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Posts Tagged ‘Arizona Trail Trek’

The AmAZing geology of Mazatzal Peak

The AmAZing geology of Mazatzal Peak

April 26-29

When I finished my last passage to Highway 87, I was ahead of schedule, so I got to go back to Tucson for three days before my Scottsdale Gateway Community event at Juan Jaime’s Tacos and Tequila. It was really wonderful to be at home with my husband, dog and cat for some bonus time. I was also conveniently off the trail when we had a much-needed storm roll in on the 26th.

The event at Juan Jaime’s was so much fun! The owner, John, has hiked the Arizona Trail twice- once northbound, once southbound. Even more impressive is that he did it all in one year and all as dayhikes. The man is not only a hiking machine, he’s quite modest and extremely generous as well. Big thanks to him for hosting such a fantastic event!!

Brian Legate provided the entertainment

Brian Legate provided the entertainment

HikeArizona.com crowd

HikeArizona.com crowd

I was up late that night, and had a big hike the next day. My friend Chris Forsyth was along for the 17- mile dayhike from Mount Peeley Trailhead back to Highway 87. I chose to go southbound on this passage because I knew I was going to be tired from the event and it is much easier in that direction.

Me and Dad at Mt. Peeley Trailhead

Me and Dad at Mt. Peeley Trailhead

Chris and I only hiked for about a half-hour before we ran into thru-hikers UltraPedestrian Ras and Kathy. I was super-happy to meet them, I’d heard they were in the area and moving fast and light. Great to talk to fellow travelers, but too soon we had to keep moving and parted ways.

Kathy and Ras

Kathy and Ras

Fast and light!

Fast and light!

Soon after, we met another thru-hiker Nate and his dog Bandit. I hadn’t seen him since the Gila River and we caught up on trail talk. Chris was very patient, even when a short time after leaving Nate, we ran into Michael E- yet another thru-hiker that I had to chat with. This is one of the fun parts of traveling southbound every so often- I get to chat with folks that I might have missed had I been traveling in the same direction the whole time.

The trail went through the Sunflower Fire of 2012- tortured, toasted, black-and-white limbs of trees a constant sight. It’s an area that will need crews to come in and repair the damage- a great reason to support the campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association! The trail was covered with light pink Palmer’s Penstemon and quite a few other wildflowers. The geology in this area is really interesting with flaky shale layers and what looked like mudstone.

Palmer's Penstemon

Palmer’s Penstemon

Saddle Mountain and Little Saddle Mountain

Saddle Mountain and Little Saddle Mountain

Shale and cactus

Shale and cactus

The trail dropped into McFarland Canyon, a beautiful spot with great camping. We took a break and as I was sitting there, I recalled what a friend had said to me last night- that he had recently gotten a bad case of Poison Ivy in McFarland. To my horror, I looked down and was basically sitting in a patch of it! I jumped up, hoping I hadn’t accidentally brushed my bare feet against any- I was going to be leading people on a 5-day backpacking trip ithe next day. Thankfully, there was no exposure and I reminded myself to be more careful.

We climbed out of McFarland and onto the Saddle Mountain Trail, contouring around Saddle and Little Saddle Mountain.

Mount Peeley

Mount Peeley

Black and white and yellow

Black and white and yellow

Saddle Mountain Trail

Saddle Mountain Trail

Then we were on the Little Saddle Mountain Trail, one of my favorites back when I section-hiked the trail in 2009. I was interested to see how it fared after the fire. A little tougher to find, maybe, but still spectacularly gorgeous, especially with water running in the creek. We took a break and I dipped my feet in the creek for a bit.

Little Saddle Mountain Trail greenery

Little Saddle Mountain Trail greenery

Little Saddle Mountain Trail

Little Saddle Mountain Trail

Pretty rock-lined drainage

Pretty rock-lined drainage

There was a fancy AZT mileage sign and along the way I passed the 400-mile mark. So exciting to be almost halfway done!

The trail left the confines of the canyon and opened up to wide views. Trail 344 is on a two-track and mostly flat, which was nice for our final miles.

A beautiful view

A beautiful view

Roadwalkin'

Roadwalkin’

We could see and hear Highway 87 long before we crossed underneath it. We crossed Sycamore Creek and found our way back to the Bushnell Tanks parking area with ease. A long, scenic day with perfect weather, can’t ask for much more than that!

Highway 87

Highway 87

The next day I met four backpackers who’d signed up to hike with me on my journey northward from Mount Peeley to the East Verde River. There were well-graded switchbacks up the slopes of Mount Peeley and the trail steward Joe pointed out landmarks in the range. Joe knows these mountains better than anyone I know and it’s always fascinating to learn from him.

Ed, me, Roger, Clint, and Scott

Ed, me, Roger, Clint, and Scott

The rugged terrain we'd be traversing

The rugged terrain we’d be traversing

Welcome to the largest Wilderness Area on the AZT!

Welcome to the largest Wilderness Area on the AZT!

This entire range was burned in the Willow Fire of 2004 and when I’d tried to hike this passage in 2009, it was in terrible condition. Washed out trail on steep slopes, constant climbs over downed trees, and fighting through brush made me feel unsafe hiking it solo. I had hiked to the Barnhardt Trail junction and exited out of the wilderness and hiked out to Highway 87 and reconnected with the trail at the East Verde River. Totally different experience this time. Joe and others have put in countless hours to maintain this piece- sawing downed trees, removing brush and fixing the tread- and it was wonderful to hike on.

Burned trees and Horseshoe Reservoir

Burned trees and Horseshoe Reservoir

Looking south at Boulder Mtn. and 4 Peaks

Looking south at Boulder Mtn. and 4 Peaks

We contoured around and then climbed to reach a high point with incredible views south to the Four Peaks and then got views of the striated face of Mazatzal Peak. This place is a geological delight! We could see the path we’d be taking the next couple of days and then I got my first glimpse of the San Francisco Peaks in the distance, capped with snow. I could hardly contain myself- I could see Flagstaff! A momentous occasion indeed.

What a place!!

What a place!!

View north of our route for the next days

View north of our route for the next days

The shadowy figure by the tree is the San Francisco Peaks by Flagstaff!

The shadowy figure by the tree is the San Francisco Peaks by Flagstaff!

A little farther on the trail and we were at our campsite for the night at Bear Saddle. Little did we know what we were in for…

Sunset on Mazatzal Peak from Bear Saddle

Sunset on Mazatzal Peak from Bear Saddle

We said goodnight and went to our respective beds. I’m not sure exactly of the time, but in the middle of the night the wind started howling through the trees like nothing I’ve experienced before. Must have been 50+ miles an hour and LOUD! Every time I opened my eyes I could see the tall pines swaying back and forth in the wind.

