Arizona, the Land of Discovery and Learning Experiences


I crossed over into Arizona on May 3, knowing I was no longer in prime time to visit the desert country. I wanted to see more of the area along the border of Mexico. I also wanted to see the places that had been suggested to me by BLM officers in New Mexico.

I headed towards Arizona on Highway 10, but cut down 80, actually entering the state along that road. I passed through the southern end of Coronado National Forest on the way towards Douglas, continuing west on 80 through Bisbee, Lowell, and Tombstone. Lowell had a retro historic downtown from the 1950s, complete with cars permanently parked. The only people out were those doing work on the buildings, and a couple of pedestrians. It was mostly empty, despite the vehicle line street, adding an eerie feel to the scene, which also happened to be on Erie Street. The buildings were beautiful, and I could imagine the place as being ‘hoppin’ outside of pandemic. There was a big mine in the area, Lavender Mine, to learn about. I stopped through Tombstone, and it too was fairly desolate of people. It looked like an empty movie set. The only things missing were the cowboys engaged in a standoff and tumbleweed. It was surreal.

We continued up to 10, heading east, and then down 191. There we took a dip westward into Dragoon Mountains, where there were beautiful rock formations and treed areas. There was camping there, but I decided to head on, as it was still early and hot out. I wanted to see if Chiricahua National Monument was open. It was not, but I found an entrance for Coronado National forest that went south of the monument area. I lost service pretty quickly and drove a way up the forest road to try and find it again. Instead, I found a beautiful sunset view from the ridge. I headed back down and found camping along a creek that appeared mostly dried up at night, but by morning was flowing. I was excited about water for a shower.

I saw Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the map and decided I needed to check it out. Drove west on 10, to Tucson, and then headed west on 86. Saw landscapes of cactus like I had never seen before and turned south at Why, AZ, to get to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. When I got to the park entrance, I saw warnings that people should not travel alone or at night and that the campground is closed. It was in the 5:30p time range already, and I decided I should find a place to camp for the night and return in the morning. I had passed a Border Patrol check on my way to the entrance, so I passed through the same group of men immediately after turning around. The officer was friendly and suggested a place for me to camp just up the road, that would be safe. I scoped out some other options, chatted with some more Border Patrol officers, and ended up where the first suggested. It was around 7:00 pm when I settled on a camp, and it was still 90 degrees. It had been 102 during the day.

The next morning I returned to the park, resupplied water after a friendly conversation with a park ranger at the closed visitors center, and headed out on the loops through the area. I was the only visitor I saw in six hours of driving through. I stopped for a hike late morning, to a ‘dripping spring’. It was not a far hike, less than a mile and half, so I took a water bottle and the dog. On the way back, I saw a man dressed in full green, including skin covered, walking rapidly up the trail towards me. He had weapons and a bulletproof vest. I was startled, but when he got close enough to see that he was border patrol, I said an ‘I didn’t expect to see anyone else out here.’ He responded by raising his glasses, lowering his mask, and engaging in friendly conversation with me, recommending places in the area to visit and telling me more about the local climate and terrain.

Further down the road, I followed Mexico’s border and saw the wall (a tall fence that was more appealing looking than I expected, noting that you could see through it when you faced it) in the stages of being built. Large swatches of terrain cleared, massive piles of fence pieces, big machinery, and people out working. The desert terrain was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It is amazing how such beautiful plants can thrive in such harsh conditions. The temperature crept up to the 102-degree mark. I fueled up in Why before heading back east.

I wanted to head back through Patagonia, so I decided to take the 286 south through Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. We took a hike along a nature trail that was back in trees where it was cooler. We went east towards Arivaca, and took a cut off towards Arivaca lake, where there would be camping. It was still hot when I found a camp, but was later in the day, so cooling down. I had great views in all directions. Border Patrol was everywhere. There was a lake at the end of the road that I stopped at, and as I was heading back up looking for camping, I saw border patrol officers going on the same off-roads. Not long after I found my camp spot, a helicopter flew through my camp. It was a government plane. There were officers parked up the hill that could easily see me with binoculars. I felt some reassurance in that and was careful not to pee in view. It was an interesting way to spend Cinco de Mayo, one I would never forget. I ate Mexican food for dinner.

The next morning it heated up fast. I continued down to Nogales, and then up 82 through Patagonia. This was a beautiful treed area that also had a The Nature Conservancy area. It was closed but spoke to how much wildlife there was. The next stop was Sand Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, where I found the Fairbank Historic Townsite. An area of well preserved historic buildings, that was surprisingly open. I hadn’t expected to do more than walk around the townsite, so I only grabbed the dog and his leash. I found a few trails off in the woods, one to a few more historic sites, and another to a river. It was 98 degrees, and I was kicking myself for not having brought water. There was water- a water spigot at the townsite site, and a river – so I decided to take Mav for a quick dip in the river. On the .5mile hike there, I heard a truck door slam, and four Hispanic youth went running through the woods in front of me, crossing my path. Half of them made eye contact. They were only carrying water. I was now kicking myself for not having told anyone I was out there, and not bringing my backpack, which had mace, knife, and emergency beacon. Once to the river, I texted my brother to let him know what happened and exactly where I was. I looked for an alternate route back, like possibly along the road, that I stood beneath the bridge over, but found no other way. I found a stick that I could use as a weapon if needed. It was solid, a few feet long, and had points in the right places. We walked quickly back through the forest, and straight to the car. Once we got back on the road, we passed a border patrol check. I considered telling them what I saw, but when I pulled up, they had a dog sniffing my car, and I froze, worried that Maverick would notice the dog and start barking. Fortunately, they understood my look of panic, asked me if I was an American citizen, and told me to go on. I felt done dealing with border patrol related stressors. It was time to head north.

