My adventures on the backroads of Arizona - visiting ghosttowns, mines, cemeteries, and any other areas of interest in remote areas of Arizona and the surrounding states. In addition, we are underwater explorers, so you may occasionally see underwater explorations being posted as well! Welcome to my fantastic life! My name is Bobbi Jo Claywell, and exploring is our thing!
Crossing the border from New Mexico into Colorado - Welcome to Colorful Colorado!
At the end of August and beginning of September, Paul and I decided to head up to Ouray, Colorado to tackle a trail that holds a great deal of fear for me...Black Bear Pass. If you have read any of my previous blog posts, you know I'm not good on shelf roads. I mean, I'm NOT good...I'm terrified of heights and I'm worried about going over the edge. For good reason - today I read in an Ouray paper about 3 folks who passed away outside of Camp Bird at Drinking Cup outside Ouray this past weekend. Paul assures me the road is not difficult (right) and just has a steep drop off as it switchbacks its way from Bridal Veil Falls and the Smuggler-Union Hydroelectric Plant down to Telluride.
Highway Flowers in Bloom in Northern Arizona
Paul's oldest boy, Brandon (@3gfinn), and his lovely new wife Julia met us for our second night with their awesome Tacoma, and stayed in Ouray and ran trails with us through Wednesday. Paul and I left on Saturday morning, intending to make it to our campsite by Saturday before dark. And we made it!
The drive to Colorado was mostly uneventful. Lots of beautiful flowers along the way, and of course, we got to see Shiprock rising majestically out of the New Mexico high-desert.
Wild Deer in Colorado
We saw lots of deer on our way to our campsite - we chose to stay up by the Portland Mine in a wildland camping spot. It was quiet, although not entirely secluded. There were other folks staying around us every night we were there, but they were at enough of a distance to not matter and not disturb. But our views - oh my goodness they were awe-inspiring! Just look...
View to the East from our base camp
View to the South from our base camp
We arrived at camp in the late afternoon, set up camp, skipped dinner (we had a big lunch), and went to bed in the superbly cool temps! We had our new ExPed mats, and we slept like a couple of logs through the night!
Our Camp Above Ouray, CO by the Portland Mine
On Sunday morning, we woke up to lovely, cool temperatures...the sun doesn't crest over the mountains until about 10 a.m., so we had a lovely and relaxed breakfast, and then we decided to go into town, check everything out, and maybe shop a bit.
Ironton, CO - one of the two story homes
We went down to the Visitor's Center, and spoke with some ladies who informed us that under no circumstances should we try Black Bear or Imogene, and absolutely DO NOT go down Poughkeepsie. These ladies indicated that the trails were so badly damaged from recent rain and landslides that they were flat out dangerous for anyone. Paul didn't think anything of it (he's done all these before), so we explored a bit in town, and decided to go check out some ghosttowns that were close to the road and not around the trails we were planning to take.
Another two story house in Ironton, CO
So off to Ironton we went. Down the Million Dollar Highway (US Highway 550). With me on the cliff side. Sigh...
Me and Paul on the Red Creek on the edge of Ironton, CO
The Million Dollar Highway was originally constructed as a toll road in the 1882 by Otto Mears and Fred Walsen. In 1920, the road was updated again and the path you now take is the one that was built in 1920. I've heard three stories as to why it is called the Million Dollar Highway - the first, being the cost to build it back in the 1880's, the second being "you'd have to pay me a million dollars to drive that road" and third, because of the Million Dollar Views.
Another old house at Ironton, CO
I don't care why it was named - it's a road that affords stunning views, as well as terrifying drops right off the side of the blacktop. The Million Dollar Highway has no guard rails, and when I looked into why, I learned that in order for the snow to be plowed in the winter, they have to be able to push it off the edge. So no guard rails. This road has around 40 accidents per year, with 7 fatalities per year on average. I'm not overly fond of this road, but I've been on it before, and I'm sure I'll be on it again. Access to some of the most beautiful places in the San Juan mountains is right off of the Million Dollar Highway.
