Santa Monica to Wing Ding.
We all can agree that this past winter was particularly harsh, especially in the northern states, which saw record low temperatures and above-average amounts of snowfall. Sure, it made for ideal conditions for snowmobiling, but for those of us on two wheels, winter’s chill only served as a reminder of the chrome-plated machines resting quietly in our garages.
Come July, however, the Midwest region will really heat up as Wing Ding, the biggest and best Gold Wing show in the country, rolls into Madison, Wis., for the fifth time in the gathering’s history.
To help you cross the continent with ease, we’ve mapped out a route that will take you from the coastal shores of the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Calif., through some of our country’s most picturesque landscapes, all the way to the Badger State’s capital city and Wing Ding 2014. If this trip doesn’t make your heart beat a little faster, you might want to take a moment to check for a pulse.
The West Coast encompasses some of the most scenic waterfront highways and byways in our nation, and traveling them is a road trip in itself. But for many Americans, when they hear the word “California” they immediately think of Los Angeles, glittering with Hollywood glamour and fantasy — making it the perfect starting point for our summer odyssey.
Of course, for motorcyclists — and motorists alike — traffic in and around central Los Angeles is not for the faint of heart. So avoid the gridlock and stretch your road legs by heading northwest along SR 1, better known as the Pacific Coast Highway, past Will Rogers State Beach on your left and famed Sunset Boulevard on your right. After about 10 minutes, turn right on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, which will take you on a twisting, turning, two-lane course over the verdant Santa Monica Mountains to U.S. 101, the Ventura Freeway.
Circling back towards LA, pick up SR 2 for a 66-mile route through the mountainous Angeles National Forest in the San Gabriel Mountains. With elevations reaching more than 7,000 feet, the road, known as Angeles Crest Highway, is one of the highest in Southern California. We hope you left room for a breakfast, because just before the midway point, you’ll come by Newcomb’s Ranch, the only private property on the highway and “the informal headquarters for riders,” according to Los Angeles magazine. With a broad menu featuring such hearty meals as three-egg omelets, burritos, and the recently added New York steak and eggs, Newcomb’s will fuel you up for the long ride ahead that will take you on Interstate 15 through Barstow all the way to Las Vegas. Note: Americana fans might want to veer off course in Victorville, heading north instead along historic Route 66 to Barstow. There’s not much in the way of scenery, but it’s your only opportunity on this trip to travel a section of the original Mother Road. In Barstow, you can learn more about the famed highway at the Route 66 Mother Road Museum.
I–15 takes you directly through the heart of Las Vegas, traveling just west of the Strip and downtown Las Vegas. You can choose to stay in one of Sin City’s glitzy casino resorts, but for something a little quieter, continue on I–15 for about another hour until you reach Mesquite. This growing resort destination just minutes from the Arizona border offers a variety of accommodations and dining options for every budget, complete with gaming, spas and golf.
Along the way, make sure to detour east at Exit 75 on the Valley of Fire Highway for a loop through Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada’s oldest and largest state park (entrance fee required). The vast scrubland quickly gives way to great shifting formations of red sandstone, limestone and shale. Evening rides are especially beautiful when the rocks, reflecting the sun’s setting rays, appear to be on fire. Some of the nation’s best-preserved ancient Anasazi petroglyphs can also be found here at Atlatl Rock near the western entrance and Mouse’s Tank, just beyond the park’s visitor center. A quick trip north on US 169 will take you along the northernmost reaches of Lake Mead and back to I–15. If you’re in the mood for some down-home grub with a sports edge, stop at Sugar’s Home Plate in Overton, where barbecue, scratch-made pies and the Saturday night prime rib feast are the specialties of the house.
Southern Utah offers so many incredible roads that it’s easy to lose yourself in the lush scenery. For a real adventure without straying too much from your destination, head north from Mesquite on I–15 to Interstate 70 and across to Moab. Home to three national scenic byways, one scenic backway, two national parks and one state park, Moab is the perfect place for an “extra day” stop.
Scenic Byway 128 is the preferred route into town, the central area of which is a mere four blocks long and filled with souvenir shops, adventure outfitters and hotels, motels and campgrounds. (As Moab can become extremely busy during the summer months, it is recommended that you make reservations in advance of your trip).
To make the most of your day, start on the Dead Horse Point Scenic Byway on Highway 313. You’ll follow 14 miles of red rock canyons before forking off to Dead Horse Point State Park. The view from Dead Horse Point, an overlook 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, highlights the effects of 150 million years of erosion. The sweeping panorama of red sandstone buttes, sheer cliffs and deep gorges is interrupted only by the green serpentine river. According to the Moab Area Travel Council, this view is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. For movie buffs, it’s also the site where Thelma and Louise drove their 1966 Ford Thunderbird off the cliff.
Backtrack on Highway 313, hang a left and head toward the Islands in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park. Set atop a 1,500-foot mesa, Islands in the Sky is quite literally that, and the area’s 20 miles of paved scenic loops, with their sweeping curves and twisting turns, feature spectacular views of towering sandstone spires and water-eroded gorges. The Islands in the Sky Visitor Center offers restrooms and bottled water, while a nearby kiosk features sandwiches, chips, fruit and other refreshments. If you want to stretch your legs, an easy half-mile hike takes you to Mesa Arch.
While its roads aren’t particularly challenging, a “must-do” in Moab is Arches National Park. Some initial hairpin curves give way to a fairly straight road. You’ll pass some of the more than 2,000 nature-sculpted arches as well as petrified dunes and amazing rock formations, including the famed Balanced Rock, a 55-foot boulder perched precariously atop a 128-foot mudstone pedestal. At the far northeast corner of the park is the iconic Delicate Arch. If you don’t want to tackle the strenuous three-mile round-trip hike across sloping slick rock, gravel trails and a narrow sandstone ledge, you can view the arch from an official viewpoint across the valley. Make a point to visit Arches in the late afternoon and a sunset ride on the return trip is magnificent.
Before heading out of town the next morning, start your day with some ginger pancakes and Dutch apple butter at the Jailhouse Café or one of the many creative muffins (blueberry and bacon, perhaps) at the Love Muffin Café.
From Moab, continue east on I–70, passing through some of the most breathtaking stretches of the Rocky Mountains. Colorado Springs is the entry point for two of the region’s most stunning natural attractions: Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods. Pikes Peak Highway, accessible from Highway 24 west of Colorado Springs, will take you up 14,110 feet to the summit. At mile marker 3, keep your eyes focused for the “Big Foot Crossing” sign, placed there in 2001 following a tourist’s claimed sighting of the creature. It takes about an hour on winding, curving roads complete with numerous switchbacks to reach the top, but once you’re there, the views of the surrounding mountains and sweeping plains are otherworldly. Take a moment to stop by the “America the Beautiful” monument. It was here in 1893 that Katharine Lee Bates was inspired to write that famous song. Also here is the Summit House, offering souvenirs, world-famous “high-altitude” donuts and an oxygen bar in case the elevation gets to you.
Continuing east, we pass by such renowned ski towns as Vail and Breckenridge. For a quick detour, take Exit 205 to the Old Loveland Pass, the original route over the continental divide before construction of modern day I–70. This approximately 20-mile route is filled with hairpin curves and stunning vistas of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and the turquoise waters of Dillon Bay. Amenities are plentiful in Dillon and Keystone. For a hearty breakfast or lunch, the Sunshine Café in Dillon is a favorite for locals and travelers alike.
For another circuitous but scenic route, before hitting Denver, turn north on the Central City Parkway heading toward US 119. Continue on US 7 at Nederland for the Peak to Peak Highway. Established in 1918, it is Colorado’s oldest scenic byway. You’ll emerge in Estes Park at the foot of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Here, a variety of restaurants waits to satiate your appetite. One of the most popular is Smokin’ Dave’s BBQ & Taphouse, which claims to have the best barbecue in Colorado.
From Estes Park, head west to Loveland where you’ll catch Interstate 25 north through Fort Collins and Cheyenne, Wyo. Here, the Great Plains stretch for miles and miles, with prairie and grasslands being your main scenery. At Exit 92, head east on US 26 towards Guernsey, where you’ll turn left on 270 and follow it about 40 miles until hitting the tiny town of Manville. Make sure to stock up on gas and supplies at every stop because the roads here are long and isolated.
In neighboring Lusk, turn north on US 85/US 18, also known as the CanAm Highway, and travel about 80 miles to the town of Newcastle. Here, after gassing up, you’ll catch US 16, also known as Mount Rushmore Road. Rolling bluffs covered in deep green pines and snow-capped mountain ranges once again predominate as you wind along wide sweeping curves.
In Custer, you can continue north on 16/385 or west on 16/16A. Both routes will connect you with the Central Hills Loop, a route that “packs more scenery per mile than arguably any other road in the world,” according to Motorcycleroads.com. Twisting roads, switchbacks, tunnels, hills and valleys culminate in one of our country’s most famous monuments, Mount Rushmore.
Rest and recharge in one of the many budget-friendly hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in Rapid City; if you’re feeling adventurous, head north a bit on Interstate 90 to the town that motorcycles made famous: Sturgis. In the morning, head out on South Dakota 44 for an exhilarating ride through Badlands National Park with its winding curves, undulating rocky landscapes and open skies. A quick turn north on South Dakota 240 brings you right back to I–90, which you’ll follow east for just about the rest of your trip, crossing the Missouri River and passing Sioux Falls, across the southern edge of Minnesota and down into Wisconsin. This long smooth road is relatively flat, with a normal speed limit of 75 mph.
When you finally reach your destination, you’ll have covered more than 2,000 miles on your Gold Wing. But you’ll have seen some of our nation’s greatest natural wonders as well as its greatest monuments. You’ll have conquered the Great Plains and the mighty Rocky Mountains, and you’ll have traveled from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the Great Lakes. You’ll have seen the parts of our country that have challenged adventurists for centuries and, most of all, you’ll have come to understand the meaning of the lyrics, “Oh beautiful, for spacious skies…”
Now comes the hard part: What will you choose to see on the ride home?
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