Friday, November 25, 2016

Instead of Black Friday shopping, we're on a motorcycle ride!

We ended our 3-day trip to Bisbee, AZ by riding 7 hours home to Prescott. No Black Friday shopping for us! We ate breakfast at the Bisbee Coffee Company just across from the Copper Queen Hotel so we could get a fairly early start. Everyone in Bisbee must have been out of town, because the streets were almost completely empty at 8am.

There aren't many paved roads in Arizona, and since we prefer to stay off the interstate highways as much as possible, our only option was to retrace our route from Wednesday. We rode east out of Bisbee on AZ 80, then headed north on AZ 191. It's fun to watch the names of the tiny towns: Sunizona (population around 300), Sunsites (best known because it's next to Pearce, a mining ghost town), and Cochise. Bisbee and the surrounding area are in Cochise County, named after the famous Apache chief. The ghost town of Cochise was founded in the 1880's as a railroad stop, but today has about 50 residents. Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday's girlfriend, lived in Cochise after he died. They were part of the famous Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, and Kate lived in Prescott. The distances in the Southwest are vast, but the people who settled here seemed to travel all over the state.

We rode 20 very windy miles east on I-10, then headed north again on AZ 191 until it intersected with AZ 70 in the Gila River Basin. The 649 mile long Gila River starts in New Mexico and runs west across southern Arizona to the Colorado River in Yuma.

We rode past green irrigated fields and many cotton fields, always surrounded by mountains to the north, east and west.

We picked up AZ 188, which wound through the Superstition Mountains and past 18-mile long Roosevelt Lake, created by the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River in 1911.

We turned north onto AZ 87, heading toward Payson in the heart of the Mogollon Rim which is the southern boundary of the Colorado Plateau. There is no flat land around Payson, and the highway twists and winds through the tall pine trees in the Tonto National Forest.

In Payson we turned onto AZ 260, continuing to wind through the mountains and forests, finally turning west toward Camp Verde. Somehow the trip home always seems to take longer the closer we get to home, and Camp Verde is only 50 miles from Prescott. These are familiar roads that we travel often, no longer needing the GPS or my written directions.

We didn't see any antelope today as we rode through the Prescott Valley grassland, so the cows will have to serve as our welcoming party.

We traveled 956 miles over the past three days, with the BMW's odometer turning over to 45,000 miles on the first day of our trip. I wonder where we'll be when we reach 50,000 miles?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Riding into the Chiricahua National Monument

We spent last night at the Copper Queen Hotel in Bisbee, AZ, an old copper mining town and now home to artists, restaurants, and quirky little shops. The Copper Queen is supposed to be haunted, but we didn't hear - or see - any ghosts.

We're celebrating Thanksgiving by riding to the Chiricahua National Monument about 75 miles northeast of Bisbee. It was established in 1924 to protect the balancing rocks and hoodoos that were formed by volcanic activity 27 million years ago that eventually eroded into the fabulous rock formations we see today.

To get to the Chiricahua National Monument we headed west on AZ 80 and then rode on local 2-lane paved roads through the grasslands with distant views of mountains that cover this part of southeastern Arizona.

The Chiricahua Mountains are known as 'sky islands' because they're surrounded by vast acres of grasslands, similar to an island surrounded by the ocean.

The Chiricahua Apache called this area the "Land of Standing Up Rocks". The Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts meet here, along with the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madre ranges making this a unique geographical area.

We rode on the 7-mile long paved road that winds through Bonita Canyon. The temperature dropped 12 degrees as we descended into the canyon, which is shaded by tall oak and cypress trees along the creek. The road climbs out of Bonita Canyon and winds around the mountain with distant views of the high mountain peaks. The park road ends at Massai Point at 6870'.

We stopped for two short hikes so we could see the rock formations up close at Massai Point and Echo Canyon.

We retraced our route back to Bisbee, continuing our non-traditional Thanksgiving by enjoying dinner in the Copper Queen Hotel's Saloon with a 100+ year old lifesize portrait of the British actress Lily Langtry that covered one entire wall.

Tomorrow we ride back home to Bisbee, swapping Black Friday shopping with something much more fun - riding the BMW motorcycle.

Our Thanksgiving BMW Motorcycle Ride in Southeastern Arizona

Wednesday morning the temperature was 45 degrees in Prescott. I put on warm tights, a fleece turtleneck, warm sweater, two warm upper body motorcycle jacket liners, motorcycle jacket, rain jacket, motorcycle liners for the motorcycle pants, socks, boots, neck warmer, helmet, and my super-heavy-duty mittens. I was (finally) ready for our trip to Bisbee in southeastern Arizona. The last time we went on a motorcycle trip in June and July, the temperatures were well above 100 degrees and I wore shorts and a sleeveless shirt under our lightweight motorcycle gear.

With no one coming to visit us for Thanksgiving, we decided to ride south for warmer temperatures. We started off Wednesday morning riding north on I-17 to reach AZ 260 heading east toward Payson, riding along the Mogollon Rim through the pine forests before we started descending into warmer temperatures and the Tonto Basin in the Sonoran Desert.

We stopped for lunch in Punkin Center, a tiny unincorporated town on AZ 188, because it was the first restaurant we saw since we rode through Payson over an hour earlier. After lunch, we continued south on AZ 188 along Theodore Roosevelt Lake in the Tonto National Forest.

Lake Roosevelt is the largest reservoir completely within Arizona, and was formed by a dam on the Salt River, dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt himself in 1911,one year before Arizona became a state. It's always a bit strange to see lakes in Arizona since it's such a dry area of the country, and this one is big enough to boast a marina and several boat ramps and campgrounds.

AZ 188 ends at AZ 60 near Globe, and as we continued south we rode through the 1.86 million acre San Carlos Apache reservation. Established in 1872, it's home to 15,000 people.

We rode past miles of fields of cotton and much of the time the sides of the highway were lined with scattered white tufts of cotton. In the 1980's Arizona grew 66% of the Pima cotton produced in the United States, but today produces only 2% of the total U.S. cotton crop due to changing climate conditions and the growth of cities that have overtaken agricultural land.

We continued south on AZ 191 and turned west onto I-10 for a short 6 miles before we turned south on local, 2-lane paved roads with almost no traffic. Usually traffic the day before Thanksgiving is a nightmare, but staying off the major roads and heading into a lightly settled area of Arizona meant we had long stretches of straight pavement all to ourselves.

We rode into Bisbee just before 5pm, ready to walk around this once booming copper mining town built into the side of the Mule Mountains.

Our home for the next 2 days is the Copper Queen Hotel which opened in 1902 as the grandest hotel in the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Supposedly it's haunted by three ghosts - we'll find out!