Posts Tagged ‘Safford’
For two or three years now, I have been trying to take a ride on Route 191, formerly Route 666, aka “the Devils Highway.” The part I was interested in covers about 90 miles between Morenci and Alpine, AZ. Those 90 miles are some of the most remote, least traveled miles of any road in the US. They are also twisting, turning, climbing and descending miles of fun for those people on two-wheels.
Route 191 is on the eastern edge of AZ, very near the New Mexico state line. Because of how twisty it is, much of the speed limit is 25mph and many of the curves have suggested speeds of 10-15mph. That means that it takes 3 hours or more to cover that 90 mile stretch. Therefore, I needed at least 2 days to get from Tucson, ride 191, then get back home. I looked for other things to see/do and other roads to ride since I was going to be out for a couple of days.
I learned of a place called Pie Town, NM a few years back. It is a wide spot in the road along US 60, between Socorro, NM and Springerville, AZ. Pie Town has been around for a long time, and for much of that time, there has been someone there serving pie to weary travellers. What could be more fun than getting a piece of pie in a place called Pie Town? I wanted to include Pie Town in my ride, but it is quite a ways (70 miles east of Route 191) out of the way, meaning an additional 140 miles of riding. Could I find another fun road in New Mexico and use Pie Town as a “way point?” Of course I could.
In 2012, I rode my scooter to Roswell and back, to see my grandmother. I was trying to avoid as much interstate as possible and NM Route 152 which runs between Caballo and Silver City was suggested by a friend (thanks, Sean.) I rode it and found it to be equal to, or better riding than Rt 191. In 2011, I had discovered Route 78 between NM 180 and Route 191. It was another excellent road to ride.
Putting these together allowed me to ride three superb motorcycle roads in one 3-day, 900 mile ride. I figured Day #1 to Springerville, AZ or Quemado, NM via Route 191. Day #2 hits the Pie-O-Neer in Pie Town during business hours, then finishes in Truth or Consequences, NM. (I found out that several hotels there have natural hot spring baths/spas making it an obvious stop for folks that have just ridden 600 miles.) Day #3 hits NM 152, Silver City, then Route 78.
I came up with this plan in late 2012 or early 2013 but carrying the plan out was fairly hard. One reason was because the route climbs as high as 9000 feet in places and snow or freezing temps are common much of the year. Another reason is that much of the route crosses serious desert terrain with 100+ degree temps likely from late May through September. Basically, there were 2 small windows of opportunity to do this ride as safely as possible; Mid-May or early October. We tried to do this a time or two, but something would happen and it would delay the ride by 6 months.
This year, I had planned a 7 day scooter tour, which included most of the above. Life happened and I had to postpone the tour, but at the last minute, I was able to to take 3 days off. I decided to give the original plan a try. A couple of friends were able to come along. A huge thanks to my long time ride buddy, John Kiniston and to Randy & Cheri Hays for accompanying me.
Here is my account of the “Pie Town Ride”:
Day #1 – Randy and Cheri have a cabin in Lakeside, AZ, so we changed made our destination for the first night. We would be riding with me on my 250cc Honda Helix, John on his 250cc Hyosung and Randy piloting his 400cc Burgman, 2-up with Cheri. I decided to take I-10 as far as Willcox to give us additional time to spend on 191. (If you want to repeat this but avoid interstate entirely, take US 70 from Globe to Safford, AZ. US 70 adds miles and time from Tucson.) We met at my newest, favorite coffee shop, Yellow Brick. We were on the road by 8:00am and stopped for breakfast at the Reb’s Cafe & Coffee Shop, in Benson, AZ. From there is was another 45 miles mile of I-10 til we exited onto Route 191, (the flat, straight part) then through Safford to Clifton/Morenci and the base of the good part of 191. Since there are no services and few other vehicles on this road, we all topped off our tanks on Clifton. We found Clifton to be a really neat little town and hope that we can return there sometime to explore.
