John and I had barely recovered from our adventure of the previous weekend when we decided to go camping again, this time by ourselves. We arrived Friday night and set up camp in John's favorite meadow near Potato Lake (off of FR 147). Once we had the campfire going, we popped open the wine, relaxed, and enjoyed being alone together...
We got an early start the next morning; before eight o'clock, we began walking down FR 147 to find the head of an old jeep trail that led to East Clear Creek. John said that he had walked this road before, years ago, and that if you followed the creek, it would lead back to our campsite. However, if you went down the wrong fork of the creek, you would end up in a canyon from which the only way out is up or back the way you came. He had once gotten stuck in the canyon, having taken the wrong fork, and he was forced to scramble up the side of the canyon during a storm.
With that comforting thought in mind, I followed John down the road until we reached a tank and a rancher's fence. Along the fence was a road that was overgrown from lack of use. There were still traces of tire ruts, but they were very indistinct in some places. We walked down this road for about a mile or so; and just as John said, it led right to East Clear Creek. Since it was late in the year, the creek was almost dry, making it possible for us to walk along the rocky bed; however, after a while, the rocks began to hurt my feet - the first sign that I needed new hiking boots.
We soon came to the fork, where we stopped to take a break while John tried to remember which way to go. His father had told him to take the right fork, but John couldn't recall which fork had gotten him lost the first time -- was it the right or the left fork? One would lead us deep into a canyon; the other would lead us back to camp.
The final decision was to take the right fork; even if it were the wrong choice, we would still have fun exploring it. At first, it seemed to be the correct path back to camp, so we continued onwards for another mile or so...and we went deeper and deeper into the canyon. "We're lost, aren't we?" I asked.
"We're never lost," he replied, quoting a tag-line he had read on the Internet, "we're always directly above the center of the earth."
We returned the way we had come; and when we reached the fork, John suggested that we should go back to the jeep road instead of risking another wrong turn. I wasn't going to argue with that.
We reached our campsite by ten o'clock, at which time we got ready for our next adventure of the day: Clover Creek, in the West Clear Creek Wilderness area. Clover Creek and Tom's Creek are the two major creeks that flow into the northeast end of West Clear Creek, which runs from the Mogollon Rim down to Camp Verde. John used to camp near Clover Creek with his parents for years until the bridge collapsed and the forest service had to close the road that led over the creek and into the meadow. However, visitors can still walk a quarter mile down the road and enjoy this beautiful area, which is lush and filled with wild flowers in the summer time.
After passing the old bridge and crossing the creek, John and I veered left and began to follow a deer trail that led into the wilderness area. For the first two miles, the trail is relatively flat, occasionally climbing over small ridges then dropping back down to Clover Creek; and at some points, it is necessary to cross the creek and continue on the other side for a while. Along the way, we found some nice campsites; there was one in particular in which someone had set up and arranged several chairs made of granite slabs. There was a family of backpackers camped at another site along the trail; their children and dogs were playing in the creek below.
Two miles later, the deer trail began to disappear; from there, in order to proceed, we would have to bushwhack our way through the foliage and wade through the creek. By this time, my feet were in pain (convincing me that it was time to buy a new pair of boots), and we had run out of water in our sports bottles. I made the decision to turn back. Though John knew that he had the stamina to continue, he agreed with me for my safety.
We had done all the exploring we could do by foot for the day; but, being the adventurers that we are, we weren't about to return to camp, not when there were roads that we had not yet traveled out there. John's father had told him about one called Fossil Creek Road, which becomes FR 708. To get there, we had to drive back to Strawberry and then turn west at the Strawberry Lodge. Not long after we passed the old schoolhouse, the pavement ended, and the road began to switchback down the Mogollon Rim towards the Irving Power Plant. At some points, the road was very bumpy and treacherous due to the blind corners, but the views of the Rim were worth the danger.
After passing by the Irving Power Plant, the road forked; according to the map, FR 708 continues all the way to Camp Verde, and FR 504 - a primitive road - goes to the Childs Power Plant and the Verde Hot Springs at the Verde River - definitely something that warranted our attention. Getting there in a 2WD sedan, however, was a challenge, one that entailed careful driving over oilpan-ripping, tire-puncturing rocks. Thanks to John's driving skills (which he learned from his daddy) and his enormous amount of luck, we made it - without incident - to the Childs Power Plant.
