I slept well in Alpine, warm and cozy inside, extremely cold outside (3° F). I woke up about 4 a.m., and went to look out the window. In order to do so, I had to scrape away the heavy frost on the inside of the glass. I was not disappointed. The soft starlight lit the snow in the field, the pale blue light cold and magical. I stood there shivering, in awe of the beautiful scene. After I was too cold to stand there any longer, I finally went back to bed. I slept deeply, breathing the clean, cool air.
At breakfast, Hal and I planned our day. We thought we’d try FR249, the road that had been paved over the summer. We had tried it the previous evening, but started slipping. We had decided to wait until the sun had melted it a bit more, but first we went to breakfast. I spoke to one of the men in the restaurant, whom I knew was a local. It turned out that he works for the forest service, and it was fascinating listening to his stories about the Wallow fire as it happened. After he left, Hal and I finished our breakfast then walked over to the thrift store, one of our favorite things to do. I got an interesting book about New Mexico in the 1870s. I’ve only read a little of it so far, but hope to read more before I have to go back to work.
Then Hal and I got into the Xterra, and we were off for an adventuresome day. First, we tried FR249 and found it reasonably passable. Hal’s Xterra does not have 4WD, nor does it have snow tires, so we had to be careful.
The road was very snowy in most areas, but we stayed on the road because we had hoped to shoot some photos at an especially spectacular place. When we got there, it was pretty, but not as amazing as I’d thought it would be. I ran around with the cameras for a while until I could no longer feel my hands (even with thin gloves on), then we got back into the Xterra and drove on.
Parked at ‘the spot’
The temperature was about 18°, the weather clear and sunny. When we got to Big Lake, we went into the recreation area and shot some photos of the lake and the area surrounding it. There was only one other vehicle in the parking lot, the only time I’ve ever seen it that empty. I posted this photo of the boat dock on my photography blog:
I was sure that when FR249 changed to highway 273 at Big Lake it would be plowed, and it was. From that point on the road was clear. We took 273 past Sunrise Junction, thinking that there would be a lot of snow. There was more snow than any place we’d been so far, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say “a lot.” We took 273 back to the 260, which would take us back to Springerville on a different route than we’d taken the day before. We drove through another part of the volcanic field, and there is always something interesting to see there.
The next place we stopped after traveling through Springerville was the Sipe Wildlife viewing area. We’d always wanted to go in there, but never had the chance before. We stopped at an overlook about a half-mile in and could see all of Springerville and Eagar spread out below us.
Then we went farther in at Sipe. As we traveled those five miles to where the road grew drastically smaller, we vowed to come back on the motorbikes in spring or summer. There wasn’t much to see with the trees being leaf-less, and the grasses brown and dead, but there is a unique beauty to a landscape waiting for snow.
I also had thought the road we were driving on would meet up with another forest road we’d discovered in October, but it didn’t quite. I think if we’d been able to take the narrower part of the road all the way southeast and down, we would have rejoined that other road, then been able to exit onto Hwy. 191. Under the circumstances, though, we turned the Xterra around and went back to where we had come in just east of Springerville.
The sun was setting by now, and as we passed Nelson Reservoir, we chose to turn in. We’ve both gotten so many great photos there in the past, and this time would be no exception. Fading light demanded that I shoot in color only, but that was no handicap. The thin skin of ice on the water, the trees, the grasses, the views, all worked to make more beautiful images of a place that never disappoints. We finally left when the sun went down, and the reservoir itself was in deep shadow.
Ice on the reservoir
Setting sun tips the mountains with orange
Back at the motel, we each had a cup of coffee, our favorite thing to do when returning from a day out in the White Mountains, and then we walked over to dinner. It didn’t even feel as cold to me, it was actually a few degrees warmer, but I still had a lot of clothes on. Sadly, it was our last night eating at our favorite restaurant for a while; it might be spring or summer before we’d get to again.
I curled up with a good book for a while, then slept deeply again. The clean cold air had done its job of rejuvenating me, and I lay in the cocoon of sleep, content and warm.
Tomorrow: going home already (but not before I shoot “millions” of photos)