Tunnel… Car Horn… Echo…

It’s a tunnel. The tunnel is fairly non-descript. You know it’s a tunnel with a road through it because of the cars you see and hear around you. You know it’s probably in mountains at lower elevations because it looks dry and barren all around before you enter the tunnel.

This is the Queen Creek Tunnel. It is along Highway 60 in eastern Arizona, between the towns of Miami and Superior. If you are heading west on this road, shortly after you exit the tunnel, you will exit Devil’s Canyon, and the desert floor will lay below you.

Superior to Miami has been probably my most favorite drive in the entire country. The formations through the canyon are a sight to behold. There are so many interesting things to look at. The drive it self is engaging as it twists, turns, and changes elevation. Eventually you pass through the small community of Top Of The World, only then to head back down in to Miami.

One of my more favorite parts of this drive is the Queen Creek Tunnel. I’d love to drive through there with a window down and honk my horn just to listen to the way it echos. It makes me happy.

This is one example of one of the things I would do that was out of the way and didn’t bother people. I didn’t have to worry about what others thought, except for the random other vehicle that would be in the tunnel with me at the same time.

As an autistic person, I don’t always have that luxury. I’m often around people that won’t, and may never understand me. That’s always too bad considering the effort I put in to trying to understand them. So I would mask. Yeeeessssss, everyone masks to some extent, but for me, I’m often taking guesses at what I am doing. It doesn’t feel natural. I don’t understand it, and I learn nothing in the process.

Masking is an exhausting process. There’s no time to be able to turn it off. Our “eccentricities” are not so easily written off by others as they are when it’s a non-autistic person. In the times behaviors aren’t written off, sometimes some nicety is used to communicate the desired change in behavior. It is full of subtext. This subtext is something you’re likely to pick up on if you are a non-autistic. However, for autistic people, those chances are slim. It’s real sapping trying to figure out what someone wants out of us when they won’t tell us.

There is a campaign that has started this week, led by some prominent people in the online autistic community. It’s called “Take The Mask Off”.

The topics and discussions are designed to educate about masking, what it is, and the effect on autistic individuals who must mask in the current society.

Since learning that I am autistic, I have gotten to the point I rarely mask anymore. I’m sure those close to me have seen that. It doesn’t change what I think about people. I just can’t always interact in THEIR desired manner. It’s not healthy for me. I will still make “social adjustments” here and there. However, these actions are by rote, and I still don’t always understand them. But I do understand that these adjustments help make others more comfortable.

Please take in all the content for the #TakeTheMaskOff campaign that you possibly can over the next six weeks.  Maybe it can help you learn more about autistic people, why they are the way they are, and be able to communicate with them a little more on their level. After all, this world is about compromise. A little push. A little pull. We are ALL better off when we meet in the middle.

the road to home, pt4

When we last left off, we had gotten to the town of Superior. The town rests on the far east side of the valley on the opposite side of the Superstitions. So immediately after you leave Superior, you enter Devil’s Canyon.
One of the first things you’ll come across in a half-mile is the Queen Creek bridge. It is an impressive span bridge. However, there really is nothing left of Queen Creek.
Then you hit the Queen Creek Tunnel, which is a three lane, well-lit tunnel as you enter in to the gourge.
Here’s one guy’s adventure of the OLD bridge and tunnel…
Before all these roads and bridges existed, back in the day, the US Army regularly treked up through Devil’s Canyon to their base at present day Top Of The World. I’m definitely thankful for the modern roads.
Top Of The World is just a small area where people have decided to live. It’s not officially a town. It is, however, the highest elevation between Phoenix and Globe. It’s marked as a “Business Area” with one of those yellow sign speed limits of 45 mph.
I think about 200 people live up there. There’s a couple of visible shops from the highway. There’s a church. Not much to shake a stick at unless you actually live there. I actually had a friend from Texas who got pulled over going through there going 70. At least the DPS officer who pulled him over was nice about it and let him go with a warning. Hopefully they’ll be that nice to my wife if she forgets she can’t be going any faster than 55 mph through there.
Part 5 will take you from Top Of The World in to Miami to home at Globe…

