Shutdown in Arizona

January 18-21, 2019

Over the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, Chris and I embarked on our fourth annual GTFO of Utah trip. We took highways 6 and 191 to get into Arizona, then 160 and 89 toward Flagstaff. Since most of northeastern Arizona is Indian land, we waited until we were just inside Coconino National Forest to start looking for a place to camp. It was late Friday night when we found a large juniper that sheltered an existing fire pit, where we set up our camp. Despite the late hour, we still had a camp fire and enjoyed some drinks and dinner before sleeping on cots beneath the stars and the nearly-full moon.

Camp in Coconino National Forest
Camp in Coconino National Forest

We had plans to visit several national monuments during the trip but the government shutdown really shut us down. Before we hit the road I looked online to find that Wupatki National Monument was closed, so we ambled over to Sunset Crater NM which was open. I had noticed an ice cave listed on the USGS topo map of the area but didn’t do any research beyond that. We hiked to the ice cave only to find that it was permanently barred up.

Sunset Crater
Sunset Crater

Sealed off ice cave
Sealed off ice cave

San Francisco Mountain beyond Sunset Crater National Monument
San Francisco Mountain beyond Sunset Crater National Monument

On Saturday morning we spent some time (way too much time, actually) trying to find a shortcut over to Montezuma Castle NM but encountered locked gates on the dirt roads leading where. When we finally got to Montezuma Well it was closed, and so was the Castle. We then gave up trying to visit any more national monuments. After driving through Flagstaff and Sedona we landed at Red Tank Draw and hiked around searching for some petroglyphs. The high-running creek and sometimes-thick brush made travel difficult at times but we found many petroglyphs in the area. Much of the rock art was weathered and faded but the figures were mostly well-executed. We visited some hilltop ruins nearby, then drove a short while to Wet Beaver Creek where we spotted some javelinas. We tried visiting the V Bar V ranch but found it closed as well, since it’s managed by the Forest Service. We hiked the Bell Trail just before sunset to a boulder covered in petroglyphs, then found a spot to camp near Wet Beaver Creek.

Hiking in Red Tank Draw
Hiking in Red Tank Draw

Our path is pinched off by the creek
Our path is pinched off by the creek

Rock hopping
Rock hopping

Red Tank Draw
Red Tank Draw

Trapezoidal sheep
Trapezoidal sheep

Bear track glyphs
Bear track glyphs

Flute player
Flute player

High petroglyphs
High petroglyphs

High dark panel
High dark panel

Circular ruin
Circular ruin

Small cave ruin
Small cave ruin

Javelinas along Wet Beaver Creek
Javelinas along Wet Beaver Creek

Long shadows on the Bell Trail
Long shadows on the Bell Trail

Bell Trail petroglyph boulder
Bell Trail petroglyph boulder

Walker Mountain at sunset
Walker Mountain at sunset

Sleeping outside was much more comfortable that night because we were about 2,400 feet lower in elevation from the previous night’s camp and it was considerably warmer. We drove quite a bit Sunday morning, toward the White Tank Mountains west of Phoenix. Again, my lack of thorough research led to a disappointing experience. We hiked the Waterfall Trail which has petroglyphs along much of its length, but I didn’t realize it was a wide concrete and gravel trail with hordes of people walking it! In addition, most of the petroglyphs are fenced off and we couldn’t get a close look at them.

Sunday morning at camp
Sunday morning at camp

Waterfall Trail
Waterfall Trail

Petroglyph boulder along the Waterfall Trail
Petroglyph boulder along the Waterfall Trail

Cactus and petroglyph
Cactus and petroglyph

Chris enjoys the trail
Chris enjoys the trail

Petroglyph along the trail
Petroglyph along the trail

Crowd at the waterfall and pool
Crowd at the waterfall and pool

Next we decided to head over to Robbins and Powers buttes along the Gila River. I knew we’d see few people out that way, and I knew there were petroglyphs near both buttes but not their exact location. We just hiked around on the hills and found plenty of glyphs! There were several ruins and many bedrock mortars atop Robbins Butte. Powers Butte had less rock art (that we could find, anyway) and we called it a day after exploring around there.

