Sunday, May 29, 2016

Spring 2016 Shakedown, AZ and NM: Part 3

Part 3 of 3

Hubbell Trading Post, Canyon de Chelly, Window Rock, Zuni Mountains

Continued from Part 2 - Began in Part 1

May 4, 2016 (continued)

Remember to click any photo for a larger version - highly recommended.
In many cases I have posted only a few site photos in the blog. Look for links to full photo albums.

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

From Petrified Forest, I drove east on I-40 for a little over 20 miles where I exited onto north US-191 for the drive to Ganado, AZ, location of the Hubbell Trading Post (NPS site.)

This site is the oldest continually operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. Some visitors leave unimpressed, but I find it fascinating. Don't forget, if you visit this area in summer, Arizona does not observe daylight savings time, but the Navajo Nation does.

Main Entrance

General Store; first room inside entrance.

Basket Room

Blanket Room

Another view of the Blanket Room

View my full Hubbell Trading Post photo album.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

I was returning to Canyon de Chelly primarily to take photos of Spider Rock in better light than I found on my last visit late last year. From Hubbell I continued on 191, stopping only for gas in Chinle, then directly to the Spider Rock overlook. The sky was full with small, medium, and large puffy clouds. That was beautiful to see, but a challenge to photography. I'll show you two photo versions, one with clouds and one where the entire canyon was covered in cloud.

Spider Rock - Cloudy Version with strong Orton effect.

Spider Rock - Contrast Version with mild Orton effect.

After I left Spider Rock I camped in the native-owned Cottonwood Campground with lots of other folks. Although cars and RVs were lined up to enter and it took a while to advance to the entrance station, there were plenty of sites for everyone. The weather was mild, but the campground should be pleasant even in warmer times due to all the cottonwood trees. This early in the season the leafy canopy is not fully developed. There is no dispersed camping anywhere nearby; there is one other private campground near the end of the south rim road.

Cottonwood Campground located off the highway near the park entrance.

I saw my friends from the night before come in and camp. I also struck up an interesting conversation with some folks I'd seen at Spider Rock. They were from Washington state and were visiting sites in Indian country that had been featured in the famous mystery novels of Tony Hillerman. As I am also a fan of those Navajo detective stories, we had lots to talk about.

May 5th

Canyon de Chelly (continued)

Antelope House

I intended to visit the sites along the north rim that I didn’t get to last fall. My first stop was the Antelope House overlook. At the visitor center they recommend the north rim for mornings and the south rim for afternoon, but I discovered you can be too early for good photos on the north rim. I arrived at the first stop at 9am, but had to hang around until 10am before the full ruin was in the sun. Not that hanging around that spectacular scenery on a beautiful morning was much of an imposition.

Beautiful view of Canyon del Muerto from the NE overlook at the Antelope House site.

Antelope House is named for the beautiful pictographs painted on the cliff face above the ruin. (Though it should really be named Pronghorn House, as this native artiodactyl mammal is not an antelope.) The ruin is dated at 1300 A.D. the illustrations are attributed to a Navajo artist in the 1800s.

Antelope House at the foot of a sheer cliff

Antelope House Pictographs. They are just above the ruin and to the left.

While waiting for the canyon shadow to recede, I met an interesting amateur photographer from Hamburg. Achim was driving around the southwest for the entire month of May visiting as many parks and scenic areas as he could, as far north as Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, before returning to Phoenix for the flight home. We had a fun discussion about southwestern scenery and photography, and our conversations have continued via email ever since.

Note the colorful chin on this lizard.

Mummy Cave Ruin and Yucca Cave Ruin

These two ruins are close to one another and the northern most in the park. Mummy Cave Ruin is one of the largest in the canyon and the details can be more easily seen than with others due to the contrast between the light walls and dark rock floor. Yucca Cave Ruin is one of the few located near the rim of the canyon.

Mummy Cave ruin is midway up the cliff at left.

Composite telephoto panorama of the Mummy Cave ruin.

I spotted this Peregrine Falcon fly up to this perch. The falcon never moved where I could get a better photo.

Yucca Cave ruin high above the canyon floor - probably accessed from above.