The Larson Brothers Mine outside Ironton, CO
So as we heading down the road towards Red Mountain Pass, we stopped just short of it to see Ironton. Once called Copper Glen, Ironton was first started in 1893. Shortly after, there were more than 300 buildings in town. Ironton was a major transportation junction between Red Mountain and Ouray in addition to having some of it's own mines. The town was heavily populated throughout the first part of the 20th century, and the final resident of the town, Milton Larson, died in the mid-1960's.
The Snow Shed over the entrance to the Larson Brothers Mine
There were several beautiful old buildings there. Such a difference in how Arizona chooses to preserve history and how Colorado preserves their history. It was such a change to see full homes with roofs (albeit patched) and obvious work to keep buildings standing and safe. We saw this all over this area, and it made our visit incredible as there was TONS to see!
Inside the Snow Shed at the Larson Brother's Mine - Ironton, CO
After Ironton, Paul and I headed back to camp as it had started raining, and we were awaiting Brandon and Julia's arrival. So back to camp we went...
Part 2 - Black Bear Pass - to come...
Me and Paul waiting out the rain/hail storm at the Larson Brothers Mine Snow Shed - Ironton, CO
Well, it's hot. If you live in Arizona, you know that already. If you live elsewhere, well, you likely know that as well. It's almost too hot for camping up north, but even if it wasn't, gas prices are hitting everyone hard in the wallet these days. So we decided to have a "paved road" outing on Father's Day. Just me, my guy Paul, and the cute little xB.
The beautiful and well kept Guadalupe Cemetery
So we started out our early morning at Lux on Central for Paul's all time favorite breakfast out - Biscuits and Gravy with scrambled eggs and cheese, and a side of bacon. After filling and fueling up, we headed out to the All Souls Cemetery. I, unfortunately, did not take any pictures of this cemetery, but there wouldn't have been much to take a picture of. The All Souls Cemetery/Asylum Cemetery is the State Hospital/State Insane Asylum cemetery. So for the most part, it looks like a long green lawn. But if you look closely...there are row and section markers. A few headstones. Unfortunately, many of the records were destroyed in a fire, and therefore grave locations are few and far between. It is estimated that some 2400 people are buried here...of which there appears to be about 400 or so that there are records for. We drove around the outside of the fencing, and then decided to head off.
The first calibration target
Our next stop was to a unique cemetery - the Guadalupe Cemetery. The Guadalupe Cemetery is, in my opinion, unique in Phoenix as it is a Town/City Cemetery, but it appears to be maintained primarily by the families of the deceased. It was immaculate and colorful, and even at the early hour of 7 or 7:30 a.m., there were families there tidying up graves and wishing their fathers love. This historic cemetery of the Yaqui Indians and descendants of Mexican heritage has been around for over 100 years by all counts, and 130 by several others...the land was officially transferred to the Town of Guadalupe by the Diocese of Phoenix (and prior to them, the Diocese of Tucson in 1969) in 1979. As Sugg Homes (developer) decided to turn the farm lands out there into new developments, they agreed to build an iron fence around the 5 acre cemetery and to pave the access road and parking area.
Nicer and better kept Satellite Target
The cemetery is bursting with color - flags and other traditional adornments decorate the resting places of loved ones. As the cemetery was bustling with activity, we opted to be more respectful and not to wander around. It is, after all, Father's Day, and I'm sure many were there to spend time with their fathers. It was a beautiful stop and very endearing to see people out tending to the graves of their loved ones.
Survey Marker at the above calibration marker.
Next stop was supposed to be a quick hop down the I-10 to Casa Grande. But as per the usual, it was no quick hop. I-10 was closed all the way down to the 202, so we headed south on side roads until we could jump back on I-10 and head down to Casa Grande. After a quick stop at a Dutch Bros for more tea and coffee, we headed off to our first site down here...the Corona Satellite Calibration Targets.
