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Posts Tagged ‘Ash Creek Trail’

I’ve put together a look back at the past year of hiking and backpacking. For those who are regular readers, I’ve added quite a few pictures that didn’t make it in to the blog in other posts. You can click on the name of the hike to go to the journal entry about that hike, and all of the pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them. Enjoy!

In January I teamed up with Bill Bens and Mitch Stevens for a hike up Ragged Top in the Silverbell Mountains, northwest of Tucson. It was the first of a series of hikes we did together that required scrambling, something I really hadn’t experienced much before this year. I really took to it, and sought out a number of hikes with a scrambling element for the rest of the year.

Ragged Top

Coming up the South Gully- Photo by Bill Bens

Me and Bill at the summit with Picacho Peak in the background

In February I started the month with another scrambling route up Elephant Head in the Santa Ritas with Bill and Mitch. Another rugged, tough route leading to superlative views.

Elephant Head

Summit Ridge of Elephant Head

Summit ridge of Elephant Head

Summit cairn made of elephants

The day after my 36th birthday, I hiked my first piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 730-mile route that goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque. I also started my Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, where I am a volunteer.

Starting the Grand Enchantment Trail

Antelope Peak

Nighthawk at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson

In March I tackled another piece of the Grand Enchantment Trail in the Superstitions from the Tortilla TH to First Water TH. This was my first time in the western Superstitions, and I loved every rugged, rocky minute of it.

Campsite View on Horse Ridge, looking at a snowy 4 Peaks

Entering La Barge Box

Me and the Weaver's Needle

I attempted to summit Baboquivari again, but was turned away by ice and snow on the first pitch. However, we got to spend the night at the Lion’s Ledge, one of my favorite places I’ve ever slept and any time on Babo is time well spent.

Babo's East Face

Dave takes in the sunrise

Lion's Ledge- we slept right under the cave-like spot with the dark stain running down the face

I also wrote about Arizona’s State Parks that were slated to close due to lack of funding and hiked the Hunter Trail at Picacho Peak State Park and the Flatiron and Peak 5024 at Lost Dutchman State Park. Thankfully, only a couple of the state parks ended up closing and nearby towns helped pick up some of the expenses for the other ones. It was a great spring for wildflowers. I gave several slideshow presentations about my Arizona Trail hike to raise funds for Wildlife Rehab.

Poppies and Lupine at Picacho Peak

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom- Flatiron in the upper right

Hoodoos on the way to Peak 5024

Looking down on the Flatiron

In April I was fortunate to hike two pieces of the Grand Enchantment Trail in April- the Santa Teresa Wilderness with my friend Judy Eidson, and the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness. To give an idea of how remote the Santa Teresas are, when I called the Coronado National Forest to ask a question about the trails, they said, “We have no idea, no one goes out there, let us know what you find when you come back, ok?” I look forward to my return to Holdout Canyon – a spectacular place.

Holdout Canyon, Santa Teresa Wilderness

Winding Mariposa Lily

Taking in the view

Climbing above Preacher Canyon

Pretty waterfall in Cottonwood Canyon

Desert Honeysuckle in bloom, Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness

Great Blue Heron

Bends in the Stream

In MayI heard that Forest Service crews had been clearing the Sutherland Trail, so I teamed up with Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel to hike from the top of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via this formerly fire-damaged trail. The 6000 ft. of elevation loss was tough on the knees, but the views and the company more than made up for it.

Happy to be on the Sutherland Trail

Sutherland Trail

Penstemon

All spring long, I’d been telling my husband Brian, “Don’t worry, once it heats up in June I’ll be home a lot more often!” But then I bought the one piece of gear that made my summer bearable: my green inflatable innertube, known affectionately as “the floatie”, and the hiking really didn’t slow down at all. The floatie’s maiden voyage was to Hutch’s Pool on a overnight backpacking trip using the Box Camp Trail down to Sabino Canyon.

Coming down the ridge on the Box Camp Tr.

