Friday, April 11, 2008

Coronado Trail (US 191) - Ride Report

The Coronado Trail, US 191, ArizonaJust got back home last night from a five-day road trip through Arizona, Utah, and Nevada.

I'm still kinda tired from the whole thing.

The point of the ride was two-fold, one to do a long ride out of California and see lots of the countryside, and two to ride the Coronado Trail.

The Coronado Trail, US 191, which I described in an earlier post (link), has been described by many as being the most twistiest highway in the entire USA. It runs for 123 miles between the towns of Clifton and Springerville, AZ, and features about 500 switchbacks and sweepers, with a 3,500 ft elevation gain to about as high as 8,500 feet.

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A lot has been said of the "Tail of the Dragon", US 129, in North Carolina, as being the most challenging road to ride, with 318 curves in only 11 miles. While the Coronado Trail runs 123 miles, it's technically less twisty. But if you ask me, I'd rather ride 123 miles of twisties, than just 11.

I've read some forum posts from people who have ridden the Coronado Trail and said that it was so twisty, that by half-way through they wished it for it end soon. I kept this thought in the back of my mind as I rode along the highway. Yet, no where did I ever feel like wanting it to end. Quite the opposite, I wanted it to keep on going.

What also makes the Coronado Trail so fun to ride, is that it has very little traffic. Albeit, we rode this on a Monday afternoon. We encountered only one car in front of us, and we blew past him easily. Otherwise, for the 123 mile stretch, no other road blocks. How often can you ride such a great road for that long without any obstructions?

We started the ride at the southern end, by approaching US 191 from Interstate 8, east of Willcox, AZ. Much of US 191 at this point is easy to ride, with great views of grassy hills. Once you get into Clifton, the scene switches to steep canyon walls and mining operations. Once you get past the town of Morenci, the fun begins.

The first 10 miles of the Coronado Trail are probably the most tightest of twisties. Nearly every curve is a 10-15mph switchback. And you're quickly gaining in elevation too. The road actually runs through the Morenci Mine, the largest copper mine in the USA. The road here is red with the dust from the mine.

There was quite a bit of dirt and sand on the road in this first section, requiring us to ride it more carefully. Too bad. This was probably the most challenging part of the road. I suppose the dirt and sand makes it a challenge. My buddy Brian, who tends to ride it a lot harder than I, mentioned his rear tire slipping on many occasions.

Somewhere, about halfway through the ride, we hit upon a series of sweepers, about 15-20 in all, each of which was seemingly the same length and radius. I could get the bike going about 55mph through each one, and was leaning all the way to the right, and then switch quickly all the way to the left. I kept doing this 15-20 times in rhythm, as the road demanded, and felt the G forces pulling me down into my seat.

The Coronado Trail, US 191

There are also some really great viewpoints along the Coronado Trail. Since the road takes you up to as high as 8,500 feet, you can see a lot of countrside. Some of this is just breathtaking.

Once you get to Hannagan Meadow, the road becomes less twisty, and is very easy to ride, but is no less scenic.

Perhaps what struck me the most about the Coronado Trail is that the road is so lonely. We saw very few cars, even in going the opposite direction. Considering what an enjoyable road it is, it would be absolute gem if I could only ride it more often.

After the ride, Brian asked me if this road was everything I thought it would be. I said "yes" only because I had a lot of fun riding it. In the back of mind, however, I was kinda disappointed. That is, I kept thinking about what some other people said, that it was SO twisty, that they couldn't wait for it to be over. In that sense, I expected something excrutiatingly twisty. But it wasn't like that at all.

So now, I want to ride The Tail of the Dragon, just to see how twisty it is, and how it compares to the Coronado Trail. Either way, I'm sure it won't compare. How can 11 miles of twisties be any better than 123 miles of twisties?


  1. I too hold the Coronado ride in high esteem, but, I gotta say, the Dragon is a way more twisty ride, albeit, slower, yet more intense.
    I discovered the Dragon by mistake on a Blue Ridge ride. I could not see how they paved it! I had a blast, then returned with my wife a year later in a sports car. Whee!
    I am doing 191 this weekend, and really think this road has the most to offer. Was Hannagan's meadow gas open?

    Ducati Dave

  2. We didn't stop at Hannagan Meadow. We started that day further south near Benson, AZ, and actually toured through the Kartchner Caverns. By the time we got up to Morenci, we were already looking at 3:00pm, and needed to get up to Lyman Lake to set up camp. So we rode through from Morenci to Lyman Lake.

  3. I lived in Az for 19 years and now live in Southern Virginia: I've ridden both. The Dragon 2x both ways and the 191 5 or 6x. You really can't compare the two based on size, alone. The Dragon doesn't hold a candle to the Devil (used to be Route 666). Not even close. The Dragon is just a very small sample of what the Devil's Highway has in store for you.

  4. Very good description of 191. I ride a sportish bike (Speed Triple) and found the Dragon to be somewhat over-rated. Yes, it was fun but it reminded me of a go-cart track in that you can't really develop a whole lot of speed if you take it at a sane pace. The Coronado Trail has a much better mix of curves, better scenery to enjoy and of course, it's much longer.

    Then again, let me run the Dragon on an Ariel Atom and I might have to alter my opinion somewhat...

  5. I’ve done the Dragon’s Tail a few years ago and I just returned from a trip where I got to ride the Devils’ Highway. The two roads are very different so it’s hard to compare. The Dragon’s Tail is wider, the corners are banked, and the only scenery you see are trees. I’ve toured North Carolina and Tennessee many times and there are actually better motorcycle roads in that area, longer and twistier with less traffic, but they are not famous like the Dragon, there are no t-shirts and stickers for those roads.

    And even though motorcyclists manage to kill themselves on the Dragon’s Tail (one guy killed himself the day I was riding that road - they closed the road for a couple of hours to clean the mess) crashes usually happen by riders crossing the double yellow and hitting the on-coming traffic or going off road and hitting some trees.

    Between the two, I prefer to ride a road like the Devil’s Highway - no stickers or T-shirts and no traffic. As for the dangers, I rather ride the Devil’s Highway and take my chances of not riding off the edge of cliff then ride Dragon’s Tail and run the risk of getting a sport bike crossing the double yellow and hitting me.

  6. Just Had 2 weeks at deals gap, and mostly its the cruisers that cant handle staying in their own lane. On one day I saw only one non-sportbike that was crossing the line consistenly(ave was about every third turn). Cruisers with no experience of turns that tight and narrow start dragging parts before the apex and the turn'll tighten up and into oncoming they go. One particular on a dyna was straightening turns so much he rode more white line(shoulderline) of oncoming than he saw of his own, all while tailgaiting a dresser after 5 miles or so the dresser pulled over let him pass, I followed and he still was unable to keep right and couldnt even get close to the 30 mph speed limit except for a few straights. Proof that there are harley squids as well as the nutters on the bikes designed to take corners like that of the dragon. I own cb250,vt500, vn750, vn1500, zx7,zx9r, rsv100r

  7. Thanks for posting this Steve! (you may remember me)
    I'm going to visit Tombstone next weekend and now found which route I'll be taking to get home.


About Steve

A vagabond who hauls a motorcycle around the country in a toy hauler, earning a living as a website developer. Can often be found where there's free Wi-Fi, craft beer, and/or public nudity. (Read more...)