Scottsdale / Montrose
|Sunday July 7th, 2002
Start: Scottsdale, Arizona
End: Flagstaff, Arizona
After a late night on Saturday at Tom's birthday party, we check out of the Resort Suites around 11:00 AM.
Although the hotel room is plush, in some ways I'm glad to be going. I haven't been able to get used to the fake adobe, the fake waterfall in the pool, the fake waterfall in the fountain, the general glitziness of the place, and the immigrant service workers. Immigrants don't bother me; they're just trying to make a better life. I've done grunt work myself, washing dishes up at the Orme Ranch when I first arrived in Arizona, and then again in college for a short time.
It's actually their subservient manner - I'm not used to people who treat me as if I'm their superior. I've gotten very comfortable with the atmosphere at work, where we're constantly reminded that we're all in this together and if I ask a favor of somebody in the plant they'll look me straight in the eye and tell me when they can fit me in. I've come to believe that all people really are equal, and the "servant" persona makes me very uneasy. I'm used to having conversations with people that provide a service - waitresses, bank clerks, cashiers. But here, the service people just mumble "hello..." with a Spanish accent, and then look away or at the ground.
Sharon tells me to forget it, that the jobs they hold here are far better than anything they could get back home or they wouldn't be here. She tells me basically to go with the flow, when in Rome, so I do. But still.... I leave Scottsdale rather uneasy about what I've seen here on our visit.
It's another very hot day, with a predicted high of 112ºF-115ºF. We head over to Tom's house for one last visit, and to drain off the extra oil that the dealer put in at the oil change.
Tom has me pull the bike inside his garage; he's still feeling pretty good about the party last night. The garage is at least shaded.
I try to drain off just a quart or so, and end up burning my hand on the oil as it drains... It appears that oil in 112ºF heat really does run at a much higher temperature than back home. I'll be alright, but that smarts a bit.
I go over the bike, check the rear-end lube and the battery level. Rear-end lube is fine, as expected. But the battery is very low, in a couple cells the plates are only half-covered. I do keep an eye on that stuff, and had checked the battery before we left. I don't know if it's the heat or the age of the battery - it's original at 63,000 miles - but in either case it's something I'll have to keep an eye on.
After the bike is fixed, Dawn repairs a seam that had come undone inside my riding pants. Then a lunch of birthday party leftovers, while talking with Tom and Dawn. Together they have a nice little house, and a nice little family. The air is on, and we're in no hurry to go back out in the heat.
So we dawdle and procrastinate, talking and dawdling and talking some more. We finally leave Phoenix late, around 3:00 PM, hoping that the heat will have subsided somewhat. It hasn't.
Headed north on I-17, and it's extremely hot. Back home, the temperature gauge on the Concours never gets above the halfway mark if we're moving. Here, running along at 75-80 mph in 110ºF heat with a passenger and a full load of luggage, the needle runs around the 3/4 mark.
Outside the city limits, I realize that I'm glad to be out of Phoenix. It's a wonderful city, but I much prefer the more wild parts of Arizona. The desert has changed little, so it's comfortable and familiar to me.
I-17 between Mayer and north Phoenix used to be my daily commute to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute, back when I lived up at the Orme Ranch near Mayer in the early 1980s. Probably the most beautiful commute I've ever had, with about a 3,000' elevation change and about a 60ºF temperature change from the time I'd leave the ranch in the AM to the time I returned to wash the lunch dishes for several hundred people. I'd leave in the AM bundled in a fleece lined denim jacket, scarf, and gloves; and by the time I got to Phoenix that gear would all be bungeed on the back seat with the temperature at 105°F or so and climbing.
Over the 3 months that I did that 60 mile commute, I memorized each mountain and landscape, as well as most of I-17's curves and grades and all of the gas stations. There's actually not many... but there was also fuel available at the ranch, and the KZ-650 could do 1 round trip on just over a half-tank. I ended up buying gasoline every single day.
At the time, I didn't fully appreciate the scenery. I'd use the landmarks mostly as mileposts, rather than see the beauty. I guess that's what happens when you live somewhere nice - you tend not to really see what's in your own backyard.
I-17 stays flat for about 20 miles outside Phoenix. There's some development out there in the desert, but not a lot - especially compared to Phoenix. The scenery is mostly brown gravelly desert, mesquite, and saguaro; punctuated by on occasional mountain or mesa. Some boarded-up gas stations at a couple of the exits, I remember when they were open... and then I-17 begins to climb out of the valley.
I used to love this part of the commute, but not for the scenery. It was the only part of my commute where I'd get to go fast. I knew the cars couldn't run fast up that grade without overheating, so the uphill section was never patrolled - though it's probably best you don't take my word for it. Your mileage may vary.
