Flies and Switchbacks

Dad is up early because his CPAP was busy picking up the pungent smells in the hotel room and delivering them to his nostrils with added humidity. Last night’s restaurant will recommend their competition, less than half a mile up the road for breakfast, so we navigate the construction-filled streets to be the only customers dining in at Sofia’s Kitchen & Burrito Tyme between 640 and 7am.

We stop in Magdalena for small-bottled options of hydration and so that Dad can get more pictures of the passing wind turbine blades; these ones being transported by a different crew. We’ll travel 24 miles west before stopping again, this time to see the Very Large Array radio telescope observatory satellites, their tracks, and their mountainous backdrop.

In Pie Town, we pick up a small green chile apple pie and I will pace myself to only eat half in an effort to save some for Caroline. There are so many hidden secrets to each state that I can’t help but look forward to returning to uncover these other treasures on my next visit. The flies that have been with us down the 83, follow me to the bathroom, and keep an eye on Dad ten minutes from the Arizona border.

This time change adds an hour to our day as I realize that I’ve just been in 12 states in three weeks. It’s not long before we’re on the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway, also called the Devil’s Highway, a portion of the 191 from Springerville to Clifton that has over 400 curves in 123 miles of road, changing some 6,000 feet in elevation, and bringing you through a four-hour road trip of deserts, meadows, and forests.

We stop when the road will allow it or when we can block the way with no traffic. We’ll park and talk with Simon, a forest service employee who has lived in CA, FL, OH, MO, England, and AZ and loves to travel two lane roads on his motorcycle. He recommends the Tail of the Dragon, an 11-mile portion of the 129 with 318 curves along the Tennessee and North Carolina state line.

This Eastern Arizona route also passes through a portion of the 80 square miles of the Morenci Copper Mine. The Cat 793 haul truck goes from looking like a Micro Machines car in the distant depths to showing off its 15-foot high truck bed and 851,000lb gross weight when hauling a 240-ton load on a nearby hill. It helps to gauge the size with the engine, wheel, and bed they have on display.

I’m grateful that Dad has the opportunity to travel this region frequently and find the only restaurant in the town of Solomon, smaller than some private farms, where residents could live on a third of an acre each. We’re at La Paloma to enjoy the best elote, Sonoran enchiladas for me, and a tres leches that tasted like it was made with love, just for us.

I’ll learn a bit about our 25-year-old motorcycle enthusiast waiter/manager named Damian through his discussions with Dad. He’s writing a book about finding and communicating with your inner-self after some childhood issues that he’s had to work through. He wants to make a masterclass to improve the service of wait staff and wants to manage a fine dining establishment when he grows up.

We pass through Globe, where I found false teeth on a previous trip and Geronimo, where I held a doll’s head before reaching Superior and then back to Phoenix after 9pm. We covered 327 miles today, ten of which took us an amazing hour. We’ll greet Caroline with gear and then hugs before going to bed in prep of my last full day tomorrow before I fly back to San Diego.

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