For my third trip out of Phoenix, I went up Hwy 87 again, and explored some back roads that go up over a pass right by Four Peaks.
On my second trip, where I got rained on a ton, I had a challenging time finding campsites down in the desert, due to, as I call it, the “Party Zone” surrounding the city. So I did more research before embarking on this third trip. I used My Maps on Google, which works well for this. My Maps allows you to add many markings and notes to a version of Google maps. You can add a pins and other shapes with names and notes, you can highlight a certain route of road, and you can draw shapes you want to highlight areas. You can switch quickly between views – including the normal map, ‘satellite’ view, and ‘terrain’ where you can see topography. You can access and update your map on a computer or your phone. The only bad thing is that you can’t access or update the maps offline (I need to check that for sure though).
Road to Four Peaks
I found a lot of areas that I highlighted and want to go explore in person. One of those areas have some Forest Service roads going all the way up over a pass right next to Four Peaks. The roads traverses 30 or so miles from Hwy 87 over to Hwy 188 near Roosevelt Lake. It looked like it has many good camping spots along the route. I did already know that there’s an OHV area there. And that this close to the city, many of the campsites would be occupied by shooters or littered with their mess. I expected that I may have to go pretty far up the road to find nice campsites, but I was sure that I’d find some before the pass.
I drove about halfway to the pass before I found a camping spot I liked, and settled in for a handful of days. The path up to Four Peaks is a great drive. It’s one of those cool Arizona drives where you can go from 2,000 foot elevation desert up to 6,000 foot or so where you have pine trees. It’s also popular for people driving around in SUVs, trucks, side-by-sides, and dirt bikes.
One odd thing happened up there: on Saturday evening, I heard a police car siren. I looked around and spotted a Sherrif’s SUV coming down the road quickly. He was obviously in a hurry. Two more Sherrifs followed within 10 or 15 minutes. I wondered whether they were responding to an incident along this road, or if they were using the road to get from Hwy 87 to Hwy 188.
“I’m glad these people have to go to work on Mondays”
I drove up and found my campsite on a Saturday. There was quite a lot going on out there. Just people driving around and shooting (not at the same time). Sunday morning as I awoke there were two guys on ATVs at the road who appeared to be thinking about coming up the little offshoot where I was camped. They did, parked, looked around the area with binoculars a lot, and then walked off with their guns, binoculars, and tripods (for the binoculars). An hour or so later, a group of about 25 people traveling in a 10+ side-by-sides took a pit stop in my camping area. They hung out, talked, and drank beer for an hour before moving on. I heard gunshots all day long in sporadic bursts.
Monday morning I had peace and quiet for hours at a time. I wrote in my journal:
Sometimes I’m happy that other people work every week. Out where I’m camping, over the weekend I’ve heard a steady stream of noises from OHVs and guns. Now, Monday morning, it’s just me and the singing birds
Two more trips near Phoenix, and then where?
I’ll be around Phoenix for a few more weeks – until the end of March. After that, I’ll meander north. I expect to spend 6 or more weeks in central and northern Arizona. I’ve been to some wonderful places in this area that I want to go back to, but I’m sure there are a lot of other places I should go. So, if you know the area, tell me!
Where should I go?
Here are some places I’m expecting to go or thinking about going: (The ones with question marks are places I haven’t been and am not sure about)
Apache trail / Lake Roosevelt again. Maybe see the cliff dwellings there
Montezuma’s Castle ???
The Meteor crater east of Flagstaff ???
Camp along the way to Payson. Maybe same spot as I went before
Camp up along the Mogollon rim just north of Payson.
Grand Canyon.. (south rim??)
Stuff in the Navajo Reservation? What/where??? (need to research visiting/camping there)
As I mentioned in my post about test trips, I drove the Apache Trail a couple times when I used to visit Arizona for work. I’ll quote myself to share a relevant part of that post:
About two years passed between my first test trip in California and quitting my job to travel full time. Over those two years I imagined, many hundreds of times, being free of work and moseying around North America. I imagined being able to settle in to camp for a week or more at a time. I imagined sitting around relaxing, reading, writing, hiking, watching the stars, and so on. In many of these daydreams, I was in Arizona. I was out near Sedona. And, most common of all, I was along the Salt River.
There are more beautiful places for sure. And there are countless places as nice as along the Salt River. But because I had been here on a test trip and because of how I felt while driving the Apache Trail, those feelings had me thinking back to it, and looking forward to it.
