Scenes from Death Valley

 

Alex at A. Point 3099 smallIn order to save time this morning, Hal and I had breakfast at the Denny’s in Beatty, NV. Despite the fact that they were out of a lot of food items (due to the somewhat remote location), it was an excellent choice. The cook is really good – my “poached hard” eggs were done to perfection. The objections I have to this particular restaurant are it is in the back of a casino, and it has no windows. That means you have to walk through all the ugly smells of cigarette smoke and cheap booze, and the noise from the slot machines and bad music to get there. I know this is done on purpose, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

After escaping from casino hell, we formulated our plan, which was to go back to Wildrose Road and explore the dirt roads we’d seen yesterday radiating from the main road. Once we got out there, we accidentally went past the first one we came to, so we proceeded to the second road. It turned out to be a great choice because it was the best of the two.

It is an easy dirt road, with a few tight, narrow places, which are interesting and fun. After those, we started to climb steeply to an overlook, which led to Aguereberry Point, named after Pete Aguereberry, who mined in the area from 1905 until he died in 1945. Later, we would find and explore his camp.

Aguereberry sign 3100 small

While up on top, we stopped, took photos of a scene that was every bit as spectacular as the Dante’s View overlook that I’d photographed a couple of years ago. This view is on the other side of the main “floor” of Death Valley, so we were looking at it from the west this time. It is said that Pete Aguereberry built this road to the overlook so he could share the amazing view with others. I am so grateful that he did. We spent some time there, but then went up higher by riding some steep exposed switchbacks to get to the highest point.

The view was even better, and we hiked a short trail to the farthest point north. It hung over the valley toward Stovepipe Wells. The minerals in the valley below shimmered white in the sun and we gazed in awe at another spectacular view that included interesting geographic features and formations. I took lots of photographs so I could later show my sixth grade students when I got home.

Me looking down 3113 small

After drinking it all in, we rode back down. We’d passed two mountain bikers on the way up, and when we pulled over to get Hal’s video camera running, the two cyclists stopped and talked to us. Husband and wife, they had camped at Wildrose campground, and this was their planned ride for today. They were in great shape, obviously, and I thought of my mountain bikes sitting idle at home. Sometimes I’d like to get one of those racks that attaches to a motorbike to carry bicycles. Anyway, the cyclists were very interesting to talk to. The man had done the CDT last year, and that got my mind spinning. I’d like to do it, too, but I think I’d take a moto!

Soon we found the mining camp, and left our bikes at the road because no motorized vehicles are allowed past the entrance. Aguereberry camp is where Pete lived and worked.

Homestead 3139 small

Above: Pete probably watched the sunset each evening from the front of his home. In the winter, he watched the storms roll in over the mountains. I am sure the beauty was worth all the hardship of living in such a remote place.

The buildings are in rough shape now, due mainly to people vandalizing things, but you can still get a sense of how it was when it was a working camp. We took lots of photos there, in and out of the buildings. It always amazes me how these people, who had a pretty rough life, were so passionate about Death Valley, how they loved it so much. I love it too, but I don’t know if I’d like living there through the heat of summer. There was no air conditioning, and people had to work constantly, no matter what the weather was. Apparently, Pete was fairly successful. Later in this trip, we would continue to see evidence of the love people have felt over the years for the seemingly desolate Death Valley.

While at the camp, Hal and I also walked farther up the road to where an abandoned car was parked, presumably Pete’s, deteriorating in the sun. Again I wondered why people have this need to destroy things. The car, I guessed it was a 1946 Buick, was deteriorating, but most of the damage was (sadly) human-caused.

Me and car 3186 small

It would have been nice to see it somewhat intact. Hal and I spent some time photographing it, and then when we walked back down the hill to where we had to park our bikes, we spent more time talking with the mountain biking couple.

Finally, we left that road and rode down to the other dirt road. It, however, wasn’t as long, or as interesting. The road was supposed to lead to the remains of a town called “Skidoo” that reached its heyday in about 1907.

Skidoo sign 3194 small

However, when we got there, we found that there was almost nothing left of it, just a few random pieces of rusting metal strewn around the desert.

Skidoo remains 3196 small

While we were there looking around and trying to get a sense of the place from the sign that showed an old photograph of the town, an SUV came blasting along the road, passing the town site and continuing west on a road that was supposed to end where we were. Being curious, and because the vehicle didn’t return, we got back on the bikes and decided to follow the road. Maybe it led back to the main road? Instead, we found ourselves on rough two-track that got narrower and more precarious. It hung on the side of the mountain with no barrier between the right wheel track and the drop-off. It was obviously not well traveled. After less than a mile, we found the end of the road – and the vehicle, the doors flung open, and no one in sight. It was really strange. The SUV was parked right in front of a gated mine entrance. I saw brightly-colored workout shoes lying on the floor of the front seat, but no humans anywhere. Suddenly, I got that tingly feeling of being where I shouldn’t be, and I said to Hal, “Let’s get out of here!” So we did.

As we descended, I kept looking in my rear-view as we rode fast toward the paved road. Once, I thought I saw the SUV behind us, negotiating the turns in a cloud of dust. We were flying along, and I had all kinds of crazy thoughts of the vehicle running us down for daring to follow it to the end of the road. You never know. Finally, after several minutes of riding hell-bent for leather, we reached pavement, and Hal pulled over to the side to start the video camera again. It wasn’t too long before the SUV roared past us. I cringed. At least they left us alone. I can’t imagine what was going on with them, and the whole episode was so strange.

After that, we relaxed and rode back down through Stovepipe Wells where, once again, it was super hot until we started to ride up Daylight Pass to return to Beatty. Today’s ride was only 145 miles or so, and we went to dinner (delicious) at Gema’s. After dinner, we decided to drive over to the local Family Dollar (my favorite place while on the road) to get some candy and other stuff that we needed.

Tomorrow is already our last riding day here. This trip is, as usual, is going by way too fast.

Next: A road on the floor of Death Valley

Dirt bike gangs, and Death Valley daze

Alex, snow mtn 3042 small

Sunday, March 12, 2017

On Saturday, March 11, we left home and traveled in the Xterra with the dirt bikes on a trailer behind us to Death Valley, California, our annual spring pilgrimage to a place that we love. This is our fifth year that we have made this trip, and we were hoping to explore new places. On the way, we met our friends in Las Vegas for lunch, always a pleasant experience, then continued to Beatty, Nevada, the gateway to Death Valley.

Sunday morning, I awoke after a restless night. Hal and I walked from where we were staying to one of our favorite places, Gema’s, for breakfast. Gema’s, a tiny place, serves excellent food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While we were there, we overheard a child talking excitedly on the phone, probably to his dad, about all the “dirt bike gangs” in town, and about how they were all orange! His dad probably then told him that they were KTM bikes because the next thing the boy said was, “Yeah, KTMs!” Hal and I laughed to ourselves. Dirt bike gangs, indeed. 😉

By the time we got back to the hotel to gear up for our day of riding, most of the fabled dirt bike gangs were gone, many of the outlaw riders probably having to return to their real jobs the next day. We, however, were lucky to have a few days off and some adventuresome riding ahead of us, so we fueled up and headed out. We had talked about going back to the Fluorspar Mine road where we had been last year, but at the main intersection in town, Hal was leading, and before I knew it, he led us onto Daylight Pass. I was saying “WTF?” to myself, but I went along with it.

Up we went onto Daylight Pass, then down the other side to the kiosk to buy the park pass, 20 bucks for each moto and rider. While we were there, two different couples asked us for directions. We must look friendly and approachable, not “dirt bike gang-y” at all, apparently, because that happens to us all the time.

Back on the bikes, we rode down the long descent to the floor of Death Valley, to zero elevation and below, then west through Stovepipe Wells. As we rose out of the valley into the Panamint mountain range, Hal was looking for a road, “Emigrant Pass Rd.” However, we rode almost to Panamint Springs before we decided we were way too far and turned around.

The road was actually called Wildrose Rd. (when we finally found it), and it climbed steeply toward the southeast for about 40 miles. There was a sign that promised charcoal kilns, and of course we wanted to see them. On the way, we saw lovely mountains covered with snow, and the air became cooler as we rose in elevation. To the west, behind us, the Sierras were covered with deep snow at their peaks.

Snow-covered Sierras 3044 small

Once we got to Wildrose campground, the road, still paved at that point, grew narrow, then the pavement finally ended. It was a short but rough climb up to the charcoal kilns. The small parking lot was full, of course, but we managed to find space for our bikes. I thought of the coke ovens near where we live, but these kilns made the coke ovens look like miniatures. There were 10 of them, and people were walking in and out of them, interested in seeing them up close, as we were.

Kilns 3049 small

Surprisingly, inside one of them, a man was playing a guitar. “Come on in,” said the sign at the entrance to that kiln, so we did. Another man joined the first man, and I talked to him briefly to find out that he was going to record some music inside the kiln!

Musicians 3051 small

The acoustics inside were lively, and so when the two men played together, it made a harmonious and bright sound. It made me think of one of my favorite groups, Pentatonix, who have a couple of videos showing them singing in Death Valley.

Hal actually saw and heard the music in the kiln most, as I was outside walking around exploring. There were more people at this place than you’d expect for such a remote location, but I have learned that no matter how “remote” you think a place is, hundreds of people already know all about it even though it’s a brand new discovery for you. Nothing is left undiscovered anymore.

Just past the kilns to the east, the road was closed and gated because of the snow and ice beyond the gate. We were above the snow line, and saw patches of snow in the surrounding forest as well as a few small patches behind (north of) the kilns. A mom and her daughter were having a “gentle” snowball fight that the little girl initiated. They were laughing and having fun.

We stayed for a little while, enjoying everything, then got on the bikes to head back to the highway. As we went, I realized what a steep grade those last few miles of dirt had been. It’s kind of deceptive as you are riding sometimes, you don’t realize how much you are climbing. It was a washboard road, too.

Road from the kilns 3077 small

It always surprises me about the vehicles people bring onto these roads – we passed a person in a nice Lexus car coming up that rough road. I wouldn’t drive my nice car on that road! Oh well, maybe they don’t own dirt bikes? (Or want to be in a dirt bike gang?)

Then we got to pavement and romped all the way back to California 190, enjoying all the turns. Even on a dirt bike with knobby tires it was super fun! But then we descended to Stovepipe Wells where it was very hot, near 100° F. I desperately wanted to get back up Daylight Pass to the cooler temperatures of Beatty. Get me out of this heat!, I thought. We had 40 more miles to go.

Once we got back to town, I was glad we’d explored Wildrose Rd. Hal’s choice was a good one. Our total mileage for the day was 170 miles, and my little KLX 250S never even needed the “reserve” fuel position. When I fueled up the next morning, I only took 2.2 gallons of gas. That means the awesome little bike got 77+ miles per gallon! And, it was many more miles than I’d thought we’d ride on our first day of riding on this trip!

Next: an amazing overlook, and an old mine camp

Titus Canyon

Day 2 of our trip to Death Valley

We slept in because of having to drive half the night to get to Beatty. But, after a good breakfast, and some other tasks, Hal and I were ready to get out and enjoy the day. The destination was Titus Canyon. We have wanted to ride it for some time, and last year when we were here, it was closed due to wash-outs from a recent storm. This year, we were happy to find it open.

First, though, we rode through the ghost town of Rhyolite, but since it was so spread out, we thought we would come back on the last day, on the way out of town, and shoot photos of the buildings then. We explored the dirt road north of Rhyolite for a short way. After that, we discovered the little cemetery down the road from Rhyolite, and spent some time there photographing the graves.

As I shot many images, the place made me think again about the tenuousness of life, about how each one of these graves represented the body of someone who was once alive, someone who had an everyday life, someone who had dreams and goals, some of which were fulfilled, and some that probably were not. These were people that once had lives, their graves were not just tourist attractions.

