(In the early spring of 2017 I made another cross country trip to retrieve a sidecar rig from near Tacoma. See the previous post for the beginning. After making it through Donner Pass without being eaten, I headed for the Mecca of pie persons, Pie Town, New Mexico.)
Leaving the “James Arness Room” in Kanab, Utah, I’m dropping south today, through Arizona, with the notion of making into New Mexico for a visit to Pie Town. The Glen Canyon Dam beckons me into its visitors center to see the giant works (and to spend a bit of time in the air conditioning). It is a huge concrete construction, but slotted into the canyon so that one doesn’t see how big it is until looking over the edge. Very much like the Grand Canyon, where on my first visit there, I didn’t know I’d arrived until I got off the bike and walked over to the edge. Backed up behind this wall of concrete is an incomprehensible amount of water to feed the needs of the thirsty southwest.
Not far south from the dam is the Cameron Trading Post on Rt. 89 near the junction to Tuba City. This “post” is as big as a Wal Mart and packed so tightly with merchandise that a man clad in motorcycle gear drags his coat against the offerings while trying to find the restaurant way in the back. I’m a bit early, so there are tables available despite the crowd. I select from the pictures on the menu a Navajo fry bread taco and when it arrives, it looks exactly like it’s image, and is enormous. I had hoped to try their pie selection, but this thing is delicious and after I’ve consumed all I can, there’s no room for anything else. From the size of the food offerings I’ve experienced on this trip, I can only conclude that everyone who lives in the west eats only once per day and then walks 50 miles to the next restaurant.
Near Winslow, I had to stop in at the Meteor Crater to see if it had changed much since my last visit in 1984. The visitor center certainly had, going from what I recalled as a simple brick structure about the size of a small suburban ranch house to a huge multi-level system of interconnected rooms, including a theater, a museum larger than the original center, and of course a gift shop. Outside, the crater looked pretty much the same as it did nearly 40 years ago, but as I attempted to bound up the stairs to the observation deck, as I did back then, it seems that I am not the same as I was in my youth. It took me a while to get up there and a bit longer to catch my breath.
As with everything in the West, eyeball estimates of distance and size are deceptive. The Crater is nearly a mile across, hard to take in at one viewing, and the bottom is way, way down there. Only when looking through one of the telescopes can one discern that the tiny dots in the bottom are in fact life sized mannequins of astronauts (harkening back to the use of the crater for NASA training) which brings the scene into perspective. In the museum one learns that the rock which made this hole in the ground wasn’t all that big, it was just very, very fast. It’s that E=MC squared thing again, the same principle that lets tiny little bullets knock over a large animal.
Show Low, Arizona seemed to be the best place out here for finding a room when evening began to approach, so I set off across the desert following Rt 77, the old Hashknife Pony Express route. The first 20 or so miles are featureless desert, easy for me to traverse on this well defined blacktop, but offering little in the way of landmarks, only a large rock outcropping or two, for the Express rider back then. A long rise begins, which my rig dispatches without sweating but must have been agony for a tired pony whose young rider was trying to keep a schedule. On the other side of the crest, the terrain changes dramatically, now a scrub pine and bush “forest” with landmarks even harder to make out.
The story of Show Low’s name, I’m told, goes back to the pioneer days when two partners shared an enormous ranch in these parts. As often happens, the partners had a falling out and decided to go their separate ways, but couldn’t settle on partitioning the property. A poker game was agreed upon, with the winner taking the land. Both men were equally good (or bad) poker players and the game went on for days. Finally, the story goes, one of them, exhausted, said lets “show low” with the lowest card taking the win. The deuce of clubs decided the ownership and thus is the name of the town’s main street.
It is 36 degrees when I leave Show-Low the morning but it will warm rapidly as the sun gets higher. I motor on happily, thinking of the delights to be had at Pie Town, NM. But when I arrive at a the Pie-O-Neer restaurant, there is a “closed” sign in the window ! On closer inspection, the sign does offer the information that they will open at 11:30, an hour and a half from now. I get out a book and park myself on the table on the porch to wait. I haven’t driven this far to abandon the quest so easily.
By 11:45, I’m sitting at the “Pie Bar” at the “Pie-O-Neer” cafe in Pie Town NM, enjoying the apple cranberry crumb selection, just out of the oven, cut when cool enough to touch. And it was worth the wait and the drive. We are just a short distance from the Continental Divide, over 7,700 feet. There are 4 restaurants here, but nothing else. They each have their different specialties, but this one does only pie. This place is 20 miles in either direction from anything resembling civilization, but soon it is filling up. “If you bake it, they will come” The Pie Lady, Kathy Knapp says she makes everything here, with local ingredients. She says it will not pass her lips otherwise, describing herself as a “pie snob”. I agree with her priorities. I believe I’ll have another piece.
Now I’m waiting for the “New Mexico Apple”, with green chiles and pine nuts. It’s still too warm to cut, but the Pie Lady says “We will slice no pie before its time”.
There is a fellow here, with a long queue of hair down his back and tie-dye t-shirt who gives me some history of the place, here since 1945, but not open continuously during that time. I can only assume that it was closed when I came through here in 1984. If I thought that I passed it by, I couldn’t bear it.
(A group of motorcycles just pulled into the lot, a BMW R1200GS with two Harleys. They stand around outside for a few minutes and then leave, without pie. There’s just no understanding some people.)
The Pie Lady stands in the middle of the restaurant and reads aloud from a recent article from a British newspaper that someone has sent to her, touting the “weirdness ” of this place. The British readers are informed that It is on the Continental Divide Trail and gets visitors from all over the world, hiking, biking , horseback, Boy Scouts trekking to get there for the experience.
The New Mexico Apple Pie is wonderful, the chiles adding a touch of spice and heat with the pine nuts giving their own inimitable flavor and some crunch.
The Pie Lady makes her way around the dining area, chatting with the customers, occasionally nipping back to the baking area to check on the latest offerings coming out of the ovens. She has an exuberant personality, always extolling the virtues of pie, the zen of pie, the whole life experience of pie. She tells me that this place used to be a “regular restaurant” but now, after 20 years of developing her niche, it serves only pie. The purity of mission is admirable.
At the next table sits Tucker, a senior gentleman wearing a bowler hat. He’s obviously a regular customer here, known by name to all the staff. I ask if I can take his picture and he says, “I don’t mind, but after you see it, you might !”
I finally tear myself away, quite full, regretful because I no longer have the capacity for a third piece.
About an hour east of Pie Town, I was becoming powerfully sleepy and began a little internal dialogue in my head,
“What you need is a picnic table”
“Yeah, might as well ask for the moon. You haven’t seen a picnic table since Oregon”
“Well, while I’m asking, I’d like for it to be in the shade as well”
“Good luck with that, fella, you’ll never….What is That !? “
And there it was, just as soon as I said that to myself, it appeared on the right. I grabbed all the brakes and slid to a stop right in front of the concrete, blue-painted picnic table, nestled in the shade of a Bristlecone pine tree. I was still chuckling in my helmet as I hoisted myself on to the table for a wonderful 15 minute snooze.
I awoke, marvelously refreshed and remounted the rig. The skies were perfectly blue, only a few wispy clouds for perspective, and the wind had temporarily abated. I cruised along for another hour to Socorro in a state of motorcycling bliss.