There are motorcycle movies, and then there is Easy Rider. Over 55 years after the movie hit the silver screen, it still sets the standard by which all other biker and motorbike movies are judged. In 1969, it gave the world a mind-blowing taste of the freedom of the open road on a two wheeled chariot.
The whole world - and motorcyclists in particular, couldn’t get enough of it. Who could be so dead in spirit, they wouldn’t want to trade places with "Billy" or "Wyatt", even just for a day or two, on the open road? Well, now that dream can become a very tangible reality, as real as the roar of the engine or the feel of wind in your hair.
Scroll the highways of Southern California, then on through the harsh but unforgettable Death Valley. From there, you enjoin the historic trails of Route 66, driving all the way south to the party capital of Louisiana, the legendary city of jazz and blues and good times, New Orleans. There’s really no better way to say it. This is a classic American road-trip of a lifetime.Back to top
from US$3,341 with compact category car hire + US$550 (plus tax) drop-off fee payable at rental location in Los Angeles
from US$4,437 with convertible category car hire + US$550 (plus tax) drop-off fee payable at rental location in Los Angeles
They call Los Angeles the "City of Angels". Now whether you believe that, it’s still the perfect spot to rendezvous and have plenty of fun. You’ll have time for some sightseeing, or even to relax by the hotel swimming pool, before hitting the asphalt towards New Orleans. A few brews and a bite to eat, what better way to form bonds? We’re sure Billy and Wyatt would approve.
You will cover a lot of ground today, literally. But the miles just fly by when you have the sense of anticipation for the adventures to come. Death Valley is a huge and unforgiving landscape, with high desert terrain and low valleys, is where Billy and Wyatt started out on their long, strange trip. There are stories aplenty from the movie, and the landscape dotted with little towns, hasn’t changed much at all since 1969. After a good day’s drive, you’ll sit around a bonfire at the hotel, and stare up at the incredible blanket of the night sky. Nothing beats spending a night in Death Valley.
The key scene of Wyatt tossing his Rolex to the ground was staged in Ballarat, east of Route 178, between Trona and Stovepipe Wells on the western edge of Death Valley. As you can see, there’s little left of this ghost town (named after the Australian gold town), apart from crumbling ruins, though there is now a little store where you can pick up the basics.
The coolness of a morning in Death Valley is ideal for setting out towards Barstow, the renowned Route 66 town; familiar to Easy Rider fans and anyone who’s read Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Then, if you are feeling wild and crazy enough, you can throw your Rolex away outside the ghost town of Ballarat, California. (Just like Peter Fonda did in the movie). Either way, we’ll leave the regular, timekeeping world behind in a cloud of dust, as you head for the Mojave Desert. The huge expanse of the Mojave lies between Death Valley and the town of Needles. Arguably one of the earth’s lonelier places, you’ll drive through the relics and remnants of little towns on Route 66, places that clung to life, many years after the dustbowl era of the great depression in the 1930s was over. This is no doubt, one of the most desolate stretches of Route 66. Passing by ghost towns, abandoned motels, defunct gas stations and abandoned mail boxes, we are now in the heart of the Mojave. Roaring along a road so straight and long the only end in sight is a vanishing point: if you aren’t feeling the Easy Rider vibe by now, it’s not our fault! The day ends with a dip in the refreshing waters of the Colorado, before you head into town. You won’t be looking for trouble, but maybe a bit of mischief. After all, if it was good enough for Easy Rider crew to use Needles as a base camp, it will serve you well for the night.
Bid Needles the proverbial fond farewell and cross the mighty Colorado River on Route 66, the bridge that is location for such an iconic scene from the film. With the wind at your back now, you drive on through an authentic "Old West" town, Oatman, Arizona. A bit of imagination, but not much, and you can practically see the ghosts of gold miners roaming its streets. You take in another instantly recognizable location from Easy Rider, the Pine Breeze Inn. Situated among the pine tree covered Sacred Mountains, this is where Billy and Wyatt are denied a room for the night. They’re a lot more people friendly these days, but the owner still jokes that he switches on a neon ‘No Vacancy’ sign, if he thinks he spots longhairs or greasers in the bar across the street. You stop there for a cold one, then head for Flagstaff. There’s just time to splash water on your face and kick the dust off your boots, before you wander the streets of Flagstaff. There are a lot of spots here you’ll recognize from the movie, so don’t leave your camera in the hotel room.
Behind the credits, Billy and Wyatt ride south on Park Moabi Road, from Park Moabi itself over the railtracks to what is now I-40, south of Needles on the California/Arizona border.
Just to the east on I-40, they cross the Colorado River into Arizona at Topock, and its three bridges (the old Trails Arch Bridge is the one crossed in the opposite direction by the Joad family in John Ford’s 1940 film of The Grapes Of Wrath).
And on to the motel, where the owner hurriedly turns on the ‘No vacancies’ sign once he realizes his potential customers are bikers. This was the Pine Breeze Motel at Bellemont, about 12 miles west of Flagstaff, Arizona. The stretch of Route 66, on which it stood, is now a disused section of East Bellemont Road, running alongside I-40. Ironically, the site is now a biker mecca. There’s a Harley-Davidson dealership, and the Route 66 Roadhouse Bar and Grill, 11840 West Route 66, Bellemont, displays the film’s original ‘No vacancies’ sign over the bar. The abandoned gas station and the motel itself can still be seen crumbling away on the bar’s grounds about a mile to the east.
Leaving Flagstaff for dust you make our way north, through Navajo Indian lands. The wide open spaces here make for some gorgeous long spells of driving. Your trail winds through the Wupatki National Monument, rich in Native American ruins. You’ll stop by the very same ones where Billy and Wyatt camped under the stars. Still heading north, you come to the Sacred Mountain gas station, now closed, but you’ll recognize it from the movie. It’s where the guys pick up a stranger who insists they needn’t pay for gas. In a few hours, we come to the awe-inspiring, thousand foot spires that typify Monument Valley. Our company has a special and enduring relationship with the Navajo tribe, which means not only a private tour with Navajo guides, but an unforgettable evening. You’ll be treated to "Navajo Tacos" by a roaring fire, as well as traditional music and dance. All this takes place under the shadow of the monuments as the sun sets, and is truly a mystical experience.
A little further north, the Sacred Mountain gas station, where the stranger they picked up insists they don’t pay for gas, has closed – but the building is still there, on the west side of US Route 89 at 150 Road, about 20 miles north of Flagstaff.
Turn onto US Route 89 for a few miles. Loop Road runs east toward Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, which is where the pair pick up the hitchhiking stranger (Luke Askew). Continue on to find Wupatki National Monument, Cococino, where they camp for the night in the ruins of the Wupatki Pueblo.
Your journey tracing the footsteps, or rather wheel ruts of Captain America and his buddy Billy, continues through one of the more curious landmarks in the Southwest. It’s called the Four Corners, and for good reason. It’s a place that most people only ever dream of visiting. While you may have to bend and stretch a bit, to place one foot in Colorado and another in New Mexico, one hand in Utah and another in Arizona, think of the photo opportunity, plus the tale to tell, for family and friends back home. After that, it’s time for you drifters to drift into the sleepy Colorado town of Durango. The so-called Hollywood of the Rockies, because so many westerns were shot here, it’s surely worth dropping into one of its "Old West" saloons.
Easy Rider film location: biking across Arizona, Billy and Wyatt pass by the Mittens: The Mittens, Monument Valley, Arizona. Still carrying their passenger, Billy and Wyatt ride northeast through the pink, red and gray strata of the spectacular Painted Desert and onto that great screen favorite, Monument Valley, made famous by John Ford in films such as Stagecoach and The Searchers.
And on the 7th day? Well, it’s a good time to rest up and take it easy in this distinctive town, that is really like something out of the wild west. But there’s plenty to do in Durango if you don’t feel like kicking back. Take a ride along the storied Million Dollar Highway, enjoy a hot air balloon ride at sunrise, or even play at being a cowboy for a day, with a horseback ride along a canyon or mountain trail.
The scenery on the ride from Durango to Taos is quite simply breathtaking, and the Easy Rider biker spirit must surely move within you, along this section of the journey. A New Mexico highland town that is steeped in the culture and history of its Native American people, it also just happens to have been the location for some of the most memorable scenes in Easy Rider. All of the interior scenes in the jail, where for example you meet Jack Nicholson’s character, and parts of the Hippy commune sequence were shot here. You’ll visit both points of interest, rounding out a pretty far out and mind-blowing day.
The spring where Billy and Wyatt go skinny dipping with two girls is Manby Hot Springs, in the Rio Grande gorge, a couple of miles southwest of Arroyo Hondo, north of Taos. There’s room for five or six people in the naturally heated pools and clothing, as they say, is still optional these days.
The UK, writer DH Lawrence did settle in New Mexico. The writer’s last resting place is Taos, and it’s here that the interior of the jail was filmed, in what is now another gallery – Bryans Gallery, 121 Kit Carson Road.
You could argue that the only drive that beats the one from Farmington to Taos happens to be the drive from Taos to Amarillo! Along the way, you stop in Las Vegas – the one in New Mexico of course. This is where they shot the exterior scenes of the jailhouse, and it’s one of our most beloved photo stops. Often you’ll be lucky enough to find one of the town’s ‘old timers’ – a local who can remember the days when Dennis Hopper blew into town, with all his hippy biker friends. Remember the scene where Jack Nicholson’s character, "George," takes the first snort of booze for the day? "Nic Nic Nic...Fut Fut Fut…Indians!" It was shot here. You can have a shot of Bourbon and toast old DH Lawrence this evening when you pull into Amarillo. Back when they shot Easy Rider, some of the crew camped out next to DH Lawrence’s grave here in Taos. The final stop for the day is a pilgrimage to the roads just outside the town of Coyote. It’s where they shot the infamous "If you wanna be a bird" sequence. Before shuteye, a fleet of vintage Cadillac’s picks everyone up and drives them to the Big Texan Steakhouse for some of the finest steaks in the great state of Texas! And that’s saying something!
Billy and Wyatt cheerfully tag along on their bikes behind a marching band.
The Parade was filmed in Las Vegas – not the glitzy casino city of Nevada but the tiny frontier town in New Mexico, on US Route 85 about 50 miles east of Santa Fe.
Thrown into jail for the heinous crime of “parading without a permit”, the pair meet up with dissipated lawyer George Hanson (star-to-be Nicholson). The exterior of the old jail can indeed be seen in Las Vegas, at 157 Bridge Street (it’s now art gallery Tito’s), and it’s on Bridge Street that George toasts old DH Lawrence with the first Jim Beam of the day.
So far you have been adhering to the Easy Rider route, almost without exception. There is a gap however, between New Mexico and Louisiana. By this stage of the shoot, both cast and crew were getting tired of their brilliant but egomaniacal director, Dennis Hopper. So they split up and went their own separate ways through Oklahoma and Texas, en route to shoot the final scenes in Louisiana. Just as the crew found their own way to New Orleans back in 1969, you have plotted your very own Easy Rider trail. This takes us through the Texas Panhandle and onto the historical city if Abilene. This town is a genuine slice of Texas style Americana, a place we never leave, without wishing we had more time to explore.
The road-trip on your way to New Orleans continues. On your way to that incredible city, you make time to stop in Austin, Texas: arguably, the world’s live music capital. You can spend a whole night hopping from one bar to another, and taking in some of America’s best musicians, because your hotel is smack dab in the middle of the 6th Street music district, which enables you to walk from bar to bar all night long while enjoying some of the best live music in the country. Music lovers will have a hard time saddling up and saying goodbye to Austin the next morning. Apparently Peter Fonda had trouble leaving Austin too, during the making of the ultimate biker pic. The story goes that Fonda stopped for a couple of days on 6th Street on his way down to New Orleans. He was said to have closed down two bars. That’s quite an achievement when you consider that, even back in the 60s, most bars on 6th Street were open 24/7!
