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

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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.


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

  1. Trevor says:

    Really enjoyed your writeup and photos! The Bradshaws are such a beautiful part of Arizona.

  2. Ellen says:

    Thank you so much for reading my story, I’m glad you liked it. We surely enjoy our adventures in Arizona’s back country.

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