Riding Choppers in the Valley of Fire

June 12, 2009
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Hi-ho  Honda Fury  away! I did my best impression of the Lone Ranger while riding the Honda chopper through Nevadas Valley of Fire.
This article and many more like it are featured in Summer Issue 2008 of MotoUSA Magazine. This coffee table quality publication features timeless articles that focus on the best destinations and the rides from around the world is brought to you by the editors of Motorcycle-USA.com. Get your complimentary copy with every order from the exclusive distributor Motorcycle-Superstore. (While supplies last!)

With the glam of Vegas fading faster than my last paycheck at Rio’s blackjack table, I roll on the throttle and let the blast from the Big Dog Coyote’s Big Radius pipes voice my disdain. Losing always sucks. I see my buddy Tom behind me in my side view mirror rolling along on a thin, tall tire, hands gripped firmly to wide, chrome bars, his black, monochromatic Honda Fury unmarked and mysterious. The winds are already hot though it’s not even 10 a.m. As we ride out of town, the spire of the Stratosphere becomes a distant dot behind us. We pass the empty stands of Las Vegas Speedway as we head northeast seeking our turn-off of I-15 at Crystal.

Everybody knows Vegas. But few venture off the Strip. And even though our Big Dog and Honda choppers were right at home in front Caeser’s Palace, it’s comforting to leave the city’s frenetic pulse behind for the natural wonders of the Mojave only an hour out of town.

We met a group of visitors from Korea at the entrance to the Valley of Fire who loved taking photos of our choppers.
We met a group of visitors from Korea at the entrance to the Valley of Fire who loved taking photos of our choppers.

At the sign to the entrance of the Valley of Fire we run across a tour bus of visitors from Korea snapping pictures. They take photos of the choppers and look at us like rock stars, an effect riding around on the Coyote and Fury elicits. Tom’s easy-going demeanor soon has him posing with the group, smiling amongst strangers, the love of motorcycles a universal language.

Dropping down into the West Entrance to the park, the flat earth tones of the dry high-desert yield to fantastic reds, like an artisan’s clay, rocks weathered and worn over millions of years by winds and water. The landscape is harsh but beautiful, the red rounded rocks pock-marked and worn with the grooves of a long-receded ocean. The valley’s allure has not been lost on Hollywood. Michael Bay shot a Transformers scene here, Star Trek Generations was filmed in the Valley of Fire and holds a special spot in Trekkie nostalgia as the place where Captain Kirk fell to his death, and Criss Angel has filmed an extreme stunt for his show Criss Angel Mindfreak here as well.

The harsh landscape of the Valley of Fire has been sculpted by a million years of wind and weather.
The harsh landscape of the Valley of Fire has been sculpted by a million years of wind and weather.

We stop at the ranger station to pay the $6 fee and plot points of interest before beginning the 10.5-mile journey through the park. The Valley of Fire, dedicated in 1935, is Nevada’s oldest state park. The main paved road snakes past giant sandstone beehives and sculpted formations like the Seven Sisters. With only four inches of rainfall annually, water is precious here, so play it smart and pack in plenty of your own thirstables. The Visitor’s Center near the middle of the park has a drinking fountain inside next to the bathrooms, which gives you a good excuse to go inside and check out the interesting displays on the area’s history.

This includes inhabitation by ancient Pueblo peoples, the Anasazi, who were farmers from the nearby fertile Moapa Valley. Evidence of the acient culture remains inscribed on the back of Atlatl Rock, a popular attraction at the park, so we kick the stands down on the choppers in the dusty parking lot. The V-Twins’ polished cylinder heads reflect the midday sun in my eyes. A few sheltered picnic tables offer relief from the heat, but there’s no shaded parking. A 40-foot stairwell leads to the well-preserved petroglyphs. The symbols and stories tell a tale long undeciphered, but the

These petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock tell a story long unsolved  but some of the symbols are easy to recognize.
These petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock tell a story long unsolved, but some of the symbols are easy to recognize.

pictures are drawn in levels, connected by ladders and zig-zagging lines, with scenes of hunting and animals at every echelon. The hunters hold atlatls (pronounced addle-addle) above their heads, a small wooden device used to launch spears with deadly speed and accuracy. We call a series of circles the symbol for motorcycle.

