Oatman Highway and Sitgreaves Pass

I don’t normally ride motorcycles places where if I unexpectedly exit the road, I’ll probably die. The Sitgreaves Pass, part of the Oatman Highway between Kingman and Topock, Arizona, was an exception to that rule. Spoiler alert: Based on the fact that I’m writing this now, you may safely assume that I survived this adventure unscathed. I’m a skilled and careful rider, especially when the stakes are this high if I screw up.

DangerousRoads.org describes the Sitgreaves Pass as “pretty narrow, very curvy, with lots of blind hairpin turns and with no shoulders. It’s a fabulous drive if you are not scared of heights or of tumbling down a mountain side. Make sure to look for the old cars off the road near the hairpin curves. This road is built like a bobsled run, with crazy switchbacks and steep drop-offs plunging thousands of feet down. It is slow going, with some of the winding sections slowing down to 20mph. The road is steep, hitting a 12% of maximum gradient through some of the ramps. You’ll be fine in normal vehicles, but larger RVs are going to have serious issues. Don’t take this road in bad weather, and do not do this road after dark.”

They are NOT kidding! Like Mount Washington, there are long, steep drop-offs right at the road’s edge with no guardrails. Even on the Tail of the Dragon, if you go off the road you’ll probably crash, but you won’t plunge to your imminent demise. So this was not a place to set any speed records. Not that I could anyway, not on a KLR650.

As if the road wasn’t scary enough, there are wild burros in the area. You could come around a blind corner and bam, there’s a burro standing in the middle of the road. If you take that corner too fast, you and that burro could both be in for a bad day. Here’s one pair of them I found in that exact situation, except I was going slow enough to pull over and stop for a photo. I also ended up stopped in traffic slowly passing a burro standing on the double yellow line. No one was behind me, so I gave it a quick scritch before slowly riding away. These burros are very tame, as people feed them all the time. But they’re also very dumb, standing in the middle of the road.

The other burro related hazard is what they leave behind — piles of poop on the road. These could be literally anywhere. Poop provides significantly less traction than pavement, so if you hit one of these in the middle of a corner, you may have a bad day.

So why risk riding it, you may ask? You might as well ask why someone climbs a mountain. The challenge. The experience. Driving this road in the van was one thing, and certainly a challenge to keep the vehicle in the lane at times. But when you’re driving, you’re watching the scenery go by out the window. On a motorcycle, you’re part of the scenery. You’re riding through it, not just watching it go by. And on a road like this, you’re keenly aware of the steep drops just off the edge of the pavement. But that’s part of the fun — at least, unless you’re terrified of heights. I’m not the greatest with them myself, and at times I threw the optimum line through a turn out the window just to keep myself far away from the edge of the road.

Look at the purple line marking my route, and tell me that doesn’t look like fun. There’s a thrill you get from riding a road like this that nothing can duplicate, not even chemical substances. Some may try, but none can replace the feeling of actually DOING the thing.

There are also signs like this, which are quite satisfying to know you have earned them.

I was only gone for an hour or two, but it was definitely enough of a ride for me to feel satisfied. There are a bunch of dirt roads heading off into the desert, but I don’t want to follow those very far without doing a little research in advance and knowing where I’m going. The last thing I need is to get lost by myself in the middle of the desert. Lister would be upset.

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