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theksmith

Bumpy Roads, Empty Lakes & Friggin Spiders (5/3/2017 Happy Jack Area)

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When you're exploring you never know exactly what you'll find, and some trips are certainly better than others...

 

Yesterday I went solo adventuring in an area of Coconino National Forest east of Happy Jack, AZ.

 

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The original plan was to head west from hwy 87 near Chavez Draw towards Long Lake, and then eventually come back to Phoenix via I-17. An early lunch stop near Blue Ridge Reservoir ended up leading to a different route.

 

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Not far off the highway I found a large tree with lots of character to lend some shade for my stop. A cold root beer, a hot burrito, and a breezy seventy degrees made for a perfect start to a day of exploring (yay for Senor Taco and the 12volt lunchbox)!

 

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After checking the maps, I decided to stay on dirt to head up towards the lakes.

 

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There are tons of little forest roads in Rim Country that interconnect. As I meandered north, I tried to pick routes through canyons or other interesting looking terrain. I was rewarded with some of the bumpiest trails in AZ!

 

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How can such a generally featureless area have such jarring, slow going trails!?! Every route was either a boring well graded gravel road or else a full on teeth-chattering assault to your suspension. Fortunately I was in an easy going mood with no-where to be at a certain time, so slow going and bouncy was just fine.

 

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Soon I noticed a very small but interestingly shaped lake on my topo map that didn't seem "too far" out of the way, so I turned more west at the next intersection to check it out!

 

Hmmm, looks a bit dry...

 

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It turns out Willow Valley Lake is now a meadow!

 

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Ah, there's the dam problem!

 

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I couldn't find any info online about when the dam burst (or if it was an intentional draining). I did read that there wasn't a river or spring feed for the lake, but rather it stayed relatively full just from snow-melt. Any runoff would flow over this natural bed-rock spillway next to the earthen dam.

 

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If anyone has any other info on the now defunct Willow Valley Lake, I'd be interested to hear it!

 

I drove by 31 acres of private property on the north end of the Willow Valley Meadow with a for-sale sign. It seems that land and its two previously lake-side cabins can be yours for the meager sum of $725,000! I wonder if that price has been updated since the lake drained?

 

Lake #1: a bust - onward to the big lakes!

 

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Continuing on in north-easterly direction, I ran across wash after wash full of the same wild Irises we saw on Offroad Passport's trip west of Happy Jack last May.

 

I was just taking in the sights and enjoying the cool breeze. Oh the things you'll see - how about a very pregnant pine tree?

 

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More of the never ending Irises!

 

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Then I missed a turn (this is the part of the story where the clouds come rushing in and the sky goes dark).

 

I kept going once I realized the mistake since the map said it was just a big loop. Little did I know my easy going attitude would betray me.

 

Soon I passed a patch of spider webs in the grass; a LOT of spider webs. Up went the windows and the A/C vent switched to recirculate! You see I'm not particularly fond of the ole arachnis deathicus.

 

Then, there were more...

 

and more...

 

...and OH MY GOD THEY ARE EVERYWHERE! Literally hundreds of webs dotted the landscape.

 

Now these weren't the "pretty little webs sparkling in the morning dew" sort. No, these were the kind with the "tunnel of death" where those beady-eyed vampires hideout waiting to murder innocent happy little butterflies and such.

 

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When I said "not fond of" spiders, that might have been an understatement. In fact, if anything at all had gone wrong with the Jeep in this land of evil, I would have pushed the S.O.S button on my SPOT and waited for helicopter extraction.

 

I just kept driving and hoping to escape the peril soon! Right about when I was sure those bastards were all using their spider telepathy to coordinate an attack, something brushed my leg...

 

I simultaneously removed the seat belt, jumped completely up into the seat, brushed my leg, and cursed with the words of sailor and the high pitched voice of a 6 yo girl. Thankfully there was nothing to run into, because the Jeep rolled to a stop completely unguided.

 

It was just a friggin' grasshopper!

 

I opened the door only for a split second to usher him out, undoubtedly only to be devoured by those wicked 8 legged serial killers.

 

Soon after that mild heart attack, I looped back to the correct road, the webs petered out, and the black skies opened back up to sun and fluffy white clouds again.

 

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Closer to the big lakes, there was a whole lotta nothing.

 

I ended up on another bumpy-as-hell road heading right for Termain Lake, but it ended at a gate about a quarter mile from the lake! Apparently it's now some sort of protected wetland wilderness area.

 

Lake #2: another bust, and one way in = one way out! I had to retrace a few miles of the rough rocky-road nothingness.

 

Disheartened and tired (it was getting late), I abandoned my lake quest and headed to the nearest pavement. On the way out I saw another funny tree and a picturesque little pond.

 

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The pond was the closest thing to a lake I got to see on this trip.

 

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This whole area is a harsh ride, the scenery is pretty repetitive, and a lot of the old routes on my map are now closed... so would I go back?

 

You bet! Well, except for the Loop of Spider Torture. I'd take the worst day of exploring the backcountry over the best day in the city anytime!

 

So how was your weekend?

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Sounds like a great trip, minus the spiders of course! Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing.

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cool pics, thanks for sharing Kris

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Nice. We need to do more of this sort of thing. Senior Taco burrito and all.

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I've explored in that area a bunch and I agree; those are some of the bumpiest roads I've ever been on! The spider story cracked me up. :cool:

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No elk or antelope? We usually see a bunch up in that area. I agree about the roads.

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No elk or antelope? We usually see a bunch up in that area. I agree about the roads.

 

some fresh signs of them out on what's left of that old dam, but didn't see any. there was a fair amount of RZR and ATV traffic in the area though.

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