- Where We Started: Green Valley, Ariz.
- Where We Ended: Eagar, Ariz.
- Miles Driven: 389 (8,047 total).
- New States: None.
- States So Far: 15 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
One of the joys of this trip is the occasional unexpected treasure. You know when you go to White Sands, the Grand Canyon or a presidential library that you're going to see something beautiful, interesting and maybe even extraordinary. But, at the outset, Friday did not look like one of those days. All we had planned was one kitschy stop and a long scenic drive through the mountains of eastern Arizona. But the day instead delivered a number of pleasant surprises that reminded us why we take journeys like this.
The warmup act for the day was The Thing?, a roadside attraction in the vein of South of the Border in Dillon, S.C., and Wall Drug in Wall, S.D. For 30 miles leading up to The Thing, billboards remind you to stop and find out what "The Thing" is. Having been to South of the Border and Wall Drug, we already know that there's a direct inverse proportion between the number of billboards hawking a place and the actual quality of that place. So, in some ways, we already knew what The Thing was: a creature that sucks a few bucks out of your wallet. But, being that we were driving right past it -- and that we want to help future generations avoid the same mistakes -- we did decide to visit. Joan paid a buck and went in to investigate on her own.
In the end, Joan reported, you never do find out what The Thing is. More importantly, you don't give a shit. Basically, The Thing a collection of random junk with questionable lineage. For example, there's an old car there, and the sign above says the car "was believed to have been used by Adolph (sic) Hitler." Sounds pretty definitive me. By the way, did I ever tell you about the lawn mower in our shed that I believe was once used by Mugabe?
In addition the Fuhrer's sweet ride, The Thing's museum also features other old cars, wood-carved figurines and, for some reason, lots of exhibits relating to torture. Or maybe that's appropriate. Nonetheless, Joan returned to the car, declared The Thing not a thing worthy of my time. So off we went.
Our intent was to make it most of the way to Santa Fe on Friday, but didn't want to take the boring interstate route. So based on a recommendation from Jason Manning, we decided to hit the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, which runs north through eastern Arizona, parallel to the New Mexico border. Now, scenic drives are risky propositions. First, I find that they can be really stunning or really boring. And once you've committed to a scenic drive, you've usually already added hours to your trip. So if it's a bust, you pay in many ways. Second, driving on some scenic byways can be sketchy, especially at night. And we knew the tail end of this drive would probably be in the dark. But we decided to go anyway, and could not have been happier with the result.
The Coronado Trail starts in Clifton, Ariz., a cool mining town that was the site of the Arizona Copper Mine Strike in 1983. Featuring beautiful views of the mountains and a small old town that looks straight out of a John Wayne western, we would liked to have spent more time there, but were racing the sun. Then, as we wound up into the mountains on U.S.-191, we encountered one of those cool sites that make trips like this: the Morenci Mine, the largest copper mine in North America and one of the largest open-pit copper mines in the world. This was a sight completely foreign to a couple who grew up in Long Island and Connecticut, and one that was completely fascinating. Here are a few photos:
Yes, much of this terrain has been created by the mine, and I know there are environmental concerns around places like this. But, regardless of your political view, it was hard not to be struck by this oddly beautiful place where nature and human industry have come together.
After stopping to take photos of the mine from various vantage points, we kept moving down the Coronado Trail, and found that the mining activity hadn't driven away all of the wildlife. Not more than two miles past the mine, we came across some mountain goats alongside the road, one standing on a rock about 10 feet above the ground.
A mountain goat hangs out on the side of a rock wall in Morenci, Ariz. The other two mountain goats in the road wandered away when we stopped the car. This one didn't have a lot of options, so he/she went for the staredown.
After 20 more miles of switchbacks and curves, we passed the 9,000-foot mark before suddenly finding ourselves in some grasslands. There, we encountered some deer, though I'm not sure of the specific kind of deer.
From there, we weaved through more mountain terrain, but luckily, were mostly past the steep ledges and switchbacks before night fell. The last 50 miles to Eagar were flat and easy, and almost completely devoid of any other traffic.
In the end, we didn't get as close to Santa Fe as we'd hoped, but we couldn't be happier we took the Coronado detour.
- There are a lot of cattle guards on the roads out west. If you have not seen one before, a cattle guard is a series of metal bars that run across the road. The purpose is to prevent livestock from crossing the road, as they have trouble walking across because their feet fall between the bars. Wily animals -- those who can leap over the guards, or who have big enough feet that they can walk across -- have found ways to avoid these barriers. The guards are often used where fence lines run along both sides of the road, thus blocking off any way for livestock to get past. However, we've seen many cattle guards where there's no fence on either side of the road, which means cattle would merely have to walk around them. Are cattle really that dumb? Does anyone know how a cattle guard would work in situations like this?
