Views of Arizona

I am on the road again. Don’t tell anyone. I have mixed feelings about what we’re doing, given the latest escalation of plague. I had not planned to write about this one, but today’s drive was noteworthy. To back up briefly — I will be joining a couple Austin climbers for Thanksgiving in Red Rock Canyon near Las Vegas. Driving, of course.

Originally, I planned to stay Thursday night in Socorro, New Mexico. But their travel restrictions are the heaviest in the Southwest and the situation is serious. So I drove through on a lonely scenic route — US 380 and US 60 — that re-traced some fun routes from past trips. I’ve come to love New Mexico with all our adventures there in the last three years; it pained me to sneak through without doing anything. So I stopped for a trunk-snack on the side of the road at the VLA.

I rolled into Show Low, Arizona rather late, but it put me almost a night ahead of schedule. On Friday, I survived an onslaught of meetings and ejected myself into my first week off since I started my new job. To celebrate, I asked George and Evan to help me find something fun to do between Show Low and “somewhere vaguely headed toward Vegas, but who really cares?”

Rim Road overlooking Payson, AZ. Route from Trails Offroad.

Yeah, that’ll do. I got a late start getting out of town, but there was a dramatic sunset waiting for me when I got there.

At the end of Rim Road, I rejoined AZ 260 headed toward Camp Verde on I-14. From there, the suggested route to Vegas was to continue southwest to Prescott Valley before turning north again. But for just a few miles extra, I could go through a ghost town I’d heard about.

It also happens to be on a pretty awesome looking road.

As it happens, Jerome is not a ghost town exactly, though its tourism provenance comes from being called that. It looks like mountain town and vacation destination that has built up next to the decommissioned copper mine, which still stands as a state historic park. In the 1920s, the population peaked near 10,000. Now there are less than 500 permanent residents. The whole town is situated precariously on dramatic cliffs with steep hills and sheer drop-offs. Homes and businesses are wedged into every available crevice, pressed up against the rock, or hanging out over the Verde Valley below.

What doesn’t come through in the dashcam is that this was a steep, constant uphill climb that someone decided to perch a town in the middle of.

Between Jerome, Rim Road, and the forest lands that surround them both, I might propose we put Arizona on the list to come back to.

Hacking from the Passenger Seat

Apache Lodge, Prescott, AZ.

Today’s drive is Prescott, AZ to Beatty, NV (or Rhyolite, if I’m brave enough) but it also coincided with the 2020 CCDC Invitational. For the past few years, I’ve worked as an assistant project manager and scenario writer for the Southwest Collegiate Cybersecurity Defense Competition. This year’s competition in March was cancelled, but we hosted a virtual one-day event today.

About an hour into the game, I started the drive north. Throughout the day, I’ve stopped for a couple hours at a time to work on my pieces and monitor the game.

Black Team focused on building Ansible and Terraform config for automated deployment of an entire team infrastructure.

If I had to spend an entire day on a Zoom, these are the people I’d like to do it with. Though a virtual game just doesn’t have the excitement and zany antics of the in-person experience.

Watching a student’s virtual machine terminal as a fork-bomb from Red Team crashes his computer toward the end of the game.

He reported the outage to his team:

Now that the game has ended, I have to grade the budget forecasts I made the teams write, and then I can head on to my campsite. Tomorrow is hiking in Death Valley!

Short Day in Death Valley

After hacker games, I could finally leave the Starbucks I’d been parked out front of for many hours. Finally on the direct route, I headed up toward Vegas and took US-95 straight up to Beatty. A ways north of Las Vegas, I drove next to a massive military installation that I realized was “Area 51” because the one gas station in 100 miles, right on the edge, was full of alien tchotchkes.

After making the customary stop at the StageCoach Hotel & Casino & Denny’s in Beatty, I headed over to my campsite for the night, the ghost town of Rhyolite.

As I wandered around, I felt like there were ghosts. And there is a residence on the far side of town. And two more cars drove in while I was there — sir, what the heck are you doing in a ghost town at midnight? So I decided to obey the “Day Use Only. No Camping or Overnight Parking” signs and park at the entrance to Titus Canyon Road instead.

