To the top of a Mesa with no trail

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
Trip End Jul 31, 2011

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Where I stayed
Kartchner Caverns State Park
What I did
Climbed a Mesa with no trail

Flag of United States  , Arizona
Saturday, June 11, 2011

Time for an epic part of the trip. I got up around 5:30 (early for me on a vacation) to pack and get ready for a little climb. There was this butte just outside the park that had my name written on it ever since we got there a few days ago. Yesterday, I found a small path that lead to the ranch fence to get there. Around 6:00am I started my quest to go to the top of this butte. Now, it was not all that high – maybe Stone Mountain height. What made this different is there was NO TRAIL to the top. So I had to make my own path. Most of the sides were too steep for me to make a go of it so I took a crease in the butte (yeah, I know it sounds funny). The crease is where that rare rain drains off the mountain. It looked easier than it was.

I road my bike to the ranch fence to cut down on some time since we were driving to Arizona this morning. I parked the bike at the fence and pulled a part of it apart to squeeze through (the fence was barbed wire so you had to be careful). There was no trail on the other side to I had to make my own path. I followed the arroyo (or dried river bed) to the base of the butte. At the base I had to climb over gravel which is hard going up-hill as it is easy to slide down on it if your footing is wrong. I had this kind of slow climbing about a quarter of the way up. It was at this time that I felt like a bonehead for leaving my hiking sticks back at the RV – and my balance it not all that great. So I found a long stick from a Yucca cacti to help me along. The last three-fourths of the trail up the butte was all boulders that had been washed down the hill. So time to really climb. I had to be careful of where I put every foot down. One false move and down I'd go – breaking whatever and not being able to drive the manual truck and RV for the rest of the trip. So I could have gone faster but I was overly cautious. Another reason I could not climb outside this crease area was this layer of 10 to 15 ft. high rock circling the butte. Since I’m just a "weekend warrior" type climber I was not going to try it. After the boulder field I was three fourths of the way up. This second layer was not as steep but it too had a solid rock wall 10 feet high surrounding the top of the butte. I had to walk around this place for a bit to find a little opening that I could shimmy up. The top of the butte was mine, almost. The top of the butte is not as flat as you thing – though much flatter than the rest of the place. After five min. I had reached the point of the butte – and what a sight to behold. You could see for a hundred miles from this vantage point of all the mountains and valleys of this desert area. It was really cool to see the entire City of Rocks State Park from this place and our RV which looked like a little white speck next to the jumble of rocks. I called Pooh and she could see me on the top (I did wear my neon yellow bike jacket so I could be seen). I stayed up here for 30 min. just taking in the view and the vastness and emptiness of the area. Coming from Atlanta this is a treat for me. After a self-portrait it was time to come down. For many people, like me, coming down is harder because it is easier to twist an ankle. Now I had two of those yucca cacti sticks to help out. Everything was easy except for the boulder field which took some time to come down. Being extra careful I made it down with no incident. Now back to the RV to pack it up and head out to Arizona. City of Rocks State Park is definitely a place to come back too, even if it is a little out of the way (maybe that is why it is so special).

Out next stop was Arizona in Kartchner Caverns State Park which is one hour SE of Tucson. A recently discovered cave was recently opened there. The three hour drive was typical Southwest with vast areas of nothing but scrub brush and dry mountains. We ate lunch at the Arizona welcome center with a frozen Chinese entrée which turned out almost as good at a restaurant – Wanchai Ferry it was called. Around 2:00 we pulled into the park to set up. The park is around 15 years old which is new for state parks and it showed. The RV park sites had a ton of space between them so your not on top of the next camper. The roads were so new that I left tire tracks in it backing up to my space. My back window faced a pretty scene small desert trees and mountains. I wanted to go out and around this afternoon but decided that I’d be pushing it too much. It was time to relax. After all I had already climbed a trail-less butte and driven an RV for three hours. As Pooh took a nap I went to the visitors center to check out the exhibits and watch the intro film. Since this place was pretty new everything was state-of-the art. Top notch exhibits of the cave and a hi-def film in a large theater about the founding of the cave which is a neat story in itself.

Pretty much it was found by some amateur cavers who squeezed through a sinkhole in the side of the mountain. The cool thing was these guys kept the cave a secret for 14 years while they were exploring the cave. They made sure they did no harm to the cave and took the same paths in and out of the cave. Then they entered into secret negotiations with the state to make it into a State Park. Then the state park service developed the park for the next 10 years to make it what it is today – the most well preserved tourist cave in the world. Most other caves had human vandalism before becoming protected areas.

Back at the RV, Pooh and I decided to hike the 3 mile foothills loop trail around the area. We did not take Quique as she was still tired from climbing the rocks at City of Rocks SP. It was an hour before sunset and stupid me wore my sunglasses on the trail. Halfway around it was almost too dark for me to see out of them. The trail was very nice – Pooh said it was her favorite of the trip so far. It goes around and up a hill to an overlook of the valley and surrounding areas. This hill was almost as high as the butte, but at least this one had a trail to follow. The whole trail took around 2 hours.

With no Wi-Fi and being two days behind on the blog we had to find a place to work on the computer out here in Benson, Arizona. Lucky for us there was a McDonalds 8 miles down the road. So we had dinner there and did two hours of computer work. On top of that it was fast. The fun part of this trip happened on the way out of the park and on the way back in. On the way out, the gate would not open up. So we looked all over for a place to use our gate key to open it up. No luck. Pooh went to the entrance gate and found it open but go stabbed in the food by a huge cacti needle – OUCH!!! So we went out that gate. Coming back, our gate key would not open the gate to come back. What the heck!!!! I was so mad. After paying a $20 deposit for the key, it would not work. I could not find an emergency ranger number either. So I called 911. After 15 min. they could only find the National Forest office number (this being a state park I did not think they could help). So I called them and they tried to find a state park ranger. After 30 min. they could not find one. So our last resort was to ride my bike to the camp host. Lucky for me it was almost a full moon which made it easy to see the road and not run into a cactus. Took me a little while but I woke her up from her deep sleep. She now said that this gate had been struck by lightning some time ago. On top of that she noticed our key card had a bite in it. So I road back to the gate with her in her Gator. Turns out that the out gate can be pushed open. How easy. So our little saga of being stuck behind the gate was over. It was now midnight and I was tired after doing two major mountain trails and being stuck behind a gate. I took Quique for a walk and then hit the sack.
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