Crazy Beautiful. May 15, 2011

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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.

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About Ellen

A native Arizonan, who grew up camping and backpacking all over Arizona. My husband and I share a love for the spectacular Arizona landscape and rich history. We are passionate about spending our weekends exploring in our RZR. Backcountry driving combines my love of the outdoors with the thrill of experiencing my husband's expert four-wheeling skills on challenging terrain!
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