Weather has been changing by the day, and so has gone our vacation schedule. We have had our time dwindled to three days and one of those is still iffy. Our location changed from four days at the Eden Hot Springs, which was killed by Covid19. Our “Plan B” was look at some mountain watershed, mid to lower elevations. This has changed several times. Now we are heading for a tour with several hikes associated with the San Pedro River Valley. Such as it sometimes goes, for spoiled warm weather naked people.
The first day is to explore the riparian riverbed of the San Pedro near Cascabel, Arizona. I have been scouring satellite photos of the area and anything on the internet about access into the river. There is supposedly a four and a half mile stretch that has flowing water, but I’m not yet sure just where that is.
We begin with a drive out on the sleepy two lane road to Cascabel.
Spring flowers are popping up everywhere.
Some places are covered in color.
To figure which one we are in, we begin by counting wash beds that intersect the main road to Cascabel. Things are very different from the ground, rather than a photo from space. They seem bigger, smaller, steeper, and there are many hidden objects like fences. You can’t see a lock on a gate from space. I have a great deal of speculation, but there has to be a way.
There is no general store, or information center, no kiosk. What we do find is an obscure road with a woman mowing grass and a man loading his van. We stop to ask.
He is friendly. He tells us that all of the river along here is private land and this time of year, he knows of no water above the ground. He says that he knows of no access to the river. How anyone owns a river, I don’t know, but he then tells us that he has property along a wash which leads into the river. If we bump into anyone along the way, just tell them he said, “okay” and they won’t mind. We’re feeling grateful.
He continues. He points off to a tall cliff across the river, something that we are intrigued to explore. “See that right angle there?” He describes something of a cave that is very tall. He describes it as feeling like a cathedral and that “It has been said, that the Native Americans might have used it.” My inner Indiana Jones has his ears perked up, but not salivating quite yet.
We thank them and head out.
As is described, we find the place to park in the adjacent wash, not far away. I have a sandwich, as we gather our gear. I take a kilt and a sweatshirt, in case the wind picks up to 35 mph gusts as predicted. DF has a woolen shirt and a short dress. I carry a daypack for these. We take some extra water and a snack. We have no plan, no trail, no idea really, just a riverbed.
There are large shady cottonwood trees out there and brown cliffs with a certain majesty about them. They look kind of like an Egyptian mega-ruin from where we have been observing, up on the road.
We take off down the wide generally grey wash. There are numerous river rocks of all sizes. Many of these are colorful. There will be some entertaining geology.
It isn’t long before we find an old car buried in the gravel and sand up to its windows. Perhaps it was the victim of a flash flood many years ago.
Soon, we discover a couple more old cars. They are the large boats of the pre-70’s oil embargo. It is fun trying to figure the model and year of the rusty, banged up old cars.
There are only the bits and pieces left.
The clues are the still chromed rearview mirror, the shape of the bonnet, the dome over the cab.
They bring back memories.
I’ll leave the identification of these bodies up to you. I’m having fun figuring them out.
These were placed here to control bank erosion…they failed.
It is only about a quarter mile when we come to the confluence. There is a gouge where the two waters meet during the rains and flooding.
I grab a broken old tree and drag it into the middle of the wash to remind us where to return.
The river has a few nice green trees along its dry banks. On this slow turn in the river channel, grasses and other life often drop off where the river has eroded under them.
Everywhere, there is a mosaic of cracked tile. It is a sheet of clay on top of the sand which has dried and cracked in patterns. We listen, as the only sound that we hear is of the breaking ceramic under our feet. Sometimes, one is loose enough and we discover that the sand is soft under this sheet as we sink.
There are deep little canyon-like cuts, like an aerial shot of Paris, its buildings consistently the same height arranged in blocks with winding roads in-between.
There is sand and then some spots are as good as any sidewalk.
He wind comes through and then passes, sometimes with a twist. It is pleasant and with some sense of solitude.
I stop. I have spotted dark and hairy figures. I’m pretty sure it is javalina. We wait for them to show themselves. They walk into the brush as we creep nearer on the other side of the river.
After we have passed, DF sees a pair scurry across the river behind us.
They had been waiting, watching, smelling.
The archeology/geology beckons us when we approach the areas before the cliffs. The formations are across the way, which is a distance from the riverbed. We’ll have to find a way up the cliffs of dirt to get out of the river, which range from ten to twenty feet high.
