postheadericon All’s Well That Ends Well?

In which Howard gets stranded in the middle of nowhere and was, briefly, feared lost or dead by my rescuer, Ron. But more on that later……

Scenery along the FKH

In addition to McGee Road (as discussed in a recent entry) another road I have want to ride was the Florence-Kelvin Highway. Why, you might ask? As I have mentioned before, I enjoy riding loops, as opposed to “out and backs.” I had been trying to find a route that connected Route 79, which goes through Florence, to Route 77, which goes through Globe. The most obvious road that connects these two is US 60, which runs east-west between Phoenix and Globe. A loop using US 60 would be just over 230 miles in length and would look something like this.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this loop. I have ridden a couple of variations on it and know of several folks who ride it regularly. I was just looking for something a little, uh, different. That’s all. Using my trusty Rand McNally Atlas and then Google Maps, I found it: the Florence-Kelvin Highway. The word “Highway” on the maps should certainly be in quotations or at least followed by a ūüėČ because satellite views made it clear that most of this “Highway” is dirt. As you may know, if you’ve read many of my previous posts, I wasn’t too deterred by a few miles of dirt. A few clicks and drags to the previous map makes my first idea on this ride look like a mutant popsicle, ¬†like this.

These are some the gentle washboards on the FKH

The stick on this “popsicle” is southern Route 77, aka Oracle Road, once in Tucson. I don’t like Oracle Rd. It is very, very busy with frequent, poorly marked, lane closures due to almost continuous construction. I began looking for an alternate route for at least half of my loop. Because, no matter what route I took, it was going to be at least 70 miles to get to the beginning of the Florence-Kelvin Highway ;-), I had already decided to take the SYM RV-250 for this ride, so I was worried about traveling a route with a bit higher speed limit.

The RV-250 with Picacho Peak in the background

I did a bit more looking at the map and decided to take the I-10 access road out of Tucson to Picacho, then take Route 87 to Coolidge, then Route 287 from Coolidge to Florence then south to the Florence-Kelvin “Highway.” Now my ride map is looking remarkably similar to this.

I have fond memories of going to various Nickerson Farms around the country. this one has been closed for many years.

The feet of a giant advertising "cowboy" that burned almost to the ground.

Off I went. The temp was in the 70’s and the sun was shining. The ride through Picacho, then to Coolidge and Florence was uneventful. I stopped to take a few pics in Picacho. ¬†Picacho has an interesting past but the higher speed limits have made Picacho one of those places where travelers used to stop, but don’t any more. It is also home to the Civil War’s westernmost battle (Picacho Pass), where 13 confederate cavalrymen fought briefly with 10 union cavalrymen. I stopped for a few minutes in Coolidge to rest my backside and get a Gatorade. That was something I would be glad for later.

It's hard to see exactly how many Saguaro's are in the pic. You can see the mountains in the background.

The beginning of the highway is located about 2 miles south of the 287 – 79 junction. I pulled off Route 79 and initated “My Tracks” on my Droid phone, to record this section of this ride.¬†The first 12 miles of Florence-Kelvin are paved and are in very good condition. This first section travels through what is probably the most impressive Saguaro Cactus forest I have ever seen. The Saguaros are relatively¬†young but there are thousands of them. The Tortilla and Dripping Spring Mountains make for a beautiful backdrop for the cacti.

Dirt road ahead.

I was pleasantly surprised when¬†I started the dirt portion. The transition was well marked.¬†It was very well maintained and very smooth. The terrible washboards found on the Redington Pass ride were mostly¬†absent. I don’t know if it is always this way or if I just happened to ride¬†here shortly after the road¬†was grated. Whatever the reason, I was able to ride 30-35 mph along the straighter sections. There was a fair amount of sand and loose gravel in the bottom of dips and around corners, so I dropped my speed accordingly. According to Google, I had 18-20 miles of dirt before hitting pavement again near Route 177 west of Kearny, AZ. I settled in to enjoy the ride, stopping frequently to take pictures.

Can you see that tan-colored ridge running horizontally in the middle of this photo?

This is a small portion of the boulder field.

One of many camping areas I saw. This one is off of Cochran Rd, on the southern edge of the boulder field.

I love exploring the desert and Florence-Kelvin (hereafter referred to as FKH)¬†didn’t let me down. This area is beautiful and easily driven with a family sedan. There is one area of enormous boulders which reminded me a lot of Texas Canyon near Benson. I saw what looked like cliff’s in the distance, then I came over a ridge and saw this area populated by these boulders, in stark contrast to the dirt, sand and shrub of the surrounding desert. I took a brief detour onto Cochran Road, which went directly into a smaller boulder field. There was evidence that people regular use this area for camping.

The Boulders at Skyrise non-developed development.

Riding a bit further, I came upon a fenced, gated area called “Boulders at Skyrise.” That is a nice name. I searched online for information about this place and it seems to be some kind of future resort or housing development. Very little info is available¬†otherwise.

Yucca as far as the eye can see.

I saw a couple of deer. This was the only one I caught on pixels.

Cow and calves. Watch for them in the road.

This guy has an impressive set of horns.

Saguaro cactus disappeared and fields of Yucca came into view. I also noticed smaller roads that went to various ranches. I also had the opportunity to see wild, and not-so-wild, life. There are ranches and a lot of open range in this area. Watch for cows in the road. You may be able to go faster because of good dirt road quality, but not vehicle stops very quickly on sand and dirt.

