Caryl and Brian's World Bike Tour

Practice news letter

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Date: 21 Apr 1995 17:52:02 -0800

While waiting for our townhouse to sell, Brian and I took off for the Arizona desert for some biking, hiking, and just general goofing off. I thought this would be a good opportunity to practice my news letter writing techniques. So the following is a description of what we did from April 13 to April 14. Comments and suggestions on how to improve my writing style are all welcome. Is it too long, short, dull, witty, not enough feeling, too personal, not personal enough, etc. I want to make my future newsletters interesting to read, so here's your chance to chime in and help me improve.

We left San Diego the Wednesday evening before Good Friday at about 5PM headed east on Route 8. We knew we wouldn't make it all the way to our destination that night so we stopped at a roadside rest stop for the night (he who dares wins right?). We're driving in our wonderful 1984 Dodge cargo van. This thing is so comfortable. I think we will really enjoy spending two months living in it. We stopped at a rest area in the Mohawk Valley for the night. Why they would call it the Mohawk Valley I wouldn't know. I seem to recall that the Mohawks were in N.Y. So who knows why a valley practically as far away from the original tribe as you can get and still be on the same continent would be named after them is beyond me.

We pulled over in the van and set up some nice beds for the night. There's so much room we had plenty of space for us, two bikes, and camping gear. Unfortunately I didn't sleep all that well, cramps for that time of the month and for some strange reason I was hungry. Strange feeling, cramps and growling stomach at the same time. So I found out all about night life at a freeway roadside rest area in the Arizona desert.

First there were trucks, lots of semis. When we first arrived there were only 2 but by the time I got up at about 1:30 AM there were more than 15. Many left their engine going all night long, I have no idea why. There were also several cars pulled over for the night like we were. Then finally there were the "transients", folks there for just a few minutes. Men, women, and children coming from one place, headed to another.

Most people seemed to be driving vehicles that had seen their better days which told me that these folks were driving through the night probably to avoid hotel costs. Yet somehow they all seemed quite comfortable with the traveler mode of existence. Perhaps they've done this so many times it's just a matter of fact rather than something unusual. I had to giggle when this one man in a U-haul climbs out with a small cat in his arms and proceeds to tell the cat to go take a "ca-ca". Somehow I don't think it quite works that way. At least no cat I ever had would listen to me that way. Well, needless to say the cat simply got into that scared cat crouch position, crawled into a corner by the picnic tables, and meowled loudly. Definitely not a happy cat. I suppose the poor cat owner had to take it back into the truck only to have it take a "ca-ca" later on down the road, naturally inside the truck.

Well I did finally get some sleep, probably only about 5 hours. Hopefully I'll be feeling more like normal and will do better for the rest of the weekend. By the time we got up and ready to hit the road again, about 7AM, most of the semis and other car campers had left. A new batch of transients were stopped to use the bathroom, inspect their engines, take a walk, or curb their cats. Life goes on at the roadside rest stop.

At Gila Bend we took off North on Route 85, a small state road that cuts a fair distance off when you're trying to head north of Phoenix from Highway 8. It was on Route 85 where we saw our first bike tourist for this trip. Now, we have developed a tradition. During our first cross country we were headed across Montana in some of the worst heat. We were about 10 miles east of the town of Malta when an RV pulled to a stop just in front of us. We didn't know what to expect. But the next thing we knew a man climbed out and he had two ice cold sodas in his hand. Now that was an absolutely wonderful sight for two hot thirsty bike tourists. Well, ever since then whenever we're traveling with a cooler of cold soda and we happen across some bike tourists we stop to offer them something cool to drink. After all, what goes around, comes around. This particular tourist was on his way to New York City from Santa Cruz California. No helmet and no shirt. Very definitely a POD (potential organ donor) asking for skin cancer. But he was a very happy camper.

We continued on our way heading up to Highway 10 east then to 17 north. We got off at the town of Cottonwood and managed to snag one of the few remaining campsites for the weekend. We'd stay until Monday at which time we'd move toward Prescot (at least that was the original plan). We didn't even bother setting up our tent. Since we'd paid for the site we knew it was ours for the next few days and we wanted to do some exploring before the sun went down.

