San Francisco River (near Clifton/Morenci, AZ)

16-19 October 2009

Here's the trip report from our fall leaves wheelin' trip to the rivers of eastern Arizona and the mountains of western New Mexico during October 16-19, 2009. Participants were Bob P. in his full-size Blazer, John S. in his Toyota P/U, Midway Mike and Michael in Mike's Cherokee, and John H. in his Avalanche.

We met at the Conoco station in Morenci, AZ at noon on Friday. Some of us (John H.) ate too many fried goodies (cheese sticks, jalapeno poppers, shrimp, and chicken chimi). Then we headed down the lower San Francisco River. Water levels were low, and this route is well-travelled, so we made it to the confluence with the Gila River by 2PM. The weather was sunny and hot. We decided to move on and not camp there at the confluence. We made it back up river to Morenci in 50 minutes. Next we headed for the upper San Francisco River out of north Clifton. We followed the high road until the end of the road, and then dropped down into the river. The high cliffs and fall colored leaves made for spectacular scenery. This route is less travelled so there are more wheelin' challenges. Water was low, but there were still river crossings up to 28-inches deep. WARNING: do not travel the upper San Francisco in wet weather - this route should only be attempted in the dry season. We'll rate the trail a 3.5 in the dry season. We had a brief winching when Mike got stuck in a mud bar. (He claims he forgot to engage the lockers.) Mud is unusual in the San Francisco drainage, and it appears that some flash floods brought it in from side canyons. We camped a couple miles up river, about halfway up to the confluence of the Blue River. There was a brief game of all-terrain Bocci before it got dark. The weather was plenty warm, so the seasoned mesquite fire in the evening was mostly for decoration. Temperature was in the 60s overnight. The Milky Way in the dark night sky was spectacular, and we saw a number of meteors and satellites.

We continued up the San Francisco on Saturday morning. We took note of how many trees there were compared to our last trip about 10 years ago. Almost none of these trees pre-date the floods of 1993 which scoured things clean. There was another brief winching (when John H. hadn't engaged the lockers and couldn't climb a bank.). John H. also removed a couple pieces of body cladding from the Avalanche while climbing a challenge gravel bank. Different from Eagle Creek or the lower San Francisco, this area has wide sweeping bends with some large meadows. We stopped briefly at the confluence of the Blue River with the San Francisco. We saw three bighorn sheep including a big ram at a distance of only 60 yards, so we got some great photos. We left the river at Martinez Ranch a little afternoon, and then had lunch at Fricso Camp.

After a brief stop in Glenwood, NM for gas and ice, we headed up into the mountains through the town of Mogollon. We camped Saturday night near the Bearwallow fire lookout tower at an elevation of 9900 feet. The elevation made the even crisp so that we could really enjoy the fire, although it never got all that cold. The evening was another wonderful clear night, although there were some clouds around in the morning to give color to the sunrise.

On Sunday morning, we headed down the 4WD trail into the Copper Creek drainage. This trail isn't especially technical, but is very tight and winding as it snakes between live and fallen trees. John and John got simultaneous flat tires - probably from the same sharp stick that punctured the sidewalls. We plugged both of them and continued down the mountain. John H. smashed his driver side mirror on a tree when it failed to fold back the expected amount. Contrasting colored leaves and evergreens made outstanding scenery. We crossed over to the Blue and stopped at Pueblo Park campground for lunch.

On Sunday night, John H. and Bob opted for a shower at the Mountain Hi Lodge in Alpine, AZ, while everybody else crossed over and camped at Horseshoe Cienega. Of course we had to have a chicken-fried steak at the Bearwallow Cafe while we were in Alpine. The aspen leaves along Hwy 191 in the vicinty of Hannegan Meadow were only just past their peak, and were spectacular in the morning sun.

On Monday morning we headed south on winding Hwy 191. We took FR217 (Upper Eagle Creek Road) west in the direction of Honeymoon Campground. We wanted to scout the river access for a future multi-day trip on Upper Eagle. FR217C which leads to a gauging station had a narrow gate which filters out the fullsize trucks, and the smaller trucks got stopped in a few hundred yards by large boulders in the river. FR217B which follows Sheep Wash ends when Sheep Wash passes though a narrow slot canyon before joining Eagle Creek. So the conclusion is that there is not any useful vehicle access to Eagle Creek in this area for connecting to downstream.

After that, we headed back toward Tucson. John H. had some additional excitement when his patched tire blew out at 65 mph south of Safford. This is why you don't patch tires with sidewall damage.

We saw lots of wildlife on this trip including: deer, bighorns, elk, turkeys, ducks, heron, quail. We heard but didn't see wolves at night. A good time was had by all.

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Last modified: Thu Nov 26 04:29:22 2009