It was in Texas that I first experienced border patrol. I was nervous at first, not knowing what to expect, but then I found routine in it. I probably went through 25 border patrol checks, and by Arizona, I considered an encounter successful if I could engage in conversation or elicit a smile. They are set up in random places along roads that funnel up from the border. Pull up to the checkpoint with your windows open, so they can see inside. They will ask if you are an American Citizen. Sometimes there are dogs. I only ever saw male officers, and most are younger, with muscles and tattoos. I was surprised by how many officers there were and wondered how much it cost to pay people to be always out patrolling. I wondered if the wall would somehow cut down on that. I also thought being border patrol would be a sweet job because you would drive four-wheel drive vehicles through wilderness places all day long.

I headed north on 80 to 10, and then east until I got to 191 north to Swift Trail Jct. I then took 70 west towards Globe. I drove through a reservation that had security at every entry point, checking people to make sure they knew who was coming and going. No visitors allowed. Native American Reservations have been struggling with COVID-19 cases. In Globe, I went south, into Coronado National Forest. I found a great spot along a stream, with no neighbors, and some cell service. There were trailheads within walking distance, plenty of water, and peaceful spaces. I spent four nights there, hiked 14 miles of trails without crossing paths with a single person. It was a beautiful mountain terrain with ridgeline views. A variety of flowers and plants made the terrain extra interesting.

I discovered one of my tires was getting low. I filled it with fix-a-flat, and finished airing it up with a portable air compressor, and made sure it was holding air. I noticed the tire was looking in need of replacement, and I knew I needed new tires anyway. I decided to schedule an appointment for Monday at a Discount Tire. I found the nearest one in Fountain Hills. On Mothers Day Sunday, we headed into the city, and using Hotwire App I found an excellent deal on a Marriott in Scottsdale, and booked it for two nights. I took my first real shower in three weeks, did laundry, and got food that I was excited about. Maverick got a shower too.

The next morning we went to Fountain Hills, I put on my mask, and we waited in the lobby for new tires. When I went to turn my car on and drive it out, it would not start. The battery died right there in the bay. Fortunately, there was a Jiffy Lube next door, so I walked there and brought someone back with me. I got a new (and bigger than before) battery installed. Meanwhile, Maverick got lots of love from strangers, and I chatted with locals about various things. When done, I went next door to O’Reillys and picked up a new can of fix-a-flat, and we were on our way. I enjoyed another night and morning at the hotel, taking the time to connect with friends and family for video calls.

Locals recommended I check out Peyson, so I headed that way next. We went west through Strawberry, and on towards Happy Jack, where I found camping in Coconino National Forest. Our campsite was surrounded by cows. We went for a nice walk on forest roads, checking out the local flowers. We woke the next morning to a cow standing over the hood of the car. The following day we went back to Strawberry, as there was a recreational area behind it. However, it was all still closed, so I returned to a different part of Coconino National Forest, along the Mogollon rim road. After much exploring, trying to find a spot with water and service, I stumbled upon a perfect site. It was along the rim with fantastic views. We would stay for six nights.

I got work done at camp, and we would take walks. There were plenty of forest roads and campsite roads in the area. It got busy over the weekend, but we were in a cove away from people. We had our first visitors, from family members who live in Arizona.

Maverick developed a hot spot under his left year. I was trying to clean it at camp, but it seemed to worsen, and I could not keep it clean. It was a filthy forest and impossible to trim carefully without help. I reached out to his vet and determined he would need to get in to see him. I had planned a trip back to Colorado the weekend after the 20th, which was my son’s 21st birthday. I would have to return a few days early. We went for a drive to Forest Lakes to hike around and explore the Mogollon road in total. On the morning of May 19, we packed up to drive back home.

As I headed out, two indicator lights came on the dash. One was for skidding, and one was a flashing brake light. I was just driving along when it happened. I almost stopped for a mechanic in Winslow, Arizona, but I found a shop too busy, a shop closed, and then the indicator lights went off. They came back on again when I was on the interstate, and I stopped in Gallup New Mexico to check the brake fluid levels. I spoke with Jiffy Lube tech who checked the levels and said they were all fine and could be a sensor. I decided to risk it and try to make it home. I stopped in Santa Fe to gather my replacement cooler power chord and camped in Northern New Mexico. The indicator lights were on all day, and the next morning they went off and never came on.

Once home, I got the car into the Subaru dealer for an oil change and full check-up. I got the dog into the vet. I reconnected with friends and family. I spent the weekend with my son and his girlfriend in the house they just purchased and did some adventuring with them. I camped with a friend. A sensor had gone out in the car, and I had to wait until the day after Memorial Day for the part to come in. A longer stay than planned, but well-utilized. Four nights at home, one night in the woods, and two nights on the kid’s couch. The dog had plenty of meds for an ear infection and a hotspot, and the car fully serviced for another six thousand miles. The problem was a sensor. When it was time to leave, we headed west and then north.

Arizona was beautiful, and I need to return when the weather cools again. I have spent time in Northern Arizona several times within the past few years, including backpacking into the Grand Canyon in November of 2018, and two road trips in late winter and early spring. I considered moving to Flagstaff when I instead moved to Colorado. While I experienced a lot of challenging things during this trip, I am grateful for how they all turned out, and they will forever be a part of my memories of Arizona. Until next time, Arizona. 

Here are pictures from our three weeks in Arizona: