Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Cibecue Cr nr Chrysotile

The Cibecue Creek near Chrysotile, AZ was always an interesting adventure just to get to it, let alone the work, and then gettng back out to the highway. The gage was always the second one on the first day of my field trip to the Salt River basin on the Apache Indian Reservation northeast of Phoenix.

First of all it's a two-hour drive from the office through Globe to ShowLow. At one point north of Globe you drive into the Salt River canyon. I personally like this place, kinda' a small Grand Canyon. At the bottom there is a bridge over the Salt River and a wide spot on the inside of the big u-turn to drive up and out the canyon. A small grocery store is in the wide spot where you can get some supplies.

Back up from the bridge on the way down into the canyon is the turnoff for the Salt River near Chyrsotile gage where you drive past it if you're not looking. It's two ruts in the road that run parallel behind the guard rail. You have to swing wide and make a tight turn to follow the ruts for a short distance and then the parking spot to this gage. It's a picturesque place and interesting to be.

By around noon or so you would be done and drove out to the store for a break or lunch. After that while absorbing the beautiful landscape you drive across the highway to a dirt road. The road leads to a campground alongside the river where people often put in to run the Salt River to the lower reservoir. You're still inside the reservation but once on the river, you leave it behind in a few hours onto state or federal lands.

Cibecue Creek is a box canyon about ten miles beyond the campground. The road isn't routinely maintained and can have rock slides or washouts for a short period before it is fixed by the Tribe. The road after crossing the creek goes on to other canyons and eventually up to the plateau north of Roosevelt Reservoir but it's always a 4-wheel drive road after the creek for the problems and crossings since it's not maintained at all.

The gage on Cibecue Creek is a mile upstream from the crossing, so you have to decide to ford it and park to hike up, carrying your hipboots and backpack of stuff or park and wade across to hike to the gage in your hipboots. It's always the question because if you drive, the ford is always up to if not over the wheels, and any additional flow will require you to wait until the flow recedes. But it's almost always wadeable.

The trail is on the far side along with the gage and cable car, so you can't get to it from the near side as the creek runs just along the canyon wall and has no access past some points without wading the creek. I usually drove across and parked at the makeshift campsite the indians built. Every now and then I would meet the Tribal police patrolling this road as it's used by indians and other people for illegal camping, parties and access down river who often get stuck.

Once parked there is a narrow trail along the creek to the gage. Here is where life can be interesting as you can't see more than about 10-20 feet in front of you for all the bushes. Once I walked around a bush and right into the middle of a family of javelinas. We all froze for a moment. I was lucky to have surprised them and they all ran up the hill so fast I quickly lost track of them into the brush. Lucky because as a family with small ones, they usually defend themselves.

I just stood there for a awhile watching them scurry up the hill and continued on, but it was awhile before my heart got its normal rate back. Servicing the gage and making the measurement was usually straight-forward stuff, and at the end it was always interesting to sit and take in the canyon. Since the work for the day was done and all that was left was to drive to Pinetop, time was now yours to enjoy where you were.

Once we had to fly in by helicopter to do service a series of gages in one day after some local floods. We told the pilot about the cable way at the gage, a requirement because they often fly at river level for navigation and observation purposes. He was good enough to literally put the helicopter right under the cableway in the middle of the creek. When we left, we had some daylight left, so we flew up the canyon.

I was totally blown away at the canyon upstream, totally inaccessible from above by the canyon walls and only from below by walking up the creek. We found eagle nests and hidden caves in the canyon walls before coming out on the plateau and going back down the creek to the Salt River and then home. Most of the pilots with the company we used were former Vietnam pilots so they were partly crazy but outstandingly good, and very adventurous.

I never got stuck on the far side except once for an hour or so waiting while I felt better about fording it, and other than a bad start to a field trip twice, that was about it with this gage, drive out to the highway and north to the motel for the week. Once, though, on the highway in my first truck I lost the fuel switch to the twin tanks. I had to switch the gas lines to the tanks and drove the field trip on one ten-gallon tank.

The other time I got two flats on the road out but limped it to the grocery store. They didn't have a garage nor a telephone to call the office (remember it's before cell/satellite phones and we didn't have shortwave radios). So I parked and locked it and waited for a ride to ShowLow. But it took two rides.

The first ride was with a family of Apaches in a pickup truck. They took me to the turnoff they took to White River where I got out and waited again. Then an elderly couple, not trusting my government id, with a fifth wheell trailor let me sit in the back of the pickup to ShowLow. Another technician came the next day to get the truck to ShowLow and fix the tires so I could finish the field trip.

Before I was transferred to the Phoenix office we operated a gage on Canyon Creek near Chrysotile, and I always wanted to see it, but was told the gage was discontinued because the road was too often too bad to drive and the trip was too expensive to helicopter. I didn't want to have to hike out to report I went where I wasn't supposed to be or go in a government truck. One small regret I didn't try once.

But then this gage was a nice reward by itself.

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