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Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon on Route 66 by motorcycle, with a return through ZionNational Park is a fabulous ride. Guys – you may have dreamed of doing this drive with a buddy, but if you need some persuading words to have your girlfriend or wife join you, read this article – then pass it along to her! But be warned ladies, since this trip I have gone on to get my own bike and class 5 license. Riding a motorcycle becomes addictive.
I don’t take the back seat easily.
Being in control, the pilot of road and boating adventures, and seldom the passenger brings me joy. So when I took the back seat to my husband at the helm of a 1200 Triumph motorbike out of Las Vegas to ride historical Route 66, the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park, it was a shift in comfort zones. Although we have been together for almost 30 years, touring on a motorbike was new territory. Chris had been licensed since his teens and had owned bikes sporadically throughout his life, but ownership had escaped us while raising a family and being tied to a mini van. Unleashing the freedom of the open road with wind in our face, and adventure on the horizon, I hung on tight as historical Route 66 beckoned.
And I have a confession to make as the back seat gal. I loved it.
I was amazed at how much more inspiring scenery was when completely immersed in it, free of obstruction and fully exposed. But the unexpected gift was the hours of reflection and quiet thought, together yet in our own worlds, with conversation saved for later, since it’s pretty hard to do much else then tap a shoulder or shout a short message, above the sounds and wind of the open road.
Las Vegas to the grand canyon on route 66 by motorcycle
After securing flight deals to Vegas, we departed the strip bound for Kingman, AZ our first day, with a requisite stop by Lake Mead and a tour of the Hoover Dam, bordering Nevada and Arizona. Constructed during the 1930s depression, the shear magnitude of the dam engineering to hold nature’s water forces at bay is impressive. I had found what promised to be a great little place called the El Trovatore Motel in Kingman through a Booking.com search. Abandoned in the early 90s, a victim of the real estate melt down, its neglected and forgotten past glory has recently been revived, complete with art deco décor and an iconic 100 ft marquee neon sign. The El Trovatore, built in 1937, claimed to be the first in the state with air-conditioned rooms and private en suite bathrooms, so it attracted Vegas and Hollywood celebrities such as Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean and Elvis Presley. Now updated with pillow top beds, and the convenience of good WIFI, the rooms still hold historical charm, and no doubt some secrets if the walls could only talk. Themed celebrity rooms dot along an exterior painted Route 66 wall mural, depicting stops from Chicago to LA, which covers the span of the motel. For those patient enough to listen, the quirky owner, will recount history and entertain guests with a bevy of stories, nostalgia and memorabilia that adds to the stay.
Of course I personally think the ONLY option for staying in Kingman is the El Trovatore, but if you happen to get hooped and they are booked out, there are other options through Booking.com and VRBO noted on the interactive map above. You could also run your dates for Kingman on Hotels.com or check out Expedia.
Departing Kingman the next day we headed out further along old historical Route 66. Burma Shave roadside signs, with their sequential messages, have stood the test of time along this stretch of highway. An iconic advertising campaign that ran from 1927- 1963, the entertaining signs were about the only thing that broke up the endless road and baron landscape mapped out before us. Route 66 from Kingman to Seligman has its fair share of kitschy souvenir shops, but it’s also accented with a charming mix of old time diners, complete with road warn characters saddled up on bar stools for a morning coffee. Westside Lilo’s http://www.westsidelilos.com/ in Seligman across the street from the Road Kill Café captured the atmosphere perfectly. And the forever full coffee cup was a welcome warm up after a few hours on the bike. It’s roadside stops like these which litter Route 66 that make the trip so historically iconic.
Williams, Flagstaff & the South entrance to the grand canyon
On that second day we toured further along Route 66 through Williams and the larger town of Flagstaff, both offering up charm and a great base for the South entrance to the Grand Canyon. Ascending the highway into Flagstaff we encountered a flash rainstorm that turned to light snow at elevation. While late April travel in the area is generally quite warm, shoulder season can still deliver the unexpected. Being on a bike, with few options at our disposal, it put our risk tolerance to a test. Fortunately the precipitation turned to rain on the decent, and it became sunny again within hours. The south rim canyon entrance is by far the most popular, but it can get very busy, so had decided to stay further along Hwy 89 in Tuba City on the Navaho Nation reserve that night, allowing easy access to the Eastern entrance of the park the following morning. It’s was not only less busy but a beautiful, in a baron kind of way, drive into Tuba City on Hwy 160, and a far more scenic return to the Grand Canyon eastern entrance and the park the following day.
