Ten years ago we published this story by Editor Don Williams. We have rediscovered it for the website. This touring story on the Harley-Davidson Switchback was written when travel photography with an iPhone 4 and the use of digital filters—Camera+ in this case—was a novelty. Enjoy this retro motorcycle touring story.
The plan was simple. Fly into Salt Lake City. Spend some time riding around on the 2012 Harley-Davidsons in the scenic National Forests surrounding Park City. Fly home. And then I was offered a Switchback to ride home. Plans can change quickly.
Park City to Los Angeles is about 700 miles, doing the Interstate drone. No, thank you. I have been eyeing US Route 6 since I was a kid. Originally it ran between Long Beach, Calif. and Provincetown, Mass. The longest highway in the United States from 1936 until the tail from Bishop to Long Beach was severed in 1964, US 6 made the more storied Route 66 look like a local frontage road. However, Bobby Troup didn’t write a song about Route 6 and the Nat King Cole Trio never sang a note about it.
In 1986, Life Magazine proclaimed US Route 50, which runs across the center of Nevada, to be “The Loneliest Road in America.” One suspects that this road was chosen for this designation for two reasons—some PR by the three primary cities on the highway, and the writer of the story never traversed Route 6 through Nevada and western Utah.
From Santaquin, Utah to Bishop, a stretch of 505 miles, there are four places to get gas—Delta; a nameless spot in the road at the Utah/Nevada border; Ely (famous for its Route 50 association); and Tonopah (a small mining and gambling town). That’s it.
My biggest concern was the stretch from Ely to Tonopah—168 miles. That is no man’s land—literally. There are no towns and inhabited buildings are scarce. Further, there is little traffic and spotty cell service.
After some intense grilling of Harley-Davidson engineers, who assured me without question that the Switchback would easily do 200 miles between fill-ups, I decided to go for it. I budgeted two days, with an overnight in Tonopah, which is about the halfway point.
A ride like this makes for a good story. However, there was a problem. Print feature stories in Ultimate MotorCycling require high-quality photography, and all my camera bodies and lenses were safely stored away at home. Then, I remembered that we were going to have two digital-only (iPad and website) editions of the magazine.
The number of pixels required to fill an iPad or computer monitor are considerably fewer than needed for our wide format print edition on high-quality paper, so I came up with a story idea—touring with only my iPhone for photos. Just as painting is not about the brushes and paint, neither is photography about the camera. It’s about the person operating the camera and what he does with the images.
All the photos you see in the print editions of Ultimate MotorCycling are run through Adobe Photoshop to make sure they look as good as possible. It is no different from the process of developing film and doing darkroom work back in the 1900s.
As I wanted this to happen on the fly, I decided to take my photos and manipulate them in my iPhone 4 using the Camera+ 2.3.1 app from Tap Tap Tap. Photoshop, our usual tool, did not touch the images in this story. Everything happened with a camera phone and a 99¢ app from the Apple App Store.
A push-button app that anyone can easily understand, Camera+ has a variety of functions, with FX Effects and Scenes being the most powerful among them, and Borders adding a bit of fun. You can create a wide variety of moods by combining effects, and then immediately share them via e-mail or social networking.
I had arrived in Park City with cool weather gear, so with highs in the upper 80s forecast for the Great Basin, I was glad I had packed Pokerun’s highly adaptable 3-in-1 Mesh jacket. However, I would need something besides Tour Master Cold-Tex gloves.
Getting up early, I enjoyed a brisk ride from Park City to Monarch Honda in Orem, mostly on U.S. Route 189. The previous spread shows my first stop—Deer Creek Reservoir. I used the Magic Hour filter to enhance the pleasing early morning glow.
A few miles down the road you’ll find Bridal Veil Falls, shown here. This begged for the Ansel filter (named after the famed black-and-white landscape photographer) with the exposure adjusted for Cloudy.
I stopped at Monarch Honda to pick up a pair of summer gloves. Arriving before they opened, I wandered across the street for a Sonic breakfast burrito. Yeah, I know. That’s okay. I figured I would find something interesting to eat later.
