After 2½ hours driving, I encountered about 50 miles of unpaved, washboard-rutted road. I could get up to around 50 MPH through the high-desert ranch country but as I got closer to canyonland, the roads sometimes had me creeping over washes at under 20. As the road inclined out of the desert and into the park, I saw this:
TBH, I never encountered either of those my entire weekend. What I did encounter at the group campground was a church group of about 50 attendees (who kept leaving and arriving the entire day) and a family of seven, five boys fighting to commandeer their quad. I noped on up the road, wanting as much solitude and serenity as I could find. As far as I knew (based on the USFS website), there were two other campgrounds up the road I’d find a quiet space.
Um, USFS failed to mention that those campgrounds were inaccessible, infrastructure washed out in a massive flood. My Prius was a champ as I crept through washes, avoiding huge stones and places I knew the car would take a ding on the undercarriage. There were dispersed spots but one was dominated by some carcass buzzing with flies and bees, another was adjacent to standing water that I was positive would erupt with masses of mosquitoes.
When I returned to the group campground, I asked the father of the kids on the quad if he knew where I could camp—I was feeling like it was a Friday the 13th kinda groove (outta luck, not Jason) and he told me they’d be leaving soon, and I was welcome to set up while they finished their day. His wife offered me carne asada, beans, and tortillas, then apologized for no silverware. I cupped meat and beans into tortilla and told her I was grand with that. I gave them both a beer, finished my food, and set up my camp. By the time the sun went down, I was alone. Alone for the entire weekend. Except for maybe ghosts but, if they were there, I heard nothing from them.
I discovered those on Saturday. I saw two posts from a distance, looking past the campground and into the woods beyond. I had to take a walk and find out what they were. And when I found them, they were more a mystery than before… who were they? The headstones say “pioneers” but the monuments were erected 23 years after Arizona Became a state so not really “pioneers” at that point. Did the CCC wander up on some graves marked only with crosses (like in a Western) and if not, why did no one try and identify the bodies?
I’ll carry the spirit of that place—Coronado National Forest, Camp Rucker campground—for the rest of my life. As much as the drive sucked getting there (and finding out choice spots were unavailable), hearing nothing but bull elk bugling and the susurration of a slight breeze as I fell asleep beneath the lights of billions of stars made it more than worth it.