Monthly Archives: May 2015

Verde Hot Springs, Part 1 – May 8 – 11

 

View of Verde River from the Hot Springs

Once we left the Mogollon Rim Road, we planned on heading for the Verde Hot Springs. They are located in the Fossil Creek Area within the Coconino National Forest. 

  

The forest road we wanted to take had one end near Strawberry, AZ and the other near Camp Verde. As it turns out, the two ends don’t connect. We initially started at the one near Strawberry but had to turn around. 

  

So we took AZ highway 200 through a very hilly, curvy road. It had some great views of the scenery. It had been raining/hailing/snowing off and on. At one point, traffic was stopped. When our side was allowed through, we found that there had been a fatal motorcycle accident. The biker had driven into a rock cliff. The bike was hardly recognizable as a bike. I’ve driven by a lot of traffic accidents, but rarely fatal ones. It was a good reminder that life is precious and driving is not a risk free activity. 

   

To reach the hot springs, there is a very twisty, canted dirt road that is about 1 1/2 cars wide with rocky cliffs on one side and a significant drop on the other. 

   Note the ominous clouds overhead. 

At the start of the road, the road had a few small hills and the road condition was fine, but then we reached an area that was wet. The rain had turned the dirt into a very slick mud and we were on a very long downhill. 

  

After stopping to lock the hubs, it was obvious that our only option was to keep going. There wasn’t any place big and flat enough for us to turn around. Even if we could, we probably couldn’t make it back up the hill. It is a very good thing that Jon is such an experienced driver. The back of our truck weighs a lot more than the front end. This means that unless we kept forward momentum, our rear end would try to come around and pass us. Not a good thing. 

    

Plus with the road being canted, it was also possible to slide sideways off the road unless we kept moving. Jon kept our truck on the road and moving forward at a controlled pace. With Jon’s skilled handling of our Fuso, we made it to the bottom of the hill. 

  

We couldn’t really stop there, so we continued on to the hot springs. The next road was not nearly as steep or as slick. There were some pretty significant ruts in the road from people going too fast when the road was really wet. After going up and down another 7 miles we reached a small parking area containing an abandoned Chrysler minivan. 

  
There was a steep descent to reach the camping area below.  The camping area is next to the very closed Childs Power Plant. 

    
The campsites cover a variety of spaces from those down by the river and under trees that may require going through really deep puddles or mud. Some are up higher in spots under smaller trees. For us, our height (12′) limited us to some clearer spots out in the open. 

   
 Note that we dug small holes in the sand to get the vehicle level rather than using blocks to raise the front. 

By the time we had walked around and found a site and then set up, it was already about 5:00. The hot springs are about a 1.25 mile walk that requires wading through the river. Since we hadn’t been there before, we decided to wait until tomorrow to visit. So we had a couple of drinks and wandered around talking to people. 

   

The first night, we met Mike, a grandfather that was industriously setting up camp for the rest of his family who were arriving later that evening. 

There was a younger couple from Flagstaff that were just here for the night. They had already gone to the Springs earlier in the day and were planning to go home tomorrow. 

We also talked to a couple of young guys who were here to fish and just let off some steam after a busy week at work. 

There were a number of other people, some individuals, some in pairs or small groups that were here to enjoy the Hot Springs. It was an interesting mix of people with lots of different life experiences. 

I fixed us dinner and we headed to bed pretty early. It had been a long day. 

   

It rained during the night. We woke up at 12:15 to water dripping on our foreheads.  

It turns out that when we drove under some very low tree limbs during our attempts to find a campsite, the tree limbs had hit the brush bar mounted on the top of the camper hard enough to create a leak at the point in which it attached. Jon climbed up on top of the camper and sealed it up enough so that It wouldn’t continue to leak. We dried off the parts inside that we could reach and went back to sleep. 

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Mogollon Rim – May 7 & 8

  

The next morning we took a route that took us east of Roosevelt Lake and through the Tonto National Forest. It provided us with some really wonderful views. 

