The Apache Trail

Trip Start Apr 18, 2008
Trip End Apr 26, 2008

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Saturday, April 26, 2008

Our last day in Arizona. If we leave the Inn at nine, we can get the car back to the rental agency by two and have no worries about getting onto our flight at four (I like to leave a big cushion around getting-on-the-airplane since so many things can get in the way). That means we have five hours to drive 150 miles. Piece of cake. We decide to take the scenic route.

Our route takes us past Mormon Lake and through some cute little towns with names like Pine and Strawberry. I don't know that these areas are so idyllic, though, because we pass three slick billboards about meth, the kind of ads that show graphic images of the havoc it wreaks on your body.

We stop for a walk on a trail outside of Pine, then head south on highway 87, which goes right into Phoenix. We still have three hours until we need to be there, so I suggest we detour down 188, past Roosevelt Lake, and then take 88 into Mesa. After all, the speed limits on these state roads are 55 to 60, so it isn't like we'll have any issues getting back in time.

We stop at Roosevelt Lake and walk a bit. It's an artificial lake, created by the Roosevelt Dam. The water is really high. There are plants sticking out of the water, and then I realize they are just the tops of these 10-foot bushes that I see around. We see quite a few boats; it's apparently a very popular recreation spot. There are lots of big, white pickups (Ford F150 or bigger) in the parking lot, and a few large pickups of other colors as well.

We drive on and eventually get to 88, which is right at the dam. We have two hours and sixty miles to go. As we pass the dam (with its barbed wire and AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY signs), we see a sign saying Mesa is 42 miles away. Then we see one welcoming us to the Apache Trail. Then the really scary sign comes up: "Pavement Ends, 1 mile." That does not sound good.

I look at my map. On it, 88 looks like any other highway. It doesn't say anything about dirt roads. The only other options for getting to the airport are to backtrack, which would add another 30 or so miles to the trip. Plus, it's back-tracking and I don't want to do that. Or we could go through Globe, which looks like it's 30 more than that.

"Let's be daring and take the dirt road," I say.

"Are you sure the rental car can handle it?" Julie asks.

Of course, I have no idea, it's not like I've been on the Apache Trail before. Meanwhile, we've reached the end of the pavement. The dirt road looks pretty decent. "Yeah, I don't think it will be a problem," I say.

The scenery is stunning. Amazing. Gorgeous. And my camera is in the trunk. At least Julie is driving so I can enjoy it, even if I can't document it. The road is incredibly snakey. We go up and up and up and up. Then we go down and down and down and down. The quality of the road is variable. There is no shoulder. One side is a rock wall, and the other a plummet to your death. Our max speed is fifteen mph. Some of the hairpins are so tight we have to creep around them like burglars. Sometimes there are vehicles coming the other way, and usually they are going too fast (in my opinion). The drivers of big pickups seem to think they need to be in the middle of the roadway, which is barely wide enough for two normal-sized cars, and they also seem to believe they have x-ray vision and don't need to slow down around the blind curves. The fact that they periodically zip around a curve only to come headlight-to-headlight with vehicles coming the other direction doesn't seem to dissuade them from this fantasy.

Luckily, we don't have any close calls. Just some almost-close calls.Once again, I am glad Julie is driving.

After about forty-five minutes of driving, there's another road sign ahead. Mesa: 32 miles. I do the math. We've come ten miles in forty-five minutes. That's an average of 13 mph. I realize that, at this rate, we might miss our flight. There's no time to go back; we have to press onward. "If you get a chance to safely drive a little faster," I tell her, "you might want to do it."

The scenery continues to be beautiful, but my growing anxiety about time is eating into my enjoyment. Julie is driving faster, sometimes a little faster than I'd like. "You told me to," she says when I screech at one particularly hair-raising turn.

We go up, we go down, we go around and around. The minutes click away. I tell myself, "it isn't that big a deal to miss our flight, unless we have to pay a huge penalty or buy a new ticket. That would not be good, but it won't kill us." That doesn't take away the growing knot in my stomach.

