Friday, November 13, 2020

Mogollon Rim

Mogollon Rim - Rim Road

Ahh - cool mountain air - camping in Northern Arizona on the Mogollon Rim is an absolute joy! 

Blair Witch Tree
Paul and I have been planning this weekend for a little bit - we wanted to get away to somewhere cold. Somewhere where I didn't have phone service. Somewhere deep in the pines. We chose a favorite place of Paul's up on the Mogollon Rim where he has camped many times before. It's been well over a decade since I've been up on the Rim - I used to go up to Greer in my younger days to stay when I would go skiing at Sunrise - my favorite Arizona ski resort. But it's been a very long time. I've camped up this way before, but it's just not an area of Arizona that I've frequented over the years. 

We loaded up Lewis & Clark and her matching trailer (for sleeping - we were expecting snow) with all the things we thought we would need - and some stuff we probably didn't. On Friday afternoon as soon as Paul got off work, we packed up and left town. There was clearly a storm blowing in, but we beat all the traffic heading North into Payson, stopped for a bite to eat at Sonic in Payson while I told Paul about "historic" Payson, fueled up, hit up the casino to use the bathrooms (eww - they still allow smoking in there), and got back on the road to head out to the Rim Road.

As we headed out of town, it cooled down drastically - there was a great deal of cloud cover and the wind was blowing.  As we turned off on to the Rim Road, it was clear it was going to rain, but we still had about an hour of driving to do to get to where we wanted to be - buried so deep we wouldn't see anyone else out there the entire weekend unless we wanted to!

Bull Elk on Night One
We considered ourselves extremely lucky when we first pulled off the main Rim Road onto FR91 - shortly after pulling off, a GIANT elk bound across the road right in the path of our lights, and stopped about 30 feet into the woods and just looked at us.  We took a few pictures - although none are great - but he was majestic!  He was largest elk we would see all weekend.  Shortly after seeing this magnificent creature, we saw another run across the road far in front of us - we watched his eyes flash at us as he moved through the forest over toward Gentry Ridge.  Two large bull elks in less than 30 minutes - I knew this was a sign of a fabulous weekend!!

As we pulled into the first area we had marked for camping, we realized it was already taken - it was dark, but there was a small camper and a truck parked there.  So we left and went further into the forest and up FR91 to FR40F.  This is where we saw the "Blair Witch" tree - so named because it just looked creepy and out of place.  And because I have a penchant for calling odd things in the forest "Blair Witch" stuff.  Paul had a number of waypoints marked for possible campsites - most of them fairly close to where Sasquatch sightings have been reported.  Paul pulled us into a gorgeous campsite off FR40F, and it is pitch black out.  With all the lights on the truck, we quickly set up camp - and it starts to rain - so we decide to go ahead and jump in the camper and try to go to sleep.  I instantly fell asleep to the soft patter of the rain on the camper shell with the wind blowing through the pines.  Throughout the night the rain got harder and the wind blew louder - but the camper was cozy and warm and I slept fairly well.

Paul on our morning walk
We woke up like clockwork at 4 a.m. (that's when we get up during the week) but we both decided to snooze a bit longer.  At 7 a.m., we both woke up, jumped out of the camper to the stunning beauty of pine trees that were four or more stories tall with trunks I can't wrap my arms around - a light breeze blowing - 41 degrees outside, so it's chilly - but we finished setting up camp, and I made breakfast.  Applewood smoked, thick cut bacon and scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions and mushrooms.  A high protein (and to be honest, high fat) breakfast to get us through the day - man, nothing smells better than bacon cooking in the woods!  We eat to our heart's content, put everything under the tarp, unhook the camper and decide to go exploring for the day.  First, we walk a long loop around our campsite - maybe a mile or so of just following random roads/trails admiring the patches of aspen trees until we get back to our campsite.  The smell of pine and wet aspen remind me of Colorado...

Bobbi in the Aspen Trees
Now last night when we pulled off the highway onto the Rim Road, the truck started making a squeaky noise.  I thought it was the camper - it sounded like an old creaky truck - but when we parked to set up camp, Paul crawled under the truck and discovered it was a ball joint.  I was worried we shouldn't be doing any bouncing around with the truck - but Paul said we would just watch it.  Once we knew what it was, it became a VERY annoying noise - I think because we both were constantly reminded that Lewis & Clark wasn't feeling her best.  Poor gal - we've put the trucks through more in the last 6 months than I think either of them have done in the last year or two - we go out almost weekly now - but the last thing Paul was wanting to do was replace a ball joint before we totally redo the suspension on her (which he isn't quite ready to do yet - Calamity Jane has LOTS of mods coming up over the next two weeks - so we are focused on her right now - not Lewis & Clark).  

Double Springs Cabin
Anyway - annoying noise continuing as we head North on FR40F, we start out to find all the cabins I had located in the general vicinity.  As we are bouncing through the forest, 4 or 5 elk cows come bounding down the side of the mountain, across the road, and down to the meadow below - it all happened too fast for me to grab the camera - but again - we felt absolutely blessed to have seen more elk!  A sign of a healthy forest and a sign of how deep into the forest we really were...