No one got a great night’s sleep, and it was chilly in the morning as we left camp. The trail contoured and descended the flanks of Mazatzal Peak, then met the Barnhardt intersection. All fresh trail from here to the East Verde for me!

Heading toward Mazatzal Peak

Heading toward Mazatzal Peak

Looking back at Mazatzal Peak

Looking back at Mazatzal Peak

There was a lot more water than we had expected in the drainages, even ones not on the water chart, thanks to the rain last Saturday.

We took a break and a nap under a juniper before continuing on toward our camp at Horse Camp Seep. This is a fantastic camp near gorgeous pools of water and a place I’d like to come back to explore more thoroughly. Slickrock and water- one of my favorite combinations!

Horse Camp Seep

Horse Camp Seep

 

 

 

 

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Four Peaks

Four Peaks

April 21-23

Four Peaks- a rugged, toothy ridge of quartzite that looms above Roosevelt Lake. It’s the iconic silhouette that graces the Arizona license plate, as seen from Phoenix.

License PlateWhen I section-hiked this passage in 2008 it was notoriously overgrown, washed out, and in general a terrible piece of trail. My friend Terri Gay and I spent an entire day fighting through stands of manzanita and saplings that grew over our heads in what was one of the most difficult parts of the AZT. It took us from sunup to sundown to hike 14 miles downhill. The area was burned in the 1996 Lone Fire, which causes problems with trail maintenance to this day.

Four Peaks 2008

Four Peaks 2008

2008- Full-grown Manzanitas in the trail

2008- Full-grown Manzanitas in the trail

Last year, this passage was given a major overhaul and I couldn’t wait to see the results!

After a rest day in Globe, my dad dropped me off at Pigeon Spring Trailhead to start my hike- 19.5 miles down to Roosevelt Lake. I wanted to recreate my 2008 experience by hiking this passage in the same direction. There was water in both Bear Spring and Shake Spring and I got buzzed by hummingbirds while by the water.

Arizona Trail

Arizona Trail

Claret Cup Cactus

Claret Cup Cactus

The AZT turned off on the Four Peaks Trail and I was immediately impressed. A wide trail corridor, with wonderful tread, devoid of manzanita. I won’t bore you with multiple pictures of cleared trail, but it was such a wonderful thing to be able to walk without getting stabbed by vegetation. Trail work like this doesn’t come cheap, a great reason to support the campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association! Check out the amazing incentives we’ve put together for our crowdfunding campaign and please share this link with your friends: http://igg.me/at/azttrek/xOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Beautiful Tread!

Beautiful Tread!

Great views of Roosevelt Lake and trail cut into the hillside made me giddy with delight. The first rattlesnake of the day was resting stretched across the trail. Nowhere to go when the trail is benched into the steep hill, so I was happy when it decided to move.

Hummingbirds all over 4 Peaks

Hummingbirds all over 4 Peaks

One of my favorite views of the whole Arizona Trail is an attractive rock outcropping with the lake behind it and I took a break to savor the sight.

Love this vista!

Love this vista!

Dudleya

Dudleya

It was a pleasure hiking on this trail and I was able to pick up some speed. As I bounded down the trail, I caught a glimpse of a dark, flat, round spot. At first I thought, “Just another cow patty on the AZT.” Then I realized that I was in a wilderness area and that didn’t make sense- there were no cows in the… oh, no- it’s a SNAKE! I stopped almost in mid-air and moved to give the snake some room. It was a cold Arizona Black Rattlesnake and took its time moving off the trail. Glad I didn’t step on it, that could ruin your day.

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

Arizona Black Rattlesnake

The trail was a beautiful contour around the side of the peaks and I got glimpses of the Superstitions and Weaver’s Needle. Then I reached a saddle where all 4 peaks became visible. What an incredible mountain. There is a route called the 4 Peaks Motherlode that hits the summit of all four in a quasi-insane, brushy, loose, steep scramble. Of course it’s on my list of things to do someday.

Four Peaks Panorama

Four Peaks Panorama

I continued on, going through a couple of saddles that would make fantastic spots for camping. Someday I’ll be back to explore these peaks more thoroughly. I could see spots I’d hiked through in the Superstitions as I reached the wilderness boundary.

Looking toward the lake

Looking toward the lake

Find Micro Chicken!

Find Micro Chicken!

Looking down on Mills Ridge TH

Looking down on Mills Ridge TH

After a couple of ups and downs, I was at the Mills Ridge Trailhead, where my dad was waiting for me. I’d fallen in the Superstitions and wasn’t sure how my ankle would hold up for the hike, so my dad offered to meet me in case I needed to bail on the last 7 miles. Fortunately I was feeling good, so I continued on.

Met rattlesnake #3 on the way, aggressively rattling at me from the side of the trail. That’s a record for me, three in one day. I got views of Apache Lake with the scenic Apache Trail Road running next to it.

Apache Lake

Apache Lake

The sun was setting as I reached the last steep descent to the lake. What a great day. So different from the first time I’d hiked the 4 Peaks.

Getting closer to Roosevelt Lake

Getting closer to Roosevelt Lake

Sunset behind the Peaks

Sunset behind the Peaks

After dinner at the Butcher Hook restaurant/saloon/hardware store/gas station/beauty shop (one stop shopping!), we stayed at the Tonto Basin Inn.

The next morning, my dad dropped me at the Pigeon Spring TH again so I could continue my path northward.

For 9 miles, the Arizona Trail follows FR 422, a dirt road on a ridge that hardly sees any traffic on the weekdays. I am not usually a fan of roadwalks, but this one is just beautiful. Grand vistas of 4 Peaks and the lake, boulder formations, and easy walking. I was even able to hike wearing a skirt, since there was no vegetation on the road for me to be allergic to.

4 Peaks and Superstitions

4 Peaks and Superstitions

I stopped for a break and saw a pink and grey horned lizard scurrying across the road. Picked it up and it tried to hide from me…inside my shirt sleeve. It was the cutest thing, like an ostrich burying it’s head.

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Horned Lizard

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Looking North

As I crested a hill, I got a glimpse of the Mogollon Rim in the distance. The Rim is the edge of the Colorado Plateau and marks a major transition on the Arizona Trail from the southern desert mountains to flat land in the largest Ponderosa Pine forest in the world. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Mogollon Rim in the distance

The Mogollon Rim in the distance

I reached a spot with crazy-interesting rocks and a great view with a perfect low, flat-topped boulder for my bed. Camp time! Even though I could have dayhiked this passage, I wanted a more relaxing two days and was happy to have some time in camp. The sunset was incredible, silhouetting the burned trees and casting warm light on the boulders.

