Earlier this summer, I spent some time in Zion National Park, and part of it, Zion Canyon, became my favorite place in the world.
I’d seen pictures and heard about it and I went in with high expectations. Upon arrival, I drove through the park from east to west. The main part of the park – which has Zion Canyon – is in the southwest corner. The drive was magic. Just freaking incredible. It was one spectacular view after another, without the slightest break other than while driving through the two tunnels in the park.
I spent the next week exploring Zion Canyon – hiking, bicycling, taking pictures, and walking in the river. It’s like an eden. The open part of the canyon is about 10 miles long and up to maybe a mile wide. At the north end it closes in with the river running between two steep sandstone walls. The canyon is rich with trees and various types of plants, and they are spaced out perfectly to allow walking everywhere you want.
I took many pictures here. I hope they do justice in giving you an idea how beautiful this place is.
SEEN FROM UP HIGH
When I imagine an ideal landscape, what I see is essentially the Zion canyon. It’s one of the small number of places I’ve been dreaming about seeing. So – rather than hurry through a corner of Utah, I came over here.
Today I hiked up to angel’s landing. I find it a bit funny how the Mormon folks gave Zion all these super religious names. But once I’ve seen it, I really can’t fault them.
I’ve heard how busy Zion gets in the summer. I expected hordes of people marching terribly slowly up the hike. But it wasn’t so bad.
Once at the top of Angel’s Landing, I walked further, down to the very edge of the cliff overlooking the canyon. I found this ledge. No one else came down for the 4 hours I spent on it. I watched as the sun moved through the sky and it’s light changed the color and appearance of the sandstone walls. I watched clouds floating through the area that darkened or illuminated parts of the canyon floor. I read a book. I took a nap. I took these pictures. And I felt wonderful.
I’ve been traveling the U.S. for a year now. This view amazed me more than any other. It was the first place where I cried from joy.
IN THE CANYON
Zion is the kind of place where if you come and spend a day walking around the canyon and taking in the views, the sounds, and feel the river flowing by your legs – you will leave this canyon feeling like you’re winning at life. It helps you realize the insignificance of whatever problems you’re having in your life.
Zion Canyon: ten miles of natural magnificence.
It’s my favorite place on Earth
Just a few hours here, and my life feels perfect.
“How glorious a greeting the sun gives the mountains! To behold this alone is worth the pains of any excursion” – John Muir.
I don’t know if he was talking about any specific mountains, but it definitely could’ve been these in Zion canyon.
The canyon is fairly narrow, with high walls, so the whole thing is only illuminated at once for a few hours each day. Outside of those hours, the sunlight is always changing. And when it shines straight on the sides of these sandstone mountains, they look glorious
This swarm of people in the picture below are in the Virgin river at the north end of the canyon. During the busier times of year, the river is like this every day – with about a thousand pairs of feet carefully walking along the slick and hard rocks under the water. You have to walk carefully on these rocks and the crowd kind of look like zombies because of it.
Don’t let this dissuade you from going to Zion. Most of the park has WAY fewer people. Only the few most popular spots are like this. But the whole canyon is just about as nice as the most popular spots.
And even in this river, with all these people, it’s still entirely worth going. There have been some other scenic places – Horseshoe Bend is one example – where there are tons of people, and where they can get distracting and annoying to the point where I don’t enjoy the view more than anywhere else. But I never felt that way about Zion. It’s so damn good that it doesn’t even matter that some parts are crowded
Driving (and riding my bike) through the park totally blew me away. I drove through at the perfect time of day. As I drove, the evening sun danced back and forth behind high cliff walls. Many other areas have beautiful spots that are spaced out. The entire road through Zion is incredible. The only sections of road that aren’t amazing are while you’re inside the two tunnels in the park.
I spent June exploring the wonderful state of Utah. It’s full of inviting deserts, lush high altitude hills, wide and deep canyons, river washes, cozy slot canyons, arches, hoodoos, and so on. SO MUCH STUFF!
I shot a TON of pictures in June, and this post will be full of them. I’m also experimenting with dumping in some of the captions I’ve written over the last month for my Instagram posts.
MAP OF TRAVELS
I started out June down in the southwest corner of the state, in Zion, and ended in Grand Junction, just across the Colorado border.
Wow! So many fucking kids. What’s in the water here!?
TOWARDS BRYCE CANYON
I camped for a few days in Dixie National forest between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. It looks like there are many good places to camp around here.
I shot these pictures in Dixie National Forest, east of Cedar City. It’s not that far from Bryce Canyon National Park – which looks incredibly different.
From where I camped for only one day, I saw 5 or 10 deer out of my van windows. There’s a meadow nearby that I walked over to in the evening, and there were a few different groups of deer there – about 40 in total.
