Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lost Dutchman State Park and Rockhounding near Safford, AZ

Superstition Mountains as seen from Lost Dutchman State Park
The colors change daily and are especially dramatic at sunset
Our original plan was to stop in Superior on Saturday allowing us to arrive at Apache Junction, just east of Phoenix, on Sunday so that we would stand a good chance of getting a site in the overflow section of Lost Dutchman State Park being vacated that day. But, the campground we stayed in last year at Superior was closed forcing us to push on to Apache Junction. We drove into Lost Dutchman and were not surprised to see the sign announcing that all campsites, including the overflow were full. But, when the ranger approached he told us that the people using the group campground had left early and that we could camp there. The group campground is essentially a parking lot, but it suited our purposes for the night. The next morning I was able to succeed with the original plan of obtaining a site in the overflow campground.

None of the sites in the overflow section have electricity or water, but we were prepared to dry camp. Except for the microwave/convection oven, we could operate all systems on internal power and storage tanks. With bright sunshine everyday, our two solar panels had no problem keeping the batteries charged. At one time I saw 150 watts flowing into the batteries.
We had one rainy day, the Superstitions looked all that more mysterious
We had an appointment for 8AM on Monday with Gene's RV Repair in Mesa ( to deal with our nonfunctioning refrigerator. Gene's is a family business. Gene's son, Mike, diagnosed our problem. We told him that we had read the warranty on the Dometic refrigerator that limited the warranty to the original purchaser and were prepared to pay for the repairs. When he found out that the previous owner had never used the trailer and had owned it for such a short time, Mike said he thought he could get the repair covered under warranty. Later that day, he called to say that Dometic would honor the warranty and a new cooling unit had been ordered, but that it was coming from the factory and would not arrive for a week. Our pleasure of having the repair covered by the warranty easily wiped out our disappointment of not having use of the refrigerator for that long.

When Mike learned we were using coolers and bags of ice to keep our food, he suggested using dry ice instead. Having never used dry ice or seen it for sale in stores I was surprised when he told me that Fry's, a local grocery chain, sold dry ice. We immediately went to Fry's, bought fifteen pounds of dry ice, put it on the top shelf of the refrigerator and placed the food on the lower shelves. The next morning we discovered frozen vegetables and ice crystals in the orange juice. We then wrapped the dry ice in a towel and when we needed to replace it, we used only one five pound block at a time. The dry ice was so much easier to use than regular ice because we didn't get food soaking wet as the ice melted and didn't have to deal with digging through the cooler to find what we needed or having emptying the melt water.

Another trailer chore was to visit an Airstream dealer, Desert Autoplex (, that would inspect our trailer in order to transfer the remaining warranty to us. After filling out the paperwork and submitting the VIN number, the service agent returned to tell us that Airstream had already completed the transfer when we were at the factory for repairs the previous fall. As we were turning around to leave, he told us that our trailer brake and turn signals weren't working. He checked the electrical jack on the hitch and determined there was no power there. We then found that the fuse was blown. He went into the shop but returned saying he didn't have that fuse, but he would run down the street and get one. I objected, saying I could do that. He insisted though, saying it would only take a few minutes. As he promised, he returned promptly, replaced the bad fuse and all was well. I went into the office to find out what I owed, he said not to worry, there was no charge.

As usual we thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Lost Dutchman State Park. This park, just a short ride east of Phoenix is very popular with campers, hikers and horseback riders alike. At the foot of the Superstition Mountains and the southwestern entrance to the Tonto National Forest there are many hiking trails available, from the very easy to the extremely strenuous. The rangers and employees that tend to the park are very friendly and accommodating.

One evening we were treated to a special and beautiful scene in the western sky. The clouds formed a series of regularly repeating wave shaped forms on their eastern edge. This rare cloud pattern is known as the Kelvin Helmholtz waves. What we are seeing is stable moist air being lifted, condensed then sheared off as it rises into the less stable portion of the atmosphere.

Several evenings were spent listening and dancing to live music at either Filley's Road House or The Hitching Post saloons that were only a short drive from the park. Sarah and I both enjoyed the pizza at the Hitching Post. We understand why we saw so many people ordering it.

Two must do activities in Phoenix are to visit the Art Museum and the Desert Botanical Gardens. Of the several special exhibits at the art museum was a display of pins that former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, wore while she was our Secretary of State ( This large and varied collection would be interesting even without the connection to Secretary Albright. But, the show underscores how even the most seemingly unimportant details can have dramatic importance in the sphere of international diplomacy. I have always admired her intelligence and dedication to her country. This exhibit cemented that admiration.