The road begins to climb rapidly through Morenci, which is a town which owes its existence to one of the world’s largest open pit copper mines. There are some spectacular views of the mines as you begin the first major climb of the ride. If you do a You Tube search for Route 191 or Devil’s Highway, you can watch video of various people riding this ride. None do it justice. The camera just doesn’t catch the steepness of the grades or how tight some of the corners really are. That said, you should watch a couple anyway. There are three climbs in this 90 miles stretch. The first takes you rapidly from about 3500 feet, in Clifton, to about 7400 feet. Then it descends to about 6000 feet for a few miles and the switchback carry you to around 8000′. Another descent to around 7000′ then some more switchbacks and cliffhangers take you to over 9000′ prior to reaching Hannigan Meadow. There is a lodge there, but I don’t think they are open year round. They may, or may not, have fuel. If open, you may be able to get a meal there if you arrive when they are serving. We didn’t.
Important note: we found the condition of the road surface to back a bit dangerous. The top layer of asphalt is wearing done and, in many corners, has turned into a fine, black sandy material. If you have a fear of heights, there are no guardrails. Also, there is almost a complete absence of caution signs for sharp curves, turns etc. This is in stark contrast to NM 152 which has great signage.
Temperatures dropped throughout the ride. Each time we stopped, one or more of us put on another layer of clothing. We arrived at Alpine, AZ about 4:00pm, with temps in the mid 50’s and a blustery wind blowing. We stopped in for food and hot drinks at the Bear Wallow Cafe. Because this ride was all about pie, I ordered a piece here. It was pretty good.
From Alpine, it was another 70 miles to Randy’s cabin. Temps dropped a bit more and the winds continued. Fortunately, we were in the forest much of this last section and the wind wasn’t too bad. We arrived at the cabin with electricity, for charging our devices but no gas for heat. We got a roaring fire going, which Randy stoked intermittently during the night, grabbed a bunch of blankets and went to bed.
Day #2 – The forecast had called for a low of about 30 degrees, so we planned on a late start, to allow temps to climb a bit. After a leisurely breakfast, we rode out around 10:00am. The problem with waiting until it was warmer, was the fact that John and I still had over 300 miles to ride. (Randy and Cheri would ride to Pie Town with us, but had to return to the cabin to fix the gas issue.)
The wind was with us again this day. Fortunately, it was, mostly, at our backs for the ride to Pie Town. There is some beautiful scenery along US 60, but not much in the way of fun riding. It is mostly long and straight. Pie Town, though, did not disappoint me. As I mentioned earlier, I had known of Pie Town for a few years. Randy and Cheri, though, have known the proprietor for a while. Earlier this year, I was privileged to see a documentary about Kathy Knapp and her pie shop, the Pie-O-Neer. It’s called “The Pie Lady of Pie Town” and it is a wonderful film. I got to meet Kathy at a showing of the film in Tucson, so it was nice to see her and the place the film is about. Business was brisk, but we ordered our pie and enjoyed some time at the pie shop. The pie isn’t the best I’ve ever eaten, but it is very good. If you combine the good pie and the “Pie Town Experience” it is well worth the trip, from where ever you started. By the way, there are two pie shops in Pie Town: The Pie-O-Neer and the Pie Town Cafe’. Rather than competing with one another, they compliment each other. They are open on different days of the week so that there is always pie in Pie Town.
Happy to be in Pie Town
John and I rode out of Pie Town after pie and coffee with about 170 miles of road and wind ahead of us. One, very interesting thing between Pie Town and Socorro is the VLA, the Very Large Array.
At least the temperature increased as the elevation decreased. The 85 miles to Socorro is unremarkable. We were both a bit hungry, but didn’t see any place to eat as we rode through the south end of Socorro. The gas station attendant told me that we were only about 10 miles north of San Antonio, NM. San Antonio isn’t much larger than Pie Town but it, too, has something for which it is well known: green chili cheeseburgers from The Owl Bar and Grill. We turned south and stopped at The Owl. I don’t think it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten, but it was good and the service was very good, too.
The main route south, out of Socorro, is Interstate 25. If you are traveling out that way and aren’t in a huge hurry, I recommend driving NM State Road 1. It is the old highway and mostly parallels I-25. Again, there is nice scenery along here. SR #1 takes you through a wildlife refuge and by several ranches. The wind was very difficult. It was very strong with harsh, sharp gusts. At times, it felt as if the wind was trying to rip the helmet off of my head. My scooter would shudder and shake as gusts slammed into me. The worst part of the ride was a 2 miles segment of I-25 from the end of SR #1 to the exit for NM 181. We had to ride through a deep, steep ravine with the wind howling through it. Both of us had “death grips” on our handle bars, but we blew in to Truth or Consequences unscathed.
