I am beyond Hope. Blythe to Salome (64miles).
Today was to be a day of change. A change of weather; it was much more overcast. A change of wind; a strong headwind of 30 – 45mph with gusts of up to 60mph (according to the Weather Channel) and a change of state; from California into Arizona.
Not only had I ridden an extra 20 miles yesterday to lessen the impact of the time zone change, but last night I had also put my clocks forward an hour. Having successfully cheated time I left the motel and rode the short distance to the state border.
When entering each of the seven new states it had been my intention to have my photograph taken with the state sign, however the road out of Blythe goes over the Colorado River and cyclists have to use the footpath on the west side of the bridge. The Arizona state sign, although visible, is on the opposite side of the freeway and was therefore not accessible to me. I had to make do with a photo from a distance.
The route this morning included some cycling on the shoulder of the I-10. Cars and trucks passing me at up to 75mph only sought to exaggerate my slowness. I was still suffering from a heavy chest and sore throat and to make matters worse I had now broken out in sores around my mouth and face. I knew that I wasn’t riding too fast or over exerting myself as I have an inbuilt ‘alarm system’ which I monitor carefully. It is a tiny patch of skin on the side of my nose which erupts in small blisters when I over-train or over-heat. I can usually keep it in check by applying ice. This hadn’t reacted at all, so I can only assume that the sores had been caused by dirty gloves where I had been wiping sweat from my face.
Leaving I-10 after about 13 miles, the route follows Dome Rock Road for about 6 miles to Quartzite. This is a very rough road with lots of pot holes, loose gravel and other debris caused by the extremes of temperature experienced in the desert. At times it was so bumpy that it felt like I was riding on a pogo stick. I was convinced that it was only a matter of time before I suffered another puncture so I resorted to riding along the crown of the camber where the effects of desert erosion were least and the road was the smoothest, then darting back to the right-hand side of the road whenever I heard a vehicle coming up behind me. Parked among the sand dunes and rocky outcrops were a number of large recreational vehicles (RV’s), the owners no doubt engaged in some gold prospecting for which this area is famous.
Just outside of Quartzite is the ‘Desert Gardens Mobile Home & Vehicle Sales’. They had some excellent examples of 1960’s cars for sale and I stopped to take some photos. In the car lot, I got talking to a bloke in a red pick-up who was carrying a miniature Chihuahua. He asked me if I wanted to see the dog ride a Harley Davison. Bemused, I looked around the lot but there wasn’t a motorcycle to be seen anywhere. He reached inside the cab of his pick-up and brought out a chocolate coloured full size Chihuahua. (Not that there is much difference between a miniature and a full size). He balanced the smaller dog onto the back of the bigger and they both ran around the parking lot. This was his idea of the dog riding a motorcycle. Whatever!
I stopped for elevenses in Quartzite, which is the home of the world’s biggest swap meet. I suppose that you could describe it as one enormous car boot sale. The locals say “If you can’t find it here in January then it isn’t made”
After my coffee stop I rode on to Brenda where I had lunch at the Brenda Country Store. Sitting outside I was amused to read the license plate on the front of a big 4×4 Dodge Ram which pulled into the car park and which said ‘If you can’t Dodge it. Ram it!!’ I just hope that I don’t meet the driver on the road when they are in a bad mood or maybe they might just do that.
The rest of the day was spent cycling on the US60, with another great photo opportunity a short distance after leaving the tiny settlement of Hope.
Hope used to be called Johannesberg when the town was first established in 1909. However, in 1920, the highway was re-routed and by-passed Johannesberg the resulting lack of passing traffic caused the town to close. Undeterred, the residents decided to create another town which they built along the new highway route. In honour of the change and in search of good luck for the future they named the new town Hope. Unfortunately, the excellent photo opportunity just outside of town has been spoilt by the sign writer who has made terrible punctuation and spelling errors.
Seven miles further on after riding through some open desert with spectacular mountain views I reached Salome and the end of my day’s cycling. It was after 5pm and very nearly sunset again. The temperature had dropped off very quickly and it was now quite chilly. Checking in at the only motel in town, the Schefflers Inn, I joked with the elderly lady that “I don’t think I will be using the pool”. The joke was lost on her because she replied “It’s not open yet, my son hasn’t repaired it or painted it.”
