Wednesday 9th March.  “Do they have cowboys in England?”: Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt Lake. 34 miles.

An advance warning: this will be quite a long blog post as it was one of those EPIC days which we get once in a while.  Luckily this was epic and magical rather than epic and disastrous! 34 miles may look an easy day but it took us 8 hours. The photos will hopefully give some idea but could not capture the grandeur of the scenery we were privileged to experience this day.

As David ended yesterday’s post – we started the day with some trepidation as to whether we could get through to Roosevelt Lake on Highway 88.  The golden sun on the campground as we woke up made us feel that it was worthwhile waking up to this gem of a place, even if we ended up turning back and back at the same campsite in the evening.  We were mildly encouraged when we met a Forest ranger volunteer just as we were leaving the campsite.  We asked if we could get through and he was mildly encouraging.  He had hiked down the closed road and thought we could probably get through so we set off with more confidence and all the information we could get. 

The genuine cowboys we met on the path

The first five miles were up hill on good tarmac through a veritable cactus garden.  It was greener with some flowering plants too displaying pinks and purple flowers.  This is what we call a ‘European climb’ ie not a long long slow 1% climb but a steady 6-7% with views opening up at every turn. 

Abandon hope all who enter here!

As it flattened out, we reached the end of the tarmac.  There was a sign warning we faced 22 miles of unpaved road ahead.  The start of the adventure.  We rarely cycle on dirt roads as, with heavy panniers and road tyres, it is quite tricky but we bumped along learning to try and ride with the bumps rather than fight them. After 2 miles we reached Fish Creek Hill overlook with magnificent views into the canyon and surrounding mountains – and the ‘road closed sign’.  It was deserted but there was a huge parking area – and a car parking space designated for disabled only parking.  Great but maybe unnecessary!

Fish Creek Vista

There were signs explaining that this was an apache trail and that a crucial part for those driving with carriages and horses was dropping down Fish Creek Hill.  

We had been told not to worry about the barrier.  So we unpacked the bikes to get through the barrier and repacked the bikes to start the road down to Fish Creek Hill.  I say ‘road’ but this was generous. We had to walk the majority of the 2 miles down as the road surface was full of sections of large stones or consisted of large ruts. The canyon walls were on our right and a steep drop on the left so we weren’t taking any chances! However we wanted to stop so many times to take photos that it really didn’t matter.

We have cycled on better roads but in few better places

Half way down we had one of our more unusual encounters.  We met two guys on horseback – real cowboys who were looking for their 74 head of cattle (at that point they had only found 6).  They seemed totally unperturbed to come across two mad heavily laden english cyclist picking their way down the road. ‘Do you have cowboys in England?’ they asked. We explained that our cows are fenced in, although sheep may roam up on the moors. They pointed out 2 sheep precariously balanced high up on the canyon wall – this looked precarious to us but they assured us they never fall off.

The cowboys also assured us that we would get through – in fact their trailer was parked 2 miles down so from there we knew the road was passable from there.  A great relief as it would have been a hell of a push to get the bikes back up the track. There was a huge set of boulders across the road just below the cowboys but a narrow gap by the wall had been created – after all the horses had got through – so we were able to lift the bikes over.  From there we could see the bridge and the creek and we were soon down and having a break under trees, eating the banana loaf that Julie had made for us.  

From here we plodded along the dirt road for the next 18 miles.  At one stage I glanced at my Wahoo and saw we were averaging 5.4 miles an hour!  So it was not fast but was rewarding.  The road broadly followed the Fish Creek river but it had numerous climbs and drops, most of which were pretty steep.  The ups were hard and the downs were harder.  This was not complete remoteness because there were electricity cables throughout the valley – we assumed they were bringing the hydro-electric power from the Roosevelt Dam down to the Phoenix area.  Various trucks of workers were working on the power lines and gave us a wave from their posts high up on the stanchions as we passed.  There was also a helicopter delivering large blocks of something back and forth to a particular stanchion – we wondered at the pilot’s expertise as he or she delivered load after load.

Finally through the closed section.

The road snaked its way up and down along the valley and we ambled along trying to find the parts of hard sand and avoiding the soft bits where the types sank into the surface and it came to a complete stop.  That was fine until a minibus came the other way and David was forced into soft sand, came off and grazed his leg.  It looked worse than it was – or so he assured me – and was not too bad after we cleaned the sand out of the graze.  Just a flesh wound!

Eventually we saw the Roosevelt Dam and experienced the joy of tarmac again.  The Dam was built between 1906 and 1911, and was the largest stone dam in the world at the time.  It was rebuilt in the 1990s when they worked out that it might not be tall enough to withstand the highest likely flood – raising the level of 77ft and putting in hydro-electricity.  

Roosevelt Dam over the Salt River

Then it was just 6 miles to the Windy Hill campsite (yes it was windy) to meet up with Tom and Carolyn Sullivan who were our first ever warmshowers hosts in Washington State in 2013.  They were on the site with their camper and their welcome was as warm as ever.  It was lovely to see them and we shared an evening of chat, laughter and observations on life, the universe and everything.  They are now in their 70s and an example of living life to the full – getting the most from each year and contributing to the good of others.  

Tom, Carolyn and David

It was a tough day – 4,300 feet of climbing – and lots of slow cycling on dirt roads but the scenery was so memorable.  The photos maybe do not do it justice but it will live long in the memory.

3 thoughts on “Wednesday 9th March.  “Do they have cowboys in England?”: Tortilla Flat to Roosevelt Lake. 34 miles.

  1. how fantastic that you go through. For some reason I can’t see the photos but they may appear later. Hope your leg recovers David

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