In the Prescott National Forest
Originally posted 4/19/2013
I’ve noticed that people who are familiar with RVs instantly spot me as a full-timer (and a cheapskate). The service guy never even hinted that I should have the suspension work done there, even though they already had all of the needed parts on display. He talked with the assumption that I’d be doing it myself. Back in time at the Smartweigh, the guy there, George, took one glance and offered, “I see you’ve got a working trailer.” He meant purposed for living vs recreational. Let’s face it, travel trailers and fifth wheel trailers are 99% recreational. Go camping for awhile, and then go back home, put it up on blocks, and winterize the plumbing system. They’re all big and shiny, and look new. Some commercial parks don’t even let in trailers that are over ten years old.
The remaining 1% are construction workers and full-timers like me. Let’s face it, the Enterprise looks like what it is. It’s 19 years old. Its external styling is dated. People don’t keep such old trailers in use – at least in use on the road. They’re usually consigned to sink into the dirt in back of the chicken house because the roof leaked and rotted the walls and flooring, and none of the appliances work anymore. Despite the past abuse and neglect to its running gear, this Innsbruck is still perfectly viable as a full-time home. But people can recognize by one glance at it that I’m not exactly an affluent, retired vacationer out on a sight-seeing lark. It’s home, full-time, and this is the only way to do it in an affordable way. I like it.
Having fueled up in Prescott Valley, I then had a very easy cruise up past the tiny town of Paulden to Forest Road 573 and turned in. Wow! Back to crudity! FR573 is a remarkably rocky uphill at the start, and then presents some deep ruts further in – deep enough that you can’t steer out of then once in. Deep enough that trailers with dropped axles (like mine) will drag. Forest roads have the reputation for being Bad News for towed trailers because you never know if you’ll ever find a place to turn around, once in. A 53-foot combination requires plenty of room in that regard. Fortunately, a look at a map showed that this one had a loop included in it, if worst came to worst. Plus, I had the assurance of Bob Wells that it would be rough but do-able for a large trailer to get to his site.
See, Bob and some fellow VanDwellers had found a viable campsite in here, and welcomed anyone to join them. Doesn’t say much for his judgement that he would specifically welcome me, but that’s a different issue. Bob himself was to be MIA because of flying to Florida for a couple of weeks, but the others would be there in his absence. I saw a turnoff to what might be his campsite, but was unsure because the mapping software I have on the iPad showed the proper entrance to be an eighth of a mile further on. Either there was a second side-road, or my GPS positioning on the iPad was a little off. I decided to go further to see what the story was. The second part of the turnaround loop was another mile down, if needed.
It turned into a mini-adventure. I dove down a small valley in the road and thought it remarkable that the high side was maybe twenty feet below the roadway itself, and yet there was deep erosion on the other side of the road, which had recently been smoothed over with a grader. Not seeing any drainage pipe down there to go under the road, I wondered just how much rain and runoff it would take to fill the huge trap area on the high side before it overflowed across the trail. Note to self: don’t camp back here if rain is expected. You might get trapped by the road going away until the next visit by the grader next year.
Well, there was no other turnoff in the area, and in fact no turnoffs at all until I reached the far end of where the loop is. That offshoot was useless for a turnaround however, because grading had raised its entrance so much that the trailer would never make that abrupt climb, dragging or not. I just don’t have the ground clearance. Fortunately I had also just passed an area on the right that could be pressed onto service, and barely managed to back into it. And I mean barely. The innocuous bushes here are tough as iron, and wiping hard against them can brush off anything not tougher than they are, like waste valves on the undercarriage. It was a close call, and I had to jump out afterwards to compare damage to a low bush to what it might have done to the trailer’s waste valve PVC piping. The tanks are currently empty so it’s hard to know for sure, but I appear to have won that skirmish.
I returned to the proper turnoff (the GPS data was a bit off), found a decent area to park in, and walked in further to the encampment to say hi. Steve was there to welcome me, but also asked during the course of things if I’d parked where the National Forest Ranger would be able to see me. That’s not an issue for me, since I’ll only be staying my allotted two weeks here. But it would also draw attention to their camp further on, which would be a problem – they hope to stay for a little longer than two weeks because Bob would return from Florida and well, it would just create a lot of serious complications for everyone. To squeeze out a little extra time, you need to not draw attention to yourself from The Man, at least as seen from the main path. Oops. I could have packed in with them, but not in the needed east-west orientation for solar panels, but not without crowding somebody, and not without sticking out like a sore thumb from the main road. Non-optimal! I needed my own campsite.
I’d noticed a rather nice area about a half-mile back on the way in, and though Steve had said they’d planned on using that but moved on because they’d found a poor cellular data signal there, I decided to give it a go. The half-mile distance to occasionally visit would be an easy walk for me. In this National Forest location, you need to stay within 300 feet of the road, and I’m at about 100-150. See, the time of being able to just drive into areas like this and just make camp anywhere is over. ATV users have increased so much and ripped up so much land that new restrictions are in place. Only a minor percentage of all available trails are now approved to camp on or drive a vehicle on. Get caught anywhere else, and it means a ticket and sizable fine now. There are whole areas set aside just for four-wheeling, so it’s no huge imposition to stay legal for off-roaders.
But it does restrict where you can camp, and on FR573, there are easily over half a dozen places to pull off beside it where you won’t run over something or get hung up, if you can turn sharply enough and have a modest ground clearance. So, I’m very lucky to have this great place, and especially to have it all to myself for the time being! If you go to Google Maps and key in the coordinates of “34.97397 -112.41888″ you can barely see a pull off area on the south side of the road where the orange marker is. I’m tucked in there, and it’s about a mile in from Arizona 89. It’s about 15 miles north of Chino Valley, but I’m hoping to be able to stay hooked up and stationary for the full two weeks. That would be nice, to my way of thinking. I’m getting two bars of 3G signal, and everything works fine.
Just one thing. Some kind of critter left tracks around the trailer in what was once mud. They’re cloven hooves measuring between 4.5-5” long. So far, I haven’t been able to figure out what they are because they don’t closely match anything I’ve come across. I’m hoping they’re elk that came down from higher altitudes over the winter. I’m hoping they are not feral pigs, which are rumored to be in the Prescott area. They need surface water, and I’m not seeing that here. These are too large, besides. So, I should be able to take walks along the road as usual. Adventure!
Update: Steve swung by to see if I was still alive, and immediately said, “Cattle. There are free range cattle in here.” Mystery solved! That’s what I get for being a sheltered suburbanite.