Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Crown King Adventures - Memorial Day Weekend - Day 1

Horsethief Lake, Horsethief Basin, AZ
Wow - what a weekend!  I don't even know where to begin - so much fun, so many off road miles - so many places to explore!  And Paul and I did it all!  Non-stop bouncing around in the Big Bad VooDoo FJ this weekend - and I even got to drive it!


Paul and I decided to have a slightly later start than normal and to be lazy - so we didn't even really head out until around 9 a.m.  Stopped for fuel, stopped for socks (don't ask) and creamer.  Then we were on our way.

The road up the back way to Crown King starts at Lake Pleasant/Castle Hot Springs Road.  Right after we turned off on to Cow Creek Road, we saw a little gila monster.  Maybe a foot or foot and a half long - and we didn't get to the camera in time - but it was the first time I had ever seen a gila monster in the wild!  And apparently it was Paul's first time too!  He was faster than I thought he would be - and definitely cute!  I really wish I had grabbed a picture - but oh well.  Some things are better as memories anyway...

As Paul and I went up this very familiar stretch of road, having been up to Humbug and Columbia several times - individually and together - the road was mostly boring until we passed the little residential community where apparently spelling is not required.  

Redneck with a "Riffle"

Now - I don't know what a "Riffle" is - but I can guess.  And I've come upon some awesomely funny signs up here around Columbia and the likes - if you look back through my old posts you'll find the Mortar Bikers photo.  One of my favorites.  But now I have the Redneck With A Riffle too!  

We left the Redneck alone and went along, talking about how the CK rock is always further along than we think it is.  But eventually, we came to the rock - took the obligatory photo (the rock used to be incredibly colorful, but not anymore), and went
The infamous CK Rock
on our way.  During all of this, we were following behind a couple of side by sides.  Paul and I watched in horror as they threw beer cans out of their side by sides, and then came to a complete stop.  We though, because we were right behind them, that they were going to get out and pick it up - but no.  They just stopped to talk.  Bunch of idiots littering like that - and they were rude on the trail all day long.  This is why the North side of Lake Pleasant (the park portion anyway) is now closed for an undetermined amount of time.  Because people can't pick up after themselves, or - in this case - simply don't care.  A small group ruining it for those of us that play by the rules. As I'm writing this, I'm hearing of issues at the Hassayampa Box Canyon and threats to close it off as well...another of my favorite playgrounds - and every time I go up there, there is trash, fires left burning, you name it...

Anyway, we went around them (after I took a picture of their license plate) and onward we went.  We had stuff to see and explore!  As we are climbing up into the Bradshaws, we are behind a group of Jeeps and one 4 Runner.  All of the Jeeps are taking the obstacle bypasses, and the 4 Runner is occasionally taking the obstacles.  Paul takes the obstacles.  Well, most of them anyway.  No squeaks from me - I was having a grand old time bumping up these obstacles that I've been climbing with quads for years.  In fact, the first time I ever did the back road to Crown King was in the mid-1990's.  It wasn't as beat up as it is now - and I had heard that the road had been graded in 2013 or 2014 - but the road on this day was as rough - if not worse - than I remembered!  And SOOOOOO much fun!  The Jeeps finally have us pass them once we get past the worst of the lower obstacles - and then we come upon the new mining claim just before Ft. Misery.  

Looking up the creek at the unwelcoming bypass,
which Paul and the FJ traversed like a champ!
This mining claim is new to me.  It was not here the last time I went up the back road to CK (which was, I think, 2011).  The road isn't where it is supposed to be...this dredging operation is apparently somewhat famous due to Tony Beets of "Gold Rush" fame...but it has blocked off the regular road and you have to drive up the river bed (unfortunate) - high clearance and 4 wheel drive is definitely necessary here.  The operation's caretaker came down to talk to another Jeep, two motorcycle riders and us.  He told us we'd have no problem in the creek bottom - but the motorcycles might...and, we found out later, he let them bypass and go up the old road.  We had to go up the creek bed - with the Jeep following behind us.  But we made it - a few little squeezes between some boulders, but nothing major - just a bunch of "baby heads."  (That's what I call head-sized rocks - I know - weird and slightly demented)

Fort Misery Ruins
We continued up through Kentuck's Cabin area, and on to Fort Misery - periodically stopping to hike into the brush to look at some item or man-made thing I saw on Google Earth.  Thank goodness for GaiaGPS and the ease with which I can mark waypoints and routes - made it SO easy to find all the things I wanted to see!  

As we begin to climb up towards the FR711/FR192 merge, we come across the motorcycle riders - clearly one had fallen - one of his back taillights was broken.  Paul spoke to them for a bit - they seemed to be okay, and we talked them through how much further they had to go - and unfortunately, Paul and I thought the worst was behind us - and technically it probably was - but it was far from smooth sailing up the switchbacks past Orobelle - which used to be a breeze to drive - and was probably going to be an absolute bear for the two of them.  But we left them there and continued on with our trail climb.  

We turned onto the Orobelle Road - and we saw my old familiar friend - the "Rock Lobster."  There was a part of me that was SO happy it was still there - I have a love/hate relationship with this obstacle.  I've taken it a number of times on a quad - and the first time or two was a mess.  In fact, that's how it became known by me as the Rock Lobster - I was having trouble saying "rock obstacle" after one of these runs and out came Rock Lobster.  And it stuck.  

