Crown King Or Bust! Ok Fine, Bust. 4-15-2012

I don’t write about all of our trips for a couple of reasons. Mainly I just don’t have time. But also, even though I thoroughly enjoy every one of our rides, not every trip is a story. Our trip last weekend is definitely a story.

We left the truck in our regular spot for a Bradshaw’s adventure, a lot just north of Lake Pleasant. This lot is a huge clearing (Ralph says it used to be a landing strip) that off roaders use to park their trucks and trailers for the day and some people even camp there. Normally, if our destination is Crown King, we would go north on a road that I will now call the “main road”. There are roads to the west that we’ve taken on trips to Castle Hot Springs and on one trip we went almost as far west as Wickenburg, but we had never looked at roads to the east. The plan was to head east almost immediately and cross to the other side of the lake on the north end and connect to a road that would eventually get us to Crown King, including a scenic side trip to the Tip Top Mine. We love new roads and exploring new places and especially old mine sites. And since Ralph was entering the Spring Chili Cook off in Crown King the following weekend, we thought we’d talk to some people at the CK Saloon and get the scoop. So off we went for a pleasant adventure on our way to a nice lunch in Crown King.

(Note: I have never been on a ride where we have backtracked more times than we did on this trip. And I don’t much care for backtracking because very often I really don’t want to go back over places in the road that might possibly have scared me the first time.)

Right away things got complicated. The road that should have taken us north of the lake was under water. Darn. Lake Pleasant is a reservoir for the Central Arizona Project. They pump water from the Colorado River to be used for irrigation. At some point they decide they have enough water and they celebrate “Elevation Day”. Well unfortunately for us, this day had occurred recently and Lake Pleasant was at its highest. Did that stop us? Heck no! We backtracked, zigzagged, drove around, up and down, and here and there, until we found a way to the road we wanted. We needed to drive south around a butte called Indian Mesa, so even though we eventually wanted to go north, we kept heading southwest to catch that road.

Not too far after hooking up with our road (Table Mesa Road), we came to a locked gate. I personally am not fond of gates at all because I am the designated gate opener. But a locked gate can really put a burr under our saddle. If our route is blocked we are forced look for other roads. We are very good at spotting roads to try and the GPS will keep us heading towards the road we should be on, but it doesn’t tell us if our new road will peter out. Many of these roads were built for mining or ranching and most of them, a very long time ago. Some are really rough now and worst case scenario, become impassible. Ok back to the story.

Our detour route was scenic and delightful. We came across a small mine site with a locked gate on the shaft, some building ruins and a spring nearby.  Someone had planted a palm tree by the spring. Why would someone plant one palm tree way out here? Palm trees are not native to Arizona (except in Palm Canyon of the Kofa Mountains in Western Arizona) so whenever I see one in the desert it makes me wonder why it is there. There are many palm trees planted over in the Castle Hot springs area. They just look out of place to me. On a stake near the mine shaft was written “Southwest corner Golden Egg Mine”.

The next several miles were fairly good with spectacular views of Lake Pleasant and the surrounding mountains. I always keep a lookout for Four Peaks and even though it was hazy that day, I spotted it. Finding Four Peaks helps me figure out where I am, which direction I’m facing and where some of my other landmarks are. Most of the trip we could pretty much see the lake to our south and a large plateau and small flat butte to our southeast. We discovered later that the small flat butte was Table Mesa near New River. I had thought we were much farther north than we ever were. We were never even near Crown King! (I’m glad I didn’t realize this until the very end of the trip!) This stretch was probably the most enjoyable part of the ride. We spotted some walls made of rocks and an old rusty wagon frame.

Coming into the junction of the Tip Top Mine road, we had to open a gate that took us into a corral. The gate on the other side of the corral was open but there was one cow inside just hanging out in the shade. She just watched us go by and never even flinched. It was a pretty little valley with some shacks and another corral or two. But instead of turning towards the mine, we kept going north for a mile or so until Ralph realized we had missed the turnoff. Back we went to the valley and then down the road toward the mine site. After driving through a gate that was too tight for me to open (Ralph opened it and I drove the quad through), I asked to keep driving for a bit. Driving the RZR is pretty fun, so I drove the maybe half mile to the mine site and then Ralph took over as we explored. I almost never drive the quad mostly because I like my man to be in charge of manly things. It’s not about my being the weaker sex, it’s about the amazing feeling of being cherished, valued, loved and taken care of.  It’s about the man’s place as leader. And Ralph is a natural leader. He knows something about just about everything. One time, when we were at the Coke Ovens, a group in a jeep showed up and before I knew it they were all gathered around listening to him tell about the history of the area. It was awesome!

There were several ruins of buildings and a very large concrete foundation at the Tip Top Mine. We spied rock walls up the hill that we could tell were the reinforcements of an old road. We had to check it out. Up we went. The head frame for the mine was up there a ways, atop a very large shaft going straight down. We couldn’t quite drive all the way up to the shaft and head frame, because a fallen saguaro was completely blocking the road. There was no moving it so we hopped out and walked the last fifty yards or so. Ralph hunted for the perfect rock to toss down the shaft. This is a must for him; he throws at least one rock into every shaft we find.  I’ve never had the urge to throw rocks down holes or off of cliffs, must be a guy thing. Anyhow, as long as Ralph doesn’t fall in or off, it’s all good. We spotted several more shafts on our tour of the site. Ralph says the Tip Top Mine was one of the largest producers of silver in Arizona. I guess a few hundred people lived and worked here. Ralph said he read that there was even a brewery on the site!

After our tour of the mine it was back to the little corrals and north again. On many of our trips that are new routes for us, Ralph warns me that just because the maps on his computer and on the GPS say there is a road somewhere, there may not be. At that point we were still trying to connect to a road to the north that would eventually get us to Crown King. (I already knew by then that I would be writing a story about this trip and that I maybe I would name it “Crown King- the back way in”. Towards the end of the ride, I realized that my title was not going to work!) After a few miles we came to, what I will call “the intersection”. There were three ways one could go. The road on the right headed off to the northeast and we could see it snaking ahead in the distance. According to the GPS we needed to go more north and maybe even to the west to catch our road. At the entrance to the middle road was a six foot dried up tree branch, an obvious attempt to clue drivers to not go that way. Also someone had lined up rocks in a V fashion pointing the way towards the road on the left. Well ok then! Off we went.

After getting a bit higher we could see that the middle road ended at a stock tank. Several miles went by as we came into a really pretty canyon with a creek. Someone had built a good sized cabin, an outhouse, a corral and a shed of some sort. Discarded items were in a pile near the cabin. There was actually an entire bathroom formed out of fiberglass lying on its side. A deluxe unit complete with a toilet, sink and shower. It amazes me the civilized things we come across many miles down a narrow, steep, rocky and sometimes almost impassible road. If we don’t see an old rusty beat-up refrigerator somewhere on our ride we feel cheated. Anyhow, so here we were at, what we found out later was called, Milk Ranch. There seemed to be only one road continuing on from there so continue on we did.