Coral Bean bloom

Happy to have Hutch's Pool all to myself!

I enjoyed the floatie so much, I took it on a trip to Horse Camp Canyon in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness and floated the black pool on a day when I had the only permit for the whole canyon.

Important piece of summer gear in Aravaipa

Made even sweeter by the fact that I had it all to myself!

Also in June, I began harvesting and processing saguaro fruit and making syrup and delicious fruit leather. I really enjoyed it and everyone loved the flavor. Can’t wait to do it on a bigger scale next summer.

Saguaro fruit cut open

In July, a month that I would normally be cowering in my house avoiding the heat, I was able to find lots of ways to keep active this year. I went on short hikes early in the morning or night hikes, and was able to get away to the cooler Sky Islands for a couple of backpacking trips. Early in the month, I went to the Santa Ritas for an overnight at Baldy Saddle and saw one of the best sunsets I’d seen all year.

Baldy Saddle- Yep, I was right- it was an awesome campsite!

Looking north at the Santa Rita Crest- 7:19 pm

My favorite of the evening- 7:34 pm

Mountain Spiny Lizard Fight

Later in the month, I hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail through the tall, cool Pinaleno Mountains (also known as “The Grahams”) with Judy Eidson and Connie Simmons.

Through the waist-high ferns on the Clark Peak Tr.

View from Taylor Pass

Slick Rock, Ash Creek Trail

Sunset on The Pinnacles, Ash Creek Trail

The "spirited cascade"

I squeezed in one last hike in July, a trip to Chiricahua National Monument with my friend Wendy. Fantastic hoodoos and rock formations to tickle the imagination.

Hoodoos come in Large, Small, and Medium size for your viewing enjoyment

Punch and Judy Rock

August was all about the pools: Jammed Log Pool, Romero Pools, Lemmon Pools, Tanque Verde Falls- I hiked in early, got my float on, and was hiking out by 9 or 10 in the morning.

Who says the desert is a dry place? Photo by Bill Bens

Wendy takes a turn on the floatie at Jammed Log Pool

Tanque Verde Falls dwarfs me in my floatie- photo by Wendy Lotze

Lemmon Pools

Fly Agaric Mushrooms- these were over 8 inches across
Campsite view down Lemmon Canyon toward Tucson
Monday Morning Goodness at Romero Pools
Rattlesnake from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

Gila Monster from night hikes in Sabino Canyon

In September the leisurely hikes of summer came to an end, because it was time to start ramping up the difficulty levels to get in shape for the Grand Canyon in October. I hiked a long loop in the Santa Ritas, Pusch Peak, a dayhike to Lemmon Pools and an overnighter in Aravaipa to break in my new hiking shoes on uneven terrain with a full pack.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

So many unusual wildflowers! Crest Trail, Santa Ritas

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake on the Foursprings Trail, Santa Ritas

View west from the summit of Pusch Peak

Lounging in Aravaipa Canyon

Rincon Mountains seen from the Lemmon Rock Trail

Shadow of Mount Lemmon on the Galiuro Mountains

And at the end of the month, I snuck in one last hike with the floatie in Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness near the Mexican border with some friends.

Near the slot pool

The Slot Pool- Bill and Ray went up and to the right, Lee and I swam across.

The green floatie- best $2 I've spent all year!

As much as I grumbled about training with a loaded pack on dayhikes, I was thankful for it in October when I spent 11 days in the Grand Canyon backpacking the Royal Arch Loop and at the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Volunteer Service Project. The Royal Arch Loop was the most difficult trip I’ve done to date.  Remember at the beginning of the year when I said I enjoyed scrambling on hikes? The whole year I’d made myself more and more used to scrambling and traveling on exposed areas, and it all came in handy on the Royal Arch Loop. Aesthetically, my favorite trip of the entire year and I can’t wait to do it again.

