by James C. Moore
I had been running on the Interstate too long. The Harley Sportster 883 was doing an admirable job of holding the road but the narrow seat, a couple of vibrating cylinders pulling torque, heat and traffic were serving to wear me out as I made for Phoenix. Winslow was up ahead and I remembered from my hitchhiking days the old billboards that used to populate Route 66 as you crossed the high desert.
A silhouette of a woman in a negligee was headlined with the words, “For truckers, Winslow, Arizona.” No further explanation was necessary in the days when prostitution was legal. The town’s fame has mostly been connected to the Eagles’ song, “Takin’ It Easy,” with its descriptive verse of “Standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.” The community has memorialized the lyric with a sign on a street corner quoting the song.
But I had no interest in dawdling in Winslow. At a gas station, I asked for the prettiest route to Phoenix and happened to be on the corner where Highway 87 intersected Route 66. (In the days before GPS, we had to talk to humans and ask directions, and this was in 1981). The man at the counter just pointed out the window and said, “Eighty-seven down the rim to 260. Prettiest road you’ll ever see.”
I rolled southwestward out of Winslow and 87 took me to the edge of the cap rock and the Mogollon Rim. The road was generally straight but the desert vegetation began to turn greener and a few pines stood up in the distance. These were the giant western ponderosas and appeared to reach to two hundred feet. In minutes, I was driving through a forest of them in cooler air and with the scent of pine coming into my helmet.
A poet is better suited than a motorcyclist to describe what unrolled along that highway as it reached into the Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Curves accumulated and the pavement lowered slowly toward the distant desert along the edge of the rim. The Mogollon is an escarpment, a great break in the land that reaches across much of Arizona and New Mexico and serves as an altitudanal dividing line for species of flora and fauna, and around almost every turn as the road bends toward Payson there are spectacular blue and green views and in the distance haze rising from the Salt River Valley and Phoenix.
The heat lifts from the desert below and becomes a presence the motorcycle pushes against as the decline increases and nothing more than a slight touch on the throttle is needed to jump ahead toward the horizon. Forest roads fly past and a bird floats on a thermal a hundred yards from a guardrail while the exhaust makes a gurgly purr as I cross a rocky creek. The city ahead is no longer desirable and nothing matters but the moment where I am riding a smooth road in fine air and feeling almost as eternal as the rim.
I wish I were there now.