This part of the trip was where I got an “uh oh” feeling in my stomach that we were not on the right path and that we may not be completing our trip as planned. This was the worst road on our ride. It was very steep and most of it solid rock that didn’t make a nice flat driving surface, instead it was a big hump. And it went straight up. Almost no level places until we arrived at the top of the hill. Then we had to go down the other side. Just as steep and just as uneven. Besides a difficult driving surface, another thing about roads I consider “not roads” is the abundance of overgrown shrubbery. With no one passing by to keep them back, the local vegetation grows wild. Ralph had taken the nets off the sides of our quad several months ago for a couple of reasons. One, they were kind of worn out and shaggy and two, they were a huge pain in the butt. I, the gatekeeper, was tired of the taking off my gloves, unclipping the two stiff squeeze clips that were in extremely awkward positions, and then re-clipping them upon my return.  One was down low by my lower back almost behind me and the other one, behind me up over my shoulder. No side nets:  great for gate opening, not so great for keeping sticks and branches from slapping our legs. Nets or no nets we are always susceptible to head and arm whacking.  Luckily our helmets, a raised clothed arm and gloved hand lessen those impacts. The worst part about driving through bushes, for me, is the shower of tiny sticks and leaves raining down all over me. So here I am, bouncing up and down, to and fro and my jacket rides up in back. No matter how much I pull it down, I end up with twigs and dry sharp leaves between my back and the seat. Not cool. And my skin is super sensitive. I’m the one who is bothered by the tiny speck of the tag I didn’t quite get off my shirt. Damn leaves! One even fell between my sock and shoe. It took me about two miles to fish it out! Ok enough of my complaining! Ralph is now telling me that he’s pretty sure this isn’t the road we want as we end up driving almost straight east. Yep. He saw on the GPS that we should be able to connect to a road at a stock tank we came to, but it wasn’t there.

 

We continued on as the road curved south. Soon we realized that we were going to end up back at the intersection. A giant circle, about 8 miles, lots of time and gas. At least we saw some really cool things. Our road crossed a really pretty creek, that we discovered later was the same one going through Milk Ranch. And a bit up from the creek, a huge rock was balancing on its end on top of a massive sloping boulder. It wasn’t with a whole bunch of other rocks that had formed that way, like between Superior and Globe, it was all by itself. It must have rolled down from somewhere. Ralph suggested we go push it over. I thought we should just get to Crown King.

Back at the intersection. What now? It was getting late and we were getting low on gas. We always bring along a 2 gallon gas can, not necessarily for emergencies as Ralph has the mileage of our trips figured in, but for when our trips are going to be super long, and lately our rides have been pretty long. Now we decided we had better get on the main road to Crown King, get up there and get gas. After another look at the GPS we decided that we might have missed the turn we needed out of Milk Ranch. Back around we went on the left fork. At Milk Ranch again, we looked for another turn off. Into the corral and out the other side looked like a possible road, and according to the GPS, the right direction. I had my doubts about this “road” from the beginning because it was barely there. We wound our way around some bushes and rocks and came to a creek bed where our “road” went up along the side. Very steep, rocky, narrow and overgrown. All of those things together spell impassible. But the adventurers that we are, up we went… but not for long.

Right away we had to get between a small tree on one side and over a large rock on the other side. Gunning the RZR we got over the rock but then decided to call it quits and back down. Not really a problem until the quad wouldn’t go back up over the rock to clear the tree on the other side. Ralph would get the tire up on the rock and then it would slide down before he could clear the tree. Wow, we were stuck! Good thing we have a winch. This is where I got out. Not because of any danger, just because I wanted to watch and take pictures. I love it when we get into winching situations, extreme four-wheeling. I’m never worried that Ralph won’t get us out, I know that he will. I just know it. I’ve been using my phone to take pictures our last few trips because the camera was sent off to be repaired, again. These rides are rough on our camera. It sometimes gets dropped on rocks or the floor of the quad, it gets covered with dust and occasionally, gets a little wet. Anyhow, the lens had become scratched and the pictures had a white hazy streak in the middle. My phone takes really good pictures but it’s a pain to turn it on and then have to unlock it for every shot. I love to take pictures of the quad in precarious situations, so I was fine hopping out to watch. It was then that I realized the battery in my phone had died. No way!! Really?? I thought about asking Ralph for his phone but just maybe there was a slight possibility that we would need his phone to call people to tell them we wouldn’t be home that night.

After hooking the winch around a tree about 25 feet up ahead he flipped the switch to tighten the cable. From my spot on a rock down the way behind the quad, I heard Ralph say “why isn’t it going in?” That didn’t sound good to me. Apparently a wire had come loose from the battery. It was not simple to find this out because the battery is under his seat. After removing his seat and locating the problem the next thing to do was to fix it. The tools are in the storage bag on the back of the quad and since the quad was wedged between rocks, trees and bushes, even getting to the tools was a chore. But soon the motor was winding in the cable and moving the front of the quad to where Ralph wanted it. At one point the right front wheel was jacked way up high on a rock while the right rear wheel was completely off the ground. And me without a camera! Arggh!  It took Ralph a few tries to free it, but soon I was climbing in and we were heading back to the Ranch. We even had difficulty just retracing our path even though it was only a quarter mile or so. Ok, back at Milk Ranch in one piece. Now what?

About this time Ralph was beginning to get concerned about gas and it was getting later on in the afternoon. I started thinking about the level of comfort we’d have out here over night. I wasn’t scared, we weren’t “lost” but we might not be able to get back to the truck before dark. I knew that Ralph would keep me warm and make me as comfortable as possible. And I knew he would protect me from any roaming critters. And we had food and water, so we’d be ok. Hopefully his phone would work so we could call our family.

Back toward the intersection we drove, keeping a sharp eye out for any turnoff toward the west that would connect us to the main road. At this point if we could get to that road, we would still have enough gas to get us to Crown King to the north but would not have enough to get us the other direction back to the truck. A road appeared and we pretty much were forced to give it a try. It seemed encouraging for awhile and Ralph even started talking about lunch at a The Mill. (The Mill is a really cool restaurant in Crown King where we took our kids to celebrate after we were married at the CK Chapel last year.) I could not even think about what we’d do in CK until we were on that main road. Things were going pretty well until our path just abruptly ended on top of a hill. It just ended! I’m a firm believer that all roads should connect with other roads. It’s just not right that they end somewhere. It just seems like unfinished business, don’t you think? Not cool.

Ralph is now getting worried. He assesses the gas situation from our mileage and gas left in the tank and the 2 gal to spare. We basically have no choice but to backtrack to the pretty little valley with the solitary cow, and once again take the turn to Tip Top Mine and head towards I-17 and New River. We would barely have enough gas to get us to New River and I had no idea what to expect once we even got there. It was Sunday, and it was night. Would there be a gas station open? Would we have to call someone to bring us gas? Who would that be? Many questions raced through my mind but it didn’t matter because we were going to run out of gas and it was getting dark. And even if we could find gas we would still have to drive south to the Carefree Highway and then to the Lake Pleasant turnoff and several more miles to where our truck was parked. I dreaded the thought of driving on I-17! We’ve driven on highways before but not one as big as I-17. The RZR goes about 50 mph tops and not only is that speed already a bit uncomfortable for me, it’s not nearly as fast as a car needs to go on I-17… at night. Back we rode towards the intersection and then towards the split to Tip Top. Somewhere along there, our tank ran empty and we stopped to pour in the spare 2 gallons. That would barely get us to New River. Yikes.

A mile or so past the mine site we came upon some people camping. Ralph said to me “should we ask them for gas?” and I emphatically said “YES!” I think these guys were a bit leery of us stopping to talk to them but as soon as we told them our story they were happy to help out. The only other people we had seen that day, had been by the mine site when we were here earlier. No other people were out exploring these hills today. A father and son out doing a bit of prospecting and spending time together camping, I believe God had placed them in our path. They had plenty of extra gas and even though we had only a few dollars cash, they wouldn’t take it. (I hope they read this story and know how grateful we are.) This was a huge relief because now we would have enough gas to get all the way back to the truck. We chatted with them about prospecting and a bit about our quad trips. They told us to look for a frontage road after crossing to the east side of I-17and it would take us south alongside the highway to New River Road. That would then connect to the Carefree Hwy. I would have liked to talk to them more if it hadn’t have been almost totally dark by then. Since we were now refueled, we briefly thought about heading back to the truck the way we had come. It would be closer. But no, if it had just been one nice road this far we could do it, but zigzaging our way back in the dark would be just too risky.

