Monday, April 25, 2011

Agua Caliente Road

This past Saturday (April 22) the family and I set out on another Jeep Adventure. This time we decided (OK I decided) to explore the area along the Agua Caliente Road southwest of Buckeye. This looked to be a really good road to checkout as it is dirt but well maintained. It also goes right past the 'ghost town' of Sundad, which I really wanted to check out.

Most of the early part of the road is flat desert and you can see for miles in all directions. Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is visible to the north of the road. The road is very well maintained as I expected and is passable to just about any street car.

After about ten miles you come to a grade crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad. This is a pretty lonely spot. The tracks out this far west of Phoenix are only used for storage so you rarely see a train out here.
Below is looking east towards Palo Verde. The think the mountains that you can see faintly in the distance are the White Tanks.

Looking west you can see Yellow Medicine Hills just north of the tracks.

After another 25 or so miles of driving, and passing through some fun curvy stuff in the Gila Bend Mountains, you will see the turn-off for Sundad. The trail that leads to the site is on the east side of the Agua Caliente Rd and is marked by a white triangular rock garden. It is actually easy to see. You follow this trail (which can be a little rough and should be done by 4WD only) for about a mile to the town site. There is not much left of Sundad other than some interesting rock gardens and some building foundations.

After goofing around in Sundad for a while we continued on until we reached the Hyder Rd just outside Camel AZ. There is really not much out here but you will cross the railroad again. There was about 5 miles of railroad cars on the tracks. We followed Hyder Rd northeast until it connected with Rocky Point Rd. This is another dirt road that is a little rough as it goes across and old lava field. This road goes south around Oatman mountain and then crosses the Gila River. We followed this road until we reached the Painted Rock Historic Park. This is a nice little park with picnic tables and a large covered ramada. It also has restrooms. This was perfect place for lunch.

After lunch we walked the short trail around a large pile of boulders that were covered in hieroglyphics. Most of the drawings date back 7000 or more years ago and others only a few hundred years. Mixed in are names and dates of visitors going back to the early 1900s and late 1800s. This area used to be right next to the Butterfield stage route. There are lots of historic markers and information and it was a very interesting little park.

After leaving the park we followed Painted Rock Dam Rd, which is nicely paved, around south until it connects with Interstate 8 at exit 102. This part was interesting because is goes right past the site of the huge solar energy project.

Once on the interstate we went east to Gila Bend and the exited and got on State Road 238. I wanted to find a road across the Gila Indian Reservation that goes north along the east side of the Estrella Mountains. On my map this road is called Rio Bravo Rd and connects with AZ 238 west of Heaton. I was hoping this road would be as well maintained as Agua Caliente Rd but this was not to be.

We found the road and headed north but things just did not look right. There was lots of old buildings and junk right at the start of the road and it was clearly not well maintained. We pressed on and after a while we decided that we were, in fact, on the right road. Once you get to the base of the Estrella mts the road changes names (not marked on the road itself) to Santa Cruz Rd and should take you north to the town of Santa Cruz on the reservation. The road runs parallel to Voah Shun Rd and actually cross it a couple of times. This makes picking the route a little tricky. To make matters worse neither road is well maintained at all and we were soon in over our heads. For several miles of the drive the road was dead straight and nothing but deep loose sand. I have visions of being stuck in the sand in the middle of nowhere. It was a very stressful drive and a little hard on the Jeep.

Nothing broke and we did not get stuck. We finally made it to Santa Cruz and found only this little church. From here the roads were all paved all the way back home.

In all we drove about 200 miles and saw some really beautiful parts of the state. We had a great adventure and I think we are ready for more!

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