Camp Hunting in Chino Valley
Travel is never totally predictable – which can be good or bad – but at least when the best laid plans go awry, it’s now a lot easier to deal with. A pickup truck with a box in the bed is much more adaptable to improvisation than towing a big TT with a turning circle measured in fractions of a city block.
Wickenburg was heading into the 90s for daytime temps, which meant it was past time to hunt for altitude. I’d been waiting for a shipment to arrive in town, and planned my departure on its day of arrival. Thankfully, it came in on schedule. After a cheap overnight in the North Ranch campground run by the Escapees RV Club in Congress AZ (to take advantage of every amenity they had), I headed for Chino Valley.
I left before having breakfast. Heading north by way of Kirkland and a series of small towns and almost-towns, I’d had my eye on a small home-cookin’ breakfast place in Yarnell that previously had many vehicles it its parking lot. Mid-morning on a Tuesday, I pulled in and the lot was empty. The schedule in the front door indicated that it should be open, but the door was locked. So much for that breakfast out.
My second planned stop was a
junk antiques dealer that had a assortment of stuff scattered all about the yard. They seemed to have a penchant for cutting old vehicles in half, which made me wonder just what-all would be there. Unfortunately, there too, the main building was locked, with a sign saying that they were closed Mondays and Tuesdays. Oh well. The remaining tiny burgs onroute were more ill-equipped than this one, so I just sat back and enjoyed the drive.
That’s no small thing, actually. The Interstates in Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado present some impressive views, and in the case of Colorado, some potentially interactive scenery. You have to actually pay attention to the roadway, or you’ll become part of the vista, at least for a while. But the two-lane state highways are nothing to sneeze at either. The mountainside climb on 89 north of Congress presents some impressive views even as it puts your vehicle’s cooling system to the test, as you go from one 30 MPH turn to the next. The incline never lets up, meanwhile. The time gained by goosing the throttle on the short straights between the turns is insignificant for heavier vehicles, and you don’t want to know what the fuel mileage penalty is with two turbochargers going above and beyond the call. I didn’t notice anyone at the top handing out trophies, which confirms to me that just because you have the power available, doesn’t necessarily mean that you should use it.
The rest of these types of drives is variety – snaking through tight canyons, on cruise in pleasant valleys with crops, cattle or horses behind the fences, or up hill and down dale at a steady 50 MPH while oogling formations of massive boulders. I arrived in Chino Valley about eleven and found the shipping place that my favorite son had forwarded my license plate stickers to. I asked the two women there about any sit-down restaurant in town that might still be serving breakfast, as I hadn’t noticed anything likely while coming up on Chino’s exceptionally long main drag. The two lamented the recent passing of a couple of popular and relevant restaurants in town, and understood my wish to avoid the prefab food-like substances at franchises, with their “Thanks…eat, and get out” aura.
Perhaps I’m just overly sensitive, but I feel degraded by breakfasting at the burger franchises, with food neatly and compactly compartmented on foam plates that do not respond well to plastic knives and forks when something requires more than a deft touch. When I leave, I have the sense that I’ve traded enjoyment away for efficiency, and all I have is something in my stomach, without any experience other than having observed how the line at the counter was moving at the moment, or how full the waste barrels were. Besides, my time was now approaching noon, and at franchises, you eat what they deign to serve you, period.
“There’s no place left we know of,” the two at the shipping place told me. Seems like everybody likes the thought of breakfast at any time of day, and I could tell that they were both coming to the full realization of their loss.
“Well, I’ll be back next week for another shipment,” I said. “If I come across someplace, I’ll let you know.”
“If you find a decent place for breakfast,” said the younger of the two, now clearly overcome at the thought of eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, omelettes, biscuits and gravy, breakfast burritos, pancakes and/or all of the above, “Tell us and we’ll join you!” Now I enjoy the company of my betters over a pleasant breakfast but, as she didn’t mention who would be picking up the tab for said proposed feast, that threw a red flag, I gotta tell ya. Instinctively, I merely smiled and nodded on my way out, murmuring “Will do.” I hope that wasn’t too committal. I mean, they were both still pretty young – if they each ordered Lumberjack Platters, I’d only get coffee and still be doing dishes for days.
