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I've been on top of the mountain a couple of times over the past years. The first time was with my wife. We hadn't had the TJ very long and I found out about this little mountain top spot from a page on the Internet. It is the site of a 1920s Smithsonian Solar Observatory. They built a couple of buildings and searched for this thing called the "solar constant" for the next 5 years. They took all kinds of measurements with some special solar telescopes and other devices but the theory turned out to be a bust. One of the two buildings still remain, and it is a nice little ride up this 10.5 mile 4x4 trail....or at least it was.
On Dec.9, 2000, myself and 5 other vehicles (half of them Jeeps) headed out to the trail head. This was a fun run....no rock crawling, just a nice easy trail ride. I was leading a group of mostly ham radio operators that I've ran a few trails with in the past. A couple of the folks were new to the group (or at least new to me) and they were getting a chance to check out the 4LO range on their transfer case. The weather was great for December, sunny and temps in the high 50s, and the goal was to make the mountain top by noon and have a nice once we were there.
We hit the trail head around 9:30 or so. The trail starts when you exit the little 2 lane black top road and head west towards the mountains. There has been a small sign along the side of the road announcing the trail. That was it. From that point on, you wound your way up the mountain's many switchbacks and ran the ridge line until you hit the summit.
Well, today was different.
The first thing we see is this king size sign. "Back County Byway" What the heck is that? At first I thought I had taken the wrong trail off the highway. I quickly checked my GPS and confirmed the trailhead's waypoint. No....this is the right place. Where in the heck did that sign come from?
A few hundred yards down the trail and we notice a big pull off area to the right. Geez.....it has parking spaces in it, an out house, and pretty little shaded structures with BLM information displays set up in them. They even made little walkways to the out house by arranging rocks along an imaginary path. Follow the yellow brick road!
Oh boy....here we go....my tax dollars hard at work! I can't believe it. What was once a insignificant little 4x4 trail to the mountain top appears to becoming someone's pet back country byway!
The top of the mountain has changed quite a bit too. There are several parking areas where there was once simple mountain top. I guess they figured they had to have the parking spaces up here since someone is planning on having a bunch of vehicles experience this back country byway.
Woops...this is not too cool. A bit past the parking lot I find some big rocks and a picnic table. Now the rocks are not a problem. My TJ can climb over them, and the picnic table can probably be circumvented....but what you are looking at is a trail....oops....I should was a trail....at least it was the last time I was up here. Follow the yellow brick road and stay the heck out of these off-limits areas! I guess with all of these vehicles coming up here now, they don't want you wandering around up here with your vehicle. Better to just stick them in the two new parking lots like good little off-roaders.
Now hey....the guy that thought this one up was pretty smart. Who in the heck would have ever thought that I would need four wheel drive on a four wheel drive trail? And to top it off, it never would have crossed my mind that this 4 wheel drive trail would have twisty turns in it. Amazing! As you can see, more of my tax dollars at work to make my back country byway experience even better. You know what? On the way up to the mountain, we passed a BLM ranger vehicle.....AND I WAS IN 2WD WHEN I PASSED HIM! HA HA HA! I was probably lucky he didn't pull me over and check my t-case shift lever.
I thought I would save the worst for last. One of the guys made a joke, as we were climbing the mountain, about paving the trail so the SUV grocery getters wouldn't get stuck. We rounded a tight turn and sure enough....the BLM trail gurus had laid about 100 yards of cement on our 4x4 trail. Maybe they were worried about the Lincoln or Cadillac SUVs not being able to get any traction with their street tires. Now remember, I ran this trail several times when my TJ was stock. I guess some great trail engineer figured this section was going to wash away. WHAT A JOKE! Oh yes....more of my tax dollars hard at work....oops....I mean hardly at work!
This was probably my last trip to Harquahala Mountain. As I said, the last time there it was just this simple little 4x4 trail with some ruts, a few washed out areas, and a lot of pretty scenery. The scenery is still pretty, the trail has been bulldozed more or less flat, and with luck, there might be some ruts after the next monsoon season (although they probably won't let them stay very long).
The sad part is that the land management folks will now probably close two dozen other near by trails because they spent their budget wad on this mess and they can't afford to let the other ones just be a plain old 4x4 trail anymore. IMO, they should have left this beautiful trail alone and used the money to enforce the existing BLM rules (ie., hire some more rangers and catch the rednecks trashing those areas closer to the population centers).