January 20, 2008 GMT
Gila, The Grand Canyon and Yuma

It is now mid October and I retrace a route parallel to the one taken on my arrival, I headed out to get west of the Pecos, (sounds like the start of a western novel,) and although I thought that I might like to make Hobbs, I decided that it was just not worth the effort, so settled for Seminole instead. You get a lot of time to think when the road stretches on as straight as a line across a billiard table. Time to think about family and friends, your past life, what might have been, what might be. Are they really missing you as much as you miss them in the quiet of the evening in a lonely motel room that looks like all the other motel rooms you’ve stayed in? If only Scottie was around to beam me home for an hour or two with a pint of good English Ale and a chat with those I love most! I have fantasies about jumping on a plane and just appearing at their front doors, but I know that this is just idle daydreaming and I will carry on regardless I expect, until my journey is done. This will become a recurring fantasy as I become less able to contact them by email in the days ahead, I just hope that the little amount of communication I get through will be spread abroad and that no one will feel slighted because they heard the news second hand! My computer is right at the bottom of my panniers to keep the bikes centre of gravity low and keep it secure. The trouble is I often leave the bike parked, still fully loaded, and just take a few personal hygiene product that I keep in my coat pocket into the motel with me. To take everything off just takes too long at the end of the day. That’s the reason my blogs are so out of date.
Fully loaded; my world sits on a BMW f650

Anyway the next day I carry on west, again passing through Carlsbad and through the Lincoln National Forest to Alamogordo and another motel, this time in Las Cruces, I hope I don’t run into Bill the caddy!
Next morning while heading out of Las Cruses I see a lone Beemer on the hard shoulder and stop to offer help. The problem is that his generator has packed up and although he has bought a new battery in Las Cruses, the wires he is using to connect it to the existing battery will not carry enough current to work the starter motor. He will either have to dismount the existing battery, or the quicker option will be to bump start him, it doesn’t take much current to keep the sparks coming so his jury rig should be ok. He is travelling from Chicago to see family for a few days. Two minutes later the RO80 is purring but I worry about how far he has to go. ‘Oh only to Lordsville, my wife is waiting for me in a motel there, and luckily she decide to travel in our pickup truck.’ I follow behind for a mile just in case before turning off to head north.

So heading north past the USAF missile testing range I eventually pull of onto a smaller country road with only small rural towns of a few dozen houses a single store, to arrive eventually at the ghost town of Lake Valley. Once there was a thriving town here with a Silver mine and a railway, but now there are just a few shacks and a railway station with no tracks. It reminds me of a Glen Ford film I saw once. The sign board says that this mine yielded the largest single piece of silver ever mined, but then the vein ran out and the town no longer had a reason to exist. Nowadays in nearby Silver City the ore is strip mined, with bulldozers reducing whole mountains to rubble that is taken for processing in giant trucks.
The ghost town of Valley Lake

The road soon climbed out of the desert and into the pine clad mountains, Silver City appeared with the aforesaid strip mines and I headed into the mountains to look for a place to camp. High up in the mountains I found a deserted campsite by a creek and negotiated the ford to find a good spot. This was almost an ideal spot, it’s only fault being that the sun only reached it for a short period in the afternoon, and at night the cold air from the mountain peaks flowed down into the valley, by the end of the night I was sleeping fully dressed with my balaclava on. I wish I could have left my tent set up and returned to it the next day, but with no one else around I could not guarantee that it would still be there when I got back. Having packed everything on the bike I once more negotiated the ford and headed towards the pueblo cliff dwellings.

Idyllic by day but damn cold at night.

It was hot by the time I reached the car park at Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park, o I shed my jacket, bought myself a water bottle and filled it for free at the tap by the bridge across the river that leads into the steep sided valley leading to the dwellings. The path follows a little brook trickling down amongst the pines, across small wooden bridges and around the last bend you get a glimpse of the caves on the opposite cliff face.
Gila Cliff Dwellings

Climbing up rough steps cut into the rock, I came onto a cliff ledge about 10 foot wide narrowing to about 4 foot in places, 100 feet above the little brook that trickled somewhere amongst the pine below.

Not for the nervous or uncertain of foot

Declining to join the guided tour just started, due to my urge to travel on, I explored these mezzo-american pueblos trying to visualize the little community that raised their crops, fished and hunted in this tiny hidden valley. They used the river as their highway, trading goods with other communities situated along the way. I wonder if it was as idyllic as it sounds?
Cliff Dwellings snuggle into cliff side caves.