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Burnt Silhouette

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Boulders!

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The next morning, I had a couple of miles of roadwalk left before the AZT turned off the road to descend into Boulder Canyon. Another piece of trail that was troublesome back in 2008, it was overgrown with catclaw, criss-crossed with cow paths and not well marked. Not this time! The latest trail steward, John Matteson, has been hard at work, holding maintenance events on a regular basis and it shows!

The turn off the road

The turn off the road

Here I go!

Here I go!

The trail crossed Boulder Creek and I took a break to soak my feet in the stream. Plenty of water, even though it had been a while since the last rain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Boulder Creek

Boulder Creek

There were views of Saddle Mountain on the next passage and Mt. Ord, topped by towers. I could see Highway 87 in the distance as I rolled along the hills next to Sycamore Creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sycamore Creek

Sycamore Creek

Highway 87

Highway 87

Called my dad to tell him to pick me up at the highway, crossed Sycamore Creek, then promptly lost the trail. So irritating, this has happened to me before. Turns out that you need to go away from 87 after crossing the creek to pick up the trail to the parking area.

It was only 2 pm when I reached the highway and I didn’t have my Scottsdale event at Juan Jaime’s Tacos and Tequila for three days. It was an easy decision to go back home to Tucson and spend my days off at my home with my husband and animals.

Stop at Portillo's for an Italian Beef and a Cake Shake

Stop at Portillo’s for an Italian Beef and a Cake Shake

Four Peaks

Four Peaks

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April 16- 19IMG_1025The Arizona Trail Trek event in Superior at Porter’s Cafe had a great turnout and a good time was had by all! Michael Salerno and his guitar entertained folks out on the patio on a beautiful evening with a backdrop of mighty Picketpost Mountain and the Apache Leap. Even Mayor Jayme Valenzuela stopped in to say hi- I took him on his first hike last year during the Legends of Superior Eco-Festival.

Mayor Jayme Valenzuela and me

Mayor Jayme Valenzuela and me share a laugh

The next morning, I was less than motivated to get on the trail. All I wanted to do was hang out with my husband and have a rest day where I didn’t have an event that night. Brian dropped me off at Picketpost Trailhead and I headed north. As soon as I was hiking, all was well and I was back to my energetic, happy self.

Starting at Picketpost Trailhead

Starting at Picketpost Trailhead

I crossed under Highway 60 and hiked up an undulating ridge toward Whitford Canyon. The pointy top of Weavers Needle coming in and out of view reminded me of my friend John that I’d lost earlier this year. He was part of the group that climbed the Needle with me for my birthday in 2011 and had a fatal accident this spring when a boulder dislodged and fell on him as he was standing at the bottom of a climbing route. I’d been able to see the Needle since the Catalinas, many miles ago, and it always brought mixed feelings. Happiness at the fact that I’d stood on top of this Arizona landmark, but so sad that John wouldn’t be joining me on any hikes or events during my Trek.

John waits patiently for his turn to climb

We miss you John!

Whitford Canyon’s pink walls were as pretty as ever, but the dry year meant no pools to play in, just rocks in the streambed. I encountered a rattlesnake in the trail, all contorted and buzzing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI continued on to Reavis Trail Canyon and the trail meandered back and forth along the creekbed, this one also almost totally dry with small mucky pools. I met the first woman thru-hiker I’ve seen since I started the Trek, a woman named Marianne out hiking the Grand Enchantment Trail from Phoenix to Albuquerque.

Marianne, Grand Enchantment Trail thru-hiker

Marianne, Grand Enchantment Trail thru-hiker

I wanted to set myself up for the climb up Montana Mountain early the next day, and found an attractive pink-rocked drainage for camp.

Within the first mile the next morning, I came upon the strangest thing. Right by the side of the trail was a rattlesnake, belly-up, stuck halfway out of a hole. Poor guy- I buried him under a pile of rocks. Wonder what happened?

Poor snake

Poor snake

The trail switchbacked up Montana Mountain and I was glad I was getting the climb over with in the cool morning. Unfortunately it was quite hazy from the high winds we’ve been having, but the views south of Picketpost, the Apache Leap and Superior, with the tiny bump of Antelope Peak and the hazy rounded shape of the Catalinas were still inspiring. So incredible to be able to see back to where I’ve walked from.

View south from Montana Mountain

View south from Montana Mountain

At the saddle, the views got even better and the Superstition Ridgeline and 4 Peaks came into view. Too bad it was inundated with tiny gnats. I was at 5400 feet, the highest I’d been since descending into the low desert north of Oracle and the temps were so much cooler!

Superstition Ridgeline

Superstition Ridgeline

There was a roadwalk to Roger’s Trough Trailhead and I passed a group heading out after having a picnic on the mountain. This area is very popular with off-road enthusiasts. They offered to fill my water and then gave me the most wonderful thing before driving off- a bag of grapes! Trail magic!

Good times!

Good times!

I happily ate my grapes as I hiked along the road to the trailhead. Took a break at Roger’s Trough to peruse the trail register and see which of the other thru-hikers came by and when.

I hiked into the Superstition Wilderness and found running water in the canyon after a short distance. Break time again, even though I just took one! There is nothing better than a flowing creek with rockbound pools.

Pools by Roger's Trough TH

Pools by Roger’s Trough TH

Eventually, I moved on toward Reavis Ranch, my destination for the evening. I passed a family who had been out for a night at the ranch and a group of 10 ladies out to see the ruins in Roger’s Canyon. I just love answering the question “Where are you headed?” with  “Utah”. I told them about my hike and Indiegogo campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association.

I visited Old Man Reavis’ grave before hiking up to Reavis Pass. Once at the pass, the ecosystem changes and giant pinyon and juniper trees replace the brush and catclaw of the lower elevations. It is such pleasant hiking through forests and the occasional grassy meadow. Closer to the ranch, flowing water appeared in the creek.

Reavis' Grave

Reavis’ Grave

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Hugging the giant Juniper

Hugging the giant Juniper

I reached the ruins of the ranch, unfortunately burned to the ground in 1991. Now all that remains is the concrete slab. Elisha Reavis moved to this valley in 1872 to raise vegetables to sell to the mining towns in the area. A great summary of his life can be found here.

One part of the ranch that still remains is the apple orchard, and that’s where I made my camp for the night, among the fragrant blooms.

Camp in the Reavis apple orchard

Camp in the Reavis apple orchard

The next morning was the coldest I’d been in a while and I savored the feeling.  Spent the morning lounging in my sleeping bag, no need to beat the heat today. It was overcast and the forecast was for possible showers.

