Welcome to another Arizonan adventure! This driving adventure started out so simply, but by the end of the day there was a story to be told.
It was a Saturday afternoon and I decided to head out of Phoenix on Interstate 60 up toward Wickenburg. Actually I had no plan in mind, just the desire to get out of the city and see something new. As I was flying down the road in my Bronco, I noticed a sign near Morristown for Castle Hot Springs leading off toward the east.
I had always wanted to see this historical spot. So I turned off and traveled down Castle Hot Springs Road. As I drove, I remembered bits and pieces of what I had read about the springs. Long ago Indians had discovered the springs. Mineral water flows from crevices in the rocks and the temperature of the water ranges from 115 degrees to 122 degrees. Later as Phoenix grew, the springs were located again. A wonderful resort was built by the springs and many famous individuals came to the springs to improve their health or just rejuvenate.
While I was driving, I wondered what the resort would look like today. After about 30 miles of dirt road through a beautiful valley between the foothills of the Bradshaw Mountains I came to the springs. I parked the truck in front of a large white building. This building appeared to be the main part of the resort. However, there was a fence around the entire property. Visitors could only image what it was like being a guest here.
During my search for a map to see where the road continued on to a horse greeted me. This friendly and hungry fellow proceeded to stick his head inside the open window of the Bronco. He was obviously in search of a treat. I gladly obliged and gave him a chocolate HoHo, which is a standard driving snack purchased whenever leaving Phoenix on a road trip. Then I decided I should take off before his owner arrived on the scene to discover chocolate coating his horse’s lips.
Down the dirt road I went, with only a map that did not show much in the area and no markers in sight. Soon, I came upon a large rock with the letters “CK” spray-painted in orange along with an arrow pointing northeast. I checked my map again. There was a town called Crown King that was located to the north of here. I decided I might as well see where this road goes. I did have a full tank and the desire for an adventure.
While I was driving, I noticed that the road was getting a bit more difficult. There were spots where the road split and I always hoped I was choosing the best one. At several points during the drive, I could not see over the end of the truck’s hood. Well I guess I should say, I could see over it, but the only thing I could see was blue sky. Oh yes, there was the time that my back bumper scraped the road and bent it out of shape.
Not only was the road becoming more difficult to transverse, but also I still could not figure out exactly where I was on the map or where I was headed. Although, at one point on the drive I was up high enough that I could see in the distance behind me to the southeast Lake Pleasant. I decided to continue on.
To add some more spice to the trip, every 20 minutes or so a motorcyclist or ATC’er would come flying around a turn at an unbelievable speed heading straight at me. This made driving a bit more tedious, as if it wasn’t all ready.
Finally, after what seemed an eternity, I came along a wash and a ghost town. I believe it was the old mining town of Minnehaha, located at the base of the Bradshaw Mountains. Here, I also encountered more off road vehicles. I noticed two Jeeps. One was high centered on a rock on the edge of the road and his friend was helping him negotiate his Jeep off.
Then the most amazing thing occurred. Throughout the journey, I had been checking my digital outside temperature gauge; the temperature had been gradually rising from 116 degrees on up. Now the gauge had reached 123 and then it simply went out. It was here that I decided, that if I got out of this place I would never return.
After passing the Jeeps, I noticed the road was heading upward. The road narrowed and was clinging to the edged of the Bradshaw Mountains. I began my ascent. After about a mile, I came face to face with a pack of off road trucks with men wearing baseball caps labeled “Road Hogs” and carrying walkie-talkies for communication between their vehicles. The first truck rolled down his window to say hi. I told him that I would be glad to back up to let them proceed and asked if there was anything at the top of the road. He said sure, there was the town of Crown King and a great restaurant surrounded by cool pines. I couldn’t believe it.
I backed up and watched their band of road hogs pass by. Then I was on a mission. I headed up the road with only one thing on my mind, food. It was a spectacular sight! As soon as I topped the mountain, pine trees sprang into view and the wonderful cool pine air flooded the truck. The road leveled out and there were campsites sprinkled around the roadside.
I traveled 3 or 4 miles and then on my right, on a hillside I noticed a sign for the Mill Restaurant. I quickly pulled in. I ate lunch on the wood deck and enjoyed the numerous humming birds that make this place their home.
During my lunch, I learned several important things. First and most foremost, nobody takes the back way (the road I have just described from Phoenix through Castle Hot Springs on up to Crown King), unless they are true off roaders and very well prepared. As a matter of fact, I was told only a week before a family decided to take the road down and their vehicle slipped. The family was all seriously injured. Instead, I learned that there is a much easier road to take up and back to Crown King. It is County Highway 59. You can get to the highway from Interstate 17, just past Black Canyon City heading north out of Phoenix. You should take the exit for Bumble Bee and head down the dirt road called County Highway 59. You will drive past the town of Bumble Bee (there’s a small gift shop/snack shop here, but not much more) and you will go by the town of Cleator.
I need to take a moment to share another story about this small town. On one of my many trips up to Crown King, (after discovering this quick road up and back) I topped the hill above Cleator, only to realize I had blown out both of my right side tires. I know I was shocked too. I ended up rolling my truck down to town. I went inside the saloon, where I encountered several locals. All of which were equally amazed I could achieve such a feat. But that wasn’t as amazing as the sight of a can of “Fix-A-Flat” on the shelf near the cash register. One tire had to be replaced and luckily the other one filled of “Fix-A-Flat” made it back to Phoenix. Once I was back in the city, I purchased four new tires and four new cans of “Fix-A-Flat” and then headed back up to Crown King. On my way, I stopped in Cleator and donated two cans of “Fix-A-Flat” and thanked them again for their generosity. Then I was back on my way. I never let a little ripped rubber ruin a day.
The road up to Crown King from Interstate 17 will take about an hour or so. This a much, much, much easier drive than the one I just described up the back of the Bradshaw’s. I also found out that Crown King was once a mining town. The county highway that you take up to Crown King zigzags up the Bradshaw Mountains. This road was laid over the railroad tracks that led up to the mine.
Today Crown King is a charming town. There is a saloon full of history, two restaurants, a general store, camping areas, cabins and a motel. Crown King is one of my favorite spots to venture to on a hot summer day in Phoenix. I love the fact that I can be in the cool pines in just less than two hours. I love that there is a delicious piece of fudge waiting for me at the general store. I love that there are more interesting facts about the town that I have yet to learn at the saloon. I love that there are always humming birds waiting for me on the deck of my favorite restaurant. I love making the final turn into town and seeing pines towering above me. But most of all, I love the fact that I can experience all of these things without taking that horrendous drive up the backside of the Bradshaw’s.
Until next time, enjoy Arizonan adventures!