Adventure Takes a New Direction…

Standing quietly under the broad, green canopy of a twisted old mesquite tree with my camera in my hands I watched a dozen wild horses graze quietly on tufts of green grass while the early morning light streamed through the dust stirred up around them. I thought to myself, “If only I had brought the gear to make coffee, this would be a perfect morning.”

Wild Horses at Butcher Jones Recreation AreaI recently made the decision to buy a motorcycle. The desire to ride has always kind of been there but I just didn’t have a direction. Several years ago when I started attending the Overland Expo in northern Arizona I was drawn to the “Adventure Motorcycles” and the awesome stories from riders who had seen a good portion of the world’s gritty underbelly from the seat of their trusty bikes. The little Film Festival at Overland Expo was full of presentations, documentaries and dreamy films of adventure on two wheels…

..and they were winning me over.

I think my buddy, J Brandon, could smell the desperation to ride on me (after multiple days of camping I’m sure that’s not all he could smell). The final straw for me was sitting in the Overland Expo theater watching a presentation by Phil Freeman of MotoQuest. He spent most of the presentation talking about opportunities to ride in Alaska and see some of the most amazing country North America has to offer. Then he started talking about some of the other places they ride like Mexico, Iceland, Tierra Del Fuego and India and that was it, I wanted to ride…I wanted to be able to do those trips.

At that time, J extended an open invitation to come ride with him in the Sierra foothills next time I was in the Reno/Tahoe area. So when my wife and I made plans to head up to Tahoe in July for her birthday I decided to take J up on his offer and get myself on a motorcycle for the first time in probably 6 or 7 years. That first ride took a little work to knock the rust off what meager riding skills I ever possessed, and a decent helping of patience from J. But once we got out on the road I started to feel more comfortable. I also started to feel a lot more desperate to have my own motorcycle.

Last Week I bought a bike. It took some searching and a fair amount of advice, pointers and general help from J to nail down what I was looking for and what would be an acceptable price. I eventually found a guy selling a really clean 2000 Kawasaki KLR650 and got him to settle on a price I was comfortable with. Now I am working to outfit the bike for adventure travel while I look for opportunities to ride locally without undue suffering in the heat.

Why I chose a KLR-

The Kawasaki KLR650 is often referred to as the “Jeep” of dual sport motorcycles. It’s damn near impossible to destroy, can go anywhere and is fairly inexpensive to buy, maintain and repair. Kawasaki didn’t change the bike for 30 years so the aftermarket parts and accessories are literally everywhere. It doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but it does all things pretty well making it nearly the most versatile motorcycle available. Their attraction for adventure riders is the same attraction that 4×4 guys have with jeeps and gun owners have with AK-47s…they work, in a lot of adverse conditions, with little support and if they break it’s pretty easy to get them going again.

To me, it’s a good choice for a bike that needs to be able to go everywhere I want to go without too much fuss. And it will look bad ass bouncing down a dirt road with a couple of fat panniers, a duffel bag and a case of beer strapped to it while I chase down fish tacos in Baja.

Bush Highway on the KLR

I have been trying to get some bike time all week and put some miles on the bike to build my comfort level and feel out the new ride. Meetings had been getting in the way all week, but today I got up at sunrise and blocked out some time to hit the road while the temps were cool. When I set out this morning the sun was just cresting over Four Peaks to the east, shooting rays of orange light through the haze that was already forming over the dusty farm land on the reservation at the edge of town. I cruised through the farmland and headed out on the Beeline Highway.

While pouring over some maps, I had found a little road leading to a small recreation area on the north side of Saguaro Lake that I didn’t even know existed. I was curious to see what kind of lake access was back there and, even more, I wanted to scout a new hiking trail and possible dirt roads for the KLR. I turned off the Beeline at the Bush Highway and after a few miles took the turn onto Butcher Jones Drive. I could feel the air cooling as I descended into the canyon toward the lake and when I pulled up to the Butcher Jones Recreation site I was pretty impressed.

Riding the Bush Highway on the KLR

The beach wasn’t much to look at but the whole site looked pretty well cared for with clean bathroom, nice picnic tables and a really nice grassy area surrounded by old mesquites. It was still pretty early and there was only one other vehicle there belonging to a couple of older fishermen who had set up shop a little ways down the shore. I stripped off the riding jacket and helmet and walked around for a bit enjoying the rare coolness of the air, unheard of in August. With only a few boats out on the lake and the only other visitors a couple of quiet old gents, the lake lay still and glassy soaking up the early morning sun.

Jones Canyon Cliffs

Part of the reason I chose this route was to scout a new trail and see if it would be something I would want to explore when my niece and nephew get into town later this month. The Butcher Jones Trail is listed as an easy trail and only about 5 miles round trip, which is perfect for a couple of younger kids. I found the trailhead and started hiking to get some trail time in before the sun got too overbearing. The trail starts off paved, and follows a metal guardrail that curves along the lake shore for a while seemingly for fishing access. The trail is in shade throughout the morning thanks to the tree canopy overhead and the tall ridge it skirts.

Hiking trail at Butcher Jones area

Then you pass through a boundary into the wilderness and the trail becomes a proper trail. Still fairly easy though narrow and with some minor exposure. The trail doesn’t seem to be traveled much and is overgrown in many places with much of the trail winding through thick unmaintained mesquite groves. Much of the trail is rocky and the wildlife seems to be active. I didn’t see any snakes, though I was on the lookout and expected to. It looks like a pretty cool trail overall and I can’t wait to bring the kids out to explore the rest of it.

Boat anchored at Saguaro Lake

When I returned from my quick scouting expedition I was greeted by an amazing and fairly rare sight. From where I stood coming off the trail it almost appeared as though fog had settled into the grassy area under the mesquite grove and rays of light streaked through the canopy of the trees illuminating a dozen wild horses in ethereal light. I slowly moved in closer and watched as the group grazed lazily in the grass, played with each other and rolled blissfully in the dirt kicking up dust. This was about the time I lamented my lack of coffee and wished I could stay and watch the horses all morning. It was a perfect Arizona morning experience and I wanted to stretch it out as long as I could.

Wild Horses at Saguaro lake

A few more people arrived and as the “tourists” rolled in talking a little too loud, getting a little too close and gawking a little too much…they ruined the moment. I grabbed my gear and stowed my camera then hopped on the KLR and headed out, slowly and quietly as I could so as to not unnecessarily disturb the horses. A few looked up and watched as I rode by on my way out. I continued down the Bush Highway toward Mesa to complete the loop home. I stopped a couple more times to take a pictures and catch the last of the morning light.

KLR Saguaro LakeI think I will do this ride again. Maybe every week as I get used to the bike and continue to work on my riding skills. Maybe next time I’ll remember to bring some coffee.