If you ever get the chance to stay in T or C, I recommend staying at the Pelican Spa. Rates start at $45 and guests get unlimited use of the hot mineral baths from 9:00am until about 11:00pm. The hotel itself is quirky and fun. If you can’t stand bright colors, this isn’t the place for you. We got some tasty ice cream at a little mom and pop shop, spent some time soaking in hot springs, then enjoyed some night air before retiring.
Day #3 – We awoke with more wind forecast but with highs in the desert in the 70’s. It was in the mid-50’s when we got up, but we still had a lot of mountain riding ahead of us. We had a very nice breakfast at a really neat coffee and pastry shop, downtown, called The Passionate Pie Café. (Another pie reference.) We didn’t have pie, but the eggs, bacon and bacon waffle were delicious. I highly recommend this place if you pass through T or C.
After looking at all the wonderful old buildings downtown, we headed away from town via NM 187. It roughly parallels I-25 as well and has more twists and turns than SR 1 did. You also get a couple of nice views of Caballo Lake. We turned onto NM 152 at Caballo.
The first 15 miles pass through rolling hills with gentle sweeping curves. Just prior to the tiny, yet interesting, hamlet of Hillsboro, there are some tighter sweepers as the roadway drops into the Percha Creek Valley. Spend some time looking around Hillsboro if you pass through.
The road follows Percha Creek for the next few miles, until you reach Kingston. Kingston has an interesting history (don’t all towns?) but there isn’t much left of the town, now. There is, however, beautiful little cemetery less than a mile from town as you continue on 152. It has the final resting place of the only Congressional Medal of Honor winner I’ve ever “met”: 1st Sergeant James McNally. RIP, sir.
After leaving Kingston, Rt 152 leaves the creek bed and starts climb up the Black Range mountains through a series of switchbacks and very sharp turns. In 7 or 8 miles it climbs more than 2000 feet to Emory Pass (8228 feet.) John and I got off the bikes to take a few pics from the viewing area. The wind was till blowing quite hard and, as I was taking pictures, my scooter was blown over. The 1996 Helix was in near mint condition and now has 2 cracked lenses and multiple scratches and rubs on her left side. I mourned briefly, for my scooter’s lost beauty, hopped on and continued down the road.
The road down the west side of the mountains is as beautiful and fun as the east side. We stopped for more pictures and a quick rest at the Chino Mine. It is the second largest open pit mine in the world with the first being in Chile. The last time I was through here, I had seen a sign for Fort Bayard. This time we decided to check it out. I am so glad we did. It is an interesting, though eerie place. (Abandoned hospitals seem to be spookier than most other buildings.)
Route 152 ends at its junction with US 180. 180 goes south to Deming. If you follow it north, it ends at Route 191 at Alpine. We followed it into Silver City, where we got fuel and lunch at a little downtown diner. At this point, we could continue on Route 180, or turn southwest onto Route 90, to Lordsburg and I-10 home. We weren’t in a hurry and chose to continue on 180 to Route 78 for our last fun piece of road.
It’s about 45 miles from Silver City to the Route 78 junction. About half of that is along the Gila River Valley, which is beautiful. You pass the two tiny towns of Cliff and Buckhorn along the way.
Route 78 is only about 35 miles from start to finish. The first half is very scenic through rolling hills with some fast sweeping turns. You gradually climb back into the trees until you reach the AZ state line. Once in AZ, the road begins to descend. It starts with many tight turns and switchbacks. A few miles later, the sweepers return. There are some spectacular views as you return to the desert.
At Three Way, we got back onto Route 191 (about 10 miles south of Clifton) and rode into Safford. John was on fumes by the time we got there.
There are no direct ways back to Tucson from Safford. You can either go northwest on US 70 to Globe, then south on Route 77, or you can go due south on route 191 to I-10, then take it into town. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Going south is shorter, but you have to go on the interstate. We chose to take I-10 even though the wind continued to blow. (I am okay with riding in the wind OR riding on the interstate, but I really don’t care for the combination.)