Eastern Grand Canyon entrance less busy
We spent a large part of the next morning exploring the the Grand Canyon and hiking in to Shoeshone Point. With no official trail head or sign post, it was a welcome pocket of peace away from the crowds. Our only regret is not having taken more time to actually hike down into the canyon and experience an overnight stay along the Colorado River, a mile deep from the rim. The Grand Canyon is so immense, it really defies capture through photographs. You simply have to experience what lies before and beneath you sitting at the edge of the rim. (As a side, we planned this trip independently, but there are lots of options for group tours and activities in the Grand Canyon area offered through get your guide. Be sure to check out deals when booked in advance).
Vermillion cliffs & Navaho plains
That afternoon we headed out along Hwy 89A along the north rim of the Grand Canyon, marveling at the stunning red rock of the Vermilion Cliffs range, and the endless emptiness of the Navaho plains. A few road stops along the way, including Marble Canyon and Lees Ferry where we met more hikers, convinced us as active outdoor enthusiasts, that trading the bike saddle for an extra day hiking would have been immensely worthwhile, but so goes the editing process of a time constrained getaway.
Zion National Park
That evening we caught a brilliant setting sun with it’s orange cast glow over the layered stone hills of Zion National Park. We entered the park on Earth Day, so it was free, but we gladly paid our entrance fee to return the next day for some stunning touring and hiking in the park along the Canyon Outlook Trail. The 1.2 mile long Mount Carmel tunnel through Zion is quite something to experience on a bike. Built in 1930 by the Nevada Mining Corporation for $13 million, the tunnel was originally designed for a model T width. In 1989 the Federal Highways Administration shored the tunnel up for safety, and ceased two way traffic for safety reasons. Since then the National Parks Service has controlled traffic passage in an alternating one-way pattern. Zion’s layered rock and stunning mix of warm orange and red colors contrasting with the complimentary blue sky can leave viewers almost speechless. While there is no doubt the Grand Canyon is impressive in its vastness, Zion is equally spectacular in its visual beauty.
Our last day on the bike saw us drive from Hurricane, UT back to Las Vegas, descending the Virgin River Gorge on the I-15. A narrow strip of highway with little wriggle room, the high volume of big truck traffic travelling in excess of 120km was unnerving. While the three previous days had seasoned us to the road, the traffic speed and winding decent without shoulders, left us a little white knuckled in Mesquite, an Arizona dessert retiree town, where we gassed up, and grabbed some gin in anticipation of a stiff drink to recover, once we hit our MGM Grand hotel in Vegas.
Topping this memorable trip off with a little rest and relaxation by the pool, a few great meals, and some requisite Vegas entertainment, was the perfect end antidote to our Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon on Route 66 by motorcycle, and return through Zion National Park adventure.
Highly recommended if you ride, touring by motorbike can’t be beat in this area if you crave a mix of history, nostalgia, and the great outdoors with a dash of civility and luxury to finish it off. Doable in a 3.5 day ride with a couple days in Vegas at the end, I’d highly recommend taking a few extra days to explore on route. The beauty of the open road, and an unpopulated horizon is the perfect anecdote for any city dweller needing as escape.
When we returned home to Vancouver Chris asked me, “Are you going to get your motorbike license now?” While I was hesitant to resist the challenge, the mix of solitude and connection we experienced while riding together is something I hadn’t anticipated, but had enjoyed immensely.
It might take a while to get that license.
We also love what BookingCredits.com is doing in the accommodation space. Most hotel booking sites have access to rates not available to the public, but are required by the hotel to sell them at a the retail price. When you book your stay, they will pocket the difference between what you paid, and their commission — as profit. With BookingCredits.com instead of pocketing all the margin as profit, they give the majority of that back to you. Booking Credits was founded by former travel industry experts including the President of Delta Vacations and Senior executives from Expedia. There’s no membership required, and the credit goes back as cash on your credit card within 60 days of your booking. A simple, but cool concept! Do an accommodation search HERE and check them out.
