40.44 Miles; 3,054 Feet of Gain; Arizona Divide Campground to Alpine, AZ
After a long night's sleep, we woke up ready to head down the shoulder of the highway in order to do a loop around Escudilla Mountain. The shoulder was wide and welcoming for cycling as I recalled from riding it years earlier on the Luna Lake Tour with the Greater Arizona Bicycling Association. We peeled off on a side road through Nutrioso, stopped at the red old Post Office, spied the town's small lumber mill, and then pushed on to rejoin the highway and continue descending until we were back in the juniper-pinyon grasslands. El Lobo Lupus swung right, taking us off the highway and onto some of the best hardpack hero dirt I've ever ridden.
The dirt road went straight up a smooth but steep climb before depositing us on a broad, flat mesa dotted with juniper. We sped straight towards the hulking, neon-green dappled mass of Escudilla Mountain. I couldn't believe how absolutely gorgeous the approach to view Escudilla was. The dirt widened, and I stopped over and over again to snap photos of the iconic mountain rising above the grasslands below. We sped through a short spurt of ranch houses before curving near the base, starting to climb, and reentering the ponderosas.
Treeline swept close and hugged us against the grain of the mountain spires and side-buttes. Everything continued to be that luscious green of early summer. Trickly creeks crossed the road bring more sound and views to the ride. The track of the road went on and on in its smooth form wrapping around the range. The heat of the day rose to meet us as we crested a high point on the loop and started a dusty descent towards ELC Creek. After crossing, dozens of cows began to light up the side of the road as they wandered in out of the flowing creek-beds of Stone and Little. Ephemeral pools traced our road-side. The creeks full from melt, lingering from winter still.
But the heat of the day crept on, forcing us to dismount and take in the shade of the canopies. The grade of the road became steep, and despite the smooth surface, we dismounted for relief from exertion in the heat of the day. Up and up we climbed a winding track until the forest spilled us out onto a calm descent across small creeks and through ranches set in the woods. And just like that, we crossed down and out of the woods to intersect the paved highway to take us into Alpine. Unfortunately, we took a wrong turn and covered several miles out towards Luna Lake and Blue before realizing we intended to backtrack to town for food, supplies, and a night's rest indoors. Even with the extra miles, we turned around got to Alpine by noon where we ate once again at the Bear Wallow Café.
Shortly thereafter, we biked down to the Aspen Lodge just outside town. It was an affordable accommodation in the area and super nice. We had the whole lodge to ourselves. As with the approach of every Zero Day, we started it off by immediately washing our clothes and gear in the shower, getting bike maintenance chores done, and then sitting back to relax. As early evening arrived, Janna and I walked the half mile to town down a dirt road to eat at the Alpine Grill and Still. We followed that up by buying copious snacks at the gas station. Finally, evening just now properly arriving, we walked back with stomachs full to the Aspen Lodge. We looked at the DVD collection and watched The Prince of Persia until darkness fell and sleep called us to the real bed.