Sunday Drives have become our way of getting out and discovering new places to explore, and still being as safe as possible during the pandemic. Sam saw a story about the sandhill cranes that visit Arizona each Winter. They are dispersed in several areas South of Tucson, so we decided to pack a picnic lunch and take a drive to one of them – Cibola National Wildlife Refuge near Yuma Arizona.
Getting out the door is always the hardest part – am I right? Gathering my most recent crochet project – with extra yarn and hooks (learned our lesson after I had a crochet emergency driving through Wyoming several year back.) Sam took care of everything else. Maps, picnic, water, wine, cameras and camp chairs. Sam had the car packed with all our necessities and sat in the car waiting for me.
We finally hit the road and we made it from Phoenix to the Refuge in around 2 hours. We actually entered into California crossing the Colorado River to get to the Refuge and crossed over the River again to arrive back into Arizona. We crossed a remnant of the past on our way back to the Arizona side of the river. A tidbit here……for those that don’t know, I work in the transportation industry and have an affinity for old transportation related structures. It was a cool wooden bridge named the Oxbow Bridge coincidently found next to the appropriately named Oxbow Campground and maybe not so coincidentally they are both found in the Oxbow Recreation and Wildlife Area that is managed by BLM (on the California side of the river). Filed away for later, it looked like a great spot for us to come back and camp near the water.
After crossing the bridge we followed the signs to the Refuge visitor center. It was not open, but had plenty of educational material available at the entrance. We could hear the various bird species off in the distance from the visitor center parking lot. The Refuge has a drive tour that covers a very small part of the refuge, but provides the visitors a great opportunity to see the birds. The first stop was a pond with thousands of geese and ducks. This was the source of the sound we heard at the Visitor Center. Beyond the sound of the birds, this is a quiet place for the human species, and we were really glad that we had not brought one of our dogs, as they are a bit barky at birds. We saw a handful of visitors – all with binoculars and cameras.
We took a slow drive through the tour and pulled off the road in a wide spot and ate our picnic sitting in the car watching what we had come here to see; the sandhill cranes. They are amazing and really special to see so many in one spot, there were hundreds of these birds in the very limited area that we drove. This was well worth the drive and this is the time of year to visit the Yuma area. Skies were blue, temperature in the 70’s and not too many people in the Refuge. Get out and explore – the cost was only a tank of gas.
As tradition requires, we set out on New Years day to scout for possible camping sites in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. We knew that during the winter months, this area Southwest of the Phoenix and North of Yuma becomes a hot spot for boon docking for many escaping the winters in the North. The area allowed camping up to 14 days and at a price point of “o” it is a pretty good deal.
Sam first scouted the area with Google Earth and we had an idea where we would like to camp, but we were sure we would be able to get the trailer into this area. A reconnaissance trip seemed to be the smart thing to do. It also got us out of the house after 10 months of mostly just staying home. Outside of a hurry up trip to Portland to pick up the new trailer and see the kids and grand kids, the pandemic took us out of our weekend routine of camping or taking the jeep out for a weekend ride and we were getting a little stir crazy. The inertia of staying home trying to mitigate how much we were out in public seemed to take hold and I am sorry to say that we did not travel the backroads of Arizona like we normally do. Each year we send a Christmas card out to our families highlighting our adventures. This year, all we had to show was pictures of food. Now don’t get me wrong, Sam is an exceptional cook and we tried many different recipes and some new twists on old ones but it doesn’t replace getting out and enjoying the wonderful state we call home Wow, we needed to get out! Staying home each weekend became easier and easier.
The first day of 2021 seemed like a great time to check out the Kofa area. We had visited this area several years ago to hike the Palm Canyon Trail. The easy 1/2 mile trail leads to a crack in the canyon wall where you can see palms growing. I know what your thinking, everyone in Phoenix plants palm trees – except these are native and it is believed these palms are from a species that was in the area during the North American Glaciation. This was worth seeing, so if you are in the area check it out.
We loaded our camp chairs, a picnic and our dog Bruce and headed South. Being in the Phoenix area, it was only a 2 hour drive to the Refuge off SR 95. We turned West onto Palm Canyon Road and followed it for a short way to the kiosk information area. The road was a washboard, so if we were towing our 30 foot trailer we would have been going really slow and still probably had a “clean up on aisle five” or two. We saw quite a few full campsites with everything from tents and pop up trailers to large class A buses. There is plenty of wide open space to camp, but with low brush and mesquite trees even if you are 100 feet away from the next campsite, there is no privacy. Those that know us know that our search for privacy is for their benefit more than ours.
Our goal was the Kofa Queen Mine Road which was just past the information kiosk. Not long after making the turn onto the road, we realized that we would not have been able to make some of the low crossings without scraping the bottom of the trailer or worst, tearing off important parts…….but with a 4-wheel drive jeep, it was just a Sunday drive. The road zig zagged the first several miles through a gentle climb with a beautiful view of the rugged mountains. We saw saguaros, Ocotillos and a ton of Cholla Cactus also called Jumping Chollas although they don’t “Jump” because they are plants! but still not to be trifled keeping us and the dog inside the Jeep. We made it to the first set of large monoliths that stood guard over the entrance to the canyon and pulled off the road to to check out a popular camping spot that Sam found on Google Earth even though we had already decided we couldn’t get the camp trailer in we still wanted to see the view. There were several others doing the same thing and the view was spectacular and even though we were moving at a crawl to minimize dust and noise, we still managed to piss off the person camped there. As a side note, if your camped on public land next to a busy road with the best view for 100’s of miles you cant be grumpy to others wanting to see the view…….that’s why they are called “Public Lands”. We then rejoined the road and continued winding our way through the narrow canyon. Once we entered the canyon, the view changed every time we turned a corner.
