Camping over Kingman: Hualapai Mountain Campgrounds

Like Kingman only completely different.

For most people, Kingman, Arizona is not somewhere you go so much as a place you end up – or more likely just pass through as fast as possible. Parked in the northeast corner of the state at 3000’ elevation, Kingman is known mostly as a Route 66 stop, and the last reliable source of gas before the Nevada line on the way to Las Vegas.

(I know for a fact that I can fill my tank in Kingman, go to and drive around in Vegas for a few days, and make in back to Kingman on that same tank, thus avoiding the much higher prices in Nevada.)

As it happens, it has been a destination for me from time to time. There are a few wineries and a fine distillery, for one thing. I have also been involved in the various incarnations of the local book fair in one way or another for several years.

When in Kingman, in good weather, I prefer camping. Of course, Route 66 through Kingman is lined with a variety of mostly reasonable motels, but in the spring or fall, I’d just as soon sleep outdoors. The place to do that is 14 miles southeast and 3000 feet up from downtown Kingman.

This means that temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than Kingman or other points below.

Hualapai Mountain, with settled areas between 6000-6500’ elevation towers over the high desert that surrounds it. Most of its multiple peaks are within the Mojave County Park of the same name. Surrounding this are the cabin community of Pine Lake, and a scattering of BLM land. Both the county park ands the BLM portions host campgrounds.

Hualapai Mountain Park Campground

The county park campground winds across several ridges and valleys inside the park. The main campground is a maze of narrow but paved roads winding past tent sites, cabins, and even a small RV lot.  The top end of the maze is a trail-head for the extensive trail system that meanders up and around the peaks. We’ve written about those trails elsewhere.

If you make the sharp left turn at the ranger station, past auxiliary parking and the lower group site, you reach Pine Basin, whose unpaved and marginally graded maze of dirt roads reach some primitive tent sites. A few are flat, gravel pads on top of the ridge, but most sites are tucked inside the jumble of granite boulders that fill the basin beyond.

Pine Basin is where I am most likely to hang my hammock.

Seriously, I hang my hammock.

Most campsites have a stone table, a fire pit of some sort, and are within sight of a plastic outhouse. Not all of the stone tables are in good repair. Not all the fire pits are official.  There is no water and trash service is limited to containers near the entrance.   You can reserve cabins and even RV pads, but all tent sites are first come first serve. You pay your $20/night (cash!) and take your chances. Even so, they are not likely to fill up.

Typical site in the Pine Basin.

I chose this campground first because 1) I did not know about the BLM campground at first but 2) I had business in Kingman and the BLM campground adds 15-20 minutes to the trip – one way. But if I didn’t need to be in Kingman in the morning, I’d just as soon keep driving.

Wild Cow Springs Campground

Patience and nerve…

Let’s dispense with a myth: you can totally get to Wild Cow Springs Campground with any high clearance vehicle, in good weather. The road beyond Pine Lake is signed “Chains and 4WD only” but that is for snow-time. In the summer, the road is thin, and occasionally bumpy, but is mostly well-graded dirt. Higher clearance is helpful, but mostly you just need patience and nerve.

The road beyond Pine Lake is sharp and steep and it will take you the better part of 15 minutes to cover the four miles of up and down and around until you reach Wild Cow Springs. The road is well signed, however, so there is not much fear of getting lost. The sharp altitude difference guarantees some wide views of the desert below.

(The road continues well beyond, becoming a tangle of backroads, and you are on your own with that.)

I have seen people get small trailers into Wild Cow Springs, but it is mostly tent sites. There is a string of sites, in fact, that are a good walk from the road, following a stone-lined hiking trail across the little ravine there.

All the sites have wood and metal benches and metal fire-rings with grills. The front of the site features vault toilets. The site has some trash service, but no water supply. The fee though is $8/night.

There are, in addition, a larger RV park, and a resort (with a restaurant and a store) close to or within Pine Lake, but those are a little too civilized for this blog.

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The Road through Bloody Basin

My son bought himself a 2008 Jeep Liberty, the newest vehicle he has ever owned, and was desperate to get it on some dirt. So he took my advice, and we went down the Bloody Basin Road through the Agua Fria National Monument, and then kept going on Cave Creek Road, aka Seven Springs road, aka Forest Road 24 all the way back to civilization.

This is not a serious 4×4 route, though you will benefit from high clearance. People do this in passenger cars, but that is a slow and bumpy journey. Some clearance makes it more recreational. Any SUV will suffice.