Arizona – Excursions from Phoenix
At the end of 2016, I’d just crossed the border from California to Arizona. I spent a couple weeks near the border, by Ehrenberg and Quartzsite, and attended the RTR, where I did a fun little “Rigs of the RTR” photography project.
After the RTR, I came to Phoenix. I had decided to make Phoenix my home base for the rest of winter. I’ll to spend about 10 weeks in and near the city. I expect to spend half the time inside the city, and half on excursions of about a week each. Most of these will be within 50-80 miles of Phoenix. As the weather warms up in the spring, I’ll go further north and stop coming back to Phoenix.
Ok… on to trip 1:
My first excursion, as you’ve likely guessed – included driving this beautiful stretch of gravel and dirt. The Apache Trail is a 40 mile stretch of Highway 88 from Apache Junction to the dam at Roosevelt Lake. The southern half is paved, and the northern half is a well-maintained gravel road.
There are some tall tales about this area. When I told my Grandma who lives in Phoenix that I’d be going on camping trips, she said “ohhhhhhhhh, don’t go out in the Superstition Mountains!”. The Apache Trail passes through them. The tales are mostly centered around gold mines, buried treasures of which old mysterious maps give vague directions, and murders of miners, treasure hunters, and some of the original teasure owners. The biggest of these tales is about the “Lost Dutchman’s Mine”. This is the most talked about and most searched for lost mine in North America. There are over 100 books and maps about the mine. Adventurous go-getters have been searching for the mine for over 120 years, with as many as 8,000 people searching in some years. Many have died while doing so.
There are numerous fascinating stories and tales all wound together. Some of them are definitely fact. Some are fantasies and deception.
A few excerpts:
The legend of the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine centers around the Superstition Mountains. According to the legend, a German immigrant named Jacob Waltz discovered a mother lode of gold in the Superstition Wilderness and revealed its location on his deathbed in Phoenix in 1891 to Julia Thomas, a boarding-house owner who had taken care of him for many years. Several mines have been claimed to be the actual mine that Waltz discovered, but none of those claims have been verified
But – a warning – if you’re searching for treasure out here, you might wander into Hell:
Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. Winds blowing from the hole is supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the metropolitan region
Cabeza de Vaca was a Spanish explorer in America in the early 1500’s. During an expedition to Florida, he was shipwrecked on a Texas island in 1528. There he was enslaved by the Indians. He escaped and made his way into the Southwest and eventually into Mexico by 1536. His wanderings brought him in contact with the Pueblo Indians, and his later reports in Mexico gave rise to the legends of the Seven Cities of Cibola, — or the Cities of Gold. These legends were the catalyst for bring Spanish explorers and prospectors into the Arizona territory. As part of the Coronado expedition into Arizona for the Seven Cities of Cibola, Marcos de Niza traveled westward along the Gila River as far as what is now the Phoenix metropolitan area. He may have been the first Spaniard to see the Superstition Mountains.
What has all this to do with Tortilla Flat, you ask? Because of it’s location, Tortilla Flat, even presently, is affected by the search for gold in the Superstitions. Each Spanish expedition inspired other expeditions looking for the vast wealth in gold. In the late 1600’s through the Mid- 1700’s, Jesuits priests were located throughout the Southwest. Allegedly, the Jesuits had amassed a fortune in gold and didn’t want to share it with the King of Spain. The king, convinced of treachery, ordered the deportation of all Jesuits in 1767. However, before their departure, they supposedly hid their treasure in various places throughout Southwest and according to legend, the Superstition Mountain region was one of these hidden places.
In 1821, Mexico gained independence from Spain, and an influx of Mexican prospectors poured into the Superstition Mountain region. Don Miguel Peralta was a wealthy landowner and miner from northern Mexico. Reportedly, his expeditions recovered immense quantities of gold from the Superstitions in 1847 and 1848. All but one member of the expedition was killed in a battle with the Apaches at a site commemorated as Massacre Grounds, located at the west end of the mountains.
If this sounds interesting, here are some links to get you started:
A bunch of pages from a guy (team?) who believes he’s found the Lost Dutchman’s Mine, or at leas the area containing it, an area about 3 miles south and slightly east of Tortilla Flat.
My Searching Expedition
I was on a search alright. But not for gold. I was searching for a perfect campsite along the Apache Trail. For the campsite I’ve daydreamed of hundreds of times. I did little research, figuring I’d go by memory and probably just find the right spots.
