It started like any other quick weekend getaway. I started packing the Jeep on Wednesday, wrapped up Thursday afternoon, and final load up Friday. It’s then time to launch. “It takes you three days to pack for a weekend?” my wife exclaimed. Evidently she doesn’t realize that much of my gear is emergency stuff. Extra fuel, water, and recovery gear are on every excursion and slashed on top of the Black Pearl, my Jeep JK Unlimited Rubicon. Loaded up she’s a lumbering beast but bears the brunt well.
I pushed off about 4pm and met my partners in this journey, Chris and Jeff, just off of FSR 205. Parked on the side of the road they had a sinister look about them. Jeff’s young son, Brody, was playing in the dirt as is typical. A quick scout revealed a hairy Verde River crossing just south of the dam. Jeff had crossed before, explained the line we should take and went first. My palms were sweaty as my turn came around. Despite being in the same position as Jeff and Chris water was cresting my rock rails. I was in four low and with a little more pressure on the pedal I hit the high side. A huge sense of relief washed over me as my front end began rising from the higher ground…another obstacle dealt with.
Our journey continued into lush desert landscape made more evident as we came into riparian areas. The sun began to set beyond the mountains to our west as we headed north on 205. Beautiful hues made the drive wonderful and the cool breeze wafted through the open Jeep. The colors deteriorated into pitch blackness which was broken only slightly by my high beam xenon headlights and PIAA driving lights. Because of a bit more lighting I was put on point and burrowed through the darkness feeling like it was offering resistance.
We arrived on the East side of the Verde River just at the foot of Sheep’s Bridge about 730pm. With a few other adventurers already setting up their sites we found a sandy area, circled the rigs, and began a well-rehearsed ritual that only me, Chris, and Jeff know about. I immediately deployed the kitchen, Chris was on the roof top tent, and Jeff and Brody were sorting out their gear for the night. A fire was quickly lit and the chairs carefully positioned. Brody, all of 4, kept us in stitches and his unrelenting verbal escapades kept our ears open. Of course, cold beers were quickly opened but not quite as fast as the night sky. As dark settled into black, the stars looked like little pin pricks on a black sheet…certainly a sight to see. I managed to prepare some type of meal and after a few more brews it was time to retire.
Being the early to bed overlander I was up just before the sun, made coffee, and sat back listening for anything. The quiet “out there” feels foreign to me. Our modern days are spent in sensory overload and only through these occasional escapes can I truly appreciate God’s creation. The fuzzy morning began to evolve and as the sun crested the hill to our east warm light filled the camp site. The neighbors a hundred yards from us began to stir and another day was born. Our camp came to life.
Jeff and Chris were determined to find a way to cross this section of the Verde. A few scouting trips were made and it was decided the beach entry where we were at was the spot. I slipped on different shoes and waded into this slow-moving section. All was very manageable until the last 20-30 feet. The bottom became soft and the water inched up to just below my manhood. Another individual walked the area as I walked out; shaking my head and thinking that this ain’t gonna work. I meandered back to the Pearl and hesitatingly began to roll over to where Chris and Jeff had parked. Our unknown camper in his Jeep Cherokee was lined up and just as I put the Pearl in park he was half way across. As he approached the deeper section his rig dropped a bit and his wheels began to spin; though he was moving slowly. At that moment his front end bobbed up and I realized he was starting to float. I jumped in the Pearl and rolled out about midway. I quickly unspooled the synthetic winch line on the Warn 9.5cti life-saver. After some delay and the winch moaning under the load the vehicle was recovered, including several hundred gallons of icey Verde River water that had infiltrated his vehicle. After some discussion it was decided we could get help to him much quicker than us towing him out and we quickly got a call out to his grateful dad.
Our journey continued, this time back up to Seven Springs and out to FSR 41. Our plan was to follow 41, stop for the night, and continue on 41, a.k.a. Table Mesa Road, back to I-17 and head home Sunday. Just as we began our trek a sign indicated 41 was closed 10 miles north. Not to be fazed we continue on to the intersection of FSR 41 at 37 at about mile 6 to find 41 barricaded with heavy signage warning of a $5,000 fine for trespassing – okay, we won’t go that way. We’d never been north on 37 and with the time at 230pm we figured we’d check it out, find a spot, and settle in for the night. We had no idea we would be in 4-low as we navigated the undulating, sandy-loam dirt road. Erosion effects were everywhere and negotiating some sections proved to be interesting. My electric sway-bar disconnect came in handy as I engaged/disengaged regularly to allow the Pearl to perform at her best. I’m a bit slower than most due to weight and a little tippy with several hundred pounds of gear atop the Pearl, but she performed admirably.
About 4 miles in the track deteriorated into a wash. We found a clearing just outside it, circled the wagons, and began our ritual for night two. Brody was loving the sandy area and Super Dad Jeff quickly pulled out a series of toy trucks and fire engines so his boy could take advantage of this playground.
You would think I would be accustomed to the eerie quiet but that’s not so. There was nothing to be seen nor heard, not even planes flying over. The area was ripe with retired trees and wood swept up by the massive water flow that evidently cleared this area. We gathered up a nice pile and without even a fire starter, the tinder lit quickly and with larger pieces on top, we soon had a fire that even a scout troop would find impressive.
Cold beer and wine began to flow as I prep’ed for the nights chow session. We’re slowly mastering the art of the Dutch Oven and Jeff had brought it with him. I layered ham, butter, onions, and jalapenos; repeating this pattern until the oven was full and ready. We cleared out the coals, set the over in, covered the top, and let Mother Nature do her wonderful magic. Chris and I began to argue about the timing needed for this feast. I don’t know that either one of us won that debate but it was fun nevertheless. Pulling the oven from the fire and opening the lid revealed some of the most delicious work we had yet to enjoy on an excursion. Only God knows what it did to our arteries, but with that mix on top of a nice hoagie, one would think they had passed on to the great heavens. As always, good food, conversation, and Sonoran Trails discussions pierced the night air until we were full and happy.
It may seem evident why I enjoy this lifestyle; when in fact, I don’t like to put parameters on that observation. Every trip since I started living this way has offered up a new perspective. Every location has been different; offering up its own story. Every trip has had a different line, challenge, issue, problem, and/or encounter. I don’t like to consider the “why” of life too much, I’d much rather simply think of the, “when”.