So it's finally almost finished. We have watched sometimes at close hand during long delays as the Beeline Highway, tying Payson to the Valley, has been transformed. Those who think the Beeline's metamorphosis simply trims five to 10 minutes off the trip to the Valley, miss the whole point.
The Beeline unrolls like a supple satin ribbon across the heart of Arizona. It lies gently on a rugged landscape that defines our state. From pretty Payson to fashionable Fountain Hills, the Beeline descends through Tonto National Forest, one of the nation's largest, passing the majestic Mazatzals in the north and the marvelous McDowells in the south.
Travelers see the best of Arizona on their journey: Four Peaks and Weaver's Needle, ravens and roadrunners, Harris hawks and cactus wrens, hiking trails and four-wheel tracks, seasonal creeks and the ageless Verde River. And, in all-too-rare years for all-too-few weeks, Mother Nature paints the roadside with flowers, daring travelers to name each and every variety.
The roadway itself is a driver's dream. Long, uphill pulls give way to smooth downhill glides. Deep cuts slice through geological eons. A dramatic cantilevered bridge spans delicate habitat. A unique crossover gives the weird sensation of driving the wrong way. Graceful curves hug to contours of the land.
At times those curves have proved deadly. The road improvements, as good as they are, have not erased the sad reminders of accidents and incidents along the Beeline. Descansos memorial crosses mark places where the Beeline claimed its travelers. One memorial in particular honors a DPS officer who fairly and loyally enforced the law along the Beeline for many years until he was mercilessly murdered and left dead in the road. We pay our respect to him on every trip.
Despite the sad reminders, the Beeline has a quirky sense of humor, or, at least, a sense of irony. Where else can you lose your money or win a jackpot among the Tonto Apaches at their Mazatzal Casino and do it all over again with the Yavapai Apaches at their Fort McDowell Casino? Who are the goblins that decorate a rock that looks like a bear for every occasion? Why is Gisela pronounced Guy-see-lah? And how long will it be until there is cell phone service on the Beeline? Will having cell phone service eliminate the need for all those Good Guys who anonymously assist stranded motorists? Sure hope not.
From the Rim to the Fountain and back, the Beeline showcases the very best of Arizona. Perhaps the best of the best is the panorama that greets northbound travelers at milepost 250. After the radiator-busting haul up from Rye, past Round Valley and Oxbow Estates, the Beeline tops out, exposing the massive bulk of the Mogollon Rim. The impressive feature stretches as far as the eye can see from left to right. For Rim residents the familiar, albeit overwhelming, sight means just one thing: home.
So by all means, set the cruise control at 65 mph if making good time is your goal. But if having a good time also figures into your plans, then savor the sights, mourn the memorials, appreciate the irony and enjoy your drive on our beautiful "new" Beeline Highway.