Nov 242013
 

Steak, big fat juicy steak, cooked to perfection at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo was the promise and reward for full day’s journey.

On September 1st, 2013 we left Gallup, New Mexico riding across most of the state to arrive at Amarillo, Texas.   Wherever possible, we traveled along Route 66, which parallels I-40.  We clocked over 430 miles (692 km) upon our arrival in Amarillo just after dusk.

Riding through New Mexico is a treat, it is a landscape of vibrant colors, azure blue skies, endless mountains, cliffs, canyons and buttes.  For most of the journey, we were actually riding through Indian reservations in towns such as Thoreau, Grants and Laguna.  These are quiet little towns still locked in a way of life that vanished from mainstream America decades ago.  The family run business is still king and mega malls are conspicuously absent.

State Highway 122, Continental Divide, New Mexico

State Highway 122, Continental Divide, New Mexico

We made a brief stop at the Continental Divide Navajo Trading Post at an elevation 7,275 ft.  The actual continental divide runs some 700 miles north and south through the Americas.  It is a geographical line that determines whether rainfall drains into the Atlantic or Pacific oceans.  Rain that falls west of the divide, drains into the Pacific and rain that falls east of it drains into the Atlantic.

State Highway 122, Continental Divide, New Mexico

State Highway 122, Continental Divide, New Mexico

Compared to chillier days in Northern Arizona, we were sweating buckets in New Mexico.  As we rode through New Laguna, the temperature was at least 115F (46C) and the mid-day sun had baked the roads to even higher temperatures.  Frankly, I do not mind this dry heat, since it is the cold which I can’t stand.  A ride through the hot desert allows one to enjoy a certain freedom unencumbered by heavy leather jackets, vests or chaps.

Our afternoon ride through a virtual pizza oven was about to end as we approached Albuquerque.  Once again, the monsoon clouds were forming and it was rain ahead.  Nature was playing out like a broken record with its needle stuck in the rain track.   It was only a matter of time before we would have to dawn rain suits and deal with another torrential downpour.

Monsoon, East of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Approaching Monsoon, East of Albuquerque, New Mexico

A massive rainstorm found its mark just east of Albuquerque.  True to desert form, the rain does not phase in gradually, rather it is like a curtain of water with an “instant on” switch.  Elaine and I pulled over to the nearest gas station, put on our rain suits and made our way back to the Interstate for a cautious ride with poor visibility.  It took a few short minutes before the 100F weather dropped at least 25 degrees.

Once we got near Tucumcari the weather eased off, the sun was shining and the temperature climbed back to a very comfy 100F.   This great weather would last all the way to Amarillo.  We arrived an hour or so after dark and it was sweet.  An evening ride in a dry 100F heat is a great experience, not too hot, not too cold, just right.

We arrived at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo around 7:30 pm.  Over a decade of yearning to try out Route 66’s most famous steakhouse was finally satiated.  Yes, it’s everything I could have imagined and more.  This place serves up roadside culture and kitsch in Texan sized portions.  This place is even larger than I imagined, it is the size of a commerical aircraft hanger.

Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Standing Guard at Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Big Texan Steak Ranch, Amarillo, Texas

Since the 1960’s, the Big Texan’s most effective roadside billboards repeated the mantra of a free steak dinner.  They promise patrons a free 72 ounce steak, provided it is eaten in 60 minutes or less along with the side dishes.  Many have tried, few succeed and I knew I was not up to the challenge.  A 12 ounce steak is my limit and mine was delicious.  I can highly recommend this place to any steak lover and Route 66 traveler.

 

 

Nov 172013
 

What can one say about Monument Valley?  Two words leap to mind: Western Movies.   Legendary productions such as Stagecoach (1939), My Darling Clementine (1946), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), How The West Was Won (1962), National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983) and a personal favourite, Easy Rider (1968), were all filmed against the iconic backdrop of Monument Valley.  Needless to say, I was looking forward to finally seeing seeing it.  Shame on me for waiting so many years.

We got an early start start, ate a decent breakfast, by “continental” standards at our hotel.  There were other bikers who had stayed overnight in Page and we met a few at breakfast.  We sat down with two old time bikers from Topeka, Kansas and exchanged stories about the rotten weather.  As it turns out, they happened to be musicians from a new defunct rock band.  Normally this would not be so interesting, except that back in the late 1970’s, they were the opening act for two of Canada’s best musical exports: Rush and The Guess Who.  I was eager to learn about the band members and see if there were any good yarns to be told.  True to form, Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson and Neil Peart of Rush are pretty low key guys who would return back to their hotels and settle down with some good books.  On the other hand, Burton Cummings of the Guess Who was fond of women, at least two at a time and certain controlled substances.

The skies were finally starting to clear, and we enjoyed a beautiful ride to Monument Valley.  Just outside of Page we stopped to take a few photos to show the road ahead and the coal fired power plant.