   
 

We crossed over the Salt River and climbed into the Sierra Ancha mountains. 

   
 

There is a 200 plus mile cliff wall that runs from about Phoenix to the New Mexico border called the Mogollon Rim. Technically, it is an escarpment at the edge of the Colorado Plateau.  It is mostly composed of sandstone and limestone and can reach up to 2000 ft in places. It makes for some very dramatic scenery. The Mogollon Rim supposedly inspired the writings of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. 
   
 

Forest Road 300, also known as the Rim Road, follows along the top of the Mogollon Rim. We stopped at the Mogollon Rim Visitor’s Center to find out more about it. Unfortunately, they were closed until Memorial Day and had no useful information posted or available. But there was a nice view.

   
 

It was a little early to stop, but we were ready to get out and stretch our legs. We kept our eyes open for nice campsites. At around 7,000 feet above sea level, the area is a very popular destination in the summer to escape the heat. Camping is only allowed in designated campsites. After driving around one that was mostly just a big dirt patch with picnic tables, we opted to follow a side road and found the Mogollon Campground. Mostly it was a side road with campsites on both sides. We chose one on the rim side with a fantastic view. 

   
  

 

It wouldn’t have been a good choice if we were in a tent since there was a lot of wind. In our hard sided, four seasons camper, it was a fantastic site. There was a full humming bird feeder on a tree near the back. There were also numerous elk hoof prints across the back of the campsite. 

  

Once we were settled in, we went out for a hike along the edge of the rim for a bit. The wind was pretty fierce. Even though we weren’t really in the desert anymore, it still seemed like all the plants had thorns. So we went a little further in and found an established trail going in generally the direction we wanted to go. There were a number of markers on trees, including grey diamonds, chevrons, flagging tape in a variety of colors, and other such things. We ran across one trail that was marked by flagging tape in white with blue spots (I’ve never seen any like that before) and reflectors that had been written on.

  
It made us both quite curious, so we followed it to the end. It finished at a campsites along the edge of the Rim. 

  
  
From here, we followed a different trail in the hope that it would take us to the fire tower at the head of the Promonory Butte trail.  

 

You can just make out the fire tower in the distance.

We eventually reached it to find that it was very securely locked up and long unused.

  

We turned around and headed back following trails going in the general direction of our campsite. Eventually, we ran out of trails going that way, so Jon lead us back to the campsite going cross country. 

  

We had a nice dinner and quiet night.

The next morning, we followed the Rim Road the rest of the way. We stopped several times to admire the view. 

   
   

Once we had climbed down off of the rim, it started to snow lightly. We were passed by a number of Forest Service trucked marked with “Hotshots”, a fire fighting division of the National Forest Service. We assume they were heading to a practice exercise. There certainly weren’t any fires around this year, but this area was hit hard by forest fires in 2002.

The rest of our trip out of the area was uneventful. Except for passing a couple of people wearing surgical-type masks that were tromping around the woods near their sedan. Very strange.

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Roosevelt Lake – May 6

   

 We stopped in Globe, AZ briefly on our way north. After looking over a map and such, we decided to spend the night at Roosevelt Lake. I have a couple of guidebooks that I use to find out about some of the places we are interested in going. According to the guides, Roosevelt Lake is a very popular location for people from Phoenix to go for water recreational activities.

We initially stopped at the Schoolhouse Recreation Site. First of all, the boat ramp and all but one of the camping loops were closed. It was a little desolate as we came into the area. When we checked out the camping area that was open, it became downright spooky. The Mesquite Loop was basically an empty packing lot with the occasional tree. There wasn’t a single camper or sign that any had been here for a long time.

  
We went on to the next area with camping, Windy Hill. This time a boat ramp and two camping loops were open. We checked out the Javalina loop which contained an occupied Camp Host spot and several RVs. We didn’t see a spot we liked, so we checked out the Coati loop. It was empty, but had some great campsites and a view of the lake. 

We picked one out that had a good view and a little area to sit and watch the lake.

