Friday, April 22, 2016

Off the Grid Near Safford

Miles traveled this go around was approximately 81 miles from Benson (via I-10 E & US 191-N) to BLM land on Haekel Road in Solomon, Arizona where the elevation is a little over 2900 feet in elevation.  Solomon is about 7-8 miles east of Safford.  We were previously in this area for the first time back in February 2015 when we stayed for only four days.  Since we like this area Jeff suggested that we return and explore those areas that we didn’t get time to see last year.

Mount Graham (with some snow) on Hackle Road

Settled in with the flag flying high.

Our patio area under the awning.
A privacy fence made of blooming Ocotillo branches.
The drive from Benson seemed pretty uneventful but when we arrived at Hackle Road and pulled into a site that we liked, low and behold Jeff noticed that we had lost one of our tag axel hub caps on the right side.  This was not good.  In Yuma we had to replace one that was lost at a cost of $116.  We had even purchased special brackets (at $34 each) for each of the axels that are to hold the caps more securely when traveling.  Yeah!  Non-the-less, this is just something that you don’t have control of when you’re traveling down the road – bumpy road or not.

We both looked at each other and knew that we had to re-trace our tracks from the interstate and give it at least a “snowballs” chance that we could find it.  We were pretty much resolved to not finding it though, but we do believe that St. Joseph (who has really been watching over us this winter) deemed that we should find it.  And find it we did.  A couple of little dings on it, but still intact that we could put it back on the tag axel.  We will be smiling about this one for quite a long time to come.  Jeff purchased a product from the Ace store in Safford that when painted on the bracket tips, and thoroughly dry for a couple of days, this will hopefully keep that cap on for us. 
Blue rubber compound applied to the bracket tips.

Let's get this cap on tight now!

The Safford area is really great if your passion is for adventure.  It doesn’t take much for us to seek out Jeep trips that are unique.  We planned a day trip to see some mining towns – Clifton (founded in 1873 and no longer active) – and Morenci (an active mining town that boasts one of the largest open-pit mines anywhere).  Destination - the Morenci Mine Lookout which is located about three miles above Morenci.  Portals on a security fence allow photo opportunities.  The huge machines and haul trucks look toy-like compared to the mine’s size.
The town of Clifton, nestled in the valley.

This unusual Church structure caught our eye.

The Train Depot in Clifton now serves as a Visitor's Center.

If the waters get high, the gates can be closed to the road.
The road from Clifton to Morenci with the mine in the background.

Getting ready to enter the underground tunnel.

Scrap material that has no value being refined to "dust".

Took this picture through the portal at the Morenci Mine Lookout.

Picture taken from the lookout at 1,500 - 1,700 feet.

Who wants to play with our toy trucks?  Amazing, isn't it?

Pieces of mined stone with the beautiful blue of copper.

A 12 ft. tire from one of the dumptrucks.

The Morenci mine borders the Apache National Forest and is part of the Coronado Trail - the path trekked by Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado in the 1540’s.  Because of its beauty and vistas, the Trail is regularly featured in Arizona Highways.  The 100-mile stretch of paved road allows an average speed of 30 miles per hour due to its great number of hairpin curves – a 2-1/2 hour trip that runs from Clifton to Alpine.  We went as far as the lookout but we will be back to take it all the way to Alpine which is at an elevation over 8,000 feet.

Cool stuff happens too!  Free range cattle roam this area and can suddenly become your neighbors for a few hours.  They were sure interested in us!  And, we can't forget to watch "under-foot" for the Desert Horned Lizard - more commonly known as the horny toad - which blend in to the desert landscape and can scare the crap out of you.  Kay can definitely attest to that!

Another oddity that we ran across while rock hounding was a section of dirt road that literally has holes burrowed into the ground where bees live.  If you look close enough, you can see what appears to be a mud tube coming out of the ground.  Kay was going to cross this piece of road and found it quite by accient when she heard a "buzzin" coming from somewhere close.  Whoa. . .she stopped dead in her tracks at this point.  We believe they are called digger bees that have a habit of digging in desert soils.

Another story about bees that we'd like to share.  Has anyone ever been bombarded in their vehicle by a swarm of bees?  Chalk one up for the Jeep!  Kay didn't think fast enough to get a picture of the windshield after it was just caked with bee bodies.  What was so freaky about it was that it was a perfectly sunny day outside and suddenly . . .  splat.  Jeff had to pull over to the side of the road because he couldn't see out of the windshield which was pretty much a mess with,  what else - honey!.   We so wish we had a picture to share this odd "bee" event as it was definitely a first for us.

We have always been interested in touring Arizona’s hot springs.  Having the opportunity for two such locations within miles was definitely calling us for a visit.  Hot Well Dunes Recreation Area is the most popular developed spa in the Gila Valley and is administered by the BLM. The 106-degree artesian well has been channeled into two hot tubs and is located 32 miles southeast of Safford on Hackle Road.  We enjoyed the spa in 2015 and continue to be drawn to its therapeutic value of just feeling good.

Relaxing in the spa felt sooooooo good.

