After dealing with #RuthXJ’s minor maintenance issue, I hit the trail about four hours later than I’d hoped. Facing down a long hike, Sprocket and I set out from the West Baldy Trailhead maintaining a nice stiff pace. The first few miles of the hike were fairly flat paralleling the West Fork of the Little Colorado River and we were cruising. I knew that I was probably going to pay for this since I’ve been focusing on other life goals over staying active but between the impending early fall sunset and purse joy at being outside, we just kept at it.
I should have taken a lot more photos along the river as it was simply gorgeous as the trail wound from tree sheltered groves to open meadows surrounding the meandering river. The trail started to climb a bit more stiffly around three miles. I was a little bit worried about Sprocket since he’s been a even more lazy than me; I didn’t need to. That pup just seemed to get happier the longer we hiked.
Finally, we reached a split in the trail where one could hike either off trail towards the summit or continue on to the East Baldy Trail. I can’t say exactly what we decided to do. What I can say is that I had a huge smile on my face and Sprocket finally decided to let me cuddle him instead of being mad at me for being a lazy mommy.
Continuing down the East Baldy Trail, I was struck by the sweet rock formations (that again, I didn’t slow my pace to take photos of) and by the care that Sprocket seemed to take of me on the way down. Sprocket has always been my loyal companion in the mountains. He’s sat on my feet when the wilderness released feelings about my dad’s death, he’s struggled down peaks when I pushed him too hard. This time, as I was tired but we were hurrying down the mountain, he lead me the whole way but always paused to look back and make sure I was still there.
When we reached the junction with the connector trail for another 3.6 miles back to the car, I looked at my tired pup and realized that the best option was actually to exit at the East Baldy trailhead and either walk the road back or to hitch a ride the couple of miles back to the West Baldy trailhead to save us both some elevation gain and loss and a few miles.
We made it back to the Jeep and headed back into Springerville before heading south of town to make camp along Highway 191. It’d been a long 16+ miles but it was definitely needed and appreciated.
I am a mountain girl at heart but having some time in the desert has become really key to my happiness. While looking at maps of the deserts of the 4 Corners region, I’ve traced the length of Comb Ridge with my finger, marveling how far it extends. Browsing the adventure travel section of the library, I found Sandstone Spine: Seeking the Anasazi on the First Traverse of the Comb Ridge by David Roberts.
Knowing a little bit about the terrain of the area, I was impressed that someone would have done this (although I still dream about The Hayduke Trail which is even more impressive). Traveling with two friends, the author describes the slow going over the tricky terrain, tensions of traveling in a group, and ruins found throughout the ridge.
My bar for a good travel book is one that either makes you see an area you know in a different light or desperately want to travel to a new area. I’ve spent some time around Comb Ridge both on the Butler Wash side and on the Comb Wash side but never really explored the canyons of the Ridge. This book makes me want to go wander canyons so badly.
Roberts very lovingly describes the Anasazi and Basketmaker ruins that he, Greg, and Vaughn explore along their trek. He pulls in just touches of his understanding of the history of the human occupation of the area, mentioning Robert S. McPherson’s work as well as some of his earlier books (it also made me want to revisit Craig Child’s House of Rain).
Sandstone Spine excellently combines history, travel, and human history for a very readable book. I am also excited for fall desert season. Anyone up for adventure?
This post contains affiliate links that help fund 3Up Adventures. All opinions are my own.
I wasn’t entirely sure what Sprocket and I were going to get up to on our way back from the Phoenix area while bound for Colorado. I figured I’d take a couple of days to make the drive and that we could adventure somewhere along the way. I’d debated between hiking Black Mesa, the Navajo County highpoint, and adventuring in the Bradshaw Mountains to Mount Union, the Yavapai County Highpoint. I didn’t really make up my mind until I reached the Bumble Bee exit on I-17.