You can see the FKH climbing up the far side of this little valley. It's that little white line almost in the center of this pic.

Headquarters for the A-Diamond Ranch. see the tiled roof in the middle of the trees?

A few miles later, I came to the edge of a valley. I could see the FKH climbing up the other side. Additionally, I could see large trees and the roof of a large ranch house at the bottom. I didn’t see any water at the bottom, but all the trees indicated that it is there.

R.I.P. On the Florence_Kelvin Highway

The descent and subsequent climb up the other side were beautiful. The road was still in good shape, but there was evidence that danger still exists. I saw two roadside memorials within about a half-mile of each other.

One of the paved cattle guard on the dirt "highway."

One interesting sidenote. This is the only dirtroad I can remember ever riding or driving on that paves the area on either side of a cattle guard. I don’t kow that it makes it safer or not. I’m guessing that the reason they do it is to keep all the dirt and rocks out thus increasing the cattle guards’ “lifespan” before you have to go in and clean it all out. It did make them a bit smoother to ride across.

You can just see the one lane bridge in this pic.

A mile or two after reaching the top of the far side of the valley, I reached the end of the dirt and was back on pavement. There was a steep decline and I could see a long one lane bridge across a small river. I had reached the Gila River.

The RV-250 does not start after this picture. There are certainly worse places to be stranded.

Immediately before crossing the bridge, I saw another paved road named Riverside Drive. I decided to take a quick detour and see where it went. I saw a little dirt ramp that went down to the water. I rode down it and snapped a quick pic to show people that there is actual running water in Arizona. And that, dear reader, is where my scooter died, or rather, failed to start again.

I was about 100 miles from home at this point. I could write another 2000 words about all that happened in the following 5-6 hours, but I’ll abbreviate. I made a couple of phone calls. First I called Ron, my mechanic at Scoot Over. I initially hoped he could talk me through a quick roadside repair, but we soon realized that it¬†wasn’t possible. The awesome folks at Scoot Over agreed to come out and pick me up, for a fee, but what’s a few bucks when you’re stuck with a dead scooter and it’s almost 100 degrees outside.

This is about 50% of Wilson's Trailer Court.

Moving along: I pushed the scooter across the bridge,¬†about a mile further north to Wilson’s Trailer Court. I can’t say enough about the good folks here. They brought me several glasses of iced tea, then later, some hot dogs, chips and cookies. There had been a death in their family and many were gathering for the funeral, but they still helped take care of a stranded traveler. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I got in the shade and waited for my ride.

This is what is left of the Kelvin Gas Station. apparently it had a single pump.

As it turns out, I was now in the former town of Kelvin. The Wilson’s had grown up here and their family had once run the general store where the Kelvin post office had been. I took a pic of what had been the gas station. There are few buildings left of what was Kelvin.

Killing time whittlin'

I had given Ron directions, but realized I didn’t actually know the names of the road I was on, wherer it exited onto Route 177. At this point, I violated one of the cardinal rules of rescue,¬†I left my vehicle. Additionally, I didn’t let the Wilsons know what¬†I was doing.¬†I had decided to walk out to 177 to meet Ron. As it turns out, I got a ride to Kearny¬†once I got to 177. I watched for Ron’s truck so I could flag him down, but didn’t see him. I did, however, see a road called Kelvin Road. I became sure that Ron had gone that way and we had missed one another.

Does that buzzard know something I don't?

My phone’s battery had died shortly after making the phone calls necessary to arrnage my pick up, so I had no way to communicate with anyone. I decided to sit along the side of Route 177 where¬†I could see¬† both ways down the road. After another hour or so, I spotted Ron coming from the same direction I had come, with my scooter already loaded onto the trailer. I flagged him down.

I gratefully got inside the truck and promptly recieved a well-deserved butt chewing. Ron had, indeed, gone down Kelvin Road and we missed each other. He found my abandoned scoot and went to the house to ask where “the guy with the scooter” had gone. They began to look for me. They thought maybe I had gone down to the river to check out the water and take pics. They came upon a nest of rattle snakes. Ron knew if I had gone that way,¬†I may have been bitten, fallen into the river and died.

Ron couldn’t search forever. He decided to drive toward Tucson with my scooter, hoping to find me somewhere along the way. He also called my wife to let her know they found the bike but not me. He was debating when to call EMS to start the search when he saw me waving him down. Needless to say, he was angry at me for scaring him.

I¬†will endeavor to not ever leave my bike again. Ron also lectured me about never riding alone. Unfortunately, that is one thing that I probably cannot do.¬† I don’t know of any other scooter riders who are interested in riding where and how I ride. In my mind, I either ride alone, or I don’t ride.

An unoccupied house in the former town of Kelvin. you can see tailings from the mine behind it.

Conclusion: The rough roads, probably the previous week’s ride across Redington, shook the scooter’s starter apart. It will take 2-3 weeks to get a new starter, since SYM parts can only be obtained from Canada. Personally,¬†I was a bit sunburned and a little dehydrated, but was never in any danger. I, hopefully, am a bit wiser for the experience.

Data from My Tracks:

  • Total Distance – 35.68 mi
  • Total Moving Time – 1:24
  • Average moving Speed – 25.42 mph
  • Min elevation – 1556 ft
  • Max elevation – 3191 ft
  • Min grade – 10.8%
  • Max grade – 12.5%
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