The canyon walls were made up of giant monoliths and huge sheer walls reaching hundreds and in some places a thousands of feet up into the desert sky. We saw several interesting rock formations including one huge boulder that you could crawl under (if your skinny and brave) and another that looked like a giant skull. These rugged peaks seemed to be the perfect place for big horned sheep or deer and we kept scanning the ridge lines and high cliffs, but never saw one. We met several other vehicles, trucks, side by sides, trail bikes and hikers. This is a rugged but still well traveled road. We even saw a Mercedes, but it turned around not going much further into the canyon when they realized that much of the road is a a river bottom with lots of sand and rock littered with mesquite trees standing by to apply a fresh coat of Arizona pinstripes (scratches for those not in the know).
We were about a mile from the end of the road when we decided to pull over to eat a sandwich and let the dog run. We enjoyed the sandwiches and Bruce enjoyed chasing his ball and greeting the sometime less than friendly hikers. I think the fact that we were in a Jeep and they were walking gave them a slight sense of superiority. The road then comes to a very anticlimactic end with a loop that takes you back through the canyon. The views alone are worth the trip.
Cheers to a year of traveling the backroads of Arizona and beyond
Let me take a break from our adventures to talk about daily life. As you all know, this is the real adventure. We all have scars – I have a scar on my knee that I got from tripping and falling when I was hiking a few years ago with friends on Fred’s Mountain in Wyoming. Me, sharp rocks and walking don’t mix well. Everytime I see that scar I am reminded of that incredible day on the mountain, such good memories, despite my clumsiness.
My husband had a triple by-pass several years ago. Typically, heart patients are sent home with a pillow to grip to their chests if they need to cough or sneeze. His was bright red and heart shaped with the outline of a perfect heart on it where the Doctor drew the things he moved around or fixed. It was handy to have when he went in the car with me while he was convalescing. The first few months he took it with him most places. The fear of coughing or sneezing after you had your chest cracked open brought enough fear for him that he always had it with him. After he was cleared to go back to work, which meant travel – he took the pillow along in his suitcase. It was needed security during the first few months of recovery. Now, several years later, the heart pillow is still on our bed, with the lines the Doctor drew and the date of the surgery now faded from washings. The pillow is not the only reminder of Sam’s surgery as Sam has a large scar that stretches down his chest. I know another heart patient; my father. His scar is hardly distinguishable as just a thin faint line a decade later. On contrary Sam’s scar turned into a twisted keloid scar. It is large and twisted like an old tree trunk that has been tested and bent in a storm, but came back stronger.
We all have scars, some that can be seen and others that are not visible to the naked eye. The experiences that each of us go through; good or bad, scars us and drives our thoughts and actions. If we could inventory every scar that has shaped who we are, we would look like a rag doll that was stitched together. For us, it drives us to make every day an adventure.
When I make the bed everyday I place the heart pillow at the center of our bed. It is a reminder of what could have been lost and how quickly life can change. I think about the scars; the ones we can see, and ones that have faded. Honestly, I love the scar that runs down Sam’s chest. The scar and the heart pillow remind me every day that we have one more day, one more month, one more year, or if we are lucky, decades with our loved ones. These reminders keep me centered. grounded and thankful for every day.
It has been a very long time since we jumped in the Jeep and headed out to find a rocky and dusty trail to leave the worries and frustrations of everyday life behind for a few hours. We decided on the Vulture Mine Trail near Morristown, AZ. We packed the Jeep with water, soda, a picnic and our cameras.
We followed the directions in the trail book Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel-Drive Trails, by Charles Wells and Matt Peterson. We never leave home without it. The trail starts after driving across the Hassayampa River bed, which was dry today. This area has quite a bit of off road activity and many different trails that intersect each other. We noticed the trails had been marked, which made it very convenient. We went on trail, 9054, 9071, 9050, 9052, 9053 and back to 9054. We made lots of notes in our trail book.
This trail took us through beautiful and very rugged mountains, as well as going through many washes. At times we would drive more than a mile in the wash. All were dry today, but it is apparent how much water runs through these washes during the monsoons by the debris in the bushes and trees. The trail book noted an old stone building. Not much left of it at this point, except the walls. It was interesting to see the wood that was used for the window headers. Another point of interest was a survey marker in the middle of a wash. I am always fascinated when we find these out in the middle of nowhere.
What we noticed today was how the birds would utilize the cholla cactus for nests. If you can envision building your house in a tangle of barbed wire, with a small entrance only you can make it through, then you can imagine the safety these cactuses provide the wildlife.
