Posts Tagged ‘Grand Enchantment Trail’

Alamo Canyon Trail Work

Alamo Canyon Trail Work

It takes a lot of work to maintain 800 miles of trail from Mexico to Utah!

The Arizona Trail is split into 43 passages, which are then subdivided into about 100 segments. Each segment has a trail steward- a person or organization that adopts the segment of trail and is responsible for answering questions about trail conditions and holding periodic work events. I am proud to be the steward of #16c- 5.5 miles that wind along the Gila River. Last weekend I helped my backpacking bestie Wendy on a work event on her segment, which is 7.5 miles south of Picketpost Trailhead near Superior.

ATA Tool Trailer

ATA Tool Trailer

I was excited to be able to do some trail maintenance for a change- I am so busy these days promoting the AZT that I don’t get dirty as often as I used to!

Wendy, India and I drove up to Superior in the AZTmobile and loaded it up with tools and water for the weekend. Dropped Wendy off so she could meet with the hikers that were coming in at night. After getting Los Hermanos to go, we headed to FR 4, Telegraph Canyon Road. I had heard stories about how bad the road was and it lived up to its reputation. Had a run-in with a rock that made the back bumper unhappy . The worst part of the road is the Fissure of Death, where a big part of the road is gone and you have to go up on the hillside, the whole truck tilting toward the FOD.

Picketpost Mountain from FR 4

Picketpost Mountain from FR 4

We made it to the campsite and watched a spectacular sunset and situated ourselves in a spot to catch the backpackers that were coming in. One of the crew, Marcos, came in on a mountain bike. This passage is also part of the Grand Enchantment Trail that goes from Phoenix to Albuquerque, so you get a long distance hiking twofer.

Classic AZ sunset Friday night

Classic AZ sunset Friday night

The group settled in and got their camps set up on a flat area a short distance from the trail on a side road off FR4. Some of the group had LED lights and we had an LED campfire and chatted while waiting for Wendy and her two hikers to get there. We could see the saddle and watched for Wendy’s light- finally at 10 pm we saw it and I could relax knowing that all had made it to camp safely. The only downside to camp was the amount of broken glass. I slept in the AZTmobile.

The morning was dewy and after breakfast we split up into three groups to work the trail. We had so many people that my group was able to work the next segment north of Wendy’s. It was a perfect day for trail work and we took revenge on many catclaw and other thorny plants. The rains of the summer had washed out several portions and we repaired the tread.

Breakfast at camp

Breakfast at camp

Crew was larger than expected, so some  of us worked north to the first saddle on  #17b

Crew was larger than expected, so some of us worked north to the first saddle on #17b

Hikers coming up the trail

Hikers coming up the trail

The only hikers we saw all day were a couple that were going to be doing a work event on the trail next weekend. There were quite a few bikes- there was a race called the Picketpost Punisher going on that had a 50-mile and an 81-mile loop that crossed our work area. The last guy that finished the 81 miler didn’t finish until 1:30 in the morning! Read John’s blog to hear the story of his 20-hour ride!

FR 4 and our camp below

FR 4 and our camp below

Standing aside for mountain bikers

Standing aside for mountain bikers





A full day of trailwork got our appetite going and we returned to camp to find Wendy at the tail end of producing an incredible fajita feast! Wendy’s cooking never disappoints and we all gorged ourselves on the tasty meal.

Saturday night on the trail

Saturday night on the trail

Queen of the Campsite

Queen of the Campsite

Wendy's fajita spread was delicious!

Wendy’s fajita spread was delicious!

We sat around the fire, telling stories, making s’mores and passing Mango Tango around. Wendy graced us with some Irish ballads- it’s always such a treat to hear her beautiful voice. It was around 10:30 when two bikers from the race came into view and it was fun to cheer them on from our camp!

The next morning, the sky looked moody and ominous, but it was an empty threat and cleared up by the time we were ready to pack up and leave. We finished off the last of the trimming and tread work and the backpackers left to hike back to the trailhead.



Armoring the washout with rocks

Armoring the washout with rocks

Careful when flipping rocks!