On our drive towards the I-17 we came to a fork which we hadn’t anticipated. We went one way for a few minutes but changed our mind after it seemed to be just a rocky creek. The road was very good now and Ralph was driving fast. At one point we came upon flashing lights and several sheriffs and other cars. I have no idea what was going on but it was so weird to see that sort of thing out on a forest road and towards the end of our already crazy trip. We slowed down and a sheriff in the road shined a flashlight at us so we stopped. He told us that they were “just finishing up a situation and just stay to the left” and we could pass. We asked him briefly if he knew anything about the side roads back to Lake Pleasant but he couldn’t help us. At one point a bird flew into our path and I think we hit it and I thought it was coming into the quad. I put my arms up for protection but it either went under us or around us. When we are going so fast on a dirt road in the dark, although it’s really fun, I can’t help but expect an animal to jump out in front of us, maybe a cow or a coyote or a mountain lion. I’d rather not hit any of those in a vehicle with no roof, doors or windshield.

Finally we made it to I-17, drove underneath and began to search for our frontage road (Old Stagecoach Road). There was a gate but it was unmarked. I was nervous just going through a gate in the dark without being able to see where the road was leading. I probably didn’t want to end up at a not-so-friendly rancher’s back door, or plow right into a river or a giant hole.  After a little more looking around it was clear, we needed to choose–  it was the gate or I-17. Ok then, the gate it is. This stretch was probably the scariest for me. Our helmet intercoms had died probably back around the mine and we had only been able to talk to each other by yelling. So we had very little communication from that point on. Things were ok for awhile until we came to another gate with a sign that said we were entering New River Wildlife Refuge. What kind of wildlife? Yikes! The road was overgrown by big trees that made it seem like a long, dark, creepy, what’s-up-ahead, tunnel. I didn’t like it one bit. And I couldn’t even complain to Ralph! Soon it opened up and the dirt turned to pavement. This was a gigantic relief. We passed by some houses and what looked like a café or bar before turning onto New River Road. Good thing we didn’t need gas, there were no gas stations in sight. We crossed back under the freeway and headed southwest towards Carefree highway.

It’s not my favorite sort of ride- 50 mph on a paved road- but at least we were out of the mountains and on our way to the truck. And thank goodness, it wasn’t that cold. At one point on the Carefree Highway Ralph made some hand motion and told me later that the engine was cutting out. Apparently the fuel pump has trouble keeping up on a heavy load. Maybe we should fix that. Just a thought. Finally up ahead was the turn off to the parking area and there was our truck all by itself. We drove up onto the trailer signaling the end of our ride. It was 9pm. I think I said to Ralph “that was nice” or some such comment. On the way back to the highway our headlights flashed on three wild burros out for an evening stroll.

We drove home pretty much in silence munching on the snacks we had brought. I realized that Ralph hadn’t eaten all day long. I had grabbed a few nuts at Golden Egg mine but that was it. Normally we stop for a lunch of sorts but I guess we were waiting for our relaxing meal at the Mill. At home, getting ready for bed and pulling some twigs from my hair, I still felt like I was bouncing up and down. I guess twelve hours of rough four-wheeling will do that to you. Man, am I lucky! (I’m not kidding!)

Trips like this bring Ralph and me closer; closer to each other and closer to God through his magnificent creations.  I thank God every day for all the things I have and all the gifts he’s given to me that make my life as abundantly rich as it is. Near the top of the list are Ralph, our RZR and Arizona. I am a millionaire.

Click on iteractive map below.

 

I Shall Call My Masterpiece…Rock. Rawhide Canyon 1-15-12

There aren’t very many places that I will agree to go riding during the winter. Even with my helmet, sitting in a moving vehicle with no windshield, doors or roof, is pretty chilly. We won’t venture too far north and even though some of the southern mountains are low enough, they are a good drive away. Luckily, nearby and spectacular, are the mountains  around Superior and Globe. The scenery and history of this area, to me, is the best Arizona has to offer. It’s really  exciting to go down roads that are new to us and explore new areas. But there is a feeling I get, a comfortable familiarity, when we go back to a place we have been before, and in this case, many times before.

A couple of miles past the Magma Mine road just as you come out of Queen Creek Canyon, there is an unmarked road to the right. We park the truck just off the highway to the side of the road. It’s steep and not a great place to park, but it works! This road has lots of short side branches that usually end at a miner’s test sites. On our last trip, people were actively mining. Gear was here and there, trucks, guys and water tanks strewn over this area. This time the area was deserted. It’s interesting to revisit places and see how things have changed. As much as I love a dirt road in the wilderness giving me a path into the Arizona outback, I hate seeing what I consider unnecessary road cutting. I guess in order to transport huge mining equipment through the mountains to the site they need wide and level roads. I get it but I don’t like it.

As we drove deeper into the mountains, the improved road turned back into the rough and rocky stuff that is typical in that area. The rocks that line the canyons in the Superior/Globe area are so unusual. They are huge chunky blobs stacked precariously on top of each other. Balancing boulders are everywhere. And they aren’t just large rocks sitting by the side of the road. They are house-sized chunks stacked on top of each other, towering hundreds of feet skyward. It’s truly amazing to me that they exist. I am in awe and wonder as we drive past them. I can’t take my eyes off of them. It truly is unbelievable that they are there! Our pictures don’t do them justice. Unless you are there, you can’t grasp the size of these rocks. As we drove by them, Ralph and I discussed how we thought they were created and why they stand as they do. All I know for sure is that God made them and put them there. He is The Ultimate Artist. Incredible!

Past the rock towers we continued on our loop. South of Superior is a huge pit mine. We drove towards it on this trip and were hoping to get to a vantage point where we could see it before our path took us to the east and then north back to the highway. We took a couple of side roads off to our right that took us into really pretty country, but disappointedly they both ended with no views of the mine. Our last trip on this road was March 13, 2011, the day after our wedding. We placed a geocache on that trip, called “Two become One”. Awwwww that’s so sweet! Yeah. So anyway, we were now nearing the location of that cache. It is an absolutely beautiful canyon area with rock spires and structures nearby.

After confirming our geocache “Link To Geocache” was still there and snapping our traditional “couples shot” with our camera, we continued east for a bit then north towards a rock gulch that is the site of some awesome petroglyphs. There are two ways to get up to it, one goes around the side of a hill and I remembered that last time we were there a part of the road was washed out.  It was one of those spots where I decide that I need to get out of the car and let him drive over it by himself (so I’m still alive to call for rescue!) or I am completely against our attempting it. I can remember every one of the areas on past trips where I was scared enough to say “nope, I’m not doing that.” When we came to that particular spot this time we crossed over it just fine (but we did lean a bit). This time we were going the other direction and Ralph was on the downhill side. For some reason, I’m quite a bit more nervous if I am on the downhill side. Anyhow, onward to the petroglyphs!  Last time we were there, we stayed in the quad and just peered down at them. I don’t remember why we didn’t get out. But this time we parked, snatched up the camera and made our way down to the drawings. This gully is a gigantic solid rock. Water has carved a path leaving smooth walls on both sides that is the perfect canvas for native Arizonans to draw their pictures. There were a few maybe 3ft deep pools with clear water, the kind of pools I would have wanted to swim in as a child hiking in Arizona with my dad. Today I wasn’t too interested in swimming being that it was pretty darn cold and starting to rain but we took lots of pictures and enjoyed the area immensely.

