My apologies as we’ve gotten away from our usual ~2 week blog post drop. Things have been busy, lots of moving parts, as we enjoy our last month here in the American Southwest and plan for the next location.
But let’s get to it.
The Mogollon Rim makes up the southern escarpment of the Colorado Plateau, and spans much of northern and northeast Arizona and into New Mexico. Its a dramatic climb from 4-5,000 feet above sea level up to around 7-8,000 ft. Tall stands of pine blanket the area, a sight seemingly surprising to those not familiar with the varied geographies of the 48th state.
We cruised up to Payson, sitting at the bottom of the Rim, and continued up AZ-260 to the top, looking for a spot to cook out on the rim edge and maybe have a little campfire. We decided not to camp that evening, as a one night camping trip takes almost as much time setting up as enjoying the spot.
We found a day-use picnic spot, removed from the campsites enough that we caught some solitude as well. The sunset did not disappoint, and we stayed til last light, before rolling back down off the escarpment and driving the two hours or so back to the Valley that evening.
Later that week, we had our eyes on the Four Peaks Wilderness and climbing to the top of Brown’s Peak, the highest of the four. Four Peaks is the overseer on the eastern horizon of the Valley, and we’ve spent countless days driving around and looking off in the distance, wondering when we’d have a chance to get up there. When we camped near Roosevelt Lake several weeks ago, we were looking at Four Peaks from the opposite side. We’d been everywhere around the summit, but never gone up.
Kaivan and Lu came with us and we hit the dirt road for 15 miles or so into the wilderness, passing through dry, low desert, and progressing up into the more mountainous region. The area had been burned significantly in the recent Bush wildfire, and signs of the destruction were ever-present.
When we reached the trail junction, we split off from K and Lulu, as the last half mile is a scramble up the infamous “Chute”- a narrow passage of scree and crumbled boulders full of hand-and-foot-hold climbing. We overcame our apprehension with the steep last push and summited to find we had the peak to ourselves. The vistas stretched in every direction, unobstructed because we were on top of the tallest thing around. We could see the outflows of different waterways cutting through various canyons below. Of course they were all dry, but it was nonetheless interesting to see the funneling system laid out below us.
The way back down seemed easier. We rock-hopped and slid down the scree, making good time to the bottom of the Chute and met up with Kaivan and Lu back at the truck.
The following week we prepped for a road trip through southern and southeastern Arizona, with a number of stops on our tour. Jamie booked us an overlanding rig, equipped with a hard-top tent, awning, fridge and all the essentials to live off the grid for any number of days. It was an early birthday present for me, and I’m just so lucky to have her. She planned a phenomenal trip.
We picked up our rig from a guy in Phoenix- a Jeep Wrangler Sport with knobby tires and plenty of space for our gear. Charley would sit this one out. With all the moving about and off-roading, we thought she might enjoy lounging at a dog-sitter’s house instead.
First stop was Chiricahua National Monument and Coronado National Forest, about 3 hours southeast of Phoenix.
I’m still amazed at the vastness of Arizona, and its innumerable pockets of interesting topography.
We got in later in the afternoon than we’d hoped, so it made more sense to head down a forest road and pick a spot to camp during daylight than to go for a hike and risk setting up in the dark on our first night.
We went for a short walk on a random trail off the forest road, then returned to our spot to make dinner and relax for the evening. It was a nice campsite, with a serviceable fire pit and good tree cover. We got to cooking and setting up camp- a much easier process with our rig’s setup.
After a dinner and a fire, we popped the top-tent up and climbed in for the night. The stars slowly began to dot the night sky as dusk slipped away. We figured it’d be a good time to catch a night-shot.
One thing I’ve learned when camping is to never pass up a good sky, thinking you’ll get it the next night. Enjoy it, soak it in. You may not get another good one.
The next morning we made breakfast: oatmeal, yogurt and fruit, and a cup of coffee to wash it down. We headed back down the forest road a few miles, made a right toward Chiricahua National Monument, and entered the park shortly after. Inquiring at the visitor’s center as to a good 3-4 hour hike, we were given a few options. After picking one out, we carried on up the park road, winding along cliffside giving way to views down past the end of the mountain range. What a gem.
It seemed everyone we ran into had the same thought- we’ve stumbled on a well-kept secret. I’d never heard of the Chiricahuas until a friend of a friend mentioned it a month or two ago. So glad we had that conversation.
What the hike lacked in difficulty related to vertical gain, it made up for in difficulty due to sun exposure and aridity. It was a rather lengthy trek to be mostly sun-exposed, clocking in around 7 miles or so.