The southern bayou state of Louisiana was the setting for some of the most unforgettable, and painfully unforgettable scenes in Easy Rider; and today you drive Eastwards - out of Texas and into the heart of the south. It’s quite a long day, but the miles usually speed by in anticipation of thrills yet to come. With its unique mix of swamps, bayous, intriguing characters and old fashioned Southern charm, Louisiana is distinctly different to anything you’ve seen so far on this journey. Lake Charles is our second favorite city in the state, the favorite of course being New Orleans.
And Lake Charles comes alive and takes on a different character after sundown. Let’s see if the moonlight, and maybe even a little moonshine will allow the spirit of the bayou to touch you. Tomorrow, we make our way to the "Big Easy".
Like it or not, the unhappy ending of Easy Rider was one of the reasons it was such a big hit, and became an instant classic. It was definitely not a Hollywood ending, to have our two anti-heroes shot and killed by a couple of rednecks. Filmed on a real country road on the outskirts of Krotz Springs, Louisiana, you drive that very same road today, pausing to reflect on how one disturbing but incredibly powerful movie would shape the lives of motorcycle riders everywhere. To drive this particular route is the experience of a lifetime, but sharing it with others lifts it into something hard to define. Billy and Wyatt begin to feel so real, it’s like you could reach out and touch them. But that’s enough sobering reflection. You end the day with a short drive into the party capital of the south, the battered but unbroken New Orleans.
The town seems to have missed out on a major tourism opportunity here, as the scary Redneck Café, which stood on the east side of Gayden Road just south of Campbell Street, has been torn down. You can still see the entrance steps, which now lead to an empty plot of land.
All that’s left is the journey home. About 30 miles west of Baton Rouge, on the Atchafalaya River, stands Krotz Springs. It’s maybe a little too close to Morganza for comfort, and it’s on North Levee Road (US Route 105), just north of town, that the film ends with a brace of shotgun blasts.
Donning his gold football helmet, Hanson joins the pair’s journey to Mardi Gras. Even the crazily fearless Hopper had second thoughts about filming a hippie epic in late Sixties Lone Star state. So Texas seems to have just gone missing, and it’s straight on to Louisiana, with a burst of Hendrix If 6 was 9, and the Long-Allen Bridge, carrying Brashear Avenue (the old LA 182) over the Atchafalaya River from Berwick to Morgan City.
Past the clutch of plantation houses familiar from so many other movies, to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, and time to drop those acid tabs in – where else? – a cemetery. The cemetery, the city’s oldest, is St Louis Cemetery No.1, 1300 Saint Louis Street at Basin Street, west of the French Quarter.
Almost as soon as Easy Rider opened in cinemas across the US, bikers were drawn to New Orleans as if by magnetic force. Those notorious bordello and graveyard scenes were a potent synthesis of the drug culture and biker scenes, that both made such an indelible mark on the 60s decade. Nobody could argue that Billy and Wyatt were living their lives out on the edge, all in the name of freedom. New Orleans was the ideal backdrop. These days, your experience of New Orleans may not be as "psychedelic," but it will be just as memorable, arguably more so, without a head full of acid! It’s still undeniably a trip, to visit the same spots in New Orleans which you have seen on screen for all these years. The year round carnival atmosphere of the French Quarter would appeal to all but the most puritan of travelers. This evening, you feast on crawfish and gumbo, and celebrate all that you’ve accomplished on this journey. What better time to raise your glasses in a toast to Billy, Wyatt, George, and the late, great Dennis Hopper? It’s time for some celebration. After all, you just made it!
Congratulations on having lived a dream, one that most of even the most ardent fans of Easy Rider will get to experience. After this, what could possibly come next? Canada to Yellowstone? Route 66? The Wild West? Canada to Yellowstone? Hopefully, it will only be a matter of time before you are on the road again. Until then Easy Riders, keep your chrome up. On a practical note, if you’d like to stay in New Orleans a few more days – and who could blame you – we will happily make arrangements on your behalf.
A detailed google-map with all the movie-filming locations is available with purchasing the package.
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