  

   

 We pulled out our chairs and relaxed while looking out at the lake.

  

 We noticed that it was really low. The lake acts as a water reservoir for Phoenix. It now made sense that the boat ramp at Schoolhouse was closed. The lake didn’t even reach that area.

As I found out later, when the lake is full, it is about 1290 feet above sea level. According to this website, the water level was about 1250 ft on May 1st. So the water level was low by about 40 feet. 

Roosevelt Lake Levels
It made it easy to understand why the campgrounds were so empty.

We walked around the campground and met a couple of ladies camping out of a van. They were as equally mystified as we were. It was just a convenient place to camp.

   

We had a nice quiet night before heading out in the morning.

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Gila Box, West Side – May 4 & 5

 

 Traveled via Black Hills Scenic Byway to Safford 

In the morning, we packed up again. We followed the rest of the Black Hills Scenic Byway to Highway 191. 

The byway traveled through some beautiful areas of desert. 

 
There were cows throughout most of the drive. We stopped a couple of times at informational roadside stops. One discussed the Morenci Copper Mine. Even though we were miles away from Morenci, you could still see the mine from here. 

 It is the beige spot near the center. 
We stopped in Safford, AZ to run a number of errands and to do laundry. I don’t recommend doing laundry at the Sterling Laundry unless you really enjoy watching FOX news. It was clean and sanitary, but totally devoid of personality and full of TVs playing FOX news.
Since we needed to return to Safford in the next day or two, we decided to go back into the Gila Box area to camp. On our way to the campground, we saw a Coati cross the road in front of our vehicle and head up a canyon. 

Coatis in the southwestern deserts

This time we went to Riverview campground on the western side of the Gila Box. We found an equally nice campsite here. 

It had a great view of the river.   

And the cliffside.

 

They are big lots. As usual, there were only a couple of other people camping there.

 

We took a short stroll around the campground before fixing dinner and calling it a night.
The next morning, we went out for a short hike. We had seen what looked like a cable bridge across the river and to see if we could find it. We walked down a trail to the river. We passed by a cable and basket contraption to carry supplies to the other side of the river, but it was locked up tight, and it wasn’t what we had seen anyway. We followed the river until we found what we had seen on our drive in yesterday. It turns out it was a pipe with a cable suspension support. 

  

We turned around and followed the river upstream. We reached the part of the river with the cliffs that we saw from our campsite. The river was too deep/swift for us to consider crossing the river. We watched the bank swallows come and go from their mud nests on the cliffs.

  

We picked up the Cottonwood Trail and continued our hike. We walked along the Gila River and then Bonita Creek. 

  

We eventually reached the Bonita Creek Wildlife Viewing Area.

  

After sitting a bit and having a snack, we were packing up to go when I spotted something furry walk by a small gap in the trees and heard some noises that didn’t sound like birds. We waited a bit more and were about to give up when we noticed the rocks above the trees moving. It was two groups of coatis that were coming up out of the trees. There were probably close to two dozen of them in total. They so we’ll match the rocks that it was difficult to see them unless they were moving. One group moved away while the other stayed put for a bit looking under the rocks and vegetation. They were too far away to photograph. It was very exciting.
After seeing the coatis, we headed back to the campground through the desert part of the trail. 

  

We talked to a couple of our neighbors. We had a nice quiet night. 
We headed out the next morning afte making a brief stop in Safford.

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Gila Box, Gillard Hot Springs – May 3

  
We packed up and headed out in the morning. We planned on stopping at the Gillard Hot Springs on our way out. Jon found a road that should save us quite a bit of time and miles to get to it. Most of the roads in this area are marked as “Primitive” roads with no road maintenance. The road seemed fine at first, but then the road started to go down several washes with deep sand at the bottom. Because our vehicle is so heavy and our back axel carries a lot more weight than our front end, we don’t typically do well in deep sand or mud. 

  

Jon is a very accomplished off road driver. He has a lot of experience driving Land Rovers in often very challenging conditions. 

