A few months ago my friend Pat Bianchi (who I do most of my runs with) said the Southern California BMW Club was going to do a ride to Bisbee Arizona and wanted to know if that was something I'd like to do...... of course it took me about two seconds to fire back an e-mail saying count me in on that one.
I've been through the southwest many times especially on the summer vacation trips my family would take every year when I was a kid to the mid-west to visit our relatives, but on those Summer trips the furthest south-east we ever went was going through the city of Tuscon so I was really looking forward to going to a place like the old historic mining town of Bisbee and it being a part of the country that I had never been to before.
The run from LA to Bisbee would consist of five days so I wanted to make sure the Harley was in tip-top shape...... unfortunately a month and a half earlier a kid had made an illegal U turn in front of me and I had to lay the bike down and as with any repairs (especially one's that involve paint) you never get your bike back as soon as you'd like so here I was getting mine back the night before I was to leave and not really knowing if there were any hidden bugs in it before I had to take off early in the morning (normally you'd like to test it out) so it was with some trepidation that I set out to meet Pat in Beverly Hills at 7am the following morning
As I rode down Sunset Blvd. the Harley seemed to be running great and it was good to be back on the bike after my accident, and other than the speedo breaking during the trip the bike ran like a champ the whole run.
After meeting Pat and fueling up our motorcycles we both hit the freeway leaving downtown LA and headed south to the town of Temecula to meet up with the rest of the BMW group
Temecula is one of those old California towns where the Spanish Missionaries established the Mission of San Luis Rey de Francia in 1798 and normally that would have been a nice little ride just to old town Temecula but all we had time for was some breakfast and be on our way with the rest of the group
The day we left was on a Thursday and here in the US that particular day is designated as Veterans Day and there were an amazing amount of motorcyclists out on the road for the various rides that were seemingly everywhere organized with the theme of a Veterans Day Ride, I can't think of any better way to spend a day keeping in mind those who have served and sacrificed be it the living or the dead
After breakfast Pat and I met up with the BMW group riders and all told there were twelve of us that would be making the run, now the really great thing about the So Cal BMW club is that when they do a run anywhere they try and stay off the main highway's as much as possible which always makes for more miles and a longer trip but it equals out with the best possible scenery one can find on the open road.
Heading south towards San Diego our route would take us close to the Mexican border
And the further south-east one travels the more desert the terrain becomes
We rode along Hwy 8 eastbound ending up in Ocotillo for some fuel and a short break
After fueling up we took Hwy 98 South towards Calexico,
Sadly I heard that a few days later on that same two lane road four motorcyclists died when some guy tried to pass a group while another car was coming the other way and ran out of room causing the west-bound vehicle trying to avoid a head-on collision to swerve out of control and hit the group riding east-bound and the bastard that caused the whole thing kept going and is still being sought. They say for motorcyclists there is safety in numbers............ usually that's the case, just not for those unfortunate bikers
The ride was shaping up quite nicely, although most of the day so far we had been riding in a fairly strong cross-wind which was the only drag but it was sure clear and beautiful
Arriving in Calexico which is a border town named for California “Cal” and Mexico “exico" and this was the designated place we would stop for some lunch.
Somewhere along the way we lost two riders, I can't say what happened to them and I'm not really surprised because one of the them literally was riding a step through scooter which is not something one should ride on a long motorcycle run
C'est la vie............
So without a particular place in mind our group leader rode around for a bit looking for a decent restaurant and not finding one he finally decided on McDonald's .......... since that's a place I never eat at Pat knew he and I both would rather have a taco so we took off to find our own lunch spot which just happened to be up the street.
We placed our order and I told Pat there was a dive bar back around the corner that I wanted to take a picture of their wall art so while he waited I took off to do that
I really liked Heckle and Jeckle as drunken borracho's
The first clue we should have had that the food wasn't going to be that good was that all the advertising for the place was for beer (and they certainly had a lot to choose from) Pat ordered a burrito and I guess he didn't realize it was the gristle burrito (must have been the house specialty) I had couple of Carne asada tacos that weren't that much better...... Pat announced that he wouldn't feed that burrito to my dog and that it had just achieved the ranking of worst burrito he's ever had
So lunch for us pretty much consisted of beer and chips because we didn't have time to send it back.