Look at us getting 64.4 mpg in the Scion when we keep the RPM's really low and we drive slow. Hahaha
Now, before I start this section of our "tour" - I do want to make mention that I know that the concrete crosses around Casa Grande were NOT used for the Corona project - or any other spacecraft calibration. The were constructed for the calibration of aerial photogrammetry cameras to validate maps. BUT - as is the norm on the inter-webs, there is a TON of false info out there about these. The US Air Force DID use them for aircraft camera calibration, but it wasn't used for space based intelligence camera systems.
The best marker we saw on this trip...
The Casa Grande Photogrammetric Test Range was a 16 x 16 mile grid of 60 foot targets. Each target was spaced approximately 1 mile apart. They provided a fixed spatial grid for photogrammetric calculations for mapping camera calibrations/validation. The targets were maintained from 1959 to 1972, and about half of them are still visible on Google Earth and on the ground.
A close up of the "manhole" cover
Each of the targets has a manhole on the west arm of the cross and the manhole has a cement cover with still reinforced bars. According to the Cold War Museum, the six pieces of rebar which protrude from the concrete cover were used to hold a laser designator. The targets were abandoned in 1972. I've been to some of these targets many times over the years, but Paul had not seen one up close, so we went to a couple. The first one we went to was not in great condition - but the last one was in great condition! So another check off of Paul's exploration bucket list (and no, we did not visit all 140-something of these targets...but we did visit 4 or 5 on our trip).
The VERY creepy partially filled grave in the Galilee Baptist Church Cemetery.
After visiting the targets and the sight of an old slaughterhouse (which was long ago torn down), we headed up to historic Casa Grande, then into Maricopa to catch the Maricopa road out of town and towards Gila Bend. As we wound our way through the southern Estrella Mountains and the southern Sevenmile Mountains, we stopped in a tiny little "town" (town is an overstatement for this town) called Mobile and went to the Galilee Baptist Church Cemetery, also known as the Mobile Cemetery. This Cemetery is a private cemetery, and backs up to an old abandoned hacienda of some kind. It is very remote and appears to have burials back as far as the 1930's. We did not go inside the cemetery, but we did find a grave hole that had been dug and partially filled back in from erosion. Kind of creepy...
The grave site of little Maria Consorcia Urias at the Bosque Cemetery.
Little Maria Consorcia Urias' grave at the Bosque Cemetery - close up
We left Mobile and headed to Bosque. Which literally has NOTHING except this grave of a young girl named Maria Consorcia Urias. Maria died on June 24th at 2 days old. A boy scout created the fenced area around Maria's grave, and now it is the only thing you can see of Bosque. There are supposedly two other individuals buried here (per find-a-grave) but where is anyone's guess.
What appears to be an old schoolhouse in Gila Bend, AZ
We left the Bosque cemetery and headed into Gila Bend. There were three cemeteries here to see - the first one we went to was the Hee-A-Han Park. We could not find an easy way into the cemetery, so we drove around it and then decided to move on to the more historic/pioneer cemeteries.
Stout Memorial Park/Stout Cemetery
Our next stop was the Stout Memorial Park. I have little to no information regarding the Stout Memorial Park, or Stout Cemetery. It is out in the middle of nowhere on the road to Ajo...but it can't be seen from the road. There are graves here dating from the 1920's to the 1980's. There are many concrete tombstones that have been recently updated and placed, along with some of the regularly seen homemade ones. It was a pretty little cemetery in the middle of nowhere - with more tombstones than usual.
Aquila Guzman's grave at the Stout Cemetery (1891-1920)
Our last stop in Gila Bend was to the Gila Bend Pioneer Cemetery. The Gila Bend Pioneer Cemetery is still active, and the City is still selling burial plots. It is a lovely and well planned out cemetery, with trees and benches and lots of care taken of each burial site. The oldest grave I could find was 1957, but there may definitely be older ones. We did see a gorgeous Northern Desert Iguana - he was white and brown, and ran SO fast! He was absolutely stunning.
