Posts Tagged ‘Wildflowers’

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.



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


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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Poppies in January!

I have long admired pictures and trip reports from the canyoneering community. The landscapes are otherworldly and often contain two of my favorite things: swimming holes and waterfalls. In December, I took a Wilderness First Responder course and met Clint, who offered to take me on my first canyon. But first, I had to gather some canyon-specific gear- a wetsuit and special shoes with super-sticky rubber. The bright yellow-and-black 5.10 Canyoneers arrived without a problem, but the wetsuit was another matter entirely. I mean, really? I have to choose a skintight wetsuit to wear in front of people? When the one I ordered arrived, my husband said it reminded him of the Borg suit.

So after I gathered my gear, I contacted Clint and we planned to meet to do an all-day canyon in the Fish Creek area. I had some Arizona Trail work to do in Superior, so I drove up and camped on a dirt road off Hwy 88. I had an enjoyable evening camping, though it was quite windy. I was nervous and excited about the next day. It was an evening of reflection on the past because the next day was the 15-year anniversary of my accident. I was a 23-year old Anthropology student a couple of days into my last semester at the U of A and I was walking across the street one morning to get change to do laundry. As I was coming back across the street, a young woman driving a pickup truck turned out of the parking lot and hit me in the back. I’m told that I flew 4 feet up in the air before landing on the pavement, thankfully with no broken bones. However, instead of recovering from the accident, it led to me developing Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition, that I struggled with for many years before learning how to manage it.

When I was really sick, I used to look at the anniversary of my accident as an excuse to be even more depressed than I normally was, lamenting the passing of my healthy years. I had no idea at the time that my life was not in fact over, it was just on a different path than I had planned. Over the years as I got healthier and stronger, the anniversary of my accident would sometimes pass by without me noticing. Now, I looked at the 15th anniversary as a perfect day to try something adventurous and new- something that the old, depressed, and in-constant-pain me would never have imagined.

Sunset and agave

In the morning, I went to our meeting place just past the Fish Creek bridge. I was there by 8:45. I set myself up to wait, as Clint had said that his friends were sometimes a little late. I sat and read and waited for them to arrive. After an hour, I began to wonder. After an hour and a half, I realized that something had gone wrong somewhere and that I probably wasn’t going to be doing a canyon today. I hoped that everyone was okay, and as I had no cell reception in the canyon, I decided to drive up and see if anyone had left a message.

I had been looking forward to this for such a long time and I was pretty sad as I drove back toward Tortilla Flat. But not as sad as I was when I turned the corner and saw some parked cars next to a bridge. Somehow, in the morning I had driven right by the first bridge and had been waiting the whole time AT THE WRONG BRIDGE! I pulled over next to a black SUV that I thought belonged to my group, got out of my car and proceeded to throw a massive fit at the thought that I had been so close by the whole time- the other bridge wasn’t even a half-mile away! Thankfully there wasn’t anyone around at the time, so I was able to go full Italian with my rage. I scrawled a note to Clint with some indelicate language about how I’d been at the wrong bridge and left it on the black SUV. And then came the tears of disappointment as I as I made my way back to Tortilla Flat. I called my husband Brian, who helped calm me down and told me to go for a hike.

Wrong bridge!

I decided to suck it up and go check out the Boulder Canyon Trail near Canyon Lake. Pretty views of the Superstitions should pick me up a bit. There were many groups on the trail and about half of them saw my umbrella and thought they were being funny and original by telling me that there was no rain in the forecast. I was not in the mood. I barely noticed the ascent as I rage-hiked up the hill. Then I realized- I’m lucky to be alive, lucky to have my legs, lucky that I managed to control my fibromyalgia enough to be stomping up this hill at high speeds. As disappointed as I was, the canyon would be there. I took a break and watched a beautiful Red-Tailed Hawk make lazy circles above my head. Plus, the year’s first wildflowers were beginning to dot the hillsides- how could I be so mad when there’s the year’s first poppies at my feet?

