|As we have discovered in our many adventures, sometimes the
best-laid plans don't always go accordingly. Sometimes, they take a turn for
the worst, and other times, things do turn out okay in the end.|
We had decided to go car camping during the weekend of March 23-24, two weeks after returning from our Southern vacation. Although I had suggested a good number of ideas, John volunteered to plan this trip, because I had already done enough to plan our vacation. He looked at places to camp in Arivaca (south of Tucson), the Santa Catalinas (near Catalina State Park in Oracle), and in the Superstitions, but he ultimately decided that we should take our expedition to Camp Verde.
Camp Verde is surrounded by a number of recreation areas and campgrounds both in the Coconino and in the Prescott National Forests. In addition to the Bullpen Dispersed Campground (the trailhead for West Clear Creek #17) and the Beasley Flat Day Use Area (near which we had camped during Easter 2001), there were a number of national monuments and state parks to visit. There were also many, many places where we could canoe, if we could borrow Bill and Erika's canoe. Mary had never been canoeing before, so we thought it would be fun for her to try it. (John had been canoeing since before he could walk, so he didn't see Mary having any trouble with it - she was, after all, a wild child.)
Unfortunately, our canoeing adventure was cancelled before it had even started, because we were unable to borrow the canoe from John's parents. Sure, they had the canoe at their house…but the paddles were in the motorhome, which had just gone in for repairs! They also did not have a life vest in Mary's size, so they suggested that we buy one for her before we take her out on the water.
But that was fine, because there were still a lot of activities for us to do around the Verde River. Bill and Erika suggested that we check out Dead Horse Ranch State Park, which they had visited only a month ago. They had very much enjoyed staying there with their motor home and were hoping to do a group camping trip - with the whole family - someday. "Go check it out and see if you like it," Bill told John. "And if you do, we'll plan to do that." To that, John agreed.
So, on Saturday, March 23, at 7:30 a.m., with the Jeep fully loaded with all of our camping gear, the three of us set out on our camping adventure. After stopping for bagels at Einsteins, we drove out of town on I-17, north to the city of Camp Verde.
Our first destination was Dead Horse Ranch State Park, located on SR 279, just northwest of Cottonwood, off of US 89A. After paying the $4.00 day-use fee to enter the park (we didn't know if we were going to camp there or not), we parked the Jeep in a parking lot, where we found a trailhead and access to the Verde River.
It was a warm and sunny morning when we arrived at the river. Everywhere we looked, we noticed that the park was already crowded with campers, hikers, and picnickers, all of whom were out to take advantage of the beautiful Arizona weather. At the river, there was a large group of boy scouts, jumping in and out of the water and creating quite a ruckus. We did, however, find a nice, quiet spot nearby, right next to the Verde River, where a small footpath had been worn through the reeds. There, we decided to sit down and take a break from driving, so that we could figure out what we wanted to do next.
Although Mary had been to the Verde River before, it was much different for her this time. As a baby, she was only interested in looking at the river and watching its movement. As a toddler, she now wanted to interact with it. (Of course, that meant that we had to keep a constant eye on her, to make sure that she didn't tumble into the water and drown. Real simple: we keep an eye on our child around water, because we don't want her to become a statistic.) She quickly discovered that, if she threw a stick into the water, the current would carry it away downstream. She also learned that, if she threw a rock (or, in her case, a pebble or a small stone) into the water, it would go "plop" and create a small ripple before it disappeared below the water's surface. That little discovery amused Mary for about an hour. Each time she threw something into the river, she would squeal with delight then say "bye-bye" to it as it disappeared from her sight. Next time, we'll teach her how to skip stones…
While we were there, relaxing by the water, John opened up the trail map that the park ranger gave to us at the entrance. Inside, we found that the park had a whole system of easy to moderate hikes, varying in length from one-quarter of a mile to five miles. There were even trails just for bicyclists. The one that caught our eye was the Tavasci Marsh Trail, a 1.5-mile long trail that takes hikers along an old dirt road to an overlook. There, we would be able to see Tavasci Marsh, one of the few fresh water marshes that exist in Arizona, as well as a wildlife viewing area. It was one of the more remote trails in the park, and it was the perfect length for a day hike. It would be three miles round trip, which would get us back to the Jeep right before lunchtime.
