On The Road, Day Six, part one

Trip Start Sep 19, 2009
Trip End Sep 25, 2009

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Where I stayed
Rode on Through After Meeting The Challenge

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Thursday, September 24, 2009

Left Roper Lake by about 7:30, and on through Safford and onto the famed and, I admit it, somewhat intimidating 191 north to Alpine. I had it in my mind that this would be all I'd be able to accomplish this day, due to its demanding requirements, as per the dude in Globe. I gassed up at Morenci, as instructed, because for the next "100 miles or so there's nothing".

This is a painful part of the story for me. Morenci and Clifton are contiguous copper mining towns, "company towns" as my Globe guru put it. Identical lined up shacks for houses visible from the highway coming in, but the worst part for me was seeing, and feeling, the massive environmental devastation that this mining has produced. I don't want to get into politics or even economics here; I'm just sharing my personal experience for what it was.

The first five miles of the 191 into the mountains were the hardest for me. Not because of the switchbacks - and they do start right away - but because of the destruction. One sign welcomed me to "The World's Largest Leaching Operation", and another, further up the road, invited me to pull out into a "scenic overlook". The "scene" is of the overwhelming destruction of what were once entire real and magnificent mountains, but which are now terrace after terrace and gorge after gorge of dust and ruin. It was all I could do to keep going just to get out of there, feeling an intense sadness and hurt being elicited in me.

As I said, the severe switchbacks do begin right away, and the going is real slow. In the first hour of this I covered about 20 miles, so you do the math. These are 10, 15, sometimes 20 mph switchbacks, one after another, for miles on end. The whole 90+ mile length of the road isn't this way. There are portions that open up into a more or less flat plateau, and there you can do 50 or even 60 mph. Or there are portions where the twisties are just "normal" mountain twisties, and there you can go sometimes up to 25 or 30 mph. Other portions, as you get closer to Alpine, run through forest where a more or less moderate cruising speed is possible. Then there is the gain in elevation, from about 2900 feet at Roper Lake to 8000 feet at Alpine.

All in all, a beautiful, sometimes stunningly so, mountain ride. Alpine itself consists of a couple of shops and small  businesses, and about nothing else, not even a place to eat that I saw. It's set in a glorious alpine meadow though, so who's complaining?

A note on photos of this area: given the severity of the terrain, and the need for close attention to driving, there were fewer opportunities than I'd have liked to stop to take pictures. Hopefully the one shot and a video will give you some idea.
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