Saturday, January 4, 2014

Sheep's Bridge - Upper Verde River - January 4, 2014

Red Point - Sheep Bridge, Verde River
Been a long time since I've posted a new blog got busy, but I'm back...and with a new vehicle!  I have an awesome Black Cherry Pearl FJ Cruiser - she's my baby, and affectionately called the "Purple Submarine."  Man, Bailey and I are set to go anywhere in this thing...

So this is technically our third off-road experience in the FJ.  The first was our yearly trek to Humbug, and our second was a trip down the Maggie Mine trail - enjoyed both, but this trip was awesome!

We decided to go to Sheep's Bridge via Camp 7 Springs, or FR 24.  It's a long road - 30 miles from pavement to the turn off on FR269, then another 12 miles down what was referred to as a "rough road."  I was told by everyone that my stock FJ could make it no problem, but not to attempt to cross the river (like I would do that without help anyway...).  We also wanted to drive out via Bloody Basin Road, which I had heard was easier than the Camp 7 Springs road.  We wanted Cabot to go, but unfortunately, his pick-up was in the shop, and the "Goes Anywhere Scout" wasn't able to go...We went with a friend in a Jeep so we weren't alone. 

7:30 a.m. sharp we leave for Cave Creek/Carefree - the start of our journey.  I've been down this road many, many times, and always in a 2wd vehicle.  It's always been fairly smooth and easy - and I've been up the road all the way to the County Line.  We had some geocaching to do, so we had some stops planned...

First stop - bathrooms at the Bronco trailhead.  Bailey was playing games in the back seat and got a little car sick because she wasn't looking quick stop to let her stand up for a few, use the last real facilities, and then off we go.

We blow through Camp 7 Springs without stopping - the camp itself is, sadly, still closed.  We went up the road a bit further to our first Geocache - right at the juncture of Table Mesa Road and FR24.  Took a few minutes of bushwhacking to find it, but we did.  Then on to the next stop - a quick find at the County Line.

Refurbished stage coach stop
Now we're on a trail I've never been on.  But it's still graded.  And beautiful.    We stop to look at a refurbished stagecoach stop along the road, but it's on private property and gated off, so we just look and move on. 

Again, several stops for geocaches - having fun, trading items, picked up a travel bug that had been sitting for over 6 months.  And it's still early.  Road is still graded - completely smooth going!

Great Western Trail sign at the Junction
between FR24 and FR269
As we get up to the T-intersection between FR24 and the FR269 (road to Sheep's Bridge - also known as Bloody Basin Road), we stop momentarily to make sure we're all ready to go.  There is a sign there about the Great Western Trail - the 3000+ mile trail from Canada to Mexico.  In Arizona, the trail travels over 800 miles of back roads and trails, and we've just traversed a section of it.  I've been out in the middle of nowhere and come across the trail don't hear much about it anymore, but I find it fascinating (of course, history...).

Now, I've heard the road to the river is decent for the first three miles, but the remaining 9 are supposed to get really bumpy.  There is a brief discussion about airing down our tires, but I'm against it, our Jeep friend is for it.  Ultimately, another pickup says don't do we don't.  On we go into some of the most beautiful country - we hit Tangle Creek and the camping areas are lovely - the smell of pine, and the cool air makes for a delightful drive.  Then we hit the 3-4 mile point.

And...well, I don't think much of it.  It isn't anything more than a well minded Jeep trail.  Plenty of people on it, a bit rocky occasionally, but all in all, fun.  I never even put it in 4 wheel drive. 

And then...we pull off to take a peek at the overlook...and we see it.  The bridge...I can barely contain my excitement.  I've been reading about this bridge for 15+ years...the history, the remote location, the beauty - and it is all of those things!

Red Point Sheep Bridge
The original Red Point Sheep's Bridge was a cable suspension bridge built in 1943 by, I believe, the Flagstaff Sheep Company (I've read differing stories on this) to allow for safe crossing of the sheep that are run from lower Arizona to the Rim each year.  This area was teaming with sheep ranchers, and many sheep were lost each year trying to cross the Verde River, which, until about 5 miles further down river, is one of the last fully uncontrolled rivers left in the state of Arizona.  The original bridge structure was built mainly from salvaged materials, starting with wood and cables, and later reinforced with concrete, and was made entirely by hand - no heavy machinery was used.  The total cost to build the bridge in 1943 was $7,277.  The cabling was more than 1 inch in diameter, and was salvaged from the old Blue Bell mine. 

Concrete buttresses from original bridge

In 1978, the bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the last of its kind in the southwestern United States.  Unfortunately, in 1988, the old bridge had to be dismantled due to its being weakened from years of service and flooding, and a new bridge, of similar design, which you see in my pictures above, was built.  The only thing left of the original bridge is one of the concrete and wood buttresses.  It's a very imposing structure, and tells of a time when lots of foot traffic was seen on this bridge. 

The current bridge is 598 feet between towers, and 691 feet between anchorages.  The walkway itself is 476 feet long and approximately 3 foot wide.  It crosses high above the Verde River.  High enough that I was unwilling to travel very far out onto the bridge.  My daring daughter and my boyfriend and shotgun rider, Jon, and his girls, went all the way across.

Bailey, Gia and Jon on the bridge
Sheep ranching is no longer carried out in the area, but the bridge is used by hikers, horseback riders and hunters to gain access to the Mazatzal Wilderness. 

After thorough exploration of the bridge and buttress, the girls were anxious to look for the other key point in the area - the Sheeps Bridge Hot Spring.  Down the side of the embankment, and across a short meadow and into the reeds, is a concrete tub which people have built, guiding hot springs water down into the tub, and then it flows out the other side.  The Verde river has many hot springs along it, and in fact, this is just down the river from the famous Verde River Hot springs site, which used to have an old resort at it.  But that is for another trip...
Hot Springs "Tub"

Down to the hot springs we went, slipping and sliding through the mud.  While muddy, it was not "dirty" - it was very nicely kept, and the water was clear and beautiful.  We let the girls get in up to mid-thigh for about 10 minutes, but we still had a long drive out, so we made them get out and head back up.  It would be a lovely site to spend a quite evening if camping, and I understand that frequently one finds people bathing au natural - so if you plan this trip, send an adult in to check the tub first! 

As we left the Verde River, there were several other side trips I wanted to make, but due to time, and lack of experience, I decided to leave those for another time when I have my brother with me.  We had had fun, but still had a 50+ mile drive out via Bloody Basin Road...and we didn't know what was ahead of us. 

Three miles into our trip back towards the T intersection, I get a CB transmission telling me we have a big problem.  I stop, get out, and walk back to the Jeep.  The Jeep owner tells me his clutch just gave out.  My heart sinks a bit, as I'm not sure I can pull a Jeep all the way back to civilization.  The Bloody Basin Road is the shorter route, but we don't know anything about it.  The Camp 7 Springs/FR24 route is longer, but easy...what do we do?  We are all crawling around looking under the Jeep, in the engine compartment, etc.  I ask one of the girls to move the clutch pedal around.  Nothing.  I don't see anything...and then it occurs to me if we're not seeing any movement...maybe the pedal has something wrong.  I get in the truck, and it is clear that the issue is in the pedal itself.  It's just flopping all over the place, with no resistance whatsoever.  I follow the pedal stem up, and find that it has become detached from the master cylinder rod. are we going to fix this?  I can put it back on, but it keeps popping off. 

I explain our dilemma to the guys, and explain that it would be nice if we had one of those pins - you know, that looks like a bobby pin, but bigger (I'm referencing a cotter pin, but couldn't remember the words) - you know, the kind you use on your trailer receiver piece - which of course, I don't have with me.  I'm thinking I'll zip tie the stupid thing on there, when the owner of the Jeep says "well, I have one.  He pulls his cotter pin off, I pop it on the clutch pin that went through the master cylinder rod, and voila, we are on our way! 

I'm feeling very full of myself and glad I could fix the Jeep and not tow it out.  Little did I know how glad I was we didn't have to tow it out - on Bloody Basin Road. 

The sun setting on Bloody Basin Road
What a beautiful drive while the sun was setting...stunning views, meadows, mountains, hair pin turns everywhere (again, thanking the Lord above we didn't have to tow the Jeep - we wouldn't have made those turns). 

As we make it off the Tonto National Forest land and onto the BLM land, I realize we have about 12 more miles to go, but I think it will go quickly - the Tonto National Forest land was well graded and a beautiful drive.  Well, let me tell you, the BLM apparently doesn't have the money, nor does it care to grade the road.  Clearly, all the recent rain had made for lots of mudding fun for trucks - there were wheel ruts that were, in some places, a foot deep - lots of rocks and bumpy dried dirt.  Four miles of the roughest road we had been on all day.  I was having a blast, but everyone else on the trip was about done.  Well, except Bailey who was, of course, expecting a much rougher ride all day. 

We cleared out of the BLM property, stopped at the facilities at the Horseshoe Ranch, and drove the rest of the way out to the I-17, then high-tailed it home.

It was a sunrise to sunset drive.  Beautiful back country - the beauty of the desert was never more apparent than today.  A little off-roading, a lot of history, and some hot springs fun...a great day for all!

And let's see - I always like to end with a bit of a moral.  Hmm...always check the pedal first.  It might be an easy fix.  LOL

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