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Posts Tagged ‘Gila River’

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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First of all, November 13 is the one-year anniversary of Sirena’s Wanderings- a big thanks to all my readers and a super-big thanks to those who have donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser! My first post wast a video of a gorgeous rainbow I saw at Cedar Ridge on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand canyon while hiking out of my volunteer project. (it’s also the picture on the the header of my website) Click here to watch it.

As much as I enjoyed my recent time in the Grand Canyon, I was with a large group of people the whole trip and didn’t have much opportunity at all to enjoy the wilderness solo. I have primarily been a solo backpacker, and on the Grand Canyon trip there were all sorts of things I did differently from my usual routine on the trail because of the group around me. I had been thinking since I got back that I needed to go on a palate-cleansing solo trip, to a location where I was practically guaranteed solitude. I tossed around a couple of different options, but remembered one location that has been on top of my to-do list for a while now: The Spine.

The Spine

The Spine runs northwest above the Gila River and south of the White Canyon Wilderness, northwest of the small mining town of Kelvin. I had admired it when I bushwhacked through this area on the Arizona Trail (most of the passage hadn’t been built yet) in March 2008 with John Rendall and his friend Paul. I remember thinking that I needed to come back someday and explore further. I’d planned a dayhike out on The Spine once before, almost a year ago, but wasn’t able to go. This time I was bringing my backpack and staying the night. The temperatures have finally cooled in the desert, making a crack-of-dawn start unnecessary. I had a two-hour drive up to the spot in the wash at the base of The Spine where I parked my jeep. I packed light, but had to carry all my water for a dry camp. I started to hike away from the jeep, and something told me to go back and get the extra two-liter container of water that I’d left in the car. After taking on even more water weight, I started down the wash. Tomorrow will be Veteran’s Day and this area will be full of various people camping, driving, and hiking. But today, it is all mine. I see no one on the drive in and hear not a sound made by another human until I drive back out.

I had originally had grand plans of a full hike of The Spine and both arms, as well as an overnight on a patio underneath The Spine that I’d seen pictures of. But a busy work schedule at my very physical job as a massage therapist had left me pretty tired, and I realized that all I really wanted to do was get up to the patio with my copy of Desert Solitaire, and read, write, relax and enjoy the view.

But before I could relax, I had to pay the piper with a rugged off-trail bushwhack to get to my destination. It started out mellow, winding through attractive washes streaked with reds and golds.

Hiking in the wash

I turned into a side canyon and passed a copse of cottonwoods with a trickling spring at the base. There were tons of bees, so I hurried along. As I gained elevation in the smooth-rocked drainages, a hint of the amazing views to come tantalized me to the north. Several climbs over and under trees, a bypass of a dry fall, and decisions of which thorny bush would hurt the least, and I was at a saddle where I could see my climb to The Spine.

Cottonwoods at the spring

Smooth rock lines the drainage bottom

View down the drainage

Classic desert choice: both are spiny, which do you choose? If you picked the one to the left- you lose!

Climbing from the saddle- Copper Butte mine is on the right

It looked rocky, steep, and a little bit daunting, but I had all the time in the world to get up there and the weather couldn’t have been better. This was definitely a hike where I had to concentrate on exactly where I was putting my feet and scanning ahead to see where the best line of travel was through the ever-increasing boulders. At first, I had the help of a ridge that went part of the way up, then it really got interesting. Here’s a video:

Not a great picture, but it shows how rugged the climb is up the slope toward The Spine

I had to use my hands to push and pull myself up at times, I was skirting around loose rockfalls and brush, and it was very slow going, but I was enjoying the hell out of it. The views just got better and better and I could see the boulder I was aiming for getting closer. As I looked down to where I had come from, I could see my jeep way down in the wash, and no one else around at all. Perfect. Almost to the ridgeline, it was the most jumbled, but I took my time and an hour and a half after leaving my jeep, I reached The Spine.

Atop The Spine, looking north

Crest and arms of The Spine, which hang above the Gila River to the south

Wow- a great effort paid off with a great reward. The Spine is made up of a hodgepodge of giant red-brown boulders, some with a splotchy white coating that makes them all the more attractive. The big boulders were very sturdy and I was able to hop from one to another along the ridgetop. After a short while, my objective came into view. The Patio is on the northern part of The Spine, about 100 feet below the ridgeline, facing the Gila River.

Looking down on The Patio- Catalinas in the far distance

I had to hike along The Spine to find the best way down the jumbled boulders and scree slopes down to The Patio. It was precariously steep and loose in places, much more than my hike up to the ridgeline, but I made it down safely and headed to the north end,to make my camp. I chose the north end because it overlooks the White Canyon Wilderness and Battle Axe Butte, one of my favorite peaks. A bonus of the views from camp was that the ridgeline blocked out views of nearby Copper Butte, its sides all slashed up by the mine.

Video of The Patio:

I shed my pack and made myself at home, inflating my air mattress and finding a perch on top of a perfectly curved boulder and ate some lunch. It had taken me two hours to go only 1.6 miles, but it was worth every scratch. After lunch, I went exploring my new digs and was surprised to find a large fire ring with a ridiculous amount of firewood gathered nearby. I think it’s funny how people feel the need to have a giant raging inferno when a small fire is easier and less damaging. There were no views from this campsite, so I was not at all interested. At the south end of The Patio, there were fantastic views toward the Catalinas.

Home sweet home

View down The Spine from the patio

Sentinel of the south end of the patio

I spent the entire afternoon staring at the scenery, watching the wispy clouds roll in, listening to music and getting up every so often to check out the views from different parts of The Patio. My campsite faced the path I’d taken on the Arizona Trail over two years ago, a place I remember well because it is where I overheated trying to keep up with my friend John Rendall. The crazy thing is that John was 73 years old at the time! I bonked and had to elevate my feet above my head, holding my umbrella for shade, while John fed me GU until I felt human again. I wrote in my journal: “The upside was that I had the most beautiful view of these sheer white cliffs while I was recuperating.”  Men like John illustrate time and time again that if you stay active, you can enjoy all sorts of very physical activities late into life. A definite inspiration. And now, for a goofy shot of me from that day:

 

Bonk! A rather silly picture of me trying to cool off in '08- at least I'm still smiling...

My view when I bonked in '08 on the Arizona Trail

This trip was just what I needed- solitude in an amazingly beautiful setting. I took out my well-worn copy of Desert Solitaire and alternately read and watched the clouds drift past the bald peak of Battle Axe Butte (someone has to do it) until the sun began to set.  The wispy clouds I’d been watching all day made for quite a display as the sun sank between North and South Buttes on the Gila River. The ridge above me lit up a firey red and I moved around the patio, taking lots of shots of the ever-changing light. Here’s a series of photos:

 

5:29 pm- sun starts to dip between South and North Buttes, which are on either side of the Gila River

5:30- Sunset lights up The Spine a firey red

5:35

5:36

5:37- I spot the lone saguaro on the small ridge

5:38- this one is my favorite

5:41

5:43- view west with a crescent moon

The Patio had been somewhat of a wind tunnel all afternoon and I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t be able to have a fire, but as the sun set, the air calmed. I made dinner on my little rock perch and then made a fire and read some more. I was going to sleep on the ground, but I was reading and watching the stars on my rock perch and fell asleep up there. It was just big enough and quite comfortable.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of great horned owls calling out to each other. I spent the morning writing pages and pages in my journal and lounging around camp and even had a small morning fire to keep away the chill. I don’t often have a fire when I backpack, but I really enjoyed it this trip. I even brought some white sage to add to the fire and it smelled wonderful. Around 10 am, I went into my backpack to get something and my hand came out all wet! Not a good feeling, as the rest of my water was in my platypus bladder in my pack. I took the bladder out and saw that I’d lost over a liter to a small hole. I transferred the remaining water into my extra container that I’d gone back for yesterday (I knew there was a reason for me to listen to the little voice that said to bring it along!) and realized that it was probably time for me to pack up and hike back down. Due to the precarious terrain, going downhill wasn’t going to be any faster than going uphill. Before I left, I dismantled my fire ring and returned the spot to its original condition, even sweeping away the multitude of footprints I’d made in my camp.

Morning view

This is why I backpack instead of dayhike- the sunsets and sunrises are not to be missed.

The hike back up to The Spine was easier than the descent, and then it was back to boulder-hopping on the ridgeline. I got a great shot from above of my sleeping boulder- from up here it looked so small. My descent went very slowly because I had to test a lot of my foot placements to make sure the rock I was stepping on wasn’t going to roll down the hill once I put my weight on it. Once I got back down to the saddle and into the smooth-rock drainage, I took a break to stretch and snack and and to admire the big, white, fluffy clouds that had rolled in. What a place. I would have stayed longer, but I was down to the last of my water, so I had no choice but to continue on through the pretty drainages back to my jeep. The spring I’d passed yesterday seemed to be flowing stronger and I stopped to listen to the sweet trickling sound over the rocks. When I reached my jeep, I took my GPS out to record my stats and saw that my entire mileage for the trip was only 3.2 miles. Probably one of the shortest backpacking trips I’ve ever taken, but one of the more challenging, for sure. I adore the sense of accomplishment that comes upon looking where you’ve been on the drive out and this trip was no exception.

Looking down on where I slept last night- it's the white spot at the far end in the middle of the frame.

Snack and cloud-watching spot

Success!

Looking back at The Spine from Battle Axe Road

A short list of why I love solo backpacking:

  • Quiet. Wonderful all-encompassing quiet.
  • What time you do things is all up to you and can be changed on a whim
  • No worries about how others are doing (especially valuable after my Royal Arch trip)
  • Privacy- no need to tell others not to look while you pee, change clothes, etc.
  • Dancing and stretching (two of my favorite camp activities!) are more fun sans onlookers
  • No need for earplugs to drown out hiking companion’s snoring
  • As much time as I want for reflection, meditation, writing, staring at the scenery, photography
  • Sense of accomplishment that comes from figuring out a route on my own
  • Not having to worry about what I look like, not even a teeny tiny bit

Though short in both time and distance, this was a perfect trip- a challenging bushwhack, plenty of time to relax and rejuvenate in a beautiful setting, and a healthy dose of solitude. This is the stuff that revitalizes my soul.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture- With the cooler weather, things have calmed down somewhat at the rehab, so I thought I’d share one of my favorite characters from June 2009. I’d only been volunteering there for a couple of weeks when this little Harris Hawk was brought in.  I love his feet and the look on his face!

One-week old Harris Hawk

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