The Phoenix Furnace

I continued making my way southwest to Phoenix last week. Some hills, but good weather and little wind, so it was a relatively easy 150 miles.

Some highways only have shoulders on one side. I don’t usually ride against the traffic but in this case it was safer.

I finally saw some big cactus. I feel like I am in the real desert now. These are the famous giant Saguaro cactus, which grow only in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. Saguaro cactus grow about a foot a decade and typically will not grow their first “arm” until at least 50 years of age. They can live up to 150-250 years depending on aridity and sunlight. The roots of a saguaro cactus are only about 6 inches below the surface of the ground which allows it to efficiently gather rainwater that doesn’t sink deep into the hard dry desert ground. Each individual cactus has a single taproot that extends as far as 5 feet deep by the time it has reached maturity. Saguaro cactus flower in late spring and when their blossoms open late at night they are pollinated by long-nosed bats. Cactus fruit has been harvested and eaten for centuries by the Tohono O’odham people native to southeastern Arizona.

Guess I won’t trespass on this property looking for a campsite.

Thank you Arizona highway department for cutting a notch in this big hill.

Camping on Lake Roosevelt.

Lake Roosevelt dam. This reservoir provides water for Phoenix and the surrounding area.

I bestowed another middle finger award on a lady near Lake Roosevelt. I roll into this small town–just a gas station, store, inn and post office–and get a beer from a convenience store. I sit outside in the shade at some tables they have there. The temperature is 100 deg, the beer is cold and it’s great. Just then the lady from the store comes out and says I can’t drink there, it is illegal. I apologize and pack up my things. I am aware there is sometimes a law that says you can’t drink within 50 feet of a convenience store or something like that, so I walk away, down a dirt road about 100 yards from the store, and out of sight of everything, trying to find a bit of shade. I lay my bike down and sip my beer. After about 3 minutes a guy in a  ATV roars up and says I can’t drink there, it is private property and it is illegal to drink in public. I ask where can I drink my beer, he says go to the bar. Well I can’t exactly bring a beer into a bar, they normally want you to buy theirs. So he says go up the road and turn right. So I go up the road and turn right in to a post office parking lot. By now I feel like a criminal, hiding away to sip my beer. I finish my beer after 2 minutes of hiding under the shade of a tree. But I realize I need water to get me to my next destination, so I return to the convenience store to fill up my bottles. The moment I walk in the lady says “Sir, you are not welcome here. I told you it was illegal to drink here and you disrespected me and continued to do so. Then you went behind the post office and continued to drink. I already called the sheriff.”

I could not believe it. I said I did not know it was such big deal, it is only a beer and I am not bothering anyone. She snarled and said that her boss could get his license revoked because of me. I apologized and asked if I can fill my water bottles. She initially refused then finally grudgingly took my bottles and refilled them. I thanked her and left, shaking my head. It amazes me how different we are as human beings. Was she just an angry miserable person, or did she have a thing against bicycle tourists? My aunt Ruth said maybe she was a Mormon and was against alcohol. In any case, middle finger. But I hustled out of town quickly before the sheriff showed up.

Wha? Did I make a wrong turn?

I had gotten off the highway one day and was riding on a back road to find a camping spot when I was confronted by this gate. So, do I hop the gate and continue or do I go back? Locked gates don’t normally deter me, but this one looked serious. Plus there were houses around. It was only a couple miles back to the main road so I decided to play it safe and go back. I don’t know. What would you do?

Typical cactus. Be careful not to brush against them while setting up your tent. Ouch.

I finally dropped down into the valley that contains Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and other towns. Its elevation is about 1000 feet and it is the first time since Nebraska that I have been this low. You can tell because it got hot fast.

Then Google maps steered me wrong again approaching Phoenix. It sent me on state trust land for 20 miles. No vehicles allowed, bad dirt and gravel roads, nothing around, and stifling 95 degree heat. I ran out of water and was a little worried since I was going so slow. But I knew if I continued west I would reach civilization eventually. Here is a shot of a big cactus in the area.

I finally arrived at the safety and comfort of the house of my Uncle Frank and Aunt Ruth in Sun Lakes. It was great. In the space of two days we ate at Ethiopian, Ukrainian, Native American and East Indian restaurants. My uncle Frank swears by these pickles for probiotic nutrients. Not sure about the name.

A shot of Phoenix and the valley from a nearby mountain.

We visited the Heard Museum one day. The museum is dedicated to the advancement of American Indian art. One of the most moving sections was stories of native american children sent to boarding schools and forced to shed their native “savage” culture and become “civilized” white kids.

It reminded me of a great film called Rabbit Proof Fence, a 2002 film directed by Phillip Noyce. The film is a true story of 1930s Australian aboriginal “half-caste” children being forcibly removed from their homes and sent off to become “civilized.” The children escape and attempt a 1500 mile journey to get back home. Here is the trailer.

Here I am with my Uncle Frank and Aunt Ruth. They are prolific travelers, having been to as many countries, or more, than I have.

South of Phoenix, on the road to Tucson, I saw this memorial to a cyclist, Brett Saks, killed while riding. A grim reminder of the risks involved in traveling by bicycle.

4 thoughts on “The Phoenix Furnace

  1. Capt. don Sr. October 17, 2017 / 12:24 pm

    Very interesting blog, Kev. Lots to digest. The picture of Phoenix is frightening. Imagine supplying water to that place. My first encounter with the city was in 1953 as I traveled west to enter the Korean Conflict. Betty and I were driving a new Cadillac convertible courtesy of the company that delivered cars to the west coast.

    • Kevin Koski October 18, 2017 / 6:31 pm

      I’ll bet it has changed a lot since then. Water is a big consideration when new development is planned. Developers must prove there is a 100 year supply of water before getting permits to build.

  2. Anonymous October 17, 2017 / 11:17 pm

    Great post Kev. Frank and Ruth look great. I’ve stepped on a couple of the cacti out here and they actually have pierced the sole of my tennis shoe… I’m very careful now. Take care cuz!

  3. Kay Andrews October 18, 2017 / 5:54 pm

    Excellent! And thanks for the references to films and such. Our world is filled with the indignities of our fathers of which we continue to espouse and proliferate.
    Lest I present doom and gloom, I know it is not all as stated above, there are many who subscribe to a peaceful life for all.
    Safe travels to you.

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