Bagdad, AZ


My riding partner, Hal, had been mentioning a dirt road from Bagdad to Prescott for months, if not a whole year. He lured me with stories of antelope sightings. Something always prevented us from riding it, though: the heat, not enough time, other trips planned, whatever. But finally, this weekend we were able to go, thanks mostly to having three days off.

So, after Friday’s ride to Camp Reno and beyond, we were ready to continue our weekend in the dirt. Or, more accurately, “off pavement,” as the road from Bagdad is fairly easy, although it does contain a few rough spots. The road, county road 68, goes from Bagdad all the way past the Camp Wood area to county road 5 north of Prescott. I had 47.6 miles on my odometer from filling up at the gas station in Bagdad to when we finally got to pavement again at county road 5. From there it was 22 miles to the edge of Prescott.

We started out that day fairly late, got on the road at 9 as is our preferred schedule. Hal was once again on his DRZ for the day, and we rode to Wickenburg, stopped for gas, then took 93 through the Joshua Forest Parkway of Arizona. Several times I wanted to stop and get a photo of one of the trees. They are so interesting in a weird sort of way.

We turned onto 97 toward Bagdad, which turned out to be a fun road that not only was curvy, but hilly as well. We twisted and turned, went up and down, for a few miles then got to 96, where we turned west. Bagdad is a small town, their school teams are the “Sultans,” which I find amusing, and soon we were at the western edge. We fueled up again because the gas tank on the DRZ is small, and then headed out.

I knew it was going to be a long day in the dirt when, as we turned onto 68 and there was the “pavement ends” sign, there was another sign that said, “Primitive road … surface is not regularly maintained.” The road was not too bad, but a little rocky in some places. If I’d had knobby tires on my F650GS, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it, but I have Tourances (80% street, 20% dirt) that are totally worn out. I could feel the bike sliding around and not doing what I wanted it to, as I have on the last few rides we’ve been on. It is getting to be time to replace those tires.

This sign is where the road turns to dirt

We came to the water crossing. Hal had mentioned it several times, but it was very shallow and paved.

Me at the water crossing

After that, as we went along, the road was alternately rocky or rutted. Sometimes I had a little patch about a foot wide on which to ride between two deep ruts, each one a foot or so deep. I didn’t want to get distracted and drop a wheel into one of them. On one of the rocky sections, a Jeep started to come through, and then Hal stopped right in the middle of it to talk to the driver! I hate when he does that because I have no room for error when I put my feet down, and I was already getting through the rocks just fine. I stopped, too, and then was able to continue without incident.

It was work the whole time I was on this road, but about 20 miles into it I was faced with a rock wall. The road looked like you should intuitively go to the right, or straight, but the sign pointing toward Camp Wood went left on another “road,” and up the wall. So, I dutifully followed Hal up and hoped for the best. If I hadn’t just been up the steep mountain shelf road the day before, I might have chickened out, but it felt like it was just another day of dirt riding. These things sometimes make me fear the worst, though, because when it comes right down to it, I am still a comparatively small person on a relatively big bike. Maneuvering a 400+ lb. bike around all day long takes a lot of energy for me. So, when I got up the steep hill and through all the rocks, I breathed a sigh of relief.

We went along on rutted roads for a while, then presently came to a ranch high on a windy mesa where we had to stop and open a gate to go through, then on the other end, had to do the same to leave the ranch. We passed through a couple of ranches, and in one of them, a horse almost walked nonchalantly in front of my bike! Another horse shied away from Hal’s motorbike as he rode slowly and politely past.

Hal with the bikes

My turn: panorama

We continued on some slide-y gravel and ruts. Suddenly my rear wheel slid out from underneath me, and I went down fairly hard. The bike spun all the way around, and I was trapped underneath it! The only thing I could think of was that I had glanced in my rear view mirror at some people coming up behind me on side-by-sides, and that millisecond diversion had been enough to break my tenuous hold on the road.

Hal had gone on ahead, not paying attention to me, so I had to get the people in the side-by-sides to stop and lift the bike before I could get up. We got the bike up, then I surveyed the damage, which wasn’t much, but the worst thing was the bracket on my Caribou case was tweaked. By this time Hal had turned around and come back for me. We bent the bracket back with a pliers enough to attach it. I had also broken the plastic piece that holds the right side taillight, but I used an elastic hair band to loop it to the lock on the bag and hold it in place. It didn’t even look broken, so that was good. After I got everything fixed, I got back on the bike, and I vowed that I wouldn’t ride this bike off pavement anymore until I got those tires replaced! Of course, we laughed because I had already done all the difficult sections and we were only about a mile from where the road gets easy. Typical, for me.

I was getting more and more tired, and was looking forward to getting off the dirt (because of those tires!), no matter how easy it was. We were in the trees by now, and at least the scenery was pleasant. I had started out tired when I left the house in the morning, and now even the easy sections were giving me pause. The ride started to take on epic proportions and I was just “done.” As I looked ahead, I could see more dirt road snaking on and on into the distance, usually a welcome sight. Today it seemed like one of those nightmarish dreams where no matter what you do, you can’t get out of whatever it is you want to get out of. Ominously, we passed a sign that marked “trail 666.” I heard Rod Serling’s words, “… your next stop, the Twilight Zone…” and heard the familiar theme in my head. I rounded a curve, and a poor little bunny lay dead in the middle of the road, unable, apparently to avoid vehicles even in this seemingly sedate setting. It was made even more ironic by the fact that we rode this on Easter weekend. As I said, “Twilight Zone” …

Endless dirt road in the distance

At last, four hours after turning onto the unpaved road, we again reached pavement, and a sign that said, “Prescott 22” with an arrow pointing to the right. I sighed with relief. I was super hungry, had been looking forward to going to the Gurley Street Grill since we left Bagdad. We were finally down to the last few miles and I allowed myself the luxury of thinking of food instead of trying to keep the bike in the proper place on the road. And then, as if to offset the difficulties of the day, when we got to the restaurant, we were able to park our bikes right in front! It was amazing. We ordered some comfort food and, after several cups of coffee, we started on the last leg of our journey home.

From dirt to curving road, the GS handles it all

We had decided to go through the White Spar area, then down Yarnell Hill, then to Wickenburg, to home. It was getting late, and the sun was low and in my eyes. But I still had a lot of fun. We stopped again in Wickenburg at the same gas station where we’d been so many hours before. It seemed like a lifetime ago. By the time we were riding on 74, the road that goes past Lake Pleasant, it was very dark. I wasn’t having any trouble seeing, though, and that was good. The very last part for Hal, on the I-17, was the scariest, but he didn’t have far to go. I waved good-bye at the 101 East split, and then I allowed the faithful little GS to move out quickly home to Gilbert.

After 14 hours on the road and dirt, I had put in almost 400 miles, and I will have to say, I was glad to be back in the garage! But, unfortunately, without any antelope sightings to tell about.

Guess I’ll just have to go back! 🙂

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6 thoughts on “Bagdad, AZ

  1. Luckily for me, you described the trip in sufficient detail, including highway numbers, that I was able to follow your trip for the day. That is a LOT of riding. I did get lost for a minute around Camp Wood, but Google Maps came to my rescue and I picked up your trail again. Unfortunately, the online map I was using did not show me exactly where you slid out. I’m glad you were not hurt, and only minimal damage to your bike.

    I see you actually captured a photo of him using your new camera. Way to go.

    BTW, I like your use of the word ‘slide-y.’ English is such a versatile language, isn’t it?

  2. that is a long ride! especially for poor hal on his drz400. those are not comfortable on the road for any length of time.
    if you want to see pronghorn, go through chino valley and then head up to jerome the back way, over mingus mountain. once you cross the cattle guard after the fairgrounds, you won’t see anymore pronghorn, but you’ll be busy riding the twisties and won’t have time to look for them!

    • Hi Don! Yes, a long day for Hal, but he says the DRZ is “comfortable.” I think it’s a matter of ride what you have or don’t ride. He doesn’t have another dual sport right now.

  3. i grew up there, and we took those roads a lot. I have told people, for sake of argument, that there is only one way in, and one way out, however, to my friends that are adventurers (especially don hoge) we, and now you too, know the real truth. it is an awesome ride tho, and very scenic. I kinda miss home.

  4. Having been raised in Bagdad, this brought back fond memories. That ride is tough in a truch or ATV let alone on a motorcycle. Although I’ve done it on a horse a couple of times. It was good to see thanks for sharing!

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