Arizona is wildly different from top to bottom, and east to west. For those who haven’t spent much time exploring the Grand Canyon State, it seems easy to sum up Arizona with the iconic canyon and a desert with Saguaro cactuses, but there‘s so much more.
As the second leg of our motorcycle trip around North America, Jesse and I spent almost 2 weeks of November roaming around only 1/4 of the state. We went from cactus country to high mountain pine forest, grassy plains to volcanic mountains, bone dry desert to cottonwood river country, and from pleasantly warm to near freezing.
Starting in San Diego where we’d left the bike in a storage unit in September, we traced this 1,300 mile route across California into Arizona, to the Utah border through central Flagstaff & Phoenix to my Grandparent’s place near Quartzsite where we’d leave the bike again.
We spent the first night in Joshua Tree National Park. After a late departure from San Diego, we didn’t get to the park until the sun was setting. Although a desert sunset is stunning with purple mountains and a fiery gradient on the horizon, it gets cold fast. We set up camp in the dark and temperatures dipped into the low 40s.
From there we cruised up Route 66 towards the Grand Canyon! We went through Lake Havasu City, onto Route 66 at Topock to Oatman, Kingman, Peach Springs and Seligman, tracing one of the most important arteries in American Highway History that is, for the most part, now bypassed by freeways. Traveling it was like a pilgrimage, a tribute to this cross country road trip, to road travel, to our journey and journeys of days passed.
While the low elevations and southern parts of the state stay pleasantly warm year-round, the mountains and high country near the Utah border can get cold by November. On top of the seasonal chill, a cold snap hit us on our way to the Grand Canyon. This meant bundling up in all our layers for motorcycle riding, and motel rooms instead of camping like we’d planned!
We spent a night at the Maswik Lodge in Grand Canyon National Park, and explored much of the canyon’s South Rim near the Grand Canyon Village. We stopped at every viewpoint we could and hiked down part of the Bright Angel Trail.
Then it was up to the Utah border for the city of Page and two of the most amazing natural wonders we’ve seen yet: Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon. These water-carved sandstone marvels are some of the most photographed of Arizona’s features, but the fame is well deserved. Experiencing them in person was indescribable.
From the chilly northern edge of the state, we ventured back down through the forests and volcanic grasslands of the Flagstaff area into snowbird country. We saw Wapatuki National Monument and the Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, and I wore mittens over my riding gloves in the cold wind.
After so many chilly riding days, warm Sedona hills greeted us with brilliant sunsets and fiery fall foliage. We spent two days exploring the town and surrounding desert with a little help from a Jeep and Helicopter tour…
And from Sedona we got on some of the best motorcycle roads yet, winding through high dry hills and mining towns: Jerome, Prescott, down towards Wickenberg and the flat plans of the Sonoran Desert.
By the end of the trip, after seeing so much and trying to soak it all in on the run, a few days to pause and relax with my Grandparents in the familiar desert was pure bliss. We went through all our photos, told the stories of what we’d seen, explored the rocky hills on ATVs and packed up all our gear to leave for three months.
Stay tuned for more posts about the National Parks and trip specifics!