Mornings in Swansea can be deceptively cool. The placement of this ghost town up against the north side of a northwest-to-southeast mountain range results in four extra hours of shade on the ground each evening. It can be 60°F at sunrise, and reach 90°F by 09:00. Despite experiencing this first hand on my last visit, we set off into the mountains on foot in search of mines. Wild burros thrive in the Mojave. The great thing about wild burros is their habit of pounding smooth trails into the ground they walk. The bad thing about wild burros is they have little desire to pound those trails up the mountains and to the mines as their domesticated ancestors once did. The old mining road faded to burro trail just outside of town, and the burro trail altered course about half-way up the mountain in favor of a water pocket in the nearby wash. Resorting to cross-country travel and bouldering we reached the summit with no sign of the mines seen from town, but the view was worth the climb. Railroad Canyon, our exit path, was a fun little diversion of high-speed wash running and smooth desert road—the “more difficult” rating only applies to a few yards on the Swansea end. After winding our way through dunes and cactus fields to Midway we said our farewells and parted ways. My course: east across the Arizona desert. Bouse The sunburnt town of Bouse is what those crumbling ruins along every desolate desert highway might be if their long-buried citizens remained. Not dead, but not quite alive either—a fate all too common on highways like U.S. 60, which continue to exist merely as service corridors for the railroads and shortcuts to cities deemed unworthy of an interstate. I’ve passed this way many times, but never stopped before. As a twenty-year-old Lincoln pulls up easy to the general store across the street I watch in anticipation, waiting for our antihero to retreat, guns blazing, and speed us off on three hours of Tarantino-style action. Such is the feel of a hot summer day in Bouse. The Climb The road up to the abandoned Harquahala observatory starts out innocently enough, with cactus and ocotillo covered hills closing in on a narrow, winding canyon. Those hills and canyons obscure the climb to come, leaving one to think the long steep hill at the end of the canyon… Harquahala
Something I love about living in Prescott—it takes forever to get anywhere. All of the interstates are over 40 miles away, and you reach them right smack in the middle of nowhere. A road trip to any destination involves a long drive on twisty two-lane roads through a harsh beauty only northern Arizona can offer. In taking the time to slow down and enjoy life’s little distractions, I’ve come to appreciate this remoteness—even when I’m in a hurry. I was in a hurry this morning. The sun had risen without bothering to ask me first, and left me with only four hours to reach Lake Havasu City. Another interesting footnote on the geography surrounding Prescott: there is no straight line connecting anything. This is true for both navigation within the town, and when outbound. Havasu is only 100 miles away, but the quickest route involves over 200 miles of road. Fortunately, speed limits out here reach a generous 75 MPH. My second closest friend (the closest being my wife, Danielle) asked me to be his best man next weekend, and this is the last opportunity to get him out for the obligatory bachelor party. For this particular friend the ideal bachelor “party” has little to do with strippers, and everything to do with the desert’s solitude and the company of a good friend. Our destination: Swansea, a small town of only a few hundred thousand… cactus. About half way between Lake Havasu and Alamo Lake along the Bill Williams River, the ghost town has a similar geographic isolation to Prescott, but with an additional 20 miles of dirt protecting it from the nearest tarmac. The most scenic route along-and-through the river has unfortunately been closed off by the BLM, another victim in their undeclared war against free access to Arizona’s backcountry. That leaves Shea Road out of Parker, Swansea / Lincoln Ranch Road out of Bouse, and Alamo Road out of Yucca as the only ways to reach the ghost town, any of which can be combined into a worthwhile loop. Using the Shea Road approach, we reached our camp in the center of town at 3 in the afternoon, plenty of time to set up camp and explore. Our exploration took us along the old water pipe that once fed Swansea, and down to the Bill Williams River. There’s always something new to see when I visit the Mojave,… Return to Swansea