The temperature reached 105 today in the area. Despite the heat, we enjoyed a great picnic, sitting under the shade of a palo verde tree. It was very quiet, and we had the entire trail to ourselves. Neither one of us discussed our work today. Our adventures seem to remind us that there is so much to see and enjoy. This trail was rated a moderate, and we had no trouble on the rocky and rutted roads. Sam put it into 4-wheel drive to keep the tires from slipping on gravel as we climbed some steep hills. Otherwise we would not have needed it. The trail was around 15 miles long, and took us 3 hours with a 20 minute lunch stop and picture taking. We did get some pinstriping on the Jeep today, which was unavoidable going through the washes with overgrown vegetation. It was worth it!
This was our first trip out in the truck camper post Sam’s knee replacements. We called my sister Kim and Brother-In-Law Guy to see if they wanted to meet us for a night of camping. Because they live in California and we are in Goodyear AZ, we wanted to find a State Park somewhere in the middle…it turned out to be Alamo Lake State Park. Kim and Guy had been trying to decide if they want to invest in a trailer to camp and haul their side by side Razor around. They decided to join us and because they didn’t want to sleep in the Truck Camper with us on our cramped Dinette table/bed conversion or sleep on the ground they chose to dip their toes in the water and purchase a tent and mattress that fits in the back of their Tundra. I called them on Tuesday and by Thursday, thanks to Amazon, they had all they needed delivered to their home.
Kim and I did not grow up in a family that camped. Growing up in Tempe, we would drive out to South Mountain Park and have picnics, but nothing over night. We were a large family, so I imagine at times it was a crowd control issue. I was told that our dad took us camping once when were were very young, but I don’t have a memory of it like my older sisters do. I would say that Sam and I still do not camp, we Glamp, with what amounts to a studio apartment on the back of our truck, but my sister was going to sleep in a tent in the back of her truck. This classifies as camping to me.
Guy and Kim’s truck tent.
The whole crew! Bella did not want her picture taken
In researching Alamo SP, I had heard from good friends that it was basically over run by rattlesnakes and scorpions. Keep in mind this particular friend has what I would describe as an extreme aversion to snakes so if there was a snake anywhere within 50 miles it was still to close. This made us a bit nervous because we were taking our fur babies Bella and Missy. With Bella’s impaired vision, we would need to be diligent. For the record – we did not see one snake or scorpion while we were there. We even brought a black light and searched for scorpions at night, but never saw anything. One animal that is a known commodity in this part of the state is wild burros. Sam and I saw one as we drove into the park and there was fresh evidence of burros throughout the campsites which should have foreshadowed what was to come later in the evening.
We arrived at about the same time as Kim and Guy and set up camp. I know we are travelers and not campers when a few minutes after setting up our campsite, Sam sat down and asked “what do we do now?” Due to a lengthy drought in the region, the lake was pretty low so there are no real lakeside campsites anymore. The lake is known for bass fishing and there was plenty of boats there to prove it. Always a surprise to us was the park was full of families with kids running around having a blast doing kid things…biking, flashlight tag, glow stick tossing and just running free for a few days. The surprise was that except for a few large diesel pickups firing up for a predawn trip; hauling the boats to the lake it was very quiet at night. Our experience has been almost all people who take the time to go out camping are respectful of other campers and everyone gets along. That fits well with our desire of just spending time together, sharing a meal, conversation and good wine.
Staying cool in the shade
Love this picture
Sam and Lisa
Later in the afternoon Kim and I took the girls down to the lake edge. They were interested but didn’t want to get their feet wet or muddy. They are true city girls.
Sam made his famous steak salad and we waited for the sun to go down. This park has great stargazing because it is far away from other towns or communities. We were not disappointed. I have never seen so many stars at one time. We could clearly see the milky way and spotted several satellites. We toasted marshmallows over the campfire and went to bed. I always look forward to sleeping in the truck camper – I can really sleep, which is not a usual occurrence for me. We had the windows open at night to capture the 50 degree coolness of the desert drifting through our open windows. Around 1:00 in the morning we were awoken to what sounded like a fog horn right outside our window. We were startled, but immediately knew what had made the incredibly loud and long noise – burros. They came into the campground at night, after all this is their world, we just were visiting. We both starting laughing. This went on throughout the night as they explored the quiet campsites under the cover of darkness looking for anything left outside that might be remotely edible to a burro. Sometime during the latter part of the night, the coyotes joined in to the burros chorus. Our girls stayed quiet during the burro visits. Not sure if they were very tired, or knew that the animal outside was much bigger than them, but regardless, they knew to keep still.
Kim and Guys getting ready to eat.
The next morning, we went for a short hike on a trail system that began at the campground. The trail was very well marked with cairns. It was a beautiful morning, but we had to pack up and get ready to head home. One thing to see if you visit Alamo Lake is drive the short distance to Alamo Dam. It was very impressive. On the way out of the park we did a reconnaissance of the different camping areas. This is a large Park and has campsites that run the spectrum from full hook-ups, boondocking areas to tent platforms. We were interested in several areas that have ORV access from the campgrounds to the Desert. One of the camp hosts told us if you know where you are going someone can get to the famous Desert Bar near Parker (on our bucket list). We will definitely do our homework and return in the Fall with our 4 wheel drives to do some exploring. I think Kim and Guy are hooked, and we plan on many more weekends with them exploring and practicing for retirement.