Catching up with everyone at Micky D's we all got on Hwy 8 east heading to the little Arizona town of Gila Bend.
Gila Bend was founded in 1872 and this small town was named for an approximately 90-degree bend in the Gila River, it's always been a stop for the weary traveler but there really isn't much to the town except a few motels and gas stations
Now for me there is nothing like American Kitsch and especially if that includes a motel....... among other things Gila Bend is known for is one of the coolest 1960's motels to be found on the road "The Space Age Lodge"
Opened in 1963 this space age themed motel and restaurant is all about that era when man first orbited the earth and the cars had fins to simulate flight and for us it was a real cool place to stay for the night and a great finish for the day's ride
This is how the place looked as we pulled up at sunset
Here is their flying saucer sign....... too cool
The next morning I got up and took a quick spin around Gila Bend to capture a few things that caught my eye
Like the old Stouts Hotel
Or this old building from the late 1800's
Here's the old wooden school house
During the previous evening Pat and I had discussed what the next stop would be for the following day's ride..... The BMW group was going to ride to Tucson to the Pima Air Museum and take the tour of the many military aircraft that are located there while Pat and I decided to skip the plane museum and take a different route to get to Bisbee which consisted of going further south and east, we rode parallel to the Mexican border for much of our days ride checking out some of the little towns and scenery the road less traveled had to offer us
We took Hwy 85 south from Gila Bend and after about thirty miles along that highway we were rewarded with our decision to go southward with this beautiful desert landscape
Now oddly enough this picturesque area is part of the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range.........It's never a surprise what the US military will blow up
But Pat and I pulled off the highway along the range for a few photos because this is what one thinks of when in the Arizona desert with the beautiful rock formations and Saguaro Cactus
The next town we were headed for was the old mining town of Ajo, which is the Spanish word for garlic, but god only knows why they named it that because they don't grow garlic here....... Ajo is known for High-grade native copper and the picturesque town has the distinction of having the first copper mine in Arizona.
It is a place with a rich western history and I would have loved to have spent a few hours there exploring the town but Pat and I had a lot of miles to ride before we made it to our destination in Bisbee, so here's the only pic I got of the place while riding through their civic center.
The old mission church in Ajo
Our next stop was the little town of "Why" and the unusual name of the town comes from the fact that the two major highways, State Routes 85 and 86, originally intersected in a Y-intersection, so after fueling up the bikes we took hwy 86 through the Tohono O'Odham Indian Reservation. It was along this route that the realization hit me of the devastating affects alcoholism and drunkenness has had on the Indian community
All along the side of the road you would see it littered with booze bottles, as what I assume would have been tossed out by drunken Indians driving home, mind you most of the littered bottles were all hard alcohol like this empty fifth bottle
The other thing that would accompany all these liquor bottles strewn everywhere
were the many crosses and roadside memorials where people had taken their exit from this life.
I remember when I was a kid on our Summer trips there was this very narrow two lane highway in Iowa and at the beginning of a fifteen mile stretch there was a sign stating it was the "Highway of Death" so when you drove into the most dangerous section of that narrow two lane road there were many white crosses placed along the route where accidents had occurred and people perished.....and seeing that really had a sobering effect to have you slow down and pay attention, I think it was then that I developed an eye and curiosity for roadside memorials.
That being said that stretch of highway in Iowa can't even begin to come close to the amount of carnage, death and roadside memorials found along Hwy 86 through the Indian reservation where it seemed every where you looked along the road there were scenes like this
And some roadside memorials were just an old meager cross or a pile of rock markers while others were more elaborate like this one where three people died (and there were a lot of these multiple cross sites)
This one had a Jesus in a Wine jug in one of the archways
Yes the Indian community is largely forgotten about in the grand scheme of American society and this dark side of what has happened to the American Indian is just one more injustice to their long and sad history since the white man first landed and colonized America.
After a bit Pat and I stopped to get our bearings straight because from Hwy 86 there were a couple of off beat roads we could take through the mountains so we mapped out our next route and continued southeast
One thing I want to mention that after we went through the Indian reservation the roads we were on were pretty desolate........ except for the US border patrol
now for every car we would encounter along the road you would have four or five border patrol vehicles and numerous check points where you had to stop, it was like a war zone.......without the enemy combatants.
