For my second trip out of Phoenix, I wanted to find a place to camp in the desert – at lower elevation, and fairly close to Phoenix. As of February, it’s still pretty cold at middle elevations in Arizona. I like the low altitude desert near Phoenix. There are a lot of cool saguaro cacti. I wanted to find some nice places to camp in the desert, at low altitude, fairly close to Phoenix. I expected that might not be so easy….
The Party Zone
A big city like Phoenix has over 4 million people. Any city with 4 million residents will include a lot who like to go out into the nearby National Forests, and many of those will like shooting their guns, driving loud dirt-bikes, ATVs, and Side-By-Sides (those sort of off-road go carts with motorcycle engines that are super popular now), and/or taking a few cases of Bud Light and a mattress out to a camp site and leave everything behind minus the liquid beer. Some people seem to think a National Forest is some kind of black hole where no one else goes and where the trash they leave behind doesn’t matter and won’t be seen by anyone else because surely no one else goes to such a remote place 20 miles from the city, right? Ok, I don’t like to judge other peoples’ ways of enjoying nature, but I definitely judge the litterers.
With surely a large number of people as decribed above existing in any city, many National forest areas within 40 miles of the city are likely to have a some or a lot of these folks. I’ll call this ring around a city the “party zone”. This makes finding a nice desert area to camp challenging because the National Forest areas north of Phoenix all seem to increase in altitude the further north you go. So by the time I get out of the range of the shooters, partiers, and ATVers, I’m up at 4,500 feet. Around 3,500 feet, the plants change from cacti to shrubs that are thorny and also really thick in some spots.
I decided to go out along Highway 87 this time, which is known as the Beeline. I took a look on Google Maps and found some areas that looked like they may work. There are quite a few roads going off from the Beeline, and a quick look on the satellite view** showed a lot of potential campsites.
** The “satellite” views on maps are shot from airplanes
The first place I went to, shown as “A” on the map below. Once I got there, it was clearly a serious OHV area (there were signs). So I went back to the highway and continued north, looking for other roads.
The second place I went, shown as “B” on the map below, has a bunch of places people could camp. People have done a lot of shooting there, so some parts are littered with casings, empty shotgun shells, broken glass, and the occasional old TV or computer monitor that’s been shot to pieces. It was also really close to the highway, and right under a busy flight path.
I arrived in late afternoon and spent the night there. A couple guys drove into the area together and hung out for a while. One of them is from Phoenix and knew a lot about rocks and the area. The other has a house in Hawaii. He built a really small home out in the back yard, and lived in that while renting out the main house. Now he’s bought a truck and camper, and is in the process of renting out the small house to a friend for while he drives around the continental US in his truck camper for the next year or so. He’s in love with the friend who is renting his small house. They are good friends and she just wants to be friends. He said “we’re perfect together, soulmates, she just doesn’t know it” a two or three times.
He has plans with a string of different women to come join him at times. In one case of plans overlapping, he’s going to have two women joining him at the same time at his condo that he bought on a whim while in a ski town in Utah. It was interesting talking with a guy who really really wants a travel companion. He is certain he’ll feel unsatisfied traveling by himself. In my case, I don’t mind traveling alone. There are many things I’m missing out on by not having another person along, but there are also many ways that traveling alone is easier and simpler. I do wonder a little bit whether the difference in my preferences and this guy’s are entirely personality based, or how much of it is me being more content with simpler things.
I got tired of hearing the traffic and airplanes, so the next morning I headed further north. I got up to higher elevation, and out of the “party zone”, and found a nice spot (in area C on the map). It was up at about 4,500 feet. I had a wonderful view out the windows. The spot was pretty close to the highway but with enough elevation difference and a big hill in-between to block all the noise. I did have a direct line of sight to cell towers across the highway, so I had a nice data connection.
The first day there, the weather was wonderful. I went for an exploratory hike down the road to see what the road is like and if there were other good campsites further back.
