Burro Creek Pucker Factor
Burro Creek continues to vex me. It calls me each year like a bad habit, but I can't resist the collecting opportunities within the canyon.
It was the end of the year, just two days after Christmas when the wife and I found ourselves with a day sans obligation. On a moments notice we loaded the Land Cruiser with a few provisions and queued ourselves along highway 93 with the holiday travelers heading north and west.
Nothing, Arizona marks the exit from the highway. It's exactly 100 miles from my front door in Phoenix. At the turnoff there's only seven miles to one of the most bountious collecting sites in the west. An abundance of a material known as pastelite along with agate and jasper for as far as you can see and are inclined to walk. There's only one obstacle, and that's about a half mile from the canyon proper.
The geology doesn't change until you get into the canyon. It's mostly granite, pegmatite, and milky quartz... nothing worth dragging home along the road. Various washouts and ruts require you to slow down, but it's nothing a 2-wheel drive, high clearance vehicle can't negotiate. That it, until about a half mile from the canyon proper.
I'd noticed that some of the ruts had eroded further since the last time I was there, about two years ago. Having already driven the hundred miles, I wasn't about to be intimidated by a few frame twisting washouts, but knew that there was still a vehicular challenge, about a half mile from the canyon proper.
The Burro Creek road mostly follows a tributary wash into the canyon. Varying between sandy and hard pack madison gold, almost the whole distance. Until about a half mile from the canyon proper.
About a half mile from the canyon proper, the geology abruptly changes from granite to an ancient gray rock that refused to erode. Furthermore, it is thrusting up out of the sand in giant nubs and stony knife blades. The road effectively ends at what must be a beautiful waterfall during a flash flood. The canyon narrows into sheer walls leaving you with two choices, bonzai through the maze of undercarriage terrorists, or throw it in reverse for a huge disappointment. Each choice, about a half mile from the canyon proper.
Two years prior I successfully made it through, but two years worth of flash flooding in the desert can gouge new routes. It didn't appear much different as I recall, other than more sand had been washed away revealing more oil pan ripping spikes. Without any signs of tire tracks to know where to go, I just rode the brake and held my breath each time we dropped over a boulder while gravity did it's thing.
There isn't much satisfaction in negotiating a boulder maze when you know you have to retrace your path at some point. We hadn't seen any other people since leaving the highway, and getting stuck on a Sunday afternoon in Burro Creek would have proved challenging. We had water and food, but the desert nights get very cold in winter and a seven mile hike to Nothing where there is literally, nothing, didn't breed anticipation.
The road splits when the canyon opens up and everywhere you drive promises collecting opportunities. I continued across the river and shortly thereafter began spotting the white stone littered throughout the hills. Pink, amber, yellow, and other pastel shades of chert are everywhere you step. A rockhound could homestead in the area and never grow tired of the variety or quantity.
We ate our picnic lunch in the late afternoon and let the dogs explore the terrain before doing our own wandering/collecting. It didn't take long to fill a couple buckets with potential cutting material, and I was conscious of the declining winter sun on the horizon.
Toyota had a tagline several years ago, "Go where you want, we'll bring you home." We have taken advantage of that promise for the several decades that we've owned Toyotas. However, my stock Land Cruiser is 28 years old and has 235K hard miles registered. The engine is still strong, but I have to wonder about metal fatigue and various other components that are subject to wear and tear.
I locked the hubs and shifted into compound low before starting out of the canyon.
When I got to the rock field, it appeared more menacing from the upward angle. I wound through the boulder maze, scraping bottom on a couple stones I simply couldn't get around before getting to the cliff.
I picked my best angle and perched the front wheels against the vertical stone. I felt traction as the front of the vehicle went vertical starting to climb the wall. There was a moment of commitment when I had to accelerate to pull the back end out of the sand, but that's when the whole vehicle started bouncing with lost traction, followed by a 'clank' and then we couldn't move. The back was bogged in the sand and the carriage was high centered on the cliff, all we saw out of the windshield was twilight sky. I threw it in reverse and tried to back up but we didn't move. Just a hideous grinding sound coming from somewhere underneath.
My mind raced thinking I had busted an axle, or perhaps snapped the driveline. I kept clutching forward and then backward but we weren't moving, just the sound of heavy metal threshing. While my life wasn't exactly flashing before my eyes, I wasn't too excited over the prospect of being stranded in the canyon with my wife and dogs.
After a few moments I collected my thoughts. I knew that my 4WD had issues popping out of gear on occasion. I clutched and whacked the transfer case lever hard right, then threw the big stick into reverse. The truck bucked and made a horrible noise from the back axle but I was moving backward slowly. I kept the momentum until the vehicle was level again. It was then that I happened to look down to my right and saw that the hand brake was set. When had I done that?
I released the hand brake, re-checked the 4WD gear and sampled movement. There was no grinding or odd noises, just un-inhibited movement. I re-positioned the front wheels and slowly let out the clutch. This time we climbed and never lost traction. Up the 30 feet or so of gnashing rocks we bounced and finally eased over the top. By this time I was hyper sensitive to mechanical noises, but the Land Cruiser was seemingly asking me what the big deal was and offered no more complaints for the trip home.
The wife and I looked at each other and agreed that we were getting too old for this.
So, if you decide to go to the Burro Creek collecting site, be aware that the last half mile is the worst. The guide books merely recommend a high clearance 2WD vehicle. That might be possible to get into the canyon, but I would suggest the ability to engage all four wheels coming out. And higher the clearance, the better. Your average 'grocery getting' SUV will sustain damage, I am quite certain.
Will I go back to Burro Creek? Absolutely! There's no question about it. There's simply too much collecting fun to be had there. However, next time I will bring more provisions, enough to spend a night or two, and I would prefer to bring some rockhound friends with additional high-clearance vehicles, at least one with a winch.