I often rave about the wonders of taking the blue highways but I really outdid myself this time. It is only 45 miles on the interstate between Black Canyon City and Camp Verde and I managed to map out a route that more than doubled the mileage and took the original 45 minute drive and turned it into an adventure…
After climbing up from the Verde Valley, I passed through the small community of Crown King and then started following the Senator Highway north. The dirt road was in pretty good shape and we made good time (for gravel) and only hit snow in a few patches.
After so much quiet and lonely driving through the mountains, it was almost anti-climatic to get to the base of the Mt. Union spur road. There are private homes along the road (and the gun fire in the distance was sort of disconcerting) so we hustled our way up to the peak. I lazily didn’t change out of my flip flops so the little stretch of the road that was shaded by the peak itself was sort of interesting. (Oops.)
We scrambled up as far up the stairs of the lookout as we could, Sprocket braving the steep narrow extruded aluminum bravely, and looked around. The Bradshaw Mountains are not among Arizona’s most majestic but they really are in the middle of everything; the views were a little obscured by clouds but I got an idea of just how much I could see from that vantage point!
I decided to take FS 261 down to the highway and I was actually kind of surprised by it! I had to pick my line with some care in places to compensate for the stock XJ’s relatively low clearance. I could have made it up the road just fine but it would have been tough in a couple of spots. Although it felt like it had been a really full day already, I decided to push it all the way back to De Beque over a snowy Lizard Head Pass into Ridgway and then north to our own bed after a really busy week of friends and mountain tops!
My original plan, after visiting Mt. Lemmon and Rice Peak was go head down and climb Mt. Wrightson, the Santa Cruz county highpoint, but for reasons I can’t really explain, I just wasn’t feeling like it. I drove up through the mountains to the east and then circled back around to the west. And then, I just kept driving west.
During the winters I spent in Arizona, especially around the Quartzsite area, I’d really been wanting to hike or drive up Harquahala Mountain, the La Paz county highpoint. I’d heard that although 4 wheel drive is recommended that it doesn’t require high clearance. Sounds just perfect for an XJ! As I reached Gila Bend, I was pretty sure Harquahala was my destination. Darkness fell about the time I reached Buckeye but that didn’t stop us from tackling the approximately ten miles to the summit in the dark. Ruth handled everything masterfully (honestly the road was not that difficult and we did 90+% in two wheel drive and reached just one switchback where 4wd became necessary). Atop the summit, I had my sixth Arizona county highpoint!
At the summit, I realized the battery on my DSLR was dead. I’m super disappointed because the moon was SO BRIGHT that I kind of wanted to play around with some long exposures. Since that didn’t happen, I bundled up (although the breeze was warm) and Sprocket and I enjoyed the twinkling lights of the small towns to our west and of the I-10 corridor.
It was cozy cuddled with Sprocket in the back of the Jeep but as the sun started to rise, I crawled out of bed to take it all in. Absolutely incredible.
After wandering around a bit, we headed down hill, the sun still putting on a spectacular show (and illuminating the beautiful scenery we’d missed driving up in the dark).
This was an amazing drive! It wasn’t technical but the desert mountain views were incredible! It was such an amazing day to wake up and start the day.
Despite 1:15pm being a much later hour than I’d hoped to start the hike out to Pinal County’s highpoint on the slopes of Rice Peak, I decided to tackle the approximately 10 mile hike as a bit of a trail run racing darkness. Sprocket had seemed a little slow on our walk up to the Mount Lemmon summit and I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room so I left him behind in the Jeep and started hustling down the trail.
Oracle Ridge is sneaky. My Garmin measured about 3,300′ of elevation gain but, man, it felt like was constantly losing and regaining elevation! I ran down hill and motored up hill as quickly as I could and decided that I had time to scramble up to Oracle Ridge’s Middle Peak. This ended up being a little bit of a time suck as I had trouble refinding the trail when I descended and hurried on to Rice Peak.
I paused only momentarily on Rice Peak before wandering down its north ridge to the Pinal County highpoint at the Pima-Pinal County line. Just as I got to the highpoint I spotted some cougar tracks and started to get a little nervous about my fleeing prey status as the shadows lengthened. Instead of reclimbing Rice Peak, I pushed my way though the brush back to the trail. My capris left my legs totally open to the ravages of the cats claw and by the time I was on the trail, my lower legs looked like they had been attacked by a real herd of angry cats.
