On to the Edge of the Rocky Mountains… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

Desert lands can have great beauty.

Golden fields provide contrast to dark blue mountains, towering cumulus clouds and turquoise colored skies in eastern Arizona.

“…all of the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you are alive to see.” – from Jack Kerouac “On the Road”

I was on my bike and out of Winslow by 7:00 the next morning. Not to demean the good folks of the community and their historic Route 66 town, but I was eager to leave my motel experience of the night behind. The broad shoulder of Interstate 40 provided a wide berth between the constant stream of large trucks and me. A slight headwind hassled me, slowing down my progress, but it was less than many I had experienced— or would experience. Mainly, I was free to gawk at the vast expanse of desert and fluffy clouds.

The normal view of an 18 wheeler from the perspective of a bicyclist.

The normal view of an 18 wheeler from the perspective of a bicyclist.

Wide open country, fluffy clouds, a broad shoulder— and for the moment, no vehicles.

Wide open country, fluffy clouds, a broad shoulder— and for the moment, no vehicles.

One non-natural thing I gawked at was the huge Cholla coal-fired power plant belching out black smoke into the clear desert skies. My years of serving as the Executive Director of American Lung Association affiliates in California and Alaska had educated me on the tremendous health and environmental costs associated with coal-fired power plants. The long list of pollutants spewed out are related to both heart and lung diseases. Exposure can also damage the brain, eyes, skin, and breathing passages. It can affect the kidneys, nervous, and respiratory systems. As if this isn’t enough, pollutants from coal-fired plants are also a major factor in global warming and the mercury poisoning of fish. (The plant is now being decommissioned.)

The Cholla coal fired energy plant located between Winslow and Holbrook Arizona just off Interstate 40.

The Cholla coal-fired power plant located between Winslow and Holbrook, Arizona just off Interstate 40.

At Holbrook, I cut off of I-40 and picked up Arizona 180 with a goal of reaching Springerville, a town perched on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. I waved goodbye to I-40 and Route 66 as they set off for Albuquerque. And I said hello to petrified wood. Holbrook identifies itself as the gateway to the Petrified Forest National Park, which was set aside to preserve a 225-million-year old forest made up of stone trees. Petrified wood that exists in surrounding private lands can still be harvested, however. Another whole forest’s worth was for sale in Holbrook.  The town also emphasizes its connection with dinosaurs. (Peggy and I found a bunch as we drove through.)

One of several places in Holbrook Arizona that sells petrified wood.

One of several places in Holbrook, Arizona that sells petrified wood. This photo provides an idea of how large the pieces are. You are looking at lots and lots of potential book ends and table tops!

Fossils are found throughout the area. Wild Bill serves as an attraction to get people into the shop.

Fossils are found throughout the area. Wild Bill serves as an attraction to get people into the shop.

This dinosaur greeted Peggy and I as we drove out of town.

This dinosaur greeted Peggy and me as we drove out of town.

I think this sign was suggesting something about the route I had chosen.

I think this sign was suggesting something about the route I had chosen.

I followed AZ 180 east on bike for around 20 miles and reached the south entrance to the National Park. Since I had been through it before, I didn’t go in, but I did take advantage of the visitor’s center to refill my water bottles— always a good idea in the desert. I also checked out the petrified wood samples.

Arizona Highway 180.

Arizona Highway 180.

They did have petrified wood samples at the south entrance to Petrified Forest National Park. I have always been fascinated by the rocks.

They did have petrified wood samples at the south entrance to Petrified Forest National Park. I have always been fascinated by the rocks. Look closely and you can see the tree rings.

Immediately after the park, the road turned into a jumbled nightmare that had my bike crying ‘uncle’ in five minutes sharp. I told it to man-up and peddled on. The remoteness of the desert became more remote. I noted in my journal that I saw around four vehicles per hour.

I commented on the remoteness in a letter home to my father.

The isolation has an interesting impact on folks— they either love it or desperately want to escape. I spent the night in the small town of St. John. I’d planned on biking through, but a flat tire plus 60 miles persuaded me that the bicycling gods were suggesting I stop. The next morning, I was having breakfast in a small café when a woman and her teenage daughter came in. The woman made a beeline for me in a very predator-like fashion, like a hawk sweeping in on a mouse. She had blonde hair and two of the most intense blue eyes I have ever seen. I swear, Pop, she would have had me for breakfast had I been on the menu. She quickly slipped in that she was divorced. My guess was that there were slim pickings in St. John and an available man was an available man, even when his set of wheels was a bicycle.

But I wasn’t on the menu and I was soon bicycling the easy 25 miles into Springerville. I should have biked on for another 50, but the Rockies were looming and the next 50 miles involved climbing to the top. I holed up in a local campground and found it so pleasant I stayed the next day as well.

Storm clouds on the road into Springerville, Arizona.

Storm clouds on the road into Springerville, Arizona.(Note: The roads were in much better condition when Peggy and I drove over them.)

Just for fun, I rendered the same scene into a black and white photo.Which do you like? Which feels more threatening.

Just for fun, I rendered the same scene into a black and white photo.Which do you like? Which feels more threatening?

Speaking of threatening, I had little trouble transforming this cloud into a demon.

Speaking of threatening, I had little trouble transforming this cloud into a demon.

The region around Springerville is one of the major volcanic areas in the US, as the mounds of lava suggest.

The region around Springerville is one of the major volcanic areas in the US, as the mounds of lava suggest.

One expects to find barbed wire fences in the west. What made this one fun was that it was capturing tumble weed as it rolled across the plains.

One expects to find barbed wire fences in the west. What made this one fun was that it was capturing tumble weed as it rolled across the plains.