We drove to the Tavasci Marsh trailhead, which was located at the northern tip of the park, where the road dead-ended. As soon as we parked the Jeep and stepped out into the breeze, we could see Tuzigoot National Monument, as well as the ghost town of Jerome, which we recognized by the big letter "J", painted on the mountain above the buildings. "If we have time," I mentioned to John as we got our hiking gear together, "we should go visit Tuzigoot after lunch, since we're in the area." He kept it in mind as a possibility.
The Tavasci Marsh Trail began at the end of the pavement, on an old jeep road that was gated, barring access to motor vehicles. The trail immediately began a short, gentle climb towards a stop sign (and another gate). Once we passed through the gate (or, in this case, around the gate), the trail began to descend over a quarter of a mile towards a creek.
The scenery along the way was not very impressive. The old road did not offer anything exciting, except for two old cars that had crashed in a drainage ditch many years ago. Both of them were rusted out, and their tires had rotted away.
Just beyond that, though, it became interesting. Off to the left, three-quarters of a mile from the start, we found a footbridge, half-hidden in the thick trees that surrounded the creek. Out of curiosity, we decided to cross the bridge, to see what was on the other side.
On the other side of the creek, we discovered a narrow, sandy footpath, winding through the tall, dry grass. Eventually, it led us through a broken barbed-wire gate, which (I can only assume) was part of the park boundary. It then paralleled the barbed-wire fence as it passed through a thick grove of mesquite trees, still leaf-bare from the wintertime. The area reminded me of the place in which we had camped near Reed's Water, in the Superstitions, and John and I both agreed that it would be a nice place into which to backpack. The mesquite trees would provide much shelter from the elements, and it wasn't far from a water source.
After a while, we came to a cliff, which overlooked a swimming hole in the Verde River. At first, I thought that the trail ended there, but when I looked again, I saw that it kept going towards a hill…on top of which was Tuzigoot National Monument! Apparently this unmarked trail was some sort of connector trail between the two parks - and how nice it was that we stumbled upon it by accident!
The footpath took us around the hill and onto another old jeep road that was covered with yellow dirt, which stuck to our boots and…well, it turned them yellow. The jeep road paralleled the national monument boundary, at the base of the hill, and eventually took us out to the main road, at the entrance of the park.
Upon entering the Tuzigoot National Monument, John and Mary and I went into the visitor's center to pay our fee and to look around at the Native American artifacts that had been uncovered at the site. We learned about the Sinagua Indians (also known as the Western Anasazi), who had lived in the region between Phoenix and Flagstaff from 500 to 1300 AD. We had first learned about these Indians during our visit to Montezuma's Well in December; there, the Sinagua had lived in cliff dwellings, above a giant well that had been created via aqueducts from Wet Beaver Creek. The cliff dwellings provided them with the protection they needed from the elements during the wintertime.
At Tuzigoot, the Sinagua lived in pueblos, which they had built up on top of a hill overlooking the Verde River. The pueblos consisted of about 110 rooms and were two stories tall. Outside of the visitor's center, there is a paved trail, a quarter of a mile long, that loops around the ruins - it is called the Tuzigoot-Ruins Loop.
Of course, since we had paid our fee, we decided to hike the trail, even though it was getting very windy out there - and we certainly didn't want Mary's ears exposed to so much wind (she refuses to wear a hat). The trail took us up the hill to the ruins and enabled us to look closely at the various rooms within the ruins and the way in which the Sinagua had structured them. John wondered just how the Indians managed to get from one story to another, when there obviously wasn't a stairway between the two levels. My guess was that they used ladders, but that guess was based on the artists' renditions of what their village looked like in its heyday.