For all the hype of the horde of illegal emigrants flooding Arizona coming from the Arizona Governor (re-election political BS) to my observation this was just not true......... and many of the Arizonians I spoke to said the amount of Border Patrol amounted to overkill.
Riding along this obscure route we saw some pretty countryside and great windy roads
with lot's of twisty's so it was some awesome motorcycle riding
We stopped in Selis for some more directions and I took a pic of these old adobe ruins
You always come across odd things on the road and I've seen pick-up trucks with beds full of junk all across this country but these two trucks hands down took the first place prize in my book because it was a wonder they could even roll down the highway with the amount of crap overloaded on those two trucks let alone negotiate the same mountain roads we were riding on.........mind you they were creeping along at about fifteen miles an hour..... but still
And here they are in the parking lot where we had lunch as the men were busy trying to transfer some of the weight........ I guess the thought of throwing some of that shit out never occurred to them
We were headed to the border city of Nogalas and still being an hour or so away from there it was time for a late lunch (I couldn't count that fiasco in Calexico as a meal)and that's when we rode into the little town of Amado and this was the first joint we saw
Now you know with a giant Cabeza da Vaca out front they gotta be BBQ-ing some part of the cow, But I looked to the right of us and noticed this cool place
The Cow Palace Restaurant is a very historic steak house and saloon from the 1920's and as the local area over the last several years has been used as a filming location for many westerns this place became a favorite haunt for many of the movie stars that were in those films
So Pat and I settled in for a nice meal in a great western setting
After that we headed south for Nogalas
After fueling up in Nogalas we headed east for our final leg to Bisbee
Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880 and in fact mining was done here all the way until 1975 so unlike a lot of mining towns that become derelict after the mining is done Bisbee has always been inhabited and in the 1970's started on the course of becoming an artist community and that is how one finds the city today with a rich western history combined with many art galleries and shops along with some great restaurants.
The Hotel we would be staying at for the next few days was The Inn at Castle Rock
The Inn is a historic 1895 hotel and also home to the historic Apache Springs Well
Owners Carol and Chris Brown and staff were really friendly and the Inn is within a short walking distance to Main Street Bisbee and all the shops, bars and restaurants
There are 14 uniquely themed rooms and paintings all over the Inn done by the previous owner—Jim Babcock—and friends
Our room should have been called the Coke room......... no not for that reason
but because all the Coca Cola themed items in it, I think they named the one Pat and I stayed in the Pioneer Room...... There were two beds in our room which had a different sort of configuration with one part of the room with a queen size bed and a tiny adjacent room (the size of a walk in closet) with a twin bed....... since Pat is the big boy I got the little boys room ;-)
And just outside our window was the balcony where you can see the street below and watch the world go by....... it was quite nice
Being that Bisbee is in the upper elevation it gets quite cold at night and it's quite thoughtful that the hotel keeps a nice fire going and a place to warm up right beside the front door for when you come back at whatever time in the evening
After we got cleaned up we ventured out with the rest of the group to see a bit of Bisbee in the evening and find a place to have dinner, here's the Inn at night
Walking down Main street we all ended up at the Bisbee Grand saloon that is adjacent to the Bisbee Grand Hotel, it's a real nice turn of the century western saloon and it was a perfect place to get the evening started
The back bar fixture here was placed on a wagon way back in the day and hauled in from an old saloon in Tombstone, Arizona
As with most places here in the old west the Grand saloon comes with it's own stories of haunting's and it's rumored that there is a male ghost in the saloon that prefers to linger around the ladies room........ that being said Pat said he thought he saw a ghost or some kind of thing at our hotel which is supposed to be haunted also but you know how it is with these old western towns they sure like their places to have that hint of the supernatural....... you won't find the ghost-busters here
After some drinks we all decided to look for a place to have dinner and after finding the first few places full we ended up at the old Copper Queen Hotel
Established in 1902 the Copper Queen (named after the famous mine) is a historic and landmark western hotel and it is superbly maintained...... lol and like every other place in Bisbee this great old hotel has it's share of ghost sightings and stories
Here'a a pic of the bar
We had one of the large parlor rooms all to ourselves for dinner and a good meal and time was had by all
After dinner Pat and I decided to walk around check out the local shops and bar scene which for the most part is located along Brewery Gulch
Bisbee has some very unique shops with all kinds of antiques and collectibles
so every now and then I snapped a pic here and there of something that caught my eye
Like these old soda pop bottles
Or this little praying figurine
Here's a shop window with some really cool kites
Moving further up Brewery Gulch we heard some live music so we found ourselves in front of the St Elmo bar
The St Elmo Bar was established in 1902 and it's a spot where many of the locals hang, It is one of the oldest saloons in town and back in the day the local miners would flock to the bar on payday so the joint got a reputation as a fairly rowdy bar because everyone got pretty liquored up and all kinds of mayhem would break out but it seems quite tame and laid back now days
We hung there for a while, had a beer and listened to the band
After St Elmo's we walked on back to the Bisbee Grand Saloon where we met back up with some of the BMW group riders
Having a few more beers at the Grand it was now getting to be around the time when ones bumper is dragging and all the day's riding and miles are now catching up with you, it's at that point the thought comes to mind that all you really want is your bed at the hotel and call it a day, so with that thought in mind we left the Grand Saloon and made our way back to the Inn along the lit and deserted Bisbee streets
The next day the BMW group headed out to Kartchner Caverns, while we decided to hang around and explore Bisbee.
