Rolling With The Punches
May 1, 2019
Publisher's Note - Margie mentions Wide World of Maps later in this article. Wide World of Maps has maintained a mini-store at Lookout Mountain Outdoors. With the retirement of the owner of Lookout Mountain, Wide World of Maps will expand at this location. You may visit https://maps4u.com/, or call 602/279-2323 for information. Please tell them Jim and Carol sent you. Thank you.
A Change In Plans Turns Into A Great Road Trip
Sometimes plans don't work out. We had planned to go on an ROV ride with some friends last week, but they had to cancel at the last minute. So instead, we decided to go on a truck ride that we found in an off-road book - from Kirkland Junction to Wilhoit via a road along the Hassayampa River then down Orofino Valley. It's a short distance, but we can always make a day of it by stopping to walk, and taking every side road just to see where it goes. The Topo Maps app always gets us back.
At Times, A Spectacular Waterfall
It's a good hour and half plus drive from our house in Glendale to Kirkland Junction, and the road we wanted actually starts just south of Kirkland Junction - it's the Wagoner Road. From there we were supposed to turn north at the Hassayampa River, which was another good drive, but the road was paved.
Before too long I spotted a spring on the Topo Maps app, so we turned down a Jeep trail and walked down into a little cut to see Moore's Spring. There was a galvanized steel cattle tank there, but we walked upstream and found running water and some cool cliffs that the water coming in from another wash had cut. You could see that it would be a pretty spectacular waterfall when the streams were running.
After a few more miles, we crossed the Hassayampa on a very pretty bridge and came to our turn. This is where we hit our second snag (the first being our friends' cancelling) - the road along the river is now private and marked "no trespassing". No worries, I saw a second road a little further on that would loop us around that private entrance and get us back on track.
Snag number three - that second road was also closed. It wasn't marked private, but there was a corral on it, and we got past that only to find that just over the hill the road pretty much petered out and there was a barbed wire fence right across it. I couldn't see any other way around it, so that ride was no longer possible. Which is a shame, because it looked and sounded amazing.
Re-Route To Crown King
When you've already driven for over two hours, you're not about to turn back just because the ride you planned on fell through, so we decided to go to Crown King via the Wagoner Road. This is a trip I've always wanted to do just because of the names of the places it passes through - Walnut Grove (like Little House on the Prairie) Minnehaha, and Wagoner. Who wouldn't want to see Walnut Grove?
We've been to Crown King many times, mostly to get to Horsethief Basin Lake, but we've always come in from the east side off the I-17. John also keeps wanting to try the back road into Crown King from Lake Pleasant - it's a legendary road that is supposed to be really rough. But this third way, though a bit longer, looked like fun.
Gorgeous High Desert
This area is high desert, so it's gorgeous this time of year. There are lots of juniper trees and flowering shrubs, and because of all the rain we've had lately, almost every creek was running. We stopped and got out at almost all of them. Most of them flowed right across the road but all the fords were easy.
The road followed the Hassayampa for a bit, but you couldn't always see it. We passed Walnut Grove - it's a church and a little school, and the church welcomes you on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Just past Walnut Grove is a Gold Bar Ranch, which is a working cattle ranch that offers camping, a guesthouse, fishing, farm animals, and even the opportunity to participate in a round up.
Not For Passenger Cars
The road swoops down to the southeast before looping back to the north, and on this southern loop is Wagoner. There isn't much visible from the road of Wagoner. Shortly thereafter you ford Minnehaha Creek. Just after you cross the creek, there is a turn-out on the left, so we parked there and walked down to the water. It was gorgeous, and there were lots of really pretty yellow flowers - just four big pale yellow petals each.
After that, we passed Cherry Creek trailhead, and shortly after tha,t the road started getting pretty rough. It dips down into creek channels fairly often, and with all the rains, it was pretty pitted and rutted. We decided that a 4WD is recommended, although if you're good at picking the high spots, you could probably make it in a high-clearance vehicle. But this is definitely not a road for passenger cars.
Views Are Amazing
This rough drive goes on for several miles until you come to Johnson Flat, and the road gets a lot less crazy. Then you come to Minnehaha just as the road swings to the north. Like Wagoner, there isn't much to see of Minnehaha from the road, but it sure is a cool name. From there it's just north through some beautiful country until you join up with the old Senator Highway west of Crown King.The views from the road up there are amazing. Photos don't do them justice.
Horsethief Basin Lake
Now you're up in the pines, and if you want to, you can go to Horsethief Basin Lake and take a little walk all the way around the lake. The trail is flat and easy, and part of it goes right across the dam. People fish there and there is even a boat ramp. The lake isn't stocked, but you can catch bass, catfish, and sunfish. It's very pretty up there. There are plenty of hiking and biking trails in the woods as well.
If you don't want to go the long way as we did this time, you can get there via the Bumblebee exit or the Horsethief Basin exit on I-17.
Turn In Those Vandals
This wasn't the first time we've tried to go somewhere and found the roads closed off, unfortunately. You can buy off-road books and search online, but it's impossible to keep things updated. Odds are, you'll run across some closed roads now and then. We tried to get to Columbia, north of Pleasant, and those roads are all marked no trespassing. You can't go to Gillette any more either - it's private property and posted.
I've heard that the road to Tip Top is closed now too, and that's a shame. I can't really blame the property owners though - vandals are ruining it for all of us. Please keep an eye out for people who are shooting signs, cutting fences, or destroying or painting property. Get their license plate numbers, take photos, and turn them in.
Roll With The Punches
Next time you go out for a day of off-roading, be prepared to roll with the punches. Bring a good map, and download the Topo Maps app onto your phone. That app will show you where you are in real time, so you can look for alternate routes. It works whether you have cell service or not, but you have to download the maps at home while you have Wi-Fi.
The maps I like to carry are the 1:100,000 maps that you can get at Wide World of Maps. They cover quite a bit of territory while maintaining a lot of detail. They make it easy to find a different adventure if the one you planned on isn't doable. It's fun to mark the roads you've been on, too.
One last tip about the Topo Maps app - it really eats phone battery if you have it on all day, so bring a cord and either plug into the vehicle, or bring a power bank with you. I've got a couple of small ones that I really like and they are handy. One of them will charge an iPhone four or five times.
By the way, Crown King has a little store, a restaurant, and a saloon, so it makes a nice day trip no matter which route you choose to take. (Editor's note: And, they have incredibly delicious fudge for sale!.)