After another couple million years of water and wind, and a fair bit of human evolution and progress, we have over 1000 acres of bizarre and miraculous rock spires, fields of blob-like boulders, a cliff called Apache Leap, and a canyon named after the devil. We refer to the nearby damp stripe of boulders and cottonwoods as Queen Creek. And all of it was set aside and included into the Tonto National Forest – public land – with just a few 4WD roads for access and one public campground.
What we didn’t know about, until just a few years ago, was that a rather rich and significant copper ore deposit exists some 5000 feet below the surface of this area – perhaps the largest ever found in North America. This little fact changed things, namely the notion that this copper deposit lay buried under a very choice piece of public land. And the public will have little say as to what happens to it, because, after all, it’s downright bad business to pass this one.
I first came to the Oak Flat / Queen Creek area in 1998 with my friend Ryan who talked me into skipping class and making our clumsy way up a few rock climbing routes on a cold morning. At the time, we were both new to climbing, and had never been to this legendary locale. Legendary? A little outdoor climbing event known as The Phoenix Bouldering Contest, the world’s most significant bouldering competition (so they would say), made its home right here every Spring. Climbers established over a thousand climbing routes within a 10 mile radius. The guidebook was over 300 pages long. Legendary.
Ryan and I took turns trying to string together the runout bolts on a tall 5.8 face for a about an hour and a half. (Quit your laughing). Another pair of climbers arrived and we got to talking. I think they were up to something with their talk of another legendary canyon nearby, Devil’s Canyon. Down a rough 4WD road for about 8 miles, turn left at the corral, they told us. There we’d find thousands of 200-foot-tall spires at the canyon’s edge where we’d have our pick of multi-pitch climbs for at least a week. No one hardly ever goes down there, they said, and it’s all choice rock and steep routes. Here be dragons.
One problem. Actually two problems. All I had for transportation was a crappy Chevy Cavalier. Second? Ryan had an even crappier Honda.