Like the treasure hunters, I came up short. But I didn’t die! There aren’t many nice camping spots along the road. A couple are right near the bottom of the big cliff that you drive down if you’re traveling northwards. They’re down at the bottom of this picture:
Ok.. look at the front of the van up by the windshield. Then track just a bit to the right. See that little branch off from the road with a white and red speck? That speck was a pickup with a camper and his hood up – a sign that he was settled in camping – putting the hood up is a method to try to prevent rats from nesting in the engine bay. Further north on the road, maybe 100 meters, is another good camping spot that had a car in it as I passed. They were likely out hiking or treasure hunting. Or maybe down in hell.
These two spots are the best free campsites along the Apache trail. That’s just according to my opinion right now, which is based on limited understanding of the area. Next time I drive this road going north, if one of these spots are open, I’m definitely stopping there.
This is a shot of the road as it continues down:
See how the road sort of disappears in the distance, and turns back around? There’s something cool down there right at the horseshoe turn:
Did people used to live in that cave/overhang? It would be a decent spot, with that river right below.
I continued along, hoping to find a spot on or overlooking the salt river. Further north, on the last few miles before the dam, the road parallels the river pretty closely. I’d seen campsites during my test trips when I was just passing through this road and daydreaming. Now that I was looking to actually stop and camp, what I found is:
The campsites off the west side of the road – towards the river, are all sites where you have to pay (I don’t stay at those)
There are a few roads going east off of 88. Everything on the east side of 88 is all just normal (free) dispersed camping. The one I explored wasn’t so great. Lots of hill walls would block the sun this time of year (a problem for my solar electrical system), and there weren’t any good views for as far as I walked up it.
There are spots right along the road where you could stop and camp. Some of them have nice views. There’s a lot of traffic on this road though
I made it all the way to the dam without finding a spot that felt right. So I continued up past the dam and went to the Tonto Basin Ranger Distric Office. It’s a really nice visitor’s center, as nice as most National Parks have. I got some information and a bunch of free maps/papers, and headed over to the only free campsite along the lake (Bachelor’s cove). I stayed there for a few days, and then moved up to a Forest Service road that climbs the hills overlooking the lake. I stayed up there for a few more days.
I went on a few bike rides and hikes. My first trip up the road I camped on was on my bike. But past a certain point the road is so steep that I had to get off and walk a lot of. Later, I hiked all the way up. I also went on a bike ride over to and back down the Apache Trail. I remembered to take my GoPro! You may want to watch it at 2x speed to make it less boring.
Bonus – Ever wondered what’s inside a cactus?
I had assumed it was all just a wet mass. Sort of like a melon. Well, no. Inside some cacti are a system of sticks/trunks/branches:
If you ever go through Cambria, there is a nice park along the coast. It’s called Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. The preserve occupies about 1 square mile. It’s mostly just grass and hills next to the coastline. Along the coast there is a walking trail and a bench every now and then. There are also trails going all over the park. Ok trails for walking. Wonderful trails for bicycling (on a cross or mountain bike). I wanted to record video on my Go-Pro, bug I never remembered to move the videos from the memory card in theGo Pro to my computer. I only thought about it while riding.
I drove through much (all?) or Northern California in just a few days, from the border to San Francisco.
I’d hurried to Crescent City, CA – which is basically the first northernmost town along the California coast. Here, I would start my meandering down the entire California coast. This is the most popular and desired road trip in America. The most beautiful highway. The exclamation point on the western edge of the United States. The manifest destiny fulfilled.
Climate-wise, I got down to Northern California later than I should’ve. It was cold. So I moved south to and through San Francisco quickly – in a week or less. Once I got past San Francisco, I stopped to pause in some towns – mainly Santa Cruz and Carmel-By-The-Sea. But basically, I went quickly down to Carmel and then paused for about 5 days before going through Big Sur.
The Northern California coast is a difficult place to live in a van. There are some long stretches without towns big enough to blend in or even park off the highway. From the border to Big Sur there are no National Forests. I’ll cover Big Sur in a future post, but the National Forest at Big Sur is closed entirely because of a big fire. Normally that would be a great place to pause for quite a while and go between the coast and campsites in the Forest.
Many days I drove south in chunks of about 150 miles. That would take me a long time because I’d stop a lot to walk around, relax, and take pictures.
Avenue of the Giants
This is a really cool stretch of 20 or 30 miles. The original highway 1 was rebuilt at some point. Avenue of the Giants is a stretch of the original Highway 1 that was kept and is still maintained (and is now highway 258). The new highway runs basically parallel to the old, but the old passes through a number of redwood groves:
This first one is in Crescent City. I spent a few afternoons in spots just like this.