Perusing gloves in Monarch’s sparkling showroom, I settled on a pair of Tour Master Gel Cruiser 2 gloves. The Tour Master Vintage Road boots and Cortech Mod jeans are staples of my riding closet, and they were perfect, as was my Arai Vector-2 helmet with a dark visor to cut the summer sun. All geared up!
A quick run down Interstate 15/Route 6 reminds me that the Switchback feels good at speed, and how much I love the new 103 motor. Traffic is moderate, though moving at a good pace, and the Switchback makes picking through the packs of cars a breeze.
I peel off at Santaquin and bid freeways farewell. Although not quite as empty as what is to come, from here to Delta is a two-lane road with other vehicles only happening along infrequently.
Rolling into the near ghost town of Eureka, I make my first photo stop when I spot an old lumber company building that has been converted into a State Liquor Agency. For this image, I used the Flash setting (not an actual flash, just software) to lighten up the shaded image, went with Sepia to accentuate the old look, and a Light Grit border for a darkroom feel—all on my iPhone in less than a minute.
Eureka has little to offer, unless you’re a photographer. It is a target-rich environment, with dozens of ramshackle buildings from another, more prosperous era when the population of miners was well over the current 800 residents.
With many more miles to travel, I only stop one more time in Eureka—where I snap a shot of the Switchback at the boarded-up Star Theater’s box office. I cropped this shot square, like a Kodak Brownie negative, clicked on the Antique FX Effect (one of nine Retro settings), and used the Old-Timey border for a scrapbook look.
Clear of Eureka, I cranked up the speed on the Switchback, letting overdrive stretch its legs. There are no police. No cars. No wildlife. I was alone, and I rode in complete freedom.
A long climb south from State Highway 36 provides a panoramic view of an expansive valley. Near the top of the miles-long rise, I pull the Switchback over for the lead photo in this story, facing north.
Unexpectedly, a minivan pulled by as I was getting ready to shoot, and that little touch of humanity added to the photo. This image received a single modification—the XPRO C-41 effect that mimics the look of print film. With a view like that, it is difficult to go wrong—just keep the horizon out of the center of the photo and you’re good.
A stop for gas in Delta afforded me the chance to explore the more extreme features of Camera+. There is nothing particularly interesting about the Phillips 66 station at the junction of Route 6 and Route 50 (though they are friendly folks), so it was time to seriously attack the image, calling on Grunge for noise and Shade to lighten up what was a very dark original image (scroll up).
Out of Delta, you pass through the farming community of Hinckley and its associated vehicles. Then, the commingled US 6/50 portion of the trip takes on the personality of The Loneliest Road in America.
Miles would pass from Hinckley to the Utah/Nevada state border, without another car approaching me. Given that I was cruising in one of the Switchback’s sweet spots from 80 to 90 mph, it was unexpected that I overtook just a single vehicle. The road is flat, straight, and there was just no one out there.
Most of us wave to fellow motorcyclists when we are out for rides. It is part of the camaraderie of the activity. We are all in it together, whether we’re riding a scooter, a superbike, or a custom chopper.
On this stretch, however, I took to waving at the vehicles that occasionally came upon me. To my happy surprise, the vast majority of oncoming motorists waved back, sometimes quite enthusiastically. I suspect that they, too, enjoyed the reminder that we weren’t quite alone out there.
The Confusion Mountain range arrives eventually, breaking up the straight-line ride. Again, the Switchback’s 103 motor is a huge upgrade from the standard 96 found in previous Dynas. Rather than downshifting for the inclines, which took me to a mile above sea level, the 103 pulls overdrive/6th with ease. Awesome!
The climb out of Tule Valley gave me my one chance to pass, and the 103 responded authoritatively. Shortly afterward, however, came an interesting rocky canyon that begged me to stop.
I had been going non-stop since Delta, a ride of 60 miles, so it did seem like a good idea to snap some photos and down a bottle of water.
I realized that I might need to add a bit of personality to the photo essay, so I positioned myself in the mirror for an impromptu self-portrait.
I turned on the iPhone’s flash to put some light on my face, and angled the camera so the road ahead and behind was visible. The bright summer light helped out a bit here, so there is plenty of contrast to show landscape detail.
Being the male model that I am (cough, cough), on came the Fashion effect on Camera+. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but I liked it. No other adjustments were needed. The desolation and emptiness that accompanied me is documented.