I next went to a barber I’ve been to before, Birdie and Sons, and asked her the same question, with much the same lack of result. But there was one possibility, a restaurant in a mini-mall near the edge of town. This hole in the wall had changed hands a few times. One of the former new owners had simply wanted to own a restaurant, with predictable results. Restaurants are not exactly profit centers, unless maybe you do to your diners what the franchises do. “I don’t remember what the name is now, but it’s south of here and on the right, next to Bob’s Car.”
I headed down there and didn’t find Bob’s Car, but did find “Cafe 89” heading up an aging mall. Open from 5:30AM-2PM, it was clearly a breakfast and lunch place. Walking in, I was a little surprised and disappointed to see an “Order Here” sign over a counter, but the owner standing behind it could tell I was a first-timer and handed me a folded paper menu, inviting me to sit at any table and he would take my order. Before I could even get through page two of the newspaper left at my table, two eggs with bacon and a half-order of biscuits and gravy were in front of me. The eggs were done perfectly and the bacon was outstanding, which is unusual. Oh, it was all good, and the cost was very reasonable – $5.75, the least I’ve paid for a decent breakfast in a decade, I think. Everyone else coming in were locals whom he knew by name. He obviously had a heap of regulars who already knew what they wanted and said so before they found a seat, or complemented him on the changed interior of his pickup truck, apparently parked outside.
Once breakfast was properly accomplished, I drove north through town again and headed east on Perkinsville Road. Once at Haystack Road, there’s a community of what amounts to ranchettes. Bypassing that produces a warning sign about State Trust land, but that’s just for a short distance before FS638 puts you in Prescott National Forest. Erosion has taken its toll here and there, and there’s a significant gully to cross early on, but the Intrepid made it, albeit with the Ford’s door gaskets sounding like a WWII submarine at full rated depth while the pillarless cab slowly twisted. I found later that there’s another, easier trail that bypasses this, but it’s not on the MVUM (Motor Vehicle Usage Map) and so not approved for vehicular travel. Sure, the odds of getting caught by a ranger are remote, but if he’s having a bad day, it’s a $245 citation. I’ll live with the adventurous route. After all, I are a adventurer now, isn’t I?
From then on, most of FS638 is an interesting wind around a series of hills. It’s often rocky but often not (and will be a mudpit when wet), but paying attention is still advised because of slow erosion that has dug deep here and there, and potentially poses a challenge for a high-CG rig. Exploring it was fun, and I spotted several potential campsites along the way, some on open ground and some tucked in among trees. Before arriving at a T-intersection, I approached a particularly short and deep rut crossing the trail that I was certain would ground out my running board on the driver’s side. Bushes that enjoyed the occasional water prevented my edging right to lessen the effects, and edging left would be much worse. On the return, it seemed likely to be a tailpipe crusher.
So, I turned around and took a closer look at each camping possibility. The first two were workable, but had more slope than I’d like to live with for a week. The third was in a nearly level open area littered with spent shells and cartridges.
Many of the locals use this general area for target practice, and there isn’t a day that goes by without a couple of sessions of popping behind the surrounding hills. There’s an exceptionally nice outdoor shooting range a few miles closer to town, but I’m sure the people I’ve seen and heard prefer to avoid the $10/day charge and heavy supervision. As far as I can tell, none of these folks go any deeper in, so if hearing firearms at a distance disturbs your chi, then keep going further on 638, or take an approved alternate trail off of it.
One is 638A, a branch on the MVUM that I took yesterday on the Evelo e-bike. Seclusion might be the byword on this trail, as tenters with Jeeps and such are likely to be the only passersby other than kids on ATVs. I didn’t see anyone, and there were no fresh tracks. The whole trip to get to its end (where a broad, flat campsite awaits above a deep ravine) is well worth airing tires down for. The distance and effort makes it a poor choice for only one or two nights. The challenge for the Intrepid is getting across an array of interesting channels cut by water. Like many such features here, I should make it if I choose exactly the right path across, and definitely ground it out if I don’t.
