The drive takes us through the smoke of a large fire in the lowlands between mountain ranges. The visibility is further reduced by sunset. We drive into the Chiricahua National Monument and find the campground full. The campground is only Plan B, so we're happy to go with Plan A. Did you know that you can camp anywhere in a national forest or on BLM land? As we enter the wilderness the easiest alternative to the campground turns out to be a beautiful alternative. It is the road to Pinery Creek Canyon. It is dark, the road is narrow, and it is a washboard of bumpiness.
We try to guess if reducing tire pressure will pay off in an easier ride before we find our campsite. It is dark out now so recognizing a good campsite is more difficult.
The campsite that we happen upon is just a short distance off the road. It seems lovely by starlight. Is that burbling water we hear?
The queen awakens to find that Prince Alex has moved the Q to open towards the creek that we only guessed must be there. Not only is there warm sunshine coming over the mountaintops, but there is a beautiful warm fire, too. Breakfast, warmth of a fire, and a creek.
We drive deeper into the Chiricahua Wilderness gaining elevation along the way. The Pinery Creek Campground marks the boundary for RVs or campers that exceed 28 feet. Agile Q continues along Forest Rd 42. We watch the gain in elevation on the DeLorme from our Pinery Creek camp (just 49 feet shy of 6,000) wondering if we can set our own high elevation camping record.
Alex drives while i keep an eye on the elevation gains. When we reach 8,000 we begin to eye possible camping spots. Here is our overnight at 8317. It is stunningly beautiful.
It is far too windy to risk a campfire, so we do a little campsite cleanup (as we did at Pinery Creek as well) to continuously give thanks...and keep on contributing to good campsite finding karma. It is so cold! The warmest place draws us inside Q under the down-filled comforter.
The morning brings another beautiful campfire - built low inside the fire ring. Previous campers have contributed to the wind-break. We'll contribute the surplus fire wood for the next campers.
We drive east and north out of the Chiricahuas through Paradise. It is a few miles north and west to make a visit to Roper Lake State Park where there is a hot spring to soothe our tired muscles. At 98 degrees it feels very nice as we are also warmed by the sunshine.
The soak makes two people very ready to coast for the rest of the day. We'll camp in the Pinaleno Mountains without trying to reach the peak's 10,000 feet elevation to set another record. Instead we find a nearly unoccupied (one other camper) at the Round The Mountain Trailhead Campground.
The next morning just around the mountain we find Noon Creek Picnic . The park board tells us that it is named for the valley residents who stopped here for lunch as they rode horses up the mountains to escape the desert heat.
We'll drive east through the desert valley south of Sanford, AZ to check out Hot Well Springs. As the story goes the springs came into existence in the 1800s when there was drilling for minerals. The BLM recreational site now uses solar power to pump the hot water up.
Interesting to consider, but the two tubs are packed full of dune riders, so we enjoy the dirt road ride back out to I-10 to catch backroads towards the Santa Catalina Mountains. We can see snow-topped Mt Lemon in the distance.
We attempt to find our way there via twisty roads coming into the park from the north. We visit the [town of] Oracle to re-supply and then head south. As we pass by the Peppersauce Campground we see that the the road to Mt Lemon is gated and locked Dec 1st - March 1st. Ah well, we'll camp on a hilltop over-looking the desert valley - with a great view of Mt Lemon to the southwest.