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Box Canyon Blunders - Lesson Learned

By Matt Marine

Breaking the Cardinal Rule

I swung my Jeep into my driveway as if I were Jeff Gordon hitting the checkered flag at the Daytona 500. I was an hour and a half late and was furious with myself for breaking one my own Cardinal Rules of adventuring: if you have a critical appointment the same day, it’s best to stay home. Murphy’s Law usually rears its ugly head when you can’t be late. As it did this day. Not only did Murphy stop by, but his three brothers: Stan, Larry and his other brother Larry came out to play as this was only one of the four lessons I had to relearn last weekend.

The day began well, but early, as I knew I had to be home by 4 pm in order to pick up my oldest daughter for us to attend my youngest daughter’s dance concert. Before the sunrise, a small group of three Jeeps headed out to Box Canyon near Florence. The area had received an inch or two of rain the day before and I was excited that there was a small chance of catching the narrow canyon with water running through it. Something I had not experienced there before. To add to the newness of the adventure, I was also taking two friends along in my Jeep that had limited or no experience four-wheeling.

Box Canyon

We hit some fresh mud puddles on our way to Box Canyon, covering our Jeeps in a thin layer of mud, but when we hit Box Canyon, the water had long since seeped into the sandy bottom. Not a big deal. The canyon is always fun and beautiful. The desert flora was especially green and the rock was a rain-soaked orange and red color, making the trip even more scenic than usual.

Video: Driving Through Box Canyon

As we headed north through the canyon, I was happy we had the canyon to mostly ourselves. It made me less happy to see the ranch house in much worse shape than it had been a few years ago when I’d last passed this way. The roof is now completely gone, the large timbers stacked neatly to one side, and the soft adobe walls rapidly weathering away.

While we were there, Patrick pointed up to a semi-clear area leading up a steep hill on the canyon side and asked if that was a trail. I shook my head, way too steep to be a trail. We wouldn’t find anything on it. I was half wrong. As we drove by the spot he’d pointed out, I noticed a rusted car sitting halfway up the canyon wall. WTF?

We got out and walked up to the car. The hike was short, but steep. I kept telling myself that there was no way a car could drive up this. But there it was, a 1970ish Honda Civic hatchback, nose pointing up the hill as if waiting to finish off the challenge.

We walked to the top of the hill to see if we could solve the mystery. A road (presumably from the ranch) ended at an old mine there and we believe the car was pushed over the side from above. This made a lot more sense, but I still want to know how a Civic made it out there!

The Rock Step or Waterfall

We made good time through the rest of the canyon until we came to the most difficult section of the trail, known as the Rock Step or the Waterfall as some call it. This is where I relearned Lesson Number 2 for the day: when someone says they don’t think they can make it over without stacking some rocks, they might be right. The easiest line is near the rock face to the left (heading north on the trail). Even so, this obstacle can be extremely intimidating and if you don’t have good articulation or ground clearance, it’s difficult to get over. The degree of difficulty is based on how many rocks are placed in the holes by the upper section of the step. On this trip, most had either been kicked out by spinning tires or purposely taken away to make it more challenging (though you can still take the right side of the obstacle for even more of a challenge).

During my last trip, I made it over with only a slight scrape on my skid plates and without locking my differentials, even with the smaller tires I had back then. The 4Runner that had gone with us took multiple attempts and some rock stacking to make it over.  This trip it was all Jeeps and I was confident we would not have to do any rock stacking.

I made it up and over with no issues, my 34 inch Goodyear’s doing a great job on the rocks. The second Jeep in line was Mike’s TJ. It only has 31 inch tires (compared to my 34 inchers), but I thought his shorter wheelbase would more than compensate for this as he broke over the step. He thought he would hit his belly skid plate. I assured him this wouldn’t be the case.

Sure enough, as his front tires went over … screech … his skid plate scraped along the rock. Then his tires spun and he came to a stop. Although his Jeep is a Rubicon, we didn’t think it was smart to lock him up and force it. I thought we could try a slightly different line and he’d be okay. He backed up and tried the new line I pointed out. I was wrong again. Then I added a few rocks, which I thought would help. Wrong again. So Mike backed up and we stacked a bunch of rocks just where Mike had originally pointed out and he made it up no problem. Lesson learned: although I have more experience four-wheeling, Mike knows his Jeep better than I do. 

Video: The Rock Step or Waterfall

Patrick made it up without any issues and we continued northward. This portion of the road is a little rough, but not difficult. At one spot, there were two large rocks in the road and I thought I could make it over without any clearance issues. My two companions looked at me like I was insane. “No problem,” I said, then I had to eat my words as we banged hard going over one of the rocks. Not a good day for my cred’s.

