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2001 Trip Report - Arizona and New Mexico

The Johns' AZ-NM Trip  - May 13-19, 2001

This version by Ann Fulton      

The Johns met the rest of us in Superior, Arizona--John and Ann Fulton, Ron Ross, Nancy MacLean, Chuck and Genice Kalmbach, Bill Ott, Tim Cannon, Vic Antonovich, and new members Robert and Viola Floth. A cloudburst of dramatic proportions with thunder, lightning, and copious downpour was promptly visited upon our newly assembled group. This sort of set the tone for the rest of the trip. When  spring monsoons threatened every late afternoon, the choice du jour for some of our group was the nearest motel–while the hearty with their portable roofs (and portable other things) stuck it out with the elements. It’s rumored the daily availability of cushy accommodations had something to do with John Fulton’s setting a new record by hanging in there five days instead of his usual two or three for a week-long trip.

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 East central Arizona is lovely country, forested mountains, deep canyons, creeks and rivers, scattered communities, each with its own character. The San Carlos Apache Reservation spans the impressive Salt River Canyon where a paved highway dips down on one side and scales the heights back out on the other. The 800-year old Kinisha Ruins, token remnant of a much larger settlement, made a contemplative exploration spot, and a spot to eat--and be eaten by the current population of rapacious no-seeums. General Cook’s old hangout, Ft. Apache, is now home to an Indian boarding school, scene of ongoing restorations of some of the old buildings, and site of an attractive visitor center cum museum on the White Mountain Reservation.

When we arrived late in the day at the museum in Springerville which provides volunteer guides for the ruins of Casa Malpais, Vicki Goin graciously came from her home to escort us. This site commands what must have been a strategic view of the Little Colorado River. Remains of kivas and other structures with distinctive features  suggest an amalgamation, or at least succession, of cultures may have thrived here. We were made aware of the power and focus of the ancient souls, and of the current inhabitants, three dens of rattlesnakes.

Monday night we made camp in and out of Springerville. The street from Casa Malpais back into town debouched right at Rode Inn, which four of our drivers took to be a fortuitous sign. The "Let’s Dine Out" crowd met at a Mexican restaurant where we began our search for the New Mexico-style, stacked enchilada—our consolation prize was divine margaritas. We gleaned some high-country color at Rode Inn’s continental breakfast from the boosterism of the group of ladies who own and run the place. John Wayne had a ranch between Springerville and Greer. Photos of J.W. on horseback in their Fourth of July parades and other events of civic pride covered the walls of the lobby, and there’s a life-size cardboard standup of The Man on the second floor landing outside their theme-decorated suites, including, of course, the John Wayne suite. We were given tours (and stories) of all of them.

Tuesday morning it was off into the wild Blue yonder. We scoped out the valley setting of the mystery story Marian has passed around, "The Stolen Blue" by Judy Gieson and scanned the Blue Mountains ridges from an overlook where the blueness is readily discerned. At some point in the forest we had crossed the line–into New Mexico. We ran across a pair of BLM employees, one of them an archaeologist, on a lunch break from hunting for a petroglyph about which they’d had a damage report. Marion found the petro for them, outside the perimeter of their search--no apparent vandalism. The BLMers did know something about their Sitgreaves-Gila National Forest territory--they pointed out a cliff dwelling dead ahead of where we’d parked which blended right into the escarpment, and they directed us to a park-like lunch spot a few miles down the mountain on Pueblo Creek. We did a quick side trip to the old mining town of Mogollon, took a late afternoon hike upcanyon on Catwalk National Recreation Trail (the trail begins on a steel walkway spiked onto the canyon walls), and found ourselves faced with the daily dilemma of where to park it for the night, in nearby Glenwood. After some dead end searches for hot springs, we zeroed in on the Forest Service campground at the edge of town and rustic facilities in town on the banks  of the Whitewater. Still in search of a stacked enchilada, we had dinner at the local watering hole and were treated to a live band; their version of the fabled enchilada was pretty puny…is one-tortilla a "stack"?

Wednesday the Johns took us up the creek Turkey Creek) to upriver on the Gila. We partook of the waters and had lunch in the shade. After our first crossing of the Continental Divide on this trip, we had a panoramic view of Silver City and its hilltop water tanks decorated round with Mimbres figures. The little Mimbres museum on the campus of Western New Mexico University was of interest. Nancy found the museum carried copies of Ron Ross’s great grandmother Grierson’s "An Army Wife’s Cookbook." (her husband was Benjamin H. Grierson, 10th Cavalry). Silver City has demolished all its significant historic structures and contents itself with "Billy the Kid slept here"-type markers, but their visitor center on the precipice of Big Ditch Park is a paean to contemporary window walls.

Thursday we went to Gila Cliffs National Monument, a short hike with lots to see. Nice visitor center. A guide met us at the dwellings and gave us the lowdown on the summer digs for the historic people who came and went here for a time, and, unusual for a park ranger, gave us some advice for our metaphysical well-being in the here and now. Ron and Nancy and John and I bade the group goodbye as we had to be back home early on in the weekend. Thank you, Marian and Neal.

The four of us stayed in Los Lunas, just south of Albuquerque, having mapped out the quickest route to Acoma Pueblo for Friday morning. Los Lunas makes much of its Route 66 history. A storied home they saved is now the Luna Mansion fine restaurant. Alas, no plebian Southwestern cuisine for this place, but they knew how to mix a mean margarita.

Acoma Pueblo, the "Sky City" and oldest continuously inhabited city in the U.S., has mastered Marketing 101. They have a well-run visitor center down below and an efficient shuttle/guide system, along with effective presentation of their spectacular pottery. Wending our way ever westward, we stopped next at El Morro National Monument where there are old petroglyphs, ruins, and scores of inscriptions left by the Spanish beginning in the mid 1600s and continuing in later years with records left by U.S. military personnel on Army expeditions. We visited Zuni Pueblo late in the day, not an organized package, but worth seeing. It was Gallup for Friday night and one more Mexican eatery—without you-know-what on the menu.

Nancy & Ron planned to shop in Gallup Saturday morning. John was champing at the bit to be off, so the two of us headed to Flagstaff—in rain, as we’d begun the trip. Breakfast at the new Cracker Barrel, quick stops in McGaugh’s Newsstand (a bookstore) and the Pendleton blanket shop (a Chief Joseph for the "new" house), and a run up to the Museum of Northern Arizona (even John can’t be in Flagstaff without going to the MNA). All in all, in spite of the few culinary disappointments, this trip played like the whole enchilada (we just imagined ourselves in Albuquerque after we got home and stacked our own).