Bloody Basin Road, for our purposes, starts at Exit 259 from the I-17, north of the Sunset Point rest stop, but south of Cordes junction. The sign says Bloody Basin Road. Once you are off the highway, you will not see consistent pavement again until nearly Carefree. For us, that was a feature of the journey.

Bloody Basin used to be called Turret Wash until the 1873 Battle of Turret Wash where 27-60 Apaches were killed by US Cavalry forces. The Apache warband, renegade from the reservation, had tortured and killed some nearby ranchers, and then hung out at the creekside, thinking they were in the clear. Cavalry scouts tracked them easily, and troops surrounded them in the night, assaulted at daybreak, routing them with no US casualties.

Historian Zeke Crandall’s account of the incident summarizes the aftermath:

“The bodies of these renegades that rotted on that lonely ridge in Bloody Basin were the same ones that so cruelly killed Swaim, Taylor and McDonald and when the word spread through the territory it sent a major message to the rest of the Apache’s that they were now in a battle with an equally nasty bunch of Army soldiers that would treat them the same way they treated the whites. “


http://arizonatales.com/bloodybasin.pdf

So: Bloody Basin. And now you can casually drive your SUV through the same territory so many many died painful deaths over.

Bloody Basin Road will wind through some low, rocky hills, until it crosses the Agua Fria River near some grandfathered private ranch land. Just past that point you will hit a pull-out with a informational sign and, more importantly, a vault toilet.

On any weekend with good weather, such as the one we chose, many ATV’s will buzz around you. Bloody Basin is the main highway connecting the maze of dirt trails these things were built for.

It then winds up to the top of the mesa to cross a flat of desert grassland.

We pulled off on a side road here as an excuse to test the jeep’s 4WD. We didn’t really need it, but my son had yet to put the jeep in that mode, and it did make some patches easier. Our “primitive”  road was a straight shot across the plain, terminating just shy of a canyon dropping back towards the Agua Fria. The sign read Route 9022, but the map has it as 9202.

The high desert here has all the high desert critters, including scorpions and rattlesnakes. If you get far enough away from the ATV traffic, you might encounter deer or javelina or even desert bald eagles.

Also common across the monument are native American artifacts, ruins and petroglyphs. According to BLM:


Archaeologists call the late prehistoric people who lived on the mesas between A.D. 1250 and 1450, the Perry Mesa Tradition.  It is estimated that at least 3,000 people inhabited settlements in areas that are now visited only occasionally by ranchers, hunters and hikers. Remnants of stone pueblos, some containing more than 100 rooms, represent a system of communities with economic and social ties. Pueblo la Plata, a large settlement of 80 to 100 rooms, attracts many visitors.

One of the reasons behind the establishment of the monument was preserving these remains.

We visited none of them. We kept going south into the Tonto National Forest.

Bloody Basin Road continues into the Tonto and down to Sheep’s bridge, a narrow bridge across the Verde River built for exactly what you suppose. That last part is bumpier than most of the trail before,  and worth it even so, but we didn’t go there either.

The road Y’s near the boundary, the spot marked by a kiosk at about 22 miles from the I-17 exit. . We went right at the Y onto Forest Road 24, AKA Seven Springs Road, AKA Cave Creek Road. We had some time constraints. I wanted to be in a bar in Cave Creek before halftime of the AFC Championship game. That was part of the deal.

The other part was my filling his gas tank, and covering his bill at the bar.

FR24 bounces over and around the ridges, circumnavigating Pine Mountain wilderness, and down towards Cave Creek the creek.  Mid-way through the journey, you encounter the Seven Springs Recreation Area which features a day-use picnic area, a trailhead, and a campground all with a mile of each other, all built or at least started by the CCC back in the 1930’s.  The trailhead has a vault toilet. The campgrounds are a fee use area. The picnic grounds are not accessible by car because the road kept washing out, so they stopped building one.

I spent a lot of time here writing my hiking guide for the Tonto National Forest.

From here you follow well graded by paper-clip turns through the hills and into the lower desert,  finally reaching pavement, passing the ranger station, and hitting city limits of Carefree Arizona. Cave Creek road continues through the bars of cave Creek AZ, and across the low desert into Scottsdale and then Phoenix. It terminates at 7th Street and Dunlap, marking the center of Sunnyslope, for the geographic completists.

We didn’t go that far either. We stopped at a bar in Cave Creek, where the game went into overtime, and I had a few too many drinks as a consequence. But I wasn’t worried. My son was driving.

