Alpine/Mogollon, late July, 2016
As promised, the story continues with a return to Alpine, Arizona, in late July.
Once we returned from the 12-day vacation in Colorado, things oozed back to normal very quickly, like lava flowing over the terrain of my life. I had to go to some classes for work, and the depression of having to return to work full time loomed on the horizon. With that in mind, Hal and I wanted another short trip to make us feel human before the onslaught began (at least for me). Hal never seems to get a real break, but that is why we value our time while on the road.
Before I left home, I suffered through three days of “training” for work. We are supposed to be using “thinking maps” to teach, but they don’t make as much sense to me as they should. I don’t need a “map” to think, and the people who make these things up must think that we don’t know enough to come up with these concepts on our own. I also “think” that the different versions of the “thinking maps” are somewhat redundant in that a person could apply any of the versions to anything. The instructors tell you to “use this map for this, use that map for that.” Most of the time I don’t agree with how the “thinking maps” should be applied. Anyway, that’s just me …
As we were on the way to Alpine, that was what the conversation between Hal and I was about. I was analyzing the presentation with Hal as he mostly listened. I was objecting to it because I don’t learn that way. I learn best by listening, taking notes, and going back and processing the information on my own later. But perhaps a very small percentage of the population learns that way?? – probably, hence the need for “thinking maps”? I don’t know, I’ve always had a problem with thinking too much! 😉 (now that I’m thinking about it! Did I say that word enough now??)
As we left the incessantly hot Phoenix area around 4:30, we were in the Xterra, the dirt bikes on the trailer behind us. It was cool and dark when we arrived in Alpine six hours later, When we got there, we had a late snack then soon fell into bed awaiting the next day when we could explore an area that we hadn’t before.
The feeling of being on the road for real is one that can never be duplicated unless we are really on the road. It is there only when I am on our annual road trip, a feeling of being un-tethered, of not having to be in a particular place at a particular time, and not having to play by the rules. Of not having to go to work, or caring what day it is, or having to do the usual day-to-day crap. I miss that feeling.
Today was an amazing day, though – Hal and I finally got to do the Reserve, NM to Mogollon, NM back roads route that we’ve wanted to do for so long.
After a good breakfast, we headed out on Hwy. 180, a paved road that led to Reserve, NM. We then took FR435 south out of town. It turns into FR141, and it is (somewhat) paved for quite a distance. Finally, 60 miles from when we left Alpine, it became a dirt road. It was easy gravel, and a good surface that twisted lazily through the mountains as we climbed. We saw many elk and deer in this section of the ride.
Typical of late July, the clouds were already building toward the afternoon storms, and we kept a wary eye on them. We were a little worried about being up high in the mountains when the thunderstorms hit, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time if we were.
Eighty-five miles into the ride, we finally reached Willow Creek, which was down in a hollow between mountains. It was very green and lush, but I began to see signs of the 2012 wildfire that destroyed much of this section of the Gila forest.
Right after Willow Creek, the road turned rocky and climbed up a steep grade. At 95 miles in, we came to a sign that said “not maintained for low clearance vehicles. Not safe for trailers.” We had also seen a sign that noted the mileage to Glenwood – 37 miles. I knew we must be near Mogollon, then, and would probably soon come to the part of the road where we turned around in 2011.
At first, this part of the road was rocky, but it had recently been bladed. The trees were burned and what was left of them was slowly deteriorating. It was the fire-ravaged area where the effects of the fire were most severe. Then the road got narrow and very rocky with a steep drop-off on the right. It wasn’t super-challenging, but I had to pay attention. The sky was darkening, but it wasn’t raining or thundering yet. We continued riding the narrow road, and a dark cloud moved over us. Then we came to a wide pullout that had a spectacular view to the northwest. I asked Hal, “do you recognize this place?” I asked him this as we were hurriedly taking photos because the thunder was rolling ominously and getting closer.
What it looked like before the fire:
What it looks like now:
Me, looking at the view from the same place:
“Yes,” he said. It was where we had been five years ago. It was barren and windswept, all the lovely old tall pines had been destroyed by the fire. It was a striking, heart-breaking contrast. We could see forever into the distance, but we didn’t stay long. The threat of the incoming thunderstorm was real.
Back on the bikes, we started down, soon passing the rock fall where I’d posed on my 2006 F650GS. As we descended the winding road, the switchbacks were as steep and tight as I’d remembered them, and there were areas of sandy soil. I was amazed that I’d ridden the big (to me) GS on this tricky road. We met a group of riders on KTMs coming from the opposite direction. I met one of the riders as I was going through one of the steep switchbacks, and there was just enough room for the two of us to pass in opposite directions with inches between our handlebars.
I knew we were close to Mogollon when we started going through the creek at the many water crossings. Back in 2011, there were about three water crossings, and now there were too many to count. We’d heard there had been severe flooding here, and there were changes to the road.
At last, we reached Mogollon, and we stopped for a break. We’d been riding for hours by then. We got coffee and a root beer float at a place called the Purple Onion.
We talked to the man who owns it, and he said that during the flooding, he had three feet of water in his establishment! The water had been incredibly high in the entire town. He said that the flooding had more to do with the amount of rain than the erosion from the effects of the fire, but I am sure it didn’t help.
I also went shopping in an antiques/souvenir shop where I looked at all the shiny things and eventually bought a beautiful scarf with sequins on it. I don’t know if I will ever wear it, but at least I will remember Mogollon when I look at it.
More images from Mogollon, NM:
Main street in Mogollon:
After about an hour, we got back on the bikes. As we left town, we experienced more of the effects of the flooding. We were on FS159, which had been completely washed out at one point. Another person in town had told us that there was a big piece of metal high in one of the trees at that end of town, but I must have missed that because I was too busy paying attention to the condition of the road. I don’t doubt it, though. Mogollon was severely affected by the flooding, and it was doubtful for a while if it would ever reopen to tourists.
We descended on 159 to Hwy. 180, and, back on pavement, we turned north to Alma where we fueled up and looked around inside the little store.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember how we loved Alma, its general store, and its restaurant, the Alma Grill. We spent time there in 2011, and at the time, watched and listened to updates about the frightening Wallow fire that was burning fiercely in the nearby White Mountains.
The Wallow fire burning in 2011; the sight gave me a powerless, insignificant feeling:
Back on the bikes, we turned toward home in Alpine. We watched a big storm to the west, bolts of lightning striking everywhere, and I wondered if we should have waited it out in Alma, or if we were going to run into it at all. But as we rode, we always seemed to skirt it, going through a few sprinkles here and there, and traveling over wet roadway, some parts covered in mud.
We didn’t get rained on until the scenic overlook not too far from Luna, and then we had to pull over and put on our rain gear. I was actually getting cold and wet, and only a few miles earlier, in Alma, I had been complaining about heat! We rode in light rain and 60° F. temperatures all the way back to Alpine. When we got there, Hal and I had done it – the Reserve to Mogollon route we’d been hoping to find and do for five years! The trip was 169 miles total for the day.
In the evening, we ate dinner at the Foxfire, walked back to the lodge, and later collapsed into well-earned relaxation and sleep. I woke up later on purpose to look out the window and see the black sky full of stars. Only here do I get to enjoy them so thoroughly. In the deepest part of the night, I clearly saw Andromeda, and in the complete silence, I could almost hear the faint song of the stars.