The weather has finally changed to fall and it is time to go backpacking in the desert once again! I needed to get out for a quick overnighter somewhere fantastic- so I chose Cochise Stronghold. I had been to the east side once in 2005, but didn’t get to hike all the way to the west trailhead. My plan was to hike in and find the most spectacular view on the trail to camp and watch the sunset.
The forecast was for a high of only 75 and it seemed a luxury to not have to get up when it was dark out to beat the heat. I reached the east trailhead at 11:00 am and there was only one other car in the lot. It was sunny and windy as I started up the Cochise Trail. I met a woman who lived in the area that said that there had been a big storm a couple of days ago and that the creek was running. That gave me hope for a possible water source- a waterfall near the western end of the canyon. The trail is immediately very scenic as you gain elevation among the rocks, oaks and junipers.
The trail is marked with little red mileage signs and at Mile 1 there was a spring with a clear flow of water. The trail winds through several stands of rock towers and boulders before arriving at Half-Moon Tank at Mile 2. I stopped here for a long lunch break and saw two men who had come from the West Trailhead. I asked if the waterfall was flowing and they said no. I was a little disappointed, mainly because it meant that I was going to be drinking Half-Moon Tank water. It didn’t taste as bad as it looked and I was able to mainly use it for cooking and tea. Around 3 pm, I got back on the trail headed toward the divide.
The wind had picked up considerably and was howling as I got to the flat area with a view of rockpiles framing the Sulphur Springs Valley and Dos Cabezas Mountains. It had a nice campsite, but it was too windy and I wanted to camp in the more rugged area west of the divide. The western stronghold reminds me of a kinder, gentler Santa Teresas. Kinder in that there was an actual trail to follow. It was my first time seeing this area and I was blown away when I rounded the corner and the tall face of Rockfellow Dome appeared. I decided then and there that thiswas what I wanted to see from camp tonight. I took some pictures and hiked on a little bit, looking for a small, flat spot to make my bed for the night. Then the trail started to switchback rapidly down the hill and my beloved dome went out of view. I stopped and hiked back up the hill, scanning for any kind of level ground. Nothing. The only reasonably flat ground was the trail beneath my feet, benched high into a steep hillside. It was going to have to do. I found a flat spot on a small curve in the trail that was vegetated on the steep side so I wouldn’t roll off the hill in the middle of the night.
The chances of me disrupting anyone night-hiking in the hours I was asleep were slim. More worrisome, however, were the thoughts of the large piles of bear poop I’d seen right in the middle of the trail today. But the views! I sat in my camp chair and watched the light change in the canyon, jumping up from time to time to take a picture. For the last hour, I just stood and stared at the sunset coloring the canyon with warm yellows and reds, then streaking the skies with pink hues. Fantastic. Totally worth sleeping in a place where a bear could step on my head. Every so often I like to do a series of pictures at different times of the sunset and Rockfellow Dome was a perfect subject.
I made my bed after watching the sunset and was dismayed to find that my beloved Exped Downmat was not holding air. It must have been punctured by pine needles the last time I used it at Mormon Lake. Thankfully, I have recently started carrying a foam camp chair that unclips at the sides to fold flat. It was the perfect size for my torso, otherwise it would have been an uncomfortable evening on the rocky trail. I was pretty tired, so I skipped dinner and fell asleep early. I woke up at 12:30 am and read for a bit before I realized that there was a meteor shower going on! It must be the same one that I had seen in the Grand Canyon last year. This was a perfect place for it- the super-dark skies made for great viewing.
I often catch up on my sleep when I’m backpacking because I sleep really well outside and the fact that I was sleeping in the trail didn’t change that in the least. Besides, I had eased my mind by setting up my hiking poles and various other noisy things at my head and feet to wake me up in case anything was nearby. My spot was also shielded from the strong winds that blew all night long. I started packing up my camp as soon as I woke, unfortunately I didn’t think to get a picture. I need not have worried, however, because I only saw two other hikers, near the end of the day. I could have lounged in the middle of the trail as long as I wanted to. As I moved my things, a small centipede wriggled out from under them and buried itself in the dirt. Thanks for not biting me in my sleep! After breakfast, I hiked down the trail to the West Trailhead.
The hike down was a series of short, rocky switchbacks and rutted trail, but the surroundings were very attractive. I reached the nondescript parking lot at the west end of the trail and turned back around. On the way back up I stopped to look at the dry waterfall before getting back to my “campsite”. I hiked back over the divide to the campsite I’d seen yesterday and set myself up to relax until it was time to hike out in the afternoon. There was another interesting view of Rockfellow Dome at this camp.
I did a lot of writing in my journal about all sorts of things and made a wishlist of the hikes I’d like to do by the end of the year. In the afternoon I hiked out, stopping at the spring to fill up on clear tasty water rather than flavored Half-Moon tank water. I came upon this beautiful Praying Mantis in the middle of the trail and a little later, a showy Kingsnake.
I met two people near the end of the trail. One was an artist who lived in the area and she was hiking with a guy who was passing through on his way east. The guy was completely shocked that I had spent the night out there all by myself. Even more so when he asked if I used a tent and I said no. He was very concerned about how dark it was at night when I didn’t have my headlamp on. I told him about the meteor shower last night. Interesting what makes different people nervous about the idea of spending the night “out there”. It seems so natural to me to be outdoors alone. I feel as comfortable in my camp chair in the middle of the wilderness as I do in my living room at home.
In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, things are finally slowing down with the arrival of fall. We’ve released a lot of the summer babies back into the wild. But we still have this pack of four inquisitive raccoons: