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Episode 3: Magnificent mountains lead to Vegas
Motorcycle diaries: From Gainesville to Las Vegas and back
Oak Creek Canyon has a deep gorge and it's covered by evergreen trees. It's also a great spot for hiking and exploring. - photo by Bill Rezak

Editor's note: Bill Rezak, a retired college president who lives in Gainesville, took a cross-country journey on his motorcycle during the month of May last year. The following, in four parts, is an account of his 5,200-mile journey alone and on "blue roads."

I more than made up for the sight-seeing rides during the last two days of the trip.

I left Tuba City, Ariz., heading for Flagstaff, Ariz., on May 9. There was a dramatic change in terrain and vegetation from desert to high elevation evergreen forest along this ride. Flagstaff, home of the University of Northern Arizona, looks like a truly grand place to live - gorgeous countryside, pleasant climate, nice people.

From Flagstaff, I rode south to Sedona and Oak Creek Canyon. This was another highlight of the trip.

To my mind, Oak Creek Canyon is every bit as spectacular as the Grand Canyon. Oak Creek Canyon is steep and deep (but not nearly as deep or wide as the Grand Canyon). The thing that makes it special is the fact that its rim and almost vertical gorge are covered by evergreen trees. If you go there (and I highly recommend it), plan to spend a couple of days hiking and exploring. That will be my plan on my next visit.

From Sedona, which has first-class accommodations but is a little commercial, I backtracked to Flagstaff and picked up I-40. There was really no other alternative for traveling west, and the speed limit was 75 mph with light traffic. I stopped for lunch in Williams, Ariz., an absolutely delightful little town with a local railroad that runs northwest to the Grand Canyon. I had a gourmet lunch at the Pine Country Restaurant.

After lunch, I headed west on I-40 to Kingman, Ariz., located on the Colorado River. It was the site of Fort Mohave, a safe haven from American Indian raids along the wagon trail west in the mid-19th century. I covered 415 miles this day (the most on my entire trip) thanks to the

70-75 mph speed limits through the vast, unpopulated desert.

On May 10 I left Kingman. At first, I planned to check out the new U-shaped cantilever glass-bottom walkway built on a Native American reservation over the Grand Canyon. I asked the Kingman hotel clerk for directions to the walkway. She gave me a pre-printed map to the attraction. As I turned to go, I asked her if all the roads (about 50 miles in total) were paved. "Oh no," she responded, "the last 20 miles are dirt!"

Apparently, they should be paved by next year, so I decided to wait till then for this foray. I've been to the Grand Canyon a couple of times before and my Harley is far too fine for dirt.

Instead, I rode U.S. 93 northwest toward Las Vegas, Nev. This was a hot, boring, flat, straight ride, for the most part. Just south of town is the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, which forms Lake Mead, the reservoir serving the city and much of southern California. The dam is a spectacular engineering and construction feat featuring 4.4 million cubic yards of concrete. It is 660 feet thick at the bottom and is 725 feet high.

I highly recommend a tour of this modern technological wonder.

Lake Mead is an enormous recreational facility - 110 miles long. It is the largest man-made lake in America.

And then, on to Vegas.

I spent four days in the people-watching capital of the world, attending a wedding conducted in the wedding chapel at the wonderful new Wynn Las Vegas Resort. The reception was held on an outdoor patio surrounded by lovely tropical plants.

The saying goes that, "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas." For my money, much of it need not happen anywhere!

The following Monday, May 14, I left Las Vegas taking I-15 northeast into southwest Utah. I planned a different route for my return to Georgia so I could experience new sites.

The temperature in Las Vegas was about 90 F the entire time I was there - no exception this morning. I picked up Utah 9 north of St. George, Utah, and rode to Springdale, Utah, just west of Zion National Park. Along the way, I rode through the Virgin River Gorge, a spectacular experience.

The gorge cuts through the Beaver Dam Mountain range and exposes layers of different types of colored rock that lace the steep walls. The Virgin River flows southwest to Lake Mead.

I lunched at the Bumbleberry Café in Springdale (try the bumbleberry pie) - good food, good service, casual atmosphere. Then on to Zion National Park - riding through it is like being in your own Western. Various areas of the park are recognizable from your favorite movies. It is a picture-taking extravaganza!

Canyon walls ascend toward the brilliant blue sky and the sandstone cliffs range in color from mauve to pink to red.

On the east side of Zion, I picked up U.S. 89 south to Page, Ariz. Just west of Page in the Glen Canyon, the Colorado River runs north to south. U.S. 89 crosses the Glen Canyon Dam, which forms Lake Powell. The canyon is perhaps 200 feet wide and more than 400 feet deep. It looks as though someone rented a giant ditch-witch and cleaved a trench in the plateau. The vertical rocky sides of the canyon are of red stone.

The Glen Canyon Dam is almost 600 feet high and 300 feet thick at its base. Lake Powell is more than 400 feet deep, 150 miles long and has about 2,000 miles of shoreline. I spent the night in Page.

On May 15, with more warm weather, I left Page and took U.S. 89 south back to Flagstaff, Ariz. In Flagstaff, I picked up I-40 east to Winslow, Ariz. This was one of my favorite stops on the trip. There just had to be a corner upon which to stand in Winslow and "take it easy!"

I exited the interstate at the first Winslow opportunity and took historic U.S. 66 east. Sure enough, when I reached the intersection of East 2nd Street and North Kingsley Avenue, I found the "official standin' on the corner" site. A mural painted on a brick faced building running north-south on the northwest corner depicts the historic spot. A bronze statue of a man with a guitar (presumably a six-string) marks the spot. "There was a (grandmother), My Lord, in a flat bed Ford slowin' down to take a look at me!"

I parked the bike and went into a novelty shop across the street. I said to the saleswoman (the only person in the store), "I know that no one has ever asked you to do this before, but would you please come outside and take my picture standing on the corner?"

She came outside and took my camera. Then, seeing my Harley parked a couple of doors down the street, she ordered, "Bring your bike over here and sit on it." I complied and also insisted that she take one of me standing in front of her shop.

Afterward, I felt obliged to purchase a commemorative tank top and some postcards.

I asked my new friend for advice on the best restaurant in town. She recommended the Falcon Restaurant a few blocks east. I had an excellent lunch there and flirted with the waitress.

After lunch, I continued east on I-40 to Holbrook, Ariz., where I picked up Ariz. 77 south to Show Low, Ariz. Here, I stopped for the evening at the local motel on Deuce of Clubs Ave.

Show Low got its name from an all-night game of poker played in the late 19th century. It seems that the participants became exhausted around dawn. One of them suggested that they place all their winnings in the pot and cut the deck for them. They decided that the lowest card showing from this cut would win. Each player cut the deck and "showed their low." One player cut to the deuce of clubs, the lowest card in the deck.

The small town was ever after known as Show Low, and the main drag is called Deuce of Clubs Avenue.

Bill Rezak retired in 2003 after 10 years as president of Alfred State College in Alfred, N.Y. Prior to that, he was dean of the School of Technology at Southern Polytechnic State University in Marietta. He and his wife Paula moved to Gainesville and Paula was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2004. She passed away in late 2006, but not without maximizing her time on her motorcycle.

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