It was the coldest night of the trip, but that’s not a complaint. Living in the desert you need a certain quantity of cold winter nights to replenish your tolerance of the hot summer months.
Tonto started up without a hint of resistance, he was excited to explore. We plugged our phone into the battery operated speaker for music and turned on our Spot GPS locator. Thus completed our use of electronics for the day.
Sure a camera is electronic these days, but it seems to add, not take away from the days experiences. The geology around here is amazing. While driving on silt covered roads you look around to realize that every hill or mountain is volcanic. The igneous rocks shimmer in the sun and in summer throw off a heat akin to a heat lamp.
We kept putting along until suddenly interrupting our progress was a large Mule Deer buck. I think we were the ones taken aback. He just stared at us and to my surprise took a wary step or two toward us. He seemed unfazed and more annoyed that we were in his way. He had a mental line of travel directly through the truck so we pulled forward a bit and he deviated his path just a little as well and we went our separate ways.
The Mule Deer seemed fat and happy which surprised me knowing that we’re over 100 days without rainfall. Right when you think you’re in harsh and unforgiving terrain there always seems to be a sign from nature to say that no, it’s not harsh, it’s that you’re just weak.
Slow progress until we hit the gas line road. Sure it’s technically dirt, but there is no adventure here. Anywhere heavy equipment and teams of construction crews have been tends to extinguish any feeling of adventure.
So, off onto a random side trail we turned after a couple miles of the gloriously smooth dirt highway. A tinge of regret hits as you go back to 1st or 2nd gear and start bouncing around far more than the smooth dirt road. “It’s worth it you know, it’s worth it.” I have to tell myself for the first half mile.
Some maps showed this track and another said it didn’t exist. A brief set of human tracks walking along it and then nothing... That gives a strange feeling of being watched. Then, no more recent vehicle tracks. Had they broken down a week or a month ago and walked out? No signs of anyone to help so we moved on. I didn’t have a bad feeling.
We’d left the areas delineated as a Refuge, Wilderness or Preserve and to our delight this usually means the end of human visitation. I mean, if it’s not a named place with a kiosk, it must be ugly, right?
The desert looked almost landscaped. Perfectly spaced Saguaro’s and “desert pavement” rock everywhere.
Occasionally you would see a side track. Even one that had been long forgotten ,evidenced by having a tree growing between the 2 tracks, was still visible. Once the desert pavement is disturbed by a vehicle, even someone doing a one time donut, it’s there for thousands of years. This place has a long memory. So, to see so few tracks or any other evidence of humans was telling. I loved the sense of solitude. THIS is what we were looking for. This relatively small section made the entire trip worthwhile.
Later, the track seemed to be more well used, but still no recent tire marks. Kelsey glanced out the window and casually pointed “An arch.” So it is! There seemed to be small arches all over these hills. This one was more significant than the rest.
Enough progress. Time to stop for lunch. Tonto is doing great. We’re still running off of what fuel is left in the old auxiliary tank in back. With each night we burn more wood, drink more water, beer and lighten the load. The ride improved with each morning and each mile.
Speaking of lower weights. I took the lunch break as an opportunity to remove some more air from the front and rear tires. The front was fairly constant during the trip so the adjustment was small, but the rear had seen what I’d guess to be a nearly 200 pound reduction. We bumped the pressures down since the trail ahead was transitioning from the smooth desert pavement to cabbage sized rocks.
Eventually we found ourselves on well traveled dirt track. It had a small cement survey marker every mile. This must have been a major route at some point. Eventually we happened upon a county marker from 1918, just a few years after Arizona statehood.
The $250 fine for vandalism posted on the side of the marker would be like a $4,000 fine today.
To say we’re tired at this point would be an understatement. Some day I hope to have the time to properly explore and stop when we feel like it, but we needed to make progress to the East. Leather gloves helped to cover the blister I’d developed. In no way did this diminish from the fun and sense of freedom. We were in a euphoric place of quiet exhaustion and would rather be no where else on Earth.
Eventually we were on a ranch track that took us from stock tank to stock tank. This location had the original trailer (Shot up), a newer galvanized tank (Shot up) and a fairly recent plastic tank (Not shot up, yet). The color was an uncanny match for Tonto.
It’s funny how one longs for civilization and comfort when alone and in harsh terrain, but then wants for solitude and adventure when you get it. In that same sense, we wanted off of this perfectly good trail. It had too many tire tracks. We found what we were looking for and hopped onto a trail that showed to be a dead end on the maps. Sometimes these are, but more often that not, they keep going unless a mountain or river blocks the way. There weren’t a lot of either around here.
This track was one of the more random and weaving we’d taken. A trail tends to straighten out the more use it gets over the years as people take short cuts, but this one never got to that point. The power steering pump, my arms, were shot. We eventually did pop out and onto another trail and had 2 choices. Left to flat desert and towards Phoenix or right up towards a nearby mountain.
When in doubt, always go up for adventure! We climbed up to the monstrous elevation of 2,700 feet. The last half mile was an old miners track made of tailings and was the sketchiest thing we’d driven all trip. Just wide enough for Tonto I held my breath and told him not to look right. He didn’t slip thankfully. The little climb was worth it and we were rewarded with a 1 vehicle sized camp spot next to an old mine.
Nice work today old fella. It was New Years Eve. Time to party! Our party consisted of cracking open a cold one and taking some swigs of good Tequila next to the fire. We listened to Colter Wall and Townes Van Zandt all evening. Did we make it until midnight? Well, what do you think?