View my full Canyon de Chelly photo album.

From the last overlook I continued north on the rim road, Indian Route 64, to IR-12 and down to Window Rock.

Window Rock, AZ

While looking for the "Navajo Inn" to have lunch in a Hillerman novel, I found the actual Window Rock. I photographed it and the Code Talker statue. There was a Quality Inn with its Diné Restaurant. I'm guessing that was the place, but with the name changed in the book. I stopped in for a late lunch and had their Navajo Taco. I thought it was a bit expensive, but I had a pleasant table with a nice view of the courtyard and fountain, so was happy. The restaurant seems to be popular with the locals.

Window Rock and the Navajo Code Talker Memorial

Zuni Mountains, Cibola National Forest, NM

From Window Rock I drove to Gallup, NM and got on eastbound I-40. After just a few miles I turned south on NM-400 at Wingate. My intention was to drive through the Zuni Mountains on FR-50. This small mountain range is located south of I-40 roughly between Gallup and Grants. I had never been in this exact piece of New Mexico and was curious what was here.

You lookin' at me?

The two forest service campgrounds in the McGaffey vicinity were both closed, not that I had intended to stop, just a FYI. The asphalt road turned to gravel. The road was very good for a number of miles passing through meadows and grasslands, and I saw a herd of elk cross the road ahead. I was following FR-50 which looks like a good, through road on the map. At a junction by a large ranch there was a sign: “Primitive Road - Not Suitable for Passenger Vehicles.”

That didn't concern me too much at first, but over the next several miles, slowly following the route, I decided the road was barely suitable for high-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles. Yikes! It would have been impassable just a few days before due to rain in the area. The mostly hardened ruts were extremely deep and there were many tricky places where I held my breath. For all the effort, the scenery was that of your basic Ponderosa forest - nothing extraordinary, nothing to call for a repeat visit.

A view of Mt. Taylor as I came down out of Zuni Mountains.

I finally came to FR-480 which was in much better shape. I followed it to FR-178, though remnants of wildfire, to FR-180 (a.k.a., Zuni Canyon Road), to Grants. If you ever pick up a brochure for the Zuni Mountain Historic Auto Tour (for railroad buffs) ask a knowledgable local about road conditions before you start out. The last sites, north on 50, would not have been accessible to a passenger vehicle and I saw no sign at that end of the road warning of the primitive conditions.

Pretty roadside wildflower.

On the way home.

I rejoined I-40 and drove home, arriving at dusk. That last section in the Zuni Mountains notwithstanding, this was an extremely enjoyable trip with lots of great scenery and camping. It was one of those rare trips where all the pieces fell into place.

Thanks for reading along.

Spring 2016 Shakedown, AZ: Part 2

Part 2 of 3 - Continued from Part 1
Historic La Posada Hotel, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert

May 3, 2016 (continued)

From the Mogollon Rim Road I turned north onto the smooth asphalt of highway 87, I headed NE toward Winslow. The highway continued for some miles through woodlands and meadows, but then dropped down off the high ground into grasslands, then desert as I approached Winslow.

Click on any photo to view the larger version - highly recommended.
I've only posted a small selection of site photos here, follow the links to the full photo albums.

La Posada Hotel, Winslow, AZ

Front entrance of this historic hotel.

I drove past the hotel looking for gas. I wasn't sure of how much time I had as I'd failed to pay attention to the park hours when I'd researched Petrified Forest before leaving home. I did recall that unlike some national parks in the west, they are not open 24 hours. After filling my tank, I phoned the park and on a second attempt managed to get a human to answer. This time of year the gates are open 7am to 7:30pm. Excellent. Plenty of time to visit the historic hotel and still get to the park and visit the attractions in the southern portion before they closed the gates.

Ballroom(?) on the second level

"La Posada (1930) was the last and most elegant of the great Fred Harvey Hotels built by the Santa Fe Railroad. It was designed by Mary Colter - perhaps the greatest architect of the Southwest - as a fabulous Spanish hacienda." -- from the brochure.

Track-side view of the green and hotel.

La Posada was indeed very attractive and well appointed in the southwestern style. There is a gift shop of southwestern arts and crafts, a world-class restaurant, a small art museum, and of course the hotel itself. Behind the hotel is a grassy common, the train tracks. The hotel nowadays functions as the train station and the fellow at the ranger station had told me that many people ride the train from points east and west just to stay at the hotel and dine in the restaurant.

The casual, yet elegant dining room of the restaurant. I love the stain-glass windows of the Franciscan Monk/Explorers.

View my full photo album from La Posada.

Petrified Forest National Park

From Winslow, I took I-40 to Holbrook, then exited onto US-180. There is no camping in the park, but the park website mentioned stores just outside the south gate that allowed people to park overnight in their lots. This made me curious, so I looked at those establishments via Google Maps satellite view. Sure enough I could see what looked like an area beside the buildings where RVs were parked. Google has a street view for this section and I dropped down to that level. There I could easily see a large sign on at least one of the souvenir shops that said "Free Camping." So when I arrived at the park highway junction, I turned off the highway and pulled in to check it out. The store was closed, but there were RV owners standing around talking. "How does this free camping work?" I asked. "That's what we were wondering," they replied. "I'll see ya later," I said as I drove off.

I drove on into the park and asked the uniformed official at the national park entry gate about the camping. "Yes," he said, "both stores offer camping. The store on the eastside has free camping, opens in the morning and closes early. The store on the westside of the entrance road, opens later in the day, offers electric hook-ups for $10/night, and closes about the same time as the park." (I heard a rumor later, that if you arrived at the westside shop after they closed, you could hook-up for free.) I got my park map and drove on into the park. I stopped at the southern visitor center and got advice from the young woman there about what I would be able to see in the two hours before the park closed.

I love the contrast of the colorful petrified log and the delicate yellow wildflower blossom.

First I walked the Long Logs and Agate House trail. The round trip is a bit over 2 - 1/2 miles. Note: you must park in the VC lot and walk over the bridge to get to the trailhead; also, though I didn't go in, there is a souvenir shop/snack bar concessionaire at that location, too.

Long Logs Trail

Agate House

In most places this species of flycatcher perches on shrubs to hunt. As there are none of those here
the clever Phoebe chose a tall piece of log on a hilltop.

From there I drove north and stopped at the Crystal Forest trail where I walked the short loop. At the VC the attendant said I'd have time to drive to Blue Mesa, but instead I chose to head back south and stop at the parking area for wilderness access in hopes there would be a good sunset to photograph.

Crystal Forest

Sunset in Petrified Forest.
Disclaimer: this is the actual sunset, but a composite photo using two different lenses & exposures to enhance the effect.

Though it wasn't exactly dark as I headed out of the park, I used my headlights. I stopped at the store on the westside to look at their curios and use their rest room, however, that facility was closed for the night. I drove across the street to the free camping area and was a little surprised to see how many campers there were.

I was somewhat amazed at the whole scene. The store obviously had spend real money on the camping area. It was a large flat gravel area in two sections. There were concrete pads holding picnic tables, many with ramada covers. They had cleverly created a large windbreak built with concrete blocks in two walls that met at an angle with a raised area for tents shielded from the prevailing winds. I said cleverly, as the sides facing the road were painted as their billboard, advertising for the store. When I pulled in there must have been a half dozen good size 5th-wheel trailers, a couple mid-sized motorhomes, several tent campers, a couple pickups with camper shells, and one of those Jucy Mini-RVs. I found a nice spot in the second section and talked briefly with the Swiss couple in the Jucy van before dark.

May 4th

Petrified Forest National Park (continued)

After breakfast I walked over to a couple who were tent camping and pulling a small sailboat behind their car. I was curios as I used to own a small sloop when I lived in the SF Bay Area. They were driving up from Mexico to the Seattle area. Ian had been working in Mexico and now had a new job in Washington. He, Miranda, and baby Zion were visiting the parks and camping on their way north. I was to see them, and the Swiss couple, a few more time both at Petrified Forest and in the Canyon de Chelly campground.

Early morning shot of the campground. By this time a few campers had already left.
The dark shadow in the middle is cast by a 5th wheel trailer behind my left shoulder.

