The Roads of Howard Mesa

Yet another expensive auto repair.

Our place at Howard Mesa Ranch is on top of the mesa, five miles from pavement.

When we bought our place from the original sales organization, the roads, although unpaved, were in pristine condition. I never saw a grader at work there, but the roads were always smooth and wide. Our sales guy, Larry, took us around in his old Buick sedan. That was six years ago.

Although Mike and I never expected the roads to be kept in that same great condition, we expected them to be kept in passable condition. Certainly by a Jeep or 4WD pickup truck — even while towing horses or a camping trailer. Hopefully by a sedan if driven carefully in dry conditions.

Flash forward several years. Road maintenance dollars, divvied out by the Property Owners’ Association, goes to the people who complain the most — who also happen to be the people who live closest to pavement. One of them whines that his road needs to be maintained so construction vehicles can reach his lot. One of those vehicles gets stuck and the POA pays to have it towed out. Dollars that should be spread around evenly on the roads that service all owners are laid on thick on the south end near Highway 64.

July 2004. I was living in a trailer on our Howard Mesa lot, working at Papillon at the Grand Canyon. I drove my Jeep down from the top of the mesa early in the morning to get to work by 7 AM. I hit a pothole in the road hard and instantly hear the sound of air hissing from the tire. I was still two miles from pavement and managed to get a mile closer before the tire was completely flat. Another property owner helped change the tire. The damaged tire could not be repaired. Replacement cost: $152.

August 2004. I’d flown to work that day in my old R22 helicopter, but storms in the area convinced me to leave the helicopter at the airport and drive home. My 1987 Toyota MR-2 was at the airport. I’d driven it on many occasions to and from our lot. But that day would be different. On that day, I’d get stuck in the mud two miles from my gate. I walked to my trailer in the drizzling rain, still in my uniform, as the sky darkened around me. A shortcut through a field got scary when I heard coyotes howling nearby and realized that I had nothing to protect myself from them. No damage to the car; just inconvenience. I came back two days later when the ground was dry and managed to make it the rest of the way to my lot.

October 2004. I take my Toyota to get an oil change. The quick lube place refuses to do the job. The oil pan is smashed in and they’re afraid they won’t get the plug back in after they remove it. The oil pan, which was obviously damaged while driving at Howard Mesa, has to be replaced — I don’t take the car off pavement anywhere else. Total cost $312.

May 2005. Mike and I bring our horse trailer with living quarters back up to our lot for the summer season. Erosion has narrowed the road in places. The 35-foot long trailer slips into a ditch on the driver’s side, smashing the valve for the black water holding tank. We get it back on the road. It then slips into a ditch on the passenger side, smashing the step to the trailer door. Total cost: $268.

May 2005. The next day. Mike and I take his truck on the other road that climbs up to our side of the mesa to see if it’s any better. It isn’t. It’s worse. The 4WD truck slides into a deep, mud-filled ditch. Another property owner tries to pull us out with his Jeep when our truck’s 4WD low setting doesn’t do the trick. The truck is stuck fast in the muck. AAA refuses to send someone to tow us out. We pay a local tow company to do the job. Total cost $250.

We make a lot of noise at the POA annual meeting. It wakes up the POA decision makers. They finally start spending some money on road maintenance on our part of the “ranch.” They grade the state road and spread cinders in the most slippery spots. They put in culverts. But the money runs out before the job can be finished. The road is much better, but has a few very tough spots to negotiate, spots where tire placement can mean the difference between clearing the ground and bottoming out. Yet last week the cinder truck spread cinders on a perfectly smooth road that is never even used. Could it be because there are two lots are for sale on it and the owners wanted the road to look “maintained”? That road is only about a mile from pavement.

July 2006. Today. MIke has driven up for the weekend in his Honda Accord. He’s driven very slowly, very carefully. But he still bottoms out once on his way down this morning. The oil trail starts about a mile short of pavement. His car’s oil light went on three miles south of the Howard Mesa turnoff on Route 64. The oil pan is so torn up that Mike can stick his finger in it. Total cost: unknown so far. But the tow to Williams was $89, the rental trailer to bring the car from Williams to a Honda dealer in Flagstaff was $64, the rental car so he could get to work tomorrow was $86. He missed work today. The cost of the oil pan and replacement labor will probably exceed $300.

[August 1 Update: The Honda’s engine damage was severe and the engine needed to be replaced. Thank heaven it was covered by insurance. It would have cost thousands of dollars.]

It struck me today that we spend more on repairs to our vehicles due to road conditions than we do on property taxes, POA dues, and even hauled water combined. What’s wrong with this picture?

There are a lot of lots for sale at Howard Mesa Ranch. If you’re thinking of buying one, be sure you talk to the POA about maintenance on the road to your lot first.

Then, if you do buy, go out and get a high clearance 4WD vehicle. You’ll need it.

[composed on top of a mesa in the middle of nowhere with ecto]

12 thoughts on “The Roads of Howard Mesa

  1. Hi Maria,

    I have been reading your webpage for a while and find it not only informative but also very entertaining. Thanks.

    Joe has spoken to some of the people involved in taking care of the roads and has informed them of some the same facts you point out. We will be visiting sometime soon and we expect the same care for our roads as they give those closest to the pavement. If there is a mishap with our vehicle we will hold them responsible. There has to be some kind of accountability!!!! We all pay the same fees!!!

