On to the Largest Copper mine in the World

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Before 7:00am we are packed and ready to go. A quick breakfast at Mickey D’s and out of town we head to the West toward Arizona. Hwy. 180 again is a beautiful desert bathed in the morning light. The little morning traffic heading into Silver City soon dissipates and we are left again on desolate highways in the vast landscape. Careful count of the mileage is critical today as the roads, if missed, don’t offer opportunities to soon correct your mistakes.

Exactly 42 miles from Silver City, we take a left on Hwy. 78. This road has a very gradual rise with pastureland on both sides. A Ferruginous Hawk sitting on a fence post stares at us as we pass. Mule deer jump the fences and cross the road ahead of us. These are our only companions. Eventually the grasslands give way to the familiar mountain landscape, but the road doesn’t give away the secret that we have been climbing gradually. It is only at the Arizona state line that the fun begins. Hwy. 78 begins a steep decline with many switchbacks over the next 20 miles all the way down to the four corners intersection. The view going down is spectacular. What a road! The mountain pines change to desert and you can see forever. James navigates Nell down the snaking road at a fast clip. As we approach the four corners intersection with Hwy.191 and Hwy.75 you can begin to see the enormous Phelps Dodge Copper Mine coming into view to the north.

The Phelps Dodge Morenci Open Pit Mine is one of the largest mining complexes in the world. It is even visible from outer space. Copper is what they seek and the mine goes on for over ten miles. The town of Clifton and Morenci thrive to support the miners. We stop at a viewing area to look at the massive operation. As we are off the bike and looking out over this monument to man’s desire to dig up things, a fellow BMW rider pulls up. As it turns out he is a writer for the BMW Club magazine. He has just come down the road ( Hwy.191) the one we are going to be going up. This is a often written about challenging road and we discuss what it will be like then we part. He is going south and we north. Two ships in the night. We start out heading for Eagar which is 93 miles of tight turns ahead on one of the top motorcycle roads in the USA. With few guard rails ( which wouldn’t help anyway) the turns take us down to 15 mph and make Nell a bit unwieldy. The climb takes us up to a 8800 foot peak and then we wind along the ridge line of these mountains through Apache Sitgraves National Forest. We stop atop Rose Peak and check out the view. I never thought that Arizona had such high mountains as we gaze out over the Fort Apache Indian Reservation in the distance.

Back on the road we come to Hannagan Meadow and the road begins a steady decline along a stream and lush grasses that parallel the road and signs warn of Elk crossings. Then the forest begins to show signs of a forest fire for miles in all directions. I find out that this was the largest forest fire in Arizona’s history which was started when two guys failed to fully extinguish their campfire on June 14, 2011. The fire referred to as the Wallow fire, consumed 841 square miles of forest. We ride through miles and miles of devastation. On the outskirts of Alpine, the fire damage comes to as end. Here in this little village we stop for lunch at the place recommended by our fellow BMW rider back at the mine overlook. It is called the Bear Wallow Cafe. This is a real no nonsense kind of place. Signs proclaim NO CELL PHONES, NO KIDDING. We have found the right place. I am starved and I don’t want to miss the homemade berry pie that I have heard about. The vegetable beef soup was excellent as well. We got the locals to tell us about the fire. The whole town was under an evacuation order from the Feds. They then were allowed back into their homes and businesses but under curfew. They told us of sneaking back into town to refill the generator’s gas tanks to keep the freezers running at this restaurant. They also fed hundreds of fire fighters. The stupes whose campfire did all this destruction were fined several million dollars. I wonder if they ever paid?

After we leave Alpine, the road winds down to Eager. This is a quiet little town. We are still at approximately 6000 feet but on a very flat plateau. We have accommodations at the Best Western which is next door to the best restaurant in town ( maybe the only one). We are too tired to go out. The ride was long and challenging. Our lunch was late and large so we crash after working out our route for the next day when we will get back to Albuquerque.