The first thing to visit was the Tuzigoot (two-Z-goot) National Monument. Tuzigoot means crooked water or river, I'm not sure which. Interesting ancient Indian ruins located on a high hill overlooking the Verde Valley. They were built by Indians given the name Sinagua by the early Spanish explorers. The name comes from the Spanish sin agua (without water). Actually when the Spaniards showed up the ruins had already been abandoned for many centuries. They were actually occupied in the 1100s after the Sinagua left the area around Sunset Crater some 80 miles north. They stayed in this area for a while because of a permanent source of water and salt. Evidently it is still not known why they vacated the area after living there for over 400 years, drought, illness, war, boredom, who knows. The remnants of the buildings consist of stone block walls filled in with mud for mortar. The roofs were originally built with wood beams and more mud mortar. Obviously the roofs wouldn't last without much maintenance, so in general the ruins from the ancient Indians in this area consist primarily of tumbled walls.

Next we drove up the hill to visit the largest ghost city in Arizona, possibly even in the U.S., Jerome. This was a copper mining region and the town had sported a population of over 15,000 in it's heyday. In the 1950s it was down to just 400 inhabitants, but recently it's experiencing a bit of a boon as artists take advantage of the town's attraction to tourists. It's now up to a whole 500 people. The most interesting aspect of this town was the fact that the town center actually slipped due to some of the mining operations. Entire buildings slipped down the hill. In fact the jail house, which still stands, moved a whole 225 feet down the hill. It now sits in a parking lot across the street from where it originally stood. Side walks were displaced sideways and the roads split in some sections. A strange thing to see indeed. You got an uneasy feeling about some of the buildings. Soon they might just come tumbling down, yet there were people actually living in some of them. Daring folks.

The next morning, Friday, found us first looking for a mail box. Why is it you can never find a post office when you want one, but they're always around when you don't need it. Well, we had to mail in our income tax return and one big, big check to ole Uncle Sam. Gad, talk about painful. It wouldn't be quite so bad if we thought most of the money went to support good projects like our national parks, but alas it doesn't. Suffice it to say the IRS won't be able to catch us for tax evasion this year at least.

Then off to a quick back road ride and short hike. The ride was amazing. It was 9 miles out back going up one of those spectacular valleys that get narrower and narrower as you head up. The views were great as we were following along the cliffs of gold, red, and orange. After 4.5 miles, we came to the end of the road. The road ended at the boundary of the wilderness area and bikes just aren't allowed on the wilderness paths. So on to the feet. Pushing and shoving the bikes up a hill, we locked then to a tree and headed out on a 4 mile hike. We figure keeping the bikes out of sight while we do day hikes and locking them to something solid will help prevent them from being stolen. No guarantee, but better than nothing.

The trail followed along a quiet stream, gradually continuing uphill. The destination was a rock outcropping that afforded a view of a large natural bridge called the Vultee Arch. It was named for an aviator of the 30's who, with his wife, crashed their plane nearby. No I don't think they did it on purpose. I guess he must have been quite famous in his time since they named the arch for him, but I've not heard of him before. The arch spanned the distance between two cliffs about 200 yards above where we were standing. It's hard to tell the size from the distance, but even from where we were standing it looked enormous.

Actually the view looking back down the valley from which we had just hiked was perhaps more of a reward for the hike than the arch. I always find looking across jagged mountain peaks having rainbows of all colors of the earth to be so satisfying and a good relaxer for the mind. It really makes you appreciate all mother nature has given to us.

Well, lunch was back at the van and we had 2 miles to walk and 4.5 miles of rough dirt road to ride. The hike went quickly and the ride, amazingly enough, did also. For some reason while riding up the valley we were under the impression that we were riding downhill all the way. Yet, on our return trip we were once again riding downhill. I don't know whether it was simply an optical illusion or a matter of good tailwinds. But it was one weird feeling to be riding down in both directions. Now that's my kind of riding. Downhill next 325 miles.

