We frequently say, rather lightly, that we must return to such and such a place -- we always leave something for the next time, *otra vez,* in Springerville and vicinity Spanish. Seldom have we meant it more sincerely than yesterday, when we returned to Springerville, Arizona.
On our first pass through Springerville last year we merely marvelled at the large dome used for civic events, but failed to understand the history of the place. After noticing a number of carved stone markers on the streets, we visited the local visitors bureau and received a wonderful booklet, entitled *Pistols, Plows and Petticoats, A guide to Round Valley's Historic Sites*. It's an illustrated guide to a local driving tour, taking a couple of hours, and explaining a whole lot of local history in the process.
The driving tour begins with a view of the area's topography; 11,000 foot Escudilla Mountain dominates an oval valley in the Arizona Starting on Coronado trail highlands. This is the area beloved of Aldo Leopold, the conservationist and nature writer (author of Sand County Almanac). Descending toward Springerville, we found ourselves traveling up and down and around the streets of the town, learning about early ranching and commerce, outlaws, and the struggles of the Mormon pioneers. Springerville was an early outpost colonized at the orders of Brigham Young, and the colonists experienced anti-Mormon prejudice in addition to fights with horse thieves and bank robbers.
The driving tour took us past 28 numbered stone monuments, each described and illustrated in the booklet guide. There are stories of thwarted romance, the burial place for the last of the local outlaw gang, and, outside of town, several Hereford ranches. The owner of one ranch early understood the need for water and established reservoirs and irrigation systems but went bankrupt trying to acquire water rights from the Roadside vista Colorado River. Nearby, another large ranch was owned for a time starting in the 1940s by one of the heirs of the Milky Way candy company. In 1964, John Wayne bought this ranch and enjoyed the cowboy life, riding out to see his herd and helping out at cattle sales. Some years after his death, the ranch was purchased by the Hopi Tribe -- a different twist on the classic Western movie plot!
What made the trip a success was not the monuments so much as the excellent historical sketches provided by the accompanying booklet. They had the services of good historians, good writers, good photo-archivists, and a supportive community. In addition to the short tour we took, there's a second tour that ventures into the surrounding mountains; we decided to save that for a summertime visit, otra vez. We also want to visit an impressive museum of European art given by a wealthy woman who lived a few years in Springerville and remembered it affectionately in her will. Otra vez.
Speaking of the weather, there was plenty of snow and some ice as we headed south from Springerville on the wonderful Coronado Trail Scenic Phelps Dodge mine Byway. Coronado must have covered just about every inch of the southwest, to judge by the number of times he is commemorated here. On the other hand we marvelled that his party could have pushed their way through these mountains to New Mexico and the great plains -- the driving was plenty challenging, although the scenery was beautiful the whole way.
The first part of the drive is through mountain meadows and the small settlements at Alpine and Hannagan Meadow. Here we saw evergreen forests and sparkling white snow, spotted a herd of elk and a few mule deer, dodged the slick ice on the road, and noted the outside temperature dropping to 15 degrees, even though the sun was shining brightly. The highway was deserted. We came to a special circular loop road built to enable vehicles greater than 40 feet in length to turn around. We reached Blue Vista, an overlook atop Arizona's famed Mogollon Rim, where we looked out -- how far, fifty miles? -- at the country to the south, as much as 4000 feet lower in altitude. Nobody knows the precise route Coronado's expedition followed, although it is certain he did pass through this country.
South of Blue Vista we discovered the reason for the turnaround, as we negotiated some fifty miles of snaky mountain roads, with no Mining equipment guardrails, dozens of switchbacks and spectacular views all the way. At least the road is well paved; when highway 191 was first opened it was all dirt and took two days to traverse. We said to each other that although Easterners have pretty drives, there's nothing so spectacular as a scenic highway through the Western mountains. What a treat!
An interesting feature of the drive is that in three hours one passes from snowy evergreen forests to rocky cactus and palms. The temperature warmed up almost forty degrees as we moved south. And the southern end was every bit as spectacular, because of the enormous Morenci copper mine operated by Phelps Dodge.
This mine is so large that evidently Phelps Dodge moves the highway around from time to time to suit its convenience -- for while passing through Morenci we saw a sign: TEMPORARY SOUTH 191. And indeed there were immense mining operations everywhere you looked. We think Phelps Dodge Cemetery near the mine paid for the tunnel, too. Finally we came to an overlook, with a place to stick the camera lens through the fence, and there read the following statistics. Underground mining began at Morenci in the 1860s, with the open pit started in 1939. The mine stretches 3 miles from rim to rim, and runs from 3500 to 6200 feet in altitude. Daily output (in 1993) was 830,000 tons of material moved, of which 125,000 tons was copper ore. Since the start of operations, some 3.5 billion tons of material has been moved. Byproducts of the mine are molybdenum, gold and silver. We might add that the huge earth moving trucks which travel on gigantic rubber tires, look just like Tonka Trucks when seen from three miles away crawling up and down the sides of the mountains.
There's more that we learned about that must wait for otra vez: the mine tour given by Phelps Dodge, the Black Hills Scenic Byway, and near Safford, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope.