A Brunch on the Way to Alpine

Deryle & Wanda Mehrten

August 2012

Part I:  Getting to the Brunch.

This is the eighth year that BMW MOA Ambassador Steve Cantrill has hosted his Ambassador Brunch at his home in Payson, Arizona.  This year it was hot dogs and hamburgers that greeted the collection of BMW riders that made it to Steve’s annual event on Sunday the 26th of August.  Steve says he does the brunch to give back to the folks who were gracious enough to nominate him for MOA Ambassadorship.   For quite a few years he was the Editor of the monthly newsletter for the PITS BMW Motorcycle Club, now the AZBeemers, and has volunteered many hours at past BMW MOA and RA Nationals. 

Wanda and I have been to most of Steve’s brunches.  Last year quite a few SEAT members [South East Arizona Touring Riders, BMW MOA # 213] stopped to enjoy a late breakfast after “The Guy Standin’ on the Corner” SEAT Overnighter in Winslow, Arizona.  This year Wanda and I were the only out-of-town SEAT members there.  Lots of folks from the AZBeemers were the mainstay this year, the very guys and gals that Steve rides with and who insured his many years as the PITS Editor and MOA volunteer didn't go unnoticed.  Local SEAT members Dick and Sioux Prince were co-hosts this year as Barbara, Steve’s significant other, was out of town.  Needless to say the brunch was a hoot, even if we didn’t get a hamburger [insert smiley face here].  
For us, Steve’s brunch would be the excuse for a two night, three day ride across our favorite state - Arizona.  We would spend Saturday night in Payson, enjoying Steve’s brunch Sunday morning, then spend the second night in Alpine at the Sportsman’s Lodge.  Day three would be down Highway 180 and home.  The plan was to do a bit of site seeing and to make sure we had the SEAT October Fest Overnighter’s dinner all set up at the Alpine Grill.  No problem - our two night stay at the Sportsman’s Lodge is booked and the Saturday night SEAT dinner is now on the Grill’s calendar.  As far as site seeing goes…read on.

To get to Payson we planned a nice ‘round about ride through Tucson Saturday morning, taking Park Link Road, a “Shortcut, Long Cut and Way Around”, to Highway 79 - The Pinal Pioneer Parkway.  The Parkway is a mellow back road to Florence and at about mile marker 115 is the Tom Mix Memorial, an excellent rest stop and a photo op for sure.  A nice history of Tom Mix was taped onto the table just behind the concrete and stone monument.  The monument was erected to memorialize one of the all-time great early motion picture cowboy movie stars who tragically died near here.  Seems he drove his Cord off the road and died of multiple injuries, least of which was the blow to the back of his head by his jewel and cash laden suitcase.  The wash that took the brunt of his Cord’s coffin shaped nose is now named in his honor.  Tough way to get something named after you.
It’s been a year or so since we rode through Florence.  The city of Florence has got to be the jail capital of Arizona.  There are at least four or five “correctional facilities” on the east side of Highway 79 as you pass through town.  Lots of barbed wire and concertina wire-toped fences surrounding some serious looking buildings.  We stopped to get gas right across the street from one of the more ominous looking facilities and got going post haste.  Not really the place to hang around very long.
 
At Florence Junction, only a few miles north where Highway 79 ends at Highway 60, we headed east along a very scenic section of Highway 60 through the southern tip of the Tonto National Forest.   The past copper mining town of Superior was just up the road.  After some very lean years Superior appears to have gained a bit of vitality back.  Not too long ago it seemed like all the buildings lining the sides of Highway 60 coming into town were boarded up.  Now there’s a gaggle of roadside tourist shops to capture the traveler’s fancy.  We elected to save our money and continued east to Miami, another mining town that has seen better days.

About halfway between Superior and Miami is the Top-of-the-World district.  At one time supposedly the largest brothel in Arizona operated here.  The owners were so brazen back then they advertised their services in a Phoenix newspaper.  The Phoenix Sheriff decided that was just too much and rode out and busted the whole operation.  Arizona has a colorful past, to say the least.  

As you come into Miami you can see the now out-of-business copper mine’s smoke stack still standing up on a mountain of mine tailings.  It looks petty rickety and maybe even leaning a bit to one side.  One of these days they’ll drop it with explosives like they did the two towers at the closed mine in San Manuel.  The San Manual demolition made the evening news.  It’d be neat to see the stack in Miami brought down the same way.
 
We ended up stopping in Miami for a most excellent hamburger and fries at a local café appropriately named The Burger House.  Several locals were there when we came in and within a few minutes the place was packed.  Obviously we hit upon the best fast food place in town.  Our order was up in just a few minutes and we enjoyed listening to the locals talk about their daily lives.  It was a really good lunch stop.

Highway 188, the turn off to Roosevelt Lake and Roosevelt Dam, is just past Miami.  It runs along the west side of Lake Roosevelt and comes to a T at The Beeline Highway, Highway 89.  In days gone by the peak before the lake was a narrow two lane road that would scare the crap out of you if a big RV came over the hill at the same time.  Even though it’s been widened and smoothed out over the years, the speed limits are set pretty low through here.  Hard to keep from zooming right along.
Drought conditions these last few years have lowered the water level of the lake dramatically from the last time we rode by. In years not so long ago we’ve seen the water level way up on the dam and even under many of the bridges/overpasses along the lake.  Not so this year, it was way down.  Hopefully the rainy season we’re having, one of the best in quite a few years, will be enough to raise the water level a bit.  We’ll see.

As usual the temperatures along the lake were right up there.  The GT’s dash showed a high of 98 degrees Fahrenheit just about the entire length of the lake.  Combined with a humidity rate of 70 to 80 percent and it was sticky hot.  We stopped at the Vineyard Picnic/Rest Stop, the only fee free area along the lake, to drink a Gatorade and check out the water level close up.  Never mind checking out the water level “close up”, it was too far out to walk!  We did have the entire rest stop to ourselves and parked the GT in the only shady spot around.  Living in the Desert Southwest we’re always on the lookout for shade.

Part of our site seeing plans during our ride-about was to veer off Highway 89 and check out Gisela, a small town about five miles off the highway.  We were told by an area local that Gisela has a waterfall that is spectacular when the monsoon rains are in full swing.  From the weather reports we’ve been following, the rain along the Mogollon Rim has been pretty good.  But…with the heat still in the high 80’s and huge white, puffy clouds building up on the horizon just where we were headed, we decided to put Gisela on hold.  Next time.

On up Highway 89 past the turn off to Gisela is the town of Rye.  You’ll find one of the biggest motorcycle junkyards around in Rye.  Think of a past old bike you’ve owned and you will probably find one or two buried in the heap.  The owner is a bit eccentric and a bit long in the tooth.  We’ve heard some interesting stories about him; I believe he was on an episode of Arizona Highways. Unfortunately the only restaurant in Rye, right next door to the pile of bikes, has closed.  We’ve stopped on more than one ride through Rye to check out all the rusted iron and eat there and it was always good.  Although a big OPEN sign is still perched on top of the front door, the weeds growing up through the asphalt parking lot tell a different story.
 
From Rye it’s just a few miles to Payson and our stop for the night.  We decided to stay at the Days Inn right next to the Buffalo Bar and Grill.  Many moons ago we were coming into Payson not expecting to spend the night when a monsoon downfall literally blinded us, forcing us to pull into the first parking lot we came to.  Lo and behold it was the parking lot of the Days Inn.  The indoor pool and hot tub were a real bonus.  Unfortunately the hot tub was out of commission this stay, bummer.  

After waiting for the usual afternoon monsoon rain to subside, it was a short walk across a parking lot or two to the Buffalo Bar and Grill.  We enjoyed an excellent dinner of shrimp and fish with a couple of brewskies, and retired to our room around 7:30.  A nice end to an excellent day’s ride.
 
