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Recently I did an interview with Allison Driscoll from Trail to Summit and you can read the article here: http://trailtosummit.com/wild-woman-sirena-dufault/. Allison is a fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador and I really enjoyed hiking with her and getting to know her earlier this year at our GG Jamboree in Moab. Enjoy!

Table Mountain, Catalinas

Table Mountain, Catalinas

In May, I attended the International Trails Symposium in Portland, Oregon to give a presentation about my work with the Warrior Hike program that puts veterans with PTSD on the National Scenic Trails to “Walk off the War”. I presented with folks from PATH International, who help veterans through equine therapy, and Ride 2 Recovery, who help veterans through road and mountain biking. It was a very uplifting experience to see these other programs that are helping our veterans and I would highly recommend the short film Riding My Way Back that chronicles one soldier’s journey back from the brink of suicide and the horse that helped save him.

Staff Sergeant Aaron Heliker, star of Riding My Way Back, talks about the importance of outdoor therapy programs for veterans to help them regain a sense of self and brotherhood.

Staff Sergeant Aaron Heliker, star of Riding My Way Back, talks about the importance of outdoor therapy programs for veterans to help them regain a sense of self and brotherhood.

Presenting at the International Trails Symposium about my work with Warrior Hike

Presenting at the International Trails Symposium about my work with Warrior Hike

I had some time to hike the local Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge and a quick hike in Forest Park with my friend Whitney “Allgood” LaRuffa and his dog Karluk. Great outings so close to town!

Karluk and Allgood in Forest Park

Karluk and Allgood in Forest Park

After the conference was done, I had scheduled some time to explore the area. Lucky for me, my gracious hostess, fellow blogger and good friend Kimberlie Dame had the same days off, so we planned on going backpacking in the Columbia River Gorge. Hard to believe, but I’d never been backpacking outside of Arizona before- dayhiking, yes- but not backpacking! Years ago, I’d seen a picture of Kimberlie at Tunnel Falls and was mesmerized by the exotic beauty of the place. We put together a loop that went up Eagle Creek to Tunnel Falls, to Wahtum Lake to intersect with the Pacific Crest Trail to Cascade Locks and the Bridge of the Gods which marks the WA/OR border, about 29 miles.

Map I found online of the Eagle Creek area

Fun map I found online of the Eagle Creek area

We made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls on the way out to Eagle Creek Trailhead. It was Friday of Memorial Day Weekend and we wanted to make sure to secure a campsite- this area is very popular with both dayhikers and backpackers.

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

I started out with a liter and a half of water, probably the least I’ve carried in a long time but still overkill in this wet and overcast environment.The trail was wide and fancy and soon we came to the Metlako Falls overlook and took the side trip, followed by Punchbowl Falls. Everything was so totally different than the desert environment that I’m used to- so many plants and wildflowers that I wasn’t familiar with and this strange wet stuff everywhere!

Starting out on the Eagle Creek Trail

Starting out on the Eagle Creek Trail

Metlako Falls

Metlako Falls

Punchbowl Falls

Punchbowl Falls

Kimberlie and me

Kimberlie and me

Eagle Creek Trail

Eagle Creek Trail

We passed Loowit Falls and then came to an amazing slot pool- it was begging for a return trip in warmer weather with my inner tube floatie. We entered the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness and the trail was lined with giant ferns and trees dripping with moss. I could hear Tunnel Falls before I could see it- the sweet sound of rushing water dropping a large distance. Then I turned the corner and there it was in all its glory- the giant cascade, the fern-lined tunnel, the mossy columnar basalt framing the pool below. What a place!!DSC03414

Loowit Falls

Loowit Falls

Amazing long slot pool in Eagle Creek

Amazing long slot pool in Eagle Creek

Mossy tunnel

Mossy tunnel

Tunnel Falls

Tunnel Falls

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The full length of Tunnel Falls

The full length of Tunnel Falls

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Micro Chicken and Skoonichuk Falls

I wanted to hang out for a while and so we set up for a break and watched folks go by while I explored around. After we saw several groups of backpackers, we decided it would be a good idea to go claim a campsite along the creek. We hiked a short distance away and found a wonderful spot for the two of us. It was close enough to Tunnel Falls that I went back for another visit which included a dance party for one in said tunnel. I could hear the soothing sounds of the creek as I went to bed.

Tunnel Falls- a magnificent place to be!

Tunnel Falls- a magnificent place to be!

In the morning, we had a leisurely start and continued climbing up Eagle Creek. It was outrageously pleasant hiking, winding back and forth across the creek before ascending the Benson Plateau. As we gained elevation the scenery and the vegetation changed and we hiked into a misty cloud. So very Pacific Northwest- exactly what I had been expecting.

So beautiful!

So beautiful!

Hiking up to the Benson Plateau

Hiking up to the Benson Plateau

Into the Mist

Into the Mist

We ascended the gentlest switchback I’ve ever seen and then reached a sign for the PCT. My first time on this legendary trail! All day, I’d been making jokes about having a hot dog at a Memorial Day BBQ when we got to Wahtum Lake, but alas, there were some campers, but no hot dogs. Our view of Wahtum Lake was confined to the first two feet off the shore.

My first PCT marker

My first PCT marker!

Wahtum Lake

Wahtum Lake

Trillium

Trillium

The trail climbed toward the Chinidere Mountain junction, which is supposed to have amazing views of five glaciated volcanoes- we took a pass because there would be no views from the top today. The trail undulated along the ridge and it was a long day of hiking to set us up for a short day the next day to make it back for a BBQ.

Crazy fungus

Crazy fungus

Very much what I was expecting- hiking through the mist and tall trees

Very much what I was expecting- hiking through the mist and tall trees

We were famished when we finally reached our campsite. When we’d started, we weren’t sure if we were going to spend one night or two out. We had enough food for two nights, but just barely- it would mean hot oats for dinner. Now I haven’t been able to even look at a pack of oatmeal since my thru-hike last year, but I devoured those hot oats like they were my favorite dish! Kimberlie was nice enough hike down to Teakettle Spring for water and I played around with my headlamp and took pictures. We were amazed to find that we had taken the exact same picture of the trees above our campsite.DSC03648

Campsite View

Campsite View

I slept well, even though it was punctuated with wet “plops” from the misty trees on my tent. The trail descended steeply down the hill and then came to a sweet open ridge where the clouds parted and I got a quick view of the Columbia River. Before long, we were below the mist in the big green ferns again. DSC03654

Ridgeline

Ridgeline

Slug.

Slug.

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Columbia River

Columbia River

We reached the Gorge Trail and took it to the Bridge of the Gods, but instead of crossing it, we immediately went looking for food. After a half-hour wait at a roadside burger stand, we ate and drank milkshakes and managed to score a ride back to the Eagle Creek TH with some friendly vacationers. It was a stellar introduction to backpacking in the PNW! DSC03700

This way to the PCT!

This way to the PCT!

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Bridge of the Gods

Bridge of the Gods

On Memorial Day I visited the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and did a little hiking. Unfortunately my sweet new Sony A6000 took a tumble and needs to be replaced. Thank goodness for warranties! I was going to drive back to Portland for the night but the traffic was awful so I went to Trillium Lake and car-camped. I was treated to an amazing view of Mount Hood and a pack of ducklings the next morning before I left.

Happy Memorial Day!

Happy Memorial Day!

Ducklings at Trillium Lake

Ducklings at Trillium Lake

I am really looking forward to returning to Portland in September, when I will be giving a presentation on the Arizona Trail at the American Long-Distance Hiking Association-West (ALDHA-West) 20th Annual Gathering. I have plans to explore Olympic National Park while in the area and I can’t wait!

Until then, I am working my fourth summer as a guide on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners. Just finished my first trip and it was a surprisingly chilly one for June- I’ll take it! So great to be back in the Canyon, the place that truly holds my heart, once again.

Little Colorado River

Little Colorado River

A perfect day for a hike- 7 miles and 4700 ft. down the South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

A perfect day for a hike- 7 miles and 4700 ft. down the South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

This spring, I have had the pleasure of helping Warrior Hike, a non-profit organization that puts veterans on the National Scenic Trails to “Walk off the War”. They had previously put vets on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail and this year expanded the program to include the Arizona Trail. Along the way, they scheduled events to connect with VFW organizations to help regain the sense of community and brotherhood that is lacking when veterans leave the service. I helped plan their schedule, put them in contact with my Gateway Communities and even got on the trail with them. They started on March 15th- to read my story about backpacking with them the first 50 miles into Patagonia, go to Page 8 in the ATA Spring Newsletter: ATANewsSpring15.

Warrior Hike- Miller Peak Junction, Huachuca Mountains

Warrior Hike- Miller Peak Junction, Huachuca Mountains

I really enjoyed being a part of the team that helped the two veterans, Shawn- who’s trail name is Greyhound and Josh, as they made their way up the state. It is always interesting to see the Arizona Trail through the eyes of someone else and I did what I could to help with logistics and make sure their town stops were enjoyable.

There was one piece of the trail that I was determined to join them for, and that was the Grand Canyon. No surprise there, it’s the crown jewel of the AZT and my favorite place in the world!! I was really looking forward to putting my guide hat on and showing them around. After numerous calls, we were able to secure dorm rooms at Phantom Ranch for May 10th, as well as dinner and breakfast. That meant that I could hike down with just my Gossamer Gear Type 2 daypack- how fancy!! We had breakfast with Wired, who was on her last couple weeks of the Hayduke Trail, and Li Brannfors, Arizona Trail Steward and accomplished long-distance hiker.