I turned onto the Reavis Gap Trail upon leaving the ranch and got great views as I gained elevation. There were parts of the trail that were exposed rock with small gravel, and at one point I thought to myself, “Someone could easily fall on that”. Immediately afterward, my foot shot out from under me and I ended up sprawled out on the trail.

Above Reavis Ranch on the Gap trail

Above Reavis Ranch on the Gap trail

Crap. I sat on the trail and surveyed my injuries. Skinned knee and elbow, nothing broken, ankle twisted a bit. Cleaned my wounds, collected myself and continued along the trail.

The Reavis Gap Trail is lined with attractive rock towers and boulder formations on the way to the Two Bar Ridge Trail. There was a big pool in Pine Creek where I (you guessed it) took a break.

Reavis Gap Trail

Reavis Gap Trail

Reached the Two Bar Ridge turnoff and was surprised to see how green the start of the trail was even though it’s been such a dry year. I got to Walnut Spring to refill my water bottles and was met with a surprise guest- a rattlesnake between me and the spring!

Guardian of Walnut Spring

Guardian of Walnut Spring

It was a black-tailed rattler, making all sorts of noise to keep me away. It wasn’t going to work, I needed the water! So I went around it and gave it the speech from Pulp Fiction about us being cool like little Fonzies while keeping a watchful eye.

The Two Bar Ridge Trail has tremendous views of the 4 Peaks and Superstitions as well as Apache Lake. Too bad there’s no chance to look around while walking because this is one of the rockiest trails I’ve ever encountered. Rocky and loose with never-ending ups and downs.

Two Bar Ridge Trail

Two Bar Ridge Trail

4 Peaks

4 Peaks

It started sprinkling while I was on Two Bar Ridge and I was thankful that it was overcast and cool. I had one last climb to contour around Pinyon Mountain before leaving the wilderness boundary. One more loose and rocky descent down FR 83 and I reached my camp for the night.

Roosevelt Lake comes into view

Roosevelt Lake comes into view

View toward the Pinals

View toward the Pinals

The next morning I set out for the Cottonwood Canyon Trail. I remembered it as having a gorgeous area near the spring. What I didn’t remember is that it is even more loose and rocky than Two Bar Ridge. The trail is right in the creekbed at times and my body was getting tired from trying to keep from turning my already-sore ankle.

The spring area is really something to behold, though- it goes from dry, rocky creekbed to lush, green and inviting with a running creek.

Cottonwood Canyon without water

Cottonwood Canyon without water

Cottonwood Canyon with water

Cottonwood Canyon with water

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail ended at a forest road that took me up and down through the hills toward Roosevelt Lake. I could hear the noise from the boat engines from far away.

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Lined with wildflowers!

Finally I could see the marina, but skipped the chance to go there and continued on toward the Roosevelt Bridge. There is the most wonderful view of the bridge and surrounding areas from the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking down on the marina and the lake

Looking down on the marina and the lake

I reached the pavement and had an enjoyable walk across the bridge, knowing that I had walked here all the way from Mexico. Clouds were building on both sides and I’d heard thunder all day, but didn’t get rained on at all.

Roosevelt Lake and Bridge Panorama

Roosevelt Lake and Bridge Panorama

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

My friend Bob was taking his hiking class to the Angel Wings in the Sierra Ancha across the lake and came to get me. He took me to his place in Globe, where I spent Easter with his family and a well-deserved day off. My dad came back from Chicago to run support for the remainder of the AZT Trek, so glad to have him back!

To all those who have donated to my campaign to raise $20,000- a heartfelt thank you! Check out all the fantastic incentives available when you support the Arizona Trail Association!

Joanne, Bob, me and my Dad on Easter

Joanne, Bob, me and my Dad on Easter

Roosevelt Bridge

Roosevelt Bridge

 

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When you’re dealing with a trail as scenically varied and rich as the Arizona Trail, how can a single passage distinguish itself?  I mean, come on, you’ve got the GRAND CANYON on one end, Sky Islands on the other… what can a 40 mile piece of land in the middle of the desert – a land of low mountains and dry gullies – possibly offer that would leave a lasting impression?  Maybe you picture a dusty boot print, a scorching sun over a spiny cactus, a parched throat and a ankle full of cholla?

Think again my friend.   This is the Upper Sonoran at it’s best, and it’s some of the best trail in the country.  Period.

Heading along the base of Picketpost Mountain

I joined Sirena on the trail once again for a number of reasons, but the real truth is that I can’t get enough of the passages between Superior and Kelvin.  She and I were among the first people to through-hike these two passages (which were the last completed in the AZT system), and I’ve hiked on them a number of times since.  I even adopted a part of passage 17 as a trail steward.   Here, the saguaros are huge, the mountains are colorful and the trail conditions are pristine.  There’s even a guest-appearance  by the rarest of desert features: a flowing river complete with trees, grass and naps.  How could I resist?

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Heading out from Picketpost with the boys

Five of us set out from the Picket Post Trailhead outside of Superior and we hiked south.  This meant a bit of a flip-flop for our through-hiking guide, but it was a wise choice.  With unseasonably high temps and dry conditions, it’s best to keep things predictable and easy.  We hiked TO the river, rather than away from it, and it made all of the difference both mentally and physically.  Each person in the group was equipped with an umbrella – for there is no better invention for those days when the Sonoran sun won’t stop.  At many points on the trail, we were circled by hawks and vultures – all of whom were likely attracted to our bright, unusual footprint on the landscape.

Our hike coincided with the Arizona Trail 300/750 bike race, which left from the border the day before we left from Picket Post.  The leader of the race passed us while we slept under the stars the first night – he finished the 300 mile trail race in under 2 days!  Though we missed him, we did encounter a number of riders on the trail, and we were always excited to wish them luck.  It was hard to imagine when we were hot and tired from walking for 8 hours that these folks had been riding bicycles on the same trail – nearly non-stop for days!  We shook our heads at the hardy dedication as we sat in whatever shade we could find with our feet up munching on our ample supply of trail goodies.

Jay P, winner of the AZT 750

There were so many highlights of the trip, all of them from the smorgasbord of wonder that is our Sonoran Desert…

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Unexpected wildflower shows… With such a dry winter and spring, I certainly did not expect to be greeted by a green desert and a profusion of blooming plants!   Conditions must have been just right for some of the plants however.

Like Blackfoot Daisy (Melampodium leucanthum) - it was NUTS!

It was the right time for the Blackfoot Daisy

The hedgehog cacti were really the stars of the show this weekend, though!

Strawberry Hedgehog Cacti Were Being Spectacular

 

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Early Saguaro Blooms

Wildlife encounters… Along with our first snakes of the season, we were lucky enough to have a close encounter with one of the most unusual desert residents: the Gila Monster.  Considering that these creatures spend more than 90% of their lives underground, it was a real treat to find one just hanging out on a rock next to the trail – soaking up the rays and lookin’ for some dinner.  Of course, he wanted nothing to do with our party.

