It was mine and Brian’s 8-year wedding anniversary on August 2nd, so we went camping in the Pinalenos (also known as the Grahams) to celebrate. This is the third year in a row that I have visited this sky island in the summertime, but Brian had never been before. We drove up the Swift Trail in the afternoon and decided to camp at Hospital Flat- a large meadow covered in wildflowers. We had a nice meal and sat around the fire for a while. The stars were incredible as it had been a new moon the day before.
The next morning, I was rudely awoken by someone chopping wood at 6:30 am. I have not camped at an “official” campground in a long time, so I was a bit put off by our noisy neighbors. One family had four very small children who took turns crying and screaming, while our other neighbors had a father that was one of the most unbearably rude, loudmouthed people I’ve heard in a long time. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there when we were setting up, otherwise we would have chosen another campground. He spent most of his time either yelling exuberantly or getting mad and swearing at his family, even the young girls. Ugh. I will never camp in a campground again. When Brian got up, he said that he would be willing to shuttle me so that I could hike the Arcadia Trail. The Arcadia Trail is designated as a National Recreational Trail- with a sexy name like that, how could I resist? The NRT website says that “National Recreation Trails (NRT) provide for numerous outdoor recreation activities in a variety of urban, rural, and remote areas. Over 1,000 trails in all 50 states, available for public use and ranging from less than a mile to 485 miles in length, have been designated as NRTs on federal, state, municipal, and privately owned lands.”
The Arcadia Trail is 5.1 miles long and connects the Shannon Campground at 8900 ft. with the Arcadia Campground at 6700 ft. Brian drove me over to Shannon CG and a small bear ran right across the road in front of our jeep. This made me a little nervous for Brian- one of his worst fears is that I will be attacked by a bear, so I half-expected him to freak out. Thankfully, he was (at least outwardly) cool about it. I started from Shannon CG at 11:30 am, a little late for monsoon season, but I was prepared for rain. I was a bit on-edge as I started on the trail. Maybe it was the giant amount of tea that I’d had in the morning. The trail started out benched into the hillside shaded by pines and dotted with lichen-covered boulders. I was able to snack along the way on handfuls of ripe wild raspberries that were growing all along the trail. The trail switchbacked up the hillside and I huffed and puffed along, reaching the turnoff for Heliograph Peak at about 9500 ft. That would have to wait for another time. The Arcadia Trail went into a much more open environment on the scorched hillside and there were fantastic views down into the valley.
There were quite a few downed trees on the trail, and when I was trying to hop over one of them, my foot caught and I took a fall and scraped up my wrist. Thankfully, it was only a scratch and I reminded myself to be a little more careful. I was a little wary of bears, so I made up a song to sing as I hiked downhill so that I wouldn’t surprise any on the blind turns. The grade of the trail was pleasant as it switchbacked and traversed the hillside. The trail became a thin line through a large, fern-covered area of the hillside and I spotted a snake. A Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake, to be exact. This attractive little snake is only found in the Chiricahua, Santa Rita, Huachuca, and Pinaleno sky islands at elevations from 6,000 to 11,000 ft. It is a grayish snake with two rows of brownish-red spots running down the back. The little guy rattled at me and ducked into some of the ferns on the ground before hiding under a log.
Video of the view from the fern-covered hillside at about 7900 ft.:
The trail was easy to follow and there were cairns placed in areas where deadfall had obscured the trail. I passed the Noon Creek Trail junction in a pine-covered shady spot that had been spared by the fire. The Arcadia CG was visible two trail miles away in the valley below. As I lost elevation, the vegetation changed and oaks and red-barked madrone trees began to appear. The trail was on a ridge between two forks of Wet Canyon and I began to hear rushing water below. Eventually, the trail crossed Wet Canyon and was benched high on the hillside as the canyon steepened below. The canyon was lush with greenery and yellow columbine and the trail was a large, duff-covered path. I knew I was approaching the campground when I passed a woman with her five children. She asked that her children step aside and let me pass. One of them, a little girl, looked up at me and asked her mom in all seriousness, “Is she going to die?” Weird. The five miles and 2300 feet of elevation loss took me a little under two hours, plus a half-hour for breaks. I arrived at the campground in plenty of time for my 2pm rendezvous with Brian, who was happy to see that I had not been mauled by a bear in the least.
We went over to the Wet Canyon picnic area and explored around for a bit and sat in the shade by the running creek. It has been a dud of a monsoon season, so all the creeks are much lower than I’ve seen in previous years. This is the first trip that I haven’t gotten rained on- kinda sad. Once back at our campsite, I was happy to see that our noisy neighbors were out for the day and we played around in the Hospital Flat meadow. The meadow was covered in yellow sneezeweed, orange western wallflower, and pink shooting stars, with a small group of bounding deer- just gorgeous! In the evening, we took a drive over to Peter’s Flat to watch the sunset in blissful silence. Peter’s Flat is on the Grand Enchantment Trail, which goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque and it made me a little sad that I have not been able to complete more segments of this incredible trail. One of these days, I hope to be able to take a chunk of time off of work and complete the trail in several large chunks. It just got too time-consuming and costly to hike sections once I got to Safford. For my hike through the Pinalenos on the GET last summer, click here.
The next morning, I walked the half-mile from our campground to the Grant Hill Trailhead. There are many loop possibilities- I hiked clockwise from the TH, taking the outer loop. Much of the hike was on old roads, but there were a couple of lookout points that really were spectacular. Storms in the distance made for great moody lighting, and I wished that I was backpacking instead of car camping. (for the millionth time!) The roads were green and had a mix of aspen and pines dotted with wildflowers.
View from the first overlook:
I returned to the campground elated to see that our neighbors were packing up- however this brought a whole new round of screaming and swearing by the dad as he sat on his ass and told everyone else what to do. The worst part is when he was dropping F-bombs at his youngest girl (who looked to be about 7 years old) because she didn’t pack the car right and made her cry. I have never been so excited to see someone leave. Brian and I enjoyed our now-vacant campground and took a stroll on the Hospital Flat nature trail before begrudgingly packing up and heading back down the mountain just in time to miss a giant monsoon storm. We saw a very angry Black-Tailed Rattlesnake in the middle of the road on the way down- hope no one ran over him!