Gila Bend Pioneer Cemetery
Gila Bend Pioneer Cemetery
Our very last stop on our cemetery Sunday was at the Liberty cemetery. The Liberty cemetery is one of the first established cemeteries in Maricopa County. There are over 500 burials according to the records, of which more than 400 have been located and marked. Burials began in this old cemetery prior to 1900, and the last burial was made in 1962. The cemetery is actively being researched and kept up by descendants of the buried and by the City. The founding fathers of Buckeye, AZ are buried in this cemetery...
It was a hot and dusty day, but we managed to get out and learn something! We went to La Santisima on the way home for gourmet tacos - filled ourselves up, and went home fat and happy - with new knowledge of our state and having seen areas of the state that neither Paul or I had been to.
La Santisima taco trio - Shrimp, Carne and Mole - Yum!
See - there's stuff to do in Arizona - even when it's blistering hot outside.
The Verde River at the start of the Red Creek Rapids
Its starting to get hot in Arizona. Paul and I haven't been camping since January when we did the Mohave Trail. We both ended up sick part way through that trip, and we just haven't been camping since. I mentioned to Paul earlier in the week that we should go camping - and that I didn't care where. He suggested the Red Creek airstrip and I immediately agreed. The Red Creek airstrip is a backcountry airstrip that is maintained solely by the pilots who periodically land there. The airstrip itself is only 1200 feet long, and has a long history of causing small aircraft crashes (6 that I can find info on in the past 15-20 years) due to the unevenness of the terrain, as well as the potential downdrafts and crosswinds of the several canyons coming together. The Forest Service does not encourage the use of this airstrip, but people use it regularly despite this. The Forest Service has a brochure on the Red Creek airstrip due to the safety issues.
Cooking breakfast at Camp 7 Springs - I'm freezing and Paul gave up his jacket!
We decided to head out on Friday afternoon, not to get to the airstrip, but to get up to Camp 7 Springs in the Tonto National Forest for our first night of camping. We stopped and grabbed some In-N-Out on the way out of town, and headed down the long FR24 (Camp 7 Springs) road. We pulled into the dispersed camping area before the sun went down, and although neither of us are fond of dispersed camping areas, we decided to stay put and set up so we would be set up by dark. We hurriedly set up the tent and got it all closed up because there were mosquitoes everywhere. Because Friday is an early day for me as well as Paul, by the time the sun had gone down around 8 or so, we were ready to turn in for the night. The camp area was not crowded, which surprised me. A nice family with two younger kids and a 9 month old baby showed up shortly before we crawled into our tent, and their kids were thrilled to be camping, obviously!
Red Creek - absolutely stunning views!
Paul and I watched the stars through the top of our awesome Marmot 6P tent and slowly drifted off to sleep - I vaguely recall asking Paul to turn off the moon because it was so incredibly bright... Around 10:30 I woke up to the sound of something sniffing around outside our tent. I assumed it was the family across the way's dog - but no - there was more than one animal, and I could hear their dog whining. And whatever they were, they sounded BIG. I tried to get Paul's attention, but he was sleeping the sleep of a man who had never slept, so I slowly put on my glasses and lifted my head to look out the back of the tent, worried we were going to have javelinas or some other large but unpleasant animal. But there was a herd of horses just standing around, occasionally eating leaves or grass shoots around our tent. They were avoiding the tent, but they were aware I was sitting there looking at them. The horses hung around the campsite area most of the night. Early in the morning when Paul and I first woke up, we were freezing cold (the temperature was 37 degrees outside) and the horses were still around. We pulled the quilt over us both and we snuggled down and went back to sleep for another couple of hours.
A grumpy little cow I named "No Face" after the Ghibli Spirited Away character - my kiddo loves Studio Ghibli
We woke up as the sun was just cresting over the ridge behind us - me insisting that I wasn't getting out of bed until the sun was up because I was freezing. Paul got up, got a jacket, and made me my hot tea and I finally crawled myself out of the tent to make us some breakfast. Paul bundled me up and he and I set up our camp kitchen so we could make our usual camp breakfast - eggs with onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and avocado (well, avocado on mine anyway - Paul isn't a fan - I know, he is weird) with a side of cherry wood smoked, thick-cut bacon. By the time we were done with breakfast, the sun was warming us both up and we tore down camp, packed the truck, said goodbye to the family across the way, and headed out for Red Creek.