Here’s a few photos from our hike up to Cherum Peak in the Cerbat Mountains earlier this month. The Cerbats aren’t terrifically tall, but they do best most of the surrounding mountains by a thousand feet. Cherum Peak rises to just under 7,000 feet, high enough to see over Nevada into California and enjoy panoramic views in every direction. The first 3,000 feet of climbing is done via Big Wash Road, a surprisingly well graded dirt road that would be an absolute blast in a rally car. Most passenger cars can make it up the mountain just fine with a careful driver at the wheel. The hike itself is about 5 miles round trip and not all that difficult, though it can get still and hot on the east slope during the first part of the ascent. Fortunately, there is a nice shady spot to stop and rest just off the trail once you crest the ridge. The rest of the way up there is plenty of shade and a nice breeze. The mountainside is littered with abandoned mines, most very near the trail, and many well hidden. Shortly after passing a rock sundial, the trail merges with a road that comes up from Hualapai Valley. Right about this time we found ourselves under a storm of birds dancing overhead—I can only guess it was mating season… The trail branches off from the road again after a few hundred yards and begins the final climb up rocky switchbacks to the summit. This last segment is where the best of the scenery comes into view, ending with an unobstructed 360° view from the peak which extends for miles. A little scrambling is required to reach the top, where a crow’s nest of rock has been built around the benchmarks. There’s even a recliner built into one wall for an afternoon nap.… Cherum Peak
I should be used to this by now. After all, the past 3 years have been exactly the same. In 2008 they claimed it was a “freak occurance”, in 2009 they pondered the odds, in 2010 “a record breaking storm”, and this year they finally admit that “weather extremes” are the new norm. Snow, in the Mojave, in April? Sweet! The forecast called for a warm and sunny afternoon. Knowing this last snow of the season wouldn’t stay long I grabbed some munchies, scraped the ice off the windows, and headed out to explore the Cerbats. My first stop was the Chloride general store in search of a refill for my now cold coffee—no joy. “Sarsaparilla?” The shopkeeper looks at me with confusion. I settle for a Weinhard’s root beer and wonder to myself if the previous owner is enjoying his retirement. Soda in hand I wander the streets of the old mining town, snapping photos of snow-covered relics and watching the sun come out. From Chloride I pushed east in search of some landmark called “The Mural.” Just outside of town the first in a series of prominent markers led the way. The location of The Mural on this route couldn’t be better: just before the first obstacle on the trail leading up the mountain, and right in front of the perfect air-down spot. I spent the next few minutes checking out how the artwork changes from different angles before a fellow traveler pulled up. He was once a prospector out here, and after a brief conversation I learn that the original Mural is still intact nearby—a mosaic of the old town made up from the glass of broken bottles. I’ll have to come back after the snow has melted and look for it. With the sway bar disconnected and the tires aired down I continued east, climbing quickly over the ice-covered boulders. I didn’t make it very far. At the first switchback the sound of rushing water overpowered the purring of the engine, and I spent the next two hours getting to know the full potential of the Canon S95. I left the waterfall and crested the next ridge, only to be met by a wall of dark clouds and snow. Time and weather had once again lined up perfectly, and the hours spent at the waterfall were just long enough for the last remnant of the snowstorm to… Cerbat Mountains
Dani and I headed out today to pick up where I left off in my exploration of the Warm Springs Wilderness area. Once again, things did not go as expected. What looked to be a short day trip around Black Mesa turned into several longer jaunts into the interior. Wilderness often means a very different thing here in Arizona than I’m used to: instead of locked gates and big red signs standing guard over the perimeter, we were greeted by friendly brown signs reminding us to stay on existing roads when driving inside the wilderness area. Wait, driving inside? We stopped off at the old corral again so I could spend some time re-shooting the same subject, and better learn how the filters work with the camera. The tank was now half-filled with water, courtesy of a tap that had been left running. The morning sun revealed a water line headed up the hill I hadn’t seen before, no doubt this is where my