On to the Red Rocks State Park for a 4 mile hike. But first a stop in the visitor's center. By this time I had switched into my brand, spanking new hiking boots (these seem to give me more support under my foot and will hopefully prevent my ankles from hurting). Upon walking into the visitor's center we were greeted by one of those absolutely wonderful park volunteers immediately offering all sorts of advice about where to go on a nice 1 1/2 hour hike. It's always so great to encounter the volunteers that enjoy what they're doing so much. They just radiate with a sense that they're doing exactly what they were meant to do. We can never resist stopping to get advice and we are rarely disappointed.

Red Rocks State Park was interesting, mostly rounded hills of orange and red sand, but perhaps not quite as dramatic as the views we had seen earlier. There was a very large house in the middle of the park that originally belonged to the CEO of TWA airlines. Evidently upon his death he willed all the park lands to the state. I wonder if he did this so his estate could avoid paying taxes. We completed a 4 mile walk and I was getting a pretty good blister on my small right toe by the end of it. I guess our little townhouse just isn't large enough to break in new boots. Actually the seam in my sock was off center slightly and rubbed in the wrong place. Back to camp for dinner, flute practice, and reading.

It's so nice to sleep late. It usually takes me a few days, but by Saturday I was finally feeling sufficiently relaxed to actually sleep in until about 7:30, 8:00. By the time we got finished making pancakes for breakfast, getting into our biking gear, and driving to the start of the day's ride it was probably 10AM. But that was OK, we weren't in any particular big hurry. Today's ride was to be 17 miles out and back spending the first and last 6 miles on a dirt road and the middle 5 on a real rocky jeep trail. Just out of Sedona we started the climb, going from about 3000 to 6000 ft. We were treated to great views of both the city of Sedona and the surrounding mountains.

Now the city of Sedona is relatively new, incorporated in 1989. It seems to be the type of town that started as a small artist colony. But upon being discovered by the "wealthy class", it quickly grew up as one of those rather sterile, new, trendy towns that always tend look just a little too organized and well planned. There didn't seem to be any "old town" area where the buildings have many years of stories behind their walls. Everything was made of pink stucco, that "southwestern" motif that looks so good when it's real and so ridiculous when it's faked. We decided that we much prefer Cottonwood and Jerome. Far more character. But seeing Sedona from 3000 ft up was actually quite something. You can't see the individual buildings and have grand vistas of the surrounding cliffs and mountains.

The dirt road going up the hill was actually quite busy. All these cars, rental jeeps, and off-road jeep tours kept going by. Evidently this route was on some tourist guide as being the way to go if you want the good desert experience. Only a few bikers and several campers. The jeep tours were really funny. They take a perfectly good jeep (one of those small open air ones) paint it some funny color, add this stupid looking cover, and then charge people a bunch of money to go for a ride in it. Now to me a real jeep should be painted in camouflage or some really drab color, be totally caked in mud, no top, minimal seating probably torn, and just have a real worn look about it. You should take it bouncing over some of the worst terrain you can find. It certainly should not be painted pink of all things. But, perhaps I'm just too used to the old W.W.II movies where Jeeps were used the way the were meant to be.

The ride down the hill took about 40 minutes, but it was one of those bone jarring, hang onto your brakes rides. At the end my lower arms were numb and wrists stiff. It's a great ride, but smooth roads are easier on the body.

After the ride we went over to Montezuma Well and Castle National Monument. I'm working on getting stamps for my National Parks Passport book and this was a good opportunity to pick up several additions. Montezuma Well is a pond that was created when a pocket of limestone below ground was washed away by continual water flow. Eventually the crust collapsed and the water made it's way to the surface. Looking at the rock you can see how the walls have continued to cave in over time. It's rather wild, you walk along in what looks like perfectly normal desert environment and suddenly there's this nearly circular hole in the ground filled with water. The ancient Indians used this area quite extensively. There are several houses built into the walls surrounding the hole and they dug an irrigation canal where the water escapes from the hole for their fields.

Montezuma Castle is one of the largest cliff dwelling houses around. It stands about 5 stories tall and much of it is still in tact. You get to see the house from the bottom of the valley, it stands probably a good 200 yards above in the cliff. A ranger mentioned that it has been totally untouched since 1951 when they discontinued allowing tourists to go up to the building. Probably just as well to let it weather on it's own without the help of hundreds of thousands of feet.

