Being married to a skydiver around Valentine's Day means the
same thing every year: the Valentine's Day Money Meet in Eloy, Arizona. Last
year, since Valentine's Day fell on a Sunday, we were forced to celebrate a
day late, on February 15, because John was participating in the 8-Way
This year was no exception. Valentine's Day fell on a Monday, but of course,
since John was competing during the weekend, we weren't able to celebrate it
then. Our solution? We decided to take a four-day weekend, so that we would
have Friday and Monday to ourselves.
But then there was the question of where to go during those two days. After
much research, John came up with two trails for us to do, which would make it
a two-wilderness weekend. On Friday, we would hike the
Margie's Cove Trail in
the North Maricopa Wilderness Area, and on Monday we would do a cross-country
hike through the South Maricopa Wilderness Area. In between these two hikes,
we were going to camp at the Drop Zone while John was competing, and then,
Monday night after our hike, we would return home, bathe, and go out to dinner
at Thai Lahna, our favorite restaurant.
So, Friday morning, while the rest of the world was going to work, John and I
loaded up the van and drove out to the North Maricopa Wilderness Area to do
our day hike. To get there, we took I-10 west to SR 85. Then, we took 85 south
to a point fifteen miles north of Gila Bend, to a dirt road on the left side
of the highway, opposite an old burned down general store. Since we didn't
know exactly where it was, John used the GPS coordinates from the
topographical map to pinpoint the location of the road, and once we reached
those coordinates, we found it immediately.
After passing through a gate at an old corral, we traveled for about four
miles on a good dirt road until we reached the turnoff for the Margie's Cove
Trailhead. This access road actually cuts through the wilderness area. There
is a sign posted which states that off-road travel is strictly prohibited, and
along the sides of the road, at intervals of maybe fifteen feet, there are
wilderness boundary markers. Finally, at the end of the road, there is a group
campground and trailhead parking, as well as a restroom and an information
kiosk. It was there that we began our hike.
Although we arrived at 8:30 a.m., we didn't get started until 8:50 a.m.,
meaning that we weren't going to be able to hike as long as we had hoped. (We
had to be in Eloy by 4:30 that evening so that John could register his team.
That meant that we had to be off the trail no later than 3:00.) We were
delayed by the GPS, which decided to take a dump on us as soon as we parked
the van. John toyed with it for several minutes but could not seem to get it
to work. Then, I asked if I could take a look at it. He handed it to me,
grumbling that it just wouldn't work. "Well, it's an electronic device, isn't
it?" I pointed out. "It probably just needs to be rebooted." So that's exactly
what I did: I opened up its back and pulled out the batteries. Then I put them
back in again and turned the unit on. Miraculously, it worked!
Once our GPS was operating again, we embarked on our journey into the North
Maricopa Wilderness Area. The first 0.6 miles of the trail continues along the
access road without crossing into the wilderness area. We figured that the
camping area had recently been moved from its previous location at the end of
the access road to where it is now. At the original trailhead, we found the
registry book and signed in. Then, we entered the wilderness area, sharing a
"new wilderness kiss" as we did so.
The goal for the day was to hike to the junction with the
which was at most six miles away, or we would hike until noon, whichever came
first. John noted that it was doable, because the trail that we would be
hiking was rather flat - we would only gain 700 feet in elevation over the
course of the trail. Basically, our hike would be nothing more than a hike
through the desert.
It turned out to be a very pretty hike through some of the most scenic, most
pristine desert we had ever seen. The trail took us through landscapes that
were covered with tall saguaros, lush jumping chollas, and bright green palo
verde trees. In addition to that, the valley through which we were hiking was
surrounded by tall mountains, which made the desert floor look like a "cove".
"This is just amazing," John remarked several times. He was just in awe of the
beauty; and for a long time, he walked on ahead in silence, his head turning
from side to side to gaze at the land.
Eventually we came to the wash. According to the sign at the trailhead, having
a map and a compass are highly recommended at this point, because most of the
trail lies within the wash, which branches off, making it easy to get lost.
However, some kind soul - probably the BLM ranger - had erected cairns to mark
the route through the wash, so getting lost would have been difficult.
It was also at that point that our hike became more difficult. Up until we
reached the wash, we had been hiking on a footpath that wound through the
desert. Now we were hiking through sand, which, as everyone knows, is hard
work. Even at a slight uphill grade, it was tough. But it was worth it just to
see the scenery, to walk through the narrow canyons through which the wash
cut. Sometimes, it just takes a lot of work to do it.
I do have one complaint, though. As we were walking through the wash, we found
TIRE TRACKS! Some jerk had ridden his motorcycle through the wilderness area.
(Come on, people, it's a wilderness area for a reason! Keep your motor
vehicles out of it!)
Finally, at 11:30 a.m., we reached our destination: the junction with the
Brittlebrush Trail. Happy that we had accomplished our goal, we stopped and
ate lunch and rested for a while. Then, we turned around and began to hike
back to the van. (Along the way, of course, we did stop to play - I mean, it
was a new wilderness area for us!) I found that the return hike was much
easier than the hike in, and as a result, we made excellent time getting back
to the van - we were there by 1:30 p.m. At that time, John noted on the GPS
odometer that we had hiked a total of eleven miles (5.5 miles each way).
Perhaps we are finally getting back into shape?
After leaving the trailhead, we headed towards Eloy, which was only an hour
away along I-8. Once we had our camp set up at the Drop Zone, John made a
couple of jumps while I took a nap. Then, after dinner, the 4-Way draw took
place - this is where all of the 4-Way teams receive a list of the formations
they will have to build during the competition, as well as their team number,
which also specifies the order in which their team will jump.
Although John's team, Arizona Fast Track, had broken up just after the
wedding, John still wanted to participate in competitions, just for fun. In
order to do so this year, he put together a team that included his friends Zac
and Monica as well as a pilot by the name of Jeff, who only had 150 jumps.
They competed in the Novice category under the team name "On Probation". As of
Friday night, they didn't have any competition, but the next day another
novice team signed up.
The competition took place on Saturday, but the novice teams weren't able to
do round five until Sunday morning. Their day was cut short at 3:00 p.m. when
high winds picked up. By the time I got back from Tucson, around 5:00 that
evening, the Drop Zone had basically shut down. While waiting for final word
about the weather, John and I tore down our tent, knowing that it was going to
be too windy to sleep in it that night. (We had already decided that we
weren't going to spend Saturday night at the Drop Zone, because we didn't
sleep very well Friday night, thanks to all of the noise!) Then, after John
was released for the day, the two of us drove into Casa Grande for dinner.
We made it back just in time for the 8-Way draw that evening. Again, John
wanted to compete, so he and Mary Traub put together an 8-Way team called
"Unruly" for the meet. They competed in the Intermediate category, in which
there were two other teams participating.
The meet continued on Sunday, but instead of going to the Drop Zone to cheer
for John, I stayed home with a nasty migraine headache. At the very beginning
of the day, On Probation finished round five of the 4-Way competition. Then,
John moved on to 8-Way. Unruly did very well in the meet, and at the end of
the day, they took home the gold, as did On Probation.
When John returned home that evening, he found me on the sofa, basically
incapacitated with that migraine headache. Although the headache was gone by
Monday morning, we decided to skip the hike that we had planned to do (in the
South Maricopa Wilderness Area) and go for a scenic drive instead.
Our scenic drive took us through the Bradshaw Mountains, in the Prescott
National Forest. We started out on I-17 and took the Bumblebee/Crown King
exit, which took us through the quiet towns of Bumblebee and Cleator, along a
dirt road. The road winds through the high desert for twenty-seven miles.
Then, last eight miles of this road switchbacks rather steeply. As it nears
the top and goes through a pass, it suddenly enters into a pine forest, in
which the pretty little community of Crown King is tucked away. The road had,
at one time, been a railroad, which had been built to haul goods to and from
Crown King, a once-booming mining town.
We didn't stop in Crown King. Instead, we continued along the same road until
we reached the Horsethief Basin Recreational Area, where we found some very
nice primitive group campgrounds and several trails to hike, all of which
enter into the Castle Creek Wilderness Area. We stopped at one trailhead and
hiked in a quarter of a mile, just to say that we had been in the wilderness
area. Then, we continued on our way.
Our main goal of the day was to drive the entire distance of the Senator
Highway, which started at Crown King and terminated in Prescott - a total of
thirty-eight miles of rough driving on a light duty road (only the last six
miles of it are paved). John told me that, a month before he met me, he had
tried to do this drive in the Oldsmobile. However, he had been forced to turn
around when he ran into large snow packs along the way. (That was the year we
had an unseasonably wet and cold winter, thanks to the wonders of El Niño.)
This time, he was determined to finish the trip.
The Senator Highway, though very rough and windy-twisty, proved to be one of
the most scenic drives in the state. We found many nice places where we could
camp as well as trails to hike. We also saw the famous Palace Station, which
once was a stagecoach station. This historic building still functions as a
ranger station for the Prescott National Forest Service.
It took us two hours to finish the thirty-eight mile trip along the Senator
Highway, but it was well worth the trip. We remarked that it would be nice to
return to that area during warmer weather to do some car camping or even some
backpacking, because it is so beautiful.
After arriving in Prescott, John and I decided that it was time to go home and
get ready to go out for our Valentine's dinner at Thai Lahna.