The colors of sunset were gorgeous and there was still plenty of light for hiking when I got back to the car after 11 miles of hiking with my fourth Arizona county highpoint completed!
After climbing Browns Peak, I treated myself to dinner in Globe before driving up Pinal Peak to spend the night. The road had a little bit of snow in places but was easily driveable all the way to the summit. (Thanks to Scott Surgent for the inspiration to go!). We slept excellently listening to the wind and enjoying the stillness. In the morning, we took in the views and then headed down the mountain. I decided not to hike the spur road to nearby Signal Peak but the summit of Pinal was the high point of the Pinal Mountains! Descending from Pinal we had a chance to take in all the views that we’d missed going up in the dark. It was really gorgeous.
After we returned to the highway in Globe, it was time to cruise south towards Mount Lemmon. I had studied maps and it appeared that we could drive up to the peak on Old Mount Lemmon Road approaching from the east near San Manuel instead of from the south near Tucson. Sprocket and I definitely have a penchant for taking the dirt route whenever possible.
The road was in remarkably good shape as we climbed out of the desert (except for that one time I took a random side road and ended up on a steep quad trail; thanks for saving my butt Ruth the XJ). The views kept getting better and better as we continued upwards and I admit to stopping to ogle the Galiuro Mountains to the east (Bassett Peak climb anyone?).
The road to the summit was gated at the ski area to my immense (Coloradan) annoyance. There was only a tiny amount of snow and since I hoped to make it out to Rice Peak that day as well the extra time for the hike to the summit was really frustrating but there was no helping it so off we went up the road. Sprocket was clearly ready for the walk:
We got a little tired of the road and decided to take our chances scrambling more directly to the summit. I had a pretty good laugh that this was our third day in Arizona and we’d played in the snow on all of them but there was no denying that Sprocket was a fan.
We tromped around the summit for a bit before heading back down to the car. I had another Arizona county highpoint, my fourth, under my belt and all was well. Sprocket, although he seemed happy to be out of the car, was moving a little slower than he had the previous day so I decided to leave him behind for the Rice Peak adventure since moving quickly was going to be key to making it out to the peak (and it’s county highpoint northern slopes) and back before dark but more on that soon!
After rejoining Highway 87, we headed down to Payson, got some gas, and I bought a new pair of cheap sunglasses. The next goal was Browns Peak, the Maricopa County Highpoint. The drive from Flagstaff down over the Mogollon and continuing south always makes me happy: the transition from high plateau pines to Sonoran Desert saguaros is the best. The down vest and Omniheat baselayers were quickly too much.
Just north of Roosevelt I turned west up into the Mazaztal Mountains. Oso Road is steep but in pretty good shape all the way to the trail head. I pulled in to the parking lot just before 2pm which seemed a little late to start the 5 mile round trip hike. Just as I started to contemplate what to do with my remaining daylight, I said hello to some guys who were relaxing next to their truck with some beers. They asked if I was going up to the summit and I told them about my conundrum and they assured me that it could be done if I hustled. I’m pretty down to bet my hiking speed counts as hustle so I set a turnaround time and we headed out.
Sprocket and I made it to the saddle below the peak in 45 minutes and started moving up the peak.
Sprocket made it about two thirds of the way up the scree chute but I couldn’t get him up solo. We made a pretty valiant effort with Sprocket hanging out on a five inch ledge in the middle of a 8′ ledge as I tried to figure out how to get him up; I crawled up and around Sprocket at least twice while he just sat and looked sad. Making the final 3′ jump to the top of the ledge just wasn’t worth the risk. I helped him down and settled him with some water and my pack and I headed up the mountain as fast as I could.
I quickly reached the summit, feeling in a hurry to get back to Sprocket. I knew he was sad about being left but I’d made it to the top of Four Peaks!
