Oh how we missed the West!
Trip Start Mar 21, 2012
24Trip End Mar 25, 2013
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"The West is still one of the wildest places on the planet. It is home to buried cultures as intriguing as the imaged West of pulp fiction. It is the foundation of societies sprouting overnight in settings where it was said people could never live."
Timothy Egan from Lasso the Wind
We admit it; we are meticulous planners. Well over six months before embarking on these adventures, we had a short list of stops we wanted to visit, almost all of them focused around specific climbing areas. As planning continued, we weaved a plan that included these destinations, matching a semi-logical circuit of highways to the changing seasons. As the trip engulfed us, we became super immersed in climbing, especially Kentucky's Red River Gorge. Something about that place just draws you in! We became so drawn in by the climbing that our plans between the SE and Joshua Tree, CA, became loose, to say the least!
After leaving the Southeast, it would soon be December and few areas in the US provide consistent weather for climbing. You can get great December climbing on sunny, south-facing crags as far north as British Columbia, but certainly not consistently. Just as we were flipping through guidebooks and calculating driving distances, an unexpected and serendipitous email from Ben's godfather and mother, Dave and Aileen Peel, came in. They are snowbirds, flocking from BC's cold and often wet winters, to Arizona, and Arizona was definitely on our list; we were psyched to pay them a visit.
Good times with Dave and Aileen Peel! Behind us is what an RV park's "park model" home looks like. This semi-perminent structure is placed on a lot in lieu of an RV. Though certainly more lucrative for RV parks than an RV, parks are required to leave a certain percentage of spaces available for RVs to be considered an "RV park." Park models are purchased, in some ways like a condo, though you don't actually own the property it sits on.
Ben making friends in one of the famous and enormous flea markets in Apache Junction.
Our visit with the Peels really opened our eyes to the "culture of snowbirding"! The snowbirds of the Gold Canyon Golf and RV Park (herein "the Park") were not 55+'s finding refuge from the northern winters; they were living it up in an active society on the eastern outskirts of sprawling Phoenix. In fact, we found ourselves returning to the Park like moths to a flame. Over the course of our time pulling on rocks in the Superstition Mountains and Queen Creek areas, we visited this oasis of life and activity as much as we could! We were drawn into the stories and activity of the Peels and their cohorts; we visited unique areas of Phoenix, shared fascinating histories with the Park's residents, swam laps and lifted weights, and were exposed to the arts of lapidary (rock polishing for making things like jewelry) and expert woodwork, just a few of the many perks included in the fee for Park residents. It completely changedour view of snowbirding and made us constantly repeat, "I want to become a snowbird when I grow up!"
Great place to call home for the winter months! Above picture: Gold Canyon RV with the Superstition Mountains in the background, the Flatiron soaking up the last rays of desert sunshine on the left skyline.
We hadn't been in the Park long before we heard about Tom, one of the Peels' friends. Tom is a prominent fixture in everyday Park life; some refer to him as “the Mayor” since everyone seems to know him!
Dolores, Tom, Dave, Aileen, Lindsey and Ben enjoying the lights and nativity displays at the Mormon Tabernacle Church
The lights at the Mormom Tabernacle are a sight to behold! Plus they've got a great collection of great Joesph Smith paintings :).
We learned of Tom's dream to the climb the steep trail to the top of the Flatiron. The Flatiron, a favorite for avid hikers and scramblers, can be seen from the Park with its prominent position in the Superstition Mountains.
The Flatiron's West Prow and NW Face
Tom had heard of the Flatiron's challenges; there are few switchbacks on this trail—it goes straight up often through sections of rocky scrambles, gaining just under 3,000 feet of elevation, in most of which is in the last mile of trail. The NW Face of the Flatiron offers alpine climbing, with somewhat questionable rock quality. As we flirted with the idea of climbing one of the NW Face's routes, Tom's excitement was infectious and in the end, he inspired us to go give that NW Face a shot. During our climb, we took photos of the hike until we broke off to the NW Face where we donned our climbing gear. The climb wasn't technically super hard (rated at 5.10c/d), but the questionable rock and runout sections made the climb quite exciting! The view from the summit towards the Valley of the Sun is absolutely awesome; one can see the entire valley from there.