Quite an impressive structure
Bella and Kim hiking
Although it was a spur of the moment trip that actually took longer to get ready for than do, it was a great weekend and everyone went home tired, but happy!
Since Sam is recuperating from knee surgery, we thought we would write about an important topic for any camper – Coffee. Coffee is an important ritual every morning for Sam and I. I usually get up a few minutes earlier than Sam so I can start the coffee. I love the smell, ritual, custom and quietness around our morning coffee routine. When we first set up house together we had an espresso maker, coffee maker and Keurig. People would often comment when they came into our kitchen, “wow, you really like coffee”, It was slightly embarrassing. A few years ago, we were on our way to the airport for a vacation and we had some time to kill so we stopped in a store that sells all sorts of cooking utensils and pots and pans. They were offering samples of coffee made from a coffee maker they were selling. I wasn’t expecting much; but to my great surprise it was delicious. I had Sam taste it, and he agreed that it was really good coffee. It is a running joke in the house that if I show any interest in anything he will ask if he can buy it for me. Almost 99% of the time I say “no, we don’t need that”. This was the one time I said “yes, we absolutely need this coffee maker”. The look on his face was priceless; I still chuckle when I think of it because I could have made a mortgage payment for what it cost. Here is the beautiful part, if you want a latte′, I can make it, want an espresso, I can make it, want a simple cup of coffee, I can make it. It can do just about anything including your taxes; OK, it does not do that but it makes damn good coffee. I was able to replace three appliances for one. On our way home from the our vacation a week later, we stopped at the store and bought it. It isn’t an exaggeration to say I love my coffee maker.
So enter the truck camper aka Foxy……and of course the topic of coffee was near the top on our list (right after how do I drain the black water tank without getting splashed, and right before can I run my blow dryer off the battery). The key rule is to not run the generator to power a coffee maker. We need to save the generator for important appliances, like my blow dryer. We needed to make our coffee with the gas stove top. Sam’s son is a bonafide boondocker and can go out with his jeep and a hammock for weeks at at time. He is also a coffee expert and part owner of a custom roast coffee shop and he suggested we try an aeropress. His coffee set up involves a pour-over.
An Aeropress is much like a small french press with a filter the makes one or two cups at a time. Seemed a little high falutin and I thought to myself, would John Wayne have used an aeropress sitting next to the campfire? Contrary to the advice of others, I thought that we would go back to basics and use a traditional and inexpensive approach. We bought a hand crank coffee grinder and procured a good old fashioned percolator. The first camping trip we got up early, and we ground the beans, we put the grounds in the perculator and waited with anticipation the alloted time. With smiles on our faces we poured the coffee into our mugs ready to relax and savor that first wonderful sip. To say this didn’t work out as planned would be an understatement as the first percolated batch was a bit like colored water. We eventually muddled through drinking it by doctoring it up by adding a little milk and maybe some sugar which we never do but decided then and there this wasn’t the method for us.
After we got home, Sam did his usual internet research and after reading numerous articles and talking with several self proclaimed coffee connoisseurs (coffee snobs/hipsters) we broke down and bought an aeropress – we practiced several times at home and took off on our next truck camping weekend. We heated up the water and followed the directions on the box and it was truly love at first sip. We really enjoyed this coffee – no bitterness, smooth and delicious. Its was dark and strong as we typically use a dark roast (Starbucks Italian Roast) because we both prefer the full strong flavor that type of roast produces. This is much to our son the coffee snob’s dismay as he classifies all dark roast coffee as “Burnt” and should be treated as such. He was right about the Aeropress but I’m not giving up my strong coffee. I reminded myself that there’s no rules for camping when it comes to coffee, no campground coffee Cops We still use the hand grinder – still want to avoid ever turning the generator on first thing in the morning (quiet is key). But what fits us is right.
We were just a few days away from knee replacement surgery for Sam, with the second knee being replaced in the coming month. We felt the call of the road knowing it will be several months before we can take our truck camper or jeep out again. Neither of us had ever been to Bisbee or Tombstone, Arizona. Sam had a good excuse, only living here for 5 years. I have lived in Arizona for most of my 49 years, so it was past time to explore the Southeastern corner of Arizona. We took the long way around Phoenix, and took SR 86 through the Sonoran Desert. What should have taken 3 1/2 hours from Phoenix to Bisbee took us close to 6. We do not like to meet schedules as rose smelling is our forte and we appreciate having the freedom to stop and check things out.
