Initially the vacation and the automobile were reserved for the well heeled, the wealthy, and America’s aristocracy. With developing technology that allowed for improved production methods, the subsequent precipitous drop in the price of a new automobile, and the rise of a middle class this all changed.
As early as 1910 Americans longed to escape the confines of strict rail transportation time schedules, long hours of tedium in factories or offices and pressures of urban life. Auto camping provided the release.
In the beginning, for those wanting to escape from the doldrums of the ordinary life and quell the hunger for adventure the primary appeal was the very lack of an established infrastructure. In time, an entire industry would be spawned to meet the needs of those who wanted the adventure of the open road without sacrificing the comforts of home.
To be filed under “the more things change the more they stay the same” these trends continue to this day. In this, the modern era, roughing it has never been easier, more comfortable, or more expensive.
On a recent camping excursion into the mountains south of Williams, I had opportunity to meditate on these thoughts as I strolled through a crush of camp trailers with amenities that rivaled some of the finest homes in many countries. Satellite dishes for television and internet connection bristled from many, generators supplied power for refrigerators, and propane heaters warded off the early morning chill.
I have no envy for those who choose roughing it with the comforts of home. Nor do I begrudge those who choose this route. On occasion, especially when the weather takes a nasty turn, I give thought to going that way myself on the next adventure.
To a certain degree, even I have succumbed to amenities that smooth the sharp edges in roughing it. An air mattress in the back of the station wagon or pick up truck has replaced a ground tarp over freshly raked ground. A small propane grill has to a large degree replaced squinting through the smoke to stir the beans and the old Coleman lantern has been replaced with a fluorescent electric lantern.
Fire restrictions during the months of summer dampen the fun (what is camping without a campfire) but one of the great blessings of living in Arizona is the ability to change the season with but a short drive. For me this means, when the time allows, trading the desert heat of summer for cool pine scented breezes.
I often begin these adventures with a leisurely drive east along old Route 66, a jog onto I40, a cruise on the streets of Ashfork, back onto I40 and then a pleasant drive through Williams. I then often stop for a good meal at either Old Smoky’s or Jessica’s, an intriguing local café with a Greek twist.
With a full stomach and a full tank, I turn south on 4th Street, the gateway to adventure and relaxation. This is also listed as forest service road 173 or the Perkinsville Road and will eventually, with a jog on to road 70 and then 72, take you into Jerome. Along the way are beautiful bridges over quiet streams, including the Verde River, and quiet forested meadows.
This, however, is but one of the little gems found in this little jewel box. Dozens of forest service roads and miles of trails snake through the forest, along the shores of secluded lakes and to the summits of mountains where one is rewarded with incredible vistas.
The majorities of these roads are graded and are passable by automobile but local inquiry at forest service offices is recommended. Several established and maintained campgrounds, such as at Dogtown Reservoir or White Horse Lake; offer the most basic amenities – pit toilets, potable water, etc. There are also many opportunities for more primitive camping among the towering pines.
It should be noted that the Boy Scout motto of be prepared should be adhered to if you choose to explore this wonderland for a day or a weekend. Elevation dictates cooler temperatures so mornings, even during the summer months, can be frosty while afternoons can be quite warm.
It is easy to get lost if you are not familiar with the area or with backcountry travel. Investing in a good map, such as the Arizona Road & Recreation Atlas, available at most bookstores is recommended.
Of even more importance is making sure your vehicle is in good condition. Belts and hoses are the primary cause for vehicle breakdown during the summer. Tires are a close second. Always carry water, if you do not need it you may meet someone who does.
A good rule of thumb is to prepare for the worst but pray for the best. Even if you don’t plan on camping carry a sleeping bag or bed roll, few things are worse than being stuck in the high country overnight without them.
Escape the ordinary, discover the wonder that is Arizona and discover the joys of the simple life.

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