Arizona Road Trip Fulfills Lifelong Dream
By Nick DeCondio
Freedom on Two Wheels
Editor’s note: Photographer Nick DeCondio of Chicopee recently took a unique photo trip across Arizona, armed with little more than his camera, a few changes of clothes, and a rented Harley Davidson. Here, he describes his adventures shooting the landscape of the West.
You can always imagine doing something… but what’s better is finally doing it.
One of my goals in life was to ride the West on a motorcycle, and this goal has just been accomplished.
It all started with a Father’s Day gift that my sister wanted to give her husband that would be different. She always wanted him to just go for a long ride and clear his head from the hectic and demanding life that he lives owning a business — sort of a stress reliever vacation.
So she suggested that I also go, since I also have a high-pressure job and needed to get away from it all for a while, too. I had a few reservations at first, but this was a goal in life that I had to check off. Our destination was to be sunny Arizona since I have relatives out there in the Phoenix area. So we bought the tickets in June and planned our vacation for October.
I reserved the bikes for us at that time. Not just bikes – Harley Davidsons.
My brother-in-law rented the H.D. Road Glide, and I rented the H.D. Dyna Low Rider. Both were 2006 models. We rented the bikes from Chester’s Harley Davidson in Mesa, Ariz., for three days and headed out for the open roads.
We decided to do a big round robin of this wonderful state. One thing I must say first is to dress properly, fill up when you can, and wear sunscreen – which I remembered a little too late.
After the first day of riding, my face looked like a raccoon’s, red from the wind and the sun. Good thing I was wearing a face helmet and my Wiley X SG1 goggles to cover the rest of my head.
We started off in Gilbert and wound up doing the following routes: US-60 West, exit 124-303 north to 60 into Wickenburg. On 303N, my brother-in-law almost collided with a coyote running across the road chasing a rabbit, and this was just a couple of hours into our trip.
Good deal that he was leading.
We proceeded on 303 to US-60 into Wickenburg. We had breakfast there and then proceeded onto AZ-89 N, which is a great scenic and photographic route up the mountain, through twists and turns into Prescott. Of course, we had to go into the local Harley clothing store, which is located in the town square.
Then it was back onto AZ-89 to our next destination, Jerome, then to Sedona. Before continuing on to Flagstaff, we headed to the Harley dealership Grand Canyon Harley Davidson in Bellemont, on I-40, about 10 miles west of Flagstaff, to grab a few more keepsakes.
Flagstaff was our final destination for that day, and we had cruised for 12 hours. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants in Flagstaff to cater all your needs. When we got up the next morning and smelled that great almost 7000-foot elevation air, we noticed that it was pretty chilly and that we could see our breath in this weather… I believe it was around 30 degrees that morning.
The Grand Canyon was our next destination, and the scenery on the way up was gorgeous. I never imagined that this terrain going up there could ever exist.
As I said before, make sure you dress up in layers if you go up to these parts because we froze our butts off on the way to the Grand Canyon. It was a good thing that I brought another pair of cotton gloves, which I put over my leather gloves. The rest of me was warm.
On US-180, again my brother-in-law had to slow down because right in front of him there were half a dozen deer crossing the road. That would have been a Kodak moment, but there was nowhere to pull aside, even with the bikes.
Another great scene I will always remember is the San Francisco mountain peak covered with snow. Here, we did have a chance to pull aside for some photo ops. After this, we headed from US-180 to 64N to the south Rim of the Grand Canyon. We spent a few hours there, checking out the scenery.
You can look at a thousand photographs of the Grand Canyon, but to actually be there is a sight you will never forget. We then headed east to what was called Desert View Point, then headed to Payson. Unfortunately, we missed the exit, so after almost another 10 hours we decided to head back to Prescott to eat and crash out for the night.
We ate at a great Italian restaurant that night called Johnny Carino’s Italian Restaurant. The food on the menu reminded me of the great cooking that my mom, from southern Italy, makes.
The next morning, the temperature was a bit warmer. We headed back to Payson via Rte. 169, to I-17 N, to the Camp Verdi/ Payson exit to 260, then 87 into Payson.
Before going into Payson, we encountered a lot of winding, though scenic, roads that test your expertise on a bike like the other roads we encountered on this trip. Going out of Payson, there were quite a few Indian roadside stops where you can buy their arts and crafts. Finally, we headed back to Gilbert on 87.
I must say, if you ever want to see and photograph gorgeous scenery (and feel some major temperature changes) in one state, go to Arizona.
This state is also a photographer’s paradise. You can spend 10 lifetimes photographing this state and still not capture everything you wanted. The way natural light plays with Arizona’s landscape is always changing.
And after three days and exactly 800 miles of riding through roller coaster roads, we made it back in one piece.
To the two-wheelers of the world: Freedom surrounds you wherever you go. Lay a path of new tracks for the future riders to follow their dreams.
Nicholas DeCondio is an aspiring writer and long time photographer who lives in Western Massachusetts.
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