Then, we met this guy and he really stole the show!

The Gila Monster retreats

 

This dude was unhappy that we disturbed him...

This snake was quite unhappy with us

Crazy geological features… The region is full of stunning land features like buttes, cliffs and canyons.  One of my personal favorites occurs near the northern end of my passage – small as buttes go, but with striking colors.  I like to call it Stripey Butte.  Other features of note include the distant cliffs of the White Canyon Wilderness, the walls of Martniez Canyon and the rock monolith that AZT hikers are calling Dale’s Butte (in honor of Dale Shewalter, the Father of the AZT).

Our celebrity with Stripy Butte in the background

Sirena poses with Stripey Butte in the background

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Sirena and Ed approach Dale’s Butte

Lovin' the pass!

A low pass above Martinez Canyon

 

The pillar of rock...so lumpy ;)

The pillar of rock…so lumpy 😉

Incredible plant life…One small valley along passage 17 is home to a population of shrubs that are either unusually large or typically found at much higher elevations.  Oaks and Junipers are joined by enormous ephedra plants more than 12′ high and massive Sotol (desert spoon) that dwarf their counterparts from the next valley over.  We call this area the “Valley of the Mutant Shrubs”…it’s a magical, mystical place that seems more than just a little alien in the afternoon light.   Not to mention wandering through forests of some of the largest saguaros in Arizona.

In the land of giant saguaros

 

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Mutant Shrubs

Our own piece of the AZT… Sirena and I are both Passage Stewards on this piece of adventure.  My passage (17a) is remote, hilly and home to features like the Valley of the Mutant Shrubs and Stripey Butte.  Sirena is further south, with the sandy bottom of Walnut Canyon and the steep, rocky slopes of the Spine.  Being a steward is a magical opportunity – it lets you feel as if a piece of the AZT is truly yours: your home, your responsibility, your joy.  It’s more than just trimming a few bushes or moving around some rocks, it’s about knowing your bit of trail in and out, about bragging on it to whomever will listen and about helping out trail users who think you’re THE BOMB for helping out.  It’s something to be proud of.  (And, it’s something that’s still available if you’re interested in taking on the challenge.  Visit the ATA Website here for more information!)

Walnut Canyon Gate, start of Sirena's segment on the AZT

Walnut Canyon Gate, start of Sirena’s segment on the AZT

A verdant river corridor… It’s time for the farmers to water their crops, and the waters of the San Carlos Reservoir are released in abundance to meet the need.  This means that the Gila River through this area is flowing deep and fast.  It’s cool waters mean a welcome respite from the desert, and we spent a delightful hour resting in the shade of the willows on shore.

Took a nice long break by the river

Took a nice long break by the river

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Who says the desert’s dead?!

A historic trestle bridge…the Copper Basin Railway still uses the tracks that parallel the Gila River – and near the town of Kelvin, that river corridor narrows, forcing the tracks to the opposite bank.  The rails cross the river on a old steel trestle bridge that makes for an excellent wayfinding landmark as well as another shady spot to rest for a moment.

After a long, hot day, the trestle is a welcome site!

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Enjoying the Shade under the bridge

These two passages demonstrate what the whole Arizona Trail can be one day: amazing trail construction, wide-range of users, incredible destinations and fantastic community connections.   We were supported by trail angels, who left behind gallons of water to keep us going and who helped us to set up shuttles which made the entire hike possible.  In Arizona, it’s not just the trail that’s amAZing…it’s the folks behind it as well!

A special shout out and thanks to John, Ed and Steve who were amazing company throughout the hike.  It’s such a pleasure to share the area with people who are just as passionate about it as we are!

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Sirena carries water from our cache to camp the second night. This water kept us healthy!

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The “Completion Monument” – the AZT’s own Golden Spike!

If you haven’t already donated to Sirena’s campaign to raise money for trail construction, maintenance and promotion, please visit the Indiegogo campaign here  .  Then head out to the trail and experience it for yourself!

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Girls on the Trail Again!

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I was so excited to have hiked into the American Flag Trailhead at the end of our hike down Oracle Ridge! You see, this is the very spot in 2007 where I got the idea to hike the whole Arizona Trail. I went on a hike and at the trailhead was a sign with a trail connecting all these fantastic places I’d dreamed of hiking- Saguaro NP, the Superstitions, San Francisco Peaks and Grand Canyon. It was the hike that got me involved volunteering to help build the trail and since then I’d dreamed of the day I’d get to hike from Mexico to Utah.

The Oracle Gateway Community event at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch was a blast! Diane and Mark Davis provided the tunes, the Oracle Patio Cafe provided delicious food and people chatted the night away around a fire. The ranch was kind enough to put me and my husband Brian up in one of their gorgeous rooms for the night.

Gathering around the fire at El Rancho Robles

Gathering around the fire at El Rancho Robles

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Diane Davis

The next day, to be honest, I really wanted to pull the covers over my head and take another day off. But I have a strict schedule to follow because of all my events and public hikes, so I begrudgingly got on the trail. I said goodbye to Brian and headed north across the desert toward the Gila River for the next four days. Once moving, all was well and I was back to my happy hiking self.

Taking off from American Flag Trailhead

Taking off from American Flag Trailhead

These three passages are known as the hottest, driest, lowest part of the entire AZT. And I was hiking it in the middle of a heat wave. The last time I hiked this was during my 2008 section hike and it was snowing in March as Brian dropped me off. No snow this time, just heat and wind and lots of it. Time for the umbrella.

I hiked through Oracle State Park and under Highway 77 to the Tiger Mine Trailhead and stared at the expanse of desert stretching out before me with lone Antelope Peak in the distance. My pack heavy with seven liters of water and food for four days of my ever-increasing appetite, I hiked for a while and met another thru hiker, Sunnydaze, taking a break under a bush.

Kannally Ranch Windmill (dry), Oracle State Park

Kannally Ranch Windmill (dry), Oracle State Park

Highway 77

Highway 77

Tiger Mine Trailhead

Tiger Mine Trailhead

This passage used to have a nine-mile pipeline roadwalk that was one of the worst parts of the trail when I hiked it in ’08. Thankfully, the Arizona Trail Association won a grant in 2010 from Redwood Creek Winery to build new singletrack to replace the old route. I was in charge of the crew that built the first piece of the reroute and it was fun to revisit this piece I’d built with the help of many volunteers. This is exactly the type of project that the ATA needs funds for, taking the current route off of undesirable roads and building trail worthy of our National Scenic Trail status. Please visit the fundraising page http://igg.me/at/azttrek for the Arizona Trail Trek if you haven’t already, as of today we’re up to $3,300 0ut of $20,000 raised with a little over 40 days left in the campaign!

