the road to home, pt3

Back with part 3…with the content I promised in part 2…
So highway 60, a.k.a. The Superstition Freeway, takes a 45 degree turn to the southeast upon leaving Apache Junction. There is a big freeway topology issue at this point in the road…
…it stops being a freeway.
Civilization at times also seems to stop here as well. There are two major things of note in this particular stretch of highway. The speed limit drops from 65 to 55 mph. Also, there are traffic lights. Now don’t get me wrong, these lights are using an on-demand trigger system. This means about 90% of the time, you can just keep going. But in this stretch, you see about four potential signs of life along the highway (including the Gold Canyon fire department, a Jack in the Box, a McDonald’s in a convenience store, and an urgent care clinic). Ok, so I exaggerate a little bit. You talk to long time residents and they say this corridor in the east valley is prime for a population explosion. I guess besides the goal of beating the Dallas Cowboys when their coach DOESN’T mess up, the valley has a goal to beat the Dallas population, by which I mean the metroplex. Yes, you, too, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving, Mesquite, and Weatherford.
So yes, basically if you understand how it is to be in Dallas, Phoenix is practically the same.
  • Dallas – 110 degrees and 90% humidity
  • Phoenix – 110 degrees and 10% humidity
I guess if Phoenix sent that 10% over to Dallas, they may actually get regular rain in the summer? Oh wait, that’s why it’s good to be in the desert. Monsoon season means rain in the summer.
After you pass by the Queen Valley 55+ community, it’s finally all desert at this point. The speed limit is back to 65 mph. You go over one set of railroad tracks with no crossing gate. You also go over an overpass at the turnoff for Florence.
Oh, and all this stretch of road? 30 minutes to drive at legal speeds and all green lights. Ugh. (Oh wait, I’m having a part 2 flashback!!!)
So now the highway starts to turn back to the east. Instead of traveling by the mountains, you now start to enter the mountains. You also enter Tonto National Desert…um, oops, I mean Forest.
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But wait, come and see it for yourself!
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Tonto National Forest, at least in this area, is all scrub brush and cactus. Even if you take in to account that cactus plants are technically classified as trees, there’s no canopy created…the thing that makes most people say forest. Bless the infinite wisdom of our federal government!!!
Oh, but you go far enough north, let’s say, to Payson…you might see a site like this…
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After entering this protected area, you really start to climb in elevation.
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From where we started this trek in Apache Junction (1722 feet), to Gonzales Pass, back down to Superior (2888 feet). I can’t find an elevation for Gonzales Pass right now, but 400 feet above Superior is a conservative estimate. So you travel at least 1500 vertical feet up to get to the pass. The pass itself is unremarkable, except for the abundance of saguaro cactus you will see.
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As you pass by Picketpost Mountain, a very distinctive formation, you come across the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Tara and I went there the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a huge park with many different arid and semi-arid types of plants not only from this area of the world, but also from a similarly arid area on the other side of the world…the Australian Outback! We will definitely be going back to explore further. We didn’t even cover a third of the park during our one visit.
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By the time you have come upon the arboretum, highway 60 is just a “shell of its former self”. Gone is the divided highway. Say hello to a two lane road.  From this point, it’s only another couple of miles or so in to Superior. There are a number of things about old town Superior, including helicopter tours, but it can count as one of those stops in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the World’s Biggest Ball of Earwax or the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. It is the World’s Smallest Museum containing “artifacts of ordinary life”.
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What’s in store in part four?!? Devil’s Canyon and Top Of The World!

the road to home

**stand by vtr5**
**roll 5**
**got speed, take 5**
Most of my readers that will likely see this know very little about my new home state. Let me cover this pretty quickly…
There’s Interstate 40 that goes in an east-west direction. This is the road that replaced about two-thirds of the old Route 66. In Arizona, it runs through the Navajo Nation, but stays south of the Hopi Nation. It intersects with one of Arizona’s major cities, Flagstaff. Whenever you hear about snow in Arizona, it is often pictures and video from the Flagstaff area that you see.
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You can continue on 40 through Arizona and in to California, or take a couple of turn-offs to major tourist sites, that being Las Vegas & the Grand Canyon.
Besides Flagstaff, most people know of Arizona’s other two major cities. Those are Phoenix and Tucson.
Since Phoenix is the location of the closest airport to my new home, that is where I will start.
Phoenix sits around 1,000 feet in elevation. When most people think about Phoenix and Arizona, they think of hot, boiling temperatures. It’s a place where it is not unheard of to have LOWS in the 90s (at least during the summer).
However, Phoenix is a little more diverse than that. The metro area is surrounded by a handful of native sovereign nations that contribute to the vibrant economy. The entire valley area is in the top 10 most populous areas of the entire United States.
Right in the heart of the metro lies the Phoenix airport. It is called Sky Harbor. A little bit of a dramatic name, but in my own opinion beats out something like the “Sunport” in Albuquerque. While not entirely up to scale with something like DFW, O’Haire, or JFK, it is a massive complex in its own right. It serves as a western hub for US Airways and Southwest Airlines out of terminal 4. Terminal 3 is the home of the One World Alliance airlines. I’ve not been in terminal 2, but it is the smallest of the public access terminals. Terminal 1, while not called that, is the private jet terminal. Jerry Jones probably arrives and leaves Phoenix from that terminal anytime the Cowboys come this direction to play the Cardinals. Also at Sky Harbor is what might very well be the most expensive on-site parking at a US airport. You do not want to park directly at the terminal for anything longer than about 3 hours. Parking for a whole day in that garage rings up a whopping $25 rate. Adds up if you’re gone multiple days.
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Phoenix was among one of the first airports to build an off-site consolidated rental car center. It is an impressive structure. The feel inside is like yet another airport terminal (just without those pesky TSA agents).
Whether you leave by a rental car or your own car, it can get hairy since you’re in the heart of Phoenix. By the time you find yourself starting to get on to I-10, you can already look up and see the exit sign for your direction, that being US Highway 60 eastbound. The safest idea is to stay in your entrance lane, especially if it is during rush hour. However, if traveling with someone else and not alone, I’d highly recommend getting in the HOV lane as soon as safely possible.
Drivers in Arizona are much more courteous on the whole versus in Texas. However, the one law they still love to break on the roads out here is the speed limit.
Once you find yourself on US 60 eastbound, you’re on a straight away out of the valley. But remember, the valley is populated across a large swath of land. To finally appear like you’re leaving civilization, you must drive around 30 minutes (at posted speed limits).
Along the way, you will pass the interchange with the inner loop, dubbed the 101. Further out, the outer loop, dubbed the 202. Once you clear out of Mesa, you’ll cross out of Maricopa county (the home of Sheriff Joe, infamous for pink inmate uniforms and his tent city in the desert for prisoners) in to Pinal (pronounced pi-NAIL) County. The last city before US 60 abandons its straight line of traverse is Apache Junction. There you will get a good look at the Superstition Mountains.
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The next installment will cover from the edge of Apache Junction to our next stop, Superior.