I was impressed enough with the free campground that I decided I'd purchase a souvenir at the Crystal Forest shop, to show my support, before I left for the park. However, the shop was not open as I left. (I did buy a piece of petrified wood at the gift shop at the north entrance to the park as I was feeling good after devouring an excellent, juicy green chile cheeseburger at their cafe.)

I drove into the park, stopped at the VC long enough to use the facilities, and proceeded north taking up where I'd left off the evening before. I took a few photos at Agate Bridge.

Agate Bridge (with concrete support added early in the last century.)

I then drove the Blue Mesa Loop taking photos at each station. I was admiring the view at the Blue Forest trailhead when Ian and Miranda came over the rise, wheeling baby Zion, from having walked the trail. "Are you thinking about walking the trail?" Ian inquired. "You really should do it. It is amazing!" What good advice. This was my favorite part of the park and I took dozens of photos. So many that I'll just provide a link to those I don't post here and I strongly encourage you to view those, and to take this trail if you visit the park.

Blue Forest Trail as seen from the overlook on Blue Mesa

Blue Forest Trail

View my full album of amazing photos of the Blue Forest and Blue Mesa!

I also liked Newspaper Rock. However, be warned, you cannot walk down to the petroglyphs, but must view them from a platform above and at some distance. The park provides binocular viewers, but I encourage you to bring your own binoculars. I was glad to have my telephoto lens so I could admire the imagery later in my photos.

One of the three "panels" of petroglyphs. More panels & views in the link below.

I've circled the areas containing petroglyphs in this photo from the overlook. Bring your binoculars.

I skipped Puerco Pueblo, figuring it would be a typical pueblo ruin (let me know in the comments if I'm wrong), and I wanted to photograph Painted Desert before to sun got too high and washed out the color. I also wanted to make sure I made it to Canyon de Chelly and Spider Rock in time for photos.

View my full album of Petrified Forest (does not include Blue Mesa; use link above.)

Painted Desert

It was already 11am by the time I reached the Painted Desert, but the light wasn't too harsh. I took photos/panoramas at several of the overlooks along the road.

View from Lacy Point overlook

Painted Desert Inn National Historic Landmark

The Painted Desert Inn is a beautifully restored lodge perched above the Painted Desert. Built in 1920 as a homestead inn, it went through a number of incarnations. It was purchased in 1936 by the National Park Service. In the 1940s it was managed by Fred Harvey, and though it closed during the war, it was reopened and renovated by architect Mary Colter (of La Posada fame, see above.)

Painted Desert Inn photographed from the south side.

Trading Post Room

"The murals at the Painted Desert In depict symbols, stories, and ceremonies of the Hopi and their ancestral Pueblan people who lived in this region. The mural above, is called the Salt Lake Mural. It tells the story of two young Hopi men on a salt gathering journey who walked a 230 mile trip from their home to the Zuni mesas and back, passing through what is now Petrified Forest National Park. It was both a physical and Coming-of-Age journey." - from the placard on the table below the mural.

Salt Lake Mural

The facility was undergoing a slight remodel, so the ice cream parlor and library were not operational, though most of the public rooms were still open, if not complete. I took many photos inside and out.

North side of the inn with the Painted Desert in the background.

View my full photo album of Painted Desert photos including more of the historic inn.

Do you buy any of those souvenir pins for your hat or vest? Do they fall off? Shopping hint:

I stopped at the north entrance of Petrified Forest for lunch and a souvenir, as mentioned above. I also asked the nice woman behind the jewelry counter about the little clips that hold onto the posts of those souvenir pins one buys. One of my pins popped off my hat at Bear Canyon Lake and I was lucky to find it in the gravel by my truck. I didn't find the clip and this is not the first time this has happened. She said I could get replacements at any jewelry store. She also said there were types that clamped on the pin and wouldn't fall off. When I got home I searched Amazon for the clips. They're there, once you figure out what they are called. Here is a link to the ones I bought that seem to work well. It is a cylinder with a small set screw (and included wrench.) At this time they are less than seven bucks for a dozen clips & the wrench.  Note: when you tighten the screw, you slightly bend the pin. Also, the link contains my affiliate code, so if you buy them via the link I get a few cents to help support the blog. Thanks!

