabulous scenery. There are several tours available. We went on the Broken Arrow, which lasts about two hours and costs $75 per person. Bring a camera, sunscreen and a hat. Expect great scenery and plenty of bumps.
That evening we dined at Savannah Prime Dining, seated outdoors under the stars in a charming garden setting. Entrées include beautifully prepared steak, seafood, chicken, pasta and vegetable dishes. Pricey, but very good; reservations are suggested.
For our last night in Arizona we stayed at the Best Western Arroyo Roble Hotel, which definitely was the nicest accommodation on our trip. The plush room had its own hot tub and a commanding view of the red rocks. A short walk down to the tree-lined creek was a refreshing respite from the desert heat and a pleasant surprise.
On our last day, enroute to Phoenix on State Highway 89A, we stopped at the quaint old mining town of Jerome, which was founded in 1876 and lies 20 miles southwest of Sedona. Located high on top of Cleopatra Hill at 5,200 feet, this former copper-mining town was once known as the wickedest town in the west. In its heyday during the 1920s, Jerome was the fourth-largest city in the Arizona Territory, with a population of 15,000. After the Phelps Dodge copper mine closed in 1953, Jerome became a ghost town until 1967 when it was designated a National Historic District. Today Jerome stands as a tourist magnet and artist community with a population of about 450. A number of the buildings have been restored and more are planned for restoration. Be sure to check out the Jerome Historical Society Mine Museum on Main Street with its historical photographs, equipment and ore samples.
The former Douglas Mansion, designed by James “Rawhide Jimmy” Douglas, is another recommended stop down the hill from the center of town. Equipped with a wine cellar, a billiard room, and steam heat, it’s now a museum that exhibits photographs, artifacts, minerals and videos. Be sure to check out the 3-D model of the underground tunnels hidden below the town. Don’t miss the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town, a mile north of Jerome. When the Haynes Copper Company dug a 1,200-foot-deep shaft in search of copper, the miners hit gold instead. The site is now a museum where visitors can walk in an authentic mine shaft with antique mining equipment, see a turn-of-the-century sawmill, a circa-1901 blacksmith shop, and the world’s largest gas engines.
Our next stop was Wickenburg, a town of 6,000 named after Henry Wickenburg, an Austrian whose quest for gold led to the discovery of the Vulture Mine where $30 million in gold has been unearthed. Just 60 miles northwest of Phoenix in the northern reaches of the Sonoran Desert, Wickenburg’s Frontier Street is lined with buildings dating back to the early 1900s, including the old Santa Fe Depot. A few of the Western-theme attractions here are the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, Robson’s Arizona Mining World, and the Vulture Mine.
Before finalizing our trip back at Buddy Stubbs’ Harley dealership in Phoenix, we stopped by the Chaparral ice-cream parlor in Wickenburg for some cold mid-afternoon refreshments. What a perfect way to add dessert to our desert trip.
Recently, Best Western International announced the launch of Gold Crown Club International Ride Rewards, a free specially themed frequent-guest program for Harley-Davidson enthusiasts. The rewards program allows Best Western, the world’s largest hotel chain, and Harley-Davidson to offer travel benefits to Harley enthusiasts.
Any Harley-Davidson owner or enthusiast can register for the program by going to www.goldcrownclub.com/h-driderewards. Once registered as a Gold Crown Club Ride Rewards member, you can earn 10 points for every dollar spent on room rates, or 250 airline miles per stay at any of the 4,200 Best Western hotels in 80 countries. Ride Rewards members can redeem points toward product and service awards, including free room nights, merchandise, dining, shopping, and entertainment gift certificates.
Currently, Best Western also serves as a preferred hotel chain for Harley-Davidson’s Great Roads program, found at www.harley-davidson.com/experience. Using Microsoft Virtual Earth technology, with your guidance, the application maps out a variety of picturesque roads throughout the United States and shows Best Western hotels and Harley-Davidson dealerships along the way. A 10 percent discount is also available by booking Best Western reservations through the Harley-Davidson Experience website, or by calling 1-888-224-BIKE (2453).
By joining Best Western’s Gold Crown Club International Ride Rewards loyalty program online, Harley-Davidson enthusiasts will automatically receive Gold Elite status, which includes 10 percent bonus points on every Best Western stay and the ability to purchase points for award redemption. For more information on Ride Rewards and other features of the Best Western/Harley-Davidson partnership, visit www.bestwestern.com or www.harley-davidson.com/experience. For more information.