This video attempts to give a sense of the climbing: the sounds of the climbing gear, Ben's grunts, the airplanes overhead, the sound of the hollow rock, the wind, etc.!
Tom just couldn't get enough of Lindsey's muscles! This one's for you, Tom! We made it to the summit!
Most of our climbing was done at Atlantis, a concentrated alcove of rock is just east of the town of
Superior, AZ in Queen Creek. The rock is apparently water-worn volcanic tuff, and the routes are generally stiff but the movement on the climbs is more fun than one would expect.
Clint, a local legend, climbing at Atlantis wall
Atlantis Wall provided a nice little project! Here's Ben's first go on Smokin Guns, 11c at Atlantis Wall
But the real gem of Central Arizona is the Homestead. We had heard great things of the Homestead from others but had also heard that the road is really rough (high clearance and strong horsepower vehicles required). We had assumed we’d not get a chance to climb there, but after a chance meeting between some locals at Atlantis, we hatched a plan to do a one day as a party of five.
There are days when climbing feels like real adventure; other days when you climb your project perfectly; other times it’s just great to be on the rock with friends; and there are days when the climbing is so-so but the weather and scenery make it all worth the effort. And then there are those rare days when the best of all worlds come together! These are the truly great days that you never forget and hope to recreate everyday you huff your pack to the rock! Our day to the Homestead was one of these days!
Unloading Ross' sweet Toyota Tacoma
The band of adventurers met us off the side of road in Queen Creek, a loaded, silver Toyota Tacoma with a lift kit and sick tires! The cab didn’t fit all of us, so Ben volunteered to lay on a boulder pad in the back as we tore off into the remote Arizona dessert! Despite a few wrong turns, we found the right dirt turnoff in the middle of nowhere and crept our way along the bumpy road, stopping often to open and close cattle gates along the way. It was easy to tell when the road was getting really rough by how much Ben and the bags were getting thrown around in the back! Finally a steep hill with insanely huge ruts came into view.
Everyone unloaded to scout the section. Opinions varied drastically from “this is insane” to “doesn’t look too bad!”! Ross, the owner of the truck, is long-time climber and adventurer from the Tahoe area. He’s super calm in stressful situations (leading way above protection, portioning out too little beer to a thirsty group of climbers, etc.) and this case was no different. He simply stepped back into the truck, gave it a little spurt of juice and calming but violently pushed his beautiful Toyota through the ruts and up the hill! The rest of us pansies ran after him and jumped back in to finish the otherwise reasonable drive to the trailhead.
The Homestead is a series of limestone cliffs that line a wash (land habitually eroded by dessert floods) in a remote canyon way east of Phoenix, practically equidistant from Phoenix and Tuscon. A group of dedicated local climbers have made this area their project for many seasons; they have opened up hundreds of routes and many of them are amazing! The most unique climbing is found at Tufa City, an area aptly named for the amazing limestone tufa features that drop on overhanging faces to the ground.
The climbing was fun and adventurous—Clint, who is a Queen Creek pro, having climbed both the crappy and the best routes, pulled rocks from two newer climbs! No one got hurt but it was exciting nonetheless. Despite these holds literally coming off while he was climbing them, he managed to hang onto the rock to avoid falls!
Lindsey styling a warm up at the Homestead
Mr Queen Creek, Clint, clipping bolts a little earlier after ripping a big block off the wall!
We moved on to the famous Tufa City area in the afternoon where we met two other climbers, the only others climbers out there that day! They had some music pumping and we soon fed off of each others’ stoke! We climbed well past sunset, finishing the final climbs by headlamp. Despite the hour running late and Clint starting a new job the following day, we sat around a campfire with beers and Charles Shaw, shares tales and watching the stars ablaze in the crisp, dessert night! The drive out and home was smooth, and Ross negotiated the rough road at night with the same ease he exudes gliding up the rock! Thanks Ross and Clint for making this day come together! The climbing community is simply the best. You meet each other haphazardly (at a gym, at the crag, at a bar—all over the world), and then you tie into ropes together, sharing an equal trust and responsibility. It's incredible really, but it sure does create bonds quickly!
December Sunset after a stellar day at the Homestead
Peels: Thanks so much for opening up your RV to us and for opening our eyes to the beauty and convenience of snowbirding lifestyle. We can't wait to turn 55!
More photos on Flickr.