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Agua Caliente Exploration Trip Report & Picture Thread

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Our objective for Offroad Passport's first expedition to the Agua Caliente area in southern Arizona presented somewhat of a challenge. We wanted to take the group to all of the most widely known historical sites in one weekend. Within this roughly 1200 square mile area are Painted Rock State Park Petroglyphs, the Oatman Family Gravesite and Massacre Site, the Agua Caliente Pioneer Cemetery, the ruins of the Agua Caliente Hot Springs Resort, and the ghost town of Sundad. Naturally, these aren't the only cool things to see, but they are the most notable of Arizona's history in the area.


So the thirteen rigs that turned out got an early start from the Love's truck stop in Buckeye, AZ. Among the early risers were gearhead, Matt@expaz, Cavecreekjeepman, Bradywgn71, ducksface, UnderlyVerbose, lazarus, hurricane, Desert4x4 and Toyj. Trail leaders Number 7 and myself, theksmith and Maddogjeeper rounded out the crowd.


We meandered our way through the farmlands and across the railroad tracks of Buckeye, and made our way to Agua Caliente Road where we stopped to air-down and disconnect.




Pre-running the area in December, we had discovered a perfectly navigable trail through the Woolsey Peak Wilderness which was the solution to part of our challenge to cover such vast territory, as well as being more fun than driving on a graded road. As you will read later in this story, King Woolsey was a prominent Arizona pioneer, so I would venture a guess that Woolsey Peak, Wilderness and Wash were named for him. It was a little tight and brushy in places as we angled toward Woolsey Wash.



We drove in the wash part of the time, and on the trail alongside some of the time. Our first point of interest was this rostra, about which there was much speculation as to what it had been used for. Desert4x4 John jumped up on it to see if he could get it to turn, but it was frozen in place. He also took pictures of it for me so us shorties could see what it looks like, thanks John!








Further down the wash we came to a rock outcropping which proved to be too tempting for some of our more adventuresome travelers not to drive over rather than go around. Soon after taking a bumpy ride over the easy part on the right, we heard over the CB radio that theksmith got hung up as he was going up the more difficult stuff to the the left. As I walked back, all I could see was the nose of his jeep with the front tires at an odd angle.






It turned out that as he was crawling up, his rear tires slide sideways leaving the Jeep resting on it's belly, so he had to get winched out.





Naturally, since there are rocks involved, Maddogjeeper stepped right up to be next, and then proceeded to show us how it's done.




Making our way beyond the wash, the trail bisects the Woolsey Peak Wilderness area, which is very pretty, and crosses several washes where there are trees (read shade). The problem was that since the wilderness area is on both sides of the trail, there was no place for 13 rigs and their occupants to stop for lunch. So even though it was unseasonably hot for April in Arizona, we continued until we found a place large enough to accommodate the group.




Luckily several people were able to provide shade, and it was a fun get-to-know each other stop.






And then it was on to our first 'tourist' stop, the Painted Rocks.




The outside temperature was 104, so I gave my Garmin a little bit of shade, and a little bit of personality.









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In hindsight we realize that the extreme heat was at least partly responsible for our ability to squeeze in our packed itinerary and still make it to camp before sunset, because nobody wanted to be out of their vehicles for any length of time. Painted Rocks is a collection of hundreds of petroglyphs on a small mountain of brown rocks. Since it is located along a number of important historical routes, including that of Juan Bautista de Anza’s 1775 expedition, the route of the Mormon Battalion, and the Butterfield Overland Mail and stagecoach route, it is believed that the site contains inscriptions made by travelers in these and other groups along with the petroglyphs. Although the sheer number of inscriptions could take hours to enjoy, our gang was back in their rigs within 15 minutes! (This photo taken during the overland pre-run).



Then we were on to the Oatman Family Grave and Massacre sites. The Oatman family were killed by Indians near the Gila River as they made their way west from Missouri. One son survived the attack and 2 sisters were abducted by the Indians. Olive Oatman was rescued some 16 years later, but Mary Anne died while in captivity. The Grave site is located below the ridge where the attack occurred, and is now surrounded by farm fields.



As we rounded the final bend in the road, we encountered what resembled a small lake!



Visions of vehicles up to their axles in mud and a massive recovery effort loomed in our minds, so George and I announced a change of plans and got everyone turned around.




And back out through the potato dirt to the main trail:

Wagon tracks and overlooking the valley where the grave is located:



Some of the group decided to hike to the grave in spite of the heat, so George brought a machete in case they needed to bush wack their way through the underbrush:




The Oatman Family Grave (photo taken during pre-run)



Some of us stayed up on Oatman Flat and sought out shade:




The expedition took on somewhat of a morbid theme, as we next headed further west for the Agua Caliente Pioneer Cemetery. It's located alongside the road to the Agua Caliente Resort and is surrounded by a simple wire fence. It's surprisingly well maintained, and when we were there, a fresh white [silk] flower was proudly displayed on each marker. We could only assume they had been placed there for Easter two weeks earlier.










We followed the main trail to the intersection of the lesser trail leading to the Oatman Family Massacre site, and hoped that we'd be able to hike to the grave. The Grave and the Massacre site are situated less than a mile apart; however the drive between is more like 5 to 7 miles. But we made it to the latter in hardly any time at all. (next 3 pictures taken while pre-running the expedition).






When we left the cemetery, I told everyone to keep their eyes open and look to the right as we passed the Agua Caliente Resort Hotel on the road. Access to the buildings has been closed for some time now, so we drove very slowly so everyone could get a good look.


I found this information about the resort on the APCRP (Arizona Pioneer Cemetery Research Project) website:


“Agua Caliente is Spanish for "hot water". Various peoples, beginning with Native Americans, Spanish Missionaries (in 1748 and 1750), King Woolsey (a prominent landowner and resort developer in the late 1800's), miners, cowboys, all enjoyed the hot springs, and facilities were added for their comfort. By 1870 there was a ranch and resort and hotel. One famous guest at the hotel was Arizona's first governor, George Hunt, in the late 1800s. Farmers irrigated crops from the waters also. The resort faded until WWII when a swimming pool was constructed for military officers who used the resort. After this, though, the resort continued to decline. Causes of the decline were mainly the bypass of Agua Caliente by the Southern Pacific Railroad, Arizona State Hwy. 85, and I-8. Also the water dried up from either over-irrigation or that the springs were destroyed when developers blasted to expand the resort area. Today you can see the ruins of the 22 room hotel, crumbling buildings. Access changes, it was posted and gated when we visited there approximately in 1998, but some recent web sites suggest one can again explore the ruins.”


Along the two-lane byway leaving Agua Caliente, this colorfully inviting sign caught our eyes, and believe me, we were tempted to make that mile-and-a-half trek to see what it was all about. (photo courtesy of Cavecreekjeepman)



Practicality got the better of us though, and good sense took over. After all, it was already late in the day, and we still had to find a place to make camp. ;)










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Fourteen miles to the northeast of Agua Caliente lay the ruins of Sundad ghost town, once a mining community. Traveling along the Agua Caliente Road, if you keep a sharp lookout, you'll see SUNDAD written in small stones on the side of the road; that's where you turn to reach the town.




All that remain from the early settlement are some foundations, a few mine holes and what looks like it might have been a dynamite bunker up on a hill. But modern visitors to the town site have decorated the ground with colored rocks and glass in various designs. (Photos from pre-run)








There was plenty of room for the group to spread out and make camp. Some people put their tents on the level cement foundations there, and while George and I thought about parking Marge on a foundation so we'd be level, we saw lots of rusty nails on one, so we skipped. Despite the heat, we had a small campfire for ambiance, and our lively conversation kept us up until the air was cool enough to go to sleep.


Like a wave, the heat came back early Sunday morning, and we were decamped and back on the trail by 8:30.


Leaving Sundad:



We went east on Agua Caliente Road which was smooth and recently graded, allowing us to travel faster than the day before, so we got to the turn-off of the side canyon we wanted to explore rather quickly.




The side canyon is a trail that we have yet to explore all the way through, but we knew from our visits last fall that several miles in there is a trail that exits the wash leading back to Agua Caliente Road. There are a couple of canyon wall squeeze places, some tanks, mines, and foundation walls, so we took the group for a quick tour.













George pruned this Palo Verde tree so it wouldn't scrape everyone's rigs on the way up the side trail:




An unmarked mine hole:




Grouped up & ready to head for home:




What a glorious dust cloud we made as we drove out!




Everyone was hot, a little dirty and a little tired while airing-up, but at the same time they were smiling and laughing as we talked about the trip. Yeah, it was a little weird driving alongside farm fields and on pavement part of the way, but experiencing a little bit of Arizona's history made it worthwhile. And the unseasonably hot weather? Well, I guess there's nothing you can do about that except grin and bear it, which the group did remarkably well.


A neat little capper was the slow leak in Large Marge's driver's side front tire. The rusty nails on the foundations at Sundad were my first thought, but in the end it was a lowly sliver of greasewood bush. There's nothing quite like hanging out at Love's Truck Stop on a warm Sunday afternoon, take my word for it! Thanks Maddog & hurricane for staying to make sure we got going again!





Thanks everybody who came out for this trip! I've said it before and I'll say it again - you guys are what makes these expeditions what they are: fun! Hope to see you out on the trail again soon! Diane :rolleyes:


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Awesome pictures! Looks like a great time

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Diane, George, and Kristofer - thank you so much for welcoming me/us on the trip- you did such a wonderful job w/the preparation.....but reconnecting w/you all was THE BEST.

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Awesome report. Wish I could have been there.

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Seems that was a great trip.

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Here's few of the shots I got.


I'm not seeing the pics ......

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