There is no doubt about it, Southern Arizona weather in the winter can’t be beat. We are blessed with blue skies, lots of sunshine and warm temperatures. If we are fortunate to get a few winter showers the desert comes alive in the spring. The cactus look fat and sassy, the creosote is vibrant green and the wildflowers show their colors with pink, purple, red and lots of yellow.
What better time to get out and enjoy a hike, take a spin on the ATV and explore some new areas. One of our favorite Arizona destinations is the area north of Globe in the Sierra Anchas Mountains. There is a vast wilderness area dedicated to the hardy back packers but fortunately there is also enough room for the weekend hiker and even a winding dirt road for the mountain biker, ATV or four wheeler.
Reynolds Creek is the prime area to set up camp, the camping is limited by the forest, darn those pesky trees, but we always found a good spot. Actually, this was the first place we took the original camper back in 1995. It quickly became a favorite weekend destination. One morning while we were enjoying our morning coffee a small bear wandered the hillside across the creek from our camp. He didn’t seem too concerned about us and we enjoyed watching him. The short hike up to Workman Falls is enjoyable, the falls are especially nice in the spring with the snow melt but it can get crowded. Apparently we aren’t the only ones who enjoy this area.
Most of our trips involved riding the ATV up the narrow road along Cherry Creek. The creek winds around in the bottom of a beautiful canyon, with huge trees, the boulders along the creek are the size of small cars. It is a delightful place and the riding is great. Fall was our favorite, time of year, many of the trees turn colors and the fallen leaves make a lovely carpet.
On one memorable trip, Mike, of Colorado canoe fame, and Nelson, from Mexico, Utah experiences, came along to hike and explore. We were looking for a canyon referred to as Hell’s Hole. We hiked for quite awhile but there was some difficulty with the whole trek because the rocks were so huge that Monty and I could barely make our way up. Mike, being the good hearted guy he is, climbed up first every time, then turned and gave us each a hand up the boulder. This was working pretty great until we checked the time and Monty and I had to be back in Tucson for a Sunday evening event. We decided to turn back and let the guys go on to find Hell’s Hole. The only problem was we weren’t sure we could get back without Mike’s help. It was pretty funny when the realization came to us and Monty said, “I don’t know, can we make it home without Mike?” We wore out the seat of our jeans sliding down the rocks but we made it back to the camp and headed home.
In the same area, but across the highway to the west, is another spot we have enjoyed several times. Salome Creek, is just to the north of Roosevelt Lake, this area is mainly desert but in the spring the creek is running bank to bank and it is a nice place to ride. There are old mines in the area and some foundations still exist for various out buildings, etc. There is some hiking in the area but is it mainly desert floor hiking and that doesn’t interest us too much. One of the fascinating areas is a ‘secret garden’, way off the beaten path. This is where an underground spring surfaces and all sorts of plants abound. I mean everything from wild grape arbors to small cottonwood trees, brambles and wild flowers. Vines obscure the small pond created by the spring. It is almost impossible to work your way inside. Since everything else for miles is desert it is a real oasis.
Beautiful Arizona Desert
Our camper had a place for a small TV, we never saw the need for one but decided it might be nice to have a weather and news check every once in a while. We were quite proud of this new addition and turned it on to catch the news out of Phoenix. The big news of the day was a fugitive on the loose and thought to be headed up to Young, Arizona Since we had just ridden the up to Young the day before we were a little uncomfortable. There is good news, and bad news, but sometimes no news is just better. We made sure the door was locked that night but tried not to worry any more about it. It’s a big country, what are the chances the bad guy is going to come knocking at our door?
We spent one night in an area called Coon Creek when we were tent camping. There were lots of lovely birch or sycamore trees (I’m never sure which is which) and the creek was nice but the area didn’t really offer much else. We pitched the tent and in the middle of the night we herd a rustling along the edge of the tent. We waited and it still moved along the outside of the tent. So I started slapping the inside of the tent to run whatever it was off while Monty got the flashlight. We creeped out of the tent to find a huge skunk walking around the campsite. Yikes! We scurried back into tent hoping we didn’t make him too mad.
We’ve spent a weekend or two down south of us in the Chiricahua National Monument doing some hiking in the Wonderland of Rocks area. Our best experience there was watching a family of coatimundi playing on the rocks. They were having a great time chasing each other. I think that is the only time we have ever seen coatimundi out in the wild. There is a family of them at the Sonora Desert Museum but we seldom spot them in their enclosure. They are elusive guys, members of the raccoon family, they have pointed faces with white noses and long ringed tails. They use incredible claws to dig for grubs or turn over rocks looking for tasty treats.
If you are up near the Mogollon Rim be sure to stop and see the travertine bridge located in the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park. It is nice hike and a beautiful natural bridge. Many years ago we found the perfect camping spot in a meadow in Aspen Springs on the Mogollon Rim. It was picture perfect, a chimney from an old homestead, small creek and lots of green grass and wildflowers. There isn’t much in the way of riding on the Rim but on this particular trip we found a small back road along a fence line. The ride was memorable because a huge buck jumped that fence right in front of us. It was awesome, one minute he was standing on one side of the fence and the next he cleared the five foot fence like a high jumper and it looked effortless, so graceful.
A couple of years later we returned to Aspen Springs on a Labor Day weekend hoping to snag our camping spot again. This was one of those trips not meant to be. First we were getting there late, after the people from Phoenix had already secured their camp spots and then the monsoon arrived with a lightning display to rival the 4th of July. We could hardly see out the windows in the pouring rain, let alone find a place to pitch the tent. We decided to head back to Payson and grab a bite to eat, apparently hundreds of other campers had the same idea and most of them were waiting in lines for the bathrooms. Not many options here, we ended up sleeping in the Blazer in the State Farm Insurance parking lot. We wandered into Village Inn the next morning looking like something the cat dragged in. No comb, or toothbrush, everything is meticulously packed in the Blazer but nothing we need is reachable. We gave it up and headed for home.
