About an hour after driving away from Arcosanti we find our way up the narrow access road out of Clarkdale and arrive in downtown Jerome. We don’t specifically know where we are going to stay tonight so we can’t stay long but we have a couple of stops we always make when in town, Caduceus Cellars and The Spirit Room.
Back in the Tacoma after an IPA at the corner Spirit Room Saloon and picking up a few bottles of vino and a new t-shirt from Caduceus (my old Caduceus shirt finally fell apart from regular use) we continue on up the hill out of Jerome on Hwy 89A towards Prescott. I see on my phone the name Mingus Mountain Recreation Area and immediately make our decision. The main reason we chose Mingus Mountain is because I am a fan of American jazz bassist, composer and bandleader Charles Mingus. I’m know this is not named after him but still, he was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the sign. We’re in the Prescott National Forest about midway between Cottonwood and Prescott and recreational opportunities abound. Near the top of the pass we turn left onto Forest Route 104 (FR104) and head into the Mingus Mountain Recreation Area.
Mere minutes after turning onto FR104, at a sharp turn in the road, we see a little sign for Butterfly Spring. Let’s take a look. Sadly it seems this Spring has not sprung, at least for the season but maybe for decades by the look of the little retaining wall dam.
There’s a little single-track trail heading up the gorge behind the “spring” and we walk about a hundred meters up to take a look. We can see an old pipe coming down from up the gorge and guess it comes all the way from the “Butterfly Tank” which I see on the map. Sadly, since we still have no idea where we are going to stay tonight we turn back and add this to our list of “Places to Explore Next Time.”
At the next fork in the road we can either stay straight on FR104 where we see signs for official campgrounds or we can take the right onto FR413. As usual we take “the road less traveled” and turn right. This starts as a nicely maintained dirt road but soon devolves. We don’t need the Tacoma’s 4×4 capabilities but the drivers of mere street cars attempting to make it down the ruts and rocks here better be brave and/or know a good mechanic.
About 4 miles down the degraded road and we pass over a cattle guard and come to another fork and take the right to stay on FR413. We bypass the next fork at FR132 and stay right to remain on FR413. In another 1/8th of a mile we arrive at a clearing and pull into it.
As we’re rolling to the spot where we are going to park the truck for the night I can see a large rock fire ring and, sadly, a shit ton (technical term) of garbage.
We unload and get situated and then decide to tackle the refuse. One, because it’s something we always do. Two, so we can enjoy this area without all the crap strewn about and three, because we don’t want anyone who might pass by to think we’re scumbags and have such poor taste in beer, nasty packaged foodstuffs or would consider using bottled water. We also find several areas where it is obvious that more than a few horses were tied up. Large piles of horse dung have been left where they were originally dropped and, inexplicably, several piles “cleaned up” by being moved into fire pits. WTF?!?
Lots of broken Corona bottles (apparently it’s too easy to just litter them unbroken), a bunch of empty packages from pre-cooked, crap-tier “food,” and dozens of Dasani water bottles. We always have garbage bags with us just for such an occasion and set about picking up the wide variety of junk. 30 minutes later we have a pile of garbage which also includes a bottle of Sterno gelled fire starter!
Amazingly lame to leave a bottle of what is essentially napalm near a fire ring in a national forest. I have been making fires for 40 years and am a bit of a fire starting savant (some would add “idiot” before that) if I do say so myself so I really don’t need anything like that. I’d rather not throw that bottle of nasty, flammable chemicals in the garbage though so decide we’ll try it out for our next fire. I now understand why they dumped it. It’s fluorescent pink slime which is useless in any amount of breeze. We make a fire the “old-fashioned” way with kindling and proceed to keep adding little squirts of the slime to get rid of it. We’re at around 6800′ in elevation so I’m expecting it to get into my “cold” category as opposed to “chilly” so a fire is a good thing.
As a firm proponent of wool and Gore-Tex and with Willow in her fur coat covered in her jacket we really don’t need a fire but it is a nice addition for both the warmth and the atmosphere it provides.
We like it here so decide to stay for a couple more nights. There is some logging going on about a mile further down the road near the turn around at the James 4-H Camp at Mingus Springs. We can’t hear the logging but there is a group of trucks including a log-carrying semi that drive past our campsite together each morning at 7am and leave together each night at 5pm. Other than that, not another soul around. Nice.
The next morning we take a hike around the area to see what we can see. Strangely, on the other side of the little rise we are staying on we find two homemade little toilets just sitting out in the forest.
One is a 5 gallon bucket with a plastic toilet seat on it and the other is a wooden contraption.
I assume that the fact Willow doesn’t find them intriguing means they have not been used for a good long time but see no reason to test that supposition by sticking my face anywhere near them. Guessing they were placed by a logging crew back when this area was last cut. Sprinkled about the area are several more minimal existing camping spots with nothing but rock fire rings but we still think our spot is the best.
After a couple of days of reading, hiking and relaxing we finally decide to move on and explore some other area. We picked up so much garbage that we had a bit of an issue loading all our gear back into the Tacoma shell while still leaving room for garbage bags that may or may not leak their nastiness on our stuff. Once we got back down into the Cottonwood area we parceled out the bags and boxes of garbage around town so as not to overwhelm any one business who is nice enough to offer garbage cans.
This area has many of the criteria we look for in a camping spot including a dearth of noisy neighbors and some beautiful hikes. It sadly did not have a usable AT&T signal but that is the fault of a crappy corporation not this wilderness area. We have added this to our list of favorite places in this general area of Arizona and look forward to the next time we can spend some quality time here.