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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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