Part II:  On to Alpine.

Sunday morning was clear and sunny and by the time we left for Steve’s Ambassador Brunch about 10 am it was already in the 70’s.  I don’t believe Steve has had his annual brunch in the same house twice in a row and this year was no different, he’d moved since his last brunch.  To find his new abode we used one of those real estate maps you find in every hotel lobby in the world.  By the time we got to his house, parking along the street was already filled with motorcycles and several bikes were parked up on the driveway.  We must have been the last bike to ride up.  Fellow SEAT members Dick and Sioux Prince greeted us as we walked up the driveway to the front of the house.  We haven’t seen Dick and Sioux for a month or twelve.  They had a very bad accident several years back.  It was good to see they were healthy and still riding.

Brunch was being served on the back patio where close to 30 folks were enjoying the hamburgers and hot dogs coming off the grill.  The burgers went fast and the hot dogs were going just as fast.  One of the couples making the brunch brought a salmon plate with veggie trimmings for the late comers to enjoy.  We wandered around the house for a while chatting with folks, some we knew, more we didn’t.  After I’d taken the requisite number of pictures and annoyed the requisite number of folks, we said our good byes and slipped out about 11:15.  With some site seeing planned for the day, we had a 190 plus mile ride over to Alpine.  We didn’t want to get started too late.
 
Our route for the day would be the Zane Grey Highway, Highway 260.  We’ve ridden Highway 260 several times on five different motorcycles and were looking forward to the scenic ride through the Tonto, Sitgreaves and Apache National Forests.  This is the Mogollon Rim, a natural stretch of high country and pine forest that runs all the way to New Mexico.  How the road has changed over the years.  What was once a winding two lane highway right out of Payson is now a four lane divided highway.  Wide open stretches with big sweeping curves made it way to easy to get to trucking along at more than the local LEOs would allow.  Had to keep my right wrist under control.

At about 20 miles from Payson there’s some serious construction going on.  Two new bridges or overpasses are being built or rebuilt, not sure which.  The four lanes of divided highway come down to two for several miles.  An Arizona Highway Patrol was parked at the constriction insuring we would all obey the reduced speed limit.  Thankfully the detour was paved and was no problem.  Per the notices posted along the way the construction will continue into late 2013.
 
Not too much further east we stopped at the Mogollon Rim Visitors Center.  The sign above the entrance proclaimed we were at 7,500 feet.  Around the back of the center there’s a wooden deck with an expansive view of the forest below.  Inside the center you’ll find the standard selection of books, maps and trinkets for sale.  After chatting with one of the Rangers for a few minutes, we stuffed a few dollars in the donation jar and geared up to continue east. 
 
Before coming into Heber the highway narrows down to two lanes and you begin to see the devastation caused by the Rodeo-Chediski Fire that swept through here some ten years ago.  Per the local rangers it will be another 20 to 30 years before the forest recovers.  The town of Heber right in the middle of the flames really dodged a bullet; it could have been gone in minutes.  After our experience with the Monument Fire in our neighborhood we have a very different view of forest fires.  Really scary stuff.  
 
It was getting to be mid-afternoon as we came into Show Low and the afternoon monsoon cloud build up was in full force.  Dark, black skies were slowly surrounding us.  It was definitely going to rain on us this leg, hopefully not like the deluge we suffered through in New Orleans this past May.  We donned our Frogg Toggs and prepared for the worst.  Before Pinetop-Lakeside the sprinkles started.  As we rode past the Hon-Dah Indian Casino and entered the White Mountain Apache Indian Reservation, the sky opened up.  We followed a small sedan for a few miles.  The tracks the car made - or didn’t make - gave us a good indication of how wet the road was.  There were several stretches of no tracks.  Lots of water coming down.
 