Shawn and Josh and me at breakfast with Wired, who's on the Hayduke Trail, and Trail Steward and long-distance hiker Li Brannfors

Greyhound, Josh, Wired, me and Li Brannfors

The morning was beautiful- it had rained and snowed for a couple of days before and the air was crystal-clear. A smattering of puffy clouds was the icing on the cake for one of the prettiest hikes I’ve ever had into the Canyon. From the very first switchback on the South Kaibab Trail, Shawn and Josh were blown away by the outrageously fantastic landscape that is the Grandest of Canyons. There’s just really nothing quite like it and no picture or view from the top can prepare you for the layers of goodness contained within.

Starting down the South Kaibab Trail

Starting down the South Kaibab Trail

We blew right past Ooh Aah Point, too many tourists on this Saturday morning to stop and look. Instead, we found our own lookout point for reflection and photos. The Canyon was in bloom- wildflowers and cactus alike adding colors to the already spectacular layers of rock.

Wildflower season in the Canyon!

Wildflower season in the Canyon!

Took a short break for snacking at Cedar Ridge and headed down, down, down into the abyss. It’s so much fun to see others see the Canyon for the first time- the excitement of seeing the Colorado at Skeleton Point, the views of the iconic temples of the Upper Granite Gorge, the wonderment of it all.

Brahma and Zoroaster Temples rise above the canyon floor with Vishnu Temple in the distance to the right

Brahma and Zoroaster Temples rise above the canyon floor with Vishnu Temple in the distance to the right

Switchbacking through the Redwall Limestone

Switchbacking through the Redwall Limestone

The guys got a little ahead of me while I was talking to another hiker and I ended up hiking from the Tipoff down to the river solo. The South Kaibab Trail, no matter how many times I’ve hiked it, always makes me giddy with delight. I was practically dancing down the trail, I was so excited to be there, descending into the ancient schist and granite. As I neared the tunnel and Black Bridge, I hoped that I might see someone I knew at the Boat Beach, but alas, there were no Arizona River Runners or Grand Canyon Whitewater boats to be found. I’ll be starting my river season next month and can hardly wait to call the Canyon my home for the summer.

Josh is on the point and Shawn is approaching the saddle near the Train Wreck rock formation

Josh is on the point and Shawn is approaching the saddle near the Train Wreck rock formation

Black Bridge Selfie

Black Bridge Selfie

Black Bridge over the Colorado River

Black Bridge over the Colorado River

I took a break at the river but soon it was time to make sure that I got to Phantom in time to meet the guys for dinner. Josh had steak and Shawn and I had their delicious veggie chili, with big squares of chocolate cake for dessert. I fondly remembered the Christmas Dinner that I ate down here a couple of years ago. After dinner, we went to the Boat Beach to hang out by the Colorado River and then to the Silver Bridge to catch the fiery sunset on Zoroaster Temple. It was so much fun to show Josh and Shawn around and get to catch up with them and hear about how they felt about their journey now that they only had a week left to go.

Steak dinner at Phantom Ranch makes for happy thru-hikers!

Steak dinner at Phantom Ranch makes for happy thru-hikers!

Sunset on Zoroaster Temple and the Black Bridge

Sunset on Zoroaster Temple and the Black Bridge

After a visit to the Phantom Ranch Cantina, the guys were off to bed. But I wasn’t done with the Canyon yet- I hiked out the North Kaibab to the Clear Creek junction and played with my headlamp and long exposures on my camera.

Fun with headlamps!

Fun with headlamps!

I stayed up way too late and regretted it when we got the 4:30 am call for breakfast. Nothing like climbing out of the Canyon on no sleep, at least I was only carrying a daypack. After breakfast, we packed up and Josh and Shawn headed north on their last leg of the journey toward Utah. The North Rim was still closed for the season, so I hiked the Bright Angel Trail back up to the South Rim.

Accidentally hit a button I didn't even know I had on my camera and got this group shot

Accidentally hit a button I didn’t even know I had on my camera and got this group shot

I haven’t hiked out on the BA since my very first backpacking trip in 2002- I always take the South Kaibab. I figured I’d try it for a change. I spotted another hiker with an umbrella and got to talking to Meg, who works in the Canyon for the Park Service and lives at Indian Garden. She’s a fellow long-distance hiker and later in the day we saw each other again and she invited me up to her place for lunch. What a view!!!