Our parking spot and some petroglyphs
Our parking spot and some petroglyphs

Wavy grid petroglyph
Wavy grid petroglyph

Large lizard
Large lizard

Snakey glyph
Snakey glyph

Tortoise?
Tortoise?

Ruined walls atop Robbins Butte
Ruined walls atop Robbins Butte

Human figures and lizard
Human figures and lizard

‘Nuther lizard
'Nuther lizard

Bighorn sheep
Bighorn sheep

Frog petroglyph
Frog petroglyph

One of many bedrock mortars
One of many bedrock mortars

Maze glyph
Maze glyph

Flowers below a petroglyph boulder
Flowers below a petroglyph boulder

Saguaro at Powers Butte
Saguaro at Powers Butte

More peeners
More peeners

Gila River, Buckeye Valley, and White Tank Mountains
Gila River, Buckeye Valley, and White Tank Mountains

Flowers and petroglyphs
Flowers and petroglyphs

Saguaro with Buckeye Hills in the background
Saguaro with Buckeye Hills in the background

We drove through Phoenix and stopped at Tops Liquors in Tempe, which had an incredible selection of many hundreds of beer singles. Leaving the metropolis heading northeast on Highway 87, we found a nice spot to camp near the Rolls, just outside Four Peaks Wilderness. It was fairly cloudy all evening and into the night, but it cleared up just enough for us to see the super blood wolf moon eclipse.

Super blood wolf moon eclipse nearing totality
Super blood wolf moon eclipse nearing totality

Camp near the Rolls, just outside Four Peaks Wilderness
Camp near the Rolls, just outside Four Peaks Wilderness

We were awake before sunrise on Monday morning and hit the road for the long drive home, with only one stop planned. We went through the small town of Heber and drove up Black Canyon to see some pictographs. It didn’t disappoint and we saw some of the best rock art of the trip in the canyon. There’s a rock layer there that erodes into a notch-like ledge in the cliffs, and many of the pictographs were on the ceilings of these notches. We had to crawl and slither along narrow ledges and lie on our backs to photograph the rock art. After visiting four different rock art sites, one of which also had the ruined remains of some rock walls under an overhang, we got back on the highway.

Saguaros at sunrise
Saguaros at sunrise

Hawk perched atop a saguaro
Hawk perched atop a saguaro

Highway 87 snaking up the Mazatzal Mountains
Highway 87 snaking up the Mazatzal Mountains

Slithering along a ledge above Black Canyon
Slithering along a ledge above Black Canyon

Black Canyon pictographs
Black Canyon pictographs

Multi-color figures
Multi-color figures

Humans, animals, and atlatl darts
Humans, animals, and atlatl darts

Human figure with faded black pigment
Human figure with faded black pigment

Centipede?
Centipede?

Black Canyon ruins below an overhang
Black Canyon ruins below an overhang

Orange lizard
Orange lizard

Chris on another ledge
Chris on another ledge

Sun and lines
Sun and lines

Chris getting a shot
Chris getting a shot

Three sheep and three people
Three sheep and three people

Swell Jeep parked below
Swell Jeep parked below

About 90 miles later we stopped for fuel in Chambers when I realized I’d lost my wallet. Shit! I was confident I’d lost it at one of the several sites in Black Canyon where I’d been scooting around the ledges on my back, but which one? Chris had to pay to fill up my tank since the Jeep was low on fuel, then we drove back to Heber and up Black Canyon once again. At the very first site we encountered (which was the last one we’d visited earlier), I climbed up into the ledge and, phew! There was the wallet. We had lost three hours going back to retrieve it, and had to fuel up once more in Chambers. It was full dark before we even got back to Utah, and then it started snowing. Driving up Highway 191 it was nearly whiteout conditions from about Blanding to Moab. In Moab the snow turned to rain and we made decent time for the last two hours of the drive. Back in Price we loaded Chris’ gear into his car, but he still had another two hours of driving back to Salt Lake City. I felt pretty crummy about putting him three hours behind, and now he had to drive over Soldier Summit in the same snowy conditions we’d already seen earlier that night. He arrived safe at home well after 1:00AM.

I wish I’d planned a little better for this trip, but there wasn’t a thing I could do about the government shutdown. For next year’s trip I’ll definitely start my planning further in advance. See you in January, New Mexico!


Photo Gallery: Shutdown in Arizona