Shannon Campground on Mt Graham
by Ron & Robbie Rouse
It’s Thursday, October 23, 2003 and another beautiful day in Southeast Arizona. My wife Roberta (Robbie) and I just returned from our morning four mile run. I timed myself this morning and am buzzing over the improvement in the stop watch’s report. The thermometer outside says 72 degrees and here in Sierra Vista, the forecast calls for a high of 84.
Preparing our usual hot breakfast gives me time to think about the important things. The door behind me opens into the garage where our Blue, K1200GT is waiting. On the down side, the bike is kind of dirty. Late last week we made a quick day trip to Deming, NM. On the way back we were caught in a string of thunderstorms in Douglas. We shared a gourmet dinner at the Chevron Quick Mart and waited out the worst of the storms. Still we were caught in a couple of showers getting back to Sierra Vista. They weren’t worth donning the rain gear but the bike’s muffler is brown from the muck on the road and doesn’t look great. Glumly, I think I should probably wash the bike.
Offhand, I ask, “What would you think about a ride today?” Expecting something like, “You need to finish trimming the bushes,” Robbie surprises me a little bit with a quick, “Sure. Where to?” My oatmeal and banana are hastily abandoned as I jump at this opening. I’m already high from my four mile run and my mind is now abuzz trying to come up with a way to make the bike presentable and still have time for a nice ride. Then it comes to me. In the Deming BMW shop, after reading the directions on the container, I bought a spray can of Pro Honda, Spray Cleaner and Polish. It’s supposed to clean and polish any part of the bike! Maybe it won’t look great but I’ll give it a shot.
With the cleanup issue resolved in my mind, I move on to the ride itself. We drove the car to Safford and visited the Observatory on Mt Graham last year. We took the van tour from the Chamber of Commerce building. I put a record of the van ride up there, in my “Possible motorcycle ride locker” for future reference. Robbie thinks about it a minute and says, “It sounds good.”
After breakfast I get out the Microsoft Streets and Trips CD and check out the mileage. The computer says it’s 293.6 miles, roundtrip. I bounce it off the boss. After a short discussion, it’s a winner! The trip is on.
A quick trip to the garage and I locate the magic spray cleaner. In less than five minutes, the bike is smiling and ready to go. Well, OK, so it’s me smiling but the bike looks a lot better. Only I know it still needs washed.
By the time we’re cleaned up, armored, and ready to go, it’s 10:00 AM. The parameters I sat in the trip planner said we should be back in 6 hours and 15 minutes. That means 5 to 6:00 PM, if we stop for lunch. We’ll go with the bags in place for any “must have” items we encounter. The boss is on the back, the Chatterbox is working, and we’re off.
It’s a no-brainer from Sierra Vista to Benson and thanks to the cruise-control on this new bike; I don’t have to worry about the Huachuca City police. Once on I-10E, Exit 302, in Benson, the cruise-control is again placed in charge. The speed is set at a level where we shouldn’t be bothered and all is well. It’s a beautiful day and I always enjoy the huge rocks in Texas Canyon. The right lane of I-10E is rutted in places from all of the truck traffic, so occasionally I ride in the left lane for comfort. That and an occasional slow truck to pass are the only interruptions.
Watch out for US-191 South, Exit 344. It’s still 8 miles to the exit you want. You have to stay on I-10E until you reach Exit 352 and US-191 North, exactly 50 miles from Benson. There’s no gas station at Exit 352. Get it early or plan on riding into Safford for fuel.
The ride on US-191 North at this point isn’t exciting. The road is not very smooth and on this day, there are quite a few cars coming our way. As usual, there are some Border Patrol vehicles and in the midst of them, a State Police vehicle. He glares as he passes us. Ok, so maybe I could have exceeded 65 mph before I came over the hill. I was too far away for him to know for sure. We usually see law enforcement on this leg of the trip.
It’s 26.2 miles on US-191 until we reach Swift Trail Junction and turn left (southwest) on SR-366. A mile or so up SR-366, is the General Store on the right. It’s just before the State Prison on the left. The General Store catered our van trip to the Mt Graham Observatory last year. The sandwiches they provided were great! So today, we planned on buying sandwiches and having a little picnic on the mountain. The sandwiches are thick, fresh and priced at less than $4.00.