The rest of the ride was a pretty smooth road back to the highway, a very familiar road that we had been on several times. Even though it was late afternoon by then, it was quite a bit colder than when we started out and it was raining. Not hard enough for us to put on our rain gear but increasingly uncomfortable. About this time was ready to be back at our truck. Arriving at the highway meant the last leg of the trip driving the RZR on the highway for about 5 miles, with cars and trucks that were supposed to be driving there. Luckily, I was pretty cold and concentrating on that so I wasn’t as concerned as I normally would be driving in a small open vehicle at 50mph on a winding and steep highway with crazies barreling around and past us at 65+. Last time we drove this highway portion in March of last year, the quad hood panel flew off twice. There is pretty much no shoulder on that road so we couldn’t stop immediately and even when we did we weren’t too far off the road. That meant speeding vehicles zipping close by and Ralph walking a ways back to retrieve the hood from the middle of the road. Twice this happened. Scary. After that incident the hood was secured with some special gadgets.

Back at the truck safe and sound, we packed up and took off towards home. Another amazing trip into our Arizona. This trip was more special than some. Not only are these trips a cool way to spend our weekends together, they are our thing. Some couples go dancing and some go to the symphony. We go for rides. These adventures are our connection. Our connection to Arizona and to God.  But most of all these rides are our connection to each other.

Click on iteractive map below.

 

Tunnel? There’s A Tunnel Around Here? 7-23-11

This trip was going to be the second try of a weekend where we returned to the valley via a large red tow truck. There was a circle route Ralph had mapped out for us to do along the Old Rim Road that, unfortunately, had to be postponed that trip. We were looking forward to this ride.

 

We camped at a different spot, than we had previously, that boasted a spectacular view of Payson and the surrounding and distant mountain ranges. We spent most of Friday afternoon and evening looking through binoculars, scouring maps, using a compass and finding information on our phones to identify landmarks. I spotted my beloved Four Peaks and nearby Mount Ord. It was a view from the north so Four Peaks was not easily recognizable. We enjoy this activity immensely. Thankfully campfires were permitted this weekend as the last time we were here, our evening was dark and chilly. Seriously, to me camping isn’t camping if we can’t have a fire. The campfire is the warmth, the light, the wonder of the forest at night. It is pure pleasure.

Hot coffee, cereal, and hazy sunrise made a spectacular morning from our boulder on the edge of the Mogollon Rim. It was time to get packed up and ready for our ride. We brought our helmets for this ride because it might be chilly, the roads were good so it would probably be pretty windy and there’s always the threat of showers this time of year. There was a short hike planned so we brought extra Gatorades and waters and off we went.

The hike was down off the rim to a railroad tunnel that had been attempted in the early 1880’s. It was supposed to go up through the rim and span 3100ft, taking the rail from Globe to Flagstaff. After digging only 70ft it was abandoned for lack of funds. Ralph and I both like tunnels and especially anything old and historic Arizona. We were looking forward to checking this place out. According to the GPS, the hike would only be ¾ of a mile to the tunnel. We aren’t really fond of hiking being kind of lazy and not in the greatest shape but we decided we could handle a 1.5mile round trip walk. Right away I was not too thrilled when the trail headed almost straight down. I knew my knees and calves would be protesting soon and for days after. But it was only ¾ of a mile right? And we wanted to see the tunnel!

Normally if we plan to leave the quad and have our helmets along, we take a cable and lock to secure them to the vehicle while we are away. Unfortunately, we didn’t think to bring it and our $1500 pair of helmets was left on the floor covered in coats. Not very secure and I didn’t like it. But it was only ¾ of a mile right? We’d be back soon! He grabbed a Gatorade and handed me a bottle of water and off we went.

After maybe ½ mile, Ralph informed me that his GPS now said the trek was 2 more miles. What?? Really??  Not cool! I was carrying my heavy jacket and a water bottle and the camera was swinging from my neck. This was all tolerable for a very short hike, but now I was feeling uncomfortable and getting a bit grumpy. I told Ralph I wanted to stash my water bottle and pick it up on the way back. He thought we should hang on to it and later on we were grateful we hadn’t left it behind. As we plodded on we saw some cool critters. Ralph saw some coyotes and I spotted (and heard) a young rattlesnake. But where was that tunnel? And shouldn’t there be a sign? This was getting pretty unfun as was thinking about the climb back up and being worried about our helmets. All of a sudden we found ourselves at a small parking lot at the bottom of the rim that we had been to on a previous trip several months before. This was most unsettling because the tunnel was supposed to be up high, not too far off the rim. Ok we were lost. Not “uh oh” lost- we were at a parking lot and there were people around but we were majorly off course.

Whatever we do, we do it to the best of our ability and we do it well. And in this case we were messing up spectacularly! Ralph and I are both determined and stubborn so we hiked back up a ways and then back down a ways, crossed the creek and then recrossed it, and then decided to go up a canyon to our east. The tunnel HAD to be up that way. Where else would it be? The GPS had failed us but only because Ralph plugged in the wrong coordinates. He says he will always trust the GPS. I didn’t know what to think about the GPS but I did know that we were hiking up a canyon where there was no trail. The brush was fairly thick and big rocks made hiking slow and tedious. I wasn’t really tired, just apprehensive and of course thinking about the steep trail that we had come down off the rim on and of course worried about our helmets. The longer we were gone the better the chance that someone unscrupulous would come along and snatch our beautiful, expensive helmets.

As we kept going, we maintained our hopes that we would find the tunnel and at some point agreed that if and when we came upon it that we would just climb out the rim from wherever we were. Way too far and rough to go back the way we had come. We decided that if the tunnel was ahead that it had to be toward a draw to the north. We decided that tunnel or no tunnel that we would go on up that draw. It was getting steeper now and we were in a wash of sorts. Every now and then there would be boulders that we weren’t sure we could get past. It was so weird to see elk tracks along the way even in the very steep parts. I wondered how elk could navigate and climb this stuff. Finally the creek bed became impassable and we were forced to climb out up the side. To the west of us the top of the rim looked lower than the draw summit we were heading towards and I thought it might be a gentler incline after that to get to the road. There was a cluster of rocks and I thought we should head to the right of them. We couldn’t get the data on our phones to work to check the terrain so we were left to guess and then just go for it. So that’s what we did.

The Gatorade had been drained probably by the time we reached the parking lot so we had been conserving the water for a while. Luckily I’m not one who requires lots of water and I rarely feel thirsty so I was ok with just a sip now and then. But at this point the water was gone. And it was getting kind of hot. Up towards the rim we climbed.  And the climbing was hard. All of the rocks were loose. All of them! Even the big ones worried me since I was putting more of my weight on them. It was treacherous. We had to use our hands almost the entire rest of the way. Manzanita was everywhere. Yikes. I hate Manzanita. It doesn’t push to the side when you try to get through it. The Dude Fire in 1990 had left lots of dead branches sticking up out of the dirt. Manzanita can be nearly impenetrable and on a path this steep things were pretty hairy. Dead or live Manzanita, loose rocks, on a really steep hill, in the sun, with no water and a long way still to go?  Not good. Really, really not good. And worse yet, what about our helmets, darn it?

I think I must have been running on adrenaline because I don’t recall ever feeling tired. I just wanted to keep going to get out. I just needed to get out. Ralph had been feeling ill since we came out of the creek bed, complaining of nausea and dizziness. He needed to rest frequently and we climbed towards any tiny bit of shade we could see. He needed to lie down sometimes and it was tricky with all the rocks and on an incline so steep. At one point he rested on a fallen tree horizontal to the slope. I sat by him and held onto him. His condition worried me and probably kept me from freaking out myself until we got to our destination to the right of the rocks. That’s when my heart sank. We were not on the rim like I had hoped we would be. We were on a ridge that was jutting out from the rim. And worse yet, the rest of the ridge was mostly huge boulders with very little dirt around them and incredibly steep. It looked impassable. We rested under a tree and weighed our options. We could see the draw we had come down from the rim to the west. If we had our binocs we may have even been able to see the quad parked at the top. We considered a route over to that draw. It would be super steep down from where we were and then back up the steep trail. But there would be water for sure at the creek. It would take us hours to get there and we weren’t sure we could make it without water. To our right was the rest of the draw that the rocky creek bed forced us out of. We could go over to that but it was also pretty far and super steep. Again the lack of water worried us. We just really needed to get out now.