At the very top of the hill, there was a staircase leading up to one of the second-story rooms in the ruins. The room had been reconstructed to give visitors an idea of what the living conditions were like in there. Inside, there was another set of stairs leading up and out of the room, to the top of the pueblo. From there, the view of the Verde Valley was absolutely amazing. We had a full three hundred sixty-degree view that went on for miles and miles. That view, of course, had to be quite strategic for the Sinagua Indians, because it would allow them to see their enemies coming in time to prepare their defenses.
Upon completing the trail, we decided that it was time to start back towards Dead Horse Ranch State Park. It was almost lunchtime, and Mary was getting antsy. After descending from the hill, we returned to the main road and found the jeep road leading back to the footpath that had led us there.
As we approached the trailhead, near the end of our hike, we saw something peculiar floating in the air, over the town of Cottonwood. It was difficult to tell what it was at first, what with the haze of clouds that covered the sky, but after staring at it for a while, we realized that it was a parachute! As soon as we figured out what it was, John suddenly realized that there was a small drop zone in Cottonwood, not affiliated with the USPA. The operation had only one Cessna (in fact, we saw it come in for a landing, after the parachute disappeared from view), and it did nothing but tandems. "Well, that's a first for us," I said. "We've never seen skydivers while hiking before!" But I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later…
We found a picnic area near a fishing pond, about a mile from the trailhead. Unfortunately, as we began to unload our lunch supplies to bring them over to the picnic table, a cold wind picked up, giving us quite a chill. Although Mary was dressed for it, John and I were not - both of us were wearing shorts and T-shirts. In addition to the cold wind, the skies were now gray and threatening. There wasn't supposed to be any rain in the forecast, but the weatherman had been wrong before.
"We may need to bail," John said. "I'd rather camp in the living room if it's going to rain on us. I just don't want Mary to get sick again."
I wholeheartedly agreed with him - in just nineteen short months, I'd seen enough childhood illnesses to last me a lifetime!
We were not, however, ready to leave the area just yet. We decided instead to wait it out, to see what the weather was going to do. If it didn't clear up during the afternoon, we would leave. But if it did, we would stay the night.
But not at Dead Horse State Park. Although we did like the park and would not mind coming back there to do a group camping trip with John's parents, we just didn't want to camp there that weekend. We wanted more solitude than the park had to offer…so once our lunch was finished, we packed up our cooler and drove away.
The big question now was, where should we camp? There were many places for us to camp in the area, but now we had to go out and look for them.
The first place we went was Sycamore Canyon Road (FR 131), which is off of SR 89A, past Clarkdale. This is the same road we had taken to get to the Parsons Trailhead two years ago during Easter weekend, when we hiked the Parsons Trail #144. This time, we weren't planning to go that far. We were hoping to find a place to camp closer to SR 89A, at Peck's Lake…
…but we drove right past the turn-off for Peck's Lake! Instead of turning around, though, we kept going, knowing that there had to be a place to camp around there somewhere.
We drove around for about an hour, looking down side roads and sides of side roads to no avail. There just weren't any good campsites in the area. The drive was not a complete waste of time, though, because Mary was able to take a long nap! Our search was fruitless, but at least it was quiet.
Having explored much of the area, we returned to SR 89A and decided to go someplace else to camp. John suggested that we try Beasley Flat again, since we knew that there were places to camp there - we had camped next to the Verde River, about a mile from Beasley Flat, during Easter weekend last year. To get there, we returned to Camp Verde and drove through town to Salt Mine Road, which we followed all the way to Beasley Flat.