  

Jon during the “Mud Run” in California. 

So we were doing fine even through the sandy parts until we reached a point where we missed a turn when we were driving down the bottom of a wash. When trying to back up, we sank down into the sand. In the process of trying to get out, we just seemed to get dug in even deeper.

We pulled out the MaxTrax to try to get the back wheels out of the sand.

  

 MaxTrax

We would dig down to the bottom of the rear tires, put the MaxTrax down to give the rear tires something to grip and hopefully get them up out of the sand.  It was very hot work in the bright sun, with no relief from the heat. We do have a front winch rated for the weight of our vehicle, but down in the bottom of the wash, there aren’t any good rocks to attach it to and in this part of the desert, the only plants tend to be cacti with very shallow root structures. 

Jon got out the Pull Pal, a device with a shovel type end and an angled shaft that acts as a land anchor. It will dig into the ground giving you a place to attach your winch. It looks kind of like a hockey stick with a shovel blade attached to the end.

Pull Pal

Initially, it was working great because there was a ditch we could hook the Pull Pal and it helped turn us toward the road we needed to take, but it wasn’t at the right angle for us to turn around enough for us to get lined up on the road. We tried getting it to dig into a number of places, but the area is very rocky. The only dirt is more sand which won’t hold. We tried hooking it to other rocks, but the rocks are a “conglomerate”. That means they are kind of like a concrete mixed with lots of gravel and rocks. Trying to get it to hook into that just sent it flying through the air. It was certainly not productive and at worse potentially very dangerous. 
At this point, we had been at this for about 2 hours. I had started to get overly hot and was feeling quite sick. Plus it didn’t seem like we were getting any closer to getting out. I made Jon take a break for water and a little food. He had been drinking regularly, but did stop to eat a snack. He was feeling just fine and had another idea regarding the use of the Pull Pal. I tried to cool off. 
Jon took the shovel type blade off the Pull Pal and hooked the remaining metal piece into a crevice in a seemingly stronger rock. Jon was successful in using that technique to be able to winch and drive the Fuso up out of the sandy bottom and up onto the firmer roadbed. It took quite a bit of time and required finding a couple of other places to winch from so that he was moving the truck in the right direction. So after 3.5 hours, we were free and on the dirt road heading to the hot springs. Sorry for the lack of photos of the recovery. 

After not too much longer, we reached the parking area for the hot springs.

  

We walked down the somewhat marked trail to the Gila river. We didn’t see a sign indicating where the hot springs actually were. There were warning signs that the hot springs were dangerously hot. We walked around the area. We saw a rattlesnake.

  
Black-tailed rattlesnake (Sorry about the photo quality, I really didn’t want to get all that close to him even though he was relaxed and not in a strike position.)

We did finally find a little seep that was hot and steaming. There wasn’t much to it. 

 
It did make a little muddy spot on the side of the river very warm to stand on. So we went swimming in the river instead. It was a really pleasant temperature and a very green, peaceful place. 

  
The Gila River. Jon is the little pale spot in the middle of the photo. 
Once refreshed, we walked back to the truck and drove out to the main road, Black Hills Byway, without any problem. We stopped at the Old Safford Bridge.

  
It was built in the 1918 from concrete due to the limits on steel use during WWI. 

Since it was so much later in the afternoon than we expected, we decided to spend the night at the Owl Creek Campground again. We stayed at the same spot again. To night was much more peaceful. There was a pretty impressive full moon.

  

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Gila Box, Owl Creek Campground – May 2

  

We headed out of town and drove down the Black Hills Back Country Byway part of the Arizona Bureau of Land Management (BLM) area. 
  

 

Included in the BLM land is the Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area which covers the area around the Gila River. 

Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area

There are two campgrounds in this area. We were close to the Owl Creek campground that overlooks the Gila River basin. Of the seven sites, only one was occupied in the campground. After looking over the spots, we chose one that had a nice view. 

   
  

It was very windy. We spent a little time outside and looking at the view, but rain came in and we had a nice evening in the camper.