Sunrise on Mt. Huethawali from South Bass Trailhead

A Grand Vista

The Royal Arch

The anticipation was way worse than the actual rappel

Elves Chasm

A majestic pose before continuing across the slope

Kent, Ron, and Paul on the saddle leaving Copper Canyon

I hiked out of the Royal Arch Loop and back into the Grand Canyon for six days of work on the Volunteer Service Project. We got a lot of work done at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds, and in our free time we hiked up to the North Rim for fall colors, pizza, and beer, as well as up Wall Creek and the Miner’s Route. 11 days and a little over a hundred miles of Grand Canyon goodness.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Yay! We walked up into fall on the North Kaibab Trail!

Wall Creek Waterfall

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

After spending the last half of October mourning the fact that I wasn’t in the Grand Canyon anymore, in November I found plenty of places close to home to hold my interest. I took two solo backpacking trips: one to The Spine near the White Canyon Wilderness, and one on the Samaniego Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. I also hiked the little-used Brush Corral Trail in the northeastern part of the Catalinas with some friends.

Traveling atop The Spine from boulder to boulder

5:38 pm- looks like a postcard

Morning view of the White Canyon Wilderness

Samaniego Peak

Hiking up to the Mule Ears

Samaniego- what a wonderful ridge!

Incredible views on the Brush Corral Trail

Brush Corral Trail ridgeline

Between the oaks

In December I made one last trip to the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness (my 4th this year) and enjoyed the fall colors. It is trailbuilding season on the Arizona Trail and I led my first work event up near Oracle on the 9th  in the Black Hills passage. I plan on sneaking in one last trip before the end of the year to my favorite very large hole in the ground before the year’s over.

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

The inagural crew of the Crazies North

Whew! I sure got a lot of adventures in this year! Thanks to one of my favorite websites HikeArizona.com, I was able to keep track of my miles hiked and other stats. This is the first year that I logged all my hikes, and by the end of the year, I will have hiked approximately 750 miles. Lucky me.

I want to thank all of my readers and people who came to my talks who donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser. Since February, over $700 worth of donations have been given to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson! If you haven’t donated yet but would like to, you can send a check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union  P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703. Please put Hiking in the memo, so they know where you heard about their facility. Any amount is appreciated! You can also donate via PayPal by clicking the button below. Even if you don’t have a PayPal account, you can donate securely via PayPal with a credit card.

"Elfie" the Elf Owl thanks you for your donations!

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When I hiked the Grand Enchantment Trail through the Santa Teresa Wilderness in April, the Pinalenos still shone brightly with snow in the upper elevations- not very inviting for a confirmed desert rat like me. My hiking partner Judy and I looked at all the snow and decided July would be more enjoyable.

Logistics (if you don’t want to hear about car shuttles and such, skip down to the hike)

The only issue was that this segment starts at 5200′, climbs to 10,000′, then goes back down to 3800′. Both ends of the trail would be blazing hot in July, and the climb from the lower elevations in the beginning of the passage to 10,000′ went through a large burn area that would likewise be exposed and hot. Steve Marlatt, a teacher from Bonita, had offered help with shuttles in the area, so I proposed that we put a car at both ends of the segment, get dropped off at the top of the mountain by Steve, hike westbound for two days on one side, drive back up, and eastbound two days on the other.  Still with me? Here’s a pic of Steve, on one of my favorite parts of the whole Arizona Trail, the final passage into Utah:

Steve Marlatt - AZT trip near the Utah border with Bob Luce and Crew

It was a lot of driving, but given the above-100 degree temps, I’m glad we did it the way we did. Besides, Judy and her friend Connie had never been on the Swift Trail Road that winds 35 miles from 2900′ to 9300′ up from the Gila Valley to the high country before. And our convoluted shuttle meant that we could stop in Safford for burritos in the beginning, middle, and end of the trip. Judy and Connie hadn’t gotten to do much backpacking recently, so we settled on a very leisurely 4 days of hiking to complete what was supposed to be a 25-mile segment. I say “supposed to be” because while the official mileage on the guidebook says 24.9, I have now hiked over 150 Grand Enchantment Trail miles and I know that in reality, it will end up being farther due to routefinding, possible alternate routes, with a little exploring thrown in. My total mileage for the route we took ended up being 32.9 miles on my GPS.

