3 December 2009
We wrestled the Dog House loose from the clutches of Albuquerque on 3 December and headed for Holbrook, AZ. It would be generous to describe the weather as chilly. We were afraid we might see ice and some scarey conditions, but it was just fine other than watching the fuel gauge dive toward the big E.
Our 38 gal. tank is big enough to give us about 350 miles range even at 10 mpg (we did a little better than that). While a 350 mile range should be adequate, we can’t always count on being able to buy diesel whenever we want, especially when we’re off the Interstate. I’d feel better with more fuel aboard and we’ll try to fix that while we’re in AZ.
We stopped at the KOA in Holbrook for the night. Nice campground with clean restrooms which the Admiral greatly appreciated. I think AAA needs to add a new rating: “Admiral Approved!” She’s a tough sell and really has a lot to say about those that don’t meet her minimums. Things like “&^%$@ pig sty!” come to mind. Happily that was not the case here.
I’d vaguely entertained the idea of staying over an extra nite. I thought it would be fun to visit the Petrified Forest NP again and see if any of the trees had grown in the 60+ years since I last visited. Chattering teeth when we stepped out to walk the dogs seemed to say this was probably not the time. So we gathered ourselves together and off we went in the Dog House to see if Apache Junction was any warmer.
The drive SW was spectacular. The whole trip was via state highways: AZ-377/-277/-260/-87/-188/-80. The route (picked by Mr. Garmin) took us through Payson, AZ. We first had miles of open, relatively flat land before we started climbing the first of the intervening mountain ranges. These rolling hills with their low now-dormant grasses were washed in pastel reds from the morning sun. The colors reminded us how much we appreciate this desert landscape. Where some might see dead, dry, useless land, we tend to see subtle shadings of the earth, rocks and plants of this amazing desert landscape. Unlike New Mexico, Arizona showed us more red and the mountains we encountered are more raw and rugged.
Gila National Forest was beautiful with mostly 2-lane and short sections of either a passing lane or divided road. Except in Payson, most businesses were closed (thank God we didn’t need diesel!), so we had to pull over briefly to make a sandwich. So close to the forest, we had hoped to see wild life along the way, but I think all the critters took one look at that first snow and checked into a local motel. We had sunny, clear skies, but it was still pretty cold!
After the Gila NF we popped out into desert and saw our first saguaro cactus. They lined the roadway like sullen sentinels with their arms raised threatening to pummel the unwary. I find them intimidating. A few of these slow growing giants had to be over 30 feet tall and I couldn’t help but wonder how they withstand the blast of wind from a T-storm. Beautiful does not come to mind when I look at them, but without a doubt they command respect.
The last part of the trip took us through the Usery Range before dropping down into Apache Junction on AZ-80. Once we pulled out of the Usery Recreation area we were into the farthest-east developments. Traffic was heavy enough that I was only able to get occasional glimpses of where we were, but my sense of it was that everything was new. There are surely older areas here, but the greater mass of what’s here seems to be post WW-II. Very noticeable to someone that’s been living in Santa Fe for a few years.
We arrived at the KOA in Apache Junction in plenty of time to get hooked up. We were even treated to an amazing effect that sunset creates with Superstition Mountain.
And just for comparison, this is what that same mountain looks like when it has midday lighting. I find the difference startling!
All in all a wonderful first trip on (semi-) back roads.
Our 2008 Ford truck has a Tow/Haul mode which made life behind the wheel very easy! It took care of all the down-shifting to keep our speed under control. Having a 15,000# hulk urging us along with insistent nudges could be unnerving and in the past would have required the driver to move the gear selector to the next lower gear and apply the brakes. But in this case, after the first touch of the brakes, the transmission understood I wanted to slow down without using just the brakes and it automatically started down-shifting without any other input from me. It really made me appreciate how truck design has moved ahead into the 21st century.
We’ll leave the rig here, but we’re off to Santa Fe for a couple days of appointments made before we had any thought of an RV. More updates coming.