October 13 to October 16 . 2020 for most of us has been the year we’d like to forget. Covid, lockdowns, closures, and stay-at-home orders re-invented a lot of lives. Arizona, our new home base, experienced the hottest summer ever and broke many records. Right here in our little piece of this beautiful state saw almost a week of 120 degree plus temps; the rest were 110 plus. Oi vey.
Not being able to enter New Mexico to finish up our state parks pass and having some new plantings in the yard to keep alive we decided to just stay put. Until recently that is. The weather up until mid-October has stayed hotter than usual, but the higher elevations are beginning to cool down and plans were made with previous Interesting Person, Sylvia, to camp for a couple of days near Prescostt AZ.
White Spar is a medium-use USDA Forest Service campground and I have never not found a spot, but I didn’t take into account it is still 2020. The plan was to meet at White Spar. My Camping Buddy tells me she is leaving around 4:30 a.m. to beat the morning commute in Phoenix and will wait in the parking lot of the trail head and read and/or walk the campground while waiting for me. I rise early, too, but do not drive anymore before the landscape can be seen and tell her I will be leaving about 10 and see her about noon.
Feeling guilty (a bad habit of mine) that she will be waiting all that time cooling her heels I buy ice, load the groceries, and get the last minute things loaded up the night before and the Chiweenie Brothers and I are ready to roll at first light. I enjoy the two hour drive, and the boys are excited to be on the road. We’re in the Honda CRV instead of the van, trying out car camping, and they have a bird’s eye view of the road ahead as the mattress from the van just fits in the back of the Honda and brings them up high enough to see out the windshield. Happy little chiweenies!
The air gets cooler as we climb past Yarnell. Once we begin the second half of the climb, about 10 miles worth, the road is two-lane, narrow, and takes all my attention, but it’s a slow enough go to enjoy the cool morning air through the open driver’s window. Lovin’ it!!
I make note of the entrance to Wolf Creek Campground as we pass and cringe. It appears to have had a LOT of traffic recently; it’s fine powdered dust indicating a lot of use. That could be a backup if needed, but I surely do not want that dust sifting up under my back window that no longer closes all the way. A couple miles up the road we come to White Spar.
I park at the trail head—day use only—and leash up The Boys so they can relieve themselves then we walk the parking lot looking for Sylvia. She is not parked here. We walk it again to make sure; I don’t see her silver SUV.
Climbing back in the car we drive up into the campground. I have never seen it so full! We make a circuit looking for her SUV. She is not in any of the camp sites either, but maybe I just missed her. We drive around again. There are a couple of empty sites, none with level ground, and a few with only one day available. Hope nothing has happened to her.
Energy ebbing, as is normal these days after doing practically nothing, and thinking she must have had car trouble or something else happen I sign in and pay for one night and text her number. While waiting for an answer I pull out my chair, the sun oven to heat up some lunch, and get the Chiweenie Brothers staked out. No sense fiddling with the new camping items just for one night. No tent either (YEAH!!) as we will be sleeping in the car. Just a couple of adjustments to the mattress after my mad dash to Cali last spring to say goodbye to my sis and my sleeping set up is a cloud to sleep on.
I hear from Slyvia after texting to ask where she is and she wants to know who is texting her! WHAT??? She doesn’t recognize the phone number? I tell her who I am. She says she doesn’t have my new number and has been using the old number. I remind her that I gave her the new number and it’s in a previous text, just look up at our old messages from a couple days ago.
She now tells me that she drove to Williams. She wants me to drive to Williams. I have already paid for my site for one night and tell her no. Long story short, I suggest she meet me back here at White Spar in the morning if she doesn’t want to stay in Williams and we will go from here. She arrives bright and early and I am shocked at how frail she looks. She is pretty much shuffling, too, and that is concerning, but she wants to camp. I keep my concerns to myself.
