Thursday, May 26, 2011

Superior Again: Happy Camp Trail Loop

Last Thursday we headed out for Superior, AZ with two friends. We discovered that Superior is our new destination spot, as it has loads of dirt tracks waiting to be ridden.

Since we were all enthralled with Superior, the boys planned for a ride up yonder today. The weatherman was predicting triple digits in southern Arizona today, so we opted to leave at dawn. Mike and Jeremy met us at our place at 5AM and we headed out.

Mike on a Honda XR400, Jeremy on a Honda 650L and Mike and I two-up on the Space Ship KTM 990.

We left Casa Grande and headed towards Florence, AZ. Once in Florence we hopped on the Florence/Kelvin Highway. Its paved for a short while, then turns into grated, dirt goodness. Last week we managed to hit the road right after a rain, so the dust was down. This week, not so lucky. The road winds through valleys all the way to Kelvin. Its a pretty fantastic road.

Heading into Kelvin.

Once in Kelvin, we hit 177 towards Superior for some fuel. 177 might be paved, but its an excellent road for bikes. Plus we ride by the Ray Mine, which brings the kid out in the men of the ride.

We lead on the paved roads because we had the speedometer. The boys took lead on dirt because they were on smaller bikes. The 990 is nimble, but not as nimble as their little bikes.

From Route 60 in Superior, we turned onto the Silver King Mine Road. After a brief ride past the mine, we were out in the wild by 7AM.

Mike taking lead.

The best part of the 40 mile loop we made today was the difference in landscape between the mountains. We turned onto Happy Camp Road.

At some point we turned onto North Happy Camp Canyon Road. We went from Saguaro forests to red dirt, to white dirt, to red dirt, to evergreens, repeat. It was pretty fantastic. There were switchbacks, cows, deer, washes, rocks, etc.

My husband (bronco3738), our Space Ship KTM 900 pilot, is a suicidal animal magnet. Last week a bird kamakazied into his chest. This week a cow ran in front of us for a 1/2 mile and a white tail deer tried to t-bone us. Nothing but excitement.

The boys were great and would speed on ahead, then chill out and wait for us to catch up.

We were maybe halfway through the ride at this point. Pretty little switchbacks we just rode up. And while relaxing, they take notice of switchbacks going up a different mountain that must be explored at a later point.

The Space Ship KTM awaits for destinations unknown.

We actually made it high enough to see some small evergreen trees.

Hi Mike, nice to see you finally kick started your bike for the millionth time.


Now, on the other side of the mountain. (If you look closely, there is a teeeny tiny bike in the left corner)

This was a real honest-to-god mountain chain. Unlike the many "sky islands" that fill Arizona.

Right about now, we're 30 miles in, its getting hot, the dirt has turned red again, and food is calling from Superior.

Reflections are fun.

We made it back to pavement (US60) and hit Superior at 11AM. Found ourselves eating at Edward's Subs and Pizza, dreading the heat on the ride back.

40 miles of fun dirt track. Not a shabby way to spend your day off. We found ourselves on the Florence/Kelvin highway on the route back.

97 degrees and we're in Casa Grande by 1:30PM.

I had the hubby make a map for those interested. Its a highly recommended ride.

No worries Superior, we'll be back.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

3 bikes: Casa Grande to Superior

A few weeks ago, a buddy from work asked us to go for a ride. A few weeks ago, my parents were in town; last week, we went camping for our anniversary. So we pushed the ride back to today. Four of us saddled up at 7AM on our respective bikes (Mike and I 2 up) and headed out towards Florence. From Florence we headed down the Florence/Kelvin highway - a mostly unpaved, but improved dirt road.

We couldn't have picked a better day. It rained a bit last night, so the dust was down. For the majority of the ride it was in the 60's. Far better than the 90's - summer is upon Arizona.

This shot was an accident, but I liked it. :)

 Meet the boys - Mike and Jeremy. Mike led most of the way. My Mike said it was akin to riding with street bike guys with how quickly they sped away from stop signs and such.

From 79, we turned onto Cochran Road to head out towards the river. Right at the turn off was a field of boulders. Arizona is like that: random geologic phenomena sporadically placed throughout the state. I don't quite understand the need to spray paint the rocks though, ruins the view.

