Monday, July 14, 2008

And so it begins - New Mexico Tour


Matt's tour adventures this year began before he ever got on his bike. The plan was to give him a head start by driving 3-1/2 hours to the Granville Campground in the foothills of the White Mountains on Saturday. We would camp there together, and then he would set out the next morning on his bike while I returned home.

Fair warning: this is a long post!

Matt had to conduct an IBA birding survey on the San Pedro River Saturday morning, so he spent Friday night at a motel in San Manuel in order to rise at 4:30 a.m. The riparian habitat he saw was amazing as he tromped through it seeking and finding hawk nests, yellow billed cuckoos, and Southwestern willow flycatchers. He arrived home about 1:30 p.m., finished packing up, and we left for the campground at 4:00.

The trip there was mostly uneventful, except for the speeding ticket I got on highway 191 on the way to Safford (hi, Officer Peru!). This was my first speeding ticket since high school, and both now and then, I was doing 70 in a 55 mile zone. Stupidly, I was speeding in a construction zone, but no one was working on Saturday evening and we were making good time, so why slow down for the 4 miles of construction? A half mile from the end of the zone, I met a Highway Patrol officer going the other way, and he turned around and pulled me over. Officer Peru generously gave me a 64 in a 55 mph speed limit ticket, so the fee is only about 50 bucks and it won't go on my driving record. The speed limits in Arizona are so high that I rarely go more than 5 miles over the posted limit, so I will stick to that habit more consistently in the future!

Our brush the with law over, we passed through the Mormon town of Safford, turned at the junction in the hamlet of Three Way, Arizona (where there is an abandoned drive-in theater with the screen still in great shape -- a perfect outdoor revival house waiting to be revived), went over a pass and came to the mining towns of Clifton and Morenci. The original town of Morenci was buried years ago by tailings from the ginormous Phelps Dodge Morenci Mine, which is one of the largest open pit mines in the world, and the biggest copper operation in North America. It extends 10 miles along an extremely windy road with many hairpin turns. Driving through it is a little bit like being on an amusement park ride, with lot of giant piles of rocks, conveyor belts, unbelievably huge cranes and dump trucks, and moving equipment everywhere. Only it's not so amusing seeing the destruction from the mine so close up.

Squint and you can see the beginning of the mine -- it's the spot of bare earth in the distance.

We arrived at the empty campground around 7:45, set up our tent and made dinner. It had rained a little before we arrived and the ground was still damp. Everything smelled clean and wet, with the scent of cedar (there were oak and cypress trees; I'm not sure where the cedar smell came from). When dinner was almost ready, my cell phone starting buzzing in my back pocket. It was our home alarm system notifying us that the burglar alarm was going off. We had just had it installed at the beginning of June and had a false alarm a few weeks ago, so we were annoyed but not too concerned. We called a neighbor, who walked over to check out the front of the house, but didn't see anything. She didn't want to walk around back because it was dark, and since we thought it was another false alarm, we didn't worry about it. About a half an hour later we got a call from a Tucson Police Department officer telling us that our house had been broken into.

Another neighbor had called the police when they heard the (very loud) alarm. Several other neighbors gathered to see what the commotion was. The officer got my cell phone number from our friend Celine, and called to tell me that someone had thrown a rock through our back bathroom window, unlatched it and opened the window. He said there had been no entry into the house. Celine and her husband Dylan most generously stayed after the police left to clean up broken glass, tape up the window with cardboard, and look after our 2 cats. Unfortunately, Gila was nowhere to be found inside or out. We were certain he had jumped out the open window and escaped out the open side gate.

As soon as we learned that Gila was missing, we packed up camp and left for home. Gila might come when we called, but he would probably be too scared to come for anyone else, and who knows where he was? We departed the campground at 10:30 p.m. We kept passing landmarks with Gila in their name (Gila Box Conservation Area, Gila River), and also passed 2 animal shelters. We tried to keep dark thoughts away by listening to tunes from the iPod and tried to stave off sleep with nothing except a couple of Altoids.

We arrived home a little before 2:00 a.m. I could not believe my eyes when I saw Gila waiting with Yeti inside at the front door when we came in. He must have had an awfully good hiding place! The trip back was a waste of gas, but we couldn't have been happier with the outcome.

It turned out that the intruder had come inside the house, into my office off the bathroom. It looked like they pulled out my keyboard tray looking for my laptop (but it was locked up out of sight), and they pulled our smoke detector off the wall (thinking it was the source of the alarm?). But nothing was missing. Amazing. We felt very lucky that we have such great neighbors and that we installed the alarm when we did!

The next morning, we put a piece of plywood up over the broken window. Ironically, it was a double paned window that already had a problem with condensation in between the panes. We had been needing the replace the window for a while already, so it was the best one they could have chosen to break!

We discussed our options over breakfast and decided that Matt shouldn't have to give up his trip over this mishap. We headed back to the Granville Campground on Sunday to do it all over again, but this time I would be coming back the same night.

We made it to the (still empty) campground around 5:00 p.m. Matt picked a different site for his solo stay and I had a quick nap while he unloaded the car. It was a little harder to say goodbye than it would have been if Matt were taking off on his bike. At 6:45 I had to leave him to fend for himself. He was making plans to keep busy by seeing how much of his stuff he could fit in his little tent and trying to raccoon-proof his food.

I stopped to pick up dinner at a 24 hour drive-through taco shop in Safford and continued towards home. It was dark by this time and I could see lightening off in the distance to the south, the direction I was heading. It started getting quite windy, but I didn't think anything of it. I did notice that the lightning had gotten a lot larger. All of a sudden, I entered a tempest. Instantly, it was raining (and maybe hailing) harder than I can ever remember while driving. I could see just a few feet ahead and could barely follow the white line along the side of the road. There was no shoulder, so I had to continue, moving very slowly. Finally, just short of the interstate on-ramp, I found a shoulder where I could pull over. I did what they tell you to do during dust storms in Arizona, and pulled completely off the road and turned off my lights. There was an insane amount of water coming down, and the flashes from the lightening temporarily lit everything up like a glowing fog, followed by several seconds of blindness. The thunder was so loud it made the car shake. I was very glad not to be on the interstate yet! A few other cars pulled over near me, although they kept their lights on. A smaller number of cars sped by. I waited for half an hour, then took off. The rain was still heavy, but there was good visibility and the rain stopped completely about 75 miles from Tucson.

Matt called me to check in about 10:30 p.m. and reported that 2 cars had come into the campground, but the drivers appeared to be sleeping in their cars and not setting up camp. At least he wasn't alone anymore. I made it home about 11:00, where the grateful kitties were waiting for me.

I heard from Matt again the next morning. It had rained heavily during the night, but all was well inside his tent. He had managed to fit everything (except his bike) inside the tent, so everything stayed dry. Everything except for the tent, which was wet and splattered with mud. He'd be setting off soon for Hannagan Meadow, about 53 miles from Granville.

I think I was wearing this same shirt in last year's pre-tour photos. I need to get some new pre-tour outfits, I guess!

Day 1 – July 14, 2008

Finally getting into tour mode after the happenings of the past weekend. Little strange at first since Elizabeth just left me here at Granville campground. Last year we parted and I just rode away; kept my mind off what I was about to do. This year, I was just sitting at a picnic table in the woods.

I did find This American Life on KUAZ on the little radio, going in and out of static. Then I watched as a strange wolf-dog lurked through the campground in the near darkness. Spooky. Do the reintroduced wolves come down this far? I wondered. Some travelers came in, taking a break from the endlessly curvy road I’m about to ride up today. A big storm moved in last night. Little blue tent weathered it pretty good. Also found out I can fit all my bags inside with room to spare! Not bad for a 3 lb tent. I will attempt to keep a bird list for the trip (something else to do).

Well, better get moving on this 50 mile climb up to Hannagan Meadows!


Acorn Woodpecker - Painted Redstart - Northern Flicker - Turkey Vulture
Western Screech Owl - Band-tailed Pigeon - Spotted Towhee - Hutton’s Vireo
Bridled Titmouse - Common Raven - Whiskered Screech Owl - Hermit Thrush
Black-headed Grosbeak - Mexican Jay - Arizona Woodpecker - Mountain Chickadee -
Whip-poor-will - Canyon Wren

It all fits inside! (after the rain)

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