Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Arizona Desert from a Different Perspective

We've been hanging out near Salome, AZ with a good-sized contingent of Way North Idahoans. Since we bought our boondocking site up north of Bonners Ferry, ID, it's been fun to hear all the stories they tell of parents and grandparents who homesteaded the region. We've been feasting on wild game (especially elk) at pot luck, dutch oven dinners, fishing Alamo Lake, hitting the farmers markets and thrift stores, and exploring the AZ desert wilderness in a way that's new to us.

There's nothing like a dutch oven pot luck meal

But Jake prefers the minnows.

Most of the people from Idaho who come down here in the winter have been exploring the wilderness areas of this region for decades. They go back up into the mountains for quail hunting, fishing, rock hounding, finding old mining camps, and to just enjoy the scenery. We've always been limited in our explorations by how far we could drive into a 4WD road and then how far we could hike in a day (no more than 15 miles). Well, everyone down here has a 4WD quad ATV of some kind, and that means much more accessibility to the backcountry.

As boondockers looking for quiet, we've always been leery of the weekend ATV'ers who show up near our campsite, unload their noisy vehicles, and race through the desert. So we were sceptical when the gang said we had to borrow one of their quads and join them in a backcountry jaunt.

Unlike the usual weekend ATV crowd, our group was an early rising, look for a seldom used area kind of group. In our full day excursion, we didn't see any other groups of any kind. That was unexpected, but part was being able to experience far more terrain and carry a wider array of gear than we ever could before. After about 15 miles, we arrived at a junction in the canyon where we had lunch. Instead of the usual fruit and nuts, we started a small fire in an existing fire ring and grilled some brats. That along with the ice cold drinks and smoked oysters, set us up for the three mile one way hike up a desert wash that was still alive with spring water.

The site was once busy with mining activities 100 years ago.

 It's always fun to find water in the desert. This old dam was probably built before WWII to provide water to the mining camps. It has filled in with sand, but still had spring water filtering through it and into the canyon.

We found this endangered desert tortois in one of the washes. It was about 14" long and must be pretty rare because it was the first of it's kind that anyone in our group had ever seen outside of a zoo. 

There are old mines and veins of minerals everywhere out here.

 Magnesium vein.

We found a bat cave up one wash that had big powder blue/gray bats flying around inside it. There weren't any other footprints besides ours inside.
 There was a fortune in guano fertilizer inside!

This was a great experience. We were able to access an area that couldn't be reached by jeep, mountain bike, or day hike and wasn't in any guide book. We were able to get in a nice six mile hike in a remote, historic area. We were able to enjoy a nice lunch and cold beverages. We were able to explore some old mines and see an endangered desert animal that is almost never seen outside of a zoo. We were the only group out in a wild and remote part of the desert. Overall, I don't think we've ever been able to pack so much into one day. We definitely need to alter our view of outdoor exploration.

And just for our buddy Boonie, who is our favorite intellectual RV fulltimer blogger, some postcard pictures of the ridiculous sunsets we have every night.


  1. This post shows how there is a constructive, environmentally-friendly use for ATVs, especially in arroyos, where they are harmless. Too often, holier-than-thous paint all motorsports with the same broad brush, and the brush is defined by weekend warrior idiots.

    Also, this post shows how interesting it is for outdoor activities to be multi-dimensional, with good food and drink, nice pets along, old people and kids.

    I liked the photo of the black/grey poodle (or terri-poo) with John. As for those boring sunset photos... well...

    1. I came to realize that ATVs can be low impact, just stay on the old mining trails or in the arroyos. The only "kids" on our excursion were Susan and me. That little dog was amazing. He kept up with us over boulders and through deep sand for six miles. I'm not sure what kind of mix he is, but terri-poo sounds about right. Since you liked the sunsets so much, you're going to get pretty flowers next time!

  2. Great Post! The dutch ovens, turtles and great things to see and do in Arizona. Thanks :)

    1. This is our first winter in AZ. There's enough here to keep us busy for the next 20 years!

  3. Meat eating ATVers. What next for you guys??
    We owned a jet ski in FL and used it for long day trips on the intracoastal waterway. Many people feel the same way about those as ATVs but both can be fun and get you to places you wouldn't otherwise be able to go.

    1. For now we're back to hiking. We need to work off all the Tucson Mexican food we're eating.

  4. Wonderful post guys, love the "postcards."
    I agree that a 4WD, be it ATV or Ford pick up, is the ticket to accessing greater amounts of lonely backcountry. I have no problem with ATVs until they become a "swarm" that dusts the same trail I'm out for a hike on, or, in the same back county boondock I thought I would be alone in. Your group sounded considerate and mature, and they chose a remote area as opposed to popular and crowded. At any rate, I smell a large expenditure coming up…but think of all the labor ATVs would save back in Idaho…carrying tools, making trails, getting around quickly. You can get little dozer blades for the front end, and pull a trailer behind them have a small tractor that is also an exploration tool. I haven't seen a backhoe attachment yet, tho it's probably in the works :) I would recommend two, one for each of you, so the fun is equally distributed, and in case you are 20 miles from camp and one conks out. It's only money :)
    Box Canyon Mark and Bobbie

    1. That's funny. We have been thinking and shopping a little bit. Especially for a Yamaha Rhino that could be a workhorse and back country vehicle. Those quad ATVs were incredible on those old mining roads that would be almost impossible to bike and miserable to hike. We can save on the backhoe. It seems like all of our neighbors in Idaho already have one they're willing loan.

  5. Susan, we bought a house in Tucson, moving on the 26th. Near Oro Valley. Maybe we can meet up in AZ?
    Jan Woods

    1. Jan, please send me an e-mail to my gmail account (on business card) so we can keep in touch!