Thanksgiving 2017: Montezuma Castle National Monument

This is a continuation of my adventures from Thanksgiving last year. I got distracted with moving into my house sooooo not much got blogged from the trip. 

After having visited Casa Grande National Monument, I gave into the prehistory ruins compulsion and visited Montezuma Castle National Monument in Camp Verde. By this time, I’d decided to just pay for my national parks pass and get on with it.

Montezuma Castle actually allows dogs on the trail! There is just a single paved path that goes along the base of the cliff with the structure but because it is just the one path and because of the extreme temperatures, they allow dogs! It was a touch hot for Sprocket to wait so I was super excited.

The visitors center was smaller than the one at Casa Grande and I was left with a lot of questions about just how the people further north on the Verde were related to the people who had been to their north (ancient Puebloans) and south (ancient Sonorans). This bookstore didn’t have anything I could impulse buy to bolster my knowledge of the Sinagua people so I’m currently accepting suggestions for books about ancient cultures in central Arizona.

It was a super short walk out to the Castle; the toughest part was dodging people on the trail! Apparently it’s part of the post Thanksgiving trek to the Grand Canyon.

We wandered down to Castle A. Apparently, Castle A was even larger than Montezuma Castle during its occupation. The vigas that supported beams to the rock are still visible. However, this castle’s upper floors collapsed and the structure suffered a fire after the end of its occupation.

The National Monument has a second unit at Montezuma Well but I decided to continue north because I had a breakfast date in Moab the next day and I had another few stops in mind.

Cochise County Highpoint: Chiricahua Peak

After hanging out in Tombstone, I was ready to do some hiking. It was time after a long fall full of working!

The hike to the summit of Chiricahua was exactly what I needed. I made a foray up Peak 9308 with some off trail travel but aside from that summiting Chiricahua and Flys was seriously just a beautiful ridge walk in the park. Considering my low level of fitness and activity, this was highly appropriate.

Beth Lakin and Sprocket. Summit Selfie

In the 12 mile hike, I didn’t quite hit 3,000′ of gain but I did check off another Arizona County Highpoint taking me to 80% on the list!

Thanksgiving 2017: Tombstone & Bisbee, Arizona

My original plan for Thanksgiving was to head down through western New Mexico and do a few hikes but as home building would demand, I had to make a return at IKEA in Phoenix before Sprocket and I had an empty RuthXJ to adventure in. So, after braving the Saturday morning return line, we took off for southeastern Arizona. My plan for Sunday was to hike Chiricahua Peak but that left us with ample time to explore the rest of the day.

I was a terrible blogger who is out of practice at taking photos but we did some touristing in Tombstone and Bisbee. We struggled a bit in Tombstone because it seemed that all there was to do was tourist but I was pleased to discover that Tombstone Brewing has some pretty solid beers and that Bisbee is adorable.

Beth Lakin on the road

On The Page: Blood and Thunder

Sometimes when people tell you that they know of a book you should read you just nod and say that your list is really long because their suggestion just isn’t your style. This latest book, Blood and Thunder, wasn’t one of these books. I was sitting around telling my friend Chris about immersing myself in a whole bunch of books about The West this summer and he immediately suggested that I read it. Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West by Hampton Sides was simply fantastic.

I didn’t know anything about Kit Carson. I didn’t know anything about ho he fit in with the Mexican War, New Mexico’s history, and the Navajo Long Walk. He was just a name that was famous in the west not one that had been involved with a huge swath of the southwest becoming American soil.

Furthermore, Sides weaves Carson’s story with that of John C. Frémont, Steven Watts Kearny, the governors of New Mexico, Navajo leaders, and more. All the stories are carefully woven together and create a wonderful picture of New Mexico and Arizona in the mid 1800s.

While I enjoyed The Earth Is Weeping, it wasn’t wasn’t as readable as Blood and ThunderI started this book just before going to Washington and given some uninterrupted reading time on planes from Montrose to Seattle, I devoured the book and finished it just as my plane landed back in Denver. (I didn’t have any time to read while I was in the Pacific Northwest.)