I could get all high-tech up in here with the murky black & white wireless magnet-mount videocam that I use for hitching up the travel trailer, but if the situation allows, it’s simpler and more effective to heave the Ford’s door open, get out, and eyeball the source of angst, wherever it is. I’m still on the learning curve of what situations the Ford can and cannot clear, and where. Since I must always err on the side of safety, this may take some time! 4WD is not required in this area (when dry), but good clearance and a limited-slip differential is, for rear-wheel drive.
Just for your info, in 2013, I made a solo run through another, more interesting trail close by. These days, with the weight of the truck camper in place and the tires aired down, I’m not sure I’d clear one area of rock-slab steps on it, but it’s worth considering as it does offer decent meadows some distance in. Some posts on this blog remain relevant for quite awhile, so don’t be shy about squandering more of your time digging back into earlier posts, or keying in a location or topic to search.
Chino Valley and the area north of Paulden present some workable Prescott Forest possibilities for camping, and make for a good 4,700′-elevation transition area to escape the April heat of Wickenburg without having to freeze in Flagstaff. I’m now about 8 miles east of Chino Valley itself, while the camping spots north of Paulden tend to be 12-14 miles away, at minimum. This makes groceries (Safeway) or hardware (Ace and Best) a significant distance away, but they are all well-equipped. The Ace is the sole source of dump stations and potable water, but it is free if you are kind enough to buy something of note in the store. Otherwise, I think they charge $5. The local RV parks in Chino Valley and Paulden don’t list dump stations among their amenities, since they cater to monthlies and especially permanents.
The downsides of Chino Valley that I see are that using the e-bike on Perkinsville Road (or AZ-89, for that matter) is an unhealthy idea, so using it for supplies while here is out. Late summer stays here (monsoon season) are questionable due to the nature of the dirt. Outside of that time frame, keeping an eye on weather forecasts is a good idea, in order to time supply runs that will avoid occasional rain. I’ll probably be finding out about Arizona’s monsoon season later this year, but I do know that
A] It turns most of the unpaved state into one big mudhole, and
2] 4WD is of very limited help if you’ve been incautious about camp/trail selection, and
E] Those highway signs about “Do not proceed if road is flooded” are suddenly relevant.
Thus an inability to “plant” the rig and use the e-bike for supplies, laundry and water hauling are significant drawbacks for me in prolonged wet weather. If the bike can’t be used, then the whole rig has to move, which can’t happen in mud.
A further downside is that you’ll have no option but to use whatever shower equipment you have with you, since in-town alternatives short of a $100+ motel room are zero. This isn’t a big hardship, but at least certain truck stops are an alternative to watch for when on the Interstates, if travel timing allows. None of the limited number of RV parks here even have showers, let alone coin-operated ones. Going on forever with baby wipes just does not appeal.
It’s not a tourist town per se, and I’d say that like most small towns in the Great Southwest, Chino Valley has suffered the fallout of the Great Recession. It started out as the Arizona Territory’s designated capital (Actually, Del Rio Springs just north was) and as a place for farming and supplying the cavalry with cut grass horse feed, plentiful in the region. Then Del Rio supplied Prescott’s water via a 19-mile pipeline, as well as water via railroad car to Ash Fork and the Grand Canyon. But the water table dropped from agricultural pumping, so the several springs and lakes dried up, and the trees died off by the 1970s. The springs’ water supply has been predicted to go from seasonal to zero a decade from now. Chino Valley didn’t incorporate until 1970, which probably explains the haphazard layout and appearance of its main drag. But if you’re on your way to visit Williams, Chino Valley is as good a place as any to burn off some time – or have a good breakfast, which is what I’ll be doing on my next supplies trip in!