A Christmas reroute

Runoff or spring fed water crosses our trail through a large wash.

Ole Olafson, Senior Editor


The holiday season can usher in a mixture of different emotions for people.

Depending on one’s social, psychological or economic situation, the holiday “cheer” created by shopping, baking, traveling and Christmas gatherings can insert as much anxiety and melancholy to some as it does joy and love to others.

Emotions can even be more pronounced among those who have been transplanted from other parts of the country—or even the world and are often hundreds or thousands of miles from families and friends.

To personalize at least one holiday experience—allow me to share some of the ways in which I combat the familiar feelings of isolation during the holidays as one of those aforementioned transplants.

I am usually alone—and often uncomfortable as a “third wheel” at family gatherings of friends who are gracious enough to invite…and over the years I have found that disconnecting a bit from the Christmastime traditions—works best on my holiday psyche.

Thankfully, I have a good friend who is also a bit “disconnected” from the traditional holiday happenings.

Karl is from Michigan and I’m from Minnesota.  We worked together for several years at a secluded guest ranch in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest.  It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we both shared a fascination with the beauty and harshness of the desert wilderness as well as the multifaceted history of the west.

A combination of our mutual interests led us to one of our current favorite activities, “Ghost Towning.”

We’d take “Old Josephine”, my four-wheel-drive, Jeep Grand Cherokee, down, what the U.S. Forest Service refers to as primitive roads in hopes of finding long abandoned town sites or mines and maybe even a stray gold nugget left behind by a careless prospector.

This was the way in which two friends with similar feelings about holidays or celebrated special occasions spent those days until Karl suffered a stroke four years ago—Just a few days before Christmas.

Since then, we’ve only had one chance to run the back roads together during a birthday celebration two years ago.

When I brought up the idea of a Christmas day tour a couple of weeks ago, Karl was all in an escape plan to the wilderness was quickly hatched as preparations were made.

After stopping and eating some cherry turnovers with coffee, Karl and I started our Christmas adventure by taking Interstate 60 to Globe, Arizona where we turned north and headed up Highway 188.

After what seemed like a shorter than expected jaunt we arrived at Theodore Roosevelt Lake, the largest reservoir in Arizona and the first in a chain of four reservoirs that follow the Salt River south to Phoenix.

Following an unexplained series of events, Karl and I wound up driving directly to the road we originally sought without knowing it. The narrow, dirt trail, hugged the side of a steep hill for quite some time before finally entering the wilderness, north of Roosevelt Lake.

What followed was a fantastic afternoon of panoramic views of Roosevelt Lake, cottonwood studded washes and saguaro covered hillsides.

After a picnic lunch near the base of Fish Creek Hill, Karl and I returned to civilization by driving south down the Apache Trail of highway 88 coming out in Apache Junction just in time for the sunset.

Christmas day was spent on a “reroute” from tradition— as two old friends spent the day adventuring once again.