Westwards – to Arizona!

>Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator
(>Pictures at the bottom!)

Yes, it snowed in El Paso and we witnessed this rare event. The young salesman in the shop asked us in passing what we Swiss are actually doing here in this extreme corner of the USA and also said that the weather would soon get better again.

We immediately checked the weather forecasts and had already discovered the next high. Immediately we changed our plans, dropped the flight to Rio Grande and Big Bend National Park; finally we want to look westwards in a big curve through Arizona and over the edge of the Grand Canyon, before we definitely move northwards to Canada.

On a relatively direct way we followed the southern border through New Mexico towards the west. The temperatures were a bit more pleasant again and also at the first camp in the wilderness we enjoyed the mild temperature in the evening.

After Columbus, to this small border place we got lost for the second time, we went on through even lonelier areas and one ghost town followed the next. In this southwestern corner of New Mexico only very few people live and everywhere there are signs that not only properties but whole ranches are waiting for a new owner.

At a road to Mexico I discovered a way through the Animas-Mountains, further over the continental watershed to the Coronado National-Forest. Unfortunately all paths ended sometime in front of a closed willow gate. After several wanderings a border patrol finally came towards us and we hoped that it could guide us on the right way.

While the border official was looking for Mexicans, we had a short conversation. Soon it became clear to us that even they could not drive on all roads here in the border country; the ranchers also denied them access to certain areas and roads.

Thus, late in the evening, we reached the small village Rodeo that is located right at the foot of the Coronado National-Forest and at the late hour, we grudgingly accepted the somewhat high price of the only accommodation in this place. Outside it was already bitterly cold and we were happy to spend the night in a heated room.

The sun had been laughing at us through the window for a long time, but outside the door it was still very fresh. We hesitantly ventured through the narrow gorge into the Coronado National Forest. The rock faces were very impressive, so that we didn’t even notice the transition to Arizona. In the visitor center we got the last information about the road condition and the following weather views. The answers were very sobering; the road should still be passable for 4×4 and intensive snowfalls are announced for the next days. Had we in El Paso interpreted the weather forecast too generously or overlooked anything?

The forest road led far over 2000 meters up; in the shady areas we found snow and icy spots. Further experiments and driving exercises in the remote forest were soon left behind and we chose the fastest way down into the valley. The clouds already announced a change from the southwest, but we had to pay a short visit to the bizarre landscape at the Chiricahua National Monument, where in millions of years the erosion by water and subsidence conjured up endless towers and rock formations.

Besides we discovered on the camping site of the park signposts that large amounts of snow are to be expected and a leaving of the park is then no longer possible. We took this sign seriously and fled over the Apache Pass to lower altitudes.

The booking in the motel for two nights proved to be a clever move; even in Willcox/Arizona it snowed profusely the next day and we were not the only ones who withdrew into a warm room in the protecting motel.

Apart from a huge parking lot for trucks, fast-food restaurants and everything around road and rail traffic, Willcox is not the big attraction for travelers who got stuck and we were glad that after the snowfall the sun laughed again behind the clouds.

Through the snow-covered Dragoon Mountains we reached the western town of Tombstone, where not so long ago certain differences at the bar were ended with the Colt on the street outside. The gold rush not only brought many people out into this inhospitable area, but also a certain lawlessness was the order of the day. Parts of the place are today reproduced of the former circumstances and already several westerns were shot here. Although everything is very focused on the American commerce, we liked the place very much and the shootings were really fine tidbits together with all the tourist small stuff.

The gunslingers gave us again a lot of courage for our further adventures off the highway and already we turned, a few meters before the Mexican border, into the Montezuma Canyon. In the visitor center we were advised not to drive over the 2000 meter high Montezuma Pass, as they had to free several vehicles from awkward situations the day before. We were recommended a detour over many highway kilometres, or we should try it again in a few days, as the route is very beautiful and it would be worth waiting!