Bike Ride Surprise
One morning, I was parked at one of the little turnouts/parking lots next to the road that overlook the coast. I had breakfast and was doing whatever, and I noticed a lot of people bicycling on the highway. So far the only cyclists I’d seen on the highway were bicycle tourers. At first I figured there were people riding was because it was Saturday. There were so many that I decided it would be a good (safe) day for me to ride along the highway. As I was getting myself and my bike ready to ride, I realized that this was a large organized event.
There are a lot of cycling events where people pay money to ride ($30-$100), and some person/group organizes it – they get routes planned and mark them with signs on the road, they hire police where needed to direct traffic / encourage drivers to drive safely and not road rage on the cyclists / set up food stations at various points along the routes / get “marshall” riders – who know the area and route and who ride along and will help people as needed. I joined the ride and had a whole string of good luck:
1 – They were riding south, so I also went that way. 200 meters from where I started, the route turned left to go inland. That morning I had actually driven back north from the little town I slept in. If I hadn’t done that, or hadn’t driven as far north, I never would’ve seen the riders.
2 – As soon as we turned onto the road inland, it went up a big, fairly long hill. A ride like this includes a lot of old guys and people who don’t ride a ton, so I was passing nearly everyone. One thing I noticed about this ride is that there were a LOT of ride marshalls (they all had bright orange/yellow jerseys identifying them). Only two people passed me going up the hill, and the second one was a marshall. I had been wondering where the route was going. These rides include really long routes (up to 100 or even 150 miles). I’m not in the greatest shape and there’s no point in riding really far, so I needed to figure out how to get back to the van. I didn’t want to just turn around and go down the same road because there were so many riders coming up that me going down against them all would be kind of unsafe. So I rode along behind this marshall for a while and then asked him about the route. This marshall was the only person I spoke to on the ride.
3 – He told me about the route and which turns I should make to get back to the van. He also told me about the event, and explained that it was put on by a guy named Levi Leipheimer, who was a top level pro racer for many years. He said there were a couple other pros here – Jen Ulrich (a very very good rider from Germany. He won the Tour De France once or more and then was 2nd place behind Armstrong like 4 times), plus a current pro named Andrew Telansky. He said they were riding on an entirely different route than we were. Then we were talking about my bike. I have a cyclocross bike, not a normal road bike. I got this bike so I could ride more comfortably on gravel/dirt/rough roads and trails. He said there’s actually a gravel road, a shorter path back, and that he was thinking about taking this route. So, I stayed with him. When we got to the gravel road, he pointed it out for me and decided that he’d go this way. It was more of a trail than a road, and was a really fun. It was all downhill, mostly going through thick trees/forest.
4 – We were going the opposite direction of the route. Since we were going backwards, it was sometimes a little surprising or confusing for the riders that were going the normal way. (This gravel road was part of a really long/challenging route, and there weren’t very many riders on it, probably 3% as many riders as the route I had been on initially). Sometimes we’d pass a person and they would ask if we were ok, or they’d as if they were going the right direction. Since this was a tough route, the guys we were passing were quite fit, and some of them were going up the hill really quickly. We passes one group of three riders and the first one asked if we were ok. The marshall tells me “Hey, that was Levi Leipheimer!”. Then we pass another guy – this one was Andrew Telansky and was recognizable because he still races and thus had his team clothes on. We also figured that the third rider behind Leipheimer must have been Jan Ulrich. You folks reading this have probably never heard of these guys, but they are huge stars. This is sort of like going to a local pick-up football game and seeing John Elway and Randy Moss playing there (though not exactly, because they were there to promote the event).
So anyways, that was a pretty cool string of unexpected and lucky turns.
Omar and Laura
One day I was in a little parking lot off the road. There was a pretty nice beach down a path from this lot. Another van pulled in (A Dodge high top conversion van), and a guy with an accent came over to my van and asked me if I minded him taking a shower over by his van, and how far it was to the beach. I spoke with one of them a bit more later on, and then they invited me to have lunch with them. The guy (Omar) is from Spain, and the woman (Laura) is from France. They had flown into San Francisco within the lat week, and found and bought their van a few days ago. They found a nice deal: $2,500 for a good condition van with 90k miles in San Francisco. They are both world travels and actually met fairly recently at a free outdoor Rolling Stones concert in Cuba. They were quite new to van dwelling and had some technical questions that I was able to help them with. Of course, we had wine with lunch :-). Before leaving I asked to take a picture:
Omar joked a few times about being together 24 hours a day and getting a bit tired of each other. When they came over for the picture, instead of standing together, Laura claimed ownership of my van:
I traveled through West Yellowstone (again), Bozeman, Missoula, and others, arriving in Spokane. I’d been thinking about buying a new bike (well, used), and I found a good one in Spokane.
