Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day 148: Superior To What?

Top-of-the-World to somewhere in Pinal County. 20.2 miles/2841.4 total

Thurdsay, December 9, 2010

9:28 a.m. I’m leaving from a spot about a mile east of Top-of-the-World on U.S. 60, heading through there and down to the small mining city of Superior. Then I’ll continue on 60 for another ten miles or so, a total distance of 20.2 miles.

It’s another clear day, pretty warm, in the high 50s. It’ll probably get into the 70s when I’m in the lower elevations.

In less than a mile I leave Gila County and enter Pinal County and also the tiny community of Top-of-the-World, which the internet says has a population of 330. It’s at an elevation of 4,600 feet, about halfway between Globe and Superior. There’s not a lot to the place, other than a couple of trailer and RV parks, some scattered ranch houses, and some signs on the highway that allude, somewhat cryptically, to highway expansion plans. The folks up here evidently want the highway to pass them by and leave them alone. Fine by me.

I check to see if the Top-of-the-World Trading Post is open, a place that looks like a combination grocery and junk store, or maybe just a really junky grocery store, but it’s locked up.

This place was once going to be the site of an army encampment called Camp Pinal in the 1870s, but that plan was abandoned after a few months. Top-of-the-World was a dance hall started in the 1920s up here. The name stuck, although apparently it’s also been known as Pinal Ranch.

After less than a mile Top-of-the-World is behind me as I walk downhill. Parts of the first half of today’s walk are going to be a bit treacherous. There are narrow spots where there’s no shoulder and some blind curves. If I make it to Superior the road should become ample again. I pass Apple Valley Road and the Spirit of Truth Baptist Church.

The road winds through some cavernous and spectacular rock formations. All around me on the hills are these brown rounded boulders and outcroppings that look like faces and figures on the green hillsides. Down in the valleys between the bottom of the mountains and the road sycamores grow, and also aspens, their leaves resplendently yellow in the mid-morning sun.

I’m going through an area called Devil’s Canyon, apparently so named by the soldiers who once traveled the area. I get a ride offer. This was a person who went down and found a place to turn around on this narrow road, drove back up to me, and then when I declined the offer, had to find another place to turn around so he could go back the way he was going. This happens often, and speaks to the desire of people to go out of their way to help. I can’t say enough about the kindness of those I encounter. Ride offers in Arizona are running at two a day on average, which is respectable. And that doesn’t count inquiries from the Highway Patrol, of which I’ve had several in Arizona.

Just as I saw cotton module trucks back in the Safford area, here I see a steady progression of ore trucks, with V-shaped open-topped trailers.

I really wish I had better words to describe the grandeur of this rocky scenery I’m walking through. Even my photographs don’t do it justice. To my left is a gorge perhaps fifty feet deep out of which grow aspens and cottonwoods. To the right is a sheer wall of rock at least a hundred feet high, at the top of which are fingers and faces and other forms of sandy brown rock. The seedy little village by that name notwithstanding, I can see how someone who spent a lot of time up here could feel he was on top of the world.

I get another ride offer, this time from an old guy who used to work at the copper mines south of here. We enjoy a chat in one of the many large pullouts for cars and trucks along this road. It takes him a while to grasp the logistics of my walk, and once he does he laughs at what he evidently thinks is the convoluted frivolity of it.

I go through the Queen Creek Tunnel, about a half mile long, and at 8.7 miles I begin crossing the Queen Creek Bridge, the saguaros on the opposite side looking like crosses stuck in the hillside.

At about 9.5 miles I enter Superior. There’s an exit off the highway for the “business district” in the center of town. I drove through there this morning before the walk, and I have to tell you that it’s a trick. There is no business district to speak of over there. There are a few blocks that resemble the aftermath of urban warfare. The real business district of Superior, whether the nostalgia hounds want to admit it or not, is right here on U.S. 60. So I’m staying on the highway, because here’s where the Circle K gas station and a number of other places are. I like a quaint old downtown as much as the next person, but Superior’s is too quaint by half. Off the opposite side of the highway from downtown a collection of shanty-like houses dots the hills, their tin roofs glinting in the sun.

Superior’s population in 2006 was about 3,100. Off in the distance I can see a copper mining operation and a few stripped hills and some heaps of coal-black tailings. But Superior's real claim to fame, as the Wikipedia article tells it, is the fact that several movies have been set or filmed here, including U Turn, How the West Was Won, The Prophecy, and one from 2005 called Alien Invasion Arizona, which went straight to video.

There’s a dollar store and a Dairy Queen and a sign advertising helicopter tours. A kind of western oak tree I think is called the canyon live oak grows between the sidewalks and the road. Superior has at least two gas stations and a rest stop and a few restaurants. One is called the Buck Board City Café, next to which is a place calling itself The World’s Smallest Museum. It is indeed small—about five feet wide and ten or fifteen feet long. It has glass cases on either side of an aisle down the middle and features a collection of memorabilia such as presidential campaign buttons. Its roof is shingled, as it were, with empty beer cans with the paint removed. Michelob and Busch, mostly.

With that I begin to pull out of Superior and head into the country again. Things flatten out a bit and the mountains get pushed back from the road. On the scrubby hillsides saguaros grow in profusion, looking like crazy skinny hands with varying numbers of digits jutting from the ground.

At 13.3 miles I come to a historical marker. Picket Post Mountain is in front of me. It was a landmark and lookout point during the Indian wars. Colonel William Boyce Thompson, a mining magnate, was the founder of the Southwest Arboretum at the foot of the mountain, the largest arboretum in Arizona.

At about 14 miles U.S. 60 widens into a divided highway. I believe this is the beginning of the Superstition Freeway, running along the southern edge of the Superstition Mountains. On through the rolling foothills I walk until I crest a final hill and am looking out at a vast valley, containing the beginnings, at least, of greater Phoenix.

At 18.2 miles I go through Gonzales Pass. Then I see the sign saying I’m leaving the Tonto National Forest, where I’ve been for all of today’s walk.

I come upon a dead fox by the side of the road, the first one of those I’ve seen for several states. The roadkill in Arizona so far has been meager, mostly domestic dogs and skunks.

Just beyond a sign that says I’m 4 miles from Florence Junction and 52 miles from Phoenix, I see the motor home, parked off the road behind some mesquite bushes.

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