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  • Andrei Stoica

Lazy Sunday Afternoon: from Bumble Bee to Crown King


If you take the freeway north from Phoenix to Flagstaff, Arizona you'll start noticing some odd exit names such as Bloody Basin Rd, Black Canyon City, General Crook Trail and yes, Bumble Bee. It was last Sunday that I found myself driving towards Flagstaff on said freeway, when I realized that my destination was too far and the traffic too slow to make it up in time and catch the sunset. Should I go home empty handed? Of course not. Crown King was within reach so I started up on the dusty, bumpy, curvy road that takes you from the low desert to the green little mountain community of Crown King.

The 21 miles long road ends up at over 5700 feet (1750m) altitude in less than one hour -- it's a trip that many Phoenicians make over the hot summer weekends to escape the Valley of the Sun to a green, quiet and cool location within short driving distance. It's about 25°F (15°C) cooler here than the baking Phoenix sprawl down below.

The drive starts up in blink-and-you've-missed-it Bumble Bee. Not much to see from the road, but the sign says it all: 11 people, 32 horses and 158 cattle!

Many of the area residents are 4x4 lovers who don't mind the dust or heat of the desert. No, I'm not talking about the cactus.

A few miles down the road comes the ghost-town oddity of Cleator. A handful of scattered houses make up this town, but the main thing here the watering whole named "Cleator Bar & Yacht Club". Wait, what? The only water to be found here is bottled along with varied amounts of alcohol and served up at the bar, so then what's up with that name?

Well, it appears that the new owners who took over the bar a few years ago decided to have a little change of ambiance. The bewildered first-time guests can only marvel at the jet skis and tables built from vintage surfboards scattered throughout the backyard.

The cavernous inside is covered in the "traditional" mementos written on one-dollar bills by former guests.

The friendly bartender is always on hand to help the thirsty guests...

The road continues with a number of hairpin turns, inherited from the previous use of this route: back in the mining's glory days a railroad went up this mountain to service the Crown King mines. Now the railroad is gone, but the road follows the same path.

End of the road: Crown King is a small community that has its own little church and a few lodging facilities but, as usual, the saloon is the main and first attraction of the thirsty visitor. They, of course, can serve a warm meal and a cold beer of which they have a nice selection.

A slow end of day... I just missed a couple of pool players, while the others were quietly watching the ball game... But this great location called for some serious Western action: a shootout, broken bottles, crashing chairs and fists landing into unlucky jaws. Oh well, that's what movies are for!

The sun just disappeared behind the pines and was getting dark. After indulging in one of the best tap beers Crown King had to offer, I headed down the road back to Phoenix. And yes, I made it home just in time for dinner. ​

#backcountry #dustyroad #Arizona #cleator #bumblebee #scenic #desert

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