My room left a lot to be desired. On first impression everything seemed to be there, just old and shabby. But a closer inspection revealed that the heating wasn’t working and the towels were threadbare. The shower dripped 192 times per minute. I know because I counted them whilst perched precariously on the toilet, which wasn’t fixed to the wall or the floor. The door to the vanity unit came off in my hand and the toilet paper was gossamer thin. The bathroom window was only secured with bent wire and the shower cubicle was designed in such a way as to discharge the water directly onto the floor of the bathroom!
But none of this concerned me as much as the atmosphere. I was the only person staying at the motel. There was no-one else around. It felt like a ghost town. In fact, I swear that I saw a shadow through the curtain as I took a shower. I thought back to what the old lady had said when she booked me in and I wondered, does she really have a son? Is this the Psycho plot in reverse?
The Bates Motel was in Arizona wasn’t it? If you are reading this and I haven’t yet returned home try room 29 Bates Motel (I mean Schefflers Inn) Salome, Arizona……. hurry!
Later in the evening I walked into town a bit, there was nothing open except the gas station, where I managed to get some hot food. While in the shop, two girls arrived by car and asked me for directions to Las Vegas. This was bizarre. Here I was in the middle of the Arizona desert when two random girls pitch up asking me an English tourist for directions to Las Vegas. How could they be so lost! It turns out that Vegas is only a four hour drive away: four hours by car but about four days by bike.
It would be unfair of me not to mention some of the positive things about Salome. A local teacher has designed and sculptured a 9/11 memorial which is situated on Hwy 60 with the help of funds raised by the Chamber of Commerce, the Fire Dept and the local Lions Club.
I should also mention Arizona’s most famous humourist and the co-founder of the town of Salome; Dick Wick Hall. Mr Hall is famous locally for his writings, his imagination and his pet frog. The story goes that one day in 1904 Mr Hall witnessed the wife of the town’s other co-founder (Charles W Pratt) attempting to walk barefoot across the hot desert sand. The sand was too hot to walk on comfortably and Mr Hall immediately likened Mrs Pratt’s walking to that of a dance. Thus, the town became Salome meaning ‘where she danced’. There are pictures of Mrs Pratt painted on several of the buildings in town as well as paintings of the Salome frog. The Salome frog was one of Hall’s more imaginative characters and features in a poem from which the following is an extract:
“I’m seven years old and I cannot swim so don’t blame me for looking grim. And folks haul water in railroad trains while I sit and dream of the summer rains. You can’t kid me about this desert land where Salome danced on the red hot sand. They say it rained, and it may again. I’m an old bull frog – and dang my hide, I can’t swim because I never have tried.”
There’s gold in them thar hills. Salome to Sun City (92miles)
I awoke to dark skies and rain this morning, but by the time I had eaten my breakfast of raisin bran and fig newtons (brought in the gas station last night) the rain had stopped. It made a change from the typical American breakfasts of omelette, hash browns & bacon that I had been having. It was quite difficult to find a café or restaurant that didn’t sell the standard cooked American breakfast, but I suppose with a little planning I could easily overcome that small issue.
I wasn’t able to watch the weather channel this morning as the TV was very basic and limited to just four channels, but I did catch the news and learned that Southern California had received a lot of snow overnight. Albert Hammond wrote that well known song entitled ‘It never rains in Southern California’ he never said anything about snow though!
Today’s ride was pre-planned to be just 54 miles along the US60 into historic Wickenburg. The reason for this was the route profile. It showed that I would be climbing for most of the day. However I decided to change my plans, leave at first light and aim to get to Wickenburg at lunchtime for a plate of spaghetti in a restaurant that I had come across in my research. Then I decided that I would push on towards Phoenix and reduce the mileage for day 8. I had intended that day 9 would be an active rest day, I was now considering combining the reduced day 8 with day 9 to put me a whole day ahead of schedule. Well, that’s the plan now I have to get on and do it.
Today is Friday and the weekend starts here, but I have some concerns. It is Presidents’ Day weekend and I worry that I may not find any accommodation.
