It's hot, an "airless" afternoon, when I park the K1200R and hike across bus-sized boulders to Spider Rock Overlook at Canyon de Chelly. I snap my camera onto the tripod to take a self-timer shot, set the shutter and pose near the edge. Just then, caprice whips up a solid gust of wind - and the tripod falls. The camera slams into the rock like a hammer cracking concrete. Imagining a nearby cash register ringing up a prodigious total, I can almost see the dollar signs floating skyward, irrecoverable in the updraft sweeping the ravine.
It says a lot for my Nikon 8800 that, while it didn't survive unscathed, it performed perfectly for the rest of my tour of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. The magnesium-alloy frame was cracked, the battery compartment bent, and the program control knob half-seized. But like the Timex of old, it kept on ticking, and clicking.
The day before, I'd left swanky Sedona and its glitzy resorts on a heading for the border territory between Arizona and New Mexico, particularly the Coronado Trail, of which I've heard old bikers talk about in hushed whispers. Well, maybe not so much, but "Senior" Editor Chris Myers has recommended it (RoadRUNNER, October '06) - so it must be good, eh?
And 89 Alt. from Sedona to Flagstaff is also a splendid ride, climbing from the red-rock valley cradling Sedona at 4,300 feet up to sub-alpine Flagstaff on the Colorado Plateau at 7,000. The road ricochets through towering canyons and under sun-dappled evergreens in the Coconino National Forest. My only complaint: too much traffic, as motor-homes stolidly lumber around the perfectly engineered curves. Roads like this should be closed to all but motorcycles!
Motorcycle & Gear
Though not the highest city in the U.S., Flagstaff is at the same altitude as the peaks of many mountains, including my home ski hill, Whistler, BC. I'm staying in a commodious room at the Hampton Inn. My favorite feature: an ingenious coffeemaker. The coffee comes in its own thermoformed filter and slides under the nozzle with your plastic cup - not a jug - underneath. Add water, switch on, et voila! One cup of coffee.
Nations Within Nations
I plan to ride across the Navajo reservation to Canyon de Chelly, but first I have to find the right road. I take 89 north from Flagstaff, turn right on Townsend-Winona Road, then left on Leupp Road about a mile before Winona - marked as Coconino County #505. I'm concerned about the availability of gas on the reservations, so I've topped off in Winona.
The road becomes Navajo N15 as I enter the reserve. You might surmise, given the history of the U.S. government's relations with America's indigenous peoples, that this is not the world's best piece of real estate, and you'd be right. Bald semi-desert and scrub spread almost to the horizon in a featureless landscape. The roadside ditches, piled with alcohol containers, resemble conveyor belts at a recycling yard. "Don't drink and drive" signs are posted everywhere.
At a gas station in Dilkon, I talk to a couple of guys in a pickup, one of whom is the spitting image of Chief Bromden (late actor Will Sampson) in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. And though everyone seems very friendly here, it's still an unusual, somewhat discomfiting feeling, being the "visible minority."
A few mesas break up the horizon, and I stay on N15 at Indian Wells, spinning north again until I join US 191 near Ganado. After pulling in at a spot to gas up and get a drink, I watch a dapper fellow in a western shirt and Stetson mosey over.