Lickety-split we loaded up, skittered into the Jimmy, and we were off to a new hunt location.
I had no idea where we were headed next, but my husband drove off with purpose. He knew exactly where he was going.
It was just about 10:30 a.m., when with a twist and jerk, we were suddenly rock-crawling straight down the side of the mountain–stopping just long enough for my husband to hop out and open a barbed-wire gate that led to the wash he intended to cross at the base of the mountain. Clearly, he had been here before as the gate was not visible to the naked eye, until you were right in front of it.
Looks like we’ll be 4-wheelin’ it, huh? I haltingly commented as my husband bolted back into the Jimmy and threw it into drive.
Two-wheel is good for now, he confidently replied.
I felt my stomach turn a bit as I looked straight down over the dash onto the Jimmy’s hood and into the canyon where the wash was. We were perpendicular and though I was belted in, gravity was not cooperating in keeping me seated. Everything inside of me wanted to say: Are we really going straight down this mountain in this truck? But I held back the urge.
I believe I held my breath the entire way down that mountain. It was an incredible, if not entirely frightening experience.
If you haven’t explored the Arizona desert, you really can’t fully appreciate the desert washes. They offer spectacular scenery and are bone dry most of the year, except for the rainy season, when they can run dangerously high and fast. Gigantic boulders, ancient Saguaro Cactus, Oak trees (that offer inviting shade in the heat of day), and impressive rock outcroppings are plentiful in and along the banks of the washes. It’s one of my favorite places to explore for things of the past.
I could almost feel the ghosts of the Apache Indians, Gold Miners, and blood-thirsty outlaws that once walked these washes and frequented and inhabited the surrounding mountain ranges, watching me as I photographed.
When we finally came up out of the wash, we traveled along a fairly passable dirt road that took us by and through the old ghost towns of Weaver, Stanton and Octave. And believe it or not, in some of the more remote areas, we stumbled upon a number of eager prospectors working in the washes, hoping to find Gold. They carefully eyeballed us as we slowly passed by.
I had the urge to snap a photo or two of them, but decided against it–as these were more than rugged characters and they didn’t look too terribly friendly and…well, I figured if we got on the wrong side of these buggers, we could end up in one of the forgotten, century-old local cemeteries, buried under a bunch of rocks and no one would be the wiser–seriously! (More on these cemeteries in a future post).
The ghost towns in which we were hunting are famous for Gold discoveries, bloody warfare, and brutal murders from the 1860s right on through the early 20th Century. And, arguably, even today. It gives me the creeps to think about it, but I suspect there are probably more than one or two unlucky fellas that have ended up buried in these here parts in the recent past.
Yup, this is still the wild, wild, west, and you can still get shot in these mountains today for making the honest mistake of accidentally stepping onto someone’s mining claim. Think I’m kidding? Take a look at just some of the warning signs we saw.
And then, of course, there are the areas where there are no warning signs at all. The first and only warning you’ll get is a gunshot overhead and that’s when you had better high-tail it. I would not have believed this would even be possible today, if it hadn’t happened to my husband who was with a group of other hunters one year.
As we continued along twisting and winding trails to our next hunt location, we came up on a number of old structures that looked so Gunsmokeish. I expected Matt Dillon and Festus to materialize at any moment–spurs a janglin’. It was an irresistible scene and so I asked (okay, more like begged) my husband to stop so I could glass these structures with my camera. After a bit more convincing and a smidge of whining thrown in for effect; with a big sigh, and a snide we-are-here-to-hunt-not-photograph comment, my husband finally relented.
Oh, how he must love me.
Here are the photographs I captured:
It didn’t take long and my husband was summoning me back to the Jimmy.
It was time to move on…it was getting late.
Soon we came to another gorgeous wash that appeared to have the ruins of an old structure.
We used to camp here, my husband said.
Can we spend a minute? I asked.
No resistance this time. He braked the Jimmy and turned the engine off.
I quickly slid out of the Jimmy and followed my husband to the very spot he and his buddies had pitched their tents on past hunting trips.
It was so cool–literally and figuratively. I welcomed the shade offered by the old oaks–the temperature was starting to spike.
As the sun climbed higher into the sky, the window was closing on that magical morning light that makes good photography, so I immediately got to work.
I wondered who had once lived here. So much lost to history.
Still no Deer spotted, but then again, I had completely hijacked the last hour or so of this leg of the trip. It belonged entirely to me and my camera.
And it was sublime.
But the unthinkable was about to happen…at least as far as I was concerned.