Arizona has a vast amount of wilderness areas and free, primitive camping is allowed on most of it. Primitive means no facilities; you carry in what you need and bring everything back out with you, leaving no trace that you were ever there. There are plenty of full-service campgrounds too for those requiring restrooms, showers and other amenities.
We like to ‘car camp’. That is to find a primitive spot that we can drive to with our trunks loaded up with most of the comforts of home.
This year, to allow for everyone’s hectic schedule, we chose a campsite just an hour outside of Scottsdale in the Superstition Wilderness Area of the Tonto National Forest. About 20 minutes past Apache Junction we took a left off of Rt. 60 onto the road that goes to the community of Queen Valley. Less than 2 miles up this road we took a right onto a dirt track leading to our destination.
Right off the bat things seemed a little peculiar.
Mary & I were to meet Lloyd and Johanna at a particular location. We found the spot easy enough but imagine our surprise to find two militiamen types there, shooting what looked like high-powered rifles into targets set up on a small hill. We cruised past them trying not to gape and they pretty much ignored us.
We pulled over a short way up the road. Mary had to make a pit stop. She came running back to the car exclaiming that it was like being in a war zone with the sounds of the shots echoing off the hills.
Fortunately Lloyd arrived soon. He was looking all good and happy. But he had some disappointing news. He had previously scouted the area and had chosen 2 potential campsites. Now he had just discovered that his first choice had already been nabbed. Well, site number two would have to do!
It was a fine site with huge mesquite trees and green, grassy areas thanks to the heavy fall rains this year. We set up camp and had a little lunch.
Lloyd & Johanna told us that the people over at our first choice site were “re-enacters.” They dress in 1800’s style clothing and could have nothing in camp that existed after 1840. Their tents were canvas, utensils handmade and most of them were pretty good marksmen with gun powder muskets.
We decided to take a little cross-country hike to visit with our neighbors and a short while later we walked into their camp. Their presence was so complete (once you got past the cars) that I felt as though I was visiting them from the future!
They welcomed us warmly. The head honcho was called CowCatcher and he spent a lot of time answering our questions and showing us around. He explained how some of the marksmen competitions worked and made very sure we knew where the courses were set up. We could hear an occasional shot and if you heard the ‘ting’ after the shot you knew the target hidden in the brush had been hit.
Some of the women could shoot those heavy guns too but they also had the “Bobbitt Throw” to hone their skills. There was a slab of tree trunk hung up on a tripod. A hot dog (hhmmmm… are hot dogs pre-1840?) was pinned to the slab with a couple of toothpicks. And then, as you may have guessed, the women bring out their hatchets!
A small, dark-haired woman called “Grasshopper” had the deadly aim and cleaved the dog to win the contest!
Soon after that we headed back to the future and our campsite. We settled in for the night, had some dinner and kept the fire going till the arrival of the New Year.
As interesting as this trip was, I wouldn’t recommend this area, at least not on popular camping days. We had some other neighbors, whom we never saw but we sure could hear and the fools were shooting off guns at midnight. A number of innocent people get killed every year from idiots shooting bullets into the air. Fortunately we all lived to see the New Year.
This was the trade-off for the short drive time. Last year we drove way down past Tuscon and camped in the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge and pretty much didn’t see or hear anyone else for the three days we were there.
New Year’s Day, Mary was up long before the dawn because her new sleeping bag wasn’t working too well and she froze all night. She had just about everything packed by the time the sun was coming up. All that activity was enough to get me up in time to see the first sunrise of 2001.
It was a piddly little event with some pale gray and pink streaks shooting out over the top of a mesa. As far as the universe was concerned it was just another day.