First stop was Kitt Peak National Observatory. The Observatory is one of the best places in the world for nighttime astronomy, and is a research facility for several universities. We were driving by and decided to take the drive up the mountain. Our nephew Casey works in community outreach and does deep sky imaging, so we wanted to see where he spends his free time. The drive to the top of the mountain was beautiful. Incredible views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The road has several areas to pull off the road to take in the wide open spaces. We were proud to see that some of Casey’s images are featured in the gallery. So wonderful to see a person with a passion for space and its images being able to land in the perfect spot to share with others. I encourage you to visit and see the amazing telescopes that are in our own backyard. Our next visit to the Observatory will be to hear my nephew talk about the observatory. We will also be sure to bring a picnic next time – great area with covered picnic benches. https://www.noao.edu/kpno/
We stopped for lunch at a rustic little food truck on the East side of Tucson. What it might have lacked in atmosphere it definitely made up for in food quality and owner pride. In our humble opinion, these were some of the best tacos we have ever had, and we are seasoned taco eaters. The owner was very proud of his food and talked with Sam about how long he had been in this spot (22 years), where he sourced his meat from and how he prepares his dishes. Sam loves to talk with people about food. Restaurant owners are so passionate about their food, you just have to ask them questions. It is such hard work and long hours, it is a labor of love.
We drove into the mountains and went through the Bisbee Tunnel. We have very few tunnels in Arizona, so it is always fun to go through them. Sam’s family had a tradition of rolling down the windows and honking the horn when they went through a tunnel so the tradition lives on. He honked the whole way ignoring the odd looks his antics drew from the others fortunate enough to witness the tradition. The town is old, (by Arizona standards), founded in 1880 for copper, silver and gold mining. The town was very busy with people and cars this particular weekend. What we did not realize is this was the weekend for the annual Sidepony Music Festival. 100 bands in town playing at various venues in the down town area. We had reservations at the Inn at Castle Rock. This hotel is quirky and fun. Inside the hotel office you will find the Apache Spring. The hotel is literally built over it.
We felt like we were staying in someone’s home. The rooms are all decorated in themes, and we stayed in the “last chance” room with an Asian theme. Many buildings in Bisbee are said to be haunted, and this hotel is no exception. There is a book at the front desk where guests can record their experiences. I truly did not want to have an “experience” with anything not of this world. Sam does not believe in ghosts. Let me digress for one moment to tell you about the time we stayed at the Hotel Coronado in San Diego. During the night the bathroom light turned on by itself four times. I would wake Sam up and say “Sam, the bathroom light just went on”. He would tell me “OK, get up and turn it off”. Under no circumstance was I going to get up and go in that bathroom. Sam got up and turned it off. This happened three more times that night, each time Sam got up and turned it off. The light in the bathroom was motion detected, so he said it was just malfunctioning. Really? He is still a non-believer.
Back to Bisbee – we went first to the Stock Exchange Saloon and Grill. Many years ago this was the spot of the first E F Hutton opened up West of the Mississippi. This was opened by the grandfather of a very dear friend of ours. They actually had a ticker tape from the New York Stock Exchange and did trading on site. The walls still have chalk boards that they used to note the stock prices. We enjoyed a drink and a very loud band playing for the festival. What a lifetime this building has seen. Great to see the space has kept to its roots while staying viable today. It was a popular place. Next stop was St Elmo’s Bar – the oldest continuously operating bar in Arizona. It has history and personality, and good service. Our final destination was the Cafe Roka for dinner. This is on the list of top 100 restaurants in Arizona. The food and service were fantastic, and we really enjoyed the dinner. It was fine dining without being pretentious. We will return to try more things on the menu.
Our night in the “last chance” room 21 was a bit long. I am a very light sleeper and the old building makes a lot of noises. I kept thinking the dresser drawers were opening. OK, I admit it, I can completely freak myself out. As the sun started to rise, we both got up and found our spots on the porch with coffee to enjoy the sun rise. The hotel has a kitchen that is available to the guests, so we helped ourselves to coffee and creamer. We felt comfortable and welcome. For the record, the dresser drawers were all closed.
We said goodbye to Bisbee and set off for Tombstone about 25 minutes away. Tombstone is very historic, and definitely plays to the tourists with gunfights in the streets. The highlight of Tombstone was walking into the Tombstone Art Gallery that showcases local artisans. It had everything from paintings to crocheted blankets. We bought two beautiful watercolors painted by Jan Huthoefer from Sierra Vista. They depict desert cactus and ocotillo. We love to find items for our home to keep our travels alive for us. I will always be reminded of our Bisbee and Tombstone weekend when I look at these watercolors on our walls.
We did visit the famous Boot Hill cemetery and it was bit unnerving the amount of crosses and tombstones that said “shot” or “hanged”. It really brought to life the stories we see in the movies. we saw the grave of Marshall Fred White who was shot trying to disarm “Curly Bill” Brocius (depicted famously in the movie Tombstone). We also saw the graves of the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton, proof again to us that the story of Tombstone was not just a Hollywood movie. These markers will forever show how dangerous it was to live in Tombstone and the West.
It was a wonderful weekend with Sam being a good sport hobbling around Bisbee and Tombstone. We look forward to returning to the area with our truck camper. The area also has Kartchner Caverns State Park, Chiricahua National Monument, and the wineries in Wilcox. Next time we visit, Sam will have the knees of a 25 year old.
If you live in Arizona you have heard about the backway to Crown King. Crown King is a small town with a big personality at the top of the Bradshaw Mountains at an elevation of 5,700 feet in Central Arizona. The Bradshaw Mountains are known for gold and this is the reason the town has existed since the late 1800’s. The mine has since closed, but the few hundred people that live there are invaded every weekend by 4-wheelers.