The store is kind of busy, so it takes Robbie about 10 minutes to procure the sandwiches. Sitting on the bench waiting, I wondered why everybody kept walking over my way. Then I realized I was sitting between the parking lot and the pay phone. That’s a hot spot in Swift Trail Junction, so you may want to sit somewhere else.
Sandwiches in hand, we head up the mountain. The Shannon Campground is 22.2 miles ahead. The road quickly gets steeper and provides some nice sweepers on a smooth, well maintained, 55 mph highway. Then there is a reduced speed sign and something about 35 mph. I’m enjoying the smooth easy ride and then……….this curve keeps getting sharper. I’m down to second gear, barely above idle speed but still rolling too fast. There isn’t time to shift. I pull in the clutch and nudge the rear brake. Robbie clears her throat, signaling we are too close to the edge of the road. We survived but I totally blew that curve. Embarrassing!
That was a surprise. The road has suddenly become much more challenging with little warning. I guess that’s what GORP meant when it noted: “Although paved and well maintained for 22.2 miles, State Rt. 366 is steep and curvy with switchbacks. An official state sign, near the beginning of Rt. 366, recommends vehicle TOTAL length not exceed 40 feet” I move into my “twisties” position and am ready for anything. Or so I thought. The road is clean and smooth. In places the views are great. Unfortunately a rider doesn’t get a chance to do much sightseeing.
It is very hard to see where the road is going. Some turns are angled steeply upward and do an uneven switchback in the direction you came from. Coming down the visibility is a little better. On the way up, BE CAREFUL. That first turn is a potential killer. Take it real easy until you get the first bad one. Then you’ll expect what’s coming. Some of the curves are worthy of first gear.
The 21.7 mile ride up to Shannon Campground is a real workout. I’m having a ball but Robbie isn’t quite so happy with it. From the passenger seat, she can’t see the road in front of us and is feeling a little queasy. It’s that twisty. At the lower altitudes, we did encounter a few cars on the way up. (Read 3-4) The road is in excellent condition. Occasionally, there are a few pieces of gravel but their location is predictable. We encountered gravel only where broken rock is clearly hanging out over the road. One tuft eared squirrel and a small, mule deer were about the only wildlife we saw on the way up.
After we turned right at the Shannon Campground sign, we left the pavement. It is then only .1 miles to the campground. This entry road is a bit rough. There is a small series of rock shelves but they aren’t difficult to navigate. There are 11 campsites and all are empty. The bear-proof trash bins serve well as camera tripods. We dismounted and carried our lunch to a nearby picnic table. We chose a shady spot as usual but soon decided to move into the sun. The temperature seemed to be in the low 60’s.The sandwiches were juicy and good, as before, and the cold drinks hit the spot. Bright yellow Aspens accented the rugged landscape.
The campground is located near Heliograph Peak at 9,100 feet. It has water faucets but they were already turned off. We had a nice lunch in a beautiful and secluded spot. There were no cars on the road and we were greeted only by a woodpecker, banging about in his usual way. The campground is officially open from May through October. I would imagine it depends on the snow. There were gates at different levels on the road up but none at the campground.
We finished lunch, snapped a couple of pictures, loaded up, and headed down the mountain. The descent was considerably faster and easier than the ride up had been. The bike’s heat gauge had been a little above normal on the way up but now it was running cooler. Our bike is less than two months old and isn’t quite yet due for it’s 6,000 mile service. Although it may not have been at the start, low gear is now fully “broken in”. I met a lot of the curves on the way down at 20-35 mph in first gear. I can’t speak for other bikes of course but our K12, two up, needed first gear to keep the speed down to that level. No wonder the bike was a little warm on the way up.
Knowing we’d get home just in time for the World Series, we simply reversed our route and headed home. The return was smooth and uneventful except for a familiar greeting from the car with the blue light on top. On US-90, several miles East of Benson, I realized we were closing on the rear of a representative of our great state. Taking the initiative, the officer pulled into a left turn lane that could only be used to make a U-turn. I pointed out this activity to Robbie and predicted the Black and White would stop on the exit. It did. The car stopped completely and the brake light went out, just long enough to illuminate us with the radar. As we passed at exactly 65 mph, it pulled out alongside us and slowly accelerated ahead. At the next turnout, our watchdog headed back toward Benson.
Arriving home at 5:05 PM I felt very good. What a nice day! We ran four miles in the morning, cleaned up the motorcycle, had a beautiful ride in the mountains, and were home just in time to watch the World Series on TV. This retirement life continues to be difficult!