Looking for cheap flights in and out of Vegas? Be sure to check out CheapOair.com (or CheapOair.ca if you’re in Canada). They make comparing flight deals across different airlines super easy. Their When to Buy Flights Tool is handy for planning your purchase. And if you feel like adding some extra touring time in the area with a car, check out these car rental deals. Of course Expedia or Trip Advisor are also great options to book flights and accommodations all in one dashboard too! Be sure to check out get your guide for additional fun activities in the area while planning your trip.
If you feel like sitting back and just taking the whole trip in as a narrated presentation, please watch the video below. It runs about 39 minutes. This was a recorded presentation for Elder College on Oct 1, 2020 as part of their Zooming Around the World Series. In it, Mary Charleson, the Carry On Queen, adds her reflections about the magic of road trips, particularly during pandemic times as she relives this magic adventure with her audience. Enjoy!
POSTSCRIPT to the original article
Remember when I said it might take awhile to get that motorcycle license? Turns out it was sooner than I would have thought. The following year we rented 50cc scooters during a trip to Hawaii in February (the next baby step), and then in July while staying in Barcelona, Spain during the World Roller Games, I rented a 150cc scooter to get around the city to spread out locations. It was in anticipation of that potentially hair raising experience (8 lane round-abouts anyone?) in the city of Barcelona, that I decided to take a scooter/motorcycle course through ProRide. A little self preservation was in order. Held over three evenings plus two full days of riding, the course gave me the excitement and confidence to get my own bike. After all, if you’re going to go through the course learning to ride an actual motorbike safely, why settle for a more restricted scooter license?
And so began a year long adventure, after buying my first bike upon return from Spain (a Yamaha V-Star 250) to get enough kilometers and experience on the road, to finally qualify for my full Class 6 motorcycle license. Yes, it’s been quite the ride!
And now I have found myself, in a somewhat micro-niche, of advising other 50-year old women on how best to learn to ride, where to find the hidden road gems to explore that are fun riding on a bike (like the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler pictured above), and of course tips for buying motorcycle clothing, motorcycle footwear, and motorcycle luggage. Careful guys, you just never know where this could lead if your gal decides to take up riding on her own terms! My thanks to Viking Bags, Vikingcycle.com and Chromeburner.com for keeping me kitted out and in style.
Pack light, experience more TIPS for this trip: Packing for a bike trip and a few days in Vegas demands different gear and the ability to compartmentalize smaller bags and leave some Vegas items behind while on the motorbike. We did this trip quite easily as a carry on only. We rented the bike safety jackets, and took motorcycle pants made with padding and the ability to withstand road rash – better them then your own hide! While my husband had cool looking riding jeans, the ones I ordered online didn’t arrive on time, so I bought some swanky Italian designer ones at the motor cylce shop. They easily fit in the bag coming home though. Here’s what we took: black leather short boots that cover your ankles for riding, light weight cotton bandana (a must for around the neck while riding), leather gloves (for safety and warmth), a small day backpack for hiking excursions, a pair of jeans for when not riding, running shoes, Lululemon zip up jacket – great for under the riding jacket for warmth or just hanging out in the evening, 3 shirts, undies, socks, small light weight purse. These were the items for the ride and we put packed a collapsible duffel bag to put them in to easily be accommodated in a side saddle bag on the bike. We left items for Vegas at the bike shop in our roller carry on bags. That’s where the bikini, sun hat, cover up, dress sandals, sun dress, and a few extra tops, skirt and shorts were left. Of course a small sunscreen, make up and toiletries – using small liquid containers, were part of the mix for both legs of the trip. The key with all items was to take colours that coordinated and for everything to be wrinkle free. And I always roll, not fold items – fewer wrinkles and items fit in spaces in a suitcase more easily. No space goes unused – that includes inside shoes. On a motor bike you will have room for two side bags – basically one for each of you. We found having a duffel bag to contain items within those side bags was really useful, especially since they opened out and items could fall if just on their own. Shoes take up a lot of space generally, so we always try to anticipate what will be needed for where we plan to go. On this trip I got it down to riding boots, Sole sandals, wedge heel dressier sandals and running shoes.
Link here for my PACKING LIGHT downloadable tips sheet and check list, that includes travel documents, essentials, clothing and general tips on other important things like insurance and data SIM cards.
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