The first time we went to Crown King was a few days after Christmas 2013. We were told by my family that we could not attend a family dinner to celebrate Christmas. Now, hear me out this gets better. My daughter came home from college and visited Sam and I for a few days during her Holiday break. She became ill at my house for a day but recovered. Due to this it was thought the risk was too great that we were hosting an unknown agent that could infect my mother. This was all diagnosed off the internet. Instead of staying home that day Sam and I decided to take a drive to Crown King. We only had a 2-wheel truck at that time, so we traveled to Crown King via I-17, taking the Bumble Bee/Crown King exit. The road is a graded 2 lane road that is maintained by the County. If you don’t have 4-wheel drive this is the way to visit Crown King.
We had a quick lunch at the top at The Old Mill Restaurant and started back down the mountain late in the day. Just out of town we saw a group of 4 adults that had pulled off the road. They had 3 quads, between them but one was being pulled by another with a strap and another had a low tire. We stopped to see if they were OK. One gentleman said “no, we are OK”, thanks; at this point a woman spoke up and said “Dad, we are not ok, we need help!” The story was this was a family that had ridden their quads up the backway leaving from an area North of Lake Pleasant, but it had taken much longer than expected, and they were not prepared for how cold it was that day. One quad had a broken axle, and another had a low tire. They were really cold and tired and were not making the best decisions. They thought to tow the disabled quad down the mountain toward I-17 drive the two quads while towing the broken one back to their truck and trailer North of Lake Pleasant via I-17 and the Carefree Highway. This would have taken them hours and would have been quite dangerous. Sam took charge of the situation, and came up with a plan for them. We loaded the broken quad in the back of our truck and would follow the other two quads down most of the mountain till we could get them safely set up at a staging area that is a few miles off I-17. We would then drive two of the men back down to Lake Pleasant to retrieve their truck and trailer. They gave the other 2 their coats and anything else to keep them warm and they were to build a fire to stay warm. The gentlemen would go back up and get them with the truck and trailer. We talked with the men on the way back to Phoenix, they were grateful for our help and thanked us over and over. These were not novice riders, I think they had become complacent and they were not completely prepared to handle all that happened that day. The trail had been more difficult than they thought and it was cold that day. Add mechanical problems and it went from bad to worse. I am not sure at what point they would have called 911 for help, sometimes we just keep going thinking we can handle anything.
We found their truck and they backed the tailgates together so they could move the broken quad into their truck bed. We parted ways after handshakes. As we were driving out of the area, we saw a burro crossing the road. This was my first glimpse of the wild Lake Pleasant Burros. It was so quick I was unable to get a picture. Perfect ending to an adventurous day. I told my mom the next day about our drive and she said “see, you were meant to go to Crown King that day.” OK; mom 1, Lisa 0.
Fast forward to May 2017. Our trusted jeep book, Guide to Arizona Backroads & 4-Wheel Drive Trails rates the backway to Crown King as a “difficult” The book by Charles A Wells and Matt Peterson is very reliable and gives great descriptions. We never jeep without it. In fact, I have been writing notes about each trail for several years so the book is well used. We had been waiting to drive this trail with someone else for safety reasons, but as time went on, we decided to try it. We loaded a lunch in the jeep and took off. As we were driving on Cow Creek Road we saw more wild burros. This time they posed for some pictures. They are really beautiful animals.
The good part of the trail is some of the more technical areas have work arounds. So if you do not want to scratch your jeep, you do not have to. I have to say I was a little nervous of the unknown ahead. The trail was rough. The Arizona monsoon rains, snow and heavy use will degrade a trail pretty quickly. Initially, we saw only a few other vehicles but soon we met up with multiple 4-wheelers.
The trail is narrow, and difficult to pass anyone, so you just have to be patient. We discovered on this trip that we may not be the “jeep club” type of people. I felt like I was on my commute on I-10 every weekday, going 10 mph bumper to bumper. We got stuck for about 15 minutes while a jeep ahead of us became top centered on a large boulder. They tried to straddle it instead of putting the tire on it. At some point this group pulled off into the bushes to let everyone behind them pass. This was the busiest jeep trail I have ever been on. We made it to the top and had lunch at the Old Mill Restaurant just as we had 4 years before. Great food and service.
The trail will take you from the desert floor to the cool pines at the top of the mountain. The Town of Crown King suffered a devastating wild fire several years ago, so erosion is an issue toward the top of the trail. There are signs reminding visitors of the history of the fire, and to be cautious.
Beautiful day in the Jeep with Sam, but we did not stop as often as we usually do to look at interesting rocks and to take pictures. We want to stop and enjoy the views.
Labor Day weekend was fast approaching and we were unable to find an available campground in Northern Arizona. We tossed around ideas for about a week and then Sam saw an article about the Burr Trail Road. The Burr Trail starts off in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and then crosses in Capitol Reef National Park and finally ends at Glen Canyon Recreation Area. One of the highlights are some wicked steep switchbacks to get down to the Canyon Floor. Wow, this would be a long drive, but after a call to the Rangers at the Monument, we found out the area is not busy and we would not have trouble disperse camping. We took off on a Saturday morning with our fur babies in the back seat.
