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The Unexpected Storm

By Todd Underwood

     A regular adventure for my friend Boris and I is to ride our motorcycles from the Phoenix area up into the Bradshaw Mountains. There are many trails, jumps, and historic ruins along the way and we like to explore as much as possible. During the summer months the temperatures can easily reach 115 degrees in Phoenix and still only be about 80 in Crown King. Although our rides start out being very hot, by the time we reach the Bradshaw's, the weather is usually very pleasant.

     Fully expecting this day to be the same as any other, we left around 2 P.M. and explored along the way. There were a few wispy clouds and some small cumulus here and there as is common in the summer months in Arizona so we didn't think anything about the weather. We had an ulterior motive on this day as we were not only riding to Crown King for fun but we were also investigating some property just above the town. After a fun and uneventful ride, we made it to the Crown King General Store by about 4 P.M.

     Stopping for a short break before heading to the property, we noticed the clouds were moving quite rapidly in the sky. There was even the hint of a rain drop although we quickly brushed off the idea. After all, it was a hot summer day in Arizona. It took about 30 minutes to reach the property which was at an elevation of about 6250 feet. The owners were there when we arrived and were helpful in filling us in on the information we needed. This particular cabin had 3 large decks, one of which was directly in front of the structure. Although we were close to the peak of one of the mountains immediately west of Crown King, we were not quite at the top. Easily visible just to the north of us was a long ridge just a few hundred feet higher in elevation then we were.

     The pine trees were slowly dancing in the wind as we stood on the deck and talked with the owners. It was still a balmy 80 degrees out and the weather couldn't have been any nicer. Then, it happened. All of the pine trees ahead of us in the small valley all stopped at once and there was an eerie dead silence. This immediate caught our attention and we all turned to look toward the tree tops and the aforementioned ridge. It sure seemed odd that everything became so still so suddenly. Then we heard a noise similar to an approaching train, slowly getting louder and louder. We all were looking intently to try and find the source of the noise. Just then we saw the pine trees at the edge of the ridge start to bend over. Slowly but surely the bending pine trees moved our way like an army of advancing soldiers. There was a definitive moving line in the trees as the "front" made its way across the small valley. The sound was still getting louder and by now we realized it was the wind that was causing both the noise and the pine trees to move. Uncannily, we were still in complete calm, but not for long.

     About a minute after this whole fiasco started, the wind hit us nearly knocking us off the deck. Out of the corner of my eye I saw movement on the ridge. We all turned to look and saw clouds pouring over the tree tops like water flowing over a waterfall. Instantly it started to sprinkle and we could hear thunder rolling and getting louder as this unexpected storm was moving toward us. Boris and I, only having our motorcycles and no jackets or water protection, bid our hosts goodbye and made a beeline for the bikes. We thought we would get off the mountain before the storm really hit. Only 30 seconds or so had passed in getting to the bikes, but by now it had started to pour. We started down the trail but realized there was no way in the terrible wind and rain we were going to get off the mountain ahead of the storm.

     Some friends of ours had a cabin about a mile up the road and we decided it was our only option to try and make it there. The wind was blowing us from one side of the dirt road to the other. The rain felt like we were being shot repeatedly with a BB gun. Then the lightning started to become visible over the ridge. At this elevation, we were not thousands of feet underneath the storm as was the case back home in Phoenix. In the mountains, we were high enough in elevation that we were actually inside the thunderstorm!

      It was now about 8 P.M. and completely dark out. After a grueling ride that seemed like hours but was in reality only a few minutes, we made it our friends place and headed for the door. To our advantage, they were there and were kind enough to let our muddy rain soaked bodies inside. It was a good thing because as soon as we entered the door, lightning started hitting all around the area.

     At the back of the house was a large arcadia door that looked out onto a deck overlooking the town of Crown King. We all huddled around this door watching the amazing lightning display. Being inside the storm, the lightning and thunder were almost simultaneous. Thunder rocked the cabin and shook the ground. We watched as lightning hit trees and other things in the area. Then we saw the most spectacular bolt of lightning we had ever seen. A large bolt flashed across the sky horizontally right in front of our eyes. It flickered about 5 times and then, rather than disappearing like most lightning bolts, it broke apart into a dozen small balls and dripped toward the ground like white hot rain. What we wouldn't give to have taken a picture of that. The thunder from this bolt almost broke the window.

     Amazingly the power was still on up to this point. Unfortunately, someone had to remark about it still being on. Murphy's law is in charge of these kinds of things so you can guess what happened. As soon as they finished their sentence about the power still being on, everything went dead. For the next two hours we watched the lightning display and marveled at the amount of rain that was falling. The temperature had dropped into the 50's and it seemed there was no way Boris and I were going to get back to Phoenix on the motorcycles that night. Finally, about 10:30 P.M. the rain had slowed to a minimum amount and the lightning had for the most part moved on.

     Our friends were kind enough to loan us jackets and we started back on the wet muddy trail home. We had 31 miles on a dirt road to go and nearly 4000 feet in elevation to drop just to get to the freeway that would take us back to Phoenix. What had been an intensely hot summer afternoon in Phoenix was now a chilly winteresque night in the mountains. We rode down slowly in the rain and mud with lightning still occasionally flashing around us. Upon reaching the bottom of the mountain we came across numerous stuck vehicles. One suburban had been apparently trying to cross a wash during the worst part of the storm and a flash flood came down off the mountain sweeping it away. When we found it, the entire rear end was buried in mud. Only the nose was sticking out pointing up into the sky. We searched for survivors but found none. We could only assume they made it out and walked to safety. All throughout the lower desert region were washes that had cut our road to pieces making the going slow and difficult.

     About midnight we finally reached Phoenix and were happy to have made it through another adventure. Seeing that crazy bolt of lighting drip away almost made it all worth it. Now, when other riders tell us we are crazy for carrying jackets around in our trail pouces in the middle of the summer in Arizona, we just laugh. If they rode as much as we do, they would carry them too!

Other Frontier Trails

Adventure Pictures

The storm is just behind the mountain and coming our way

There was a spectacular display of lightning

More incredible lightning

This is the view from the deck looking toward the mountain from which the storm came

This is another view of the deck and mountain

We often stop to explore along the way

More exploration at remnants of a "cactus thieves" house

The radar picture from earlier in the day

What the radar looked like when the storm hit

Extreme Adventure Stories
Extreme Adventure Stories
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