  

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Morenci Copper Mines – May 2, Part 2

After all of the beautiful mountain scenery, you reach the end of the National Forest and suddenly enter the Morenci open pit copper mine. It is the largest copper mine in the Northern Hemisphere. It is impossible to describe or show the immensity of the mine. These are the best photos I have. I have more text after this set of photos. 
   

 

  

  

   
 

There is an observation point to look down at the mine and take photos. The tire in this photo is 15 feet tall. Our vehicle is 12 feet tall, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the tire is about 10 feet behind us, you could get a better idea of the size. The vehicles that use these tires are too small to see in any of my photos.
  
Past all of this is the new town of Morenci. The original Morenci is now part of the mine. We stopped for groceries in Morenci and then dumped our tanks in Clifton, the next town.
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Coronado Trail Highway – May 2, Part 1

  

We drove through Alpine to reach the Coronado Trail Scenic Byway (US Hwy 191). We topped up our fuel and added a few staples before starting down the Byway.
  
The Coronado Trail is a very twisty two lane road that travels through the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. The complete Byway is 120 miles from Springerville to Clifton. It basically runs north-south along the Arizona/New Mexico State line. It passes just to the east of the White Mountains. The travels close to the Blue Range Primitive Area and the Bear Wallow Wilderness.  
   
There are lots of great places to stop and admire the view.  
  
  
 There are a number of places recovering from fire damage.
  
Due to the switchbacks and hairpin turns parts of it are not recommended for long RVs. Fortunately, we don’t really fit in that category. Our shorter wheelbase makes us more maneuverable than most vehicles our length. 
  
You can see the road in this photo. 

The traffic was pretty light, but there are a lot of motorcycles and sports cars that enjoy going down the road very fast. We were repeatedly passed by the local Porche owners club and motorcycles. 
We stopped for a short hike to the top of Rose Peak. It was only supposed to be about a mile and there is a fire tower at the top. 
  
The trail wasn’t well marked, so we walked up the service road for the fire tower. Rose Peak, at 8700 ft, is well above the surrounding mountains.
 
You can see the tower at the center of the photo. Jon is walking in front of me. 

The fire tower is a fairly short one. Zane, the forest ranger manning the post was happy to let us up to check out the view.
  
It has been a pretty wet spring, so the year has had fewer fires than usual. There was a thunderstorm in the distance with lightning that kept Zane busy when we first arrived. 
  
   
He says that it is very rare for him to have visitors. It is hard to believe since the hike up there along the service road was only about 1.5 miles and very gradual and easy. With the tower so short, you don’t even have all that many steps to climb. The view was amazing. 

 

  
On our walk back down, we saw the most amazing rainbows. They were only visible on some very wispy clouds. I’ve never seen one like it. 
  
After a short break for lunch, we headed on down the Byway stopping to take photos and admire the view several times. 
   

 

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Luna Lake, Apache Sitgreaves National Forest – May 1

   

Jon enjoying a beer after collecting firewood and starting a fabulous fire.

Today was a very necessary resupply day. We really needed groceries, especially eggs and bacon. Unfortunately, it was going to require quite a drive.
We drove to Reserve for basic supplies. The best option was Jake’s General Merchandise, a store with the bare necessities. We were able to get bacon, eggs and milk. Fortunately we still had some vegetables and meat in our freezer.
We stopped for lunch at The Adobe Cafe and Bakery outside of Reserve. It was rated highly in one of my Guidebooks. It also gave us a chance to catch up on our email and such since they offered Wifi. The food was really good. We also picked up a few extras for the road like a loaf of Green Chili bread, pecan fudge and a slice of artichoke-cheese strata. We met a young European couple on a dual recumbent bicycle. They are biking through the Western states. We wished them well especially since it looked like it was about to start raining again.
We decided to continue heading west for camping tonight. That meant that we wound up at the Luna Lake Campground just over the Arizona State line in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. I was grateful that it was May 1, since the campground is only open from May-Sept. 
The campground has 51 sites and is located on the other side of the lake from the road. It is a very well laid out campground with lots of space between campsites and an overall pleasing aesthetic feeling. There were already a couple of other campers there, but we just kept going and found a nice spot with a view of the lake and no one nearby.

