By Mike Zimmerman, H.O.G.® staff writer
Hundreds of fellow riders who share your passion. All the best roads scouted out in advance. Lots of good food. And plenty of attractions and activities.
But they can’t include everything. Truth be told, that’s one of the best parts. There are always plenty of ways to get even more out of your adventure, by taking the time and making the effort to go above and beyond the “official” itinerary.
That’s exactly how I approached this memorable event, taking an extra day or so on the front and back ends to seek out some hidden treasures. Here are a few of the interesting extras I found.
Officially called the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument, this cluster of eerie-looking rock formations is as mysterious as its name. Way off the beaten path, 40 miles southwest of Santa Fe, it’s not something you’re likely to stumble upon by accident. And it’s not something you can just ride by to fully appreciate. No, you’re going to want to walk around a little to get the full experience.
Heed this warning: There’s not much in the way of what you might call civilization at the park. There’s a small ranger station at the entrance, but they don’t sell water, as I found out the hard way. Be sure to bring your own. And there’s a two-dollar fee to get in on your motorcycle, but it’s all so
Just be sure you have comfortable boots or shoes – and some water, in case it’s 95 degrees like it was when I was there.
To answer your first question: One is real and one is a “replica.” The replica is in downtown Fort Sumner, New Mexico; the real one is a few miles outside of town. The replica is part of the Billy the Kid Museum, though the real site has its own museum, too. The replica is easy to find, the real grave takes a little effort. But both are worth it in their own way.
Billy the Kid is a fascinating “Wild West” character. As his name suggests, he was just a boy when he first found himself on the wrong side of the law. But when you read about his history (he was orphaned at 14, one day before his 15th birthday), you start to think maybe he was more of a victim of circumstances than a true “outlaw.” He was handsome, charming, popular with the ladies, sympathetic to the plight of Native Americans, and very, very cunning.
Which makes his actual gravesite, where he is buried alongside two of his “pals,” as the stone indicates, seem very ironic. After successfully avoiding jail for so many years in life, his final resting place is enclosed in something resembling nothing so much as a big metal cage.
For an up-close look at some more recent history, don’t miss this one-of-a-kind site a few miles south of Tucson. No matter what you think of the Cold War nuclear arms build-up, standing at the base of this monstrous missile – or peering down on it from ground level – will give you chills.
I can’t say I’ve ever been to a museum where the sense of actual history is better preserved. Everything seems just as it was left when the station was abandoned as part of the 1981 U.S.-Soviet disarmament agreement. Most other stations were destroyed; only this one is preserved for public inspection.
The tour takes you deep inside the underground bunker. If you’re lucky, you’ll be chosen to help with a launch re-enactment, and turn the actual key that would have sent the 103-foot missile and its nine-megaton nuclear warhead rocketing toward an undisclosed target on the other side of the world.
One of the great advantages to a hot desert climate is the extremely dry air – which makes it a perfect place to store thousands of retired or discarded airplanes. The Pima Air & Space Museum, south of Tucson, is your entryway to a guided tour of a vast sea of ghostly, unused aircraft.
Keep in mind, however: Though the museum is open seven days a week, the people who operate tours of the Airplane Graveyard don’t work weekends. Even so, the Pima Air & Space Museum alone is well worth your time, and features its own sort of airplane graveyard, with scores of interesting and historic planes on display outside.
Finally, a trip to the American Southwest wouldn’t be complete without taking in some authentic natural desert beauty. You’ll find it in spades in Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. The park has two units, one to the east of town and one to the west. I visited the western unit because it sounded like the scenery would be better. But I found out too late that the road is better (that is, it’s paved) in the eastern unit. The western unit includes a loop of dirt road that was manageable, but a little tricky in spots. The scenery, however, made it worthwhile.
If you decide to take on the western side, please keep an eye out for my favorite pair of Harley-Davidson riding gloves. I’ll happily go above and beyond to get them back.