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Enjoy mountaintop retreat in Arizona's Cerbat Range


High atop the rugged Cerbat Mountains in northwestern Arizona, two small recreation areas attract visitors who savor the pleasures of the West’s out-of-the-way places.

Situated at 6,000 feet elevation, Packsaddle and Windy Point recreation sites offer spectacular views over thousands of square miles of deserts, plateaus and canyons. The mountaintop retreats developed by the Bureau of Land Management appeal to campers, picnickers, hikers, mountain bikers, off-highway explorers, wildlife watchers, horsemen and photographers.

To reach the area, follow U.S. Highway 93 from Las Vegas into Arizona. After passing the Dolan Springs turnoff, watch for the graded Big Wash Road. It cuts off to the left a mile and a half before the paved road to old Chloride, an 1860s silver mining boomtown about 20 miles from Kingman.

Big Wash Road heads toward the Cerbat Range, cutting through greenery along a creek. Since the road to the mountaintop camping area is too steep for many recreational vehicles, visitors often pull over among the scattered trees along Big Wash Road to camp. The BLM does not charge for this type of no-frills camping. There are no formal facilities. Campers share the area with cattle, horses and wildlife coming for a drink. Keep children close and pets on a leash as the area also attracts snakes.

At the base of the mountains, drivers on Big Wash Road will encounter a series of switchbacks. Most passenger cars can usually negotiate this road, but using trucks or other high-clearance vehicles may be safer. Any exploration of side routes such as old mining roads requires four-wheel drive. The area is popular with off-highway vehicle enthusiasts.

Packsaddle Recreation Site, the smaller of the two campgrounds, is nine miles from the U.S. 93 turnoff. Packsaddle has a picnic area and several walk-in campsites nestled among large boulders. Campsites are available on a first-come basis free of fees. Restrooms are centrally located. There is no water or firewood. The Cherum Peak Trail into an adjacent wilderness area starts nearby.

Two miles farther along the scenic road, visitors find Windy Point Recreation Site. At Windy Point, a loop road leads to 10 campsites situated among pinyons and junipers. Sites are available without reservations. Camping at Windy Point costs $8 per night. The tent sites include a table and a fire ring. Vault toilets are central to all sites. There is no water or firewood.

Campers planning a trip to the Cerbat Mountains campsites should pack at least five gallons of drinking and camp water per person, more if you bring pets. Self-contained camping stoves are cleaner, safer and more convenient than cooking fires. Bring wood for campfires since gathering wood on-site denudes the forest. Take care with all burning materials.

The ridgeline road extends beyond Windy Point but rapidly deteriorates into a rough track as it descends toward Chloride. Following it to the desert is an adventure best attempted by experienced hikers, horsemen or off-highway vehicle enthusiasts.

At the lower end of the rugged canyon, regional artist Roy Purcell painted colorful murals on rock surfaces in the early 1960s when he was curator of a museum in Kingman. The paintings feature the desert, early mining scenes and Native American symbolism. Purcell repainted the murals in 2006. Easily accessible from the weathered town, the Chloride murals have become an attraction for ghost town visitors.

The oldest mining town in Arizona, Chloride has a couple of hundred permanent residents and a large number of snowbirds who live there seasonally. The historic community salutes its past during the annual Miners’ Day celebration, set for 10 a.m. Oct. 19.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.