Southern Arizona

Text: Troy Hendrick • Photography: Troy Hendrick

Few places on earth offer more diversity. One moment I'm sweating bullets and then, less than an hour later at times, I've pulled over, teeth chattering, to hurriedly button the jacket liner into my shell so I can stuff my fingertips back in my gloves before they turn blue. Northeast out of Phoenix, the elevation is 1,000 feet and the temperature is pushing 90 degrees. But in the next four days, I'll top out at over 9,000 feet and sit through several snowstorms. In between these extremes are some of the America's most beautiful landscapes - connected to one another by some of the world's most-coveted riding roads.

Along the Apache Trail to Tucson
(Phoenix to Tucson - approx. 300 miles)
From Scottsdale, it doesn't take long to climb into the Tonto National Forest. Very few trees exist in the desert where Phoenix is planted, so the abrupt line where development ends is also the edge of the wilderness. The Fort McDowell Mohave Apache Indian Reservation and Fountain Hills are the last indications of the south-west's largest urban center. A huge white column rises high into the distance and I'm trying to guess what it is for several miles. It seems to be melting into different shapes, but I can't be sure. Once I'm close enough, I see clearly that it's a huge jet of water being launched hundreds of feet into the air - hence the name Fountain Hills. This out-of-place monument exhibits the same defiance that Phoenix and its surroundings display toward Mother Nature. There isn't supposed to be water here, but, inside the urban grid, parks, lakes, and golf courses glisten. Beyond this, nothing - the road out is the only sign of man as it begins its winding climb towards the Mogollon (Moo-GEE-yan) Rim, the southern uplift of the great Colorado Plateau.

SR 87 is fast, with two lanes in each direction. South of Sunflower, it begins its curviest stretch. I fly by the trucks laboring up the incline while the Honda Gold Wing 1800 hums steadily in fourth and fifth gears. I'm not speeding and the big rigs are sliding in, through, and out of my vision. I love zipping around them on curvy hills like this - approaching them quickly from behind, checking all the mirrors, and then executing a nice smooth pass. Elevation base: 3,000 feet.

Only an hour or so outside the city, the sun begins to shine through some morning cloud cover. I grab SR 188, an even less traveled road than 87, and head south toward Tonto Basin and Roosevelt Lake and Dam. It's back onto two-lane, but it doesn't matter since there isn't anything to pass out here. SR 188 curls down the western bank of the lake, and there isn't a soul in sight at the rest-area overlooks. In fact, I can't resist the urge to stop and enjoy the view - so rarely can one find such solitude in such a huge landscape.

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the September/October 2003 back issue.