Tail of the Arizona Trail

If you enjoy rock crawling, beautiful desert scenery, history, and the company of good friends, there’s nothing better than spending a few days riding in the Martinez Mine area between Florence and Superior, Arizona. To get to our camping spot from Phoenix, Arizona, take US 60 East to Florence Jct., then SR 79 South approximately 5 miles to Cotton Wood Canyon Rd.  Turn left and you’ll find many good camping spots along this road.  The further you go down this road, the better the vegetation, as well.  For this trip, we camped about 4 miles from SR 79.  If you camp or ride in this area, make sure you have an Arizona State Trust Land Permit, because if you are in the area without one, the fine is $500 and permits are only $15. After setting up camp, we decided to go for an afternoon ride since it was a beautiful sunny afternoon. From camp, it is about 2-1/2 miles down Cotton Wood Canyon Road to the wash.  If you stay in the wash, at the first “Y” you’ll be on a trail called Woodpecker.  If you pay attention to the rock walls along the start of both the upper and lower Woodpecker trail, you may find some Indian pictographs. This is a challenging trail that will definitely test your skid plates. I had not been through the boulder crawl with a UTV before, so it was time to put the Polaris RZR to the test.  The narrow width helped me navigate around and over the difficult boulders on the first obstacle.  And, to add to the fun, it had rained a couple of days earlier, so there was water running in the wash. This trail is only about 2-1/2 miles long, but it will keep your attention as you climb over one obstacle after another.  I was pleasantly surprised with the ease at which the RZR clawed its way over and around the boulders on this trail. The other riders on quads were also amazed at how easily the UTV handled the trail.  At one point, I let Jeff drive the RZR to see how well it handled compared to his quad.  He had an absolute ball driving it, and I had to practically pry his hands off the steering wheel to get him back on his quad. Zane took over the RZR to see how he liked it, as well.  He was having way too much fun climbing over boulders and up small waterfalls. He also found a couple of hills with a jump at the top. The RZR gets off the ground very well, but it is a tad bit nose heavy. There was one slight mishap on our way back to camp.  Zane was attacking a hill climb and jumping off the top, and as he went down the hill to make another run, he tried to slide the rear around in the sand. He was almost around when the driver’s side tires caught a rut and went over on its side. Zane climbed out and put the RZR back on its wheels by himself.  I guess that is another advantage of having a smaller & lighter UTV. The damage was only cosmetic, and Zane wasn’t hurt at all. By late afternoon it started to rain, so there was no need for a camp fire on this day.  It rained hard all night, making for some good times in the trailers playing cards and talking about all the day’s riding. And, to our dismay, it was raining when we woke up on Friday, too. Even though it was raining, a good number of us put on our rain gear and headed out for a ride.  We decided to go through Box Canyon, over to the Derision Dam to make sure the gate was open for our planned Saturday ride. It was fun riding through Box Canyon with water flowing down the rocks.  We also went over to the sand hills so some of the riders could get a break from the slow speed rock crawling and enjoy some higher speed duning.  While there, Steve tried making it up a steep sand hill in his RZR but got stuck near the top.  So he backed up a little further and nailed the throttle with no intention of not making it.  He almost ran over a tree near the top and ended up rolling it over onto the left side, but stayed on the gas, throwing sand, and somehow righted his RZR making it over the top.  We were all laughing our heads off.  What a show! I could not believe he didn’t roll all the way down the hill.  It was a good thing he stayed on the gas or he would have been in trouble.  A short time later on some other sand hills, he tipped his RZR up on 2 wheels, but once again saved it. Saturday we had 21 riders ready to take on Mother Nature. Everyone put on whatever they had for rain gear and headed off for the Martinez cabin/processing plant.  We had 3 Polaris RZRs and a Yamaha Rhino along for what normally has been an ATV ride in the past years. But, it’s obvious that these UTVs are here to stay. What amazed me this year over last is how green everything was, and it’s hard to imagine that this will be all brown in a few short months.  We took the route that winds along the tops of the mountains, resulting in some stunning views.  There are a few times where you switchback down one mountainside through the running wash and back up the other side, which made for some nice hill climbs. The stream was running more in this area than I had ever seen before, so it added to the difficulty of the rock crawling. It was a blast watching rider after rider twisting and turning, getting off balance, and almost going over.  Derick (Rhino) and TJ (RZR) won the contest for getting their front wheels the highest in the air, but everyone did a great job with no one going over. It wasn’t because they didn’t try, but the UTVs are very stable when it comes to climbing over large boulders. The Martinez Mine processing plant is always an interesting place to visit.  There’s lots of large equipment throughout the building, and unfortunately some of it has been vandalized, which may cause it to be closed at some point in time. From here, we left for the Coke Ovens.  The road to the ovens is very rough and full of an abundance of ledges, boulders, and loose, rocky hill climbs. We arrived at the Ovens at midday. The area was packed with Jeeps.  There were so many you could hardly get to the five 30-foot buildings to take a peek inside. The granite buildings are called Coke Ovens; they were built in the late 1800’s to burn mesquite into charcoal for use in silver-ore smelters. Our original plan was to go past the Ovens across the river, over the railroad track, around a large mountain to the Diversion Dam and back through Box Canyon to camp. We left the Ovens toward the river, but the area is overgrown with trees and flooded with water and mud. The first mud hole was about 100 yards long, and it looked very ugly, to say the least. I asked the group if they wanted to try to make it or turn around.  Of course, the ones in the back said “Go for it.”  Well, we did just that.  Steve asked me if I would winch him out if he got stuck. “Of course,” I said.  With that, he took off through the mud.  Oh, man, was it deep.  I couldn’t believe he made it. A few of us quad riders followed, and then came TJ in his RZR.  He made it fairly easy, but the mud was so deep it came up onto his seat, so his pants were all full of mud.  About this time, a Jeep came from the direction we were headed and said we wouldn’t be able to make it through the next mud hole because it was halfway up his door.  He opened his door to show us there was water inside his cab. Oh, well, nice try, so we yelled at the group to stop coming across. As the Jeep tried to go across the mud hole we just came through, he got stuck.  He had a winch, so Steve jumped in to hook it up for him.  After he was out of our way, we made it back one by one through the nasty mud. Now it was time for the rough ride back to camp.  Once again, we took a very scenic ride after the rough stuff along the tops of the mountains. Our reward for a hard day’s ride was a pig roast that Jeff had prepared before we left. Everyone brought side dishes to go along with the feast, and after dinner we had a huge campfire.  It was then that all the stories grew larger and crazier as the night drew on and the alcohol consumption increased. But, it’s those times of sitting around the campfire with new and old friends that make these annual trips ones you talk about all the way ‘til the following year’s trip. ‘Til next year… Story by Don McNeilly

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