Wednesday, November 19, 2014
Would You Like Fries With That Hike?
Working at the Heard Museum Book Store allows me to find more nifty books than I would normally see were I simply to wander into a National Park book store (something I do more often than you might think), so I was already familiar with a couple of other Roger Naylor titles: Death Valley: Hottest Place On Earth and Arizona: Kicks On Route 66. These inexpensive and lavishly photographed books are full of lore and suggestions of interesting places to visit, so when Boots & Burgers: An Arizona Handbook For Hungry Hikers came over the transom, I bought it so fast my receipt is singed around the edges.
Boots & Burgers combined my two favorite things in the world, hiking and eating at diners after hiking – what a natural! So I went through the book with a fine-tooth comb and started marking hikes I want to do, along with their accompanying diner suggestions. I knew I would review this book, so I was prepared to say all sorts of nice things about the fact that most of the hikes listed in the book are new to me, so I have lots of lovely exploration to do. Likewise, I had never eaten at most of these diners, and I love burgers. A match made in heaven. The directions to the trail heads are clear, the exertion level is accurate, and the diner reviews make my mouth water. Good stuff! Get down here and by this book right now!
But this is a book about adventure and exploration. Is one review enough? I think Boots & Burgers requires special treatment. I haven't done my job as a reviewer unless I go on at least some of these hikes, eat at some of these diners, and then tell you how they were. I am prepared to make this sacrifice. Because I'm just that kinda guy.
So – the first hike that tempted me was the Red Mountain trail, just north of Flagstaff on HWY 180, the same road that will take you to the Grand Canyon if you don't want to take HWY 89. There's nothing wrong with HWY 89 of course – after all, it takes you past Wupatki and Sunset Crater. But HWY 180 may be the road less traveled, unless you're really into skiing at Snow Bowl, or you can't resist the observatory or the museums – or . . .
Okay, maybe it's NOT the road less traveled. But on the Thursday we went looking for Red Mountain, there weren't a lot of people sharing the highway with us. The book warned us to watch for the mile marker after the Red Mountain sign, and this proved to be completely accurate. We turned left onto a forest road, drove past the sign warning us not to park in undesignated parking areas – you need to go to the end, where it loops, and THEN you can improvise a parking spot. Just try not to block the road. Not that anyone showed up while we were there – probably because everyone else knew that if you want to see the magnificent formations inside that partially-collapsed cinder cone, you need to show up in the morning, when light will ignite the full glory of those fantastical shapes.
The trail leads through a forest of junipers, ponderosas, and scented scrub – you see glimpses of the rock formations looming over it all, further down the trail. This is when you're saying to yourself, Dang! I wish we had gotten here before noon! Because those volcanic-tuff hoodoos are in shadow in the afternoon. They are mere shadows of themselves.
What's cool is that eventually you reach the cone, and you have to climb a short ladder to get up among the hoodoos. Somehow it all reminds me of scenes from The Lord of the Rings, when the company of friends travel into lands long abandoned to find half-ruined statues of ancient heroes. The formations are fantastical even in the half-light, and you will be busy snapping pictures of them. By the way – please don't be a jerk and climb on them.
On the way back down, I tested Roger's claim that Ponderosas smell like vanilla – and it's true. Put your nose right up next to them and breathe deep. The scent is amazing. And it only took me 56 years to find that out.
We had already located Mama Burgers on the way down – it's right on the elbow part of the bend that becomes HWY 180. It's a little place, and many of the employees are teenagers. I was tempted to try one of the shakes – I hear they're amazing, so I'll do that come summer – but I stuck to a burger and fries. My husband did the same, but he picked the Mamaburger, while I had the one with bacon and avocado.
They were EXCELLENT.
So five stars for the Red Mountain hike and the Mama Burger joint. Now – time to pick the next hike . . .