Day 19: Prescott National Forest

Road Miles: 405

Total: 1835.8

Trail Miles: 0

Total: 88.2

Sites: Prescott NF

Locals: Onager, RaggedyCrow

Since Onager and I had parked in the dark the previous night, I had no idea where I was or what I’d see when I woke up this morning. This is a popular site for boondocking – we had first driven through the site across the highway to find it full before finally snagging a spot on the west side.

I still don’t know what the views are like across the street, if they are better, but they were lovely here: spring-green desert, big beautiful blue skies, a backdrop of low hills, and even a sole brightly-colored hot air balloon making its ascent nearby. It looked like a damn postcard. Wish you were here.

I didn’t have too much time to soak in the view, however, as I had to beat feet to Albuquerque to pick up one RaggedyCrow from the Amtrak just after noon. According to Onager, it was a six-hour drive. I had ignored the alarm I’d dutifully set to ensure I was on the road in a timely manner, so I had five hours to make it. I am not a morning person.

Breaking my travel rule to avoid interstates (taking the back routes would have added another 2-3 hours to the trip that I already knew would take me more than six), I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be hitting I-40, a drive I’ve done at least a dozen times that gets no more interesting with use. Shortly after crossing the New Mexico border, I received a text from RC: he had already arrived, and also, the clock had bounced forward an hour. I’d forgotten that Arizona does not do Daylight Savings Time. Shit. I was still over two hours away.

A bit later, he texted that he’d gone up to Nob Hill because downtown around the train station was torn up with road construction. That was no lie; several dozen blocks of Central Avenue were half-destroyed as they construct a new mass transit system. By the time I finally reached him, I was hot, stressed out, and agitated by the slow going in town (why oh why is it that the last 5-10 miles before a destination always take the longest??), the hectic pace of I-40, and the long hours behind the wheel. I was three hours late. Luckily for me, RC found free wifi, so he didn’t really care.

Albuquerque looked much the same as it ever did. Maybe a little dustier, but otherwise it almost immediately felt as familiar as putting on an old t-shirt you secretly love but would never wear in front of other people. Like maybe a black babydoll number that spells out “KISS” in sparkly studs. (Note: I do not own that shirt anymore.)

Unfortunately, due to my extremely tardy arrival, we didn’t have time to do anything in town other than gas up and head east where our friend was waiting for us at a ranger station. I’d hoped to see if Ta-Lin international market was still there – it was always one of my favorite places to shop when I lived in Albuquerque, with the aisles marked by names of countries instead of the same old Chips/Soda/Candy-type aisles you typically find in grocery stores. We arrived just as she was due to clock out, and she gave us a quick tour of the station and introduced us around. It’s funny that we used to live not far from here in the South Valley of Albuquerque, but neither of us had ever explored Cibola NF, much less set foot in the ranger station. I’m pretty sure our individual experiences of this part of the East Mountains before today had been limited to the roadhouse / biker bar everyone stops at on their way to (and usually from) a ride up the Turquoise Trail to roadhouse / biker bars in Madrid and Cerrillos.

We followed Carol home where we found her husband Ron tooling around on an antique tractor, the gentleman farmer. It was family reunion time! The last time I saw these two was at my first wedding, which was incidentally to this same RaggedyCrow. Which is bananas considering we’ve now been long-divorced and yet here we both are, me and my hitchhiking ex-husband.

I first met Ron & Carol when I was a bartender at an Albuquerque dive where the owner truly believed he was the human incarnation of Zeus, and while he never seemed to notice his feisty ginger wife drooling over and pawing at virtually every male patron, he never failed to see any attempt we may have made to free-pour a drink because a) it’s faster, and b) sometimes you wanna hook a friend up. Anyway, those were some of my worst times personally, micromanagement by the chief Greek god notwithstanding, and I ultimately found myself without a safe home. When that happened, Ron & Carol had me come live with them, even with my two aging passive-aggressive cats. So, needless to say, to me they are more family than some of my actual family – these people only knew me from a bar, but still had my back and helped me get my shit together and turned around. Visiting them on the way through was not optional.

It was awesome to kick back, have a few beers, catch up, and eat some of Carol’s amazing green chile-centric cooking. Zomg – green chile. I have missed you so much. Ron had us try some that he prepares in a secret way and I have to say, it is the best I’ve ever tasted. I was so stoked when he decided to bust the cherry on his new dehydrator with some for us to take on the road. Now, if I’m prudent (almost never the case), I can have a little taste of home, wherever I am.