Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seasonal Exchange - Day 2 - Clifton, AZ & San Francisco River Camp

Bright and early we continued southward on Highway 191, up into snowy mountains and pine forests. At the small town of Alpine, we were thwarted by a flashing sign saying that the highway was closed ahead. To investigate the matter we stopped and had breakfast in a cafe and, over our meal, asked a few questions of the locals. Yes, the highway, known to locals as just "The Trail," really was closed. Always is in the winter.

We followed directions and drove eastward into New Mexico, then south and west back into Arizona near Clifton. Clifton was a hopping town. Was, I'd guess, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were many classic buildings strewn through a steep canyon, and a main street lined with victorianesque store fronts. Almost all of which had been abandoned and were in a mild to advanced state of decay.

From AZ Travel

The big copper mine that rooted the community seems to have abandoned the old town for banal tracts of grey company housing and a nearby generic company town where all the usual needs of civilization can be satisfied. Trina and I were happy to revel in the decay of past glory in the old town.M

From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

For research purposes, we stopped and bought a milkshake from a pleasant curmudgeon who had turned one of the old store fronts into his personal hermit-hole and private collection of rotted mining artifacts -- and then, apparently, decided that he could make a little money if he added a refrigerator and a blender and sold milkshakes. The charm of the place was as deep and thick as the dirt and dust. He gave us some excellent advice about where the locals go to camp. Good milkshake, too.

Sometimes "Where the locals go to camp" means bullet holes and broken glass. We drove the dead end road up the San Francisco River and found plenty of that. But we also found ourselves on a nice little hike in the warm sunshine; warm enough to force us out of our winter clothes and into shorts and t-shirts. At last! And we found a nice camp, right along the river under some arching acacia trees.

We lolled and strolled by the little river, while the dogs romped and chased and dug. Sun dropped behind the canyon wall. Clouds lit with sunset light. Stars emerged and burned cold over where our fire burned warm. Warm, calm air. Quiet shh-ing of the river. We put the dogs in their kennels in the back of the truck and rolled out our beds under the stars.

From AZ Travel

Ah... Bliss!

Or, nearly. We all slept beautifully for many long minutes until Sprocket decided that he had been abandoned forever, there in his kennel in the back of the pickup under the topper, about 20 feet from us. He started in with whining, skreeling, plaintive howling, and desperately scratch-digging at the door of his kennel. Trina and I (and probably Zeek) lost some sleep to this. Lots of sleep.

Then we lost more sleep groggily discussing what we should do about it. Trina's thought was that giving in to his bad behavior would just teach him to use it in the future. I had to agree, since he's really her dog, though I wondered if his anxiety was more of a panic and was less of a behavior than a frantic fear that could be somehow effectively calmed, though I didn't know how. I also (secretly) wondered if maybe some kind of tranquilizer dart might be effective. His waves of panic rose and fell throughout the long night, attracting who knows what predators out there in the dark.

When the sky above the canyon wall began to glow with morning light, we staggered up to greet the day. Sprocket was very, very happy to see us after his long night of separation. Bella was the only one to get a good night's sleep, as her advanced years have blessed her with near-total deafness. She was up and dashing about on her old, stiff legs, while the humans got the truck ready to roll.

Seasonal Exchange - Day 1, to Springerville, AZ

We thought that instead of taking the fast way, which could have had us in Tucson in about 12 driving hours, we'd take a more scenic route, straight south on Highway 191, which would take us to places we'd never been, and take however long it took. So an hour-and-a-half west on the Interstate, we turned south.

Surprising amounts of snow in Moab, Utah. Piles and heaps of snow in Montecello. A quick tour of Bluff with its historic sandstone block houses. Some excellent desert scenery along the way. Then what seemed like an unflattering view of Reservation land which left me wondering if there is a flattering view of it.

Near dark we crossed the Little Colorado River and rolled into Springerville, Arizona. Still snow around. Still cold. We didn't have any urge to camp out, or to continue onward in the dark into the colder mountains ahead. Found a cheap and homely little motel room; peeling paint, stained carped, missing lightbulbs, barely flushing toilet, sulphur-smelling shower water, and only slightly stinky. Pretty much perfect for us and our dogs, which the hairy desk clerk was happy to oblige for a small additional fee.

From AZ Travel

The joy of having this small pack of dogs in my life comes at a price. I'm not talking about the motel's fee. I'm referring to my refined sensibilities, which over the years, have trended toward an overindulgence in personal sanitation, perhaps aimed at a future neurosis of compulsive behavior. The (germ-free) platform I had elevated myself upon has been knocked to the ground -- or perhaps even into a thick sludge of contaminated mud -- by my association with these dogs, who, being dogs, have, essentially, no sense of such things. This night offered an example.

Bella, the geriatric brown-black dog is old and creaky enough that she isn't always in control of her bodily functions. Sometime in the night she must have accidentally pooped. And, Sprocket, the red Moth Hound -- who has few qualms -- must have eaten it. We didn't know about any of this until Sprocket vomited it back out onto the carpet at 4:00 a.m. We cleaned up this poop/vomit as best we could, and tried to flush it down the toilet, which almost overflowed.

There would have been another spot on the carpet if Bella hadn't then taken to compulsively and noisily licking that spot for the rest of the sleepless night. By morning that spot was the cleanest part of the whole carpet.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Seasonal Exchange - The Plan and Characters

The point was to get away from the snow for some riding, relaxation, camping and sunshine. Not that we weren't doing most of that right here in the winter of Western Colorado. But we wanted to push things forward a bit. Push them right up to where Spring was happening. To where the camping would be pleasant, and the sunshine would land on our skin instead of the outside of our warm coats.

We figured that if we drove South far enough, we could exchange our seemingly long, cold winter for an early Spring. We loaded Trina's truck and got moving. Who are we? This should help:

Cast of characters:

Trina, semi-lapsed artist, outdoor woman, owner of pickup truck and three dogs, girlfriend of Greg.
From Bikeabout

Greg, seasonal slacker, outdoor man, boyfriend of Trina, adopted by three dogs. Inveterate photographer.
From Bikeabout

Bella, larger brown-black dog, born in a beaver den, creaky joints from a long life of adventure. Fluctuates between "spaced out" and her "second puppyhood". Current hobby: licking.
From Bikeabout

Zeek, white and tan Parson Russell Terrier. Tough, confident. Focused and serious. Has no idea he's a small dog. Always ready for adventure. Born to hunt.

Sprocket, small red Assyrian Moth Hound who runs like the wind. Sweet disposition. Thinks everyone wants to wrestle and play. Chronically enthusiastic. Suffers from separation anxiety.
From Bikeabout

The adventure seemed to gather around certain touchpoints: Riding our bikes on sweet trails. Driving backways and reveling in the decay of former glory. Wandering among desert vegetation. And, of course, the dogs.

I haven't had a dog of "my own" since I was a kid. So being adopted by these dogs has been somewhat of a shock. I've been surprised by how much fun they are to be around, how much they add to my life, and by how much hair can come off of even a single dog.

On this trip, they definitely provided opportunity for some of the most exciting moments we had. More on that later.