Monday, February 24, 2020

Twists, Turns, and Switchbacks: Motorcycle trip on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway

twists, turns, and switchbacks: motorcycle trip on the coronado trail scenic byway

Some people drive to get from point A to point B. The more direct, the better: flat, straight roads with no distractions. They have a goal they want to reach, and the journey is just a means to an end.

But that’s not you, is it?

You’re on a motorcycle. Flat and straight is boring. You want hairpin turns and curves and switchbacks. And if the road offers you one amazing view after another, gets you closer to the sky, and takes you to the edge of the earth, even better.

man smiling on his motorcycle

For you, the journey IS the end, the whole reason you ride.

Welcome to the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway.

coronado trail road sign

History

The road was first proposed in 1916, and it closely followed the route taken by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540. Coronado’s expedition wanted to find the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola (City of Gold), and although he never found it, his expedition left a legacy that resulted in one of the best trails for motorcycle riders.

The highway in its current form was constructed in 1981 and it was originally called Highway 666, “The Devil’s Highway.”

Exactly the kind of road you want to travel, right?

However, in 1992, it was renamed Highway 191. Although Highway 191 travels through the entire United States, from Mexico in the south up to the Canadian border in the north, the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway is a 120-mile stretch in Arizona with over 400 curves. The trail takes you from hot Arizona deserts up to cool mountain meadows. Starting south, in Clifton, Arizona at 3,478 feet, you can zig-zag and climb your way up to Springerville at 6,974 feet, maxing out at 9,425 feet somewhere along the way.

That’s right: in 120 miles, you can climb 6000 feet.

switchback road through Arizona

Where to Pause Along Your Motorcycle Trip

In Clifton, check out the Clifton Cliff Jail, carved into the side of a granite cliff in 1881 and restored in 1929. The two-room jail—the smaller room for the dangerous criminals and the larger one for the least violent—was completed by a man named Margarito Varela. When Varela finished carving out the jail, he celebrated with whiskey and started shooting up a local dancehall to get people’s attention so he could tell them the jail was done. The local sheriff arrested him and Varela became his jail’s first inmate.

Just north of Clifton, in Morenci, get a tour of the open-pit copper mine. The mine is still in operation and is, in fact, the largest producer of copper in North America. 125,000 tons of copper a day!

Keep heading north, and you’ll enter the Blue Ridge Primitive Area. Stop at the Rose Peak Lookout, take a half-mile hike to the Lookout Tower and enjoy the spectacular views from Mogollon Rim. Great opportunity for a selfie!

Back on the road, you’ll continue riding along the Mogollon Rim for 17 miles. Almost at the end of the rim, you’ll see Blue Vista point. If you can’t get enough of amazing views, park your bike and check out the best Arizona has to offer: Mount Graham, Pinaleno Mountains, Blue River, and more. Did we mention you’ll be looking at all of this from an elevation of 9,000 feet?

motorcycle riders standing before sunset

Further north, stop at Hannagan Meadow for a change of scenery. As you might have guessed from the name, this is no Arizona desert landscape. This is crisp forest and meadow views. If you need a break, this might be the place for you. Hannagan Meadow Lodge and Restaurant has everything you need to relax. If you need to stretch your legs, there are many hiking trails to choose from in the area with the chance to spot wildlife such as elk, deer, wolf, bear, and bobcat.

Keep going and you’ll reach Alpine. Alpine is located in a mountain meadow surrounded by mountain peaks. The town started off in 1876 as a log house known as Fort Bush and was later established as a Mormon community. If hunting, fishing, or camping are your thing, this would be a great place to stop. There are numerous lakes and streams nearby.

Once you reach Springerville, you’ve reached the end of Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, but there’s nothing to stop you from exploring this quaint southwestern town at the northern end of Arizona. The town is located in the White Mountains with White Mountain Historical Park nearby. Visit a series of old cabins from the early 1900s. Two pioneer-era museums can give you a glimpse of the past.

Now, if you want to travel way back into the past, visit Casa Malpais, which was inhabited from 1200 to 1400AD. Casa Malpais is an archeological park near Springerville, surrounded by lava fields, which contributed to its name. It was either a translation from “House of the Badlands” (Badlands being the nearby lava fields), or because of the volcanic rock called malapai, which it’s built on. Take a guided tour into the past and explore an ancient staircase, an astronomical calendar, rock art, and more.

motorcycles driving down curved road

The Choice is Yours

You have a number of locations where you can stop to take in the views, stretch your legs with a hike, commune with the local wildlife, swim, eat, or rest. You can enjoy the road as you travel from one location to the next, taking advantage of what each place has to offer.

Or you could decide that 120 miles of twists and turns, changes of elevation, varying landscapes, and temperatures deserves to be ridden straight through. If so, then hang on to your handlebars. You’ve got 3 to 4 hours of an exhilarating drive along one of the most exciting roads for motorcycle riders.

We'll see you at the lodge! Or we'll give you a wave as you roar past!

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