Petrified forest


Above: a place that could be beautiful, or ugly

I wanted to ride for the whole day on Sunday. Hal and I had talked about a few places, but last week I was reading a book that showed the Petrified Forest National Park. Hmmmm, I thought, I wonder where that is? It turns out it is very close to Holbrook, AZ, a place I’ve been through a million times, or so it seems. How could I have missed it? It is on Hwy. 180, east out of Holbrook just as you get into town. An intersection I’ve passed, as I said, a million times. So, the plan was made, and Sunday morning I got on the GS to ride out of town.

I had looked at the weather report before I left and I knew it was going to be windy and cold. However, I didn’t realize how windy and cold it could get, but I did have my heated jacket liner with me this time. I was plugged in from when I left the house. I never know if it’s going to get warmer or colder. In this case, I would soon find out it would be “colder.”

I did put on one more layer before I left Fountain Hills, where we fueled up. I was sure that I would be warm the rest of the day. However, when we got near Rye, the wind started to blow. At first it was not a bad crosswind, but then it got more and more insistent. It was a cold wind, too, and it was still going through my jacket even with all the layers I had on. I don’t have a good, reliable, impenetrable winter jacket. Imagine that, I live in the desert. But at the same time, I would like to have a coat that will keep me warm even if it gets down in the 20’s F. I do ride all winter, and if I happen to get into snow I ride in very cold weather. I think I will make getting a proper winter coat a priority now because during Sunday’s ride I was on the verge of being very cold.

After we had breakfast in Payson at the Subway (we wanted to be in and out quickly, and, surprisingly, you can rely on their good coffee), we rode toward the Mogollon Rim. The temperatures dropped the higher in elevation we got, and by now, the wind was fierce. It was either in our faces or pushing against us from the side.

The craziest thing that happened on this trip was when we were climbing toward the top of the Rim. We were going east on Hwy. 260, and all of a sudden a deer came tearing out of the forest to our right. It was running “hell bent for leather,” flying down the slope near the road. I thought it was going to run right into the car directly in front of me. At the last moment, it careened toward the right, kicked up its rear feet in a buck like a horse, and then zigzagged. I watched all of this happening in front of me, and slowed way down as I waited for the deer to choose a path. I hoped it wouldn’t choose the path that would intersect with mine!

Meanwhile, Hal had been passing the car in front of me, and it was lucky the driver didn’t swerve right into him. I don’t think the driver even saw the deer, he or she never hit the brakes or moved over. Finally, the deer veered back into the forest from whence it came, leaving me to wonder, did that just happen?? Hal looked back, slowed down, then saw that nothing had happened to me, and then he continued. It was a weird experience, and my closest encounter with a big animal at speed.

Meanwhile, the temperature kept dropping. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t super cold, but I was getting there. When we stopped to gas up again in Heber, I put another layer of gloves on. This proved to be a good decision because as we rode the 277/377 across to Holbrook, the wind was racing across the high flat plain. I think if I hadn’t had so much experience riding in fierce crosswinds I would have been worried. As it was, I held the bike leaned over into the wind and kept it as stable as I could. It was a weird sensation, though, how my left foot and hand got very cold because they were on the side that was in the wind, and the right side was fine. The wind was blowing through the engine area and the warmer air was blowing onto my right foot. Of course, the right hand was on the warm grip and not getting the super-cold blast from the left.

The worst part of riding in a crosswind is the battering. My helmet was pressed against the left side of my head, and it made my sunglasses “dig” into my face. It hurt, and the movement of the helmet, however slight, was giving me a headache.

On the plus side, though, at the wind farm that is about halfway between Heber and Holbrook, the blades of the giant windmills were all moving. I thought they should be spinning like crazy, but they are big and heavy, and also far away, so maybe they were moving faster than they looked. I was hoping they weren’t being moved by electric power! Probably not, but you never know.

By the time I was done with those 43 miles, I was ready to turn east and have the wind at my back for a while. We rode to the edge of Holbrook on Hwy. 77, then it intersected with Hwy. 180, which is what we needed to take to the petrified forest. It was such a relief to have the wind at my back. It gave my head a break from the pounding.