James feels refreshed in the morning and is not inspired by a short slab ride into Albuquerque. We decide to back track to Alpine. No stop for pie this time. We take Hwy.180 which is mountainous but nothing like 191 yesterday. We turn north on Hwy. 12 and then north on Hwy. 32 working down into the foothills. We pass ranches established along the creek bed which is bone dry right now. Maybe the monsoon season will bring them much needed rain. At the intersection of Hwy 32 and US Hwy. 60 we come into the little town of Quemado where we stop at the convenience store for gas. After buying gas, we buy some bottle water and take a seat on the bench outside where we have a front seat to watch the local action. We didn’t have to wait long. Soon an old pick up truck circa 1970 limps in to the pumps. A happy guy in shorts goes in to pay in advance for his gas. His dog, a collie/ german Shepard mix is riding shotgun and sporting a bandana. While he is gassing up, a tiny Nissan comes limping in on a flat tire. Very soon a young girl in her 20′s and an older man get out not saying much to each other. Very soon a young man, who they seem to know, pulls up in his GMC Tahoe. He gets out and proceeds to change the tire for them. The “Sport” with the younger girl doesn’t offer to help. The real problem is finding a place to put the jack on this miniature car. That done, the working guy is finished in no time installing a donut tire. Sporty in his pork pie hat doesn’t even offer to pay or tip the young guy. The couple get back in the car and drive off just as a semi tractor trailer is pulling in. Meanwhile the old pick up truck is now gassed up, but won’t start. Without missing a beat, the driver gets out a spare battery( must have done this often) with jumper cables and looks as if he will be on his way in no time. The semi driver stops to talk to us. He says he would not drive 3 feet on one of those donut tires the couple are leaving on. He just bought his wife a new SUV and his first question was ” Does it have a real spare tire?” While listening to the trucker, my attention turns back to the pickup. No luck getting it started with the spare battery. The happy guy is out side pushing the truck to side away from the pumps. His dog, her name is Cinnamon, is out of the truck running around the parking lot. I had noticed a sign when we arrived that said NO DOGS. It did not take long for an armed livestock officer to come tearing out of the building yelling at the pickup owner to do something about that dog. He is holding his firearm as he is yelling at him. All the while the trucker continues to tell us about his life as a lumber hauling trucker. He lives in Eager. Do we know where that is? I look at James and decide we have rested enough and I do not want to see Cinnamon taken into custody by the livestock officer who is leaning on his vehicle with his hand on his pistol. We need to get away from the trucker who has had way too much caffein. We saddle up and leave Tino Quemado in the dust. On Hwy.36 north we begin the Elmalpais ( the bad country) ride to Grants New Mexico. This ride is through the remote desert which is littered with volcanic rock. We are now out of the mountains and across a large plateau with nothing but cactus and arid vegetation. We start to pass the lava fields parts of which are only a few thousand years old. Our guide it as tortured black rock. I can not think of a better description. It has come from an eruption of Mt. Taylor, a volcano that blew up 1.5 million years ago. It is still over 11,000 feet and we have seen it from a long way away. The lava field is 30 feet high in some places and we are more than 20 miles away from the mountain. This lava field comes very close to the Zuni Sandstone Cliffs which are home to New Mexico’s largest natural arch. By close I mean it is only 30 to 40 feet from the lava. They call this place the Narrows. We end our ride on I-40 about 60 miles west of Albuquerque. We are excited to get there since this lower altitude is getting hot. Tonight’s stop is Los Ploblanos Inn. It is located on the Rio Grande River. A former dairy farm, it is now an organic haven. It has 25 acres of lavender. This resort was once the area’s only dairy farm when it was founded in 1930. The main house was the private house of a local Congressman. We arrive a block away from the Inn to find a fire hydrant has been hit by a car at 2am this day and the City of Albuquerque is still working to find the old cut off valve. Precious water is going everywhere. The city is trying to vacuum the water up in a tank truck. You had to see it to believe it. We are detoured around the problem for 5 miles and finally arrive at the Inn. Our room is in a quaint farmhouse cottage with one bedroom. The room looks like an ad for Restoration Hardware. Dinner that evening was organic. Some items were grown on the premises. Notable was the salad with its 16 year old balsamic dressing made in New Mexico. A horseradish foam accompanied a fine steak. To top it off, was the best chocolate Pot de Creme’ that I have ever had. The farm has resident peacocks which wander around strutting their stuff and begging Guinea Fowl that seem to be everywhere under foot. The lavender gardens were a sight but, the Albuquerque grasshoppers were here as well. I wonder what an organic farm does to combat this pest.