Ok onward. To the right or left of the boulders? We started on the right. And after forcing myself through some Manzanita I found myself at the base of some boulders that I could not climb up. And I could not go around them. That’s where I lost it. I started to cry. I think it was a feeling of being trapped and losing hope. My mouth was feeling dry and sticky after crying and that terrified me. Ok no more crying. Back we went to our tree to plan our next move. We thought briefly about making a call for rescue. I thought about whether my boss would believe me if I told her I was stranded on the Mogollon Rim and couldn’t make it to work Sunday morning. A couple of times we toyed with the idea of my going ahead and then bringing back water. But we decided we needed to stay together. We do things well and we had to finish this adventure, together. We had to try the left side.

I began to have renewed hope as we were able to inch our way past the rocks and move farther up the ridge. It continued to be hand over foot and loose rocks and lots of rests but finally we emerged onto the rim. I was out first and I weakly hollered down to Ralph that I was out. He didn’t hear me but it didn’t matter. He climbed out a few minutes later and we sat for a bit to rest, relieved and thankful. It was still a mile hike on the road back to the quad. We stumbled along like zombies waving to passing vehicles like we were just out on a leisurely stroll. We were filthy and all beat up. Luckily I had on pants but Ralph was wearing shorts and his legs and arms were covered with scratches. I dreamed of a cold Gatorade in the quad and of course I worried about my helmet.

There were some people standing by their truck near the quad when we got back. They asked us if we had hiked down to the Tunnel. I smiled a tiny smile inside. Ralph muttered something about climbing up the rim and they laughed. I didn’t even acknowledge them, I just went straight to the RZR.  Thank God, our helmets were there safe and sound!

I figured we would just go back to camp and lie down, we were exhausted, but Ralph said “Want to continue our ride?” and of course I said yes. We downed about 2 gallons of fluid, put on our awesome helmets and off we went. We drove out on a couple of points so we could see the ridge we had climbed. We gazed through the binocs and were amazed at what we had just done.

That day I felt so close to my husband. That day was a bit life threatening and I was scared, but I was with Ralph. I’m finding out that it doesn’t matter where I am.  As long as I’m with Ralph, there’s no place I’d rather be.

Click on interactive map below.

 

Note To Self: Always Bring Helmet And Jacket. Jerome To Williams. 5-29-11

So here it is Sunday morning and we have no plans. Ralph says to me “Let’s go for a ride!” Of course I’m all for it. But where to? He’d been talking about a trip from Jerome to Williams through Perkinsville that he’d like to do but it had been too cold. So I’m thinking, ok it’s warm here now so this trip should be fine, right? We had been riding helmetless for a month at least so it didn’t even enter my mind to bring them along. I grabbed a few different weights of jackets, the heaviest being a double layer fleece. I hopped in the truck wearing my summer riding clothes of lightweight pants (I never wear shorts, thus avoiding the dreaded shorts tan), and a tank top (I never wear t-shirts either, no sleeve tan for me, thanks!).

All was wonderful as we cruised up I-17 in Ralph’s comfy truck. We stopped for gas just before heading up the hill to Jerome. When I got out to run inside to buy some Mentos, all of a sudden I got that “Uh-oh” feeling. It was kinda chilly! Up the road we drove through Jerome to our parking spot.

I love Jerome. Old west mining town turned tourist, tons of history and charm. We had been here recently on a road trip at the end of February by way of Prescott. It was snowing in Prescott and there was an ice cold wind blowing through the streets of Jerome. We had a fabulous dinner at the Asylum restaurant at the top of town and Ralph bought me a t-shirt and some fudge. It was an awesome trip. Today our parking spot was right off the dirt road going north out of town. When I got out I felt the wind and went straight for my heaviest jacket. As we got situated and started out I realized immediately that this just might be a cold ride.

It was a beautiful day and the view was incredible north towards the west end of the red rocks of the Sedona area. We descended into the valley and crossed the railroad tracks near Perkinsville. Ralph pointed out the entrance to a notable 680 ft long train tunnel through solid rock. It had warmed up significantly and I was feeling fine. Just after crossing the Verde River we came upon a quad crashed into the side of a bridge over a creek. Ralph got out to check for the injured rider but nobody was around. On the trip back the quad was gone. Interesting.

We turned off the main road and took a route to the east that passed by a very large, operating slate mine and continued up into the pines. It was about 25 miles to Williams and getting colder. I had put up my hood and was gripping it tightly under my chin. Ralph was just in shorts and a short sleeve shirt and I was wondering why he didn’t stop and put his jacket on. He told me later in the trip that he hadn’t brought it. Oops.

We arrived in Williams, parked and got out to browse the shops and find some lunch. We were near the Grand Canyon Railroad depot and were lucky enough to see the train pass by. Williams is on old Route 66, so I thought it fitting to buy a small bag made of fabric themed with Route 66 symbols. It was cold and windy and we quickly decided to get burgers at a nearby diner. I was surprised to see on the menu a choice of about 8 beers on tap, brewed locally at the Grand Canyon Brewery. I had no idea there was a brewery in Williams. Beer isn’t my preferred beverage but I decided to try the White Water Wheat. It was the best beer I have ever tasted! And that’s the truth! Ralph suggested we get a six pack to take home but sadly, only two of the flavors came bottled and the White Water Wheat wasn’t one of them. The waitress told us about a half-gallon glass jug called a Growler that could be filled from the tap. Awesome! We watched as she expertly filled up my Growler and off we went.

Back in the RZR I found out that Ralph had no jacket. We carry a blanket, thank goodness, so Ralph draped it over him and we started back towards the truck. Our route back was mostly on a highway which means we were driving around 50mph. The cold plus the wind made conditions pretty darn uncomfortable. Ralph had the blanket tucked as tighly as possible around him. I was gritting my teeth and promising myself I would never go anywhere without my helmet ever again. The thought of my Growler filled with yummy beer stowed in our quad bag, was a slight distraction. Right out of Williams we had to slow for a herd of sheep crossing the road. I’ve never seen so many sheep before. It was a very cool site.

Finally, around a corner I glimpsed the truck up ahead patiently waiting for us. We loaded the quad on the trailer and climbed inside to warm up. We drove slowly down the hill back through Jerome and headed home. I was completely satisfied.

Sometimes things happen on our trips that are unforeseen or unplanned for. Some of them are our faults and some of them aren’t. But it doesn’t matter how cold, hot, windy, wet, or bumpy it might have been, one thing is for sure: I’m always filled with gratitude. I am always grateful for the privilege to experience Arizona off the beaten path. But mostly I’m thankful that the most wonderful man in the world wants to take me there.

Crazy Beautiful. May 15, 2011

I knew it was going to be a wonderful day when we arrived at our parking spot off hwy 188 and the view was the east side of my beloved Four Peaks and in the foreground a sprawling Roosevelt Lake. It was a beautiful warm day for our first ride in the Sierra Anchas.

 

We were in the foothills at first, soft rolling ups and downs on the way deeper into the mountain range by way of Cherry Creek. This ride had the most changes and varieties of landscape I’ve ever experienced. It was a typical spring day, running water and everything was green, green, green! The road was well taken care of for several miles as we passed by a few large ranches. Ellison Ranch was the end of the maintained road. Here is where you enter the canyon area and begin to get views of the spectacular east side cliffs.

A couple of miles down the road, we came upon a sign with information about some still intact ancient cliff dwellings that were built by the Salado People in about 1300. Ralph dug out the binoculars and we took turns scanning the rocks for signs of the dwellings but with no luck. I decided that it wouldn’t be very clever for them to build their homes within plain view of potential enemies so it was no surprise that we saw nothing but the beautiful natural rock formations. On a future trip we might try a hike up to one of them after checking out a map of trails and assessing the difficulty. We will hike, but we’d rather drive. I found out later that my dad and my brother, Harry, have been to some of the ruins on a trip taken maybe 20 years ago.

As we drove higher and further into the mountains, we came upon running creeks and mountain springs surrounded by lush vegetation and trees. We saw some side roads that we made note of to check out on future trips. We came out to the North and our dirt road put us back onto 288. This road is dirt but well maintained. To the north it will take you to Pleasant Valley and through Young, and then ultimately connects to state route 260 on top of the Mogollon Rim. To the south you are back at hwy 188 in 35 miles.

On our way down towards our truck we took some cool side trips. First we went west to McFadden Peak where sits a lookout station at 7135 ft. I waved to the ranger inside the tower. The peak has a great 360 degree view. Of course to the west are the Mazatzals featuring Four Peaks and Mount Ord, and I could see the Superstitions to the southwest and I thought I could make out the top of Picketpost Mountain near Superior. And in the valley was a beautiful view of Roosevelt Lake. To the north we could see a great expanse of the Mogollon Rim.

Our second side trip was off to the east. We were looking for a road from our GPS that turned out to be a path called the McFadden Horse Trail. It looked to me like it was a vehicle road at one time though it was very narrow and very rough. We followed it for a couple of miles before deciding to abandon it. This was the only part of the trip that approached possible difficulty but nothing compared to Devil’s Canyon stretch, Martinez Mine area, or some of our Mazatzal adventures. It was fun though!

Off to the east again, we turned off on a side road that according to our GPS would come out a few miles later back onto 288. This was an awesome side trip. Not only was the scenery spectacular but we came across two mine sites. This was the part of the trip that the landscape changed dramatically every quarter mile or so. From pines and streams, to meadows, to flat areas of small trees and ferns, to spectacular cliffs, canyon views and desert. Amazing!

Back on 288 we soon were heading back down towards our parking area. Our last stop was at the top of some beautiful, sheer cliffs. They were the sides of a deep, narrow canyon where you could see the other side while you were standing on your side. Parker Canyon is between 600 and 1500 feet deep depending on what ledge you are standing on. Wow! I asked Ralph if what we were on looked like what was on the other side. He said yes. Ok…this is when I started to get scared. A small road took us to the very edge of the cliffs. You can drive right off if you are so inclined. No fence, no guard rail, no nothing. We parked the quad maybe 25 yards from the rim and got out. Here is where I was jolted to thoughts of my mortality and even more specifically thoughts of Ralph’s. The ground was a slightly downhill slope to the edge. And it wasn’t just nice stable dirt. There were small loose rocks everywhere; the kind of rocks that make keeping your balance while moving forward a challenge. Ok so, downhill slope, loose unstable rocks, edge of a several hundred foot cliff just over there. I stopped about 20 feet from the edge. Hmm. I thought about many things during this time. I saw a fire pit nearby and thought about people out here partying at night and possibly being stupid. I wondered how many people had fallen to their deaths here and why hadn’t I heard about them. I thought about fun weekend trips turning tragic. I thought about living the rest of my life without Ralph. So, he is maybe one foot from the edge waving at me “come on down!”  Absolutely terrifying. I think not. I made him come back and I said we must leave. And we left. I honestly never want to go back to that spot. I’ll just look from the highway. I like risk, I like adventure, I like a little danger. This was too much for me.

 

Safely back at the truck, I gazed a final time at Four Peaks and Roosevelt Lake. A beautiful ride in a new mountain range. A day spent being thankful for my life. Everything I have, everyone who loves me; all gifts from God. And a reminder that life here on earth is short and we should live each day like it is our last. Enjoy every minute and love the best that we can.

Click on interactive map below.

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Questions, Answers And Surprises: The Mineral Mountains Revisited 5-8-11

This trip we had a mission. Our last ride in this area left us with a couple of unanswered questions. First, was there a way around the roughest stretch I’ve ever experienced; where the road is a cascade of boulders? Maybe. And second, could Ralph have continued on a side road that turned into an almost vertical massive rock? I say no, he says yes. We just had to find out.

We parked the truck just south of Hwy 60 at the Magma Mine Road, about 5 miles east of Superior.  There is active mining in this area. The Resolution Copper project is a few miles to the west at the site of the old Magma Mine. A gate and guard station prevents access to the operation. There are many branches off the main road. Most of these are used by either miners or ranchers. We came upon two or three sites where there was actually drilling in progress. Guys were there working on a Sunday! Several other sites had seen recent activity noted by the capped off pipes used for core samples and ground water testing. We passed the side road that would take us to the giant rock that stopped us last time. On the way back we would go check it out.

After the last trip, Ralph took a look at the map and concluded there should be a turnoff somewhere before the really bad stretch that would be a way around it. We decided to take the one that was right at the base. It was a fairly good road with a couple of “gates” that were dead fallen Century Plants. We were able to push one up over us as we drove under it but I needed to get out to move another one out of our path. Our detour connected us to the main road as we thought it would, near the top of the rough stuff. First question answered.

There was more excitement in store for us on this ride. At one point the road went from kind of well-traveled to not so well-traveled. I started to get concerned when we were leaning pretty badly. I’m pretty sure we were close to tipping over.  And I was on the downhill side, which is scarier for me than the uphill side. I’m not sure why. The one time we actually did tip over, I was on the uphill side. I think it has to do with the thought of being close to the ground and possibly pinned. I assessed the situation. In this case if we were to roll, we’d probably go over three or four times and end up in the ravine as bruised human pin cushions. This was a category 3 level of concern for me (on my scale of 1-3) this is when I get out! We walked up ahead and surveyed the road. We decided not to continue. Hmm. The RZR was leaning badly. How do we turn it around on the side of a hill? Then Ralph looked at me and said casually “Ok, you need to drive.” “HUH??” I have to admit I was a bit shaky, really! But this kind of stuff excites me. It’s the risk part of the 4wd experience. And I have the utmost confidence in Ralph’s skill and experience in these situations; I just don’t have that much confidence in mine! But apparently he does, so there you go. I got behind the wheel, put on my seat belt, clipped on the side safety net, stepped on the brake and started her up. He told me exactly what to do and I did it. He pushed and held and sort of helped me stay upright while I did the turn-around thing. I was awesome if I do say so myself!

Our route back took us down a different road than we had used as our detour. This one took us through a canyon that had spectacular stacked and balancing rocks for walls. We drove by some really big chunks that I know had fallen off from up above and rolled down. I couldn’t help thinking about what I would do if a boulder decided to tip from its perch and come my way. It would be incredible to see one fall. I hope I do someday! I decided they probably get dislodged when it storms. Wind and rain might do the trick. Maybe the earth shakes a tiny bit every now and then. Some are so precariously balanced I don’t think it would take much. I hoped the RZR noise and vibration wouldn’t be all one of them needed to relocate. Then we saw something really amazing! Ralph pointed to the road ahead where a  big blue lizard scurried across right in front of us. Ralph switched off the engine and I hopped out fumbling to turn on the camera. I hate snakes and I don’t really like lizards, but the Gila Monster in the Goldfields and this blue one here, were pretty darn cool. He was absolutely gorgeous! A blue-green spotted body and gold head with two black stripes on his neck. He was probably 18” in length including his very long tail. He proudly displayed himself on a rock at the side of the road and watched me as I slowly inched closer snapping a picture after each step. He let me get within about four feet before having enough of me and disappearing into the brush. I’ve never seen a lizard like that in all my years camping, hiking and backpacking. My brother, Harry, told me it was a Collared Lizard. He is an avid outdoorsman and said he’s only seen one in all his time spent in the Arizona wilderness- at the bottom of the Grand Canyon! Amazing!

Another side road took us to a capped off drilling site where we parked and took a short hike to a beautiful viewpoint above Devil’s Canyon. On our last trip we saw a couple who said they were on their way to do some rock climbing. Devil’s Canyon is a spectacular canyon with incredible towering rock pillars. I would never even think of climbing them. Anyhow, there was one more question that needed an answer.

Ralph recently installed a spare tire and extra roll bar mount on the rear of the quad. This rock was so steep and the extra weight on the back made it feel like we might flip vertically. He said we wouldn’t. As much as I like being right, there are times when it’s ok if I’m wrong. I decided to stay inside this time while we crawled up the rock. This was only a category 2 level of concern because there was no canyon to roll down into. We’d probably only go over once. And there was nothing around that would poke me. Scary but fun! I leaned forward and held on to my handle. We made it of course. Ralph smirked a little and I let him. The road continued as switchbacks that would end up on top of a ridge. We passed by a rusty pick-up that evidently got terminally stuck. When you get stuck out there…good luck. Second question answered.

The rest of the trip back to our truck was exploration on some side roads. At one point we were riding on part of the old US60. I’m especially fond of that old highway. Someday I’d like to follow it where it still exists and where we can get to it. After we loaded the quad up on the trailer and headed out we cruised through some old hilly neighborhoods of Globe and browsed a couple of Miami antique stores. This trip had everything. I consider it nothing other than a privilege to be experiencing Arizona with my husband, my companion, my best friend. I get to do it and then I get to write about it. How cool is that? I thank God for this gift. I am truly blessed and truly happy.

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A Look Back In Time: US60 And The Claypool Tunnel 5-1-11

Last weekend Ralph shot in an archery tournament in Globe. The tournament had sessions on both Saturday and Sunday. I love watching Ralph compete. He’s head of the class in pretty much everything he does. I think some men are meant to do certain things just because they look so darn good doing them. I’m lucky that I just get to watch and enjoy!

The Superior/Globe area is probably my favorite part of Arizona for several reasons:

-It’s the desert.

-There are working mines and many old abandoned mine sites.

-The rock formations and canyon walls are the most spectacular I’ve seen.

-There are endless rugged dirt roads to be explored. And we’ve explored a lot!

-It’s the old west. It’s history. It’s beautiful.

We drove up on Friday to register and then again Saturday and Sunday to participate. I love the highway drive between Superior and Globe. It’s narrow and winding and scenic. It’s just fun! I took the wheel on Sunday and it was a blast. Ralph’s ¾ ton Chevy Silverado crew cab drives like a sports car!

The best part of the weekend was what we did on our way home, Sunday. We decided to go check out the tunnel used on old route US60 prior to the 1950s. It’s called the Claypool Tunnel and was built in 1926.  Just before the Queen Creek Tunnel (built in ‘52) heading west, there is a turnout on the south side of the highway. A gate is blocking off the old piece of road to the tunnel so silly folks won’t try to drive down there.

The canyon walls are spectacular and steep. It’s probably a couple hundred feet from the road down to the creek in the bottom. The old highway was so narrow and hacked right into the rock wall of the canyon. I thought about driving along here in the 1930’s and ‘40s. It would have been hair-raising. Yeah. I guess people were tougher back then. They did what they had to do.

The old tunnel is only a short walk from the gate. The two things that impressed me most when I saw it were: It’s dug out of a mountain of solid rock! And it’s so very high! Why was it so high? Possibly to get the huge mining equipment back and forth? There are peculiar holes drilled inside of the tunnel and on the canyon wall outside on the west end. Only a small section of highway remains on the other side and judging from the boulders on the road, this would have been the perfect place for a “watch for rocks” sign.

I picked up and brought home a small piece of the crumbling old pavement. It sits here on my desk with my other trip mementos. I love it. This little excursion was a trip back in time to early 1900s Arizona. Really, really cool!

Crown King Chili Cook Off: None As Good As Ralph’s 4-16-11

 

First, I want to say that Ralph’s chili is the absolute best chili I’ve ever had. Yes, I am his head cheerleader and that’s how it should be. But honestly, his chili is the best!

As I mentioned in my story about the muggled geocache trip on 4-17, that was our first trip without helmets since we bought them in December. Well, this trip was our last one wearing them. The chili tasting was to begin at around noon in Crown King. So we got to our truck parking location north of Lake Pleasant by 8am. It was already so warm that we considered going helmetless but decided to wear them anyway. We have a really nice intercom system and we just weren’t quite ready to give up the easy communication and dust protection features. It was a bit unsettling for me to see that there were a bunch of other RZRs, quads, jeeps and other 4wheeling vehicles ready to set out on our road to Crown King. I’ve also mentioned in past blogs that the fewer people I see, the happier I am. Well, let’s just say I could have been happier. So off we went.

The road from the parking lot to Crown King is about 30 miles long. Somewhere in the first 5 miles we headed east on a side road that goes to a geocache that we placed on a trip in Aug 2010 called “A Beautiful Thing”. By the time we got back on the main road there were so many people that I just had to accept that this trip was on a popular road on an event weekend. One thing that puzzled me: Why, especially on a busy weekend such as this, would anyone stop their vehicles right smack dab in the middle of the road? To just chat? A curious side note: all of these groups were men. And there were a bunch of them!! (Kind of like the shopping-cart-in-the-middle-of-the-aisle thing at the grocery store. Ladies, you know what I mean!) I noticed that the few groups that pulled OFF the road had at least one woman with them. Hmm. Men are such a wonderful mystery! Anyhow, I decided to just go with it as part of the community off-road experience and have a great time.

I remembered the road being fairly rough and rocky pretty much the whole way but we were pleased to find the last maybe 10 miles had been widened and graded. On our trip in August ‘10, it rained the entire time. This may have made the road especially difficult to navigate and I definitely remember doing some road-building. Ralph and I agreed that the road improvements were probably mine related. We asked the shopkeeper in the Crown King General Store about the grading and he said the US Forest Service wanted better access for safety vehicles to get into the area.

Crown King was crowded even with our early arrival of 11am. We walked around a bit, checking out a little museum with old photos and relics, before heading to the Saloon where the event was set up outdoors. The cost was $15 per person for chili tasting and unlimited beer. There were about 12 entries. Big pots of chili, keeping warm on stoves, were set up on folding tables. Most people brought small paper cups and spoons to serve up their secret recipes. Some of the entrants even offered crackers or chopped onions and shredded cheese. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm, and everyone was having a great time. We stayed about an hour and then decided to head on back.

The plan was a circle trip, (which I love- new sites the whole time!) so we took Senator’s Highway north out of town. I love the Bradshaw Mountains for their beauty but also for their history. The mountain range is littered with very interesting rock formations and lots of mine sites. We were headed for a turn off that takes you by an old resort called Castle Hot Springs. Opening in 1896, many famous people vacationed there and some often enough to have their own bungalows built, including:  The Wrigleys, Vanderbilts, Weinberg’s, Rockefellers and even Zane Grey. I have heard that President John F. Kennedy was also a resort guest. Reportedly, sometime during the 20’s or 30’s the resort installed the first telephone in Arizona. The phone number was “1″. A fire in 1976 shut down the resort. Now only a caretaker lives there, maintaining the several still standing original buildings. The Hot Springs area is a really cool sight to see just smack in the middle of the desert. The hundreds of palm trees and the huge manicured green lawn look oddly out of place.

