A forest’s beauty and evolution

One of the areas most devastated by the Wallow fire of 2011:

Sunday, Oct. 5, 2014

Today started early when I got up around 5 to look out the window, the second day in a row that I’ve been able to do that. This time it was earlier, and darker, and there was only a faint hint of light at the horizon. I could still see the stars shining brightly, and the window felt cold when I touched it. Once again, I crawled back into the warm bed where I had just finished a very vivid dream where I had been the hero in a crazy, violent movie. I slept again until about 7, then got up, anticipating a good, full day riding in the forest.

On the way to breakfast: the delights of being in Alpine:

Curious sheep:

Hal and I walked to breakfast at the Bear Wallow Café. I know this restaurant is a favorite of a lot of people, but I certainly don’t know why. To me, everything tastes like the same old grease that everything must be cooked in. I thought it was disgusting, and I do not ever want to go back there. The cook at the Alpine Grill is superb, and I love the people that work there. It’s a no-brainer (in my opinion) which place in Alpine is the one to go to.

We had planned our riding day to include a route through high elevation forest that should include golden aspens. We left Alpine and got on FR249, which is now paved. It will probably become part of 273 and soon be designated that way. We saw that happening in July when we were here last, and I hoped it wouldn’t be true. Sadly for us, it was paved almost all the way to Big Lake, the eastbound lane still had to be done for a few miles, but I think that once again, a nice dirt highway has been ruined. It’s not only that I hate how paving will increase the traffic from RVs, but it will also open the area up to more human desecration. It means that beautiful areas will now become victim to human invasion, and human trash. It disgusts me to find beer bottles and plastic of all kinds in areas where I think I am out in the middle of the wilderness. Inevitably, this will happen here.

Soon, we passed Big Lake, and continued toward FR112. It is a pretty road, and we stopped at one point so I could hike a short distance to get some photos of a particularly beautiful clump of golden aspens. The whole road had many examples of the amazing transformation that autumn brings to the leaves. I was looking everywhere, and I loved every moment of being there.

We reached Hwy. 261, and shortly after that, we got back into the dirt on FR117. This is the road that eventually leads to the “snow volcano,” and that was our goal. I had all of my cameras with me in a backpack made for carrying them, and I wanted to use them to their best advantage. My weapon of choice for the fall color shots had been my Canon T2i, and I hoped to use the modified Xti for infrared shots on top of the cinder cone. We wove through the aspens, and then the evergreen forest, toward the Springerville Volcanic Field. Then, we started to descend toward Hwy. 60. After a short distance, we were at the road that climbs up the volcano.

That road had deteriorated a lot since we were here last July. The cinders were deep at the bottom having been washed down during the summer storms. I began to climb, and Hal was behind me. The erosion ruts were very deep, about a foot, and I had to choose my lines carefully. I kept going, though, powering up the short, steep climb. The bad thing was, though, when I got to the top, there was a pickup truck parked there, too, and two guys were shooting bullets into the exposed side of the cinder cone. I understood that, since it was a safe place to shoot, but I wanted to shoot, too, with a camera. I was able to get a few quick shots. Meanwhile, Hal had an issue of his own.

“I gotta get to a hardware store!” he said, urgently. An important bolt had fallen out of the tail section of his DR, and if it had to go through too much more bouncing, more of it was going to break. We were about 16 miles west of Springerville, so I suggested we ride the paved U.S. 60 to town. We headed back down the volcano carefully. I wouldn’t say it was my most graceful descent that I’ve ever ridden, but I got down unscathed. We took the 60 into Springerville, then pulled into Davis Ace Hardware store.

Hal went into the store to get some parts, and I waited outside. After about 10 minutes, he came out, and he did a temporary fix on the bike using a new bolt and some baling wire. Then, we were good to go. The next stop was Western Drug and General store to get a snack and look around. We got a Zero candy bar (to die for, BTW), and some lemonade. So, we sat on the curb in the shade, looked at the map, and planned the next segment of our day.