Met Meg "Little Bug" who works for the NPS

Met Meg “Little Bug” who works for the NPS

View from my lunch with Meg at Indian Gardens

View from my lunch with Meg at Indian Gardens

The rest of the hike up was uneventful- even though the Bright Angel has water stops to make the trail easier, I still way prefer the South Kaibab. Topped out, grabbed some dinner in Flagstaff, and made the long drive back home to Tucson. Another great Canyon trip in the books!

Looking down on the Bright Angel Trail

Looking down on the Bright Angel Trail

Four-o-Clock

Four-o-Clock

Kolb Studio and the top come into view

Kolb Studio and the top come into view

Shawn and Josh made their way to Utah the following week and had their celebration in the Gateway Community of Page. I am so happy that I got to be a part of the first Warrior Hike on the Arizona Trail, the outdoors provides healing and time for reflection and it is great to help foster that journey for others. To donate to Warrior Hike, visit http://warriorhike.org/donate/.

Congrats to Shawn and Josh for a journey well done!!

Congrats to Shawn and Josh for a journey well done!!

Travels and Tribulations

Haven’t updated the blog in a while- seems like I’m slowly emerging out of a time warp where I find myself suddenly at the end of April. The last month has been tough- my father-in-law passed away at 71 after a long battle with cancer and then ten days later my 15-year old dog Bailey lost the use of her back legs and we had to say goodbye to her too. So much sadness for me and my husband Brian, we’re finally clawing our way back to normalcy. It makes me dread the day I will lose my dad, supporter of all my adventures and one of the few people that totally understands me. Makes it even more important that I enjoy the time I have with him.

Bailey and Zeus- both gone but the great memories will live in my heart forever.

Bailey and Zeus- both gone but the great memories will live in my heart forever.

But on to more pleasant things- I have gotten to do a bit of traveling lately, some for work, some for play. I represented the Arizona Trail Association at the first annual Continental Divide Trail Kickoff event in Silver City, NM. It was a lot of fun and I got to see some of my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors that I’d met earlier this year. Interesting to see what Silver City has done with the CDTC’s Gateway Community Program. I worked a booth at the Outdoor Expo and it was surprising to hear how many folks were already familiar with the Arizona Trail.

Gateway Community of the CDT

Gateway Community of the CDT

Blue bootprints with the CDT logo take you through town

Blue bootprints with the CDT logo take you through town

Folks at the Arizona Trail Booth

Folks at the Arizona Trail Booth

Found a CDT hiking mini-donkey

Found a CDT hiking mini-donkey

Big Ditch Park

Big Ditch Park

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Allgood, Jabba, Bearclaw, Not a Chance, She-ra and Snorkel on the Long Distance Hiking panel discussion

CDT

CDT

I wished that I had more time to explore the CDT and Gila Wilderness, guess a return trip is in order sometime. My 17-year old nephew Chase visited us from Michigan for Spring Break and at the top of his list was the Grand Canyon. I was excited to introduce someone new to the Canyon and he loved every minute. I bet I have a backpacking companion in the making.

Brian and Chase at the Rim

Brian and Chase at the Rim

Chase on the AZT

Chase on the AZT

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One happy guy!

Taking in the view

Taking in the view

We also took him up Mount Lemmon and did something I’ve never done- hiked to the Mount Lemmon highpoint. It was a fun little route with outstanding views and Chase got to sign his first summit register. We did a couple short hikes on the mountain and enjoyed the sunset.

Windy Point

Windy Point

Chase signs in at the Mount Lemmon Highpoint

Chase signs in at the Mount Lemmon Highpoint

The next day I took Chase to see some petroglyphs near my house and then I suggested we take a short hike in the wash nearby. We were hiking along and all of a sudden Chase said, “Aunt Sirena, you just stepped on a rattlesnake!” Sure, I thought- this coming from the kid that had messed with me all week playing jokes. Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t a joke. I looked back and my stomach dropped as I saw the rattlesnake lying in the shade with an indent in the sand near its tail where I’d stepped on it. Fortunately it was too cold to move quickly, otherwise I’d be writing this while recovering from a massive bite.

Rattlesnake!

Rattlesnake!

Last weekend was the fourth annual Pine/Strawberry Trails Day. I just love visiting this pair of friendly Gateway Communities in the cool pines! It’s baby goat season at Fossil Creek Ranch and I got to feed two-day old kids and put them in their enclosure for the night.

Friendly signs welcome Arizona Trail users to town

Friendly signs welcome Arizona Trail users to town

Pine Trailhead

Pine Trailhead

Double Goats!

Double Goats!

The next day was Trails Day and there were hikes, bike rides, and a birding walk. I hiked a loop with the Llamas from Fossil Creek Ranch and lots of folks stopped by the Arizona Trail booth for info.

On the trail with Llamas from the Fossil Creek Ranch

On the trail with Llamas from the Fossil Creek Ranch

Thru-hikers Toad and Butch

Thru-hikers Toad and Butch

In the evening, I recorded an interview for The Trail Show podcast about the Arizona trail, you can listen to it here (my part starts at 41:13): http://thetrailshow.com/the-trail-show-35-the-gpt/

Last but not least, I traveled to the Arizona Trail’s southern terminus at the Mexican Border to shoot a piece  with Tony Paniagua from Arizona Public Media about the Arizona Trail. It will be a series of short segments about different environments and communities across the state. We’re shooting in Patagonia next.

Nate, me and Tony at Montezuma Pass

Nate, me and Tony at Montezuma Pass

It has been good to stay busy to keep my mind off my recent losses. My house is empty of animals for the first time in 18 years and it feels so strange. I’m really aching for a backpacking trip. Haven’t been out since mid-March, when I hiked 50 miles from Mexico to Patagonia to help get the two Warrior Hike veterans started on their thru-hike. I’ll post about that soon, it was a very rewarding experience.

In Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson news, it’s baby season again! Lots of babies mean lots of mouths to feed- your donation helps to nourish the little ones!

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Baby Killdeer

Baby Killdeer

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Baby Great Horned Owls with their foster mom, Luna

Same Great Horned Owls a week later

Same Great Horned Owls a week later

I had been watching wildflower reports and my schedule for the right time to get away for three days on the Arizona Trail from Picketpost Trailhead near Superior to Kelvin. This 40-mile backpacking trip is one of my favorite pieces of the Arizona Trail in the spring because its dramatic rock formations and views look even better coated in poppies!

I met up with some friends from Superior who were kind enough to shuttle me to Picketpost. It was a gorgeous day after a couple days of rain. The visibility was fantastic and the air crisp and fresh. I got on the trail around 10:30 and saw many groups of equestrians out for a ride as well as a couple of hikers. My pack was loaded down with water and a pair of loppers so that I could do some trail work down by the Gila River. I am the Trail Steward of Passage 16c and I’d heard there was some brushy areas, so I came prepared to do battle with spiny plants.

Picketpost Mountain

Picketpost Mountain

The trail maintenance was a day and a half away, for now all I had to do was hike. I have done these two passages once a year for the last four years and still find it as exciting as the first time. There was water in places I hadn’t seen before, left over from the recent rains. The trail climbs up to what I like to call Stripey Butte Saddle, with great views toward the Pinal Mountains. I ran into a thru-hiker who was on the move, probably trying to make Superior before sundown. I love the views from this spot, but it was still early and I hiked on.

Stripey Butte Saddle

Stripey Butte Saddle

Blue Dicks

Blue Dicks

I filled up water at a cattle tank that was surprisingly clear and tasty. I had seven liters of water and one liter of coconut water as I hiked up to the saddle right before the gate that marks the “trailhead” between Passages 16 and 17. I use the term loosely, hardly anyone actually drives to this spot, the road in is beyond gnarly. I found a great spot for camp with views of Stripey Butte, the Pinals and the trail winding through the next canyon. An almost-full moon rose and illuminated my campsite so well that I didn’t need a light to write in my journal. It was a chilly, somewhat windy night but I had only gotten 5 hours of sleep the night before and woke up well-rested.

Sunset from my camp

Sunset from my camp

In the morning, I was taking my sweet time getting out of camp when Scott Morris and Eszter Horanyi rode up on their mountain bikes. Do yourself a favor and visit their blogs, they are always on some sort of fantastic adventure. They were using the AZT as part of a bikepacking weekend and were looking forward to going into Superior for Mexican food. We had a nice chat about wildflowers and such and they were on their way.

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Finally got hiking around 10 am, reached the “trailhead” and soon afterward found a pothole of water in a rocky spot on the trail. Being the desert hiker that I am, I stopped and filtered a liter to drink on the spot and refilled what I’d used the night before. It was 10 miles to the river and I wanted to be able to take my time- and time is water in the desert. The trail contours high above a rugged canyon, passing some spectacular rock formations and craggy peaks. Views opened up into colorful Martinez Canyon and then I reached the high saddle and took a break. I love this saddle, but it makes a bad campsite in the spring, it doesn’t get sun till really late and is a bit of a wind tunnel. Spectacular views though.

This is the "Trailhead"

This is the “Trailhead”

Fantastic Formations

Fantastic Formations

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Gila River Canyons

Gila River Canyons

The trail wound around some cliffs and then began the long drop toward the Gila River. I could see all the way to the Catalinas, 60 miles away as the crow flies. The wildflowers increased in variety and density as I descended, sometimes carpeting the whole hillside. I was giddy with delight! The trail goes by a notable spire with the unofficial name of Dale’s Butte, after the pioneer of the Arizona Trail, Dale Shewalter. It’s quite the landmark.