Careful when flipping rocks!

Filling it in

Filling it in



Wendy, India, Stoic (Chris) and I packed up the tools and cached 27 gallons in the wash for public use. Chris was nice enough to do an ingenious fix in the field that included the use of zip ties to hold the droopy back corner up. It worked great for the drive out.

We made it back down the road to Superior without incident and stopped at Old Time Pizza for slices, salad and giant vats of the best iced tea in Kearny. Had a nice visit with Lorraine, who owns the place with her husband Gary- they are true friends of the AZT and avid hikers as well. It was a memorable work event made even better by the amount of work we were able to accomplish. Big kudos to Wendy for her impeccable planning skills!! She also writes a blog, Around the Corner with Wendy– check it out!

Nasty Telegraph Canyon Rd. on the way out

Nasty Telegraph Canyon Rd. on the way out

If you are interested in participating in a work event, check the ATA Calendar for upcoming dates. To find out more about being a part of the Trail Stewardship Program, visit http://www.aztrail.org/steward_information.html

In Wildlife Rehabilitation NW Tucson news, lots of the birds that came to the rehab as babies have been released back into the wild. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of rehab to see them grow up and become self-sufficient.

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Baby Harris Hawk

Baby Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk

Read Full Post »

A great crew! Sasha the dog, Chris, Steve, Francisco, Al, Rob, David, Tom, Joe, Lee, Max, and Shawn

A great crew! Sasha the dog, Kris, Steve, Francisco, Al, Rob, David, Tom, Joe, Lee, Max, and Shawn

I have been building and maintaining the Arizona Trail with the Arizona Trail Association since 2007. I love being a part of creating and maintaining the trail for generations to come. Several months ago, I became a trail steward for segment 16c and am in charge of maintaining 5.1 miles from Spine Canyon to Walnut Canyon in the Gila River Canyons passage. I chose this passage to adopt for a couple of reasons:

  • I have seen this area covered in wildflowers in the spring and it is amazing, there are also fall colors along the Gila River.
  • I have great memories of my Night on The Spine and the hike I did on Passage 16 & 17 the first three days of the year.
  • I wanted a remote segment that would require overnight trail events.
  • To drive in, you go past the Artesian Well on the old Arizona Trail route, one of my favorite water sources.
  • It is also a part of the Grand Enchantment Trail from Phoenix to Albuquerque- bonus stewardship!

I had my first work event on December 7th & 8th to put in a gate in Walnut Canyon and an OHV barrier about a mile east. Ten of us assembled at Battle Axe Road and AZ 177 and prepared a precarious load on the Bureau of Land Managment (BLM) truck.

We met at Battle Axe Road and loaded up the BLM truck with the gate and the ATV barrier.

We met at Battle Axe Road and loaded up the BLM truck with the gate and the ATV barrier.

The drive out to the site was slow, bumpy and very scenic. We took another road that led down toward the Gila River and arrived in Walnut Canyon just north of the river around lunchtime.

Driving Battle Axe Road with the White Canyon Wilderness in the background

Driving Battle Axe Road with the White Canyon Wilderness in the background

Adjusting the rigging after a couple of miles of the rough road

Adjusting the rigging after a couple of miles of the rough road

We dropped a crew to begin the gate and drove a mile east to the OHV barrier site.  The barrier was an interesting modular design that required no welding in the field. Just a lot of postholes and concrete. Thankfully the BLM provided a power auger and jackhammer. We ran into some caliche that would have taken forever to dig with just a rock bar.

Pieces of the ATV barrier, concrete, and plenty of tools. Rob (in red) is the one who designed and welded the pieces to be assembled in the field.

Pieces of the OHV barrier, concrete, and plenty of tools. Rob (in red) is the one who designed and welded the pieces to be assembled in the field.

Power auger for the holes

Power auger for the holes

Max works the power jackhammer

Max works the jackhammer

Holes are dug and the big barrier piece is in

Holes are dug and the big barrier piece is in

Mixing concrete

Joe and Tom mixing concrete

It had taken a long time to get out to the site, so we worked until the last light getting the gate and barrier set in concrete so that it could cure overnight. The unseasonably mild evening was spent by the fire swapping stories and listening to music courtesy of Max and his guitar.

