Exploring Squaw Lake from above

It’s still a touch too windy to enjoy a paddle exploration of the area but I’m getting anxious to see what surrounds us.  The thing about these little valley spots we often camp in is what you see of the area is limited.  What’s around that hill?  Where can the water around those reeds take you?  It’s hard to sit around and do nothing, as good as that can feel sometimes.  Contention seeing the same views and ignoring what might be around the bend seems to cheat the ideals or purposes this whole trip was based on – that is to see as much as possible.  I’ve been getting out for morning runs with Jake, mostly following horse trails pounded into the rocky landscape.  Following someone else’s footsteps to see what’s over there.  Without disappointment we are stumbling on small lagoons, filling up when the Colorado runs high, and cut off from draining until it does so again.  From the cliffs above this lagoon, currently barely accessible by boat through a small reed filled inlet which you wouldn’t know you could boat through if you weren’t familiar with the area, I watched and laughed as two men fished below.  The slowly trolled 6-8 meters from shore while casting with great accuracy to the edge of the reeds, never getting hung up.  This isn’t their first time.  It wasn’t the fishes first time either.  No sooner than they passed the shore did dozens of what I call, big enough to eat fish, came out of the reeds to explore where the fishermen had just been.  I couldn’t help but laugh, appreciating the situation I’ve been in myself countless times.  There’s nothing worse fishing than watching them circle you but refusing to bite.  One’s only one consolation.  And that is the clear state of mind achieved while accomplishing nothing, or maybe something if you’re lucky.

Two feet will only get you so far from home base to explore before some sort of mechanical means needs to be called in to get you further.  I was at that point.  We’d run and hiked as far as we comfortable could, already crossing Property of US Government signs with suggestions of no trespassing.  I say suggestion because it was clear I wasn’t the first to bypass them, following a well beaten trail beside with recent horse droppings and bike tire tracks.  But again, that only got us so far.  Eventually the poles with cameras were enough to have us turn back.  I’m not sure what the penalty would have been, and I really didn’t want that badly to find out.  Back to the campsite we go.  Further exploration will require mechanical means.

A quick once over on the bike, and a packed bag with spare tubes, tools and a pump and I was ready to go see further.  I had my sights set on a bigger hill the opposite side of the lake of which I figured would be a pretty good vantage point from which to see the lake and all around it.  I was able to avoid paved road to what I figure would be a trailhead to get me where I wanted to be.  The trailhead was more a rarely used service road carved through the rocky hills, hard sharp gravel mixed with sand.  It was pretty smooth going, with exception of a few sand holes that were total sink holes; nearly stopping me in my tracks and putting me over the bars with my momentum.  The problem with this trail however, was it seemed to be leading me the opposite direction I had intended to go.  Eventually I had to branch off, following was resembled a horse trail, but quickly faded into the natural surroundings with no trail to follow at all.  I was going the right way though.  Just another hill to get over, and maybe a few more after that before I could look down on the lake and valley below that we were camped on.  I felt I was on track, coming up to another road of sorts that ran below power lines coming from the hydro electric dam that separated Squaw Lake from Senator Wash, another lake next door.  The problem arose around the next bend, where they were actually working on the lines, which now hung low, resting on the road I was riding.  Workers ahead, and not wanting to mess with potential high voltage line, I opted out on the next horse trail, heading again in a more direct route to the water.  I think.  I’d lost sight of any visual markers some time ago with which to orient myself.  So long as the sun was behind me though, I assumed I was going the right way.

