The Arizona Trail (AZT) is ~750-790 miles in length as it stretches from Utah to the Mexican border. The Arizona Trail corridor was developed to emphasize the wide range of ecological diversity, link public lands and mountain ranges, and to recognize historic sites throughout the state. The route Amity and I will be walking is essentially the Arizona Trail in its entirety, although we will be exploring some of our own cross-country routes along the way. Traditionally the AZT is hiked in the Spring, and in a Northbound direction. Amity and I will be hiking in the Fall, and heading Southbound instead. Re-supply on the AZT is quite convenient, and in typical long distance trail hiking fashion, we will be sending ourselves food along the way approximately every 4 days. This will help to keep our loads light, and more importantly make room for the ridiculous amounts of water (the elixir of life!) that we will be required to carry most of the time. According to the Arizona Trail Association 600 miles of the trail corridor has been officially “designated,” which means that supposedly there is decent signage and noticeable trail tread for 600 miles. I guess we will see if that pans out. So, that’s the AZT in a nut shell. To learn about the Arizona Trail, please visit the good folks at the Arizona Trail Association. www.aztrail.org.
Brian: We leave for the AZT tomorrow. Finally getting things wrapped up around the shop, and all personal loose ends are safely stowed in the overhead bin. Certainly not the level of anxiety for the AZT that I experienced before my PCT hike. Nice to know that experience does in fact settle the nerves and encourage confident and sure action. Of course, ignorance is also bliss, and maybe my confidence for the upcoming weeks is some smoke screen of sorts. I guess we will all find out when we arrive in Mexico, or when the vultures begin to circle and inspect our dehydrated carcasses. Time will tell. Anyway, expect the first trail updates around OCT 11, when we should arrive at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We will be starting out with an immediate detour from the AZT (a bit easterly) and will re-join the “official” trail near the North Rim. Our detour will allow us to explore some other areas that we anticipate will be infinitely more interesting than a BLM road walk….
Amity: I’ve got to say that I am really looking forward to this upcoming adventure. Once one does a little distance hiking, future trips just get easier and easier to assemble. This one has come together beautifully, in spite of the incomplete state of the Arizona Trail and daunting thoughts of impressively long waterless stretches. Today’s last minute project was sewing a pair of nylon pants with the full expectation that they very likely will get shredded through the course of the journey if reports of aggressive vegetation are to be believed. At least my legs will hopefully remain intact!
UTAH BORDER TO NORTH RIM OF GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK
Somewhere On The Paria Plateau
After arriving at House Rock Valley Rd just before dusk, Amity and I met up with my buddy Brandt for the second half of our shuttle to Wire Pass Trailhead. This is where we intended to begin our AZT hike…Buckskin Gulch which is often considered the longest slot canyon (~12 miles) in the world. Sadly, there was a very daunting puddle which we decided could not be crossed with Brandt’s van. Fortunately we had already formed a back up plan…head a bit east and start at the White House Trailhead of the Paria Canyon Wilderness. So, that is where our journey began at ~8am Thursday morning. Brandt spent most of the day hiking with us and his knowledge and stories of the region made the first 3 hours fly by. At this point we reached the confluence with Buckskin Gulch, dropped our packs and headed up canyon for a 2.0 hr side trip. Along the way we encountered all sorts of mud…jelly mud, bubbly mud, red mud, grey mud, and the king of all muds…quicksand! We all had a chance to momentarily sink to our knees, panic, and then muscle our way out of the muck. Although the allure of `the next bend’ had all of us wishing we had more daylight hours to work with, we finally headed back down canyon to the confluence, retrieved our packs, and found a sunny spot to have lunch.
My writing skills are such that I know for certain that I cannot give due justice to the Paria Canyon. My recommendation is to visit your favorite search engine and simply type in `Paria Canyon.’ The images you see will better explain what we saw during our time in the Canyon than my attempts to do so. Anyway, after lunch we continued downstream, walking in the actual river most the time. Eventually we came to `Big Spring’ and filled some of our bottles — ~2.5 gallons each for the remainder of the day, and for our supply for the next day across the Paria Plateau. Another hour after the spring, we came to our exit point…the Adams Trail. The Adams Trail is the result of an abandoned attempt of cattlemen to get their stock down to the Paria River from the Paria Plateau, ~2,000 ft above the canyon floor. The term `Trail’ should be used loosely, if at all, `route’ would be more applicable. As evening approached, we squeezed our way up a tight sandstone ramp until gaining a sandy, cactus covered slope which climbed straight up toward a cliffband.
Once at the base of the cliffband, we slowly picked our way through and up a talus field to a series of improved ledges. At times the ledges were no more than 8 inches wide, moderately exposed, and left me with the sense that the ranchers had a lot more work to do if cattle were ever going to make it down to the river bottom. After our arduous ascent, we quickly got to a high point and developed a general sense of our whereabouts and our direction of travel for tomorrow. As the night sky darkened, we found a nice sandy spot, slightly protected from the wind, to camp. The Milky Way is very visible, and besides the occasional airplane it is incredibly quiet. It has been awhile since I have seen a night sky as good as tonight…truly a `in-the-middle-of-no-where’ kind of sky…and at this moment I can’t think of a better place to be. Total hiking time for the day was ~11 hrs. Thanks for reading.
A spectacular day of novelty and variety, total calm and an occasional rush of panicked adrenaline. The day began with a walk down the Paria, a pleasant river stroll, as much in it as beside it. Once we reached the confluence with Buckskin Gulch we ditched our packs for a sightseeing trip up the canyon.
Down Buckskin we went, soon encountering large patched of jelly mud and quicksand, reminders of the recent flash flood. How exciting it was and how my heart raced as my legs were suddenly swallowed up to the knee with a feeling that nothing was supporting my feet. Panic, of course, only digs a person deeper. So calmly one pulls a leg out quickly followed by the next a sort of slow motion, deliberate running until one has regained firm ground.
Slot canyons are addictive places, drawing one on through play of light and simple curiosity. How many times we mentioned the passing of time and the words, “Time to turn around?” before we actually did so. Someone would inevitably reply, “Well, let’s just see what’s around the bend,” and who could disagree as the slice of bluest sky narrowed and widened above our heads and the walls rippled in black and then red and various fissures in the rock cast shadows in soothing patterns?
Narrow with knee/thigh deep water, mud often sucking at one’s shoes and then suddenly the canyon would open and a grove of trees and the invasive tamarisk would create a green jungle, a perfect bandit hideaway. And when all stood still, a quiet filed only with the musical play of water reminiscent of the Alhambra with its gentle fountains.
We returned to the Paria and on it wound, smooth wall amphitheaters to craggy tilted walls. With late afternoon we found the Adams Trail to take us out of the river canyon and onto the Plateau. The trail is a rough thing, laid into the cliff side requiring cautious footing and a comfort with heights.
Navigation by Dung – Across the Paria Plateau
We awoke early to get a good start on the day and immediately began to climb up to some higher country above our camp. Continual scrambling over sandstone ledges, and sandy slopes eventually got us into a dry wash which we could follow southeast. Eventually we climbed out of the wash and into the morning sun. Amazingly blue skies provided a stunning contrast to the surrounding sandstone. Generally we did our best to stay out of the sun, but obviously it was unavoidable across open desert country. Gaining a high point, we took a quick bearing and set off southbound with the intention of hiking across the entire plateau in one day (~23 miles). Normally 23 miles is nothing to cause concern, but as our entire route was cross-country travel and map and compass navigation, we anticipated a challenging day. Cattle used to be run pretty regularly on the Plateau so a number of cow paths provided us with relatively easy walking. Cows, like humans, are inherently lazy beasts and will generally take the path of least resistance. As long as the path was going along our bearing, we stuck with it. The other advantage to following the cowpaths was the off chance to find some water. We were carrying enough for the day, but anytime you find water in the desert it is best to drink up. The only real concern in following the cowpaths was petrified dung, or the tendency to get lazy ourselves and not pay attention to our compass bearing.
Around mid-morning, we came over small rise and noticed an old abandoned ranch house, juniper corral, water tank, and barn. We poked around for a few minutes but no artifacts of historical interest were found. Continuing southward, we followed an abandoned two-track up a slight incline to what appeared to be another corral. As we walked closer, the ground dropped away and a reservoir ~100 ft long, and 20 ft wide reflected the surrounding sandstone formations. Both of these discoveries surprised us as neither were marked on our map. Leaving the reservoir, we hiked SE along along an old two-track. Eventually we came to a recently tracked dirt road, and followed it briefly until we spotted the welcoming shade of large juniper tree and decided to stop for lunch. After lunch we continued on a southward bearing towards what we believed to be Middle Knoll. Occasionally Jackrabbits would dart from the underbrush. Other than the rabbits, an occasional lizard, or a soaring bird, the rest of the wildlife we saw consisted of their bleached bones. California Condors were at one time introduced to the Paria Plateau, but we did not see any.
Wandering southward again, and following the occasional cowpath, we wrapped around the eastern flank of The Big Knoll and took another bearing towards a distant ridge. At this point we were a bit confused as to our specific direction, as some map features just were not panning out when compared to the surrounding landscape. Despite our blossoming anxiety, we continued on a southwesterly bearing with the intention of ending up on the south rim of the plateau near our planned exit point before nightfall, and possibly locating one (of only two) possible routes through the Vermillion Cliffs. Once we dropped down into the lower country of the plateau, navigation difficulty increased significantly. Essentially no high points exist, and the juniper trees greatly decreased my line of sight. Both of these factors led to our increasing levels of uncertainty in regard to our exact whereabouts. As early evening crept in, we crossed a few sandy two-tracks and a barb wire fence. Regardless of these notable landmarks, our position was still uncertain. We had been walking nearly six hours since lunch with the anticipation of finding the plateau rim in half that time. It seemed that both Amity and I were less than enthusiastic with our situation, and our patience was growing short for each other, our route, and the day in general. Just before nightfall we stopped and found a decent camp spot.
Physically and mentally exhausted, I cooked my dinner, tended to my feet, and went to sleep. Little discussion in regard to our day or our route tomorrow took place. I was quite frustrated that we were unable to make it to the rim and began to question our ability to complete our alternative route as planned. Total hiking time: ~11.5 hrs. Thanks for reading.
I hope tomorrow is not a continuation of today and I almost wish I could wake up anywhere but here with the morning.
The day turned poor at aprox. 11:00 AM, soon after the delightful, unexpected discovery of an abandoned home and barn. Nearby was a stunning little lake pressed into the oddest hexagonally shaped pillowy grey/white rocks. A notable contrast to the standard red sandstone.
It was the “Red Knolls” that threw us and from which we have yet to recover in our cross country trek to the Vermillion Cliffs. Whether Little Knoll was Middle, or Middle was Big, or whether we had them all pinned perfectly is the question of the day. Either way, many miles later, our destination of Hancock Spring feels no closer and tomorrow’s journey is a question mark.
Thankfully we have enough water for the unexpected detour and in addition to the lake we have seen 2 stock pools – somewhat unappealing, but wet with as much as a foot of water, perfectly filterable if need be. Tomorrow will resolve the situation or crush us, depending on time and water. Today life is not at stake.
Two hopes for tomorrow: That we find the cliffs and a way down earlier rather than later in the day and that we both are better rested with better sense of humor for our situation.
Off the Rim, Through the Cliffs
After waking and packing up, we backtracked a little ways to a cattle pond I had noticed the evening before. Both of our dispositions were a bit sullen as we thought about the uncertainty of the day ahead. Once we had both filtered 6 liters apiece, we set out on a direct south bearing, hopeful to find the rim in a few hours. As it turned out, we walked to the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs in about 20 minutes. Immediately our moods improved and all of our anxiousness was swept away in a brief moment of relief. We set the maps out to try to orient ourselves with the landscape 2,000 ft below, and Amity headed east along the rim to try to seek out a possible decent route.
Amity returned in about 30 minutes with no good news. So, we switched roles and I headed east along the rim to see if I could locate one of two possible routes through the Vermillion Cliffs. Basically I was looking for a small break in the cliffs that would allow us to get to the canyon floor. In addition, according to our pre-trip planning the route had some Indian petroglyphs on the east wall of the descent route. Essentially this meant that I needed to check each crack that appeared as I traversed eastward along the rim — not a quick task. Eventually, about 1 hour away from where we originally came to the plateau rim, I looked down into a break in the cliffs and noticed some rock art. Intrigued, I traversed down and around to the entrance of the break. Looking down, it appeared that the route might go all the way to the canyon floor but I could not see beyond a large chockstone. I decided to descend the route before claiming victory, and soon found the going technically challenging, and near impossible with a heavy pack. After down climbing about 40 ft of crumbly sandstone, I set foot on a wide ledge. Just above me were a few petroglyphs I had spotted from above. Encouraged, I continued cautiously down the sandy, and rock filled gully to the first of two chockstones. With some basic stemming I was able to maneuver around the first. The second proved much more challenging as I had to move a few rocks from beneath it to make room to wiggle through. At this point I was pretty certain that even if this was the correct route, it would not be passable with loaded packs without some technical rock gear. Anyway, I wiggled through the small opening successfully but I was disappointed to find yet another series of chockstones that were more daunting that first two. So after descending a ~1,000 ft, I reversed my direction and climbed back up to the plateau rim. After wandering around a bit longer, I headed back.