The first town after Salome is Wenden, but it was far too early and nothing was open. I did find the Brooks Outback Diner and even though the sign outside said it was open, it was actually closed. Its operating hours are 11am to 8pm. Take a look at the photograph; I think they may need to revisit their advertising strategy!
About 4 miles further on and I experienced yet another puncture this time it was caused by a small sliver of metal. Again it was in the back wheel which meant removing tent, bedroll, sleeping bag etc. as well as two panniers before I could get at the wheel. In my hurry to replace the inner tube and get riding again I bent the valve by pumping the tyre up too hard and I was not able to close it fully. I had two options, remove everything again and replace, or carry on regardless and hope that it would hold out. I opted for the later, but cursed myself. If only I had been more careful.
More haste less speed. That word ‘if’ had me thinking about a chap that I once worked with. Whenever he heard someone say “If only” he would retort with “If IF were a donkey, we’d all have a ride”. It took me a while to work out what I think he meant, and the saying has stayed with me ever since. Well clip, clop, clip, clop.
IF only I had been more careful I wouldn’t now be worrying that any moment the valve will fail and that I’d be wasting another twenty minutes or so replacing the inner tube.
Aside from my concerns over a possible failing valve, as with any puncture for about the next hour or so I was apprehensively listening to each ‘pop’ or ‘ping’ from the back wheel as I rode over grit and gravel, anticipating yet another flat tyre.
The 28 miles of road into Aguila was narrow and with only a small shoulder. I had to concentrate very hard to ride the small six inch gap between the rumble strip and the white line at the edge of the carriageway.
Arriving in Aguila I was hit with a full frontal assault on my olfactory nerves. Any European cyclist would easily recognise the familiar smell of a dairy farm! Aguila is a Native American word meaning ‘Eagle’ and the town boasts of growing the world’s finest cantaloupe melons. Overlooking the town is a mountain called ‘Eagle Eye Peak’. There are a number of small grocery stores and eating places but only one was open, which is where I stopped for elevenses. On leaving this little town there is a restaurant with an advertising board which commands you to ‘Git in here and eat some of momma’s homemade cooking.’ I guess that momma wasn’t home because it was shut!
Shortly before 1pm I passed the Wickenburg Massacre monument. On November 5, 1871, the Wickenburg stagecoach headed for Ehrenberg on the Colorado River. It had eight passengers: seven men and one woman. About ten miles out of town a band of raiders attacked the stagecoach killing six of the men. The two wounded survivors William Kruger and Mollie Sheppard ran for the hills. Mollie had just sold her business in Prescott and had a large amount of cash and jewellery with her. Kruger later claimed that he had saved Mollie’s life, but she told a different story. Mollie said that she had held off the attackers with a broken wine bottle as she and Kruger escaped. Neither Mollie nor Kruger could positively identify whether the murderers were Indian, Mexican, or white outlaws.
Initially, the Wickenburg Massacre was blamed on Apaches, but there are those who doubt this theory as the Apache Indians typically did not leave survivors.
After taking a couple of photos I continued into town and located a restaurant called ‘The Mineshaft’ where I dropped in for a plate of pasta and chicken. It was like walking onto the set of a modern day spaghetti western. Johnny Cash was playing on the juke box, bemoaning about something or other in his life and singing about drinking beer for breakfast. There was a life-size cardboard cut-out of John Wayne guarding the door, protecting my back and a huge mural of the desert, a gold mine and cacti painted on one wall.
The waitress Sandy was very chatty (probably because I was the only diner) finishing each of her sentences with “honey”. She kindly allowed me to bring my bicycle into the restaurant as there were no windows in this side of the building and it wasn’t possible to keep an eye on it outside. The other side of the building was a bar.
Wickenburg grew up as a town in the 1860’s. In 1862 an Austrian named Henry Wickenburg arrived in Arizona. He was on the run from the Austrian police who wanted to arrest him for selling coal that he had found on his father’s estate instead of turning it over to the Austrian State. Two years after arriving he discovered the Vulture Gold Mine, which he worked alone for a couple of years before selling it on to a consortium who called themselves the Vulture Mining Company. A settlement called Vulture City built up around the mine and was later re-named as Wickenburg.
The consortium prospered as over $30m worth of gold was dug from the mine. Henry must have kicked himself for selling it too soon and for the paltry sum of just $20,000. It played on his mind for the rest of his life and fifty one years to the day after he had first discovered the mine, Henry shot himself.