Another of our site seeing plans was not going to happen thanks to the monsoonal dump.  Highway 273 south off of Highway 260 has seen new pavement down to the Highway 261 junction.  It is now part of a nice loop down to Big Lake through some of Arizona’s prime ski areas.   The road from Big Lake back to Highway 260 is an awesome piece of motorcycle friendly road.  Just too much rain and it didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon.  Like Gisela - next time.

From Springerville down past the Nelson Reservoir the rain varied from heavy to outreageous.  There are several sections through here where the rain comes down off the side of the mountains and rips across the road.  The last ride we took on our past 2000 Moto Guzzi Quota was through here under similar conditions.  I remember feeling the Quota hydroplane a couple of times on that trip.  Best to keep the pace way down and be smooth - very, very smooth.  A mile or so from Alpine the rain slowed to a sprinkle.  As we pulled into the Sportsman’s Lodge parking lot the rain quit all together.  Fitting isn’t it.

Frank Barnes, who along with his lovely wife Phyllis own and operate the lodge, was pushing the cleaning cart along the walkway in front of the rooms and immediately greeted us with his always there friendly smile.  Frank and the rest of Alpine were evacuated last year thanks to the Bear Wallow fire that blossomed into one of the largest forest fires ever.  The floods that came after the fire threatened to wipe him out as well.  His parking lot was three to four feet deep in mud and debris.  He has pictures that will blow your mind.  
 
After checking into our room and laying out our Toggs to dry, we were ready to head over to the Alpine Grill and the Lollipop Shop for dinner and some sugar free candy.  On the way it didn’t hurt to stop at Ye Olde Tavern for a Bourbon and beer chaser - I’d drink the bourbon and we’d share the beer.  The only foreigners there, we joined about ten locals sitting at the bar talking local talk.  This is where the annual Alpine Worm Race is held.  Fitting it would be held in a bar, doncha think.

After polishing off our drinks, it was off to the Alpine Grill.  This is where we are planning to have the Saturday night dinner at the SEAT October Fest Overnighter on the third weekend in October.  We called the restaurant a month or two back, but it pays to visit and make sure everything is copasetic.  The young lady who took our order also took one of our SEAT Club Cards and insured us we were on the calendar and the card was in the register so the owners would see it.  We tipped her accordingly.

While we were waiting for dinner to be served, a visit to the Lollipop Shop was in order.  If you’re into taffy, they got it; like some of the older candy bars that are getting hard to find, they got ‘em; looking for sugar free candy to help keep your diabetes under control, they got a bunch.  My share of the pig-out was a quarter pound lump of rum soaked fudge - decadent and soooo good.  Most of the candy would make it home; some would be consumed as soon as we got back to our table and our glasses of wine.

Dinner was excellent and so was the service.  We headed back to the lodge about 6 pm, filled to the brim and feeling pretty good about surviving the monsoonal rains.  Feeling good enough to stop for another round at Yea Olde Tavern.  Like before dinner we were the only non-locals there.  By this time in the evening it was easy to start up a conversation and we got to meet Carol Ann.  She and her father worked and played with John Wayne when he came out to oversee and manage his cattle ranches in this corner of Arizona.  She told a few stories of days past that held our attention.  It was our privilege talking to Carol Ann and we look forward to seeing her again this October.

That was enough for the night.  Lights out and TV off by 8 pm - we were pooped.  Another great day!
 
Part III:  Homeward Bound.

At 6 am our alarm (actually our do-just-about-everything-you-could-imagine phone) made that weird sound digital things make.  Getting up at 6 would give us plenty of time to shower and pack everything up so we could have breakfast at the Bear Wallow Café and be on the road about 7:30.  The Bear Wallow does good food – breakfast, lunch and dinner – a good place.  The locals tend to eat breakfast here as evidenced by just about everyone who came in saying hello to the waitresses, calling each other by their first names.  We did the standard eggs, bacon and toast thing.  Good.

