The crew and I are camped on Bureau of Land Management land on Haekel Road off Route 70, east of Safford and Solomon, Arizona.
Stowed in our picnic satchel is a cheese sandwich which we will enjoy somewhere along scenic Route 366. Hikers take this road in order to trek to Mt. Graham (10,720 ft.).
“Oh, look! A cactus in bloom!”
I stop the PTV , jump out, and take the photos you see at the beginning of this post.
We go a little further.
“Just a minute . . . . I want to get a shot of those California poppies.”
(Correction: A reader informs me it’s more likely they are Mexican gold poppies.)
First thing ya’ know the crew and I are searching all around for wildflowers!
These are very tiny . . . .
(Note: Readers inform me the flower in the next photo is the poisonous jimsonweed.)
It is what it is and it’s lovely!
There’s something I’ve been meaning to discuss with you.
As you travel around the west, the opportunity to drive a scenic highway or scenic byway frequently presents itself. You come to a road sign that announces, “Scenic Byway.” It has an arrow directing you to take the road. Before automatically turning the wheel, remember what I’m about to tell you.
The word scenic does not always mean scenic.
I’ve discovered it’s often a euphemism. For horrifying. Trust me. I know of which I speak. Think about it. Does the Chamber of Commerce want one of their roads to be known as the horrifying highway? No, of course not.
“I know! Let’s call it The Scenic Highway!”
Chamber of Commerce brochure, under Things To Do:
“Drive the scenic highway to regal stands of aspen encircling open mountain meadows, lush with wildflowers and grasses. Park at one of many overlooks to enjoy a picnic lunch, blah, blah, blah . . . . ”
“Drive the horrifying highway that encircles sheer cliffs while your vehicle rolls along a crumbling precipice above open mountain meadows, lush with wildflowers and the remains of tourist vehicles. Park at one of the many overlooks, get out and vomit on your new hiking shoes . . . .”
Shortly after we set up camp on Haekel Road, a BLM ranger stops by.
After a brief chat which includes the usual interrogation, he hands me a free brochure about Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area. Later I read the brochure. Referring to my map I see there’s a campground called Riverview, located alongside the meandering Gila River, within the conservation area.
Hmm . . . I’d like to check that out. Maybe we’ll camp there . . .
I don’t pay attention to the fact that in the brochure the road through Gila Box is described as . . . yep, you guessed it . . .
A scenic drive!
It’s late afternoon when the crew and I head out in the PTV. The west entrance to Gila Box is not far from our camp.
This should make a nice, leisurely drive.
At first everything is okay. It isn’t long though before the PTV carries us on a one-lane road resembling the track of a roller coaster. You know how the roller coaster goes way up and slows at the crest? You’re given a millisecond to consider your own mortality while looking straight down. The track drops below you and turns sharply at the bottom, and, good God in heaven, you Have To Get Off Of This Thing Right Now!
But you can’t get off the roller coaster and you sure as heck can’t get off the scenic road!
There’s no shoulder, just air. You must go forward. And then up goes the road again, up a suicide hill and down and over . . . .
At last we reach an overlook. Oxygen-deprived from holding my breath too long, I stagger to the side door and let out the crew.
Oblivious to their recent brush with death, Bridget and Reggie scamper about with delight.
They miss my sarcasm and keep on sniffing, having a great ol’ time, bless their hearts.
The Gila River is below us.
I take a few photos in the waning light.
Somewhere up that way is the campground. I bet this road originally was a mountain goat trail or bighorn sheep maybe. There it goes up and around . . . . I couldn’t care less about seeing the dadburn campground. There’s no way I’d bring the Best Little Trailer on this road anyway. Oh, yuck, I have to backtrack to get us outta’ here . . . .
“Come on, guys. We have a scenic drive to do before it gets dark.”
Okay. One reason I told you all that was for you to understand why Bridget, Reggie, and I never do drive up into the Pinaleno Mountains.
Instead we enjoy our picnic lunch among wildflowers along the low-country road.
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