The Gila Box: Part II
After exchanging transportation, Sunday, early, we drive off, again. Instead of our four-wheeling through the wilderness, we will tour the area and stay around the regular campsite. We hope that we will be among trees and water.
Three hours later, we arrive at a kiosk and view area.
There is a great band of green and a river below. The desert is sparse here for miles, but for this canyon, which is a ribbon of green filled with trees. It is about 26 miles of perennial water, and a couple of tributaries that add to it. We will be going up the Bonita Creek, as there is a road there, and checking for a place to stay and hike along the water.
I had spoken with the ranger, who told me of camping and a good hike. Sadly, I am about to find out how misleading his information is.
There is rafting and kayaking down there on the Gila. I’ve read about this and I want to check the conditions. Where there is a pullout for boats, we stop.
The ranger said that there could be hiking along that creek where we wouldn’t be disturbed. There are nice areas, but they are for day use only. The water is deep. It is a swim, not a hike. The banks are covered with small trees, tall grass, and reeds. There is no way to hike that river (probably called a creek any place else) without hacking out a trail. There are rattlers in those places.
We then decide to explore the camping area, which is shown on the BLM map. We are shocked by the camping area. It is up on a plateau in the sparse desert. There are these concrete picnic tables with small awnings on them for shade. It’s windy and dusty.
There is this coat of dry golden grass, which is thick from the rainy season and that leaves prickers in socks and shoes. Our socks accumulate at every opportunity. We would be chasing the patch of shade all day and suffer windy cold at night. It is very open, so we can see all of the campers at all of the other ten sites. Right now, there are only a couple of people there. The best I could say for this place, is that the stars from horizon to horizon would be wonderful.
We go down to a day use area adjacent to the campground and find one of those tables with the shade. We sit and eat lunch after the three hour drive.
Again, we search for a place to at least hike, but the situation is the same. The only way to get to the river is climbing on slippery muddy basalt black rocks. We are able to wander around naked because there are so few people, but this is not right at all.
We have seen the campgrounds and they are the extent of the available designated camping. There are “no camping” signs everywhere. It seems that this isn’t a place to drive and camp, but more of a park for the City of Safford, about ten miles away.
The roads are with major faults for the no clearance vehicle we are driving and it gets hairy dodging rocks in the road. With much care and concern, we get on. We are determined to find something better. We may have to leave. Anything would be better than that dusty, barren campground with no privacy.
There is a day use area up the road. We drive down a 19% grade that is paved to the base of the canyon. There we find trees and tables. All day, I have felt that I am in the wrong place and unwelcome, but there is a spot in the parking lot that just seems to feel like home…in the shade. It would make a very nice camping spot. We can’t really expect to have anyone follow us down here, as it is getting to be mid-afternoon and hot. We have seen all of the other campers and know where they are.
We walk on a trail down to the sound of the river/creek. There, after a river rock area, we are able to get in the water and access the river. It is peaceful.
Back at the car park, we find an old stone homestead ranch house, which is on display.
We have resolved not to be stuck in that weird campground. We decide to search on up the road to where there is another descent into the canyon. It is the last area for many hard miles. After this spot, it is impassable in the car. We had intended to explore this and beyond in four-wheel drive. It is a tough rugged road. Perhaps there would be a place to naked hike there, tomorrow.
The map appears to show a couple of roads down in the canyon. They cross there. The City of Safford has a water pumping station there. We see it below as we gaze over the cliff-side.
We carefully explore how far we can drive and then we park, just as we are descending into the canyon. We again stand and look down off of the cliffs, to see what we can see. We think that it looks like a beaver dam, but we will just have to explore the next day. That new camera that DF got gives us amazing telephoto shots of the area below. We are using it like a telescope.
We are tired from driving all day and we’re frustrated. We decide to head back to the day use area with the old ranch house to rest. We know that the rest of the campers are at the camping area and won’t come down there as it is for day use only.
We can assume that way out here, the rangers won’t come around at night. It is remote, difficult and not busy. The office receptionist at the main station told me that the ranger usually answers phone calls before leaving to go anywhere. The ranger had stated that they would mostly be in Aravaipa Canyon, when I spoke to him earlier in the week. There is a nil chance of someone coming down here tonight and not until after the morning phone calls.
I have begun to call the area the Gila Box Rip-off-ian area instead of riparian area. Screw it all, we are going to camp the night here and tear down the tent early. When the tent is put away tomorrow, we are in day use mode and legit, IF anyone were to come down here at all.
It is wonderful, despite the illegal camping, feeling dishonest, “better than the rest of the herd” guilt and my joking about the criminal connotations. The temps and breeze are wonderful. We listen to the river, we have a small fire, I play guitar and drum. We eat well.
In the dark night, we walk back to the parking lot and out of the trees. We look up and view masses of stars and a very milky Milky Way.
We crash out early. We do have to be dressed in sweat pants and long sleeve t-shirts after dark to stay warm and comfortable. The clothes kept the very few mosquitoes away. There is no animal life, but for some rustling in the leaves at one point, the ants on one side of the picnic table and the sound of crickets. We even have a nice clean public toilet. Laying in a warm bed filled with air, inside our tent, we hear fish and frogs jumping in the river nearby.
We wake up as the warm desert sun crests over the cliffs. It feels very good to get naked again. We don’t expect any authorities, but to be on the safe side, although unlikely, I take down the tent and pack it away, before breakfast.
We eat well again and begin to enjoy ourselves. We explore what had been a pioneer stone home and farm.
I stand at where a porch might have been. I look out where mesquite, now, grow over picnic areas. I imagine a small vegetable farm of a few acres with goats and sheep. Large cottonwoods are seen near the distant river and the cliffs beyond. This had been a nice place, for a good life.