I look a couple of photos and headed back to Sprocket. He was sitting next to my pack and plaintively crying. This is the second time I’ve done this with SP and he seems mostly okay with it. He gets to do 90+% of the hike with me and just has to sit out the final scramble to the summit. This means that he gets to come with me as often as possible which seems like the solution Sprocket most supports.
See, he forgives me.
I knew we’d make it to the car before dark but we kept up our quick pace since I hadn’t driven the western shore of Roosevelt Lake so I wanted to see that in the last minutes of daylight.
Browns Peak was awesome: a good scramble always makes me happy and this one was pretty fantastic.
After sleeping just south of Flagstaff, Sprocket and I cruised out Lake Mary Road towards the Mogollon Rim. I was watching side roads as we headed south and they were looking pretty muddy so I started to get nervous about actually being able to drive out to Myrtle Point. When I reached the turnoff from Highway 87, I was relieved to see that it was a fairly major route and looked like it was in really good shape. Sprocket and I headed south, occasionally passing through snowy areas and, fortunately, the muddy areas were frozen. I briefly considered the possibility that if they thawed, we might be forced to spend the night and drive out when they were frozen again in the morning, but we continued pressing south.
We reached the spur road to Myrtle Point off the Rim Road (FS 300) without an major issues but I declined to drive through the large mud puddle on the spur and instead enjoy the weather walking the mile or so out to the rim.
The views were pretty fantastic:
It was really windy though, so Sprocket and I didn’t linger too long:
I debated for quite some time, but I chose to take the Rim Road west to the highway instead of retracing my steps to the north. I was a little bit nervous since I was almost certain to be able to get out to the north but FS 300 is pretty major so I decided to risk it. It was really fun to be able to look back to Myrtle Point and further enjoy the massive views south to the rest of Gila County.
It was pretty uneventful until just before I reached the highway. There was a pretty snowpacked corner where a small car had managed to put himself into the ditch. Someone else was already helping them but I still can’t imagine where they thought they were going!
Arizona County Highpoint #2 under my belt, I headed south to Browns Peak!
After leaving Hubble Trading Post, I headed south for I-40. I’d hoped to have time to check out Petrified Forest National Park but I was running out of daylight for the stop (downsides of late fall adventure!) and decided to save that for another time. The benefit of this decision was that we had time to check out some Route 66 history!
I hopped off I-40 in Holbrook to follow the old route of 66 through town. I couldn’t help but stop at this Dairy Queen for a cone to enjoy as I cruised past old restaurants and the killer vintage-ness of the Wigwam Motel.
On the west end of Holbrook, we got back on I-40 and I kept taking the historic route 66 exits so we spent some time tooling along on frontage roads and then re-entering the highway. In Winslow, I followed the business route to downtown knowing that I wanted to get a photo on “The Corner” of Winslow.
I knew by the time we got to Flagstaff it would be dark so Sprocket and I took the opportunity to wander around a bit and stretch our legs before continuing on.
In Flagstaff, I tried a small sampler of beers at Mother Road Brewing Co. which only seemed appropriate after our adventures of the afternoon. The beer was just okay so I headed to a coffee shop to do a little bit of work and was recognized by Josh, a Twitter acquaintance of years(?) that I’d never met in person. Sadly, we didn’t have time for more than a hug and a “holy cow the world is small” moment before we were both off on our respective adventures!
Traveling south from Canyon de Chelly, I stopped at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Located in Ganado, the Trading Post is still “operational” selling sundries in addition to visitors center like merchandise.
I poked around in the rug room and browsed the trading post, picking up few jars of salsa and jam for myself and a handful of small trinkets for Christmas gifts.
The visitors center was closed for lunch so I spend some time wandering the grounds checking out the sheep, the fowl, the bread oven, and poking around.
When the visitor center reopened, I paid my $2 to take a tour of the Hubbell residence. I didn’t take any photos inside but I found the house really compelling. It passed directly from the family to the Park Service so the furnishings are all original to the house and they even have the family china! It was just me on the tour so it was really informal but my guide was great and I really enjoyed it. (I was even a bit inspired by the hallway-less design of the house!)