First Look at the Agua Fria National Monument

I’ve driven past the sign for the Agua Fria National Monument probably 100 times since moving to Arizona.  A couple of years ago we looked into going, but according to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) website a 4×4 high clearance vehicle is required, not recommended, required, and I was driving a Ford Escape.  Granted my Escape took me to many places that in reality it probably shouldn’t have but the word required made me think it would not be in our best interest to push the limits of the Escape, taking the Monument off the go-to list, until recently.  Last month for my birthday I bought myself a Jeep Wrangler, and the very first place I thought of to take it was, you guessed it, the Agua Fria National Monument!

I woke up Monday, the 4th of July with no plans.  The husband had to work and I figured I’d just hang out in the pool and relax, but he got off work early and in the moment that he walked in the door I decided I didn’t want to stay at home, I wanted to take the Jeep out exploring.  And what better place to go? You guessed it again, The Agua Fria National Monument, because until now it had been the forbidden fruit and I wanted to taste it, and because it’s only 40 miles north of Phoenix so super close in my adventure thinking.  The husband however, after working all day did not share my enthusiasm for adventure this day and opted to stay home and relax in the pool.

I really didn’t do any research on the area before heading out, short of looking up which exit number I needed, there are three, the Monument is large, 70,900 acres.  I chose to get off on the Badger Springs exit because it was the first exit and subconsciously probably because there was a short hike listed, though I had no plans to do any hiking on a hot July afternoon in Arizona.

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When I left Phoenix the temperature was 109˚, it was 102˚ at the Monument, still hot but what a difference a couple thousand feet of elevation makes!  The Escape would have made it the first mile or so into the Monument, after that the BLM website was 100% correct, a 4×4 high clearance vehicle is necessary.  Having no map of the area I decided to just drive for a bit to see what I could see.  I came across the Badger Springs Trailhead with the thought that maybe I’d stop by and give it a quick once over on my way home and just plan to come back to hike it another time and kept going.  It was just past the trailhead that the road started getting a little rough.  Initially my thoughts were, “it’s ok, I’m in a Jeep, I can go anywhere”.  However, the further I drove and the steeper the incline of the road the sketchier the road became, so sketchy that I broke out into a sweat, which quickly changed my thinking to “hmmm, maybe I shouldn’t be trying something like this out for the first time WHILE I’M BY MYSELF in a secluded area”.  So I got myself to a place where there was enough room to turn around, stopped to look around a bit and just enjoy being where I was, and headed back down the trail.

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Going down by the way is SO much easier!

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This time when I approached the Badger Springs Trailhead I stopped.  In my head I was thinking I’ll just explore the trail a little bit to get a feel for what kind of hike it is so I know what I’m in for when I come back.  Even though I had not planned on doing any hiking (afternoon in July in Arizona), I was still prepared and had my daypack, a full Camelback, sunscreen, and snacks!  So off I went.

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And it was easy, really easy, even for me who struggles with the slightest incline.  So my little bit turned into a little further and a little further.  At one point I stopped on a rock under some shade to take a picture and still thought I’d only go just a bit further and then I’ll turn around just past the next corner.

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The next corner came and went and I started thinking “well, I think the website said the trail was only 0.8 miles to the water, if there’s water this time of year, so I’ll go 0.8 miles to see if the website is accurate (because we have found that often they are not) and then I’ll stop”.  I’m really good at talking myself into all kinds of things.  I also was hoping I would find an appropriate tree to hug.  Yes, hug.  I am doing a 30 Day Nature Photo Challenge and the photo for that particular day was of yourself hugging a tree.

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Much to my surprise at exactly 0.8 miles (per my Fitbit tracker) I ran into water!  It was not water that invited you to jump in and cool off, but it was water, and in Arizona muddy water is better than no water!

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Were I not so fond of the heat of an Arizona summer I may very well have decided to cool myself off but instead I sat in the shade of some trees, after hugging one, for a while and simply relaxed before heading back.

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Roundtrip the hike was a very easy 1.6 miles through a wash, sandy at times, ending at the Agua Fria River with, at that time (roughly 330-4pm), several shaded areas.

Hiking alone is not something I have much experience with, in fact other than walking the dog on a very well-known to me trail I have only ever hiked alone once before, and had the dog with me that time as well.  I am very apprehensive about hiking alone for several reasons, health safety, being a woman alone in secluded areas, and my fear of running into snakes.  I have a very debilitating snake phobia and have been very lucky up to this point to have not had any snake encounters on any of our hikes but I feel as though that luck cannot possibly hold out forever.  When hiking with the husband he is always in the lead and would in theory spot the snake first and be able to reroute me around it.  When hiking by myself it is me and only me that would be doing the spotting and rerouting or passing out or whatever, and I honestly do not know how I would react or what I would do if placed in that situation.  Needless to say I was a little paranoid being out on the trail alone in prime snake season.  So paranoid in fact that at one point on my way back to the Jeep I heard a noise and some rustling (probably a lizard because there were lots of them) and I literally screamed out loud and ran for a couple hundred feet!!!!  A bonus or a downfall I’m not sure which of hiking alone is not having anyone witness my little freak outs!

In all the time I was at the Monument I never actually saw another person.  I did see one tent and as I was nearing the end of the hike I heard a couple of people on the other side of the trail, it was split, as they were heading out.  I’ve no doubt that the need for a high clearance vehicle slows the traffic there considerably which in my opinion is a great thing.

Once I got home I finally decided to research the Monument for future exploration and discovered that the area where the hike ends hosts some pretty impressive petroglyphs, none of which I noticed on this first trip but will be sure to look for on the next visit!

 

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