Traffic was light down 191 and on I-10. We headed west and made out last fuel stop just past Benson. We talked about it and decided to stay on I-10 all the way to Tucson unless the traffic got bad. It did, so we exited the interstate at Marsh Station Road and then were able to, leisurely, ride the rest of the way. Upon arriving home, I checked my trip odometer and it showed 998.3 miles since my first stop for gas prior to starting the ride on Day #1. Not bad for 3 days on a scooter.
May is a very windy time of year. I think that I will try to conduct future long rides later in the summer or in early fall. We had an amazing time and I am glad to be able to tell people that I rode 1000 miles for a piece of pie.
Here are a few other pics from the ride:
I decided to make the best out of having several days off combined with days that still have quite a few hours of day light. After my enjoyable 550 mile ride the previous week, I was looking at some websites featuring roads for great motorcycle rides.
One site mentioned Route 78 which spans the AZ/NM border, connecting US-180 to US-191. The eastern end starts about 45 miles northwest of Silver City, NM. The western end can be found at Three Way, AZ, which is about 35 north east of Safford. Route 78 is approximately 35 miles in length. So, one week I rode 550 miles in order to ride 30, this particular week, I rode 515 miles, to ride 35. It sounds kind of crazy to me as I write this now, but it made a lot of sense at the time.
Once I read about this scenic road, I had to find a way to get there. I did my usual Google Map review. I looked for the shortest, but most scenic, loop possible. I came up with this: 463 miles and I figured it could be done in a shade less than 12 hours. That allowed time for food, rest and some photos.
This time, I rode with a friend, Lori P, who is another Sky Island Rider. After hearing about my previous 500 miler, she said, I wouldn’t mind doing something like that” and since I already had this ride planned, I invited her and her black RV-250, along for a long ride.
If you looked the link of the ride map above, you may be saying something like. “Hey, I thought Howard didn’t ride on interstate highways.” I mentioned many times, that I don’t care for interstate, however, sometimes it is necessary. I-10, from Vail to Lordsburg, NM, is about 135 miles and a little over two hours. I would have loved to have taken a nice back road to Lordsburg. However, here is what it would have looked like if I would have done so: MAP. Now it’s just over 200 miles and over 4 hours. If I were making this a two day trip, I would have done this, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t. Arizona just doesn’t have that many ways to get from Point A to Point B.
The weather forecast called for temps around 105 on the desert floor and a 30% chance of rain in the late afternoon. In an effort to avoid possibly getting caught in one of the afternoon rain squalls as well as to get off of I-10 before the traffic picked up, we left early, about 5:30am. It was dark and east bound traffic was very light as we left from our meet-up location at I-10 and Houghton Road.
The worst part of leaving this early were the bugs, mostly gnats. I pulled us off the road at The Thing! for a much needed cleaning of our face shields. We learned another thing (other than the fact that bugs are heavy around dawn) by the time we reached Willcox. I had been keeping our speed around 75mph, indicated, on my speedometer. When we fueled in Willcox, our usual 65mpg mileage, had plummeted to about 45mpg! our range was now closer to 120 miles on a tank, rather than the 200 miles I was accustomed to. Good thing we never had more than about 100 miles between towns.
Be advised, road quality on I-10 is less than ideal. I suppose it is because of the large number of tractor-trailers on it. Whatever the reason, the worst road we traveled on this day was I-10. The section between Willcox and the NM state line was the worst.
To my relief, we reached Lordsburg and were able to leave I-10 until, I thought, the return leg. We grabbed some fuel at the Love’s Travel Stop right off of Exit 20A and B. (For some reason, there are two exits here that both go to the same place: Motel Drive.) We then cruised to Main St then south to Kranberry’s Restaurant for some breakfast. The food and coffee were good and there was a pair of ladies who had a lot of questions about our scooters.
According to My Tracks, we did the following on this first leg:
- Total Dist – 154 mi
- Max speed- 74 mph
- Elev gain- 4528 ft
Unbeknownst to me, I had a phone issue, so I have no My Track data from Lordsburg to Silver City.
With full tank and full bellies, we turned, made our way to Route 90 toward Silver City. There was very little traffic on 90. We steadily climbed as we left Lordsburg. Route 90 gets a little more than 6000 feet on the way to Silver City. We drove around Silver City a bit and took in some of the sites from the scoots. The old downtown is especially picturesque, however, I didn’t get any pics myself. You should, though.
After our little tour, we found Route 180 and turned toward the town of Cliff. we hadn’t stopped in Silver City, so we stopped for a butt break and some liquid refreshment in Cliff’s only operating retail establishment that we could see: the “Mini Mart.” While we were there, a scooter pulled up and we talked for a while with a local resident named Walter Roth. It was a great little break. he had bought his scooter at Copper Country ATV & Cycle and was very pleased with the service he got there.
17 miles after leaving the mini-Mart, we reached “The Road,” Route 78. As mentioned on the Motorcycle Roads website, it starts as undulating road through some beautiful grassland, steadily climbing as we headed west. High speed sweepers start about the time we reached the pine forest.
The Arizona State line is, apparently, the signal to start downhill and into some serious twisties. These went on for 6-8 miles. gradually, we saw amazing views of the desert valley where Three-Way and Clifton are located. About the time I thought the curves were finished, we hit these incredible 180 degree, downhill sweepers! There several in combination and they were an absolute blast to ride.
It was a thrilling ride. If we didn’t have so far to go to get home, I would have turned around, gone back to the top, and ridden it again. Route 78 ends at Three Way, AZ. Three Way is so, I suppose, because of it’s four-way intersection of three roads, Route 78, US-191 and Route 75. There is a general store and a gas station at said intersection. I wasn’t sure if I could make it the rest of the way into Safford, so we gassed up in Three Way, got onto US-191 and headed toward Safford.
There is a significant climb as you leave Three Way. The road is in great shape and it is now divided highway. It was in Safford that my internal compass let me down. I hadn’t written down a bunch of directions like I did for the previous long ride. I failed to see the sign indicating the left turn near downtown to stay on 191. I didn’t recall needing to turn and was sure we were heading south. We had an enjoyable lunch at Jerry’s and headed out of town. We did need a bit of time to cool off as it was 111 degrees as we hit town.
It was my plan to head south on 191 then turn west onto Route 266 and ride to Fort Grant then hit I-10 in Willcox then ride back to Tucson. I was riding and having a grand time but started to feel a bit uneasy at not having seen the 266 intersection. We finally stopped at a nice rest area in the little town of Bylas. It was there that I asked directions and was told tat we were actually 35 miles west of Safford on US-70 headed toward Globe! The take home lesson here is that there are very few road signs out here. Make sure you’re on the right one.
I felt we were too far out of our way to turn around. Since US-70 would take us to Globe and from there we could take Route 77 back to Tucson, I decided to continue the way were going. We gassed up again in Peridot, on the reservation and climbed up to Globe. One remarkable thing we both noticed at we rode near Peridot was the unique odor of whatever was growing along the road. It smelled exactly like a fine pipe tobacco. It was quite pleasant, but I’ve never smelled it before.
We could see huge thunderheads to the south, as we approached Globe. As with my last ride, we stopped in Winkleman for a little rest. It was obvious we were going to get wet. I did discover in my last ride, that the RV-250 handles wet road quite well.
It started raining as we passed through Dudleyville.We hit severe weather at Mammoth but kept on going. It was late afternoon by this time and we had been in the saddles for more than 12 hours. Again, the RV-250 performed well. By the time we hit Catalina, precipitation was down to a sprinkle.
We rode together until we had to part ways to go to our respective homes. It was another awesome ride. I got the following ride data from My Tracks for the ride from Silver City to Tucson:
- Total Dist – 265 mi
- Max Speed – 66 mph
- Min Elev – 1945 ft
- Max Elev – 6219 ft
- Elev Gain – 10100 ft
- Max Grade – 11.8%
- min grade -9.3%
Our total distance covered was a tad over 500 miles. The RV-250 performed better on this ride than the last one. Mostly because elevation was mostly below 6000 feet.
It was a great ride and I thank Lori for coming along. It was my first long ride with a ride buddy. It’s fun to have someone to share a ride with.
This post has gotten way out of hand. Take care and ride safe.