Last summer I did a bunch of car camping – usually just me and my dogs. One such trip was to check out the ancient Hohokam petroglyphs located on the eastern edge of the Painted Rock Mountains and about eighteen miles west by northwest of Gila Bend Arizona. From there I navigated back through Gila Bend and then up old Highway 80 to the ruins of the Gillespie dam and back to Phoenix the back way through Buckeye. So I did a big loop from Phoenix south and west to Gila Bend – so I went through Maricopa to get there, I didn’t take 10 west and then cut south. Drove my Magellen insane; you should have heard her nagging me!
These areas are not your typical Arizona summer get-a ways. Most folks in Phoenix go north or north and east into the higher elevations we refer to as “The Rim” during summer months; it’s a lot cooler up there. Me? Not necessarily. Heading south and west out into the desert during summer just about guarantees solitude. Sometimes I like that. Here’s a nice B & W shot of typical southern Arizona terrain:
Double click all photos to imbiggen.
How about we stop for some breakfast? This is the Humberto’s in Gila Bend; out here we have these crazy taco stands that end in ‘berto’s. There’s Filiberto’s, Alaberto’s, another ‘berto changed its name to “Vaqueros”; it might have gotten closed down by the local health department, but they didn’t fool anybody, it was still a ‘berto’s kind of place.
Tasty food if you are into that sort of thing. My favorite is a nice, massive burrito of some sort – fresh grilled tortillas (hot with just a few brown and black toast patches!) that must have started life about 36 inches (0.91 meters) in diameter filled with all sort of frijoles, carnitas, rice, salsa, sausage, eggs, cheese, potatoes, jalapeno peppers – of course there is a salsa bar so get those gigantic picked jalapenos, maybe about five or six and then you just go at it.
Man, don’t do it very often! It can be an extreme experience! Humberto’s is one of the best ‘berto’s there is. Next time you’re in Gila Bend, give it a shot!
On to the petroglyphs! The camp area and petroglyph area is in the middle of nowhere, even considering you are already pretty much nowhere. I mean, there’s nowhere – but off in the distance you see a train running parallel; or you are nowhere, but it’s close to an interstate highway…but then there’s the nowhere where you exit the interstate, (still just a divided four lane / two lane) and drive another twelve miles back behind some hills on a two lane road; see not a single soul, not a car, not a person, nothing. Then you get off that road and hit the gravel and of course you are yakking on the cell phone and just about the time you hit the gravel, you lose service. Perfect. You are now officially nowhere, or at least close enough to nowhere to at least pretend you are nowhere.
Want to have a ton-o-fun out in the desert in the summer? Here’s the hot ticket. Leave town about noon for a three to four hour ride and get there in the afternoon – the sun will be at its hottest, probably I dunno, 115 F? But it will be getting cooler by the time you get there. Wear boots, a broad-brimmed hat (heck, wear that cowboy hat – those things just rock out in the desert), a long sleeved loose shirt with an undershirt. Never forget the undershirt. You sweat and the undershirt gets wet and turns into an air-conditioner. Drink way too much water. Drink water until your stomach hurts. Constantly drink water and get used to drinking warm water – it’s even better.
When you get to where you are going, stretch out a tarp on your car, take you your folding metal chair (always bring something to sit on…), get out the well-stocked ice chest, and get in the shade you have created with the tarp. Always scope out where the shade is in any locale you find yourself in. Stay out of the sun as best you can! The glare and radiant heating can kill you – hence hats, long-sleeves, etc. You really can die out there so take care!
Once you get a chance to scope the area, figure out where you are going to make camp, and make camp, pitch the tent whatever. On this trip I just brought a couple of tarps and as luck would have it a monsoon blew in later that night and I got royally rained on! Dogs had enough sense to sleep in the car. Just part of the adventure. This last summer was really wet (for Arizona).
Look for bugs. Do not set up on anthills. You laugh. It is hard to find spots in the Arizona desert without bugs depending on where you are, and I have a tons of weird bug stories. Don’t move stuff around out there! Leave everything alone; just scope it out. I mean, I bring gear – shovel, pick, tools, but I only use them if I have to. And bring your own firewood. I mean, some people go out there and dig for stuff, four wheel, burn stuff they find, and generally tear stuff up – not my credo; but whatever! Also when I go to the desert I don’t bring any guns. What for? You’re going to get bit and stung, not eaten!
Sun starts going down, finish camp set-up (there’s so much blasted housekeeping while camping!), and break out the booze, the steaks, the books, the maps, make a huge fire, and start drinking! Hey, this is how I roll; if you can’t do it this way, do it your way. But. If you are out there with a special someone, bring a nice bottle of wine and a couple of crystal wine glasses. Nice touch!
You’ll be sleeping in the dirt, so for gosh sakes, bring a couple of tarps and a big air mattress. Enough sage advice. What’s with the petroglyphs?
There are nice campsites with righteous fire pits must have been like 30 of them…not a soul was there; just me and the dogs. I could have stripped naked, painted my body blue, performed mystical Druid rites and brought the petroglyph figures to life; just for one night of mad reveling, then at the crack of dawn back to the rocks they go! But I didn’t do that. Anyhow, I didn’t bring enough beer and it probably would have scared the dogs.
More cool info:
The next morning we headed to Gillespie dam driving back through Gila Bend and turning north on Old Highway 80 just on the north edge of town. It was a pretty drive through irrigated farm land and there were butterflies everywhere. Even early in the morning, it was hot and humid.
Gillespie dam was built in 1921 by a rancher I guess named “Gillespie”. In 1927 a steel truss bridge was constructed by the state just downstream of the dam. In 1993 there was a torrential rain, the dam was breached by the flood waters and catastrophically failed. It was never repaired, the water is just diverted to a nearby canal. Cool. Let’s check it out: