A plan is in the works to clean up parts of the desert near the Superstition Mountains.
Both residents and outdoor enthusiasts have been pushed aside in recent years, by things like illegal dumping, squatters and make-shift drug dens.
‘I call this my mountain’
The Superstition Mountains are stunning. Badlands that inspire memories of the Wild West.
Just ask the two cowgirls who come out to ride, like trotting back in time. Elle Milner and Susan Carr.
"I love this mountain. Like everybody else, I call this my mountain. I love the area and I take a lot of pride in this area," Milner said.
But, there’s also a dirty little secret hiding in plain sight.
Trash. Pile after pile.
From old tires, Christmas trees and coffee machines, to video games, prescription bottles and more. It's all usually surrounding a fleet of abandoned RVs – some fit for a horror film.
"There are homeless people, but there are also people that are doing drugs that they can hide in there and do the drugs and not get caught," Carr said.
Sounding the alarm
Eric Goll is a kind of Jeep-riding lone ranger out in the Superstitions. He helps by picking up trash and keeping an eye on who he calls squatters.
He'll alert any agency that’ll listen.
He admits it can feel like he’s moving in reverse.
"I guess there has to be a squeaky wheel or what you see here today," Goll said.
Part of the problem is there are several jurisdictions in this area. Local, county, state and the feds.
People may get kicked out of one area, but then just move to the next one.
They'll leave the mess behind. Who’s going to clean it up?
There are plenty of proper campers still coming here, like Jan Murphy. She rents a spot for four months to escape the Montana winters.
Over the years, she’s seen the situation slide. Now, she even worries about her safety while in the desert.
"We have reported gunshots out there last year on several occasions. Called the ranger’s office and nobody came out. It’s an unsettling feeling, and you make sure you lock your doors and all of that," Murphy said.
The future holds a plan
"Wanted to make sure that we provided some wraparound services for the individuals living out there before we took any action," said Leon Thomas, district manager for the Bureau of Land Management.
We sat down with Thomas to chat. He oversees 1,100 acres in the area.
He says after years of offering services to the homeless, and months of collecting public comments, a plan is finally taking shape.
Leon Thomas, district manager for the Bureau of Land Management
BLM will be creating a recreation area, complete with amenities, mostly for biking, hiking and horseback riding.
The area will be surrounded by some fencing and plenty of signs.
As for enforcement – only if necessary.
"We just want to have people understand what the uses and what the rules of the area are now. Then, hopefully, we never have to enforce," Thomas said.
On the up and up?
For plenty of people, this former frontier is still worth fighting for.
The desert. The mountains. The sky. The feeling that comes with it.
"Everyone knows each other, and they care about each other, and want it to come back to that. I want people to come live here and not everybody loves to come out here," Milner said.
Small strides were made by a bootstrap bunch determined to keep their desert from becoming a dump.
The Bureau of Land Management hopes to start work on its new recreation area in the next four to six months. It says it will continue to offer services to the homeless whenever possible.