When we arrived, we found that one of the campsites had already been taken, but the one where he had camped last year was still open…sort of. Next to the river, there was a large white van parked on the path, as well as twenty or so people dressed in swimwear and life jackets. In the water, we could see several rafts - obviously, this was a whitewater rafting expedition. It seemed to be an odd place for them to be putting in a raft - why not go to the Beasley Flat Day Use Area? Then, we learned that they were not there to put in the raft but to take a woman out of the raft. Several large men were carrying her away from the water towards the van; she was holding her head as if in pain. As soon as they put her in the van, the driver left, leaving behind the other rafters and the boat trailer. The whole group waited there for the van to return, and in the meantime, they had lunch.
Although we were certain that the rafters were not going to remain there for the evening, we decided not to camp in that site again, because there was simply too much broken glass strewn about…and we didn't need to have our own emergency room visit! John took a walk by himself to see if he could scout out another site, and when he came back, he reported that he had found the perfect place, right by the water.
We got into the Jeep and drove past the rafters, to the campsite that John had found. En route, we were stopped by a forest ranger, who informed us that we were not allowed to camp there. The area had been greatly overused, and she was now forced to close the whole area to camping and other activities. A bit frustrated - and out of options - we drove away.
We weren't willing to give up on camping yet, even though it was getting late in the day. The whole area was teeming with campgrounds and recreational areas, so all we needed to do was find one that would fit our needs. We decided to check out a couple of these areas, including the Clear Creek Campground and the Bullpen Dispersed Camping Area, both of which were off of SR 260, outside of Camp Verde.
The Clear Creek Campground, located near West Clear Creek, was a fee area campground, located about a half of a mile off of the highway. Although it was a nice little campground, it did have one disadvantage: no privacy. Most of the slots were already filled with motor homes and tent campers, meaning that we would have no choice but to listen to our neighbors all night long. That was not for us at all.
We left the Clear Creek Campground and started driving towards the Bullpen Dispersed Campground, at which we hoped to find a little more privacy. On the way there, John turned onto a side road, to look for a campsite. (He wasn't all too thrilled about the idea of camping at Bullpen, so he hoped that there would be something along the way.) About a quarter of a mile off of FR 214, we finally found a place to pitch our tent! It was a small site, but nonetheless, it was far from the beaten path. "Fine," I said, getting out of the Jeep. "Let's camp here." At that point, I didn't care where we camped; I just wanted to get out of the car!
We set up the campsite and then, while Mary played around with her toys, John and I sat down to relax in the warm afternoon sun. (The clouds had disappeared along with the chilling wind; the beautiful Arizona weather was back.) The two of us shared a box of Franzia and toasted to the peace and quiet of solitude found at long last.
Later that evening, after Mary had worn herself out from playing with her toys, we put her to bed in the tent. She fell asleep almost immediately, to our delight, because we followed her not more than a half an hour later.
During the night, the winds picked up again, scattering most of our camping equipment around and rattling the tent for most of the night. The noise woke me up several times, but at least Mary slept soundly all night long.
We awoke the next morning around 6:00, just as the first light began to spread across the desert. John emerged from the tent and into the cold, morning air to try to get the fire going and to do some damage assessment. Only a few items had been knocked over during the windy night, including a plastic wineglass that John stepped on and broke; and only two items were blown away: Mary's hats! We found them later that morning, about twenty feet up the road.
The nighttime winds had also brought with them an unwelcome surprise: rain clouds. All around us were patches of ominous gray clouds, hovering over the hills in a threatening manner. Although there was no immediate danger of rain, we knew that there would be rain in the day's forecast. For that reason, we decided not to go hiking that day. Instead, we would head home early, after a short visit to Montezuma's Castle National Monument.
After breakfast, we took a short walk then dropped camp so that we could go home. While we packed up the Jeep, Mary ran around and played with her toys until she was nicely worn out, to the point where she fell asleep as soon as we started driving. She was still asleep when we arrived at Montezuma’s Castle National Monument. Rather than wake her up, we turned around and drove away.
On the way home, it started raining lightly. It wasn’t enough to break the severe drought, but we were glad that we weren’t out hiking in it.
We arrived at home early, giving us enough time to do some housework during the afternoon. With that, another adventurous weekend came to a close.
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