A Cherry Pie From the Middle Of Nowhere

Our latest adventure was a train ride through the Verde River Valley near Cottonwood, Arizona. We drove the hill climbing 3000 feet in altitude from the valley to Chambers, Arizona. During our scoot from the I-17 toward Cottonwood on AZ-269 I related to Peg the last time I was in this part of the country. It was 1987, and I attended The League of American Wheelmen’s national rally in Flagstaff. It was my second week-long bicycle tour.

My goal at the time was to maximize the adventure by using the train to get to the rally. I arrived at the train depot in Joliet, IL at 4:00 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. departure. The station was empty and dead. The train I awaited began it’s run in Chicago a mere forty miles away, but didn’t arrive until 8:00 p.m. Gee this will be interesting, the train is already three hours behind schedule before I start, and that is the way it ended too.

Once at the rally city I bussed to the Grand Canyon and joined the tour group which rode back to Flagstaff on bicycles. It took us three days to make that trip. At the rally there were daily bike trips offered in each direction. These trips averaged from 30 to 100 miles each. All were scenic and went to destinations of interest. I chose the one which followed scenic Oak Creek Canyon to Sedona (all down hill) and then across the valley to Cottonwood and finally to the Tuzigoot National Monument. A bus awaited there to haul us back up the hill to Flagstaff.

As Peggy and I approached Cottonwood, the amount of traffic picked up considerably, and the number of shopping malls exploded. I couldn’t get over the amount of development that had occurred since my last visit. My first visit to Cottonwood was a joy as we pedaled through 105 degrees through a sleepy little village. The town which chartered in 1960 consisted of a typical Main street with quaint shops along either side of a three block stretch. On this day, Peg and I  passed through several stop lights passing a Home Depot, Walmart, Papa Joe’s and more before we even came close to Historic Cottonwood. I put all my trust in the slave lady who resides in the box on my dash and gives me instructions about where and when to turn. Eventually, we reached a street that looked like the Cottonwood I remembered. A short distance from the old town we passed the entrance to Tuzigoot.

For the umpteenth time the amount of development that occurred in the USA in the past 30-40 years has amazed me. Where did all the people come from to make every town in America grow so large? The time we visited Santa Fé, New Mexico is the first instance when I suffered population growth shock similar to that which I experienced this week in Cottonwood. Each time, I have gone back to these cities expecting to see the same quaint cute little burgs they were when I first saw them. As Thomas Wolfe wrote “you can never go back home again,” and then re-quoted by John Steinbeck in “Travels with Charlie,” I begin to understand what it means.

Peg and I boarded the Verde Valley Railroad car named Tucson at 12:45 and sat watching the amazing topography of the Verde River Canyon pass us by at a snoozy twelve miles per hour. I dreamed about doing this same tour on my bicycle at the same speed. The problem is that the railroad is the only road that travels this section of paradise. Very few people inhabit the scenic volcanic landscape.

The run down the hill was more fun than climbing in the morning. We chased a sunset all the way at 80 miles per hour. I achieved another goal along the way, I the exited the I-17 correctly to find the Rock Springs Pie Company. There, in the sparsely populated Arizona mountains, is a business consisting of a gas station, bed and breakfast, flea market, café, saloon, and the best home-made pies in the world. We bought a cherry pie to bring home.

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