Page 12 - the Noise July 2017
P. 12

COLUMN : Ellen J.D. Roberts EMAIL : FOTOS : K. Lanning & Ellen Jo
Several Sinagua cliff dwellings in varying sizes and varying states of ruin look out over the river, high above the railroad tracks of the AZ. Central line. Most of the ruins in the area, including the nearby Tuzigoot National Monument, were abandoned by the early 1400s. A bronze Chevy Chevette was parked a short distance away from our camp, and our friends explained that the tangled web of blankets and air mattresses under a big willow was the current residence of a pair of transient Cottonwood folks, down on their luck. A barbecued goat carcass also lay nearby, resting on a bed of tin foil. Perhaps a Chupacabra had killed and eaten it.
After sunset, we started up a game of wilderness bocce ball, on the rocks, which is far more difficult than official rules bocce on a flat, well groomed regulation court. It was Xtreme Bocce. The transients shouted out from their riverside lair,“Looks like fun!” We looked down at the spare pair of bocce balls, and looked at each other, wondering if camping etiquette dictated we should invite the transient to join us. Our faces all said Hell No.
The week before our campout, the gravel pits had been the site of a violent altercation. According to the police blotter, a mother and her adult son had apparently gotten into a scrap with a group of young men who then attacked her car, breaking the windshield. Several weapons were mentioned in the story — various bits of cutlery, including a machete (!). I found broken auto glass near the camp and realized we were at the very spot. Perhaps it had been just an innocent game of bocce ball that had gone wrong.
All around us, large Mexican families were encamped, with their soothing campesino music drifting across the water and their legion of children riding mini- ATVs. Even the tiniest tot had an equally tiny ATV. We were comforted by their
presence — they were protecting us from transients, chupacabras, and machete wielding thugs.
In the morning, we had a hearty breakfast of fresh eggs, bacon, croissants, apricots and coffee, while being watched over by the camp’s loyal pink flamingo and 5 hungry dogs. We saddled up our gear to make the treacherous hike up to the ruins — crossed the river, bushwhacked through the scratchy dried underbrush, and up the rocky rail bed to the train tracks. From there it was up the jagged coral-like boulders. From the high vantage point of the ruins, we surveyed our tiny camp over yonder, and gazed out over the whole Verde Valley spread out below like a big picnic, slightly hazy with the warming of the day.
“It’s hard to believe they lived up here, so far from the river,” said Tim,“Seems like
a bit difficult to access.” Chad thought it might have been some sort of strategic defensive post. Perhaps it was just a storage area for food, or the place where ancient teens drank fermented beverages and made out under the full moon. Evidence of this theory came in the form of a prehistoric Budweiser can I discovered.
After the return hike, which left me scraped and bleeding, we cooled off in
the easy river. As the waters of the Verde washed over us, we watched a family pull up at the river’s edge in an old pick-up truck. One at a time, they rolled up their pants and carried a dining table, several kitchen chairs, and a gas grill across the river towards a shady glen.
”Now that’s living!”we all agreed,“Cheers to that!” Cheers to those simple pleasures, like bocce ball, swimming dogs, and camping with your friends along the Verde River. <N>
The “Gravel Pits” are approximately 1 mile North of Tuzigoot Bridge, off of Sycamore Canyon Road, just outside of Clarkdale.
Camping out in
the area known as the “gravel pits” along the Verde River, just north of Clarkdale, is not for those seeking peace and quiet. It’s a lovely location, with easy access for even the most low clearance of autos, so it tends to be crowded and noisy. With the population of Clarkdale about to explode due to the 600 home Mountain Gate community, now may be your last chance to see the gravel pits at its rawest and rudest, before it too is overrun by yuppies and subdivided into a tidy tract of town homes.
After one warm blustery June day in Jerome, we headed down to the river to meet up with friends. In fact, they had set up camp the afternoon before — they had already spent a night in the gravel pits and were well relaxed. Lounging under the canvas awning outside their 1952 Happy Home aluminum travel trailer, these tin can tourists greeted us with martini shaker margaritas, and we all eased back into our lawn chairs and love seats and watched the sun drop below the white cliffs of the Verde.
“See that ruin right there? We’re gonna hike up to that tomorrow before it gets too hot.”
12 • JULY 2017 | the NOISE arts & news |
(JULY 2005)

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