I love visiting Arizona – especially on a motorcycle. There are so many dirt roads that are easily accessible a short distance from Phoenix. During my last visit there, I had a free day and decided to head south from my home base to explore an area of Arizona I’d never been to.
I headed south on Interstate 10 towards Tucson. The weather report warned of a large storm system that would be moving into Phoenix later in the day towards 4 PM. It was only about an hour and a half to where I was going, so I figured I’d have plenty of time to get back (more on that later). As I rode farther south, I started to see more and more cacti. I exited the freeway and worked my way along some small back roads leading to Saguaro National Park. These smaller roads wind through the desert and occasionally have very large dips in them; almost like a roller coaster. It’s fun to give a good twist of the throttle at the top and get the front wheel to go airborne for a split second, then dive down the other side.
Saguaro National Park doesn’t have a main gate like some National Parks, so it’s up to visitors to use the honor system and stop by the visitor center to pay the fee. I have a National Park annual pass, so I headed to the visitor center to take a break and show them my pass. In May, the temperature seems perfect for riding. Not too hot and the constantly moving large clouds made for a nice scenic backdrop. The woman working at the visitor center gave me a map and saw my motorcycle gear. She asked if I was on a street motorcycle. I told her that I was on a dual-sport and she excitedly told me about a great dirt loop that I could take through the park. I thanked her and got back on the bike, immediately heading towards this road.
It started out as a hard-packed rocky dirt road winding up the hill through massive cacti. I had to make sure to pay attention to the road without being distracted by the stunning views. As I made my way deeper into the park, I saw some signs warning “4×4 only”. The hard pack road slowly turned to sand until I found myself in a sand box. My bike was loaded up and pretty heavy with gear, so as I made my way down the road I fished back and forth trying to stay straight in the loose sand. Arizona road conditions can change quickly like this, so I’m glad to have peace of mind from my SW-MOTECH parts that protect the bike from big rocks or when I fall over.
I tried to keep my mind on the fact that I should try and get back to home base before the storm hit, but of course, I made my departure from Saguaro too late. As you may know from my previous stories, I have a passion for aviation. I’d passed a small airport on the way in and was excited to stop by on the way back. I pulled off the road and peered through the fence admiring all of the vintage military aircraft that lay in this boneyard. Some of them were still in tact, while others had been almost completely disassembled. There was even an old Blue Angels fighter jet fuselage resting on a trailer.
The Interstate 10 freeway was just a few miles down the road, so I got back on and headed towards Phoenix. I could see a massive dark cloud northeast of me making its way towards the Phoenix area. To the left of the freeway, I could see the tails of large airliner jets. I knew I was in the middle of the desert, so this wasn’t a major airport. I needed to investigate. I thought it might be another boneyard, but on a larger scale. Once arriving at the gate, it seemed like the general public was not allowed in (though I found out later that they offer tours), so to my disappointment I turned back to the freeway to get home.
About 30 minutes from home the weather changed in an instant. Rain started pouring and a crosswind, possibly the strongest I had ever felt, pushed me toward the edge of the freeway. Rain appeared to be falling horizontally and there was so much standing water on the freeway that I had to reduce my speed. Semi trucks would pass by at full speed sending a wall of water hurling toward my bike. I saw an overpass coming up and another motorcycle hiding under it. I decided to wait a little bit in hopes of things calming down and I joined the other biker. He was on a Harley only wearing a leather cut, t-shirt, no helmet and no glasses. He looked up at me and said hello. He looked miserable. I was glad my MACNA suit had kept me nice and dry. I put the waterproof cover over my SW-MOTECH tank bag, and got back on the freeway. I’ll admit I had a bit of a death grip on the bars as the semi trucks blew past me, but finally I made it closer to town and off the freeway where I could cruise a safer speed. While riding in bad weather can be stressful, it’s also one of the things I like about motorcycle riding. In a car, you’re safe with your heat and air conditioning and free from the rain. On the bike you get to experience it all firsthand.
Word and Photos by Nick Johnson
This story is powered by SW-MOTECH & TWISTED THROTTLE