So as Paul and I were looking at this obstacle and trying to decide which would be best - straight on or to the right - I decided to get out and video Paul going up over this.  I'm so glad I did - look at those tires popping right up and off the road!  Front passenger, and then back passenger - Makes for one sexy truck, let me tell you!!  While my Calamity Jane could have done this obstacle with some careful guidance, she would not look quite this awesome!  

Orobelle Ruins
So over the Rock Lobster Paul went, and up to Orobelle we drove.  I'm always so disappointed in Orobelle - each time I go it looks less and less like Orobelle.  From the first time to Orobelle in the early 1990's (in a 2wd Toyota, no less) to now - it doesn't look anything like it used to.  There used to be recognizable buildings, windows, walls.  Now - you have to search for foundations and wood beams.  I know that time takes its toll on all, but Orobelle feels especially hard hit to me.  Nothing is recognizable except the old tank on the side of the mountain.  

Orobelle from above
We go through the creek bottom, mentioning again to each other how much rougher the road is than we remember it - and worrying a bit about our motorcycle trail buddies from earlier.  We haven't seen them again...did they make it?

We start bouncing up the switchbacks to head up and above Orobelle - beautiful views, and still lots of fun things we could go see.  We stop periodically to take in the views and to just enjoy our day - the weather was beautiful - high 60's, low 70's, and we were almost in the pines!  We continue on until we can see the Tunnel Mine - both of us have been there before so we didn't go again - but Paul took a photo from above.  We also decided not to head over to the Savoy Mine - another place I would love to explore some day, but it's private property, so there was no real reason to go...I've been over there a few times and the gate is never unlocked, but there is always activity down in the valley - so in case of "shoot first ask questions later" types of folks, I have just not tried...

The Tunnel Mine
As Paul and I finish up the Orobelle Road, and we exit onto the Senator Highway headed in to Crown King, we have the windows rolled down, the pine scented air and cool breeze blowing through the truck - what a glorious afternoon spent with my guy!  

As we pull in to Crown King, we stop at The Mill for some well deserved lunch!  Wonderful food - and fun objects to look at - I haven't been to The Mill since 1998 for the first Ghosttowns.com Rally.  The food was excellent, and Paul and I had a ton of fun looking at all the old gadgets - the old Wurlitzer Juke Box, an old radio, old fans, and a cool old F&E Check Protector (see HERE for information on what the Check Protectors did).  

Old Wurlitzer Jukebox
After lunch, Paul and I headed over to the cute little bed and breakfast we were staying at - The Cedar Roost Inn - a delightful little place off the main road, and far enough away from downtown to be quiet at night - but close enough to walk if you want (1/2 mile in to town).  Big shout out to this B&B - it was a lovely little place, and I will stay there again!  AND - they have a pet goat named Claire.  

We got ourselves settled and decided to walk in to town to go to the General Store (I forgot my phone charger) and then to the Crown King Historical Museum - which was super-interesting!  Lots of old maps, information on the old school, newspaper clippings, etc.  All the things that Paul and I adore about old mines and towns!  After the museum, we strolled back towards our B&B, stopping to read the building informational signs along the way - loving the cool weather!

The 10-stamp mill at The Mill Restaurant

Once back, we decided to go drive to Horsethief Lake.  It was a gorgeous drive - weather perfect - windows down - and headed deep into Horsethief Basin to see how the lake looked.  I always thought Horsethief Lake was a stunning little gem in the Bradshaw mountains.  And this trip did not disappoint.  Baby ducks greeted us when we arrived, along with some rather drunk but hilarious side by side folks who wanted their pictures taken.  Paul went out on the dam - I refused to go out there, swearing there was a 1000 foot drop off on one side (I'm not even sure it's actually 100 feet....but there's a drop).  I've walked the entire Horsethief Dam twice.  I have no need to put myself through that again.  

As we left, we poked around the Forest Service cabin that you can rent, but is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic - I knew about the cabin, but had never stopped to look at it.  It's the same sort of system as the Apache Maid cabin from my Mother's Day post that you can rent - when the Forest Service is open.  

As we drove back in to Crown King, we decided to go have a drink or two at the old Saloon.  It had been quite some time since we had arrived in town the first time at roughly 1:00 pm - it's now almost 7 pm - and we ran into the poor motorcycle guys...apparently just past Orobelle, they had to leave one of the bikes - the dad, who apparently has hypoglycemia, was getting faint and was almost passed out when the Jeep crew came upon them.  They picked up the Dad, left his bike - and the son followed them in to town.  They had just called the Mom to come down from Prescott in their 4 wheel drive pickup so they could go down and get the other bike.  I felt terrible for them - but we sat with them for quite a bit of time, had a few drinks, and Paul and the guys talked about bikes, what had gone wrong, how to get them back up, etc.  Apparently they had planned to go up from Lake Pleasant to the Senator Highway, then cut over on the Senator to Prescott to join the wife and the other son.  The wife arrived, and they all headed back down towards Orobelle to pick up the other bike and then head out to Prescott.  What a day for them!

But our glorious day was ending - back to The Cedar Roost Inn for a wonderful night of sleep in the cold mountain air - and rejuvenating ourselves for Sunday - another amazing day - which will be discussed on the next post!

Timber ruins at the Orobelle Townsite

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