Archive for the ‘Explorations’ Category

Road to Bagdad Fun Run

February 28, 2007
The Turnout

Last Saturday, I went on my second actual fun run with the Dynamic MINI Collective. Approximately 30 MINIs made the trek from Wickenburg at 9:30 AM up the 93 and over the 97 to Bagdad, Arizona. That section, as you can see from the map, is extremely twisting and was quite exciting to drive.

Since it was a fun run, I decided to ease my speeding restrictions. Realistically, I had to or I never would have been able to keep up with my fellow club members. I was still way more conservative than I used to be, but not nearly as aggressive as the rest of them.

One Slow Motor Home

We were repeatedly cautioned by those who did the run last year that the 97 was an extremely twisty stretch of road. There were dips, blind turns, and countless curves in addition to gravel beds brought about by rain. We decided to take the road cautiously for the first time and then go more aggressively on subsequent passes.

They weren’t kidding. I think I kept it under 50 MPH the entire time and frequently dipped down into the 20s. By the time I got to the end, I was thirsting for some action. We turned around at the end and I started going briskly. Until that is, I caught up to a silver MINI that was still in caution mode. Grr. So I slowed down and two cars behind me did the same.

When we got to the end of that pass, my thoughts immediately drifted to how I could beat that guy to turn around and really open her up. Obviously, the two MINIs behind me had the same thought because they U-turned earlier than me—I would have done the same but I wanted to get where I could see oncoming traffic.

Luckily, the two in front of me were going fast. I kept it above 50 MPH for the most part (couple dips into the 40s, sadly) and even got it up to 84 MPH sometimes. Then it happened. The fun came to an end.

I came over a small hill to find the first car in our little pack (the third on the previous pass, who made a U-turn first) on the left side of the road in the scrub, the second car stopped, and debris strewn all over the road. My first thought was that the first car had hit an oncoming MINI but I couldn’t see anyone.

After stopping myself, I saw a crunched up Rhino in the desert on the right and someone lying down with the passenger in the second MINI looking at him. The passenger of the second MINI is a nurse and so she started helping the injured hunter. I sprinted up the road a bit and instructed traffic to slow down while Sandi went to see how she could help the nurse.

Soon, a Forest Service ranger was there and gave some order to the proceedings. He also contacted Bagdad emergency services. The MINI driver and passenger were slightly injured by the air bag deployments; the hunter had a head injury but was conscious the entire time. With the situation under control, the chapter president stuck around while the rest of us went to the meeting spot to let everyone know what was happening.

It was quickly decided that knowledge about this being an organized car club event was not helpful. We dispersed and met up again in Kirkland Junction, about 20 miles south of our position. We had lunch there in the bar‘s parking lot. The bartender was a grade-A witch, who instructed us that we couldn’t use the bathroom and that there was no lunch for us. Given that we probably were half the Kirkland population, you’d think that they’d love the business. (I’ve heard that this was quite the normal reception.)

Pit Stop in Yarnell

The leg from Kirkland to Yarnell was uneventful, but the section of road after Yarnell on the way back to Wickenburg was some of the twistiest (and cliff-hugging) road I’ve seen short of the PCH. I could rarely go past 40 MPH and often spent time in the 20s. But I was enjoying every minute of it nonetheless!

We regrouped in Wickenburg and waited for the chapter president and the totalled MINI owner before dispersing for our homes. Sandi and I went down the Vulture Mine Road and continued along its variations until we met up with I-10 at 335th Avenue. It was some boring highway driving from there on and we arrived home at about 4:30 PM.

There was a lot of pre-run hype about how this was the best run of the year and I was a little skeptical since the 191 run last year sounded like as good as it gets. I think this really lived up to its billing and I can’t wait to do it again on my own!


Scottsdale AIRpark

June 13, 2005

I’ve spent a lot of time in the last month wandering around the “park” aspects of the Scottsdale Airpark but I hadn’t at all checked out the “air” parts.

