Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Home through the mountains

We started the last day of our Bisbee trip in Show Low, a town of about 10,000 people at 6200' elevation in the heart of the White Mountains on the Mogollon Rim. According to local history, Show Low received its name based on the outcome of a card game. Sometime around 1876 two neighbors in the Show Low area decided the region wasn't big enough for both of them, so they played cards to decide who would leave. One of them told the other:  If you can show low, you win. Of course that led to the person with the deuce of clubs 'showing low'; he won the bet, and the town was named Show Low. If that isn't enough, the main street is named Deuce of Clubs.

This part of Arizona is known as Rim Country, and it's popular in the summer for folks in Phoenix who want to escape the baking heat in the Valley of the Sun, and also popular in the winter for the snow.

We started a bit later than usual because the temperature was in the 30's at 7am. I put on just about all of the clothes I brought with me, plus all the liners for my motorcycle jacket, and added raingear for extra warmth. It's days like this that a heated seat would be heavenly! Typical for Arizona, the bright sunshine warmed up the air so the temperature was tolerable, but I never took off any of my warm clothes as we rode from Show Low west to Payson at elevations around 7,000'.

It seemed like Monday was a popular day for people driving slowly, erratically, talking on their phone, texting - or all of the above at one time - to be on the road. Periodically we were able to take advantage of passing lanes on the curving 2-lane road through the mountains, zooming past the slower moving trucks and cars.

US 260 descends several thousand feet over a few miles into Camp Verde, giving us gorgeous long-distance views of the Mogollon Rim and the nearby grasslands.

We were close to home now, with only a short stretch south on I-17 then about 30 miles on 169 into Prescott Valley and a few final miles to our home in Prescott. We rode 930 miles this weekend on a looping trip to Bisbee, exploring twisty mountain roads with technical hairpin turns on the Coronado Trail and enjoying riding other, more familiar roads. The BMW is our favorite way to travel, and we're planning more trips soon.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Mountains, twisties, hairpin curves, high desert from Bisbee to Show Low

We rode south from our home in Prescott, Arizona on Friday and spent Saturday exploring Bisbee, an old copper mining town built into the side of the mountains in southeastern Arizona.

We stayed at the Oliver House, a boarding house built in 1908 that today has new life as a B&B. Nothing is easy to find in Bisbee due to the narrow, winding roads and alleys. To reach Oliver House, we found a flat spot in a parking lot then climbed up the stairs and across a walkway over a concrete spillway for overflow water. Supposedly Oliver House is haunted, but we didn't see or hear any ghosts during our two-night stay.

We took a fascinating tour into the Queen Mine, the large copper mine started in 1880 and that ended production in 1975. We rode on a 100 year old train 1,500' under the mountain to learn about the dangerous and hard work of mining.

Today we started our trip back home, riding north most of the day on US 191. Just outside Bisbee we rode past corn, hay, and pecan farms in a wide valley between the Chiracahua Mountains to the East and the Dragoon Mountains to the West.

This was Apache country and the home of Cochise, a prominent Native American leader in the mid-1880's.

We rode about 20 miles on I-10 then continued our trip north on US 191 toward Safford, retracing our route from Friday. Once in Safford we continued north on 191 into a part of Arizona new to us. The highway changed from a ruler-straight path to wide sweeping turns as we headed into the mountains that surround Clifton and Morenci. These two towns are home to the Morenci Copper Mine, the largest copper producer in North America. It's an absolutely huge mine that produced 902 million pounds of copper in 2015.

We've ridden past many mines in Arizona, but the size of this mine astounded us. We watched large dump trucks that hold over 200 tons of rock each drive around the mine.

We left the copper mine behind us and saw a sign warning that there are no services for 90 miles. Mike said this is why we bought a GSA with an 8 gallon tank; so we don't have to worry about running out of gas during long stretches between towns. Not only did we have 90 miles to travel before the next gas station, these were 90 twisting miles with tight and technical hairpin turns, sheer drop-offs with no guard rails along the side of the 2-lane paved road, and jaw-dropping views across the White Mountains. We haven't had this much fun on Arizona highways in months!