The current horse trail brought me, to my surprise, another hurdle.  The area I wanted to get to was not blocked off by a 4 foot barbed wire fence.  This fence didn’t have any signs on it, so once I was out of sight from the hydro workers I slipped under it where it ran high above a small gulley.  And to my surprise, another horse trail!  Like the no trespassing signs, I wasn’t the first to cross this fence.  I assume it was for animals, the human variety not included.  Once again though, the horse trail faded to nothing and I found myself pedaling over a gravelly hillside littered with baseball to basketball size rocks.  Full attention was required to navigate the minefield of rock that could quickly put one face first into it.  I soon came upon a hill, the tallest of the rest on the way to the lake I was pursuing, which wasn’t one to be pedaled up.  It was time to set down the bike and summit this one on foot.  It wasn’t a long scramble up, but by the top I could see for miles.  The Colorado river was visible below, with the growth around it barely concealing small creeks that fed surrounding lagoons, bright teal in color.  It was such a contrasting palette from up here; red, brown and black rocky hills give in to bright green grasses and reeds at their base.  Littered with palm trees, the growth surrounding the water stops almost dead, with little to no transition before the teal green water takes over.  From above I could see the floor of these serene little lakes up to 2-3 meters of depth below the surface.  And turning back around I saw movement on the hill behind me.  At first, I thought they were goats.  My experiences to date on mountains would of course lead me to this conclusion.  It’s almost always a goat.  But as they began to move around I recognized the little horns were not horns at all, but big pointy ears.  Donkeys!  Not an animal I’d ever expected to see in the wild.  Four of them.  Watching me with great care, likely wondering what sort of animal I was riding out here.  The area they were in was the other side of the fence I’d crossed.  From there, there was really no fence keeping them, so I can only assume they were wild donkeys.

By this time the sun was starting to creep behind the hills casting shadow over me and our campsite in the distance below.  I was so close, but on the wrong side of the water.  Not wanting to follow my bath back the way I came I figured there must be a trail below me that wrapped the lakes edge and would be an easy pedal back.  That said, and despite the lack of a trail of any sort, I decided to make my way down.  The steepness of the hillside seemed a bit much to go straight down so I began to traverse, thinking a couple switchbacks would be my best bet.  The loose rocks gave way to the pressure of my weight and rolling tires and I found myself on my side hanging on to my bike so not to lose it.  That experience left me with only one, in hindsight, highly illogical solution; to go straight down!  With brakes on near full I hung on for the ride, weight all on the back trying to steer around softball to basketball size rock that I rode through and over.  About halfway down I was just starting to feel pretty good about my decision, and abilities.  But those feelings stopped, in a hurry.  I likely looked up for half a second to admire the view.  In the second half of that second, I was looking at my seat, upside down.  Well the seat was right side up, but I was upside down.  And then I was fully down.  Sliding briefly on my side along these rocks, the friction of my skin on stone brought me to a pretty quick stop.  The anchor of a bicycle behind me, legs pretzeled into the frame, probably helped to.  I picked myself up, dusted myself off, waved to the lone fisherman on shore watching my escapades, turned my handlebars straight again and got back on.  I made it halfway down without falling until then, thanks to a momentary lap in concentration.  I was sure I could make it the rest of the way if I just remained focused.  I was wrong.  Just reaching the base it happened again.  This time I was ready for it and stepped over the bars, smoothly landing on my feet.  Alright!  Now, where is the trail to lead me home?  Good question!

I hiked with bike on back around the shoreline trying to locate my easy route out, encountering only a deep creek canyon that did not invite access or egress from below.  It appeared my fate was set, in the stone hill I just descended, only now I had to climb back up it all, with bike on back.  On the upside, on the way back out I saw my donkey friends again.  They probably watched the whole show, thinking I was the ass.  Sometimes you ride the bike.  And sometimes the bike rides you…

Oasis in the Desert

A lingering neck injury on my part has kept me off the bicycle.  Well that’s not entirely true.  I’ve been getting back on the bike a bit, telling myself I’ll take it easy on the smooth trails and not overdue it.  But that gets boring.  Maybe boring isn’t the right word.  But it quickly becomes apparent that the gentle ride is not as exciting as say the stray trail, likely a horse trail, that forks off to the side and towards sights yet unseen.  I give in of course and the ride gets a lot more fun.  A half mile down a dry creek bed and I find myself in a steep canyon with rock carved smooth rising 10 meters above.  Now this is more like it!  And then two hours later back in the trailer I find myself wincing in pain every time I look to the right.  That was the case at our stop outside Flagstaff.  And that is the reason we have been seeking out bodies of water to camp on or near, for the next while, which starting with Bartlett Reservoir.  Watersports.  Kayaking has provided a great low impact form of exploration and adventure, especially now when biking is on the back burner for a bit.  The problem though, is we are in the desert.

