Sunday, November 16, 2014

To the Vultures men!

Ummm, I mean Mine.  To the Vulture Mine.

WHILE scouting around through my library books (aren't libraries wonderful!) and wanting to test my new gearing on both pavement and off, I was looking for a route, a few days back that would give me some of both.

Beats me...flood of biblical proportions maybe?
Because its cooled off considerably these last few days, dropping 20F over twenty four hours, I wanted somewhere that was close enough but varied enough that I could leave mid morning, and be home before dark, which at this time of the year is about 5 30 ish.  The big Pacific cold front that rolled over the continent brought snow and minus 30C weather to the CDN prairies, close to freezing temps in the east and some snow as well.  The local weather channel has been warning for several days that snow and sub zero temperatures are expected north of Phoenix, east and SE at higher elevations.

Dec 2013

15 miles south of Prescott

As most of my riding is in various local mountain ranges and I can get as high as 8000' on some of the highest trails, at the very least it can be cold and like last year getting to Prescott via the Senator highway* I rode the last 15miles in snow covered switchback mountain road.  Not a whole lot of fun gang...

Go west young man, go west.
It never ceases to amaze me when people back in Canada hear that it gets cold here.  People think because this is a desert, it's hot like the Sahara, but that is far from the truth. A desert is defined as having little (usually less than 7 inches) of rainfall per year.  Although temperatures stay in the warm zone all winter down here at 1000' in the valley, you can ride your scoot all year round, anytime you head north or up in elevation, it cools considerably.  The Grand Canyon is snow covered much of the winter with sub zero temperatures.  Flagstaff, just a couple of hours north on the Interstate can have 20' high snow drifts and is popular with skiers!

Sure I could restrict my riding here to the SW which is typically warmer but there is little that attracts me besides an entry into Baja via Yuma, in that direction.  That and the fact I had hurt my back just days before, dictated a relatively short ride.  Eyeballing Google Maps, I found the Toyota proving grounds NW of my home.  It looked to be in a fairly well established sub division, laid out more or less on a grid, and if I followed the lines on the map, I could come out on the Vulture Mine road and hopefully visit the Vulture Mine ghost town.

THE Sub division. looked different on the Google map.

Their website was pretty interesting, it's one of the better preserved sites in the provin... umm, I mean state, and was about 50 road miles from me, the first of which is divided highway, giving me a chance to see what the new gearing could do without hindering traffic.  Route 60 was my entry into the greater Phx area when driving down from Alberta in the "old days" I knew it well and also knew it would be very busy.  After all, its the straightest route to Nevada and just across the border at Hoover dam, was Vegas.

Many abandoned homes.

If I pulled off 60 at Patton road, I was betting I could find my way through the subdivision to Vulture Mine.

Now of course, the big deal out there is the Toyota test facility, a restricted zone that the biggest manufacturer in the world uses to put various Toyota's through their paces.  From my understanding, there is a (very) high speed paved oval, off road sections and various other facilities out there in the desert.  I expected, like many other outlying communities that would be accompanied by wide four lane blvds, Lush green grass, golf courses, mega homes on mega lots with tons of toys in driveways, a couple of gas stations and even convenience stores.  I had rigged up a portable cigarette light from my battery so I could charge my auto/hand held Tom Tom and get used to using that moving forward.

Should read Wolsen road.  At least there was a sign.
I found Patton road and it was indeed finely paved at first, if only double lanes.  I followed it for several miles coming eventually to the gate at the Toyota facility.  Although the gate was open, signs warned of private property and restricted entry.

I knew I was looking for 299 th avenue and from there to Wolsen road, then west to Whispering Ranch road.  Piece of cake right... I even took a few minutes to shed my riding jacket and consult Tom.  Well Tom was no help at all, showing narrow lines with no names, so I went back to my compass and hand drawn map.  I back tracked to 299th and turned north on a dirt road and believe me, road is stretching the truth, it was more a dusty track.  I eventually made my way to 307th ave.

Forestry trail
There were no wide paved Blvd... no golf courses... no neat rows of pre-planned palm trees, no convenience stores and no gas stations.  What there was, were dirt tracks, going through sand wash dry creek-beds, hand made signs decayed and worn, derelict trailer homes, burnt out ranchos, two (not one but two) fiberglass hulks of 20 odd foot long boat shells that were either left there in the last great flood or abandoned many years ago.

I consulted my gps once again, drinking some water while doing it.  It showed my little blue Blazer, alone and forlorn with nothing, and I mean nothing, else.

I've tried to explain to people while riding in Baja that common sense, and a compass are still the only way round in places where even gps fears to tread.  Best thing I could do was follow my compass heading west and keep coming back to it.  I knew from google that eventually if there were enough tracks, I would find my way out to Vulture Mine road.

Once more, Gold will come outa them hills!

VULTURE Mine on Vulture Mine road, south of Wickenburg
And I did!

There across from me literally a hundred feet south was two tall poles with fake vultures resting atop and guess what... a closed gate.

Typical road sign...
Just inside, a short walk away, was a Rhino and a guy in hard hat and work boots, shirt sleeves rolled up putting up hardware for a new gate.  I slipped through the gap in the closed gate, hoping not to get shot at in the ass, running for all I was worth in my rather heavy duty Icon's, and approached cautiously.  I met the guy, who told me he used to work for California road crews but felt better at home here in small town Arizona, and he tells me the mine is no longer open for visitors, because it is back to work.  In fact, his father was inside bulldozing earth in an open pit.

Very congenial 23 year old Eric tells me he's always hankered for a dual purpose bike and was quite interested in my cross country route to get here.  He said he is buying an 1100 Shadow from a friend so he can get started on his biking career.

I did manage to take a few photos from a distance, no close-ups, before re mounting and heading north towards the town of Wickenburg.

Couldn't see much of the Best preserved  Ghost town in AZ.

Vulture Mine road is perfect pavement, smooth, follows the lay of the land unlike interstates that basically 'bore through it'.  The XT cruised right along at 50- 60 mph, sweeping curves like a sport bike, torque laden 4 valve engine needing little shifting.  I was very pleased with having found my way across and around desert hills and dry arroyos to get to the mine, even if I couldn't scout around the old site.

Some of the old Mine buildings

with my zoom lens.

Before reaching Wickenburg I detoured off onto the Vulture Peak road and followed that past numerous RV's camped out for the winter it looked like, with many atv's and side by sides in tow.  I'd heard people say they park in the AZ desert, set up their solar panels or generators and live there the winter months.  Canadian's of course and visitors from Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and other northern states that are in themselves, snow birds.

Close as I'd get today.
After I passed mile marker 3, I obviously zigged when I should have zagged, and ended up riding down a gulley for about a mile, slipping the clutch in first, riding through foot deep sand and tiny gravel before I gave up.  I consulted the GPS again a couple of times and entered 'start here', which of course made no sense whatsoever to Mr. Tom Tom, here being nowhere, as far as it was concerned.  Just a blue little SUV in the center of the screen and still nothing else.

Finally finding a wide enough place I was able to wrestle the 350 around and eventually get myself out of that ravine.  Trust the Doc... a BMW GS anything, V Strom, 1190 KTM, or any of the so called ADV bikes, would have been torched on the spot hoping to attract a local Cessna or F 15 Eagle!  My 300 lb Yamaha was plenty to manhandle/ride out of there.  I could not even imagine a loaded 650 pound Adventure bike in here.  Ewen and Charlie would have been calling in the National Guard, with a chopper!

And the Earth shook!!!

*travel guide warns "Don't be fooled, Senator highway is really just a dirt track..."

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