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

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

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

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

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

Elfie the Elf Owl

Elfie the Elf Owl

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

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

Fancy!

Fancy!

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

Big Saddle

Big Saddle

Rincons Sunset

Rincons Sunset

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

So cold but so good!!

So cold but so good!!

Manning Camp

Manning Camp

Sunset on Rincon Peak

Sunset on Rincon Peak

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

Italian Spring Panorama

Italian Spring Panorama

Wonderful Rock Formations

Wonderful Rock Formations

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

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

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

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

Kean Brown's retired horses from the Bellota Ranch

Kean Brown’s retired horses from the Bellota Ranch

Hiking to the saddle

Hiking to the saddle

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

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

Me and India

Me and India

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

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

Wilderness of Rock

Wilderness of Rock

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

Above the West Fork

Above the West Fork

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

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

Camp in the West Fork

Camp in the West Fork

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

Delphinium

Delphinium

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

India enjoying the Catalinas

India enjoying the Catalinas

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

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

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

Micro Chicken rides Mini Donkey at the cabin in Summerhaven

Micro Chicken rides Mini Donkey at the cabin in Summerhaven

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hill That Felt Like A Mountain

Agua Caliente Hill Trail

Agua Caliente Hill is one of those places that I’ve always looked at and thought “I’ve got to get up there someday”.  It is 5369 feet high and nestled between the Catalina and Rincon mountain ranges on the east side of the Tucson valley. It can be seen from many hikes in the area and I knew that the views would be incredible from up top. I also knew it would take some effort to get there, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gain and a round-trip distance of about 9 miles. Effort that I wasn’t sure I wanted to expend when I woke up this morning. I’d worked late the evening before and was considering scrapping plans for the hike in favor of something more leisurely. But a quick glance at my calendar and the realization that I have several strenuous hikes planned that I need to train for got my butt moving, albeit slowly. I knew if I could just get myself on the trail that I’d be happy that I did.

I started hiking at 11:20 am (better late than never), looking forward to an area that I haven’t yet explored. Is there anything sweeter than fresh trail? I think not. The trail climbed almost immediately, switchbacking to attain the ridgeline. I was kind of tired, but told myself I might as well get used to the climb- I had 4.5 miles of ascent ahead.

Ridgeline views of the Rincons

Thankfully, the trail started out gently- the climbs were interspersed with flats on the ridgeline and the trail dipped into drainages, breaking up the ascent. The views from the ridgeline were great and I knew I’d made the right choice by going on a hike today. The first drainage had a skanky-looking, scummy green cattle tank in it called Cat Track Tank. This being national forest rather than wilderness, grazing is allowed. After crossing a couple more drainages, the trail climbed toward a saddle and the junction with Forest Road #4445. There was a gnarled, old saguaro at the junction and a great view of the Catalinas.

Peak 4778 in the distance

Drainage that contains Cat Track Tank

Gnarled Saguaro at the junction with FR 4445

At the saddle, which is at 4000ft, Forest Road #4445 dives toward Agua Caliente Canyon, while our trail #46 continues- you guessed it- climbing. The trail skirts Peak 4778, then levels out for one last, joyous stretch before you have to pay the piper to get to the top.

Summit (on right) is still a ways away

A mercifully flat part before the final big climb- Bassett Peak in the Galiuros in the distance

I could see the Galiuros and the snowy top of the Pinalenos to the east, and the Arizona Trail south of Molino Basin and the Bellota Ranch in the valley below. Here’s a video:

It was here that I made a mistake. By this time it was 1:10 pm and I had only had some yogurt for breakfast and a handful of trail mix at the junction. What I should have done was stop and eat my sandwich that was in my pack before continuing on. Instead, I thought, “It’s less than a mile to the top- I’ll just eat lunch when I get to the summit”.  0.7 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain left to go on an empty stomach makes for some unpleasant hiking and I bonked shortly after starting the final climb. I should have known better. One of the first hiking tips I ever remember learning is: No Food- No Fuel- No Fun. The summit now seemed so far off, like one of those dreams where you’re running and running (or hiking) but the goal keeps getting further and further away.

Still, there was no way I was going to come this far and not make the summit. I stopped to eat some snacks, but by this time it was too late to give me much energy. Of course this was when the trail went from a nicely-manicured and graded path to really steep, loose, and rocky. Ugh.