A sign of an excellent book about history is that it leaves you feeling like you got a pretty complete picture of the topic at hand while also adding to your list of books to read because it raised other ideas and questions that were tangential to the topic. Sides’s Blood and Thunder more than met the standard. In this case, I was quite happy that the next book on my shelf is a biography of Frémont!

 

Navajo County Highpoint: Black Mesa

I looked at March on my calendar back in February, I realized that it was going to be a long tough stretch leading up to Spring Break. To combat that, I scheduled a day to head down to the Navajo Reservation to hike to the top of Black Mesa, the Navajo County highpoint.

I had to do a little bit of prep work to get ready to hike this one. Since I wanted to respect Navajo Nation sovereignty, I needed to follow their processes to obtain a hiking permit for the reservation. I was a little frustrated that I couldn’t pick up a permit in Kayenta but when I discovered I could pick up one at the Four Corners Monument that worked out alright (I would have liked to start an hour earlier but alas, I had to wait near the Monument until they opened at 8am.) It was a little difficult to communicate to them where I wanted to hike but since I’d set everything up ahead of time I had no problems at permit pickup.

I started from the gate just below the water towers as suggested by prior trip reports. The gate was open both on the way up and the way down but I didn’t want to risk being locked in. This only added about a mile each way on flat road so it wasn’t a big deal (Sprocket might have disagreed when it was warm on the way down).

The trail sticks to the top of one of the ridges before it makes one large switch back up the side of the mesa. I found that the lower part of the trail, especially the start of the swing to the left that starts the switch back wasn’t really obvious and it was nice to have the GPS track from a prior hiker. After that junction, the trail became much clearer as it moved up the side of the mesa. (In fact, this trail would be a great one for the Reservation to develop into a more formal trail!)

As one might expect in mid-March, the north facing slope still had some snow covering the trail in places. I sort of embraced this since it’s not spring around here without some postholing and scrub oak scrapes. Even though it’s sort of painful, it is a definite signal to me that spring is here (although I have learned that long socks and shorts are the jam for springtime hiking).

Once I reached the rim, the views were incredible! I could see so much of the Four Corners region from there!

The highpoint of the mesa is actually located a little ways east of where the Yazzie Trail reaches the rim of the mesa. Some of it is in the open but it eventually goes into a pinon-juniper stand where the highpoint is located.

We wandered around for awhile looking for the highpoint, again, using GPS to make sure we were in the right area and eventually found the summit cairn. It was fun to see all the familiar names on the register!

Since the summit wasn’t particularly photogenic, we paused along the rim on the way back to the Yazzie Trail for photos.

It was a glorious day for adventuring outside! Sprocket found it a little bit warm on the way down but old dog is a trooper. He even got a McDonald’s kiddie ice cream cone once we were back in Kayenta.

Elden Mountain

On our way back from Arizona, Sprocket and I took a break in Flagstaff to hike Elden Mountain. (We paid for it later when we cruised into Norwood after midnight trying to avoid a storm that was supposed to materialize the next day but I think it was worth it.) The trail starts immediately off of US 160 in town so it was a great choice for a nice leg stretcher mid-way home.

The trail doesn’t mess around and climbs steeply from Flagstaff to Elden Mountain and it’s fire lookout. It was nice to have one more good hike with my pup before getting back to the usual work grind.

Sprocket loved our whole trip and all the hiking we did. He particularly enjoyed any time that we encountered snow (which we did pretty frequently for an Arizona adventure)!

When we reached the summit, it was pretty windy so we took pictures and headed back down the slopes pretty quickly.

Thanksgiving in Scottsdale

Maryanne and her husband welcomed me into their home for Thanksgiving again this year. I’m so delighted that this has become a tradition and that I get to be Aunty Beth to their two children in addition to my three nephews. <3

There was lots of Sprocket bossing around by a two year old:

A few baby cuddles, although he really wasn’t too sure about that stranger in his house.