After moving on from Bartlett we set sights on Theodore Roosevelt Reservoir.  It was a bit of a bust.  Not in the sense that it wasn’t a beautiful location.  The “bust” was on us.  Recall a time you were going out for dinner or drinks.  You walk up to the door of a place that has your attention from either curb appeal, reviews, or a peer recommendation.  You barely get far enough inside to see the place.  You don’t give yourself a chance to get to know the place.  You just “nah”, lets go somewhere else.  Well that’s what Roosevelt was.  And I regret it, now, 4 days later and 400 miles away.

After leaving we decided to go to Yuma.  The winter capital of 55+ Canadians.  I’ve never heard it called that and just made it up, so please quote me on it even if it’s wrong.  Before Yuma, we did stop overnight at Painted Rocks Petroglyph Site, outside Gila Bend.  They should change the sign to read “The Site Where Painted Rock Petroglyphs Used To Be”.  A crumbed pile of rock surrounded with signs erected far to late that read “stay off rocks” is what stood just next to our campsite.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t much left to see.  We still spent two nights there, roasting ourselves in the hot sun.  We hoped to blend in when we got to Yuma.

Yuma is a unique place.  I’d be curious too see the numbers, but I have a feeling there are more RV park lots here than houses.  And likely less people here that call Yuma home than those that do not.  Some of the RV parks were the size of small towns.  With the amenities to boot.  Tennis courts (as in 3-4), swimming pools that put big city pools to shame, bars, restaurants, even golf courses littered these places.  Resembling all inclusive resorts, but where you bring your own condo, these were the exact opposite of what we seek.  In search of an intimacy with nature, we headed to the brewery in Yuma, Prison Hill Brewing Co., to lubricate our decision making.  Jake and Rubix kept guard in the trailer, however Gus was forced against his will to socialize, joining us on one of their pet friendly patios.  Gus is great stranger bait.  With little effort on our part, when he’s around people just want to come say hi, first for his story, then ours.  When we’re lucky they share a bit of theirs as well.  Being on a strict budget doesn’t allow for much indulgence when it comes to food.  Once in a while though, something is spotted on a menu that must be tried.  We usually reserve these splurges for something we’ve never seen before.  Beer battered deep fried avocado.  That was the splurge at Prison Hill Brewery.  And damn was it good!  After filling up our growlers we were on our way.

Since leaving Roosevelt Reservoir we hadn’t seen water.  We even crossed the Gila River, which had no water in it.  Arizona is desert in the most absolute sense of the word.  It is dry as can be.  Without break.  Our sites were set on the Lower Colorado River.  A series of dams just north of Yuma have created a slew of small lakes interconnected along the river before it crosses the border and empties into the Gulf of California, or Sea of Cortez.  Not far from Yuma, on the California side of the river, we snaked through miles of perfectly manicured fields of leafy greens including lettuce, kale, and the occasional date tree plantation.  This was such stark contrast to the bleak desert that surrounds.  Man made irrigation waterways lined the fields in perfect symmetry.  And then, just like that, we were out of it.  Back to lifeless hills of brown and beige.  But that wouldn’t last.  The source of all things green came into sight.  And looked so out of place.  Lakes that look like spilled paint pooling and running out in every directing, surround by thick green reeds, grasses, and more date trees, came seemingly out of nowhere.  Scattered RVs in no designated stalls, perched under hills, behind bushes, and just about anywhere else they could find in the sun littered the surroundings.  But not in such a way to intrude on the beauty.  Solar panels lay out in front of many, and fixed to the roof of many more, these RV’s were boondockers.  Like us, they are not confined to pad with a post with a number on it where you can get mail.  What a difference from the gridwork stacks of Lego back in the RV parks in town!

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