Steep and Rocky

It took everything I had to drag my sorry ass up the rest of that hill. At times I literally sat down in the middle of the trail to regain my energy.

Looking back toward the Catalinas and Tucson Mtns.

The last push was interminable, and I slogged upward, paying attention only to my feet, trying not to look at how far up ahead the summit was. (it was never closer than I thought, just disappointingly farther) It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating till there was no more trail left. The last 0.7 miles took me 40 exhausting minutes, but I finally reached the summit.

I made it!

The views immediately buoyed my spirits and I grabbed my sandwich (finally!) and dropped my pack for a lengthy break on the hard-earned summit of Agua Caliente Hill. And what views- 360 degrees of Sky Island goodness! Here’s a video tour of the summit:

There is a fire ring with a grill grate, for those who spend the night up here, and nearby I found the summit register under a pile of rocks. I settled in to eat lunch and read the summit register. It went back to 2005 and I can’t believe how many people I knew in the summit register! Hiking partners, people on my trail crew, and others. There were also the usual funny and insightful entries, like these two:

Fatty and Skinny

Summit Log Musings

Then I turned the page and saw an entry from December 2005 that stopped me in my tracks: Joe Domin, aka GPS Joe, who signed in with his hiking partner Gabriele, aka Sun_Hiker.

GPS Joe

I never met GPS Joe, but “knew” him from his many contributions to the hiking websites I frequent, HikeArizona.com and ArizonaHikers.com. GPS Joe went missing back in early November while hiking in the remote and wild Mazatzal Mountains, near Payson, and is yet to be found. My heart sank and my eyes welled up with tears. Joe has been missing now for 66 days as of this writing, despite incredible efforts to locate him. He went for a solo hike on November 8th without leaving an itinerary with anyone, and as a result, no one realized that he was missing until a week later. His vehicle was found at the Mount Peeley Trailhead, which gave a starting point, but didn’t help all that much because GPS Joe often went off-trail to bushwhack to remote peaks. An extensive Search and Rescue effort was mounted to try and find him, to no avail. Even though official Search and Rescue was called off after five days, the hiking community banded together and many hikers volunteered their time slogging through the thick brush and rugged terrain to try and locate him until snow finally made the area impassable. Such an unfortunate mystery and one that I hope will be solved soon. At least he went missing doing what he loved. I had a good cry for GPS Joe and replaced the summit register where I found it. You can read the HikeArizona forum thread on GPS Joe here.

While I was reading the summit register, I was visited by a very friendly Painted Lady butterfly who landed on my hand! I spent another hour wandering around the top of the hill, taking in the views and writing in my journal. I liked that I could see the path of the Arizona Trail south of Molino Basin, where I’d spent the night chasing the eclipse several weeks ago. Always the backpacker, I  wished that I was spending the night up here so I had more time to explore- it looked like there were several interesting bushwhacks that can be done from the top of the hill.

Friendly Painted Lady

I can see the Arizona Trail from here- click to enlarge

The hike down felt longer than 4.5 miles. The steepness of the last part before the summit was not much more fun to come down than up, and I was relieved when I reached the junction and the grade became more reasonable. My body still wasn’t too happy with me, even after eating lunch and I could tell I was more tired than usual because I was none too happy about the ascents out of the drainages on the way back. Finally, as the sunset painted the mountain with an orange glow, I reached my car. On the drive home, I listened to the memorial service for those killed in the shooting at the Safeway on the radio. I found myself crying for the second time today for the fallen as I drove home- what an emotional day it turned out to be.

Last glow at the trailhead

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, we got a Hog-Nosed Skunk at the rehab recently. I seem to have a soft spot for the stinky critters. We have four kinds of skunks in Arizona: Striped (the most common), Spotted, Hooded, and Hog-Nosed.

Hog-Nosed Skunk

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For the last two and a half years, every other Thursday I build and maintain the Arizona Trail with the Crazies. Our group used to be called the Summer Crazies, because we are the only Southern Arizona trail crew that works in the summer, no matter how hot it gets. Now, we are just known as the Crazies, because we work year-round building and maintaining the Arizona Trail, no matter what the weather.

Crazies building trail and gates in Las Colinas

One of the best parts of working with the Crazies is that their average age is 65 years old. We have one guy, Larry Schnebly (if you know AZ, yes, he is Sedona Schnebly’s grandson) who celebrated his 80th birthday working with the Crazies. As you can imagine, these guys have some stories to tell, and I love listening to them. Larry once told me about his transition from working in radio to working in  the “new medium” of television in Tucson in the 50’s. Fascinating stuff!

The Craziest Crazie (our leader, Lee Allen), is in his 60’s and thinks nothing of doing a dayhike up into the Rincons with over 4000′ elevation gain or an 18-mile dayhike:

Lee Allen heading for Rincon Creek

One of the other Crazies is Laddie Cox, leader of the Hit-and-Run Crew for the AZT. He was the second-oldest man to complete the 800-mile Arizona Trail, at over 70 years old! I tell you, these guys are inspiring and a testament to the benefits of staying active. You can see me, Laddie, Larry, and the other Crazies in this video from August done by Richard “Grodzo” Grodzicki in true Summer Crazies form at http://www.aztrail.org/reports/event_reports.html#090408

This week, we had a very exciting work event, our first in building a very important connector trail in Saguaro National Park. The hike in and out to the worksite was an adventure in itself. First, we met at Saguaro NP, and piled into 4wd vehicles for the ride to the access point, a rough 4wd off of X-9 Ranch Rd. We shimmied under our first fence, and soon heard Rincon Creek running with all the recent rains. Everyone took their shoes off to ford the chilly creek and the smarter ones brought sandals to avoid the sharp rocks in the streambed.

Fording Rincon Creek

I had some trashbags with me, but didn’t want to work with wet feet all day if they failed, so I took my shoes off for the crossing. Luckily, Lee had reminded everyone to bring something to wipe their feet with after the crossing, which led to this scene:

After the ford

The access to this area is longer than most, we had a 2 1/2 mile hike just to get to the worksite. We walked along an old roadbed towards Hope Camp. As we approached Hope Camp, we saw an Antelope Jackrabbit that was completely calm about 12 people traipsing by. He stayed in plain sight, even rearing up on his hind legs to eat something:

Antelope Jackrabbit

Jackrabbit rearing up on hind legs to eat

Hope Camp

We had to crawl under and over a couple of fences, but soon we were on a very well-flagged route through the desert toward our destination. We bypassed the easy-to-build parts so that an REI crew can come in and work this area on April 3rd. Finally, we reached the start of the trail that the NPS has been building and we were able to work the trail heading back to the south.

New trail appears- photo by Walt Tannert

The National Park Service has been building this connector trail for several weeks now, and I hiked up to see the new trail with my friend Mike Pratt, recently back from working in Afghanistan helping to train the police forces there. The new trail is through beautiful saguaro forests, and after it crosses a beautiful slickrock wash, has very well-built steps that help attain the ridgeline. We stopped to chat with the trail workers, one who was building a “spiral staircase” on the turn of a switchback. The Rincons were still enveloped in clouds, but he said if you looked upcanyon from the spiral staircase there was a really great waterfall in the distance.

Pools in the creek crossing on the brand new trail

Fancy steps put in by the SNP crew

The "Spiral Staircase"

On our way back we saw this unusual saguaro- it looked like a crested saguaro, but the crest was on one of the undersides of the arms instead of at the top.

Crest on a saguaro arm

The trailbuilding was made a lot easier by the dampness of the soil- much easier to dig out the trees and cacti in our trail. We built about 2/10 of a mile of trail today in about 3 hours of work-it may not sound like much, but we will be out there every other Thursday, and the tenths of a mile start to add up pretty quickly.

At noon, we started our hike back toward the vehicles- it’s amazing how much quicker the hike back is than the hike out. Along this stretch of the trail near Hope Camp, there are a lot of purple Santa Rita Prickly Pear cactus, even though we are in the Rincons, not the Santa Ritas!

Hiking back

And then it was back to Rincon Creek for one last ford- I gave my trashbags a try, they got me through with dry feet but definitely don’t work as well in rocky streams. After we forded the creek, it was a short walk back to the vehicles for the customary cookies and soda after working the trail.

Fording Rincon Creek

I can’t wait to go back to this area on the 25th- the clouds only began to clear toward the end of our workday- I bet this area will be even more fantastic with the snow-capped Rincons as a backdrop. If anyone is interested in joining the Crazies for trailbuilding, they can contact Lee Allen at janlee at dakotacom dot net.

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