Mark D Stephens: Adventurer, writer, photographer, ambassador of the sonoran desert
Good Friends, Bad Roads: Expedition Buddies Gather for a Short Run
at Saguaro Lake Coves
this article was first published in Aug/Sep 2006 of JPFreek

The icing on the cake for this fun trip was this: The boys brought their guitars – KP and Brian “Scorpion Sting”.  They started with their favorites, like Mellencamp, Petty, and Joel.  Halfway through the seventh song, Buffet’s Why Don’t We Get Drunk, Brian stopped playing, then said, “To hell with it.  Sorry for taking the train down a dirt road, guys.  What do you want to hear?”  He uses that phrase “dirt road” like it’s such a bad thing.  Another friend of mine, Allen, likes to say, “Okay!  Now that we’ve found the good people, let’s find some bad roads!” 

Land Rover disco off highway driving expedition tyleHere’s the thing about bad roads: you’ve got to take them slow.  Bad roads are a good guide for the other stuff that makes up life.  We’re going to take it slow tonight at Saguaro Lake.  Drive some hard lines.  Find a quiet beach.  Cook some kabobs.  Drink some light beer and smooth tequila (slowly!).  Listen to some acoustic guitar songs over the fire. Watch the sun descend beyond the lake in front of the mountains, and light it up with gold, orange, red.  All of this from a vantage point only accessed by dirt road, a “bad” one, too.  Thick sand, steep hills, deep ruts in those steep hills – the stuff that makes up Brian’s metaphor when he doesn’t play a song well. 

Like good desert rats, we didn’t come out until it started to get dark.  Years ago I concocted this idea, and I thought it was original:  Drive the “bad roads” near Saguaro Lake in the late afternoon, build a contained fire on the beach at a secluded cove, have all the fun we can until well after dark, the girls will go swimming, we’ll talk about the longer trips we want to do, and then we’ll drive out after dark.  I learned that other guys just call it “night wheeling.”  

This part was original: We found an isolated beach, grilled some food, listened to the boys play songs, and talked until 11:00 pm.  This part was not original: night wheeling.  Three groups of shirtless guys in pick-up trucks had the same idea of coming to Saguaro Lake this night – and perhaps it was luck that put them there well beyond twilight. 

           When we drove out, several of The Shirtless stood around in the dark watching a friend dig holes in a hill.  I could hear one say, “Nah, man, yer all screwed up.  You gotta be locked to do this hill.”

My dad, who drives an old Land Rover modified for comfort and trail prowess at once, asked one of The Shirtless if he needed help.  Shirtless’s response?  “Range Rover, huh.  You go on safari much?”  He’s proud that his Rover gets that kind of notice.  It might be silly that this guy’s question made me say to myself, “Damn!  I’d love to go on safari.” 

Ah!  But safari!  As long as we’ve got a music theme going, and similar to what James Taylor sings: I’ve never really been, but I’d sure like to go.  He meant Mexico, but I mean safari.  With these friends of mine, we plan out expedition-style adventures out in the pave-less areas of the Southwest and Mexico.  trail at sagurao lake covesThey are safari at heart: we’re looking for encounters with wilderness.  And when we can’t quite afford 3 weeks or 3 days, we’ll use up a Saturday night – like this one at Saguaro Lake – to take on a mini version of what we like best.  I can’t call it ‘wheeling because there is more going on.  I’ll borrow from my friend, Allen, and call it that scrumptious mixture of good people and bad roads. 


Ah! But bad roads!  These at Saguaro Lake might be bad on the surface, but look up.  The Superstition Mountains, Four Peaks, mighty Weavers Needle stretching a thousand feet into the air.  To see these things from Phoenix, you’ve got to look between power lines, over warehouse buildings, and try hard to forget you’re sitting in traffic.  Millions of years in preparation, these metamorphic teeth on the horizon are a good reason to drive the roads.  The earth took her time – she went slow – making those mountains and spires.  An old joke goes like this:  A young boy had a school assignment to write a letter.  He wrote each word painstakingly slow.  When his teacher saw this, she asked, “Why are you writing so slowly?”  The boy answered, “Because it’s for my little brother, and he can’t read very fast.”


How is it that live music, good people, and bad roads are connected?  No connection at all.  Just a good mixture. 

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Mark D. Stephens: Adventurer, Writer, Photgrapher and Ambassador of the Sonoran Desert