Reymert and the Sugar Shack

Where the road splits, east going back to the highway 79 along Cottonwood Canyon Road and north to highway 60, we had a decision to make. We could take the conservative way out (at least in regards to time) along Cottonwood Canyon or head up to Reymert and the Sugar Shack.

My sister voted for Cottonwood Canyon. I looked at my watch. It wasn’t even noon yet. We had plenty of time! Silly sister. Besides, I had never been to the Sugar Shack before and really wanted to go.

Since I was the only one at risk for being late, I voted to take the chance and we headed to the Sugar Shack. This is a great little cabin that’s half underground and looks over a small wash. We had lunch next to the shack, explored the area for a few minutes then headed up to Reymert.

By the time we arrived at Reymert, I was beginning to get a little nervous. “We have to leave in fifteen minutes,” I called out after we arrived. Reymert was just as I remembered from my last visit, the only exception was the barriers placed just in front of the ruins to keep people from driving on them. Works for me.

Video: Reymert and the Sugar Shack

After precisely 15 minutes, we were off again. The way I calculated it, we’d backtrack a few minutes to Cottonwood Canyon Road and head out to highway 79. Worst case was I’d be 15 minutes late, but I could work with that.

Road Closed

We turned westward onto Cottonwood Canyon Road and everything was going well until we met a Razor coming the opposite way. They flagged us down and said they’d hit a locked gate. They told us it was the first time they’d ever encountered it and there was no way around it.

I shook my head. Murphy had just slapped me in the face as I relearned my Cardinal lesson. I looked at my watch again. It would take about 15 minutes to go verify the locked gate. If we had to turn around and go back the way we came, I didn’t have fifteen minutes to spare. I didn’t have any minutes.

I turned around and headed back the way we’d come in. We could have gone north, but I didn’t want to chance it and thought it may not save us much time as we were heading further away from home, so we went back through Box Canyon.

We made good time through the canyon, all of us making it down the step without any problems. The only issue I had was going over the rock I’d hit earlier. I told my two passengers that I just needed to take a little different line. I banged my skid plate again (in a different spot this time). My two passengers may never trust me again.

When we got back to smooth dirt, we pulled over to air up. Thanks to Mark, Mike and Patrick, it was like an Indy-style pit crew working as fast as we could on my Jeep to get it highway worthy: two tire inflators hitting each side and others helping me put on my Freedom top. I think I had my top on and all tires ready to go in a record time of seven minutes.

I high-tailed it home, but arrived too late to pick up my oldest daughter. Big bummer. The only good news is that I was able to attend my youngest daughter’s concert, albeit alone. 

Stay off the Tracks!

Oh, and the fourth lesson? Don’t trust your sister when you’re laying on train tracks. She thought it would be funny if we lay down on the train tracks as if we were damsels in distress waiting for Dudley Do-Right to come save us. I said no way. She thought it would be funny to “look sexy.” I tried. Then everyone laughed. When I heard a rumble in the distance, she said, “It’s okay. There’s no train a coming.” And she was right, so I brought out my mad Photoshop skills after I got home because I wanted to know what it would looked like if I had layed down and the tracks and saw a train. Yeah, she didn’t lie about the train, but I still don’t trust her…

Update: Many people have verified this road is closed, but there are bypasses to the gate. See the Box Canyon Adventure for details below.

For more information on Box Canyon (trip details including maps, more photos, videos, GPS coordinates, history, etc.) visit:
http://www.experience-az.com/adventures/4wd/boxcanyon/boxcanyon.html

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Additional Pictures From the Trip


The sun rising over Patrick's Jeep


Colors in the canyon


The Honda Civic


Mike going up the last half of the Rock Step


Having lunch at the Sugar Shack


Me at Reymert


Box Canyon


Box Canyon


Reflections of a canyon in the rear window


Moss and rocks, rocks and moss


Surveying the Rock Step


Mike heading up the Rock Step


Mike, half way up the Rock Step


Box Canyon


Box Canyon


The ranch house along Box Canyon


Honda


The Rock Step and Cat-dog and Patrick


Patrick going up the Rock Step - Cat-dog not impressed


Front porch of the Sugar Shack


Sugar Shack


Weather beaten flag at the Sugar Shack


Lined up at the Sugar Shack


The roof of the Sugar Shack


Barriers at Reymert


Cat-dog playing peek-a-boo at Reymert


Reymert


Reymert


Reymert


Cat-dog at Reymert


Reymert


Reymert


A Photoshoped version of me, playing on the wrong side of the tracks


Full moon coming home from Box Canyon


Full moon coming home


Cow playing peek-a-boo, though not very well since she has a large cow bell on her


Location of possible road closure


A Jeep with views


More reflections


Heading down the Rock Step


Red Jeeps in a colorful wash

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