At the start of the grade, there's a big yellow highway sign that says:
"Avoid Overheating! Turn off your Air Conditioner!"
I'd forgotten about that sign, and how it always used to give me a chuckle on the commute back up to the ranch, as I'd go past sweating like crazy... And then the grade begins.
Basically I-17 winds it's way around the side of a huge plateau, in big sweeping arcs as it climbs to the top at around 4,000' elevation. There's also two long downhill straights, each about a mile long, where I learned that my KZ-650 could do about... well, it could go really fast on those two downhill stretches. It was a lot of fun to carry a bunch of speed up over the crest, and then accelerate at wide-open throttle down the other side...
We climb and climb, smugly passing maybe a half-dozen cars stopped along the side of the road with their hoods up and steam coming out of the engine compartment. We're feeling pretty good, we're on a motorcycle and motorcycles simply don't have cooling problems, right?
Well - I watch the temperature gauge slowly go where it's never been before. Higher and higher we climb, and the temperature gauge does the same.
I think a bit - this is the kind of test an engineer might come up with to severely test the cooling system: extreme ambient temperature, 75-80 mph speeds, a passenger and a full load of luggage. That needle makes me nervous as it slowly goes higher and higher...
A few miles from the top, I realize that there's a lot less shame in cresting the top at 65-70 mph than there is in pushing the bike uphill in the 110ºF heat. We back off the pace just a tad, and the needle stabilizes just below the red zone.
Suddenly we're over the top edge of the plateau and the saguaros abruptly disappear. In their place are the low-slung prickly pear cactus, and lots of dried yellow grasses. In a few spots, there's evidence of brush fires - large patches of black. This is the desert after all...
Instead we let the bike cool while we sit under some shade. We refill our water bladders with fresh water, and talk about how hot it is. I used to stop here every morning on the way to school at MMI in Phoenix, and just pause for a few minutes to take in the scene below. The place would be empty then, and it would be about 55°F at that time of day in the high desert.
We take a few pictures, and then continue north to Cordes Junction for fuel.
Cordes Junction used to have two run-down truck stops and a few ragged houses scattered on the nearby hills. Now there are two convenience store / gas stations and a McDonalds, as well as new construction visible on the hills all around. Amazing - it seems McDonalds are everywhere now, in almost every small town across the US. I don't know if this is an improvement over the previous businesses or not, though. And the new housing - I can't figure out how people up here could make a living, there's little besides ranching and tourists.
North another ten miles or so, and we exit at the Orme-Dugas exit. The Orme Ranch is 3 miles west down a graded dirt road, the Dugas Ranch about 5 miles east down another graded dirt road. We're not going to visit the Orme Ranch, I wouldn't know anybody there now - plus there's really deep sand for about 1000' that I'd just as soon not deal with on the Concours - the memories of negotiating that sand on my old KZ-650 each morning are still pretty vivid.
Instead, Sharon's been wanting to see some Indian ruins. There are some (not developed or excavated - just ruins in the desert...) right at the exit, if you know where to look. We park the bike where the pavement ends, pile our gear on top of the seat to avoid fire ants, and take a walk into the desert among the mesquite bushes and prickly-pear cactus.
I'm hoping I can remember where they are... there! We walk among the ruins; there are 2-3 walled structures that haven't been used in centuries. Walls are only about 18" tall now, I'd guess.... It's haunting to walk among the ruins, while using just a little imagination. To think that hundreds of years ago people ate here and slept here, made love and had children here, probably tended a small farm below... all gone now. Just a few piles of rocks remain. Will I leave a more lasting impression? Somehow, I doubt it. What's left of these walls has been here for a very long time.
And then we talk about the Orme School and Ranch. I look over the two mesas in the distance, the school is right below and between them, but not visible from where we are. I've camped on each of those mesas, once with my then 5 year old nephew and another time with my then 6 year old niece. The land hasn't changed a bit, it's exactly as I remember it. I'm glad; I'm at ease again. This is a good place, with very good memories for me.
This is just all so pretty, and so familiar and comfortable.... I can see the faces of the students and the cooks and the cowboys and the mojados that I worked and lived with as if it was yesterday. But of course you can't go home again, the very best you can hope for is a nice visit. And that's what I'm having now, a nice visit, out here in the Arizona desert. Sharing the things I know about the place with somebody special, smiling and then being lost in thought for minutes at a time... This whole trip is turning into a wonderful trip down memory lane for me.
Sharon smiles, she understands perfectly. She's lived in places that were later torn down and it's as if a part of you goes away when the places you've lived no longer exist, or a place is changed too much.
We return to I-17, and take it north to AZ-169. Then AZ-169 west to the small town of Dewey, Arizona.
Dewey has grown too - why am I surprised? There are new homes all over the hills in the high desert around Dewey - where does the water come from? I assume wells; there are no canals up here. Wonder how long well water can last....
