Just to the north of Route 66 my dearest friend and I threw caution, and common sense, to the wind, and embarked on a grand adventure of epic proportions. There were eagle, or buzzard, eye views of the ghost town of Chloride and forgotten mines, waterfalls and absolute, divine silence only broken by the wind in the scrub oak and the chirp of rock squirrels.
There was an absolute and exhilarating abandonment of common sense. After more than two decades of sharing everything and building a previously unimagined level of intimacy my wife and I have found something new to share – a mid life crisis!
It started off simple enough. After more than a week of around town test driving and minor repairs such as hoses and shocks we decided a trip to Windy Point in the Cerbat Mountains above the old mining town of Chloride would be an ideal maiden voyage for the Jeep, the replacement for the old Ford wagon.
This would give us about forty miles of highway driving and twenty-five miles of very moderate dirt road travel with a few steep grades. On more than one occasion the trusty old Ford wagon had made this trip so we were not really worried about exceeding the capabilities of the Jeep or our driving skills.
Since my son moved out several months ago trips that were reminiscent of our dating days when about the only thing we could afford was gas for my old truck, a 1946 GMC, and a picnic lunch have been an integral part of our weekends. It is almost as though we are picking up where we left off before assuming the responsibilities of raising a family. Well, as always the drive was wonderful with vintage country tunes flowing like smooth molasses from the speakers, pine and sage scented breezes teasing the senses, and my dearest friend and I enjoying each others company and hardly saying a word. The temperatures were absolutely perfect for hiking the slopes of Cherum Peak, the simple lunch was delightful, and my wife’s laughter was as the music of song birds on the breezes that swept up the slopes from the desert below.
Now, I really can’t put my finger on when it happened or even how. My wife really enjoys driving the Jeep as it was on an older version she learned to drive and in an even older version her family took outings deep into the Arizona wilderness.
So, when she suggested a turn at the wheel for the return trip I settled in for a rare opportunity to be a spectator and enjoy the wonderful scenery as it flowed past the windows. It was a simple question and an even simpler answer that launched this walk on the wild side.
“Do you want to go back on the same road or should we finish the loop into Chloride?” My response was, “Your the driver. The rest of the loop is pretty steep and rocky, at least it was years ago when I last drove it.”
The first indication we were in deep dog doo was shortly after topping the crest and starting down the other side we noticed there were no vehicle tracks – truck or ATV. The next was the rock squirrels that stood in the middle of the road without fear as though they had never seen a motor vehicle.
Once we cleared the first obstacle, a rock strewn thirty percent down grade curve that required riding high on the slope to avoid a wash out which culminated with a fork in the road and a stunning view we were committed. Going back was no longer an option.
For those who eat, drink, and sleep four wheeling this road is most likely one step above a cake walk. For us it was an exhilarating walk on the wild side.
In some places the road had become so narrow the margin for error was zero and the bottom was far below. In others it was carved from the crumbling slope of a towering mine tailing or little more than a trail lined with all manner and size of rocks. The road had changed drastically since I last drove it some thirty years ago in a battered 1942 Chevy pick up and even imagining it as it was when I last rode down it with a friend in a Bronco ten years ago was difficult.
About half way down the mountain, about four miles, we stopped at a mine to let the brakes cool, stretch our legs, and laugh about our temporary exchange of common sense for near total surrender to undiluted adventure.
I had planned for a picnic and had packed accordingly. We had water, food, and a jack. However, we had no shovel, come along or gear usually tossed on board for a serious trek into the outback. In short we had lost our minds. The old mine made for a delightful place to stop. Much of the drift had collapsed and the mine was flooded. Water flowed past the old rails and over the edge of the tailings with a musical sound that enhanced the stunning views.
After our brief respite we switched drivers and continued our crazy adventure. Shortly after leaving the mine the road became a relatively smooth track that lulled into us into a false sense that the worst might be behind us.
One slope washed into a series of steep steps required rolling rocks into the path of the wheels to avoid bottoming out or high centering. This gave way to a stretch that required rolling rocks out of the way to provide a corridor wide enough for us to pass between. Then it got really, really ugly.
Incredibly none of it really seemed to phase us as we laughed at each obstacle. We decided this type of adventure required vintage rock as a sound track and when Bon Jovi began singing “Miracle” we really lost it. “Blaze of Glory” coupled with a curve that left us staring into what seemed like a bottom abyss added a new dimension to the joyous abandon.
Then we came around a corner and there was a towering wall of stone with water pouring down its face. At its base there was a beautiful pond and I immediately thought of that mornings prayer, “Lord, please be with us today on our journey. Bless our trip with laughter and awe inspiring examples of your handiwork.”
Just before arriving at the waterfall I had seen the world famous Chloride murals and knew this wild and crazy adventure was about finished. Little did I know there was one more surprise, a long, steep slope where the road, paved with boulders that appeared to be larger than VW “bugs”, was squeezed between a wall of brush and a towering rock wall.
I am not exactly sure how we traversed that sea of boulders with the Jeep unscathed on the sides, bottom or top. I do know that was the first time on this trip I remembered we had a four wheel drive vehicle, our first, and really had to use it!
We rolled into Chloride with a goofy grin on our faces and sides sore from being tossed side to side and laughter, and a Jeep that had been thoroughly test driven. We stopped at the general store for a celebratory cherry Coke and I checked underneath for tell tale signs that something might have been punctured on this adventure.
When the clerk inquired about our trip to Chloride and inquired about my cursory inspection of the Jeep I told him of our loop drive through Windy Point. Laughter was barely suppressed when he gave us an incredulous look and said, “I didn’t know you could get down that road anymore.”
Does life get any better than having the opportunity to share a crazy mid life crisis with your best friend and your wife?