The White Mountains of Arizona, 10-6-2013
The Bear Wallow Café in Alpine is an interesting place. Bits and pieces of conversations seem to swirl in the air in random patterns, waiting for writers to hear them, pull them out of the air, and rearrange them into stories to pique readers’ interest. Last time I was in here in July it was the story about the 9,000 tons of dynamite, but this time it was the relatively benign conversation about all the forest roads in the area. Since I know all of those roads like the back of my hand, I was fact-checking the speaker as she talked. The biggest part of the conversation was about how a part of FS24 was closed since “the Fire,” which she was correct about. It is annoying to have that short stretch of 24 closed. It is only a couple of miles, but makes necessary many miles of detour. I still have not heard or seen a reasonable or logical explanation of why it continues to be closed.
As I sat in the restaurant, I perused the menu carefully, looking for something other than too many eggs, pieces of toast, and hash browns. Notice how I didn’t complain about large portions of bacon. Whatever amount they’d serve me, I’d eat. No kidding. Finally, I settled on something called the “breakfast sandwich.” I even asked what it was and was told it was “one egg, two pieces of bacon on toast made into a sandwich.” Ohhhh-kayyyyyyy. Fine, right? I am not a big eater and did not want a plate literally mounded with way too much food, which I had witnessed being served at another table the night before. So, I ordered the sandwich. When it came, it was the sandwich alright, but it was served with tomato, pickle (yuck! for breakfast?), a squeeze package of mayonnaise, and a bag of potato chips! Again I ask, “for breakfast?” I could see serving a piece of orange or something else one would think of as breakfast food, but potato chips? I guess anything else wouldn’t have enough fat, cholesterol or calories in it for this place. I ate my sandwich and didn’t complain, but left all the other stuff. Except for the bag of chips, which I threw in my purse/backpack. I’ll eat them later for a snack, I thought.
Hal and I finished, then went back to the lodge, loaded our baggage into the car so we wouldn’t have to do it later, then geared up for our last dirt bike ride of this trip. Our first destination was Hannagan Meadow Lodge where we’d spent so many happy hours during our past few visits. We wanted to say hello to the people there, and make sure everything was on track for next summer. One of the people I most wanted to see was Wild Bill, the horse wrangler, who allowed me to accompany him on the spectacular ride last July through the Blue Wilderness. He usually leaves in October sometime, and it was fortunate that he was still there, but only just. He is due to leave next week, and we were lucky to find him still at HML. We had coffee while he ate a late breakfast, but then we had to say our good-byes. It was drifting toward mid-day, and Hal and I wanted to get in some good miles before we loaded up the bikes for the final time.
As it turned out, it really was some good riding , 70 miles worth. We did a tour of our old favorites, simply because we wanted to see it all in autumn. We also knew that the next time our tires touched those roads might not be until next summer. There was “the world’s funnest road,” as I called it last summer, FS37. Still loved it, and that was about the sixth or seventh time we’d ridden it. This time, though, we shared it with a few pickup trucks carrying hunters searching for the perfect spot. We smiled and waved, and went on our way. We took 37 to FS405 (rough, as always), then 276 along the Black River. Unlike last summer, the river was not roiling with mud from the turbulence caused by heavy rainstorms, and was a deep, cool teal color as it flowed merrily along, sparkling in the sun. I found some ducks playing in one of the small waterfalls and shot photos of them. FS276 follows the river for quite a few miles, and I kept wanting to stop and shoot photos. I resisted the impulse to do that, though, because I know from experience that it is very hard to capture the beauty and tranquility of it, and especially difficult to compose a photograph that gives me the feeling of happiness and well-being that the White Mountains/Rim area gives me when I am there. I watched the water scintillating as it flowed happily along in the sun, and tried to keep my eyes on the road at the same time.
Ducks (can you see the group behind the one on the rock?):
Next we came to the intersection with the other end of FS37, but continued past it, and then rode it along as it intersected with FS403, where we were Saturday. We by-passed that road this time as well, and before we knew it, we were back on FS249, which we took back to Hwy. 191. In a few miles, we closed the circle of the ride at the lodge, and sadly, it was time to load the bikes on the trailer and start the journey home. As I was de-gearing and re-arranging all my bags and gear in the car, I remembered the bag of potato chips in the backpack. Those frickin chips! I kept saying. It seemed like every time I needed something inside the backpack, I had to move that bag of chips! I was trying to be careful, but I could hear them scrunching inside.
On the way home, we stopped on Hwy. 60 to take a photo of one of the dormant cinder cone volcanoes. This is the one I photographed last year as a snowstorm moved in, and later, that photo was chosen to be in the Art Intersection gallery as part of a show. It didn’t look like that last Sunday, though, under sunny skies and dried grasses. However, as we were stopped, the car’s coolant recovery tank boiled over!
It turned out the cap was cracked, as we’d found out Saturday at the Springerville Subway. It wasn’t a concern, though, until now, and we had to limp the car into Show Low. Luckily, we found an Auto Zone that had the proper cap, which totally surprised me because the car is an old Volvo, but after replacing the cap, everything was fine. So, we drove on to Heber, and decided to continue our tradition of stopping at The Red Onion for a late lunch/dinner. The day was becoming a “Tour de Eat,” but I justified it by telling myself I wasn’t going to eat any more when I got home. Meanwhile, I got out of the car and had to, once again, move the bag of potato chips! Those frickin chips! I said again.
After splitting a sandwich and salad at Red Onion, Hal and I got back on the road. The sun was setting directly in line with the road ahead, and it was hard to see through the glare. It seems I can’t escape the sun’s nastiness, and hoped it would be below the horizon very soon. It glared like an angry eyeball all the way to Payson, where it didn’t matter anymore because we turned south. At last, it sunk behind the Mazatzal Mountains, and the anger and turmoil of that boiling orb transformed into calm dusk. One moment it was orange, red and hellish, the next it was calm blue-purple twilight. The tension went out of my body, and I started to relax. Until my foot hit that bag of chips on the floor!
I don’t think I crushed any more unsuspecting chips, but I started laughing uncontrollably. Then Hal started in, too, and we were making up stories about getting it home with the chips reasonably intact, accidentally dropping it on the floor, and stepping right on it with a resounding crunch. I figured they were going to be ground to dust by the time I got home anyway. I was laughing so hard that my eyes scrunched shut and squeezed out tears. Those frickin chips! I said again, laughing even harder.
After I stopped laughing and recovered myself, I noticed the moon, a thin fingernail of light, was reclining above the horizon. Kindly, Hal pulled over to the side of the road and I was able to take a series of photos. We were back in the warmth by now, and the sky was beautiful behind the mountains. And even the higher temperatures weren’t too bad. There was even the hint of coolness in the air when I opened the car window.
Sliver of moon:
At last, we arrived home. I was tired after a busy two days, and was moving slowly as I unloaded the car. When I finally put the garage door down and walked inside, I heard a familiar crunching sound as I threw my backpack onto the chair where it “lives” when I am at home.
Darn it. Those frickin chips!