I was so excited to have hiked into the American Flag Trailhead at the end of our hike down Oracle Ridge! You see, this is the very spot in 2007 where I got the idea to hike the whole Arizona Trail. I went on a hike and at the trailhead was a sign with a trail connecting all these fantastic places I’d dreamed of hiking- Saguaro NP, the Superstitions, San Francisco Peaks and Grand Canyon. It was the hike that got me involved volunteering to help build the trail and since then I’d dreamed of the day I’d get to hike from Mexico to Utah.
The Oracle Gateway Community event at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch was a blast! Diane and Mark Davis provided the tunes, the Oracle Patio Cafe provided delicious food and people chatted the night away around a fire. The ranch was kind enough to put me and my husband Brian up in one of their gorgeous rooms for the night.
The next day, to be honest, I really wanted to pull the covers over my head and take another day off. But I have a strict schedule to follow because of all my events and public hikes, so I begrudgingly got on the trail. I said goodbye to Brian and headed north across the desert toward the Gila River for the next four days. Once moving, all was well and I was back to my happy hiking self.
These three passages are known as the hottest, driest, lowest part of the entire AZT. And I was hiking it in the middle of a heat wave. The last time I hiked this was during my 2008 section hike and it was snowing in March as Brian dropped me off. No snow this time, just heat and wind and lots of it. Time for the umbrella.
I hiked through Oracle State Park and under Highway 77 to the Tiger Mine Trailhead and stared at the expanse of desert stretching out before me with lone Antelope Peak in the distance. My pack heavy with seven liters of water and food for four days of my ever-increasing appetite, I hiked for a while and met another thru hiker, Sunnydaze, taking a break under a bush.
This passage used to have a nine-mile pipeline roadwalk that was one of the worst parts of the trail when I hiked it in ’08. Thankfully, the Arizona Trail Association won a grant in 2010 from Redwood Creek Winery to build new singletrack to replace the old route. I was in charge of the crew that built the first piece of the reroute and it was fun to revisit this piece I’d built with the help of many volunteers. This is exactly the type of project that the ATA needs funds for, taking the current route off of undesirable roads and building trail worthy of our National Scenic Trail status. Please visit the fundraising page http://igg.me/at/azttrek for the Arizona Trail Trek if you haven’t already, as of today we’re up to $3,300 0ut of $20,000 raised with a little over 40 days left in the campaign!
I hiked on the new ridgeline trail for a while and found myself a nice spot for camp about 16 miles from Oracle with a great sunset view of the Catalinas.
The next morning, I got on the trail early as I could to beat the heat. More ridgeline walking, inching toward Antelope Peak. It was going to be a hot one, and I was under the umbrella by 8am. A friend of mine had been kind enough to drive out two water caches in the middle of each of the two passages. I reached the first cache in Bloodsucker Wash and took a long break under the shade of a mesquite tree.
I decided against a siesta and hiked toward my next objective, Beehive Well. The umbrella shaded everything except my legs, where it felt like someone was following me around with a heat lamp. I was happy not to have to drink the scummy water from the cattle tank, but used it to wet myself down to cool off. I talked with a section-hiker from Alaska who was probably doing a lot worse with the heat than I was. Beehive Well also marks the point where the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 750-mile route from Phoenix to Albuquerque, joins the AZT for about 70 miles.
Antelope Peak was finally getting closer as I hiked into the evening. Saw my first rattlesnake of the trip, a good-sized one hiding in the shade of a barrel cactus next to the trail. I considered pushing on to Freeman Road and night hiking a bit, but decided against it when I found a camp with a good view of the peak and the Catalinas in the distance.
The next morning, I packed up in the dark and was on the trail by 5:45 am. I enjoyed the chilly morning air in the washes, savoring the sensation and storing it in my head for later, when it would become blazing hot. Hiked several miles to the end of the passage at Freeman Road and took a long break at the public cache. This cache is of utmost importance to Arizona Trail users and I thank all who maintain it.
Passage 15 follows a road for a while, then turns into singletrack through yuccas, prickly pear and the occasional juniper. Junipers are my favorite tree and I took every opportunity for shade breaks underneath. The wind never stopped blowing.
I could see the Superstitions in the distance and even the Four Peaks at times. Even caught a long-distance view of Baboquivari Peak. As I walked past yet another nondescript knee-high bush, I heard the spine-tingling rattle again. Two in two days! It’s definitely warming up out here.
After hiking for a couple of hours, I reached a very attractive area called The Boulders and took some time to scramble around and explore the formations.
Though it was hot, I hiked all day long under my umbrella. The AZT follows a combination of two-track roads and trail and was thankfully more or less flat. I was able to hike 20 miles before finding a great camp overlooking Ripsey Wash and the Big Hill with panoramic views in all directions for an epic sunset. My body felt tired but good- the only thing really bothering me was one toe on my right foot.
The next morning I enjoyed the sunrise before getting moving. I descended into Ripsey Wash where another delicious cache of water was waiting for me. The climb up the Big Hill is not bad at all, gentle switchbacks up the wildflower-lined slopes. Not that I wasn’t sweating- the heat and wind combination of the last four days created a crust of salt and dust on everything.
I took a break at the “chair” at the top of the climb and watched a couple push their bikes up the switchbacks. The trail follows a ridgeline for miles and miles, swooping up and down with incredible views. One of the views was of the town of Kearny, my next event stop on the Arizona Trail Trek. I could see the whole town, but all I could think about was Old Time Pizza. Since week 2 of the Trek I have been insatiably hungry because my body uses up so many calories on the trail. I could almost smell the pizza from up on the ridgeline and couldn’t wait for an iced tea.
I got a great view of the Gila River and one of my favorite peaks, Battle Axe Butte, which I summited for my birthday last year. The trail descended quickly on the north side of the mountain to the Florence-Kelvin Highway Trailhead. I had another two hot miles of trail to the bridge over the Gila River where the passage ends. I made a call to Old Time Pizza, who’s owners Gary and Loraine offered to come get me and take me to Kearny. Loraine said she’d come get me and I asked her if she could bring me an iced tea.
Soon after, she whisked me off to her pizza place and fed me until I couldn’t eat anymore. I think they were a little surprised by how much I was able to put away. I gave Loraine and Gary the update on the AZT Trek so far and they offered to get me a room at the General Kearny Inn. I had been planning on camping nearby but was so thankful for the hot shower and a chance to get out of the heat and sun.
The next day was my event in Kearny and they went all out to welcome me! Mayor Sam Hosler was in attendance and we enjoyed music by Neil Wood while munching on slices from Old Time Pizza. These Gateway Community events have been so much fun, talking trail with lots of new people as well as those who have been into the AZT for a long time.