US 191 between Clifton and Springerville to the north is known as the Coronado Trail named for the route used by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in 1540 as he searched for cities of gold.

We had the road to ourselves as we zoomed through the twisting mountain curves. Signs warned about cattle, deer, elk, and bighorn sheep, but all we saw were 4 deer and a bunch of squirrels. The odometer rolled over to 16,000 miles as we came out of a tight hairpin turn, and then the elevation climbed even higher to 9,000'.

We kept seeing signs for Hannagan Meadow, and while our stomachs had been growling for a couple of hours we didn't hold out hope for a restaurant in the middle of the Apache National Forest. We were pleasantly surprised to find the Hannagan Meadow Lodge where we not only enjoyed a hot lunch, but also had fun talking with Brian from Tucson. He was riding a Royal Enfield Himalayan scouting out a route for a bicycle trip.

Hannagan Meadow is named after a Nevada miner who also did cattle ranching in this area. The Lodge opened in 1926 and is the only place to stay or eat between Clifton and Alpine.

As we continued north on 191/Coronado Trail, the views opened up and instead of tight hairpin turns we spend around wide sweepers. Over 550,000 acres of this forest burned in 2011 and signs warn of flash flooding.

Once we rode through Springerville, we were officially off the Coronado Trail and rode through grasslands at around 6000' elevation on the Mogollon Rim toward Show Low.

We rode almost 8 hours today and covered 351 miles through some of the most beautiful and remote parts of Arizona we've yet explored. Tomorrow is a short day of 190 miles from Show Low, a town named for a card game.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Traveling south to Bisbee, AZ

It's hard to believe that today, October 18th, is the first overnight motorcycle trip we're taking in 2019. We've been on several day trips, but a combination of bad weather and work have made longer trips impossible this year. Riding through the changing Arizona landscape, from high desert to pine-tree covered mountains, past a huge reservoir, watching the fluffy clouds over the rocky mountains, seeing swirling sand dervishes in the distance, marveling at the fields of cotton made us promise to not let so much time go by before another overnight trip on the BMW.

It was 56 degrees when we left Prescott, and I wore all my motorcycle liners to stay warm as we rode east up and along the pine-tree covered Mogollon Rim to Payson where we turned south on AZ 87, the Beeline Highway. After a few miles riding south and descending 3000' in elevation we stopped to shed the warm liners as we rode through the Tonto Forest in the bright Arizona sunshine. We were reminded about how large Arizona is as we looked far in the distance in every direction and rode 400 miles, all in Arizona. The Tonto Forest itself is over 3 million acres, and is the 5th largest forest in the United States.

Soon after turning south onto AZ 188 we started to see the northern edge of Theodore Roosevelt Lake, formed by a dam on the Salt River in 1911.

Every time I see large lakes in Arizona I get excited because we here in the arid Southwest there simply isn't much water. I started daydreaming about swimming and boating as we rode along the 8 mile long lake.

We turned east onto AZ 70, riding through the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation that encompasses over 1 million acres of mountains, forest and scrubby desert.

We watched rain clouds in the distance, and then saw pools of water along the sides of the highway. The last time we rode through this area 3 years ago we were stuck in a torrential downpour. Today we were lucky and missed the rain completely, although we could smell rain in the air. We stopped in Pima at Taylor Freeze, a family owned ice cream and burger spot that's been in business since 1968.

We rode past fields of pima cotton, which gets its name from the Pima Indians who worked with the US Department of Agriculture in the early 1900's to perfect this specific type of high quality cotton.

We continued south on US 191 then rode 50 very windy miles west on I-10 because there simply aren't that many paved roads in this part of the country. Once off I-10 we rode past the Boot Hill cemetery and OK Corral in tourist-crazy Tombstone where you can walk the dusty dirt streets of the old West and watch actors re-enact the famous gunfight.

Finally we came to our destination:  Bisbee, founded in the late 1800's as a copper, gold and silver mining town in the Mule Mountains just 11 miles north of the Mexican border.

We're staying in Bisbee for the weekend, walking the steep, winding, narrow old streets that are now home to a wide variety of restaurants, shops and art galleries.