While I was trying to find a route down, Amity had taken a few bearings and located our approximate location on on the plateau rim. In retrospect this would been the best thing to do first, but our excitement got the better of us. Based on her plotting, we were only ~1/4 mile from our second choice for descent off the cliffs and well west of our first choice, which we had tried to locate. So off we set to try to find the other descent route. In the meantime we had decided that if we could not find the route in a timely manner, we would head NW across the remainder of the Paria Plateau, and join up with the official Arizona Trail. We were not excited about this idea but water would be running low as well as our food, if we did not get off the plateau shortly. Fortunately we found the second descent route after crossing a two track and following it to an old corral and 2 concrete troughs. Just the landmarks we needed to locate our route through the cliffs! We carefully descended the sandy, talus filled gully, lowering packs to one another when the route demanded it. Slowly we made our way down through a series of ledges and ramps to the base of the Vermillion Cliffs and traversed west along the base to a series of springs that we were counting on to be running.
Eventually we found Bonelli Spring. Bonelli Spring has been enhanced by ranchers trying to get water down to the canyon floor for their stock.As such a 4 x 4 x 15 ft rectangular chunk of sandstone has been removed from the sandstone cliff face, and a 1″ poly pipe attached to an outlet tube. We spent a good deal of time at the spring filling up with 2.5 gallons each as our next water stop was ~30 miles south and the temps were quite warm. Descending from the spring was really tough as our packs were heavy and the footing was treacherous…loose boulders, unstable sand, and very steep slopes. Essentially we just followed the poly pipe from the spring down to the canyon floor, skirting obstructions where necessary. We were both relieved to have not only found our descent route, but to have made it down from the base of the cliffs without incident. We continued to follow the poly pipe along an old 4wd road until we came upon 3 large cattle tanks. Amazingly the poly pipe that was attached to the spring more than 1,000 ft above and at least a mile distant, was actually filling the tanks! Strangely it appeared as the area had not seen any bovine visitors in years. We took some time to clean up, and left the tanks feeling refreshed and re-energized.
We followed a few dirt roads out to HWY 89A, crossed the Hwy, and headed southward along BLM rd 8910 and into the House Rock Wildlife Area. We got a few miles in before dark and found a decent camp spot up and away from the dirt road. Sleep came easily for me as the day was mentally and physically tough. Our only concern as the moon rose was that we were a day behind schedule and our food supply would need to be rationed a bit to get us to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Regardless, we felt great about seeing our original plans through. ~10 hrs hiking time.
Almost a full day behind schedule but the day was worth it. Definitely a sense of satisfaction as we discovered our route and saw it through, dropping through a fissure in the Vermillion Cliffs to the valley below.
We began the day by finding a cattle pool Brian had spotted the night before and filling up without any idea of how far we would have to go before seeing water again. Within 20 minutes of departing the pond we arrived at the rim of the cliffs, dropping sheer away to the foothills and the rising heat of the valley. Victory! What a satisfying feeling, suddenly the wonder and thrill of the desert renewed.
The next project was to find one of the only two breaches in the wall to get down. Brian headed off on a scouting expedition while I played with compass and map, plotting our location within 1/4 mile. He returned discouraged, but we knew we had to be close to one of the routes down.
A little discouraged, we decided to head west along the rim with the idea we might have to skirt the entire cliff band, bailing towards a road quite a way west and somewhat north. Within a short distance, however, we came across 4wd track and a clear cattle path. We followed these to the rim and Voila! As described, there were 3 troughs and the remains of a coral. We started down a rocky defile, finding the spring and a pipe from it. We spent a good while tanking up, perched at the base of the cliff wall, well above the foothills. Down we continued, never easy, always physically demanding. Sandstone on sandstone is the ultimate in lubricated slide and sand itself is not designed for firm footing.
We followed pipe to a 4wd track and out in to the valley, coming miraculously to a striking series of tanks full from the spring waters. Unbelievable to look up and see the spring high above, the arid cactus covered land between, knowing the journey of the water. That the pipe was whole and complete, intact, is a wonder in itself. The tanks were full of clean untouched water. No evidence of recent cattle. Water today was ample! A little cleaner we set off, a spring in our step even though the time was nearing 17:00 and we still had an hour to the hwy. Reaching the road was pleasant, good to see some easy non-thinking walking.
Both of our spirits are higher and the delay in schedule seems meaningless. For we have succeeded on a little used route, scouted probably by native people as indicated by petroglyphs along the cliff, and we made it across the plateau despite the may bones scattered beneath the juniper trees, which yesterday seemed to spell a grimmer future.
The day largely consisted of a dirt road walk along BLM 8910 to and through the House Rock Valley Wildlife Area. Strangely enough we saw no wildlife, although the pamphlet we picked up at the roadway trailhead mentioned buffalo, antelope, and mule deer. No such sightings for us, just a pleasant walk through open desert. The day was much cooler than we expected and it began to sprinkle a bit. It felt great to get into stride and have some easy mileage. Eventually we came our junction with BLM 631 and began to head west toward North Canyon and the Saddle Mountain Wilderness.
The route through North Canyon would take us up to the Kaibab Plateau and then south to the Grand Canyon. The trail was well maintained and an easy grade as it climbed upward. I was surprised at the diversity of the vegetation along the trail…Doug Fir, Ponderosa Pine, Pinyon Pine, Juniper, Maple, Oak, and Aspen. The aspen, oak, and maple were all changing color, so the contrast with the evergreen background was quite stunning. The canyon climbed steadily, but the only steep part was near the top as the trail switchbacked past North Canyon Springs and to a low saddle between two sandstone buttes. The rain had stopped but it was still quite cool as we continued southward.
After exiting North Canyon we joined the official AZT and continued on it for a few miles until camping for the evening on a high point above a grassy meadow. It was long day and my legs were anxious for a break. ~27 miles and ~11 hrs of hiking time.
A very cold wet evening and afternoon. The temperature significantly chillier here on the North Kaibab than below in the House Rock Valley. The sense of chill is compounded by the lack of food today. I began with less food than I should have and with our little delay I am down to a few last crumbs.
As for the route today, all maintained roads and easy walking. The North Canyon Trail was attractive and made for a well-graded climb to the rim and a quick meeting with the Arizona Trial, our first steps on official trail. Brian did a great job planning this alternative and it has come together beautifully, a route I would recommend to anyone seeking to avoid what seems to be a rather dull start to the AZT.
The canyon was attractive, fall colors just beginning. I was running low on energy and my appreciation for the scenery was diminishing with the icy drizzle. Also, until we reached more coniferous forest the vegetation of the canyon bottom had the odor of a pet store rodent cage.
I am tired and worn out, looking forward to the North Rim of the Grand tomorrow, and go to sleep thinking of a hot shower and a steaming mug of hot chocolate with a cloud of whip cream.
Kickin’ it at the North Rim
We awoke this morning to very damp and cold skies. A good layer of frost/ice coated our tarps and convincing myself to get out of the sleeping bag was a challenge. Since we were running low on food, it only took a few spoonfuls to finish breakfast before we hit the trail. The rain from the previous night had left the grass and other vegetation damp and icy, and the low meadows where the trail was were quite cold. It took me a good half hour to warm up, and I started off the day at too quick a pace…yesterdays aches and pains were awakened early. We had about 12 miles to get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon where our first food drop was waiting. The trail all morning was pretty unspectacular. We were generally following utility repair roads or hiking through areas that the park service was getting ready for prescribed burns. In addition, the trail essentially paralleled highway 89, so road noise and associated smells were commonplace throughout the morning. On a positive note, the Aspen were golden and the trail tread made for pretty easy walking. We managed the mileage in about 3 hours and arrived hungry at the North Rim. We checked in about obtaining a permit for a night in the canyon, but the cancellations had already been filled by others earlier in the day. So Plan B was put into effect: stay the evening at the campground, do laundry, shower, and other chores and then hike the Grand Canyon tomorrow as a Rim-to-Rim hike. As Ranger G.K. Sprinkle said, “Day hikers do not need a permit. Any stopping will result in a $250 dollar fine.” Welcome to your National Parks. Unconvinced that we could actually hike the 23 miles from the N to S Rim, Ranger Sprinkle kept offering other alternatives for an overnight camp in the Grand Canyon, but we thanked her for the suggestions and promptly left. So, we are now cleaned up, well feed, and in good spirits as we lounge on leather sofas in the North Rim Lodge. Tomorrow should find us in warmer climates as we head down canyon and then back up to the South Rim.
NORTH RIM OF GCNP TO SOUTH RIM GCNP
North Rim to South Rim – Into and out of The Big Ditch.
For those that have never been to the Grand Canyon, it is pretty much a really colorful ditch. The main trails are graded incredibly well so as long as the temps are reasonable, the canyon is manageable. Starting at the North Rim was beneficial as we had ~14 miles of downhill hiking before starting our climb up the Bright Angel Trail to the South Rim. We had a good conversation with Bruce who takes care of the pumping station that provides water for all the facilities on both rims. He and his wife have lived in the Grand Canyon (near Roaring Springs) for more than 20 years. He was still genuinely excited about waking up each morning in the canyon.
We stopped at Phantom Ranch for a quick break and then pushed off and crossed the Silver Bridge which spans the Colorado River. From that point it was all business as we climbed steadily for the next 7.5 miles. Enroute we passed pack trains, backpackers, dayhikers, and tourists. Many of the folks I spoke with were foreign — Japanese, Israeli, French Canadian, Germans, French, Australian, and Spaniards. All the overweight, complaining people seemed to be American. Anyway, onward and upward until I reached the rim of the canyon and the associated chaos of one of the most commercialized National Parks in the Nation. I was disappointed that I had just walked 23 miles through the Grand Canyon when I discovered I could have just bought a Grand Canyon DVD to see the same views, or listen to a tour bus operator tell me of the beauties below the rim.
Anyway I did take advantage of the free shuttle bus to the PO to make sure we got our re-supply before they closed. Amity showed up about 15 minutes later. She of course walked the mile or two instead of catching the shuttle. After we filled our packs with our supplies for the next stretch of the AZT to Flagstaff, we had another (!) shower and got a campsite for the evening. Currently we are sitting in the cafeteria polishing off a few meals and looking over the route for the next 4 days.
Before closing, I should mention that the cafeteria has the widest range of packaged condiments I ever laid eyes on. Besides the standards of mustard, ketchup, relish, and mayo, they also have lemon juice, honey, peanut butter, liquid butter, and assorted jams. This may seem ridiculous to even mention, but all of these items have flavor enhancing value to my otherwise drab meals. Thanks for reading.
I’m currently in the midst of a fried chicken dinner induced stupor. Today was very satisfying. It’s great to finally know what folks are talking about when they refer to a “Rim to Rim” hike. 214 miles by vehicle or 23 miles walking from the North to South Rim. That’s a rare example of walking actually being a lot more direct. Beautiful weather, the bluest skies. A good day, only minor shock upon reaching the madness that is the South Rim – trains coming and going, shuttles zipping and everything that isn’t an enormous lodge is a parking lot.
SOUTH RIM GCNP TO FLAGSTAFF
Runnin’ on Empty, Despite Full Tanks.
Well Budweiser is truly the King of Beers. After 23+ miles of Forest Service Road walking, the # of roadside Budweiser cans outnumbered all other brands combined. Folks around these parts must subscribe to the Abbey littering model…it’s not the cans that are an eyesore, but rather the road the cans are next to that is truly hideous. Anyway, judging from the opening you can guess that today was not the most exciting day of hiking.
Surprisingly we slept in a bit at the south rim despite having the absolute worst spot in Mather Campground…close to some dumpsters, and surrounded by either busy roads or busy footpaths. It seems the hiker reserved sites are always poorly located. Something else to right my Congressman about. After packing up we headed south through the ‘burbs of Grand Canyon Village and out to a utility road which we followed for a ways before hitting the Highway near the National Park’s South entrance. We continued alongside the Hwy for a short distance until reaching the Tusayan Ranger Station. We checked in with the rangers there about the weather, the AZT, and our alternative route along FR 302/301. Surprisingly they told us about a number of water tanks along the dirt road we planned to walk, and were quite positive about the availability of drinking water at these sources. They also filled us in on the 16 mile mountain bike trail from the ranger station to Grandview Tower where we could then join up with the AZT. Of course these 16 miles were completely dry, followed the flight path of many of the airborne scenic tours, and would only gain us mileage in an easterly direction. Our alternative was more direct, avoided more paved road walking, was more obscure, and appeared to have less water concerns. So off we went into, and just beyond, the town of Tusayan, AZ before hitting FR 302.
