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Get Your Kicks on Route 666

Motorcycling Arizona’s Mountains

Story and photos Koz Mraz

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Arizona has incredible geological diversity that lie between Flagstaff’s Humphries Peak, at 12,637 feet to the Grand Canyon, the Red Rocks of Sedona to lush Verde Valley.

Arizona also has the longest continuous stretch of uninterrupted Route 66 two-lane asphalt and is home to Route 666. Renamed SR 191 in 2003 because the Department of Transportation was constantly replacing stolen highway signs.

It's this 120-mile section of the Coronado National Scenic Byway Trail, of Route 666, (SR 191) that’s Arizona’s wildest ride. With over 650 turns and over 5,000 ft. of elevation change this curvy narrow road is filled with steep drop-offs, no guardrails and some areas, speeds may slow to 10 mph. Appropriately called, The Devils Highway.

After grabbing my trusty steed at Sedona EagleRider, ground zero for many epic rides, the first part of this 2-day journey starts by riding the entire length of State Route 260. It’s a thrilling 217 miles of ascending high-speed sweepers that rise over 4000 feet.

TIP: Only Seven miles east of Hwy 17 in Camp Verde are the Mindeleff Cavates, ancient ruins consisting of about 89 separate dwellings and a total of about 343 rooms, hand carved out of a layer of soft sandstone, sandwiched between two harder layers of rock along the east banks of the Verde River south of Camp Verde. At its peak, it would have housed at least 250 people, and possibly significantly more.

Highway 260 has lots of passing lanes keeping the trusty steed in front of the pack. With posted speed limits of 55mph, 80mph felt just right. Ride at your own pace. Flying through Pines, Douglass Firs, the Spruce forests, crisp scented air, expansive mountain views and quaint mountain towns is exhilarating. It’s also holds a dramatic change in altitude and temperature.

The first stop is Tonto Natural Bridge State Park natural arch, believed to be the largest natural travertine bridge in the world. Tonto Natural Bridge stands over a 400-foot-long tunnel that measures 150 feet at its widest point and reaches a height of 183 feet. It’s a steep climb and about an hour walk but worth a visit.

TIP: It’s 7 bucks to get in and is way too crowded on weekends during season.

I lunched in Heber-Overgaard at the Wild Woman Saloon and Grill. They have great menu options and some of the best French fries I have ever eaten. The Wild Women? Never found them.

A Verde Valley motorcycle club called “ROMEO” Riding Old Men Eating Out was feasting there. Turned out their next banquet was the Hannagan Meadow Lodge. We will dine together.

TIP: From the 260, take the 273 to the Sunrise Ski Area all the way to 191. This is a diagonal shortcut that winds gracefully through beautiful tree lined rolling hills and open meadows reminiscent of Vermont or Italy.

Hannagan Meadow Lodge is a truly amazing place. It has been open to the public since 1926, when the scenic Colorado Trail was dedicated. The Lodge stands alone in the middle of the Apache National Forest. located at about 9200 feet in the Arizona White Mountains it’s completely isolated. They do have WiFi on the first floor of the main lodge, otherwise there’s no cellphone service, no phones or TVs in the lodge rooms or cabins. Very refreshing.

Offering a hearty buffet breakfast, lunch and dinners lovingly cooked up by Grandma and her granddaughter, I could spend a week here. Surrounded by wildlife, the wolves howled at night and Minnie and Mouse, their two massive Clydesdales greeted me in the morning. Surrounding the lodge is the Blue Range Primitive Area, which offers some of the most incredible scenery in the state. Among the highlights are three beautiful rivers, the Black, the Blue and the San Francisco.

With rooms starting at only 80 bucks so make your reservations early because it’s a favorite getaway from Arizona’s scorching heat in the summer.

Riding Devils Highway

The Coronado National Scenic Byway Trail snakes between the twin cities of Eagar and Springerville in the north to the twin cities of Clifton and Morenci in the south. This spectacular roller coaster ride follows the trail used in 1540 by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado as he searched for the fabled “Seven Cities of Cibola.” The Queen of Spain sent 1500 solders to plunder this mythical city of gold. They never found it.

Only seven miles south of Hannagan Meadow is Blue Vista rest stop at the edge of the Mogollon (MUGgy-own) Rim. It’s a 9,184-foot vista of mountains covered in fir, pine and aspens as far as the eye can see. Take advantage of it because all the views are spectacular, but you won’t spend much time admiring them, because of the abrupt hundreds of twists, turns and 1000-foot drop-offs during your ride.

As Route 191 (666) works its way south the last 15 miles tests your nerves with some hair-raising curves and lots of those damn tar snakes. At the bottom you ride directly through one of the largest open-pit mines in the world…a daunting sight. You may decide to dare the Devil once again, turn around and ride RT 666 north.

I opted to tag along with ROMEO, Real-Old Men Eating Out (they knew all the best eateries) and headed into New Mexico to check out the Catwalk.

Do people live in New Mexico? We rode 100 miles on desolate 2-lane highways without seeing another soul! Route 180 was posted at 55mph, but again, 80mph was the preferred rate of motion.

The Catwalk's history began with the discovery of gold and silver in the rugged Mogollon Mountains above Whitewater Canyon. In 1893, the small town of Graham grew around a mill, located on the west hillside near the present day of parking area. In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps rebuilt the Catwalk and it’s been rebuilt repeatedly because of flash floods, most recently in 2016. Lured by rumors of a magical pool and waterfall filled with nymphs at trails end, we trekked on. We never found it, just a dude flyfishing.

Ultimately ending up back at Hannagan Meadow Lodge for dinner I proudly wore my Hannagan’s HWY 666 T-Shirt and pondered the adventure. I must give props to Francisco Vasquez de Coronado for blazing the first trail. To the DOT for designating it RT 666, elevating this wild ride to mythic proportions. Due to a coin toss between Cosper or Hannagan, we determined the Lodges name and of course, the final lure of water-nymphs and wild women.

I came to ride the Devils Highway, looking for fun and adventure, and I found it.

MAP 2: Coronado National Scenic Byway Trail

Click for a copy.
Click for a copy.

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