Panamint Annie is one of the interesting people buried there. She was quite a character, she did things her own way. She was a prospector, and lived a rough, interesting life. Her adventuresome spirit appeals to me, and I identified with her at once. I looked around, wondering about others buried there who, although they were not such colorful, memorable characters, were part of the history of Death Valley as well.

The wind blows free over the desert where those who are buried there lay, the years pass, the sun rises and sets, the clouds and storms come and go. It made me think about how the earth continues long after we are gone, the rocks and geology slowly changing over the millennia, our lives so fleeting compared to the changing of the earth. I thought about my friend who has recently died, how she no longer can see and enjoy the beautiful things I was experiencing this day, and any day I am in Death Valley. It made me sad, but it also made me feel again how important it is to enjoy everything to its fullest.

And that is what we did, as we geared up, got on the bikes, and then turned down the road to Titus Canyon. At first, it is a long, straight, sandy/corrugated road. Then, after about eight miles, it begins to get much more interesting as we climbed up into the mountains. Last year, Hal and I had hiked in at the west end (the only part open at the time) and were amazed at the vibrant colors in the rocks and the illustrative geology. The walls were high and close, and this year as I rode, I remembered that part. I knew that was the destination, but what lay in between where I was and that end of the canyon, I did not know.

We climbed more and more steeply as we gained elevation. We saw all the different colors of dark volcanic rocks, and glimpsed a history of the earth as we passed geologic formations, striated rocks that told the story as clearly as any book. The road was narrow and twisting going up, and then we began to descend into even more serpentine turns. The surface of the road in one part looked like it was caliche or similar, a soil composition that turns to slimy gel-like mud in the rain, as was evident by the deep ruts cut through that part of the road by other vehicles’ tires when it was wet.

Near the end of this segment of the ride, we stopped and shot photographs of an old mining town, Leadfield, that literally hung on the side of the mountain. The sign explains how it came to be, and then how it declined to nothingness in the short timeline of a year. All that is left now are a few buildings, but not even a shred of the hope that once swirled in the air.

We came to the most dramatic part of the ride, which is through towering multi-colored rock walls. In some places it narrows to the width of a car, and the shadows are deep and cool. We were still descending, but more gradually, and I was able to see many geologic folds and upheavals.

I kept exclaiming about them to Hal over the communication system. “Oh, look at that, to your left!” I would say, or “to your right,” there were so many things to see. Again, we rode somewhat slowly in order to be able to see everything. The sun was drifting toward the western horizon, and it was dark in the canyon because of the high walls. I loved being deep in the canyon, so close to the rock as I rode.

I began to notice some familiar features, things I remembered from hiking in last year, and then I knew we were coming to the end.

We also began to meet more and more hikers, people who had walked in from the west as we had done last year. It was over way too soon.

The end opened out to an incredible vista, and I said, “It’s so beautiful!” Hal laughed. It’s kind of our little joke, but at the same time, it really was “so beautiful!” We didn’t stop, though, because it was hot, and we had already done this part before. We flew down the wide unpaved segment back to the paved highway, the road that leads to Scotty’s Castle one way, and back to the Beatty turnoff the other way.

Soon we were climbing Daylight Pass, the route “home” to Beatty that we take each time we are here. The temperature drops dramatically from the high 80s F. at the floor (sea level) to the 3307 ft. elevation of Beatty. It is a steep climb in a few places, and sometimes the little KLX250S strains to maintain 60 mph, especially if there is a headwind.

We got back to Beatty, de-geared, then walked to dinner at a nearby Subway, our favorite place when we are on the road. As we munched our salads, we pored over the maps, planning our ride for the next day. It looked like we were going to be on the road for a good part of it, but I did not know then all the stunning sights I would see.

Mud fest

On Saturday, the rain beat down in the Phoenix area for the second day in a row, making it look and feel like Seattle. I hoped it would be a good omen for the Seattle Seahawks football team, here to play in the Super Bowl. However, for me, the rain meant a fun day of riding in the rain and maybe even mud.