Penstemon

Penstemon

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale's Butte

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale’s Butte

This part of the trail always feels like it is so much longer than 10 miles to get to the river. The trail is great, just circuitous routing to keep a good grade. Near the river, I made a visit to Red Mountain Seep to refill my water. It’s only 0.3 miles up the wash from where the trail hits the river access and there is a blue collection bucket sunk into the ground if you follow the big cairns up the hill. It was a welcome sight, as it had taken most of my water to get there since I had taken so long with pictures and poppy-peeping.

Red Mountain Seep

Red Mountain Seep

I couldn’t resist a trip down to the Gila River to soak my feet and take a break. The river was so low that I could see a gravel bar that would make walking right across a piece of cake. Not the case all the time. After my refreshing break, I finally got my loppers and my gloves out and geared up to do some trail maintenance as I hiked. My criteria was, if it’s spiny and it’s going to hit someone in the face, it’s got to go. The cutting part went easy enough, it was grubbing the spiny chunks of tree away from the trail that was tough to do without getting all scraped up. I hiked and trimmed until the sun went down and then hiked with my headlamp for a bit until I found a home for the night. Much warmer this night since I had dropped 2000 feet in elevation.

Gila River

Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

The next morning, the Arizona spring wind kicked in and it howled all day long. It kept the temperature down, which was good. I continued my assault against spiny face-slappers as I hiked along, missing the days when I used to get out regularly to do trail work. I took a much-needed break at the river and rinsed some of the dust off. Which was immediately replaced by more dust. Unfortunately, my loppers were getting dull and it was getting infuriating, the blade gnawing at even small-diameter branches of catclaw. Even so, I got most of the big stuff along the river trimmed. The trail in my passage rolls up and down through drainages on The Spine- it is a marvel of engineering that created such a nice trail in such a rugged place. I saw my only person since seeing Scott and Eszter, the rancher from Battle Axe Ranch, out looking for his cows.

Gila River Campsite

Gila River Campsite

Stone Tool

Stone Tool

Battling spiny plants

Battling spiny plants

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Battle Axe Rancher

Battle Axe Rancher

I passed the A-Diamond Ranch and the trestle bridge and climbed up to the completion monument that was placed when we connected the Arizona Trail across the state in December 2011. The DS carved into the cement stand for Dale Shewalter, pioneer of the Arizona Trail.

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Trestle Bridge

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker

Completion Marker

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

The light was fading and I ended up getting back to my car in the dark. It was a great end to a fantastic trip- wildflowers, solitude, trail work, jaw-dropping scenery- I am lucky to have such spectacular places to play in.

Arizona Trail Day and the Colossal Campout is less than 2 weeks away, on March 28th- come out for a full day and night of fun on the Arizona Trail! Register for the hike, mountain bike ride, or horseback ride (BYO Horse) and reserve your camping and meals at http://www.aztrail.org/trail_day/ccmp.html. The Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” veterans will be hiking into Tucson for Arizona Trail Day. We are very excited to have two veterans thru-hiking the trail for Warrior Hike this year.

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey and raptors from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson will be at Arizona Trail Day- hope to see you there!

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

AZTrailDay2015 CCMP

Tortolita Superloop

Despite working for a trail organization, I get stuck behind my computer and an endless stream of emails and phone calls. I needed to get away for a quick overnighter and realized I hadn’t hiked the new Tortolita Ridgeline Trail. I worked until 4 and got hiking by 5 on the Tortolitas Superloop. Made it onto the Cochie Canyon Trail for a great sunset- I almost missed the best part of it cause I thought it was over and started hiking again. Found a spot after hiking with my headlamp for a bit that had the only flat real estate around and set up camp. Had an enjoyable evening with a beautiful halo around the moon for photography.DSC01501

Moon Halo

Moon Halo

The next morning, I hiked to the old windmill and got on the connector route over to Wild Mustang. When I reached the saddle, I explored a well-cairned route that seems to go back under the rocky peak and toward Wild Burro Wash.  Something to check out next time. There were great views of the Catalinas and Picacho Peak from the saddle.

Cochie Canyon Camp

Cochie Canyon Camp

Pretty green out here!

Pretty green out here!

Windmill in Cochie Canyon

Windmill in Cochie Canyon

Route from Cochie Canyon to the saddle

Route from Cochie Canyon to the saddle

Saddle on the Cochie- Mustang connector route- Picacho Peak at right

Saddle on the Cochie- Mustang connector route- Picacho Peak at right

Catalinas in the distance from the saddle

Catalinas in the distance from the saddle

The route goes past a crested saguaro that has seen better times- a victim of the frost of 2010. I made it to the Wild Mustang and took it to the new-to-me Wild Burro Tank/Goat Corral trail. This trail meanders through the desert until it reaches Wild Burro Tank, a solar windmill with a big metal tank and a wildlife tank with a covered float. I had brought all my water for the two days but took on an emergency liter from the tank just in case. Such a desert hiker.

Crested Saguaro on the route down to Wild Mustang- this is a very rare mutation and no one knows why it happens.

Crested Saguaro on the route down to Wild Mustang- this is a very rare mutation and no one knows why it happens. The Tortolitas seem to have a high concentration of them.

Looking back at the saddle on the right of the small rocky peak

Looking back at the saddle on the right of the small rocky peak

A perfect Saguaro

A perfect Saguaro

Memorial to Molly

Memorial to Molly

Wild Burro Tank solar windmill

Wild Burro Tank solar windmill

After exploring the Goat Corral area I started up the Ridgeline Trail’s lazy switchbacks up to the ridgecrest. The trail construction in the Tortolitas is amazing! The new Ridgeline is a delight! It contours around, swooping this way and that to stay on the ridgeline and offers incredible views down into the Tortolitas as well as views of the Catalinas, Santa Ritas, and Picacho Peak. All of this and wildflowers too, many varieties including some fragrant ceanothus. I was super-excited to be on such a sweet fresh piece of trail so close to my home.

Road that goes out east to Edwin Rd.

Road that goes out east to Edwin Rd.

Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Crested Cactus #2

Crested Cactus #2

Crested Saguaro #3

Crested Saguaro #3

Sweeping curves of the Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

Sweeping curves of the Tortolita Ridgeline Trail

The Wild Burro Tank/Ridgeline loop eventually drops you back at Wild Burro just a little ways down from where you started the loop. It’s a great tour of the interior of the Torts. I took the Wild Burro Trail all the way and made it back to my car with out seeing anyone for the entire time I was out. A perfect little getaway.

Ancient Grinding Holes

Ancient Grinding Holes

Old cowboy line shack

Old cowboy line shack

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, Elfie the Elf Owl, Citan the Harris Hawk and Luna the Great Horned Owl will be out and about as part of the second annual Arizona Trail Day and Colossal Campout happening on March 28th. Trail Day is a full free day and night of fun on the Arizona Trail and the birds will be part of our Outdoor Expo, which runs from 12-3 at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. Registration is open for the hike, bike ride or equestrian ride in the morning and for nighttime fun at La Selvilla Campground with music by Eb Eberlein and friends, tasty food by It’s Greek to Me and Arizona Trail Ale by the campfire. Free entry to the park and camping for Arizona Trail Day! Visit http://www.aztrail.org/trail_day/ccmp.html for more details.AZTrailDay2015 CCMP

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Elf Owl

Elf Owl

The tagline of my blog is “Exploring the Beauty of Arizona’s Wild Places”, but a couple of weekends ago I got to visit Moab, Utah for a special outing with fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors. I have been a Trail Ambassador since last February and have enjoyed being a part of a group that inspires others through their love of the outdoors. It’s fun to read other Ambassadors blogs and see what adventures they are up to. Part of being an ambassador was getting my Mariposa backpack that I have used since my Arizona Trail Trek. It’s now my go-to pack and this weekend I got to try out another smaller pack for dayhiking, the Type 2 Utility Backpack. Before I arrived in Utah, I had a couple stops to make- the first was the Grand Canyon National Geographic Visitor Center to see the Arizona Trail promo on the IMAX screen. It was amazing to see it so large and know that so many people were going to learn about the Arizona Trail while waiting to see their movie. Then it was on to Page for two Arizona Trail presentations, one at Glen Canyon Visitor Center and one for the Page City Council. Both went very well and the City of Page is very enthusiastic about being a part of the Gateway Community Program.

Lone Rock Beach

Lone Rock Beach, Lake Powell

After my Arizona Trail work was done, I made my way to Moab, taking the scenic route through Monument Valley.

Agathla Peak

Agathla Peak

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I had the following day to kill before most of the Ambassadors arrived in Utah, so I went on a hike on the Devil’s Garden Trail in Arches National Park. This trail, the longest in the park, takes you to 8 arches in 7 miles. It was a chilly but beautiful day with patches of white snow and ice on the red rock. It made me happy to have my microspikes for the slippery parts.

AZT Mobile in Utah

AZT Mobile in Utah

Navajo Arch

Navajo Arch

Arches - Devil's Garden

Arches – Devil’s Garden

Partition Arch

Partition Arch

Micro Chicken getting eaten by the crazy rock

Micro Chicken getting eaten by the crazy rock

After an incredible sunset at Balanced Rock, I headed to the Moab Retreat House to meet the other Trail Ambassadors. What a group- some of the most well-known names in hiking and all with fantastic stories to tell.