Some of the most amazing relics I find in the various museums are the woven baskets, cloth, sandals, ropes, and anything made of natural fiber. It just seems so amazing to me that they could last a good 900 to 1000 years in reasonable condition. You would think they would simply rot away and become part of the soil. But, there seems to be plenty of these types of artifacts around. I suppose due to the dry weather it just takes so long to decay that these things have been able to last.

Well, it was pizza night, that once a week tradition that is a true way to keep Brian happy. What do they say, "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." Actually we got a great deal. We ordered one pizza and wound up with two. Not bad. They messed up the first one, thin crust instead of thick, and made us a second the right way for free. Hey, I'll take free food any day.

Sunday morning found us headed up to Flagstaff for the day. Now that was a long drive. But neither of us really felt like riding that day so we used this opportunity to find some more Indian ruins and National Parks. My passport book is getting filled fast. Here we visited the Wupatki and Sunset Crater National Monuments. Now back in 1064 the Sunset Crater volcano erupted, probably covering some indian pueblos in the process. But the Sinagua Indians down in near Cottonwood (Tuzigoot) moved up to the Wupatki area for those years to take advantage of the eruption. It is a fact that once volcanic rock breaks down it becomes very fertile soil, however that takes hundreds of thousands of years. The archeologists actually believe that the Indians moved to this area because the layer of volcanic ash covering the soil actually helped retain moisture. So they stayed in this area for the 90 years that the volcano erupted and then moved back down to the Tuzigoot area later. They guess the ash got blown away by the winds and the soil no longer held moisture as well.

Wupatki is quite different from the Montezuma Castle or Mesa Verde type cliff dwellings. There are several small pueblos, some supporting up to about 100 people, built on high rocks or hills. They speculate that they built on the high places either for defense or to maintain as much good planting space as possible. I wonder if, like today, they just did it for the views. There are many of these pueblos in the Monument, we visited only 6.

Whenever I visit these sites I always try to imagine what it must have been like back at the beginning, middle, and end of the pueblo's occupation. Just imagine, no roads, no cars, no pollution, no airplanes, no phones, TVs, radios, newspapers. Everything you needed to survive was there, but you had to do the harvesting and processing yourself. In some respects it was a harsh life because your chances of surviving even through childhood were fairly slim. But, on the other hand it was actually a much simpler life. Your main concerns were to obtain food, water, clothing, and shelter and to keep the gods happy. What was important really did mean the difference between life and death. Do you suppose our lives have gotten better or worse? I sometimes wonder.

One thing the Wupatki National Monument staff recently did was a detailed survey of the grounds. They literally had a crew of people walk the entire park making notes of every ancient artifact, dwelling, or other man made object they found. They started in 1981 and finished in 1987. I've never heard of such an extensive survey before and it sure sounded like quite an undertaking.

It was windy, getting cold, and looked like a storm coming in. But we wanted to see the Sunset Crater before heading back to camp. Areas that have undergone recent (if you can call 900 years ago recent) volcanic activity are so fascinating. Especially areas where there were heavy lava flows. Seeing the rivers of broken black/gray rock with little or no vegetation is quite remarkable. I recall driving through the Big Island of Hawaii going through dense tropical rain forest to suddenly pop out to black lava rock looking like the unfriendly landscape of some distant planet. Then back into dense rain forest. Now the Sunset crater area has had a chance to grow some vegetation but the effects of the lava flows are still quite evident. I'm always amazed where you can see how the lava flowed, cooled, solidified, and cracked looking like a river of rock frozen in time.

Sunset Crater has a black/gray bottom with red top, hence the name Sunset Crater. Evidently the red at the top is due to a layer of rock containing a lot of iron that has oxidized since being deposited. There used to be paths leading to the top. But the continual foot traffic caused far too much erosion, the paths being over 5 to 6 ft deep in some spots. so in 1973 they closed the paths and tried their best to fix the damage. Even 22 years later you can still see the scars from the trails.

