Cross Country to Sedona AZ, Part 7: Desert to Mountain

Tuesday 10/11/2016
Sedona AZ to Durango CO
~  363 miles

Next morning, we were up early and raring to get back on the road after some coffee and a bite. We were very excited about the next two days’ planned route through the high desert regions of Arizona and Utah, and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I had concerns about the rear tire on the bike, which now had over 5000 miles on it and was about to be subjected to hours of hot 2-up highway riding for another 2500+ miles. The tread was worn down in the middle, but still there and I figured to just keep an eye on it and deal with it when/if needed. We packed up the bike quickly and said all our thank-yous and good-byes to those who woke to see us off. We headed north through Sedona for the last time this trip, fairly peaceful in the early morning sun.

We rode up 89A through the marvelous Oak Creek Canyon again all the way up to Flagstaff, did a short jaunt to the east on I-40 and then exited to stay on AZ-89 northbound. The terrain was scrubby high plains, pretty flat, but we were having fun.

We soon entered Navajo reservation lands, which we’d be riding through for the rest of the day. Having seen the Big Ditch on our previous trip and with many miles to go for the day into areas unknown, we rode on past the Grand Canyon AZ-64 turnoff and pulled into the famous Cameron Trading Post for a stretch break.

We’d stopped in here before for some Navajo fry bread en route to Monument Valley, so I’d already browsed the crazy big gift shop full of arts, crafts, and mementos. I did score a few free stickers from their recent 100th anniversary celebration. The friendly cashier told us that many tribes in the area had given performances over a long weekend and it had been quite an event. Sorry we had missed it!

Soon after, we turned northeast on US-160 into the Painted Desert region. Absolutely stunning pastel colors greeted us almost immediately – the photo doesn’t do them justice.

In Kayenta, we pulled in to get some lunch at the Blue Coffee Pot restaurant, a local diner constructed to mimic a native hogon dwelling.

I had a nice Navajo mutton burrito which hit the spot.

Next door was a laundromat with this nice mural painted on it – a pleasant reminder of the history and culture of the lands we were traveling through:

We headed north out of Kayenta on US- 163, already within sight of distinct rock formations that would amaze us for the next couple of hours or so.

Agathla Peak (below) is a striking volcanic plug formation 1500 high right next to the highway, colored differently than most of the red rock in the area. Passing north between it and the prominent tower across the street (left) gives the feeling of passing through a gateway into some amazing terrain.

It’s hard to keep riding straight when your eyes are constantly drawn to look at the beautiful mesas right there on the side of the road. Good things the roads are pretty much arrow straight! I had figured on taking our time today when planning the route, and didn’t mind pulling over a few times to soak it in a bit and get a few photos from the roadside.

Soon we crossed into Utah and skirted Monument Valley proper. We went all the way in to the Tribal Park site last time and even took a native-guided jeep tour, which was SO worth it. This time, we just soaked in the beauty from the highway. Charlotte really did an admirable job with the little camera today from the back of a moving bike!

Look honey! A curve, a curve! Hang on!

We crossed the San Juan River into Mexican Hat UT and pulled in for fuel and a stretch break at the Shell station. The day had warmed up considerably, so off came the heated gear for a while.

Mexican Hat Rock – the town’s namesake:

More of those amazing pastel landscapes awaited us after Mexican Hat.

US-163 took us northward to get around a large canyon and then zig-zagged us back closer to the San Juan once again as we arrived at the terminus in Bluff UT and the Twin Rocks Trading Post. We kept seeing signs in the town for “Twin Rocks” this and that, and finally saw the formation itself, looming over the trading post. Would love to stop in there for lunch next time through, but this time we kept on moving, veering east on UT-162.

UT-162 is a beautiful road as well, paralleling the San Juan River, which is slightly to the south and easily detected from the lines of trees and other vegetation tracking its course. The photos above show the lovely mix of green and golden aspens in a stripe across the desert landscape. The other side of the road is dry desert cliff terrain, a striking difference and very interesting to ride through.

In Aneth UT, we turned left onto CR-2414, another nice two-laner with almost no traffic and beauty all around. When we crossed the border into Colorado (no sign that we saw), it turned into County Road G and vegetation grew gradually more prevalent in the landscape as we began to leave the desert behind us for good on this trip.

This appeared to be a hayfield, fairly recently planted, and was the most green grass we’d seen in days. More fall color greeted us further down the road, with stunning blue sky and mountain backdrops.

There were even some nice curves to duck into along this rural road and we were just lovin life.

It had been a perfect day of riding and scenery and we rolled into Durango CO at a nice reasonable hour in the late afternoon. Checked in to our hotel and chatted briefly in the parking lot with a German tourist who was there on rented Harleys out of Las Vegas, with his friend and their wives. Enjoyed the hotel hot tub for a good soak, before partaking in some local pizza from Homeslice across the boulevard from the hotel (great pizza!).

We felt good, the tire was looking OK, and the daily mileage would be getting higher from here on out, to get us home on schedule. I was really looking forward to picking our way through the Rockies tomorrow, starting with the Million Dollar Highway in the morning, hopefully before too much traffic.

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