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July 1, 2007

"Crown King Me!"

Sometimes, even the best laid plans go awry.  And when that happens, you can either throw your arms up in the air and give up, or you can improvise and find something else to do so that you don't spoil your whole day.

On Sunday, July 1 - a week after returning from our adventure in Jamaica - we decided to go on a day-hike.  John had been reading about some of the trails in the Horsethief Basin area, near Crown King, and he was very much interested in doing one of them.  That said, we gathered up our hiking gear, loaded everything into the 4Runner, and set off on our adventure.

Driving to Crown King is always a fun trip, but it was one that we hadn't done in a long time.  The last time we had attempted to drive up to Crown King was during the summer of 2001, but we only made it as far as Cleator before our Jeep (which we had just bought) began to overheat.  Before that, we had taken a day trip up to Crown King while I was still pregnant with Mary, and on the way down - as soon as we merged onto I-17 - we ended up with a flat tire.  Not all of our trips to Crown King ended badly like that, though; in 1998, John and I enjoyed a great dinner there once, after a fun day hike in Sedona. 

The town of Crown King, which is nestled in the Bradshaw Mountains in the Prescott National Forest, is a ghost town.  In the early days of Arizona's history, Crown King was a silver mining town; and the road to Crown King was in fact the old railroad route used to haul goods up and down the mountains.  After many years of prosperity, the mining operations dried up, and the people left Crown King.  Today, the little community is thriving again, but its economy is based on tourism dollars instead of silver.  There are many summer homes and cabins in Crown King now, built by people who want to escape from the summer heat in Phoenix.

To get to Crown King, we took I-17 north to the Bumble Bee exit; from there, we drove an additional twenty-five miles on Crown King Road, one of our favorite dirt highways.  Crown King Road is one of those fun back roads where you can see some of the most interesting little ghost towns, such as Bumble Bee and Cleator.  It then switchbacks into the Bradshaw Mountains, to Crown King.

Everything was going very well that morning; we were making excellent time along Crown King Road, and we were looking forward to hiking in the cool pines.  Then, as we entered the town of Cleator, we found something that completely threw a hammer into our plans.  On the side of the road, there was a barricade with a large sign posted on it, stating that Horsethief Basin was closed to camping and to day use due to extreme fire danger.  What that meant was, we were not going hiking up there after all.

Now, we could have just turned around and called it a day; I mean, we didn't have to go hiking, and it wasn't like we had driven all the way to Crown King.  But that's not who we are.  Instead of turning around and going home, we decided to continue towards Crown King, because even if we didn't get to go hiking, we could at least make it a day of sightseeing!  Besides, Mary had never seen Crown King before...

Mary was fascinated by the mountainous road leading up to Crown King.  For one thing, the views from the road were just spectacular and beautiful.  She was also interested in the history of the road.  We told her about the railroad and explained to her how the train used the switchbacks to get up the mountain; John even did a demonstration, which caused Mary to giggle.  It was probably because he made "choo-choo train" noises...

As we approached Crown King, John had one more thing to show Mary.  The entire drive into the Bradshaw Mountains was through high desert terrain.  Just before entering the town limits, though, we passed through the tall rock faces and suddenly, we were in the pines!  "Wow!" Mary marveled, as she eyed the tall, stunning pines that surrounded the road.  It was indeed amazing!

On our way through Crown King, we stopped at the General Store to buy snacks and to use the restroom.  The restroom, however, consisted of an outhouse that not only smelled bad, but there was a large, brown spider perched on a web that was spun in the center of the toilet seat.  Mary and I decided that we could definitely hold it for a while.  I could handle the smell, but when it comes to spiders, I usually run the other way...

Once we left Crown King, we started improvising.  John thought it would be fun to take the Senator Highway all the way to Prescott; that would certainly be a good way to kill the day, and we were sure to find a trail to hike along the way.  It had been a long time since we had last taken the Senator Highway - not since February 2000, which meant that Mary had never seen it - so it was high time that we paid it another visit.  And after all of the bad roads we had taken in Jamaica, the Senator Highway would be a piece of cake!  (At least we were in the 4Runner and not a Yaris!)

We found a trail to hike just outside of Crown King, off of the Senator Highway.  The only sign that marked the trail was a brown forest service sign that simply said "Trail", but there were no other signs indicating the name of the trail or how long it was.  Nonetheless, we decided to hike it, just to see where it went.  We parked the 4Runner at a campsite across the road from the trailhead and immediately started hiking.

The trail that we hiked near Crown King.The trail took us through the high desert chaparral just below Crown King; it was a landscape with a mix of junipers and pinions, as well as manzanita and scrub oak. Sadly, much of that landscape had been damaged by a recent wildfire; the ground and many of the trees were charred black.  Of course, that meant that there was no shade to speak of along the trail; it was very exposed along the way and very hot, too. 

We hike about three-quarters of a mile like that and eventually came to a trail junction - or was it another forest road?  We weren't sure; there weren't any signs there to indicate what we had found.  We decided to call that our turn-around spot; there was no sense trying to keep going when it was too hot and we didn't know where we were!

We completed our short hike and returned to the 4Runner.  By that time, it was just hot enough - and the terrain was just low enough in elevation - that we didn't want to hike anymore.  So instead of looking for another trail to hike, we just kept driving.

About halfway to Prescott, we arrived at Palace Station, an old stagecoach station that now serves as a Forest Service employee cabin during the summer months.  Since we were in the area, we decided to stop there to take some pictures and to show Mary the old station, because it would be a valuable history lesson for her to learn.

An Arizona Black RattlerWhile we were walking about on the highway, looking at the station, we found an Arizona Black Rattler, all coiled up off the side of the road.  Although his rattle was silent and he obviously wasn't disturbed by our presence, we kept our distance from him and only used the zoom lens to photograph him.  Eventually, the snake uncoiled and slowly slithered into the rocks off to the side of the road; he was apparently tired of our presence and wanted to get away from us.  Once behind the rocks, he peered up to see if we were still there. He still wasn't rattling, which meant that he wasn't a threat to us; but he clearly didn't want anything to do with us.  Seeing that, we decided to leave the area to give the snake his peace and quiet back.

We continued down the Senator Highway until, at last, we reached the city of Prescott - just in time for lunch!  So what does one do for lunch in Prescott?  Whiskey Row, of course - specifically, the Palace Restaurant and Saloon.  The Palace has been around since 1877; it was destroyed by fire in 1900 but was rebuilt in 1901 then remodeled and restored in modern times.  Its history and its old western look makes it a must-see tourist stop for Old West aficionados, so it is typically crowded with travelers from all over the world.

On that particular afternoon, it wasn't crowded at all, so we were able to get a seat right away, nor did we have to wait long for our food to arrive.  We enjoyed a delicious meal and a couple of brews; and while we ate, John and I played with our new "toys": our brand new iPhones, which had just been released on Friday.  John waited in line Friday night to get his; I got mine the next day and was fifth person in line to buy one of the remaining eight on the shelf.  We were excited about our new iPhones but had no idea at that point how important those little devices would become in our lives...

As we left Prescott that afternoon, we considered looking for more adventure but decided instead that it was time to go home.  So, with that, we left Prescott and started back down the I-17, towards Phoenix...


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