2012 Thunder Valley Rally Report

October 1, 2012
J.Joshua Placa
J. Joshua Placa
Contributing Editor|Articles|Articles RSS

J. Joshua Placa is the former editor of Cruising Rider magazine. He freelances for a number of moto publications and has contributed to national travel and adventure magazines, as well as major dailies. Whereabouts unknown, Placa is rumored to be holing up in a clapboard desert shack, chopper chained to his pet coyote, Stinky, and comfortably hiding from the Vatican.

Bikes lined both sides of Main Street in Cottonwood during the rally.
Bikes lined both sides of Main Street in Cottonwood, Arizona during the recent Thunder Valley Rally.

Held in Arizona’s verdant Verde Valley, the 12th edition of the Thunder Valley Rally boomed into Old Town Cottonwood and surrounding areas September 14-16, attracting several thousand enthusiasts from local counties and neighboring states to this former bootlegging stronghold.

Pouring from the north end of town and corked at the south by the mega sound stage, Main Street was turned into a biker walk flanked by vendors, restaurants, shops, antique stores, trading posts, a multi-class bike show that lined both sides of the street, and a growing number of wine bars and tasting rooms, a burgeoning industry in the area.

These days, it’s rare if not unprecedented to find a town brave or solvent enough to host a motorcycle rally, especially right on Main Street. We’re usually segregated, pushed off to some tar parking lot outside of town or a dirty, dusty, saddle-tramp loving livestock fairgrounds, away from decent, law abiding citizens.

Now and then, though, even bikers get lucky. Local officials, headed by Cottonwood Parks & Recreation, deemed the fun and economic boost worth the risk of a horde of hooligans invading their quiet, tranquil community. Braced by an open-minded local government, reasonably priced accommodations, law enforcement that does not treat visitors as revenue, ideal riding conditions and countless miles of spectacular scenery in every direction, the Thunder Valley Rally has the nucleus to become a model for many events to come.

You cant have a biker rally without some custom choppers.
You can’t have a biker rally without some custom choppers.

The rally almost met its demise last year. For the past decade, the event was organized by Cliff Castle Casino Hotel, located some 15 miles southeast in Camp Verde. The casino backed out last year due to staff layoffs, according to a spokesman, leaving its official cancellation only a formality. But in a bold move, the city of Cottonwood rolled the dice, rescued the event and plunked it down smack in the middle of town. Like a mini Sturgis or Daytona, Old Town was turned into a big block party, offering a much more fun and festive vibe than any parking lot or barnyard.

Cottonwood, about two hours north of Phoenix and three hours south of the Grand Canyon, is set near the red rock wonderlands of Sedona, the old mining town and motorcycling mecca of Jerome, the prehistoric ruins at Tuzigoot and Montezuma’s Castle, and other natural and historic attractions and national monuments unique to this diverse region.

The town was founded in 1879 by ranchers and farmers, but within a couple of decades developed a reputation for welcoming ne’er-do-wells, misfits and undesirables. Moonshinning was prevalent during Prohibition and it’s rumored none other than Al Capone personally traveled from Chicago to bail out a bootlegging buddy from the Old Town jail and to check out the area’s operations. Good to see some things never change.

Attendance for the three-day event was up this year, according to town officials. Surprisingly, however, some Old Town shops and eateries didn’t stay open late, or apparently open at all during normally closed days. Others that did didn’t appear to make much of an effort to offer motorcyclist specific goods or services. A greater entrepreneurial spirit would be welcomed.

Live entertainment kept things hopping as evening approached.
Live entertainment kept things hopping well into the night.

A number of wineries and tasting rooms have sprung up in recent years, leading some to speculate the area will become the next Sonoma Valley. Fittingly, the rally kicked off with the Barley and Grapes Ride, which snaked through the scenic Verde Valley, visiting vineyards and old saloons along the way.

A poker run up Oak Creek Canyon, one of the most spectacular rides in the country, followed the next day, as did the popular D&K Cycle & Service Bike Show, which offered thousands of dollars in prizes spread over several classes. Continuous live music was offered by well-respected local and regional bands, such as the Cadillac Angels, Aces & Eights, Rudy “Boy” Experiment, Dog of the Moon, Major Lingo, Redland, Hardride, 74th Street band, The Mods, Hotel California Tribute Band and others.

“We want to continue to improve the event, make it more fun, add activities and attractions, and keep growing,” said a spokesman for Cottonwood Parks & Recreation. “We also would like to attract more builders and will offer them a free space because we believe that’s what people want to see.”

For more information regarding Cottonwood and the Verde Valley, as well as next year’s rally, expected to be held again the third week of September, contact the Cottonwood Parks and Recreation Department at 928-639-3200; http://cottonwoodaz.gov/parksrec/thunder-valley-rally/.

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