There is a spot where the earth has fallen from a shorter cliff into the river. It is the only spot where it is not strait up and doesn’t have a bush growing on it to block us. I find it fascinating how the mesquite bosque and its lush vegetation has held erosion. There should be normally, a spot where a wash flows into the river, a seasonal tributary. The soil is stable.
It is downstream from our objective, and we still haven’t seen what the terrain is like up there.
We climb and arrive into a mesquite bosque. There are few leaves this time of year. Some have buds, but generally, it is the black winterized forest of gnarly dark grey stocks and branches. The floor is a bed of waist deep and very happy mustard. It is friendly, caressing us as we wade through.
It is apparent that mustard loves this place and pervades, until we find ourselves trying to get through the tangle the old thicket which lies more to the base of the cliffs.
At this moment, we are glad to still have our tops on. The low branches are teaming up with the bushes of catclaw and hackberry. You may note their treatment of us by their names. We risk fewer scratches with heavy shirts, but I have to unhook DF from the hold that some gives her shirt. It is like getting caught in a web. This is bushwhacking, and we have neither hatchet, nor gloves in hand.
We approach the wall. We have the wrong spot. We must head further south through the thicket.
Effort brings us to the landmark that we seek and more thicket. We hear a javalina bolting through the brush where it is too thick to see it. It sounds very loud.
In the shade of the monolithic cliffs, there is a small spillway of hardened sand and gravel coming out of somewhere. I make my way around the curve of it, when I escape the bushes. At this point, I’m in doubt. I hope that I have not received a bum steer, or misunderstood. I see nothing of a large hole in this wall.
But, as I move, a chamber becomes visible. Could this be…whatever it is?
I hear a good sized rock rumble way above me. I turn to see DF looking up. Between us, a baseball sized rock has swiftly crashed to the ground. We speculate. There have been black birds, ravens, or crows, hovering around these cliffs all day. They have been active up there in the holes eroded in the walls. Could one, the trickster, be making trouble for us?
A couple of more paces and the opening spreads and grows taller. In a moment, the crack stretches so very high, dark and mysterious. We have found it…something.
I walk inside. There is a tunnel carved into the rock as tall as the cliffs. A streambed drops into this when it rains. I see it in the light above.
I see that the light follows the crack down and there is DF standing with her eyes opened wide, “Wow!”
The sound echoes as I walk around experimenting. It echoes from many directions at once. This is a place for drums and didgeridoo, perhaps a flute.
This huge formation is like a cement made of an ash tuft. There are numerous layers of rounded river rock decorating, as it spires upward. Where a larger one sticks out, it’s canopy has protected the erosion of the layers of rock below it. The walls have shelves.
There is a nice hard surface under our feet. I wonder what tales would be told to excavate it.
We spend time in awe, and awareness, just enjoying the quality of our surroundings.
The trip out is no less troublesome than the trip in. It doesn’t last as long, however. We are soon wading through mustard along the river bank, looking for the only place to get down into the wash.
It is a beautiful day, now. The shirts come off as soon as we step into the riverbed.
The dried mud continues to fascinate us.
Perhaps we may seem too easily entertained by the ceramics and sheer variety of the quick baked earth. The sound, the texture, the mass. It is untouched and alien.
Wandering back, we take note of the cottony webbing in the branches of a particular tree.
These look like a nest. A close up shows us that each bag has probably a hundred caterpillars crawling inside. Some are breaking through. This is a butterfly nest.
We stop at a tree to discuss and take a picture of what looks to be beaver’s chew marks, or an axe.
I’m standing involved, when I see a walker with two dogs out of the corner of my eye.
Both surprised, we begin to scramble to place what cloth is cushioning our shoulder straps, around our bodies. We certainly shouldn’t expect to see anyone else out here.
A voice calls out, “I want you to know that you are on private property.” He goes on, standing on the other side of the bushes.
I explain our arrangement with his neighbor.
He bids us a good-bye, “sorry for disturbing you.”
I respond in kind.
“You are golden, Cowboy. Jus’ wanted you to know.” He turns and walks away.
The wind dies down; the bird’s songs are heard. I collect a few fun rocks as we make our way up the wash, once again lovely naked in the air.
We still have need for a place to camp for the night. We’ll head for the base of the distant Galiuro Mountains.
That’s for the next story.
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Another amazing journey supported by beautiful photography.