So today I crossed Hayden and wandered down Acoma knowing that I’d eventually hit runway. I found a shady spot with some very lush grass and parked my hiney down to read and take in airplanes. (The airport near my home, Deer Valley Airport, has a better selection of flights but absolutely no comparable roadside viewing areas.) It was next to (and probably part of) a closed-down Corvette showroom that had an interesting parking lot with arbors for covered parking and a recessed landscaping feature that looked a little like a Zen garden. (Perhaps they spent all their money on the site and not enough on the business.)

Nothing particularly interesting to report: saw a jet take off and another land; saw tons of what I presume to be training planes; realized that my vantage point was largely obscured by a chain-link fence and was too far down the runway for watching takeoffs and landings up close.


June 2, 2005

For lunch today, I went back to Northsight Park because it was such a nice day. I worked on the requirements a little, shot a few hoops, and swung.

Oh yeah, he just said “swung.” As in playground swinging. On a lark, I decided to try something that I haven’t really, seriously done in many years. OMG, I had forgotten how much fun it is. There’s that moment once you’ve been at it for awhile where you hit the top of your upswing and you kind of bounce. It’s a brief sensation that you’re going to fall off, break something, and have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do—but you don’t.

Feeling daring, I even did a couple of jumps. One was the classic distance jump, but the other was one of my childhood favorites where you hold on to the chains with one hand as you jump off. You kind of spin 180° and you can really control your landing. Even if you don’t jump, it’s still exhilirating.

I can totally understand what kids see in swinging.

[UPDATE (6/9/05): Geekpress links to an explanation of why pumping your legs makes you go higher.]

Airpark Park

May 13, 2005

Now that I work in the Scottsdale Airpark, I figured that today was the day to start exploring. My previous place of employment was in a prime area to wander around because Papago Park was nearby and the Salt River riverbed was within walking distance.

The airpark, on the other hand, is pretty landlocked and commercial. I figured I’d at least get to see some interesting artifacts of the human environment. That was nice, but not fifty yards from my building did I stumble upon my first discovery.

Awesome dirt! It’s probably an odd quirk of mine—growing up as an adventurous boy in the desert—but I love dirt. My favorite kind of dirt is the powdery stuff; you know, the dirt that has the consistency of powdered sugar or flour. Because I was at work, I opted not to scoop it up but it gave me some pause.

After about a block of walking, I chanced upon a Scottsdale municipal park. And it wouldn’t be a Scottsdale park without a horse trail and some lumbering equines. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding the place and so I proceeded, Phoebe-style, to run at full tilt across the park’s expanse. I checked out the playground for future family gatherings and watched some squirrels frolic.

All in a half an hour. Good times.

Park of Four Waters

February 27, 2005

Saturday I went to take a tour of the Park of Four Waters at the Pueblo Grande Museum. The site, located perhaps a half mile south of the museum, isn’t open to the public except for one guided tour on the last Saturday of the month when it’s cool. I’ve wanted to attend one of these tours for the last several months but something always came up. I’m glad that I finally went because it was quite a memorable experience.

I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to history: I can get really excited about very mundane things. For example, I’ve spent twenty minutes looking at and contemplating head of the Old Crosscut Canal that joins the Grand and Arizona Canals. I studied it from a variety of angles, took in the adjoining land, and imagined the people designing, building, and maintaining it. I then spent several hours researching this one particular canal. Water is such a vital part of Phoenix history that I bristle when people act like it’s unlimited or can’t appreciate the struggle that the early settlers went through to make the desert hospitable.

The Park of Four Waters is a small section of land where two ancient Hohokam canals are preserved. The Hohokam dug approximately 500 miles of canals. Their extensive canal system inspired Phoenix founder Jack Swilling to start his own canal project to irrigate the Salt River Valley. The canal he dug with his employees—known as the Swilling Ditch or the Town Ditch after he left Phoenix—is located not far from this place underneath one of Sky Harbor‘s runways. This, and the fact that many of Phoenix’s early canals were made from widening and deepening Hohokam ones, is a testament to the sagacity of that ancient people.

The two canals we saw were actually considered two channels of a single canal. One channel was cut like a V so that water would flow faster and farther; the other was cut like a semicircle, which kept the water moving rather slowly so that it wouldn’t decimate lateral canals. One wouldn’t be faulted for missing the significance of these two ditches since they looked like rolling hills. The fact that they have lasted for at least 600 years in much the same condition was awesome.

