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Posts Tagged ‘Trail Maintenance’

I had been watching wildflower reports and my schedule for the right time to get away for three days on the Arizona Trail from Picketpost Trailhead near Superior to Kelvin. This 40-mile backpacking trip is one of my favorite pieces of the Arizona Trail in the spring because its dramatic rock formations and views look even better coated in poppies!

I met up with some friends from Superior who were kind enough to shuttle me to Picketpost. It was a gorgeous day after a couple days of rain. The visibility was fantastic and the air crisp and fresh. I got on the trail around 10:30 and saw many groups of equestrians out for a ride as well as a couple of hikers. My pack was loaded down with water and a pair of loppers so that I could do some trail work down by the Gila River. I am the Trail Steward of Passage 16c and I’d heard there was some brushy areas, so I came prepared to do battle with spiny plants.

Picketpost Mountain

Picketpost Mountain

The trail maintenance was a day and a half away, for now all I had to do was hike. I have done these two passages once a year for the last four years and still find it as exciting as the first time. There was water in places I hadn’t seen before, left over from the recent rains. The trail climbs up to what I like to call Stripey Butte Saddle, with great views toward the Pinal Mountains. I ran into a thru-hiker who was on the move, probably trying to make Superior before sundown. I love the views from this spot, but it was still early and I hiked on.

Stripey Butte Saddle

Stripey Butte Saddle

Blue Dicks

Blue Dicks

I filled up water at a cattle tank that was surprisingly clear and tasty. I had seven liters of water and one liter of coconut water as I hiked up to the saddle right before the gate that marks the “trailhead” between Passages 16 and 17. I use the term loosely, hardly anyone actually drives to this spot, the road in is beyond gnarly. I found a great spot for camp with views of Stripey Butte, the Pinals and the trail winding through the next canyon. An almost-full moon rose and illuminated my campsite so well that I didn’t need a light to write in my journal. It was a chilly, somewhat windy night but I had only gotten 5 hours of sleep the night before and woke up well-rested.

Sunset from my camp

Sunset from my camp

In the morning, I was taking my sweet time getting out of camp when Scott Morris and Eszter Horanyi rode up on their mountain bikes. Do yourself a favor and visit their blogs, they are always on some sort of fantastic adventure. They were using the AZT as part of a bikepacking weekend and were looking forward to going into Superior for Mexican food. We had a nice chat about wildflowers and such and they were on their way.

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Finally got hiking around 10 am, reached the “trailhead” and soon afterward found a pothole of water in a rocky spot on the trail. Being the desert hiker that I am, I stopped and filtered a liter to drink on the spot and refilled what I’d used the night before. It was 10 miles to the river and I wanted to be able to take my time- and time is water in the desert. The trail contours high above a rugged canyon, passing some spectacular rock formations and craggy peaks. Views opened up into colorful Martinez Canyon and then I reached the high saddle and took a break. I love this saddle, but it makes a bad campsite in the spring, it doesn’t get sun till really late and is a bit of a wind tunnel. Spectacular views though.

This is the "Trailhead"

This is the “Trailhead”

Fantastic Formations

Fantastic Formations

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Gila River Canyons

Gila River Canyons

The trail wound around some cliffs and then began the long drop toward the Gila River. I could see all the way to the Catalinas, 60 miles away as the crow flies. The wildflowers increased in variety and density as I descended, sometimes carpeting the whole hillside. I was giddy with delight! The trail goes by a notable spire with the unofficial name of Dale’s Butte, after the pioneer of the Arizona Trail, Dale Shewalter. It’s quite the landmark.

Penstemon

Penstemon

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale's Butte

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale’s Butte

This part of the trail always feels like it is so much longer than 10 miles to get to the river. The trail is great, just circuitous routing to keep a good grade. Near the river, I made a visit to Red Mountain Seep to refill my water. It’s only 0.3 miles up the wash from where the trail hits the river access and there is a blue collection bucket sunk into the ground if you follow the big cairns up the hill. It was a welcome sight, as it had taken most of my water to get there since I had taken so long with pictures and poppy-peeping.

Red Mountain Seep

Red Mountain Seep

I couldn’t resist a trip down to the Gila River to soak my feet and take a break. The river was so low that I could see a gravel bar that would make walking right across a piece of cake. Not the case all the time. After my refreshing break, I finally got my loppers and my gloves out and geared up to do some trail maintenance as I hiked. My criteria was, if it’s spiny and it’s going to hit someone in the face, it’s got to go. The cutting part went easy enough, it was grubbing the spiny chunks of tree away from the trail that was tough to do without getting all scraped up. I hiked and trimmed until the sun went down and then hiked with my headlamp for a bit until I found a home for the night. Much warmer this night since I had dropped 2000 feet in elevation.

Gila River

Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

The next morning, the Arizona spring wind kicked in and it howled all day long. It kept the temperature down, which was good. I continued my assault against spiny face-slappers as I hiked along, missing the days when I used to get out regularly to do trail work. I took a much-needed break at the river and rinsed some of the dust off. Which was immediately replaced by more dust. Unfortunately, my loppers were getting dull and it was getting infuriating, the blade gnawing at even small-diameter branches of catclaw. Even so, I got most of the big stuff along the river trimmed. The trail in my passage rolls up and down through drainages on The Spine- it is a marvel of engineering that created such a nice trail in such a rugged place. I saw my only person since seeing Scott and Eszter, the rancher from Battle Axe Ranch, out looking for his cows.

Gila River Campsite

Gila River Campsite

Stone Tool

Stone Tool

Battling spiny plants

Battling spiny plants

DSC01974

Battle Axe Rancher

Battle Axe Rancher

I passed the A-Diamond Ranch and the trestle bridge and climbed up to the completion monument that was placed when we connected the Arizona Trail across the state in December 2011. The DS carved into the cement stand for Dale Shewalter, pioneer of the Arizona Trail.

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Trestle Bridge

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker

Completion Marker

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

The light was fading and I ended up getting back to my car in the dark. It was a great end to a fantastic trip- wildflowers, solitude, trail work, jaw-dropping scenery- I am lucky to have such spectacular places to play in.

Arizona Trail Day and the Colossal Campout is less than 2 weeks away, on March 28th- come out for a full day and night of fun on the Arizona Trail! Register for the hike, mountain bike ride, or horseback ride (BYO Horse) and reserve your camping and meals at http://www.aztrail.org/trail_day/ccmp.html. The Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” veterans will be hiking into Tucson for Arizona Trail Day. We are very excited to have two veterans thru-hiking the trail for Warrior Hike this year.

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey and raptors from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson will be at Arizona Trail Day- hope to see you there!

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

AZTrailDay2015 CCMP

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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

Tarantula

Tarantula

Bikepackers

Bikepackers

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.

Washout

Washout

Armoring the washout with rocks

Armoring the washout with rocks

Careful when flipping rocks!

Careful when flipping rocks!

Filling it in

Filling it in

Fixed!

Fixed!

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.

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Baby Harris Hawk

Baby Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk

Harris Hawk

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