Out of Dewey, and now headed northwest on AZ-69 towards Prescott Valley and Prescott itself.
Prescott Valley used to be a small place with a couple gas stations, couple restaurants, and a handful of stores. Surrounded by rolling high desert, it always struck me as rather bland - especially when you consider that in Prescott, 5-10 miles away, you can have trees. But for whatever reason, Prescott Valley has matured - there's a mid-priced motel or two, and nice stores. More houses than I recall - and then we're through it.
A few minutes later, and outside Prescott we go from high desert to pine forests. We also see various chain stores, just like back home... I'm rather surprised at just how entrenched the name brands have become in small town America. I somehow hadn't realized it before this, since Pemberville Ohio seems immune to that sort of economic development.
We just graze the eastern edge of Prescott; we don't enter the town itself. Instead, we head northeast on US-89A towards Jerome.
And somewhere between Prescott and the base of Mingus Mountain, on the open range north of Prescott Valley where I rode my first BMW long ago, it hits me: I don't miss Arizona anymore. For almost 20 years I've been wanting to move back out west, to live in Arizona again. Suddenly, I don't - the craving is gone. Just like that. So while I'm still sad that Arizona has changed so much while I've been gone, it doesn't much matter to me anymore. It's over... a weight is lifted from my shoulders. I sigh contentedly, and we continue. We'll be home again in a week.
The road into Jerome is both familiar and wonderful; it consists of medium speed twisties climbing through the pine forests. Then over the top, with the Verde Valley and the red cliffs of Sedona spread out below, and then down into the former mining town of Jerome.
On the outskirts of Jerome, there are all kinds of mining relics. Jerome was a Phelps-Dodge copper mining town built on the side of Mingus Mountain, overlooking the Verde Valley below. A fairly modern town, it appears to have been abandoned in the late 1940s-early 1950s. But like many other ghost towns throughout the west, people started moving back to the old town - opening art studios and gift shops and restaurants. Nowadays, Jerome looks pretty much filled up. Houses are in good repair, most of the shops downtown have tenants, and Jerome even has a police force! Watch your speed passing through....
We ride down into the Verde Valley, and it's hot - again. A thermometer in Clarkdale says 102ºF, which I guess isn't as bad is it could be.... we continue north on 89A towards Sedona. The shadows are getting a bit long now.
On US-89A between Clarkdale and Sedona, the scenery is gorgeous. You leave the pine forests and high desert behind, and suddenly you're in a red desert with red sandstone buttes and mesas in all sorts of strange shapes. The red dirt is dotted with green brush, so there's a contrast between the red and green throughout. And besides all that, the sun is low so the scene is bathed in a reddish light.... The scenery around Sedona is the Arizona stereotype.
We pass through Sedona rather quickly, we're hungry but the sunlight is fading and we'd like to make it up Oak Creek Canyon to Flagstaff before calling it a night and grabbing a bite to eat.
Oak Creek Canyon is nice, but it's so dry... normally there's heavy traffic through the canyon in the summertime. One major reason is Slide Rock State Park, a natural water slide that draws visitors from all over during the summer months. Water has cut a trough in the sandstone, and the trough is lined with a very slippery moss. You sit down in the trough, let go, and are flushed down the slide. If you like ice-water enemas, slippery-slimey moss, and wearing a hole in the bottom of your denim cutoffs; this is your kind of place! On the other hand, if your tastes run more toward just watching everybody else their T-shirts cold and wet on a hot day, well.... there's normally plenty of that kind of scenery as well.
But this year, between drought and wildfires, Slide Rock State Park is closed. We motor past, not even allowed to pull off for a look-see. There's not much water in there this time around. Oh well, maybe next time...
We continue up to the head of the canyon, where US-89A follows a series of switchbacks up the face of a cliff. At the top, there's a scenic pullout that's not to be missed. It offers great views of the length of the canyon, as well as of the road snaking it's way up... But due to fire danger, it's closed too.
Above the top of the canyon, it's pine forests all the way to Flagstaff.
Along the way, it appears as though the forests have been cleaned recently - there are no loose twigs, all loose things have been bulldozed into a series of conical piles here and there, and the forest floor is mostly clean. Fire control measures, I assume. We watch the sky turn orange and pink as the sun goes down, out of our sight.
In Flagstaff, we find an older, inexpensive motel near a bunch of restaurants.... perfect! We can walk to dinner, so we do.
Dinner is Mexican - with two Margaritas to increase my salt intake in the heat. I've read that you need to get plenty of salt out here, and I'm trying...
After supper, we clean up and watch a bit of TV before turning in.
Not a lot of miles, but a pretty good day all in all. A good day isn't necessarily something that can be measured with numbers...