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About 20 minutes NE out of Flagstaff, AZ, just off of Highway 189, lies an area that mother nature made just for us outdoor folks. This area contains the remains of a violent volcanic eruption that happened just 1000 years ago (give or take a couple of Memorial Day weekends). Some of you from Arizona have probably visited the Sunset Crater National Monument, which too resides in this area. If you have, then you know just what I am talking about. If not, head up to the monument and tell the toll collector at the pay station that you are heading through to the cinders to go Jeepin'! They won't charge you the customary $3 per person monument fee. Drive through the monument and go about another mile after leaving the eastern boundary (clearly marked). Turn right and you are at the beginning of some 50 square miles of off-roading area that has NO trail restrictions. That's right....you can drive your motorcycle, Jeep, quad, or whatever else you think can make it anywhere you wish (well, OK....how about staying out of the middle of someone's camp).
My wife and I spent the Memorial Day weekend there and we really enjoyed it. Our good friends Joe and Joyce introduced us to the area and were absolutely great hosts. I quickly found that after going up and over several of the cinder hills and in and out of a few craters, it was very easy to get turned around. Following your own tracks is difficult since the next vehicle to come along obliterates them (this assumes you can even pick them out of the cinders). I quickly found that my trusty Garmin III+ GPS was more valuable here than most any other off-road trip I have used it on.
Here are a few photos that I snapped while there. Joe's CJ-7 appears in a few as he provided the guided tour for the first couple of days and was therefore the default picture subject at the same time. By the third day, I was feeling a bit more comfortable on these "mineralized ball-bearings" (as Joe calls them). Oh yeah....for all of those guys who say "the 4 cylinder engine in my Jeep is plenty good enough", they should probably skip this page and go on to something that has bigger rocks in it and no power requirements. I found that my 4.0L 6 cylinder was the "small kid on the block" and that in this area, BIG V-8 engines rule! OK...enough of that. On with the show!
Everyone needs a "base camp" from which to launch the exciting adventures that occur throughout a weekend. We found a cozy spot and called it home for the 4 days we were there. The weather was great but the flies were nasty....the tiny little ones that buzz in your ear and attempt unauthorized landings in your mouth while you are eating! Joe and Joyce said they had never seen them like that before. Perhaps it was on account of the extremely dry weather the area had been experiencing. I hope our next visits finds them no where in sight!
This is $35 Hill, as it is commonly known by the folks that frequent the area. You can see the little notch at the top of the photo, which is where you slide off the top of the hill and start your decent. This is also one face of the Janis Crater (the shorter one actually). As you work your way around the crater, to the right hand side, you eventually come to $100 Hill. Way back before anyone had built a vehicle capable of reaching the top, the guys who regularly tried climbing the BIG hill had a pool going for the first guy that reached the top....the prize....$100. So, that hill became known as $100 Hill. There is a $50 Hill, and of course this one which is $35 Hill. I came down $35 Hill several times during the weekend, as it was the most direct route from Janis Crater when heading back to camp. I did not have the equipment to attempt to climb it.
There is a story behind this photo. It was taken by my wife as we were coming down $35 Hill. We were getting into the lower half and she was not totally comfortable with the entire situation. In her defense, I will say that she has always remained very cool and trusted my driving during the many years and countless trails that we have off-roaded on together. Seeing a foot tall and 2 foot long wall of cinders pushing ahead of Lady's front tires was not a comforting sight, along with the fact that the rear end wanted to keep swapping ends with the front. You can fix the end swapping problem by increasing the throttle just a bit, but then you find yourself going down the hill faster than before, and you probably didn't like that speed to start with! Oh yeah, it is fun to drive on.
Anyway, back to the above picture. I grabbed the digital camera and handed it to Donna, which did not make her happy since I was now driving with just one hand. She snapped a couple of shots out of the window, which didn't make her happy either because that left her no hands to hang on with! (I guess it all boils down to a kind of "hand" thing, so to speak.) During that brief period of chaos, she took a picture that had the trees kind of leaning over (falling up hill) and the horizon kind of looking pretty flat. Since the trees really were growing straight up, I tweaked the orientation of the picture a bit and above is the result. As you can see, we were coming down a fairly steep hill, considering that the tires were rolling over the top of the cinders that were sliding under the tires.
This is Janis Crater. If you follow the tire tracks that are to the left of where I was standing when I took this picture, you can see they eventually lead down to Joe's CJ-7 (that tiny little speck at the center of the picture) at the bottom of the crater. The side of the crater that extends up towards the yellow dot is referred to as the mouth of the crater. It is the lowest side of the crater, and $35 Hill is just over the lip. On the 3rd day of my Cinders adventure, I ventured down into Janis. The problem in doing so is that you may or may not be able to get out. Joe has witnessed more than one vehicle who has been trapped in the bottom of the crater. I think of it as a big "Venus Flytrap" kind of thing.....it sure looks like fun, let's go down and give it a try! OOOOOOPS!!!!!! I can't get out!!! There is a trail that cork-screws up and out along the west edge of the crater, which is what Joe and I used to get out. Some vehicles can't make it up this trail and then they must be towed, which usually means several big V-8 powered vehicles hooked in series to create enough power. I tried to climb out the mouth several times, but just couldn't do it. The yellow dot in the picture is about where I could get to before Lady ran out of steam.
Here is a picture of Joe making a run up towards the mouth of the crater. Just like me, he was unable to make it to the top. Although Joe has climbed out many times before, it wasn't in the cards for that day. We kept hoping for a good rain storm, which increases the traction, but the weather gods just weren't smiling on us this weekend. Joe said that the traction is better when there is some moisture in the cinders.
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