Day 47: Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

Elevation gained: 5,560 ft/Miles 73/Total Miles: 2,391/Total Fast Food: 17

When I left the hotel this morning, my decision was to make it a short day and detour up Hwy 188 to Tonto National Monument, camping somewhere nearby. Assuming that breakfast would be my only real meal of the day, I stopped at a café and ordered almost one of everything from the breakfast section of the menu. As I’m closing in on home, I’m starting to think of “re-entry” and things that will need to change. One of these is the volume of food I am eating; the other is the pace at which I eat. I’m not sure the reason, but I am wolfing down my food at alarming speed. As I ate my meal, I’m certain I overheard my waitress speaking to another about the possibility of installing a spark arrestor on my silverware.

The ride to Tonto National Monument was a gradual climb to 3,800 ft followed by a beautiful, leisurely descent toward Theodore Roosevelt Lake. The only blemish on the wondrous scenery was the hundreds of Harleys rolling past me – motorcyling’s answer to the boom box. There must be a biker rally nearby, because they were everywhere. I was quite interested in visiting Tonto. It has a well preserved pair of cliff dwellings built by the Salado people and I wanted to see how they compared to the Anasazi ruins I have seen in Utah. Unfortunately, I arrived to find that the sites were closed due to an invasion of Africanized (aka “killer”) bees and I could only view the cliff dwellings from a remote distance.

Stopping back at the ranger station, I asked about camping sites in the area and also along Hwy 88, know as the Apache Trail. The response I got was: “You aren’t thinking of riding that with a bike, are you? You mean a dirtbike?” It turns out that the Apache Trail is unpaved for 22 miles of its length. As I left the ranger station, I struck up a conversation with a resident of the area and also asked him about it. Before responding, he asked me a number of questions about my ride including distances covered and mountains I had climbed. Then he said: “Son, I think you can do it.” With a split vote, I rode on to the National Forest Service office and spoke with one of the rangers there. While she wouldn’t advise me, she did have aerial photographs of the road and identified a number of places to camp along the way. I peddled off trying to make a decision, but with my thought process constantly interrupted by the stream of “brappping” Harleys riding past. They made my choice for me. I’d rather take my chances on the Apache Trail rather than listening to the Harleys for the rest of the day. I stopped briefly to take a look at Roosevelt Dam (which Teddy considered to be one of his top accomplishments while in office) and then headed west on Hwy 88.

Within two miles of the dam, the road turned from asphalt to dirt. Although the surface was graded, I was a bit concerned about possible damage to my rim or spokes. On some small descents the road would “washboard” causing jarring if I didn’t pay attention. I learned quickly that I had to slow down well in advance of the washes (where sand overflows the road from flooding). When you hit these at speed, it’s almost like losing control on ice. My forearms had a workout wrestling the bike to vertical until I learned to anticipate these areas. The other issue was the occasional SUV or truck. The passengers would roll by drinking their Big Gulps looking at me out of their air -conditioned vehicle as if I were a zoo animal. Most annoyingly, only a few of them had the sense to slow down when approaching, the remainder left me coated in a cloud of dust.

Despite this, today was the most beautiful part of my ride to date. Around ever corner was new visual delight. This road runs through a series of canyons containing several small lakes and reservoirs that provide water to the Phoenix area. In appearance, it looks like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon. And, for long stretches of time, I felt as if it were all mine. Clearly the local inhabitants were not expecting me. I would turn a corner and see cottontail rabbits and Gambel’s Quail scatter. As I came over one ridge, I saw a coati scamper into the brush. Bright crimson flowered Beavertail Cactus appeared along with enormous Saguaros and whip like Ocotillos with red blooming tips – all against the backdrop of the slow moving canyon water below.

My eyes were intoxicated by all that I saw. The phrase “achingly beautiful” has been used many times by others. Today, I understood what it means. My euphoria carried me past several possible camping sites, but only grew in intensity in the late afternoon. As the sun started to set, the canyon walls radiated varieties of green that I never knew existed in nature; all of them accented with the rust, umber and salmon hues of the declining light on the sandstone walls.