La Sal Mountain Sunset

La Sal Mountain Sunset

Sunset at Balanced Rock

Sunset at Balanced Rock

The next morning, we headed to the Gold Bar Canyon-Jeep Arch-Culvert Canyon loop. It was a wonderful hike that included scrambling through slickrock drainages to Jeep Arch.

Hello Colorado River!

Hello Colorado River!

Scrambling up the canyon

Scrambling up the canyon

Hiking the slickrock toward Jeep Arch

Hiking the slickrock toward Jeep Arch

Approaching Jeep Arch

Approaching Jeep Arch

Disco strikes a pose

Disco from The Trail Show strikes a pose

Slickrock perch

Slickrock perch

We then climbed on slanted slabs up to the Gold Bar Rim for superlative views of the Colorado River below.

Heart-shaped linked tinajas

Heart-shaped linked tinajas

Gold Bar Rim Pano

Gold Bar Rim Pano

Twinkle living on the edge

Twinkle living on the edge

A cairned route looped us back to the car via Culvert Canyon. Trail Ambassador Will Rietveld, ultralight guru and expert in the Moab area, led all the hikes. It was so nice to be able to follow someone and not have to navigate for a change. We had a little daylight left, so some of us went back to Arches and hiked the Windows Trail before going back to Balanced Rock for sunset. Touristy but still very pleasant. I love how anything that is not a rock-lined trail in Arches is called “primitive” and comes with stern warnings.

Balanced Rock Sunset

Sunset at Balanced Rock

Turret Arch

Turret Arch

The next day, we went to the Needles District of Canyonlands, and hiked the Lost Canyon to Peekaboo Trail. We had hoped to go to Peekaboo Spring, but were stopped by an uninviting icy traverse along sloping slickrock.

Needles District, Canyonlands

Needles District, Canyonlands

Bearclaw descends the ladder

Bearclaw descends the ladder

Dirtmonger and Bearclaw

Dirtmonger and Bearclaw, who got married on the PCT last summer

Slickrock Snorkel

Slickrock Snorkel

Granaries

Granaries

Icy in the shady spots

Icy in the shady spots

I didn’t care where we ended up, as long as I was enjoying the outdoors with new friends. The landscape was dotted with gorgeous tinajas- slickrock pockets full of water after recent rains. The other Trail Ambassadors, most from cool, wet climates probably couldn’t understand my giddiness over such a small amount of agua. Grant Sible, president of Gossamer Gear, joined us and it was so nice to meet him and Glen Van Peski, who founded the company. There was an international contingent as well- Tomo from Japan who owns an ultralight backpacking store in Tokyo, Hiker’s Depot. I sent some Arizona Trail maps back to Japan with him.

Tinajas

Tinajas

Loving exploring Canyonlands- I need to come backpacking here!

Loving exploring Canyonlands- I need to come backpacking here!

Me and Grant Sible

Me and Grant Sible

One of the best parts of the weekend was getting to talk trails with others who are just as obsessed as I am. We kept intersecting parts of the Hayduke Trail and geeked out with the guidebook, trying to figure out where it ran in the area. Plans for adventures big and small were discussed and tips and tricks exchanged. It was a fantastic experience. I really enjoyed the fact that there were so many women represented, including Heather “Anish” Anderson, who has the PCT unsupported speed record and Liz “Snorkel” Thomas, who has the Appalachian Trail unsupported speed record. Always inspiring to meet ladies who kick ass! In the evening, some people asked me if I had a presentation with me about the Arizona Trail. Of course- that’s what I do for a living! I got to give my full slideshow and I’m pretty sure I left some people dreaming of future thru-hikes of the AZT. I even got a mention on the latest episode of The Trail Show (at about 52:00). There were two more days of Ambassador fun, and Outdoor Retailer after that, but I had to leave in order to be home on the 20th for my husband’s birthday. No missing that date, no matter how much I wished I could hike some more! I took the scenic route back through the Grand Canyon and met Levi Davis, the wonderful videographer who produced the promo, so that he could see his work on the IMAX screen. It was fun to watch it again with him. Levi is so incredibly talented, I highly recommend him.

Me and Levi at the Arizona Trail Exhibit

Me and Levi Davis at the Arizona Trail Exhibit

If you’d like to see the Ambassador exploits on Instagram, search the tag #GGUtahAdventures for a real treat! I’m now on IG @desertsirena. I look forward to more outings with this fantastic bunch! I may even plan a Trail Ambassador outing in my neck of the desert. In Wildlife Rehab news, I got called in to fly a Red-Tailed Hawk who’s recovering from an injured wing. Got some distance, needs to be flown some more to rehab the wing.

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Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Flying a Red-Tailed Hawk

Flying a Red-Tailed Hawk- why is it looking at me like that?

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