Mingus Mountain is where we will meet and perhaps find a boondocking site as I know of several people who spend their summers there. High elevation, cooler air, lots of pine trees. My Camping Buddy wants me to lead the way. I punch the name into my GPS and off we go. I have my GPS set for best route and it takes us through some beautiful old homes on the outskirts of Prescott. Nice not to deal with a lot of traffic, but I come to a yellow light. Too close to slam on the brakes for fear of throwing the dogs into the front seat I buzz through the yellow and lose Sylvia in the process. She is behind a couple of cars and she hasn’t moved over into the left lane. I slow down as much as I dare, but she doesn’t see my left turn signal or can’t see it. I stay to the left on 89A (alternate) per GPS instructions. The Boys and I wait in the first spot big enough to pull over and park, but still no Sylvia. Onward. She is getting water is the next text. We talked about this, but guess she doesn’t trust me to find a store with water. 😉
A quick stop at Watson Lake overlook to take a couple of photos and let the dogs out for a leg raising, hoping she will catch up. Still no camp mate.
I find another spot past a roundabout and pull off, texting her to stay on 89A and take the second exit within the roundabout in order to stay on 89A.We are just past the roundabout. She texts that she is on Such-and-Such Road. It wasn’t 89A. I can wait no longer parked in the sun, and I text her that the roundabout I described and 89A (alternate) is the best I can do for directions, and I will meet her on Mingus Mountain. I don’t worry because I know she has been to Jerome so should be able to find it.
Somehow she pulls up just minutes from my arrival at the summit! I knew she could find it. The road to the boondocking sites is covered in the same fine dust as the road that went into Wolf Creek. People are camped everywhere it seems and who can blame them. Even home bodies need new scenery at times!! I explain my reluctance about those powdery dusty roads and it sifting into my back hatch and she mentions Cottonwood. Cottonwood is located down in the desert and I know there is no shade from what other people who have camped there have said, but she thinks it’s the only place we can get information so–OKAY! Head to Cottonwood!
The road down into the valley is another one of those two-lane, side-winder type roads of steep descent. I put the Honda in 2nd gear and crawl down the tarmac behind my Camp Buddy along with dozens of other vehicles of all types (I can smell the heated brakes of a pickup hauling a large travel trailer) the 12 miles or so it is to Jerome—can’t wait to see this town on the way back—and then on down into the little spot in the road, the name escapes me, between Jerome and Cottonwood.
Sylvia gets her info from the gas station where she pulls in and treats herself to an ice cream sandwich. I assure her I do not want one. With tongue in cheek I ask about shade in the Verde Valley of which there is none. I know this because I know people who have camped there and it’s okay for the winter months, but desert is desert. I think she just had boondocking on her mind and not as cold at night, but I can’t do without shade. After a brief rest, we head back up to Jerome and although the town is packed with the hoards needing to get out of their homes just as we want to do, we find a few places here and there to park to grab some photos. This little berg is literally perched on the hillside and Old Town Jerome would be a wonderful place to spend time some day. No Old Town photos, but did get a couple of the old copper pit and another section of the lower part.
Once back on top of Mingus Mountain we are fortunate to get sites at the Potato Patch Campground. Paying for two nights we settle into our respective spots. I have purchased a couple of new camping items and am eager to try them out. The dogs run line is put up and they are leashed to it, and I set out to put up the pop-up (sets up in 60 seconds!!) screen room. About ten minutes into it I am muttering to myself and spewing out a few expletives. Sixty seconds my ***** is just one of them. It doesn’t help that the instruction tag attached to this thing isn’t in English, but I do eventually look closer at the pictures. Oh. I have the dang thing upside down. Well shoot. Now to get it turned over (it is 10′ by 15′) without ruining the screening. I am here to tell you it CAN be done, but wasn’t easy. LOL. I then struggle with trying to figure out how the legs extend, but it is just a bit easier than figuring out it was upside down. I am too tired to be doing this, but I carry on. Eventually it is up, a bit dirty, but still intact and I get it over the cement table.
The new hammock has to be a lot easier than the screen room to put up, but I am whacked. My energy these days doesn’t last long, and as much as I am looking forward to a long lounge in that hammock it is going to have to wait until either later this evening or tomorrow. The dogs still need a walk. It is a short one, but it’s all I can do. We pass this relic and grab a shot of the old-time version of a camp table according to our government. How cool is this? I am thrilled something like this has survived.
Back at camp and not having proper extended walks for most of the summer due to excessive heat, I forgot how much energy the Chiweenie Brothers have pent up in those poor little bodies. While they do really really well with the bicycles cruising by and haven’t even barked at the little kids with their scooters whizzing by on the downhill road going by the campsite, The Boys go berserk when someone walks by with their dog; and there are a lot of dogs in the campground. I get beyond frustrated with them.
