In the years since, Mike…and to a lesser extent, Victoria…have covered many miles on motorcycles, although Victoria still maintains a penchant for jets and chauffeured limousines.
Mode of travel aside, now that we’ve visited 100 foreign countries and every continent, the time had come to delve more deeply into the treasures of America. Some of our correspondents, indeed many Americans, have never had the opportunity to deeply explore our nation. Among the scenic splendors of our country, few can match the magic of our National Parks in Arizona and Utah, so we set our sights on a tour starting with the Grand Canyon and continuing to the north. We turned to our partners at Abercrombie & Kent (A&K), and sought the assistance of their regional experts in securing hotels and sightseeing tours as we motored to and from each Park.
We won’t go into great detail here (though we’d be happy to do so over a glass of wine sometime), but we wanted to share the highlights. We traveled with a couple who started out years ago as clients, and have now become great friends. Mike and Katie grew up, respectively, in Kentucky and Chicago. They have a big family, broad interests, and are avid travelers. And, like us, they have done some travel on two wheels. Nonetheless, neither Victoria or Katie had much of an interest in jetting across the Great Plains on two wheels, opting to fly to Flagstaff. The Two Mikes rendezvoused at Elán’s Northern Outpost in Wisconsin, first fortifying themselves with steak and Scotch in anticipation of their trip west the following morning. Over the span of three days and about 1,600 miles, they motored across the United States en route to Flagstaff. Though the Midwestern states don’t necessarily offer breathtaking mountains, they do provide an ever-changing landscape of verdant fields, flowers, and forests, as well as the guarantee of friendly faces when an intrepid traveler checks in for the evening.
When traveling on two wheels, there’s never a lack of opportunity for conversation with strangers. Many will tell you that they also ride motorcycles, or did so “back in the day.” And for non-motorcyclists, our BMW and Harley-Davidson motorcycles evoked curiosity among many. As we made our way from the verdant fields of Iowa to the foothills and high desert of the West, it was very clear that the spirit of discovery has been reawakened among Americans and those from abroad. Some of these adventurers were headed in the same direction.
The Two Mikes rolled into Flagstaff, settled into our hotel, and spent that first evening exploring the downtown. Flagstaff is a wonderful town, full of fun shops, coffee houses, and a wide variety of restaurants. The Two Mikes eventually settled in at a Thai restaurant that served absolutely fantastic food and, not unimportantly, Thai beer.
The next day was when the real fun began. Victoria and Katie flew from Chicago to Flagstaff and joined the “boys.” After a bit of time in downtown Flagstaff we made our way to the Lowell Observatory, high above the city. Our guide, a young women who’s a specialist in planetary science, took us on a brief tour of the facility, then escorted us to the Dyer Telescope for a mind-boggling tour of our solar system and the Milky Way. It really was awe inspiring, but not the first time on the trip when we would confronted with the immensity and beauty of nature.
The next morning we were picked up by our guide, Andrew, and driven to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. However, before beginning our exploration on foot, we hurried to our awaiting helicopter for a hour-long aerial tour of the Grand Canyon. Even traveling at 130 knots (about 150 mph), it seems as though you’re barely gliding above the immense landscape. By the time we landed, the lunch hour had arrived…a picnic on the rim of the Canyon.
The day proceeded with a hike, a sunset view of the Canyon with a glass of wine, and a return to Flagstaff.
Up early the next day, we motored north to enjoy a 4WD/hiking tour of a slot canyon (stunning!), an incomparable lunch experience, and then pointed our wheels towards Zion National Park and Cliffrose Lodge. It was becoming toasty by the time we arrived at the entrance to Zion, and while 104º on two wheels is a character-building experience, the scenery was other worldly. Arriving at the Cliffrose, we settled into our rooms and rehydrated, then headed a few blocks away to get outfitted for the next morning’s hike through The Narrows.
It bears mentioning at this point that the staff at the Cliffrose was stellar. They anticipated our every need and cheerfully chauffeured us to our local destinations over out time there. Truly great service.
The next several days saw us motoring from spectacular landscape to spectacular landscape as we visited Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. In between we sampled some of the West’s unique culinary delights and at least one up and coming resort property that we know is destined to become a top tier destination for discerning travelers.
Each of the Parks was distinctive. In Zion we rode through towering mountains en route to our hotel, and followed up the next day with a hike through The Narrows.
Bryce Canyon, at the top of the Escalante Staircase, offers an other-worldly landscape of hoodoos (amazing rock formations) and some of the most awe-inspiring vistas imaginable.
Capitol Reef introduced us to vast canyon landscapes and…a great surprise…some of the best pie you could ever imagine.
Arches delights with huge rock formations sculpted into whimsical arches by the forces of nature over the millennia. It was here…far from the crowds that we witnessed multiple dinosaur tracks near the Jeep trail.
And Canyonlands presents visitors with a wilderness marked by barely passable backcountry roads.
Much of the delight in this trip came from the exceptional guides we contracted through A&K. Our guide for the Grand Canyon was a young man whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Park’s history, geology, and human history were absolutely staggering. Our trip through Capitol Reef was guided by a retired Utah State Trooper who had spent his whole life in the region and had a deep knowledge of the Park and its environs. The day that we visited Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, we were driven through the backcountry (actually entering the Parks through “secret” entrances) by a retired cowboy who later became a teacher, with an advanced degree in cultural anthropology. Our guide through the Narrows was a free-spirited grandmother who’s a life-long hiker and skier. The guide for our rafting trip on the Colorado River was a young chap who’s spent much of his life on the river and is, coincidentally, a contender for the Olympic snow skiing team. All were amazing, and each contributed greatly to our enjoyment of the Parks.
After days of overwhelming beauty, the adventure culminated with a ride through one of America’s most scenic highways to Grand Junction, Colorado, where Victoria and Katie boarded a jet for a fast—and comparatively luxurious—return home. After saying goodbye, the two Mikes boarded their land jets (motorcycles) for the two-day ride home, at one point passing over the Rockies in driving rain at 42ºF (6.
Just under 4,000 miles (6,400 km). Six National Parks. At least a thousand “Amazing[s]”. And innumerable laughs. This was all a part of Elán’s continuing quest to experience the world in an ever-evolving way.
Please enjoy the show (click the photo below, then “Play” to watch)….