I hiked on the new ridgeline trail for a while and found myself a nice spot for camp about 16 miles from Oracle with a great sunset view of the Catalinas.

Sunset on the Rincons and Catalinas from my camp

Sunset on the Rincons and Catalinas from my camp

The next morning, I got on the trail early as I could to beat the heat. More ridgeline walking, inching toward Antelope Peak. It was going to be a hot one, and I was under the umbrella by 8am. A friend of mine had been kind enough to drive out two water caches in the middle of each of the two passages. I reached the first cache in Bloodsucker Wash and took a long break under the shade of a mesquite tree.

My water cache, buried in the sand to keep it cool!

My water cache, jugs buried in the sand to keep it cool!

I decided against a siesta and hiked toward my next objective, Beehive Well. The umbrella shaded everything except my legs, where it felt like someone was following me around with a heat lamp. I was happy not to have to drink the scummy water from the cattle tank, but used it to wet myself down to cool off. I talked with a section-hiker from Alaska who was probably doing a lot worse with the heat than I was. Beehive Well also marks the point where the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 750-mile route from Phoenix to Albuquerque, joins the AZT for about 70 miles.

Beehive Well

Beehive Well

Bird skull at Beehive Well

Bird skull at Beehive Well

Antelope Peak was finally getting closer as I hiked into the evening. Saw my first rattlesnake of the trip, a good-sized one hiding in the shade of a barrel cactus next to the trail. I considered pushing on to Freeman Road and night hiking a bit, but decided against it when I found a camp with a good view of the peak and the Catalinas in the distance.

1st snake of the Trek

1st snake of the Trek

The next morning, I packed up in the dark and was on the trail by 5:45 am. I enjoyed the chilly morning air in the washes, savoring the sensation and storing it in my head for later, when it would become blazing hot. Hiked several miles to the end of the passage at Freeman Road and took a long break at the public cache. This cache is of utmost importance to Arizona Trail users and I thank all who maintain it.

Sunrise light on Antelope Peak

Sunrise light on Antelope Peak

Freeman Road Cache

Freeman Road Cache

Passage 15 follows a road for a while, then turns into singletrack through yuccas, prickly pear and the occasional juniper. Junipers are my favorite tree and I took every opportunity for shade breaks underneath. The wind never stopped blowing.

Love this little bridge at the beginning of the passage

Love this little bridge at the beginning of the passage

Looking back at Antelope and the Catalinas

Looking back at Antelope and the Catalinas

Micro Chicken and I enjoy a shade break under a juniper

Micro Chicken and I enjoy a shade break under a juniper

I could see the Superstitions in the distance and even the Four Peaks at times. Even caught a long-distance view of Baboquivari Peak. As I walked past yet another nondescript knee-high bush, I heard the spine-tingling rattle again. Two in two days! It’s definitely warming up out here.

After hiking for a couple of hours, I reached a very attractive area called The Boulders and took some time to scramble around and explore the formations.

Boulders

Boulders

Boulders!

Boulders!

Though it was hot, I hiked all day long under my umbrella. The AZT follows a combination of two-track roads and trail and was thankfully more or less flat. I was able to hike 20 miles before finding a great camp overlooking Ripsey Wash and the Big Hill with panoramic views in all directions for an epic sunset. My body felt tired but good- the only thing really bothering me was one toe on my right foot.

Cookies

Cookies

Sunset on the Big Hill

Sunset on the Big Hill

Sunset and Agave

Sunset and Agave

The next morning I enjoyed the sunrise before getting moving. I descended into Ripsey Wash where another delicious cache of water was waiting for me. The climb up the Big Hill is not bad at all, gentle switchbacks up the wildflower-lined slopes. Not that I wasn’t sweating- the heat and wind combination of the last four days created a crust of salt and dust on everything.

Tan hands

Tan hands

Ripsey Wash

Ripsey Wash

The Big Hill

The Big Hill

Hot and sweaty!

Hot and sweaty!

I took a break at the “chair” at the top of the climb and watched a couple push their bikes up the switchbacks. The trail follows a ridgeline for miles and miles, swooping up and down with incredible views. One of the views was of the town of Kearny, my next event stop on the Arizona Trail Trek. I could see the whole town, but all I could think about was Old Time Pizza. Since week 2 of the Trek I have been insatiably hungry because my body uses up so many calories on the trail. I could almost smell the pizza from up on the ridgeline and couldn’t wait for an iced tea.

Mountain Bikers going up the Big Hill

Mountain Bikers going up the Big Hill

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

The Gateway Community of Kearny

The Gateway Community of Kearny

I got a great view of the Gila River and one of my favorite peaks, Battle Axe Butte, which I summited for my birthday last year. The trail descended quickly on the north side of the mountain to the Florence-Kelvin Highway Trailhead. I had another two hot miles of trail to the bridge over the Gila River where the passage ends. I made a call to Old Time Pizza, who’s owners Gary and Loraine offered to come get me and take me to Kearny. Loraine said she’d come get me and I asked her if she could bring me an iced tea.

Gila River and Battle Axe Butte

Gila River and Battle Axe Butte

Alaskan bikepackers doing a long section from Tucson to the Grand Canyon

Alaskan bikepackers doing a long section from Tucson to the Grand Canyon

Gila River

Gila River

Bridge over the Gila River

Bridge over the Gila River

Soon after, she whisked me off to her pizza place and fed me until I couldn’t eat anymore. I think they were a little surprised by how much I was able to put away. I gave Loraine and Gary the update on the AZT Trek so far and they offered to get me a room at the General Kearny Inn. I had been planning on camping nearby but was so thankful for the hot shower and a chance to get out of the heat and sun.

The next day was my event in Kearny and they went all out to welcome me! Mayor Sam Hosler was in attendance and we enjoyed music by Neil Wood while munching on slices from Old Time Pizza. These Gateway Community events have been so much fun, talking trail with lots of new people as well as those who have been into the AZT for a long time.

Music by Neil Wood

Music by Neil Wood

Owners of Old Time Pizza Gary and Loraine

Owners of Old Time Pizza Gary and Loraine with their new banner for all Arizona Trail users to sign

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I was unable to attend any of the AZT Trek hikes and events since Sirena started her epic journey on March 14, so I was elated when she invited me to join her and Wendy as she trekked the Oracle Ridge portion of Passage 12 last Saturday. The three of us have had some memorable hikes in the past, including Frog Hollow and Elephant Head, so I knew this would be another great outing.

