I was pretty depressed about having to give up on the Zion Half Marathon this year. I was really looking forward to training for it and running in such a cool place. My knees and feet just weren’t going to cooperate.
Still, my wife and I both needed some time to recharge and we wanted to take the dogs camping in cooler weather. Our new Cattledog, Max, had yet to go camping with us and we really wanted to see how he would do. We’ve had him out on the trails and in forest areas and he really loves the freedom to roam and sniff and track and run and do dog stuff. We just weren’t sure how he would handle the colder nights and sleeping in the tent with us. We hoped he would pick up a few lessons from Wiley, who loves camping and sleeps very well in a tent.
We decided we had a couple nights to kill, so I set out to look for a suitable campsite location that would work for us and the dogs. March is a great time to camp in Arizona, but a poor time to find designated camping up north. Most of the camp areas are still closed for the season (I have no idea why) and the few that are open either don’t allow dogs, have very strict rules for dogs or are located right off a highway (not very relaxing or scenic). So I made some phone calls and did some research on locations. Prescott didn’t pan out, Sedona was problematic and everything near Payson was closed except for remote dispersed camping. Remote and dispersed sounded just fine to me so I started pouring over an old Tonto National Forest map for camp sites. It was a really old map. Things were not as they seemed.
But we had a direction and that was enough, we packed up and headed toward Payson.
After a few stops at the store for “forgotten” items, we finally headed down the old 199 road out of Payson toward the base of the Mogollon Rim. According to my very old and less-than-accurate map there were a handful of open, dispersed camp sites along 199 near the East Verde that would work. There were not. What used to be dispersed camp sites were now paved, regulated, day-use-only picnic areas.
We kept driving.
Another day-use-only site. Keep going.
The next one was day-use-only AND marked private property with no trespassing signs. Still, we had decided on a direction and we would keep driving until we found something. We finally got back far enough the road turned to dirt and things started to look more promising. Dirt roads are a sure sign that things will improve.
The dirt road crossed, then roughly followed, a small creek. As we drove we could see small camps along the creek. No signs saying day-use only, no private property, no indication that we were not allowed to be there. And then we found it…the ideal camp site.
Small adventures or big, it just doesn’t get any better for me than camping next to moving water. Maybe it’s from all the years I spent camping on whitewater trips, sleeping near the river and having water near camp. It just makes everything about being outdoors and camping better to be near running water. The creek we camped next to was perfect. It was nice cool water, babbling quietly along, weaving around small rocks. The simple combination of tall trees, cool grass and moving water was enough to set me at ease immediately.
The dogs didn’t stay on the leash for long. We had the place entirely to ourselves and we soon let the dogs loose to explore on their own a bit. Max ran and jumped and played releasing his overabundance of energy as soon as we let him off the lease. It was even enough to get our normally grumpy Wiley to play and bounce like a puppy. Then the two went to go check out the creek, something that became a source of constant fascination and play.
We settled in and stayed at camp for a couple of days, relaxing, reading, napping and simply enjoying the quiet. It made me realize that I don’t get this kind of unplugged solitude often enough, I don’t take enough opportunities to get away and recharge. My health has kept me from doing some of the larger adventures I long for, but I have often overlooked or passed over opportunities for smaller adventures. It only takes a night or two in a new place, an afternoon outside of cell service or a long morning ride on the motorcycle with nothing but the wind and the road asking for your attention. Small adventures make a big difference in the long run. When we skip over these minor opportunities because our hearts are set on grander goals we often miss out on a lot.
This was minor in the world of adventure travel. It may not have been weeks away from home traveling to exotic locations, but it was precious, peaceful time in a beautiful place with great company. I’ll take that any day I can get it.
Oh, and Max…he did great. He loves camping and loves the tent. In fact, he loved it so much that on the second night he decided he didn’t want to wait for us and asked to get in to the tent early. I think it’s safe to say he did well.