Continuing to work until the last light is gone

Continuing to work until the last light is gone

Looking north  toward The Spine at sunset

Looking north toward The Spine at sunset

The next day, we finished up the gate and OHV barriers and then constructed a small reroute that helped avoid an unnecessary roadwalk up the canyon and back. We brushed the route back and then built three-foot cairns to lead the way.

Building the reroute

Building the reroute

Chris shows the test of a well-built cairn

Kris shows the test of a well-built cairn

"Laddie-sized" cairns three feet high

“Laddie-sized” cairns three feet high lead the way

Short reroute with new cairns and carsonites

Short reroute with new cairns and carsonites

Here’s the finished gate and OHV barrier:

Finished ATV barrier in the unnamed canyon one mile east of Walnut Canyon

Finished OHV barrier in the unnamed canyon one mile east of Walnut Canyon

Joe, Tom, Chris, Max, Steve, David, Sirena, Shawn, and Lee at the fancy new gate

Joe, Tom, Kris, Max, Steve, David, Sirena, Shawn, and Lee at the fancy new gate

New gate in Walnut Canyon

New gate in Walnut Canyon

I was glad that my work event was a success, most of my crew were from the Crazies and their expertise certainly helped. A big thanks to the BLM and the crew!  Before we could relax, we had the long, slow, bumpy drive back out to AZ 177. This has always been one of my favorite parts of the Arizona Trail and I am excited to be a steward for many years to come. There’s always trailwork to be done, so if you’re interested in volunteering on an event, check out the Arizona Trail Association event calendar.

In Wildlife Rehab news, I have been taking quite a few birds out to test their flight capabilities to see if they are ready for release. It is exhilarating and more than a little scary taking the larger birds. I got a talon to the finger through my gloves this summer and it was extremely painful. I have taken Great Horned Owls, Red Tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, and the other day I took a Turkey Vulture out to see what it could do. Click the button below to donate to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson!

Read Full Post »

Sirena contemplating the desert splendor- photo by Wendy Lotze

I think the best way to start out the year is with a big hike. My husband, on the other hand, likes to start the year out with football. For years, we’ve spent New Year’s Eve together and then gone our separate ways on the first. More often than not, I just go for a dayhike, but this year I wanted to start things out with something a little more ambitious. 35 miles of Arizona Trail on Passage 16 and 17, much of which has been built since I finished hiking the trail in 2009. At the Arizona Trail completion ceremony, I’d salivated at the thought of all those miles of fresh AZT and now it was time to see the (almost) finished product. One caveat- Passage 16 will not officially be open until February 2012, but I’d gotten permission from the powers that be to hike through at the completion ceremony. Until it is officially open, ASARCO has large drilling equipment on the last two miles into Kelvin. The drilling road will be reclaimed down to singletrack before it opens.

Picketpost Mountain

My hiking partner Wendy and I met our shuttle at the tiny town of Kelvin along the Gila River off Highway 177. Rick and Jerry provided ample amusing banter on our way up to Picketpost Trailhead. We stopped in at the Copper Mountain Motel so that I could meet Troy, the manager who had helped set up our shuttle. Troy is the new manager and very enthusiastic about the hikers that come into town using the Arizona Trail and Grand Enchantment Trail. The AZT and GET run concurrently here so you get a long-distance hiking twofer. We finally made it over to Picketpost and got hiking at noon. The first thing we realized was that it was hot! Quite the weather for the first of the year- I immediately got out my umbrella. There were a lot of folks out for a hike under the giant monolith of Picketpost Mountain. We hiked for all of an hour before getting hungry and sitting down to eat lunch. The views north toward   the Flatiron, Ridgeline and Weavers Needle in the Superstitions were fantastic. Here’s a video:

Photo by Wendy Lotze- click to enlarge

The rest of the day had us swooping south on singletrack- this trail is very obviously built with mountain bikers in mind. We saw hikers, bikers and equestrians- all the users of the AZT represented. We only went six miles before reaching a saddle with a great view and decided to call it a day. We spent a while wandering around camp and watching the sunset on Picketpost and Ajax Peak. It was unseasonably warm but windy as we had one of my favorite trail meals- cheese fondue. Wendy turned in early and I stayed up for a while, watching the moonlight on the desert and getting some quality dance time in.


