Whoopsie Trail And Henderson Road
As Arizonans We Love Rain, But -
June 1, 2023
The epic rains we had all winter were great for the wildflower bloom, but not so fantastic for off-roading! John and I avoid going on dirt roads when it's muddy – not because we think we'll get stuck, but because it trashes the roads. It seemed like every time we wanted to go out, it was either going to rain or had recently rained.
'Rain, Rain, Go Away'
Being an Arizona native, there is no way I'm going to complain that we had too much rain, but I have to confess that it did put a damper on our off-road adventures. Not only that, our bird hunting at Desert Creek Sportsman's Club was affected as well. It flooded out there big time. At first it was just lots of mud, but Tony cancelled hunts because you can't have people with guns slipping around in wet clay. Not only that, it gets stuck between the dogs' pads and it is a huge chore to get it out!
Tony actually sent me photos of the river rushing through the club, and him kayaking to get to the birds to feed them. Fortunately, they are on high ground so he didn't lose any. But he said he would stay open later in the year than usual, and open early.
Trip #1 Whoopsie Trail
When it finally dried out a bit, we decided to go back to the area around Arlington and Palo Verde. We stopped at the Gillespie Dam on the way out just to see what the Gila looked like and it was incredible! I've never seen so much water going down the Gila before. It looks so different because there were big construction machines moving dirt around at the wast edge nearest the bridge.
Our original plan was to take the Agua Caliente Road from Old US 80 down to the Painted Rock Dam Road. This was a great trip at first – there were loads of flowers all around the desert, especially when we got into the part that went through the Gila Bend Mountains. We stopped near Fourth Of July Butte and I took a ton of photos of flowers.
The thing about these flowers is that except for the brittle bushes and lupines, most of the flowers are so tiny you really have to look to see them. Then you almost feel bad about walking around because you're stepping on so many!
Honestly, once you get out of the mountains the road is pretty boring – just a huge flat area. We had wanted to go to Hyder to see where APS is building that giant solar farm, but we didn't make it. However, on the way south from the Gila Bend Mountains, I spotted a little side road and my map told me it went to a place called Sundad.
Without a doubt, Sundad is one of the strangest places I've ever been. Someone spent a LONG time arranging rocks in different patterns – LOTS of them. There are a couple of big ovals with the word Sundad spelled out in rocks. There are all kinds of different shapes, and a lot of smaller shapes filled in with broken glass. I wonder if that was to suggest water? The more we walked around, the more we saw. There is an abandoned mine very nearby – and some of the rock shapes go very close to it, but from what I could find out, nobody really knows who did the artwork or why.
Be Careful Of Old Mines
It was a lot of fun to walk around and discover more and more rock-built shapes, and of course we had to go up and see the old mine. Caveat: there are lots of old mines in this entire region, so keep your dog on a leash unless you want to risk losing him down a mine shaft. And keep your kids close, too. Most of the really dangerous ones are blocked off with steel cages, but not all. I've seen some doozies that didn't even have a fence around them!
After Sundad we decided life was too short to drive through flat desert, and we went back north on the Agua Caliente, through the Gila Bend Mountains, and turned west at Fourth of July Butte instead of heading east back the way we came. We drove out to the Whoopsie Trail and enjoyed that roller coaster ride then headed back home via Harquahala Valley Road. Along the way we came to an area that had a lot of desert lilies all over the place. I've never seen those before and they are gorgeous!
Trip #2 Henderson Road
The original plan for this trip was to see some fantastic old cliff dwellings in the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness. According to the article I found, you just drive up the Perkinsville Road until you get to FR181 (a little north of the Verde), then at the end of the road you hop out, walk a little ways up Trail 63 and bingo!
I'm always up for a ride on the Perkinsville Road. Going north, whether you get to it from Chino Valley or Jerome, the views are to die for. You can see all the way to red rock formations with the San Francisco Mountains behind them. And on this trip, there was still lots of snow on the peaks – in April!
First of all, let me tell you that the rains did no favors to FR181. Took us nearly 3 hours in a lifted Jeep to go 12 miles from Perkinsville Road to the trailhead. However, we did stop a few times, and the one stop at Lonesome Pocket was a bit of a long one. Lonesome Pocket has another trailhead, and it also has an abandoned old house, a trick tank with a roof over it, and some gorgeous scenery.
Much of the forest around 181 experienced a bad fire not too long ago, so that makes rain erosion even worse. Most of the dirt has been washed off the road, which means a bumpy, rocky ride. The wash crossings were not nearly as bad as I feared they would be, though. No running water and no bad wash-outs.
Which Way To Go?
When we finally reached the trailhead of Trail 63, it was noon. We left the house at 6 a.m.! After a quick lunch, we grabbed our hiking stuff and hit the trail. Our first problem was deciding which way to go. I wasn't seeing ruins anywhere near on any of my maps. The directions I had were decidedly vague: "go over and around a ridge to the east". I took out my compass to discover that east was exactly BETWEEN two ridges. Sigh.
We took off down 63 with high hopes and hiked for a couple miles and a couple of hours, scouring the nearby cliffs and slopes for anything that looked like cliff dwellings. In the photos I saw, they are spectacular, with high walls, door openings, window openings...I really wanted to see them. But at around 3:00 we called it quits. It was just getting too late and we wanted to be home before dark. (We made it, but just barely: 7 p.m.) We decided that next time we will bring the camping gear, spend the night, and hit the trail first thing. Meanwhile, more research so we're not just blindly walking around.
The trip was far from a total loss, though. We saw the most amazing scenery, especially from the hiking trail. And we're looking forward to going back. Meanwhile, if you know how to get to those elusive ruins, please let me know!