At that point, the road seemed to have ended; it appeared that we could not drive directly to the hot springs, though we had heard otherwise. Instead, we would have had to walk there. Having given up on hiking for the day, another hike was out of the question. It was also getting late, and the Oldsmobile was almost out of gas; so we turned around and started back up the road.
After getting gas, ice cream, and firewood in Pine, John and I returned to camp to have dinner and relax...but not before he tried to teach me how to drive on the forest roads. I was scared at first and ended up locking up the brakes because I was going too fast. After a few miles, I got the hang of it and drove us safely back to our campsite.
Once the sun went down, we stripped down and gave each other a sponge bath. Never mind that we were by a road and that any passing motorist (i.e. the forest ranger) would have immediately noticed that we were naked; but being naked in the woods is all part of the fun of camping! And if we had been caught, all we could really do was smile and wave. (This time were weren't caught...)
The next morning, after breakfast, John and I went exploring. We found FR 308, a 4WD road off of FR 300, near Lee Johnson Springs. At first, we couldn't figure out how this road could be a 4WD road. Aside from a few large rocks and fallen tree branches, it was a relatively flat three-mile long road leading back to FR 147. Then, at the very end of it, the road disappeared. "Where'd the road go?" John asked. By that time, it was too late to turn back; our front tires had already gone over the edge, and we were going down a hill that was probably a thirty-percent grade. The only thing John could do was to throw the car into reverse and let it crawl down the hill. "Don't worry," John assured me as I held onto the dashboard to stay in my seat. "It's an Oldsmobile; it goes anywhere!"
After we had done our obligatory exploring, we dropped camp and prepared for the next leg of our adventure: the pilgrimage to Young, down the unpaved Highway 288. John had been promising to take me to Young for a while, telling me that it was very beautiful and that I had to see the Young International Airport. We would begin on Highway 260 and stop near Woods Canyon Lake for lunch. Then, we would go south on Highway 288, proceed through Young (where the highway is paved for six miles), and continue all the way to the Apache Trail, which begins at Lake Roosevelt. From the Apache Trail, we would pass through Tortilla Flat and eventually arrive in Apache Junction. Most of this journey would require travel on unpaved roads, so it would take us most of the day to get home; but it would be an unforgettable adventure.
Highway 288 (also known as the Young Highway), though unpaved, was a very good road, one on which we could travel at a rate of forty miles an hour in some places. From the junction at Highway 260, it is forty miles to Young, so it takes a little more than an hour to get there. As we entered town -- and before we hit paved road -- John turned onto another unpaved road, which winds through a beautiful green meadow dotted with shrubs. At the end of the road is a sign indicating the Young International Airport, which is nothing more than a dirt landing strip in the middle of a meadow. Although this is an active airport, we couldn't leave before taking a drive on the runway -- a seventy-mile an hour drive on the runway.
As we left the airport and continued towards Young, I asked John why it was an international airport. To me, international airports are like Sky Harbor, LAX and Orly: huge terminals, in which travelers can easily get lost, overpriced restaurants, parking garages, taxis, etc. He said that he didn't know, but he guessed that a drug dealer from Columbia must have landed there once, making it an international airport.
Young proved to be a very scenic little town that almost looked like a little piece of Europe in Arizona, with its rolling green meadows and rustic farms. It was beautiful, just as John had promised. Before leaving, we stopped at the only bar in town to have a beer (a requirement when passing through town). I would have liked to stay longer - perhaps to walk through some of the antique shops - but we still had a long way to travel.
Thirty miles later, as we approached Lake Roosevelt, the road became paved again. John told me not to get used to it, though, because we still had to travel down the Apache Trail (Highway 88) - a narrow, winding, unpaved, and very popular highway that gives some spectacular views of Apache Lake and the Salt River. That afternoon, the road was filled with the usual summer Sunday traffic: trucks hauling boats, tourists, etc. At times, travel was slow and even dangerous, as we had to hug the unguarded shoulder to allow passage to oncoming traffic - but it was all part of the adventure.
Along the Apache Trail is the old western town of Tortilla Flat, located near the site of the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine. The town consists of a few buildings, including a post office and a restaurant/bar. Though it was packed with tourists, John and I stopped there to have dinner. On the walls of the restaurant are dollar bills (as well as currency from other countries) which were signed by patrons who have stopped there before. The menus were newspapers, which gave some history of the town and its people.
After dinner, we continued on towards Phoenix. Soon, the road became paved again, leading us back into civilization and marking the end of another adventurous weekend.
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