Foothills in 4×4 Low



We are at the hotsprings still. It is Saturday after arriving on Friday. Today we have directions to the rough road that leads back into the foothills of the mountains to the north. We are going to explore today. You might read about Friday here first:

Remember that you can click any photo to enlarge and enhance it.

We take our time getting out of bed. When we do, DF begins a breakfast as I wander off, following my nose into the area that we haven’t been to in a while. There were more camping spaces created a year or two ago. Now, I discover that the growth has filled in with green shrubbery around the trimmed spaces. Some are very pleasant camping spots.

One site leads to another and I find myself at the duck pond. It’s wonderful. Two chairs and a table sit there. I quickly head back to camp to grab DF, a camera and our bowls of delicious breakfast.

We quickly stuff our meal into a sack and we are off to a picnic. Tucked into the forest of salt cedar and Mesquite, is the grassy dam berm for the duck pond. The shade is just a tad chilly this morning for naked me, but there is a patch of sunlight. We move the furniture over there. The contrast is remarkable. The morning sun warms any chill left in our bodies. DF slips off the sweats that she had come covered up in.

Towels down, we sit feasting as we survey the surroundings. The tall salt cedar has attained a green color, since our visit last month. The spring has given it highlights of pink flowering against the blue sky. These reflect in the peaceful waters, where algae floats and a pair of ducks primp and nibble. Ducks enjoy the shelter of the mass of cattails and reed which fences a border along the opposite shore. The water is quiet except for an occasional kerplunck. Perhaps it is a turtle, or frog entering the water. Only ripples are seen. There are songs of birds, some familiar and one new to us. There are no bug pests….

After food, we take the camera to task in this sweet setting. Snapping and making our way down the shady berm, I begin to hear water flowing. The berm slopes down and to the right a stream glistens. The flow comes from the overflow of the duck pond.

DF gracefully steps in, expecting warm mineral water, but grimaces, emitting a small shriek, then smiles. When the water finally makes its way down to here it is not hot. She is just a little surprised in her bare feet.

Grimace in Surprise

We stretch, meditate and pray here and then return to our campsite.

I have brought a hard foam roller to stretch with before our exertions. Behind the boat house, I lay out a blanket and brace my body over the simple device. My spine pops where it is needed, and I massage the muscles that I’ll need to be limber, today.

DF takes over.

I grab the camera to see what graceful, or contorted images, that I might find. As she begins, the old door of the boat house catches a breeze and makes a long creak sound. I race to find the video setting. It would be hilarious to watch DF stretch with that noise, as if it is her.

The hot tub is inviting, but we agree that if we get in, we may never leave it. We’ll explore first.

Neighbor Visits Camp


Out on the Trail:

We have rough directions to the turnoff along the dirt road that runs along the Gila River. It has been tagged with red flags. Hopefully they are still there. If not, we feel confident that we will find it, this time.

As we approach the ranch house, there happens to be a man on horseback in full cowboy regalia crossing the road with an old hound following him. He is far enough away, that by the time we go around the bend, he isn’t looking down at nude us, into our truck. After we get off of this road, we expect any encounters with others to be very rare.

We drive slower this time and see a red flag tied to a mesquite tree. The road is surprisingly good, well graded and not frequently used. We wander on back toward the distant buttes through the blooming creosote, the aroma floating in through the open windows. It is all similar to our drive the day before further west of here. The breeze is circulating around our bodies.

On a ridge, there is a fork in the road. We stop just to the side of the road and get out, inspecting the route and enjoying the vista.

We need to take a short walk down this lesser road to see where it leads to. One would expect to see no one out here, even on a weekend; even so, one would expect to see and hear anyone coming.

We are surprised to see an ATV coming over the hill on the other road. The wind had carried away the sound until the last minute.

Minds are clicking. Do we dash for the truck? Not much time. Do we squat? They’ll see us anyway. They are coming fast.

We can only turn our backs to them. We are not exposing those certain special body parts and technically legal by the state statute on State Trust Lands. I twist around and exchange waves with the driver as they pass. We’re both smiling.

We see that this road heads northwest and I’ve been interested in the terrain to the northeast from the Google satellite photos. We’ll try the other road.

We get in the truck and continue up the road where the ATV came from. I then notice that the angle is greater than I had thought. In their low ATV they may not have seen us more that the waist up. I think that we just lucked out, taking action without need.

This road is freshly grated deep and there is a pile of rocks on each side.

We meander until we find a corral with several head of cattle around it. There is nothing to eat and no water. We wonder why they are all there at all.

The road runs up a hill. We follow it and it ends at what looks like a building pad, a site for a mansion. In the middle of this clearing, is a green rail fence, which surrounds two large holes. We decide to get out and look over the edge. We discover that this is the reason for this newly made road. Obviously someone has been having way too much fun with some heavy equipment.

Down in one of the pits there is a puddle of thick mud. There must have been a nice artesian spring here. Perhaps it will return with rains.

We find a place to climb out of the piles of rock chunk debris and venture to see the nature here.

There are strange cholla cacti that spread across the ground.

Another type similar to a staghorn cholla presents itself, but it is wirey, in disarray and uncharacteristically imbalanced.

There are several species that we don’t have back in Tucson.

Strange grass

Granite has lichen growing to look like syrup cascading in its contours.

The winds persist.  The rock formations are beautiful, as we are now closer, to see the face of the previously distant buttes.

As we return to the SUV, the brilliant magenta blossoms of the hedgehog cactus announce themselves as a blast of color in a more subdued desert landscape.

Heading back down the hill to the cattle corral, we spot another fork in the road. This, I figure, is the old road. We turn out left, as a dozen cow’s heads turn, following our movement.

The road heads down the hill to a wash. The desert flood plain is cut by this ribbon of contrast. It is soon apparent that we are entering the dry stream bed itself, surrounded by rock cliffs. To begin to rise out, slowly, I have had to shift into four wheel drive low gearing. We are partly traveling over a rock face with lots of black marks from pieces of car and tires.

Rock with a Piece of my Tread

Our progress is slow and the road gets worse, as we can see in the hilly terrain before us. We decide that we would rather take that first fork, which heads out northwest, further and closer to the mystical geology of the butte’s cliff faces.

We stop where the road enters the wash and walk up stream to seek some shade and solitude under a canopy of a cottonwood tree. When we arrive, we see a massive grandpa of a cottonwood. Its roots have been exposed by erosion long ago. The exposed roots are now covered in bark. The thick diameter of the trunk has been loped off and branches old and new are growing from it. A piece dies and a new incarnation replaces it. This mammoth has had a long tenacious and extraordinary life in this more barren desert.

Returning over the treacherous old jeep trail through the rocky wash, we slowly overcome the obstacles of unburied rock. I have to get out of the cab and plan out how to climb the truck over them without mishap. It is a challenge.


The other fork:

We continue to the first fork in the road and I begin a descent into the valley below. In the distance, in the hills, I see an interesting rock cliff formation. This would be a good goal.

We creep slowly down a hill, which leads us into a sandy wash.

As we begin our ascent out of the wash, I decide to check the future out on foot, and park. I don’t want to get into a difficult place and have to back out in this mess.

I find a wide ditch about thirty feet long. Passage would require straddling this ditch. On the one side, next to a cliff face there is loose dirt on a thin slope. One slip and the truck would roll firmly into the cliff’s side. That would mean crushed door panels, perhaps hitting it at the roof and taking out the windows. The other side of the road is too thin for our track. The truck could slip and roll into the deep ditch that way.  I’m not going to spend time filling the ditch with large river rocks.

I find that I have deliberated the situation, imagining answers for ten or twenty minutes. I know that if I ponder in indecision for that long, then it is best to decide not to risk a 4×4 route. We will park our SUV in the wash and hike from here.

On top of the knoll, we can see a group of trees below in a small valley. That will be our first goal, shade.

We soon see a cattle path and surmise that it heads directly to these trees. It is a more direct shortcut. The rocky terrain has a flat dirt surface where this path follows. The road that we are on is filled with dislodged chunks of rock.

We arrive at the trees and find a barbed wire fence to keep the cattle out. We crawl under the fence which is there to keep cattle out and explore the shady forest-like area.

It is very thick with twisted dead branches, so thick that we must go back from where we arrived and go around it. This leads us to bushwhack through the desert, not a particularly difficult bushwhack, just a meandering walk through the creosote up and over a hill or two.

We intersect a road, which then leads us back just north of where we had been earlier. We sit and rest in the shade. DF is entertained by a large hummingbird, while I begin to take pictures off of my camera’s full card.

Beside her is a sign “Wildlife Study area.”

We decide to return to the truck and enjoy the hot springs. It could add an hour and a half to our hike to make the next goal, a rock face. Tomorrow is another day.

With no encounters by passing motorists, we have made our way back to the wonderful healing water’s relaxation and comforts. There are a few more folks around today. We enjoy meeting them and taking up with those whom we enjoyed the previous evening.  We are occupied by laps in the huge swimming pool, rubber raft floating navigation, peace. This place is Eden incarnate and topping off our no clothing day. We have a potluck along the wooden picnic table as night falls and once again, we are captured by the hot mineral baths and cuddled by the stars.





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One thought on “Foothills in 4×4 Low

  1. Your adventures leave me so envious!


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