Trip to Northern & Central Arizona, 26 - 30 September 2010
On Sunday afternoon, 26 September 2010, I left in my SUV and headed to the mountains. About an hour from home I realized my cell phone battery was low. I attempted to charge it and the charging cord fell apart. I made a brief call to my husband to tell him I would not be able to call him very often during my trip. He was originally going to go with me but his health forced him to remain at home.
I decided after 5 hours to stop for the night at Clint’s Well and slept under the stars among Ponderosa Pines in a Coconino National Forest campground. All night I heard elk bugle, or call. It is the rut, or mating season for the Wapiti, large relatives of deer. Large male specimens can reach 500 kg or 1100 pounds, and 1.5 m or 6 feet at the shoulder.
I got up before dawn and as I ate breakfast I watched the temperature drop from +1° to -1°C or 33°F to 31°F. Hmmm! Elevation 2133 meters or 7000 feet above sea level.
Soon I was on the road to the Grand Canyon and in 2 hours arrived there and set up my tent in site 226 in Mather Campground. Junipers, oaks and Pinyon pine surrounded me. Noisy ravens flew overhead and a pretty blue jay flitted by. Daytime temperatures during the trip averaged 33° or 91°F.
I toured the Rim at various look-out points. I bought postcards. I attended a talk on the colorful Art of the National Parks. I took over 100 photos. Elevation along the rim averages 2210 to 2280 meters, 7160 to 7460 feet. The Colorado River at Phantom Ranch (the goal of hikers down into the canyon) is at 777 meters 2550 feet which is 1400 meters, 4600 feet below the south rim starting point. Access to Phantom Ranch is by foot or mule or rafting in from up-river. There is a long wait for reservations for the rustic experience. Hiking down and up is for only the very fit and well-prepared. The Park Service is mightily tired of removing human remains from the Canyon of overly optimistic and ignorant hikers. Warnings are everywhere and permits are required for back-country hiking. (So they know who your next-of-kin are.) The Grand Canyon is in a very arid and unforgiving climate. I used up my small 500 mL bottle of water on a 3 hour shuttle tour (that was twice as long as expected) and even though I was only briefly walking around at viewpoints and riding a bus, I got powerfully thirsty.
I cooked a light supper at my campsite and as I reached for a water bottle, a bee stung my thumb. It swelled, but thank goodness I am not allergic. The presence of annoying bees made me decide to spend only a single night at the campground. I was much safer in remote areas!
Campers next to me invited me over to their campfire for the evening. Dimitry and his girlfriend were from Toronto but were Russian (or Ukrainian - I’m unsure) immigrants. We discussed the differences in camping in the US, Canada and the Ukraine. They shared food and a bedtime cup of tea. Nice folks!
Next morning found me at the Rim taking sunrise photos. I left the Park driving east and then south again. I visited the Wupatki Ruins which were inhabited by Pueblo people for a few generations after the year 1100 AD. It is at 2030 m or 5500 feet above sea level in arid grassland but in those olden days it was better watered.
29 km or 18 miles south I drove past the elegant Sunset Crater, a volcano that erupted around 1080 AD. The name comes from the reddish cinders left at the cone. A grotesque lava flow field parallels the road for awhile, looking like it just froze in chaos last week. Pine trees and wildflowers sprout in the fertile volcanic soil. It is at 2450 m or 8240 feet above sea level.
I continued on toward another National Park but got there near closing. So I back-tracked to camp out in the Coconino National Forest again. I chose a level site off a 4 wheel drive “path.” Built a fire, ate supper, read a book and fell asleep under the stars again. A good night’s rest at 2040 m or 6690 ft above sea level.
At 8 AM I was again at the gate of Walnut Canyon National Monument to tour the cliff dwellings there. People lived there about 150 years starting about 1100 AD. Very steep, narrow canyon but safe, dry homes.
From there I headed toward home again. I stopped in Payson and Show Low, AZ shopping for a new wood-burning stove. The basic stove costs twice what we paid in 1988 for our current stove. This did not please me.
My slow progress found me still 4 hours from home near nightfall, so I found a pay phone and called my husband to let him know I would spend another night out camping. I traveled far out Augur Canyon Road, west of Nutrioso in the Apache National Forest. I had driven past 3325 meter, 10912 ft high Escudilla Mountain (means “bowl” in Spanish) which already had fall leaves turned yellow on its slopes. I camped at 2590 m or 8500 feet elevation in a mature spruce-pine forest on a dead end trail/road. After supper I sat to read my murder mystery by my campfire and began to feel a little spooked. After all, the fictional serial killer murdered his victims in rural Arizona! Not the smartest novel to be reading alone in rural Arizona! (Rattlesnake Crossing, by J.A. Jance) Next time I’ll bring lighter reading.
At 7:00 next morning as I drank my coffee I heard a diesel engine growing steadily louder. To my utter surprise, since I was tucked away in such a “remote” spot, a bulldozer arrived! A National Forest employee was building a new road to connect to another minor forest road below us. I guess to allow easier access in case of wildfire. So he passed above me and began to knock down trees while I broke camp. How bizarre! I thought I was so remote.
I resumed my leisurely travel through magnificent forest scenery. I stopped to wash in the pristine and icy cold East Fork of the Black River. I went for a short hike (photo above) among the aspens and spruce at the nosebleed elevation of 2773 m or 9100 ft near Hannagan’s Meadow.
After slowly driving 4 hours down the famed twisting Coronado Trail, I arrived home at 3 PM after a 1490 km or 926 mile trip. Spending only about $100 on gasoline and one campsite fee (the other 3 nights under the stars were free.) I did get my husband a Grand Canyon souvenir coffee cup and I did buy a pile of postcards. How could I resist?
I saw elk (3 cows, 2 calves and one magnificent bull with a huge antler rack), 2 deer (one doe and one buck with a great set of polished antlers), and a flock of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep (several young rams and ewes and a couple half-grown lambs.)
Overnight lows rose from -1°, to +7°, 8°, and finally 9°C. Or 31°, 45°. 45° to 46° Fahrenheit. I was never cold. In fact record daytime high temperatures were set during my entire trip.
It was a quick but nice little adventure. Happy Birthday to me.