Searching for autumn gold

Traces of autumn

On Sunday, I woke up slowly, not wanting to get out of bed. I was tired from a long week at work and longed to sleep in, but I knew if I did not get up my day was going to be longer than it already was going to be. I knew I had around 500 miles in front of me, and it was time to get the day started.

I ate a big breakfast, loaded up the bike with the usual things and also lots of camera gear, and got on the road. I met my riding partner as we reached Fountain Hills at the exact same time (as usual), fueled up, aired up, and got on the road.

It was cool, and I had already put on my heated jacket liner when we left Fountain Hills. I didn’t turn it on, but it was another layer to help me stay warm. I knew I would be reaching for the controller by the time I got up on the Rim, and I did. For some reason as we passed the Christopher Creek loop I kept thinking about how the Rim is the edge of the Colorado Plateau. That fact kept repeating itself in my head like a chant. The Rim is the edge of the Colorado Plateau. The Rim is the edge of the Colorado Plateau.

When we got up on top, I turned on the heat, but just a little. As I passed the Young Rd. turnoff, I saw that the aspens there were already bare. Their skinny branches looked like a white haze hovering just above the ground. Up ahead, there were a few aspens along the 260 that were bright gold, and they were absolutely glittering in the breeze as they shone in the sun.

We rode through Heber, then Show Low, where we fueled up, then took the 260 through Pinetop-Lakeside, which at this time of year is not too crowded. Soon we passed Hondah casino, and then we entered the nearly pristine part of the White Mountains. When we slowed down briefly to pass through McNary, the people we saw there waved at us. I think they were waving at us because we were part of “all the motorcyclists” who were passing through town on this glorious, sun-drenched fall day.

Just before Sunrise Junction, where I had planned to stop and take a few photos, I was disappointed to find the stand of  aspens was already down to white branches. I guess I wasn’t too surprised, though. The wind blows through there with force and probably took the leaves down almost immediately. We didn’t stop, as there was nothing to shoot, and went on to Springerville.

We got onto 180/191 toward Alpine. Just outside of Springerville, the road ascends toward the Nelson Reservoir area, an area of roadway that snakes up and down, in and out. It’s 10 minutes of fun, and then the road is just straight, but beautiful, as we headed toward Alpine. We passed the turnoffs to Nutrioso, and I looked over at the big field at the Auger Canyon road. Usually filled with horses, this long field was filled instead with some strange-looking humps. When I did a double-take, I found that the “humps” were actually large birds, like cranes, that seemed to be stopped over, resting on their migratory journey. The field was golden, the grasses turning in the cooler fall air, the sunlight glinting off swampy patches of silver water and the slanted rays of light were gilded in the cloudless sky.

Finally, we passed through Alpine and then we were on the 22 mile section of the 191 that ends at Hannagan Meadow. This is the best part of the ride. Again, I saw the damage the Wallow fire caused last summer, again I lamented the loss of a beautiful forest. Most of all, there was no bright color; all the once-golden aspens had been incinerated.

At Hannagan Meadow, an area almost untouched

I shot video, the same that I took last year, the footage I lost when the camera flew off the bike on the way home on the Beeline. This year, new camera, new day. The sunlight on this day was more pure and golden, the leaves more precious. On the way back out, Hal rode up front so I could capture the leaves swirling up in his wake as he rode through them. It was so beautiful, a golden moment.

I shot this again to show the progression of change

We stopped again at the place I’ve chosen to be photographed in the progression of recovery. It was beautiful in the autumn sunlight, as beautiful as it could be.

Sunlight slanting through the burned forest

The shadows were already long in the early afternoon sun, the grass still iridescent green but this time highlighted with gold.

A knot of charred wood

Traces of the fire were still very evident, but autumn’s influence overlaid the char and ash.

Field of gold

We headed back through Alpine, then Springerville, and this time we hurried across the 60 to Show Low. I was up front, cruising along, looking at the extinct cinder cones strewn across the landscape. I find it so fascinating. Before I knew it, we were going through Show Low, and then we were passing through the area of the Rodeo-Chedeski fire from 10 years ago. That fire was much hotter, and much more devastating. The landscape still looks blasted, with few small trees hesitantly pushing skyward.

At the Red Onion, our dinner stop in Heber, we enjoyed our favorite meal of mushroom burgers and salad. The World Series game started while we were there, and I hoped I’d get home to see the final innings. Daylight was rapidly sliding down the sky, and when we left, the rays of the sun were tipping the tallest trees with gold. I was not looking forward to riding through deer and elk country in the deepening twilight, especially wearing a worn-out helmet with a visor that is so scratched it is almost opaque and therefore difficult to see through.

We got fuel one last time in Payson. My high gas mileage of the day had occurred earlier when I calculated that I got 81.5 mpg! What an awesome bike. After the last fuel stop, we headed down the Beeline, at times riding side by side with our bright headlights on so we could see. But this trip is never without a glitch. When we  got to Shea Blvd., we were turned west by the police because of  an accident at Gilbert Rd. and the Beeline farther down. So, I added about 22 miles to my trip, and finally arrived at home around 8:30 p.m. after 12 hours on the road.

It was a golden day, and it may have been one of the last days of the season for the meager colorful leaves on the 191. I am hoping that next year I will see more gold.


2 thoughts on “Searching for autumn gold

  1. Sounds like the weather could not have been more ideal for a nice autumn ride. And traveling through familiar territory allows you to both see your surroundings but be able to properly focus on your ride. Still, as you mentioned, being in familiar locales means you notice changes from encroaching civilization and natural disasters such as fires. It will be interesting to see how the area recovers through your periodic photos of the same location.

    However, I am not sure I would like 12 hours on the road, even if I loved to ride. My back is tired just reading about it.

    • 12 hours on the road? Ha! Easy. It’s all in a day’s work for me! 😉 The secret is having a comfortable bike. Mine might not be comfortable for someone else, and conversely, someone else’s wouldn’t be comfortable for me. But that is the one truth all long distance riders know.

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