top of page
  • Writer's pictureKelsey

Wandering the Southwest... Part II

“You’re expected back at the Crazy Horse Trailer Park in Kanab, UT by this Friday.” Does that mean I get the job? I guess so.

Ah yes, home sweet home next to a cemetery. Nice

Time to head back with my own truck and start mapping alone. We’d always check in via radios. Having a HAM radio license was a prerequisite. We also used an early version of the now popular Spot GPS device. In the early days the company was so new that the CEO would return a call if we had an issue or question about the device they were so small... not so much anymore.

Jake Brakes Denied? :-( (For all of you non-trucker types

Yah, SOAZ, because SoCAl sucks. Not really, but after moving to AZ from California I got tired of everyone worshiping CA. I wanted the folks in AZ to take pride in their awesome state. So, as a joke I started using the word So Az for Southern Arizona. It stuck so I went with it.

You come across a lot of interesting things while mapping. The amount of mental notes you start to take get out of hand. (Remember to find out what the town remains you came across were called. Find out who settled this are. etc etc)

Wait, what? Oh, okay.

Don’t burst into flames out here. The fire department won’t be there for a while...

You’re damn right I stopped to get a T-Shirt from here.

The next few weeks of work went well. I worked hard to prove to the guys that I could be trusted. After all, there are no checks and balances during the day. If you screw around, you’ll get away with it, so you really have to just trust that everyone on the team will work hard. Over time, those that don’t are weeded out. I didn’t want to be that guy. Some days you get 100 miles mapped, other days you get 5 and we all knew that there was no reason to question it. It just means you had a hell of a tough day.

-One thing did stand out during my time on the North Rim. One day, as a treat, the BLM arranged for us to spend the night in a Government owned cabin up in the pines. They gave us a key and so we headed out to use our day off from offroading.... you know, offroading some more. We got to the cabin and realized very quickly that the key they gave us in St. George was NOT the correct key. This cabin, like many Gvt owned buildings, had a large fence around it with many scary keep out signs mentioning the FBI and the boogeyman will get you if you don’t. We however, knew, that we were allowed to be there.

So, we hopped the fence and I found an unlocked window. We’re in! We got a fire going in the outside firepit and began to relax. This cabin was amazing. It had so many rooms that it could have slept about 30-40 people so it felt empty even with the 6 of us there. All of a sudden I hear some commotion... Apparently Forest Ranger _______ was at the entrance with her gun pulled on one of us. Huh?? She was sure we’d all broken in and she had caught us red handed. No amount of explaining can make someone believe the unlikely. “Yes, we’re supposed to be here. Yes, we parked out here because this key didn’t work, yes we hopped the fence. No, we have no proof that any of this is true.”

It all got a bit tense as she was looking through our trucks. We wondered if she was going to get more... jumpy when she realized we all had a sidearm or two in our trucks. That wouldn’t help the situation. Just when she was ready to start cuffing folks a small white truck with a BLM insignia came whizzing around the corner and slid to a stop. “Hey, I’m Carl from the St. George office. We gave you guys the wrong key!!” (no shit...) In one moment and with one sentence all of the tension evaporated and we sat around the fire with the Park Ranger drinking beers. Phew! That took a turn for the better.

A common saying within our group was, “don’t wake up dead.” It seemed to almost be foreshadowing sometimes. Although morbid, I loved the little sayings of the folks I worked with. I don’t know how half of them came about, but we all know what they mean. To this day I sometimes get an email simply giving a date on the calendar and ARE YOU IN, OR OUT? You just have to respond and be up for whatever is happening on that date... OR not.

The time working out by yourself went slow, but also fast. I know that makes no sense, but one day you were thinking the that time had stopped and the next you were leaving an area never to return.

We moved on to an area not far from Phoenix next. This area of desert is explored by drug runners, but not many others. It’s actually beautiful in the right season. I’m thankful that this job pushed me into areas I would not have seen otherwise.

Sometimes we’d pound in signs. Hence the orange piece of metal.

Areas that seem barren start to show signs of previous inhabitants the more you explore. 1800’s era ranchers building dams or feed tanks to capture the occasional monsoon rains.

Rocks covered in ancient petroglyphs.

So much graffiti! Thank goodness it was old, from hundreds of years ago. I stared at these rocks for a while. They tell a lot, but I’m just not sure what they’re saying.

Old adobe homesteads.

As is the nature of this job, you had good days and bad days. You had good home base campsites and not so good ones. Here I was, out in the desert in a mostly deserted town, living in a tent under the shoe tree. What kind of a place do you think this one was....?

Still, even a bad campsite, has a better view than being inside.

The trails were sometimes easy and sometimes you needed lockers and sliders. Fresh sign for the trail ahead:

Nice lonely trail in a wash.

I came across a strange looking section of freight train cars. They looked somewhat abandoned in the desert. They hadn’t moved in a while. It turns out that most of them were car haulers. Some were even these old car haulers developed to ship cars vertically.

Are there desert deer? Yep! Mule Deer and Cous White Tail.

After a week out in beautiful Salome, AZ we moved again. Some of the group went one direction and three of us headed to Dateland, AZ. Go ahead... look it up. I’ll wait... Yep, nothingness outside of Yuma. There is a gas station and a place to buy dates and date shakes. Welcome to your new home Tim!

I slept by the train tracks and would wake up 3 or 4 times a night for the freight trains to rumble by. It was oddly quiet there between trains. Almost hauntingly beautiful. It actually opened up my eyes to give the ugly places, the middle of nowhere places a chance.

Home sweet home was about 50 yards to the right of this shot.

“Good evening, happy midnight, it’s 3am, good morning!” Said the train, every damn day.

The closest thing to a sky line in Dateland.

Still, the sunsets were amazing.

One morning we even saw this odd fellow. He was riding his bike backwards across the US. Why? I don’t think he knew, but he was sure the government was watching him. Okay then.

When we first started in Dateland the Border Patrol advised us to be armed and check in often on the radio. How reassuring.

The terrain out here went from the softest to the hardest. Silt to lava rock. Our tires paid dearly in sidewalls.


Hard and sharp.

Don’t stray too far...

Big VS Small

Somewhere in this pic is “Stretch” my coworkers LJ Jeep Rubicon. When you caught site of a friend/coworker it felt good. You felt a little less alone, a little less at risk.

Also, thank god for Satellite Radio. I have no idea how I would have lasted without it.

Some didn’t make it.

Doing this job made me rack my brain trying to remember details from my Geology classes in college. So much neat layering and stratigraphy in the world, so little time.

We finished out our mapping in the hottest flattest bits of AZ about the time summer was ending and it was starting to cool down. One thing is for sure, if you leave it up to the government you’ll go to the coldest places in winter and the hottest in summer, because GVT...

Thankfully, we were headed to Wikieup next which was a bit cooler and had some occasional water.


bottom of page