Fairy Duster

There were fantastic views of the Weaver’s Needle as the trail hit a saddle. Another reminder of how far I had come. When I was really sick, a half-mile walk would give me excruciating pain for days. I never would have imagined that I could have climbed the Needle, but last year, I did it. I saw the Four Peaks and was thankful that I had the energy and stamina to traverse the range on the Arizona Trail. All these amazing things- but WHY DID I PARK AT THE WRONG BRIDGE! Even in my reflection, I still castigated myself for making such a silly mistake. I reached the highpoint of the trail and had lunch with fantastic views.

Weaver's Needle and the Battleship

Canyon Lake

I couldn’t calm down enough to relax, so I headed back right after eating. I saw another solo hiker and made some small talk. When I said I was from Tucson, he said that he and his wife were traveling and were wondering about Tucson. I’m always happy to help people figure out things to do in my town, so we ended up hiking together. His name was Ron and he and his wife were organic farmers from New York who had just sold their farm and were traveling full-time, looking for a new place to live. I told him how the story of how this was my consolation hike after missing my group this morning and was able to laugh about it. I enjoyed his company and it was a great pick-me up. Ron had been dropped off at First Water and needed a ride back, and I was happy to give him one. Along the trail, we realized that we were both half-Indian. His mom is German, Irish, and Native American and his dad is Punjabi (a region of India). My mom is Italian and my dad is from New Delhi. Pretty rare that I meet another half-Indian, especially since I moved to Arizona. I drove him to First Water, where his wife Kate was waiting. As she got out of the car, she said, “She looks just like your sister!”  I really enjoyed meeting Ron and Kate and we made plans to get together when they make their way down to Tucson.

Boulder Canyon Trail

My hybrid Indian brother Ron

So, I’d had a good hike, made a new friend, and my day was looking up. I drove back into town and finally got a hold of Clint. Went through the whole scenario again for him and had a good laugh about it. One of the best parts- I found out that the black SUV that I had left the note on did not, in fact belong to his friend. So some random person got a note filled with profanity from me. Hilarious. Clint felt bad that I had missed out, and offered to take me to a smaller canyon the next day before he had to go to work. Absolutely. I went over to his house and he gave me some instruction on techniques and I practiced setting up a rappel off the leg of his coffee table.

The next morning, we got to the parking area for Damocles Canyon so early that we had to wait for the light to hit the canyon. We had a short approach hike and then entered the streambed. There was some rock hopping and ledge walking and then we got to the first rappel. It was 15 feet onto a ledge and then a swim across a pool. We went our separate ways to change into our wetsuits- it was really cold and I hadn’t even gotten in the water yet! There was an anchor already in place and I set up the rappel and Clint downclimbed so that he could belay me from below. I felt pretty comfortable with the rappel. The water was so cold and I saw a small underwater ledge on the side of the pool so that I could walk while clinging to the wall so I didn’t have to swim.

Testing out my new sticky shoes

The next rappel had no anchor and Clint went over what he’d taught me last night about building my own. The rappel was 20′ into a pool- no getting around the swim this time! I set up the anchor and then practiced locking off so that I could downclimb into place to start the rappel.  The icy-cold swim wasn’t too bad and I warmed right up after getting out. Swimming in a canyon in January- I love Arizona!

Micro Chicken's first canyon too!


The remainder of the canyon we were able to avoid further swimming by doing rock climbing moves along the walls of the canyon. It was so much fun and over way too soon. I was kind of glad the way that it had worked out, getting the instruction at Clint’s the night before and starting out with a smaller canyon. It was a good way to get my feet wet, so to speak, and I can’t wait to go again!

I have kept in touch with Ron (who I’m calling my hybrid Indian brother) and he and Kate ended up leaving the night that I met them and told them about Tucson and have been camping here ever since. My husband Brian and I took them for a tour up Mount Lemmon the other day and had a blast. And I’d never met them if I hadn’t parked at the wrong bridge.

In wildlife rehabilitation news, the first bunnies began appearing as early as the poppies this year. I have also scheduled the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance benefit for Saturday, April 14th at Sky Bar, so mark your calendars! Music by the Railbirdz, hawks and owls from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, and bellydance performances- what’s not to like?