It’s one thing to tell people where you have been. Showing them through the effective use of signage is quite another.
Taken across the street from the Border Inn, which literally straddles Nevada and Utah, this shot is taken on the Nevada side.
With the sun at my back—the ideal position for most photography—this was an easy shot to take. Just position the bike, road, sign, and mountains to taste, and click. It takes a little moving around, though the effort is worth it. The Scenery effect was predictably selected, and with beautiful results. The iPhone and Camera+ are a good team.
I filled up at the Border Inn, as the Switchback seemed to be thirstier than expected. I didn’t want to run out of gas before Ely. I chalked this up to my high speeds.
The designation of a Scenic Route may seem dubious to some, though I find the alternating stretches of desert valley and mountain passes to be fascinating.
After another long straight stretch and a ride through the mountain range between Great Basin National Park and the Humboldt National Forest, I came upon the former location of Major’s Place, a one-time gas stop. No longer open, there weren’t even ruins to explore at the intersection of Route 6/50 and 93.
From there, I was on a climb to the highest spot on my ride—Connors Pass, which sits 7722 feet above sea level. Through the ups and downs of desert and mountains, the 103 motor never faltered.
The rubber mounting kept the vibrations in check at speed, and the generous floorboards allowed me to move my feet just enough to keep me comfortable. Also, the angle of the boards is just right to let your feet to rest and not feel like they are fighting the wind.
Something about the angle of the Switchback and the Connors Pass sign seemed nicely retro. After snapping this photo, I applied the ’70s effect, and then gave it a faux Polaroid look with the border function. Was the photo actually taken in 1971 or 2011? You decide.
Over my shoulder, I noticed that I hadn’t included the beautiful forest on the south side of the road. A few steps away gave me another perspective without moving the Switchback an inch. The 6% Next 5 Miles sign tells the story of the ascent to Connors Pass.
When working with a nice scene like this, you don’t want something too wild. The Clarity filter seemed to be the most appropriate, and I think it works well. When you do stop, don’t get locked into one view. There maybe be more.
Back on the bike and I’m getting close to Ely after another valley/mountain sequence.
I didn’t see much in Ely; I guess I was expecting more when I arrived. As it turns out, by sticking to Route 6, I missed downtown, so the report on that will have to wait until next time.
I stopped at a busy filling station at the 6/50 split, and had an enjoyable conversation with a guy who seemed to be ready to buy a Switchback of his own when he got home.
This fill-up was an important one for me. The next stop was Tonopah, and I did not want to run out of fuel. Every drop possible was dripped into the tank. I cycled through the multi-purpose LCD readout and the range predictor insisted I was good for 220 miles when, just to make sure.
Knowing that I had dropped the mpg precipitously when cruising at high speed in Utah, I backed down to about 70 mph and relaxed.
At the intersection of Route 6 and State Highway 395, sits the most extensive ruins on the trip. What once must have been a bustling stop with a large motel, huge gas station, bar and restaurant was now turning to desert dust.
For some reason, a boarded-up home and lone bare power pole caught my eye. I put my iPhone on the hot cement and took this bug’s eye view shot. Don’t be afraid to put your camera into unexpected positions. Double yellow lines are reliably dramatic.
Conditions called for the Backlit adjustment to lighten the exposure, the angle wanted a widescreen 16:9 crop, and an effect called Redscale had a dramatic impact on the color. The emptiness surrounding me allowed me to kneel down in the middle of the road; be careful and aware when trying this.
Speaking of which, a vanishing point straightaway on Route 6, just east of State Highway 375, also proved to be irresistible. I could condescendingly advise you “Do not try this at home!” but I think our readers are smart enough to take appropriate care when shooting a photograph.
To quote The Who, “I can see for miles and miles,” so I felt comfortable setting up this shot. No photographers or Switchbacks were harmed in the production of this photo.
The scene also took me back to simpler days, with empty roads and classic V-twins. I held the camera over my head for a more unusual view, and inadvertently ended up unprofessionally tilting the horizon.
The Antique effect was chosen, and a period-appropriate Vintage border added to complete the look, enhanced by an uneven horizon.