Spring 2016 Shakedown, NM and AZ: Part 1

First of Three Posts

Part 1:
Datil Well, Fool Hollow, Mogollon Rim
Part 2:
Historic La Posada Hotel, Petrified Forest, Painted Desert
Part 3:
Hubbell Trading Post, Canyon de Chelly, Window Rock, Zuni Mountains

Introduction (feel free to skip down): I kept getting asked when I would put the camper on the truck and where was my first trip going to be. I didn't know, I was looking forward to my fourth season camping in my little pop-up, but was also enjoying the warm spring weather at home with the trees leafing out and all the green plants. Then I saw notice of a volunteer trail project at Datil Well in the REI Events Newsletter. I'd not been to Datil, NM. I read the description, which sounded interesting. 

I realized this could be a good jumping off point to some areas in east-central Arizona that I'd never visited. By looking at my maps and looking on the net, I discovered the magnificent landscape of Mogollon Rim. I'd learned last year that the pronunciation of "Mogollon" is Muggy-own. I also saw from there I could cut up to Petrified Forest National Park that I hadn't been to since I was 10 years old. I might also revisit Canyon de Chelly, where I'd been only last fall, and get better photos of Spider Rock. OK, I had the beginnings of a plan.

Amazingly, I did/saw everything I set out to do and then some. Even though the details were impromptu, the timing turned out nearly perfect in every case. The weather was very unsettled the first few days, but did not interfere with any activities or travel.

Remember you can click on any photo to view a larger version - recommended.
There is a link at the bottom of the page for my full Mogollon Rim photo album.

April 29, 2016

Datil Well Campground, Datil, NM

I set out in the mid-afternoon for the 2-3/4 hour drive to Datil, located in west-central NM. The BLM campground is in piñon-juniper forest and located in the hills west of the St. Augustine Plain, where the Very Large Array radio-telescope is sited. Datil Well was one of the wells along the Magdalena Driveway - a trail to drive cattle and sheep from Springerville, Arizona to Magdalena where, in 1885, the AT&SF Railroad completed a line from Socorro, NM. They needed a well to water the sheep every 10 miles along the way.

I would be meeting up for my first time with NM Volunteers For the Outdoors - an all-volunteer, non-political organization that is dedicated to improving trails and outdoor facilities throughout the state.  The VFO does projects for various public agencies, such as the BLM, National Forest and Wildlife Preserves, and state parks.

I planned to arrive around 5pm, figuring most folks would be rolling in after work later that evening. I was wrong about that and was one of the last ones to arrive. The group camping area is set up mainly for tent camping, but there was a parking area for those of us who are motorized. When I pulled in there was a big RV, a 5th-wheel trailer, and a pop-up camper amid the parked cars. I found a space for myself and shortly thereafter another pop-up camper arrived (both those rigs being the larger, heaver commercial units on big trucks. Still, finding two such in this small group was interesting and I enjoyed comparing notes with their owners.)

Group campsite parking/camping.

The warm weather of the previous week was gone and I'd driven down through light, spotty rain storms down I-25 and west on US-60. Folks were gathered in the group "shelter" (picnic tables under a roof) socializing in heavy coats. A group of us decided to get out of the cold and have dinner in the nearby town of Datil. There was more socializing around the campfire after dinner with one generous attendee sharing his fine, Santa Fe distilled whiskey for those who wished to partake. It was very smooth!

Datil Well is located in the Piñon/Juniper ecosystem

April 30th

Datil Well Campground (continued)

A hot breakfast was provided by the VFO. Turns out the cooks brought the RV and used their kitchen for brewing coffee and cooking the food. We had our breakfast burritos with hashbrowns and prepared for a day of hard trail work.

Finishing coffee and breakfast

After breakfast we met with BLM ranger, gathered the tools provided by the VFO, and hiked less than a mile to the work area. We were tasked with creating three new trail segments to bypass heavily eroded and/or steep old trail sections.

VFO builds a new trail segment
Timber crew clears the way.

We had brought our own lunches and with our large crew finished our scheduled building by mid-afternoon. We hiked back to camp where we socialized until the cooks brought out the barbecued chicken, pasta salad, tossed salad, and chocolate cake. After dinner it was again tales around the campfire until we each went to our beds.

