cactus on the coronado trail

Day 112 – Arizona’s Coronado Trail

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Day 112 of a Year Long Road Trip Along America’s Scenic Byways
Sidelined from Road Trip

I’m back to blogging, even if it is only for a few days right now while I’m on the Coronado Trail. I flew home a week ago Sunday upon receiving text from my sister saying my dad was in the ICU. He has Leukemia, as well as several related and unrelated complications.  As a result, he almost bled to death from his colon. Fortunately, the doctors were able to stop the bleeding through a catheter embolization as he was too weak to survive surgery.

After three more days in ICU, he was transferred to the oncology floor. The doctors and nurses are still trying to stabilize his platelet and red blood cell count. While he is relatively stable, I have returned to Tucson to relieve my Aunt Diane and Uncle Mike of dog and van sitting duties, especially given my Aunt’s brother was admitted to the ICU in Florida after suffering a heart attack. What a crazy week!

Petey and VANilla

Since I’m planning on putting my travels across the USA on hold until my dad can get out of the hospital, I have decided to take the scenic way home. After greeting my aunt and uncle, picking up new and improved VANilla, and giving Petey lots of hugs and kisses, we headed toward the Coronado Trail.

VANilla, with new front and rear brakes, an oil change, and improved headlights was ready to go. I’m so lucky VANilla got its face lift in Tucson (where Uncle Mike used to be a car dealer). VANilla’s parts were at cost and it was $20 per hour for labor. It’s going to be painful to pay regular prices for car maintenance in the future! As for Petey, while he was happy to see me and instantly became my shadow, I’m quite certain he got spoiled rotten at my aunt and uncle’s. Though, I suspect Chance and Emma, the resident cats were happy to see him go!

On the Way to Clifton

We spent the rest of Tuesday afternoon driving to Clifton, AZ, the start of my next scenic drive on the Coronado Trail. VANilla’s gas tank was about two thirds full when we left Tucson. The drive across I-10 to 191 was rather remote. I passed through Safford, some 40 miles south of Clifton, expecting Clifton to have a service station given it is home to one of the world’s largest open-pit copper mines. As I continued on through desert like prairie land surrounded by mountains, I selected the “Points of Interest” button on Gina (my GPS), and discovered the closest fuel was in Safford.

With ten miles left to reach Clifton, I relied on optimism…there had to be one. I passed by a BBQ stand, a law office, an office supply store, a café, and a small neighborhood. In the distance, I could see the enormous mine, so I continued around the bend to find a motel and a service station that provides mechanic service, but no gas. Great, I thought, as I backtracked to Safford, an 80 mile mistake! I had hoped to find a campground near Clifton too, but opted for the Wal-Mart parking lot once I filled up VANilla.

Missile Launch

This morning I awoke early and was watching the sunrise over the mountains when I saw an object moving extremely fast leaving behind a contrail. Then I saw another headed toward it. It wasn’t a bird or a plane or Superman. While I believe there could be extraterrestrial life somewhere out there, I’m not a big believer in UFO’s (though I might visit the UFO museum in Roswell tomorrow), so I looked to see how far away I was from White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. I was about 100 miles due west. It seems it was a missile launch. I bet it would have been spectacular if I were in Alamogordo.

Clifton’s Old Jail

After watching the flying objects, Petey and I headed back to Clifton. The Reader’s Digest book suggested visitors stop by the old jail which was blasted into the cliff-side by Margorito Verala. Upon receiving his pay, Verala squandered his money on liquor and shot up the local dance hall. That night he became the jail’s very first occupant!

I drove past the same places that I did last night, rounded the bend, and didn’t see a jail sign, but saw a Chamber of Commerce, so I stopped by to find out its location. The woman in charge pointed to it on the left hand side of the road just 60 feet away. I would have passed right by it. There are only two holding cells that are blasted out of the rock below ground. Two small windows sit at ground level and a small rock entrance hall is built above the stairs down to the prison. Petey didn’t want to follow me in, but I finally coaxed him down the stairs!