I’d checked the weather before leaving Phoenix and saw two rainy days in the forecast. I looked closer while camped up in area C, and saw the forecast was non stop rain for 48 hours. Uh oh. I figured I’d just stay put through the rain and then enjoy a couple nice days after before heading back down to the city.
Once it started raining, the clouds were thick. They were also low and I was literally in them. This meant I didn’t have power for charging my computer or whatever else. I’ve now gotten in the good habit of letting only my fridge and MIFI device charge as needed, and only charging or using other devices when the sun is providing enough power for them on top of however much the battery can take at that moment. This way, the battery is always getting as much as is possible.
So… the first day, I read a book. This may be the first day in my life that I read all of a normal-sized book in one day. It was good. It’s called How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia. As the title suggest, it’s about how to make money by entrepreneurial means, but it’s written as a novel in the first person – from the perspective of you being the main character. It’s a really good book.
It rained almost every minute of the day. And night.
Rain itself doesn’t bother me much. But it was also about 40 degrees, and I don’t like just sitting around in the van when it’s also cold. The second morning of rain, I got impatient. I’d already read an entire book, now what the hell am I supposed to do? :-P.
The road up to my campsite was very nice. Most of it was a nice well graded gravel road. The spot I was camped in was dirt, and now really muddy, and slightly uphill to get back on the road. Then the road was all downhill. I figured if I could get back on the road I could probably make it all the way down.
The mud had gotten saturated a few inches deep. It was really slippery. I made it out though. I started down the road. There had been a big camper in a spot about 1/8th mile before mine. I saw they had left, and saw tracks in the road that were probably theirs from leaving the previous afternoon or evening. About another 1/8th mile down, I got to a reeeeaaally soft and muddy spot. The trailer had made it down through this, and it looked like about 3 or 4 vehicles had been in it and tore up the road a bit.
I got through that part, but just barely. I almost inched off into a small ditch, which would’ve been an annoyance rather than a problem, as I could’ve just waited there in the ditch for it to dry and then easily driven out, but, the van would’ve been at an annoying angle. My van was sinking into the mud quite a lot. The mud was really soft, and my van is fairly heavy and the tires aren’t especially wide. I’d traveled up that section of road a couple days ago and it was flat and smooth. Now it was getting all torn up and I felt bad about doing some of it. I decided that I’d rather stop and wait it out rather than tear up any more parts of the road, so I went just far enough past that bad spot to get to where the road was wide enough and flat enough to the side for me to just stop right there on the road with plenty of space for others to drive by.
Two other vehicles did drive by, coming up the hill. Both of them went a bit into the bad section but turned back right away. I got out and walked around a couple times, but spent most of the day in the van.
The next morning, the rain stopped. And the sun was shining about half the time. The clouds slowly cleared out.
I waited until after noon. Then I walked the road all the way to where it’s paved, and it wasn’t bad.In the afternoon, after walking the road, I drove the rest of the way down and headed back to the city. I probably could’ve driven the rest instead of waiting. Turns out the only tricky spot was the turn right in front of where I’d parked. It was banked inward pretty heavily, and past the outside edge of the road is steep downhill. When I watched one of the vehicles that came up and turned back, they did a pretty aggressive 4 wheel powerslide to make it through the turn to without sliding down the banking. I didn’t want to attempt something like that.
I suppose I should’ve checked the weather a closer before heading up. If I’d seen exactly how much it was going to rain, I probably wouldn’t have went up there. But I saw that the rain would only last two days, and that it wouldn’t be snowing or freezing, and I was camped maybe a mile’s walk from the highway, so there was not really any safety risk of being stranded up there too long or in too bad of conditions.
I decided I’d definitely do more research on lower desert areas before heading out next time, so I’d have much less chance of being up in the cold rain.
All-in-all, a “rained out” trip didn’t turn out so bad. I had two and a half days of really nice weather, a nice hike, read a really good book, and found a nice campsite are mid elevation easily accessed from the highway.