After a brief stop for photos and a pee, we continued down towards the river.

 The scenery was amazing. I tend to forget how beautiful Arizona can be living in Casa Grande. We are maybe 45 minutes from home, dipping in and out of valleys, scanning the mountainous horizon.

Onward to water!

Hooray for helmet hair! The river wasn't very deep, but we weren't going to tempt fate and try to cross. We hung out for a bit, chatted and relaxed.

Jeremy's bike had the smallest tank, so we opted to hop back on Cochran Road and head back to the Florence/Kelvin highway. Superior sounded like a great place for fuel and lunch.

I'm fairly certain that the boys were secretly racing. But it was a fantastic road - 20 or so miles of grated roads through the mountains.

After a lunch of chili burgers (yes they were as good as they sound) at the Porter Cafe in Superior, the boys decided that they had to take the Florence/Kelvin Highway back. But first we needed to stop and see the Ray Mine. 

The Ray Mine, outside of Superior, AZ. I'm pretty sure Superior only exists because this mine does. 

Three bikes and a mine. 

I was just along the ride as the photographer. 

Just as we turned onto the Florence/Kelvin Highway, Mike was smacked in the chest by a bird. Thankfully we weren't at speed yet or it would've hurt more.

It was a pretty great way to spend our morning. Although all four of us are on mids, so its more of an evening ride for us. Mike and Mike were already pointing out turn offs that needing exploration the next go around, so I'm sure there will be many more rides this summer.

160 miles, 223 pictures, and back before 2PM.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Three Mountains, Two Days: Day 2.5

After a battling the end-of-the-day rush hour in Tucson, we made our way to Mount Lemon. Several years ago Keith came to visit and we ventured up Mt. Lemon for some rock climbing in the snow. This was Mike's first time upward. It is a nice paved drive, with great views, but it tends to be a little on the over crowded side for my liking.

We made it to the top and briefly went through Summer Haven. Can we say over priced, over packed, vacation homes? Not worth it in my opinion. My mountain retreat will be secluded and private, thank-you-very-much.

We had heard that you can drive down the backside of Mount Lemon to Oracle. Unpaved glory. The sign said 29 miles to Oracle, 4WD needed. Sounded up our ally. 29 miles can't take that long....right?

It was much better than the paved portion, because we were the only ones on the road. We found several unimproved camping sites that may beckon to us this summer.

Right about now, the camera died. The sun was setting and it looked amazing. The next two pictures are phone pics, so sorry if the quality isn't quite there.

 Beyond my handsome husband's head is the road further down the mountain.

One last glimpse of the sunset.

We were exhausted at this point and the road just didn't want to end. During the decent we entered into ranch land complete with stupid calves trying to get run over. Finally we made it to pavement. Casa Grande HO!! I talked about nonsense the whole drive home to keep us both awake. Chick-fil-a in our bellies, a much needed shower and off to bed. All four of us slept like rocks.

The differences in the mountains we have seen the past two days is amazing. Mt. Graham: high altitudes, lake, huge evergreens, tight turns, low temperatures. The Chiricahua's: towering spires, sweeping turns, a geologists dream. Finally Mount Lemon: beautiful rock layers, grand views of Tucson, pretty trees, but touristy. We tend to be loners, we like to explore on our own. We don't care for traffic, rude people, or lines. Mount Lemon was disappointing because of how touristy it is. Coupled with the fact that until you hit the top of it, the terrain was extremely familiar to home. It was still a nice drive and a good way to end our mountain tour of southern Arizona.

Happy first Anniversary to us!

Three Mountains, Two Days: Day 2

Mike likes to think us Overlanders and can't stand to stay in one spot too long. We were only about one hour from the Chiricahua National Monument, so why not. Heading south from Willcox, the drive was kinda boring. Vast ranch land in the middle of nowhere. I can't imagine needing to run to the store for something, it would take all day. But at the same time, I was slightly envious of the solitude and peace a ranch must provide: a simpler life.

Having left Mount Graham around 8AM, we were in the Chiricahua's by mid morning. We've used our National Parks Pass more in the last two weeks than we have since we bought it last May. The drive up the mountain was much shorter, but proved beautiful in a different way. Mount Graham offered huge pines, vast views and small areas of water. The Chiricahua's are a geologists wet dream. Ancient tectonic activity, and volcanoes have filled the area with spires. 