Palm-sized bunny season!

Also, a big thanks to the Sierra Club and Southern Arizona Hiking Club. I recently did presentations on the Arizona Trail and both these groups donated generously to my wildlife rehab fundraiser.

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I have been wanting to go to Sycamore Canyon in the Pajarita Wilderness, but since it is right on the Mexican border, for safety reasons I had to enlist a group to go with me. Bill Bens and his friend Ray, Lee Allen, and I met in Green Valley at 5:30 am for the long drive out. We were supposed to have another hiker with us but unfortunately this person (who shall remain nameless) forgot their hiking shoes and had to go home. Bummer.

The drive from Green Valley took a little under an hour and a half, but there were plenty of views to keep our interest. This was my first time in this area and it is full of rugged, gorgeous scenery.

Atascosa Mountains at sunrise- click to enlarge

Rock formations on the drive in

The start of the hike goes past some ruins from the Hank and Yank Civil-War era homestead. Once you reach the creekbed of Sycamore Canyon, there isn’t an established trail, but there are use paths that criss-cross the creek.

We are standing by the Hank and Yank ruins dating from the 1880's

Ray and Bill hike toward the canyon

First funky little hoodoo

Strange symbol painted on the rock

Sometimes it's easier to walk in the creek than on the brushy sides.

We reached the first pool which we bypassed on the right side:

The first pool- photo by Lee Allen

Lee and I go up and to the right of the first pool- photo by Bill Bens

A little more hiking and we reached a slot pool with steep sides. We determined that the water was over our heads and Lee and I swam through while Bill and Ray bypassed it on the right side.

The Slot Pool

The water was refreshing and I didn’t mind the swim- it was going to get warmer as the day went on anyway.

Interesting formations and striations

There was quite a bit of trash in a small stretch of the canyon. I had brought along trash bags, and we collected the Red Bull cans and other debris left by the drug runners who use this canyon at night. This would make a wonderful backpacking destination, but unfortunately it recieves too much traffic to be enjoyable.

Trash in the canyon

Sycamore Canyon opens up after about 3 miles- we found a spot for lunch before turning around and talked about coming back in the fall when the sycamores are changing color to hike the whole way to the Mexican border and back.

The canyon opens up

Interesting spires on the canyon walls

Ray, Lee, and Bill underneath one of the namesake trees of this beautiful canyon

Back near the slot pool

When we reached the slot pool again, I took a minute to inflate my floatie that has been coming along on all my swimming hikes, and we used it to make the trip across the slot pool easier.

Lee floats the slot pool

Nice pants. Photo by Bill Bens

Packing the floatie for transport to the next pool- photo by Bill Bens

We reached the large swimming hole that we’d bypassed on the way in, and stopped for a swim (or a float). We took a couple of pictures for my friend’s blog Doin’ the Wendy. The Wendy is an exuberant, arms-out pose that shows your enjoyment of the outdoors.

The green floatie- best $2 I've spent all year!- photo by Bill Bens

Bill does a Flying Wendy

A group Wendy

Garter snake

After a great swim, it was time to head back to the car. Even though it was the middle of the day, we got lucky with some cloud cover so our hike out wasn’t too warm.

Hiking back after our swim

Impressive spires

Lots of butterflies and wildflowers lining the creek

Monsoon clouds mounting in the afternoon

Right when we got back to the parking lot, we got a visit from two border patrol vehicles. The guys said “hide the brown girl!!” as they were driving up. (FYI- I’m Italian and Indian- that’s tech support Indian, not casino Indian) We told them that we’d collected a bag of garbage from a couple different encampments. I asked about the sensors in the canyon and they said “You’ve been watching too much Border Wars.” Whatever.

Atascosa Mountains on the drive out- Atascosa Lookout is on the left.

We made a stop for sodas on the way home and had an opportunity for one more picture:

One last Wendy for the road

What a beautiful canyon, I can’t wait to go back when the leaves are changing. For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser animal- I took a video of the baby spotted skunk from a couple of posts ago eating. So cute!