More gorgeous views of Red Creek...I mean, you can't take a bad picture here!
The trip up FR24 to FR269 (aka Bloody Basin Road) was uneventful. We then traversed Bloody Basin for a few miles before turning off onto FR18 towards Red Creek. The road was easy and not at all difficult. Until we dropped into Red Creek. Then things got fun. Lots of big rocks to crawl over, huge trees with root systems sticking out everywhere, more rocks to crawl on, and lots of sand and water. Red Creek flows along a stunning green canyon and the road through it to the Verde is full of stunning views! So much green in a red dirt canyon. Absolutely gorgeous!
The rock obstacle on the way to the Verde
Another beautiful view - until you see the dead cow on the left and all the turkey vultures. It smelled terrible...
As we came to the first obstacle (a big gnarly tree with a huge root system you had to maneuver around), we saw a young man with a canoe and a kayak. He seemed to be by himself, and there were no vehicles around (there had been a few up at the top before we dropped into the creek). We asked the young man if he was okay, and he indicated he was, so we proceeded on. After the first obstacle, we then dropped into Middle Red Creek (which Red Creek flows in to). At the confluence of the two creeks, we saw another man with a kayak. He waved, so we stopped and rolled down the window and he asked if he was headed towards the Verde, and we said yes, but that it was 3.1 miles away. He said okay and went back to walking...with the kayak.
Getting ready to do some rock crawling to the right there...
On we went, over the obstacles, through some fun tippy spots, and then we finally came out of the creek at the Verde River - right at the Red Creek Rapids. We were so excited to be the only ones there, and we were able to set up right by the river so we got the rustling of the cottonwoods, the sound of the rapids and the cool breeze that runs up the canyon. We set up camp, then decided to drive up to the air strip. The trail from the Verde to the airstrip up on top of the mesa is sketchy and has been washed out and repaired, but there are a few spots where we were dangerously close to the edge. Like if I had opened the passenger door to step out I would have fallen 50+ feet straight down. I held my breath and Paul, as he always does, navigated the Lewis & Clark right up and over everything safely.
While this sign states that this is part of the Matazal Wilderness, that is actually across the Verde...
The fire pit, picnic tables and horseshoe pits. Behind the bush to the right are the tools to maintain the airstrip.
Looking east down the airstrip. All takeoffs happen this direction.
The windsock, which I was shocked was up and flying. Everything I've read stated it may or, more likely, may not, be flying.
We were surprised at the airstrip. You cannot see it until you are right on it due to the brush being so tall out there. On Google Earth, the mesa looks like a giant flat surface without much on it, but in reality, it is heavily covered in desert brush and the airstrip is even rougher than I expected - particularly at the east end where the planes touch down and take off. Pilots have done an excellent job in keeping it fairly groomed, and there are tools out there to rake and groom the strip with. There is also a picnic table and a set of horseshoes. Paul even threw a ringer! Other than that, this desolate little airstrip is just a red dirt strip in the middle of nowhere.
Be sure to watch this one all the way through!
The Lewis & Clark at our campsite right next to the Red Creek Rapids on the Verde River.
One of the best campsites we've ever experienced!
We went back down to our camp site just as a group of ATVs and side by sides showed up. They came down to enjoy the river and we took our chairs down and sat in the river and talked with them for a few hours. They indicated they too had seen the kayakers/canoers/hikers and had spoken with them for a bit. They were still headed this way, and were expected at the Verde around 2 or 3.
The super-impressive group of canoe/kayakers! These folks have some serious stamina!!!