The sun may set early here, but when it rises, you get free Lasik through your eyelids. Which was probably good because I wanted to do Titus Canyon Road again and I had a big hike planned, despite the short winter days in this region.

This may be my third run through Titus Canyon, but it never gets old. After that, I drove down the park down to to Dante’s Viewpoint for Mount Perry, a ridge hike. Major ass-kicking, but beautiful.

The parking area, at nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, looks out over the Badwater Basin salt flats at 300 feet below sea level. What I missed about the trail map is that between me and the peak was a valley. The uphill that started at mile 8 was pretty-soul crushing, but put me at the top right at sunset.

After laying down in the parking lot because my Death Valley march damn near killed me — and also to let the insane sunset traffic jam dissipate — I got back on the road and took Furnace Creek Wash out the south edge of the park, carrying on our tradition of not arriving or departing the park on a paved road.

Next up, Vegas!

Three Days in Red Rock Canyon

Finally in Vegas, I met up with my small quaranteam of Austin climbers and we spent the first half of our week climbing in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Tomorrow is a rest day with big turkey plans.

They didn’t think this was going to work. I thought these people knew me.

Monday: The Hamlet Wall

Each trip out here, we usually start at The Hamlet. It has a good assortment of easy and moderate stuff to cut our teeth on to remember how Red Rock Canyon is different than climbing in Austin.

Tuesday: Civilization Crags

A favorite area of mine with spectacular views, wherein we got Kenneth back on lead after a while, Mike did his first lead ever, and Brent decided to have us all start the day on a 5.10a as a “warm up.”

After climbing, we had a helluva home cooked meal of steak, potatoes, brussels sprouts, and a multitude of Oreos that we really should stop buying. It was all so good, we even convinced Mike to eat one brussel sprout. It’s been a big day for him.

Wednesday: The Great Red Book

Uh oh. So I asked to go somewhere off the second pull-out since the park seemed pretty empty today. I wanted to see someplace new. Yeah this was my fault. At least partially. We ended up at The Great Red Book, which is mostly trad (which we don’t do — oops) and the base of the wall is somewhere in the lower stratosphere. Also the approach “hike” ended up being a dramatic rock scramble…

Serious navigational prowess on display here… The circles were totally on purpose.

The two sport climbs we jumped on were Subject-Verb Agreement at 80 feet with a lot of run-out and the first pitch of Dangling Participles at about 120 feet, respectively. Neither were particularly hard technically, but stupid heights and exposure aren’t exactly my jam. I led neither but cleaned both, so while I cannot claim any ambition, at least I can be useful. Brent led the first and Jay and Mike tag-team lead the second. An ambitious second lead for him given the everything.

We emerged back into the hiking trails through Black Corridor — another favorite area but a slot canyon incompatible with social distancing — right as the sun set. Kenneth is making a carbonara for dinner tonight, which is awfully good natured of him after we dragged him up Everest today.


Best rest day ever. For tradition, we put on the Macy’s parade and last week’s epic UTulsa defeat of Tulane because I missed it driving through New Mexico.

Meanwhile, Chris, Kenneth, Evan, and Jay managed to conjure an absolutely amazing feast out of this disheveled kitchen equipped with twenty butter knives, one spatula, zero rolling pins, and a dishwasher with only one shelf and no drain.

While Chris fried a cajun-spiced turkey out by the pool, Evan made four gigantic pies for our small group — one of which was a Chicago-style deep-dish for lack of a pie pan — and in truth, that is now my preferred service of apple pie. I practiced my hot toddy recipe. Several times.

After the food coma passed, we did a drive down Las Vegas Boulevard, just to say we did. The Strip isn’t exactly my favorite part of this region, but I always want to see the fountain. And it was neat having Mike ride shotgun — he’s also got a production background and lot of Vegas trivia to share as we weaved through traffic.

Given the holiday, the Strip was pretty dead, but given Covid, the Strip was way too packed. But at least more folks were wearing masks than I had expected. It was an odd mix. Hopefully the next time I’m here, things will be different.