Driving to Spokane
After camping in Shoshone, I drove back to West Yellowstone. I had some mail there. I had also ordered a new micro SD card for my GoPro. When recording, the GoPro was often pausing on its own and putting gaps in the video. Although I think the card I was using has a high enough transfer speed for HD video, after making sure it wasn’t due to overheating, that was the next thing to try.
Once in West Yellowstone, I realized that the carrier for the SD card was UPS, and that they won’t/can’t deliver to the post office as General Delivery. (I assume now that the Post Office refuses since they would be rendering me service with no pay). So I drove up to Bozeman Friday evening to pick up the package before the UPS place closed for the weekend. Then I hung out in Bozeman a couple days. It’s a nice town. Next, I took the Interstate northwest to Missoula, and then continued along highway(?) 200.
200 was a nice drive. Next summer I definitely want to spend more time around here, and also along the area between West Yellowstone and Bozeman. I stopped for a night in Noxon.
I brought a road bicycle along with me. I prefer riding outside of cities – out in rural areas on roads without much traffic. This results in me wanting to ride more while I’m outside of cities, in a camping spot, likely on Forest Service roads. I went for a ride from a camping spot in Colorado once. It was a wonderful area. The forest service roads weren’t that bad, and there was a gravel road that I wanted to explore. I’m used to riding road tires on crushed stone paths – which are generally very hard packed and have just a little bit of loose rock and only a few sections of what I’d call normal gravel. Riding on real gravel roads is another thing. The road I went down had a LOT of washboarding, and had some deep/soft gravel. I went too fast down some washboard sections which resulted in a flat tire and my saddlebag attachment breaking and the bag falling off. (The bag attachment part is plastic and it was already cracked).
So, I need wider tires. My road frame could probably accept tires around 25mm or MAAYBE about 28. I want to use wider than that. I started looking at Cyclocross and Gravel bikes. I don’t want a full-on Mountain bike because I will still ride on paved roads and I don’t want to be limited by the gearing. This also meant that about half of the cyclocross bikes (which have only one chainring) wouldn’t work either. I searched the Craigslist postings for Bozeman, Spokane, Seattle, and Vancouver, and found some good options. Vancouver was a very real possibility because of the favorable exchange rate. I’d saw a bike I liked in Spokane and made plans to meet the guy to check it out…
The bike looked good, and I bought it. It’s a Felt F65x Cyclocross bike. It’s a mid-level bike. I love buying things at prices that are near or at full depreciation, and that’s what I did here. New, the bike costs $1,500 or more. The guy had a $1,000 price on his ad. We agreed on $700. The bike was practically new. He got it a year or less ago. He has many bikes, and it appears he didn’t get around to riding this one much.
Here, I’ve started moving components over from my road bike. I moved the seat, handlebars, stem, pedals, and bottle cages. Because of the angle, my road bike looks like it’s smaller than the new bike. It’s actually not, other than a slight different in the wheelbase.
My 23mm road tires vs the 33mm tires on the new bike. The next set of tires I get may be 38mm.
With everything moved over (except bottle cages) and the bars taped up.
This bike has a lot of modern bike features I’ve never experienced: 11 speed drivetrain, disc brakes, internal cable routing, tubeless comparable wheels (though they don’t have tubeless tires on them now).
The frame is definitely not as nice as the old bike (it doesn’t smooth out the bumps nearly as well), but the wider tires with less air pressure will make up for some of that.
The van was a total mess inside while I had the two bikes. I got a cardboard bike box from a shop, packed up the road bike, and mailed it to a family member to store in their basement.
I’ve went for a few rides now on the new bike and it’s working great. My knees are giving me a bit of trouble – hurting after the riding. I think some of it is due to small differences with the new bike (probably some slight difference in bottom bracket and crank arm widths – which cause the pedals to be slightly closer or further apart), and some of it is because I’m just using them a lot more and differently than I have been over the last couple years. So I need to make sure I work up my use and intensity gradually.