  

Jon picked up dead sticks, tree limbs and leftover firewood from the area around our campsite. I found a large area covered in deer or elk droppings no more than about 10 feet from our camper. I fixed dinner and collected a little wood, too. Jon started a nice roaring fire and put out our chairs and side table by it. It was still quite cold and fortunately, the rain clouds had passed on.

  

Note that you can see Jon and his fire at the right side of the photo with the lake behind him. 

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Aeroplane Mesa, Gila National Forest – April 29 & 30

  

We spent most of today driving down the backroads of the Gila National Forest. We saw an amazing amount of wildlife including 3 groups of javelina, mule deer, roadrunners and a number of wild turkeys. 
We saw very few other vehicles, especially once we got past the first 5 miles. It was very interesting to see how the vegetation changes as we went along. Some of the views were just spectacular. We passed by the ever present cows and the occasional forest fire recovery area. 
  
Eventually, it was getting late and we needed someplace to stay for the night.  We decided to camp at Aeroplane Mesa campground. We assumed it would be as unoccupied as the rest of the Gila National Forest had been.
  
  
As it turned out, there was a guy, about a dozen mules and a few horses. He was working for a company that took people out on mule based expeditions. About half of the animals had already left. He and two other contractors had just finished taking a number of guys from Australia out for an expedition. They were in the U.S. for a bachelor’s pre-wedding outing. They had left for Las Vegas, while the staff had to go back out to recover the gear with the remaining mules.   
  
The corral with horses is on the very far right side 

Still, it wasn’t like the camping area was crowded.
We had a nice dinner followed by a quiet night.
We wanted to take a hike after spending most of the day in the car yesterday. I was still feeling pretty sore after the 15 mile hike two days before. There was a trail that started out at the campground, so we decided to take it. 
   

 

We headed to the Aeroplane Mesa which was a 2.5 mile hike across the plain. The trail continued down to the bottom of the canyon where there was a river.  The trail was pretty torn up after all of the mules having traveled this route several times over the last week.  
  
It almost looks like a road, but it isn’t smooth or easy to walk along. 

  
It was a great view and a long way down. 
We did take the trail down to the bottom of the canyon. The steep part down was really damaged. 
  
  
It is going to be a long climb back up. 

 

 We walked up the river bed for a short distance and ate a little lunch. After the rough trail conditions down the cliff, I recommended that we make our hike a loop trail so we could come up another route. According to the photos I took of our map, it looked like we could make it into a loop by following a trail along the river, taking a different route up to the top of the ridge and walking along the road for a little to get back to the campground. Jon hadn’t seen the map before we left, so he hadn’t plugged in the coordinates into the inReach. 
  
There wasn’t much of a trail along the river, so we made a number of river crossings; sometimes finding a trail for a while, sometimes not. 

 

We got to a point where it seemed like we should be going back up the canyon wall. We hadn’t really found a trail, so we took a pretty rough climb to get back to the top of the mesa. 
  
We found a ton of elk and deer tracks and droppings. It was challenging to tell an animal trail from a human trail.
Jon pulled out the inReach to help us find our way back. It meant a lot of walking along the edge of hills and climbing up and down most of the same hills. 
By the time we got back, we had put in over 11 miles of serious hills and river crossings instead of what we expected to be no more than a 8 mile hike with only one big climb. That is the way life goes sometimes. 
I call this hike “Emily’s folly”. I learned my lesson about talking with Jon about alternative hikes before we go out. After closer inspection of the map, it turned out that the other trail ended at the edge of the canyon and didn’t go all the way to the river. Plus what looked like small ponds on the tiny view on my phone were actually just blue writing naming the river.
That evening was the only night where I really wished we could order in pizza. I was bushed. 
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