Tuesday, April 3, 2012

NM Reprise (Ode to AZ 78 a.k.a. the Curley Traynor Memorial Highway)

Small state parks aren’t necessarily my favorite places, with their trash cans, eau-dor de toilettes, and premium camping fees, but, as you saw in my last post, I find myself plunking down my tent at these very sites with some regularity.  Having to make a point to dismount well before sunset, I do enjoy the little amusements they offer within walking distance of my home-away-from-home.  A short hike, wildlife viewing, a swim, or soak in a natural hot spring is a fine way to stretch out and pass the time between my safely-before-sundown-arrival and the point at which I relinquish and burrow into my enormous down sleeping bag.  So, for my first “weekend” (actual day of week not withstanding) since early January, I found myself at Roper Lake State Park yet again.  Its location near so many wonderful roads makes it an obvious choice*, and what’s not to like about riding your Ducati by day, and testing out your new Ducati bikini (thanks, Santa!) in the hot springs by night?

I was feeling rather lazy, by camping standards, so instead of moving on to a new site each night as I usually do, I pitched my tent only once, and returned to the same location each evening.  Oh, languid luxury!  Since I absolutely, positively needed a repeat of NM 152 (last seen on my foliage ride in October 2011), this arrangement meant I needed to go to Hillsboro and back in one day.  You might remember that last time the ride there** took me seven or eight hours, so I pared it down to the essentials.  AZ 191, AZ 78, NM 180, NM 152, Hillsboro for lunch, then straight back the way I came.  Even so, I had 350 miles to cover, much of it sporty and twisty.  So much for languid luxury, but I wasn’t complaining.  Bring it!

I opened the door to the Hillsboro General Store & Country Cafe with its customary jangle, and there he was!  Embree!  I’m not sure whose eyes lit up quicker, but we recognized each other on the spot.  After a bear hung greeting, I enjoyed my repast (this time a cheeseburger and fries – an inalienable right when motorcycle touring) with non other then Embree Hale, Petroglyph Hunter extraordinaire, who I met in this very cafe last October.

Embree Hale, Petroglyph Hunter
For someone who is full of smiles and laughter, he sure takes a serious portrait.

We discussed the finer points of various wild west lost treasure stories, the location of a few of the thousands of petroglyphs he’s photographed to date, and marveled at our good fortune, having met again by pure coincidence.

Embree Hale Turquoise and Silver Watch
A beautifully ornate turquoise and silver watch.  I can’t think of a better place for it than Embree’s wrist.

I was sure I would repeat the “up and back” method the next day on AZ 191, or perhaps a loop going up 191 and back down a more northerly portion of NM 180.  So I was surprised to wake up and find my bike pointed in a different direction.  What, no moto-bliss of AZ 191?  Headed west, instead, out into the straight away nothingness that is AZ 70?  Motorcycle camping demands a spirit of exploration, and I knew the Coronado Scenic Byway (now AZ 191 but once known as Rte 666 “The Devil’s Trail,” perhaps for good reason) to be a gravel fest this time of year, so I decided to investigate the tiny strip of gray around San Carlos Lake, Indian Route 3, that morning, and then see what the afternoon would bring.  Well, I’m here to tell you that just because the map legend informs you that a thin gray line is indeed a paved road, it does not mean it’s an appropriate place for your racing rims and sport suspension.  Ouch.  Lovely scenery, but the bumpity bump bump for 40 long miles brought to mind the stern admonishments of the Ducati dealer advising me to treat my Marchesini rims with love and tenderness, and the guilt I bear from trashing both my bicycle rims commuting on the city streets of Tucson.  Evidently, “paved” is open to interpretation and can also mean dirt, sand, gravel, and (mostly) vast stretches of pot holes lacking any safe zones of asphalt whatsoever to balance upon to circumvent said potholes.  I’ll say it again.  Ouch.  (See Update Footnote!)