Open Pit Copper Mine

I asked the woman at the chamber where to find the best view of the copper mine. She indicated to keep going up Coronado Trail, and I’d drive right through it. I can’t imagine the look on Coronado’s face, the gold seeker and explorer, when he came upon a hole 2 miles in diameter. The views were spectacular!

The woman also suggested that after I pass through the mine, I might turn around and take a different road to Alpine because 191 is extremely steep with ridiculous twists and turns and possibly leftover ice from Sunday’s storm. I certainly didn’t want to hear that!

“Are you sure”, I asked, “it’s been above freezing the last two days”.

“You can try it”, she said, “but some people had to turn around on Monday”.

I decided to try my luck, despite finding out there was a Shell filling station just a mile up the road. I knew there had to be a gas station in town! Dang it, Gina. I might have to notify Garmin with this info. There was a campground too!

Driving the Coronado Trail

VANilla wound up Coronado Trail at a max speed of about 30 miles per hour. Though our speed averaged 25 miles per hour for most of the next 100 miles. There were a few straight spots where we could go 50 miles per hour, but that lasted for about 10 minutes of the four hour drive. I was thankful for being on the inside, hugging the mountain as opposed to cliff-side. It was dizzying to look left to see a variety of peaks and valleys covered in Ponderosa Pine and cacti.

As we twisted and turned our way to a few overlooks, climbing roughly 6,000 feet, we passed by deer, huge turkeys, and three black cows. The cows simply lazed in the shade by the side of the road. We had crossed many cattle guards along the way, but it still made me giggle to see them. Perhaps it was the visualization of the cows stomping through this awful terrain; pine needles, prickly grass, and thorny cactus. Their mouths and hide must feel like a calloused heel.  And what about the rancher that must look after them?

Blue Vista Point

Petey and I didn’t get much walking in today. We stopped at the Blue Vista Point to walk along the clifftop on a “pathway cut by the Forest Service”. We dodged the sticker burr plants, got hung up on a few thorny bushes, tromped through patches of snow and hopped a few logs before turning back to find the best view was from the parking lot!

Hannagan Meadow

We also stopped by Hannagan Meadow, generally a field of wildflowers, but today a field of snow.

Nelson Reservoir

Finally, we stretched our legs at Nelson Reservoir. Most the people visiting this stop on the Coronado Trail were fishing. The pathway led to several docks and stopped near the road where we turned around.

nelson reservoir on the coronado trail

Field of Satellites

At the end of the Coronado Trail, we turned east from Springerville and found a Wal-Mart in Socorro for the evening. On the way, we crossed the Continental Divide, yielded to the path of a tumbleweed, and passed by a field of satellites.  This had to be where the movie Contact was filmed. Tomorrow I’m making up my own scenic drive. I think I will stop in Roswell, go to Carlsbad Caverns, and stay the night in Balmorhea…not exactly a direct route to Dallas, but it was going to take me two days to get home either way, so I may as well make the most of it. ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

6 thoughts on “Day 112 – Arizona’s Coronado Trail

  1. Hey Beth,
    Just got back from my Indonesia trip and found out about your Dad. Be careful driving home. Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you out…

  2. Such fun to read your blog again! And, to see your wonderful photos!
    I can’t believe you found snow AGAIN!
    Glad you were inside hugging the mountains on your trek.
    Have fun….relax and enjoy your drive. Safe travels.
    xo’s to you and Petey….M

  3. Hi Beth, it was 80 here today….and you guys were in snow…give Petey a hug..we miss him BUT not Chance and Emma safe drive

  4. Wow! Beth, you got some beautiful pictures here! Your writing continues to be so well done. Look forward to seeing you at home – Safe travels, Jennifer

  5. Good to be reading your blog again and that you are back on the road.
    I got a chuckle reading about Verala winding up in the jail that he himself help create. That’s a bit of irony, eh?

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