Crown King, a wide spot in the road, in the Bradshaw Mountains is best known for the bar and the bar across the street. Really, that is the sum total of the town. It looked like a good riding place so naturally we headed up there. This was such an unusual area, the first time we were there we headed to a campground and pitched the tent. It was nice balmy weather and pretty scenery. We looked forward to a nice weekend. About sundown campers started arriving and it turned out to be the spring party for the Phoenix Valley ski club. There were probably fifty tents packed with over a hundred people. They were celebrating and having the time of their lives. The next morning we were trying to fix breakfast three feet from the next tent. Not exactly what we were expecting. We took off and rode for the day and packed up when we got back to camp. In hindsight we should have just told them we love to ski and joined them.
The next time we went up to Crown King we chose a spot not associated with the campground and it was quiet and nice. The riding was really strange though, first we ran into a lot of forest roads that were closed by the private parties that lived on them. Not only were they closed but they had threatening signs listing nasty things that would happen to you for entering this road. This is forest road that is open to the public, right! The thought of getting shot to prove a point didn’t seem worth it so we moved on. The last straw was when we discovered a wire stretched between two trees with a dead possum suspended from it. That was it, we were outta there. Can’t begin to speculate what is going on up there, but it was a reminder that people who live off the grid do so for a reason.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, Hughes Aircraft always closed and in later years the University of Arizona also closed for that week. That made a great vacation opportunity when only a few days of vacation had to be used. Not ones to sit around, we took advantage of the opportunity to see some of western Arizona. One year we took a trip out to Alamo Reservoir, stopping at several of the old ghost towns in the area. All are deserted now with nothing left but crumbling adobe, but in the late 1800’s early 1900’s each was a vibrant town with a general store, church, telegraph office, school and always several saloons. According to historians, in the early 1900’s the mine at Swansee produced over twenty-seven million pounds of copper. Signal, another ghost town, at one time had thirteen saloons to keep the ‘boys’ happy when they weren’t mining for silver.
Wild Burros – Western Arizona Desert
Oatman is the only old mining town in that area, that has managed to survive. Like Tombstone, ‘the town too tough to die’, Oatman survives on tourists. Many people travel the historic Route 66 through Kingman and stop in Oatman, we even saw a tour bus! There is only one narrow road thru Oatman and it is crowded with people walking from shop to shop and the burros who have the run of the town. The original burros were left by the minors in the early 1900’s and they have flourished in the desert environment. The burros are always looking for a hand out and some stores even offer free oats for the burros with a purchase. If you feed the burros they just might follow you right into the shops. There is something about burros, they are just so darn cute. You gotta love ‘em but be warned, if annoyed, they do kick and bite.
We traveled through Parker and up to Lake Havasu to see the London Bridge. This 1831 bridge formerly spanned the Thames River in London and was brought to Lake Havasu in 1967. As the story goes, each stone was numbered and then reassembled to a bridge spanning a small inlet of the Colorado River. The city has built a nice river walk with shops and plenty of water activities.
We still talk about our experience in Hannagan’s Meadow in the White Mountains. This was a group gathering, including Linda and Nelson and their horse, a couple of dogs and some other people from Monty’s work. Camp was all set up and we were enjoying happy hour when some young people came by and were eager to tell us not to feed the wolves. Reallllly, don’t feed the wolves. Apparently this was an area where the Mexican Gray Wolf was being re-introduced. Any project like this comes with pros and cons and although these young people were dedicated pro wolf, the ranchers of the area definitely were not in favor of having their cattle under attack by the wolves.
The wolves were actually right in the camp area looking for hand outs. This didn’t sound like a very good re-introduction program to us, but the kids were handing out leaflets like Jehovah’s Witnesses and telling us to just shoo the wolves from the truck. Could there be a story here about three little pigs?
One of Many Fire Towers We ‘Bagged’
Nelson didn’t pay much attention and when he let his Brittany Spaniel out of the camper, Chaco did what you expect a hunting dog to do and took off running thru the meadow. We watched as the pack of wolves zeroed right in on him. They spread out and flanked Chaco as he headed for the trees. We thought that’s it, we won’t see that dog again. But to our surprise, a few minutes later, he came tearing out of the trees with the wolves right behind him. We all started yelling and waving our arms and Chaco made it back to camp and the wolves turned around.
We find traveling or exploring more fun when there is a destination in mind so for a few years we were into fire towers. You’ve heard of hikers who ‘bag’ peaks, well we were into ‘baggin’ fire towers. There are a lot of interesting towers and it is fun to climb up and enjoy the view. The Moqui Tower on the Mogollon Rim is one of the few occupied towers. The lookout invited us up to see her summer home. The climb up the 83 foot tower was a challenge but on a sunny morning it was fun. I can’t imagine being up there in a thunder and lightning storm. There were lightning rods on all four corners of the tower. It was a great tower, and the 360 degree view from the glass house was spectacular. We managed to avoid any cliches about rocks! I think that is the only tower we found that was occupied. Some were open and others closed.
The Anascota tower in Southern Arizona is up a long treacherous mountain trail covered with small rock that was similar to trying to walk on marbles. We persevered and worked our way up to the long abandoned tower, it has suffered some vandalism and was a little the worse for wear. The funny thing was the outhouse was a small shack perched over the canyon edge. I guess at the time it was built that was an acceptable practice.
We’ve explored old mining camps in the Safford, Turkey Creek area, outside of Florence and Morenci, and the many camps along the southern border of the state. There are so many special places we have spent time and had interesting experiences. Too many to recount.
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