Across the road from the restaurant is the Jail Tree, a 200 year old Mesquite tree. Between 1863 and 1890, because the town lacked a jail, outlaws, drunks and other arrested persons were shackled to the tree until their court appearance. Apparently no-one chained to the tree has ever escaped.
I liked Wickenburg it had an authentic Wild West feel about it, although the traffic was a bit heavy and I was disappointed not to be able to take photos of some of the more interesting buildings without getting a foreground of modern cars etc which detracted from the composition. Just before I left Wickenburg I was starting to feel a little mischievous, and thought about running into the nearest bar and shouting “There’s gold in them thar hills” and then running out again.
But I didn’t and so after lunch I set out for Phoenix, contemplating whether or not to replace my bike helmet with my woolly hat as the temperature had dropped again. In the end I decided to persevere with the helmet. It was the right decision.
The road out of Wickenburg was very busy as it leads directly into Phoenix, the largest city since San Diego. The road surface was none too good, lots of glass and rubbish on the shoulder. In the town of Surprise, on the outskirts of Phoenix, it was no surprise that I got yet another puncture. Once again it was the rear tyre and this time it was caused by a staple. It wasn’t worth repairing given that I had bent the valve earlier in the day. End result: the first dead inner tube.
Initially the road into Phoenix along the US60 through Morristown, Circle City and Wittman is scenic, lined with Saguaro cacti filled rocky hills and following the Hassayampa River. However, after Surprise this view gives way to uninspiring scenery of shopping malls, vehicle repairers and tyre service stations.
Saguaro cacti are those that you see in Western movies, the ones that look like people with extended arms. They are very slow growing, perhaps an inch a year, but eventually grow to a height of between 15 and 50 feet. The largest cacti which have more than 5 arms are estimated to be 200 years old. On average though the ones I saw had 5 arms and were about 30 feet tall.
At 6.30pm (my latest finishing time to date) and in the dark, I found myself more by luck than judgement at the Motel 6, situated directly on the junction of the US60 and N111. The N111 is the road that I will be taking at the start of tomorrows ride. In the immediate vicinity of the motel were a small number of shops and restaurants, one of which is a massage boutique which unfortunately had closed for the day. If only I had got here earlier, a leg massage would have been very welcome after such a long day in the saddle.
Tales of more gold and of Superstition. Sun City to Apache Junction (67miles)
After yesterdays long mileage, my plan is to complete what was left of my pre-planned day 8 mileage and add it to day 9’s active rest day mileage, so that will give me an extra day to utilise in the mountains of New Mexico.
I don’t know what I was doing this morning or where the time went but I must have been faffing about, having breakfast and watching the news and weather on TV. My alarm had gone off at 6.10am but I didn’t get on the road until 9 o’clock.
Sun City is on the outskirts of Phoenix, Arizona’s state capital and so to avoid this busy city the first 30 miles of my route to Tempe took in quiet side streets lined with orange trees, and the Arizona canal bike path. It was a strange day, not at all like a bank holiday weekend. After reaching the retirement community of Tempe, traffic was very light for the next 16 miles to Mesa passing city block after city block of RV sales, trailer home sales and car dealerships.
Mesa is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States and is a bit more gentrified than Tempe. But it also has some excellent examples of urban street art. Country music legend Waylon Jennings is interred in Mesa County Cemetery and a number of scenes from the film ‘The Kingdom’ (starring Jamie Foxx) were shot here on a set built to resemble Saudi Arabia.
Well it had to happen sooner or later. Ten miles further on and all the motels in Apache Junction were full. It had nothing to do with it being Presidents’ Day weekend; it was because there was a rodeo in town. Fortunately my route planning paid off and I had included the details of a K.O.A. (Kampground of America) on my route sheet. Even though the Kampground too was full, the ladies in the office were very helpful in finding me a small space to pitch my tent. They even tried to find a discount code to reduce the $22 overnight fee, without success.
While I was researching this trip the name Apache Junction, coupled with the history of ghost towns and Arizona’s Superstition Mountain in the background, had conjured up romantic thoughts and I was almost expecting to arrive back in time in the Old Wild West.
The area has long been the source of stories and tales about the Dutchman’s Lost Gold Mine, Jesuit treasure, Peralta gold and numerous other lost gold mine stories that still attract men and women from across the country to this rugged mountain range.
The cliffs, peaks, plateaus and other rough terrains which overlooks Apache Junction is a place of mystery and of legends that has been given the collective name of a single mountain; Superstition Mountain. According to one of these legends there is a fantastic gold mine here the like of which has never been seen before. Named the “Dutchman’s Lost Mine” it has been the quest of many unlucky adventurers.
The Apache Indians were probably the first to see the mountain, followed by the Spanish conquistadors. When the Spanish reached the region, the local Indians told them that the mountain held much gold, although they refused to help them explore it.
The Indians were in too much fear of the ‘Thunder God’ to trespass upon his sacred ground.
When the Spaniards tried to explore the mountain on their own, their men began to vanish mysteriously. If one of them strayed more than a few feet from his colleagues, he was never seen alive again. The bodies of those men who were found had been mutilated with their heads cut off. The mountain became a legendary spot known locally as ‘Monte Superstition’ and was regarded as an evil place.
In 1845 a Mexican named Don Miguel Peralta was the first man to discover the Indians’ gold on Superstition Mountain. Soon, he was sending millions of pesos of pure gold back to his ranch in Sonora.
The Apaches became angry over the Mexican’s presence on their mountain and in 1848, a large group got together to drive Peralta and his men out. Hearing of the impending fight Peralta withdrew his men from the mine. They packed their gold ore onto mules and into wagons ready to return home. Then, because he intended to return one day to resume his mining, Peralta took elaborate steps to hide the entrance to the mine and to erase any trace that it had even existed. As Peralta and his men prepared to leave they were attacked and massacred by the Apaches. The mules ran off spilling some of the gold and taking the rest of it with them as they fell over cliffs and into ravines. For many years afterwards, prospectors discovered the remains of the mules and their leather packs that were still full of the raw gold.
In 1845 a German (mistakenly referred to as a Dutchman) by the name of Jacob Waltz came to America. He travelled to Mississippi, California and Nevada looking for his fortune. He worked the Sierra Nevada foothills for more than ten years, never getting rich but finding enough gold to get along. Then in 1868 he moved to the northern side of Superstition Mountain where two years later he teamed up with another German, Jacob Weiser and the two ‘Dutchman’ (as they were known locally) began prospecting for gold together. Soon, they were seen in Phoenix paying for drinks and supplies with gold nuggets.
There are a number of stories about how the men had found the lost mine. Some say they stumbled upon it by accident. Others say that they killed two Mexican miners whom they mistook for Apache Indians. The most believable version of the story is that they were given a map to the mine by a Mexican whose life they had saved in a knife fight. That Mexican was Don Miguel Peralta junior, the son of the original discoverer of the mine. Whether the Apaches killed him or whether it was Waltz no-one knows but soon Jacob Weiser disappeared without a trace.
Waltz however continued to be seen in and around Phoenix buying drinks with his gold nuggets. It was said that this was the richest gold ore that anyone had ever seen.
For the rest of his life, Waltz travelled backwards and forwards to his secret mine bringing back saddlebags filled with gold. He would never give directions to where the mine was located. On the occasions that men tried to follow him, Waltz would shake off his pursuers in the rugged mountains. The ‘Dutchman’ died on October 25, 1891 with a sack of gold ore beneath his bed. After his death a number of men who had heard him speak of the mine went in search of it. They never found it. There has now been more than a century of speculation and theories as to the mine’s location. Dozens of books have been written on the subject. Hundreds of would-be prospectors have searched the Superstition Mountain area. No one has yet found it.
Even with today’s technology, the two hundred and forty-two square miles of rugged terrain makes it a difficult task to systematically search or prospect in the region.
Much of the Superstition wilderness area remains largely unexplored. But the clues to Waltz’s gold mine still exist. So if you are feeling adventurous here are some of the hints and clues to its location that Waltz left:
“No miner will find my mine. To find my mine you must pass a cow barn. From my mine you can see the military trail, but from the military trail you cannot see my mine. The rays of the setting sun shine into the entrance of my mine. There is a trick in the trail to my mine. My mine is located in a north-trending canyon. There is a great stone face looking up at my mine. If you pass three red hills, you’ve gone too far. Climb above my mine and you can see Weaver’s Needle.”
