The annual Arizona HOG Rally returned to the historic mountain town of Williams earlier this month. The event has moved around the state from year to year, but Williams is a HOG favorite, having been held in this northern Arizona town for a record 10th time.
Founded in 1881 as a trapping and logging camp, Williams is named after one of the town’s wooly settlers, mountain man Bill Williams. Riding by its handmade brick and clapboard buildings, it’s easy to get the feeling Norman Rockwell might be hanging around, leaning up against a worn and oily Flathead, waiting for the next staged western shootout, admiring the period architecture, maybe planting his easel on the corner of Third and Main, more popularly known as Route 66.
Roughly 500 HOG members representing 13 Chapters statewide rode into this well-preserved piece of old west Americana to suckle on the tar teat of the Mother Road. According to a spokeswoman for the Williams Chamber of Commerce, “I think HOG likes our small town hospitality, and bikers are very welcome here. They also like being on Historic Route 66, the motorcycle-only designated parking throughout downtown, and, of course, all the great rides. We roll out the red carpet and they pretty much have the run of the town.”
Situated on Historic Route 66, Williams offers an intimate, nostalgic feel and laid back atmosphere that helped visitors to the 2012 HOG Rally feel right at home.
When many motorcycle rallies across the nation are finding their host cities less and less hospitable, Williams is a welcome sight. The town is helpful and authentic; there is a laid back and intimate feel that makes a biker feel at home. There is this creeping greed elsewhere, where enthusiasts are too often treated like nothing more than commercial revenue and ticket fodder. This old boomtown, population 3200, about 3.5 hours northwest of Phoenix and 30 minutes west of Flagstaff, appears to understand motorcyclists are made of people.
Williams was the last town in America to submit to the Interstate bypass. It stubbornly fought the highway, relenting only when the feds agreed to provide no less than three exits to the tiny town. Seems like there’s no better place to hold a biker rally than this rebel outpost. Harley’s classically styled motorcycles couldn’t be more at home, or in a better place to ride away.
The Grand Canyon is less than an hour’s ride north from Williams. Within one- to two-hour rides from Williams, which sits in the middle of the biggest Ponderosa Pine forest in the nation, is the college town of Flagstaff, spectacular Oak Creek Canyon, the red rock wonderlands of Sedona, and the old copper boomtown of Jerome. Further northeast is Monument Valley and the great Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Native American reservation. The haunting Petrified Forest and parts of the vast Painted Desert can be reached in less than three hours. If Williams has the will and facility, it has the makings to become another Sturgis.
At an elevation of 6800, June in this mountain town offers almost ideal biker conditions. Temps were in the 80s with low humidity and a soft breeze that sometimes picked up to a bluster. The event celebrated Arizona’s centennial by giving away free bags of commemorative swag at its annual bike games. There was also a free poker walk, guided and self-guided tours, a poker run, bike show, street dance, and a stirring bike parade that could bring a tear to the most grizzled eye. Wild Bill Hickok himself would have felt right at home here, thrown down his bedroll, played a little faro, and maybe sought a more charmed end.
Think throngs of bikers are the wildest things in Williams? Take a stroll through the 158-acre wildlife preserve Bearizona and see if you don’t change your mind.
Bobcats, Bikers and Bears
Oh my, there is an unexpected, 158-acre wildlife park just east of downtown Williams. Bikers are heartily welcomed, and if you go they may even make you an exhibit. Bearizona is a drive-through wild animal preserve featuring not only black bears but arctic and tundra wolves, American bison, white buffalo, burros, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and Dall sheep.
Motorcycles are dissuaded from the wild animal drive-through portion since the inhabitants have a strictly controlled diet and don’t digest leather very well. A courtesy car and GPS audio tour is provided free of charge. The drive takes about 30 minutes, although there is no time limit.
The road leads to Fort Bearizona, where large pens contain bobcat, lynx, raccoon, porcupines, a barn animal area, and other forest creatures indigenous to North America, including the star of the show, cute little baby bears. A Birds of Prey show is presented at 11, 1 and 3 p.m. daily and is a treat.
Bearizona is open everyday from 8:00 a.m.; last vehicle admitted at 6:00 p.m. Closing hours vary with season and weather. Adults cost $20; seniors 62 and older, $18. For more information, call 928-635-2289; visit www.bearizona.com.
The Arizona HOG Rally will be held in Yuma next October, dates yet to be determined. For more information, contact Nick Feldaverd, Rally Coordinator, email firstname.lastname@example.org; call 602.206.1940; www.azstatehogrally.com.
For more on Williams, AZ visit www.experiencewilliams.com.
The Sheridan House Bed & Breakfast
460 East Sheridan Ave.
Williams, AZ 86046
I find when it comes to B&B’s, what they are not is as important as what they are. The Sheridan House Inn is not rife with Grandma’s fussy doilies and bric-a-brac. It strikes a balance between an inviting, come-and-have-fun vibe and serene environs snuggled in between the cool, towering pines. The suites offer a tidy, restful, minimalist décor. The luxury touches leaves one feeling pampered—unparalleled coziness of their pillows, and Elemis bath and body products that put their dewy kisses upon road and wind-weary tresses and parched skin.
Motorcyclists Claire and Nick Kirby are the vivacious proprietors. They seem to have been born to the task of cultivating an inn, but we were surprised to learn they’re new to the gig. The affable Kirbys hail from the U.K. and lucky for Williams, a post-9/11 officious bureaucracy didn’t thwart the pioneering spirit that landed them on the frontiers of northern Arizona. Their once run-down property is now resplendent in extensive renovations, artful taste, and fresh zeal under their ownership. The Brit visionaries have innovative ideas to further develop the grounds, and offer special packages to man and biker alike.
The rooms at the Sheridan House were minimalist and inviting, not cluttered with antiques like many B&B’s.
We arrived to what I can only describe as the “happiest” of happy hours, delightfully hosted by the Kirbys each Friday and Saturday. We saw a passel of buffed Harleys in the driveway, and knew it was time to put the keys away. With a toast to the Grand Canyon Brewing Co., our host’s delicious homemade chorizo nuggets, and the attending fellow riders, we pronounced Sheridan House our new hideout.
Breakfast on the patio is a selection of sweet and savory offerings made on premises. Their handmade, secret recipe Lincolnshire Sausages, a Lemon Chiffon confection, Sweetened Mascarpone Cheese with Fresh Berries and the regional Huevos Rancheros were outstanding.
Sheridan House puts you up into the quieter residential area, but just a quick ride down the hill into downtown and all the rally action. See their website and Facebook page for more details.