I had an interesting talk with the Ranger who had stayed in the area of England that I had grown up in, then headed back down the road again.
I took a small detour to see the San Carlos Dam and could see the water level was low, reflecting the low rainfall this year that was causing hundreds of square miles of forest in California to burn.
Passing through Tonto National Forest, skirting Phoenix, I was heading for Flagstaff. I stopped for a break a little way off the main road, down a small minor road, and for some reason decided to follow it to the Interstate at Wynona. Probably because Wynona is one of the towns mentioned in the song ‘Route 66’. Anyway the track gradually got wore nd I nearly took a spill a couple of times. As I have bad knees I cannot stand up on the footpegs over rough ground, thus transferring my body weight lower down and making the bike more stable on gravel and sand. After about an hour I could seethe traffic moving on the Interstate and stopped with a sigh of relief for another short break before completing the last half mile. Please don’t fall off now.’ I prayed, but managed this last part with no trouble. Feeling rather pleased with myself I rode along the old Route 66 through Wynona and found a motel in Flagstaff.

A good bit of the track to Wynona

Now for the Grand Canyon, but before I got there we had to stop to let an air ambulance land on the road to attend to a car driver who for some reason had driven of the road and rolled his car several times. I remember him overtaking me on a bend at high speed earlier, perhaps he was drunk, it is a problem with the indigenous population unfortunately.
A short pause while the emergency services do their thing.

The Grand Canyon is a sight to see, and photos cannot portray adequately its size and grandeur. Not surprisingly it was quite busy, even in early November, I took lots of photos, but I guess everyone knows what the Grand Canyon looks like!

Me in front of somewhere or other

I needed a place to sleep and originally thought to camp, but the roads looked too difficult for me, so I continued on and found a motel on the main highway between Flagstaff and Page. The motel was in a small group of buildings, and looked quite nice with a dozen or so rooms grouped around a central garden. However these were all taken, and I had a room in the original motel just the other side of the gas station. These rooms were located in barrack style wooden buildings with about 30 rooms each. There were three blocks along three sides of the large car park. It could have been spooky that night, as I was the only occupant, but the thought just made me grin.
Plenty of room at this motel

I refuelled the next day in the neat little town of Page, shame about the chemical works in the background though, and headed west, north of the Grand Canyon, through spectacular scenery, to stop for the night at Hurricane. Unfortunately the road to the North Rim is closed in the winter so next day I began my way south, skirting Las Vegas, but stopping for a photo of the Hoover Dam and then continuing across the Mohave desert to Kingman.
The Hoover Dam

Before reaching Kingman my bike stuttered to stop a couple of times and I wondered if the fuel filter was blocked. After a few minutes wait everything was fine for about 20miles then it would happen again. I would try and figure this out in Yuma where there was more likely to be a motorcycle shop with parts I could use.
Route 66 still goes out from Kingman, and this was an important stop in both the Depression and the Dustbowl days of the USA for those seeking a better life in California. Route 66 winds up narrow mountain roads, and it is hard to think that these roads were once a main arterial route across the country. Following the mountains they then cross the desolate desert sands to Mohave Valley before heading west. I however have to travel south across more desert to Yuma. Before reaching Yuma there is the green oasis of Lake Havasu City with modern shopping plazas, hotels and lakeside vacation homes for the rich. Also here is London Bridge, removed stone by stone from the River Thames in London and rebuilt here. I think the owner thought he was buying Tower Bridge, the one that goes up and down, and not just a stone block bridge. Travelling on I reach Yuma and meet Bill and on his Suzuki at a gas station and ask if he knows where I might get my fuel filter checked. ‘Sure’, he says, ‘come round to my place, I’ve got loads of tools you can use.’ Once more the motorcycling brotherhood has come to my aid. Bill is a snowbird, wintering in Yuma before heading north again in the spring for his boatyard business on one of the lakes. Later I locate his house and meet the family over a beer. We check out the fuel flow and it looks ok, perhaps a little less on the ordinary setting than reserve, but possibly the external filter I have added is too low, causing the fuel not to reach the carburettor under some hot conditions. So I leave the setting on reserve and the problem is solved. Bill and his son offer to accompany me across the border into Mexico, but I did not realize that there were two Motel 6’s in Yuma, so perhaps they went to the wrong one. Whatever the reason, I offer heartfelt thanks for his hospitality to a fellow biker in need. And now into Mexico!
Bill and his new Suzuki

Next> South of the border, down Mexico way.

Posted by Derek Fairless at January 20, 2008 07:05 PM GMT

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