The heat notwithstanding, the rest of the ride to Tonopah was sweat inducing. Despite my best efforts and speeds down to 55 mph, the Switchback’s predicted range was dropping faster than the miles were added to the odometer. The farther I went, the less likely it seemed I would have the fuel to make Tonopah.
Every time I would crest a mountain range, I was hoping I’d see Tonopah down in the valley. As things were getting desperate, I even shut off the motor and coasted on a miles-long downhill. It wasn’t working, as the climbs obliterated the mpg at an alarming rate.
Finally, as I was climbing up a hill, the range predictor threw up its hands and just said Low Fuel. The fuel gauge was pegged on E. I was not enjoying myself.
I dropped my speed to 35 mph for the last hill, trying to figure out two things. One, why I didn’t buy a gallon gas can in Ely and bungee it to the rear rack. And, two, what will it take to flag down one of the infrequent passersby.
As I climbed the last hill, Tonopah came into view. It turns out it is on a hilltop, not in a valley; it is a mining town, and I should have figured that out on my own. I guess my brain’s processing cycles were otherwise occupied.
A nice downhill after entering Tonopah’s outskirts send me to a sight for sore eyes—a Shell station. I filled up the Switchback and put exactly 3.75 gallons in the tank. Exactly. What?
Harley-Davidson claims a 4.75-gallon fuel tank for the Switchback. The mileage I got between Ely and Tonopah, 44.8 mpg, is about what Harley claims. Either the Switchback was cheated out of a gallon of fuel capacity, or someone in the fuel tank sensor department has some explaining to do. Regardless, I was glad I didn’t run out of gas.
Across the street were some past-their-prime buildings, and from the Shell parking lot I clicked off a shot, and added another vintage effect: Chromogenic. I walked out in the street to avoid including the roadway.
Tonopah had been my planned overnight stop, but the clock revealed it wasn’t even 3:30 p.m. yet. Despite my photo stops, I was making good time, so there was no reason to call it a day. I figured I would make it to Bishop and find a place.
After the drama of Ely to Tonopah, the ride to Bishop was uneventful. A few miles before the California border in the tiny hamlet of Mina, sits a sad, burned-out restaurant.
It had merely been boarded up as recently as 2008, so arsonists have finally had the last word relatively recently.
The afternoon sun glistened off the Switchback’s chrome, and I had one of my last photo opportunities. Silver Gelatin, another film process, got the nod here. Stark black-and-white goes well with the none-too-subtle destruction of what was once a bustling landmark for Route 6 travelers. As drivers from California entered Nevada, this was likely the first stop.
Once in California, Route 6 heads south, a welcome development as the sun was heading toward the horizon. The terrain changes, too; the desolation and desert is punctuated by more cars, some irrigation, and gas stations.
Pulling into Bishop, I expected some sort of sign commemorating the end of a road that begins at the Atlantic Coast. If one is there, I couldn’t find it.
So, I headed back up the road for the unofficial sign signifying the western terminus of Route 6—a choice of Los Angeles or Reno on Route 395. This last shot got the ’70s filter.
My plan to spend the night in Bishop was preempted by the 5:29 p.m. on my phone as I clicked the final photo—even after 577 miles, I wasn’t ready to stop and there was plenty of light.
I was running a dark faceshield on the Arai, so I was hoping to pick up a clear one at Golden State Cycle, a Honda and Yamaha dealer on Main Street. I was stunned to find out that they close at 5 p.m. and everyone was gone.
Plan B was to ride as far as I could until it was too dark. Fortunately, a stop for gas at a Chevron station on the south side of Lone Pine also secured me eye protection that was both form fitting and nearly clear.
I bought the glasses from an older woman who looked wistfully out at the Switchback and said, “I came out here on the back of a Harley 40 years ago, and never left.”
The sky didn’t go fully dark until I was nearly to Mojave. There, I flipped up my visor, donned the eyewear, and scrunched behind the windshield for the final 90 miles home.
I was greeted at home by a wife who couldn’t quite figure out why I wanted to ride 837 miles in a single day. The plain truth: I was having so much fun on the Harley-Davidson Switchback that I didn’t want to stop.
She dutifully made me something to eat, as I realized that three Clif Bars were all I had consumed since Sonic. Darn, I should have stopped for lunch in Ely!