About two miles east of Tortilla Flat, the dirt road abruptly turned to asphalt again. I rode past the campground there and at Canyon Lake lost in my reverie and in the mountains silhouetted against the afterglow of sunset. To my right, I descended past Weaver’s Needle, a landmark used by many treasure hunters searching for the legendary fortunes of the Lost Dutchman Mine. As I continued my descent, I saw Venus rising near the sliver of the moon and heard a rout of coyotes addressing the evening with mournful wailing. I coasted through pools of cool, sage fragrant air at the bottom of each hill until, in the darkness, I found a campground and decided that even days like this must end.

10 Comments

Filed under Biking U.S.

10 responses to “Day 47: Lost Dutchman State Park, Apache Junction, Arizona

  1. P.J.

    Wow. Just wow. I’ve been jealous and inspired with each post entry, and I just want to say thanks to Mike. I treasure seeing that you have posted a new entry. I look forward to meeting you some day. This has been an awesome trip to follow. Thank you. P.J.

  2. Irene in MI

    Hi Mike!

    Irene here – Jan’s SAG driver. This is the first I’ve read your journal – what an enjoyable read – thank you for the subjective musings. Glad to read that you met up with Don again. Heard that you had a good time in Austin. I hope that your daughter felt good about her swimming, and that she and your wife had a good time on vacation!

    Jan is in Fort Hancock, Texas now, and it looks as though she’ll spend the three days that I’m in Madison Wisconsin (for a family wedding – that was part of my contract – a three-day leave in April!) in Las Cruces, NM – OUT of Texas! This is one big state, and we have met the most wonderful people and had some incredible serendipitous times, like quilting with a bunch of quilters who meet up in Fort Davis – so Jan rode a third day of what was supposed to have been a “non-riding day” (no longer referred to as “rest days”!). She’s getting stronger and enjoying the Journey.

    Your time and the trip sound fantastic – thanks so much for sharing.

    Irene (non-texter, but teachable!)

  3. Tim

    Wow, descriptions you provided in the last paragraphs of this entry… so literary – might be the best of your blog. I bet you’ll never forget you put this day’s diversion into your route.
    You’re inspiring me to organize my own journey. Maybe I can acquire ventures like these into my own life, and also share. Bless you !

  4. Fred Krebs

    Mike: your day ended and I am sorry your post ended–enjoyed reading it. I am experiencing the wonders of nature as well, but in a different way as I am stuck in London courtesy of Icelandic volcanoes. Worse places to be–not as beautiful as you saw today but a great walking city interesting in its own way.
    Fred

  5. Aileen

    Mike,

    Each blog is fantastic. You are a poet with word. You paint a beautiful picture with your choice of words. Can you do a round trip so we can “virtually” see the rest of the world? Head to Canada or down to Mexico???

  6. Doug

    “Re-entry”= Decompression. Shake it off and stay in the moment!

  7. Jan Schultheiss

    I really like the name: lost Dutchman … 😉
    Best from The Netherlands – Jan

  8. Cousin Deb

    Mike, As I read your descriptions of the southwestern country, it brought back memories of the family trip we made from Indiana south and then west to California in the 70’s. Mom,Dad,8 kids, in a station wagon, pulling a pop-up camper!! That was and adventure! I loved seeing the beautiful scenery & meeting people along the way. AHHH, those were the days! You should combine your blogs into a book!
    Looking forward to tomorrows news! Love ya. Be safe!

  9. Gkissiah

    We are thrilled to hear that you had such a great day! We visited Ephesus today. It was stunning and there were very few people at the site, probably due to the volcanic ash from Iceland. You get road dust, we get icelandic ash in turkey! We have a view of St. Johns church from our balcony, and an ancient mosque is just below the church. Tomorrow we are off to the coast areas.
    P.s. We have not bought a rug but did buy an incredible piece of pottery which we are having hand made in capadocia and shipped to us later this summer.

  10. noel

    The descriptions remind me of the lonely dirt roads meandering into nowhere off Hwy 50 deep in the Nevada desert. A route driven to Park City, UT for my first ever ski trip with my (now) wife.

    Strong pedaling… can’t wait to catch up when you’re back in CA.

    noel

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