36 Hours of Adventure: Bill Williams Mountain

Summer brings many things in Arizona; long days of sunshine, relentless heat, monsoon rains, and of course plenty of adventures. With the recent drought thrown into the mix and weeks since our last 36 hour excursion, Chazz Layne and I decided to grab the girls and head for the hills. The plan was simple, pick up some cold drinks, easy food, and head for cool weather. Looking at the map we quickly found a route leading out of Chino Valley, up Perkinsville road to the Great Western Trail, and finally to the top of Bill Williams mountain. Coffees were downed, engines started, and we were off.

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Chazz and I share a view on enjoying our travels; while many will drive on and on for the sake of getting there, we prefer to take our time wandering and savoring the experience. Unsurprisingly then, after flying down smooth dirt roads we soon found ourselves well into the desert and itching to slow down for a break. As if on key, an interesting quarry appeared on our right and we made our way to the top for lunch. Say what you will about awnings, but when the sun is beating down mid-day and all you want to do is relax there is nothing better. Even a simple turkey and cheese sandwich with ice water seems gourmet and refreshing when you can enjoy it in the shade. Besides, setting up an awning is far easier than trying to balance a camp chair while a German Shepherd tries to burrow underneath it to escape the sun.

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I’d like to tell you that the reason we don’t have pictures of the drive up the next part of the mountain is that it was boring. It wasn’t, in fact it was beautiful. I’d also like to say there was a mountain lion that jumped on top of me and I fended it off with my camera, also clearly untrue. No unfortunately, the truth is far less interesting and much more embarrassing. The drive was so intoxicating that between Chazz and myself we completely forgot to take pictures. The good news is that somehow the fresh air and elevation stirred the worlds worst travel photographers out of their forgetful haze and reminded them they had cameras! Thank goodness too, as the looming towers ahead indicated we had reached the top of Bill Williams mountain and had some of the most stunning views in Arizona before us.

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If you ever happen to wander this way, you’ll find a lookout tower on top of Bill Williams staffed by a member of the National Forest. I can’t recommend enough stopping in to talk to these knowledgable and wonderful folks. Besides being brave enough to spend their days high above the forest in a tower built over 75 years ago, and knowing the terrain like the back of their hand, I’ve yet to meet one who isn’t a genuinely great person. This particular day the tower was manned by Jeff, a fellow outdoorsman from Southern California. In addition to pointing out some of the more interesting land marks near us, Jeff showed us an Osborne Fire Finder that is still used to this day for fire spotting all over the country. This precision instrument is not only effective, but in many ways beautiful.

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It wasn’t long before the call of food and a hike had overtaken us. We said our farewells to Jeff, piled back into the cars, and headed down the mountain in search of a special campsite Chazz had heard of in the area. Wrapped in a thick layer of pines right next to a large overlook, this site gave us some of the lush green vegetation we had missed so much in this drought.  We walked down the narrow paths around the site enjoying the greenery and forgetting, for the moment, the approaching rain storms.

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While our will to ignore the storms was strong, it wasn’t long before a downpour gave us a reminder. We quickly put away the cameras and ran back to camp for the cover of our awnings. While the rain poured, we pulled out our dinner of gourmet beef sausage on delicately toasted rolls… aka hot dogs, while Chazz and Dani cooked italian chicken parmesan with angel hair pasta… aka chicken and pastaroni. We weren’t very fancy but it was certainly delicious. Even our dog Paxton was excited for the dessert of Strawberry Shortcake though!

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With dinner wrapped up and the storm moving off into the distance, we decided it was prime time to break out two of our long term test products while chopping some firewood. The first is a set of leather Ranchworx gloves from Iron Clad performance wear. The second is a multi-tool axe from Zippo. Since we started using both these products, they’ve repeatedly impressed us with their ability to keep on going after strenuous abuse. This evening was no different as they made quick work of the task.

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Thankfully, our wood cutting job left just enough time to enjoy the view from the overlook, wind down from the activities of the day, and enjoy a beautiful stormy sunset before nightfall. Of course just because darkness had covered the land, didn’t mean there wasn’t fun to be had. Mother Nature was kind enough to give us a spectacular light show before a few drinks inspired us to have our own mike flashlights and long exposures.

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The next day we awoke early for a quick breakfast of muffins and leftover strawberries. The food was alright, but in light of the excitement to hit the trails we practically performed a vanishing act. The night had brought a few more monsoons dumping plenty of rain along our route, and the prospect of a little water was refreshing after so much dust. As fate would have it however, we didnt find any water crossings on this descent, but instead plenty of slick mud. Luckily, the Land Rovers seemed happy as ever with the wet conditions and we made our way down with ease.

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One of the best traits of Arizona is the diversity of its landscape. While our campsite had been high up in the mountains with large pines and cool temperatures, it wasn’t long before we were driving down a desert road among brush, sand, and enough road runners to make Wiley Coyote jealous. Of course when we stopped for our lunch break, it was painfully obvious that the temperature had changed as well, making our short hike to a cool bridge seem like miles. After failed attempts to cool down with ice water, with heavy emphasis on the ice, we made an emergency decision to dash for the nearest cherry limeade at the Chino Valley Sonic. Admittedly this was my plan all along, but I won’t tell the others that!

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Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Chris didn’t receive a real taste of the outdoors until moving to Prescott, Arizona, in 2009. While working on his business degree, he learned to fly and spent his weekends exploring the Arizona desert and high country. It was there that he fell in love with backcountry travel and four-wheel drive vehicles, eventually leading him to Overland Journal and Expedition Portal. After several years of honing his skills in writing, photography, and off-road driving, Chris now works for the company full time as Expedition Portal's Managing Editor.