5.6 Ship’s Log May 23, 2011

It is Monday morning in a place with no name. I left Payson, AZ, two days ago and headed eastward on 260. On the map the route was marked with an adjacent set of dots–the cartographer’s promise of a scenic drive.

Seventy-five miles distant was a town with the curious name of Show Low. In country where 10- to 20- mile stretch guarantees a change of the look of the land, a grand vista, or a village with a story below the merest scratch, 75 miles is enough miles to log in a day for a gypsy who did not have any place to be.

The route would pass the Mogollon Rim Visitor Center, where I could learn a little about this topographic phenomenon and get some advice about camping possibilities. Halfway to Show Low would be Heber, a town that was evacuated some 7 or 8 years ago when it was in the path of a forest fire. A thousand people lived in Payson’s high school while the fire was fought.

The road curved and dipped over the mountains and presented some long views of forested valleys blessed with little evidence of human presence.

Twenty miles out of Payson I arrived at the visitor center. A family of 15 people picnicked next to the ranger’s building. A slender athletic woman in a colorful cycling outfit talked to a young man. Wherever she started from, she’d had a good 20-mile workout of long, steady climbs, rewarded by grand vistas and screaming fast-as-you-dare downhills.

The visitor center was closed, as it had been since August, when it was vandalized. Apparently the vandalism was about the theft of the stuffed animals displayed there. I cannot guess what sort of jerk would steal public treasures to add to their private collection or to trade for a short stack of dollars. The criminals do not simply deprive a National Forest visitor center of its display, they deprive me and 20,000 others who pass by from year to year. Doesn’t that raise the stakes of the mischief to grand larceny?

I was able to learn there was a “dispersed” (no services but designated as public) camping area just two miles down the road. I idled into the thick forest of tall pines laced with wide fire roads and discovered a dozen pull-thru campsites. The sites were numbered each with a small sign: Camp Here. Right you are, I will.

I settled in for the afternoon next to a meadow the size of an urban house lot. Fifty yards to my left was a motorhome, a hundred yards to the right, a trailer. That night, alone in silence, in sight of two campfires.

Next morning the trailer left. I am sure it was nothing I said. 

I could find no reason to move on, so I repositioned the Jolly Swag to a sunnier spot in my site and a view of the meadow. I set up a camp chair and table and frittered away the day with minor chores: the camper gourmet fare of fried egg sandwiches, and a few crisp pages of Chihuahua Enchilada, Colleen Rae’s freshly published sequel to Mohave Mambo.

Early the following morning I awoke to a sunrise that sliced between the pines and splayed long streaks of yellow sunshine on the ground. I swiveled my captain’s chair at the helm of the JS and watched the day come alive. A neighbor’s dog ran free; first breezes stirred the needled branches.

At 7:30 a.m. a boy steps from the van nearby. He looks to be about 9 or 10 and wears blue jeans and a jacket of the popular green mottled camouflage style.

He runs into the woods in the carefree manner I can remember from sixty years ago. Not the straight-ahead run of the sprinter or long-distance runner. Rather the lazy heel-kicking broken-field run that relived the breakaway touchdown run of a college athlete. After 50 yards, he danced up to and straddling a tree, unzipped and anointed the tree, beginning his day. 

8 Responses to 5.6 Ship’s Log May 23, 2011

  1. Sandy says:

    As I said .. Sho low, Heber & Pine. .. the Mormons went across there. Also Strawberry which used to have a great bakery & pie shop. The Mogollon Rim is on one of the thickest granite shelfs in the country .. which makes it a good geophysical site for seismograph research with very clear sound waves. My father George (geophysicist) set up camp there to do research for underground nuclear detection systems … the worse “ground” for sine waves is up in Montana with very loose ground down many thousands of feet. As a kid I got to travel and learn .. a kids “job”. Keep on truckin and having a great time. The weather is finally getting nice here at 1919 Clement.

  2. Dave L says:

    I’m smiling and amused. My stressful day immediately relieved as I hear that boy’s pee splashing against the tree.

    If you never do another thing, it seems to me, you are filling these waning years with lovely experience – and adding a good bit to mine as well. Thank you for inviting me along.

  3. karen wittgraf says:

    So carefree, so peaceful life must be for you. I envy it. Have to say, you’re fearless, as I would be checking out every corner and tree trunk for critters and varments. You sincerely are not considering Alameda as your base? Don’t we all need a base? This is the way to write, however, and that you are doing. I can’t wait for every posting. This is my book and I am savoring it. Thank you, Karen

  4. ayn woodruff says:

    As I do the backroads of NZ South Island in my wee campervan Spiffin, we share many of the same experiences in our individual settings. The difference? You are sharing yours w/ others while I read a book. Al, keep on exploring and writing. ayn

  5. Patricia says:

    Thanks for the delight of following you, if only from a distance. I’m hoping you do head into the front range of CO at some point. There I can point you to some fun! Good on you and your travels, Al. A pleasure, each and every. Pat

  6. Tony Bacon says:

    Really enjoyed this part of your journey. What you are seeing, no one can take away from you ever. I enjoy every piece of your writing Al, but this was very extra special.

  7. Michael Joyce says:

    Another guy from California got there a little a little before you and had his own adventures in the trees, George Crook. Have a look: http://sharlot.org/archives/history/dayspast/text/2007_01_21.shtml

    Your writing is always enjoyed, thanks Al.

  8. Colleen Rae says:

    Thanks Al, for mentioning my novel, Chihuahua Enchilada. I appreciate it. And thanks for taking us with you on your ‘Year on the Road.’ Your writing is so colorful, I love reading it. You are a great observer. I hope you are keeping up your journal.

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