A dirt route to Mogollon, NM

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.

Day 2

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.

Willow Creek:

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.

Hannagan get-together

Another get-together for our local motorcycle riding club has come and gone. It was held at Hannagan Meadow Lodge in the White Mountains of Arizona. This year we are missing a very vibrant, strong member of our club, a dear friend who passed away in December. It was a different sort of gathering without him, but we still managed to make the most of the riding. He would have wanted that.

Here are a few of the highlights from Hal’s and my experience.

Saturday morning, riding the part of a forest road that had been closed for about three years because of the wildfires of 2011. We had despaired of ever seeing it, until a year and a half ago when it re-opened. It was worth the wait. So beautiful, as always, and quiet:

Hal riding another forest road toward Springerville. We were on the way to check on the progress of seedlings that had been planted to help recover from the Wallow fire:

Seedlings were planted inside cones:

Some said it was a “failed experiment,” but we found more surviving seedlings than dead ones:

There were several that were this tall, and had a small cone on top! Worth the effort to replant and nurture, in my opinion.

Blue Point Vista in the afternoon, where we went to get cell service (sketchy) so I could “phone home:”

Later that evening, we had dinner with fellow riders. It was nice to sit and chat, relaxing, instead of standing around in full riding gear, ready to race off to the next destination.

On Sunday morning, we rode another forest road and saw a herd of deer. There were about 20 total that we saw that morning:

We got back to the lodge around 11 o’clock, stood around talking with part of the HML “family,” and loading the trailer until around noon, then began the (sad) journey home. I never want to leave the White Mountains, and our time there is always too short. It was quite a contrast to return to the heat and glare of the incessant sun. Overnight in the White Mountains, it had been in the low 50s F., and deep in the night, sleeping with the windows open, I heard the scream of a big cat from the darkness of the forest.

The White Mountains are a beautiful, unique place, away from the constant “noise” of everyday life, and always a welcome relief for me.

A romp through the woods

July 27, 2015

Our last morning we thought we’d take one more quick ride on FR24, but instead of turning north into the previously closed section, we turned south toward FR25, planning to take 25 back to pavement, and then pavement back to the lodge. As usual, having a limited amount of time has its compromises.

We packed up the truck before we left so all we’d have to do is throw the bikes on the trailer, de-gear, and get out of there. But first, we mounted up to ride, used the same unpaved “escape route” into the forest as yesterday, and were soon flying down 24. We made the sharp turn south at the intersection, and entered another part of the road that we love.

Part of FR24:

We’ve ridden it many times, but it never loses its appeal. On this day, it was overcast and cool, the forest green and full of thick vegetation, the leaves dripping with moisture from the previous day’s rain, the soil dark with dampness.

Since it was the last ride of the trip, we had a bit of a romp by opening the throttle and tearing along the road. We splashed through a few puddles and avoided a few fallen branches, all the while enjoying the beauty of the woods. Quickly, we reached the end at the intersection with FR25.

“That took about 15 minutes,” I said, flushed with excitement.

“What??” Hal asked, incredulous.

“Yes!” I said. “Remember when it used to take us about a half an hour, or more?”

“Yeah. Now we have time to ride it back. Want to?”

“Sure!” Any excuse to stay out in the woods.

So, we turned around. This time we rode more slowly, enjoying the lovely environment of the damp forest. We looked, we enjoyed. We even stopped to take a few photos.

Hal, the photographer, photographed (in IR):

I hadn’t been “in the moment” as much as I’d wanted to during this trip, and I enjoyed that feeling now. I looked at the beautiful creek, and the forest surrounding me.

Creek, almost hidden in the vegetation (photographed in IR):

Greenery throughout evidence of the burn:

Too soon, we were back at the lodge, right on time, and loading up.

