For Part 1, click here
Day 3- What a wonderful thing to wake up in Holdout Canyon! It is close to the new moon, so sleeping under the stars last night was spectacular. This morning, I went exploring around Holdout Canyon for a couple of hours, while Judy stayed in camp and journaled. I absolutely love this place and its fantastic rock formations, fragrant juniper trees, deep blue skies. I found a great rocky perch with a view and enjoyed some alone time.
I am usually a solo hiker, and I don’t think I’ve ever been on a five day trip with someone before. Judy and I met several years ago through her website Hiken Girls, which has journals from her Arizona Trail hike that she finished in 2008. We corresponded a bit before I started my Arizona Trail hike, and when I did the passage from Oracle to the Gila River, I found a note that she’d left for me sitting on a cairn in the middle of nowhere! Judy and I have never backpacked together before, but thankfully our hiking paces and styles seem to mesh well. On my way back to camp, I decided to institute Sirena’s Cairn Rehabilitation and Beautification project (rebuilding fallen cairns or adding a small decorative rock on top). Judy and I packed up and got ourselves ready for what I had heard was the most overgrown and navigationally challenging part of this segment. I had brought leather gloves to attempt to protect my hands from scratches from the catclaw and other thorny plants- as a massage therapist it would be unsightly to go back to work with shredded hands. We were surprised to see that the rock formations in Holdout Canyon were so extensive- they went on for miles and miles. We maneuvered our way as the faint trail wove in and out of rocky outcrops on the north side of Holdout, searching for cairns, pieces of flagging tape, and stopping often to read and re-read the intricate notes in the guidebook. At times, the catclaw and live oak was so tall and thick it obscured the trail on the other side. I would hate to be caught out here in shorts and a t-shirt. Judy and I were enjoying the routefinding- each cairn and flag was a clue to solve the puzzle of how to get through to Black Rock Canyon.
We finally saw Black Rock Canyon in the valley below, and the trail took us back to Holdout Canyon just before the confluence. I have never seen an area so thick with animal prints of every kind! Mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, ringtail, deer, all clearly visible in the damp sand of the drainage.
From our camp to the confluence, we were moving at about a mile an hour, because of brush and routefinding. We were happy to reach the Black Rock Trail, which wasn’t a trail at all, but instead followed in the bottom of the drainage, which had a nice flow running through it. We crossed a fence into the North Santa Teresa Wilderness and promptly came upon a group of cows and calves. At about 6pm, we passed a flat area with a good sitting rock and a juniper tree and decided to set up camp. Even though we didn’t make as many miles as we had been expecting, it had been an exciting day with lots of challenges and the amazing scenery was well worth it. We both tried not to think of all the mountain lion prints we’d seen as we went to bed.
What a day- this was some of the most interesting, challenging, and beautiful miles I’ve ever hiked. I look forward to coming back to this area to explore more in the future.
Day 4- Judy and I got an early start and we continued following the twists and turns of the Black Rock drainage. Black Rock itself finally came into view:
The scenery changed dramatically with dark brown and red rock formations. Judy said, “Here comes a dog- it’s a pitbull.” Well, this beautiful brown and white dog was so excited to see us and was one of the most submissive dogs I’ve ever seen. He was a juvenile, all excited to have someone to play with, and flopped down, belly-up to show that he meant no harm.
We missed our turnoff into Preacher Canyon, which resulted in a beautiful little detour into a small narrows of Black Rock Canyon.
After we got back on track and started climbing up Preacher Canyon, we tried to tell the dog to go home several times, but he would just hide behind a bush and we’d see him a minute later, slinking up behind us. Finally, he got the hint and went back to where he came from. In Preacher Canyon, we followed a water pipeline trail and then had a stint of cross-country travel to attain a ridge. The whole hillside was filled with blooming fairy duster and Lilies. The view from the ridge was fantastic!
Judy realized she had cell phone reception on the ridge so she called her mom and I called my husband, Brian. I carry a SPOT satellite messenger, so our families had been getting OK messages twice a day. SPOT OK’s are no substitute for conversation, though, and I was glad to be able to talk to Brian and assure him that everything was going ok with our trip. For the rest of the day, we were headed uphill, toward our highpoint of the trip at 7250 ft. on the crest of Cottonwood Mountain.
The tread was good on the way up to Kane Spring, which made the climbing easier. We stopped for a snack and water break, and realized that we probably weren’t going to make it up to the highpoint to camp before dark.
I had wanted to carry water up for a dry camp, but that would have to wait for another trip. Our next water source was 3.5 miles and almost a thousand feet higher on the mountain, and we had good tread and cairns until the gate at the saddle. Past that, there were quite a few newly downed trees and overgrowth in an area that had burned in the 1980s. I missed a switchback when we were getting close to our camp, which resulted in a scary-steep traverse on crumbly rock and a bushwhack straight up the hill to regain the trail. The last third of a mile to camp was exhausting. We finally heard water and found a flat spot to set up next to the trail. It had been a long, hot day with a tough climb and we were both beat.
Day 5- Judy and I woke up and got out of camp as early as we could- we had 9 miles to hike to Judy’s car, then about 60 miles of dusty dirt-road driving to get my car and get out of here, then another two hours to get home. Fortunately, it was going to be mostly downhill today, so we had some hope of not having to drive the long dirt roads in the dark. First, we had a short climb to our highpoint, with amazing views of where we’d spent the last five days.
It was somewhat overcast, which made for great conditions, as the terrain became more and more exposed as we dropped in elevation. The trail down Cottonwood was in great shape, and was welcome after all the brush fighting we’d done over the past 4 days. There were fields of fragrant blooming Desert Ceanothus on the way down from Cottonwood Mountain.
The trail reached Cottonwood Canyon and we made a wrong turn and followed a cow path for a short distance before realizing we were off track. I was pushing through some brush and thought I was all the way through, but I came up and got a branch to the face! Fortunately, it only scratched my nose and lip- I could have broken my nose or lost an eye. After we got back on trail, we reached a beautiful waterfall where we sat for our lunch break.
After our break, we soon reached the boundary of the Santa Teresa Wilderness and FR 677, which we took to a 4wd track that continued in Cottonwood Canyon. There was water in the canyon, but it was very polluted by cattle- I was glad I filled up before the wilderness boundary. The two-track wound through boulder fields and crossed and recrossed the creek. We saw a lot of wildlife: deer, 2 zone-tailed hawks, numerous songbirds, and this guy:
We reached Judy’s car at about 2:30 and drove over to my car at the Aravaipa East TH. I was very happy with my choice of hiking partners and I think Judy may have caught the Grand Enchantment Trail bug. Though we could see rain off in the distance, there was none in our area, which was good because I had to drive my T-Bird across Aravaipa Creek five times to get out of there. It was 38 miles of good, recently graded dirt road through the Sulphur Springs Valley to Bonita, where I finally turned onto blacktop again. Total miles hiked (including inadvertent scenic detours and some exploring) was only 40 miles in five days. I feel very lucky that I got to experience this remote, wild, and beautiful place. Here’s a link to the full set of pictures from this trip:
|GET- Santa Teresas 4-12 to 4-16-10|
I have a special picture for today’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser: a baby Great Horned Owl that came to us at just a week old. We were careful that the owl didn’t see or hear us so that it wouldn’t imprint on a human. The imprinting period has passed, and I got to bring the baby owl out for feeding this week. What a face!