Sunday, March 10, 2013

Superior, Arizona

The weather forecast was spot on. The rain began Friday night and was announced by some serious claps of thunder. The drone of rain drops striking the aluminum skin of the Mary Joan is a pleasant sound. However, the rocking of the trailer by the high winds was not so pleasant. We rarely put the stabilizers down, the little motion from our walking around doesn't bother us. In fact, it reminds us that we are in an RV rather than a house.

We waited until 10:00 AM for the rain to lessen before hitching up for our short trek to Superior, Arizona. We chose Superior because we want to hike the Roger's Canyon Trail. The road to the trail-head is two thirds of the distance to Superior and that is the way we need to go anyway. Our plan is to go north along the eastern boarder of Tonto National Forest. The road through Superior is our only choice since Rt 88, which is the most direct route cannot accommodate our combined tow vehicle and trailer length. 

We wanted to stay at Oak Flats State Park campground, but the website said that trailer length was limited to 16 feet. So, we reserved three nights at the Superior RV Park which is close to the center of town. 

The rain continued all day Friday and well into Saturday morning. Our arrival coincided with the 25th annual Apache Tears Mining Festival. Superior is a mining town, with copper being the principal ore recovered, but gold, silver and molybdenum are also taken. The festival began Friday, but the big events were mostly on Saturday. The Chihuahua race started at 10 AM and the Mining Competition started at 1 PM. Despite the cold raw day, the turnout was impressive, the people seemed very happy and they were very welcoming to us strangers.
Main Street was closed for the weekend and turned into a midway.

Superior is a town on the edge. It nearly became a ghost town a few years ago when the largest mine cut operations. The population is about one half of its historical high. Many buildings along main street are shuttered and some appear to have been abandoned. No new houses have been built here for over three years and home prices have steadily been falling. Many houses on the side streets appear to be abandoned.

Recently, the mines have become active. The Resolute Mining Company has the deepest mine in the U.S. at over 7,000 feet. Sarah and I spoke with an engineer that works for the mines and we learned how mining practices have changed over the last 30 years. In this area, the mines are safer and more ecologically sound than they have ever been. The copper, silver and gold are extracted more efficiently and with minimal environmental impact.

Despite the run down appearance of the town, the people we met were joyful and eager to greet us. The people living in such a small town, less than 4,000 people, recognize when a stranger arrives. The people of Superior, "Supies" as they called themselves, made us feel welcome and very much at home. 

Our first event at the festival was the Chihuahua Race. The race is for dogs approximating the size of a Chihuahua. The course is simple, a 16 foot run between a small fence toward a loved family member. Sarah and I mingled with the contestants prior to the race and made speculations on which dog might be the winner. We also met Peanut, who was three time champion but who was not going to race this year.
Peanut didn't look like she was happy about being retired. She was ready to run.

The participants were very serious about the race because there was prize money to be earned. The winner would receive $100, the second and third place each receiving $50 and $25 respectively.
The race is on

The other competition of the day was the Mining Competition. This consisted of four events; spike driving, timber sawing, "mucking" (shoveling gravel into a tipple) and rock drilling. This competition is the highlight of the festival. The purse was over $2,000. 

Spike driving requires the contestant to drive four spikes into a wooden beam. Two are to be driven downward into a beam supported at about waist high, while the other two spikes are to be driven vertically  into a beam about two feet overhead. Each contestant used the same size spikes and the same axes to drive the spikes. The difficulty of the overhead spike driving was clearly evident as less than half of the participants completed the task.
Yes, that's a small ax he's using to drive the nails. He is making some pretty big swings with the sharp end of the ax coming very close to some important anatomical areas.

All of the contestants completed the timber sawing, but some were amazingly faster than others. The time to cut through a 4X4 ranged from 7 seconds to 15 seconds. 
If you blink, you miss it. These guys cut through the 4x4 faster than I can with a Skill saw.

The mucking competition was very dramatic. Teams of two had to shovel pea stone into a tipple as quickly as possible then push the tipple along a track then bring it back and empty the tipple. The winning team was the one that could complete the task in the least amount of time.
The gravel just flew into the tipple

The final event was the rock drilling challenge. Each contestant had three minutes to drill a hole into a rock to a predetermined depth. The miner who completed the drilling in the shortest amount of time was the winner. This contest is the most arduous of them all. The water cooled pneumatic drill weighs nearly 100 lbs and must be moved into position by the miner. The miner must then carefully establish the path of the drill into the rock at the spot designated by the judges. 
Getting the drill into position

Drilling to the marked spot on the drill in the shortest amount of time.

The roar of the compressor and the banging of the steel hammer would have been deafening had the Chamber of Commerce not supplied the audience with ear plugs. 

The contest is open to anyone wishing to participate. But it was clear that the ones who were actually miners had the advantage. 

After the competition, Sarah and I wanted to try a small Mexican cafe on Main Street. But, it was closed due to the festival. So, we returned to the Jade Grill. We ordered take out from the Jade Cafe on the recommendation of our host at Superior RV Park the evening we arrived. We were both very impressed with our meals. Lucy prepares everything she serves in her small kitchen. All of her sauces are made from scratch, the flavor and consistency confirms her claim. Thank you, Lucy.
Lucy and Sarah at Jade Grill, Superior, Arizona
Here is Lucy's website:

The forecast for tomorrow is clear and warmer. We plan to hike the Rogers Canyon Trail to see the cave dwellings. Stay tuned.

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