Throughout a lifetime of motorcycle travel, most of us have a place we've visited but not fully explored. Such locations linger in our thoughts, whispering, "You must go back." For me, that place is Arizona's Route 191.
Formerly known as Route 666, the road has a peculiar history, with the name change prompted by repeated thefts of signs due to Satanic implications. Stretching from the Mexican border in Douglas to Loring, Montana, this national highway offers a unique charm, particularly between the Arizona towns of Morenci and Alpine.
Covering a 90-mile stretch, Route 191 may not be as renowned as roads like the Tail of the Dragon or the Cherohala Skyway, but it combines the best elements of all three. With captivating cliffside curves, minimal traffic, and distinctive geographical views, it stands out. Yet, unlike its counterparts, reaching Route 191 requires a deliberate decision to explore it.
I stumbled upon Route 191 by chance during a cross-country ride in 2013. The road's allure became evident as I traversed it, especially in the section bordering Arizona and New Mexico, parallel to Route 180. The journey presented unexpected delights, such as the twisting descent into Three Way and encounters with fellow riders eager to explore.
Passing the colossal Morenci copper mine near Clifton marked the start of the truly captivating part of Route 191. As I navigated the desert roads, surrounded by breathtaking scenery like Ontario's deep and vast forests, and tantalizing dirt roads leading into the Apache National Forest, I realized the limitations of my chosen motorcycle, a borrowed-and-overloaded Dyna.
Connecting with fellow riders on BMWs, Mike and Tom, added depth to the experience. Mike shared stories about Route 191's historical significance, including its use by conquistadors battling the Apaches. As we reached the northern sections, the road's challenges became apparent, yet camaraderie and shared experiences made it memorable.
Route 191's desolation for miles echoes the journey of Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, raising questions about the route's history and potential curses. Mike and his wife's hospitality, offering me shelter for the night, exemplified the generosity found in this remote region.
While the road's beauty is undeniable, caution is essential due to its isolated stretches. The deserted landscape demands preparedness for unforeseen challenges, from running out of essentials to navigating hazards like loose rocks and wildlife. For competent riders, Route 191 offers a worthwhile adventure, best explored in late fall or mid-spring, when the weather is favorable and the unique charm of the area can be fully appreciated.