the road to home, pt3

Back with part 3…with the content I promised in part 2…
So highway 60, a.k.a. The Superstition Freeway, takes a 45 degree turn to the southeast upon leaving Apache Junction. There is a big freeway topology issue at this point in the road…
…it stops being a freeway.
Civilization at times also seems to stop here as well. There are two major things of note in this particular stretch of highway. The speed limit drops from 65 to 55 mph. Also, there are traffic lights. Now don’t get me wrong, these lights are using an on-demand trigger system. This means about 90% of the time, you can just keep going. But in this stretch, you see about four potential signs of life along the highway (including the Gold Canyon fire department, a Jack in the Box, a McDonald’s in a convenience store, and an urgent care clinic). Ok, so I exaggerate a little bit. You talk to long time residents and they say this corridor in the east valley is prime for a population explosion. I guess besides the goal of beating the Dallas Cowboys when their coach DOESN’T mess up, the valley has a goal to beat the Dallas population, by which I mean the metroplex. Yes, you, too, Fort Worth, Arlington, Irving, Mesquite, and Weatherford.
So yes, basically if you understand how it is to be in Dallas, Phoenix is practically the same.
  • Dallas – 110 degrees and 90% humidity
  • Phoenix – 110 degrees and 10% humidity
I guess if Phoenix sent that 10% over to Dallas, they may actually get regular rain in the summer? Oh wait, that’s why it’s good to be in the desert. Monsoon season means rain in the summer.
After you pass by the Queen Valley 55+ community, it’s finally all desert at this point. The speed limit is back to 65 mph. You go over one set of railroad tracks with no crossing gate. You also go over an overpass at the turnoff for Florence.
Oh, and all this stretch of road? 30 minutes to drive at legal speeds and all green lights. Ugh. (Oh wait, I’m having a part 2 flashback!!!)
So now the highway starts to turn back to the east. Instead of traveling by the mountains, you now start to enter the mountains. You also enter Tonto National Desert…um, oops, I mean Forest.
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But wait, come and see it for yourself!
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Tonto National Forest, at least in this area, is all scrub brush and cactus. Even if you take in to account that cactus plants are technically classified as trees, there’s no canopy created…the thing that makes most people say forest. Bless the infinite wisdom of our federal government!!!
Oh, but you go far enough north, let’s say, to Payson…you might see a site like this…
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After entering this protected area, you really start to climb in elevation.
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From where we started this trek in Apache Junction (1722 feet), to Gonzales Pass, back down to Superior (2888 feet). I can’t find an elevation for Gonzales Pass right now, but 400 feet above Superior is a conservative estimate. So you travel at least 1500 vertical feet up to get to the pass. The pass itself is unremarkable, except for the abundance of saguaro cactus you will see.
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As you pass by Picketpost Mountain, a very distinctive formation, you come across the Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park. Tara and I went there the day after Thanksgiving. It’s a huge park with many different arid and semi-arid types of plants not only from this area of the world, but also from a similarly arid area on the other side of the world…the Australian Outback! We will definitely be going back to explore further. We didn’t even cover a third of the park during our one visit.
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By the time you have come upon the arboretum, highway 60 is just a “shell of its former self”. Gone is the divided highway. Say hello to a two lane road.  From this point, it’s only another couple of miles or so in to Superior. There are a number of things about old town Superior, including helicopter tours, but it can count as one of those stops in the middle of nowhere. It’s not the World’s Biggest Ball of Earwax or the World’s Biggest Ball of Twine. It is the World’s Smallest Museum containing “artifacts of ordinary life”.
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What’s in store in part four?!? Devil’s Canyon and Top Of The World!

the road to home, pt2

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In our last installment, I was starting to tell you about my new road home. Point A to Point B is about an hour and a half worth of a drive. We talked about how everyone has at least heard of Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, and the Grand Canyon, but not much else.
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Point A is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. To me, the name has always invoked memories of the Mos Eisley Spaceport on the planet Tatooine out of the Star Wars universe.
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Don’t ask me why. It just does.
But now that we have gotten to the point where Highway 60 stops going due east, it’s time to look at another stretch of this road home. We’re heading from Apache Junction to Superior.
Before we get going down that road, I want to point out something…
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Do you see the discrepency that I do?
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That’s right! Why didn’t they just keep building this highway due east?
Ok, I guess it must be said…RANT WARNING!!!
I detest the idea that my drive in to Phoenix is 30 minutes longer than it has to be. That’s being generous!!! Do you see where the highway turns southeast towards Gold Canyon all the way to where it turns back east/northeast heading to Superior? That stretch of road is 30 minutes to travel at the posted legal speed limit. This isn’t even counting going out of the way to get to that spot in the first place!!!
Ok, the rant is over. I just had to get that out. Before I got to this point of my writing, I hadn’t really looked at the history of these roads anyway. I found a pretty informative web page detailing the original path of highway 60 between Globe and Apache Junction. All I can say is “wow”. I’ll let you read it for yourself by clicking here. I don’t feel as bad knowing what I would have had to go through driving the road in the 1930s.
Now I’ve heard talk that highway 60 would be rerouted. I even read an article on one of the local newspaper websites. However, I can’t pull it up right now because it’s out of range for not being subscribed. (Copper Country & Arizona Silver Belt) However, I remember the article talking about citizens of Globe being concerned about what would happen to the town if US 60 was rerouted to where it essentially came out the opposite side of Globe! I believe the spot they made mention was a couple of miles north of the current terminus of US 70 where highway 60 comes in from Show Low. The thing I found interesting about the article is that they cited several towns in Texas that have died out when bypassed by highways.
There’s also a movement in the area known as Top Of The World to get US 60 rerouted. Note, I said area. I did not say town. When you go through this area, official signage posted says something about “Business Area” and marks it as 45 mph. The sign is the same type as you would see indicating twists and turns coming up on a mountain road with a recommended safe speed to travel. I’ve only seen a run-down beef jerkey stand open once. If all the residences and other buildings in the area were another 1000 feet off the highway, you’d be hard pressed to know anyone was around there. I’ve been through similar areas in the Texas hill country that were marked 70 mph all the way.
The movement that people in this area started for the US 60 reroute seems to be tuckered out. The only way I hear about it is if I’m driving through and see signs that say things like “Don’t build through an existing problem”. It then publicized a URL to save Top Of The World. That link is dead. Of note though, is who is listed as the URL owner. It is a man who owns an archery shop in Chandler.
The only thing I have found about rerouting US 60 that has any backing by the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is a stretch of several miles around Gold Canyon. Even that one, while shown to be needed, is still another couple of decades off from being worked on (source: AZ Republic).
One thing for sure is that Arizona residents are passionate about their roads. Really passionate. Just take a look at this article.
Ok, I did get sidetracked on this part of the story. I promise part 3 will cover Gold Canyon to Superior!!!