March 24- 10 days after I began the Arizona Trail Trek, I was alone on the trail for the first time.
But before I get to the story of my hike, I just want to remind everyone about the exciting Arizona Trail Trek events happening this weekend in Tucson. Friday night, join me at Sky Bar at 536 N. 4th Avenue from 7-10 pm for the kickoff of our Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with a special belly dance fundraiser event featuring music by Cobracalia and performances by Tucson’s most talented dancers! I may even trade trail dust for stage glitter for the evening…
On Saturday, I am throwing the first annual Arizona Trail Day in Tucson with guided hikes, bike and equestrian rides as well as fun activities in the afternoon at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The hike is sold out, but there is still room on the bike and horseback rides. The celebration continues in the evening at La Sevilla Campground with food, live music, and Arizona Trail Ale. Visit www.aztrail.org for the details.
The past days had been a mix of leading people on dayhikes, backpacking with one person or another and interacting with LOTS of people at the Gateway Community Events in Sierra Vista and Patagonia. What a wonderful thing to have been able to reach so many people just weeks into my journey.
Add into the mix interviews for various media outlets and visiting with my dad, brother and his girlfriend who were in from Chicago, and I hadn’t had any time to myself on the trail.
This wasn’t just any piece of trail to me- I had been on the very first crew out here in October 2007 when the Las Colinas passage was just a line of flagging tape and pin flags out in the desert. My trail crew, The Crazies, built trail every other Thursday for years, putting in thousands of volunteer hours to make the Arizona Trail a reality.
When I hiked through here in 2008, there was only two miles of Las Colinas built and I teamed up with another Crazie, Lee Allen for an all-day bushwhack. 14 miles of getting stabbed by every type of poky thing in the desert, trying to follow the path the trail would eventually take through the rolling hills.
Now it was all trail, beautiful through the oaks and junipers, winding in and out of canyons. I crossed several gates, made to strict specifications of Laddie Cox, made to last lifetimes.
So nice to be alone on the trail- people ask me if I get scared and I often reply that I am as comfortable out here as I am in my living room. Just me and whatever it is that I want to do.
For example, in one canyon I came across the most adorable horned lizard, colored perfectly to match the surroundings. I picked him up and spent quite a bit of time taking pictures of it, then holding it in my hand. I pet its scaly back and it flattened into my hand and fell asleep. If I’d been hiking with a group, I might have taken a picture and moved on and missed this wonderful interaction.
As I descended in elevation from oaks and junipers to prickly pear and mesquites, more and more wildflowers appeared. I was stopped in my tracks by a hillside of yellow desert mariposa lilies and the trail was lined with pink and white fairy duster. It also got quite a bit hotter and set off my allergies. You see, I am allergic to the desert I love so much. Can’t even have most of the plants touch my skin, I break out in a rash. Oh well, that’s what long pants and sleeves and allergy medication is for.
I hadn’t gotten on the trail until the afternoon because I had to do a shoot in the morning for the video for the crowdfunding campaign, but still managed to make decent miles. I weighed my camping options and decided to stop before the end of the passage in a valley that shielded me from Highway 83 and houses nearby. It was right around Mile 100 of the trail, according to the maps and databook. I was treated to a spectacular sunset and a view of the Rincons and Catalinas, the next mountains ahead.
The next morning, I got on the trail with 15 miles to go until my pickup point at Gabe Zimmerman Memorial Trailhead north of I-10. I planned on zipping through it and being done by early afternoon. That was, until I met Terry.
I’d hiked a couple of miles to Twin Tanks and heard a horse. There was a camp underneath the tree and a man waved and said “Come say hi!”, so I did. Terry was also doing the whole Arizona Trail at once, on horseback. He’d started three weeks ago and was taking his time up the state with his two horses and two dogs. He made us a cup of coffee and I spent three whole hours visiting with him, trading stories with a fellow traveler on the AZT. I told him about the Arizona Trail Day happening on the 29th at Colossal Cave and he said he’d be there. It will be great to have him be a part of the festivities!
Eventually, I had to move on to make it to Gabe Z. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t going to have any problems finding Passage 7, after all, I had written the description for this passage and the next in the new guidebook “Your Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail”. It’s also pretty flat, and winds through ocotillo, creosote and mesquite.
The weather was overcast and I even got rained on for a little bit nearing I-10. I had my big wildlife encounter of the trip so far- five deer crossed my path right before the I-10 underpass.
I crossed under I-10 and as I hiked along the rim of Davidson Canyon, the ground was covered in tiny flowers that turned the desert yellow. I could see the green cottonwoods of Cienega Creek ahead and knew I was nearing the trailhead.
The Gabe Zimmerman Memorial Trailhead is a special place on the Arizona Trail, another piece that I helped to build. Zimmerman, a 30-year-old aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, was killed along with five others in the January 8, 2011 Tucson shootings that injured Giffords and a dozen others. The trailhead and interpretive trail celebrates his life and love of the outdoors and Arizona Trail.
I was happy to see my dad waiting for me at the trailhead, he’s been such a great support these past two weeks. Nice to spend a couple of days at home before the AZT Trek begins again with the big event on Friday night at Sky Bar and Arizona Trail Day at Colossal Cave on Saturday. Come Saturday morning, I will hike with a big group of people from the Gabe Z. TH into Colossal Cave for a full day of activities, then in the evening I’ll be at the La Sevilla Campground for an evening of entertainment by Eb’s Camp Cookin’, food by It’s Greek to Me, and Arizona Trail Ale by the campfire.
What an experience the Arizona Trail Trek has been so far, I can’t wait to see where it takes me next.