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Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area
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Fossil Creek - Mazatzal Wilderness Area, AZ
2010-09-106 by
 
Payson, AZ
 
Canyoneering           
    
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I really should know better by now.

17 years of solid evidence to the contrary should have been sufficient for me to realize that I would never succeed in converting my industrialized, civilization loving guy. Yet, I still fantasized that, if I could somehow create the perfect trip, he would be magically transformed into the nature loving mega-hiker that I just knew must be lurking within. I've been cured of that. {"Reality" after the jump >}

I meticulously planned what I predicted to be 'the perfect trip' - car camping at Fossil Creek... beautiful surroundings, moderate temperatures and warm water for swimming, along with every creature comfort I could possibly provide. Privacy and solitude were going to be tough on any weekend, but I figured the weekend AFTER Labor Day would somehow be devoid of the usual crowds (more on that later). It also happened to coincide with my birthday, which was essential in persuading him to go along with this.

As a professional auto mechanic, he prides himself on the care and maintenance of his personal vehicles and, of course, he is often called upon to resuscitate mine (usually following one of my hiking adventures). The long, teeth rattling drive on Fossil Creek road about blew his mind. "So, this is what you do to your vehicles?! No wonder they keep falling apart!" I have no reply for this. Not the best way to start things off, but I'm sure that once we get there, it will soon be forgotten. And, it was... diminished in priority by events far more disturbing.

It was Friday afternoon around 4pm when we got to the bottom of the canyon. There were quite a lot of cars parked in all of the parking areas from the Flume Trail head to the bridge. I don't know where all the people were, as there was only one car parked at the bridge and the appropriately corresponding number of people in the water. There was no access to the area where I parked 2 years ago, so we found a spot in the Purple Mountain Camping Area. We had the place to ourselves... well, except for thousands of ants. We were glad that we had tossed our cowboy boots in the truck at the last minute and even more glad that we wouldn't be sleeping in a tent! It was just about dusk when two vans with families pulled into the adjacent spot. Oh, no. They couldn't see us, just the truck. A few of them got out and, after some lively discussion, they drove on further down the road. Maybe they thought we might not be good neighbors (possibly an unexpected benefit of the old bullet hole decals on the side of my truck!). Relief lasted until well after dark when they pulled in once again. This time, they left without stopping to vote. Maybe they had hoped we would be gone? Yes, I imagine the presence of a quiet, middle-aged couple might really bring down the joy level for their bus load of kids! Whatever. Several more cars drove through and out of our camp area until late in the evening. I can't imagine wanting to navigate that road at night and set up your camp in the dark. Crazy.

We woke up at dawn, still alone in the camp. It was 54 degrees and we were in no big hurry to get wet, so I took my time setting up the packs. After a pot of coffee and a box of donuts (Breakfast of Champions!), it was 9am and warm enough to head out. {Next up - Hiking the Amazon >}

As I picked my way along the side of the creek, ducking under low branches, I could hear him cursing behind me. Not as easy for someone 6'3''. I wanted to get as far away from camp as I could before making him get in the water. We hadn't gone a quarter mile when the shore disappeared. He does not like hiking in water and his grumbling inspired me to find another way for now. There was a high ridge on my right that looked familiar and I seemed to recall walking up there last time. I crossed a large, flat grassy area looking for a likely route. There was a big pile of fallen trees in the way, so I stepped up on a thick branch and bounced it up and down a little to test it's weight limit. Meanwhile, alarms were going off in my head and the little voice said it didn't like the looks of this. I wish it had been more specific because I ignored it and walked out on the branch anyway. Almost immediately, I heard a loud rattle less than two feet from where I stood. Tony heard it, too, and shouted just as I became airborne. Now, standing next to him 20 ft away, his look was priceless. He HATES snakes. Pulling out my camera, I start walking toward it again. He cannot believe this and my assurance that I do this all the time did not help my case any. I approached very cautiously because I didn't know where it was. When I finally saw it, my stomach did a flip as I realized how close I had been. It was wedged against the branch I was walking on and in such a tight coil, I couldn't easily make out the head or tail, but it was a dark yellowish olive color with dark brown diamonds and no discernible white or light areas. I don't think it was very big - maybe two feet. I'm guessing it was a Mojave Green. Mesmerized, I still hadn't snapped a photo yet when I heard another rattle a ways behind me... right next to where Tony was standing... then, another one a little further away. OMG! We're in a field of these things! Are they like dogs, that when one barks, they all start up? {Exit Stage left >}

That was the last straw for him. "They're all over the place! How do we get out of here?" Remaining calm for both of us, I said, "We just go back the way we came." I walked in front of him, tapping the rocks with my poles and trying to sound upbeat, but I knew he was totally freaked out by this. When I saw an easy way into the water, I said we should hike in the creek because there are no snakes in there. Having stayed dry up to this point, I expected, at least, some protest, but he followed me right in. After 5 minutes of his steady cursing, as he kept pace behind me, I saw an easy way back out and offered him the option. He chose dry land. I stayed in the water because I wanted to take a couple pictures further up. We both kept walking and, although his route should have been faster, I noticed him getting further behind me. I finally turned around to see him just standing there looking at the ground. "Is everything all right?", I asked. No answer. I turned away for only a second before I heard a big splash behind me. He was back in the creek again and moving fast. "There's another snake! We must have walked right by it before. We need to get the %#@& out of here!" After we got back, he pulled two fat leaches off his leg. So much for the 'perfect trip'. {The Riparian Restoration Project is coming along nicely.}

With hiking now out of the question, there is nothing else to do but go home a day early. So, at 10:30am on Saturday (my birthday), we are driving back up Fossil Creek Road again. Only this time, cars were coming down in droves. Had we stayed, no doubt we would have returned from our hike to find our camp boxed in by others. I had to squeeze past at least 30 other vehicles on that skinny road by the time we got to the top. I was very glad to hit pavement, as the sight of lined asphalt lifted Tony's spirits and his sense of humor returned. Hoping to salvage some of my 'special day', I put the pedal to the metal and headed for the valley.

There's a 6 mile section of westbound Rt 87 blocked off for imminent road work, so traffic is being re-routed to the other side. On Friday afternoon, this was a real hassle, but midday on Saturday, there was very little traffic. With no one in front or behind me for quite a distance, I found myself doing 70mph coming off the curve back onto the westbound lanes. Just before the end of the 'orange cone work zone' (no workers present), there was a squad car sitting right behind the 45mph speed limit sign. Fantastic. I didn't think a plea for birthday forgiveness was going to get me out of this one. There goes my license. But incredibly, it didn't come after me. {Best . Present . Ever.}

After we got home, Tony said, "You know, your birthday is pretty &%@#-ing dangerous!" (9/11)
CultureHAZ Rides
_____________________
I'm at home in the wilderness... it's civilization I have problems with!
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Author
snakemarks'

145 Photosets
  2011-02-18
  2011-02-06
  2011-01-28
  2011-01-21
  2011-01-14
  2011-01-07
  2010-12-10
  2010-12-03
  2010-11-16
  2010-10-29
  2010-10-22
  2010-10-15
  2010-09-24
  2010-09-10
  2010-08-14
  2010-07-12
  2010-06-18
  2010-06-11
  2010-05-27
  2010-05-24
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