Bye bye lodge, and all your pretty wildflowers:

We settled in for the trip home, watched for deer and elk on the way out, and then sighed with depression as we dropped into the lower elevation near Escudilla Mountain, which usually signals that the most beautiful part of the trip is over. The sky was clear as well, and I was not glad to see the mean-spirited sun. I had hoped for rain on the way home, but we didn’t get any.

After a stop in Payson for fuel, and coffee for us, we dropped down to the valley of heat. We resolved to return to the White Mountains in three weeks, something to look forward to as I return to … work.

No pie for you

Day 2, July 26

Sunday started out at much the same time as the day before. We got on the bikes around 9:30 and headed a few feet north of the lodge on the paved road to a quick escape onto unpaved FR576. We fled down the twisting road that grows less traveled and more remote the farther west it goes. We came to the intersection with FR24 and took the turn to the right onto the previously “closed” part of the road, a former no man’s land. I wrote about it last June when we experienced it for the first time. There weren’t many words that were full enough to describe the beauty and vastness of that open space.

A herd of horses, a surprise “find” on our way towards FR249:

We rode to the Black River, a sight we’d been anticipating since the night before when we’d been told that the river was “roaring.” It was running high and fast, but it wasn’t ripping through its bed.

The Black River looking very blue in infrared:

Still, it was spectacular, the highest we’d seen it in some time. It sighed over the rocks and along the banks, where grass, formerly on the shore, moved in submerged green waves, undulating with the flow of the water.

We stopped and absorbed the sight of it several times, shooting some images as we went along. Then we turned with the road and climbed steeply up FR276 to where we would find FR403.

We rode 403 west to east, and at one point, we waited briefly while some forest service workers finished cutting down the remains of a tree that had fallen across the road, a common occurrence in this area that has been ravaged by the 2011 fire.

I managed to capture this image of a deer that appeared suddenly in front of Hal:

Near the east end of 403, I asked Hal if he’d like to explore 403H, a side road that I have seen many times and was sure would be near an overlook from which we could view Alpine far below.

It turned out to be true, and we got off the bikes where it dead-ended to see the breathtaking view. We were up so high that Alpine looked tiny, and we could see Luna Lake far in the distance. The sky was blue with white puffy clouds, and the sun shone with that pure golden light unique to high elevations.

After we’d had our fill of the lovely scene before us, we talked about our plan to descend to Alpine Grill for a piece of pie before we rode the route we had planned for the afternoon. This seemingly benign decision would set in motion the events of the afternoon.

When we reached Alpine Grill, we saw that it was crowded. Oh, well, we thought, we’re just going in for a piece of pie. It shouldn’t take too long. How wrong that would turn out to be.

It must have been the work of that darn reunion, but we found the place packed. Even the bar was packed. We knew this because we parked the dirt bikes on the west side under the windows of the bar, and we could hear the rise and fall of conversations, and the clink of glasses and silverware. We were able to get a seat in the restaurant area, but when I looked at the dessert case, I saw that it was empty! We found out later that their ace pie maker was ill, and no pies had been available for some time. Plus, our favorite waitress was by herself, and she was working hard to keep up with the demands of all the customers in the restaurant.

We resigned ourselves to sandwiches, and then began a long wait. There were just too many people in the restaurant. We did not get served for a long time, and then it took a long time to eat and pay. Our afternoon was being gobbled up faster than the food on our table.

Finally, we got out of there and headed east to an area around Luna Lake. Hal wanted to see if we could find a herd of elk that we’ve seen many times in the general area. I was wondering what is the appeal of glimpsing the hindquarters of a fleeing herd of animals, but I wasn’t going to object to an opportunity to ride this road. It took a long time to get to the turnoff that we wanted, the one that would lead us deeper into the woods.

(No more photos of this day, too busy riding.)

Our bikes flowed along the dirt surface, weaving in and out of various landforms. No elk today. I had, however, noticed as we left town that the clouds were building to the east, and had said so to Hal. Normally, I don’t mind riding into the rain, but I was remembering how protected I’d been on Katarina, my 2009 F650GS, during our nine-day trip to Colorado and New Mexico, and didn’t expect the same level of protection on Alex. I just wasn’t in the mood to get soaked and freezing, because these storms come up fast. Plus, I was hoping for a late afternoon of sitting on the porch at HML and drinking hot coffee as I watched the rain.

I thought we were going to turn around at the “elk spot,” but we didn’t. Hal just kept going. He was in one of those “just a little farther” moods, and I was the caboose on this train. By now, the sky was very dark with storm clouds to the east.

“Hal! I see lightning!” I shouted urgently into the mike inside my helmet. I had no desire to be in the White Mountains in a big thunderstorm (again). We’ve had quite a few close calls. Yet, Hal kept riding headlong into it.

“I think we’re almost at the road to Luna,” he said. I was skeptical, but we still rode quite a distance into the storm. It was getting treacherously black when I said, “That’s it, I’m turning around!” I was envisioning being in the middle of a storm very soon, and I really wanted to be back at the lodge.

“Fine!” he said. I was already turning around and he had to come back. We rode like hell, and actually got to the road near where the elk usually are, and turned toward the 180 on a road we’d taken before. We started heading south, and down, and the sky darkened ominously all around us. Sure enough, the rain started, with big drops at first, as it always does. Fortunately, we stopped fairly quickly and put on rain gear. I was even able to get the difficult pants on in time. Later, I would thank myself profusely.

All this time, Hal was wearing my GoPro camera. I hoped he’d captured some of the riding in the rain. When we pulled over, though, he put the camera away.

As we got on the bikes and began to head south, the rain came down harder and harder. I was blinded by rain, and my glasses fogged up underneath my visor. They weren’t the kind of glasses that were made for dirt riding. When I cracked the visor open, the rain came down inside it, and that made it even more difficult to see. I was surprised I could keep up with Hal because I really couldn’t see. I was riding blindly.

I had gotten wet enough before we stopped to put rain gear on that I was getting cold. My hands were soaked (my fault since I refuse to wear heavy gloves), and then I saw a sign, “Luna, 10 miles” OMG, 10 more miles. Then we would have to ride several more miles into Alpine, then the 22 miles back to Hannagan. It might as well have been 100 more miles because I knew we were going to get back late. Again.

All the while I was riding and freezing and unable to see properly, I wished again to be sitting on the porch of the lodge drinking hot coffee. Suddenly, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than that coffee.

Eventually, we reached the pavement of highway180. The surface was shiny and slick, and I reminded myself that I wasn’t on Kat. Not that it mattered, Alex is competent enough in every situation. I was just not in a good mood right then, annoyed that we’d gone so far and not heeded the warning in the darkening sky.

After what seemed like forever, we got to Alpine, and the rain let up a little bit. We turned south onto 191, and watching the steam rising from the warm roadbed, we worked our way through the rain showers back to the lodge. It was about 5:30 when we got back, and I’d wanted to be “home” by 4:00. Dammit, and it was our last full day, too.

We parked the bikes, and took off our gear, then I discovered that in his hurry to get out of the rain, Hal had packed the camera away without turning it off! Oh great, two hours of blackness caught on video.

We soon dried out, and ended up talking to a nice couple from Tucson also staying at the lodge. Later, we cleaned up and went to dinner. We didn’t feel like going out again even though the rain had stopped by then. After dinner, we walked out to the horse corral on the property and met the new wrangler who was taking care of the horses that had just arrived, too. Personally, I think all horses ought to have nice big, clean, enclosed box stalls to live in inside a cozy barn, but that’s just me.

Tomorrow we’re going home already. But not before one last ride …

Exploring the White Mountains

July 25, 2015

Another trip, thank goodness. I am so happy to be on the road again even though I am not actually touring on my BMW. We are traveling to Alpine, Arizona, our preferred town in which to stay; however,  it is unfortunately completely booked because of a high school reunion, so Hal and I must stay out at Hannagan Meadow Lodge. It’s more expensive at HML, and we can’t walk to the restaurants of our choice, among other things. But, that’s beside the point right now; at least I am able to get out of town one last time before I have to go back to work.