There were a couple of geocaches we hunted for before we got back to the truck. It was a great trip. Rides like this make me feel blessed to live in Arizona where we have so much incredible scenery and exciting history within our reach. And I am honored and lucky to be with someone who wants to see it all and take me with him. There is nothing more fulfilling than doing what I love with who I love.

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In Our Own Backyard 4-23-11

The Goldfield Mountains are one of the most scenic places we can take a ride that is just outside our back door. Only a few miles up the Apache Trail toward Canyon Lake, we parked the truck at one of the locked gate parking lots managed by the US Forest Service. A permit is required for this area and with your permit comes a code for the lock on the gate. Anyone can hike, but if you are driving a motor vehicle, you will need the permit. Ralph had planned a circle route for us, including a stop at a geocache that he and his daughter placed in ’03.

Right as we started out I knew this was going to be an awesome ride. There were more cacti blooming this weekend than on our ride last week. I love the desert more than any other landscape in Arizona. There is nothing more beautiful than the desert in bloom and it’s only like this for a few short months. So it’s a true gift and privilege to spend my spring weekends enjoying it.

We found the ammo box fairly quickly and Ralph enjoyed looking through some of the original trinkets donated by his daughters. The view to the north gets you a peak at Saguaro Lake and to the south you can see the Superstitions. A perfect spot for a geocache. Unfortunately, on the way back to the quad, a rock flipped out from under my foot and I took a spill. Our nice camera was in my uphill hand, and I wasn’t about to let go of that, so I came down HARD on my elbow and forearm on top of a big rock. It shook me up. I like to think I’m pretty tough, but I may or may not have shed a tear or two. I felt better after cradling my arm for awhile in a Zip-lock bag full of ice. Apparently we don’t have any pain relievers in our first aid kit but luckily I have a stash of hard candies and suckers in my bag. If you don’t have Ibuprofen, make sure you at least have sugar, it’s almost as good. Later on I noticed a dent in the back of the camera. Thank goodness it still worked. This was our camera’s second drop and the first time sent it out for repair. My pain subsided and off we went.

The planned circle route was blocked by some impassible boulders in our creek bed road. So we turned around and looked for an alternate route. Then we came across something amazing:  A Gila Monster!!! We almost ran over him but immediately stopped and hopped out to look at it and take pictures. He was probably 14-16” long and pretty fat. I don’t like snakes or lizards at all. But I do love Gila Monsters. They are so rare and unusual and they are relatively slow movers. We saw a dead one in the road on one of our Bradshaw trips, and I think I remember seeing a live one on a rock in the Superstitions as a kid. But that’s it. For the amount of time I’ve been in the desert that’s amazing. So, I was VERY excited to see this guy. The Gila Monster sighting made up for the tumble I took. It was fun to watch his determination to climb up a couple of feet of vertical eroded creek bed. It was awesome!

Rocks and boulders intrigue me. I wonder why they are shaped as they are and why they are where they are. In the Goldfields, some of the mountains are just one solid gigantic rock. Massive rocks that jut up out of the earth. Beautiful and majestic. I was pleased to see so many views of the Superstitions in the distance, framed by rocky canyon walls. At one point I also spotted my beloved Four Peaks to the north.

We came out of the back country at a different gate along the southern border of the area. We jetted through some roads in Apache Junction that Ralph was very familiar with from his time spent living there. He took me to a giant hole that you can drive into that is the entrance to the inactive Mammoth Gold Mine. The Mammoth Gold Mine was one of the top producers of gold in Arizona. Being the city folk tourists that we are (not), we stopped at the Goldfield Ghost Town and watched the gunfight show and bought some gourmet red licorice. Then we moseyed our way back to the truck via dirt roads and then a few miles on Apache Trail. A really nice day right in our own backyard.

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Adventure And Beauty: The Perfect Ride 4-17-11

As much as I love all the places my husband takes me, I get really excited when the trip is a new one for him too. I guess it’s the forging new trails together, that gets to me. I think it’s also the possible danger of the unknown. This was one of those trips.

Not 50 yards down the road was our first bad spot. The road was sort of washed out. It’s hard to describe the condition of it other than to say it had deep lengthy fissures that made me say “Uh oh”. I guess I have about 3 levels of concern when the road get’s scary. The Uh-Oh stage is just a surprised, kind of excited response. I know that we can make it and I completely trust Ralph’s confidence and driving skills. Then there is the “Hmm I’m not so sure” place. We might need to park the quad at this spot and survey the area for the proper route, a possible winching spot up ahead, and just a general how to. The worst places I just say “Nope, I’m not doing that.” So we made it through the uh oh place just fine and continued on.

Steep & Scary

The area was beautiful. Super green with flowers. Within I’d say ½ a mile, we came to the- nope I’m not doing- that place. It was a typical washed out place where the road is on the side of a hill and makes a curve inside where water washes down from above. This particular spot was BADLY washed out. And the wash was steep and ended up in a canyon of sorts. It scares me, not only when there’s not much of the road left, but when the road is severely slanted and we could potentially flip or roll. I also factor in how many times we might roll, what would poke me on the way down and finally – where we’d end up. So at this spot I just said nope. Not surprisingly, Ralph still wanted to do it. I got out and hiked to the other side of the wash to watch and pray. I decided to take a movie with my camera, just because. After some careful surveillance and planning, he drove on over. It was over like that. No problem, whatsoever. We flipped our RZR once on a trip in the Tortilla Mountains a mile or so past the Martinez Mine. It was on the side of a canyon. We could have rolled several times, but luckily didn’t. Since then we’ve added the long travel suspension that has really made a difference. That flip shook us up. But honestly, this place was ten times worse. I hopped back in and on we went.

Sandy Wash...Not

The road was pretty good after that. There was one spot where it got very narrow and we had to drive over a big rock to get by. We made our way down to a creek bed where the road had a habit of disappearing and then appearing again. It wasn’t your nice sandy creek bed where you can drive 35 mph; it was rocky and very rough. We spotted tracks here and there and that helped a bit. Our GPS is really handy on trips like this where we aren’t sure if we are actually on the road. It looked like we would end up at highway 188 so that’s where we were headed.

There was a cool spot with lots of Saguaros that was particularly beautiful. We took at side trip up out of the creek bed, but the road ended at the top of a hill near a stock tank. It was gorgeous up there with spectacular views all around. We could see Roosevelt Lake, highway 188 and my favorite landmark to spot from almost anywhere- Four Peaks.

Backtracking a bit we were able to continue on the hill road toward the highway but ended up at the back pasture gate of a very nice ranch. We decided he probably wouldn’t like us driving through his lush, green pasture so we turned around to go back to the creek bed road. One thing puzzling and kind of disturbing, was a large area of Chollas that had been cut down. Branches cut off and then the trunks. Lots of them. Maybe a ¼ square mile area. The only thing I could think of at the time was that maybe the cattle were getting stuck too much. But now I have a few other ideas. Anyhow, back to the creek bed we went.

We finally ended up at hwy 188 but there were some gates so we weren’t sure how to actually get onto the road. On the way back we saw a group of very pretty horses and two guys on bikes. They were the only people we saw. The fewer people we see, the happier I am.

When we came to the-nope-spot, I got out and wrung my hands while my awesome husband had no problem doing what he does. And we managed to bypass the first bad area by coming out near a blocked off entrance instead. It was an absolutely amazing and wonderful trip. The perfect ride.

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