Coolidge Dam
San Carlos Lake is formed by the Coolidge Dam.  It was completed in 1930, an age when, it seems, beautiful architectural details were still the norm.

Gila River from Coolidge Dam
The Gila river as it leaves Coolidge Dam

Coolidge Dam (1)
More architectural whimsy

Coolidge Dam Lamp
Pairs of lamps grace each entrance as IR 3 passes over the dam.  The place was utterly deserted.  How many people actually see these lovely details?

San Carlos Lake, as seen from the faraway and desolate land of unending jarring potholes known as IR-3.

As a reward for a job well done despite the circumstances, the Ducati got a long drink of premium unleaded and I enjoyed an ice cream sandwich. (Like bacon cheeseburgers, ice cream sandwiches are also a moto-touring inalienable right.)  Thinking we needed a breath of, well, smooth asphalt, the afternoon called for a repeat of AZ 78.  I haven’t told you about AZ 78, have I?  I can’t imagine why.  On the map, it appears so very plain and homely.  Don’t be fooled, it’s a gem that has it all – from tricky, dippily, sneakily, blind, narrow, switchbacky sections to cliffhanging sweepers that go on so long they’re positively dizzying, with everything in between – and, (get this), all of it is on pavement worthy of a racetrack.  No gravel, no cars, no tar snakes, no pot holes, no suspiciously loose looking chip and seal, absolutely nothing to impede your death defying journey into New Mexico.  The first time I rode it, I found myself thinking I could happily spend an entire weekend camped out in Safford, AZ riding this 30 mile stretch to Mule Creek, NM over and over and over.  Turns out this was my weekend to fully consummate my love affair with the “A.M. Curley Traynor Memorial Highway***.”  Oh yes, and it was good.  In fact, (Ah, fickle love of woman!) the next morning I forsook Mount Graham completely (plenty of snow up there still, and conflicting reports regarding access to and condition of the road) for more of the same.

AZ 78 Curley Traynor Memorial Highway
The view from the never ending time and space continuum warping sweepers dare you to take your eyes of the road.   Best to wait until the ride comes to a complete stop.

Ducati and Cottonwood Tree
The Ducati and I catch our breath outside the Mule Creek, NM Post Office.

Mule Creek, NM
Mule Creek, NM.  I never tire of these lonely grassy landscapes.  So different than the AZ side of the state line.

It was hard to tear myself away, but all good things must come to an at least temporary end.  Not able to bear the thought of 100 miles of mind numbing freeway, I headed home past San Carlos Lake (Skipping IR-3, thank you very much), to Globe, AZ, west on scenic US 60 to Superior (this stretch being one of the first I saw on a youtube video featuring a posse of squidly**** motorcycle riders),  and down the dramatic 10% grade of AZ 177 (as steep as I remembered from the first time I rode it, back in my pre-blog days, stuck behind a slow moving truck, and concerned I would start rolling backwards if I went any slower).  Oh, the last fuel fill up before home is a sad one!

*Not to be stuck in a rut, I have a new plan for later this month. Same area, different campsite, different roads, different motorcycle!
** Last time I went a bit further, to Elephant Butte State Park, but riding to  Hillsboro gets the job done as far as covering the sporty fun part goes.
*** So named in 1974 for the area rancher who was instrumental in having a paved road between the two states.  The few remaining gravel portions were finally paved in the mid 1970’s!
**** “Stupidly QUick and Imminently Dead,” or something like that. You know, those safety gear-less riders, screaming about on their ratty Suzuki Gxsrs, who are unable to keep both wheels on the ground on public roads.  They give us all a bad name.
UPDATE - Next ride out, and guess who has a leaking fork seal?   (Kicks self.)


Marcia said...

Thanks for sharing the photos and description, Paula. A very cool read!

Paula said...

Glad you enjoyed it!

Linda said...

Great photos, my dear! I'm too ADD this morning to read it all. True confessions!! Maybe later!