- The other funny thing about cattle guards is that, every time we drive over one, it generates a sharp hum similar to when you roll over a rumble strip on the highway. For whatever reason, this sound makes the dogs crazy, and whenever they hear it, they pop up out of their naps and go on high alert for about 10 seconds. They then go back to sleep, only to pop up again at the next cattle guard. This is impacting their sleep, since we run over a cattle guard every 5-10 miles in this part of the country. Fred and Hank are now adjusting to only being able to sleep for 17 hours a day.
- We made a equipment change in Tucson, stopping at PetSmart to get another dog bed for the dogs. As it turns out, Fred and Hank have been in a duel for a while over who gets the "good" bed in the back seat, and who has to settle for the less comfortable bed. So Joan decided to end this showdown by just getting another "good" bed so both dogs could be happy. Have we told you yet the beagles are spoiled?
- Sign of the Day:
The Sanitary Market in Clifton, Ariz. If you're forced to promote being sanitary in your name, it either means you have quite a history to overcome, or your competition is really disgusting. We opted against going in and checking it out for ourselves.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "Electric Lion," by Tangerine Dream. This influential German instrumental band is definitely an acquired taste, though they've gone through so many phases that you're bound to like at least one of them. After starting out with more trance and space music, they've become more mainstream over time. They did a lot of soundtrack work in the 1980s on films like "Risky Business," "Thief," "Firestarter," "Sorcerer" and "Miracle Mile" (an underrated movie, if you've never seen it). Now in existence for more than 40 years, there probably isn't anyone on Earth who likes everything they've done, but they're always interesting.
- Most-Played Albums: We stayed mostly with classic rock today, with a specific focus on debut albums. We began with the self-titled debut album of The Cars, which in addition to hits like "My Best Friend's Girl" and "Just What I Needed," features lesser-known gems like "All Mixed Up" and "Don't Cha Stop." Although The Cars made a number of solid albums afterward, this is clearly their best work. Later, we listened to "Pronounced Leh-Nerd Skin-Nerd," by Lynyrd Skynyrd and "Led Zeppelin I," by Led Zeppelin. Now I mention there was a specific focus on debut albums, but I only realized that as I was writing this up. But it is ironic that we played what I think are three of the best debut albums in history. I'd add the debut albums of The Ramones, Boston and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers as well. Any other nominations?
- Lunch: Eegee's, Tucson, Ariz.: We made our third trip to Eegee's on this trip, but the first for food. We both got very good turkey sandwiches, and solid-but-not-great fries. We topped it off by each getting half-lemon, half-strawberry eegee's. They were delicious, though Joan liked the combo less than I did, and I damn near choked on a lemon rind in my eegee. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5). Turkey sandwich: good. Fries: bad. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale).
- Dinner: McDonald's, Eagar, Ariz.: There are not a lot of eating options in the Eagar/Springerville area, so our options were limited. We first stopped at Round Valley Pizza in Springerville. I went in and waited to order. As the inebriated gentleman in front of me was paying, the charming girl at the register looked up and screamed out, "I need some fucking change up here!" Then she disappeared. I waited another minute or two. Then, I saw three scraggly teenagers walk into the restaurant, and walk right behind the counter and back into the kitchen. At that point, I decided the golden arches would be dependably mediocre, and that Round Valley Pizza was a botulism risk. At McDonald's, I got chicken tenders and fries, and Joan got a chicken sandwich. In the 12 hours since I've eaten, I've already forgotten how it tasted. Restaurant Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5, on the fast-food scale). Round Valley Pizza gets a one, and I didn't even eat there.
- Best Western Sunrise Inn, Eagar, Ariz.: We always worry about Best Westerns, largely because they're franchised, and as a result, wildly inconsistent. On our 2003 trip, we were never sure if we were going to hit a Best Western with spacious accommodations and wireless, or one with rooms that smelled like decomposing human beings. But we hit gold here. Though it's nothing special from the outside, the rooms are newly renovated, with nice furniture, a comfortable easy chair I'm sitting in while writing this, and new plumbing. Other than the fact the alarm clock blurted out static every 20 minutes for reasons unknown, this was an excellent find. Hotel rating: 5 stars (out of 5, on the budget hotel scale).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Santa Fe, N.M.
- Tomorrow: More Santa Fe, then Four Corners.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Monument Valley and Canyon de Cheilly.
JOAN PIC OF THE DAY
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS