The Beaches of Arizona (Part 1)

On the beach

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Back in 2012, we decided to take the kids back to our home state of Arizona and then do a big loop out to California. The kids were eleven and eight, so there were old enough to remember the trip and at that great age when they loved doing things as a family. It seemed like a good time.

We were going in early June, so we knew that Phoenix would be in the low 110 degF range each day, but we were also planning to go to Northern Arizona, which would see temperatures in the 70’s, and also out to the beach in California which might be in the low 80’s. During the time in Phoenix we decided to stay at the Pointe Resort, which had added a small waterpark as part of the resort, so we figured we’d just hang out in the water a lot of the time.

So the plan was to fly into Phoenix, then go up to Flagstaff and the Grand Canyon for a couple of days, then drive through Lake Havasu City and Kingman, then out to LA and Anaheim, down to San Diego, then back to Phoenix. We got our digital camera, packed our suitcases, and jumped on the plane. In a few hours, we had landed at Sky Harbor Airport.

Phoenix

Photo by David Keindel on Pexels.com

We got into Phoenix. As expected, the heat was oppressive, but nothing we weren’t expecting. We went to the Pointe, which was arranged in a set of smaller buildings with eight or so condo-like rooms in each building. When we got to our room, the kids got a drink of water from the tap.

“Dad, this water is terrible!” said my son.

My wife and kids quickly declared that the water was undrinkable. I remembered drinking water from the tap growing up and never really minded the heavily chlorinated taste. After living in places with good tap water, however, I had to admit that it did taste a bit off. I thought we could tolerate it for a few days, but after consultation with my wife, I headed off to the supermarket to buy a bottle of water.

I went to the Abco, which was actually the supermarket we used when I was growing up in Phoenix (it was a Lucky’s supermarket at the time). I’d been there probably more than one hundred times. I bought a gallon jug of water (I’ve never understood paying a quarter for a single-serving of water) and headed back to the room. I also bought some soda and snacks.

We spent the next couple of days at the resort. The water park was nice with one big pool with a few slides from an upper level down into it and then a lazy river that went around the area. We also saw a few friends while we were in town and had dinner with them. After that, we loaded up the car, including the bottle of water, minus a glass, and headed up I-17 to Flagstaff.

Jerome, Sedona, and Oak Creek Canyon

OK, It was worth $20

Once we got out of the Valley and up onto the Mongolian Rim we stopped at Sunset Point, my favorite rest stop. Shortly after that we left I-17 and started to take the backroads.

The view from Sunset Point

First, we drove through Cottonwood and over to the ghost town of Jerome Arizona. Jerome is an old copper mining town, once known as the “Wickedest Town in the West.” It reached a population of 15,000 in the 1920’s, but was abandoned after WWII and became a ghost town. Then it was resettled with 50-100 residents there today. They even had an influx of hippies during the 1980’s and this largely isolated town is full of artists today. Many make art from copper and silver, given the town’s history in mining these minerals.

The highway to Jerome
Jerome, Arizona

The neatest part about the town is that it is on the side of a mountain with all of the houses built out over the slope. The highway up to the town is narrow and windy, so it had my wife grasping the dash board the whole way up. Once up at the town, we found a place to park and went to eat lunch at the restaurant. There are spectacular views of the whole area below. I remembered staying with my wife at the Ghost City Inn Bed and Breakfast several years ago and looking out the window there from our room over the expanse.

Looking down from Jerome

From Jerome we continued up the old highway through Oak Creek Canyon, which has some of the most beautiful scenery in Arizona. Along the way we stopped in Sedona and went shopping at a few of the shops. We remembered being at a bed and breakfast in Northern California a few years before and listening to a New Agey-couple talking about Sedona and how you could feel the vortexes rising up from the rocks. We didn’t see any vortexes, but did get some nice pictures of red rocks along the way.

Sites along the road to Sedona
Bell Rock, near Sedona, AZ

After Sedona we continued up the road and up in elevation towards Flagstaff, AZ. we then reached a destination I was eager to share with my kids: Slide Rock. Slide Rock is a natural area where the creek flows through a series of rocks that have some algae growing on them. The result is a series of slides where the you can sit down and the water would push you downstream.

I was a little disappointed when we got there in that what had been just an open area that anyone could enjoy when I was growing up had become a park property with a $20 day use fee. Since it was around 5 PM by the time we got there, we would only have an hour or two to enjoy the area before sundown, so the $20 felt like a rip-off. Still, we had come all of that way and decided to go ahead and feel the pain to show the area to the kids.

The park service had added some nice amenities like a bath house, which allowed us to change out of our wet bathing suits at the end of the stop. (We were a little disappointed in that they were trying to close the bathrooms early, so we had to fight a bit to get time to change.) They also had constructed a homestead and some landscaping that would have been typical of houses in the area a hundred years before. If I were living in the wilderness, being in a place like Slide Rock would have been great.

Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon
Sliding in Slide Rock

During college, my wife and several of her friends had a different adventure at Slide Rock. She went with her female friends and couple of guys that they knew. While they were there, my wife (girlfriend at the time) looked over to see her friends sunbathing topless on a rock. She didn’t join them and was a bit shocked by the scene.

After the sun went down we headed on up Oak Creek Canyon and finally arrived in Flagstaff and went to our motel for the night. We went to Granny’s Closet for dinner (my wife went to college in Flagstaff, so we knew the area well). After dinner, I went to a local store Walgreen’s and bought some water bottles, since we were going to be hiking into the Grand Canyon the next day and had forgotten to bring any from home. I bought some really cheap ones, expecting to throw them away after the day, but somehow they made it into our suitcases and are in our cabinet today, never used since that trip.

Oak Creek Canyon Views

The Grand Canyon

We got up early the next morning and headed north to the Canyon. The plan was to do a bit of easy hiking in the morning and then some site seeing along the rim during the afternoon. My wife had been to the Canyon several times, but had never been below the rim. I had been all the way to the river and back (in one day) during a high school Ranger team trip. Our children who were about 10 and 7 had never been to the Canyon.

We parked in one of the large parking lots and then proceeded to visit the gift shop. One of the books I leafed through was Death in the Canyon, which details the many deaths that have occurred at the Grand Canyon. Many were things like being swept away by the river or backing up too much when taking a picture, but there were some incidents like defiant children who simply ran over the edge when their parents told them to stay back. After reading up and my mind being filled with death and worry, we went to the trail.

I saw on a map the Ooh Aah point was about two miles down the South Kaibab trail, which seemed like a reasonable hike for us. We parked near the South Kaibab trailhead and headed down. Walking down was fairly easy, although my wife was a bit worried about losing her footing on the sloped trail. We made good progress, however, and after about an hour made it down to Ooh AAh point and took some pictures. I looked down at the trail below, and of course it was tempting to continue on since it seemed like it was just a little bit further, but we were sensible and started back up.

The trail down from the top
Photo by Produtora Midtrack on Pexels.com
The way down from Ooh Aah Point
Trail to the river from Ooh Aah Point
Another Ooh Aah view

Now, even though it wasn’t particularly hot (it was in the high 70s or 80s) since we were at high altitude on the rim of the Canyon, it was very dry and the sun was intense, making you dry out quickly. All of us were drinking water regularly, except my daughter who declared that she was not going to drink water. My son and I tried to explain that she needed to drink water to avoid dehydration, but she insisted that she wouldn’t. I started having pictures of her passing out on the way up and wondered if I’d be strong enough to carry her back up to the rim. Luckily, she changed her mind with a little prodding, drank some water, and was able to make it back up to the rim.

Heading back up, enjoying the limited shade, drinking water!

From there, we went in to the café to have lunch. Then, we went on a park bus out to Herman’s Rest. We saw that area, then went out to the second to the last bus stop, where we heard it was a great place to see the sunset. We sat there, looking out over the canyon as the sun set and the canyon came alive with colors. After it had sufficiently set, we got up and gathered with the crowd who were also there to wait for our bus.

Hermit’s Rest
Sun setting from the Canyon rim
Sunset over the Canyon
The river from the rim at sunset

That’s where we realized our mistake. Because the buses went out to the end of the line and loaded up before heading back, and because everyone who went out to see the sunset was heading back at the same time, we needed to wait for a few buses until there was enough space that we could get on one. One we did get on a bus, it was standing room only. So, we stood up for more than a half hour as the bus slowly made its way back to the visitor’s center and unloaded.

At that point is was absolutely pitch black. There were absolutely no street lamps in the parking lot and no ambient light at all. As we wandered the huge parking lot in total blackness except for the car lights as people drove away, I kept thinking that there was a canyon somewhere around there somewhere and wondered if I would be one of the deaths in the canyon, having wandered over the edge, looking for my car. Finally, we found the car and headed back to Flagstaff.

Kingman, Lake Havasu City, and the trip to LA

Sign at London Bridge

The next day, after having breakfast at the Little America coffee shop, we headed out towards Kingman, Arizona on Highway 66, then went Southwest to Lake Havasu City. I’d been to Lake Havasu about fifteen years before, having ridden my bike there from Phoenix. It is a pretty place right on the lake formed from the Colorado river but it is also really, really hot with temperatures routinely reaching 115 deg F or more each summer. It is frequently the hot spot for the country, swapping the title with Bull Head City several miles down the river.

This day was no different than normal. We drove through town from north to south, watching the wavering of the air that happens when really hot air rises off of the asphalt. There we turned into the parking lot for the London Bridge Village.

First sighting of Lake Havasu

You’ll remember the nursery rhyme about London Bridge falling down. Apparently this was actually the case. Well, hearing that this was happening, the town of Lake Havasu decided to buy it. London bridge was transported from London, stone by stone, and reassembled over the lake at a fairly narrow spot. The rumor is that the town folk of Lake Havasu thought they were buying the Tower Bridge from London, an iconic structure, and were disappointed when the London Bridge showed up, much as it is. Still, the town made the best of it, set it up, and then created a little shopping area around it, complete with a little hedge maze. Luckily the maze isn’t too large as many would probably perish inside after getting lost in the 120 degree heat.

London Bridge

So, we walked across the bridge between Arizona and California, took a few pictures, then headed down a set of steps under the bridge to go into a few shops. We were absolutely the only people anywhere around, the temperature being in the high one-teens and it being very close to noon. Right then, a lady appeared from one of the doors and gave us a sales pitch for a timeshare in Lake Havasu City!

We were nice enough, but we were all thinking that right in the middle of summer, right in the middle of the day, right there on the hot sidewalk was not the time or place to be trying to convince people to come back every year. Perhaps if she had gone to a marina where people were coming back from a day on the lake or to one of the beaches around she would have found some interest, but I couldn’t imagine anyone seeing the place on that day and thinking, “Wow, I really want to get a timeshare here.” I’m sure that in January when it is 70 degrees and sunny there they get lots of interest, but not in the middle of summer.

On to Anaheim

From lake Havasu City we headed through Kingman AZ to Anaheim, CA. I’d driven across the Mojave desert many times as a young adult and rode across as a passenger in my parent’s car, but this time the distances and remoteness were intimidating. Often there were spans of 20 to 40 miles with absolutely nothing, only interrupted at the end by a small gas station with maybe a restaurant attached. I thought about what it would be like to break down out there and walk a day or more in the 110 degree heat to get to anything. Luckily this didn’t happen and we made it to LA and into Anaheim.

The next day we got up bright and early, trying to get to Disneyland when they opened. We had a hotel about five or six blocks away, so we were able to walk to the entrance. Of course, we had to walk all the way through the Disney Marketplace to get the the entrance. We stopped in the Disnew General Store where my wife found some potholders she liked, but figured she could buy them somewhere else in the park and didn’t want to carry them all day, so she left them there. Somewhere along the way my daughter got some $30 Mickey princess ears that she wore for the day.

Jungle Cruise Ride
Minnie Ears
Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney Land

We spent the day and evening in the park. For dinner we ate at some sort of Mickey Italian restaurant and I got a $15 plate of spaghetti. we then started looking for the potholders my wife liked, but couldn’t find them anywhere. Finally around midnight the park was closing, so we were heading back to the hotel. It was then that my wife discovered that the Disney Marketplace was open until 1 AM and that if we hurried, we could get back to the General Store and get the potholders. The store was, of course, all the way at the end of the marketplace.

We walked all the way down. Along the way we were seeing that a lot of the stores were closed. I was hoping that we’d missed the opportunity and could just go back to the hotel and save $30. No such luck. Some cast members indicated that the store was open. Sure enough, the General Store was about the only thing open at this time we finally made it down there. So we went in, shopped for what seemed an hour, and then left at about 1 AM with the pot holders. We then trudged all the way through the Disney market, back up the five or six blocks to our hotel, and got in around 1:30 AM.

Around 3 AM I woke up and emptied the contents of my stomach into the toilet. I was so sick. I thought maybe it was food poisoning from the Mickey spaghetti, but it may also have been dehydration and exhaustion. We ended up staying in the motel until about 10 AM when I finally felt better enough to drive.

To be continued….

Camping with Accident Man

by Joseph Sheeley

During college in the 1990’s my girlfriend then, now wife and I would go camping about four or five times per year during the summers. It started in Arizona when we were still just dating. There I would drive up from Tucson where I was going to school to her school in Flagstaff, car loaded with camping gear, then we would go camp at a place near Flagstaff. Because it was well over 7000 feet elevation up there, it was a good 20 to 30 degrees colder than in Tucson, so the weather was beautiful in the summers with days in the 70s and maybe low 80s. It was even a touch on the cold side at nights sometimes.

For grad school we were in California and started camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, which were about three or four hours from our apartment in the Bay Area. I would get a topo map of an area and look for areas on forest roads in National Forests where it looked relatively flat and ideally close to a little creek or some sort of water. These forest roads were small dirt roads used for logging and forest maintenance. Once we found a few good candidate spots, we would then drive out there, go down the road, and look for a spot with enough cleared area to park and set up camp. Often it would be 9 or 10 o’clock at night when we would finally get out there, having fought traffic to get out of town after work. So, it could be quite an adventure, driving around, trying to find a spot in the dark until about midnight. One time we ended up setting up in a spot for the night just because it was getting late, then moving to another spot down the road in the morning. There were usually a few people camped somewhere near us, but everyone was really spread out so you didn’t feel like you were crowded in at all. There was also plenty of wood for the fire, which you never found at a regular campsite.

After we found a good camping place, we would remember where it was and return. There was one spot near Boards Crossing Road that had a tiny stream running through it. We used it to cool some melons we brought with us.

We would sometimes bring friends along, especially a friend named John and his girlfriend, Rita. They had never been camping, so this was a new experience for them. I would give them my tent and my wife and I would sleep in our Ford Explorer for these trips with them.

Now, I had an enormous survival knife that I would take along. It was sharpened on both sides and had a large saw blade. I’ve had it since high school and numerous people have cut themselves on it (including my father the day I got it). It came to the point where I started to think the knife was cursed. (I also cut myself on it, but that was usually when I was trying to juggle it.)

On our second trip together, it was just John, his girlfriend, and I camping the first night. We had a third friend coming the second day and I needed to go to the highway (about 10 miles away) and find a payphone to call him and tell him where to find us. As I was leaving, he asked if he could use the survival knife while I was gone. I said, “Sure,” but warned him about all the problems I had had with it. He said, ” No problem,” or something similar, so I drove off and made the call.

I returned an hour later to find him with a bandage wrapped around his hand. He explained that he was just pulling my survival knife out of the case and cut his thumb on the back of the knife near the hilt. He remembered that I’d said the knife was sharp, but didn’t realize it was sharpened on the backside too. That was the first of several accidents for that day.

After we’d sat around camp for a while, we decided to drive back to the road and to a little store. We got back in my Explorer and headed out. About a mile from our camp the road crossed a little creek and there was a little waterfall area on the uphill side of the road. John asked if we could stop there and check it out.

After we had been there for about three minutes, John wanted to get his picture with his girlfriend on a big rock in the middle of the creek. They stood there and I took a picture with my digital camera (Maybe it was a film camera. This was way before smart phones).

After I took the first picture, John saw a second rock out on the stream. ” Get a picture of me jumping to that rock,” he said. I wasn’t sure how he was going to get back from the rock, but I agreed, he jumped, and I took the picture. Once he got there, he realized his predicament, looked at another, tall rock further across the stream, and tried to leap to it and hang on.

He fell in the water, which was about 8 inches deep, got pushed downstream a few feet by the current, then got up, soaking wet and without his glasses. We searched for them in vain – they were never to be found, at least by us. This was accident number two for the trip.

Luckily, I happened to have a bathing suit in the car, which he borrowed and we headed for the store. Once there we looked around, bought a few things for the campout, then went back to the Explorer. As I started to drive off, John shouted to stop the car. He jumped out and danced around. Lifting up the bottom of his (my) swimsuit, a wasp came flying out. This was accident number three.

We had been listening to the They Might Be Giants Song, Particle Man, on the way up. We decided at this point that his name should be “Accident Man,” and sang about him to the tune of Particle Man. This nickname stuck with him for many years.

That was the last accident for that trip. Javier, our friend, arrived with his girlfriend that evening and built a huge fire that put our fire from the previous night to shame. Each time that you could get within about five feet of it, Javier would declare that the fire was dying and throw more wood on it. Another inside joke from that campout, the “Javier Fire,” emerged.

We all camped together several more times while we were in school. Accident Man got better, only having one other accident that I remember on a campout. In that case, he was breaking a limb with his foot wearing sandals and a jagged piece of wood from one of the ends went into his foot. We got to find the clinic in a small mountain town nearby after that one.

John and I both still camp to this day. I’m glad that I was able to teach a friend how to do something from which he continues to get so much enjoyment. I’ll always look back fondly to my days camping with Accident Man and the good times we had.

Bike Rides

by Joseph Sheeley

From the time that I was in first grade, I would walk to school. Elementary school, which was grades 1-4, was about half a mile away, across a street and a parking lot, across a major street at a light, and then up a hill about a quarter mile to the school. Both of my parents worked, so I would get home about an hour before my mom and let myself in. For some reason rather than giving me a key, we had one hidden inside a bag of cat food just inside the back door that I could reach through the gate bars.

One I got to fifth grade, the middle school was about 2 miles away, so I started riding my bike. I would mainly ride on the sidewalk and lock up my bike in a fenced-in gravel lot under some grapefruit trees. Here I got used to riding a couple of miles each way per day. I also would ride to friends’ houses and just around the neighborhood.

One day a friend and I were at the school in the evening and discovered that we could get airborne on a berm between one part of the playground and a field. We took turns jumping the berm for the next hour or so, then I rode home. The next day, I was riding to school when the top bar on my bike snapped. I walked the bike home and got a ride to school.

We took the bike to the bike shop and explained that I was “just riding along” when the bar broke. They all laughed, then handed me a biking book that had a list of definitions. It had “just riding along,” or JRA, as a term used by those committing warranty fraud. Well, I was just riding along when the bar snapped….

We bought the first of several mountain bikes from them that day. The shop even had a trail ride they would lead. I went on this ride the next Saturday. They were much more advanced than I was so I only went on one or two rides with them after the first ride, but from the experience I learned where the local trails were and started mountain biking regularly. I even started racing in high school which lasted through early college.

One day I was out riding with a friend and we ended up going a few miles from my house. On the way back, he had us take the canal. It was then that I discovered that the canal was a great way to ride. In one five mile section there was a concrete path, but even where there was no path, the banks were flat, smooth dirt roads that didn’t have many ruts or rocks. These were perfect for a mountain bike or even a road bike with the right tires.

This is when I started doing longer rides, using the canal as a path since I could avoid most of the traffic, only needing to cross a road every half mile or so. From our house I could ride downstream about 15 miles to the end, way out near Sun City and the other retirement communities West of Phoenix.

The canal ended unceremoniously in a farmer’s field with an electric fence that gave me a shock a couple of times until I figured out what it was. The other way upstream would go about 40 miles all the way to Saguaro lake. I never made it that far although I tried a couple of times. The last 20 miles or so were out on the Indian reservation where there was nowhere to stop for water or anything.

The canal also allowed me to get to a lot of places in Phoenix. There was one place where a smaller canal, The Crosscut Canal, branched off. If you took that, then about a mile of road you could end up at the zoo. I did this several times one summer. I also figured out how to get to my grandmother’s house way out in Sun City. Going upstream would end up at a park way out in Scottsdale. You could get to the mall at Metrocenter going downstream just a half mile off of the canal. (Unfortunately, we usually ended up there early in the morning since we’d start riding around 6 AM to avoid the heat, so the stores were closed.)

Riding on the canal, I got used to doing longer rides of 30 to 40 miles. Once I was used to this, I started entering different chatity rides that would normally have rides of different lengths ranging from 25 to 100 miles with courses laid out around the city. There I learned the fun of riding in a pack where you could draft off others in the group and go faster than you could alone.

One weekend when I was about twelve I went with a friend from Phoenix to Wickenburg, a town about 50 miles out from Phoenix and probably 60 or 70 miles from our starting point. We went when it was fairly hot and I remember stopping along the way out for my friend to sit under a palo verde tree and cool off as he started to get heat exhaustion. We made it, however, stayed in a motel for the night, then rode back the next day. This trip made me realize I liked highway biking.

Shortly after that I signed up for the Best Dam Ride, which was a two-day charity ride for the Multiple Sclerosis Society that went from northwest Phoenix out to Parker Dam on the Arizona/California border with a brief trip into California in the end of the ride. It left from the Sun City area early in the morning and had lunch in Wickenburg, only about 35 miles out from where we started. It then went all the way out to Salome, AZ, for the night. I still remember that it was 85 miles that first day. This was a tiny town in the desert. We stayed at the high school, sleeping in the gym. The town was small enough to have pictures off all of the graduates for the last several years on the wall of the gym. Our sleeping bags and clothes were brought out separately in a truck.

That night we ate spaghetti and watched American Flyers in the gym. The high school cheerleaders even came out and did a cheer for us. It was really neat. We then settled down on the gym floor to sleep around 10 PM, the getting up and heading out around 7 AM after a quick breakfast.

The second day started with a long, slow hill climb and then a fast, 30 mph descent into a town of population 3. From there it was a long, flat ride until you descended down a long hill into Parker, AZ. I’ll always remember seeing Parker and the exhilliration of riding down that long hill. From there it was about 20 miles to the end of the ride at Parker Dam. We had the choice of being on the Arizona or California side, and went on the latter. It was neat to have ridden out of the state!

The day ended at a park at the dam. There was food and music to celebrate the end of the ride. From there our bikes were loaded up on trucks and we climbed into busses to be driven back to Phoenix.

I did that ride a couple more times, including with my high school bike club one year. I also started going out by myself when I was 14 and 15, this time extending the original ride to go into Kingman to Ash Fork, then through Prescott and back down to Phoenix. Those rides involved 100 mile plus days and climbs of 3000 feet or more. My longest day was Kingman to Ash Fork, leaving at 4AM and getting in at 6 PM, 110 miles away and 350o feet higher than where I started.

Looking back it was odd that my parents let me be way out there on my own, just calling them each day as I made it to the next town and new motel. Because I didn’t have a credit card my dad gave me a couple hundred dollars in traveller’s checks for food and prepaid for motels. To me the biggest danger was running out of water. I was able to go about 40 miles on the four bottles I carried, so I only needed to fill up a couple of times. Usually there was a town within 10 to 15 miles. An exception was between Parker and Lake Havasu City where the temperature could get up to 120 deg F and it was 37 miles of ups and downs throught the canyons around the Colorado River.

I rode less after learned to drive. I did rely on a bike during the first year of college in Tucson, including for 10 mile trips to the mall. I also did the Breakaway to the Border, a 2-day MS ride from Tucson to Douglas, AZ on the US-Mexico border.

I don’t ride too often and haven’t done more than 5 miles for several years. I do still have the mountain bike I had in high school, however, which is the one I put thousands of miles on back then. Looking back, biking has been a huge part of my life. Maybe it’s time to start again, now that the kids are grown.

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