For the past seven weeks, we have been on the road, visiting national parks and other sites between Steamboat Springs, CO, and Tucson, AZ. Last week our destination was Show Low, AZ. We had been in Show Low about 10 years ago. The one thing I remember about Show Low was all the Ponderosa pine trees and millions of pine needles on the ground. I had been toying with the idea of learning to make pine needle baskets, something I had seen at a craft show I attended. I thought they were beautiful, knew the materials could be mostly free, and the craft spoke to me as something Native Americans (and pioneers) would have done. (I think my past life took place in the 1800’s and I was probably a pioneer who ventured west through Indian country.) We collected a bag of needles back then and took them home. They sat in our garage for all that time, until I threw them out a year ago. Then, of course, I started making pine needle baskets THIS YEAR. That’s the way I roll.
Sooo, when we were planning our route to Tucson, Show Low had to be on our list. I can’t pass up an opportunity for free crafting materials.
Show Low, here we come
Before we left Gallup, I made a reservation for a campsite at Fool Hollow Lake State Recreation Area, right in Show Low. (It is named for a guy who set up a homestead in the bottom of a “hollow” and the town’s people thought he was a fool for doing so. Now the ranch, which was eventually bought by the state, so they could to in a dam and make a lake. Some pretty smart fool!) The online reservations system is extremely easy to use (as are the reservations systems for most state parks and national parks that we have been using). The system will show you the different loops in a campground and the sites that are available for the dates you want to stay. With your mouse, you can hover over the available site number, and see a picture of the campsite. It’s great for seeing if there is shade, how long the site is, if the pads are concrete or not, if there is a firepit and where its located, and how close other campers might be. We picked site 15 in Redhead (after a kind of duck) Loop, which turned out to be almost perfect. (I say almost, because Cooper would have liked to have the firepit closer to the door of the RV, but none of the sites had that configuration.)
Once we were settled, with the awnings out (which we really didn’t need except for rain), our view was the boulders on the hill right out our door. The hill and boulders were AWESOME for watching the birds and squirrels running all over the place. The site was covered in pine needles (yaaayyy!) and pine cones. Neighbors were not at all close, but there weren’t many except on the weekend. In fact, one night we were the only ones in the loop.
What’s the deal?
After checking out Show Low, we were left with the question “Why do people come here?” It wasn’t readily apparent. The town has grown a lot since we were here last, but we couldn’t figure out why. There is no real defined downtown, just a lot of small strip centers. We found the library and the city buildings, but there was no walkable shopping or dining. Lots of fast food and Mexican food, but nothing looked particularly enticing. We drove out to the east, the west, north and south. We discovered, not far away, the larger community of Pinetop/Lakeside, again with no real defined downtown, There was a large-ish shopping mall, lots of antique shops (which seem to be what would be called “shopping opportunities”), and some (but not many) interesting dining opportunities. With some deduction, our question about why people come to this area was answered. Being about three hours from the heat of Phoenix and other lower, hotter locations, people come to the Show Low/Pinetop area to get out of the heat. The elevation is about 5000 feet higher and about 20 degrees cooler than Phoenix. There are lots of cabins for rent and RV parks. Outdoor activities, like hiking, fishing, boating, and four-wheeling, are what people want to do. Shopping, not so much. Museums and indoor activities, not so much. Once we realized there was not much for us to do, we decided to mostly chill for the week. After all, I had pine needles to collect, clean, and bundle – not a quick process. We had books to read, walks to take, and laundry. It turned out to be a really relaxing week.
Why they call it Show Low
We, of course, wondered why the town was called Show Low. Odd name. Maybe it was a Native American name that just looked like English words. We stopped at the Show Low Chamber of Commerce to find out (and to find out what they suggest we do – which was pretty limited since it was past Labor Day and most events and activities have shut down). It was named Show Low to commemorate a famous card game between two land partners who were splitting up their partnership. Both wanted the ranch and they decided to play the game “seven up”. The game was going long and one of the partners wanted to go home, so he proposed that they each cut the deck and the partner who showed the lowest card would win the whole property. The winner cut and got a deuce of clubs, the lowest card in the deck. The main drag through Show Low is named Deuce of Clubs. There is a great mural depicting this famous card game.
Cooper found a brewery
The one really fun thing we did was to go to the Pinetop Brewery in (duh) Pinetop/Lakeside. Usually we go out for lunch, not dinner. We don’t get hungry until about 2:00 pm so places are less crowded than they might be at lunch. By avoiding the lunch crowd, waitstaff usually has a little tip to chat and our food comes out in a more timely manner. We sat in the bar (our preferred spot in most any restaurant) which was very comfortable with high top tables, TVs of course, and big blackboards with all their beer (and wine) options. The majority of the beers were their own brews, but they also feature some other microbrews the owner finds interesting. Their beers (at least at this time of year) run pretty dark. I am not a beer drinker so I ordered my usual white wine, but Cooper first ordered a pale ale. You would expect it to be pale, but not theirs. It was a pretty dark caramel color. Cooper let me taste it, and I have to say, it was pretty tasty. His second beer was also dark, their award winning Grand Cru. Pinetop Brewery won the Arizona Strong Beer Festival 2016 with this beer. Had to try it. I couldn’t really tell the difference between the two beers (under-developed beer palate), but both were tasty, even for me.
Their food is not ordinary pub food. They make all their own buns for their burgers and sliders, smoke all their own meat, hand-cut their crunchy seasoned fries and make specialty sauces. Obviously, the owners/chefs are as passionate about their food as they are their beer. I had 2 sliders (ordered by the “each”) with hand-formed fresh ground beef on black (we were there the day after Halloween) homemade buns. Cooper had a bacon-mushroom cheeseburger on a homemade bun. The great part about these burgers, besides the bun, was the crispy crunch to the edges of the burgers. Must be a very hot grill and they must smash it on the grill. YUMMY!
Outside of those few things, we really didn’t find much to do in Show Low. Other than having to go out to do laundry, we spent a good portion of the week just chillin’. I have two books going and Cooper has three. I was able to finish my “road”knitting project, except for tucking in the tails. I spent most of two whole days soaking, cleaning, sorting and bundling 14 bundles of pine needles. That should hold me for a while. And, of course, I worked on a basket. Last Thursday it rained all day, so I went to the library (since we didn’t have internet in the campground) and wrote my Gallup blog. When the sun came out on Friday, the trail around Fool Hollow Lake called to me. We really enjoyed our “down” week and would definitely return again in the future. After all, pines drop their needles every year and I would hate to have them go to waste.