Angels of Crown King

This being the type of vehicle you'd actually want to drive the road we took...

This being the type of vehicle you’d actually want to drive the road we took…

My mother has always believed in prayer and in angels. She constantly tells me that she is praying for my protection, and that through her prayer angels will be with me to make sure I’m kept safe. I’ve humored her by agreeing with her out loud, even though inside I didn’t really believe in angels. Until I met one.

My angel’s name is Ben. He lives in Crown King, Arizona.

When Ben’s cell phone rang yesterday-on the line a request to help an idiot who got his Honda CRV hopelessly stuck at the bottom of a nearby mining road-he answered. Anyone with a brain would know that only a fool would attempt to navigate THAT road with a CRV, but without judgment, Ben packed his Jeep rescue vehicle with the necessary gear to do just that, come to the rescue.

I was the idiot.

The previous evening my girlfriend, Melody, and I came upon the village of Crown King knowing nothing about the quaint little burg perched high up in the Bradshaw Mountains of central Arizona, miles away from any pavement, those gas pumps that take credit cards, or most other modern “conveniences.” The local saloon has indoor plumbing now, the locals get their mail at the general store and the guy out front of the Saloon whacking weeds does so in cowboy boots, gun on his hip belt.

That evening we didn’t stop to talk (big mistake!). We wanted to go get lost in the mountains, to make camp somewhere beautiful, to sit by a fire under the light from the stars and moon.

So we made our way past CK, onto Forest Road 192, past the sign warning drivers that they aren’t going to want to continue without a high clearance vehicle (big mistake!). The signs weren’t kidding, and even though a CRV is “kinda-sorta” high clearance compared to other road vehicles, it is NOT the kind of high-clearance vehicle the sign was referring to. For reasons we cannot explain, the condition of the road right at the beginning didn’t deter us from continuing down.

Using an old guidebook (big mistake!), we continued down the road past the historic Oro Belle Mine, hopping out of the car every tenth of a mile or so to guide whoever’s turn it was at driving over boulders and across creeks as we descended the mountainside getting further and further into a place we knew we couldn’t get out of the way we came in (big mistake!). The guidebook told us the worst of the road was at the beginning, and if you could get past the old mine, you’d be OK. Even trucks with horse trailers can make it, the book said.

Wrong.

Time and monsoon rains changed the road considerably in the time since our guidebook was written. The thing about guidebooks is their static nature. They don’t change when what they write about change. Duh, I know. That’s what local knowledge is for, to fill the gap between what you know and what you should know.

After having to kick a boulder loose using every muscle I had as well as all the muscles borrowed from two dirt bikers who happened past, we decided to shut it down and camp in a dry riverbed (yes, we know…It wasn’t going to rain). The sun had gone down and the bikers confirmed what we were starting to suspect; the road wasn’t going to be getting any easier. In fact, they said we’d never make it all the way to Lake Pleasant, which was the way out. So, our thoughts turned back uphill.

We had a wonderful night camping, at the foot of a rock feature called Castle Rock. We had plenty of food, but the anxiety in our stomachs wouldn’t allow for it. We could have had that fire, but didn’t want to build a fire pit where there previously wasn’t one. Stars were shining so we put our concerns aside for the evening and enjoyed each others company and the strong drink we had in the cooler. We talked about what really matters in life and how things would be different if we got out OK. And we slept in the vehicle that was our current liability, something we’ve never done before when camping.

In the morning we cooked eggs and made coffee. I inspected the first “pitch” up the hill. It was going to be one of the worst of our trip back up. The way I saw it at the time, if we could get past the first two “pitches,” we just might be OK. We managed past the first one without difficulty, but the second one almost tipped the CRV. There just was no way out.

Leaving a note on the windshield and hoping the brake would hold, we ditched the vehicle on the slope and packed bags full of all the food we had and plenty of water and started hiking. Our estimated distance to town was 5 miles.

Eight miles later we arrived in Crown King, hat in hand, at the general store begging for a solution. We had very little hope. Jennifer, behind the counter, gave us three names of local fellas that might be able to help.

Melody was hungry after that hike, so we moseyed over to the Crown King Saloon for some lunch and perhaps to see if one of those guys might just be there, as well (it’s a very small town). They weren’t, but Cindy was and she could not have been more caring, helpful and understanding of our predicament. She took the numbers I had and even went as far as calling for me.

That’s when we met Ben.

He pulled up to the front of the saloon in a big red Jeep sporting massive Kevlar tires, winch on the front and a backseat full of tools. Getting a big confident smile from the person there to help you out of a jam you think is hopeless is comforting to say the least.

It was actually Ben’s piece of property we were stuck on, so he was familiar with where we were and what we were up against. His experience was just the foundation of what made Ben the perfect person to be there for us. His patience and comfortable demeanor was just what we needed to take us from an exhausted hopelessness, to home with our vehicle, that night.

It took the winch to drag the CRV over that first road feature. It took two more quick tows over some boulders that were just too big. Additionally, Ben helped with picking lines to take to get over what we needed to, the CRV did well doing the rest. It was amazing what the little tires on that vehicle did, but they will never have to do that again. And only one small piece ended up breaking from the vehicle.

We were scared. Lesson learned.

As we drove away from Crown King and those wonderfully helpful individuals all we could talk about is the good of what came from that crummy situation. Perhaps we were just meant to be in that predicament in order to have our faith in humanity restored. Even as I write this, I cannot understate how the experience has opened my eyes.

Be a compassionate and comforting individual. Judge less, help more. That is the key to living a good life. And living a good life is the most admirable thing I can do.

Melody and I have decided that we have to return to Crown King to see Jennifer, Cindy, Ben and all the rest of the good folks out there under better circumstances. Maybe kick back a few beers, maybe do some dancin’ at the saloon under that dark starry sky.

This time, however, the CRV is staying in the parking lot.

-Kenton Krueger
September, 2013