Our original plan had been to stay near 117 and then explore the network of dirt roads to the west of there. However, the problem with the DR had changed things, and we went to “Plan B.” The map said that we could take 285 south of Springerville/Eagar, ironically, the road on which we’d finished our summer riding in July. From 285, we would take 85 east, possibly take FR57 up to the Sipe White Mountain Wildlife Area, and then cross Hwy. 191 to take FR275 all the way back to Alpine. We got on the bikes after our break, and headed south toward the edge of town where we fueled up. Soon we were on 285, and after we wound our way up another mountain, turned on 85.

FR85 sounded familiar to me, but it turned out we had never been on it except for a couple of miles last July as we had exited the OHV loop. This time, we were headed east, past Grand View Camp, and a mile or two right after that, the narrow winding road wove through an area that had been absolutely devastated in the Wallow fire three years ago.

I thought that I had seen it all with regard to that fire, but this area surprised me in so many ways. When we first rode into it, I thought that the grassy fields had hundreds of little orange traffic cones. That didn’t make any sense, but then I saw that they were not cone-shaped, but cylindrically shaped. They are actually orange plastic cylinders protecting ponderosa pine seedlings from browsing animals. More information is here: http://wildfiretoday.com/2014/10/07/climbing-trees-to-harvest-pine-cones-after-the-wallow-fire-in-arizona/

Seedlings everywhere. Look closely and you can see the protective cylinders all over the terrain:

The more I looked, the more the “grassy fields” looked like a bomb had gone off there. Everything that had once been a tree or a bush, or anything living, had been consumed by the fire. If only I had known about this area, if only I had been riding dirt bikes like I do now, I would have shot my progression photographs here. I had chosen MM250 on Hwy. 191 because I was on the street bike the first time I rode into the burn area, and I was not familiar with anything else.

Hal and I continued to ride slowly through this discovered burn area, looking at it, intrigued by how completely ruined the area is. I stopped to take more burned tree photos, as if I haven’t enough already, but this area is remote and some of it is untouched. It is just as it is the day after the fire roared through. Abruptly, we reached the edge of it, and from then on, it was green forest and scrubland.

We were going to take a road that we thought was FR57 and go up through Sipe, but two SUVs were blocking it and we couldn’t get around them without riding off the road, which we did not want to do. We turned south at an intersection about a mile farther on 85, found it gated and locked, then turned around and headed north. Soon we were going east, and it looked familiar. We came out on Hwy. 191, across from FR275, which we had taken last July. We knew it would take us back to Alpine, and it would probably be beautiful because we both remembered it being lined with aspens.

At first it is high desert, then goes into the trees. To say this part of the ride was amazing is an understatement. We rode reasonably slowly through it all because most of the time we found ourselves in deep chasms between tall aspens, both green and gold, and even among those special ones that are gold and tipped with red. Some of the gold ones, flame-shaped, were “sparkling” as the leaves fluttered in the wind. I sighed. It was achingly beautiful.

Up ahead were mountains that we could barely see through the trees surrounding us, but when we did, we saw that they were covered with vivid green and bright gold. The late afternoon sun was lighting them up, and even the air looked gold around them. As I wound through the golden trees, taking in the beauty, I thought when I die, this is how I want to leave, as a ghost rider through the autumn beauty to the blackness beyond. The sight was so spectacular, it is almost indescribable.

Finally, as we were going down a grade, I realized that we were close to the river that has cut deeply through the lowest part of this road. Soon after that, we twisted our way up a very steep grade. It was difficult to see with the dust hanging in the air, and the sun’s rays slanted so low, and it seemed like we were in a different world. When we were on top, we were only a few miles from where we come out on Hwy. 180 near Luna Lake, and only a couple of miles from Alpine. Soon we were “home.”

We each had a cup of coffee, sitting on the porch, and then, after the sun disappeared behind the mountain, we walked to dinner. Sadly, it is our last night here. The trip has once again gone much too fast.


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