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Open Roads Forum  >  Truck Campers

 > Trip Report: Exploring Southern AZ in early March

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Tiger4x4RV

Inland Empire, Southern California

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Posted: 03/15/12 09:18pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Eleven days in early March, 1300 miles round trip from my San Diego County home, an adventure-lite sort of exploration of Terra Incognita. No 4WD involved. This would be a good trip for a small to mid-size TC; the big guys might have trouble fitting through some of the tighter spots.

Warning: You need confidence in your vehicle and a good sense of self-reliance for the remote portions of this trip. It's not Whazoo or SeldomSeenSmith country, but some of it is OUT THERE. Also, you will be watched constantly and perhaps invisibly by the Border Patrol. Don't go if this bothers you. I just figured, well, if I get lost I'll call the BP (ha, like I could get a cell signal…dream on) and they'll tell me where I am. I did see one probably "undocumented alien" person, but we avoided each other. Lock your vehicle at all times and don't leave stuff lying around outside, but that's pretty good advice anywhere if you ask me.

First came luxury, the tame side of AZ camping: 3 nights (reserved in advance) at Arizona's Catalina State Park. This is, bar none, the nicest, cleanest, best-run state park I have ever visited in any state. Sites are level and well-spaced, bathrooms/showers are immaculate, other campers seem to be well-behaved, there are interesting well-maintained trails which you can walk to from camp, and sources of supplies and non-camping amusements are nearby but invisible. I splurged on a site with electrical hookups so I could enjoy my little electric heater. $80 for 3 nights, including the reservation fee. The no-hookup area is slightly cheaper.

Campground B loop, with evening light on mountains in the background.
[image]

Wildflowers along the Sutherland Trail.
[image]

Moved on to a first-come first-served site at Bog Springs USFS campground in Madera Canyon, $5 with senior pass.

[image]

This area is famous for its variety of bird life, but there are other pleasures, too. Vegetation here is unusual: a forest of small pines and alligator junipers with yucca, sotol, and prickly pear growing in their shade. No noise but birdsong and wind, lots of wind.

[image]

The long steep trails with slippery gravel were too much for me, so I explored several of the shorter accessible nature trails. Sights were interesting, as was the interpretive signage about natural and historical things. Saw my first white-tailed deer.

-the photo I didn't get ought to go here-

Madera Canyon has a very active and knowledgable Friends group, and is apparently very well funded. There were many trailheads, all paved and most with restrooms, maybe at least a hundred parking spots total among 6 or 7 trailheads. Great interpretive signage.

Drove Box Canyon Road, a good mostly dirt road through scenic mountain ranch country,

[image]

to Empire Ranch, Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. This BLM area is working on restoring grasslands which were being taken over by mesquite. It is huge and quite scenic and allows camping at designated sites. There are no fees. The old ranch headquarters is open for visitation.

[image]

[image]

I took a short drive out into the Oak Tree Canyon area. The landscape made me expect to see herds of gnus and prides of lions at any moment.

[image]

Moonrise from my primitive campsite at the Cieneguita camp area.

[image]

Onward, first for a 2-mile stroll at the Nature Conservancy Preserve in Patagonia, and then to a reserved campsite at Patagonia Lake State Park, $30 including reservation fee. Here I procured a free permit to be one of the 30 people per day allowed into the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area, where I hiked a trail that felt very spooky. There were strange clattering noises in the stream, probable lion prints on the trail, and strange animal scents. I'm used to the wilderness and to hiking alone, but this place gave me the creeps. I was glad to finish my 3-mile loop hike which felt like 6 or 7 miles. It looks pretty ordinary in the photo, doesn't it?

[image]

Next, a brief visit to Tumacacori National Historical Park and then a drive on scenic Arivaca Road (paved), to Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. This place is spectacular! A wildlife cienega (wetland) trail, vast desert grasslands, a herd of pronghorn antelope (which are apparently invisible), over 80 free primitive remote campsites, wonderful staff who kept reminding everyone that this place is free to all of us because we all own it.

View of Baboquivari from the BANWR HQ.
[image]

Grasslands vista.
[image]

The HQ office has a notebook with photos and descriptions of each of the remote campsites. I picked a scenic spot a mile from the highway, spent two nights there. There's no fee, and you don't have to register. Saturday was spent with a small group on a guided hike on refuge land in Brown Canyon, held twice a month by reservation only. This canyon is said to have no non-native vegetation. There were many birds and flowers, plus signs of a lion. We hiked to a natural arch near the foot of Baboquivari, the sacred mountain of the Tohono O'odham. Info about hikes and other activities is on the refuge's website.

The Picture Tree in Brown Canyon.
[image]

Next stop, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. I stayed in the main campground, first come first served, nowhere near full, $6 a night with senior pass, no hookups. There is a more remote, four-site campground for those wanting a wilder setting; this one requires registration at the visitor center. It accepts TC's. There are no other camp areas in the park. The evening program on vultures, put on by two very talented volunteers, was both hilarious and informative.

Evening vista looking eastward from my campsite.

[image]

I spent a whole morning enjoying the Ajo Mountain Drive, a 21-mile mostly one-way road in a remote area.

This volunteer was standing by to provide directions.

[image]

Very scenic. Mostly dirt, some of it rough, but the steep spots are well-paved. Vehicle length limit is 25 feet. At 87 inches wide, the Tiger was brushed lightly on both sides by vegetation in some spots. Folks with larger rigs or who just don't want to drive can sign up for the park's free van tour at the visitor center. The road is also open to bicycles.

This drive was thoroughly beautiful, with the added plus of not having to worry about opposing traffic on the narrow road. Here are a couple of shots from along the road:

[image]

[image]

The End. Back to appointments, work, city noise. Can't wait to get out again!


2006 Tiger CX 4x4, 8.1 L gas V-8, Allison 6-speed


Boatycall

Tacoma, WA

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Posted: 03/15/12 09:25pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

I used to live in AZ. Loved it. Good pictures.


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mockturtle

AZ

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Posted: 03/15/12 09:48pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Awesome! When I get my Tiger I'll take that route, too! I agree with you about Catalina. What a beautiful park, especially in early spring when everything is blooming.

[image]


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CC Crabman

Corpus Christi, Texas

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Posted: 03/15/12 10:05pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thank you, much appreciated.

Camper_Jeff_&_Kelli

Seattle

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Posted: 03/15/12 10:37pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Very nice! Enjoyed your pictures and naration Tiger.
Thank you for posting.
Jeff


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Bubtoofat

SE Michigan

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Posted: 03/15/12 10:45pm Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Tiger4x4RV wrote:

There were strange clattering noises in the stream, probable lion prints on the trail, and strange animal scents.


Probably just a chupacabra. Lucky it didn't suck out your blood.

Nice trip report photos. Thanks for sharing.
Mike


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sabconsulting

High Wycombe, UK

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Posted: 03/16/12 01:17am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Thanks for the report; very nice.

You are right - many of those pictures (at least the ones without cacti in) could be South Africa.

Steve.


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ace44

Palmer, Alaska

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Posted: 03/16/12 01:19am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Nice pictures, thanks


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Mello Mike

Mesa, AZ

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Posted: 03/16/12 03:43am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

An awesome trip report from our honorary TC member! [emoticon] Great pics and enjoyed the narration. I've always wanted to go to the Organ Pipe NM and Catalina SP. So much to see and so little time to do it.


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weymard

NORMANDY

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Posted: 03/16/12 04:50am Link  |  Print  |  Notify Moderator

Nice report, thanks for shring


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