The first day we drove for about 8 hours. We stopped along the way to let the girls stretch their legs. This was a long time for them to ride in the car. Even though Bella is blind she did pretty well. She rolls with the punches and before long she will be able to figure out how high the truck is and how far she needs to jump to get to the ground. For now we have a system for picking her up. This is fine as long as you enjoy a furry shirt – roller tape is must with Bella. She is the furriest dog I have ever known. When she walks around the house I am reminded of Pig Pen from the Peanuts cartoons. You can see puffs of hair coming off of her. Missy cried for part of the trip – just the unknown I imagine. The world at times can still be a very scary place for her.
We made it to Escalante National Monument Visitor Center and I went in to get a map and talk to the Rangers. Always good to make contact and see what the road conditions are like. I asked about the infamous switchbacks and they said they should be fine, they had not had any recent rain. They gave us some tips of possible camp sites. These would not be the nice organized campgrounds in State Parks. This would be pullouts off the road more than likely. It was getting dark as we started on the Burr Trail Road and we decided to camp for the night and get a fresh start in the morning.
The girls were happy to be out of the back seat, but this is the high desert and it was still warm at 6:00 PM. They hung out in the camper till the sun set and then they wanted to explore. We took several walks and could see very well by moonlight. We had a great evening and went to bed with the windows open, trying to catch the coolness of the evening.
The next morning we realized that we did not bring enough bottled water. Between us and the dogs we went through it really quickly. We had some water in the tank, but we did not top off before we left Phoenix. The first opportunity to get more water would be Bullfrog down near Lake Powell. We filled the empty bottles and packed up and headed out for the drive.
The only word to describe the Burr Canyon is WOW! The color of the canyon walls are so red that they don’t appear to be real. It looks like a Disney set that someone had built in the middle of the desert. It was truly one of the most beautiful places we have ever seen. We could not believe that we did not see more people on the road. We took our time and enjoyed the views. We came to the switchbacks and as Sam maneuvered the first curve, I may have started to cry, I am really not sure. I may be blocking it out. We were very high up on gravel road, no guard rail on the side of cliff. What could go wrong?
We made it safely down to the bottom and had about a 30 mile drive on a washboard road. We knew this was not good for the camper – the vibration moves things and can cause damage. We took it slow and Sam did his best to keep the vibrations to a minimum. We did stop for lunch and sat under a tree and had a picnic.
We made it to Bullfrog near Lake Powell and stocked up on water. It was very hot and not the type of weather that Bella could be out in. So we decided to head for home. The girls did not complain about that decision.
We decided to take a shortcut on SR 261 to get closer to Arizona. As we turned the corner there were warning signs that said no “overweight or oversize vehicles”. I asked Sam if we are oversized and he said “no, this is a pickup”. As we drove further on the road, a driver in a car coming toward us starting waving her arms at us and shaking her head. I told Sam “I think that woman is telling us not to go this way”, he replied that she was saying hi. I knew we were committed. 22 miles down the road we came around a corner and saw the most horrifying sight. 1200 feet straight down – narrow dirt road, very steep switchbacks and again no guardrail. Coming up the road was a truck, so Sam had to pull to the edge to let them pass. They stopped to chat – why wouldn’t you want to talk to the crazy people taking a giant top heavy truck camper down a dangerous road. This was confirmed when the lady in the truck told Sam that he is crazy. The speed limit on the road is 5 MPH. Sam very carefully maneuvered the switchbacks. At one point I asked him if we are going to be ok, I was not joking, I thought it a real possibility that we could go over the edge. He was as cool as a cucumber until we got the bottom – when he let out his breath and said how scary that was. He said if we had gone over the edge at least we would have all gone together. We never have to go on this road again. Once was enough.
As we got near Flagstaff and the cooler temps we stopped to have a quick dinner. We deployed the camp chairs and watched the sunset on the side of Hwy 89 eating the leftovers from the weekend. We were all exhausted, within two days we drove around 20 hours and maneuvered 2 switchbacks that I believe took several years off our lives. Getting the dogs in and out of the truck ended up being really difficult, and finding a safe spot to get off the highway was also problematic. The fantasy that we had of taking our fur babies with us on a marathon trip was hit with the reality that this is very new to them and us. We need to start small – limit the time in the truck to 3 hours for the girls and camp long enough that they can really get used to this new way of life.
The 2 days was a mix of incredible views and some lessons learned.
Take a case of water and fill the water tanks.
Desert camping is hot and dusty.
20 hours in the truck are not much fun for the 4-legged and 2-legged members of the family.
It is OK that this adventure did not turn out like we thought. The Burr Trail Road should be on everyone’s bucket list. This is an area that we want to explore more – without the switchbacks of course. We got more experience camping with the girls, and level set the expectations of what we all can deal with. The girls got to see Utah for the first time. Well, Bella saw it in her own way – smelling.
We have wonderful friends, Laurie and Allan that live part-time in the Teton Valley in Victor, Idaho. They have a beautiful home and property that has an incredible views of the Grand Tetons. This year what started out as an idea to rent a RV and drive up to visit them morphed into purchasing a truck camper. We had always talked about waiting until we retire to purchase a weekend toy, but after Sam’s triple by-pass this past winter, we asked each other what are we waiting for? We planned to stop and see the sites on the way up. Nine days, Eight nights would test our desire to live in a studio apartment on the back of a truck. We spent months deciding on our route and where we would stop each night.