We meandered up to the top. Massai Point provided a view of the spires and the valley below. In the picture below, you can see a small mountain. Harrison Mountain was named for the family of settlers who was slaughtered by Indians. Their youngest daughter was found living in an Apache community in Mexico and relayed the story of her parents unfortunate demise. Their bones were found and laid to rest.

We were fascinated by the red limbed flora. Red limbs and bright green leaves. Quite pretty.

 More Massai Point:

Here on Day 2, I remembered that I could take panoramic pictures with my iPhone. And here I am closer to the edge than my 'terrified of heights' husband.

Dogs aren't allowed at these points, so they were in the air conditioned truck waiting. We headed back down to the visitors center to have a small picnic of bread, cheese and salami. We found a trail that we could bring the dogs down. 80 degrees felt downright balmy compared to yesterday. Most of the trail was shaded though.

The trail led us to the Far Away Ranch. It was a neat little ranch established in the late 1800's. We were alone, so we off-leashed the dogs and let them roam. They meandered from shade to shade.

Water Break!!!

Our little tourists. They wandered up the staircase on their own to check it out.

Hey, I take every chance I get to take a good picture of the two of them, most of the time Elly is looking off somewhere, distracted.

After our small hike, they passed out in the truck. Our day was barely over though, onward to Mount Lemon! Of course traffic was a pain on I-10 due to the ever present roll over accident. A short detour down a dirt road to Benson, then westward to Tucson.

Three Mountains, Two Days: Day 1

Our first anniversary is just days away. We've been putting a lot of money into the house lately and decided we needed a budget friendly outing to celebrate. So we decided to pack up Elly and Rommel and head out for a short camping trip. It would only be appropriate to have an adventure - gotta keep up the tradition we started with our honeymoon to Moab. We left Bear with Stephanie and her "kids" for the weekend because he just getting too old for the stresses of traveling.

We drove through surprisingly scenic southern Arizona (Miami, Globe) out to Mount Graham, an Island in the Sky. It was evident why they call the isolated mountains in Arizona 'Islands in the Sky'. They are their very own ecosystems, very different than the desert valleys. We started our assent up the mountain twisties.

We climbed and climbed and climbed. We spotted a small pull off where there was a stream. Of course, the dogs needed to get out at this point to stretch and play in the water. The temperature was about 10 degrees cooler than the valley, bringing it into the mid 70's. It was quite beautiful and worth the stop.
 As Mike would put it: Its like trying to herd cats. One between the legs and the other looking like a goof ball.

We continued our assent towards Riggs Lake. Yes, there is a lake at the top of the mountain. This is what 8000 feet looks like:
And 8000 feet in May feels about 55 degrees in the sun. It was forecast to be 88 in Casa Grande. Up and onward, off pavement, through random fields, and to a lake at 9000 feet.

Riggs Lake was beautiful. It was 45 degrees. We were freezing. The lake was so tiny that it only took us 15 minutes to hike around it: an oasis in the sky. It's stocked with small fish, and is quite shallow, but still beautiful. I miss trees and foliage and such. The sun was starting its decent westward so we hopped back in the truck in search of a camp site at lower altitudes.

We stopped at one and the camp host immediately came up to us and accosted us about the dogs. "They need to be leashed, and you need to pay NOW". Ok - Bye. You'd think a host would be, well, more host-ier and welcoming. Bite me buddy, leash your rat dog and I'll leash mine. So off we went to an undeveloped camp site. So what there were no bathrooms; there also wasn't a rude camp host to contend with. 

At 5700 feet, it was still in the 40's and the sun was setting fast. We scrambled to get our tent up and get the steak cooked. Of course we weren't allowed a fire, but our camp grill got the steaks cooked in no time. Steak, beer, bread and bed. Mike and I curled up in the sleeping bags with a dog at each side. I had been up for almost 24 hours and was needing to sleep off my headache. But "Bear Warning" signs had me so paranoid, I woke up every hour thinking we would be eaten.

Morning came in the Coronado National Forest without incident.

 Elly watched as Mike made us breakfast; Rommel was off chasing his ball.

We packed up our small camp site and decided to move onto the next mountain on our list: The Chiricahua's.