Both choppers run 3.4-gallon tanks, so planning fuel stops in the desert ahead of time is a priority. Coming out of the East Entrance to the park, we turn left on Northshore Drive for the short ride to Overton. We gas up and then grab some grub at The Inside Scoop, a mom-and-pop place, for homemade chili and an open-faced roast beef sandwich. Steady streams of locals drop in to grab an ice cream cone and a scoop or two. A flyer for local bikers trying to raise money for disadvantaged kids next to the register confirms that it is a biker-friendly place. Next door, the building has a

We couldnt help but take advantage of this painting on the side of the Red Rooster Saloon in Overton  Nevada  for a photo op.
We stopped for a photo op at the
Red Rooster Saloon in Overton, Nevada.

painting on its side of a big red rooster riding a big bike through the desert. The place is appropriately called the Red Rooster Saloon.

We fire up the Fury and Coyote and head back down Northshore Drive. Yellow wildflowers muscle in between the brown desert scrub and creosote bushes as we ride along the shores of Lake Mead. While the lake is known for its striper fishing and watersports, at least forty feet of white rock is exposed below the blackened rocks of the waterline. With each new bend, the sun begins to hide behind peaks, so we speed up, only to bring the bikes to a rapid halt for road construction ahead.

Paved road runs out in three areas on Hwy NV 167. Luckily it’s late in the day and the crews are gone, but we still ride slowly on hard-packed dirt. Afterwards, the road is all smooth rolls and sweeping turns, and we pick up the pace as we race the setting sun to Hoover Dam. The Coyote’s monster 1917cc S&S engine shoots the Big Dog up the grades, while the Fury’s well-balanced chassis gains ground in the corners as miles melt away.

We rode our choppers hard to arrive at Hoover Dam just in time for sundown.
Hoover Dam, built in between the walls of the Black Canyon during the Great Depression, is a testament to American resolve during trying times.

*See and hear the choppers in action in our 2010 Honda Fury vs 2009 Big Dog Coyote Video

Hoover Dam is not the dam of my childhood memories. Before it had always been larger-than-life. Crossing Hoover felt like it took forever. I remember parking just over the dam and walking back and staring over the precipice of its grey concrete face, the water shooting out hundreds of feet below as its generators provided power to L.A. Now armed security guards stop you before the dam is even in sight, parking is strictly prohibited on or near the structure, and the steel and concrete suspension bridge that stretches over the expansive canyon above the dam makes Hoover feel smaller now. Its art deco turrets still stand but are greyer than before, and the impending completion of the Hoover Dam Bypass means that riding across the dam may one day be restricted altogether, so visit the architectural wonder while you still can. The sun has gone behind the mountains and the desert quickly cools, so we roll back to south Vegas 30 miles away for the night’s stay.

The Hoover Dam Bypass will route traffic away from the architectural wonder  so if you get a chance to ride your motorcycle over it any time soon  do it while you still can.
The Hoover Dam Bypass will route traffic away from the architectural wonder, so if you get a chance to ride over it any time soon, do it while you still can.

The morning is cloudless and still. The blue sky is calming and the streets are not yet filled with the rush of morning traffic, conditions perfect for riding. We thumb the choppers’ electric starters and break the silence, then jump on Hwy 93 south out of Henderson and ride toward Chloride and Kingman. We turn off at Grasshopper Junction, head east toward Chloride. The main street leads through the ghost town, a strip of turn-of-the 20th century buildings with Spaghetti Western charm. Chloride is the oldest mining town in Arizona, built by miners who worked the land for its deposits of silver, zinc, and lead. Tourism is its claim to fame these days, with the old mercantile and coroner buildings serving as the perfect backdrop for the Longcoats & Lace Gunfighters who hold their old-fashioned Wild West shootout at high noon in Cyanide Springs for tourists twice monthly.

Wild burros roam the streets of Oatman  Arizona  looking for handouts from tourists.
    Oatman’s burros.

A half hour later we’re in Kingman, Arizona, and find the historical Powerhouse Visitor Center downtown. Four bucks gets us into The Route 66 Museum located on the historic byway. It’s a great place to take a break from the road, especially traveling long distances on seats not set-up for touring. The museum tells the story of the many travelers who have used the 2400-mile stretch and why the road will forever be an American icon. The photos and vintage memorabilia make the trip back in time more believable. Outside the museum, we take advantage of the shade Locomotive Park has to offer. The park is filled with families and kids who have come to play around famed steam engine #3759, an old coal burning locomotive. Kingman was founded as a railroad settlement and the park pays tribute to the industry that helped establish the city. And though there’s plenty more to explore, Route 66 beckons to be ridden.

The route over Historic Route 66 took us through the old mining town of Oatman  Arizona  where we got into a two-burro traffic jam.
The route over Historic Rt. 66 took us through the old mining town of Oatman, Arizona, where we got into a two-burro traffic jam.

There is a sense of nostalgia when we turn on the fading grey asphalt. I can remember riding between Texas and California for vacations and the hours I spent watching the land go by as I rode in the back of the family station wagon. The tales this road could tell. Ahead of us, Route 66 begins to rise and twist through the Black Mountains.

The stretch just north of Oatman tests every bit of the choppers’ lean angle and requires serious peg-scraping. We roll through another old mining town, wooden sidewalks and weathered buildings with names like “Jackass Junction” and “Outlaw Willies.” We pull up to the hitching posts outside the “Glory Hole” and park our bikes. Oatman takes you back to the days when rustlers wore six-shooters on their sides and washed the taste of the trail away with a swig of whiskey straight from the bottle.

A red stage coach stands outside the south entrance to town and wild burros roam freely, looking for handouts from visitors to nibble on. I get stuck in a two-burro traffic jam on the way out of town, the donkeys holding their ground in the middle of Route 66, glaring back at me when I give the Big Dog Coyote’s engine a little rev to prompt them to move. I eventually ride around them.


The short strip of I-40 we rode on out of Kingman is pothole-riddled, so be warned. We did do a few short stints on dirt on Nevada Hwy 167 and in the Valley of Fire. The stretch of Route 66 just north of Oatman has some serious twisties, but otherwise the going is straight and smooth with a few elevation changes.

From the beauty of cruising the Vegas strip lit up at night to the first glimpse of the red rocks of the Valley of Fire, you get the best of both worlds. Wildflowers in the desert and cactus in bloom during the spring made the ride even more memorable.
FOOD ***
You can get world-class cuisine in Las Vegas, but beyond that, pickins are slim. You can find good grub for cheap at some of the mom-and-pop places in the small towns though. The open-faced roast beef sandwich smothered in gravy at The Inside Scoop in Overton is hearty, biker-style grub.

The harshness of the desert can harden people. We got a few suspicious stares in the smaller towns, but met riders from around the country and Canada along the way who were eager to swap road stories with us.

Again, you can live like a king in a Vegas suite, but finding a good hotel outside the city limits is challenging. Set your sights on clean and comfortable and you won’t be disappointed. Pay a visit to the reportedly haunted Oatman Hotel and ask if you can see the honeymoon suite where Gable and Lombard stayed.

Chopped out, chromed down, with big V-Twin power. Great for grabbing attention while cruising the Vegas strip. Not so great for hitting the open road. Long wheelbases and fat tires are not features of a great touring bike.

We take Oatman Road until it spits us out on Mohave Valley Hwy 95. A right turn takes us through Bullhead City, Arizona. The road parallels the Colorado River, its waters green and inviting in an otherwise dry, rocky landscape. We cross the Laughlin Bridge into Nevada, joining thousands of vociferous V-Twins in town for the Laughlin River Run, one of the biggest motorcycle rallies on the West Coast. The next few days pass by in a blur of poker runs, bikini and tattoo contests, custom bike shows and live music. Hundreds of vendors are right outside our front door with everything a biker could need or want. When it’s too hot outside, we seek refuge in the casinos and the sounds of roulette wheels spinning and dice rolling down craps tables. Renting a Jet Ski and ripping up and down the Colorado looks like fun, but the action spills late into the night and starts early the next day and there aren’t enough hours for everything.

*Check out more of the River Run in Motorcycle USA’s 2009 Laughlin River Run Video.  

Sunday comes before we know it and it’s time to head back to Sin City. The climb out of the valley through the Black Mountains on Hwy 163 is steep. We merge with a large group of patch-wearing HOG members from Orange County who don’t mind a couple of choppers tagging along. We lose them when we turn north on I-95. The road is straight but smooth. Today it’s heavily patrolled thanks to the River Run. The temptations of Vegas lie ahead as we harken the call of Luxor’s shining beam and the billboards of scantily-clad showgirls. The city has something for everyone. But the true spirit of the West resides just beyond the city limits for those who seek treasures on the less beaten path.

Videos Our Sponsor

We hopped on two factory choppers and charted a course across the Mojave Desert to test the mettle of the Big Dog Coyote and the Honda Fury. Read all about it in Motorcycle USA’s 2010 Honda Fury vs 2009 Big Dog Coyote comparo.

Videos Our Sponsor

See some of the shenanigans our cruiser editor encountered at the 2009 Laughlin River Run, everything from crazy custom rides to wild women and a very memorable mechanical bull performance. Watch the video and then make sure to check out the articles on the Laughlin River Run page.

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