Plumber’s Crack

Given the expected crowds and capacity limitations, the Parks Service has dolled out reservations for entrance times at Red Rock Canyon this year. Nine o’clock was an ambitious choice for the day after Thanksgiving, and — surprise! — we didn’t make it. So we went around back behind Red Rock Canyon to Calico Basin instead.

We started at one of the few sport bolted walls in the area. I got in a lead today that felt good. It was an easy climb but after my trepidation at Great Red Book, it was a confidence booster. All I gotta do is come home and do it a million more times.

It was also frigid in the shade, with a wind whipping by even at ground-level. So we moved on. Brent got it in his head that we needed to try our hand at one of the more famous boulder problems in the Basin — Plumber’s Crack.

It’s taller than it looks.

It’s a chimney climb, which is fun. And for a bouldering problem (read: no ropes or protection), it is rather high. Mike and Evan finished it. Jay, Brent, and I each gave it a go.

A good final climb day that we can all feel good about. Tomorrow, we head off in different directions on the long way home.

Rocks with Wings

We had Red Rock reservations again on Saturday morning, but with a long drive facing all of us, we packed up first thing. I’d had grand plans to spend the coming week somewhere en route, then return to Big Bend National Park next weekend for an anniversary hike — one year since Emory Peak. However, a friend in the area mentioned that the situation out there is rough. And Vegas may as well be a leper colony; I should keep to myself.

I was already driving, still weighing my options. Take a scenic route home, but go home? Hell-ride it back like the others? Head toward southern Arizona anyway? Between plague concerns, being tired, and staring down the barrel of a heavy week at work, I decided I should head home, too.

But at the last possible second, I grabbed the I-15 northbound exit instead of US-59 south. If I was going to drive home, it should at least be beautiful. I made the best choice.

I took 15 past the CasaBlanca in Mesquite, NV — where our Grand Canyon Parashant excursion started on the Offroad Trip — through to St. George and Hurricane, UT where it ended. From there, I took a series of state highways that paralleled the Utah/Arizona border until I could pick up US-89A in Fredonia, AZ.

It’s another scenic alternate that serves some of the Grand Canyon North Rim entrances as well as running through the Kaibab National Forest, Navajo and Hopi Nations, and the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. A six hour panorama of the iconic mesas and cliffs of the Four Corners region.

I did not stop until I got to Page, Arizona. But I am now determined to visit northern Arizona one day. That was a spectacular drive through some breathtaking rocky scenery, with some snowy forest for good measure. Perched just outside Page is an overlook to Horseshoe Bend, which I got to just after sunset.

After a dinner stop, I continued on through a brilliant, full-moon drive through the dramatic landscapes of the Navajo Nation back to Shiprock, or “Tsé Bitʼaʼí,” the Rock with Wings. I stopped for some night photography, but you wouldn’t know it. The moon out-shone the stars, leaving this sacred site brightly illuminated.

900 Miles

I stopped for the night not far from Shiprock, leaving about monotonous 900 miles to drive on Sunday. The rest of the group stayed the night in Albuquerque, but I started about three hours on the far side of that town.

But when I stopped in Albuquerque for gas, I found a friend.

The drive was rough, and not particularly enjoyable, but the whole week prior made it worth it. I also made a discovery on the way.

US Highway 84 passes through Santa Rosa, NM on I-40 and continues through Goldthwaite, TX at US-183. Somehow I had never noticed that — partially because Google Maps has previously insisted on taking a bypass via TX-153 through Winters instead of staying on US-84 through Abilene. But 84 is the nicer drive. That officially makes US-84 my gateway to New Mexico and Colorado and that’s kinda fun to think about.

Though I prefer to lean on maps over nav systems, this is the first time I didn’t use a nav at all. Instead, I scribbled out my route on a notepad before I started driving and followed that. Maybe I should just get an atlas for Christmas. Do they make an atlas of “everywhere?”

So here is how to get from Austin to Brownfield to Show Low to Prescott to Beatty to Death Valley to Vegas to Red Rock Canyon to Page to Albuquerque to Austin.

Overall, a fantastic week. But I do long for the days of being able to travel like the before-times, without worry of exposure to or — even worse — unknowingly spreading COVID-19. Maybe sometime in 2021? For the first time all year, signs of hope have started to make the news.