We embarked on our journey late Saturday morning at 9:30, and as we were on the way out, we stopped and fortified ourselves for the long drive by getting bagels at Einstein’s. I had already brewed coffee at my house before we left it, and we each had our own full mug.

We left this hot town behind, enjoying the air conditioning of the Xterra, the bikes behind us on their little trailer. Hal likes to look in the rear-view mirror and do their voices, like this:

“I wonder where we are going now?” asked Alex (my Kawasaki KLX 250S).

“Where else?” Juliette (Hal’s Suzuki DR650) answered in a bored voice. “I’ll bet we are going to Alpine and the White Mountains again.”

“Well, that’s okay,” said Alex happily. (Alex does everything happily.) I will be glad to get out of the heat.”

“Me too, but I wish I were clean,” muttered Juliette, glancing at Alex, who had once again been washed, her chain cleaned and lubed. She was glowing with cleanliness, however short-lived that would be.

Anyway, we continued our journey. It has five parts: Gilbert to Payson (85 miles), Payson to Heber (40-ish miles), Heber to Show Low (40-ish miles, but seems really long), Show Low to Springerville, (another 40-ish miles), and then Springerville to Alpine (26 miles). Plus, this time it was going to be another 22 miles to Hannagan.

Between Show Low and Springerville, in almost the exact same location where the hailstorm hit us (literally) on the way home from our long road trip, we ran into another big thunderstorm, this time without hail. It was beautiful again, and I got a few photos through the windshield and out the side window of the truck. Pretty.

In the Springerville volcanic field:

I can’t seem to stop myself from taking those photos. It’s like I want to preserve those moments to look at the images later when I am in what feels like another life after vacation time is over.

We actually reached HML around 4:00, but we drove past it and went to Blue Point Vista to get some IR images. I don’t bring the big camera with me when I am on the dirt bike, but I can bring it in the truck. I was lucky and got some lovely images to treasure later after I use post-processing magic to transform them into what I hope is art.

Here is one of the images. If you follow my photography blog, the image, shot in infrared, will be familiar to you. This stairway is part of a hiking trail that leads steeply down and away from the top:

After shooting for a while at Blue Point Vista, we drove the 10 or so miles back to HML, and got settled. We weren’t going to miss any chances to ride, so we immediately geared up after we unloaded the bikes and took them out for a short ride to Aker Lake.

The lake held more water than we’ve ever seen in the past, and I continued to notice how abundantly lush the forest is. This is the first time we’ve seen it so green in the years since the Wallow fire. I wanted to drink in that sumptuous green, think of the rushing sound of the Black River that I was sure I would hear when I saw the river the next day.

Hal: “I didn’t realize it was so marshy out there. Now my boots are wet!”:

Then we rode to FR25 to see if we could see the local herd of elk that we often see, but they were not out. We rode back to the lodge, put up the bikes, cleaned up a bit, then drove to Alpine for dinner at Foxfire, a perfect place for a nice dinner of excellent food. The chicken piccata there is to die for! On the way, we were treated to a spectacular sunset in colors of orange, peach, and “sky blue.”

After dinner, we drove slowly (watching for elk!) back to the lodge. We got to see part of the big herd we always see in that area. They were running away, and I got a nice photo of elk butts, as usual. At least I got to see them.

Elk disappearing into the forest:

The moon peers down on some of the many burned trees:

I found that at the beginning of this trip, I was not “into” dirt riding as I have been in previous years, I wanted to continue our “on the road” adventures from our big trip. But it didn’t take long before I settled right back in to my enjoyment of riding in the endless forest. It made me feel small and insignificant, as it usually does, the correct perspective from which to see the world, to make sure I have the proper respect for the Earth!

Our next day would be our only full riding day of this trip. I hoped for a good night’s sleep so I could make the most of the next day’s exploring.