The hardest part about day-hiking sections of the Arizona Trail in a one-way direction is logistics and Oracle Ridge was no exception. Sirena had spent the night on Mt. Lemmon in Summerhaven so she was set to go. On the other hand Wendy and I were coming from afar and met up at the American Flag Trailhead at 6:30am after leaving our respective homes at 0-dark-hundred. We left Wendy’s truck at American Flag and shuttled in my vehicle up Mt. Lemmon via the Oracle Control Road (FR38).  Although the Control Road was only about 25 miles in length its twisty, rocky unpaved route took nearly two hours. Fortunately FR38 was Subaru-friendly.  Upon reaching Summerhaven we picked up Sirena and drove back down the Control Road a short distance to the Oracle Ridge Trailhead where we began our 13.2 mile Arizona Trail Trek.

Sirena & Wendy at Oracle Ridge Trailhead

Sirena & Wendy at Oracle Ridge Trailhead

As we began our hike at 8:45am the air temperature on Mt. Lemmon was in the mid 30’s under a clear, sunny sky. It wasn’t long before we had an impressive view down Oracle Ridge along which we would spend most of the day. Some of the “bumps” along Oracle Ridge include Marble, Rice, and Apache Peaks.

Oracle Ridge

Oracle Ridge

Most of Oracle Ridge is still recovering from wildfire over a decade ago.  We wondered if it had been the 2002 Bullock Fire or the 2003 Aspen Fire that had torched the ridge, or perhaps both.  There were many charred trees still standing tall among new vegetation.

"Roasted" alligator juniper

“Roasted” alligator juniper

Looking back toward Mt. Lemmon you can see the vastness of the burn.

Mt. Lemmon from Oracle Ridge

Mt. Lemmon from Oracle Ridge

The awesome views from the AZT on Oracle Ridge are a big benefit of the fire. Off to the east were the Galiuros and Mt. Graham. We could see as far north as Four Peaks, Weavers Needle, and the Superstitions.  Closer in the Biosphere domes were visible.

Biosphere

Biosphere

Before we knew it we were at Dan Saddle and a little further down the trail we had a nice view of Marble Peak which we had skirted earlier.

Marble Peak

Marble Peak

There are so many amazing views along the Oracle Ridge portion of the Arizona Trail that it would be hard to pick a favorite. However, there probably isn’t a better view of the Reef of Rock anywhere else in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

Reef of Rock

Reef of Rock

Sirena and Wendy pointed out Canada del Oro, behind Reef of Rock, as they reminisced about backpacking in the past.

Canada del Oro

Canada del Oro

As we trekked along the AZT we observed impressive specimens of agave and hedgehog cacti.

Agave

Agave

Hedgehog cactus

Hedgehog cactus

Hedgehog cactus

Hedgehog cactus

After several hours into our hike we paused for a snack break along the trail where we enjoyed a grand view across the San Pedro River Valley toward the Galiuros and Mt. Graham.

San Pedro River Valley

San Pedro River Valley

Sirena & Wendy

Sirena & Wendy

Perhaps the most difficult part of the hike was around Rice Peak due to loose rock on a steep jeep road trail. We had a name for it which I can’t publish here 🙂  Glancing back and glad it was behind us…

Rice Peak

Rice Peak

Don’t tell AZGFD but we had a scary “wildlife incident” when Micro Chicken encountered a horned lizard in Sirena’s hand!  🙂

Horned lizard & Micro Chicken

Horned lizard & Micro Chicken

On the Oracle Ridge section of Passage 12 the Arizona Trail follows the Oracle Ridge Trail for 10.3 miles and the Cody Trail for 2.9 miles. Although the entire 13.2 mile section is in good shape and easy to follow the lower portion of the Oracle Ridge Trail and the entire Cody Trail had some recent tread work and were in super shape.

Along the Cody Trail the AZT winds through a scenic Texas Canyon-like boulder field.

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

A big highlight of this outing came late in the hike when we made a very short detour from the AZT/Cody Trail to High Jinks Ranch which is a National Historic Site once inhabited by “Buffalo Bill” Cody.

Nothing like a little bit of history to go along with a hike on the Arizona Trail!

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch

Left click on photo for larger view

Left click on photo for larger view

Current owners Dan and Laurel invited us in for a visit as their dogs welcomed us from a rooftop lookout.

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch

High Jinks Ranch is a pretty cool place and even has a hot tub and its own Arizona Trail portal.

Hot tub at High Jinks Ranch

Hot tub at High Jinks Ranch

Arizona Trail portal at High Jinks Ranch

Arizona Trail portal at High Jinks Ranch

From High Jinks Ranch it was a short but scenic 1.6 mile hike to the American Flag Trailhead which was our final destination for the day.

Along the AZT/Cody Trail

Along the AZT/Cody Trail

The sun was casting long shadows as we reached the 200 mile mark of Sirena’s Arizona Trail Trek.

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Upon arrival at the American Flag Trailhead Sirena posed with an limited edition AZT Trek bandana.

American Flag Trailhead

American Flag Trailhead

Meanwhile Wendy unwound after a memorable AZT Trek before making the long drive back up the Oracle Control Road to my car near Summerhaven.

Wendy

Wendy

The Arizona Trail Trek is an 800-mile thru-hike across Arizona to promote the Arizona National Scenic Trail, the Gateway Communities and the new official AZT guidebook. In addition, the AZT Trek is using an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign with unique and exclusive incentives to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association to maintain, protect, and promote the Arizona Trail. So far almost $2,500 has been raised. I made a contribution and challenge YOU to do the same. If nothing else check out the great video by Matt and Sirena and browse the unique and exclusive incentives.

It was an honor and pleasure to hike along with Sirena (and Wendy) for a small portion of her 800+ mile Arizona Trail Trek and to be a guest blogger on Sirena’s Wanderings.

Great hike, great weather, and great trail companions! … just another crummy day in the Sonoran Desert 🙂

Bill Bens

Sirena, Wendy and Bill at High Jinx Ranch

Sirena, Wendy and Bill at High Jinx Ranch

 

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Have you checked out the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association yet? We’ve got all sorts of fantastic incentives from Arizona Trail pint glasses to signed art prints and one-of-a-kind experiences. Launched on March 28th with a big belly dance kickoff event at Sky Bar Tucson, over $2,000 has been raised in the first week of the campaign!

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

The next day after a fantastic evening of dance and music, the next stop for the Arizona Trail Trek was Arizona Trail Day at Colossal Cave east of Tucson. I led a large group of folks on a hike from Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead to Posta Quemada Ranch at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. There was also a guided bike ride and a horseback ride as well. We all came together at the ranch for lunch and afternoon activities, including a visit from the birds at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson.

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

Elfie the Elf Owl

Elfie the Elf Owl

In the evening, the fun moved to the La Sevilla Campground, where we ate delicious food courtesy of It’s Greek to Me and listened to the music of Eb’s Camp Cookin’ around the campfire.  Terry, who is riding the whole trail with two horses and two dogs, was part of the festivities as well.

In the morning, I was excited to be hiking up into the Rincons. Though they are just east of Tucson, I don’t get into them nearly as much as I would like. I hiked the rest of the winding Rincon Valley passage, passing many mountain bikers out on a beautiful Sunday, many who I knew or who recognized me. I reached the Quilter Trail intersection and recalled fond memories of work trips in Saguaro National Park to build this connector trail. It has some of the fanciest rockwork ever.

Fancy!

Fancy!

It was a long day, and after taking in the sunset near some attractive pools of water, I continued on to Grass Shack Campground.

Big Saddle

Big Saddle

Rincons Sunset

Rincons Sunset

The next day was a big climb to Manning Camp at 8000 ft. I made an enjoyable day of it, taking frequent breaks to snack or take in the view. I had a long lunch with an exquisite nap under a tree. The Sky Islands are incredibly diverse- in just two days I’d gone from Saguaros to Ponderosa Pines. Met back up with Pops and Bars as well as two section-hikers Maverick and El Tractor for sunset-watching and an evening by the campfire.

So cold but so good!!

So cold but so good!!

Manning Camp

Manning Camp

Sunset on Rincon Peak

Sunset on Rincon Peak

The next day was one of my favorites of the whole trip so far- the views from the north side of the Rincons are spectacular with fantastic rock formations. The descent was steep but the trail was better than the last time I’d done it in 2008. I reached the cool pools of Tanque Verde Creek and dropped my pack and relaxed by the creek for hours. I saw no one all day.

Italian Spring Panorama

Italian Spring Panorama

Wonderful Rock Formations

Wonderful Rock Formations

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

I hiked on to where the Arizona Trail crosses Redington Road and manged to find a spot that was free of both bullet casings and broken glass, no small feat in this area. It had been windy for days upon end, to be expected of springtime in Arizona, but still mildly unpleasant.

The next morning I was met by my friends Laddie and Sue Cox, who brought me a resupply box for my next piece through the Catalinas. Great to see friendly faces, they are legends that have helped the Arizona Trail Association in many ways through the years. Laddie and I used to be on the same volunteer trail crew, the Crazies.

After repacking, I hiked through attractive juniper-dotted hills toward The Lake and then on toward West Spring. I kept an eye out for Kean Brown’s retired horses and was not disappointed. I spent a while visiting with the four horses near West Spring and then made the ascent to the saddle above Molino Basin and then down the other side to the campground. I know this piece of trail like the back of my hand, it used to be my go-to hike long ago when I was recovering from fibromyalgia. What a great thing to have the strength now to have walked here from Mexico.

Kean Brown's retired horses from the Bellota Ranch

Kean Brown’s retired horses from the Bellota Ranch

Hiking to the saddle

Hiking to the saddle

It was still windy and I got an idea in my head that I would love a hot shower. I have a friend, Tom- another of the Crazies, that lives right at the base of the Catalinas, and so I called and he and his wife Nancy were available to meet me at Gordon Hirabayashi (Prison Camp) Trailhead. Not only did I get my coveted shower, but also an invite to stay the night and dinner on top of it all! It was such a nice surprise.

The next morning Tom took me back to where he’d met me and we picked up another woman, India, for the next leg of the hike. Instead of hiking uphill, Tom offered to drive us up to the top of Mount Lemmon so that we could hike the next piece downhill instead. I didn’t have to think twice about that one! I love a good shuttle hike in the Catalinas, it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy my home mountains.

Me and India

Me and India

India and I had known each other in the late 90’s- early 2000’s when I worked as an archaeologist with SWCA Environmental Consulting and had reconnected through her signing up for a couple of the Arizona Trail Trek hikes. She was the only taker for this particular backpacking trip.

The Wilderness of Rock Trail is breathtaking- since hiking it for the first time in 2008 on my AZT section-hike, I have come back again and again. Such a magical place with hoodoos and impossible rock balancing acts.

Wilderness of Rock

Wilderness of Rock

We filled up our water at Lemmon Creek and then began our descent toward Romero Pass. The trail gives incredible views of Cathedral Rock and Pusch Ridge, even little Sombrero Peak in the Tucson Mountains. Met Maverick again and wished him well on his way to Oracle.

Above the West Fork

Above the West Fork

Romero Pass was windy as usual and we looked for bighorns but didn’t see any. We switchbacked down the hill and finally reached the Cathedral Rock Trail junction and the canopy of the West Fork Sabino Canyon.

It was too early to camp, so we meandered along the trail a while longer, crossing the dry creekbed. India spotted a fire ring at a flat spot in the trees and we found a home for the night.

Camp in the West Fork

Camp in the West Fork

The West Fork is home to massive junipers and oaks and we really enjoyed our camp and hike the next morning. The trail then dropped back into the desert and we reached Hutch’s Pool. Too cold for a swim, I dunked my feet instead and fondly recalled times spent here with my pool floatie.

Delphinium

Delphinium

The hike out of Sabino Basin on the East Fork and Sycamore Trails went smoothly and soon we were at Shreve Saddle, one of the best views in all the Catalinas. A short downhill later, and we were back at Prison Camp TH. Nice to be done early and have the afternoon off.

India enjoying the Catalinas

India enjoying the Catalinas

Shreve Saddle, one of the best views in all the Catalinas

Shreve Saddle, one of the best views in all the Catalinas

My husband, Brian met me and we stayed at Leigh Anne Thrasher’s cabin in Summerhaven. Leigh Anne is a great friend to the AZT and she and her mini-donkey Jasmine hiked up and over the Huachucas in Passage 1 with me. It was great to spend some time with my husband, visits are going to be fewer and farther between as I head farther from my home in Tucson.

Micro Chicken rides Mini Donkey at the cabin in Summerhaven

Micro Chicken rides Mini Donkey at the cabin in Summerhaven

The next day my friends Wendy and Bill met me in Summerhaven for the hike down Oracle Ridge, but that’s a story I’ll leave for Bill to tell you in an upcoming guest blog. When I reached the American Flag Trailhead, it marked 200 miles so far on the Arizona Trail Trek- what a great feeling!

Here’s the link again to the crowdfunding campaign to raise $20,000 for the Arizona Trail Association, check it out and share with your friends! https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/arizona-trail-trek-stepping-up-to-support-the-arizona-trail/x/6377270

 

 

 

 

 

 

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