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postheadericon How Far Would You Ride for Pie?

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.

Routes 191 and 152 have lots of this

Routes 191 and 152 have lots of this

... and this

… and this

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.

 

It's not a proper ride until someone is under a scooter.

It’s not a proper ride until someone is under a scooter.

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.

Arriving at the Pie-O-Neer

Arriving at the Pie-O-Neer

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.

Looking up Clifton's historic "main drag."

Looking up Clifton’s historic “main drag.”

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“The Peoples Bank and Trust”

 

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Downtown Clifton

 

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.

The famous "Arrow Tree" just south of Hannigan Meadow

The famous “Arrow Tree” just south of Hannigan Meadow

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.

20150508_122457                          20150508_122442              Happy to be 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.

John infront of one of the radio telescopes at the VLA

John infront of one of the radio telescopes at the VLA

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.

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Parked in front of a very pink building at the Pelican Spa. Our room was on the second floor

 

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.

Great service and great food at the Passion Pie

Great service and great food at the Passion Pie

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.

Beautiful church in Hillsboro

Beautiful church in Hillsboro

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.

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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 view from Emory Pass, looking east

The view from Emory Pass, looking east

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.)

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Fort Bayard’s abandoned hospital

 

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.

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Looking west down Route 78. The yellow sign is one I like to see on a road.

 

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.)

New Mexico prairie

New Mexico prairie

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:

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Stopped along route 191

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“pie shaped” sopapilla for lunch in Silver City

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Christmas lights still hang from this building at Ft Bayard

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The colorful open pit Chino Mine

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The Spit & Whittle is one of the oldest social clubs in the western US

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The Percha Bank building in Kingston, NM

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Headstone in the Kingston Cemetery

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Kingston Cemetery

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Monument along the Camino de Suenos, located off of SR #1 near T or C.

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Our colorful room at the Pelican Spa

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The one and only

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The smallest credit union I’ve ever seen. It’s in Quemado, NM.

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Good eats in Alpine, AZ

I love this view of curves and a hairpin turn on Route 191, just above Morenci, AZ.

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My green chili chesse burger from the Owl Bar. yummmm.

 

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My pie from the Bear Wallow in Alpine.

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Camera battle with Randy on Route 191

 

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