Off the heavily traveled Interstate 10, Klondyke Road weaves through gently rolling prairie, skirting the towering Mount Graham, at 10,720 feet, the tallest peak in the Pinaleno Mountains and the majestic Santa Teresa Mountains.
It was a lengthy four-hour drive to reach the little hamlet of Klondyke, where the aged sign boasts a population of five. About 35 miles were dirt, although road conditions were much better than anticipated. The road ends at the eastern entry of spectacular Aravaipa Canyon, within the supremely rugged Galiuro Mountains, a rough and remote place that was the home of Arizona's last wild wolves before the reintroduction program of the late 1990's.
Our goal was for Eric, Lori and I to pitch tents at the start of the trek and spend the next two days exploring the spectacular setting that Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness offers. Little does one realize the crazy circumstances that are involved in this ten mile hike (mainly in the creek). While the west entrance is only 50 miles from my home, the east entrance is 200 mile drive. These miles and the 4 hour drive will become more significant, later in the story.
Video of the last section of road to Aravaipa Canyon East.
Entertaining a visitor at the old Klondyke School
The sun had slid behind the towering cliffs of the dramatic canyon. We exited from the Peffer family taxi (Eric's folks), grabbed the seriously overweight backpacks (did someone throw rocks in my pack?), clamped on our headlights and began our search for a campsite. None being found, with looming darkness and threatening skies, we strolled back to the parking lot. Flat, close to a toilet and no time for a crisis, parking lot camping was perfect, for the moment.
The rain began to fall and buckets of the liquid sunshine were pounding us as we scurried to set up shelter. I had 'planned' to practice setting up a tent that I had not used in many years. This did not happen. Those years had destroyed the elasticity of the bungee cords in my tent poles. Lovely. Any idea how dismal it is putting up a tent in a driving rain, in the dark, with largely worthless poles?
The tent would eventually, somehow, find shape, as the skies continued to unleash their madness.
The weather forecast, being a serious matter when spending most of your hiking hours within the creek, in a very distant location, and carting a lot of expensive camera gear, was for about .07 inches of rain.
Those .07 inches of rain fell in about the first 12 minutes of bombardment, and would continue through the night with an occasional boom of thunder thrown in for grand measure.
Santa Teresa Mountains
The morning saw the three adventurers tired, needing coffee and questioning the wisdom of entering the rising creek.
A single truck would splash its way past our parking lot accommodations. Odd, to have traffic roll past us, since this was basically the end of the general road system.
An old windmill structure and wind sock behind the Klondyke School. The school now serves as a search and rescue location and helicopter pad.
The truck would ramble back through our disaster zone and Lori, in a heads up move, would emerge from the tent and flag down the vehicle. It was a rancher checking on a horse on her property. The news on creek conditions was not stellar. "Can we get a ride back to Klondyke"?
We scooped up our wet belongings and joined 2 drenched dogs, in a crowded truck, for the journey back to Klondyke. It would have been a long slog, on foot, back along the road that Billy the Kid had once traveled. Our home for the day would be the old Klondyke School. It is now being used as a search and rescue base, for community meetings and a helicopter base.
Klondyke Road and the Pelocillo Mountains
The call was made and it would be another eight hour drive for our gracious and now overworked drivers to pick us up.
Adorning the now sparse, marginally used school, were posters advertising the film 'Powers War' and an old poster on a historic gun fight in the Galiuro Mountains called 'Shootout at Dawn'. I read Shootout maybe 15 years ago and was intrigued by the story and history of Klondyke, the Galiuro's and the Power family. The story chronicles the Power family and a conflict and eventual gun fight over draft dodging during WWI. There are a number of books on the subject, with some siding with the Power family and others which back law enforcement. The actual facts elude those seeking the full story, so the details and guilt will never be fully known. Four men would die in the most deadly gunfight in Arizona. The world premiere of the film was shown in Klondyke.
The film is an excellent documentary:
With a lengthy wait, I explored our surroundings, equipped with a camera and thoughts of a future Aravaipa trek.
We were quite the sight, with wet gear spread out over a lengthy section of stone fence in front of the school. Checking on the status of the new members of Klondyke community was 'the Grader Man'. He had grown up in the region and his role was to keep the roads in working order during adverse conditions. I missed his visit but heard of some of his exploits and of his nearly famous dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, who travels on the roof of the truck and of his courting the females of the isolated area, with special escape visits to a girlfriend eight miles from his home.
Storm clouds over Willcox, AZ
Plans for another Aravaipa journey are in the works. The area is too amazing to not come back. The wet gear and clothes should be dry by then.