But it was incredible. It had us hiking past hoodoos of all shapes and sized, unthinkably balanced rocks sitting atop pedestals, and spotting swift lizards beneath our boots. Green lichen shined brilliantly in the sun, basking on the rock formations. It added to the whole experience. The mountains were alive.
Getting back to the Jeep around midday, we planned to drive up and over the Chiricahuas to Cave Creek, a camp spot with plenty of options to settle in for the evening. As we descended into the valley, Jamie and I felt like we were back at Yosemite. The road weaved among the sycamores and cottonwoods, giving momentary peaks of the cliffsides in both directions.
We stopped at a panoramic viewpoint that jutted just above the valley tree-line and gave us a macro view of the area.
No vacancy at a few of the campsites we checked out first. Not to worry, our rig could take us to a boondocking spot back on the forest road if need be. The third campsite had a few spots open, and we picked one out after deciding which would give us the most seclusion.
Dinner that night was chicken spiedies. Jamie bought the marinade online a few days prior to our departure, and we marinated the chicken cubes the night before. She hung in the hammock while I prepared dinner and set up camp. I was determined to get our camp shower up and situated for the following morning.
After dinner we made a fire, relaxed, and listened to some music. It was nice, just the two of us. Only it wasn’t. We had an uninvited guest that tried to crash the party. His black and white stripes scuffled in and out of sight in the darkness. Yes, Mr Skunk had heard about dinner and was wondering if we’d any scraps to spare. He seemed to be the resident skunk, harmless unless frightened. So we kept him in our periphery as he surveyed our camp, and he’d scurry away when we paid him too much attention for his liking.
I was looking forward to bed that night, in our roof-top tent, away from Mr Skunk and his curiosity.
After a shower and breakfast of eggs and toast with some rocket fuel, we made quick work of packing up camp and headed out of Cave Creek. Our destination that day would be Tombstone, circumnavigating the Chiricahuas on our way. We nearly touched Mexico in Douglas, AZ, a drab wind-blown border town.
Tombstone is…interesting. Definitely an experience. The tourist attractions know no bounds. But it was cool to see the main road, lined with continuous shops and saloons, laid out in the same manner as they were 150 years ago. We stopped at Tombstone Brewery and had a drink, chatting with some fellow tourists from Phoenix for a bit.
And it wouldn’t have been authentic if we didn’t make a stop into one of the several saloons. Big Nose Kate’s Saloon was where we ended up, and live music played some of my favorite older country songs as we ate fried food and gawked at the hundreds of antiques and historical posters and artwork fixed to the walls.
When we’d gotten our fill of fried food, beer, and six shooters, it was time to find camp for the night,. Jamie had a spot in mind, tucked at the base of the Dragoon mountains about 20 miles from Tombstone Center. The dirt road had plenty of spots to offer, and we proceeded along the path as it drew closer to the mountains. We forgot firewood, so we pilfered some scraps from fire pits along the way. But it was too windy that night for a fire, and we’re not trying to have our names slapped onto any wildfires.
That’s another thing I’ve learned about camping: it’s nice to wake up to beautiful views from your tent, but that’ll likely come at the cost of a windier campsite, as there’s no protection from the gusts.
Instead, we just relaxed a bit longer before making dinner, and whipped up a couple cheeseburgers as the sunset came through.
I went for a run along the Dragoons the following morning while Jamie made breakfast, and we took our time getting the day going. We’d be heading to Bisbee for the day, and stopping off at a few wineries after that in the Sonoita area.
Bisbee is quirky in the best possible way. I’ve been surprised at the few times we’ve been cruising along pretty conservative areas, and come upon artsy enclaves. We stopped in a bunch of shops and Jamie picked up some soaps from Bisbee Soap and Sundry. The whole city was an art scene, peppered with lively vibrant colors and bizarre murals.
We hiked a few hundred of the famed “Bisbee 1000” steps and got to the top of Castle Rock, which gave us a great look at the city from above. And we grabbed lunch at Cafe Cornucopia, full of local delicious ingredients.
After Bisbee, we headed west towards Sonoita and wine country. Stopping off at three different wineries, we sampled Arizona’s vino and decided it was pretty darn tasty. And the views of the surrounding mountains was a nice bonus.
Nearby Patagonia is home to another pocket of the Coronado National Forest, and we made our way down a forest road to a boondocking spot I found on an overlanding app on my phone. It was a good spot, with no neighbors for miles, it seemed, except for the handful of cows across the street grazing in the evening light. We made another fire and prepared dinner, taking it slow for our last night before heading back to the valley.
It was an incredible trip, full of new adventures, regions, and experiences. We’re thankful every day for these opportunities, and look forward to each new one.