It was starting to snow and was getting mighty cold. So time to head back to Cottonwood. We drove through a blinding snowstorm through the Flagstaff area, good ole Casper the Friendly Van was doing just fine in these adverse conditions. Evidently the area was hitting all kinds of low temperature records for this time of year. There probably was a good 4 inches of snow on the ground when we finally started down the mountains. Cottonwood, being at a much lower elevation, had no snow and much less precipitation in general. But it was still rather cold.

Being Easter Sunday, we stopped in a grocery store and bought one of those broiled chickens and some macaroni salad for dinner, all for about $5. So it really is possible to get some good meals for not much money if you shop carefully.

Monday was a day for driving. We had originally planned to move to one of the free campgrounds near Prescot and then do some riding from there, but there was quite a bit of snow in this area and we'd heard that you don't want to ride on the wet dirt around there. It cakes up on the bike like cement. So we just kept going, through the mountains and then back down to the low desert. Heading west on state road 72 we met our second set of bike tourists. Out came the cold sodas. This was a couple, on a tandem, headed from San Francisco to Virginia. They didn't quite know what to make of us at first, the woman wondered if we were advertising something. But after some explaining, they understood our motivation. I sometimes wonder if the folks we've done this to remember the experience as well as we remember that RV in Montana.

This night we stayed at the River Island state campground on the Colorado river just south of Lake Havasu and the Parker Dam. Much warmer, dry, and sunny when we arrived. It was fairly late in the afternoon when we arrived, about 5PM, so we just had time to take the short 1 mile walk out of the campground. It was a trail set up by one of the Parker Boy's Clubs. Unfortunately many of the numbered posts for the nature trail had disappeared, so we were guessing as to which plants matched the printed brochure. I'll never understand why people feel that anything done well, like hiking trails, has be ruined by vandalism.

Finally, Tuesday was our day to return to San Diego. First we drove up to Lake Havasu City and saw London. Actually it's the London Bridge. There it is, right in the middle of the city, complete with old lamps and the London Bridge plaques. What an engineering feat to take a stone bridge completely apart, ship it half way around the world, and then put it together again. It didn't even look like any of the stones had been broken in the process. You could still see some of the numbers painted on the stones that they used to put it back together in the correct order. What surprised me was that it was moved way back in 1968. I thought it was much later than that, like around 1973 or so. Of course, over the years several touristy attractions had grown up around the bridge, like the London village. But still, the bridge by itself is quite something to see.

Back at Parker Dam we took their self guided tour of the hydraulic power plant. Like any good engineer, we wished we could see more than just the tops of the turbines. But that's all there was to see. It'd be something to catch one of these power plants in the middle of a turbine overhaul. Then there'd be something exciting going on. Just the shear size of the machinery would be an awesome sight.

We took a short bike ride down the road and back, mainly to stretch the legs, and then really headed back to San Diego. We took mostly small state back roads until just outside of El Centro where we got back on Interstate 8. I never cease to be amazed at the things you can find along the back roads. For instance, we stopped at the Intaglios just outside of Blythe. These are huge figures scratched into the ground by the ancient Indians. The dirt in this area consists of a thin layer of black rock over light brown soil. The Indians scraped away the black dirt, revealing the brown, to create several figures, two people, an animal, a spiraling serpent, and other lines. Some people may be wondering about the significance of the figures. I was amazed that in the hundreds of years of existence they hadn't been covered up by either the high desert winds or just people passing by. But here they were, only a few inches deep at most, and still very visible. When they tell you that even a single foot step can last hundreds of years in the desert you should believe them.

Well, that's pretty much it. We got home at about 9:30 PM just in time to unload some of our stuff and get to bed. This is it for "vacations" for us. The next time we head out, June 2, 3, or 4, it'll be for good.

Hiking and biking in the Sedona region of the Arizona desert can be quite an experience. The rocks are all multiple layers of color ranging from a pale yellow to bright orange and red. The evenings and early mornings when the sun's rays are softer can produce some incredible views and scenery. Quite breathtaking. And all those ancient ruins are magnificent. I highly recommend the Sedona area as a good place to spend a week or two.


Copyright 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.



We'd like to thank my father, Charles Johnson, whose diligent mail forwarding and other logistical support make this journey far easier than it could be otherwise.


Wendy Strutin Riedy for archiving the newsletters on her WWW site,

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