I had wonderful songs from birds. And I had wonderful sunlight shining in through these aspen trees.
I met a Peruvian guy up here while looking for a campsite. He lived in an old style wooden trailer – basically a covered wagon. The wagon appears to sit there full time (he had no vehicle). He works up there, herding sheep. He’s been in the U.S. for 10 years, but doesn’t know much english, because he’s spent those ten years alone in places like this. I saw a video once about these sheep herders on Youtube, and it was really interesting. The herders are basically all guys from Southern America. They stay up in the National Forests full time, in these old style trailers, or sometimes in cabins. The sheep owners bring them food and water, and move them and the trailers to other locations. I would’ve taken a picture of him and his wagon, but he didn’t want me to. .
I love this kind of forest
Aspen trees all over the place. Some old dead trees that have been on the ground a long time
Free of thick plants or bushes, so you can walk everywhere
Birds singing their songs, flying around, and keeping their eggs warm
Deer meandering through and looking relaxed
Sunlight filtering in through the Aspen leaves
The air clean and a little bit sweet smelling
A breeze blowing through and making nice white noise as it filters through the leaves
Nowhere else to go. Nowhere else to be. No worries. No crowds of people, or traffic, or noise, or work deadlines, or chores to do.
The world simplified down to this area and it’s beautiful balances of plants, animals, sunlight, and weather.
Thoughts while driving on a road like this and looking for a campsite:
The day is full of possibilities…
Will I find a wonderful place to camp?
Will the roads be good for riding my bike?
Will there be nice sunsets?
Will I see deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, BEARS?
Will be it windy, rainy, cold, hot, cloudy?
Will there be birds singing songs for me? (well, not for me, but I’ll still get to enjoy them)
Will there be a cell phone signal to keep me connected to the parts of the world I wish to be?
How long will I feel like staying before I have the urge to move on?
DRONE SMASHED TO PIECES!
While I as on my way to the campsite above, I stopped to fly my drone. And while flying, it turned over past 90 degrees sideways and dropped like a sack of rocks. It fell from about 80 feet in the air and crashed into the ground really hard. As soon as I saw it tip over like that, I figured that was it – no more drone for me.
The plants weren’t all that crazy thick where this happened, but it still took me a while to find the drone. As expected, it was smashed really bad. The camera and gimbal broke off entirely and I didn’t find them. One of the arms was bend really bad. The body was all smashed up and cracked open. I’m sure a bunch of the electronic connections inside were broken. I gathered up all the pieces that I could find and threw them in the trash in the next city.
So – what went wrong? I didn’t crash it into a tree or anything, it just turned over and fell from the sky. I had made some adjustments to the controls sensitivity recently, but I thought they seemed conservative, even within the ranges available. The drone had been drifting more than usual during this flight – downwards, and I probably should’ve stopped flying it to recalibrate it. I’d been flying it for about ten minutes, and when I pushed the control knobs to have the drone turn and fly quickly, it tipped.
There are many different things that could’ve gone wrong, but I don’t know which did. It could’ve been that my controls adjustments were actually too much. It could’ve been that it got too far out of calibration. One of the arms was bent from crashes that occurred while the previous owner had it and it’s propeller blade often hit the arm while flying. That propeller could’ve broken. A motor could’ve failed. There could’ve been a short in one of the many wire and connections. Who knows. But… no more drone.
Daaaaang. I really would like to get another – a Mavic Pro, which are small enough to carry on hikes. Flying the drone and editing the videos was a lot of fun. But…. I don’t like the idea of spending ~$1,300 on something that can suddenly fall out of the sky and smash to pieces. There is crash replacement insurance available at a reasonable cost. I just still don’t feel like spending the money on it right now.
For a couple weeks after, it sucked when I saw a place that would be awesome to use a drone. But, you know, this kind of “sucks” is entirely imagined in my own head… It’s someone thinking “oh man, damn it, it would be so cool to drive a Ferrari right now, this sucks!”
BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK
I spent 4 or so days in Bryce Canyon. I don’t like it anywhere near as much as Zion.
In Utah, there are many striking landscapes. Many of them are from water carving out rocks and dirt into beautiful landscapes and shapes. Zion has hard sandstone rock, and Bryce has a softer, more dirt-like material. So in Zion you have these flattish edges of hard rocks that I find beautiful. In Bryce, it looks more like dirt that has eroded, and I think it’s ugly.
I grew up in the midwest, where plants can grow everywhere. If a yard or some land has bare dirt that then erodes, it is a sign that the land is not cared for, or that it’s owner is incompetent, and his precious topsoil is washing away.
GRAND STAIRCARE ESCALANTE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Excalante National Monument is huge. I mean HUGE. Zion National Park is 230 square miles. Escalante is 2,900 square miles. Plus, it’s surrounded on all sides by federal land for hundreds of miles. And basically no one lives permanently in Escalante N.M. This is the most remote part of Utah, and maybe of the entire lower 48 states.
There are some awesome places in Escalante, particularly along a road called Hole in the Rock Road. There are arches, slot canyons, big interesting rocks, and a wonderful hike down a canyon through what’s called Coyote Gulch.
Hole in the Rock Road follows a trail taken by Mormons on their way to found a new city on the east side of the Colorado River. 200 people set out with 83 wagons and 1,000 head of livestock. Crossing the river turned out to be very difficult. The river has cut a ~1,000 foot canyon through the rock. They found a place where the canyon wall was cracked and spent months blasting it open and making a very rough and very steep path down to the river. They went on and formed a town called Bluff, where now about 300 people live.
I really wanted to go to Coyote Gulch, which contains the Jacob Hamblin Arch. Coyote Gulch is basically at the end of Hole In the Rock road, 40 or 50 miles south of the highway. There was a big forest fire nearby, making a lot of smoke, and I was concerned that the smoke appeared to be going down that way – basically straight south along the road. At the visitor’s center in Escalante, I asked about it. The guy said that the smoke clears out about a third of the way down the road.
Slot Canyons – Tunnel and Zebra
After setting off town the road, the first place I stopped was where a trail leads to two slot canyons. These were fun.
While I was exploring and photographing these slot canyons, it got really, really smokey. It was clear that the guy at the visitors center was either wrong or has very perceptions of smoky vs clear. I could also see all the smoke floating straight south, in the same direction as the road, and too all the areas I wanted to go camp and hike and photograph. I don’t like the smoke, and it basically ruins any landscape pictures of things more than 20 feet away. So I decided to head back up to the highway and go northeast and get out of the smoke. I expect that I’ll come through Utah again and that I’ll make it all the way to the bottom of this road.
DRIVE THROUGH THE REST OF UTAH
It was getting really hot in Utah, and I decided to get over to the rockies sooner rather than later. So I drove a couple hundred miles from Escalante to Colorado in 2 or 3 days.
I drove through Capital Reef N.P., and it looks good. I was considering going down to Moab and Arches, but decided that I might as well go up into the mountains and leave those places for some later and cooler time.
Various Driving Pictures
Hike near the Escalante River
I hiked up along some creek that meets the Escalante right by hwy 12. There are two neat things there: various native rock art, and a big arch.
A hundred handprints. These were up along a rock wall and were visible from quite far away if you knew they were there.
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)
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.
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:
After leaving San Diego, I camped for a few days a the south entrance of Joshua Tree National Park. It was wonderful to get out of the city again and slow down.
These were really simple days. I didn’t do a whole lot and I don’t have much to say about it. I have some pictures to share though.
It’s super easy to camp right by the South entrance of Joshua Tree. I believe it’s BLM land. There are many camping spots. I imagine it may get busy there during other parts of the year. It smelled funny where I camped. Not exactly bad. Just weird. Maybe this was from Mesquite trees?
I went for a hike on Christmas Eve Day, to Lost Palms Canyon. It is an oasis containing over 70 palm trees. Wow!The hike was extra interesting because it had rained overnight. The trail followed some creek beds. In some, there was flowing water (usually about 1/2” deep). I wondered what kind of rain it takes to fill the whole width of those creeks. Probably a ton. I can’t imagine that happening often, but obviously it has at some point(s) in the past.
Most of the action in Joshua Tree (hiking trails and such) seems to be in the north half of the park. The guy at the visitor station said this is because it gets hotter in the south half and they don’t want people dying out there in the summer.
There are much more interesting plants in Joshua tree than what I’ve seen in most desert areas. I didn’t see any full size Joshua trees. Just tiny little baby ones that were half dead. I guess there are more in other parts of the park. The park consists of an area where two separate deserts meet each other. One on the south side of the park, and the other on the north.
I went on a bike ride one day. The road into the park has a very nice gradual climb, but also an annoyingly rough surface. It was so foggy I in certain spits that I turned back early. It was still a wonderful ride.
Next up, I’ll go camp near Ehrenberg with some people, and then on to the Rubber Tramps Rendezvous.
After a 4,000 mile trek through what is now the United States, and being attacked by and killing many grizzly bears, and fending off attacks and thefts from some natives, and receiving lifesaving help from others, after 862 days after leaving St. Louis, the “Corpse of Discovery” team lead by Lewis and Clark set eyes on where the Columbia river meets the Pacific ocean. Clark wrote in his journal: “Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy!”. Actually, he wrote:
Ocian in view! O! The Joy!
Surprisingly, none of the 59 total members of the Corps of Discovery died from the journey. One of them did die, but it was probably from appendicitis. I bet he would’ve died wherever he was. No one died from bear attacks, boat crashes while navigating rapids, indian attacks, or falling off cliffs. That’s incredible.
I ended up following a similar route. I went from St Louis out to Astoria on a meandering path. And I didn’t die once! My meanders were to see wonderful places, to travel by back roads instead of the straight interstates, and to stop to see friends. Even with most of my days committed to leisure, it only took 90 days. In just a couple hundred years, man has created amazing technological marvels: roads, internal combustion engines and vehicles, refrigerators and little propane stoves, handheld computers with maps of the entire country including satellite images and elevation profiles, etc. etc. Wow!
I drove out west from Portland to go on a hike with a guy I know from the internet. He took me along a river he fishes regularly. We did quite a bit of wading through the river and got back to a waterfall that is only accessible by doing the wading. Then I continued west to the coast and stopped first at Cannon Beach. I did very little research and was heading down towards Oswald West State Park, but I saw the huge haystack rock from highway 101 so I stopped in Cannon Beach.
I also went up to Astoria. These are near/from the Column in Astoria:
A Chinook canoe. The natives out here had figured out how to make canoes much better than were used in much of the world.
Corp of Discovery Winter Camp
While in Astoria, I went to the place where Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery spent a winter. They built a fort here but the one in the picture is a recreation. There is a small museum there with info, movies, and some period or recreation objects similar to what the expedition team had with them. I suspect not a single thing is from their actual trip because they didn’t make any effort to save any of the gear and actually sold or gave much of it away.
A picture of one of their journals
They carried powder to make ink with
Unfortunately for the Corps of Discovery, they arrived in November and the weather was absolute shit up until they left the following spring.
Camping With Friends
My friends came out for the weekend.
We went to the beach near the campsite in the morning, and my buddy didn’t change from the warm clothes he’d slept in. 😀
We went for a hike in Oswald West State Park – on the Falcon Cove trail. It was a pretty nice trail with very nice views at the end.
Then we went to the beach! There’s a really nice beach in Oswald. Ocean in View! Oh! The Joy!
I went out to Olympic National Forest for a weekend of camping and hiking with my friends from Seattle. I drove out there on a Friday morning, and they came out in the evening after work to join me. I had been planning to do some research and see if I could find what look like good spots for dispersed camping. My friends have a small car so I wanted to find a good spot up a forest service road their car could handle. Come Friday morning, I had failed to do any research. So I left town worrying that I wouldn’t find a good place.
I called a few different National Forest places hoping to connect with a person who could give me good advice, but didn’t have much luck. I’ve found that the National Forest folks I speak with either know EVERYTHING I’m looking for, or not much at all. There hasn’t been much middle ground. This time, I spoke to three different people and got three strikes in a row. So I picked a road that is paved well into the Forest and tried my luck. I ventured off on a Forest Service road. It was in good condition, but there were no good camping spots. There were only a few areas where you could pull off just barely to the side of the road. I encountered a couple sitting and relaxing next to their Vanagon parked in this manor and asked their advice. They informed me that I wouldn’t find what I was looking for on this road. I didn’t want to spend all day driving around FS roads, so I went back down to a pay campsite and got a spot.
Leftovers from dinner with a friend in Seattle:
Big trees near our campsite:
We went for a hike on Lena Lake Trail. The trail goes up to Lower Lena Lake, and then Continues into the National Park to Upper Lena Lake. We just went to the Lower Lake. There were a lot of really cool campsites at the lake. There are also more at upper Lena. This would be a good place to hike up to and camp.
We also went to another lake. The name escapes me. This one was just a few minute’s hike form the F.S. road. It’s a wonderful place to spend a day.
After my friends headed back, I explored a bit more. I went up another FS road and found more of the same – no good campsites. There were some good sites on the roads that did not go uphill. I stayed in those one more night and then drove back to Seattle.
After driving through Yellowstone, I went Camping and Hiking near Cooke City in Montana. I camped north of the highway. If I remember correctly, I took the Lulu pass road up into the mountains. You don’t have to go far at all to get to wonderful campsites.
Here’s where I camped. Not a big fancy campsite, but I don’t need one. There wasn’t much traffic on this road, so it wasn’t so bad being right next to it.
There sure are a lot of flowers here!
I got up around 4:30am to walk up a hill near where I camped to set up the GoPro on a tripod to take a time lapse of the sunrise. I don’t know why I keep doing this around here – there’s never any clouds in this region in the morning so there’s not really any sunrise to capture.
Later that morning I went for a hike
In the last post, on Yellowstone, Last post I said Beartooth pass and big views were up next.. Whoops.. now they really are up next!