Peggy and I decided to visit the local museum in Springerville and check out its featured display on Casa Malpas, a prehistoric ceremonial site of the Mogollon Culture that was occupied between 1240 and 1350 CE. What we found was much more, including Rambo, the desert Big Horn.

Peggy and I decided to visit the local museum in Springerville and check out its featured display on Casa Malpais, a prehistoric ceremonial site of the Mogollon Culture that was occupied between 1240 and 1350 CE. What we found was much more, including Rambo, a desert Big Horn Sheep. I thought Rambo would fit right in at Burning Man. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

As expected we, did find an excellent display of artifacts from Casa Malpais.

As expected, we did find an excellent display of artifacts from Casa Malpais.

What was totally unexpected was a Rembrandt sketch.

What was totally unexpected was a Rembrandt sketch.

This photo provides an example of how full the museum was.

This photo provides an example of how full the museum was.

As Peggy and I retraced my bike route over the past couple of months and visited local museums along the way, we were struck by how friendly, knowledgeable and helpful local staff were. Sam Stack at the Springerville Museum is an excellent example.

As Peggy and I retraced my bike route over the past couple of months and visited local museums along the way, we were struck by how friendly, knowledgeable and helpful local staff were. Sam Stack at the Springerville Museum is an excellent example.

NEXT BLOG: It is up and over the Rocky Mountains where I bicycle 90 plus miles, stop off at Pie Town, and am impressed by a Very Large Array of radio telescopes that search for ET and are unlocking the early history of the Universe.

 

 

29 comments on “On to the Edge of the Rocky Mountains… The 10,000 Mile Bike Trek

    • Thanks Cindy. It’s been a blast reliving the route. I am amazed by how much I have forgotten. Good thing I have my minimalist journal and some of the letters I wrote home! 🙂 I am just glad they set aside the Petrified Forest National Park (thank you Teddy Roosevelt); otherwise the petrified there would be for sale as well! –Curt

  1. Beautiful landscape and photographs! I wasn’t aware that there is a petrified forests national park – will surely look it up and continue reading more of your cycling tales! Regards.

  2. What great photos of great countryside! Because we live in a green state where even our mountains are covered in forests, we crave that wide-open scenery and puffy clouds you share in this post. But we’re also fascinated by that antique pottery and petrified wood (which I’ve never seen). Thanks for the tour even though I still can’t believe you were out there on a bike with no cell phone! Egad.

    • Laughing about the cell phone, Rusha. There was a certain freedom just being free of its tyranny, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I am a Westerner at heart because of the vast open spaces, but there is also plenty of beauty where you live. My trek took me across Tennessee and up the Blue Ridge Highway… all in future blogs. Crossing up and over The Great Smokey Mountains, I was even close to where you live. –Curt

    • Thanks Susan. I agree with you. Another blogger friend of mine, Linda at Shoreacres, said she likes the complexity of color in reflecting something like a storm. –Curt

  3. Amazing photos and how moving it must be for you to retrace this trip.
    To answer your question color versus black and white for the photo? Black and white makes the stormy clouds more threatening.

    • My thoughts on the clouds as well, Evelyne. And thanks on the photos. Retracing the route has indeed been moving. Each day I am reminded of the great diversity and the beauty. –Curt

  4. Fantastic! There is such beauty in the wide open spaces of the U.S. Really fun to be following you on this journey as I’m telling Woon Chi’s story on my blog. Looking forward to the next post! 🙂

  5. When you said you found a bunch of dinosaurs, I wasn’t sure if you meant fossils or folks a tad behind the times. I fear I’ve been the later on occasion…

  6. I’d be the one singing “Kodachrome” along the road — I can’t get over a feeling that everything does look worse in black and white. B&W storm photos look flat to me. I want the varying colors, so I can judge what’s going on. And, truth to tell, most storms aren’t black and white at all. They’re far more complex and beautiful.

    All that aside, I loved particularly the barbed wire, tumbleweed-catching fence. That’s how I got my tumbleweed in Kansas — pulled it out of a fence. They’re actually Russian thistle, as i’m sure you know. Have you ever seen the greatest short film ever, called “Tumbleweed!”? It’s so great. It’s only seven minutes, but it’s a gem.

    • I like both, Linda. Maybe it is the old soul in me that was forever captured by the photography of Ansel Adams. Tried to download Tumbleweed but my satellite link wasn’t cooperating. Will get it later. Did come on one of my old favorites on tumbleweed by the Sons of the Pioneers though. Talk about oldies. 🙂 –Curt

      • I used to listen to the Sons of the Pioneers sing that song (and others) on the noon market reports when I was growing up in Iowa. Had to keep up with those corn and soybean prices!

      • Why is the name Allis-Chalmers bouncing around in my head? Did the company sponsor those reports? You are making me think of ancient history. 🙂 My early Sons of the Pioneers sessions were at my grandfathers. He had a record and would play it at my request, which I did often. I still find myself breaking out in a rendition of Ghost Riders in the Sky on occasion. –Curt

      • Actually, the show aired out of WHO in Des Moines, and I think it was Pioneer Seed Corn that sponsored it — natural tie-in, that. I do remember that it was a fifteen minute show. Now I’m wanting some creamed eggs on toast — a common lunch dish in those days.

      • We had creamed eggs on toast too, along with some type of thin-sliced salty meat, whose name I can’t remember. We listened to a 15 minute farm report as well, but I don’t think it was on purpose. 🙂 –Curt

  7. I just revisited the Petrified Forest this spring. It made a much bigger impression on me now than it did when I was a teenager. There’s a lot to love about Arizona. I’m starting to understand why people retire there. (I’d be one of the ones who love the isolation.)

    • While the petrified forest lacks the grandeur of its Arizona cousins like the Grand Canyon or Sedona, there is something about petrified logs scattered everywhere over the ground that captures the imagination. Also, did you see the petroglyphs? –Curt

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