Just a few hours into our trip we came to a road block – the highway was closed and we were told that it could be a lengthy closure. We found an alternate route to get back to the highway and keep us moving toward Utah.
You know you’re in Utah when you see Church Rock viewed from US 191 in Southern Utah.
By the first night it became clear that we had overestimated how far we would get that night. We used a handy app on our phone that provided campgrounds that were in the vicinity of our location. Important to mention that when you don’t have cell service – the app will not work. Good thing we actually had paper maps. We stayed at Devil’s Campground South of Monticello, Utah managed by the Forest Service. Camp Host Mike was fantastic and gave us advice on the most secluded campsites. The campground was very convenient just off US 191.
We experienced a rainstorm in the middle of the night at the Devil’s Campground. I loved the sound of the rain on the top of the camper and I slept like a baby. We learned a valuable lesson to not leave our camp chairs out during the night. We had grand plans to drink our morning coffee sitting in our camp chairs and watch the sunrise but were met with puddles of water in the seats.
One of the highlights of the trip was the petroglyphs in Nine-Mile Canyon. Don’t let the name fool you – it is actually an all day drive if you stop to enjoy the scenery. We only saw a handful of people on this day. It is a very nice paved road – no problem for our truck camper. You can choose to turn around and return on the paved road or take a dirt road that leads up to Vernon, Utah. We of course took the dirt road. It is rare that Sam will turn around – we always move forward as a rule.
Several times in our wanderings around the Southwest we have come across places that feel majestic and have that feeling of holy. God’s Country comes to mind – you breath a little easier, and a sense of peace comes to you. These places convey how big and powerful the world is and where we fit in the puzzle. This spot in Nine Mile Canyon had that feeling, and it seemed others felt that way too. From the petroglyphs that covered the walls to the cross we found. Not sure if someone was buried here or possibly ashes were spread. Regardless, we knew this would be a place that we talk about for years.
Second night we camped at Steinaker State Park near Vernal, Utah. Before we drove out to the park we ended up eating dinner in town, because we were not sure how far out of town the lake was and not sure if we were going to get a spot. We learned our lesson to just cook at the camp ground. The restaurant was expensive and it didn’t hold a candle to Sam’s cooking. First time with a “full” hook-up, and I have to admit that it was pretty nice, because we were able to take showers and I could blow dry my hair. The campsites were close together, but the campers were all respectful of each other and kept noise to a minimum.
Camp site at Steinaker State Park. We really learned to appreciate the campgrounds at the State Parks.
Finally made it to Idaho. We set up camp in Laurie’s vegetable garden. They had water hookup and we really enjoyed the cool weather. They have a beautiful home and private guest room, but we were enjoying our camper so much we stayed the night in the garden. The camper was a bit cold in the morning so we turned on the heater – and set off the alarm in the camper. We had not had an opportunity to test the heater in Arizona (no need to, when it is 115 degrees).
View of the Tetons from Laurie’s vegetable garden. Sam and I were sitting in our camper drinking coffee and saw the sun peeking over the mountains. We both looked at eachother and I ran for the camera so Sam could catch this shot. The smoke from fires in Wyoming and Montana resulted in this incredible sunrise.
Next stop was Buffalo Campground in Island Park, Idaho. This campground is just 25 miles from Yellowstone National Park. This is a favorite campground of Laurie and Allan, and we could see why. We stayed two nights in this campground and had an incredible time.
Sam made getting into the hammock looks so easy. I had a bit of trouble getting in and out of it, but we don’t speak of it.
We visited the Madison River Canyon where an earthquake struck in 1959. The earthquake caused a massive slide that cut off the river and Quake Lake was formed within days. Many people who were camping and recreating on the lake and downstream along the river were caught in the disaster and died. One side of the lake lifted up and the other side went into the lake, which you can still see cabins that were once on the lake now sitting in the middle of a field. The visitor center is well worth the stop. I read a great book after coming home- The 1959 Yellowstone Earthquake by Larry Morris. Incredible stories of what occured, stories of the very ordinary people caught in this horrible disaster and how they helped each other. Very much worth the read. I asked my parents if they remembered this event, but neither remembered it. I have to remind myself this was before “social media”. My mother would have been 17 or 18 and getting ready to marry my dad.
We made it through the traffic in Salt Lake City – (I kept my head down and crocheted the whole time). Last night in the Camper and we stopped at Yuba Lake State Park for the night. Another State Park – great spot with beautiful trees and cool grass to walk in our barefeet. Sam grilled a great meal – salmon and asparagus. One constant at every campground was the sound of children playing and laughing. We can never get tired of hearing it. While we were staying in the Buffalo Campground I met a little boy whose name coincidentally enough was Sam; and he told me in the usual banter of a 3 year old that he dreamed the night before that he was running and running. At that point he started to run back to his own camp with pure joy on his face. We may not be able to run like a 3 year old anymore but we can remember and enjoy the memory.
The trip sealed the deal – we are hooked. Next step is setting up the jeep to be pulled behind the truck. Then the real fun begins.