I come across a patch of lavender/purple flowers with many yellow butterflies fluttering among them. They create a wonderful vibration. I hurry off to get DF to encourage her to try out the movie aspect of her new camera and hopefully, to catch that vibration.
She had been doing Chi Gong down by the creek. We are just a few feet from the butterfly patch, when we hear a vehicle above us on the road! We sprint back to camp (about 300 ft.), under the cover of the tree’s canopy. I look up and see a white truck… it could be Forest Service. We are only able to gather our clothes and throw them on (me a sweat pant and she a pull over sun dress).
They are already there, parked next to our car. This teaches a useful point of the craft of stealth nudity. I discovered that the locals know the roads. I expected them to cautiously go down the meandering sharp steep 19% grade on the side of a cliff. They instead, whipped down there in no time and with a trailer behind.
It is a cleanup crew, probably a subcontractor, collecting the trash. They seem surprised to see us. The older one comes over and tells us that we have his favorite spot in the whole canyon. We notice that we have misplaced the car keys while they have been there, It would be a potential total fiasco, if the car keys were lost. DF tells me she has no spares! They hear that and tell us that they are politely there for us, if needed. We ask a few questions about the area and trails, while we search. They aren’t very well informed. They leave, we strip and own the place, once again.
We have packed up as we don’t know where we will end up, or if it might be worth it to stay anywhere that we might find. We drive back where we had been yesterday, park halfway down the canyon on a bend in the road and hike in where we had attempted to observe the day before. On the map, there appears to be some old roads and maybe a river crossing.
We find the creek crossing and it is filled with cattails and just a dribble. It is maybe six inches deep where the road crosses it.
We go back, looking for places like old roads that go along the river to hike on. Suddenly there is a motor sound. We think at first that it is one of the numerous jet planes overhead. It isn’t, we scurry off of the road and hide behind a tree and throw clothes on. Cruising down the trail is a guy on his quad, smiling a huge grin. He sees us standing there in our floral Hawaiian patterns and waves as he passes.
We find only the road that goes up the other side of the canyon. It is again the thick impassable vegetation all along the water.
We turn back and then see an old piece of road that we had missed. It has a large log across it. I have to stomp some young tamarisk (the rangers are actively working to eradicate these invasive non-indigenous trees) doing the rangers and ourselves a favor. Hacking away seems the only way to get around. The old road opens up and leads us back to a pond.
It is a beaver pond!
I haven’t seen one since I was a kid!
There are chewed down trees everywhere and the pond of course blocks the old road trail, drowning it in deep water.
There sits a wonderful rock for lunch.
The place reeks beautiful.
The Feds are reintroducing them to Arizona to restore the natural ecosystems and watersheds that we lost when they were hunted out.
A Crazed Rock Hound:
We decide to go ahead and scout out the “rock hound” area in the desert, which is near here as the crow flies, but it is about twenty miles on a road. After that, we want to continue exploring up to the east entrance boat launch and camping area for a future kayak trip.
The rock hound area is on a large ridge, which is squarely miles from anything. We park and get out.
Immediately we begin to find small pieces of fire agate. They are everywhere! We get obsessed with finding the cool little pebbles among the volcanic rocks, which litter the area. I am able to make fun of DF to break the spell and literally pull her out from the desert floor and into the car. She is still sitting in the seat, leaning over, picking up more fire agate, as I began to close the door on her. Goofy yes, but very fun.
The Eastern Port:
The sun is nearing a setting position when we arrive at the east campground. It is just like the other campground. It sucks.
We go down to the river looking for the portage spot to put in for kayaking down the river. There is a day use area on the opposite side where a pickup truck sits. We continue seeing no place to get to the river.
We cross an old bridge that had been built backing 1910 for the new Safford to Morenci mining road and find our way down to the boat launch.
There is a picnic area and public toilet. I grab a wrap-around. There are trails down the river. I end up caring the wrap around as I walk, just in case. We sit and eat. It is again peaceful by the river.
There is a huge old cottonwood tree there. I imagine a scene 100 years ago. Ladies from Clifton are on a Sunday picnic, in their white Victorian dresses, getting their pictures taken under that old grandpa of a tree. Well, times change.
We have had enough and the campground just doesn’t appeal to us. We drive home a day early. I need to get the truck into the shop and to dig and plant DF’s winter garden.
Encounter on the Way Back:
We stop at the Texas Pass rest stop on the way back. It is night, but pretty well lit. I can see the tall rock face mountain lit up behind it. While DF takes care of business, I decide to put my wrap around on and buy a soda, but the machine doesn’t work. We return to the car and I see no cars behind me. I drop the cover-up and it feels very nice to stand in the public parking lot naked for a moment in the gentle breeze. As I get in, I notice a young guy between two walls of a ramada, working a portable grill and chuckling to the other members of his family. He has seen me strip and is apparently telling them what he had seen. They don’t believe him. They think that he is pulling their legs. Another Bigfoot reaction in concern of the illusive SN.
The next day, we stand in the kitchen, waiting for another tow, this time to the shop. We are in our clothes for an hour or so, expecting the tow any minute. I hadn’t been clothed like that in her house in ages. It felt just weird, hot, uncomfortable, and odd. We then had our errands to do around town and the garden.
There have been highs and lows this trip. We haven’t been dressed much, other than sweating in sweats overnight, for just awhile. Besides the tough turns and events, being nude has made for a very pleasant trip for us?
A nude two day river raft, or kayak expedition is the best way to enjoy this green ribbon oasis in the Arizona desert. When the water level is up, we can rent kayaks and enjoy a natural wilderness naturist playground undisturbed, for at least a two day river float.