May 1st

Datil Well Campground (continued)

Breakfast on Sunday morning was French Toast and sausages. As we had accomplished so much on Saturday, our tasks today were light maintenance on the existing trail sections. Another volunteer and myself, who had GPS units, measured/mapped the newly built sections so BLM could update their maps. We finished just before noon and everyone broke camp and headed home.

I didn't head for home as I had more exploration and camping in mind. I headed west on US-60 stopped for lunch in Pie Town. As the famous Pie-O-Neer restaurant is closed on Sunday, I was able to avoid the irresistible temptation of their famous pies. I continued west on 60 to Springerville/Eager, Arizona, but instead of continuing on the US highway to Show Low. I chose to drive to that destination via AZ-260 though part of the Apache Reservation. This alternate route looked more scenic on my maps.

Indeed, the well-maintained highway climbed up through a volcanic zone into a forested mountain area that obviously gets lots of snow in winter. The weather was still chilly with storm clouds. Once out of the reservation, that next 15+ miles to Show Low is heavily developed. It is packed with resorts, golf courses, lodges, and homes from mid-sized to mansions.

Fool Hollow State Park, Show Low, AZ

I had tentatively planned to camp at Fool Hollow State Park which is on the NW edge of Show Low as it has hot showers that would be welcome after a weekend of trail building. It was early enough in the afternoon I considered driving on by, especially as the weather didn't seem conducive to outdoor activities and I'd rather not simply sit in my camper for hours. However, as I was in the area I decided to check it out. You can leave the day-entry fee as a deposit at the manned entry station and then are allowed half an hour to tour the park and decide if you want to stay. I was given a map and directions to the section of non-hookup camping away from the RV area.

It is a lovely state park along the man-made Fool Hollow Lake. It is one of the best maintained and manicured campgrounds I've seen with concrete roads and parking. The tent pads and the areas around the picnic tables are fine, crushed rock that had been recently raked. Most of the campsites in the non-hookup area are on the bluff right along the lake. I found a pretty site surrounded by trees near the showers with a view of the lake. As there was some blue sky showing, I decided I would indeed camp here. I drove back to the entry station and paid for the site for the night.

My campsite in Osprey Loop

Fool Hollow Lake next to my campsite

After setting up, there was enough blue in the sky that I walked down to the lake and along the shore. I was treated to the sight of an Osprey calling and flying over the lake. When I got back to camp, I took my shower and climbed into clean clothes. I spotted a Bald Eagle flying over the camp that evening. There were only a couple of other campers in the non-hookup section of the park.

May 2nd

Fool Hollow State Park (continued)

After breaking camp, I thought I would look at the rest of the state park before heading west. I drove though the RV areas located in an attractive, forested, hilly area above the lake - although there were very few campers in my section the night before, most of the RV sites were full. I looked at the boat ramp and later spotted an Osprey with a fish in its claws - and even got passible photos!

Osprey with breakfast

I also drove to the day use areas on the other side of the lake where I was able to get nice photos of a Great Blue Heron and other views of the lake before heading out.

Main section of lake. My campsite was 1/8 mile to the right of those rock cliffs seen at the far end.

Great Blue Heron looking for a meal.

The heron decides to try fishing in another cove.

Sitgreaves National Forest

I drove west on AZ-260 which parallels the Mogollon (pronounced: muggy-own) Rim in this area, but is several miles north of the feature. My goal was that section of the rim north of Payson. I stopped at the Black Mesa District Ranger Station in Overgaard for info. Regular readers of this blog know I frequently stop at ranger stations for advice and conditions. If the person on duty has worked there for years and wishes to be helpful, the advice is great; if it is a new volunteer, then the information can be inadequate or inaccurate. I lucked out this time as there was a very knowledgable and friendly lady on duty and she was training a gentleman new to the area. She was able to provide conditions and info on camping & sightseeing opportunities for the Rim Road I intended to explore (only the first third of which is in Sitgreaves NF.) The gentleman strongly recommended that if I was going through Winslow (I'd mentioned visiting Petrified Forest after the Rim), I should stop at the La Posada Hotel - more on that later.

