Posts Tagged ‘Passage 16’

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

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

Heading along the base of Picketpost Mountain

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


Heading out from Picketpost with the boys

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

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

Jay P, winner of the AZT 750

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


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

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

It was the right time for the Blackfoot Daisy

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

Strawberry Hedgehog Cacti Were Being Spectacular



Early Saguaro Blooms

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

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

The Gila Monster retreats


This dude was unhappy that we disturbed him...

This snake was quite unhappy with us

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

Our celebrity with Stripy Butte in the background

Sirena poses with Stripey Butte in the background


Sirena and Ed approach Dale’s Butte

Lovin' the pass!

A low pass above Martinez Canyon


The pillar of rock...so lumpy ;)

The pillar of rock…so lumpy 😉

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

In the land of giant saguaros



Mutant Shrubs

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

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

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

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

Took a nice long break by the river

Took a nice long break by the river


Who says the desert’s dead?!

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

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


Enjoying the Shade under the bridge

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

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


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


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

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


Girls on the Trail Again!

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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!

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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)

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Arizona Trail Completed- 817 miles from Mexico to Utah Kelvin, Arizona (December 16, 2011) – The ceremony was a small one but the occasion was monumental. The Arizona Trail, a continuous 817 mile path connecting from Mexico to Utah, was completed today. The ceremony was held high on a remote mountainside, overlooking the Gila River, in the White Canyon passage of the Arizona Trail, not far from tiny Kelvin, Arizona.

A beautiful spot high above the Gila River- photo by Mike Bieke

“This trail connects mountains, desert, rivers, and canyons- but what it really connects is people” said Arizona Trail Association president Emily Nottingham. Many agency partners and volunteers worked together to complete this path used by hikers, bikers, and equestrians.

Emily Nottingham, president of the Arizona Trail Association- photo by Mike Bieke

26 years ago, Flagstaff teacher Dale Shewalter walked from Mexico to the Utah border to scout out a route that would ultimately become the Arizona Trail. Shewalter died in 2010 but founding member of the Arizona Trail Association Jan Hancock said, “Dale’s spirit was felt today” Several long-time Arizona Trail supporters and activists constructed the final stretch of trail, followed by installation of a commemorative Bureau of Land Management brass cap monument set in concrete.  The newly-constructed passage will open for public use in early January.

Volunteers finish up the final piece of trail- photo by Mike Bieke

The commemorative brass cap- photo by Mike Bieke

The public, grand celebration commemorating completion of the trail will be held on February 4th, 2012 at the PERA club in Tempe, Arizona. Visit www.aztrail.org for reservations and details of the event. For more photos of the event, click below:

Arizona Trail Completion Ceremony

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser photo, we have a beautiful Peregrine Falcon. Donations help feed the hungry birds and small mammals at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson:

Peregrine Falcon

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