My Arizona Wilderness area goal – Visit them all!

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Earlier this year I decided that I wanted to try to visit all of the wilderness areas in Arizona before I finish my Ph.D. I have a little under 3 years left, but a lot of places to go! This venture was inspired in part by my lab-mate Brett Seymoure, who has his own goal of visiting every National Park in the country. While I think that is an awesome goal that I too hope to achieve one day, it is definitely a much more costly goal considering the location of some of these national parks (e.g. Hawaii, Alaska). I can drive to every single wilderness area in Arizona, so I decided this should be some I could accomplish while I live here, even though there are 90 wilderness areas….

The enormous Mazatzal Wilderness area, northeast of Phoenix along Hwy 87

The enormous Mazatzal Wilderness area, northeast of Phoenix along Hwy 87

So what is a wilderness area? In 1964, the Wilderness Act became the first law to define and create wilderness areas in the world. There are many definitions within the law pertaining to what a wilderness area is, but essentially it is a protected area that is undeveloped and unmanipulated by man and can be used for public purposes such as hiking, camping, kayaking, and many others. They are areas where you will find little to no paved roads or man-made structures, but you will also find miles and miles of beautiful land to explore. A great resource for more information on wilderness areas is http://www.wilderness.net. Here, they not only provide information, history, and policies for wilderness areas in general, but they have lists and maps of the locations of every wilderness area in the country.

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The Chiricahua Wilderness area in the southeast corner of Arizona

Every state has at least one wilderness area, with (as you might guess) some of the western states having the most (e.g. California, Arizona, Nevada). Arizona currently has 90, according to wilderness.net (list, map). Of these 90, I have only visited 12, and so I still have a long way to go! Below are the different areas I’ve been to:
– Kachina Peaks Wilderness
– Strawberry Crater Wilderness
– Escudilla Wilderness
– Mt. Baldy Wilderness
– Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness
– Miller Peak Wilderness
– Chiricahua Wilderness
– Chiricahua National Monument Wilderness
– Saguaro Wilderness
– Superstition Wilderness
– Wet Beaver Creek Wilderness
– Mazatzal Wilderness

Please let me know if you would like to visit a wilderness area together or if you plan to also take up the challenge. I hope everyone will go and explore/enjoy some of the amazing wilderness areas across this state!

A view down into part of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness area, north of Flagstaff

A view down into part of the Kachina Peaks Wilderness area, north of Flagstaff

Labor Day weekend trip to White Mountains

This past Labor Day weekend I decided to journey out to the White Mountains as part of a three day trip. While the trip overall was great, I definitely learned a lot about camping during a holiday and how to better avoid people.

I left early afternoon on Saturday and decided to take a scenic route up to the Mogollon Rim (which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog post), where I was going to spend my first night. The route took me from Tempe to Globe along Hwy 60, where I picked up 188, which heads towards Lake Roosevelt. Just before the lake, I hopped on 288, which is a half paved, half dirt road that goes up to a town called Young. This was quite a pretty drive through some really isolated parts of the state. Once I hit Young, I got on 512 (a forest road I think?), which took me up the Rim and connected with Hwy 260. This was definitely a pretty drive, though I don’t think it will be in my top 5 drives in AZ (more on that later!). Here is a picture I took along the drive:

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After making it up the Rim, I found Forest Road 300, also called Rim Road, which is full of good spots for dispersed camping. Unfortunately, the area between the towns Payson and Lakeside along the Rim is probably one of the most popular places to camp in Arizona, so it was completely packed and full of people. I drove along this bumpy dirt road for an hour before finding a place I thought was sufficiently secluded. By then it was getting dark, and I had to quickly set up my tent and make dinner. The next day, I decided to try and find a hike somewhere nearby, and found a trail called Panorama trail near Lakeside. Here again I was hit by the Labor Day weekend curse, because there was apparently open range shooting nearby and during my brief attempt to hike, all I heard was constant gunshots. The hike seemed like it was going to be beautiful, but I couldn’t stand the gunshots, so I left. Below are a few pictures I took from the hike.

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Fed up with trying to find a good hike along the Rim, I took off towards the White Mountains, where everything turned for the better. The route I took to get to the mountains was incredible. First I got back on Hwy 260 and took that to a small, remote town called Eagar, where I got on Hwy 191. This 191 is definitely in my top 5 drives in Arizona now, as it was just gorgeous. Additionally, because the White Mountains are so far away from Phoenix (4-5 hours drive) and very remote in general, there were very few people around. Here are a few pictures from my drive:

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Before I went to find a campsite, I was determined to hike. I drove to a place called the Escudilla Wilderness (also fulfilling my quest to visit every wilderness area in Arizona!). Here I hiked with no other noise but the natural sounds around me and only saw a handful of people the entire time. This place was beautiful but sad at the same time. Something unfortunate about the White Mountains is that its true splendor was marred in 2011 by a huge forest fire called the Wallow Fire, which ended up being Arizona’s largest forest fire on record. This fire ravaged many areas in the White Mountains, leaving behind large tracts of completely burnt forest. Luckily the burned areas are very patchy and disconnected, so there is still plenty of pristine forest left. However the fire did leave its mark, especially in the Escudilla Mountains. Below are my pictures from that hike where you can both see the awesome landscape of the area but also the devastation left by the fire.

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After this hike, I kept driving down Hwy 191 to a place called Hannagan Meadow, where I found a small, remote campsite called the KP Cienega. The area I was in was awesome because of the remote-ness, which lead to very few people around. After a peaceful night at around 9,000 ft elevation(!), I continued to explore this area of the White Mountains, so that I now have a much better idea of what to do next time. I found a gem of a vista, called Blue Visit Overlook, where I was given a far-reaching view of the White Mountains and beyond. From this point I was able to see other mountain ranges that were very far away, such as the Pinaleno Mountains (nearly 50 miles away as the crow flies).

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After exploring the area, I then headed home. From this trip, I learned several valuable things which I’d like to share:
1) NEVER camp along the Rim during a holiday
2) NEVER drive back from the Rim after a holiday (horrible traffic!)
3) If you want real seclusion, go to the White Mountains – they are beautiful and super remote
4) The White Mountains and surrounding area is huge and there is so much left for me to explore there (plus another few wilderness areas!)

Crazy Monsoon Storms in Phoenix

These past several days, we have had some pretty intense monsoon storms in the Phoenix Valley area, which caused us to say good-bye to a very large and old tree from our yard. Below is a photo (from when I was in Flagstaff) that illustrates what these storms can look like from a distance.

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For those unfamiliar with this monsoon-weather phenomena, during the latter half of the summer most of Arizona receives several to many rain- and sandstorms that make up a large part of our annual rainfall. These storms can be very intense. The sandstorms (also called haboobs) can reduce visibility to just a few feet and be dangerous to be outside in, especially while driving.

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The rainstorms can turn into fierce thunderstorms, which cause flash floods and sometimes even wind damage. Two years ago when I was in Flagstaff, one such storm turned into very intense rain- and hailstorm that occurred caused a lot of tree damage and major flooding.

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Well this year, we had been experiencing a fairly boring monsoon season in the valley until these past few days, where we had a major thunderstorm every night. Last night’s was the worst by far. I saw the storm approaching from a distance and it reminded me of some of the doomsday storms in movies. There were lightning flashes every second, and it looked like a massive wall of rain and wind heading towards me. As I got home, the sky was almost completely black and the wind picked up. During the peak of the storm, wind speeds hit 60+ mph and caused major damage throughout Tempe and Phoenix. Over 50,000 people were without power from this storm. For us, we not only lost power, but lost one of our two beloved MASSIVE pine trees in our yard. The tree fell over around 8:00 PM and missed our house by a mere few feet. At the same time, the tree missed my car by a foot AT MOST! We were lucky last night, and I definitely feel like I should buy a lottery ticket or something. The tree is a huge loss though. It completely blocked the street and created a ton of debris in our yard. Apparently the tree had been in the neighborhood since the 1950s, so it was huge and old. Below are some photos Meghan took this morning of the damage (see her Facebook for more photos). I hope that everyone who reads this never has to deal with such a loss or worse!

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This is in our backyard.