Looking roughly SW from the top of Mogollon Rim.

I drove about another 20 miles to the Mogollon Rim Visitor Center which, though it was closed, has a viewing deck looking out over the rim. The rim is the very dramatic southern edge of the Colorado Plateau. The land falls away rapidly, dropping two to three thousand feet in just a few miles. I'd learned at the ranger station that the first few miles of the Rim Road were paved with several overlooks. The road then turn to dirt which was very muddy after the recent rains, but only for the eastern most section, they said.

As I wanted to view the rim from the low side, too, my new plan was to drive the paved portion, taking morning photos off the rim, then head down to Payson. I would visit the Tonto NF Ranger Station there to learn about the roads below the rim to explore and get lunch in Payson.

There are a number of overlooks along the paved section of Rim Road. I stopped at them all for photos, even though the light wasn't ideal with all the clouds.

You can see a portion of AZ-260 from this overlook.

Looking roughly SE off the rim.

Another view from another overlook.

Payson, AZ

I returned to 260 and drove off the rim and to Payson. It turns out, despite the posted hours, the station closed during lunchtime, so I ate first then got information.

I drove north from Payson on 260, but before reaching Pine, I turned east on FS-64, Control Road (as in fire control,) that roughly parallels the rim from below. I saw virtually no one on the first half of the road, until I reached Houston Mesa Road. I had originally intended to drive up that road from Payson, but it was poorly marked at the south end and I missed the turn. I dove down that road for a few miles just to see what was there. It was mostly summer homes with a few NF picnic areas at the (dry) river crossings so didn't go far, but backtracked to Control Road and headed east again. The length of Control Road is through Ponderosa forest. The eastern portion was more heavily used and there are areas showing scars from wildfires. There were side roads to summer home areas and more traffic along this stretch.

Driving east on the western portion of Control Road with the rim in the background

There were a few dispersed camping sites along both the western and eastern halves, but only one I saw with a view. There were side roads and perhaps with some local knowledge one could find interesting camping up one of those. However, I had my heart set on camping along the rim this night.

Panorama of the rim from Control Road. This was taken at the only dispersed camping site I found with a view.
Email me if you'd like the coordinates to find this site for yourself.

I did drive a couple of miles south of Control Road on a side road that leads to the Diamond Point lookout, as the map had showed a quartz crystal collection area that is open on NF lands. At the ranger station they said you could walk along there an find small crystals on the ground; that hand-digging was only allowed October through February. I stopped and walked around amid all the pock-holes that others had failed to backfill, but found nothing, so continued on.

As I was eager to return to the rim and find a good camp site, I didn't explore further off Control Road. I'd heard the Upper Tonto Creek area was attractive. There is a developed campground and at the end of the road a fish hatchery.

I regained AZ-260 and drove back east to Rim Road. I stopped again at the overlooks along the paved portion of the road to get afternoon photos.

View from the overlook. Still lots of clouds making a patchwork of the landscape.

When the pavement ended, I was gratified that my plan to wait until the afternoon to drive this section paid off by the mud having dried out. I drove through the Mogollon campground just off the road, but it was back from the rim and had not much to recommend it. The Rim Lakes recreation area is near here, too, away from the rim, but I skipped this popular area with its developed campgrounds and lakes. As I drove along, there were signs, "Camping in Numbered Sites Only," which had me wondering how far I'd have to go to find the dispersed camping that the lady at the Overgaard station had said was available.

A couple of Wapiti crossed the road in front of my truck. I manage to get this photo out the window.

Mogollon Rim Camping

Seems like I had only gone a couple of miles when I saw a sign pointing toward the rim which said "Camping Area." I turned down this road and found a treasure trove! I did not see a route sign on the road, but on the map it is named FR-9350. Once the road got within view of the rim, it turned west and roughly followed the rim. There were numbered sites on each side of the road. They have an interesting system here as it is such a popular camping area. The sites are effectively "dispersed" without facilities, though some sites have picnic tables. They control the camping by placing a post at each site and you are required to only camp within 50 feet of that post.