The second location, Gillard Hot Springs, is located in a remote section of the Gila River, not accessible by vehicle.  This is in the Black Hills Back Country Byway (managed by the BLM).   The only signs of human activity out here are the faint roads and isolated cattle corrals.  The trails that we tried to follow to get to the springs were apparently roads at one time, but because of the lack of use and occasional flash floods, they have disappeared in places and therefore not really accessible safe on foot.  What a bummer!  It was, however, a beautiful day for to be out in the Jeep for a new trip and place to see.

Mexican Poppies (also known as California Poppies too).

Flower buds from an Ocotillo on the trail.


The hot springs in the far distance over Jeff's shoulder.
Finding the spring’s main road and then trekking the 7+ miles to the trail, to come to a very steep incline pretty much meant that we would have to pass up the hot springs on this trip.  We did see a bobcat on the mountain though and that was pretty spectacular.  Sorry, no picture of the kitty.     

The Black Hills Back Country Byway was quite impressive.  The Byway is a 21 mile long scenic and historic route offering sweeping vistas of surrounding valleys, canyons and mountain views.  The graded dirt road has kiosks at both ends providing information on historic sites, ranching and mining activities in the area.  It also crosses the 22,000 acre Gila Box Riparian National Conversation Area bringing diversity to the landscape along steep cliffs and narrow turns.  The trip took us about 2.5 hours from end to end and we would highly recommend the trip.  This area had quite a volcanic past active 20 million years ago, followed by millions of years of erosion.

Pumice is also an end result of volcanic activity - the large area in the middle.

The "Old Safford" bridge crossing the Gila River.

A beautiful canyon with many trees.

The landscape in this area truly looks "volcanic".

In 2000 from Graham County, Arizona to the New Mexico border, the best Mexican cooks and their restaurants can be found in the cities of Pima, Thatcher, Safford, Solomon, Wilcox, Duncan, Clifton and York.  They became world famous for their salsa recipes, and thus the “Salsa Trail” was born.  Which one do we pick?  La Paloma has been opened for 29 years and is located in the old historic town of Solomon, once the original county seat and one of the earliest settlements in the Gila Valley.  New Mexican chilies are ground fresh every day and their enchilada sauce is the house specialty. 

Mount Graham is part of the Pinaleno Range, which has five of the six life zones from throughout the world.  It is the area’s highest peak and rises to 10,720 feet with roadside overlooks providing breathtaking views of the Valley.   The mountain is an outdoor paradise for camping, hiking, Mount Graham International Observatory and Riggs Lake which provides excellent trout fishing.  It’s too bad that the road continuing to the Observatory and Riggs Lake aren’t opened until after April 15th (if weather permits), as its still pretty cold up at the summit, we’re guessing.


The air was so clean and fresh.

Mule Deer


You can see for miles . . .and miles. . .and miles.

Snowball fight, anyone!
Safford from close to the summit at 9,000 feet.
Eastern Arizona College is Arizona’s oldest community college located in Thatcher, and home of the extensive collection of Jack and Vera Mills, named the Mills Collection.  Jack and Vera Mills conducted extensive excavations on private lands at archaeological sites in the Safford Basin* area (Southeastern Arizona and Western New Mexico) from the 1940s through the 1970s.  They restored more than 600 pots as well as over 5,000 other artifacts from what is known as the Salado Period (1250 A.D. TO 1450 A.D.), and is an extensive display of the culture and life-style of the people who inhabited this region.  It was quite an exhibit to see and the cost was free.
A very nice college campus.


*“The archaeological record from the Safford Basin exhibits a great deal of variation, indicating the ancient inhabitants of this region were also quite diverse.  The diversity indicates that the Safford Basin was a sort of ‘melting pot’ where people from several different prehistoric cultures, many of whom migrated into the area in the late prehistoric times, lived together.

   Specifically, material remains indicate people from the culture areas known traditionally as Anasazi, Hohokam, Mogollon, and Salado lived in the Safford Basin.”

(The above information was taken from the self-guided tour brochure that we received from the College.)

We will always be interested in these types of artifacts along with a strong fascination of the landscape that we call home at any given time.  We’re not history buffs by any means, but we love the earth and have a deep appreciation for it's beauty. . .in the eyes of the beholder.  Maybe that’s where we acquired our love of rock hounding.  Or, should we call it nature’s treasure.  It definitely is a treasure for us when we find a particular rock and appreciate its beauty.  

Who's that rock climber?

Our rock treasures were many and included obsidian, fire agates (an uncommon semi-precious gem) and many others that caught our eye. That's what is so neat about rocks, minerals and gems.  They can definitely be a rainbow of treasures.
top left corner:  rock found at Morenci lookout with specks of Malachite & an agate of unusual color.
top right group:  (4) fire agates found on Hackle Road
 Remaining stones are agates found on Hackle Road

Quite a unique collection of rocks & minerals.

Our 14-day stay on BLM land here in the Safford/Solomon area has come to an end.

Our journey continues into New Mexico as we head toward Colorado.  More to come from the Rocky Mountain State!

Our last sunset on Hackle Road.