This person used nails/screws to make his mark in 1984
The first cabin we find is at Double Cabin Springs - and what a gorgeous setting.  The cabin at Double Cabin Springs (just passed Besemer Crossing) has no roof, but clearly has a long history - we spent quite a bit of time reading all the carvings in the wall, admiring the building of the structure (huge hand-hewn logs dove tailed together) and checking out the surrounding area - there is a huge fenced in area that surrounds a bog area and the spring.  We never did find the second cabin - not sure if it even exists any more.  But we bounced along on a gorgeous un-numbered route until we hit the 115 (major graded dirt road) that heads up to O'Haco Lookout Tower and Ranger Cabin.  It isn't currently being used, and is fenced off, but we walked the perimeter fence because it was absolutely gorgeous out - big fluffy clouds in the sky with bright spots of blue showing through - a slight wind - and cold enough to wear our North Face jackets!  

O'Haco Lookout Tower

We took the 115 back down to the Rim Road to head across East Leonard Canyon (which can only be crossed by vehicle in one or two places). We drove for quite a while - stopping periodically to look at the amazing view, and to witness the extreme winds on the top of the Rim!  It was awe-inspiring!

General Springs Cabin

We headed over to the well marked General Springs Cabin.  The General Springs Cabin, which is a two room cabin that you can actually enter, was build in 1918 by Louis Fisher and was used for years as a fire guard station (as were most of the cabins we saw this weekend).  The spring and cabin were named after General George Crook who used the spring while traveling the old Fort Apache-Camp Verde Military Road.  The cabin itself was used well into the 1960's, and in 1989 the Forest Service rehabilitated the cabin for our viewing pleasure.  Paul and I were enthralled with the building of the cabin itself - with the way in which they filled the spaces between the logs with splintered wood, etc.  Just like at Double Cabin Springs.  The General Springs Cabin is a well built and well preserved structure.  You can see that there was, at one time, no roof and it has been added to and preserved. This was the first time we actually physically ran in to more people - we looked around for a bit, admired the cabin, then decided to head down to see about the old Railroad Tunnel.  

Misleading sign No. 1 - my hair is covering
it, but it says the trail is .15 miles - this is after our
hike when I'm slightly irritated about the sign
So back on the Rim Road, Paul and I look at the trailhead sign, which reads "RR Tunnel Tr. No. 390 .15 Miles."  Well - we both took that to mean the Railroad Tunnel was at .15 miles down the trail.  It certainly looked like it from the GaiaGPS app!  Paul asked how I felt (I've been sick) and I told him I could handle .15 miles with no trouble at all - even if it meant scrambling up and down the Rim a bit.  So we headed out.  We didn't realize that THE TRAIL HEAD TO THE TUNNEL was .15 miles down the Colonel Devin Trail 290.  So at .15 miles down the Colonel Devin Trail, it splits.  We knew from GaiaGPS to take the left trail - and low and behold - another sign.  RR Tunnel 390 is a loop trail that is just over a mile long.  Okay - we're only going about 1/3 of the way in - I'm still game, and I wanted to see this tunnel - I mean, if they have all these signs, it must be awesome, right?  

Misleading Sign No. 2 - Colonel Devin Trail
Well, I should have done some research.  We get down trail no. 390 about 1/3 of the way, and there's yet ANOTHER sign tacked to a downed tree that has an arrow and says "Tunnel."  Now - there are other people attempting to go up this steep trail.  The trail is sand and loose duffel bag sized boulders.  So now we're scrambling up the side of the Rim.  Paul looks up, and there are people WAY up almost at the top of the Rim still hiking to the tunnel.  The people in front of us turn around.  We spoke briefly to them - they had seen pictures and knew that the trail got worse the further in we got - treacherous is the word used on a few websites - and the wind - we're in a v-shaped canyon which is funneling wind up to the Rim.  There are gusts that are almost knocking me over, and we still have quite the hike out - all up hill, some of it rock scrambling.  And the clouds are looking ominous, so we decide to turn around and start heading up.  If it rains while we're on the trail, it's going to be really bad - the rocks will be slick and the wind won't help.  It's slow going on the way out - but we made it.  The views were still worth it - although the research I've done since shows that the tunnel may not have been worth it.  

Barbed wire the tree has grown around
The tunnel itself was built by James W. Eddy in 1883, along with a powder house (which I understand is still partially standing).  I've read quite a bit about why they were trying to build this tunnel - but to be honest - it makes no sense to me.  In 1888 the company attempting to drill through the Mogollon Rim went bankrupt and they had only drilled 70 feet into the Rim.  

Back at Lewis & Clark, windblown and a bit tired, we break out the crackers and salami, and we head back along the Rim Road to FR139A to head up to Pinchot Cabin/Guard Station.  