Exploring the abandoned Black Canyon City Dog Track

There’s an abandoned dog track in Black Canyon City north of Phoenix. Abandoned means abandoned here: while there’s nothing to stop you from exploring it, there is also nothing that says that’s OK. So if you follow my footsteps here, you do so at your own risk. Or, you can just read on and take my word for it.

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The main building from on the track.

 

A few years ago, I had an offer to write a book about strange things to do in and around Phoenix.  That fell apart, but before that could happen I made it out to the Black Canyon Dog Track to see how much of the rumors are true.

Again – this is a legal grey area, and if you go – YOU GO AT YOUR OWN RISK. This is an abandoned building on what is presumably private property. There are no barriers to trespass – no signs, fences or doors. Someday, some insurance firm will notice this and do something about it, but for now it’s just there.

To get there, take I-17 north from Phoenix to Coldwater Canyon (Exit 244) which is on the north end of Black Canyon City. Head west along Cold Canyon to Maggie Mine Road. The pullout on the NW corner of that intersection is as good as spot as any to park the car.

BCDT exterior OH
Wear sturdy shoes.

The site has basically four features: The main grandstands, an adjacent restaurant, the overgrown track itself, and the distant kennels. Of these the stands and the restaurant are the most interesting. The kennels are a row of empty sheds. The dog track is exactly what it looks like from the stands.

 

Wear sturdy shoes. The insides floors are covered with broken glass and exposed nails. The outside is choked with cactus. As we walk through the non-extant doors of the stands, I remind you one more time:

 

EXPLORING THIS SITE WOULD BE ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK – and this risk is not inconsiderable. Aside from the broken glass and timbers, the walls are crumbling, and full of mold. the extant counters are covered in vermin droppings, many surfaces (particularly upstairs) are unsafe to walk on. All of that in addition to the normal proviso about poisonous insects and snakes. There is no one to sue if you get hurt. And if you find someone, they are going to use the word trespassing – a lot.

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Seating might be limited.

And that’s in the daylight. This site is clearly a habitat for drunken teens and their angst, and visiting at night might add whole new layers of unwelcome excitement.

Besides leaving beer bottle and the like, the alternate visitors have decorated. Every flat, clear surface has graffitti ranging from the hatefully ignorant to the deeply artistic, to the oddly profound.

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The locals have decorated.

There is not as much trash as you would expect. Most of the debris is left from the dogtrack itself. The scattering of beer cans and paint bottles are the exception. So there’s a mystery:  Who picks up the trash?

Can you climb up on the roof and reach the “press boxes”. Yes. Should you? No. Did I? No comment.

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No comment.

The facility opened in 1967 and operated as a dog track until 1982, and then intermittently as a swap meet site further into the 1980’s. It has not hosted a public event since 1988.

 

Built and originally operated by the Funk Family, and later included in the Western Racing chain which operated dog tracks across several states. The business history is more legend than fact, as these businesses are not known for their transparency.

 

While the wild rumor about a mass murder at the track that you could find on Redit and other sticky places on the web is certainly fabricated, the Funk Family was closely associated with the Emerson group which operated Phoenix Greyhound Park. Both of those outfits were associated with organized crime.

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Here you can follow the ghostly steps of underfed greyhounds.

Their names come up in the 1976 murder of Arizona Republic investigative reporter Don Bolles. In the vague yet convoluted fallout from that, the Funk family was obliged to divest itself of racing interests in Arizona.  Sportsystems Incorporated ran the track to its last race, but apparently, with honest accounting and changing tastes in gambling, the dog track business was not what it used to be.

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Still better than Cracker Barrel

Thirty years and counting of disinterest have followed. And you can poke around in crumbling remains of how men once made money from shadows by getting dogs to run around a track as fast as they could. But watch your step.

Watching your step is good advice from any era.

I plan to add a video to this subject, but in the meantime, the one below is relatively recent, and really well done.

 

Backpacking in Point Reyes National Seashore

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Bongo at Bear Valley Trailhead

In April of 2018 I scored a permit to camp inside the Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco. There are no drive-in campsites in Point Reyes; they are all walk-in or boat in. In the case of the Glen Campground, where I had a ($20) permit, this meant about 5 miles from the visitor center.

Just long enough to call it backpacking.

The Bear Canyon Visitor Center is everyone’s first stop, being where the permits come from, and correspondingly crowded. Get beyond it, and the little maze of day-use trails wandering around the picnic grounds, and the crowds started to thin, even on a Sunday afternoon with good weather.