**

Reason to celebrate! Today, August 23,  is the five-year anniversary of this blog. 🙂  I remember I made my very first entry from Ocean Beach, California. Back then, it was scary! Now, I enjoy writing this blog very much, and I hope you enjoy reading it as well.

A quick ride

On Aker Lake Rd:

The White Mountains, near Alpine, Arizona

On Sunday morning, I woke up to the sound of birds singing in the pre-dawn light, and later, motorcycles leaving Hannagan Meadow Lodge. At least everyone wasn’t gone already because at breakfast we had a good group, and it was so pleasant to spend time talking, eating, and relaxing. Yes, I ate too much bacon, but it was worth it. 😉

After breakfast, most people took their time gearing up. Hal and I packed the Xterra, but before we left, we geared up for one last quick ride in our beloved White Mountains.

We started out on the same forest road as the day before, FS576 right next to the lodge. This time when we got to FS24, we turned left instead of right. We would be riding the road so familiar to us, the one we took our fellow dirt riders on last year at the rally. It was, as usual, stunningly beautiful. One thing we have noticed this year is how much more noticeable the deterioration of the forest is. Many of the trees have fallen now, and the ones that are already on the ground are breaking down quickly. It’s a fascinating study in forest regeneration.

At the south end of FS24, where it ends at FS25, the dirt superhighway of the White Mountains, we looked for our usual herd of deer and elk. They were nowhere to be found this time. However, wildlife would be abundant soon!

Our plan was to take 25 to the pavement of 191, then ride the short distance to the road to Aker Lake. Hal turned right off of 25 by mistake, but it turned out to be a great thing because off to the side of the road, almost camouflaged by fallen trees, we saw a herd of about 15 deer! They were grazing, and of course, leaped across the road in front of us, one by one. The video camera wasn’t with us, which was unfortunate, because later in the ride we saw an elk cow, and a wild turkey!

Aker Lake Rd.:

We turned around and went back to the Aker Lake road. The entrance to Aker Lake road was strewn with logging debris and gouged with tracks made by logging vehicles. But that was only for the first mile or so, and we started to wind down the long descent to the lake.

This is a short road, but very scenic. We enjoyed every moment, knowing that we soon would have to go back to Phoenix. Ugh.

Hal and I stopped at the lake for a few minutes to take photos. Not that we haven’t done this many times before, but it was an excuse to prolong the ride. We sat down there at the lake for a while, drinking in the beauty and solitude because we had the place to ourselves.

The lake, much smaller than we’ve seen it before:

Burned trees:

New growth, dead trees:

Odd, tortured shapes of burned treetops:

Hal enjoying the surroundings:

Details:

Too soon, it was time to make ourselves get back on the bikes and get back to the lodge. We loaded up, then did a short photo tour so I could shoot some IR images of the trees and rock formations near the “arrow tree” near Blue Pt. Vista.

Some “wildlife.” We noticed that there were a lot of hand-lettered signs along the road saying, “Watch out for the cattle!”:

Later, on the way out of Alpine, we saw a small group of deer grazing near Tal Wi Wi lodge. This time I was able to get a few photos (most of them of deer running away).

First we see the herd – “Huh?”:

The inevitable outcome of our proximity:

We stopped in Springerville at Western Drug, which was, uncharacteristically, a disappointment this time. They didn’t have what I wanted, so I settled for a bag of Skittles, which I pigged out on during the drive home. After Western Drug, we stopped at the riparian area at the edge of town at the Little Colorado River. I got a few photos there, but it was less exciting than I thought it would be. Finally, we got back in the truck and settled in for the long drive home.

At the riparian area:

Morning glories:

Waterfall:

Funny, though, how the drive home seems to go too fast since I don’t like having to return to the heat. Hal and I talked about what a great weekend it was, but too short. That’s okay, it made every moment of fun during our time in the White Mountains seem all the better.

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.