  2. I don’t want you to think the roads are IMPOSSIBLE. They’re not. They’re just (evidently) not for sedans or other low-clearance vehicles. They’re also not for driving fast or driving on cheap/old tires. And 4WD is almost required in some spots when it’s raining.

    Otherwise, they’re fine roads. ;-)

    And a postscript to my story…it turns out that my husband drove his car with no oil — the light didn’t come on right away — for a little too long. Not only does he need a new oil pan, but he needs a new engine. That’s on a 2004 Honda Accord.

    The good news is, his insurance company (Progressive) will pay the entire cost (including towing and car rental) except for his deductible. So the whole thing will “only” cost $500.

    Oddly enough, he didn’t bottom out in the roughest part of the road. He did it on one of the smoothest areas at the bottom, not far from three homes. Unfortunately, the POA hired a guy to dump large cinders (like gravel) along various parts of the road and relied primarily on vehicle traffic to smooth it down. That caused a “hump” of cinders in the middle of the road. It was one of the big rocks on a hump that did the damage — Mike was just driving his car with both wheels in the wheel ruts like everyone else.

    Clearly the POA needs some lessons in HOW a road should be maintained. Just dumping volcanic rocks is not the answer. The rocks must be graded to a flat surface after dumping and rolled into the underlying surface with a roller, preferably after a rain.

    I’m all for the “same care” idea on road maintenance, but I’m not at all for the POA covering the cost of damages to vehicles. If, for example, you added up all the money we’ve spent on repairing our vehicles after a drive up to the top of the mesa, the POA would owe us well over $1,000. I’d rather see that $1,000 go toward road maintenance.

    While I feel that my husband and I drive carefully enough that these problems shouldn’t happen to us, I don’t want to start footing the bill for folks who are careless — and that’s what would happen if we starting covering repair costs for everyone who drove up there. I’m still fuming over the POA’s decision to cover the cost of the tow for the cinderblock delivery truck. If something like that happens again, I’ll stop paying dues in protest.

    The way I see it, the roads should be maintained and passable — not perfect. People who want perfect roads should live where they’re maintained by a county or municipality — not five miles off pavement on the top of a mesa. Right?

    And personally, I think the best way for us to get our money’s worth for road maintenance is to split off the folks in the other part of HMR — the whiny ones by MM 200 — and let them pool their dues for their own road maintenance. That’s not only fairer, but it’ll give us a bigger percentage of the money for our road maintenance.

  3. I think you two need skidplates! Maybe the Stotz Bro.s could fabricate one for the Honda cheaply, certainly less than Mike’s deductible!

  4. Since you posted your comment on my Web site and I’m replying to it on my Web site, I’d guess that the site is still available. :-)

    More likely, however, I’m not understanding your question. What Web page are you talking about if it’s not the one you were looking at when you wrote the comment above?

  5. Are you still living on your property in AZ.? I’ve read your site before, but it’s been awhile. I notice the last comment on this site is
    2/7/07 so it gave me pause to wonder, as it is now 11/10/10. I have 216 acres in the Four Hills subdivision and I try to keep track of the area. We hope to retire there as I have have Arabian horses that I raise and thus the quantity of land. So how’s it going there now?

    • We never lived full time on our Howard Mesa property. We don’t have a house there. We were going to build one but changed our mind when we saw the way things were going.

      Things are the same. Everyone ignores the CC&Rs. Some idiot built a quonset hut atop the mesa, further ruining our view with the glare off its metal roof. The roads are meticulously maintained to the driveways of the homeowner’s association board members and often barely passable elsewhere. The treasurer continues to manage his property like a junkyard. Most of the lots are [still] for sale. If I’d known the place would become a white trash retreat, I wouldn’t have bought here.

      Hope things are better on your side.

  6. Well, we haven’t been up in over a year, but I try to check the website to see what’s in the wind. Apparently some company is trying to put 400 ft tall wind turbines for energy up. Everyone is up in arms. More taxes for the individual but the people from our tracks won’t benefit as they are trying survive off the grid. We just completed paying this off and are getting near retirement so we’re trying to pay more attention to how it’s going there and decide whether to build or not. We’re not in it for the money, we’re raising horses and and hoping it will be suitable to live there year round. We’re sick to death of California (and we’re natives) and want to get out of here as soon as we can.

  7. Here’s print out of what’s on the website with some info.

    Welcome… Community News Alerts on Bulletin Board



    The answer is NO. These turbines will NOT provide power to our off-the-grid community!

    Although we, the taxpayer, will finance this project with federal subsidies, the power will be sent to the grid and out-of-state. We essentially will become the industrial power plant for God-Knows-Who and our beautiful vistas will become cluttered with the noise and views of turbines!

    Solar is the best renewable energy for this area.

    “the answer is NOT blowing in the wind”




  8. I bought 11511 mesa view a year ago, got stuck this summer and lost one tire chain and broke another , which destroyed my front bumper. Got stuck half way in last january and after an hour and a half of throwing on chains, I left back home to Tucson. Who is incharge of the POA for phase 3 and how do we get these roads fixed?

    • John: I really hope you’re not asking me. If you’re an owner, you should have that information.

      It amazes me that you waited months to complain and, when you do, you do it in the wrong place.

What do you think?