Salt River Project-Navajo Generating Station

Salt River Project-Navajo Generating Station, Page, Arizona 

Highway 89.  The Road Ahead to Monument Valley

Highway 89. The Road Ahead to Monument Valley

We arrived at Monument Valley around 10:30 AM.  The so-called “Mittens” of the valley were already visible and we were surrounded by the iconic scenery of the aforementioned western movies.  I was really excited to get right into the park and get a good look at all the rock formations.

Oljato-Monument Valley, Arizona

Oljato-Monument Valley, Arizona 

Oljato-Monument Valley, Arizona

Oljato-Monument Valley, Arizona

We grabbed a quick lunch at the world famous Goulding’s facility which incorporates a lodge, RV park, gift shop and restaurant.   After refueling ourselves and the Harley, we made our way to the gated entrance.  Surely, this held the promise of being an incredible ride that would reward us with great vistas and photos.  Unfortunately, days of torrential rains had reduced the roads to mud and slurry, which meant motorcycles were turned away since the park officials deemed the roads unsafe.  Only cars and and SUV’s were being let in.  It was our fate to explore only the periphery of Monument Valley.

After an brief tour around the rim, at least the parts open to motorcycles, it was time to make the long ride to Gallup, New Mexico.  We rode south from Utah, then through Arizona towards Interstate 40 near the New Mexico border.   The lion’s share of this ride would be along highway 191, which takes you through a number of Indian Reservations and very close to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.   I last visited Canyon de Chelly in 2003 and it is stunning.  It requires at least a full day to see it and must be navigated by an off road vehicle with a Navajo guide.

One fly in the ointment on our way back to Gallup was the sheer number of  beggars on the Indian reservations.  Every stop for gas or water mean we were swarmed by drunks, each with their own bullshit sob story and outstretched hand for money.  The only guy I gave a few dollars to was the honest one who said, “I’m a drunk and will just use your money to buy another drink”.  I tossed him three bucks for his honesty and my chuckle at his candor.

Upon arriving at the Arizona/New Mexico border, we stopped at the famous Chief Yellow Horse trading post.  Elaine bought some jewellery and I got a few cigars as well as a Navajo bracelet.  This stuff is the real deal and much cheaper than being gouged at some fancy Scottsdale store.

We arrived in Gallup just as the sun was setting, checked in to the motel, unloaded the bike and cruised the streets looking for a good dinner spot.  We settled on a really good Mexican restaurant on Route 66.  After dinner, I lit up a cigar, took a walk and was again annoyed by drunken beggars.  “No” is a powerful word and it made them go away.  Gallup has really declined in the last decade and it is sad to see it struggling and crumbling away.  The root cause of this misery is a Casino just outside of town that has negatively impacted the family run businesses.

Route 66 at Night.  Gallup, New Mexico

Route 66 at Night. Gallup, New Mexico

It was a long day of riding, and we were both bagged.  It was worth it though just to see Monument Valley, even at a distance.

 

Nov 032013
 

On August 30th, it was time to get back on the road and head north to Page and Monument Valley.  We spent four great days with Ray and Tammy Huston at their home in Sun City.  I cannot thank them enough for their friendship and hospitality and we are looking forward to seeing them again.  Tammy made us a tasty breakfast, then it was time to say our goodbyes and make the long trek north to Page, Arizona.

Elaine, Tammy, Ray and Max

Elaine, Tammy, Ray and Max

The goal was to arrive in Page by mid-afternoon and then make a quick visit to Monument Valley.

Heading North on Highway 89, Arizona

Heading North on Highway 89, Arizona

Once we were about 45 minutes north of Flagstaff, all that was about to change.  The monsoons come in hard and fast, they tend to be somewhat localized and we were about to ride into one.  I stopped briefly to take some photos and was lucky enough to record a lightning strike.

State Highway 98, Kaibito, Arizona

State Highway 98, Kaibito, Arizona

Once again, bad weather thwarted our plans.  The previous day’s monsoons caused a section of Highway 89 to collapse it was closed off to all traffic.  A long and circuitous detour was required along Hwy168 east and then north on Hwy 89 right into Page.  The detour cost us a few hours and Monument Valley would have to wait until the following day.

The remainder of the day was a wet one.  At times the rain become so intense, I had to pull over and wait it out.  Visibility was nearly zero since the sheer wall of rain was driven by strong winds and motorcycle helmets do not have windshield wipers.  Once the rain let up a bit, we rode north and I took the following photo near Kaiboto.  The most intense areas of rain fall show up as the opaque gray columns.

State Highway 98, Kaibito, Arizona

State Highway 98, Kaibito, Arizona

We arrived in Page just after 6 PM and the temperature had dropped about 50 degrees since departing Sun City where it was over 110F.  This was my first visit to Page and I was duly impressed.  It is a vibrant town and plays host to domestic and international tourists who use Page as the gateway to National Parks in Utah and Northern Arizona.  We found an excellent Texan BBQ restaurant which specializes in smoked BBQ.  Dinner was excellent, I had smoked pulled pork and Elaine had smoked BBQ chicken.  While we were eating, another monsoon rolled in and soaked the town in seconds flat.