Something is rustling outside. I'm lying in the tent and my thoughts circle around bears. But bears here in this semi-desert area of Arizona? Can't be! I just want to continue sleeping. no way. The strange visitor outside rustles more. I shout through the canvas of my mobile accommodation, shake the tent's walls. Doesn't bother him. Finally I decide to get out and scare the harasser away.
When I open the door the sight is scary. A hungry bear could not have been worse. In the brightest moonlight I’m looking directly into a white backside and a lifted tail both belonging to a skunk. If I don’t want to throw away my tent and anything else the little devil would likely hit with its biological warfare, I have to retreat. Immediately. While I’m cursing about never leaving any empty food cans in front of the tent again, the skunk finally finishes his play close to an hour later.
Prescott: a Desert Oasis
Lying in my tent not thinking about the skunk gives me time enough to ponder about the day’s ride, which was beautiful. The morning hours found me heading towards Prescott, where the Weaver Mountains arose on the horizon. Still the 2770-foot high Merritt Pass was rather a hill. After the town of Wilhoit, Highway 89 came alive – perfect corners without a pause for more than ten miles. They led me directly into Prescott, a bustling town that offers everything a traveler yearns for in the deserts of Southern California and Arizona: trees, parks, cool air, and nice street cafés. The surroundings were beautiful too. Just out of town, red granite knobs, an unexpected and fascinating sight, encircle Watson Lake. The next highlight was waiting just around the corner – historic 89A climbing up Mingus Mountain.
History Buffs Delight
On the other side, the charming atmosphere of the former mining town of Jerome forced me to stop. The view from there reached over the large Verde River Valley as far as the red rock formations of Sedona, my next destination. Before I headed out, the town’s history kept me for a while. In the old cinema, the Liberty Theater, the wooden building was beautifully restored with a museum on the second floor. Among many other aspects, it was interesting to know that Jerome would prove to be one of the richest mines in the world. At its peak in 1929, the population was 15,000, dwindling down to less than 100 people in 1955. Today, Jerome supports its 550 inhabitants mainly through tourism.
Motorcycle & Gear
2009 KTM 990 Adventure
Helmet: Shoei Hornet DS
Jacket: Rukka APR 3
Pants: KTM Collection
Gloves: Rukka GTX Xtrafit
Boots: Meindl hiking boots
Luggage: Rackpack by Ortlieb, tankbag and aluminum panniers by KTM
Tent: Kelty Gunnisson 2.1
Sedona, just 30 miles down the road, is a completely different world. The town has some of the most stunning settings in all of North America. Red rocks in all shapes and sizes surround it like the coulisse of an open-air theatre. Plenty of amenities for tourists are on display, but nothing particularly special for me, apart from a great exit. As one of the locals looks at my KTM, he immediately shouts: “Did you go on Schnebly Hill Road?” When I shake my head no, he insists that I must.
The Soon-to-be-Skunky Plateau
From town, I could see the bright line along a vertical rock wall of the valley, which had to be the suggested way. It looked absolutely exciting, and it soon became so. Initially, the gravel road meandered along a dry creek with the typical red rock formations of the valley towering impressively above me. Then it got rough. The surface of the route consisted of various sized rocks, nothing the loaded KTM wouldn’t manage. But it was hard work, especially with temperatures in the 90s. I steadily climbed up, with ever-changing views down into the valley. The final stretch was the section in the vertical rock wall that I had seen from below. But because the road was wide, I couldn’t really see the abyss on the left side, which was a good thing. Only when I stopped at the top of Mogollon Plateau did I realize where I had just been.
Surely this plateau offers one of the most breathtaking views in Arizona reachable by motorcycle. The first 300 feet, the road drops down the vertical mountainside and over to the red rocks of Sedona. I could look back as far as the 7000-foot Black Hills Range, where I passed through in the morning. Now in late afternoon, there was no better place on earth to pitch the tent and watch the sunset. The visiting skunk was still several hours away.