The clouds lowered as we rode east out of town, and we seemed to be riding into darkness. I wondered if the white curtain I was seeing was rain or fog. It turned out to be a misty rain, and the dark blue clouds hung low overhead. We exited Hwy. 60 at Florence Junction, and then fueled up 30 miles down the road in Florence. When we left Florence, we took Butte Ave., a shortcut to Florence-Kelvin Hwy.

My thought was that Flo-Kel, an unpaved road, would be sandy, but would have plenty of traction. As we got closer to it, and the road we were on transitioned to dirt, I saw that I was wrong. The mud on the surface was shiny with water, and Hal confirmed my suspicions. “I’m slipping a little,” he said over the intercom. “Me too,” I answered. I could feel it already. It was going to be an interesting ride.

Out on Flo-Kel, we were on pavement for a while. Once we hit the dirt, we found the shiny mud again. Not only that, the rain, which had started out as mist, was now coming down in larger drops. Then we got to a muddy section of road, and we slowed down. The bike started to slide underneath me, so I had to be careful to find the best line. But, as quickly as the mud had started, it was as quickly gone. We found ourselves on crushed granite, which I had thought the whole road would be. We picked up speed.

Then, we came to a long, wide muddy section. Would I have thought Florence-Kelvin Hwy. would look like this after a rainstorm? No. This is what we found ourselves riding in:

It was good “mud riding practice” but I was slipping around, going too fast. I tried to find the best line on the right side near the edge. I got caught in a big rut and went right into the ditch, but it was my own fault for going too fast:

My DR popped right out of there, and we continued. The rain seemed to increase the longer we were out, which was probably why it turned into a mud fest. My bike looked a little less muddy after the rain washed it off a bit:

It was a fun day, and so worth the mud and rain to see the lovely scenery. This is why I go out there on these wonderful rainy days:

Later, we stopped in Gold Canyon for coffee and a sandwich, and enjoyed the beautiful clouds obscuring the Superstition Mountains:

What a great riding day! Tomorrow I’ll be cleaning that bike. 😉

Rocky road

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

An afternoon of escape from our everyday lives beckoned as Hal and I planned to ride a new-to-us unpaved road near Queen Valley, Arizona. We did not know what to expect in terms of difficulty, so I chose my trusty Kawasaki KLX250S (“Alex”). She hadn’t been out for some time anyway, and I didn’t want her languishing in the garage any longer. The KLX turned out to be the right choice once we got out on the road that was our destination.

It was 12:30 p.m. when we left my house, and after a stop for fuel, we arrived at the intersection of US 60 and Queen Valley Rd. about an hour later. We’d traveled part of this road, FR357, before, but this time we were going to use it to access another unpaved road that would take us (we thought) up to Montana Mountain.

I had once tried to find out about this route by asking one of my fellow club members, but I got a very elusive answer, like somehow it was a state secret that I wasn’t privy to. So, judging from the staging point, a map, and the research that I did on the internet, this was the way to go.

FR357 was easy, and this time I knew where to look for the “new” road. Soon we turned onto it, and it was, as expected, rougher than the dirt highway we’d just left. It was rocky in places, and much narrower, although still pretty easy. The beautiful scenery, though, is what struck me the most, and I hoped the road would continue to be easy so I could look at the scenery.

Hillside of saguaro cacti:

As we began to climb, there were more rocky areas, and I had to pay attention to what I was doing in a few places. The jeep road was like a roller coaster, gaining elevation with each series of whoops. I could see in the distance that there were more – higher – mountains ahead. I wondered if we were going up and over the highest one.

I was in the lead, and in one place, I came around a turn and found myself going down a steep grade too fast (again). I ended up in big gravel, and I really worked to keep the bike upright as it slewed through the rocks. Whew! I thought as I made it through, both upright and unscathed. Memories of the crash on FR54 almost exactly a year ago made my left knee tingle. There are still parts of that knee that are numb.

The more we climbed, the steeper it got, and the rock parts were more frequent. Then we pulled over to the side to confer. As usual, the afternoon was getting later, it was already 2:30, and we didn’t know how much farther we had to go before we began our descent. We also noticed a pickup truck making its way slowly down from the highest part of what I thought was the road. I was gauging how long it would take us to go up by watching it make its way down, and I figured we could go up much faster.

You can almost see the pickup on the road, the thin line going across the mountain in the distance. The truck is the white object on the left side of the road, about to disappear behind the mountain in front of it:

I also was “learning” the road by watching the progression of the pickup, and since it was white, it was easy to see its progress. It would disappear behind a mountain, and then reappear. Then, it disappeared for a while, and all of a sudden, it was almost right in front of us, coming up a small grade. I had told Hal I was going to stop the driver and find out if he’d come from the other side. I also wanted to know what shape the road was in. I flagged him down.

“Did you come from Hwy. 60 from near Superior?” I asked.

“No,” the driver said, “I only went up to the trailhead, and turned around.” It seemed that the trail climbed even more than what we could see, and the driver said he couldn’t get a 2WD vehicle up the last grades. Hmmmm, I thought. “But it would be no problem on those dirt bikes,” he concluded.

After he left, going toward the way we had come, we had to make the decision to either keep going or do the road again sometime when we had the whole day. We chose the latter. We geared up again and turned the bikes around.

The only slight problem was I hate descending on a steep grade on loose rocks, again due to the crash last year, and also because lately we haven’t been riding roads that were very technical. However, I took the lead again, and immediately I was going down something steep and “slippery.” I made it down, and checked my rear-view to see if Hal was okay. He was soon right behind me.

Right away, there was another steep grade down, this one even more precarious, and this time I chose the wrong line. I made it most of the way down, then the front wheel washed out when it hit some gravel. I was determined that I would not drop that bike, though. I was able to put my foot down, recover the bike somewhat, and didn’t let it fall, but I didn’t have the strength to pull it back up. The grade was making that impossible. I was standing there on the side of the mountain, holding my bike on a steep grade, and not able to do anything. “Help!” I called to Hal. The urgency in my voice was just because I did not want to drop that bike!

Hal got to me as quickly as he could, and together we brought the bike upright. There were only a couple of feet left to ride on the grade, so we just walked the KLX down. I got back on, and we continued. Hal rode the grade behind me without a problem, and he rode very well all day.

I soon came to the gravel streambed again, and powered through it, then hit the steep uphill on the other side. I was able to ride a perfect line up as I am much better on climbs than downhills! When I got up the other side, and the road flattened out a bit, I looked back in time to see Hal coaxing his bike out of the berm on the side of the rocky streambed. I got off my bike, intending to go down to help him, but he had the bike out and back under control before I could get very far.

The rest of the road was uneventful, and we got out fast since the road was mapped in our heads from the trip in. It seemed much easier, and I enjoyed the scenery this time through much more than I had on the way in when I was concentrating on riding. The sun was dropping low, and before I knew it, we were back at paved US 60 where we had come in.

“Do you want to stop on the way back to town?” I asked Hal.

“Sure! I could use something to eat,” he said. In truth, I was dying for a cup of coffee, so we made a plan to go to the Subway in Gold Canyon. Subway has great sandwiches, and a Keurig machine!

Later, over a cup of coffee, we reflected on our fun ride and vowed to go back and complete the loop, maybe from the other side. We’d found another great, unpaved road to ride, and one that is not very far from home.

Just as in the old western movies, we rode off into the sunset, heading west toward home as the moon rose behind us.

Winter magic, Day 2

Nelson Reservoir

**

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.

The Xterra

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.

On FR249

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:

https://azbeemergirl.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/big-lake/

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.

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Tomorrow: going home already (but not before I shoot “millions” of photos)

Finding snow

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The White Mountains of Arizona, 12-26-14

Right before Christmas, I was idly looking on the internet at the weather forecast for Alpine, Arizona, one of my favorite places. I noticed that it was supposed to snow later in the week so I texted my riding partner, Hal, asking if he wanted to go to the White Mountains and shoot (with cameras) some snow. With us, any excuse to get away is a good one, so we planned it for Friday through Sunday.

On Christmas Day, I kept checking the weather cam shots from Alpine. It rained all day, and the temperature stubbornly hovered right around 34° F., just warm enough to not snow. However, around 5 p.m., the temperature dropped, and it started to snow! The trip was on!

Did we ride? No! Too risky on motorbikes, even the beloved dirt bikes. I wanted to at first because I don’t mind riding in it, but our experience has shown us that when the snow gets too deep, all the forest roads are closed anyway. Not only that, but the temperature was going to dip into the ‘teens, maybe even single digits overnight. Hal and I knew that super-cold temperatures could be really miserable, especially if we were going to be stopping all the time to shoot photos. At that point, we elected to drive the trusty Xterra. Then I could take all my cameras and not have to worry if they were packed securely and safely. It was going to be a short trip, so we might as well be comfortable.

It was funny watching me pack for this trip. I was only going to be gone for a couple of days, really, but I had to take a lot of layers for each day. I planned on living in tights with sweatpants over them, numerous layers on top, and my heaviest coat, gloves, and knit hat. As it turned out, most of the time I was there I looked like a marshmallow. But I was warm (mostly).

We loaded up on Friday morning, and got on the road. It was cold before we even left town, and we stopped for coffee and bagels to eat on the way north. There was no snow in Payson, but when we got up on the Mogollon Rim we started to see some! It was only a dusting, but the higher in elevation we got, the deeper it was. However, it wasn’t a deep snow as we’d experienced a couple of years ago, and it was going to melt fast.

You can never tell from what’s on the Rim near Payson and Heber what you will find in the White Mountains. We rolled through Show Low, looked at the Forest Energy Corporation plant with its white smoke filling the cold air. I didn’t know it before, but they make wood pellets for pellet stoves, among other wood products.

After we left Show Low, however, we started to see the Springerville Volcanic Field in the distance. One of the tallest cinder cones was gleaming with white in the sun! That was a good sign.

As we passed some of the cinder cones, I took a few “flash by” photos with the little camera, but then we stopped at the one that I named the Snow Volcano and got some images there. I tried to stand in the exact same spot where I’d taken my photo almost three years ago, the one that ended up in the gallery. It was very sunny and bright this time, though, and it didn’t have the same drama as it had previously under advancing winter storm clouds.

Welcome to Springerville!

We stopped in Springerville at Western Drug and General Store. It’s a ritual we have every time we come up here. I was hoping they’d still have some of the boots that I wanted last October (but failed to get), and I should have known they’d be sold out. They were pretty, and they looked warm. I should have gotten them in October. Next we drove down to the Safeway so I could get a can of Scotch-gard to try to make the hiking boots I was wearing somewhat waterproof. Those are the only boots I have that resemble cold-weather boots, and I had intended to buy the boots at Western Drug. After that wasn’t possible, I had to improvise!

After driving around Springerville for a little while, we got on the road to Alpine. It was super-cold, around 20° F., and we decided to go through town and get right on Hwy. 191. There was snow on the ground, but I was interested in the 191 where there would be the most snow. At the highest point, it is over 9,000 feet in elevation, so the farther south we went, the more snow there would be.

We found the road covered in snow in some spots!

Hal drove slowly; neither one of us is used to driving in winter conditions. I lived in Wisconsin for the first 22 years of my life, but it’s been a long time since I’ve driven on snow and ice. There were a few places on the 191 that looked treacherous. We didn’t go too far, only a couple of miles past Campbell Blue wash, and then we turned around. We thought that later in the trip the road might be better. Hwy. 191 is not plowed during weekends, during snowstorms, or at night, but I thought the sun would probably help to clear the road more than it was on the first day of the trip.

We went back to Alpine, ate dinner at our favorite restaurant, the Alpine Grill, and had a relaxing evening.

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Tomorrow: a full day of shooting photos