Monday, February 24, 2014

Making a Mile, Braving the High Country

February seems to be a month for moving around and exploring some new areas.  I’ve been putting on a few miles and seeing some great new country.  After my stay at Riverview Campground in Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area, I decided to head upriver and check out the other end of the ‘box’.  But first I needed a bit of propane, and I could not determine for sure if any was available around Clifton, so another quick visit to Safford was in order.  Once all was in order it was up highway 191 till the turnoff to Owl Canyon campground, near the put-in for floating the Gila river down towards Safford.  The road into Owl Canyon is not nearly as challenging as the one we just departed, but the scenery was great all around, and the campground sits on a high bank overlooking a small canyon where the river flows.  There is no water at this camp spot, and no host in attendance, $5./night.


There are signs in every campsite warning of the steep river banks below.


Just down below the campground is the historic Old Safford bridge, built in 1918 and restored in the 90’s.


There is also a day-use area and the launch site for floating the river under the bridge.  And a quaint, un-roofed outhouse!


The camper is visible above the centre of the bridge.IMG_0268IMG_0267

Hailey and I were on a roll, so we only spent one night at Owl Canyon.  I had been poring over some very winding, high elevation roads on the map, along the Arizona – New Mexico line. Normally I would avoid that sort of place in mid-winter, because the high elevation tends to attract snow and ice.  But the weather reports for all communities on the route showed overnight temps near the freezing mark and decent day time temps and sunshine, and locals told me that it hadn’t really snowed at all this year.

So with that good news, off we went, first through Clifton.


From there, the road leads right through the middle of a positively humongous, incredible, active open-pit copper mining operation. The road switchbacks and passes many huge industrial buildings and huge holes in the ground.


After driving for miles and miles through the mine site, climbing all the time, the road finally enters the national forest.  P2209737

But this road is not for the faint of heart.  It is all nicely paved and well maintained, but there are no shoulders, it winds like a snake, and you’ve seen the last guardrail you will see for at least 100 miles.  None.  Even over some very impressive drop-offs.  Nothing there but air.


But the road is very, very scenic, even if it does tend to keep the driver’s attention full time.  We were in no rush, and the traffic is almost non-existent, and there are a few viewpoints to stop and relax a bit.  We spied a cute looking little roadside campground, and drove in to check it out.  Mistake! After some fine planning and execution, we managed to get out without damaging any trees or 5th wheels.  And carried on, ever upward.


Eventually all the uphill sections came to an end at a nice little roadside pull-off, where camping seemed to be allowed, so we took advantage and set up in a spot with great views for miles around.  Elevation 7000’.


It was a quiet night as there is no traffic after dark, and it didn’t even freeze, but we hung around in the morning long enough to watch Canada beat the US in Olympic hockey game.  I’m really sorry that we had to beat you, but if I get feeling too bad about it, I just go to a Canadian doctor and get checked out – for free! Winking smile


This fellow traveller came by in the morning as well, travelling light.  I had seen him miles back the day before but he was making good time.  He seemed to speak only Spanish, so we didn’t get to chat as he passed by.  I had a wide-brimmed hat all ready to give him to replace the cardboard disk he was wearing, but I never saw him again down the road.


Trying hard to get the blog up to date …


  1. That pavement edged drop-off looked a little scary alright. Wouldn't have wanted to be the paving machine operator or on the construction crew building that road. Does look like some nice country up that-a-way though.

  2. Looks like you are just south of the Hannagan Meadows area. You might want to check out the Hannagen Meadows Campground. It’s a nice small campground with lots of nearby forest roads to explore. There is also a nice campground just north of Alpine. That area is one of the nicest in AZ (well at least is was before the Willow Fire a few years ago)

  3. Because my blog is a bit behind, I'm long gone from there now! But Hannagan Meadows had a bit of snow and was pretty chilly looking ;-) I looked at the Alpine Divide FS campground just out of Alpine, but it was right beside the highway and still pretty high elevation, so I moved on down near Springerville.