My first stamp of the day, The Saguaro National Park, is just a few miles from Jeff and Karenís place. The park actually has two units on either side of Tucson, about 30 miles apart. I head over to Saguaro East, the Rincon Mountain District, and follow the Cactus Forest Loop Drive. The saguaro cactus, which can grow to heights of 50 feet over a 200-year lifespan, is the main reason for the existence of this park. Growing ever so slowly, the mature saguaro is the tallest thing in the desert, renowned for the variety of odd, all-too-human shapes it assumes. The park also is home to 1,000 other species of plant life, most of which Iíve never seen before. These plants are so strange looking, having to adapt to desert life, that ití hard to even image these creatures. This must be where those Hollywood special-effects creature guys come to get their ideas for the next Alien movie.
The weather today is very warm. In the sun itís actually quite hot, but what else would you expect in the desert, right? Itís dry heat, but itís still heat. Definitely shorts and T-shirt weather, but on a motorcycle, for me, it is never shorts and T-shirt weather. Have you ever seen what happens to unprotected skin when it rubs against asphalt? It comes right off the flesh and makes you look like hamburger. No thanks. Iíll wear my protective riding suit no matter how hot it gets. Everyone here in Arizona drives white cars to help reflect the heat. I couldnít figure that one out until Jeffrey told me why. I was just pissed because I thought every car coming over the hill or around the turn was a cop.
Past the interstate and heading southeast on US-191, the road turns empty again and Iím loving it. Thereís nothing else that quite matches the feeling of riding a motorcycle on an open stretch of well-paved highway. I follow the route around, up into Chiricahua National Monument, a fantasy world of extraordinary rock formations. 27 million years ago, a volcanic eruption 1,000 times greater than Mount St. Helens laid down 2,000 feet of ash and pumice. It fused into rock and later eroded, forming the huge balanced rocks, towering spires, and massive stone columns that make up the monument. Set among the Chiricahua Mountains, the area is also one of the most diverse ecosystems in North America, with plants and animals of the Southwest mixing with those of the Mexican Sierra Madres.
By the time I leave the park, Iím running very low on gas. The reserve light went on at about 200 miles, and I passed a gas station near Sunsites about a mile later. But the reserve always goes on too early and I always think Iím going to run out of gas and never do. When I fill up I usually have over a gallon still left in the tank, enough to take me another 45 miles. So when I passed that Texaco in Sunsites I just kept going. But that was over 50 miles back now, and as I pass through Dos Cabezas there is no gas. The next town Willcox, is still another 15 miles away. Iíve been stretching out the tank, trying not to run up too many RPMs. When I make it to the Chevron in Willcox, the bike must be running on vapor. The 6.1-gallon tank takes on 6.012 gallons of fuel! That was a close one.
The guyís name is Jim Mickelson, and heís in the middle of a 45 day trip, driving his truck to Florida, or maybe just Atlanta, if thatís as far as he gets. Heís got no plan of where heís going next, just the opposite of my trip. Jimís from Park City, Utah, and every year he takes about 2 months off to travel around the country. Last year he went on a bus tour, where he traveled on Greyhound buses around the U.S.A. We just stand there in the middle of the road for about 30 minutes, taking about our trips and telling tales. And the entire time, not one single car drives by to move us from our spots. Weíre standing there, in the middle of a beautiful wilderness, two strangers from different ends of the country, sharing stories from the road.
We could have talked till the sun went down, but I had to get up to Safford and get some gas for the bike. Iíll keep a look out for Jimís Red Dodge Dakota truck, with his Utah plates. Weíre headed in the same direction, and who knows, maybe weíll bump into each other again.
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