Oh just how unrealistic was the plan for this day! What was I thinking???
We would leave Swansea and attempt to reach the ghost town of Signal via Swansea Road (there is an unknown-condition river crossing). We continue to Burro Creek Crossing (U.S.93), and on to Six Mile Crossing and the town of Bagdad, AZ (almost all of this – off pavement). Then, we'd continue on Camp Wood road all the way to Chino Valley and AZ SR 89. We’ll drive North on SR 89 to the town of Drake, and leave pavement again to Coconino Plateau. Dispersed camping on Coconino Plateau. Total distance: about 210-220 miles, about 3/4 of it off pavement.
The plan assumed we're already at Swansea - which was not the case, so our first order of business is to cover about 26 miles on dirt to Swansea. We set out with gusto (and very dust-o), but stop in a few miles - Gabriel had a flat. I am super-sympathetic - I lost a brand-new XZL to a piece of rebar not even 10 miles from this place a few months earlier. Gabriel drives a Range Rover Classic, with his spare tire inside - meaning he has to unpack half the truck to get it out (I had to do exactly the same). Richard takes off to help Gabriel, and we resume our dusty trek after a little delay.
The trail - the road, actually, - makes me compliment Arizona DOT on maintaining such a rarely-travelled road in a great condition. The surface has the same composition as most roads in Death Valley, but has none of the dreaded washboards.
Soon, the road narrows, and passes through a series of switchbacks to the valley where the mining town of Swansea is. We roll into town, park in a row to take a group photo, and disperse to look at the old mining town artifacts.
We gather again, and bid farewell to Don - who has to attend to important family business. One truck fewer, we explore the road from Swansea towards the ford of Bill Williams River.
The road is much rockier and much less travelled than one from Bouse to Swansea. It seems to cross a vast alluvial fan - almost like Saline Valley in California, but with undulations about quarter-mile in period and about fifty feet in height. The road occasionally disappears, leaving us facing a steep canyon wall and making us guess which way to go in a wash. We seem to have the right answers, and find ourselves standing on the sandy bank of Bill Williams River - badly overgrown with willows and whatnot. My hopes for the river to be dry are dashed; the ford seem to follow the course of the river for several hundred feet, and we don't see the end of it.
I decide to walk a little on foot - and quickly find myself out of sand and into deep black stinky silt. Every step takes an effort to yank a foot from the muck; the guys behind don't seem enthusiastic.
Neither am I. Too bad, I mounted a winch just for this very occasion - but if the roadbed can't support pressure of a human foot, putting about 1500 lbs on the same footprint would have some ugly consequences.
We bail out.
Now it is already well past noon, and going back to Swansea would mean retracing six rough miles to town, and making a fifty-mile-long detour on dirt to Planet, Signal, and Greenwood. Our Gaia maps show a little trail going Southeast, towards paved Lake Alamo Road. The trail on the map looks straight as an arrow, so... that's where we go.
Of course, it ends up only straight if viewed from the Moon. It passes over the same alluvial fan, yet the hills grow in size considerably. There are some benefits in it, though - the going is slow, so we don't raise so much dust, and each uphill section has a fun straight run and an optional smooth bypass.
We hit pavement again at about 3 p.m. It is time to air up again - for those who care, and have a semblance of a lunch. Sun hits us pretty hard - we don't know yet that we'd wish for it later.
The gas station in Congress, Arizona, greets our group of eight vehicles with eight pumps in a row, all available - perfect.
We hit the uphill section of AZ SR89 from Wilhoit towards Prescott already after dark. After climbing about halfway in elevation, we leave pavement for a hard-to-find dirt road leading up into Prescott National Forest. I knew that the suitable campsites are few and far between, and settle on the first one I see - barely a quarter-mile from the highway.
The road signs we saw earlier told us that we can't have any open fire beyond a propane stove, so that's that. We have enough room to spread out, just so that we'd congregate again once food is done and drinks poured out.
By now we know that the area of Prescott National Forest close to Crown King and Bradshaw City is closed due to a growing and uncontained brush fire; we missed the ghost town of Signal - so Swansea ends up being a sole ghost town to see on this trip.
The tally for the day: 50 miles on dirt, 100 miles on pavement.
A little narrative (poached from the Internet):
Swansea is a Ghost town in La Paz County in the U.S. state of Arizona. It was settled around 1909 in what was then the Arizona Territory. It served as a mining town as well as a location for processing and smelting the copper ore taken from the nearby mines.
Prospecting and mining in the area first began around 1862, but the remote location and lack of transportation kept activity to a minimum. By 1904, the railroad was coming to nearby Parker, and local miners Newton Evans and Thomas Jefferson Carrigan saw an opportunity to develop the area. Within a few years, the two miners had built a 350-ton furnace, a water pipeline to the Bill Williams River, and hoists for five mine shafts. They called the new town Signal (not to be confused with the other Arizona ghost town of Signal). By 1908, the claims in the area had been consolidated by the Clara Gold and Copper Mining Company, which set up its headquarters in the mining camp that would become Swansea.That same year, what was to become the Arizona and Swansea Railroad connected Signal to Bouse some 25 miles (40 km) away. These two factors spurred the growth of the town, and its population quickly grew to about 300 residents.
When mining operations first began, the lack of smelting facilities meant that the copper ore had to be sent away for smelting. The destination for most of the ore was Swansea, South Wales, United Kingdom and it was sent by way of railroad to the Colorado River, and was then shipped from the Gulf of California around Cape Horn to the United Kingdom. Once a smelter was constructed in 1909, Signal took its new name from the previous location of the smelter they had used in Wales. As such, the destination of the ore sent for smelting remained the same. When the post office was established on March 25, 1909, it was under the name of Swansea.
At its peak, Swansea boasted an electric light company, an auto dealer, a lumber company, two cemeteries, a saloon, theaters, restaurants, barbershops, an insurance agent, a physician, and of course the local mining and smelting facilities.
The town was short-lived. By 1911, the Clara Consolidated Gold and Copper Mining Company was in financial trouble. The company's promoter in Swansea, George Mitchell, spent considerable sums of money on improvements aimed at attracting investors at the expense of practical improvements to the process of mining, hauling, and processing ore. As a result, the high cost of improvements coupled with the high cost of production meant that the mines could not turn a profit as the per-pound cost of copper production exceeded its price by three cents. The company collapsed in 1912, closing down the mines.
After a false start later that year under a new owner, the mines and the town remained quiet until the American Smelting and Refining Company bought the properties in 1914. The new owners restarted mining operations and once again built up the town. Swansea lived on until just after World War I when copper prices dropped, and the town went into a steep decline. Swansea's post office was discontinued on June 28, 1924, and the population dispersed. By 1937, the mines shut down, and Swansea was already a ghost town.
Photos from Day 2:
Peter Matusov and Nikolay Matusov