Petrified and running the gauntlet. Apache Junction to Globe (57miles)
Today I’m still feeling rough. It is taking longer than I expected to throw off this illness. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, given the amount of energy I am expending each day, and the extremes of temperature that I am experiencing. Although cold overnight, it was nowhere near as cold as the temperatures I had encountered whilst camping in California.
The route today is deliberately and relatively short to take into account the hilly terrain. Starting out from the KOA the whole day will be on the US60 ‘the Old West Highway’, passing Dinosaur Mountain, then Dromedary Peak and Picket Post Mountain in the High Sonoran desert. Don’t you just love the names?
The road is relatively easy for the first 16 miles to Florence Junction, then stiffens up a bit more on the 8 mile climb to Gonzales Pass at 2651 feet. It then drops down past the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, home to a variety of desert plants and trees. The road then climbs up to Superior, the venue for the filming of some scenes in the 1977 Clint Eastwood film, ‘The Gauntlet’. A story of a cop assigned to transport a prostitute from Las Vegas to Phoenix so she can give evidence in a Mob trial, but who runs into trouble from people who do not want her to testify.
Superior is also home to the world’s smallest museum. This roadside attraction is a tiny building which I guestimate to be only about 15 feet long and 10 feet wide. It consists of a walkway either side of 10 glass display booths (5 on each side) containing local artefacts reflecting ordinary life, with bits of pottery, newspaper articles, household utensils etc. through the ages. Outside is ‘Memory Lane Waterfall Avenue’, where ordinary working equipment has been taken and recycled into water features. It was a humorous distraction for 10 minutes or so, after eating lunch at the Buckboard Restaurant next door.
The Buckboard Restaurant is popular with the local people and it was busy when I rode up at about noon. It is also very popular with motorcyclists, some of who warned me about the upcoming Queen Creek Tunnel, a short distance up the mountain.
On sale in the Buckboard Restaurant were pieces of ‘petrified water’, that wasn’t the only thing that was petrified today. I was too, when running the gauntlet through the Queen Creek Tunnel.
It is a truly frightening experience for cyclists. Two miles out of Superior it is only about 400 yards long but it has no shoulder and it cannot be ridden very fast due to the steepness of the hill. It was very disconcerting to have cars and trucks rushing past honking their horns. Most vehicles didn’t have their lights on. Perhaps the drivers thought they didn’t need to bother because it is such a short tunnel. I was extremely relieved to reach the other side, pull onto a small shoulder regain my composure and let my heart rate slow down.
I then found the next 10 miles of climbing hard going, stopping every mile and a half for a short rest and drink. Not so much because of the incline (which wasn’t too bad) but just because of my poor health. I was finding it very difficult to maintain a rhythm with such a congested chest.
The soil and rock formations in this area are heavy with copper and are a dark red almost clay colour. After reaching the top, there is a short downhill to Miami. No, not that Miami, but Miami, Arizona. The last half a dozen miles of the day brought me into Globe and my accommodation for today; the Super 8 Motel.
I spent the first hour or so after arriving at the motel, removing and re-fitting my handlebar tape and using the laundry facilities at the motel. The tape on my handlebars had started to unroll. It had been fitted new by a cycle shop before I left England, and to be honest I hadn’t bothered to check that it had been fitted correctly. It hadn’t. Instead of overlapping so that the leading edge was facing down towards the outside of the bars, it had been fitted the opposite way meaning that the raised leading edge was facing upwards. This meant that when leaning on the bars, my hands had been pushing down on the raised lip of the tape and over the last 9 days had been forcing the tape to ruck-up and slide down the bars.
Afterwards I went out for dinner. Conveniently situated across the road from the motel is a Chinese restaurant with an all–you-can-eat buffet for $8. Trust me; I got more than my money’s worth.
Arizona’s economy is built on the five C’s: Cattle, Citrus, Climate, Copper and Cotton. So far I have experienced the climate and seen cattle and copper. However, I think that if I were Governor of Arizona I would increase the original five C’s to include cowboys and cacti, making it a total of seven.
