Back into the Alpine Mountains Pt. 1: A Trip Report

We had just visited the Blue River down Juan Miller Road and decided to spend our remaining time back up in the alpine ecosystem of the White Mountains. See “Into the Blue River Valley parts 1 and 2” and before that, “Someplace South of Greer parts 1 and2.”

As we traveled up the 666 highway among magnificent vistas and pines that afternoon, there were many camouflage uniforms all along the road. On the drive the day before, we had encountered maybe six or eight vehicles in the entire seventy miles. Today there were battalions of these guys. One red truck had a pair of antlers attached to a deer in the back of his bed. I found out later that bow hunting season started that Friday. That explained the guilty looks on those young men’s faces the day before. They were out jumping the gun. Everywhere, they were unpacking, sitting, driving slowly, and watching. One white P/U had even stopped dead in the middle of the curving highway and waved us to pass!

Stopping for a break and a look at the map below Hannigan’s Meadow, we began looking for a spot to camp. It was already four and we had no plan. We continued down the trails, hoping to get lucky. These jeep trails wandered through meadows bordering stands of forest on hillsides. Some of the stands had burned four years earlier and others were untouched.

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One trail ended where a fallen tree crossed the road. When I pulled off to turn around on three points, the tall grass on the slope made my wheels spin. Not a handy place to get stuck and if stuck, maybe not the best place to camp either. I climbed out of the truck bare all over, flipped the lockers on the front wheels, climbed back in and slipped into four wheel drive low. The tall cool grass felt good on my feet, the rest of me was feeling a bit tense. I shifted into reverse gear, one barefoot on the brake and one on the clutch. I took a deep tired breath. If this didn’t work, it could be an ordeal. I haven’t had much experience dealing with tall slippery grass, being a desert rat. I had no mats. My confidence was lacking, causing some nervousness. DF stood naked on the trail, ready to give me directions in case I might back into a tree. I didn’t creep slowly as planned. I began to feel the truck rolling forward further into the grass and bog it was pointed at. Unsure, I pressed harder on the gas as I released the clutch further. I wasn’t aware of the potential torque and traction. Like a Willy’s, she bucked. It felt like the 4-runner literally jumped up into the air and landed, all four wheels back onto the trail, while my naked director jumped back herself. Brakes were slammed on and now all was still. In a moment, everything had happened very fast. As the experience of time slowed down, we were both surprised and impressed. For all that I know, that tree might have been so surprised that it jumped out of the way, too.

We inspected a spot in the center of a meadow. It could be more dangerous in lightning, the foliage was too thick and you know, it just didn’t feel right.

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We tried a power line trail to no avail. We then sat with the motor off, looking at the map. My intuition told me nothing, my knowledge even less. I quipped to DF that we could use her pendulum, WTF. She surprised me, reaching into her purse and pulling out her silver pointer and chain. She began to hold it over the map. It just kept swaying back and forth. With no change, I began to move the truck. She continued with nothing as we drove. Then suddenly, out of the blue, she exclaimed, “There it is, it’s here.” The spot was a few miles up the road on a Forest Road #26. I had nothing better and the campsite sure wasn’t here.

We traveled on, and about four miles from the highway on this #26, there was a grassy turnoff. “That’s it,” she explained as a matter of fact.

This had been a road, but the forest service had placed three boulders, something from an old concrete and stone foundation probably, in the middle of it. There were some small pine trees planted a few feet further.

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This place appeared perfect for our needs. It was just far enough from the road to avoid the dust. The waist high rocks would make fine tables and a good quick place for naked people to discretely hide behind, when “white extended cab pickup trucks passed by.

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There were plenty of trees to step behind in the surrounding meadow.

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A berm was up the road a piece. It would make a good private latrine area. There was no fire damage. There was even a meandering brook over in the trees! It wasn’t seen from the road because it dried up suddenly before it got there.

Notice the tent amongst the trees

Notice the tent among the trees

The imperfection was that there were stones and gravel everywhere. I began a search, after ducking a passing truck. DF wandered off too. After turning up nothing and beginning to think up ways to protect a tent floor and pads from the rocks, DF called out to me, “It feels right over here,” as if in a trance. I followed her tracks, expecting more of the same. She didn’t understand the rock problem, I get to be in the tent guy’s role. That is my responsibility. There it was, a near perfect spot with puffy grass, no flowers, no rocks, just nice soil to pound stakes into. Wow!

There had been a thundering cloud that was passing us to the east, but then, the sky began to clear. I set up the net tent/tarp in this ideal place. We were down to mostly my dehydrated backpacking foods, as we had planned for the aborted backpacking trip. We rehydrated a tasty spaghetti concoction. This was not he extensive planned backpacking trip, but we chuckled that we were in backpacking mode, even if the trek was only about a 100 yards from the truck.

There were numerous pickups, jeeps and ATVs passing on the road. Compared to the day before it was busy. We still wonder where all of these guys were going. A couple passed back. Those might have been getting more Friday night beer. We just casually stepped behind the rocks, a handy tree, the 4runner, or squatted in the tall grass and flowers as they passed. Sometimes we’d wave and smile, them none the wiser. Always, there was someone was looking out the windows, watching for deer. Camp was made, dinner eaten naked, but for our chairs.

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In the twilight, enough mosquitoes made indulgence for themselves around us, as the temperatures dropped. We each put on a layer of clothing.

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The crescent moon provided quite a bit of light that evening in the clear air of mountain skies. We danced before it, as DF made up lyrics for “Dancing in the Moonlight” reminiscent of other trips in nature’s grace.

We eventually and early, slipped into our cozy net tent. We watched the sky pass through the trees, and felt a part of. The tall grasses were all around us just outside, almost as if we were not in a shelter. A light breeze sometimes came through.
In the night two owls conversed. One exclaimed, Who, who.”
The other replied,” Who. “
After a while, Who became silent, like us.
“Who, who?” Well, Who knows.
Part 2 will post NEXT WEEK…(The next describes two more extensive days).

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