I headed south(ish) along the Bear Valley trail until I realized this dirt road is everyone’s day hike. So I cut to the right, west, up the Meadow Trail. This spur trail cuts steeply uphill to the Skyline Trail, which bisects the main ridge forming the peninsula.

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Pretty typical…

The heart of Point Reyes is Inverness Ridge, which has been separated from Bolinas Ridge on the coast be the San Andreas fault. To the north end of the peninsula, that fault line is submerged by Tomales Bay. To the south it runs roughly under Highway 1. Point Reyes is a couple notches of Richter Scale away from being an island.

The thick canopy of trees and brush are all part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, which actually encompasses about a third of the total peninsula. The rest is extant private ranches and a scattering of state and local parks.

It felt strange climbing the hill, until I realized that I was still at about 700’ total elevation. The atmosphere was still thick. And humid – I soaked everything in sweat with temps in the low 80’s.

 

About a mile and a half past where I picked it up from the Meadow trail, Skyline winds down the west side of the ridge towards but not to the Pacific. The trees open up, and you are in for a heavy dose of sea breeze and sunlight. It cuts back inland to cross Coast Creek via a wooden bridge. I snuck off to the side here,and found a place to force my feet into the frigid creek.

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The bridge across Coast Creek

I wasn’t at blisters yet, but I could feel them coming.

Work boots aren’t hiking boots. Good Advice from Direct Experience.

Happily, I was less than a mile at that point from Glen Camp, though I likely hiked 6.5 miles overall taking the scenic route.

 

The walk-in campsite has twelve designated sites fanning out from a vault toilet. Each campsite has a table, fire ring and an enclosure to protect your food from ambitious raccoons. There is also, unpublicized, a water spicket available for use. I had to hang my hammock over some pretty steep hillside, but otherwise had no complaints.

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Glen Campground – site 12.

In April, the overnight low reached the low 40’s, maybe upper 30’s. I had to use all my layers.

In the morning, after a leisurely – for me – breakfast, I conceded to my blisters and took a more direct route to the wide and sunny Bear Valley trail. With the ridge to my west, and Divide Meadow refusing to block any morning sun to my east, and limp-marched back to the visitor center.

KIMG0649

Even at that pace, I had time to drive out to McClure’s Beach towards the north tip of the Peninsula. You reach it via a narrow road winding sharply through prairie covered hills, where you are not likely to get out of 4th gear. The short trail follows a drainage to a wide beach flanked by tide pools. Worth it even with blisters.

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Bongo at McClure’s Beach

Worth it more: the bar in Olema, the tiny town that guards the entrance to the park, where I had oysters and whiskey for a late-late lunch. Cannot recommend that sort of thing enough.

So, Easy, Scenic and Fun. The hard part is getting there – and totally worth it.

The bumpy back way into Sedona

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I have been zipping up and down I-17 from Phoenix to Flagstaff and back for various reasons. That is a fine drive if you need to make some time, but going back last week (in October 2018) I found I had more time than I needed. And from the gas station in Kachina Village, I looked at the map and took a chance.

 

Forest Road 237 connects I-17 to the scenic AZ 89A, but there’s a catch: it is not maintained for low clearance vehicles. I drive a 2013 Kia Soul, not known for it’s off-road prowess.. I took the road anyway.

az237 4 kia

This mostly dirt track has been called Pumphouse Wash Road, but it is not signed that way, nor will Google name it such. That is its’ paper-map name.

The road begins as an unmarked service road separating the gas station in Kachina Village (there is only one) from the southbound on-ramp to I-17. Yes, that battered line of asphalt is the road ,and the condition will not improve much. Within a quarter mile, it will make a sharp right, and here it will be signed at FR237, and “Not Maintained for…” in English and Spanish.

 

From there, it winds through the tall pine-covered, lava-rock strewn hills that dominate the Kaibab Plateau. The most unique feature you will encounter is the split-rail fencing designed to keep vehicles out of the meadows. But it has gentle quiet you will not find on either of the highways it connects.

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When the Forest Service website claims the road is maintained for passenger vehicles, they mean the last few miles, on the west end. From the east approach, you go in and out of a canyon where the track has, in many places, eroded down to dusty boulders.

Bongo az237

Important note: I took this road in dry conditions with good light. I would not have taken it in the rain or the dark.

Another Important Note: I took this road generally downhill into the canyon. It would have been much harder to go uphill.

Yet Another Important Note: I did the first two miles or so in 1st or 2nd gear.

Most disasters on dirt roads come from inattentive drivers going too fast. Go slow and pay attention (get out and look if you need) and you can dramatically increase the kind of trouble you can get your vehicle in and out of.

Once you make the final rocky dips and climbs in and out of Fry Canyon, you are past the worst of it. You can shift all the way to second. Up on the bluff, about 3 miles from I-17, you reach the designated campsites, and here you might even get to third gear.

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These campsites are free, popular, and have zero services. You must bring i your own water and pack out your own trash. The closest restroom is the gas station by the highway. You must only camp in the clearly marked spots – all other site are forbidden.

 

They were almost all empty on a late October Tuesday afternoon, butt that is likely a poor stick to measure with.

Soon thereafter, you come to the junction with AZ 89A.

AZ89A through Oak Creek Canyon and all the wonders it winds past is well documented. Let me add to those volumes only that is is especially worth it in late October.

In Sedona, I braved the traffic circles full of tourists to stay south on AZ-179, past The Village of Oak Creek, Bell Rock and the ranger station to make the right onto Beaverhead Flat road. A few miles into this road I found a scenic pull-out, and from that pull-out I found a short trail (The gated remains of FR 9500G) marching into the juniper studded hillside. I only took it about a half mile. It’s not five star, but better than just loitering in the pull-out.

FR9500g trail

Back on the road, Beaverhead Flat leads to where a left (east) will lead you back to (sigh) I-17 , because, if you’re like me, you have to get back to Phoenix eventually.

 

 

Checklist for Hikers (and hiking guide authors)

Items that pertain to normal people are written normally.

(Items that pertain only to guidebook authors are in parentheses).

 

AT HOME:

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One possible resource for researching a trail. Just saying…

  1. Pick a hike. Don’t just drive somewhere and hope for inspiration.
  2. Pick the best hike feasible. Never skip a good hike for a mediocre hike thinking, “I’ll get to that other hike soon enough…” Weather/health/family/jobs sabotage hiking opportunities all the time. (If you haven’t prioritized your hike list by coolness vs accessibility, go do that now.)
  3. Do a little research. This, of course, depends on how comfortable you are with uncertainty. Some hikers like to know everything before they go (for which guidebook authors must be grateful). Some just want to know how to get to the trailhead, and let everything else be a surprise. At a minimum, though, you should know what the weather’s going to be like, and the water or fire conditions.
  4. (Learn something about the history, geology and ecology of your hike destination – so you know what to look for on the trail. Yeah, you can do a lot of that afterwards, but why work harder?)

 

PACKING THE GEAR

 

  1. Get a map. Bring it with you. Your GPS does not count. (Print an extra one for your significants – so they can refer to it when they call the emergency response team later)
  2. Gather your essential survival things. (Have these in a kit ready to go, and keep that kit in your vehicle, so your son does not plunder it).
  3. Calculate the most water you could possibly consume on the hike, and put at least twice that amount in the car.
  4. Don’t forget lunch!
  5. Make sure your GPS, flashlight and camera are charged.
  6. (Make sure your GPS has memory left.)
  7. (Make sure your flashlight actually works.)
  8. Make sure you camera has memory.
  9. (Clean the lens on the camera.)
  10. (Bring a notebook and a working pen – because bad things can happen to digital recording devices in the wild).
  11. If the hike is more than 10 miles round trip, or you know you won’t make the trailhead until after 11 am, pack extra batteries for the flashlight, and bring an extra layer of clothing. At ten miles or more, or a noon start or later, you are one wrong turn from looking for the trailhead by moonlight.
  12. Gather this stuff the night before if you can.

 

AT THE TRAILHEAD

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  1. Turn on the GPS, and let it find the satellites while you do the rest of your things.
  2. Finish your coffee. It won’t taste good when you get back.
  3. Now drink something else – don’t start the hike dehydrated.
  4. (Write down the GPS coordinates of the trailhead. Don’t just recite them into the DVR – write them down! Remember altitude.)
  5. Top off all the water containers.
  6. If there is some sort of toilet – use it. Especially if there are a lot of other cars at the trailhead. I don’t have to explain this logic – right?
  7. (Test the recording devices. Get the date and start time in the first recording, so you can use it on your blog seven months from now.)
  8. (Take a Bongo picture at the trailhead.)
  9. Lock the car.
  10. (Catch up with your companions who grew weary of your fussing and have already started the hike.)