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Riding Choppers in the Valley of Fire

Friday, June 12, 2009
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
2010 Honda Fury vs 2009 Big Dog Coyote
Click to view video
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
2009 Laughlin River Run
Click to view video
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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Choppers in the Desert Travel Info

Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Flying into McCarran, you practically land on the Las Vegas strip. Talk about proximity. The airport is the 14th busiest in the world for passenger traffic. Besides domestic carriers, a long list of international flights also flies into McCarran.
Laughlin/Bullhead International Airport (IFP)
This is a small, full-service regional airport just over the Laughlin Bridge in Bullhead City, Arizona. Commercial airlines serving the airport are Allegiant and Sun Country. Several of the Laughlin casinos have partnerships with airlines to provide direct flights into the area. Many private charter jets also frequent the airport.


Las Vegas Hotels & Casinos
Where to stay? You can find it all in Las Vegas. Most of the casinos offer comparable rates for a basic room, but the price creeps up with every extra creature comfort and amenity. Be daring and stay at the Stratosphere and test your nerves 866 feet in the air on Insanity, the Ride, or stay at Bellagio for the unforgettable fountain show. Make your reservations in advance, though, because there’s always a convention or two in town that might just be hogging up all the rooms in your favorite place to stay.

Microtel Inn and Suites Las Vegas
Located just south of all the action on the Vegas Strip, this small hotel was a real find. It’s new, clean, quiet, and affordable. Avoid the half-mile trek between your car and casino room by staying in a smaller hotel right off the Strip. An electric player piano provides the ambience for patrons as they enjoy a free, hot breakfast. Free WiFi, a 42-inch TV, and an indoor heated pool help make for an enjoyable stay.

The Oatman Hotel
Built in 1902, it’s rumored to have been the spot where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard spent their wedding night after getting married in nearby Kingman. Now the building is famous for the ghosts that are claimed to reside there. Listed on the National Historic Building Registry, it’s worth a visit to the saloon and restaurant just to see its unique décor of dollar bills pasted all over its walls and to grab a decent burger.


The Inside Scoop
This old-fashioned ice-cream parlor in Overton, Nevada, is a popular place with locals. By the quality and portions of their food, I understand why. They’ve got a full menu of homestyle grub and had the grill going outside for steaks. There’s also no better way to beat the heat than ice cream. It’s one of the closest places to the park’s East Entrance and even has WiFi.

Ono’s Hawaiian BBQ
Hungry and tired from miles on the road, finding Ono’s was a welcome treat. It’s about time someone commercialized Hawaiian-style plate lunches. The combos come with rice and mac salad, you can choose your own sauces, and the portions are plentiful for the price. Spam Musubi anyone? It’s a chain restaurant, but is a good change of pace.

Las Vegas
Dine with majestic views of the city from the Top of the World Restaurant at the Stratosphere or celebrate beef at Mario Batali’s Carnevino at The Palazzo. There is no shortage of decorated chefs and wonderful dining experiences in Vegas.


Dream Car Rentals Las Vegas Nevada 
One block north of the Wynn on 3409 Las Vegas Blvd.
Has a handful of Harleys (Deuce, Fatboy, Heritage, Road King, Wide Glide) for $165-a-day, unlimited mileage.

EagleRider of Las Vegas 
Las Vegas listing includes a wide selection of Harleys, Hondas, Victorys and even a Piaggio MP3. Full day’s rental listed between $140-$155, depending on model.


Valley of Fire
With one peek you’ll see why the valley got its name. The reds of the Navajo Sandstone have been sculpted by wind and water into natural arches and unique formations. Visit the Atlatl Petroglyphs and try to solve the riddle of its meaning.

Hoover Dam
Harnessing the power of the mighty Colorado River, Hoover Dam is an engineering wonder. Built in between the tall walls of Black Canyon, it was the largest dam of its time. Built during the Great Depression, it stands as a testimony to the greatness our country can rise to even during trying times. Take the Dam Tour and travel 530 feet down through the rock wall of Black Canyon.

Oatman, Arizona
Ride historic Route 66 through the heart of an old mining town. Oatman has true Western charm. There are plenty of cool little shops with Route 66 curios and other souvenirs. You’ve got to go into the Oatman Hotel’s Bar & Restaurant just to check out all the signed dollar bills on the wall. The wild burros that frequent the town add to its rustic charm.

Las Vegas - www.lvchamber.com  
Laughlin - www.laughlinchamber.com  
Kingman - www.kingmanchamber.org  

Harley's Valley of Fire Gear Bag 
Icon Airframe Death or Glory Helmet - $330 
Alpinestars ATL Leather Jacket - $350 
Alpinestars Street Cargo Pants - $160 
Alpinestars Effex GoreTex Boots - $220 
Alpinestars SP-2 Gloves - $100

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elenanina123   March 10, 2011 01:52 AM
Definitely a tremendous ride!
Rodney from south AL -What?  August 15, 2009 06:38 PM
Compare the bikes dollar for dollar. If I put another 10k dollars in my fury. It would blow a big dog away, and be more comfortable, practical, reliable. Harleys are nice bikes, there are thousands still on the road. Some actually made it home. HAHA
TexasTomahawk -Both are Beautiful  June 22, 2009 10:06 AM
Motorcycle Bigots need to shut the hell up. Both rides are nice looking. Doesn't matter who makes them. Which one fits you better? Which one is more practical for where you live? HOT where you live? Water-cooled is better. Need the torque and got the money? The Big Dog. I've got a family and on a budget--so the one that cost less to own and maintain is where I have to go. So Honda first and when I've got the cash, I'm going with the Big Dog.
Kale -Very nice motobike  June 17, 2009 06:48 PM
Both of them are very nice. How much is it?
NA -*sigh* milwaukee mike is back  June 13, 2009 06:06 PM
Change the record dude... There he is again with this dumb 'buy american' nonsense. Djees wth... Not everyone visiting this site is American, I don't give a **** about the country my bike comes from. - I don't understand what 'buying american' has anything to do with 'being proud' and why you wouldn't want the best value for your money, instead of narrowing down choices to only ONE. (harley antiques...) Silly 'nationalistic' dumb 'patriotic' BS...
milwaukee mike -V-twin ride  June 13, 2009 09:20 AM
The Big Dog rocks! The honda should have rocks thrown at it. But American and ride proud.
rr -what??  June 12, 2009 08:42 PM
Both of 'em.............peices of junk
WilCon -Fury VS Coyote  June 12, 2009 05:54 PM
How much is Honda paying for reviews these days? It is a decent looking bike but seriously underpowered by comparison and in the world of "Choppers", which by the way neither truly are, that is a death knell. The idea of a chopper is based on removing everything not needed and "chopping" the rest off. These bikes are customs.
Jake Tjaden -Come on, really?  June 12, 2009 08:55 AM
Guys, are you really comparing a Honda "chopper" to a Big Dog chopper? I've got nothing against Japanese bikes (I've owned 4), but a "Honda chopper" is an oxymoron.