Some adventures can be started and completed within the same day. Some can take decades to come to fruition.
In the early 2000s, my wife and I began a quest that we did not complete until 20 years later.
We were developing a real fondness for off-highway Arizona. There were, in my eyes, two Arizonas. The clean and bright bustling cities of Phoenix and Tucson, where mile after mile of city planning had laid out houses, schools, businesses, hospitals, and golf courses in a neat and ordered fashion. Here all manner of food and entertainment could be found just a short, quick drive away.
The other Arizona, the one I fell hard for, was the Arizona of quiet vistas in sky islands reached only by high clearance 4×4 vehicles. A day spent with a packed sandwich and plenty of water in a warm, remote, wash looking at – wait for it – rocks, always proved to be the antithesis of the recently endured winter back home, and dirt roads were the way to get there.
On our first trip to Patagonia, we’d explored the wonders of the San Rafael Valley. Now, on the last day of our second trip, looking to explore the area more, we took our rented four-wheeled drive vehicle and pointed ourselves north. We drove through Sonoita Creek and got on Salero Ranch Road, headed towards a tiny dot on the map labeled “Alto.”
A mile or so in, the road went up a steep grade and curved hard to the west and we drove through a little pass guarded by a smattering of hoodoos. Further in, the road climbed steadily into the Grosvenor Hills, named after a superintendent of the Santa Rita Silver Mining Company who was slain by Apaches in 1861 when this part of Arizona was still part of New Mexico.
At Alto, we found the ruins of a house which, a sign said, had served as a post office into the 1920s. All that remained were the adobe walls.
We continued slowly on, our rental, bumping along switchbacks and washes, past an old mine shaft filled with water. This was part of the Toluachi Group of 19 copper and silver claims in the Tyndall Mining District about 1.25 miles north of Alto. The names there conjure their own stories. Devil’s Cash Box. Hermit’s Home. Jersey Girl, which I thought was a song. Silver Sally and Wandering Jew, which I thought was a plant.
Every twist and turn seemed to be taking us further away from an easy drive back to Patagonia. Finally, with the sun getting low in the western sky, we could venture no further. An abandoned and overturned car in the middle of the road blocked our way. There was no getting around it. Our curiosity to see just where this road connected back to civilization, if it did at all, was not going to be satisfied. My wife got out and hiked ahead. I stayed with the vehicle. When she returned some 20 minutes later she reported having seen cars passing on an interstate off in the distance that we both assumed was I-19.
After a difficult seven-point turn we made our way back to Patagonia and the bar in the Stage Stop Inn. At a dollar a bottle I bought a round and asked the oldtimers there if they knew where the road that we had been on came out to. They agreed on Amado.
We made our plane the next day. Back home I was delighted to find that the internet had a new feature that allowed one to fly over just about any place in the US and see all the roads as if you were in a plane. You could even change altitude. I spent many hours trying to figure out exactly where we had been, determined to find out someday where the road led to.
Jump ahead 20 years. The road is still plenty rough but now we have a side-by-side to make the trip.
We made two attempts this winter to complete our quest. On our first, we fell short. We were with a group and took so much time to take in the sights along the way that the afternoon slipped away before we could get all the way back to where we had been thwarted so many years before.
The second trip with the side-by-side proved to be the charm. We made it up to the unnamed pass on Forest Service Road 143 and looked down to the vast valley below where an interstate surely moved along, most likely somewhere around Amado. The grasses at the pass were well worn, the result of a lot of footsteps made by the passing of migrants.
So many paths. So little time.