Well we had a real close call during our first camp out of the year, near Payson, Arizona at a place we call Tarantula Grove. Since we normally camp way out in the boonies in areas with no official names, Don and I like to give some of our favorite spots little nicknames – Tarantula Grove is so called because the first time we camped there, a day didn’t pass without seeing 2 to 3 large 8-legged creepy crawlies trekking through the middle of camp. Even though I have been an avid backpacker and camper all my life, I still freak out at the site of a spider (even the little ones), and my husband always has to come to the rescue. In any case, most of the time while sitting around camp, I have my feet up resting on another chair to avoid one of them crawling up my leg.
The area that we camp at near Payson is quite densely wooded with Scrub Oak, Pinyon and Juniper trees, over somewhat rough terrain dotted with prickly pear and cute little hedgehog cactus. My favorite plant in this semi-desert landscape is the beautiful mahogany-barked Manzanita bush – especially in the early spring when they are covered with tiny pink-white bells. We love the area because it is a prime location for wildlife viewing, one of our favorite pastimes! In the evenings, just about dusk we are hardly ever disappointed at the parade of wildlife we have seen in the area – deer, elk, black bears, and even peccaries. We had a family of these guys visit us in the late afternoon, one day. Looked like a mama with 5 little piglets. They stayed for about 5 minutes, scrounging around before disappearing into the thick underbrush. Very Exciting, and our first ever sighting of wild pigs in Arizona!! In the late evenings after the sun has gone down, we are often serenaded by a distant pack of coyotes.
.......As are a large community of blue bellies that live in the trees.
Another interesting fact about this area is that we are smack dab in the middle of Mogollon Monster Territory. Although we have never seen or heard anything strange ourselves, apparently a boy scout troop in the mid 1940’s spotted a large bipedal hominid in the area near Payson. There have also been several reported sightings in the White Mountains and the Apache Reservation, of a large hairy creature with an incredibly bad odor that lets out blood-curdling screams in the middle of night. I have heard some pretty gruesome campfire stories about a pioneer who was homesteading near Camp Geronimo in the 1800’s. He apparently had seen a strange creature lurking about while building his cabin, and on several occasions had heard strange screams emanating from the dark forest around his little cabin. Later, the pioneer was found hanging from a tree with his face torn off……..
A beautiful specimen of (Opuntia) Prickly Pear Cactus. It is important to note that it is illegal to pick plants which grow in National Parks, Forests, Grasslands, etc.
Our little Bindi, who turned out to be such a great tree climber.......
With certain species of Opuntia, not only can you eat the sweet fruit, but personally I love to dice and saute the Nopales (Paddles) in butter.
Anyway, back to our own close encounter of a human kind……. On our third day of camping, in the afternoon, we heard a truck pull in at another campsite, not 50 yards from us. We couldn’t see it because of the thick underbrush, and I’m sure the driver had no idea we were camped back there. Anyway, after a few minutes, we heard a couple of loud gunshots, and figured the guy was probably doing a little target practicing. My husband, who was sitting in the truck, jumped out of it to walk up the road to let the hunter know we were camped nearby, and suddenly hit the deck. I have never seen Don drop to the ground so fast in my life. He said he felt a bullet whiz right past his head. He immediately jumped right back in the truck and started honking the horn to let the guy know he was shooting in our direction. After Don screamed out that we were camping back here, the guy yelled back that he was “Sorry”, and promptly left.
We have never had any problems with hunters before. In fact, most of them are quite polite and always ask if we mind if they do some shooting. Often they will even ask if the gunshots will scare our dogs or horses, and we tell them no problem, because our animals are used to loud noises. What really ticked me off about this hunter is that he didn’t even scout out the area to see if there was anyone else around - He just began shooting into the bushes without thinking about who else might be there. Also he should not have been target shooting into an area without a natural backstop like a hill or mound of dirt. The following day, I walked up to the next camp, and saw what he had been aiming at – a small plastic orange juice bottle that he had placed about shoulder height on a branch. Our camp was directly in back of those bushes.
It was a very close call, and one which shook both of us up. We have always been very careful when hiking, and Don bought me a bright orange jacket to wear during hunting season. I also have a bright pink baseball cap that I wear while hiking to make myself more visible so that some drunk hunter doesn’t mistake me for a deer or something. Unfortunately, we were quietly sitting in camp when we were fired upon, and it wasn’t even hunting season………