creek had disappeared. I’m guessing it’s almost time to round-up the cattle, which hopefully means we’ll be seeing filet mignon at the butcher soon (deep-frozen Omaha just doesn’t compare with straight-off-the-cow fresh). A larger pack of burros was out enjoying the morning too, and they were feisty. In the picture below they aren’t running from us, but playing. They were so busy running in circles kicking and shoving each other they scarcely took notice of our presence. Swinging through the town of Yucca we crossed the tracks and headed up Sacramento Wash to find a road leading into the wilderness that I spotted several months back. This is where the power of the “period” comes in: one little dot. It is the difference between a 1.5 mile stroll and a 15 mile hike. We were after the latter, and all trace of the little dot had long ago vanished from the ancient sign. Within minutes we arrived at Caliche Spring—little more than a big metal pipe sticking out of the ground. It does have a great view of the valley, a quaint little campsite, and the decaying ruins of another large corral. Rather than cross the tracks and hop on the interstate, we opted to continue down the rail service road and around the eastern edge of the wilderness. Along the way we passed several mine sites, but none were accessible by vehicle, and none looked… Warm Springs Wilderness
I finally got a few minutes to go through the pictures from our visit to the Old Dale Mining District last weekend. The area is one of many overlooked southern Mojave gems, free of the crowds and nanny-state interventions often found in National Parks. This area sweeps from the rocky mountains at the edge of the Mojave, southward into the Sonoran desert and the Pinto Basin area of Joshua Tree NP, and is filled with mine sites and remains galore. We were joined by a small group of friends from OAUSA—Larry in the Crazy FJ, Jon in a 4Runner, and Nick in another FJ Cruiser. After a night of last minute installing, death-by-chocolate cake, and a sheltered “camp” at my folk’s place we headed out into the desert.… Old Dale Mining District
With the Discovery in the shop getting the damage from our Vegas trip repaired, I’ve been left with an all-wheel drive Ford Escape we’ve affectionately dubbed the Loanerlander. It has a truly awesome air conditioner, half-decent stereo, and the cutest little street tires that have ever mated with a “utility” vehicle. Playing it safe, we planned to do some hiking for a change and spent a hopeful Friday evening watching this: Saturday morning looked good, dark clouds filled the sky and it was just barely into the 80s by the time we headed out. I was hoping for a good rain on our hike, since there is no shade to be found in the local hills. I’d never checked out Camp Beale before so we headed up to the loop trail.… Chloride, Arizona
Off to Vegas for a celebration of our good friend Kay Passa’s 30th, but of course my best possible route to Sin City involves an extra three days zig-zagging over dirt track through Mojave National Preserve. Monsoon season has come late to the Mojave Desert this year, and has so far been somewhat disappointing for folks like us that are actually seeking thunderstorms. Still, the trip was well worth it and the clouds were beautiful… We also made a stop by Kelso Depot to visit The Beanery, and visited the still-missing Mojave Cross. The Beanery, the lunch room at the Kelso Depot, is once again open and serving food to hungry travelers. The smoothies alone are worth a detour. The food is ok… not great, but it beats a sack lunch.… Mojave National Preserve
Last weekend we headed out into the southern Mojave to see a few different areas in and around the Old Woman Mountains (previous trip). It was good to get out with some like-minded folks, and we had a great time exploring both places we’ve been and new places we never would have found. The opportunities for wildlife, and particularly reptile viewing were excellent. Lizards and snakes were in a lazy mood this weekend and stuck around long enough for us to get close-up pictures of several different species. We were also able to explore a new (to us) mine area in Carbonate Gulch—a canyon I’ve driven partially in the past, but never went quite far enough to discover the mine. Old engines, massive pulleys, cables, crumbling foundations, scattered debris and a dripping spring all bake in the sun a the top of this hidden canyon. We’re planning to head back when it gets cooler for the hike up to the main shaft. Our photos from this trip can be found in the Flickr set. Many thanks to everyone that made the long trek out to the desert and made this a wonderful weekend.… Old Woman Mountains II