Having the bug to find camping spots not on any boondocking website can be either rewarding or disappointing, depending on the results. Normally, if you want to go from Mingus Mountain or Woodchute Trailhead to Cottonwood, you’ll take route 89A through Jerome. And normally, if you look at the MVUM map of any area, you’ll see routes laid out that are approved for camping, yet be unlikely to find any usable campsites on those trails.
That can be frustrating, because many such approved trails are quite rough, and the going for a fully-laden 3/4-ton truck can be quite slow (1-2 MPH) over distances of many miles while looking for a site – or even a place to turn around. Ah, but if you do find a campsite, it can be a very nice situation. The complication of course is that later trips for supplies can be hours long, and it may be best just to head for town and then move on. Whether it’s worth it is determined by weather forecasts, time of day, how much there is to get done that trip, the punishment factor on the vehicle/rig, the campsite desirability, and the degree of one’s personal lunacy.
Lunacy factors in because you don’t want to roll in for a search just an hour before sunset, or you’ll be most likely to come up with nothing on such trails and be forced to find a place to turn around and double back in the dark – which can be a bad idea on a technically challenging trail. Once you make it back out successfully, you’d better have a Plan B fallback to overnight at, or you have a problem. The assumption that you’ll just head back into town to stay at a local Walmart is a poor one since, as in Cottonwood, ordinances exist which remove that option. So finding the gold among the dross can be most rewarding if you conduct the search well, and have a fallback. It’s important to keep in mind that just because a trail is on the MVUM as approved for camping does not imply that campsites actually exist, or even that the trail is passable by your particular rig.
In theory, departing Cottonwood on West Mingus Avenue turns into NF-493, which eventually turns into NF-413 that ends at the Mingus Mountain Recreation area. I attempted my search after a long day of stocking up and doing laundry, which didn’t leave much time to hunt for a campsite in the unknown. Due to forecast temperatures and my need to pick up a package back in town in a few days, I didn’t need to hunt for elevation but did need to stay within striking distance of town. So I set off on 493 and went quite some distance in to see what existed. Roll of the dice.
I found 493 to pose some challenges as it gained elevation. It really required airing down the tires to compensate for its very rocky nature, something I was reluctant to do when I planned to return to pavement in just a couple of days. The climb rate seemed very modest if relentless, and I noticed that the Mighty Furd’s rear tires began to slip a bit when crossing deep piles of baseball-sized rocks that filled in ruts at water crossings, so 4WD-Low seemed a prudent option to lessen the strain on the drivetrain. Alas, the sun set and I had to forge on just far enough to find a wide spot to turn around. I’d noted a couple of usable spots I’d passed on the way, and selected one at the intersection of NF-493 and 9606M. I was able to set up camp just before dark set in, at which time the long sprinkle of lights in Cottonwood began to glow like some festive celebration in the distance below. It’s a nice spot at GPS: 34.711735, -112.013622. Elevation is 4,057′, compared to Cottonwood’s ~3,000′.
I’d like to venture further on in once my package shows up in town. Should it appear in a timely way, that can happen. Should it not, the logistics or circumstances will meddle with my 1-week resupply routine and delay my ability to climb above what may become less desirable temperatures. The good news is that today is the second and last day of high winds, and this campsite is well situated behind a hill that dissipates the blustery gusts quite a bit. I suspect that it would be a different story on the flats along Thousand Trails Road south of town, which is a dusty camping pasture without much to recommend it for scenic value or solitude. Overall, my lust to get further west aside, this is a pretty good camping spot with only marginal traffic, and the 14-day rule applies just like anywhere else. The road to get to this point isn’t bad, either. Don’t go past it in the common small 4WD station wagons marketed as what passes for all-terrain cars these days – most lack the ground clearance needed to safely negotiate the trail beyond.