Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Li’l Burro’s First Camping Trip (Gila Box RNCA and Black Hills Back Country Byway)

Almost exactly a year to the day after the Ducati’s first camping trip, the Yamaha (with joyous bray) and I (still comically overdressed in my Alpinestar Stella Bat Pants complete with knee sliders, fully zipped to my Motoport Kevlar Monroe track approved jacket) lit off for Li’l Burro’s inaugural overnight journey.  Indicative of another unexplored corner of familiar territory, the signs for Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area and the Black Hills Back Country Byway have often piqued my curiosity, and I knew that my sturdy XT225 and I (or one of us, anyway) were up to the task of more practice on unpaved terrain.

Here’s the Yamaha first draft packing system.  My new top rack arrived, predictably, just as I put on my helmet for departure, and a top box still needs to be acquired, but I managed to carry what I needed with my new saddle bags and go-to tail bag.

Packed XT225 at Gila Box RNCA Riverview Campground

Despite its loose surfaces (from my perspective, anyway), hills and switchbacks, the Black Hills Back Country Byway is still, you know, a road, and therefore a not too terribly challenging 21 mile journey from Solomon to Clifton, AZ.   The perfect path in my battle with my long held pathological fear of ground that moves beneath my tires! I toddled along, as a novice does, mostly in 2nd gear, occasionally exploring the environs of 3rd, and, in a few areas, approaching the fearsome and highly illegal speed of 30mph (indicated).*  If it had been at the starting line, I may have even beaten my grandfather’s old red riding lawn tractor by a nose.

Black Hills Byway
We start down here...

XT225 on the Black Hills Back Country Byway
... and go up...


Black Hills Byway Canyon Overlook Picnic Area
... and up some more, before coming back down to the river.  Off in the distance,  Eagle Creek Canyon.
Before my return trip, I seek my reward.  Except it wasn’t.  This dish, from PJ’s Family Restaurant, reminded me why, for so long, I thought I didn’t like Mexican food.  Grey, wholly unseasoned beef, wrapped in flabby tortillas, topped with a lifeless sauce, served with beans having a surface like the dry cracked desert floor of Death Valley just didn’t do the trick.  I choked some of it down anyway, it being, basically, a matter of survival.  Serves me right for not opting for the camping standard  bacon cheese burger.  The first meal I had when I got home was chosen specifically to erase the memory.  Enchiladas of slow cooked chipotle pinto beans and freshly grilled nopalitos, inside my homemade tortillas and smothered with my favorite recipe red chile sauce.  Oh, wait, I do like Mexican food! 
PJ's Family Restaurant Clifton.jpg (2)

PJ's Family Restaurant Clifton
The burro, cooling its heels in the flowers outside my window.

The Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area is a cooling, trickling, burbling, thirst quenching desert sanctuary, and I find myself disappointed that my photographs don’t really evoke the miraculousness of coming across such a place after riding 150 miles across the parched and seemingly-barren desert.  It shouldn’t be surprising to discover the concentration of wildlife in these precious areas, but it’s still an amazing phenomenon to witness.  Alas, with a camera that shoots a whopping 1.1 frames per second, my time is better spent enjoying the wildlife rather than trying to photograph it.

Gila Box RNCA West Entrance Area
A sight for sore (and hot, and thirsty) eyes: first glimpse of the Gila River from the Gila Box RNCA West Entrance.

A century or so ago, Arizona was criss-crossed with these lovely life giving riparian scenes but now, while we still have the rivers, they just don't have any water in them!  The conservation area has four perennial waterways within its boundries - the Gila, Bonita Creek, the San Francisco and Eagle Creek.  That's no small thing around here.

Gila Box RNCA Flying W Group Day Use Area
The cliffs of the "Gila Box" are formed from "Gila Conglomerate."  Now I understand why it's so darn hard to sink a tent stake into the ground here!

All manner of birds I can't name live here (plus a few that I can - vermillion flycatchers, green herons, great blue herons, red-tailed hawks and lots of talkative finchy looking things), several types of actual fish live in the rivers (a really weird concept, if you're from Arizona) and, not surprisingly, hosts of grazing beasts and predators big and small find the area a happy hunting ground.

Bonita Creek Watchable Wildlife Area
There could not be a more pleasant place to watch hawks circle like a gang of GXSRs in a Circle K parking lot: Bonita Springs Watchable Wildlife Area

Gila Box RNCA Serna Cabin Picnic Area
Cool respite near Serna Cabin.

“Scary Hill!,” I, as a moto-passenger, have deemed them, either singing or screeching (depending) from the back seat.  Yep, even though you can see the lip of this particular hill is, mercifully,  paved, most were not.   My inexperienced technique?  Lean back and raise a toast to the principles of engine braking.

19 Percent Grade
19% grade!  I am Not Making This Up.

One has to be content to let this place slowly reveal itself.  The Cottonwood Trail loops around to many interesting sites, but one would never know that if one started from the campground.

Trail?  What Trail?  Where does it go?  How long is it?  Is it a loop?  Do I have time before sunset? It's not in my personality make-up to not ask these things, and I had to consciously tell myself to shut up and walk.

Here’s an attempt at shooting blind while using a packing strap as a make-shift camera tri-pod.  Not bad, but not especially good, either. Still, I think you can see it was a lovely night, and I enjoyed the stars and the squeak and scratch of the desert critters’ serenade.
XT225 under the Stars
Li'l Burro under the stars.

Meanwhile, in the paddock, the Ducati is impatiently stomping her dainty little hooves.  A great quantity of quality time is coming soon…

* The posted speed limit for the byway is 15mph. And a good motorcyclist will always admit that, due to a quirk in motorcycle-speedometry, the indicated speed always reads slightly faster than one’s actual speed.

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