Monday, May 24, 2010

What I Did Last Summer - Part Five (Hatch Chile Fest!)

What? Where's Part Four, you ask? Surprisingly, I wrote about that in a timely fashion. I returned to AZ from WY via, OK, of course!

So, on to Part Five.

First stop - Mt. Graham and its Swift Trail Parkway, outside of Safford, AZ. It's a fine place to enjoy the anatomy of a turn. What a way to start a trip! I camped there one night under a glorious full moon and amongst the company at least one skunk rustling around my tent. Thankfully I did not become a victim of my little nocturnal friend.

Next stop - lunch and a walk around the old town area Silver City, NM. 1Zero6 caught my eye, but they didn't open until dinner. Instead, I enjoyed a yummy Italian Mushroom Melt at Vicky's Eatery. Since I don't get mushrooms through my CSA, I often order them in restaurants.

The smell of chiles roasting and growing is getting stronger and stronger as I approach...

Hatch, NM, Chile Center of the Universe! Everywhere you turn there are chile fields, roasting factories and warehouses to process and send chiles in every form all over the nation, not to mention the smaller "Mom and Pop" outfits on every street corner.

I got a fine seat for the Chile Parade, thanks to the generous fellow riders who offered to share their ring-side table with me at the "Pepper Pot." Ironically, I have no chile shortage at home, in Tucson, so I ordered French Toast. It was a bad idea. When in Hatch, eat chiles.

Mike and Mary, new found dining companions, and fellow riders.

The Chile Queen!

Ristras on every corner

I headed back towards Silver City via NM 152, which turned out to be the surprise of the weekend. What a great road! I'll be back there for Hatch 2010, I hope.

Now on to the bargain of the century - NM 15 is signed "44 miles, Travel Time 2 hours," which should give you an idea of its twisty goodness (free!), the Lower Scorpion Campground in the Gila National Forest with its pictographs and small ancient dwelling on its "Trail to the Past" (also free!) and the the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument ($3!).

Cliff Dwellings

My pretty little campsite. No the weather doesn't look good, does it? It's about to get exciting...

Remember that fun (aka treacherous) Rt 15 I rode to get UP here? It was similar to the road up Mt. Timpanogos, UT which I seem to remember describing as something the Shriners and their little tricycles might build? And how I'd never, EVER want to ride something like that in bad weather? Well, it poured the entire way down Rt 15. Not drizzled, not sprinkled, but poured. I survived, but I can't say it was enjoyable.

After (literally) wringing the water out of my socks and having a well deserved rest, snack and iPhone weather radar map consult at a Shell station in Silver City, I headed up towards Alpine, AZ in fine, fine weather. It's at that point that I learned that if one is to use a hefty bag to protect one's sleeping bag from rain, one should arrange it such that the hefty bag in on the inside of the luggage, not outside. Bits of hefty bag stuck in your brakes significantly reduce braking power! No harm done, lesson learned. Since then I've actually purchased a REAL raincover for my luggage. The fine, fine weather didn't hold. I rode in the rain most of the way to the Bear Wallow Cafe in Alpine, AZ where I stopped for a grilled cheese sandwich and strategy session. Do I brave several miles on a likely very muddy, rutted and slippery road to get to where I had planned to camp, wander around looking for an alternative site, spring for a hotel? As I'm considering my options, a fellow motorcyclist tells me his group is throwing in the towel and going home early because of the weather. I'm welcome to his campsite, which is right off a nice, comforting paved road. Yay!

Alpine Divide Campground is cold and there are heaps of snow and hail on the ground from the storms earlier that day. It's so cold I can't really even sleep well. But I enjoyed the yipping songs of a band of coyotes while doing "stay warm calisthenics" in my sleeping bag for much of the night. The next morning I was off again, and traded the tarp gifted to me by the same riders that gave me their campsite to my camp "neighbors" in exchange for some hot coffee and enjoyable conversation.

Once again I was rewarded for my trials. The trip from Alpine back to Mt. Graham is AZ 191, (yup, it's another spectacular byway, the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, and could very well be the best of them all.) One HUNDRED miles of scenic, twisty, turny fun, and, what luck!, not another car on the road nearly the entire way. And I was granted picture perfect weather to boot!

You can't help but arrive home a better rider after a trip like that.

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