I decided to take a short nap, and it was short...we had put the fly on the tent this time to help keep us warm, and it was working - a little too well - so out of the tent we went, and back down to the water. Just as the kayakers and canoers had shown up. We sat down and chatted with them for a bit. They indicated that they had thought it was a 1/4 of a mile hike - not 4 miles - from their parked trucks. I felt so bad for them - they had two full size canoes, and three or four kayaks. They CARRIED THEM THE ENTIRE 4 MILES THROUGH THE CREEK. But they were all such good sports about it, and were raring to get on the river. I took a ton of pictures of their take off - they were heading down to Sheep's Bridge, which is roughly 7 miles as the crow flies from where we were, but is more than 20 "river miles" down the Verde. They planned to set up camp somewhere along the Verde around 5 or so, then finish up on Sunday. We wished them well, took pictures as they left, and then we had one last grouping of visitors - three Jeeps and a quad.
Dragonflies were everywhere...and my new phone takes amazing up-close photos!
After they left (around 4 or so), it was just me and Paul for the rest of the evening. It hasn't quite cooled down yet (and Saturday was a hot day! It was in the 90's), so we sat in the truck for a bit having some coffee/tea and listening to the Sirius Radio 1940's old radio programming. We listened to the Jack Benny show and to Tom Corbett's Space Cadet show - where I learned that for $0.25 and the box top to some Kellogg's Pep cereal I could get some space goggles too! I made us some steak and stuffed mushrooms and we listened to another weird and creepy show called Lights Out - Sub-Basement. Paul built a fire as the sun had gone down and the chill was setting in, and it was glorious - the rush of the river, the jostling of the cottonwood leaves, and the crackling of a fire.
We took a bit of time to cool off in the river...
Apparently just sitting in a chair wasn't enough for Paul - he needed to play king of the rock...in the middle of the river.
We fell asleep warm and cozy in our tent - the fly on, but the two fly doors opened so we had some air flow and could hear the river. We both slept incredibly well - I'm not sure I woke up at all. Around 5:30 in the morning Paul was wide awake (and apparently had been for a bit), and as I rolled over, he decided it was time to get up. I said sure, then promptly waited for him to exit the tent and I sprawled across our sleep mat and tried to get another 15 minutes in while he made tea and coffee and got the fire up and going.
An extremely healthy and beautiful ocotillo
Cactus blossoms everywhere - this is a Hedgehog Cactus blossom.
The rock obstacle on the way back from the Verde
I finally got up, and made our breakfast. We packed up camp, said goodbye to one of the best camp sites we had ever had (and we both agreed on that) and headed back out Red Creek. We didn't see a single soul coming out of Red Creek, and the drive out on FR269/Bloody Basin Road was uneventful until we were almost at the Horseshoe Ranch, where there were a number of vehicles/dirt bikes stopped and the people were looking over the edge of the road. As we pulled up, we saw a Prius had gone off and was clinging for dear life to a tree - the only thing holding it from rolling all the way down into the canyon. It had to have just happened because the windows and body panels were all still intact. In Arizona, everyone and their brother feels a need to shoot up vehicles left on dirt roads...so we knew this was a recent "accident." There was nobody inside, and the car was locked, so we left it.
Someone took a Prius where it shouldn't have gone...
We aired up by I-17, and then went down to Chilleen's on I-17 for our usual bite to eat. We were home before 3, cleaned out the truck, showered, and spent the rest of the day just relaxing some more.
Traversing part of the Great Western Trail
It was an amazing weekend. We saw deer, horses (up and close!), lots of cows, some fish and had a stunning campsite. We met some people who were truly impressive (who carries canoes and kayaks 4+ miles? Rich and his gang do...) and all in around just had a truly relaxing and beautiful time. No phone service means the only thing I used my phone for was pictures - and the setting was so amazing, the pictures don't even do it justice!
Sunrise on the Verde River
Big thanks to Paul for letting the Lewis & Clark get totally AZ Pinstriped, and for having the confidence to crawl over some of the stuff we crawled over. As always, he got us out safely! One of the best 4X4 drivers I know. My Dad, my brother, and my Paul - fearless but not stupidly so. Just breathe baby, breathe...