There was lots of food and a sweet sunset hike.

People used to mistake Maryanne and I for sisters, and I suppose with sunglasses on, they still might.

Brown’s Mountain

While I was in Arizona for Thanksgiving I went hiking with a crew of social media folks in McDowell Mountain Regional Park. I didn’t take any photos so all of these are courtesy of Jason, AZ Day Hiker. He managed to find a small summit for us to tackle along with Lou & Nancy, and Dave. As with most social media gatherings, no one really cared that I was there but they all just really wanted to meet Sprocket.

After we summited, we did a nice circuit of the mountain and then headed to Tom Thumb for lunch.

Mt. Wrightson: Santa Cruz County Highpoint

Sprocket and I woke up at Bog Springs Campground in Madera Canyon and then headed up to the Mt. Wrightson trailhead. (Madera Canyon did not have a wealth of stealth camping options). I’d decided to go up the gently graded and more east and south facing Super Trail and then to come back down the Old Baldy Trail. Sprocket and I started up in the half-light of morning and quickly sped our way up to the Josephine Saddle. (We did not hike as fast as we had on Mt. Baldy a couple days earlier though.)

Thirty seconds before he flushed some quail and then looked at me like “I did a good job, didn’t I?!”I made him come pose for his obligatory “Sprocket entered a wilderness photo” I guess somewhere in that lazy dog there is a wasted bird dog.

Although the Super Trail had an easy grade, it was LONG. We just kept winding around the mountain and it almost felt like we weren’t making any progress at all. (The offtrail peakbagger in me looked up at the summit multiple times and thought, “Wait, I’m not just hiking up that gully?”)

Finally, we reached Old Baldy Saddle then climbed to the summit. The wind was a little bit brisk but the views were pretty expansive and great.

Mt. Wrightson used to have a lookout on top and its foundation made for a great place to hole up out of the wind and enjoy the views, some water, and a little snack before heading down Old Baldy Trail.

The Old Baldy Trail is significantly shorter (but steeper!) than the Super Trail and we made pretty good time hustling down the mountain. I ran into several groups moving up the mountain, and was complemented on doing a “good job.” I always feel a little weird when people tell me (or Sprocket) that we’re doing a “good job” on mountains. I live at 7000′ and try to spend a significant amount of time on trails so it doesn’t feel particular impressive, or like something I should be complemented for.

Mt. Wrightson was a pretty fun hike. It was long but doing the figure-8 of trails the way I did was pretty easy. It’s a great way to get some elevation in Arizona while using a trail and not needing to do any scrambling or climb particularly steeply (unless you want to do the Old Baldy Trail up).

Arizona County Highpoint: Greenlee County

Arizona, overall, has a pretty high caliber of county highpoints. Thirteen of the fifteen highpoints are summits higher than 7000′ and of those two below 7000′ one is Signal Peak, one of my absolute favorite hikes ever. Few of the highpoints are not either a striking peak or a prominent rim point with a great view (Black Mesa, Myrtle Point). Unfortunately, Greenlee County Highpoint, is not one of those.

After climbing up twisty US 191 from Alpine and passing through Hannigan Meadows, I pulled off into a small, unmaintained Forest Service road. We just got away from the road, and hiked up the track climbing over a not-insignificant amount of deadfall. Then we left the track and bushwacked our way to the small knob of a highpoint.

In this photo, Sprocket is looking at the highpoint cairn like, “Really? This is it?”

After our little highpoint adventure, we continued south on 191; if you’ve ever looked at the road on the map it is twisty. We stopped to check out a view point known as “Blue Vista” before heading down the tight curves of the rest of the road. The highway mostly stayed close to the ridgecrest as we traveled south and stayed above 7000′ most of the time before dropping down sharply at Morenci, home to a heartbreaking open pit mine (I’m not going to make you see photos because our lives already have enough sadness these days).