The Date Creek Rd/Santa Maria River Adventure
(Edited 6/29/07 to remove some pictures because too many sicko pedophiles are finding my blog to peep at boys in a river. NONE of my pics were immodest, but I’m removing a couple that might even slightly be viewed inappropriately.)
This was the worst nature trip ever. Then, it turned into the best ever. Then, it sort of veered into the worst, again. Then, it ended up fine, and in retrospect, it was very memorable.
Maps are funny. I love them. But, I can look at a map, check out the elevation, be somewhat familiar with the surrounding area, and then think I know what I’m getting into. But, I’m starting to understand now that one can never tell what a place is going to be like until they are there.
When we start an outing, the boys always want to know what the destination is. I’m more of a the-excursion-itself-IS-the-destination kind of gal, but they haven’t figured that out yet. Now, given the above Map Revelation, I let them know what our intended destination is, but also let them know that if things don’t pan out IRL as I’m envisioning that our destination will change. That’s what happened, this most recent trip, yesterday, November 3.
First off, we left the house *way* late. That was because
- I last went grocery shopping on Sunday, and by Friday in a family of six, the pantry is a little bare, so we had to stop at the grocery store on our way out for lunch. And,
- We attended a wedding and reception the night before, so I just could not adequately prepare in advance.
The wedding, btw, was a rather unusual affair: It was actually the 38th anniversary of the couple getting married. The groom’s family is going through a reclamation of their Puerto Rican heritage which had been lost some 40+ years ago, when his mother divorced his father, then changed their first and last names, Americanizing everyone. Now, all the generations have taken back their original family (and sometimes first) name. With that, the groom & bride had to get a wedding certificate re-issued with the changed names, so they decided to make a grand affair of it and have a real wedding. Very cool.
So, we didn’t pull out of the grocery store parking lot until after 11 a.m. We then took the newly opened Jomax Road that connects 67th Avenue to Lake Pleasant Parkway, turning north, then taking the Carefree Highway/AZ-74 west towards Wickenburg (again). This highway, which, before this Fall, I hadn’t taken since I was a child, has become my standard launch-point for all these adventures.
We went through Wickenburg, then north via the US-93 and AZ-89 up past Congress. About 2 miles past Congress (whose main attraction is a giant rock painted like a frog), we headed north on Date Creek Road, which is also known as Hillside Road, because it leads to the hamlet of Hillside.
This road was to be our destination. Our last trip out, we explored a region just to the east, and I thought that Date Creek Road would be a great place to explore. I printed a bunch of topo maps from online, finding a (possibly dry) lake, several springs, and some old settlers’ ruins. The whole area is about 3100′ elevation. Sounds great, right?
Well, it turns out that most of the land around this road is private, even the road that would have taken us to the lake. Audrey was needing to eat, though, and we needed to stop somewhere, so we headed west onto Ox Ranch Road. We saw a semi-abandoned ranch/orchard, and I stopped the truck long enough to pick a bit of the fruit. It was pistachios. Cool. But, they were either not ripe, or underwatered, or both, because the nuts inside were sort of like styrofoam. We went down Ox Ranch Road to where my topo map showed the settlers’ ruins along the bottom of Date Creek. As I turned the Suburban, there was a sign posted “No Trespassing. State Trust Land.” My permit for accessing state trust land was at home, unfilled out, waiting for it and the $10 fee to be mailed. But, I was desperate. We headed south along a 4WD track, and found Date Creek. I didn’t figure there would be any water in it, and I was right. But, I did not figure on the absolute UGLINESS of the place: A bunch of dead trees, some volcanic boulders, some scraggly bushes… We couldn’t stay. I travelled on another mile or so, and found a place that wasn’t too bad — another dry creekbed, but at least it had some semi-attractive desert bush/trees, and it was a protected environment for me to feed the baby and for the boys to run around. And, I don’t think it was state trust land, so I didn’t have any pangs of trespassing guilt.
The boys quickly found sticks that looked like guns, and set about attacking eachother, while I fed Audrey. I let them play for just a bit, then packed everyone back up. While nursing Audrey, I had looked at my atlas again, and decided that we would head a little further west and, crossing my fingers, find actual water in the Santa Maria River.
