Friday, March 29
We stop at a gas station in Wickenburg to have our empty propane tank filled. A damaged gas pump reminds me to be careful driving in tight places.
Uh-oh. Somebody’s Easter weekend got off to a bad start.
Taking Highway 60 southeast out of Wickenburg, we turn east onto Highway 74, a knife-straight two-lane road slicing through picturesque forests of saguaro and cholla. Drivers are pressured, taking risks to pass because I refuse to drive faster than 58 mph when towing. This is no time and place to park on the shoulder to snap photos.
The crew is restless, unable to settle down.
I drive onto some BLM land to allow them a break. Cholla and signs of OHVs are everywhere.
Back in the PTV, Bridget and Spike quickly doze off.
We pass the Hieroglyphic Mountains to the north and Saddleback Mountain (elev. 2372) to the south. A line of Easter week vacationers, pulling campers and boats, pours into the entrance road to Lake Pleasant. Located only 20 miles or so north of Peoria and the urban sprawl of Phoenix, it’s not a place I want to camp on a busy weekend!
So far I’m enjoying the drive.
I take New River Road northeast, a shortcut toward Interstate 17, the highway which lives in infamy on Arizona television news. Oh boy, there it is. This oughtta be fun.
Soon the PTV-BLT is overrun by the frantic exodus of vehicles, zipping past us at speeds upwards to 75 mph or more, and yet maintaining bumper-to-bumper positions. Eee-gaadds! Happy Easter everyone! Enjoy your relaxing holiday!
Somewhere along the way, as the highway pushes through Black Canyon and Black Canyon Mesa, the grade increases dramatically for a long distance and the traffic slows.
A sign suggests turning off the air conditioner.
Uh-oh. Time for second gear. We reach the summit with barely an increase on the temperature gauge. Relieved, I offer up a “Thank you, Jesus,” adding a well-deserved thank you to the victorious PTV. We pass three vehicles on the shoulder, their hoods raised in defeat under the hot Arizona sun.
Everybody resumes hell-bent-for-leather speed.
“I have got to get us off this blasted highway!”
The PTV jumps off at exit 259, scooting into Agua Fria National Monument on Bloody Basin Road. This is a place I discovered online as a possible place to boondock. I stop at a kiosk displaying a map and rules, one of which is a 14-day limit. Camping is free.
I drive pass five campsites, all except two are spaced far apart.
All five are occupied. Although not totally evident in the photo below, the road becomes increasingly difficult. (Online research had informed me the roads at Agua Fria are best driven with 4WD, high clearance vehicles.)
The crew is awake, pestering me to stop and let them out.
I park and the three of us walk up to the crest of a small hill. I realize I don’t want to drive this road any further. Darn! There’s the last campsite and it’s occupied. A man hurries down the hill to his campsite at the base. Well, I guess I might as well introduce myself, given that Spike is already snooping around his truck camper.
Jim is a slim, soft-spoken man with a gentle manner.
He tells me Colorado has been his home all his life until recently.
“How about that 17,” he remarks, referring to the Highway of Madness. We discuss the increase in campers on Easter weekend. He admires the BLT parked on the road below.
All the Bloody Basin Road campsites are filled.
“I could move and let you have my spot,” Jim suggests. I’m amazed by his offer.
“Oh, no, no,” I quickly respond. “You stay where you are, Jim. It’s first come, first camp.”
I walk over to Spike who is lying in the shade of Jim’s truck.
“I can’t call Spike because he’s deaf,” I explain. I tap Spike on the shoulder and motion that we’re going.
Jim and I say goodbye and wish each other well.
I regret that we can’t stay here. I sense that Jim and I are kindred spirits and we would quickly establish a long-lasting bond.
The noonday sun is hot as Bridget, Spike and I walk back to the PTV.
Well, I’m glad to know what this place is like. Maybe I’ll camp here another day. It’s pleasant, the location is handy, and there’s no cholla!
The crew and I leave Agua Fria National Monument, cross the raging interstate, and take a BLM road northwest toward the ghost town of Cordes.
To be continued . . .
Note: The photos may seem washed out. Even with Picasa’s color saturation editing, the colors remain muted and the hues subtle, which is how this part of the desert looks in reality at noon on a spring day!