The park was only 20 miles down the road, and of course we had to pay to get in. I keep forgetting that these parks have fee stations. We drove in and then parked at the museum. At least we didn’t have to de-gear. It was too cold to even think about taking any layers off. So, I grabbed my cameras and we walked around the observation area that had many fallen petrified logs. Some trees were still intact, but lying on the ground. The centers of some logs had turned jewel-like with amazing colors. Hal had my color camera again, and I shot in IR. We both got some beautiful, interesting images. The whole time we were there, it was sunny, but very cold, and the wind was howling. That made our time there very short, also the fact that we wanted to be home by 5 or 6 o’clock. We were far from home, and it was already after 1 o’clock.

When we got back to the museum, Hal discovered that he’d lost his wallet! A frantic search ensued, and finally, after back-tracking along the paths outside, Hal went back to the front desk and asked if it had been turned in. It had! Great, you think. However, it was missing the $60 in cash inside. Here’s what I think about that:

Low-life thieving person,

If you did not earn the money, it is not yours. I hate you because you took my friend’s hard-earned cash. He works very hard and sometimes he has more than his share of difficulties. He does not deserve any more crap.

I hope something really bad happens to you. Soon.

Sincerely,

Me

The stealing was a real downer for me. I am so sick of people and their dishonest sh*t. My day was ruined, and I didn’t even feel like reading any of the other information about the forest. The enjoyment of the place was lost, and it started to look to me like another sanitized, contrived tourist park that had been brought down to the level of the unintelligent and lazy.

Hal and I put on our helmets and gloves, got back on the bikes, and left. I think if I ever go back there I will go only to the remote areas, away from other people, and concentrate on learning more about the petrified forest, which in itself is very beautiful. It is too bad people have spoiled it.

We rode west, into the wind. It was still fierce and cold. The approximately 20 miles back to Holbrook passed quickly, though, because I was still furious and I was thinking about what had happened. When we got to the intersection with Hwy. 77, there was a store with a yard full of petrified wood for sale. I thought we probably could have gone in there and taken photos and it would have been sufficient. If only I’d known how disappointing (in some ways) our experience was going to be.

We rode back across the windy plain, dealing again with the wind. Despite that, I started to feel better because I was at least on a bike, and on a favorite bike at that. I was reasonably warm, and I was outside in the beautiful cold day, and I started to talk myself out of my black mood. The road was fairly empty, and I remembered all the times we’d ridden across here and kept an eye on ominous summer storm clouds. I realized how many years of seasons that I’ve been riding, how many experiences I’ve had while riding these and many other roads. I like the isolation of riding, and feeling like I am outside the circle of civilization (and I use the term loosely). It’s only a feeling, and I never really get to escape, but it’s a pleasant sensation, no matter how temporary it may be.

Near Heber, the odometer on my motorbike went over 48,00 miles, something to celebrate when I thought of how the bike had risen from the dead to run better than ever. When we got to Heber, we passed the Red Onion and I thought briefly that I could do with a break from the cold and wind that included a nice juicy burger and a little football watching, maybe even enjoy a mediocre cup of coffee that only had to be hot to be pleasant. But, with no way to communicate this to Hal who was in front of me, we passed through town.

It wasn’t long before we were descending off the Rim, the cold incessant wind our companion. We were heading toward warmer temperatures, though. Overhead, a couple of ice clouds glinted with rainbows in the cold blue sky, restoring some of the lost beauty to the day. In Payson, we stopped at Native for a sandwich and coffee, and then I did get to watch the end of the Seahawks-Cardinals football game. I am a Seahawks fan, so I was very happy that they won.

Darkness was closing down around us as we geared up to leave Payson. I changed my dark visor for the clear one, and soon we were headed “down the hill” to home. The sun had set by the time we got to the far northeast edge of town, and behind the mountains the sky was bathed in red orange light. It reminded me of the hot glowing coals of a cozy fireplace in winter, warm color spreading out across the western horizon.

When I finally rolled into the garage at home, I found that I’d ridden over 400 miles for the day. A warm bike is a happy bike, and after an all-day ride, Jewel was one then. After the ups and downs of the day, I was happy, too, and glad to be home.

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