This was a beautiful drive through the forest up towards Pinchot Springs - lots of little trails break off into the forest, but we pushed onward and up to the 95, where we had to park and walk in to the Pinchot Cabin and Pinchot Springs.  It was quite frankly the most beautiful cabin setting - a cabin on the edge of a huge meadow with a creek running nearby - it was gorgeous.  The cabin has been shuttered over and locked up, so we couldn't go inside.  The Pinchot Cabin was original part of the Houston Brothers Ranching outfit - there was another cabin built in 1919 by the forest service, but it is no longer here.  The current cabin was build in the early 1930's by John Sanders.  Paul and I poked around for a bit - it was such a lovely walk in, and such a beautiful setting - but we had another set of cabins to visit and it was getting off we went.

Pinchot Cabin
Back to the Rim Road, and over to FR137, we drove North on yet another well graded dirt road (ball joint still squeaking - so we have the windows up and the radio on - listening to bluegrass as usual!).  When we get to the Buck Springs Cabins, we were surprised because there are two!  The smaller of the two cabins was built sometime before 1923, and the larger one was built in 1946.  There was another small cabin built in 1903, but it is no longer there.  These cabins are still in use today as they house the Forest Service fire crews during the summer to protect the Rim!  

The clouds are again turning dark, and it's late - we want to be back to the campsite before it gets too dark - so we head back down to the Rim and back to our campsite.  We were expecting snow tonight (as per the weather reports we are receiving on the Ham radio) so we wanted to make sure everything was covered and well protected - and I had steaks to make for dinner!

And the steaks were awesome!  I had picked up some sirloin filets from Sprouts, and I cooked them in left over bacon grease and butter - holy cow they were amazing!  I made green beans and corn sautéed in butter and Paul and I had a feast - in the dark and cold, but it was a really satisfying meal at the end of a day of exploring the Rim country and some short but strenuous hiking!  
Buck Springs Cabins with Lewis & Clark

It was cold, pitch black out, and sprinkling rain, but we weren't tired yet (it was only about 6:30), so we jumped in the truck and decided to watch a movie on the tablet we use for GPS guidance - of course Paul has scary movies - so we are watching that.  And every time he turns on the headlights, I fully expect to see Jason or Michael Myers staring at us from the trail...Ha!  

We head to bed, and wake up at 4 a.m. (as per the usual) and I'm cold - and there is snow EVERYWHERE!  So Paul and I jump into Lewis & Clark and we turn on the heat.  But it's uncomfortable and we can't sleep, so we just get warmed up, and head back into the camper with warmer clothes to try and sleep - which we do - for a few more hours.  


But when we get up - oh my goodness - the beauty of the snow blanket in the forest is overwhelming.  Paul and I wander around taking pictures - the first snow of the season for us - and honestly, probably the first time I've been in snow for 2 or 3 years...

Camp Breakfast - Snow still on the table

We clear off the stove and the table, and I make fried egg sandwiches with sausage links which we wolf down in the truck with the heat on (it's 27 degrees outside).  I'm totally getting the hang of this camp cooking thing!  I've made three awesome meals this weekend - and I'm pretty happy with this - the last time we went camping we had awful burgers - but Paul said it wasn't my cooking that time - it was just the burgers.  But we will be getting these little steak filets again!  And bacon - everything is better in bacon grease.  Everything.  Including toasting the bagel thins.  LOL

Paul and I pack up the campsite and head out mid-morning and decide to take the "91 Loop."  No ball joint noise to be heard since then...

Icicles on the Snorkel

Well - we got off trail somewhere.  We don't even know where.  Paul kept saying "how can we be off trail when we have GPS?"  I'm saying we were "overlanding" and "exploring."  I still cannot find where we went off trail - we somehow end up on this jeep trail - which Lewis & Clark handles just fine, but again - we cannot find the trail on our GPS nor our topographical maps - all we can see is that we are following the Gentry Ridge - and are headed down to Turkey Creek.  But not on a numbered road.  And we had to stop and winch a couple big tree trunks out of the road - which was awesome for me because I've not been able to work with the winch yet (and one is going on Calamity Jane in the next week or two) - so that was fun for me.  This road had a bunch of spots where I had to get out and walk the "alternate" route - but I had a lot of fun just exploring.  I kept telling Paul it was okay as we were "generally" heading South.  

And then - two elk bound across the road - day three of elk - I don't think I've seen so many elk in the wild since the last time I was in Wyoming - where they are a common sight.  Again - we see them in the middle of absolutely nowhere.  There are no other vehicle tracks in the snow so we know we're the first folks down this unknown trail this morning...

Somewhere off trail near Turkey Creek - stunning landscapes!
Somewhere along the way, the trailer wiring comes unhooked, and breaks - so we have no trailer lights - and we are getting frustrated because the trail keeps turning East and West, but eventually we pop out onto FR115, completely covered in mud and dirt, icicles hanging from Lewis & Clark's snorkel (it's still only 28 degrees outside) - but we then head down to the Rim Road, back on to Highway 260, and head in to Payson, where we fix the trailer, visit some old historic haunts that I've told Paul about, and then head home.

It was a beautiful weekend.  It was cold - which we both really enjoyed - we had good food, Paul had good whiskey, and we had snow!  Another perfect weekend of camping!

1 comment:

  1. Looks and sounds like beautiful country there in northern Arizona. Gotta love the elk and all the snow! Fun travels!