As I drove along looking at the sites there were a few folks already camped. I kept seeing sites that looked very good, then a bit farther, another site looked even better. This kept up as I drove along, leaving the other campers behind. After a while, I was thinking "I hope this road ends soon or I'll never be able to pick a site." Finally, I simply stopped and turned around to head back to the last, best site I'd seen. I wanted an attractive site with an unobstructed view off the rim, and that would be away from other sites should other campers come to occupy those later that afternoon.

My campsite on the Mogollon Rim

I picked site #32 and I thought it almost perfect. FYI, site #30 is also excellent - the view is slightly obstructed by trees, but it has a longer level section and a picnic table which mine did not. If you want to find this specific site, email and I can send the coordinates.  I leveled my camper only about 30' from the rim itself affording great views looking out from inside. I never saw another soul the whole time I was camped there.

180º iPhone panorama looking off the rim and taken from my campsite.

I was very happy to find this site and spent lots of time just admiring the view and taking pictures. On the rim, I had great cell service, including LTE, so took advantage of that, too. I was slightly concerned the wind might come up that night, as exposed as I was so close to the rim - after all, I was hit pretty hard when I camped by the edge near Muley Point. The wind did come up around sundown, but it was from the north and I was well shielded by the trees at my back.

Evening view from my campsite.

May 3rd

Mogollon Rim (continued)

I got up early hoping for good photo opportunities as the sun rose, but those images turned out not very interesting, so none of those dawn are included here. After breakfast I also took more photos of the rim and the amazing view.

Looking roughly SW from near my campsite.

Looking back at my campsite. See my truck/camper?

After breaking camp, I resumed my drive west on Rim Road. I thought I'd try a side road that led down to what might be an intersting view, Promontory Butte. There is no warning as you start driving toward the rim, though the road is in poor condition. In fact it was one of the more unpleasant roads I've ever driven and showed no indication of getting better as I creeped along. I finally gave up far short of the end, turned around, and got back on Rim Road. Consider yourself cautioned - it is passible, but no fun.

Bear Canyon Lake, Sitgreaves NF

I thought to check out one of the small lakes in the area. Bear Canyon Lake was only a couple of miles off the "main road" and I could take a look at the campground, too. Turned out, the basic/primitive campground was not very attractive - moderately convenient for folks fishing, though not that close to the lake.

Shoreline view of Bear Canyon Lake

I could not see the lake from the road. There are two parking areas with trails leading down to the lake. I decided I'd try one as the sign said it was only 0.2mi to the lake. The trail led steeply down though a thick forest of primarily Ponderosa pine. This man-made lake was attractive with its rocky shoreline and the heavily forested hills.

This Western Grebe was diving for fish.

I negotiated the uneven trail toward the dam. I saw a grebe diving for fish on the lake and there were a number of wild birds mostly hiding in the trees. There were a couple of families fishing in the dam area. A very pretty area.

Coconino National Forest

I hiked back up to my truck, headed back to Rim Road and continued on to the west. After driving only a few more miles I entered Coconino National Forest. There were a few dispersed camping sites scattered widely along the road with long stretches out of sight of the rim. The area seemed to become dryer and there began to be evidence of wildfires some years ago.

Looking south from the western section of Rim Road.

As I approached the western portion of the Rim Road, with dramatic views off the rim, there was more evidence of fire some time in the past with large tree trunks laying like pick-up sticks. They'd been down so long all their bark was gone and the wood bleached by the sun. There was regrowth in some areas, but in other areas and on the slopes below the rim there was very little green. I'm guessing the modern era has been simply too dry to regrow the forest in this area. The view was nonetheless something to behold and I pulled off next to the rim, sat on a big log and had lunch, gazing off into the distance.

Here is the view I had while enjoying lunch.

A few more miles and the road dipped back down into a forested region and I soon arrived at AZ-87. I do recommend taking the time to visit this area and explore. The Rim Road was well maintained and suitable for all vehicles. My photos do not do justice to the majesty of the views off the rim.

View all photos in my Mogollon album

Journey continues in Part 2.

[Updated December 8, 2018 to correct information on railroad location and stock driveway in first paragraph about Datil Well. Thanks to Larry Watkins for catching my error.]