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2015 - Trip Report - Traversing the Great Western Trail

Traversing the Great Western Trail

It already felt like mid-summer in southern Arizona as a group of ten Desert Explorers met near Cave Creel. Arizona to begin an adventure along theArizona portion of The Great Western Trail (GWT). This hardy group included Yours Truly, Ellen and Nelson Miller, Richard Brazier, “Coop” Cooper and his dog Toby, Marian and Neal Johns, Bill and Julie Smith from relatively nearby Flagstaff, and new member Bill Powell who came all the way from Oregon. This gung ho group gathered together on the morning of Friday March 10 near Cave Creek, Arizona to begin this very interesting trek.

The GWT was originally conceived as a 4,500 mile network of dirt trails that would traverse Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming ending at the Montana/Idaho border with Canada. The trail is now “finished” in Arizona and southern Utah. Our adventure was for three days on the Arizona portion of the trail from near Cave Creek to Tusayan near the Grand Canyon.

The first section of trail we traveled was from Cave Creek to Bloody Basin Road and on to the Camp Verde area. This stretch of trail started out as easy as we dipped in and out of several washes. We did pass by the Sears Key Ruin which was a fortified Hohokam village in the 12th and 13th centuries. Overall, the scenery was beautiful, the trail was pretty easy and some were concerned that the trail was “too easy”. Those concerns were soon alleviated as we turned off of Bloody Basin Road and headed toward the “town” of Dugas. The Dugas road (FR 667) soon turned into a rocky, somewhat challenging remote road that kept everybody on their toes.

We were now in the Central Highlands area of Arizona and noticed the temperature difference at these higher elevations. We drove passed the surprisingly large Horse Shoe Ranch and encountered a nasty little stretch as we climbed out of the nearly dry Agua Fria River. It was now late afternoon as we entered the thriving metropolis of Dugas. This historical town was founded on Sycamore Creek in the late 19th century by rancher Fred Dugas and included visible ruins of a blacksmith shop, school, boarding houses and a post office. The Dugas family and others still have a presence in the town.

Soon after Dugas we encountered I-17 upon which we traveled a few miles north to Camp Verdewhich was our resting spot for the night. Some camped while others moteled it.

The next morning everybody had had a good night’s sleep and was raring to go as the action began pretty quickly. We drove west from I-17 on paved Highway 169 through the grasslands of the Central Highlands for 14 miles and made a right on CR 75 (Hackberry Hill Road). This interesting dirt road lead to the colorful Mingus Mountain Recreation Area which was absolutely beautiful. The only blemish as we passed through this pine forest was an extensive burn area that lasted for a few miles.

We soon crossed paved highway 89A and continued on the Smiley Rock Road and this is where the fun really began. As we passed through an excellent camping area the road began to deteriorate at an alarming rate. We had been warned that this route was difficult. However, it was more than difficult. It was virtually impassable. We traveled down a stream bed with tight brush and boulder field after boulder field. The five cars in our group all required the spotting services of Richard Brazier (the best in the business.) Even with spotting help we were moving at Rubicon type speeds and it would have been a couple of hours to go a mile. The Fearless Leader made a decision to turn around after the lead vehicle nearly tilted over on its side after going through a very tight area. We finally found a turnaround spot and trudged slowly back uphill to Highway 89A. (We were fortunate to help some very skilled drivers on this trip including Neal and Marian, Coop, Bill Powell, etc.)

When we got back to 89A it was a short drive downhill into Jerome which was our stop for the night. If you have never been to Jerome, you must go. This is one of the most spectacular towns in the West. Unfortunately, the outstanding Jerome State Historic Park and Museum was already closed when we got there. That is usually a must stop. The group split up for the night with Neal and Marian heading down the mountain to stay with friends in Cottonwood and Bill and Julie going to stay in the Prescott area. The only campers that night were Nelson and Ellen while Bob, Richard, Bill Powell, Coop and Toby the Dog stayed at the historic Jerome Grand Hotel and dined in luxuryat the Asylum restaurant.

We met in the morning in the parking lot of the Jerome Grand to begin the final day of this exciting trip. The first half of the day was a traverse of the GWT leg from Jerome to I-40 near Williams. It starts in the high desert of the Central Highlands and ends in the Colorado Plateau region. The trail goes right through forests of cedar, juniper, and pinion pine trees as well as other larger pine trees in both the Prescott and Kaibab National Forests. The road through the forests was moderately challenging in places, but nothing like the Smiley Rock Trail from the day before. Lunch was at a beautiful spot in the middle of a pine forest.

After lunch we arrived at I-40 where Neal and Marian left us as well as Bill and Julie. (We were only a few miles from their home in Flagstaff.) Nevertheless, we still had three cars, six people and one dog to continue the journey on the GW leg from I40 to Tusayan. This proved to be an easy, but beautiful trip through the forested Colorado Plateau country which was covered with evidence of volcanic activity. We finally arrived at paved US 180 which was the end of our GWT experience this time around. This couldn’t have been better for Ellen who works at Grand Canyon National Park. Bill Powell, Richard Brazier, Coop and Toby and Yours Truly stayed near the Canyon on Sunday night and we were able to meet Ellen in her workplace on Monday morning before heading for home.

Everybody agreed this was a great and unique trip. We are already planning a second GWT trip which would start near the north rim of the Grand Canyon and extend into Utah. However, it can’t be any better than this wonderful adventure


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