We first went to the Bisbee Coffee Co.
and had a most excellent coffee and pastry, if you ever find yourself in Bisbee this coffee house is awesome. After that Pat and I went our separate ways, he had heard about a local spot where bikers gather and I just wanted to walk around and take some photos of Bisbee.
Walking around you can really tell this is an eclectic and artistic place residing in and around all of the historic buildings. There are unique things everywhere, like this metal sun found in a narrow walkway between two houses
And this figure was on a fence right across
Further up the street I came across these wonderful sculptures
Or how about this ceramic pig in a window
Bisbee is the sort of place where you can also see old soda pop advertising signage on the side of a building
Or the unique little items found in some of the great shops around town
All within these great old buildings
Here's an old church
Loved this very cool vintage shop
Moving along I came across this colorful fenced in "Bark Park" as they call the local dog park
The walls were full of cool graffiti art
And this old house across the street where an artist lives and had put up some great and unique sculpture art all over the exterior of the place
Lot's of places have been converted to different businesses
Here's a wonderful old steel door in a small alleyway next to the old jailhouse
It was about that time when Pat found me and said the place he went to see the bikes was a very cool restaurant called the Bisbee Breakfast Club and that we should go over there and have lunch, I said that sounded great so we hopped on the bikes and rode over to Lowell which is a small township within Bisbee. Going over to Lowell you pass the enormous open mining pit called "The Lavender Pit" where much of the copper was extracted along with high quality turquoise that is a by-product of copper mining
We arrived at the Bisbee Breakfast club and as this restaurant being a hot spot to eat at we had a bit of a wait to be seated
So having a little time to kill was fine by me because I just walked down the street taking some more photos of the wonderful old buildings nearby
During lunch we talked about where to go next and seeing how the old west town of Tombstone was only twenty some miles away Pat and I decided to take a ride and check out the small western town made famous by Wyatt Earp and his brothers after the shootout at the OK corral
Tombstone has that look and feel one would think of watching any American Western movie and along with the old buildings and structures there are several re-enactment characters walking around main street, in all reality it's just one giant tourist trap with many shops selling the same crap and if you'd like to see the OK corral where the gunfight actually occurred you had to pay ten dollars to get a look (talk about a hold up) and being that it was a Saturday there were a lot of tourists on the street so I just walked around for a bit and took some shots of the town and things I found of interest, all in all it was worth a drive by and a walk through but a short time there was enough for the both of us
I asked one of the local gals where the old western cemetery Boot Hill was and she gave me directions and also told me where I could find the current graveyard so we hopped back on the bikes to check those places out...........Tombstone's Boot Hill was a joke although I did quite like the old hearse sitting outside the trading post there
It was just another tourist trap and looked nothing like what an old graveyard should look like (I've seen quite a few of them) so we went on to find the real graveyard and I found some interesting markers to shoot like this old steel cross with a rising sun which is reminiscent of the rising sun on the Arizona state flag
After that we rode on back to Bisbee for a three o'clock tour of the Copper Queen Mine.......
The Copper Queen was was the most productive copper mine in Arizona in the early 1900's and the mine has a rich history besides the wealth that was extracted from it. Deposits of gold and silver were also discovered in the mine and as a now obscure footnote in history over 1000 miners in 1917 were arrested and deported for being involved in the Industrial Workers of the World miners strike......they were just trying to get a little better pay and working conditions. yep things were different back then if you went on strike.