Her choice of pin always had an underlying meaning. Can you guess what attitude was represented by the wasp?

Having received nearly two inches of rain the week before our visit, the Desert Botanical Garden was a vastly different place than it was last year. Cacti and spring flowers were in abundance. Additionally, the Garden was hosting an installation of a number of large blown glass sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly (
I'm sure this hummingbird enjoyed the spring flowers as much as I did.

Flowering Palo Verde tree

Chihuly's glass installations seemed so appropriate in the Garden

After two weeks at Lost Dutchman we had reached the limit for one stay so we retraced our steps to Safford and the Bureau of Land Management rockhound site in the Black Hills northwest of the town. On SR 191 at mile marker 141.5 is a gravel road that leads west for a mile and half to a small camping area. The sign at the cattle guard by the main road warns that the road is only occasionally maintained and could be rough. We found it to be in excellent condition. While it is narrow, we decided that if the road became too rough for the Mary Joan we could back up to a turn around spot. We turned into the camping area and found it could easily accommodate our 31' length.
View of the Black Hills and the White Mountains beyond from Safford, AZ

Once we had leveled the trailer, and set up camp, we drove another quarter of a mile further on the road we had come in on where we found a sign announcing that this was the center of the area where fire agate could be found. While there were small pieces littering the ground everywhere, we were unable to find any of any significant size. It was clear that the area had been mined with a mechanical sluice. Nevertheless, we did find a few pieces Sarah thought were worth keeping.

While we didn't strike it rich in our search for fire agate, we were rewarded with a wonderful campsite with the bonus of a fabulous sunset. Earlier in the day there had been low clouds and light showers. Just before sunset the front passed, the wind picked up and the sky cleared. We prepared our dinner after the sun set and by the time we finished eating the wind had dropped and we set up our telescope to view the stars as well as Jupiter and Mars.
Boondocking on BLM land in the Black Hills north of Safford, Arizona

The next morning we returned to SR191. In our atlas it is marked as a scenic state road.  The road is designated as a state road, the type on which we have towed the Mary Joan many thousands of miles. On Google Maps it appears to be a main highway. But, just a few miles from Clifford we saw a sign prohibiting trucks over forty feet in length. I couldn't believe that this road could be any more difficult than what we experienced on SR15 between Mesa Camp in Gila National Forest and Silver City. I decided to ignore the signs and proceed, hoping I would not have to explain why I ignored the warning.
Copper and Gold Mine. Not a rare sight in Arizona

The road was indeed very steep and the hairpin turns required strict diligence. Only on a few turns was I forced to cross the center line in order to keep the trailer on the road. Admittedly, a couple were on turns where I was blinded from oncoming traffic by the rock ledge on the inside turns. Fortunately, we met only two cars traveling in the opposite direction on the most challenging sections. We averaged only about 25 miles per hour for about forty five miles of this road. We were not in any hurry and we were enthralled with the views from this road.
High Mountain Range Land, White Mountains, Arizona off SR191
This evenings destination was Show Low Lake Campground. When we arrived, we found the main gate open, but the gate into the campground locked. The web site we looked at a few days earlier stated the campground was open year round. We drove past the gate to the campground and found a parking area that was shielded from street view by a thick stand of juniper trees. We later learned that this campground is run by a private firm, Recreation Resource Management of America, under contract with the city of Show Low. It seems that while the city is within the national forest, it maintains control of the natural resources within its limits. The next morning, rather than return to the main road the way we came, our GPS suggested continuing on the same road was the shorter route to SR260, our desired course A half mile further along the road we came to what was obviously the primary site of the Show Low Lake Campground on the opposite side of the road. It did appear to be open. Oh well, we enjoyed better views and it didn't cost anything.
Hidden away in Show Low

Next stop, Sedona, Arizona. Sarah and I are both excited. Stay tuned.


  1. Enjoyed reading about your trip. We stayed at Lost Dutchman last did more exploring in the area than we did....maybe next time. Thanks, paula poll

  2. The cloudy pic of the Superstitions is my favorite and a Chihuly exhibit in the desert?!?! AWEsome. Lucky for you to be there to see that.

  3. Wow! What a beautiful spot you found near Safford! Glad to see the photos of the botanical garden in Phoenix. We debated a visit during our 3 week stay, but in the end my frugalness won out :) I did declare that the next time we were in town it was a must visit.

    1. Thank you, all, for your comments. It means a lot to me that you have taken the time to let me know you enjoyed the blog

  4. I can't believe we totally missed out on that incredible Chihuly garden!! Great photos.


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