The courage of the heroes was somewhat broken, however, our jeep with its 4×4 and the sun gave us some buoyancy. So we tried the ride on the pass despite the warnings. In the end

this trip up to the Montezuma Pass was not as problematic as described by the lady of information and above we were rewarded with a generous view and many mountain peaks.

Quickly we inquired about the condition of the way with oncoming cars, which were digging their way from the opposite direction through the snow onto the pass, and soon the courage of the “asphalt heroes” returned.

The way down to the wide plateau of Duquesne (Coronado Nat.-Forest among others) proved to be relatively easy to drive, but we fought our way through greasy roads over the wide highlands along the southern border. At times the sticky sand and earth mixture sludged the tires completely and we literally slipped back and forth on the way. Although we drove with extreme caution and sometimes at walking pace, we slipped twice to the side of the road without any warning!

After so much mud the Duquesne Pass followed, where the snow forced us to turn back and take a long detour via Patagonia to Nogales. We had the adventure for sure, but at the arrival in civilization we were accordingly tired and our jeep from top to bottom brown smeared. After the big laundry the heroes of the mud piste treated themselves to an appropriate refreshment, crowned with a fine glass of Californian Merlot from the cardboard box.

Again we looked for our way to the west along the southern border and soon we climbed up into the mountains. On this Monday we were alone again, neither a border patrol nor anyone else met us and for the next hours we had the feeling to be on our way in an extinct world. Even in the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reserve we didn’t meet anyone, only thousands of stars and the howling of coyotes accompanied us into the deep night.

The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was our next destination, where just a few years ago the miners sought their fortune with gold, silver and copper. Nobody got rich in this deserted area, and today the adventure-hungry tourists turn over the former ranch and mine ways. We looked for our luck on hikes off the beaten track and were again surprised that not only the big cacti, but the small details of plants and animals make this landscape so eventful.

March had begun and in 29 days we have to leave the USA. So we left the southwestern corner on the left and crossed wide areas, which are somehow surrounded by volcanic mountains. Some of the fields are irrigated intensively and the grass is harvested with huge machines for the fattening farms, which – due to their size – made us speechless several times. For a long time we believed that here the cows could spend the last day of their lives happily on the meadow. But for two to three months they are taken to a so-called “feedlot”, where they are fed to the right slaughter weight. The size of the chicken farms can hardly be surpassed and a fattening farm has its own rail connection for the delivery of the feed.

After so much intensive agriculture we turned off again, climbed over the Cunningham Pass into the wide plain of the Butler Valley, where once the American army practiced the desert war against Rommel. Today there are no more tanks driving around and the area is considered by the locals as an insider tip for motorized leisure fun. We also enjoyed the many kilometres through the dry washs (river beds) and followed the Colorado over hills and deep valleys.

Countless closed mines point out that there was a lot going on here not so long ago, where today there is a large wildlife reserve just before Lake Havasu. Unfortunately our journey through the dried out gorge came to an abrupt end: A piece of road was washed away and the dammed up water made any passage impossible. The way back and the following detour was accordingly long and only late in the evening we could set up our camp above the Colorado.

In Lake Havasu City, where whole armies of sun worshippers long for a tan, we soon looked for the loneliness of the wild west again, despite the London Bridge imported here. Up to the legendary Route 66 it was only a few kilometres, where the road above the Colorado leads along the mountain flanks up to the mining village Oatman. Gold mining was stopped as a result of the Second World War and the working donkeys were released into freedom. The town went into a deep sleep until the wooden shacks for tourism were taken out of a deep sleep. Today it is probably as businesslike as it used to be, and in addition to the shootings on the streets, the descendants of the working donkeys are under state protection.

Sometime we reached the desert village Kingman, where since the second world war airplanes are waiting for their further use or scrapping. Even today hundreds of airplanes – small and big – still stand on the airfield and sometimes make a miserable impression, which certainly breaks the hearts of some flight enthusiasts.