We found out in the mine tour life for a miner in those days was harsh, hard and deadly while broken bones or losing fingers for a miner was a common occurrence
Here is a museum photo of some miners and a mule from those days, our guide told us once the mule's were in the mine they didn't leave till they went blind from lack of light, yes it was tough on man and beast
For the mine tour everyone had to don a helmet, yellow coat and a belt battery pack with flashlight, you then sit on a mine train and take the tour into what's still accessible (most of the mine is now flooded or collapsed)
We had a third generation native American miner as our guide and he explained all about the way the mine was built and how the ore was extracted
Here's a pic of the rolling shit wagon which for all intents and purposes was the bathroom in the mine for all the miners working there
After the mine tour we rode back to the hotel for a nice little cat nap after that we got cleaned up and met every one at 7 for dinner, walking around Bisbee it seemed at that hour all the restaurants we wanted to try were full and had waiting lists so Pat and I split from the group and decided to check out this Micro Brewery we saw on Brewery Gulch
The Old Bisbee Brewing Company is a great brewery with some amazing tasting beers, We were in luck when we walked in because the owner Vic had the title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Antonio Margarito on the bars TV, we got ourselves a table and settled in for some boxing and beers while our bartender Aislynn kept supplying us with all the various types of brew that Old Bisbee makes, mind you Pat and I still hadn't had dinner so we both got a quick buzz, knowing we had to eat or pay a price for it later we told Vic that we had to go find something to eat and that's when Vic told us he had just boiled some bratwursts in beer and if we'd like we could try those.........That put an instant smile on my face and we ordered two of them apiece and settled in for the title fight
The brewery is not the type of place that stays open late so after the fight was over it was a bit past their closing time so we said our goodbyes and thank our hosts for a great time.
Normally at this point we would have found another bar to continue our drinking and merriment but seeing that Pat had some issues with a rental house he owns and had to be back a day early that meant that the both of us would have to be up at the crack of dawn and on the road by 7am or there abouts in the morning, so despite the urge to keep on truckin on the Bisbee bar circuit we did the right thing and called it a night and headed back to the hotel for a good nights sleep, the following morning it was sure nice not to wake up with a nasty hangover as I took this pic at sunrise
By the time we packed up the bikes and were ready to leave one of our BMW riding buddies who was also up was kind enough to snap a photo of Pat and I just before we hit the road
Heading out it was quite cold (upper thirties) and when your doing 75 miles and hour with the wind chill factor it's in the twenties, well I was pretty well bundled up except for my gloves which are not designed for that cold of weather so my hands were freezing to the point of pain......... but at least the scenery was beautiful
After about a hour we arrived in the little town of Benson and found the Old Horseshoe Cafe open and doing a brisk business, the cafe has and is a Benson tradition since it was opened in 1938 and it has been going strong ever since, it's a great diner with a wonderful old neon sign out front and friendly staff inside
We had a superb homemade corn-beef hash and eggs and the hot coffee cup cradled in my hands finally allowed them to warm up....... after breakfast it had warmed up enough so the cold didn't bother us as we headed for Hwy 10 westbound towards Palm Springs and Pat's condo
Pretty much the rest of the ride back was not picturesque and with a strong cross wind at the speed we were riding the ride was a bit difficult, when we made the California state line and the town of Blythe I told Pat there was an old motel sign I wanted to photograph so I took a pic of it and we hit the road again
We finally arrived at Pats condo around 3:30 making pretty good time for riding five hundred miles or so....... I hung out at Pat's place while he made a great BBQ for dinner and we both had a nice meal while watching the Laker game, now I could have spent the night but there was a part of me that just wanted to get back home so I bid Pat adieu and took off for the last 150 miles remaining till I arrived back home....... all told I rode over 650 miles on Sunday and my bootie was a bit sore to say the least, you know after a long day and a lot of miles the best place you can find yourself is in your own home, with a very happy dog wagging his tail at the gate to greet me I was glad to make it back home without any problems............ now all I had to do for the next week was go through all the pictures I took on the trip and post some of them here along with a few words for you to enjoy and spend a little time riding along here on the internet for another adventure with me on the road again