Desert – it’s not nothing, it’s everything

Safford – Bylas/San Carlos Apache Reservation – Globe – Gold Canyon – Phoenix – The Majestic/Epic/Grand Canyon detour – Wickenburg

One of the best things about blogging quite as infrequently as we are (ahem!) is that it’s great to see how far we’ve come in such a short space of time – We’re now on our FINAL map for the Southern Tier route across the US….bring on San Diego!

This one begins with unofficial tour guides/ local historians Jay and Hal, Legends of Safford, AZ. We lucked out with finding this double act on WS — Hal was housesitting for a friend and so, via Jay, handed over house keys to two random, sweaty Brits. After a few minutes of chatting with Jay we quickly decided to spend two nights in Safford and get the full low down and tour of the back country. We spent the whole morning being driven around in a 4×4 (Jay knows the ‘roads’ like the back of his hands – mostly – and is fearless, the best combo!) with commentary mainly from Hal on the area’s history and its flora/fauna. The energy of these two was awesome, they’re both ‘retired’ but more active than ever with historical societies, recycling project startups (SEACAB) and being the legendary WS hosts they are.

We were apprehensive leaving Safford for Globe – an 80 mile day in the desert with very few services/opportunities for water – and so when we stopped at Jay’s to drop the keys off we were relieved for him to tell us he’d rung a missionary church 35 miles down the road and got us a bed for the night. WIN!

A hot but fast, vaguely downhill ride later we rocked up in Bylas. Cycling through the beautiful Apache reservation (of which Bylas is a centre) we were then pretty shocked by the number of burnt-out houses, vandalised cars, litter and what seemed to be general wreckage and chaos. We’d stopped for a burger on the way and had been warned that Bylas wasn’t a good place to stay but had put this down to local rivalry, or perhaps or ill-informed fear once more. At this stage though it did look as though it may have been warranted.

Bylas is a part of the San Carlos Apache Reservation. An area of something like 4 million acres ‘given’ to the Apache in the late 1800s. The creation of the reservations needs a better-informed commentary than we can provide, but on the surface of things it looked like a complete, shameful disaster. Around 1900 the Lutheran Church sent missionaries, and it was the current Pastor and his wife, Joe and Debbie, that we were to stay with. Joe and Debbie are about a year into what could be a ten-year posting.

Inundated with people, jobs, charities, and whoknowswhatelse Debbie and Joe still had loads of energy to spare and gave us the lowdown on the situation outside of their house, which really was a sanctuary in the midst of desperation. Debbie also warned us that after 3pm children usually came over to play/talk/do homework/eat her snacks and they duly did – three excitable sisters aged between 8 and 10 came over and played with us, laughed at how old Matt is (oh how we laughed) and our funny accents. In return we helped them with reading, had a cartwheel competition (Matt winning, obvs) and gave them some attention which, Debbie told us, they were likely lacking at home. We did take some lovely photos of the girls and Debbie but our memory card corrupted so Debbie if you’re reading this, send us some photos!

The reservation was a genuinely extreme environment. Not the desert, which would be enough for most people, but the history, the Lutheran Mission, the drugs, booze and poor health which are well-documented. A dispiriting, tragic place even on a short visit. But with sparks of humanity, whether ‘local’ or imported, which through hard work and belief, of any kind, are making a difference and hopefully will be enough to provide genuine change. The missionary aspect of the Lutheran Church is not one we’d ever experienced first hand and there was no doubting the total commitment of Debbie and Joe to their belief in what they are doing. It felt unfamiliar, it felt other-worldly, and it felt like something of that nature is what it would take to help the people of Bylas.

The next day was a hot day’s ride into Globe, climbing slightly this time, and we rolled into the centre to find the local park which apparently allowed overnight campers. We bumped into Andy and his friend who are cycling a section of the Southern Tier which Andy missed back in the 90’s after he was knocked off his bike and hospitalised. Check him out here, he’s on a mission to raise funds and awareness of Multiple Myeloma, which he is currently battling with about as much humour as it’s possible to imagine.

After checking out the park – which was next to a main road and not conducive to a great night’s sleep we promptly checked in to only our 2nd motel of the trip. Our reasoning being that we had another long, sweaty ride ahead and so wanted a decent sleep and an early start. It may also have been swung by the all you can eat Chinese next door. Kim and Jen, you’d have LOVED it!

A hot (we’re talking 100 degrees plus now) but BEAUTIFUL ride saw us stop in Superior – home of the happiest cafe owner ever – on our way to Gold Canyon on the outskirts of Phoenix. We’re in the desert permanently at the moment, so whilst it takes some thought on finding water, there is so much colour in the plants/cacti (hey it’s spring here too) that it’s a beautiful place. We stayed with lovely WS hosts Bettykay and Rob on the outskirts of the huge urban sprawl which is Phoenix, and they waved us off the next day to head for Enterprise Car hire to pick up our pick up…. have you read The Majestic/Epic/Grand Canyon detour yet?

Skipping a couple of days for this blog, we returned to the east of Phoenix, swapped the Dodge Ram for our lovely bikes, and heading for Terry and Heather on the west side. Garmin GPS ironically didn’t deal too well with the highly logical Phoenix streets and avenues, so having got quite a lot lost very close to their house, we eventually found the right – or left – turn and spent a great evening with amazing food working on Terry and Heather’s beer supply and a host of shaggy dog stories.

And so to Wickenburg, Arizona. As we write we’re holed up at the Horspitality RV Park, avoiding some 40mph winds and sandstorms for a day. We arrived here via a very relaxed ride out of Phoenix on the Arizona canal towpath, and a not-so-relaxed and boiling schlep on route 60 out of the retirement compounds of Sun City and Surprise into the desert once again. We’re now within 400 miles of San Diego, and thoughts are turning to a couple of days off by the seaside… and what awaits in Baja. Still some great riding to come, more and even more sandy desert, a fly-past of Tom Cruise’s home at Miramar Airforce Base (right, children of the 80s?!), a final couple of hills and more headwinds before the coast. On on!


5 thoughts on “Desert – it’s not nothing, it’s everything

    1. Thanks – the hotel is definitely on the list :-). WS is it’s like Couchsurfing for cycle tourists, check it out – we highly recommend it!


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