Ajax Peak to the right and a healthy stand of saguaros

It had been a day of reflection and reminiscing about the last time I was here in April of 2008. It seemed like another lifetime ago. It was only my fourth backpacking trip ever and one of my first pieces of the Arizona Trail. Back then I thought of the AZT as something to complete, to check off a list and probably move on. Now I see that it is the gift that keeps on giving- since finishing my hike I have revisited numerous pieces of the trail and probably will for the rest of my life. I never would have imagined that my love for the trail would turn into my job at the Arizona Trail Association working with the Gateway Communities.

The next morning we knew we had a lot of miles to do with not a lot of daylight to work with. The trail steward had told us that the whole passage was 35-36 miles, so in theory it meant two fifteen-mile days. More on that later. Our first matter of business was water. A friend had put a cache for us by the Gila River, about 15 miles away, but we were hoping to find water at Trough Springs, near the crossing of FR 4. Thankfully the trough was full and the spring was dripping.

Good morning Picketpost!

Sirena hits the AZT- photo by Wendy Lotze

Micro Chicken aka "Mike" visits Trough Springs on his first backpacking trip

The rest of the passage was all singletrack that had not been built when I hiked this part of the Arizona Trail in 2008. Wendy and I marveled all trip at how wide the tread and how gentle the grade of the trail was. After the spring, we entered this area under Ajax Peak that we called “The Valley of the Mutant Shrubs”. There were giant Crucifixion Thorn bushes, Sugar Sumac, and massive mesquites with the saguaros at 3500 feet. I was excited to see that there was the occasional juniper- there is no better smell.

Giant Ephedra, HUGE graythorn and massive sotols - all of this awaits you in the Valley of the Mutant Shrubs! -photo by Wendy Lotze

The trail gently switchbacked out of the valley up to a saddle where we got views of the snow-capped Pinals to the northeast, the Galiuros to the southeast, and the Spine and White Canyon Wilderness. Even the white tops of the Pinalenos were visible. There was an incredible amount of mountain lion, bobcat, and bighorn sheep scat on the trail all through these two passages.

Wendy at the saddle

After the saddle, we said a final farewell to Picketpost and switchbacked down past an attractive striped wall and up to another saddle with a gate that marked the end of Passage 17.

Striped Wall

Looking back across the valley at the striped wall and the trail coming down from it

I could see the newly-built trail snaking its way through the canyon heading south and could barely wait to see the newly-named Gila River Canyons passage. Here’s a video:

The new trail did not disappoint. I lost count of how many times I said “This trail is so nice! So fancy!” It was a wide bench through steep slopes with attractive rock formations and views of rugged Martinez Canyon.

Quite the rock formation


Looking into Martinez Canyon

And then it got even better- we reached a saddle where we could see all the way south to the snow-covered Catalinas with the trail winding through the jagged peaks below. The best part of the Arizona Trail is seeing something like the Catalinas way in the distance and knowing you could walk there if you just had enough provisions and time. Or if you really wanted to, you could just keep hiking north to Utah or south to Mexico. It makes being on the AZT that much more special than an ordinary trail, that feeling of being part of a larger thread that connects you to the rest of the state.  I wished that we could drop our packs and sleep right there, it would be a spectacular camp. The trail stayed high, climbing westward beneath a  cliffband before turning south.

Excited about the fresh AZT- Photo by Wendy Lotze

Spectacular views south

Evening light

The trail swooped back and forth to descend the canyon at a most civilized grade and “Dale’s Butte” came into view. This is an unnamed butte that the ATA is trying to get renamed for Dale Shewalter, the founder of the Arizona Trail. The AZT spends quite a bit of time with this attractive formation and we could see the shadow the butte cast upon the mountains as the sun was setting. We were running out of light and in true AZT fashion, it looked like we had some bonus miles to contend with. (The 2 passages ended up being 39 miles, not 35) We happily night-hiked toward the Gila River, making camp where Rincon-Battleaxe Road crosses the AZT. Wendy was in charge of dinner and made a delicious Pizza Ramen.

Shadow of Dale's Butte

Dale's Butte

Table Top

I didn’t get a great shot of it in the light, so here’s one from bikepacker and fellow AZT enthusiast Scott Morris:

Photo by Scott Morris

The next morning, we ate breakfast warm in our sleeping bags and got an early start. We were still about two miles short of our water cache and the trail immediately came to the Gila River. Surprisingly, there was still “fall color” on the cottonwoods and walnut trees, even in January. The well-groomed path followed the river and surrounding flatlands and was a nice mellow walk. The wet December had sprouted green grasses and wildflower seedlings everywhere. We reached our cache, driven in on a very rough 4wd road by people working to finish the trail last month (thanks, guys!).

Minor AZT roadwalk to the Gila

Along the Gila

The Rincon

We could see The Rincon and the White Canyon Wilderness (where the previous route of the AZT went) to the north. I have to admit that I had been a bit skeptical about how I’d like the new passage because I enjoyed the 2008 route through the White Canyon so much.

There were mining drill holes and some old mining equipment near our cache and after a break to rehydrate we continued contouring along the Gila. I’d been told by the people that did the trail construction that they were looking for people using the trail to help take all the flagging out. Wendy and I amassed a collection of pin flags and many colors of flagging tape in varying levels of disintegration from the numerous trail alignments that had been marked over the years. There’s still plenty left, so if you’re using the trail, please take some flags out with you. The Spine came into view along the banks of the Gila River:

As we hiked toward Walnut Canyon, I wished we were going to be seeing the Artesian Well on this trip. It is one of the great losses of the new route. There was a bit of two-track along the Gila and then it was back onto fancy benched singletrack again. We finally reached The Spine and contoured along both arms through boulder fields high above the river.

The path of the old route was up Walnut Canyon

Trail along the base of The Spine

After The Spine, the trail winds away from the Gila to give views of a nice horseshoe bend on the river. This would be a spectacular place at the height of the fall colors. Finally, we reached the trestle bridge and took one last break along the river before the trail climbed up to the viewing platform where the completion ceremony took place.

Horseshoe Bend of the Gila

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker- the DS stands for Dale Shewalter, the founder of the Arizona Trail

There was a beautiful sunset as we made the climb, and then we called our spouses to tell them not to worry about us because we still had a couple of miles to go in the dark (again) to get to our vehicle in Kelvin. Even though our feet were sore, our spirits were high as we walked the ASARCO road that will become the trail when it is reclaimed later this month. From Picketpost to Kelvin ended up being 39 miles, not 35. Embrace the Arizona Trail bonus miles. It felt good to do some high-mileage days and cover a bunch of spectacular Sonoran desert.

Sunset and we still have a couple miles to go

Wendy and I made a stop in Kearny at Old Time Pizza because I had to speak to Gary, the owner, about scheduling an Arizona Trail presentation there and he hooked us up with all sorts of tasty food. What a way to spend the first three days of the year! Wendy and I had a blast- it is a rare thing to find someone with a similar backpacking style and pace (and who shares my love for gourmet homemade trail snacks). She also has built trail and could appreciate why I was geeking out the whole time about the impressive construction techniques used on these passages. This trip has inspired me to hike the rest of the pieces of the Arizona Trail that have been built since 2009. Click below to see the full set of pictures from our trip.

Arizona Trail- Picketpost to Kelvin

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, I am starting to plan the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser, coming sometime this spring. Last year’s event was a lot of fun and raised $1000 for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I’ll be sure to post as soon as I have the date confirmed. Here’s an Eared Grebe in its winter plumage. Below are the much fancier colors it dons for the summer season.

Eared Grebe (winter)

Eared Grebe (summer)

Read Full Post »

Aravaipa near Javelina Canyon

After my backpacking trip that turned into a dayhike on the Palisades Trail, I was ready to try again. This time I wanted to go somewhere that I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a ton of water around in the middle of the summer. One of my favorite places to go that always has water is Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, near Mammoth, AZ. I haven’t been to Aravaipa since December of last year when I went to see the fall colors (yes, fall colors happen as late as December in southern Arizona!). At the time, there was ice on the water and I had to use fancy neoprene socks to stay warm. This trip would be the complete opposite. On August 24th as I drove to the western trailhead, the radio warned of record high temperatures all over southern Arizona. I got a later start than I would have liked, partially because I had to tend to three quail, an oriole, and a cottontail rabbit that I was going to release on the drive over. All the babies of the early summer are growing up and getting released from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- it’s one of my favorite parts of volunteering there.

At 9am, after signing in as the first person there in three days, I finally got going on the short trail that leads down to the creekbed. My friend Wendy was originally going to join me, but something came up last-minute, so I’m solo in Aravaipa once again. It would be nice to share this beautiful place with someone else someday. As soon as I reached the water, I soaked my head, bandannas, and my long-sleeved cotton shirt. I chose the cotton one instead of the synthetic because the only way I was going to be comfortable in 100+ degree temperatures is if I stayed wet all day. Right away, I saw a small deer walk out into the middle of the creek and lay down on a gravel bar close to two Great Blue Herons who were chasing each other down the canyon. The water was a little turbid from the recent rains, which made it tough to see the rocks underneath when crossing or walking in the stream. Hiking in Aravaipa is like a long balancing act- the ground is rarely even and the rocks you walk on could shift out from under you at any time.

Deer in the stream

Soon, the two herons found a third and a Zone-Tailed Hawk flew right in front of me, crossing the canyon. I don’t know what I would do without my hiking umbrella. It is a key piece of gear for summertime, and would serve a very important entertainment purpose later on in the trip. I took my time hiking upstream, taking breaks in patches of deep shade. There were several large murky pools that were able to be bypassed once the walls of the canyon steepened. I found a great big cottonwood at around noon to eat lunch and drink some gatorade. There was a nice campsite area right before the creek takes a big curve to the north that was in shade for most of the day. I took a nap and around 2:30 decided to move on toward Horse Camp Canyon. I passed by one of my favorite views in the canyon and came to another murky pool in the narrows near Javelina Canyon, about three miles in. Only there was no going around this 20 foot long pool- the canyon is quite narrow at this point and the water went from wall to wall. I took my backpack off to test the crossing depth. The water was eerily warm and the bottom of the pool was slippery mud and I stopped once the water reached my shoulders. I backed out and tried another line through the pool, but it was just as deep and slippery. By now dark clouds were starting to mount and I realized that retreat was probably the most prudent course of action.

Pool that stopped my progress

But before going back the way I’d come to find a campsite high above the creek, I had to take advantage of this giant pool in front of me. I got out my green floatie and floated the pool for a bit before the combination of the heat and the low rumbles of thunder made me get out. I hiked back, looking for a good place to camp, eying up all the piles of flood debris caught up high in the branches of trees. I found a spot that would have morning shade and a view of my favorite rock formations. All afternoon and evening, there was the threatening sound of thunder, and later on it was paired with flashes of lightning from several directions. In Aravaipa you only see a slice of the sky, so I was hoping there was nothing too intense going on upstream. I enjoyed Heinrich Harrer’s The White Spider about climbing the North Face of the Eiger, a fascinating read. It was incredibly hot and buggy out, but still enjoyable. That is, until I tried to go to sleep inside my tent. I had to keep the fly on because of the thunder and lightning, and it made conditions inside awful. I could barely sleep and tossed and turned all night. I got up a bunch of times and read of icy cold bivouacs on the North Face attempts and wished that I too could be just a little cold. Maybe just enough to put on a fleece. Or enough to sleep. That would be so nice. After all the sound and light show it only drizzled for an hour in the middle of the night.

Camped with one of my favorite views in the canyon

I was up early the next morning and spent some leisurely time in camp reading and writing. Writing in my journal is one of my favorite activities when I’m backpacking and I wrote for hours. Aravaipa is part of the Grand Enchantment Trail and I wished for the millionth time that I could take a vacation to complete the trail from Safford to Albuquerque. Someday. I had chosen well and my campsite was shaded until 9:30 am, when I hiked back to the deep pool that had stopped my progress upcanyon yesterday. It had been murky, warm and uninviting yesterday, but today I was excited to have such a big pool to play in. The pool was in shade for quite a while. I explored around and found the shallowest crossing point along the rock wall on the left of the canyon (if you’re coming from the West trailhead) past the rectangular pool. Even that one was chest-high on me. I blew up the floatie and paddled around for a while until I realized that there was a breeze coming down the canyon. At the beginning of the summer, Wendy and I were floating in Sabino Canyon with our umbrellas and realized that you can catch the breeze and use the umbrella as a sail! I had the perfect setup and did it several times, totally cracking up every time. Then I realized that my tripod had made it into my pack at the last minute yesterday and I could make a video of it. Enjoy:

I shot some videos and then rode the wind in my floatie over and over again.  Good times. After the pool was in full sun, it was too hot to float so I packed up and started making my way back downstream. I returned to the place I’d taken a long break under the cottonwood tree and enjoyed the shade, relaxed, and read for several hours. It was overcast and cooler in the middle of the day than it had been the night before. I was really sad that my camera zoom was malfunctioning, it had probably gotten sand in it the night before. There were these really colorful Greater Earless Lizards running around, doing push-ups and I went to take a picture of one without my beloved zoom. I moved closer and closer, shooting pictures, and to my surprise the little guy let me put my camera right in his face and I got the most fantastic close-up!

Colorful Greater Earless Lizards

Thanks for the pose!

As the afternoon wore on, the rumbling of thunder increased to the west, but I never ended up getting rained on. I ducked into Hell’s Half Acre canyon to take a look and then continued westward. The last mile of the hike always takes longer than I think it will. I have a little habit upon reaching the exit trail to take one last break with my feet in the creek before heading out. I reached the parking lot at 4:30pm, feeling completely rejuvenated after some alone time in this achingly beautiful wilderness.

Hell's Half Acre Canyon

I love contemplating the flood that placed that log up there.


In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, baby ringtail is growing nicely and is a riot to watch run around her cage. Here she is sniffing the owner of the rehab Janet Miller’s head:

Baby Ringtail

Also, some jerk recently dumped a litter of 4-week old kittens on the wildlife rehab property. Fortunately we were able to find homes for them, but until we did, part of what we had to do as volunteers was play with the kitties so they got socialized.

Not wild, but still cute!

Read Full Post »

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


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!

Read Full Post »

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa. The mere name gives me butterflies and mentally transports me to that lush riparian wonderland. I have been trying to work in a trip to see the fall colors, but only had the time to go for a dayhike.  I knew I was going to have backpacker’s disappointment when it was time to turn around and head back rather than set up a comfy camp and have another day there. Oh well, a dayhike in Aravaipa is certainly better than no hike at all.

In the days leading up to my hike, Tucson had been experiencing some chilly nights below freezing. I had heard about waterproof socks that would help keep my feet dry and warm, so I went to Summit Hut and shelled out $35 for some Sealskinz socks. I admit, I balked at the price at first, but I can tell you  now that they were worth every cent. And while we’re on the topic of shopping, I’d like to encourage everyone who is shopping for gifts to shop local. There are so many unique and wonderful places to explore in Tucson and the money stays in the community. (getting off soapbox…) Another favorite place of mine to get gifts is Bohemia, a place jam-packed with great pieces by local artists.

Anyway, back to hiking. The low in the area the previous night had been 26 degrees, but I thankfully woke up to much milder temperatures. It was a balmy 42 degrees when I left my house at 8am. I love how close Aravaipa is to my house- 60 miles exactly. I passed the Abe White Bridge on Aravaipa Road and wondered once more who he was and why such a teeny tiny bridge?

Who is Abe White and why does he get such a tiny bridge?

Well, I googled old Abe and this is what I found:

Besides sheep and cattle, goats were also raised in Aravaipa Canyon and at Dripping Springs. In 1920, the Abe White family moved from Silver City, New Mexico, to Aravaipa. During the trip, Abe drove a Ford Model T car, his 11-year old son Lawrence herded 17 head of horses, and Abe’s wife and aunt each drove a wagon. One mare gave birth to a colt along the way, so the colt rode in the Model T. The family had angora goats in New Mexico and soon had a herd of 3,500 at Aravaipa, where they continued to raise goats until about 1950.

From Oracle and the San Pedro River Valley by Catherine H. Ellis. Click here for the Google books page, complete with pictures of him, his son, and his goats. It was so easy to get things named after you back then- all you had to do was own land somewhere, run some goats,  give a colt a ride in a car, and the names would follow.

After a nice chat with a man who had driven out to the trailhead, but didn’t have enough time to go hiking (a fate worse than a dayhike!) I started down the trail at 10:15 am. I reached the first crossing and braced myself for the water- there were still patches of ice in the shady parts of the creek. Thanks to my fancy new waterproof socks, I felt nothing unpleasant at all. Combined with my usual Aravaipa garb of knee-high gaiters to keep the gravel out, my pants barely even got wet. Sometimes it’s all about the right piece of gear. The cottonwoods had not totally changed to gold, but the sycamores were perfect.

Starting out


Cacti clinging to the rock

Golden leaves

This trip marks my fourth to Aravaipa this year. I had never been here before April, when I hiked from the west to the east end and back as part of my Grand Enchantment Trail hike. I was immediately smitten and came back twice in the summer- once in June and once in September. Those trips were very different from this one, in the summertime I dunked myself into any pool available and poured buckets of water over my head to keep cool. This hike, I was very careful not to take an icy plunge.  I passed the first side canyon, Hell’s Half Acre, and turned into it to explore. It doesn’t go very far, but is definitely worth a look. There is a massive rockjam in the canyon that is really incredible and prevents further passage. On my Royal Arch trip, I acquired a tripod that had been left at Elve’s Chasm and today was the first hike I’d remembered to take it on. Here’s a movie with me actually in it (email subscribers click below to watch):

Opposite Hell's Half Acre Canyon

Hell's Half Acre Rockfall

I continued upstream, keeping my eyes open for wildlife and sloshing happily along. There is no official trail in Aravaipa, but there are usually two choices: hike in the creekbed or on the use paths next to the creek. These use paths shortcut meanders and sometimes veer quite a distance away from the creek. Many of these are marked by cairns or pretty well beat in. I have the same dilemma every time I go: I enjoy walking in or as close to the creek as possible at all times, but am often tempted away by these paths. I veer off and soon it is dry, rocky, choked with log jams and I can’t hear the creek anymore and wonder why I didn’t just stay in the creek. Happens a couple of times every visit. Here’s a video of the fall colors:

I made it two hours into the canyon where a prominent dry fall with a large cave at the bottom of it comes into view on the north wall. There is a campsite up the sandy hill with a view of the cave and and cottonwoods. I had to be back in Tucson for a meeting at 6pm, but for a couple of hours, I could pretend I was hanging out at camp.The first picture in the post is from my “camp”.

Approaching the cave with the large dryfall

I wrote in my journal, ate my lunch, listened to some music and played with the tripod. Too soon, my time was up and I had to head back to the car. I passed a family on my way out who were suffering with cold feet who looked with envy when I told them about my waterproof socks. I also passed a couple heading in for a backpacking trip, now it was my turn to be envious. The hike downstream always goes faster than the hike upstream, so I took a little time to explore some gorgeous stands of sycamores along the creek.

Rust-colored sycamores


Sycamore tunnel along the creek

I love this place and can’t wait to come back. Maybe next time I’ll bring someone else along, all of my trips have been solo and it seems like it would be a fun place to enjoy with someone else.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a young Prairie Falcon with a hurt wing that came in last week.

Young Prairie Falcon

Read Full Post »

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


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


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.


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.


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: