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Biker Paradise: Cruising Sedona

Riding the Red Rock Wonderlands

Photos and text by Josh Placa

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There are a few, rare, true meccas for motorcyclists destinations on the paved side of this planet. One worth the pilgrimage possesses almost supernatural beauty. If we ever questioned why we ride, the red rock wonderlands of Sedona offer an epiphany. The dazzling natural monument brings the passion and poetry of our leathery life into crystal clarity.

Arizona is an ancient, timeless place. It is where nature preserved some of its greatest works. The landscape seems unchanged since dinosaurs were the 1%ers of the Permian plains. I often think I’ve glimpsed one of the petrol beasties on occasion as I leaned through a curve or rode into a glaring sunset, only to see giant shadows bound into the wilderness. Riding through it feels like wandering around another epoch, a fanciful trip into an H. G. Wells novel.

This whimsical town two hours north of Phoenix is a perennial Arizona Bike Week featured ride. This is a biker’s paradise, a sacred place where road, climate and scenery converge to create an unparalleled Eden for man and chopper rider alike. Towering crimson petrified sand and limestone cliffs flank Sedona mesas. Unnoticed by most visitors, a couple of extinct volcanoes hide in the shadows of the older sedimentary rock.

Sedona is also an international New Age center, host to no fewer than five energy vortices where entry to other dimensions and altered states can be accessed, rock formations thought to emit spiritual energy and claimed by true believers to be portals to other dimensions, and when the stars and planets align, one-way passage to the mother ship.

Courthouse Butte
Courthouse Butte

Some 25 or 30 years ago, Sedona somehow became a colony of weirdoes. It has been ground zero for alternative faiths, cults, sexual healers, psychics, tarot card readers, purveyors of aura glasses, magic crystals, assorted talisman, and overabundance of flimflam ever since. If you wish to swim in the psychic sperm of your inner dolphin, there is sure to be someone who will happily throw you in—for a substantial fee.

Yet, seeing the weather- and wind-sculpted rock can offer a different kind of spiritual experience. Viewing this place from anything other than a motorcycle belittles the spectacle and the connection felt when the earth rolls out naked before you, revealing curves and shapes before unexposed.

My custom Harley Softail gripped these smooth, stretched curves with aplomb, in large part thanks to, appropriately enough, a fresh set of Continental’s space age Milestone tires. The new Milestone was specifically developed for cruisers and heavyweight baggers. It uses a deep tread, construction that evenly distributes ground pressure, and is composed of a silicone compound formula designed for higher mileage with the same grip level as previous Continental cruiser tires. The new technology shows up on the road with a more confident ride.

Bell Rock
Bell Rock

The rocks seem to shift in color, appearing at different times red, orange or pink. Seasonal monsoons rumble in from July through September, marked by high winds, pelting rain, and hail, and sometimes led by a howling wall of dust and lightning. Legend has it that on some dark days it’s not a storm, but the Devil himself chasing your soul. If you’re caught out in the open when he rolls in, run for your life.

Sedona has attracted generations of Native Americans, artists, ranchers, mountain bikers, hikers, moviemakers, some aliens, New World Order advance guards, a few wayward bikers, and anyone in search of new faith and healing, and the accompanying swindlers and fake healers who prey on them. Presently, some 3.3 million tourists per year descend upon the place.

Some 11,000 people live here, not counting inter-dimensional creatures of various natures and intents, angels, devils, witches, a smattering of hell-raisers, and even a lost tribe of Bigfoots. At some point or another, all have been reported seen about town. But the real attraction to Sedona is simply being here, riding the smooth black ribbons that wrap around the blood-red stone.

Honanki pictograph animals.
Honanki pictograph animals.

While here, visit the ruins at Tuzigoot National Monument, about 30 minutes away in the town of Clarkdale. The ancient Sinagua Indian pueblo contains 110 rooms and was home to nearly 300 people at its peak. It was inhabited from approximately 1000 to 1400 AD, when the Sinagua mysteriously vanished. About 40 minutes from Sedona in Camp Verde is Montezuma’s Castle, a 50-room, restored Sinagua pueblo that was built beneath a limestone overhang.

The spellbinding area offers some of the best motorcycling on this planet, or probably any other planet. It’s difficult to putt a block in this town without passing a crystal or taro card shop, palm reader, bead boutique and various and sundry shops selling western wear, Navajo and Hopi jewelry, T-shirts and assorted knickknacks. At the northern end of town sits a great cluster of stores hawking the predictable tourist detritus, plus some things not so expected, such as restaurants serving buffalo and rattlesnake, as well as shops, such as the Cowboy Corral, that can outfit a tinhorn in authentic 1880s garb and gear.

Jeep and Hummer tours, horseback riding, ATV, helicopter, balloon and vintage plane rides are also available. If your bike needs any service, look up ace wrench Mark Shoultz at Sedona Motorcycles and tell him we sent you.

State Route 89A runs through Sedona and snakes up Oak Creek Canyon. It is simply one of the most stunning roads in the world. Climbing north toward the college town of Flagstaff (about an hour’s ride and 3,000-foot rise in elevation to 7,500 feet), Oak Creek cut a twisted canyon for some 15 miles before the road pivots directly uphill at what is locally referred to simply as the “switchbacks.” Steep hairpin turns scale the jagged face of the Mogollon Rim, an escarpment that travels hundreds of miles across northern Arizona, an unexplained abrupt rise in solid rock.

Slide Rock State Park
Slide Rock State Park

The road clings to Oak Creek, passing Slide Rock State Park, a popular swimming spot noted for its smooth, waterslide-like flat red rocks; West Fork, one of the most beautiful hiking trails found anywhere, and still a few more spots to shop if you’re so inclined. There are many points along the way to pull over and hike in and around the canyon, or take a short walk down to the creek. It’s hard not to continuously crane your neck, trying to take in one impressive sight after another as you roll by immense petrified ocean reefs that stand sentinel over the fresh water stream, pines and juniper trees.

Cathedral Rock
Cathedral Rock

Once atop the switchbacks, the narrow road quickly flattens out. Views of Humphreys Peak soon appear. At 12,643 feet, it’s the highest point in the state. It also happens to be a hopefully extinct volcano, having last erupted a mere 900 years ago. There have been times, though, during some late fall rides when I wished the old volcano would spew out a few shots of nice, hot lava to warm my chilled soul. In the desert, temperatures can drop sharply in a few hours after sunset. Summers can cook you like the dry heat of a pizza oven, and chill you to the bone at night. For all its staggering beauty, this is an unforgiving place, but one that will change you forever.

For More Information:

Sedona Tourism Bureau

Montezuma Castle National Monument
Visitor Center: 928-567-3322
Park Headquarters: 928-567-5276

Tuzigoot National Monument
Visitor Center: 928-634-5564
Park Headquarters: 928-567-5276


Continental Tire North America
See your local dealer.

Mesa Grill at the Sedona Airport
1185 Airport Rd.
Sedona, AZ 86336

Sedona Motorcycles
Mark Shoultz/Owner
(Shop) 928-282-6444
(Mobile) 928-310-6133

65 Birch Blvd., Unit B
Sedona, AZ 86336
Please call for appointment.

Sedona Real Inn and Suites
95 Arroyo Pinon Drive
Sedona, AZ 86336

Thai Palace Uptown Restaurant
260 Van Deren Rd.
Sedona, AZ 86336

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