It is not only annoying, but disturbs the peacefulness and the relaxation I am looking for as I am sure the rest of those in the campground are also looking for. I do the best I can with keeping them quiet, but add in those who don’t have dogs, or don’t know dogs and walk up to them with their hands out toward them wanting to say hi . . . They mean well, but haven’t a clue. The Chiweenie Brothers are the best watch dogs ever, but like many they do not want to be reached for or touched by a stranger and especially not on their territory. This spot is their home and they act accordingly. I hate to do it, but out of frustration put their muzzles on. All three of us hate it! Much of the trip was already history before I resorted to this so they weren’t in them very long.
A group heads out for a hike
After the first night…Which is cool, but not as blessedly cool as White Spar had been…my Camp Buddy says she fell over the guy line on her tent and tells me she may have broken a bone alongside or under, I can’t remember which, her humerus but shows me her knee. She is nauseous, too, and asks if I will help her take down her camp. Of course, but I mention that I wish she had asked me earlier. She gives me an odd little smile. It’s later in the afternoon, but I begin taking down her tent which solidifies my reason for not using a tent of my own (UGH!! Hate ’em!!)), and after removing the contents which includes a box of books, two large tables and several side tables along with her bed which she will sleep on outside tonight, and various other things, she tells me where to put things in her vehicle; at least those that can go in now. Some have to wait until morning. And then the undelivered texts come through! Jeez. Ah, well, it is what it is.
In the morning there’s the rest of her stuff to pack. Another table, very heavy and the other folding tables that couldn’t be put in her vehicle yesterday, her bedding, many blankets, water, shovel, rake, ect. I finish getting her packed up and she is eventually ready to head out claiming she is okay as long as she is seated, and she heads for Phoenix.
I need to finish packing up my own camp and thankfully it doesn’t take long; there isn’t much as I took down the screen room and packed the camp stove, kitchen stuff, and food after packing most of Sylvia’s camp yesterday. That done, I heave a sigh of relief, get the dogs loaded, then plug Yarnell into my GPS heading out to 89A and then along a different route that branches off, seeing some new country.
New boondocking sites are noted along this road (Williamson) along with some granite dells, and just before dropping down into Skull Valley I spot smoke laying over the valley! OH NO!! Not another fire!!! As with California, Oregon, and Washington Arizona has had many wildfires this year. Human caused.
We gas up just north of Congress. I contemplate spending a night off Ghost Town Road in Congress, but it is too warm down here. I have stayed there before in years past and was fortunate to find a shade tree, but that can’t be guaranteed and I am too tired to deal so on we go. We head on through the desert taking Hwy 71 to 60 then catching I-10 and arrive home a bit before noon.
It’s very warm, supposedly the last day of the high 90s, and the casita needs cooling down, but the first order of business is getting The Boys into the back yard, then getting the cooler going. Energy expended from a nice-but-not-as-relaxing-as-expected camping trip deems unloading the car will have to wait.
I lie on my comfy bed under the cooler, the boys running in and out of the back door of our one room oasis checking their backyard for intruders. It feels good to be horizonal, the cool air flowing over me and getting my room down to a decent temperature. Before falling asleep I think about the next trip the Chiweenie Brothers and I will take. It is so much fun to plan, and there are lots of places in Arizona to explore now that the weather will cooling off soon and before the next wave of Covid potentially keeps us in lockdown again.
My last thought before drifting off for an hour’s nap is that surely November will bring the temps down into the 80s. The first week of October continued to break records with highs in the triple digits, and since then high to mid-90s has ruled. The weatherman tells us we are heading into lower temps and should get some wonderful relief next week, but I am not counting my chickens. Playing it by ear. Keeping from hoping too hard. This is, after all, the year 2020!
CURRENT and PREVIOUS READS: The Institute, Stephen King, The Outsider, Stephen King, Room 15, Charles Harris.
Potato Patch Campground. Forest Service. Electric sites in the first loop closest to the camp host is $18 per night, regular sites in lower loop, $14 per night half price with senior passes. Vault toilets, water, tables, firepits. Hiking trails of various lengths.