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A Million Little Pieces Of My Mind

Sierra Ancha Wilderness and Bees

By: Paul S. Cilwa Viewed: 2/23/2024
Posted: 7/13/2008
Page Views: 1123
Topics: #Camping #SierraAnchaWilderness #SaltRiver #LakeRoosevelt #Arizona
Blog Entry posted July 13, 2008

This weekend's camping trip was in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness, in the mountains east of Roosevelt Lake. I went with a new friend, Wade, who hadn't been camping since he was a kid and had asked to be taken some place isolated and quiet…which I completely understand, because I am so over the noise and crush and pollution of the city.

I am definitely getting more organized with each camping trip I make. I had bought several things from Wal-Mart before hand, including a fluorescent lantern and a terrific plastic box to hold my camp stove and kitchen implements. I was very pleased with myself, because I had gone into the store with no measurements and come out with this box into which the Coleman stove fitperfectly. I now plan to get a few more of these boxes for other camping gear, which I think will simplify packing the car down to a few minutes' chore each Friday night.

I had been agonizing over where to go that would best fulfill Wade's wish. None of the places I'd previously visited in Arizona were really "isolated" though most were, to some extent, remote. I narrowed the list down to two possibilities: Salt River Warm Springs in the White Mountain Apache Reservation, and Workman Creek in the Sierra Ancha Wilderness. The latter won out due to the monsoon rains that fall this time of year, which make the road to Salt River Warm Springs impassible, even for a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Wade and I left the house about 10 PM and headed for Globe on US 60. It's a beautiful drive in itself but I didn't take pictures because I am saving that stretch for when I get my good camera back from my daughter, Karen, who is on vacation in Virginia for a couple of weeks. On this trip I would be using my cell phone for picture-taking.

In Globe we stopped for a snack at Taco Bell and then headed north on the Globe-Young Highway, also known as AZ-288. This road is not much used, since presumably the only travelers on it would be from Globe heading to Young, or vice versa. In fact, it is so little used that the biggest bridge on it can accommodate only a single lane of traffic. That bridge crosses the mid-section of the Salt River, just before it pours into Roosevelt Lake.

Salt River just before pouring into Roosevelt Lake.

Wade had more than once mentioned he hoped it would rain on the trip, as he loved the sound of rain on the tent and, in fact, enjoyed running in the rain. This was one of the reasons I was happy to go with him: Not many people appreciate that apparently less-than-perfect weather, can in fact be perfect. So, as the SUV entered the mountains east of Roosevelt Lake, the towering cumulous and otherwise dramatic skies did not discourage.

The monsoon brings dramatic skies.

As I've seen all summer, Arizona this year is stunningly lush, with unusually green vegetation choking the normally-exposed rock and softening the harsh look of the place that people usually associate with this state.

Greenery smothers the usually harsh rocks.

The instructions of my GPS were pretty good except at one point, where it made said to go off the pavement and onto a rather sketchy-looking primitive track. I drove on it for about 50 yards, then (by instruction) took a very sharp right turn…and returned to the pavement, just a few yards from where I'd left! I think it's because the GPS map is out-of-date in some places, and AZ-288 was only recently paved. Before it was paved, this little side trip may in fact have been the faster way to go.

Eventually the pavement did run out on AZ-288, too, as the road prepared to wind ever higher into the mountains.

AZ-288 winding higher into the mountains.

Finally, rounding a switchback, there was an awesome view of Roosevelt Lake visible just a moment before the SUV dove into the wilderness.

Last view of Lake Roosevelt.

"Sierra Ancha" means broad mountain in Spanish. It's actually a range of mountains that transition from the lowland deserts of southern Arizona and the Colorado Plateau of northeastern Arizona. The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is part of the Tonto National Forest, a protected area on the eastern flank of the range encompassing a number of high peaks and deep canyons.

The last 14 miles or so of our trip in, on Forest Road 487, was slow going. I had to engage my four-wheel-drive to keep on the road, which was composed of gravel, rock, dirt, and mud.

There were several primitive campgrounds along the way, with pit toilets. But there were already campers there, and the goal was "isolation". So I drove on. Finally, about four miles past Workman Creek Falls, I spotted an undeveloped campsite at the Moody trailhead. There was room for one tent and plenty of parking for hikers, but none was used.

Because it was raining off and on, I parked the Expedition very close to the tent, so we could use the hatchback as shelter for keeping gear dry as we passed it into the tent. Once we'd set up camp, Wade donned his CamelBak and went for a run, leaving me to enjoy the peace and native sounds of the woods.

I didn't see any lightning, but there were frequent, deep-throated rolls of thunder, sounding almost like organ notes. I haven't heard that since I was in Grand Canyon. In the Canyon, the notes are formed when canyon corridors emphasize some frequencies over others. Even though I wasn't in a canyon, I had to assume that canyons nearby were causing the same effect.

I don't run. I don't like to run. But I do admire people who do. Once the rain stopped, I went for a very slow, reflective stroll in the opposite direction. The first thing I found, just a few dozen yards further up the road, was a cabin that belonged to the US Forest Service. It was locked, of course; but hidden from the road by trees was an outhouse. The Sierra Ancha Wilderness is a pack-it-in-pack-it-out kind of place. If you've got to go to the toilet, you need to go into "Double-Doody"-type disposal bags, which are not any more fun to use than they sound. I had the bags, but it was nice to know I wouldn't need to use them.

The lushness was the single most striking feature of the section. We get so used to desert in the Phoenix area that it's easy to forget there are Ponderosa pine forests such a short distance away.

Sierra Ancha meadow.

I hiked near the summit of the mountain, and it opened up slightly—but the vegetation was still exuberant. The Coon Creek Fire of 2000 had "destroyed" almost 10,000 acres before it was put out a couple of weeks after it was reported. There are still signs of that fire: charred tree trunks, many of them fallen, and new meadows where none previously existed.

Charred, fallen logs testify to the Coon Creek Fire of 2000.

But "destroyed", while it's the word invariably used by the TV news reporters, is totally incorrect. "Recycle" would be better. Fires are nature's way of keeping a forest healthy. It's more analogous to getting a haircut than to being shot by an AK-47. Just 8 years after this devastating fire, I saw evidence everywhere of the forest's renewal, like the baby pine trees I saw sprouting next to their deceased parent's trunks.

Baby pines sprout near their parent's bodies.

I returned to camp shortly before Wade, who had run 8 miles in the time I spent strolling about a quarter. We took out the camp chairs and relaxed, comparing notes, and enjoyed, in companionable silence, the breeze and the sunbeams shining between the clouds and the sounds of the occasional cricket and the songs of birds.

Wade and Paul in camp.

There was a conveniently-placed boulder that was perfect for the propane camp stove. Wade's a vegetarian, so we had Boca Burgers and mixed vegetables, plus apples, bananas, and trail mix. I then did my best to build a fire in the existing fire pit, with previously-gathered firewood. Unfortunately, even with a few fire sticks, it was too wet to actually burn for more than a few minutes.

I made a vain attempt to use the neighboring cabin's outhouse. As I sat down, a curious mouse could not be dissuaded from investigating my shoes. I am not afraid of mice, but I prefer they leave my shoes alone. Unable to concentrate, I finally gave up. As Scarlett O'Hara used to say, "Tomorrow is another day!"

It was about 10 PM that I brushed my teeth, dumped the water on the sodden ashes of the almost-fire, and went to bed where the quiet was only occasionally punctuated by the splatter of errant raindrops.

In the morning, I was awakened to an incessant droning, which turned out to come from a swarm of bees that had arrived to celebrate our camp. I'd only seen one or two bees the day before, but apparently they had flown home and told their friends, "Hey, guess whatwe found!" They were thick between the back of the car and the tent. I was still too sleepy to get up, but Wade went out to heat some water and they buzzed about me like paparazzi around Angelina Jolie adopting another baby. I had brought some eggs to make for breakfast, but decided that cooking in the swarm would probably be counter-productive. Besides, Wade had wanted to get home on the early side of afternoon. So we So I decided to strike camp, but carefully, to avoid trapping a bee in the tent or in the car.

One at a time, I handed items from the tent to Wade, who then opened a car door and slipped them inside. The tent, of course, went last. The bees seemed disinterested in us but utterly fascinated with my rear bumper. In a surprisingly short amount of time, we had camp struck and the SUV loaded.

One at a time, I took items from the tent and then opened a car door and slipped them inside. The tent, of course, went last. The bees seemed disinterested in me but utterly fascinated with my rear bumper. In a surprisingly short amount of time, I had camp struck and the SUV loaded.

We surveyed the campsite. "I am so over those bees," Wade observed.

I was so over those bees as well!

The return trip, in morning light, was as spectacular, yet different, as the trip up had been.

From Forest Road 288 in morning's light.

In Globe, I stopped at a place called Jerry's Restaurant. I usually like to go to non-chain places, happy to spend money I suspect will actually make it to (in this case) Jerry. However, the food was desperately average, with tasteless eggs and a waitress who insisted the margarine she brought us was "real butter."

Wade gave me the bacon that came with his meal, and I will say it was pretty good.

So we got home before noon, which left time for Michael and I to take Zachary to see Journey To The Center Of The Earth 3-D.

Wade did agree to make another trip some time in the future, so hopefully he had as good a time as I.

Sierra Ancha is beautiful and perhaps I'll return some other time.

But maybe not in bee season.