Near these two Hohokam canals was a modern canal of uncertain origin that looked to join the Grand at the point of the Old Crosscut. It was fairly wide and deep but entirely made out of concrete. It followed the same line as the Old Crosscut would have if you continued it down to the Salt River bank, but the Old Crosscut would never have followed that route since it strictly joined two canals. That’s why I’m not sure of when it was made, what it was called, or even who built it.

Its origin is suspect because it was likely built by the Salt River Project though it would have gone right through the Tovrea stockyards and could have been a private canal. This, of course, merits further research. I will also post a gallery of the hundred or so pictures I took since the Web is a veritable desert when it comes to the Park of Four Waters.

New Man in Town

February 10, 2005

I decided to go to the Phoenix Zoo on my lunch hour today to do some rollerblading. It’s been awhile because I’ve been busy with work and running errands on my lunch hours. It felt good to strap on the ol’ inline skates again and skate hard for about an hour.

While there I discovered that there are two new lions in the lion enclosure. This is huge news because the single resident of the enclosure, Pima, was widowed when her lion life partner (are lion marriages legal in Arizona? It’s hard to keep track) died a few years back. They look like they’re pretty comfortable in there: they’re laying around—note how I omitted the obvious pun—just like Pima always does.

The other cool thing that I did was something that I’d always wanted to do but never got up the nerve: grabbing hold of the safari train and hitching a ride. I only went up one hill because then the train stopped (I don’t think on my account) and people got out to take photographs. The kids in the back rows enjoyed my crouching, that’s for sure.

The High Tech Dive

September 1, 2004

Yesterday, I was jonesing for some pho and planned on going to Saigon Healthy Deli. I drove down Mill Avenue but couldn’t find it. So I stopped at a Circle K and called the restaurant to discover that they’re remodeling presently. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to wait to taste pho.

Completely forgetting that I had an excellent selection of California rolls in the refrigerator back at work, I drove around Tempe looking for some culinary action. I found an unassuming little restaurant called Little Szechuan and thought that it might be worth a try. It had the makings of a dive and was atrociously decorated in the standard, over-the-top Chinese restaurant way.

Waiting to order, I was surprised at all the IT talk I overheard. I’m used to hearing the normal banal banter of lunchtime conversation so I was pleasantly surprised. The surprise was heightened when my waitress came to take my order.

She was holding a PDA of some sort with a wireless nub to connect with some kitchen-based server. She tappity-tappity-tapped my order in and moved on to the next table. The strangest thing is that it was literally the first time I had ever seen a restaurant use such an ordering system. It made me wonder just how deep the technology permeated the establishment.

Oh and the food can best be described as “enh.”

Yesterday’s Adventure

April 16, 2004

A couple of weeks ago I noticed that a mountain—Buffalo Ridge for the curious—across the street from my subdivision had a dirt road girding it that I had never noticed before because you have to really be studying the mountains contours to spot it. Of course, that stuck in my craw and gnawed at my consciousness as a new place that begged—no, commanded—to be explored.

Today we had to turn in our rental GMC Envoy with four-wheel drive so I thought that yesterday was my chance to do some offroading with a vehicle that I didn’t particularly care about. I guess I forgot to mention that we got rear-ended by a big ol’ van a few weeks ago and that the Durango has been in Progressive‘s care since then.

My first task was to find a way to get to the dirt road since it didn’t have a discernible entrance. It was interesting because I had explored the entrance area before without noticing the dirt road that continued off to the left. Driving on it was bumpy due to the large rocks, but it wasn’t anything that my Durango couldn’t have done in its 2WD glory. There was a section where I had to really push on the gas to get up a particularly steep grade—an omen of difficulties to come.

My trouble started when I realized that the road—a one-lane affair hugging the mountain—probably continued to the summit and was getting increasingly steep. The thought of coming to an impasse without the means of turning around troubled me considerably, as did the thought of having to retread steep ground in reverse. I came to a wide spot in the road and decided that I’d had enough and wanted out of this business.

It was at the time that I got perpindicular to the road that I realized that I was in over my head. Facing down the side of a very rocky mountain at about a 10° angle with the back wheels spinning fruitlessly, I concluded that my situation was dire and began a frantic rundown of my options. I decided that my best bet was to try and get out of the precarious orientation the Envoy was in. After alternately driving and reversing, I managed to get parallel to the road before I got completely stuck in the soft dirt. Nothing I tried could dislodge me from my excellent view of our subdivision, perched halfway up a mountain ten feet from the road that would let me descend.

So I was stuck and the Envoy was now at the 10%deg; angle with the driver-side tires practically touching the top of the wheel well and the passenger-side tires stretching out the shocks. I had no idea what I was doing and, furthermore, I had no idea how to get myself out. How could a tow truck get to where I was and manage to tow the vehicle out? I saw some workers at the base of the mountain and briefly toyed with getting them to help me, but I figured that they probably wouldn’t be interested in climbing several hundred feet up a 45° grade to help a moron in an SUV.

I called my wife to apprise her of my predicament after a vigorous internal argument about the necessity of such a move. Here’s another vital piece of information about my situation: I was ostensibly running to the post office down the street to drop off our income taxes. This little side trip was unplanned and thus not on my itinerary. Sandi, bless her heart, took it all in stride though I swear I could hear her eyes rolling over the phone. She, too, had no idea how I could extract myself but I remembered that my co-worker and friend was a 4×4 enthusiast.

Luckily, he knew exactly how 4WD worked and what I would need to do to get out. After describing my orientation and environment as quickly and thoroughly as I could, he told me to put it in something called “4 LO” and push on the gas firmly but gently. He said that I should gradually be able to feel some traction and that, by keeping at it, I could make it back to the road. With him as a virtual co-pilot, I was able to get back to the road and descend. I took it really slow because I had had enough excitement for a lifetime.

The moral of the story: I will not be doing any offroading unless he’s in the vehicle with me. I don’t have the patience or composure to calmly do 4×4 activities and I’m okay with that. I will definitely return to that road, but I’ll be doing it with a bicycle, quad, or on foot—something that I can push out of any trouble with my own power.

[UPDATE (4/17/04): Made some minor typographical corrections.]

Grave Hopping

March 24, 2004

Today at lunch I found a cemetery. The oddest damn thing about it is that it’s directly across the street from my work. I’ve passed by it hundreds of times without ever noticing the headstones rising from its grounds.

Intrigued, I found an opening in the chain link fence and walked around the plots. The oldest marker I found read 1877, while the newest was 1940. There were perhaps a dozen total with vaguely similar names and varying levels of ornate design. Of course, I was without my camera—easily remedied in the future.

On my next visit, I will dutifully copy down the markings on the gravestones and begin my research. This should be made much easier due to the recent Webification of Arizona birth and death certificates.

The Heat Almost Killed Me

March 15, 2004

Today I went hiking further up the Salt River riverbed at lunch. It was an incredible experience until I nearly died of a heat stroke. Okay, I don’t know if I was actually near death or whether heat exhaustion is the more appropriate term but it was scary.

First, some background. I’m a Phoenix native and I’ve never lived anywhere else. As stated elsewhere, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. There’s only one little problem I have with Phoenix and that’s the heat. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the heat. I’ve got some sort of defective cooling system in my body. I don’t sweat at all on my head, I sweat a tad on my arms just below the tops of my shoulders, and I sweat quite a bit around my waist. Suffice it to say, this is not enough to cool down my body. What’s worse, I don’t really realize the state my body is in until it’s too late and I’m melting down. I have had at least one verifiable heat stroke and countless cases of heat exhaustion.

I drove down to around University and SR-153 to explore the part of the riverbed that I saw from afar on my previous journey. The first things I saw were some interesting platform-on-a-pole contraptions that served some aviation purpose and some otherworldly concrete poured in cooled-lava fashion in the middle of the riverbed—for a purpose that I couldn’t fathom.

Continuing along to the west, I came across an immense slab of concrete that stretched from one bank to the other. I think it might have been a dam or some sort of flood control structure, but I’m not certain. It was serving its purpose, though, because water had accumulated on the lower side of it. I threw a rock in to the deepest section to gauge its depth, but I couldn’t see it as it descended. That suggested to me that this is pretty deep. Judging from the parts of the reservoir where I could see the bottom clearly, I’d guess that it was about ten feet deep at its deepest. By now, I had perhaps half a bottle of water left and I should have called it a day since I was in full sun at high noon.

Ignoring these warning signs—mainly because my body and my curiosity were telling me to press on—I continued west until I found a very odd concrete sculpture that looked like a miniature Stonehenge fashioned out of concrete. It reminded me of the tail fins on cartoon rockets and rose perhaps fifteen to twenty feet above the ground. At the top of each of the four supports was a heavy metal bracket that would presumably fasten whatever these were meant to be supporting. It was out of place in its location because there was nothing nearby that remotely suggested a context.

I climbed the river bank at this point so I could gain some elevation and see what else lay ahead. I’m glad I did because I quickly came across something that I wouldn’t have been able to spot from the bed. To my left (south) behind barbed wire fencing was an enormous depression or gulch (mental note: get some sort of guide to landforms with their proper description and differentiation). To give you an idea of scale, it was probably fifty feet to the graded road at the bottom of a perhaps 30° slope. This graded road ran the circumference of a lake! WTF?! I was definitely not expecting a lake to adjoin the Salt River riverbed at this point. What’s more, someone had constructed a dock at one edge of the lake complete with deck chairs and grill. Parked on the road were two boats, a powerboat and a party boat. My first thought was that it was part of the general complex of office buildings that were maybe one or two hundred yards away, but it sure didn’t seem like it.

I walked the entire length of the lake looking for openings in the fencing so I try to guess at its depth. Once I got to the end of it, I realized that I was getting hot. By now my water had just about run out—there was maybe two good swigs left—and I was roughly a mile or more away from my car. I knew from past experience that my first instinct—run as fast as possible back—was wrong, so I ambled (or moseyed, maybe sauntered) down into the riverbed to explore some more on my way back. Might as well check out some things I saw from the banks, right?

That turned out to be a big mistake. I walked down into the riverbed and there was an eight-foot ridge that needed to be crossed before I could continue on the mostly-level ground ahead. Regrettably, scaling that wall of loose dirt sapped my energy and made me bang up my knee pretty bad when I took a tumble. Once I crossed that obstacle, I decided that I probably should be on higher, graded ground so I ascended back up to the bank.

Fifteen minutes passed and I had emptied my bottle down my shirt because I was really starting to overheat. The platform-on-a-pole structures were distant, orange blips that were straight across the riverbed from my car. Here’s where things started getting hairy because I stop thinking straight once my brain begins to overheat. Luckily, I recalled the reservoir created by that dam. If I could make it there, I could cool myself off enough to make it to my car.

So I again walked down the bank and across the riverbed. By now, I was delusional and barely aware of my surroundings. I came upon the precious water and started splashing it lustily on my head, arms, back, and front. I was so crazed with heat that I nearly stripped down and dove in! Once I had cooled myself off, I started off for the final leg of my return trip—unremarkable except for my heat-induced stupor.

And so begins the time of year when I retreat to the air-conditioned comfort of Phoenix summer living. The winter and spring exploration season is drawing to a close. I plan to return to the sites chronicled herein for picture-taking, but I will park close enough that it’s a ten-minute hike at most. I will also spend this summer visiting and photographing Phoenix’s historic properties on my lunch hours.

[UPDATE (3/17/04): Okay, so they’re not photos I took, but here are some aerial photographs of the places mentioned above: where I parked (note the weird white patch due north, that’s the concrete lava formation), the abandoned dam with the reservoir, and the big ol’ lake (note the dock at the top end). From the scale present on these maps, it was about 2km (1.24 miles) as the crow flies and probably 2.5km (1.55 miles) with my side trips.]

[UPDATE (3/24/04): After some Maricopa County Assessor searching, I’ve located more information about the mysterious lake off the Salt River. It’s owned by something called the Oasis Lake Club and it is really hard to describe. Intriguing, especially given that the Oasis Lake Club’s address is the same as a boat dealer called “Fishermans” at 8625 E. McDowell Rd., Scottsdale, AZ that is 10 miles away.]