You See a Lot on a 4,109-Mile Trip!

Arizona - the latest of the 46 states I've ridden my motorcycle through.
Over the years I've been in every other southwestern state but somehow had always
gone around AZ each time.

More interesting than the geographic marker are the large
number of Native Americans selling their handmade products from
booths that surround the monument.

Though (as usual) the weather could have been more cooperative, my latest two-wheeled voyage of discovery was a resounding success. A person can't travel alone for ten days and nearly 4,200 miles across much of this country, without observing a great deal and thinking about many things.
With the Grand Canyon as the apex of the trip I made a loop across the center of the continent, seeing an incredible variety of landscapes and extremes of weather. I also blitzed on Xways the first two, and last two days of the trip, so as to spend as much time as possible in the Arizona and Colorado area. I don't enjoy expressways - it's long been my belief that one doesn't find or see the real America on these highways, with their billboard scenery and cookie-cutter interchange businesses. But, assuming traffic is moving properly and you're not at a standstill in what becomes a long narrow parking lot (like I was for much of I-80 on the way home), they can be an efficient way to put a lot of miles behind you in a day.
I did over 2,000 miles of the trip in those four days, leaving more time for fun during the days I was in the West. I went west via I-69 and I-70 through the large cities of Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Kansas City, leaving I-70 just west of Topeka to travel the back roads from there to Tucamcari, NM, where I got on I-40 to Flagstaff. (with one side trip on a back road north to the Santa Fe area). It was in eastern NM that the unending blast furnace winds hit with a vengeance.
I noticed a lot of things on this trip.  Some new observations, and some lessons learned long ago that were reinforced. In no particular order they are:

It is increasingly important to choose Mom and Pop motels carefully. They aren't all what they used to be. Many have been bought out by new owners, and while they technically still qualify as family owned, they're different in bad ways. It is really important to consider the exterior condition of the facility. If it looks unkempt from the outside you can be sure the rooms will not be clean and healthy. These poorly maintained motels are increasingly common so it's very understandable why problems such as bedbugs are making a comeback. I try to do business with family-owned motels, but I'm very careful in selecting them. If you stick with the major chains there's generally no problems, but that can get expensive and I also prefer to support small local business folks, not the chains.
In a related issue, finding a campground for basic tent camping is becoming increasingly difficult across a lot of the country.  RV parks are fairly common, but the places that cater to tent campers are getting scarce. They're also getting more expensive. I have paid $20 per night for a site with just me and my one-person tent, while a huge RV parked on a large lot with electricity pays about the same.  State and federal campgrounds also charge too much for tent campers (or too little for the behemoths that take up a lot of space and require roads and parking areas to be maintained for them).

Riding across the back roads of Kansas in late June a person gets an appreciation for how much wheat is grown there, as it's being harvested during the final days of June. Huge combines gobble up swaths of grain as they cross fields in staggered formation and military precision. Large grain trucks filled with the golden grain clog rural roads, requiring special care because cars pile up behind them impatiently waiting for a chance to pass. A motorcyclist does well to have highly visible lights and to keep to the far right of his or her lane so that they're visible to the car immediately behind the truck. Hug the center line and you won't be seen by car drivers until it's too late should they decide to pass.

Every time I travel west I'm always amazed at the dramatic change that occurs at the 100th Meridian. By coincidence, this line of longitude, which cuts states such as the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas and so on in half, is also the line that separates the moist eastern plains from the barren, hot and dry western high plains. The difference in everything from scenery, plant and animal life, to ambient temperatures is dramatic.
On this trip the difference was accentuated by the wind - a hot unstoppable wind from the southwest that ranged at 40 to 50-mph for three full days. At one point in desolate northeast AZ the blowing dust was so bad I had to stop for the day rather than ride through a wall of grit being blown by a 50-mph wind from hell. The day prior, as I was riding in the same sort of wind in the Santa Fe area, I thought to myself that if a wildfire started it would spread too fast to stop. The next day a fire that started the day I was in NM had spread to 48,000 acres near Los Alamos!
The next day I had my oil and filter changed at Grand Canyon Harley-Davidson. Riding through wind-blown dust all the way across western Kansas, New Mexico, and a few hundred miles of Arizona dust storms was enough to prompt me to protect my engine with an early oil change. Cheap insurance!

The Grand Canyon has been on my to-do list all my life. Upon finally seeing it, it is impossible to describe with mere words. Pictures hardly begin to do it justice. Walking through the woods from the visitor center and parking area one has no idea what to expect. But when you suddenly arrive at the edge of the chasm it takes you breath away! It is just incredible.  I walked the rim trail for a couple hours, stopping at every overlook to see the canyon from a slightly different perspective each time. The Colorado River was often barely visible at the bottom.
I followed Route 160 along the south rim, stopping at many parking areas along the way to see the canyon from different locations. Something that surprised me is that probably 90% of the viewing areas have no rails or guards at all - a careless person or child could easily fall into oblivion. It makes for a lot of very nervous parents of small kids - - I saw and heard many of them at the various stops anxiously calling their children back from the edge.
The canyon geology center, the visitor center, and the movie about the canyon are all worthy stops and help visitors leave with a good understanding of the forces at work.  The view from the top of the old observation tower at the east end of the park was a final highly recommended pleasant surprise.  All-in-all the Grand Canyon stop was more than worth the years of waiting!

The area east of the Canyon is another story. Leaving the plateau on which the GC is situated, one drops well over 2,000 feet in elevation over several miles immediately east of the park boundary (great for gas mileage - I averaged 60 mpg with that tank of  gas!). The high land of green forest at over 7,000 feet in elevation near the Canyon is replaced by an indescribably dry, barren, desolate, and wind blown land of dust and heat. What a difference and what a place to try to survive, like the Navajo and Hopi must do in this huge largely empty northeastern corner of AZ.
There are frequent roadside stands, where a lean-to with a roof is all that separates a family selling hand made items to travelers on route 160 from the blazing sun and wind-blown dust.  I ended up spending a night in Kayenta, AZ in the middle of this vastness when a wall of dust ahead of me led me to choose discretion over riding through a motor-damaging dust storm. As it was I was sure my motorcycle paint would be stripped bare on one side because of the sand blasting quality of the wind blown grit.

A stop at the Durango, CO Harley dealer for a new set of tires allowed a few hours to walk around that very cool city, where I'd been before. The heat followed me from the desert to Colorado, with temps in the upper 90s arriving in Durango the same day I did. The Animas River was high and fast from near record snow melt. Watching the lucky folks running the rapids in the river in rubber rafts made me jealous of their ability to stay wet and cool!
I have been across CO west to east on other roads, but never route 160, so that was my decision. Overall, I like 160 much better than route 50. The scenery and mountain roads east of Durango, almost all the way to Interstate 25, are really nice. Wolf Pass at over 10,000 feet was hot, though with quite a lot of snow still on the ground. Because of the snow pack still in place from this past winter, normally dry creeks were filled with tumbling white water. It made for an especially pretty ride.

Wolf Creek Pass, CO

Once out of the mountains it was through the hot and dry high plains of eastern CO and western NE for the next 24 hours. I took a couple of lightly traveled state routes across this part of CO, ending up at Sterling, where I got on I-76 for the final ride to I-80 and the final long two days to home. Traffic on the back roads of eastern CO was very light and I kept hoping that nothing unplanned would happen in the heat and vast open spaces.
Central and eastern NE were wetter and greener than normal, however. The Platte River was full, much more like April than the end of June. In fact, all the rivers I saw from this point eastward were filled to the brim. The Missouri looked more like the Mississippi River, and the Mississippi was full and fast!
Adair, IA proved an interesting stop. This was the location where the Jesse James gang pulled off the first robbery of a moving train. The site is just southwest of this small western Iowa town, marked by a unique monument.

I planned to blitz home on I-80 for the last two days. The first was long and uneventful but the last day proved long and difficult. In the past few years I've encountered a great deal of road construction while on  trips, largely a result of the economic incentive spending. There was much less road work this year; until I got to eastern IA, all across IL, and northwestern IN. Lots of stop and go traffic, and having to merge into one lane at reduced speed. Traffic crept along at a frustrating stop and go crawl through the Chicago and Gary area due to construction.
As I was approaching the Michigan border I saw ominous black clouds and some very impressive lightning displays to the north. I stopped a few miles south of the border to put my valuables in their plastic protective bags (wallet, camera, phone) to protect them from what seemed like inevitable rain. I had gone 4,000 with no rain - a record on a trip for me - but it was soon going to end. I thought I could hustle north to the state line, because I knew there was a MI welcome center just north of the border where I would pull in for shelter, put on rain gear, or whatever seemed appropriate. (The lightning made it more than a simple ride in the rain).
Amazingly, the moment I hit the MI state line huge drops began to fall, and by the time I got into the travel center it was raining with gusto (some welcome home!). Two other bikers pulled in about the same time I did and we of course had a long talk about current and past MC journeys and weather conditions we'd encountered.
The storm settled into a moderate but steady rain so I put on my rain suit and headed up I-94. The rain finally quit near Kalamazoo, and it was an uneventful ride the rest of the way.  I rode through one of Michigan's more notorious highway deer accident stretches right at dusk, which made me very nervous, but a slower speed, and staying in the left side of the slow lane, provided me with some element of safety should a deer decide to see if the grass really was greener on the other side of the road. I saw none; in fact, I saw almost no wildlife on the more than 4,000 miles ridden on this trip.

My Road King performed perfectly, without so much as a suggestion of trouble. Because of the amount of dust I rode through I do plan to do another oil and filter change ASAP, quite a bit before the normal mileage point. The dust was so bad at times that there is no doubt some was getting into the engine and oil.
It took two hours to thoroughly clean and polish the bike again. The bugs and road grime covered every inch of the machine front to back, and it was nice to see it shine again like it is meant to.

Protecting myself from the glaring sun and heat was a major concern on this particular trip. I guzzled down a Gator-Aid at every gas stop, and always kept an emergency bottle of water, and some non-perishable snacks, in my saddlebags. I took some very lightly traveled rural two-lane blacktops in the west and a breakdown could have been serious without provisions. I also had to apply sun screen every couple of hours to my face, back of my neck under the helmet, and on my wrists (the space between the gloves and jacket sleeves, which burns to a dark brown band).
I'm still looking for summer weight gloves with a long gauntlet. I ended up wearing my regular weight leather gloves with gauntlets to cover my wrists, but they're quite hot.

The bike is resting for its next great adventure later this month. I am riding to the northwest - Washington and Oregon - where the final two states of the Lower Forty Eight will be traversed by motorcycle. My map of the USA will be colored a solid yellow after I complete this bucket list goal later this summer. By the end of this summer I will have traveled extensively in all fifty states, and extensively through 48 of the 50 by motorcycle. (I'll have to figure out a way to get to Alaska and Hawaii to take motorcycle trips there, and thereby complete my ultimate goal of motorcycle travel through all fifty states.)
I've learned more about our country and its people, places and history by motorcycle travel than I could have in five lifetimes otherwise.
And there is still so much to see and do!

A Longhorn in Dodge City, KS.