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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.


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Old Baldy Trail- Crest Trail- Foursprings Trail- Kent Spring Trail- Pipeline Route- Super Trail 12.1 mi/3750′ gain

Santa Rita Crest with Mt. Wrightson to the right

I have been doing a lot of hiking to swimming holes and waterfalls. Fun, but I have a big Grand Canyon trip coming up in a little over a month. I will be doing the Royal Arch Route for 6 days, then on the day I hike out from that trip, I will hike right back into the Grand Canyon to spend a week volunteering with the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds. 12 days of Grand Canyon splendor. I can’t wait! Now it is time to start some serious training. So today I loaded up my big backpack with a bunch of stuff and two extra gallons of water and set out to do a big loop in the Santa Ritas out of the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area (formerly Roundup)

I decided to take Baldy up because I figured going uphill on a trail I already knew would be a little easier. I had not been on the Baldy Tr. since right at the start of the monsoon on July 7th, and everything was so lush and green and there were tons of wildflowers, interesting fungi, and butterflies.

Western Dayflower

Sparkly iridescent bugs

Mexican Silene


Don't have an ID for this one

Bizarre Fungus

Tenacious Thursday Trekkers

I saw my only hikers just before Josephine Saddle, a friendly group from Saddlebrooke that do a weekly Thursday hike for many years now. After a short break to chat and snack, I continued up the Baldy Trail toward Baldy Saddle. After reaching Bellows Spring, I tried to make the 32 switchbacks above the spring go by quickly by counting each one as I hiked it. I cursed the extra weight in my pack and avoided the temptation to empty the extra water containers to lighten my load. This is a training hike, after all. I reached Baldy Saddle, but the climbing wasn’t done yet. I still had a climb up on the Crest Trail to attain the ridgeline. Finally it all paid off with the sweetness of views from high up on the Santa Rita Crest. I’d explored this trail a little on my trip in July, but now I got to hike the whole way to the Foursprings Trail turnoff.

Mt. Wrightson and Baldy Saddle

Colorful rocks and wildflowers by Mount Ian

My personal favorite spot for the day was Burnt Saddle. I have seen this spot from many locations and the views were incredible.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

Lots of insects, bees, butterflies, and ladybugs

So many unusual wildflowers!

I especially liked seeing Elephant Head (what a great hike that is!) jutting up from the western Santa Ritas. I took a long break at Burnt Saddle, and pondered bushwhacking downhill to Shovel Saddle, but I thought it might be better saved for a return trip. So I took the Foursprings Trail (it is not marked, just has a sign pointing to Armour Spring) down to Armour Spring and along the way, almost stepped on a tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake that was curled up right in the trail. It made me a little edgy because much of the trail was overgrown in this area.

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake

Wildflowers everywhere!

Rincon Mtns. in the distance

Huachucas to the southeast

Well, when I got done with all the overgrown extra up and down just to arrive at Shovel Saddle and see that there was a very clear path up to Burnt Saddle, I regretted my decision. Next time, I will definitely do the bushwhack, because Armour Spring was less than inspiring. There were three Red-Tailed Hawks soaring around and diving at each other and I took a break to watch their aerial acrobatics.

One of the Red Tailed Hawks

Shovel Saddle with Burnt Saddle just above

Wrightson comes into view again

The trail conditions improved greatly after Shovel Saddle and the trail quickly lost elevation on the side of the canyon. I connected with the Kent Spring Tr. and the singletrack changed to an old rocky roadbed that paralleled the creek. At the spot where an above-ground pipeline is visible crossing the creek, I took the Pipeline Route a short distance to the Super Trail and (finally!) was back at my car. It was a long day with a lot of elevation gain- I would have rather done this as a backpack and spent the night at the sweet site at Burnt Saddle. Especially since I was carrying a bunch of weight anyway…

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news: I’ve got an update on the broken-leg bunny and her offspring. Mom and babies are doing great and the babies are putting on tons of weight. To compare, look at these pictures taken only a week apart:

Bunnies at 5 days old

Bunnies at 11 days old

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