I'm the one who set up everything for this trip. Julie hasn't had to think about schedules or destinations or deadlines. I've been the navigator the whole way. Not that she probably isn't already aware of this, but I tell her we are in danger of missing our flight. She takes it calmly, but she's always been unflappable. I explain how I'd planned on us getting the car back around two, but we really could be as late as three. That's another hour and a half.

Another forty minutes pass, and we reach a flat stretch. The road is paved again, and the speed limit is 45 mph. I'm thinking this is the end. We've got to be close to Mesa now. We'll make it.

And then there is another mountain.

The road is still paved, though, and the speed limit is higher. Instead of 10 mph hairpins, they are 20 mph hairpins. The clock keeps ticking, and after we go up and down, we start going up again. There's no way, I think. We're not going to make it.

Finally, the downward slope lessens. The speed limit goes up to 45 again. But the SUV ahead of us is going 30, and it's still too snakey to pass. Finally there's a good stretch and I yell, "go go go go!" at Julie, and she revs the little 4-cylinder engine and crawls around the SUV and then we are ahead of it and zoom down the road... until we reach the next obstacle, a Jeep only going 40.

This is one of those times I wish I could just call the car ahead of me and explain that we have a plane to catch and could they just move over and let us pass? Please?

It's 2:30. If we can just get to Superstition Highway (a freeway), it will be only fifteen or twenty minutes to the airport. I only know Superstition Highway from the map, though, so when we come to Superstition Boulevard, which does not look like a freeway, I think that maybe we're just too far west and that it will become a freeway soon. I tell Julie to turn.

We're zipping along at 45 mph, hitting lights every five or six blocks, and I know this can't be right. But the sign says Superstition on it. Meanwhile, we need gas. For some reason, all the gas stations are on the other side of the road, which, by the way, is six lanes wide. We keep thinking we'll find a station on our side, but we never see one.

Then I notice that Superstition Blvd is now University. From a previous visit to Mesa, I know that University is like 20 blocks north of Superstition Highway. So, we head south. All the gas stations are still on the other side of the road. Maybe there is a law in Mesa that gas stations can only be on the north or east sides of roads? I figure maybe we'll see a gas station from the highway and can pull off and fill up.

It's 2:50 when we reach the highway. The thing I don't know about Superstition Highway is that it has really tall walls all along it, so that there is no way to see what is at any exit, such as a gas station, for instance. Exit after exit, I crane my neck, hoping to see some tall sign advertising gas, but there's nothing. We decide not to risk just getting off and looking. We're going to merge onto I-10, and then up 143 to the airport. I figure we'll see something there.

Except that I-10 is a zoo, 143 is closed, and the detour signs are confusing. By sheer luck, we get off at the right exit. It's 3:05. There are no gas stations in sight. "Look," I say, "we'll just pay the rental place their super-inflated price to fill the tank. This tank isn't that big, so it's only going to cost us a few dollars more than doing it ourselves." Julie agrees and we find the rental return with no problems.

I'm out of the car and ready to go in record time, but Julie is still dazed from the drive and is taking longer. Remember the potato chips I stuck in my shirt back on the mule ride? (I'm pretty sure I mentioned that). Well, I've been carrying them around the whole time, waiting until I felt the desire to eat some potato chips. It never happened. So I give them away to the attendant.

We make it to the gate ten minutes before boarding starts. There are a lot of babies around. Infants and toddlers. Well, guess who sat right in the middle of them all? Yeah, me. (Because Julie and I had different start dates for our trip, we ended up in different seats on the flight home). But their gurgles, cries, and occasional screams (when the air pressure changes) don't bother me at all. I had a great trip, and I'm going home to see my kitties.

Life is good.

[Note: On the flight out, I had a window seat and there were no clouds, so I used my camera phone to take some pictures, which are in the album for this entry. Amazing what the ground looks like from 30,000 feet.]
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