By: Karen Leonard
Getting High on Desert Travel....and Travel....and Travel
I needed that driveable yet distant peak, and I needed it before October 20th when I was scheduled to finish the DPS list on Jacumba. So when he who had intended to go the 600 plus miles from Los Angeles with me to get Navajo cancelled or a -(good) reason, I decided to go ahead and get it on my own Saturday, Sept. 29, since I had set up a business appointment in Phoenix on the 30th and had a plane reservation home from there. That meant flying to Phoenix on the afternoon of Sept. 28, renting a car, and driving north. Informed in Flagstaff that the Tuba City Motel was rented out through November to filmmakers, I stopped at the Cameron Trading Post for a good meal at the many-splendored restaurant and a restful night. Leaving Cameron at 3:45 a.m., I reached the trailhead for Navajo at S a.m. and started hiking up the 4WD road. Two men from the Shonto landing strip/flight management program (?) and five Navajo boys were camping at the trailhead, intending to hike partway up. The day was gorgeous and the hike went easily. I found the well-marked trail heading off west of the corral (although I started looking for it one corral too early), but after some time lost it in a carpet of pine needles after one last flourish of showy ducks atop big rocks. I rejoined the road in a vivid yellow copes of poplars and reached the summit at 10:45, after an endless last mile or two where each bend ahead promised to be the last. The summit was a disappointment after the beauty of the road and trail: tin shacks, an old vehicle, towers and antennas, a privy, and thickets obscuring the view. The cooling wind and gathering clouds reminded me of the weather prediction, 30% chance of thundershowers that afternoon and 50% chance of heavy rain the next day; and there was no one to share the view with, and I had to be back in Phoenix that evening to prepare for my Sunday interview....so I didn't go the extra distance for the view beyond, leaving a reward for the next trip. Coming down on the road the whole way, I found that the trail had indeed cut out lots of boring road but also some fine views to the west. I met the camping group going for the summit after all, and I found the War God spring, a trough of good running water just south off the trail. As I navigated the final few feet out the poor dirt road to rejoin Navajo 16 at 1:30 p.m., a flurry of rain hit. As I drove back to Phoenix, rain clouds behind, ahead, and west of me spectacularly lightened and darkened the landscape; Humphreys was at the center of a storm as I passed Flagstaff.
If anyone else wants to combine a trip to Phoenix with climbing Navajo, the mileage from Phoenix to the trailhead was 320. The Guide-designated 44 miles of dirt road includes a middle portion of 14 miles of good pavement, from highway 98 to 9 miles past Inscription House. The last of the dirt road on Navajo Highway 16 had a few erosion problems with inadequate advance warning, so I was glad I was driving it in daylight, and the final 2.6 mile power line dirt road was the worst part of the whole trip!
Some will recall that I wanted to vote this peak off our list. One never really regrets a trip which has included beauty and solitude, but I still don't think Navajo should be on the list. The summit was disheartening, and the drive is long and expensive any way you do it. The Navajo country is great, but a traveller's time might better be spent seeing the sites of early settlement, or perhaps we could find a mountain there without a 4x4 road to the top.
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