Our smart phone told us it would be in the high 50s to low 60s when we started down Highway 180.  That’s cool enough to warrant long sleeved shirts and our Forgg Toggs tops.  Highway 180 drops in elevation pretty quickly as it comes into New Mexico and heads south to Glenwood.  This is another one of those great motorcycle roads we all talk about, swoopy turns with little to no traffic.  Even the recent chip seal didn’t dampen the fun.  We barely made it 30 miles to a scenic overlook before we had to stop and take off the Frogg Toggs tops, too hot.  The day was warming up faster than we anticipated.
 
About 60 miles south of Alpine the small town of Glenwood has been a favorite gas and food stop on many of our rides up and down Highway 180.  The only station in town use to be a Chevron station and we carry a Chevron credit card making it a convenient gas stop.  The best place for breakfast is The Golden Girls Café located in an older home converted into a cafe.  They advertise 25 cent coffee and open at the crack of dawn.  We’ve breakfasted there several times and it’s always been good.  For lunch or dinner it’s the Blue Front Bar and Café owned and operated by Bucky Allred.  The burgers there are huge and the beer is always cold.  Nice laid back atmosphere as well.

Due to the fire and the potential flood hazard the Catwalk is closed.  When we came through Glenwood this past June there was a sign explaining that the Catwalk picnic area was closed so that all the fixtures, including the benches, tables, signs, everything that could be moved was being moved out.  The Whitewater Creek that comes down from the Gila National Forest and cuts right through Glenwood was expected to flood and anything not moved would be destroyed.  Through town the creek has been heavily fortified in anticipation of flooding.  Considering the amount of damage the Whitewater-Baldy fire did to the Gila National Forest, the potential for flooding is off the scale.  
 
Our next stop would be the Leopold Vista about 12 miles south of Glenwood for coffee and cookies.  The Vista offers a panoramic view of the Gila Mountains where the Whitewater-Baldy fire ripped through.  On our way back from the SEAT Overnighter in June we could see the rapidly growing fire from the road.  We stopped at the Leopold Vista and took pictures of the fire as it flared up in the morning winds.  Two firefighters on bulldozer duty pulled into the Vista while we were there and gave us some firsthand information about the devastation the fire had caused.  We stopped again this ride-about and took several pictures from the same location and angle we did back in June. A lot of burned out trees are easily visible.  Forest fires are really scary. 
 
Another three miles or so farther south we turned south on Highway 78 and rode past the Mule Creek Post Office.  Highway 78 starts the decent into Arizona and there are at least three washes that cross the highway before the Arizona border that could be flowing this time of year.  We’ve seen them as high as two feet deep in mud and water.  Monsoon rains can move a lot of dirt and rocks onto the road.  Just about every wash and low point showed signs of water recently flowing through, but they were all dry and clear.  
 
It’s fifteen miles from Highway 180 to the Arizona border.  From there the drop down into Arizona gets really steep with some low gear sweepers and a couple of first gear switchbacks coming down into the valley.  The view just before the drop is awesome and explains the popularity of this route with motorcyclists.  You can just see the old drive-in movie screen from one of the overlooks that has marked the junction of Highways 70, 78 and 191 for over twenty years that we are aware of.  The small general store on one corner and the gas pumps on the other corner must have been here forever and make up Three Way.  This is where we pick up Highway 191 to Safford.
 
Once across the new bridge over the Gila River it’s about 30 miles from Three Way to the junction of Highway 191 and Highway 70 – The Old West Highway.  The road is wide open sparsely traveled through here and it doesn’t take much to get into a bit of high speed sports touring.  A year or so back we got a Wasting Finite Resources ticket for doing 72 in a 55 zone along here, so we know Law Enforcement Officers can be on the lurk.  I kept the GT down to cough, cough, mumble, mumble miles per hour as we headed toward Safford.

Safford would be our last gas stop.  There’s a Chevron gas station right at the junction where Highway 191 heads south to I-10, and Highway 70 continues west through the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation to Globe.  While I was gassing the GT, Wanda went into the convenience store and filled the Camelback with ice.  Once down from the high country it gets warm pretty fast.  Carrying a Camelback that we can both easily drink from as we ride along really helps fight the heat and we feel better at the end of the ride.
Construction on Highway 191 to widen the road to four-lane divided has been going on for years.  We’ve put up with it for just as many years.  About three or four years ago we discovered the Bonita/Fort Grant Road had been paved all the way from Willcox to the junction of the Bonita/Fort Grand Road and Highway 266.  This is the way to go.  It’s a enjoyable, winding back road through the tail end of the Coronado National Forest.  As you crest the high point at about mile marker 115 the temperature can be as much as 15 degrees cooler than Safford.  The difference between 107 and 92 is significant. 

There’s a small pull off at the junction of Highway 266 and The Bonita/Fort Grant Road with a big oak tree that provides a nice patch of shade.  A chain link fence keeps folks out of the old Bonita General Store, long out of business.  This is one of our favorite stops for coffee and a snack.  You can see the Mount Graham Observatory on the top of the mountains to the north, and Fort Grant, now a prison, about three miles away on the side of the mountain.  We rode up to the Prison Administration Building a year or ten back as we’d heard there was a small museum there.  The Administration Building was closed and we felt a bit conspicuous.  Factoid:  Bill the Kid committed his first murder in Bonita. 
 
From Bonita to Willcox it’s a pleasant ride through Arizona’s version of rural American farm land.  There are corn crops and orchards on both sides of the road.  Signs advertise farm products and try to get travelers to stop and enjoy farm fresh fruits and vegetables.  Apple Annie’s Farm advertises in Tucson and a few schools do field trips to Annie’s.  Euro Fresh has a crop of huge green houses along the route.  There’s a meat packer on Meat Packer Road.  The Crop Circle Winery though didn’t make it this year. Like the Rye Restaurant the sign on the door says Open, the real estate For Sale sign and the weeds filling the parking lot say Closed.

Coming up to Willcox it was time to make our decision on the final leg home.  the preferred route, cutting through Willcox and down Kansas Settlement Road with a stop for a latte in Bisbee, would add close to 50 miles and about an hour and a half.  Taking a bit of I-10 to Benson then south through Saint David to Tombstone and Charleston Road would add about 10 miles.  If we stopped for a cold one at the Crystal Palace it would add about an hour and a half.  Straight down I-10 to Highway 90 then south to home is the quickest route, about an hour.  The afternoon monsoon clouds building up south of the freeway and the winds picking up to 20-30 miles per hour made our decision easy.  Time to hustle home.
 

The monsoon rains weren’t quite done with us though.  In the gap between Huachuca City and Sierra Vista huge rain drops the size of tennis balls began to fall.  Only five miles from home…to hell with it…we rode the last few miles in the rain.  Of course it stopped raining just as we pulled into our driveway. 

Home - safe and sound.

 

Epilogue:  Some Details.

This trip Wanda was the onboard camera lady.  She shot something like 400 pictures from the back seat.  I could feel the wind pressure change when she would stick the camera out to the side.  When she put it over my head, it felt like she was pushing down on my helmet.  She got some great shots of Highway 260 right up to when the rains hit.  She had to put the camera away, we wouldn’t have seen anything but water on the lens anyway.

The trip was just shy of 750 miles with about 90 miles on the I-10 Freeway, 55 going and 35 returning.  Amazingly we averaged 47.1 miles per gallon [the GT’s dashboard had us averaging 50.5].  Total cost of the trip (gas, food and lodging) was about $350, not bad really. 

Our Metzeler Z8 Interacts held the road well and gave me no issues in any of the rain stints.  We run a 120/70ZR17 (58W) front and a 180/55ZR17 (73W)(C) rear.  The morning we left I put 41 psi in the front and 43 psi in the rear.  They didn’t need filling or deflating on the trip, and now have 5,700 miles and are still looking good. 

The bike used no oil that I can tell.  With 72,124 miles on the odometer at trip’s end, the ’08 K1200GT ran beautifully all the way.

An excellent Arizona ride-about!

 

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