25.32 Miles; 2,418 Feet of Gain; Near Brady Park to Greer, AZ
The night was still as stone, and we slept hard. The cool of night began to sweep away at the sun's first glimmers. We had only 25ish miles ahead of us today, plus a reservation at the Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground in Greer, so neither Janna and I felt rushed. We took a long, enjoyable breakfast, took care of our bathroom needs, packed up our gear, and started uphill further into the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest.
No more than ten minutes into our ride did I slam on my brakes and hop off my bike. Throughout the woods, in tremendously dense numbers, a superbloom of wild irises dappled the swaying grass with purple triumph. These were Rocky Mountain Irises, also known as Western Blue Flags, a native staple in spring in the White Mountains. The snow had only recently melted. As a result, the soil was wet and saturated - providing perfect growing conditions for the purple flower. To be honest, I had no idea that the iris was found wild and true in Arizona until I staggered under ponderosa boughs to gape at the large quantities in the woods.
They grew abundantly in the neon green meadows of grass that sprung up in the damper portions of the forest. Purple heads caught violet-shine in the sun now brightening our morning. I quickly got to eye-level to take in the purple petals best in bloom. Every shallow scrape of wet soil burst dense with irises. My eyes hummed with them. No sooner had I biked only several hundred feet than a new meadow bursting with iris would leave me unceremoniously leaving my bike sideways in the red cinder road so that I could go and stare at the purple flowers.
After an hour only traveling half a mile, we finally arrived at Brady Park where a spring from the hillside (now rather dry) had kept the soil and drainage of the expansive meadow damp. Here, irises grew at the best quantities I had yet seen. Again, I dropped my bike, hopped a cattle fence, and marveled at the carpeted flower meadows. Individuals at the edges of the spring drainage were already crinkled and drying out. But those in the center were verdant and royal. I took photo after photo of the violet-infused glades.
Now, thoroughly two hours into our day, and having only traveled like a mile, I pulled myself away from the flower fields to gain some ground. We still had some solid elevation to gain for the today as we came over the top of the mountains and spun towards Greer. The red cinder road continued on but began a slow transition to ochre brown. And that summer Arizona heat kept building. Granted, the ambient air temperature was relatively low, but the high altitude and direct solar intensity made it feel much hotter in the sun. But midday, we stopped in the shade of several ponderosa pines as we wrapped near Whiting Sawmill area. And with a jaunt around the base of the mountain and a slow climb, the tree diversity began to change. Instead of ponderosa dominance, stands of young, and then mature aspen began to pop up. Firs and spruce sprinkled the forest with the elevation gain. A yellow-green algae-coated cattle tank/spring popped up the woods. I left my bike to hike down to it and was greeted by a chorus of frogs sounding their calls resolutely in the heat of the day.
Meadows great into fields, and treelines stood back from where grazing, fire, and lingering-moist soil claimed ground. We turned onto a white gravel road where a sudden clumping of nice homes set back in the trees lay. The road began a steep ascent upwards and several groups of trucks passed us. Rounding the curve at the top, I could see off into New Mexico, and I caught my first glimpse of Escudilla Mountain. We spun down the other side of the cinder-cone hill and were again greeted by a seasonal creek whose drainage was chock full of irises. More and more grass-covered cinder cones and iris-filled drainages appeared in gaps in the woods. It was absolutely gorgeous.
And just like that, we plopped out on the main highway leading to Springerville from Pinetop. We quickly turned off the main paved road onto a side paved road leading to Greer. Now, houses and cabins began really springing up along with more dirt dams and small ponds. We entered the Greer Recreation Area and went to check into our campsite at the Rolfe C. Hoyer Campground. It turned out that this campground was super nice and head warm, unlimited showers included. We stopped to setup our shelter and deposit some gear before jumping back on the road to ride to downtown Greer.
We first stopped at the Lazy Trout Market, which had an excellent selection of food. After grabbing some fresh fruit and eating it on the porch (plus resupplying for tomorrow's ride), we headed further down the road to the main thoroughfare. The Little Colorado River pooled and flowed through the Greer Valley. It was lined with riparian trees and filled with countless active beaver dams. We had just enough reception at the Market to determine that there was a pizza place open. We pulled in, ordered a vegetarian pizza, and relaxed in the shade of the building while charging our electronics while we waited. We ate the pizza and then pushed off back to our campground. But first, I wanted to ride over to Bunch Reservoir to catch a glimpse of the lake in the afternoon sun. Lots of families were picnicking and fishing in the gentle late afternoon temperatures. Janna and I hopped back on our bikes and went to our campground. After locking them up, we got first choice at the showers. The water was well-pressurized and hot - perfect after two days of riding. Warm and clean, we walked back to camp for a late-evening snack before turning in for the night.