Besides a few minor junctions, it was pretty straight forward, forested walking. Temps were ideal for maintaining a hydrated state which proved to be important since every “water tank” we came to was a stagnant lagoon. Apparently the definition of “tank” is a bit different in AZ. We have yet to encounter anything that comes close to resembling a “tank.” In our minds a “tank” is something which is fabricated from metal or concrete and is used to store and regulate water for cows and assorted wildlife. In Arizona-language a “tank” is apparently code for a bulldozed pile of dirt used to catch whatever little rain falls or snow melts. Uses seem to range from water for cattle to 4WD mud boggin’ fun. Of the 4 we passed by, they all appeared to be at least 50% fecal matter, 50% water. Discouraging to say the least. But, like our current Commander in Chief, we were resolute and continued onward despite the bad intelligence from a seemingly reliable source. We were hoping to make it to the Moqui Stage Stop this evening but have fallen a bit short. We did get some water from a kind gentleman who happens to be camping down the road from us. Our situation was not desperate, but it will certainly make our morning a bit more comfortable. Total hiking time: ~9 hrs.
Really the hardest part or our day comes after 6 pm when it gets dark. Entertaining ourselves for at least 2-3 hrs each evening (at least when food is not involved) is proving difficult. Besides this journal, and general camp chores we have little to do. Thus far tonight we have recited the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Thanks for reading.
I saw a roadkill tarantula today, poor furry little critter.
Awoke this morning to very cold, crisp air. Felt good in the lungs, but not anywhere else. Eventually got out of bed, packed up, and back on FR 301 heading towards Moqui Stage Stop and beyond. Within a few minutes we came upon BuClaire Tank…a nice raised concrete tank that appeared crystal clear when compared to the tanks we passed by yesterday. I filled up with a gallon for the day, while Amity chose to fill her water bladders later at Lockwood Tank, about 10 miles distant. The day warmed up quickly and while the road walk to Lockwood Tank was pretty bland, I did see a Tarantula along the way. Eventually some distant views of the San Francisco Peaks became visible on the horizon. A light dusting of snow coated the upper slopes of Mt Humphrey’s, the highest point in AZ.
Also on the way to Lockwood Tank was the Moqui Stage Stop. This was one of the stopping points for the tourist stagecoaches heading to the Grand Canyon from Flagstaff between 1892 and 1899. The original ride cost $20. Not much remains today other than some stones from what appeared to be a foundation of some sort.
After meeting Amity at Lockwood Tank, (she is usually ahead of me) we headed out on another two track dirt road. Occasionally we would pass a 4 x 4 wooden post with an AZT emblem, or a brown carsonite post with an AZT sticker and directional arrow. Just past Lockwood Tank we saw our first cows of the trip, and would continue to see them throughout the day. Not terribly exciting, but noteworthy nonetheless. Eventually we descended to, and past Tubbs Ranch which had some nice raised metal tanks full of water. Unfortunately we could not access the goods, and neither of us had the moxie to face down the dogs, or deal with the possibility of a confrontation. So, we pressed on into the early evening trying to limit the miles necessary to get to water early tomorrow. Camp tonight is a bit lumpy, but otherwise perfectly fine for our weary feet. Total hiking time:~9.5 hrs.
Another sort of timeless day. It simply passed and miles were covered one after another. A day of all roadwalking which makes for high mileage in minimum time but rather tired feet. Spent the morning on my own en route to Lockwood Tank, a pleasant walk. Met a fellow named Chris passing in a truck who kindly stopped to ask if I needed anything. I said I was fine and asked how much farther to the tank. That quickly brought us to the subject of water, whereupon he jumped out of his vehicle and offered me all of his remaining water, plus a little bottle of Grape Gatorade that was tasty and pleasing in a very blue/purple kind of way. Lockwood Tank was a cess pool and my insides have not felt the same since. A bit dry today, warmer, more exposed, sun and more sun.
Road Warroirs II
I slept surprisingly well despite lumpy ground, and we packed up and got off to an early start…anxious to locate and utilize Cedar Ranch Tank. After a few minutes of walking along the dirt road, we came to a very nice metal Arizona Trail sign. A brief synopsis of the AZT, an overview map, and a warning to look out for “venomous creatures” where all including on the sign. I am always surprised to see such detailed signs in what seems to be the most impractical places. Anyhow, we hung a left and continued along a rough road for bit longer until spotting Cedar Tank to our west and up a slight rise. Upon arriving at the tank, we were discouraged to see the raised metal tank algae ridden, and the spring feeding the tank was very weak. Undeterred we walked down and around to the low side of the bulldozed reservoir and began filtering enough water for today and tomorrow – about 2 gallons apiece.
We are using a 7.5 oz ULA-Equipment H20 Amigo Gravity Water Filter as well as a 5 oz Siphoning System that Amity has rigged up with a 4 L Platypus Water Bag. Although both systems are slower than pump filters, it gives us a chance to relax and lets gravity do the work for us.
While filtering we saw another tarantula as well.
Eventually we filtered enough water and hit the road again, circuitously making our way around Missouri Bill Hill and then heading generally southward. Elk season opened yesterday, so we saw a number of hunters out and about looking for their elusive Bull. A number of trucks passed us, the passengers decked our in either blaze orange or camo. All were friendly and at least slowed and offered a wave.
More AZT road walking eventually led to a brief stretch of vague and poorly marked trail between FR 416 and FR 514. The hiking was easy enough, although the area burned recently so at times the going was a bit tricky. I saw a number of deer and a young cow elk along the way. Soon we were back on dirt roads and looking for our junction with FR 9006R. This route is yet another alternative (probably the last) we came up with while planning our hike. By linking up a bunch of roads, we would eventually get to the Bear Jaw/Abineau Canyon Trailhead at the base of the San Francisco Peaks and the Kachina Wilderness. We were anxious to get off the roads and remind ourselves what trail hiking was like. The official AZT follows more roads and wraps around the western flank of the San Francisco Peaks — primarily on roads, but also some cross-country hiking. Anyway, our route to the aforementioned trailhead ending up being a zig-zagging affair. Recent burns left plenty of downed timber and made for tricky footing at times. Our road to the trailhead was pretty direct, but by the time we arrived, much of our route was cross country. Tomorrow we head into Flagstaff, about 26 miles distant, up and over the San Francisco Peaks through Doyle Pass. Our route should be taking us through some alpine zones briefly as we reach 10,000 ft+, our highest elevation along the AZT.
We are planning to take a rest day in Flagstaff, and I am certainly looking forward to being off my feet for the day. Camp tonight is on a forested knoll and despite the wind, the temps are comfortable. Total hiking time:~8 hrs.
Another day almost entirely on roads, providing plenty of time for thinking about trails and hiking. While Arizona may have an official state trail and a trail association to back it up, any state is just as walkable as this one. All one needs to do is find the remote back roads, 4WD preferably, and tie them together with public lands, and voila! one has a hike the length or width of a state. Some states are certainly more conducive to this than others, depending on ratios of private to public lands, but every state has potential. A trail provides a good excuse for a walk, but what I am learning is that a trail is anywhere that one chooses to walk.
The night was surprisingly warm in the San Francisco Peaks. We certainly anticipated cooler temps since we were camped at ~8,600 ft. A good night sky and lots of shooting stars was our nights entertainment. We hit the trail pretty early in hopes of arriving in Flagstaff (~26 miles distant) before the library and other hiker amenities shut down for the evening.
Entering the Kachina Wilderness, we climbed steadily upward through Bear Jaw Canyon until reaching the “waterline road” at about 9,700 ft. We followed this well graded pipeline road down a few miles through golden aspen trees to the Inner Basin of the San Francisco Peaks. Heading southward and steadily upward for 1,400 ft, we eventually came to the trail junction for Humphrey’s Peak and Doyle Saddle. We headed left and slightly downhill, contouring along the flanks of Fremont Peak until reaching 10,600 ft Doyle Saddle. At this point much of the trail was covered with compacted snow which made the going a bit precarious at times.
Upon reaching Doyle Saddle and the Weatherford Trail, the views in all directions were quite nice, despite the slightly overcast skies. The Weatherford Trail was originally constructed for old-time vehicular use, so the grades were frustratingly mellow…long contours with seemingly little elevation change between switchbacks. For those familiar with the PCT, think of the descent northbound off San Jacinto Peak. Despite my desires to cut the trail at times, I was a disciplined Boyscout.
We rejoined the AZT and made it down to the Trailhead at Schultz Tank and then followed the AZT another 6 or so miles into Buffalo Park. Amity was walking her 12 minute mile pace, so I was immediately dropped and left to hobble down the trail, dodging mountain bikers throughout the afternoon. From Buffalo Park, we headed into the actual town of Flagstaff, checked out the library, and checked into the Historic Hotel Monte Vista…conveniently located about a stones throw from Route 66, and the railroad that seems to have a very active schedule no matter the hour. All attempts to find Flagstaff a charming, historic, or quaint and rugged western town has been lost to a very noisy Saturday night populous and the damned trains! Anyway, tomorrow is a full rest day, and then we will boogie on out of Flagstaff and get back to the woods. Total hiking time:~9.5 hrs.
We made it to Flagstaff in good time. The north side of the San Francisco Peaks is spectacular and stunning – rugged, craggy, slightly snowy, impressively alpine. The south side is unremarkable, rolling, tree-covered and visually uninspiring. The climb up made me feel great, ascending into the mountains and clear crisp air felt like an accomplishment. The view north from Flagstaff, however, makes me wonder if I did anything today.
Flagstaff Rest Day
A rest day in Flagstaff. We began with an early breakfast at Kathy’s Cafe. Given the late night bar hopping that seems to be popular on a Saturday night, the town was quite asleep this morning and the cafe was initially empty. While eating we made our town to-do list. We then set out for the grocery to round up some food, the bookstore for a newspaper to get caught up on all the gruesome details of the election that we’ve been happily unaware of, and the auto store for fuel. The afternoon has been spent getting caught up on correspondence, cleaning gear, eating and resting in anticipation of tomorrow.
A much deserved and welcome day off in Flagstaff today. Much of the morning was spent doing a few chores, but otherwise I have been bed bound, resting my legs and icing my feet. The day itself has been blustery and cool, with a little bit of precipitation.
The Hotel Monte Vista has been a pleasurable stay…our room is on the same floor as the “Michael J. Fox”, “Linda Ronstadt”, and “Zane Grey” suites. Of course our room has no such distinction other than being next to the Janitors closet, and across the hall from the cleaning ladies linen room. We head out tomorrow for Mormon Lake, ~32 miles distant.
FLAGSTAFF TO MORMON LAKE
We left Flagstaff this morning with blustery winds, overcast skies, and cooler temperatures. Flagstaff does have a very nice Urban Trail System, so it was easy to link up with the AZT. We made our way to Fisher Point, an exposed cliff of white and orange striped sandstone.
Further along, good trail led us up to Anderson Mesa where we saw some elk and a few more Tarantula’s. The walking was easy and generally non-descript…another mesa top with scattered Ponderosa, Juniper, open meadows, dry lakes, and a few cattle. After a few miles of braided jeep trails and single track, we descended from Anderson Mesa at Horse Lake and crossed the Highway. The AZT was very well signed across the mesa, and good signage continued along as the trail became consistent single track. Oak trees began to mingle with the Ponderosa, and the soft duff trail tread made for pleasant walking.
The day passed incredibly quickly today. No real concept of time or distance traveled for me all day. This is the first time I’ve hiked without a watch, and I have to say it is much more enjoyable. My stomach usually is a good indicator of the time anyway, so it is easy to guess approximates when my belly begins to rumble.
We are camped a few miles short of Mormon Lake where we have planned to re-supply tomorrow morning. A few sprinkles of rain this evening, as well as some Elk bugling. Total hiking time:~7.5 hrs.
Sunday dinner in Flagstaff was a real treat. Across from the Monte Vista is the Corea House, where we dined on very finely prepared Korean specialties like bimbimbab, bulgogi and kimchi. The owner/server was more than happy to direct us in what to order and how to eat it while his wife could be heard working away in the kitchen. The meal was delicious and beautifully served. They also had bubble tea for those bubble tea aficionados out there. Yum! Yesterday was grey and blustery, today seems to be more of the same. The walking is pleasant and it’s nice to be on trail.