On a beautiful but cold day in October last year we met Ed on the Skyline-Drive in the Appalachian Mountains (Virginia), who was on his touring bike and spontaneously invited us to his home in Flagstaff/Arizona. We gladly accepted this invitation.
To our surprise – we were actually expected in Flagstaff and warmly welcomed, as if we were old friends who had not seen each other for years.

The time with Ed was unfortunately a bit short, but very intense and we profited from a huge flood of information. Of course a mountain bike tour to the hinterland outside Flagstaff was a must and as a guest rider I felt very comfortable in the American biker group from the very first moment.
During the following small repair at our Jeep in Ed’s garage the neighbour Craig soon joined us, and with common knowledge we moved forward quickly, as if we would work together daily.

Anyway, if you sit with someone in the living room, the neighbours will soon join you for a short visit and want to find out a few things, but we were also allowed to take some great tips with us on this way for our onward journey.

We are already counting our days in the USA backwards and there are only a few days left that we can enjoy here in the south. Ed gave us a lot of great ideas on the way to the Grand Canyon.

Shortly after Flagstaff the first national monuments followed, where it is about the volcanic activity, but also about the American native population, followed by far Ranchland north around the San Francisco Peaks, before it went towards the Grand Canyon. We soon left the fast traffic on the highway to the canyons and followed the first insider tip through the Kaibab National Forest. It was still the deepest winter in this forest. Only the warming fire made the following night an experience under coyotes and the many stars.

We experienced the reaching of the Grand Canyon and the place of the same name almost like a small culture shock; everywhere many people, everywhere tourist offers and the dollars flowed quickly out of the wallet.

But the canyon trumped everything and we were, despite the many people, totally overwhelmed by what we saw. What nature created here in millions of years, is extremely difficult to describe in a few words; it was simply magnificent what we could see there in all corners and canyons! It went from one vantage point to the next and the camera could hardly store all the mega-pixels correctly, and the shutter was pressed again.

The Little-Colorado-River-Gorge, which is already located in the Navajo Reserve, was the crowning finale of what rivers can conjure up in the course of many years.

In the quadrangle Arizona-New Mexico-Colorado-Utah, where today a huge Indian reserve of several tribes stretches, lies the Monument Valley, which we wanted to visit. As a little boy I was always fascinated by the Western and the Malboro advertising with this background. If you suddenly drive around these rock towers yourself, you feel like John Wayne chasing some bad guys through the prairie. A ride with a horse was soon banished from the mind for reasons of time and weather. Actually we would like to support the native Indian population with their activities, but their prices go beyond the imaginable.

From the Monument-Valley we went southeast towards New Mexico and again towards Route 66. We crossed almost the whole area of the Navajo Tribes and could drive around the high and snow-covered mountains of Colorado.

The Canyon-de-Chelly, where still today the fields down in the canyon are cultivated according to ancient tradition, before the people retire for the rest of the time from the canyon on the high plateau, was one of the last big highlights, before we drove across the state border to New Mexico. As a white tourist you can only look over the edge into the deep and partly very wide canyon. The visit to the deep canyon with its many rock paintings is only allowed with a guide and partly forbidden.

We circumnavigated the high mountains of the Rockys, but also here we reached another 2500m altitude and were catapulted back into winter conditions. To our surprise we met a Navajo sheriff who was looking for some lost tourists in the wide forest. A little later we found them; the car had slipped off the road. In a one-hour mud battle we brought their car back on the road and released the older couple from their awkward situation and a possible cold night in the wilderness on uncomfortable car seats.

With a car completely smeared with earth we reached civilization again and a car wash, where car, clothes and shoes were brought back into the originally colored condition. Rain accompanied us the last kilometres to the motel – we didn’t feel like camping anymore – and the weather forecast for the next days indicated more winter than spring.

Uff, what will this look like further north? But our first time in the USA is running out slowly but surely, and we don’t want to overdo it.
The words of the border official on our arrival are still present: Don’t screw up your plans with a late departure!






> Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator