Down on the Farm: Four-wheelin' in the desert
Last week, a neighbor from back home and a fellow snowbird showed me an adventure I have never before experienced.
I was invited to go four-wheelin' on the Arizona desert.
Three parties met at a remote staging area just north of Florence. We unloaded the four-wheelers and planned the day.
I was given a choice. Either I would wear a kerchief over my nose and mouth, or I would wear one of those medical-looking dust masks.
Why? Because you don't want to get valley fever. Apparently, there is a fungus in the soil in the desert which gets in your lungs and can cause you enough grief to make think you're going to die.
I knew there was risk involved with off-roading, but I didn't think the risk was of disease! So, I wore a kerchief.
Next, I was given some nice batting gloves. Early in the day, the wind would make for cold fingers, and later in the day I might develop blisters from gripping the handle bar so tight.
The vehicle was a side-by-side, which means it had two seats. I had a handlebar to grip which gave me stability and allowed me to think I was steering.
As we roared into the desert, I was impressed by the quality of the four-wheeler's suspension. When we approached an embedded boulder which stuck up out of the trail a foot, I gripped the handle bar as if my life depended upon it.
We roared over that rock at twenty-five miles-per-hour and didn't feel a thing.
The driver was an expert. I decided that since he had been riding these trails weekly for eleven winters and was still alive he probably wouldn't kill either of us this trip.
So, I leaned back and enjoyed the scenery.
Cactus whipped past. Prickly mesquite brushed the roll bar. Just when the trail seemed to straighten out, we would dive over the edge of a ravine, sending my stomach north.
We crawled up from the flat desert into the mountains. The terrain became rougher, and the trails grew more crowded.
We met dozens of other four-wheelers. All were polite about sharing the trail. Most everybody we talked to was from the Midwest.
Then we started seeing Jeeps and other four-wheel drive outfits. They came in caravans of five or more. One group had a train of nine jeeps. Three of them had only one occupant. No carpooling.
We stopped for lunch at an abandoned gold mine. The place was packed with Midwesterners. We talked farmland prices.
It occurred to me that this was a bunch of transplanted snowmobilers.
As we went deeper into the mountains, we crawled right up the side of a couple of peaks, then went over and straight down the other side. No switchbacks to level things out.
By now, my stomach was immune.
We stopped and shut off the rigs at the top of the highest mountain. You could see a network of trails in all directions and could hear the caravans of jeeps and four-wheelers rumbling up and down the mountains and through the dry riverbeds.
A little later, we entered Box Canyon. The trail was a narrow stream bed which snaked between red cliffs. Dozens of jeeps and four-wheelers vied for space.
We visited with a group of North Dakotans who pointed out a group of five mountain sheep high on the cliffs. Others gathered and passed around binoculars to get a better view.
By now, I was getting worn out and I hadn't even been driving. Just hanging on was work enough.
The desert sun got hot. Because we were in the lead, the air I breathed was pretty clear. So, I wrapped the kerchief around my head, figuring that the risk of valley fever was lower than the risk of fried baldness.
After burning the carbon out on the home stretch, we pulled into the staging area and loaded up. We had put on sixty miles. We were covered in dust.
"Are you going to go out and get a rig?" one of the others asked me, wondering if I was hooked.
I didn't say it, but there is no chance.
I was in the hands of an expert and experienced driver. If I were behind the wheel, one false move and I would be impaled by one of those really nasty cactus.
Every few hundred yards, the trails split. I don't know how anybody knew where we were or where we were going. I can just see myself lost as the sun set and the temperatures in the dry desert air plummeted to their night-time lows.
It was great fun, but some times one time is good enough!