So, we backtracked to the Date Creek Road, and took it north. Eventually, the scenery lovelied up a bit, with the Weaver Mountains to the east, and the McCloud Mtns to the northwest.
It also was *really* fun to drive. It became one of the smoothest dirt roads I’ve ever traversed, and I was rushing along at 50 mph, whizzing over hills, with the boys squealing, “Whee! This is fun!!! Go back and do that one again, Mom!” Towards the end of that road, as we approached Hillside (3800′ elev), the scenery was just desert-beautiful, as we wove our way through volcanic rock and granite-boulder hills.
Through Hillside, we intersected with AZ-96 and headed west. This little highway, which connects Not Much with Virtually Nothing is *classic* old highway — two narrow black-top lanes, with no shoulder and no guard rails. The speed limit posted was 35 along most of the 20 or so miles we travelled. In most places, 35 really was the limit. I quickly learned that if there was a sign indicating a sharp curve, and to slow down to 20 mph, I’d better heed the sign. Again — no guard rails, no shoulder. Just those little metal toothpicks with a 4″ round white reflector along the roadside to warn you, “If you don’t slow down, we’ll wave in the breeze as you careen down the mountainside!!”
AZ-96 connects back to AZ-89, which is the windy “back” road into Prescott that routes through lovely Yarnell. If I had a motorcycle, I’d be driving the loop from Wickenburg-Kirkland Junction via the AZ-89, then back down to the US-93 on the AZ-96/97 on a regular basis. It’s absolutely scenic, sparsely travelled, and fun to drive.
Eventually, we came down out of the mountains and could see the Santa Maria River Valley. From a distance, I could see Fremont Cottonwoods and Goodding Willows, and what appeared the be the sparkle of water. We passed our turnoff, and I told the boys we were going to travel on the extra half-mile or so to the bridge over the Santa Maria, to see if there was actually water. We held our breath as we approached, then we collectively let out sighs and cheers as we saw that, indeed, there was water in the river.
I’m tellin’ ya — I’m thinking about renaming my blog to Water in the Desert, because my continual search seems to be to find it, both literally and figuratively. For those of you in wet climes, you have no idea what a revelation the sight of a teensy trickle of that clear wet stuff can be.
We U-turned back to our road. I have no idea what the name of it is, but here it is on a topo map. I had not pulled up the topos in advance, but it appeared from my atlas that the road would provide access to the river after 2 or 3 miles. It turns out that we had to pull off the road and then walk a few hundred feet, which wasn’t ideal, but worked out fine.
The river was wide, very clean, very sandy, and very shallow. At its absolute deepest, it dropped to 18″ or so in a few places. We hadn’t prepared for playing in the river, so I had the boys strip down to their skivvies, with their clothes hanging on the brush along the banks, like in a Tom Sawyer story.
The day was beautiful, about 80*F, probably about 10* warmer than normal for this time of year, and perfect for playing in the water.
After only an hour’s time, we had to pack it up. The boys were very happy to have dry clothes, but very sad to leave.
We continued mostly-south along the road we were on, eventually meeting up with the US-93, about 25 miles NW of Wickenburg.
The only bummer about the end of this trip was that we had such a long drive home. Perhaps if we hadn’t all been so tired the drive would have been more enjoyable. But even Audrey, who adjusts to circumstances so readily, had had enough, and cried for about 45 minutes solid on the way home. That was hard on everyone. The whole trip home was about 2.5 hours from our stop at the river to our doorstep, with two short stops in Wickenburg — for the bathroom and candy at a gas station that had NO payphone, and another gas station that did have a payphone, to call Martin.
We pulled in at about 6:55 p.m., happy to smell the Crockpot dinner I had prepared earlier wafting through the open windows, and happy to greet Martin, who had hugs and smiles for all the weary travellers.
We must certainly return to the Santa Maria River. As a destination. 😉
Of course… I can’t leave well enough alone, so I pulled out my atlas and found another route, taking us further upstream, and we may have to check that out, next time.