Aztec Peak – a ride to the top


11-10-13

Ever hungry for more adventure, on Sunday Hal and I elected to continue our exploration, begun last weekend,  of the Cherry Creek Rd./288 area. We trailered our bikes, staged at the same place, and planned to ride to Workman Creek to explore FR487, then ride to the top of Aztec Peak.

We rode north on 288 after we unloaded and put on our riding gear. Hal thought it was about 10 miles farther than where the car was, but it turned out to be more like 20. When we finally got there, I found it was worth the wait.

When we turned onto FR 487, we were immediately plunged into an enchanted autumn-colored world of thick trees and a running stream. The road was easy, and it was difficult for me to tear my attention away from the right side of the road where the stream ran. It was splashing and playing over the rock formations there, amid mostly golden leaves with a few reds thrown in for extra interest. I was trying to keep the bike on the road while looking at the beauty.

We passed the Arizona Elks Youth Camp, then a couple of campsites, which were occupied. The road was narrow, though, and few people were on it. Then it became steeper as we began to climb. As we climbed, the right side dropped away, and then we found ourselves on a ledge made by the road, similar to what we were riding last weekend. It was less rocky this time, but the grade was steep. We crossed a bridge that had a 20 ton limit, and a pickup truck was parked there, a child standing near it looking over the edge. We kept going up and up, and then we turned into a high fern meadow, the plants all frost-bitten, dried to a copper brown, their tops bowed toward the ground. Soon we were skirting the top of the peak. Again we were on a ledge and followed it as it turned west, climbed a steep uphill, and then the road opened out. We were at the top! Aztec Peak is the highest point in the Sierra Anchas.

There was a gravel parking area there, and at the south end of it was the lookout tower. We eagerly dismounted our bikes, ready to enjoy the spectacular view from all sides. We could see Four Peaks, and Roosevelt Lake in the distance toward the west. We looked southeast and saw the area roughly where we were last weekend. The high flat area where we were standing was covered in dried grasses punctuated by unique rock formations, and burned trees, survivors from the Coon Creek fire (human-caused) that burned in late spring of 2000. I later learned that the area was a habitat of the Mexican Spotted Owl, but it was reported that the habitat was lost during the fire.

We saw the lookout tower from which the fire was reported. It was actually in the fire, but survived. Hal climbed it to get distance shots with his camera, including a few silly shots of me taking photos. Photos of the photo-maker, I guess.

As usual, when I have deceived myself into believing I am in a remote place, I am unpleasantly surprised by the arrival of other humans.  This time was no exception, and the crunch of gravel heralded the arrival of yet another pickup truck. The truck stopped, a whole noisy family piled out, and a kid started chopping away at the stalk of a century plant. I was not too happy with that. I know my dirt bike isn’t the quietest thing there either, but I don’t set out to ruin plants or anything else that occurs in nature. I try to leave no trace, as the signs say.

I’d had enough of the humans for a while, so we got back on the bikes and headed back down. This time it took forever to descend because we kept stopping and taking more photos.

The highlight of the trip down was the 200 foot waterfall. It was little more than a trickle this time of year, but still a lovely sight. I looked down as it fell from a dizzying height, and I stood gripping the boulders that formed the retaining wall.

I was in heaven, the fall leaves were so beautiful. I am always in search of autumn color, and the Workman Creek area fulfilled my longing.  We spent a good amount of time there, photographing, and enjoying, a calming pause in the frenzy of the working world.

When we finally got back to the 288, we went south again to Cherry Creek Rd., and since I wanted to at least find FR202, we continued to ride. It was getting late, but I still wasn’t finished riding, so I thought we’d go in about 10 miles to see if we could find it. However, 16 miles later we turned around because we were running out of time. I am sure we were within a couple of miles of FR202, but I thought, what are we going to do if we get there? Sadly, it is time to get back to the car anyway. Later, when I looked at the map, I found that we were indeed very close. Oh well, next time. So many roads, so little time.

Copper mine at twilight:

On the way home, the sunset was epic, and the twilight falling over the copper mine between Globe and Superior was a rare sight. I felt lucky to have seen so many beautiful things in one day, and as I sat and relaxed in the passenger seat of Hal’s car, I was already planning our next ride.

Epic sunset:

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3 thoughts on “Aztec Peak – a ride to the top

  1. Thanks to your running commentary, I found the Sierra Ancha range on the map (I had never even heard of it). I also learned that AZ-288 is also called the Desert to Tall Pines Highway. I struggled to find FR487, but found it on the map labeled as NF487. Thanks for teaching us some geography.

    I think the final shot of the sunset is my choice for POTD.

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