Day Nine – In Which I Make My Escape From the City

A canal path

Long shadows in the early morning light on this unpaved canal trail; I'm facing west here. Click on image to enlarge.

1 April 2011 (posted a day later). I left the Dalrymple’s place at Chimney Rock fairly early—to try to beat the heat. The forecast for Phoenix was 99°F (and I heard tonight that the city tied a record of 100°). I got off by 7:15, after a packing and eating a bowl of cereal.

The trick was getting down to where I would pick up the Adventure Cycling route. The night before I had checked Google Maps and figured out what seemed like a good route. I started out just fine—riding downhill, then getting on one of those canal paths. At one point, though, I seemed to get off the route I had scouted, so I just tried to head east and south. Even without a compass, that’s pretty easy in a place like Arizona, where most streets are either north-south or east-west. In the morning, either you’re squinting into the sun, or it’s hitting the side of your face, sneaking past the edges of your sunglasses.

Tunnel in Scottsdale

The city of Scottsdale has done a particularly nice job at landscaping their canal paths. Click on image to enlarge.

Scottsdale path

On much of the pathway here, pieces of stone were inset as the center line. Nice touch! Click on image to enlarge.

More water

Everywhere I turned there seemed to be water in this city. I don't even know what this water body is--as I was heading south and east. Click on image to enlarge.

I was also enjoying those trails instead of city streets. There were others I found, passing through some parks. At one point, though, I was blocked by some massive lake or river and large overpassing highways. The trail I was on, which had been going east, started heading more north. But I was able to circle around those obstacles and continue on my east and south, zig-zagging route.

Street naming in greater Phoenix seems a bit odd. It took me a while to figure out that the numbered avenues (40th, 30th, and so forth) become numbered streets further east, and it’s not uncommon to be on, say, 46th Street, then have a 46th Place turn off of it. Keep an eye on those distinctions: street, avenue, place, drive, court….

The bigger surprise was just how far you can go and still find yourself still in the city. By mid-morning, I was starting to get hungry and told myself, as I passed one strip mall after another, punctuated by corner fast-food joints and gas stations, that if I didn’t find a real place to eat by the time my odometer turned 30 miles for the morning, I would stoop to a McDonalds or Taco Bell meal. I was in Mesa, at nearly the eastern end of the megalopolis. Just as I was getting to that point—very hungry and needing to stop—I spotted a classic diner. Perfect spot.

5 & Diner in Mesa

An early lunch at the 5 & Diner in Mesa; the clock isn't working. Click on image to enlarge.

I went in and checked the time: only 10 am. Fortunately, they were already serving lunch items. I had a huge black-and-white milkshake and a Southwestern Chicken sandwich (with fries). Though I had thought I was hungry, I couldn’t finish it all.

I was on the road again by 11, and shortly got onto Route 60, which I had been on coming into Phoenix. It turned out that I got on a little too early. The entrance ramp said no bicycles or pedestrians. I knew that would be different in a few miles—because that’s where the Adventure Cycling route re-joins 60 (referred to here as “The 60”—like in California). So I rode on 60 illegally for a few miles, before the “Expressway Ends” sign. I had my excuse worked out if I had gotten pulled over.

Onto Rute 60

Entering "The 60" in Apache Junction. Click on image to enlarge.

Route 60 guardrails

Every quarter-mile or so, when The 60 crossed a wash, the guardrail would encroach into the shoulder, pushing bicyclists onto the traveled lane. Those rumble strips were a problem at times, as well. Click on image to enlarge.

Hawk on saguaro cactus

Pretty nice weather--despite the heat. If I were a hawk, I think I'd be perched on this saguaro cactus as well. Click on image to enlarge.

Route 60 here, where it’s four-lane but not a real expressway, is pretty bicycle-unfriendly. There are bumpy shoulders (that’s all right), but every time there’s a gully crossing or something, a section of guard rail pushes out to the edge of the shoulder. Maybe it’s the “Arizona Squeeze.” Not so good for us bicylists.

Later, when a lane was dropped, the shoulder got much better. Even the climb up to Gonzalez Pass wasn’t all that bad. Someone had tried to convince me to take an alternative route that skirts around Gonzalez Pass. I’m glad I didn’t; without a GPS, I could easily have gotten lost on those dirt roads on the other side of the mountain. I made the right choice.

Climbing toward Gonzalez Pass

On the far upper left you can just make out some vehicles coming down from Gonzalez Pass. Long climb for a hot day. Fortunately, there was a slight tailwind. Click on image to enlarge.

Gonzalez Pass

Nearing the top--fortunately! Click on image to enlarge.

Descending toward Superior

It was a nice ride down toward the town of Superior. Click on image to enlarge.

After cresting the top, there was a long, gentle ride down toward Superior, where I’m sitting up in my bed at the Copper Motel, typing this blog.

Before reaching the town, though, I came across the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, three miles before reaching Superior. I had been told about the place. Since it was only 3:30 in the afternoon, I decided I could afford some time there. Great place! There was a Sonoran Desert trail, a Chihuahuan Desert Trail, a gardening exhibit with lots of information on dry-land landscaping, and examples of desert plants from more exotic places: Australia, South America, Africa, and elsewhere. It always makes me a little nervous to hear about exotic plants being planted, but I suppose they know what they’re doing.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

A refill on water and an enjoyable walk arough the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in the late afternoon. Click on image to enlarge.

Dry-land plants for sale

Cactus and other dryland plants for sale at the Arboretum. I'm sure these are all propogated, but at some nurseries, wild-collected cactuses are sold. Click on image to enlarge.

Boyce Thompson

I spent an hour-and-a-half at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum outside Superior. Click on image to enlarge.

Arboretum displays

There were some great exhibits about low-water-use landscaping and rainwater harvesting at the Arboretum. Click on image to enlarge.

Little lizzard

This little lizzard (four or five inches long) would periodically raise itself up on its legs and display a bluish underside. Anyone know what it is? Click on image to enlarge.


This was the cutest, smallest chipmunk I think I've ever seen. Much grayer than our eastern chipmunks. Click on image to enlarge.

Natural "plantings"

Past the landscaped walks at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is the even more beautiful natural Sonoran Desert. We're close to the edge of this ecosystem; I'll be sorry to leave it behind. Click on image to enlarge.


Ocotillo cactus detail

Detail of an Ocotillo cactus. Note the moisture-swollen stem and small leaves. Later in the season, when heat- and moisture-stressed, the stem will shrink and the leaves drop. It's a fascinating adaptation to moisture stress. Click on image to enlarge.

My favorite part of my explorations there was walking past the landscaped area and checking out the natural Sonoran Desert beyond, especially where it backed up to some dramatic rock outcroppings.

Neat place. My brother Chris and brother-in-law Stephen would love it.

At 5 pm, I left and biked the last three miles to my destination. Refreshed from a shower and with clothes hanging to dry I went next door to have a bit of dinner. I think I would have found something better—there’s supposed to be a historic part of the town with restaurants and such—but the location of this place was just right—about 50 feet away.

Copper Mountain Motel

Right at sunset. I chose a room farther from the 60 to reduce noise. Click on image to enlarge.

Coffee house next door

I had a pretty good dinner at this kin-of funky coffee house next door to the motel. I almost got a Dairy Queen cone (what we used to call "Dow cones" after dinner, but there was a line that gave me time to rethink the decision. Click on image to enlarge.

I’m only able to get the wireless signal outside the motel office. I sat there and posted yesterday’s blog. I’ll hope to do the same with this tomorrow morning before heading off.

My plan tomorrow is to bike a relatively short 24 miles to Globe, Arizona, but there’s a lot of climbing involved. Right out of Superior, I’ll climb about 2,100 feet (compared with the roughly 700 feet climbing over Gonzalez Pass today. That will be a lot of work. A number of people have warned me about an uphill tunnel I have to pass through a few miles out of Superior. I need to fix my rear LED light, which came unglued, before attempting that!

After Globe I’m not exactly sure how I’ll do. It’s about 76 miles to Thatcher and, just beyond that, Safford, the next towns with any real services. And then, from Safford, it’s 117 miles with a lot of climbing to the next sizeable town—which I think is Silver City, New Mexico. (Maybe I should have read these descriptions more carefully before deciding on this route!)

Meanwhile, my knees are fairly sore. I may end up taking a rest day in Globe—or perhaps even here in Superior.