The real wild west. Globe to Safford (79miles)
This morning it is a cold 35° as I leave Globe, the temperature having dropped some 20° overnight. Today the route follows the US70, and I will be riding through the San Carlos Apache Reservation for the majority of the day.
Continental breakfast was included in the price of my motel room and so, like last night’s evening meal, I made the most of it. Coffee, orange juice, cereal, hardboiled eggs, bagels & cream cheese, Danish pastries oh and a banana for Ron…… later Ron!
For the first twenty miles of the ride the countryside was dry sandy scrubland framed by mountains. The wind was strong, cold and into my face. Occasionally a heavy truck would pass me and punch a hole through the air, giving me a few seconds of respite but for the majority of the time it was a battle against the elements.
Despite it being early on a Sunday morning when I arrived in the small town of Peridot the huge Basha’s supermarket was open. I wasn’t too sure whether I would be welcomed in the store as a non Native American, but I needn’t have worried as I got a very warm reception. After buying some coffee and biscuits the staff invited me into the employees’ canteen to eat and drink.
Chatting to some of the staff I learned that this town has a population of about 1500, mainly Native Americans, of which about 93% are Apaches and which makes Peridot (percentage wise) the most Apache community within the United States. The town takes its name from the bright green precious stone which is mined on the San Carlos Reservation and which accounts for about 90% of the world’s production. However, it is only Native Americans that are permitted to mine the gem stone on the reservation.
Before I left the store I bought some water, a pair of woolly gloves and a bandana. The cashier even swiped her staff discount card through the till to give me 50% off the total price. Thanks.
A short distance along the road and I met two other cyclists who were travelling in the opposite direction. Even though it was only about 11am, they had already done about 50 miles having started their ride this morning from Safford my intended destination for the day. They said that they get up with the birds and start cycling in the dark so that they can get most of the miles out of the way early before the wind gets up. They were also carrying ‘dog dazzlers’ a kind of pepper spray to ward off dogs; because they had experienced a lot of strays in Louisiana. I made a mental note to try and find something similar, although up to this point I had not encountered any belligerent canines.
After about another hour and a half I arrived in another small Apache community, Bylas, named the ‘home of the Apaches’.
The name ‘Apache’ is a Spanish corruption of the Zuni word ‘Apachii’ meaning ‘enemy’. These Native American people have endured severe economic and political disruptions, first by the Spanish then by the Comanches and later by the United States government when, in 1875, all Apaches were centralised in the San Carlos Reservation regardless of where they had previously lived.
The community of Bylas was named after Chief Bylas, an Eastern White Mountain Apache and a well-respected Apache scout and spiritual leader. Some Apaches enlisted in the U.S. Army, raised their families, farmed and practiced their traditional spiritual way of life. John Rope a Western White Mountain Apache, was the first Apache scout to receive a medal of honour and was buried here in Bylas in the 1940s with full United States military honours. Many of his descendants still reside in this town.
Apaches in Arizona and New Mexico were not granted U.S. citizenship until 1924. Also, they did not legally acquire the right to practice their Native religion until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed in 1978.
Fortunately, since the 1950s, the United States has gone some way to redressing the wrongs that these Native American people have endured by adopting a policy of assisting the tribes’ people to achieve some measure of self-government.
In recent years Apache ventures such as ski resorts, casinos, and timber mills have helped to alleviate the chronically high rates of unemployment on the reservations. The Apaches have also been permitted to have a direct involvement in the education system resulting in educational programs which are both bilingual and bicultural.
Seven miles further on from Bylas is the small community of Geronimo, named after the rebellious medicine man who for over 25 years led the Chiricahua Apaches as they defended their tribal land against the encroachment of the United States. This area was also the site of the original Camp Thomas, established in 1876 to keep Geronimo and his tribesmen on their farmland alongside the Gila River which runs through this area.
Over lunch I decided to put the one day that I am in advance into good use. I poured over my maps and decided that I could split the next intended 2½ days riding into 4 shorter days. Although this would then put me half a day behind schedule, it would give me shorter and more manageable days. Don’t get me wrong, they will still be filled with tough mountain climbs. I feel that I deserve a rest after the mileage that I have covered so far and because of the poor state of my health. After lunch the afternoon was taken up riding to Fort Thomas and then through the three contiguous communities of Pima, Thatcher and Safford.
Pima is home to the Old Tucson Film Studios. These studios have played a prominent role in shaping the world’s perception of the Old Wild West through the hundreds of major motion pictures that have been filmed here, starring western movie legends such as John Wayne, Roy Rogers and also current box-office stars such as Leonardo Di Caprio and Russell Crowe.
I felt obliged to stop in Pima and buy an ice cream having been bombarded by huge billboards advertising the local product every quarter mile for the last 2 miles into town. Actually I’m glad that I did. A penny short of $2 bought me a huge tub of delicious home made ice cream and a large cup of water. Great value!
Until today, I always thought that those old Western films had been about Texas. It just shows how much I knew. I was happy to be corrected and to learn about some of its history.
Arriving in Safford, I followed my by-now usual routine when entering a ‘stop’ town at the end of the day; trying to identify accommodation options, looking for a laundry as well as concentrating on the traffic and avoiding pot holes. Who says men can’t multi-task!
I opted for the Econolodge and after washing my cycle clothes, wandered out to (yet another) small Mexican restaurant. Here I met David Allen Deal, explorer and author of such books as ‘The Day Behemoth & Leviathan Died’; ‘Naxuan, The Lost City of Noah found’ and ‘Discovery of Ancient America’. Over dinner he entertained me with stories of his explorations and writings. I have to admit that a lot of the subject matter went over my head and so maybe I’ll buy his books when I return home, to see if they make it any clearer.
A short day. Safford to Threeway (36miles)
This morning it was warmer, 45°, when I left the motel. It is going to be a short day to Threeway where I am hoping to camp in the grounds of the Forest Ranger’s station. After that there is no motel option for more than 80 miles and I really don’t think that I am up to cycling 115+ miles.
The ride today is mainly uphill (again) following some of the Route of the Coronado. In 1536 when Spanish conquistador Alvar Nunez Cabeza de Vaca and three companions, sole survivors of a shipwreck off the coast of Florida, arrived back in Mexico city after 8 years of wandering through what is now Texas, Arizona and New Mexico. They told tales of seeing seven large Zuni (Native American) cities whose streets were filled with goldsmiths shops and houses that were many stories high with doorways that were studded with emeralds and turquoise.
In 1539 a Franciscan Friar Fray Marcos set out on an expedition, returning after one year with similar reports of the Seven Cities of Cibola. This prompted Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado’s royal expedition in 1840. He found no gold and, disappointed, Coronado returned home to Mexico where his expedition was branded an abject failure and he was found guilty of numerous atrocities against the American Indians.
Five miles after Safford is the small town of Solomon. The road then winds its way gently upwards for most of the next 25 miles before dropping down into Tollhouse Canyon. What should have been a yee-hah descent was spoilt by the narrowing of the road which was coned off to allow major road construction to take place.
This whole area is contained within what is called the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest which itself encompasses over 2 million acres of mountain country in east-central Arizona. Threeway is so named because it is at the convergence of three roads: the US191, the SR78 and the SR75. Sitting on a small hill above this junction is the Forest Ranger station.
The receptionist, Rosalie, said that it would be OK for me to camp on the lawn and showed me to a small grassed area to the side of the main building. Then whilst I was erecting my tent Rosalie very kindly searched the internet and printed off the weather forecast for the next three days.
Frank Hayes the Forest Ranger came out to meet me and we sat out in the hot afternoon sun, talking. He explained that his district was over 600,000 acres and that because of the terrain most of it had to be covered on horseback by him and his four Rangers. (Although, I have to say I did spot some 4×4 vehicles parked out the back, near to the stables).
I must have been tired because I dozed off after lunch whilst reading the one book that I hadn’t disposed of in Pine Valley. The overnight forecast wasn’t too cold so I didn’t bother with the flysheet on my tent, hoping that by leaving the mesh inner tent open to the elements it wouldn’t become full of condensation.
At the junction of the three roads is a small, but extremely well stocked general store. I bought some food and water and established that it opened at 4.30am. I don’t think that I will be up quite that early, but as it is the only place for many miles around, it was nice to know that I could still get coffee and some more food first thing in the morning.