Top 5 Motorcycle Trips along the Southern Pacific Route
Nov 1, 2021Tags:routesrentersan diegodallas
The highways of the Southern Pacific Route expose the curious adventurer to more cultural and geographic diversity than any other cross-country route in America.
Although the route runs across the United States from San Diego to Savannah, its western half is the most captivating. Between San Diego and Dallas, the Southern Pacific Route features fascinating spots in the most unlikely places, from the “Center of the World” in Felicity, California, to the “World’s Richest Acre” in Kilgore, Texas.
Old US-80 takes motorists along the U.S.-Mexico border, but its contemporary equivalents (like I-8 and I-10) afford motorcycle enthusiasts a noticeably smoother ride through the harsh yet beautiful deserts of the Southwest. These highways are your ticket to ancient outposts crowded with adobe buildings and small Wild-West border towns that don’t look like they’ve aged a day.
And if the scenery overhead isn’t enough to dazzle the avid sightseer, then the Southern Pacific Route will even take them deep underground to massive caverns full of colorful rock formations.
To help you with your next Southern Pacific road trip, we’ve selected five of the route’s unforgettable highlights. Starting with a motorcycle rental in San Diego, make your way across California to Dallas on the back of your favorite motorcycle, scoping out the best sights and sounds from the Southern Pacific Route.
1. Museum of History in Granite: Felicity, California
One of the quirkiest stops off I-8 has to be Felicity, California. Felicity’s not known for its size—less than ten people call it home. But this small town has a big title; according to the French government, Felicity is the “Official Center of the World.” Felicity is only a few minutes off of I-8 and very close to the Mexico-U.S. and California-Arizona borders.
The town was founded in 1896 by world-famous parachutist Jacques-André Istel and his wife Felicia Lee (after which the town is named). Istel is responsible for Felicity’s best-known features and the primary reason why it’s a must-see destination.
Ride into town, hop off your bike, and you’ll be greeted by a checkered field of flowers, a sundial with a bronze replica of Michelangelo’s Hand of God, a gorgeous hillside church, a lone 25-foot staircase once part of the Eiffel Tower, and the Museum of History in Granite.
The Museum is by far the most fascinating spot in town and a World Heritage Site candidate. It consists of 18 100-foot triangle-shaped granite monuments illustrating the “collective memory of humanity.” If you go inside the pyramid at the center of the museum, you can stand in the exact “center of the world” and make a wish.
The Museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm. If you happen to visit between Thanksgiving and Easter, you’ll get a 15-minute tour and a signed certificate declaring that you’ve been to “the center of the world.” Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to see some fascinating monuments and grab a one-of-a-kind souvenir to boot.
2. O.K. Corral: Tombstone, Arizona
Wild West enthusiasts, bring your 10-gallon cowboy hat and boots for the ride. Once you’ve braved the barren Mojave Desert and made it into southeast Arizona, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the small town of Tombstone, the location of the Wild West’s most infamous fight.
Only an hour outside of Tucson, Tombstone is brimming with preserved buildings and reenactors dressed in boots and spurs. The O.K. Corral, immortalized in stories about the legendary 1881 battle between Earp and Clanton, is a must-see any day of the year (reenactments of the fight take place daily). Take a spooky evening “ghost tour” of the Birdcage Theatre, a late 19th-century dance hall and saloon many consider to be haunted.
Conclude your Tombstone adventure at Boothill Graveyard, where as many as 276 of the town’s convicts lie buried. Even though you’ve already rented a motorcycle, don’t be shy when it comes to testing out literal horsepower. Try out at least one of the horse-drawn wagon tours while you’re in town.
If you’re looking for food or souvenirs to take home, stroll down Allen Street, Tombstone’s main street, and visit any of the museums, restaurants, stores, or historic saloons that strike your fancy.
3. Mesilla Plaza: Mesilla, New Mexico
Stick to the I-10 as you ride between Arizona and Texas, and you’ll find yourself in the “Bootheel” of New Mexico, named because of how the state’s border “steps down” into neighboring Mexico. Just south of Las Cruces—the region’s only big city—lies Mesilla, a mandatory stop for the road warrior itching to step back in time and get a taste of New Mexico’s authentic Hispanic culture.
Mesilla was the capital of the Confederate Arizona Territory during the Civil War and a major stop between San Antonio and San Diego. Once you’re in town, you’ll see that not much has changed. Park in Old Mesilla and take a stroll around Mesilla’s historic Plaza.
Any way you turn, you’ll find yourself confronted by shops and restaurants offering unique New Mexican trinkets and mouth-watering Hispanic cuisine. If you’re already full of food and souvenirs, visit the Gadsden museum or take a La Morena Walking Tour to learn more about Mesilla’s connections to the Civil War and Billy the Kid (who once resided in the town and was sentenced at its courthouse).
Travelers needn’t worry about scheduling their ride to Mesilla for a particular season; celebrations occur year-round. In particular, the town is well-known for its annual Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre Fiestas, as well as the lighting of luminaries on Christmas Eve.
4. Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Carlsbad, New Mexico
The Guadalupe Mountains area lies in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park, home of one of the world's oldest and most famous cave systems. Park aboveground and head below to discover a world beyond your wildest imagination.
Carlsbad Cavern is the park’s main attraction and show cave; its floors and ceilings are crowded with centuries-old rock formations. The cavern’s large limestone cave chamber, known as the “Big Room,” is the third-largest chamber in North America and the seventh-largest in the world.
If dark and damp caverns aren’t your cup of tea, you’ll find eight hiking trails within the Park, ranging from 0.1 to 7.7 miles in length. Rattlesnake Springs is the sight of an oasis and an idyllic place to picnic if you have time.
Under normal conditions, this United States National Park is open every day of the year except Christmas. Visitors can hike down into the caverns on their own using the natural entrance or with assistance from the visitor center elevator.
5. World’s Richest Acre Park: Kilgore, Texas
While the endless oil derricks, cotton plantations, and cattle ranches between Carlsbad and Dallas make for classic Texas sightseeing on the back of your motorcycle rental, you’ll want to consider stopping a little further east in Kilgore, Texas. This tiny town east of Dallas is a place where time has stood still since it first became an oil hotspot in the 1930s.
Back then, Kilgore was one of the largest oil reservoirs ever discovered in the contiguous United States, boasting 1,200 oil derricks. Once you’re in town, discover more about Kilgore’s oil-rich past at the East Texas Oil Museum before riding to the “World’s Richest Acre.” Here you’ll find one original and 12 restored oil derricks, all within a single square mile.
Given its proximity to the East Texas lakes, Kilgore is an ideal place for a weekend getaway for those newly arrived in, or based out of, Dallas. July visitors should try getting tickets for the Texas Shakespeare Festival. Professional actors from across America come to Kilgore every summer for this fantastic event.
The Southern Pacific Route proves that the desert is far from deserted. If you’re looking for another weeks-long road trip beginning or ending in Southern California, read our Top 5 Destinations on Route 66 between Los Angeles and Chicago guide and start planning your next cross-country adventure.