So, Steve was kind enough to not only drive us up the mountain, but he also offered to cache water near the West Peak Lookout for us. We were supposed to do the shuttle and hike our first 8 miles in the afternoon on Monday, July 19th, so I wouldn’t have to take more days off of work (I work weekends). However, Steve called me and asked if I was available to do the shuttle on Sunday instead because he and his girlfriend Laura were planning on heading up that way for a dayhike. He’d drive us up to the top and we could spend the night up there and have all day to hike only 8 miles to our water cache. What seemed like a minor nuisance at the time, having to cancel my appointments for Sunday, ended up completely working to our advantage later when the “only” 8-mile hike took us 9 hours to complete. More on that later.

I am a massage therapist and my work is slow right now because more than half of Tucson flees the heat in the summertime.  So I was so excited to be able to have five whole days to play in the mountains. After a series of mind-bending logistics involving what gear/food/celebratory beverages were supposed to be in what vehicle, and driving for hours along a variety of incredibly scenic roads to set up our cars, (and a stop in Safford where Steve introduced us to his favorite Mexican joint in Safford, Los Jilbertos, for burritos) Judy, Connie and I finally reached the 2-site Clark Peak Campground at 8850′.

The hike:

Day 1- We woke up on Monday, July 19th to cool, clear, beautiful hiking weather and Judy was pissed-off to find that she had needlessly brought her entire, heavy set of keys with- this after she had laboriously counted every ounce in an effort to lighten her load!

Connie, Sirena and Judy

We had a short roadwalk, which ended at the Clark Peak Trailhead. I hadn’t hiked with Connie before, she’s one of Judy’s Hiken Girls and has hiked 700 miles of the Arizona Trail. We passed a campsite off the road and I remarked that it looked like a good view. Connie asked Judy, “Can I go look?” I thought it was a little strange, of course you can go look! I jokingly asked Judy, “What kind of slave driver are you that she feels the need to ask?” Judy replied, “Well, I’ve got to keep my girls moving when we’re on the trail otherwise they complain if we get into camp too late.” A very interesting dynamic- I realized that Judy does all the planning and navigation and is basically the HBIC of the Hiken Girls. The rest of the group likes it that way, and they have all sorts of wonderful adventures together. The sign at the trailhead said 6.7 miles to West Peak, where our cache was and where we would camp for the night. No problem, we had all day. Little did we realize that we would need it.

Walking through a burn area on the Clark Peak Tr.

Clark Peak

Galiuros and Catalinas in the distance

The first part of the Clark Peak Trail traverses a ridge at about 8500 ft. with great views out to the Gila and Sulphur Springs valleys. It was slightly overgrown, but nothing too bad. We reached a fern-covered open meadow and waded through the chest-high ferns, navigating by means of very visible large cairns. The hillsides were covered in blooming wild geraniums and ripe raspberries and we stopped to have a tasty snack. We could see our objective, West Peak, across Taylor Pass.

Through the waist-high ferns on the Clark Peak Tr.

Large cairns guide the way- Blue Jay Peak on the right, West Peak on left- photo by Connie Simmons

Wild Geranium

Wild Blackberry

Bears like berries too!

The trail descended the hillside toward Taylor Pass, and we passed a cairn. We saw some blackberry bushes and stopped to eat a few and when we tried to find the continuation of the trail, it was nowhere in sight. We backtracked to the last cairn, and circled around, looking for the trail. The maddening part was that the GPS track and basemap both said we were in the right place and that there should be switchbacks for the descent toward Taylor Pass. The hillside was steep, loose, rocky and covered with thorny New Mexico Locust trees that had proliferated after this area had burned in the Nuttall Fire of 2004. We searched and searched and finally made the decision to do a steep bushwhack to a saddle just before the pass in hopes of picking up trail tread again. This area had been covered with a ton of snow and gotten a lot of rain this year, it is possible that part of the switchbacks were washed out. We were jubilant upon meeting the trail again close to the saddle, and we took a much-needed break. It was now the middle of the day and we’d only traveled 4 miles. Plus, all the bushwhacking up and down the hill looking for the trail burned lots of energy and water.  We were so happy that we hadn’t started this hike after doing the shuttle in the morning, as we had planned. We would have been caught out in the dark and run out of water.

Where's our trail?

After Taylor Pass at 7100 ft, we had a 1400 ft climb back up the other side of the pass up to 8500 ft. near West Peak.

View from Taylor Pass

Sometimes the trail signs aren't on signposts...

Connie's face says it all.

It was a slow slog up the hill, with the elevation affecting everyone’s speed. I was getting low on water and when we took a break for snacks, my feet started cramping, an early sign of dehydration. I ate some electrolyte gel and we continued up the hill. All the while, thunderstorms were moving in over the high country in our direction. Finally, we reached the trailhead sign for the other end of the Clark Peak Trail where it met FR 286 and our navigational issues were over for the time being.

Movie from Clark Peak Trailhead at FR 286:

The monsoon storm brewing over Pinalenos held until we were able to reach our camp and set up before any rain started falling. We retrieved the gallons of water so kindly cached by Steve and his girlfriend Laura yesterday, and settled in to have a much-deserved drink to celebrate getting through a slightly harrowing day on the trail.

Looking southwest toward Safford

The sign is pointing to the slope that we had to bushwhack down before Taylor Pass- click to enlarge

Enjoying post-hike libations at our camp near West Peak Lookout

While we were getting our dinner ready, clouds started moving in so quickly that at first we thought they were smoke clouds from a fire. We grabbed our umbrellas and went to look at the storm sweeping in. Monsoon clouds make for fantastic sunsets and we were treated to an incredible one from our campsite:

Sunset near West Peak

We fell asleep listening to the rumble of thunder and the pitter-patter of light rain.

Day 2- In the morning, I woke up at first light and hiked up to the West Peak Lookout tower at 8670′ to watch the sunrise. I was not disappointed. The morning rays lit up the 360 degree views from West Peak. I could identify many of the landmarks to the north, west, and south, but the views to the east are still a mystery waiting to be solved by hiking further toward Albuquerque on the Grand Enchantment Trail.

First light on the Pinalenos- Mt. Graham observatory at right

West Peak Lookout Tower

Galiuros and Catalinas from West Peak

Aravaipa Canyon is the light spot to the left of the Santa Teresas

After enjoying the sunrise, we packed up and headed down FR 286 toward my Jeep. Originally, we had planned on taking the Johns Canyon Trail down to the western terminus of Segment #10, but our extended hike yesterday had made us short on water and we decided to take FR 286 instead. Judy and I planned to perhaps come back and hike the Johns Cyn Tr. when we hike Segment #9 when the weather cools down. We just weren’t up for a trail described in the guidebook as “ill-defined and overgrown”, especially heading down into lower elevations, where it would be hot and exposed.

The hike down on FR 286 was shady and cool in the higher elevations, and we spotted a bear print in the roadway. The Pinalenos are thick with bears, and we were hoping to see one (from a safe distance, of course). Farther down the road, we brought out the umbrellas to shade us as we made our way downhill. We had views of Segments 8 and 9 of the GET. The rocky and wonderful Santa Teresas and Pinnacle Ridge, the foothills of the Pinalenos, and the cross-country route in Seg. 9 were all visible.

Bear print

Umbrella Time

Pinnacle Ridge in the Santa Teresas

Top of cross-country route in Seg 9 with Jeep trail below

We reached my Jeep, and pulled some celebratory beers out of the cooler and ate lunch among the shade of tall oaks before driving back up the Swift Trail. With a mandatory stop in Safford at Los Jilbertos for burritos, of course. While we were driving through Safford, we saw a large sign proudly proclaiming that Safford is “Home of Arizona’s Salsa Trail”

A beverage and a break before heading back up the mountain

Looking back at Clark Pk, Taylor Pass, and Blue Jay Peak

Tipz welcome at Los Jilbertos

The Salsa Trail

According to the website, “Arizona’s Salsa Trail® is all about terrific Mexican food and down-home friendliness. Sprinkled through the small Southern Arizona communities of Safford, Pima, Thatcher, Solomon, Clifton, Duncan, Willcox, and York are a dozen Mexican restaurants, a family owned tortilla factory and a lady who grows chilies who have all joined together to make up the Salsa Trail®.”  Three of the restaurants and the tortilla factory in Safford are mere blocks north of the path the GET takes in Segment 11. Unfortunately, Los Jilbertos is not included in the “official” list.

We drove up the mountain and set up a car camp near Peter’s Flat. We’d driven up in the dark two days before, so Judy and Connie finally got to see the wonder that is the Swift Trail. The Grand Enchantment Trail uses the Swift Trail, here an improved dirt road, as the connector trail between Clark Peak Tr. and Peter’s Flat. I wanted to hike the miles between our first camp and Peter’s Flat, so Judy dropped me off and I hiked back, enjoying the views from the Swift Trail Road. I quite liked our camp across from Peter’s Flat, there were some rock outcroppings that were perfect for watching yet another wonderful sunset.

Wildflowers near Hospital Flat

Moon and wildflowers

Gnarly.

White Geranium

Sunset from Peter's Flat camp

Day 3- In the morning, Judy and I were going to hike the cross-country route on the GET through Peter’s Flat up to the Chesley Flat Trail to Webb Peak at 10,030′ and downhill to meet Connie at the Webb Peak/Ash Creek Trailhead at the campground. Only my 3L Platypus bladder decided to empty itself into my pack right before we started hiking. By the time we got everything out and repacked, dark clouds rolled in overhead and Judy and I questioned the idea of heading out on a questionable route that might take a lot longer than we expected. We begrudgingly decided that roadwalking with Connie would be the safe, smart thing to do. I had hiked up to Webb Pk. last August, so I wasn’t too sad that we weren’t hitting the highpoint of the GET in Arizona on this trip.

A look at the Peter's Flat cross-country route to Chesley Flat Tr.

Webb Peak Lookout 10,029 ft. 8-5-09

From Peter’s Flat, we walked the unpaved road to the Ash Creek Trailhead, and started our descent on the Ash Creek Trail which loses 4700′ of elevation in just 7 miles. The upper part of the Ash Creek Trail doesn’t look like anyone’s idea of Arizona. This year, the mountain was covered with snow well into May and the Pinalenos regularly get pounded with summer monsoons. The result being that there are lush forests of Blue Spruce, Aspen, and other high-elevation trees. In addition, the trail parallels Ash Creek, which creates a riparian environment rich with fungi and wildflowers.

Ash Creek TH

Climbing over...

...and ducking under deadfall on the first part of the trail

Connie amidst giant Cow Parsnip

Hairy growths

Columbine

We made it down to a split in the trail and it started to rain. The trail was signed to head uphill and bypass a dangerous area known as Slick Rock. The trail used to go through Slick Rock, which had railings installed to prevent people from injuring themselves, but the Forest Service ultimately decided to reroute the trail to avoid future search and rescue scenarios. We saw our only hiker of the day, a guy who was out for a dayhike down to Ash Creek Falls. He was nice enough to take our picture before heading down the trail in the pouring rain.

Judy, Connie, and I with our umbrellas

Movie of rain on the Ash Creek Tr.

We decided to take a break to see if the storm would pass, but instead it got more and more intense, with thunder and lightning way too close for comfort. Then it started hailing. Yet another use for an umbrella- a hail deflector! After the hail stopped, we started hiking again, wondering why we hadn’t seen the dayhiker yet. We took the official trail, and when it linked back up with the old Slick Rock route, we ran into him again. He had harrowing tales of a steep, nasty, off-trail bushwhack in the rain and hail and we were happy to see that he made it through ok. We took the Slick Rock route back uphill a quarter of a mile and visited the site who’s name had piqued our interest. I was really glad that we did, because it was a sight to see- water cascading down the steep, sloping slab of rock toward the upper part of Ash Creek Falls. We had to be really careful where we placed our feet for fear of slipping and taking an unintended slickrock waterslide.

Movie of Slick Rock:

Slick Rock

After we returned to the main trail, we got great views down toward the Gila Valley and lower Ash Creek Canyon. It was raining pretty hard by the time we got to the Ash Creek Falls overlook. I had been long excited about the prospect of seeing a 200-foot waterfall on this hike, but unfortunately the trail does not give a great view of the whole of the falls, just the top. Silly trail designers! To get a better look, you have to scramble on the steep hillside, and we weren’t about to do that when it was raining so hard. What a letdown.

Top of 200-foot Ash Creek Falls

Looking down on The Pinnacles

The trail descended steeply on the north side of the canyon and we finally reached the streambed, rushing with monsoon rains. It had, however, stopped raining on us for the time being. There were some of the largest Ponderosa Pines I’ve ever seen on the trail that criss-crosses Ash Creek.

Massive Pines

Crossing Ash Creek- photo by Connie Simmons

When we reached Oak Flat, our destination for the evening, I finally got to see why people always talk about camping here on this trail- there really aren’t many great spots beforehand due to the steep nature of the trail. It was early, only 4:30 when we got into camp, so there was plenty of time for relaxing and exploring around. The creek is nearby and there were lots of fragrant blooming bergamot, wild geraniums, and, green ferns lining the trail. I was surprised that there was a stand of aspen next to the campsite- 6300 ft is pretty low for aspen.  Again, we were treated to yet another wonderful sunset to end our day, this one lighting up the Pinnacles.

Ash Creek

Oak Flat Camp

Sunset on The Pinnacles

Day 4- The next morning, we were eating breakfast and I saw a small head pop up behind Judy. It was a pocket gopher, totally unaffected by  us camping nearby. We continued descending on the Ash Creek Trail, and when we reached the creekbed, there was a waterfall described by the guidebook as “a spirited cascade that delights the senses.” I told Judy and Connie that I’d catch up and spent some quality alone time with the falls.

Pocket Gopher

Spider in an old well by Oak Flat

The "spirited cascade"

Video of the “spirited cascade”:

Lower part of the "spirited cascade"

The Ash Creek Trail below Oak Flat criss-crosses the creek and has waterfall after waterfall on it. The water was chilly, but refreshing and I took a dip in some of the pools.

Waterfalls

Western Dayflower

I reached the last crossing of Ash Creek and wet myself down before the trail spit me out into the exposed, hot desert. It was a shock after the cool, rainy, riparian environment we’d gotten used to. The sky had turned dark and the monsoon rains were building behind me. The views out to the Gila Valley opened up to the west. I passed the only backpackers we’d seen in 4 days, heading up the trail into the thunderstorm ahead. Soon afterward, I reached the nondescript end of the trail at Berry Patch Rd, and it began to rain. Just a little more hiking down the road led me to where we’d left Judy’s Jeep four days ago and a celebratory end-of-the-trip picture. After one last stop at Jilbertos, I was on my way back to blazing hot Tucson, another segment of the Grand Enchantment Trail under my belt.  Nine segments down, thirty to go.

Looking West

Back out into the desert

Where the Ash Creek Tr. meets Berry Patch Rd.

End of the trip shot

So, since you’ve made it through this lengthy trip report, here’s a picture from the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser- a nighthawk. You’ve probably seen them flying around streetlights, but most people have not seen them up close. They are one of my favorite birds that we have at the Miller’s Wildlife Rehab.

Nighthawk

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