Arrived this morning at Mormon Lake. Just finishing up our quick re-supply before getting back on the AZT. The trail around the north and west side of Mormon Lake was well signed and looked to have been recently worked. Very nice single track to Double Springs Campground where we then hooked up with the paved road into Mormon Lake proper. We’ll grab a quick snack and be on our way headed to Pine, AZ ~ 75 miles distant
MORMON LAKE TO PINE
As I write, the wind is blowing full force and the noise as it whips through the tops of the pines is in many ways more tremendous than the breeze itself. The day was blustery and grey and quite chilly. The night, while quite cool, has yet to drop to temperatures sub-freezing as predicted by a resident of Mormon Lake while we re supplied this morning.
Another day winding through pine forests, mostly on cairn/blaze marked trail. By late afternoon I was finding myself more and more grumpy with what I would describe as ridiculously circuitous trail routing. Given the rolling, largely flat landscape, lack of obvious natural obstacles such as cliffs or canyons, and simple pine duff and rock ground cover, the routing seems even less excusable. The last hour of the day was spent walking due north after having spiraled up and down around a small knoll. I’m sure on a pleasantly warm day walking in circles in pine woods might be sort of refreshing, but for me this afternoon it was just plain irritating. Bargman Park was a welcome sight after so much wandering, and mixed in with the night wind I hear coyotes, elk and the mooing of cows just down the lane.
We left Mormon Lake and followed a series of jeep roads until reaching a frequently used Forest Service Road, which we traversed until HWY 3. Walking along a HWY is never fun, and this was no exception. Fortunately we came upon the AZT shortly and veered east into the forest. The trail tread appeared to have been recently worked, and we even came upon a few hundred yards of orange flags which contoured through the forest. The rest of the afternoon was spent following a well marked (either blazes or rock cairns) trail, although it circuitous nature made for some frustrations. It is always hard to hike in an area that is obviously being worked for new trail tread, as you are never certain when the trail crew decided to stop…so off you go following blazes and cairns, trying to keep an eye on the map and keep your bearings squared away, conscious that you may be following trail to a dead end when the blazes runout. An easy way to strand yourself and force an inconvenient backtrack.
Anyway, it seemed like the blazed trail went in every cardinal compass direction, without ever deciding on a bearing to follow. We were definitely at the mercy of the blazes and cairns for our route, which is never a good feeling. We eventually crossed under some power lines, which gave us comforting landmark to get our bearings back in check. We hiked a little while longer as dusk settled in and camped above Bargaman Park, a large open meadow. I think Amity and I are anxious to get to Pine and beyond…we need a change of scenery! Ponderosa forests are beautiful, but it will be great to see some other landscapes that Arizona has to offer. Quick health update: thus far into our hike, Amity has gotten only 1 blister, and been subject to some foot tenderness. I’ve had 3 blisters, some big toe joint trouble, and a nagging case of tendonitis on my left achilles. Other than those few ailments, we are feeling great and no tears have been shed.
Total hiking time:~8.5 hrs. A good day at the office.
Got out from beneath the tarp a little late this morning, despite warmer than anticipated morning temps. Breezy all night long and the new day looked to be no exception. Following some jeep roads, we made our way east, and then south eventually contouring around Pine Mountain. The trail was a mix of jeep roads, single track, and well-marked cross country hiking throughout the day.
We noticed a bunch more Alligator Juniper along the trail today as well, named so because of its barks appearance. We saw a few mule deer in the morning, a tarantula, and listened to some hunter’s poor imitations of elk bugling into the afternoon. We did put our bright orange packcovers on our packs at one point for safety, but overall limited gunfire today on the trail.
The skies were finally not entirely overcast, as it seems we have hiked our way through and past a low pressure cell that was causing some cooler temperatures.
We spent some of our day discussing how nice it is to be hiking a trail that has limited offerings in the way of on-trail data. Mileages are really approximates, and no real landmarks are present to gauge time versus distance travelled…good for hikers like ourselves who have a hard time stopping, or have a tendency to equate a successful day with the distant walked. Generally our distant for the day is determined by water availability or when the daylight runs out. Other than that, we really do not take the time to be more specific.
Our strategy of walking “faucet to faucet” has worked beautifully thus far. I think we’ve only filtered water 5 times the entire trip, and on average are carrying ~1.5 gallons of water from each faucet. Not too bad! We’d rather carry the weight than have to stop and filter from the myriad cattle tanks along the trail…many of which appear relatively full, but are not worth stopping at in our opinion.
Camp tonight is nestled among some fragrant Ponderosa. Again the elk are quite talkative tonight and the Orionids Meteor Shower has been enjoyable to watch as the moon sets. Total hiking time:~9 hrs.
Yesterday on the AZT was so many things that I’m not sure where to begin. My interest in the trail was renewed considerably as it became true trail, winding up and down into washes and then began to follow General Springs Canyon. The creek through the canyon formed by the springs had a bluish green milky clearness and had we needed water it would have been a very good source. There were even waterfalls and with the maples and oaks made me think I was out east following the gorges of Appalachia not in Arizona.
The descent off the Mogollon Rim was spectacular and invigorating with gale force winds, grey billowing sky, a bit of rain and views south, a more distant horizon than we have seen for a long while.
With the afternoon, low and dark ominous clouds rolled in and stayed with impressive torrents of rain and gusting wind. The trail quickly became very slippery with waterways coursing everywhere. Where to camp became a question and Pine, 10 miles away, began to seem like the only solution. We made an attempt to get to town hiking into the dark, were defeated by soaking rains and cold after 6 miles and ended up making an impromptu and rather wet and muddy camp.
This morning, thankfully, was not rainy or windy although somewhat grey. The sun is making valiant efforts and with a visit to the Pine laundromat, cleaner and drier, I can say that I’m ready to continue this little jaunt southward.
Awakening to overcast, yet warm skies, we hit the trail and began some very wonderful walking. Much of the day was spent along well marked single track and my legs were happy for the break from rutted, rocky roads.
We descended and then climbed out of East Clear Creek, just a gravelly dry wash this time of year. Crossings some flatter sections, we then dropped into General Springs Canyon. A nice rivulet meandered through the drainage, and we followed it up canyon along sandy trail, through maple, oak, and ponderosa. Towards the head of the drainage, a few small waterfalls cascaded trailside. Eventually we passed by an old Forest Service Cabin and dropped off the Mogollon Rim. It was fantastic to finally have some views southward to the landscape to come.
The wind was blowing quite strongly as we descended from the rim, and a light rain began to fall. The vegetation was noticeably different which was a welcome and exciting change. The storm grew in intensity and we were quite wet and slipping and sliding along muddy, mucky, shoe-sucking glop through the afternoon. With only a few hours hiking to Pine, we figured we would try to make it there for the evening, but with continued rain, dropping temperatures, and a fortunate dose of common sense, we were convinced to stop for the evening and make camp beneath some soggy junipers. I feel fortunate to be hiking with Amity during such conditions as she has a bundle of experience to draw upon, and her decision making is sound.
Anyway, we slept OK despite the impromptu site and hiked into Pine this morning for our re-supply, laundry, and other town chores. On a side note, if ever doing laundry in Pine, be sure to bring your own quarters as the locals seem unwilling to “sell” you any of their own.
Heading south today into the Mazatzal Wilderness and hopefully sunnier skies.
PINE TO ROOSEVELT LAKE
Pining to Leave Pine
We left Pine after finally finding an operational payphone, and regretfully not making another stop at the Bakery. We hiked out Hardscrabble Rd to avoid a shoulderless 2.5 mile walk along the highway. Eventually we rejoined the AZT and followed a utility road beneath some powerlines slipping and sliding along for a few muddy miles. Along the way we saw ~20 elk grazing…a few big bucks and their respective harems. We watched them for awhile before pushing on into the evening and finding camp beneath a lovely Ponderosa.
The night was pretty mild, but the morning broke with a slight crispness to the air as we packed up and headed out along another dirt road. The going was a bit slow as the road was quite muddy…a thick pasty goop that eventually built up a good 3 inch layer on my shoe soles. The road turned into a decent cairned single track trail as we passed a lone carsonite post with a Wilderness Area sticker…the beginning of the Mazatzal Wilderness.
We hiked on, steadily descending along White Rocks Mesa, until dropping down through a small cliffband to White Rocks Spring which was full and running. Some ocotillo cactus nearby were blooming which was an unexpected treat.
Continuing our descent we dropped onto Polles Mesa, through some cow-burnt country, down a very steep 4wd road, through a lovely cottonwood tree gallery, until finally reaching Rock Creek and the East Verde River. Rock Creek was absolutely exquisite and was a welcome spot for a lunch break, a refreshing rinse, and of course a good spot to filter water. LF Ranch is just across the river and is still an active ranch, although it is situated in the wilderness area.
After filtering 2.5 gallons apiece, we heaved our packs on, crossed the murky East Verde River, and began our 2,700 ft climb into the Mazatzal Mountains from the river bottom.
Much of this wilderness area was charred last year in a large forest fire, and our route up was not spared from the flames. Although burnt, the landscape was still quite interesting and had an intriguing raw quality. Unfortunately my camera did not fair well from its apparent dowsing from a few nights back and I was therefore unable to capture any images of the stark beauty which we hiked through.
It felt great to have a steady, continuous climbing effort and we made good time to the saddle despite our heavy loads. The recent rains had washed out the trail wherever it crossed a drainage which made for tricky footing.
After reaching the saddle we contoured around through some small forested areas that did not get torched, eventually hiking through more burned areas before dropping into a drainage with a spring, and some still standing trees and understory vegetation. Climbing out of the drainage we quickly gained a saddle and decided to make camp for the night among the charred skeletons of Ponderosa and Juniper. The views were quite stunning: 6 distinct individual mountain range ridgelines fading in tones of gray on the westward horizon, and a snow capped Mt Humphrey’s to the north.
If I could choose any place to live, for at least part of the year, it might just be the LF Ranch. Situated near the confluences of Rock Creek and the East Verde River, surrounded by the peaks of the Mazatzals, it is absolutely idyllic. The desert landscape, red-toned and warm with cacti, particularly the Prickly Pear, suddenly gives way to a riparian oasis, leafy green and cool.
A good day on the trail, a great climb with the afternoon, interesting to be walking through an area so recently affected by such a severe fire.
A day of outstanding walking and the kind of scenery that draws me on step after step effortlessly. Even though much of this wilderness (at least 95% in this northern portion of the range, from appearance) was completely and thoroughly toasted to a crisp in last year’s fire, this place has a good vibe, a positive energy, if you will.
The Divide Trail is fantastic, even though quite obliterated by the fire, subsequent erosion (another heavy rain and I wonder if stretches will exist at all), and blowdowns. The trail is a masterpiece of fine trail construction, a relic from the days when trail architects walked and took the time to feel the land before cutting into it. Long contours, gentle arcs up and over, into and out of drainages. Plenty of climbing throughout the day, but none of it silly or superfluous.
While traversing the western flank of Mazatzal Peak, the view of the trail north was a perfect testament to the quality of trail – three rolling ridges, each traversed by a length of trail completely parallel to the one on the next ridge, three lines in perfect unison, exactly the same grade, completely consistent one to the next.
My shirt sleeves and legs are streaked with black, the result of climbing around all the charred remnants of trees. I feel as if I had a run-in with a crazy charcoal artist. The look is kind of appealing.
A brief climb to a ridgeline got the legs warmed up and the day started today as we hiked further into the Mazatzal Wilderness. Early in the day we came to realize that the recent storm activity has left the area much more moist then normal. Nearly every drainage head that we came to and crossed had a small rivulet. These normally dry, narrow creekbeds are now broad with sediment and choked with boulders and uprooted vegetation, evidence of the infrequent yet intense flash flooding that this desert environment can be subject to.
The trail today was absolutely fantastic. A contouring beauty of classic trail construction. We are about half way finished with the hike, and incredibly, this was our first day without setting foot on a road. I think this fact played a role in one of the most relaxing and peaceful days on the AZT for me thus far. The day was truly timeless and I enjoyed every minute of hiking through the charred landscape. This place has a good sense to it, even in its current barbequed state.
I think we are incredibly fortunate to have had the chance to hike this wilderness as I cannot imagine the condition of the trail in the near future, particularly after another major rain, and intense vegetative re-growth post burn that will undoubtedly take place. Much of the trail is already eroded from the hillsides, and downed timber has made the going slow at times. Regardless, I would encourage hearty AZT hikers to tackle the future challenges the Northern Mazatzal Wilderness will pose for their respective hikes. Maybe the AZTA will have the foresight to plan accordingly and come up with an alternative route besides a road walk along the highway to Payson as a bypass.
Despite that the day consisted largely of walking through burned forest, occasionally we would enter pockets of forest that were miraculously spared from the flames. Signs of wildlife was abundant, as if the animals had consolidated themselves to the remaining habitable lands. We saw 3 sets of individual bear tracks, cat prints, horned lizards, a rattlesnake, and tarantulas throughout the day as we hiked through these oases of habitat.
We are camped tonight on a high saddle just down trail from the turnoff for Bear Springs. Thankfully we are in a small grove of live trees which are doing a wonderful job at breaking the wind, and shading us from the glow of a near full moon.
I slept fitfully most of night, but regardless we got going at a reasonable hour with the intention of hiking ~25 miles to Sycamore Creek, just past HWY 87. Just after Bear Spring, the destruction of the fire seemed to taper off. The trail was pretty overgrown in spots and numerous blowdowns made the going tedious at times. After a few miles of this, the trail cleared up all the way to the Mt Peeley trailhead. Along the route in the morning we saw tons of bear scat and a few prints, but no views of the actual critter.
We descended from Mt Peeley into a maze of drainages and gullys, often on uncomfortably steep and eroding sections of trail. Apparently the trail crew boss responsible for the beautiful contours of the northern Mazatzal had retired before this section was worked. Anyway, we eventually climbed to the saddle of Saddle Mountain, and began a slow descent towards Hwy 87 through some very nice drainages where we noticed our first Barrel Cacti of the trip.
Upon reaching HWY 87, we crossed beneath it and headed towards Sycamore Creek and began filtering water for the next day and a half until we reach Roosevelt Lake, ~37 miles away. Camp tonight is highly urban as we are quite close to the HWY, in the flight path for aircraft landing in Phoenix, and apparently close to someone’s private shooting range. Glad I brought the earplugs…
Another day of good walking and the first with the feeling of truly being in a different climatic zone of Arizona than what we have been in thus far. Even the temperatures, daytime and night, feel a few degrees warmer.
The scenery is outstanding and I have to say that I had no idea Arizona was so mountainous, this being my first time through the state.
I’m impressed with our forward effort today, good progress towards Roosevelt Lake, which has been visible since early in the day. We are in the Four Peaks Wilderness and it is truly spectacular. Craggy peaks and sparse rocky landscape. The views east and west are phenomenal, ridges, prominence’s and jagged protrusions.
This section has been amazing in the variety of ground covered and well worth the effort.
Getting into Roosevelt tomorrow will feel good. I’ve been spending way too much time thinking about food and just a night ago dreamt I was eating a barbecue sandwich. I was mightily disappointed not to find the real deal when I awoke.
Showers. There was a shower at the North Rim, another on the South, one in Flagstaff, for a total of three. Mormon Lake had showers but we passed, having just bathed in Flagstaff. Pine did not have showers. Depending on the shower situation in Roosevelt, I may be close to breaking my personal record of 10 full days without a good soapy cleaning.
Camping close by to a water source or related low spot is never a good idea. Limited options last night left us no choice, so when we awoke with soggy sleeping bags, we were not surprised, just disappointed.
Heading off towards the Four Peaks Wilderness and hopeful of getting in as many miles as possible, we began our climb from Sycamore Creek to Boulder Creek. Although faint in places, much of the route was in good shape up to Boulder Creek. Just about every carsonite AZT post was blown off at about knee height…surely the enthusiasm of some local gunslinger tired of shooting at cans or discarded refrigerators by the HWY.
Anyway, the trail along side Boulder Creek was a bushwhacking adventure as much of the trail was steep, eroded, and overgrown. There did appear to be some new trail tread at one point heading upwards to a ridgeline, but since it was unblazed, we stuck to the original route until reaching a Forest Service Rd on the ridge above us, slightly battered, bloody, and bruised from our vegetative encounters.
We followed the Forest Rd for about 9 miles, and it was certainly a welcome break from the mornings bushwhack. We made good time along the road, counting tarantulas and looking east and west at the distant views.
Eventually we came to the Pigeon Springs Trailhead where we turned off the road and shortly passed a group of women day hikers. They were the first folks since the Grand Canyon we have seen on the trail.
In a short time we entered the Four Peaks Wilderness, named for the 4 jutting, rocky escarpments that rise above us on the horizon. The trail contoured nicely throughout the afternoon, and it appears to have been worked fairly recently. We had heard this section had some overgrown Burmese-Jungle type spots, but thus far it has been smooth sailing.
Camp tonight is in a small grove of trees, a few hundred yards above the trail. The lights of massive, sprawling Phoenix can be seen below to the west. Tomorrow should find us in Roosevelt for a quick re-supply and hopeful shower. Although my personal record of 14 days with no shower is not yet in jeopardy, I see no reason to set a new personal best, as I am beginning to stick to myself. Thanks for reading.
ROOSEVELT LAKE TO SUPERIOR
Roosevelt Lake: Arizona’s Eden
Shower! Laundry! Food! Friendly Folks! Welcome to Roosevelt, AZ. We hiked in this morning after a very productive visit with the Tonto Ranger District and Quentin, the regions trails coordinator. He was the first truly helpful ranger we’ve encountered and had pretty up to date info.
The trail out of the Four Peaks Wilderness was pretty nice. Nice grade, not too much wandering as we descended to Roosevelt Lake. A bit of spitting rain last night and this morning, with more in the forecast. Very windy. First Saguaro Cacti of the trip along the trail today. Heading out this afternoon to climb into the Superstition Wilderness.
Roosevelt is definitely an A+ for trail stops. The people here have been outstanding in terms of helpfulness and reaching out to two very grimy hikers. The RV Park happily opened their “tenants only” shower and laundry to us, providing each of us with a new little bar of soap and a big fluffy hotel style towel. What a treat!
The views this morning were exceptional, interesting play of light as the night’s dark misty clouds retreated and reappeared. Roosevelt Lake looks like a neat place to spend some time poking around and Tonto National Monument would be nice to visit were there more time.
After leaving Roosevelt, clean and well-satiated, we headed north along the HWY a short distance to Forest Rd 449 where we made camp for the evening. The night was quite pleasant and we enjoyed staying up late (for us anyway) to watch the lunar eclipse.
Ranger Quentin mentioned to us the day before that the AZT along Cottonwood Wash was nearly completely destroyed from a flash flood, so we decided on this alternate: a short dirt road walk to Tule Trailhead, and then a 4.5 mile climb to rejoin the AZT along Two Bar Ridge.
We started hiking this morning just after 6 am. We were treated to a lovely sunrise and the largest Tarantula to date…it only had seven legs, but it was probably the size of my hand. A very large spider. Anyway, our intentions for the day were to get in as many miles as we could so our resupply in Superior would be relaxed. Sometimes things do not go according to plan.
As soon as we reached the ridgeline the rain began to fall steadily and the wind picked up. Wet and chilled we continued on along an exposed ridgeline, across a drainage, and up a very steep slope to a broad meadow where Amity noticed a rock wall that we have learned are remnants of an Hohokam Indian Village.
Eventually we made our way down to Reavis Ranch, one of the two original ranches in the Superstition Mountains before it was designated wilderness in 1940. Crossing an open meadow we came upon a trail sign. Wet, fatigued, and generally disoriented by the gray skies and low clouds, we turned right, heading northward. After an hour of steady climbing we came upon the Plow Saddle Trail Junction, where we caught our mistake.
Slightly discouraged by our discovery, we did consider an alternate to rejoin the AZT, but decided it was more prudent to backtrack to the correct trail junction and continue on known trail. Thoroughly soaked and chilled we turned around and headed southward along the Reavis Trail.
Upon arriving at the trail junction, we spent a few minutes discussing our options. As it was 3 pm, we only had a few hours of daylight left. Reavis Ranch has nice places to camp, as does Rogers Trough which was ~6 miles distant. Not wanting to repeat the evening we had below the Mogollon Rim a week ago, we opted to make camp in the apple orchard of the old Reavis Ranch site while we had daylight and clear thinking brains to work with.
With teeth chattering we set up camp and have thankfully been entombed in our warm sleeping bags for a few hours. It seems the fall monsoons have arrived a little late this year.
Tomorrow we need to do ~21 miles before the PO closes at 4:45 pm, so it looks to be an early start. Hopefully the skies will give us a slight break in the morning to pack up and slip back into our wet hiking clothes. I am sure the Superstition Wilderness is normally a spectacular place, but we were unable to see much of anything the entire day.
A couple of days ago, while bushwhacking up Boulder Creek en route to the Four Peaks Wilderness, my umbrella, which had been tethered to my pack, was lost. I’m fairly certain of the location, but unfortunately did not become aware it was missing until late that afternoon when we heard a rumble of thunder and my hand reached back to feel the umbrella, an automatic motion I’ve developed in response to grey clouds, damp winds and the sudden absence of bird chatter.
The umbrella is my primary source of rain protection so you can probably imagine my sense of dread, especially given the pluvial weather of late. Luckily we made it to Roosevelt without any daytime rain, so no problem.
In Roosevelt, the best I could find was an Emergency Poncho, the kind one might find at an inflated price when it begins to sprinkle at an outdoor event. Basically a clear garbage bag fancified with a hood and armholes. Well, today it rained, rained in that way that I can only describe as Cascadian. The poncho worked surprisingly well initially, but before long every inch of clothing was saturated and the poncho was providing only some very basic but much needed heat retention.
Oh, yes, another wet cold day in Arizona. Brian said it best today, “If I ever become a snowbird, the @#%@ I’d ever move to Arizona”.
Would love to see the scenery, from views gleaned yesterday, this area looks like it’s probably fairly incredible.
The alarm went off at 5:30 am this morning, and we awoke to clear, cold skies and an ample amount of frost coating the surrounding vegetation. The cool night also managed to freeze much of our clothing into stiff, unfriendly shapes. Dreading having to put those icy threads back on, it was not difficult to convince ourselves to stay in bed awhile longer.
Eventually we mustered the moxie to face the icy morning before the sun found our camp, and we managed to push off just before 7 am. The cool temps made for a necessary brisk pace and we made good time to a sunny saddle. Warmed a bit, we quickly changed into our cold, wet clothes and then dropped south over the saddle, heading towards the Trailhead to join up with FR 650. The canyon was quite lush and many of the rock pools were filled with water from the recent rains. It would have been pleasant to stop and dry some of our gear alongside these idyllic pools, but we were unfortunately running a tight schedule to make it to the Superior Post Office before they closed. It was nice to have clear skies to give us some sense of the Superstition Wilderness.
Onward we pushed, climbing along FR 650 to Montana Mountain where the AZT switchbacks down its southern face into Reavis Trail Canyon. This canyon was quite lush as well, with pillowy mounds of tufted grass, cottonwoods, and sycamores. The going was pretty straight forward, with consistent cairns to guide us through the creek bottom with minimal bushwhacking. Around noon we emerged from the canyon, ate a quick lunch and then rejoined and headed down FR 650. We left the AZT as we needed to head considerably more eastward to get into Superior and in doing so, avoided a number of shoulderless HWY miles.
After intersecting and following FR 8, we walked on an old set of railroad tracks into Superior. Superior used to be a big copper mining town, and the tracks we followed ran to the old smelter. Just on the outskirts of town, we climbed over a tall chainlink fence (to get off private property) and meandered down mainstreet to the Post Office with an hour to spare.
Mentally it was a tough morning, but once we got out bed, we made fantastic time and stayed focused despite our general weariness.
The discovery of first gold and silver, and later and more importantly copper in the late nineteenth-century put Superior on the map. The copper boom lasted until 1982, when the mine closed. The mine reopened in 1989 only to close again permanently in 1996. Superior is a living ghost town of sorts but instead of feeling empty and cold, Superior has a friendly warmth and the people are kind and good natured.
On the way up Main Street toward the post office, past little boxy shack-like homes, modest shrines to various virgins tucked into old brick walls, and beautiful shrubby flowering plants growing like weeds over everything, we stopped in the Visitor Information office which is also the community employment assistance center. We asked about internet access in town, learned the library was not open today and were immediately invited to use an available computer with a sign “For job searches only”. While we were there, a middle-aged fellow came in and set a date for some resume assistance.
On Main Street, I would estimate that 75% of the available store fronts are vacant and boarded. For Sale signs have been hanging for so long that the telephone numbers one would dial if interested are faded and worn beyond legibility.
We are staying in the Motel El Portal, just up the street from Los Hermanos Restaurant, where they daily turn out 300 to 400 dozen tortillas for distribution in the area. While we ate the Machaca Chimichanga Deluxe Burro we flipped through a copy of Prensa Hispana. For the first time this trip, Mexico really does feel close.
Walking up Main St in Superior, AZ this afternoon was a good reminder that 3rd World conditions exist in our supposedly first world nation. Certainly not on all fronts (no naked kids bathing in the gutters), but in terms of housing, apparent employment opportunity, and general appearance, it would seem this place qualifies. In spite of its appearance, the town has a warm and welcoming feel, and the people are incredibly friendly, relaxed, and good natured.
We are staying the night at the only Motel in town, and the owner, Alice is an absolute pleasure to talk with as she knows a bit of local history and was eager to share her experiences of living and working in Superior. While the copper mine was at its peak in the 80′s, she worked in the tunnels below the surface processing ore. About a year ago, she bought the motel. She also mentioned that most of the employment opportunities are in Florence (SW) at the prisons, or folks head to Phoenix to work for $8-$9 an hour. Alice also mentioned a major meth problem in the region as well. Tough times in Superior for sure.
The town seems half dead already, but if it managed to survive two eras of a boom/bust mining economy, I would think it won’t be blowing away anytime soon.
We decided to take a rest day in Superior before our last week+ on the trail. It was a very pleasant stay, and it seemed we could have stayed there an entire week with no penalty to our overall schedule. Anyway, we mustered the motivation and headed out early Sunday morning, walking through the southern neighborhoods of Superior as the sun rose, heading along Telegraph Canyon Rd and eventually FR 4 where we would rejoin the AZT north of Picketpost Mountain. The morning was very nice, although surprisingly cool as we sluggishly made our way along.
Joining with the AZT we followed another old road and eventually dropped into and climbed out of a few drainages. The trail was discernable, but only marked with the occasional cairn.
In the early afternoon we came upon Hole in the Rock and descended the drainage below it. It was quite scenic as the canyon had many stately Saguaros and a number of interesting rock formations. We continued down canyon following rock cairns until joining up with an old miner’s track which dropped us into a larger canyon, with rising cliffs of white and tan stone. Walnut Spring, an artesian well, was close by and we filled up with 3-3.5 gallons apiece for the days and mileage to Oracle.
We then followed a gravelly wash up canyon which joined with Battleaxe Rd near Copper Butte. Heading south, we continued to follow a large wash until taking a sharp left and working our way towards a saddle along a road which would lead us to a wash down to the Gila River. We laid out our sleeping bags just as the wind picked up. Total hiking time:~11 hrs.
SUPERIOR TO ORACLE
A day that passed relatively quickly, although in some ways seemed quite long. I know that I was not particularly inspired to walk. Superior was a comfortable place to spend a day and I sort of miss it.
The morning was simple, following a road to Walnut Canyon. The views were outstanding south of Hole-in-the-rock. As we descended towards the canyon, the most toothy peak I have seen yet this trip stood framed directly in front of us between two ridges, a dark rocky canine point draped in scree, a perfect Mt. Doom. Disappointingly, from the south, it had the appearance of a molar, if any tooth at all, and lacked any menace what-so-ever.
Walnut Canyon was pleasant. The artesian well was an amazing fount of the clearest, cleanest water. It is said to run all year and I wonder where within the earth it is born. An impressive water source in so arid a landscape. The flow rate was so great that filling 3 gallons worth of containers took only moments.
Three gallons should be plenty to Oracle. The temperatures are cool and today the sun was not particularly strong as a haze and high clouds diminished its glare.
Cool, windy temperatures greeted us in the morning as we continued down a rugged 4wd road and into a broad wash. An hour of gravelly walking got us to the banks of the Gila River which we were happy to simply walk across without even getting our feet wet. A series of cattle paths led us onto some railroad tracks which we followed to a ranch and the Kelvin/Florence HWY which is a nicely graded dirt road.
Heading eastward briefly brought us to Ripsey Wash which we followed for a few hours until leaving the wash to follow a trail of brightly colored ribbon tied to vegetation. This path led us along a road and into a wash which we followed a good distance before hopping a barb wire fence and continuing along an old two track.
Amity noticed more flagging at a road junction and we followed them through the desert in a generally SE direction. After a bit of hiking the colored ribbon abruptly ran out at an old road which we followed a short time to a saddle with a powerpole. As evening set, we quickly descended and made camp.
It seems we are sharing the general area with some hoofed beast, as occasional noises are drifting up from the small wash below us. Whatever it is, I hope it is friendly and does not mind our temporary encroachment. Total hiking time:~10.5 hrs
A long day with a lot of progress and no progress at all. We crossed the Gila, a river I’ve been fascinated with since the day I first heard the words Arizona Trail. The crossing was easy as the river was low. We walked across on some rocks, more accurately a sort of sandy rocky bar without even the slightest risk of getting our shoes even a tiny bit damp.
The climb up Ripsey Wash was simple and straight forward. The wash was wide and sandy with some ATV traffic. An empty Bud Light can made a good soccer ball, which I enjoyed kicking along for diversion’s sake.
Post-wash became a little more challenging, in greater part because of our perceptions that the route would be difficult to keep tabs on than it actually was in reality. None-the-less, we had plenty of manic highs as the route became apparent (the best was a series of orange and pink flagging, from which we trotted one to the next, a Where’s Waldo kind of quest to be the first to say “There’s the next blaze!”) and depressing lows as the route would seemingly fade into a giant question mark surrounded by nothing but very prickly vegetation.
Camped with only a vague sense of where we are. We know we need to head SE so at least the plan for the morning is clear.
I’m hoping that the hoofed critter scuttling along in the nearby wash is a javelina, a creature I am most curious to see.
Election Day. I can’t help but wonder how the day is shaking out around the nation. At the same time, I don’t know if I really want to see any headlines while in town tomorrow.
A day of good mileage and satisfying forward progress. For initially feeling somewhat vague as to our location in relationship to the AZT we quickly settled on a strategy that brought us great success. Almost directly out of camp, we decided to stick to the powerline road, the path of least resistance heading in a generally SE direction. When that began to drift too far to the south, we got on a 4WD road that resumed our bearing. Making good time on these roads, we suddenly came to a rise where the AZT appeared, crossing our road from the southwest. Not where I would have ever expected to find it, but there it was. Our road was working so well for us we decided to stick with it rather than following the now foil AZT flags into some unknown. On we went, across Freeman Road, past Antelope Peak, up out of washes and down into the next. With the old road undulating like a roller coaster track, my legs definitely feel like they got some exercise today.
We are camped only a few miles away from Oracle. I feel like I’ve learned a lot this section about navigation. Once we discarded the notion of needing to find the Arizona Trail and began focusing on our destination, navigation and subsequent decision making became a breeze.
We left camp this morning with the general intention of heading SE…at least until identifying something we were certain of in the landscape before altering our route. The AZT was not obvious since running out of colored flagging yesterday evening, so we headed out cross-country until re-discovering a two-track road that more or less followed our general bearing. The road wove around and beneath a set of major powerlines, which were strangely not denoted on our maps, so they were of little relevance for helping to identify our location. Anyway, we continued on the two-track (which seemed to be the utility/maintenance road for the lines) until we reached a point where we could discern some landmarks in the distance.
Amity took a bearing off Antelope Peak and Black Mountain which told us we were a bit west of where we needed to be. Fortunately, a dirt road was close by that afforded us easy travel eastward so we followed it a ways to try to get back on track. Eventually we swung back southeast and came upon an AZT post and some rock cairns. We were happy to have discovered the blaze, and also happy with our prior decision making in regard to route and direction.
Coming to a junction with the AZT a bit further down the trail, we decided not to subject ourselves to the inconsistencies of colored ribbons and rock cairns and forged our own plans for the remainder of the day. This worked beautifully. Forgoing the frustrations of what at times feels like random follow-the-colored-ribbon-wandering, we made excellent progress the rest of the afternoon and eventually re-joined the AZT at an old, undulating utility road which we followed for a few miles into the evening before we made camp.
All in all a very satisfying day with good problem solving and planning on our part. We were both a little anxious going into this section of trail (GPS was repeatedly recommended) but we managed to keep our wits about ourselves, stay found, and make excellent time. We are camped just a few miles from Oracle and the coyotes are finally back…it is nice to doze to their conversations again and undoubtedly we will be awakened by their hellos in the morning.
ORACLE TO SUMMERHAVEN
As expected the coyotes acted as our alarm, and we awoke to cool temperatures. We walked southeast along a dirt road until following an AZT blaze into a wash. Eventually we came upon Tucson Wash where we left the AZT to follow the wash directly into the town of Oracle and the Post Office to re-supply.
After doing so we left town along the Mount Lemmon Highway until coming to Cody Loop Rd. We hung a right and climbed steadily through some neighborhoods until reaching the Oracle Ridge Trail, our entry into point the Santa Catalina Mountains. We followed the Oracle Ridge Trail for a few miles up steep slopes, and across some ridgelines before intersecting with the AZT again at a saddle.
It seems all the official AZT trailheads are located incredibly inconveniently for folks with only two legs (as opposed to four wheels) as their means of travel. I find it odd the the trailheads are all placed on the outskirts of town where the beautiful metal signs are routinely shot up, and seemingly unapparent to the local community through which the AZT passes. I would think a better approach would be to move the trailheads closer to town, try to incorporate the AZT into local networks of trails and paths. Not only would this be easier for folks hiking the trail in terms of logistics, but it would also raise awareness of the trail and its users for a given community.
Anyway, off the soapbox and back to hiking…This area burnt awhile back (1996?) and the regrowth seems to be struggling in the drought conditions. On a positive note, the charred trees obscure little. The views to the north were nice as it is always enjoyable to look back on the terrain previously traversed. To the NW we could see the white bubbles of the Biosphere 2 Project. It was great to be on a ridgeline again and have some distant views.
We continued along the ridge, switchbacking up to high points, and contouring along mountain sides before reaching a dirt road. After climbing steeply for a short time we decided to camp for the night on a breezy, relatively flat spot, overlooking city lights far below to the north and west. Tomorrow we should re-supply again in Summerhaven, a small mountain town adjacent to Mt. Lemmon Ski Resort.
Lastly, it seem I am doomed to photograph this trail. My Grandfather was kind enough to overnight his camera to me in Superior to use for the rest of trip, but it seems (despite reading and re-reading the instructions) I am not intelligent enough to get the film to load properly. Maybe tomorrow when my patience has returned I’ll be able to figure something out. Thanks for reading.
Summerhaven: Arizona’s Torched Getaway
We arrived in Summerhaven this morning for our resupply package. The mornings walk, although a bit overgrown and weedy, was a splendid way to start our day as the trail followed a ridgeline as we climbed steadily upward from Oracle. Coming to a saddle, we ignored the official AZT as it dropped significantly in elevation westward, added 7 miles+ to Summerhaven, was unmarked, and returned to another high ridgeline via a deep canyon which obviously would have no distant views.
Continuing along the ridgeline we passed a group of folks out for a day hike. One fellow in the group was the local AZT Trail Steward. He told us he thought the ridge route was a better alternative as well…left us wondering why the AZT is located where it is in the Santa Catalinas.
Anyway, we eventually came to the Catalina Highway which we followed a short distance to the PO. Because of the fires and road construction, the Catalina Highway is closed much of the day, so besides fire trucks and construction vehicles, it is quite pleasant here. It appears that a number of homes were burnt, but many folks appear to be salvaging what they can and rebuilding. The challenges for the remainder of the day include: deciding a decent route out of here, a good sink shower at the public restrooms, finding some source of potable water, and deciding what pie flavor to order.
Talking with the few locals around, it seems the trails have all been washed out, burnt to a crisp, or otherwise destroyed, so the afternoon may be an adventure. Lastly, good news with the camera…it seems I mustered the smarts to get it loaded correctly, and the display happily reads `1′. Lets hope it makes it to 36 and then rewinds without a hitch! Anyway, time to move on. Thanks for reading.
SUMMERHAVEN TO PATAGONIA
The Santa Catalina Mountains are proving to be far more spectacular than I ever could have imagined. Tusconites are lucky folks to be able to walk directly into them from the city proper. The trail system up here is remarkable. At 8,000 feet the landscape felt distinctly alpine, no doubt it provides a most refreshing respite from the heat of summer below.
Camp tonight is a rocky perch off of the Box Camp Canyon Trail. Tucson glitters below, framed between jagged ridge lines.
After fueling up with some Sour Cream Apple Pie, a deli sandwich, and a few brownies for good measure, I was ready to hit the trail again.
We agreed to test our luck by linking up the Sunset Trail and Box Camp Canyon Trail to access the East Fork of Sabino Canyon. Info from the locals was pretty vague, but all agreed the trails in the Santa Catalinas were tough going post burn. So we set off with low expectations — always good when you are walking into potentially frustrating terrain.
One reason we chose Box Camp Canyon Trail was that it was the only route down that tended toward ridgeline hiking. Obviously good for the views, but also much easier to navigate if the trail happened to be questionable.
As we entered the Pusch Ridge Wilderness at the Box Camp Canyon Trailhead, the hiking was very pleasant…seemingly alpine and luckily uncharred. As we descended (4,000 ft in 7 miles) we’ve transitioned to desert vegetative zones. As it turned out, the trail has actually been pretty distinct. It has certainly had its vague sections, but nothing any worse than what we encountered in the Mazatzal Wilderness of other burned out areas.
Amity discovered a lovely camp on a granite ledge for the night… pleasant evening temps and a balmy breeze are a nice change from the standard cooler evenings.
When I looked at the maps yesterday for today’s journey, the route seemed very straight forward and making good forward progress seemed a given. It never ceases to amuse me that a day can end up being something so completely different.
We began by continuing our descent to the East Fork of the Sabino. The trail became even more indistinct and we ended up alongside Palisade Creek. Our socks and shoes were so full of prickly sticking plant parts from the brushy descent that we stopped to get them out and ended up spending a nice little while cleaning up next to the creek. That seemed to set a rather lazy tone for the day.
Anyway, after moseying along with a little unplanned detour mid-morning, we had covered relatively little forward distance by lunchtime, which simply reinforced the day’s mood.
By mid-afternoon we had made it to the Molina Basin Campground, a swanky looking place with spotless pit toilets and garbage cans, but no piped water. The temperatures were the warmest we’ve had this trip and I was feeling rather parched and wondering about our water situation given our slower than anticipated progress for the day.
As we were heading toward the Catalina Highway, studying an AZT sign, a couple stopped to ask us about the AZT. It was great being able to share a little about the trail with such enthusiastic folks. As we turned to go, they asked if we might like a satsuma left over from their picnic lunch. I did not hesitate and followed probably all too eagerly to their car. Out came the satsuma and a bottle of gatorade, both of which had been chilling in an ice chest. What an absolutely unanticipated treat – the first fresh citrus fruit this trip. Cold and juicy, it was the perfect refreshment. The icy gatorade was a real bonus to the day’s hydration. I feel so grateful for such unguarded generosity. They also mentioned a bakery in Patagonia, definite incentive to keep moving forward.
The trail from the campground was excellent, good walking all the way. I was in front and at a junction marked only with a cairn I chose the path heading south, along a canyon named “La Milagrosa”. The trail was lovely, climbing onto a ridge, the light of late afternoon falling in reds and golds upon the rocks. Just the name “La Milagrosa” was enough to draw me on. Thankfully Brian had actually paid attention to the maps when we had looked at them last, and soon suggested that we stop to review them. Sure enough, we needed to be heading east. The path we were on would lead us directly to the paved streets of Tuscon. We turned around, yet another detour in the day, and rejoined the AZT. With fading evening light we found a place to camp.
The day has been a good one and I’m glad that I’m not hiking alone as I would have almost certainly awoken from my reverie along “La Milagrosa” on the streets of Tuscon at nightfall, wondering where I had gone wrong.
We packed up and starting hiking this morning just after 6 am and quickly came upon the Belotta Ranch Rd which we followed a few miles to Reddington Rd. Hiking eastward for about 2 miles, we eventually came to our trail junction. After a few miles of lovely rolling terrain we dropped into a wash and then began what would become a 3,500 ft climb into the Rincon Mountains.
Amity set a great tempo, and we walked through several distinct vegetative zones during our ~7 miles ascent. The trail was in great shape despite the recent fire, and nicely contoured at the higher elevations. Eventually we left the AZT to drop down to Manning Camp for what we anticipated was a good, reliable water source.
Upon arrival, the `source’ was a brackish pond full of decomposing leaves with no in or outflow. Scouting around, Amity discovered a stock tank nearly full of rainwater…a much better alternative. As the wind picked up and the temperatures dropped, we set up our filters and retired to the coverage of an old concrete floored stock stable to snack, hydrate, and relax.
Shortly, an NPS Ranger arrived on the scene. Our casual `Hello’ was greeted with an immediate request for a permit, and the accusationary assumption that we were planning to camp illegally at Manning Camp. The conversation went something like this:
Ranger Griswold:”Do you have a permit? You are in Saguaro National Park and a permit is required for any and all overnight camping.”
Me:”No, we do not have a permit. We are not planning on camping overnight.”
Ranger Griswold:”I notice that you have a sleeping bag out. Seems like you two are pretty set-up like you are planning to camp.”
Me:”The sleeping bag is out because it is cold. We are hiking the Arizona Trail and are planning to be outside of your park boundary by nightfall. We stopped here to filter some water. As far I know, no permits are required in National Parks for dayhikes.”
Ranger Griswold: Pause. “Where did you start today? Can you show me maps of your intended route?”
Me:”You bet. We started this morning near Belotta Ranch and intend to be camping on BLM land near Ash Rd this evening.”
Ranger Griswold:”You’ll need a permit if you intend to camp anywhere in the Park Boundary. I need to be certain you understand that. If need be I can issue you a permit right now to stay at Happy Valley Saddle Campground, but in the future you need to book your permit in advance of your arrival.”
Me:”Uhhh, we have no interest in camping anywhere in Saguaro National Park tonight. We are planning to camp near Ash Creek Rd. We appreciate the offer of a permit, but we have no use for one. Thanks but no thanks.”
Amity:”Do you have any idea of the weather forecast?”
Ranger Griswold:”No. Uhhh, if you two need anything I’ll be in and out from the camp for a little while…”
Once the NPS Gestapo left us alone, we finished filtering our water, packed up and left. On his behalf, Ranger Griswold did radio headquarters for the weather, did not issue us a citation for `wilderness loitering’, and never drew his weapon. Much appreciated on all accounts.
Anyway, the remainder of the afternoon was very pleasant hiking… down to Devil’s Bathtub and then contouring around the hillside to rejoin the AZT at Heartbreak Ridge. We followed the ridge about 3.5 miles. The views in every direction were quite stunning, and we both figured we could see Mexico on the horizon from this vantage.
Dropping down through the granite boulder fields of Miller Creek the vegetation began to change immediately and by the end of our 3,000 ft descent, we were back among the plants we started with in the morning. The evening light was spectacular and we made camp in the dark at around 6 pm, just above a wash on nice, soft ground…a welcome change from the nights previous. The skies, like this morning, are occasionally spitting rain.
Today was extremely satisfying. There is nothing like going up and over a mountain range in a day to make one feel a sense of accomplishment. From the Santa Catalinas yesterday, our view south was of the Rincons, and now that we are over them we gained entirely new views with the late afternoon.
Crossing the park boundary on our way out this evening felt like victory. After the exchange with the ranger, I fully expected a park employee to be waiting for us, just to make sure we really weren’t going to spend the night on USDI National Park land.
Another early start got us to Mescal around 11 am after a 17 mile dirt road walk. Our anticipation for a deli was unfortunately met with a closed sign. Regardless we made due for lunch with the assortment of microwaveable meals available. Pushing off shortly and heading south towards Patagonia. Lots of advice from locals about watching out for immigrants as we hike south. Rainy and overcast day.
A Northbound Encounter
We left the convenience store in Mescal and headed south over the Interstate and hung a right westward on West Navajo Trail. We followed this paved road for a few miles winding through the neighborhoods of Mescal. Once we reached the end of the road we scooted under a barbwire fence and headed cross-country towards Cienaga Creek. Essentially the next 30+ miles until reaching HWY 83 is entirely up to us as the AZT is non-existant in these parts. A series of roads and washes will get us to the HWY where we should hook up with the AZT through the Santa Rita Mountains, finally reaching Patagonia, AZ for our last re-supply.
We eventually made our way into Cienaga Creek and headed south, dipping into and out of its braided washes along an old two track. Knowing that the possibility of encountering immigrants was high, Amity and I had discussed our strategy earlier in the day. Essentially the ball was in Amity’s hands as her Spanish is muy bien and mine is muy mal. Anyway, my job was to stand around, smile and nod in agreement with whatever Amity said.
A few miles down the creek I noticed a group of immigrants heading along the same road as us northward. I told Amity and then immediately raised my arms up and said, “No Problemo!” and stopped walking. Everyone in the group stopped when the leader signaled to do so. Amity went into action and I was busy smiling and nodding. The leader soon felt comfortable with the situation and motioned for the group to continue onward. We held our position and then offered some of the travelers an energy bar or two. The group ended up being quite large (12-15 folks) and most were dressed in black and carried very little besides a water jug. Ages appeared to range from around 18 to 60. We wished them all luck, to which many replied a quiet and genuine “Gracias.” As the last few stragglers passed by, I jokingly told then to “andale’!” and they smiled and laughed as they hustled to catch up.
Initially I was quite nervous about the encounter, but Amity’s ability to communicate put my mind at ease. These folks are on their own adventure and the last thing they want to do is cause any static to interfere with their chances of getting stateside. The rest of the day was spent discussing immigration policy as we walked by a number of `camps’; makeshift resting spots strung up with black garbage bags, old blankets, and strewn with clothing and empty water jugs. I can’t imagine what the immigrants must of thought of us, walking for fun through the desert towards Mexico. Certainly different realities.
As we walked into the evening, we noticed a Great Horned Owl perched in a juniper snag and we watched it take flight silently for the evenings hunt as we approached.
Camp tonight is a ways above the creek, so as to hopefully avoid any night time encounters as well as giving the north bounders an easier time. As we made camp a large and vibrant double rainbow appeared to the north. I made the mistake of pitching my tarp a bit too close to an anthill…as such I have been invaded! Amity was kind enough to allow me sanctuary beneath her tarp and I am much more comfortable as a result.
All the road walking made the day pretty productive in terms of mileage… about 26 on the odometer for the day.
After a night of scattered rain showers, we awoke and descended to Cienaga Creek. We followed the wash upcreek to what is referenced as `The Narrows’. We mistakenly began heading eastward but caught ourselves quickly and backtracked to a junction and followed a powerline road out of the wash west and then south where we rejoined Cienaga Creek proper.
It seems we have caught back up with Fall as the Cottonwoods are just beginning to turn. The road continued along, crossing Cienaga Creek a few times before becoming impassable as it climbed the eroding eastern bank. Once out of the lush creek bottom, the road turned into your standard rocky AZT two track…going in our general direction of travel, but never as direct as we’d like.
Eventually the road re-entered Cienaga Creek, but became indistinct as it followed the wash. We continued cross-country until finding the Empire-Cienaga Rd near a ranch. This would be our route for the next ~20 miles of walking until reaching HWY 83…as such there ain’t much to say about it! Brief highlights include seeing a cardinal and a roadrunner. Other than that we kept a steady pace to get it over with asap.
Reaching HWY 83 in the late afternoon, we hopped across a barbwire fence and walked cross country into a gated ranchette-style community. Climbing over the fancy coded entry gate, we made our way to the Greaterville HWY which we would follow another few paved miles before turning onto a dirt road. Obviously lots of roads for the day, and another higher mileage day as a result.
In Patagonia at last! This town has seemed long in coming, the last resupply town this trip. Only 2 1/2 days to go, doesn’t seem like very much.
The walking since Mescal has been such a mixed bag. The trail from Mescal to the Mexican border very much resembles the letter “C” with a walk west from Mescal to the Santa Rita mountains, a southward jaunt through the foothills of the mountains into Patagonia and now a very much east southeastern path to the border.
Yesterday’s walk in the Santa Ritas made up for what seemed initially like a very silly course. The trail from Kentucky Camp (a delightful historic camp complete with piped water and a little furnished cabin one can rent) followed the route of a water pipeline that was part of a hydraulic mining effort from 1904. Interpretive signs along the way made the extremely well graded trail even more interesting.
With late afternoon we were feeling very good about our progress towards Patagonia, and upon reaching FR 72 felt like we were into a good stretch of free sailing. Well, moments like that seem to invite erroneous thinking.
We arrived at a junction, pulled out the maps and turned left, which seemed very logical at that moment. Well, after climbing briefly and dropping very steeply the road came to an end. Instead of turning around we decided to follow the creek bed at which we had just arrived. It was beautiful with colored polished rock, boulders to work around, tight walls opening into wider washes and narrowing again. With some fall color the trees lent themselves nicely to the scene. So on we went and it was gorgeous.
The afternoon grew late and we decided it would be best to climb up to a ridge to gain some vantage and find a place to camp. Once we were settled in camp our error became apparent and we were able to figure out with fairly high certainty where we were.
With this morning we headed back to the Casa Blanca canyon bottom. In this stretch there were plenty of really good cattle paths so we made good time working our way towards civilization. Before long we picked up a road, crossed onto private property, met the landowner upon whose property we had intruded (thankfully just the kind of benevolent property owner one would wish to meet), and made it to the highway where we walked for several miles to Patagonia. Ah, at last, Patagonia makes itself apparent.
Once we arrived in Kentucky Camp, the hiking became quite pleasant. Well contoured trail was the name of the game until just past the Mt Wrightson Wilderness where we joined up with a steep and rough 4wd road. The Mt Wrightson Wilderness was pleasant, especially for the entire .5 mile we were in it on the AZT. Luckily we managed to return to it for the better part of the evening due to our unplanned detour down Casa Blanca Canyon. Despite the detour we enjoyed our evening and had a great camp and night sky.
Morning brought cool temps and a dewy wetness to the day. Eventually we made it to Patagonia where we have sampled two restaurants already…one for a late breakfast, the other for an early lunch. Pushing off again shortly for the border. Miller Peak and the general area of the AZT’s southern terminus, has been visible the last 2 days, so our anticipation for wrapping this hike up has grown. Hopefully the remaining 2.5 days will be as great as the previous 34(?) days.
PATAGONIA TO MEXICAN BORDER
We left Patagonia in the early afternoon and headed east along Harsaw Rd. Our gaits were a bit off pace and we were both a little bit burpy from our last two meals, but we made due.
Leaving the pavement after a few miles, we walked along undulating, well marked trail for a couple of hours until reaching Red Canyon Rd. The afternoon initially felt hot, but as the day progressed the temperatures were quite pleasant.
After crossing the dirt road, the AZT changed slightly in its appearance…namely in the amount of litter with Spanish labels that seemed to line the trail. Amity and I had kind of forgotten about the immigration issues in these parts during the last few days. As evening was approaching, we became a little concerned as the trail had a number of northbound footprints and was tending towards a heavily vegetated creekbed. With a few minutes of light remaining in the sky, we bushwacked through the catclaw and assorted thorn-laden plants until discovering a stealthy low spot on a ridge above the AZT. The only negative is that we are surrounded by masses of prickly plants, which I anticipate will make any late night `calls-of-nature’ an exciting process.
Anyway, the sense of trail closure really hit me today in Patagonia. I know we’ve been hiking the last month+ with the intention of working towards Mexico each day, but it seems like the trip is coming to an abrupt end.
One of the great perks of walking a trail shaped like a “C” for 125 miles is that when one reaches the southwestern portion one can look back and see the fantastic swath of land covered. The view back was spectacular and satisfying while the view of the route ahead of us from Mescal seemed thoroughly circuitous.
The weather was clear and we could see Rincon Peak, the Whetstone Mountains south of Mescal, Mt. Wrightson and the Santa Rita Range and the Huachuca Mountains with Miller Peak, our last mountain range to traverse this jaunt. I finally understand the term “sky islands” often used to refer to Arizona, mountain ranges rising out of grasslands and desert.
The trail has been in rather exceptional shape since Patagonia, making for good mileage and a relaxed state of being, which is just what I wanted for these last days. It’s great to be able to scoot along taking in the views and enjoying the scenery without being on high alert for a hidden cairn, a faded piece of flagging or an unmarked obscure trail junction.
The trail has been remarkably garbage free as well, so while we have been alert for folks coming across the border I haven’t felt as if we might be surrounded by them everytime we pass into a vegetated drainage.
Tonight’s camp is on a ridge well above the trail. Use trails are everywhere and they don’t look like cow paths, some trash (from various productos mexicanos) is littered about. I know I’ll be sleeping in alert mode tonight. A visit from Border Patrol folks doesn’t seem like the most unlikely possibility, and of all the possible visitors, that doesn’t sound so bad.
Another cool morning…frost on the sleeping bags. It seems the 2.5 months of winter that southern Arizona experiences is approaching.
We bushwacked back down to the trail and headed pretty much easterly along excellent trail. Although a bit obscure in spots due to tall grasses, overall it was pleasant hiking and the morning passed quickly as we made good time, hiking further into the Canelo Hills.
Eventually we crossed Canelo Pass Rd, where the trail then began an undulating series of ascents and descents, all mostly well graded and easy to find energy for. The occasional views south to Mexico were nice…nothing spectacular, but large open grassland which oddly reminded me of parts of Montana.
Continuing onward towards Parker Lake we crossed FR 48 and left the AZT to find some water for the evenings meal and for our drinking needs the following day, which would be our last on the trail.
The first cabin door knocked upon yielded us each 1.5 gallons, which put our minds at ease. Pushing off again, we backtracked to FR 48 to the AZT trailhead. Finding a cairn in the tall grass got us pointed in the right direction as we headed into a drainage as evening approached.
Somehow we always manage to be in canyon or drainage bottoms when evening is fast approaching. Certainly not ideal given the illegal travelers in these parts. Anyhow, as usual we left the drainage with a few minutes of light remaining and headed cross country towards a ridge to find a suitable camp.
The going was easy, primarily due to the series of use-paths heading off the ridge and going towards the drainage that we had just left. It seems we had stumbled upon a popular route. It seemed each juniper tree we looked beneath for possible shelter had some sign of previous use — discarded clothing, blankets, or the standard pile of empty plastic bottles. Our search continued until finding a protected grassy spot nestled between a cluster of juniper slightly down from the ridge. The evening has been a bit tense as our imaginations seem to get the better of us at times. Hopefully we will find some way to relax through the night.
Tomorrow we climb into the Miller Peak Wilderness and the Huachuca Mountains before descending to the Coronado National Monument and the end of the Arizona Trail.
I am sandwiched between clean sheets, myself better scrubbed that I have been in 12 days. The walk which has consumed every day for the last 36 is over, just like that. It surprises me how something that passes at a pace of maybe 3 miles per hour for days ends so suddenly.
Reaching Monument 102 brought the trip to an end. The silver, pointed monument was striking, on the north side, “Boundary of the United States of America”, and on the south side, reached by climbing through a barbed wire fence, “Limite de La Republica Mexicana”. The location was striking, the San Pedro river valley and San Jose peak to the east, path of Coronado’s journey into what is now the state of Arizona. To the south and the west, more sky islands, ranges rising out of desert grasslands. Geographically there was no real reason why the trip would be ending, the landscape was continuous.
Brian’s uncle picked us up at the Coronado National Memorial Visitor’s Center and brought us home to Tucson. It’s great to be able to relax in such comfort, with such extraordinary hospitality, before heading back to Logan.
After a fitful nights sleep, we arose and hit the trail for our last day of hiking, slowly climbing into the Miller Peak Wilderness and the Huachuca Mountains. The trail was fantastic as it switchbacked upward through the desert zones until reaching a high ridgeline after a few thousand feet of climbing. It seemed every saddle we came to had an intersecting maze of trails, the bulk of which were strewn with trash…the apparent dumping grounds of our southern friends. It was quite disappointing, and certainly detracted from the general loveliness of the place. Regardless, the hiking was good, and it was nice to have the chance to hike in some mountains that were not charred. The views in all directions through the morning were wide ranging as the skies were crisp and clear. The afternoon brought clouds and cooler temps as we descended from the Miller Peak Wilderness towards Montezuma Pass, the Coronado National Monument, and the end of the Arizona Trail.
It seems most southern or northern termini are generally non-descript…often just a barbwire fence or cut swath of vegetation to demark a drawn line on a map. The AZT’s southern terminus is certainly no exception — a beat up barb wire fence in the middle of a strong southern sloping ridgeline. Although the descending ridge drew us into Mexico and the San Pedro River Valley, the trail abruptly ended at Monument 102, as did our hike. Thanks for reading.
In the next few days Amity and I plan to post our collective conclusions about the trail: our gear, our strategy, and our insights into the AZT.
Southbound vs. Northbound
Conventional wisdom states that the AZT is to be hiked in a northbound direction in the springtime, and all trail literature reflects this bias. While hiking southbound this fall we had time to think about what the advantages or disadvantages might be in regards to either direction or season. By beginning in the north, we had a chance to break in slowly to trail life. The trail is on almost entirely flat or very gentle terrain and generally on roads. While the altitude on the Kaibab is approx. 7,000 ft. the hiking is not strenuous which minimizes any possible altitude-related wheeziness. By the time we got to the middle of the state where the mountain ranges begin we were ready for more challenging hiking. By beginning south, one immediately begins making daily assaults on the various ranges, and then finishes the trail with a very long walk in the woods.
In terms of season, the autumn was a very pleasant time to be out. Fall colors were good and the temperature difference between higher and lower elevations was probably not nearly as great as it might be in the spring. We also did not have to contend with lingering snow in the mountains or many mosquitoes for that matter. One reason that the AZTA probably advocates the spring is from a water perspective, that sources will more likely have water from snowmelt. This is fine thinking but neglects the fact that Arizona also benefits from a fall Monsoon season which typically takes place from late August into September, replenishing some sources. Depending on water strategy, whether sources are full or not may be irrelevant.
Equipment: The two water filtration systems that we used both relied upon gravity to do the work, making good excuses for sitting around in the middle of the day. Brian carried a ULA-Equipment H20 Amigo, while Amity carried an invention all her own…a siphon system which utilizes a 4 L Platy and a Waterwise Inline Filter. Both systems worked well throughout the trip. In addition, both systems could be easily disassembled and used as a basic straw –style filter…sucking water through the inline filter directly from the source. This arrangement worked well at breaks to hydrate. By hydrating at occasional water sources, our total water load was reduced while hiking.
Our plan from the beginning was to rely almost exclusively upon tap water from towns and ranger stations, the only sure sources along the trail. The following is a list of every source we used during the entire trip. With such frequent town stops and an average of 23 miles per day, walking spigot to spigot worked beautifully!
As a note, we did have much cooler temperatures and damper weather than what is normal for October. According to NOAA, in Arizona, Oct. 2004 was the 7th wettest on record for the 110 year period from1895-2004. The month was also the 40th coolest October out of that same 110 year period of data collection. If it had been hotter, we almost certainly would have had to use more sources, or at least carry more water than the usual 1 ½ gallons we generally had in our packs.
Strategy: Once we began to navigate using landmarks and selecting a general direction to follow, we were seldom lost or turned around and made much better forward progress than when we were casting about for an AZT blaze. In fact, the trail always turned up once we chose our own course.
Maps and Compass, No GPS. The use of a GPS is heavily recommended in much of the literature about the AZT, but our initial interest was low and we never found ourselves wishing for one on the trail. We used USGS 100K Maps and Forest Service Maps throughout the trip. We also utilized Topo USA! Software to print off more detailed maps for our town stops and areas we identified beforehand as being potentially troublesome. Lastly, we printed off just about every section from Dave Hick’s AZT Website which gave us an impromptu “Guidebook” for the hike, an indispensable source of trail information www.geocities.com/davehicks01/. All in all the AZT was better blazed than we anticipated.
• The Paria Plateau definitely got us mulling over our maps and doing a little compass work. This was one of our alternative routes, so it would not be problematic for someone following the official AZT.
• South of Ripsey Wash we had to keep our wits about us and use good common sense to keep from going too far astray until we reached sight of Antelope Peak, an excellent landmark pointing the way to Oracle.
• In the areas affected by recent forest fires, particularly the Mazatzals and the Santa Catalinas, constant awareness of the trail, whether it was trending up, down or contouring and where it was generally headed was essential to staying on path.
My total pack weight, without food and water, was 12.3 pounds. I used all of the gear that I brought, except for the rattlesnake bite kit, thankfully. I was glad for the extra layers of long underwear I was carrying. Even when the days were pleasantly warm the nights were often quite chilly. Also, because the AZT is often high in the mountains, temperatures are much more variable and the likelihood of precipitation greater.
In the footwear department, I wore a pair of Montrail Vitesse lightweight hiking shoes, a good looking shoe for town and day hikes but not durable enough for the rigors of the AZT. Within 200 miles of wear, mesh/cloth components were disintegrating. The insoles were shot by mile 300 and by mile 400 the sole was beginning to separate from the shoe at the toe. None-the-less, I wore them the entire length of the trail.
My total pack weight was right around 12 lbs as well. A bit higher than normal as the additional water bladders bumped it up a bit. I used all the gear I brought sans first aid stuff. We both carried prototype packs which were 2 lbs with dual aluminum stays as the suspension components. I used a 30 degree Western Mountaineering Pod 30, a homemade Epic Bivi, and a homemade 5 x 7 Spinnaker Tarp for my sleeping arrangements. I think I set the tarp up 4-5 times. When it poured rain, Amity let me sleep beneath her homemade (and palatial!) 8 x 10 sil-nylon tarp. For footwear, I used Dunham Nimble Waffle Stompers. I chose this shoe ‘cause it has a stiff yet flexible midsole which treated my feet well on the rocky roads and trails along the way. Normally, I hike in $30 Reeboks, but the durable midsole and foot cushioning was critical for this hike. In addition, I used a slightly thicker sock than normal as well for the same reasons. Lastly, I wore knee high pantyhose (woven toe, rolled down!) as a liner sock. These worked beautifully for blister prevention (5 blisters the entire trip) and moisture transfer, as well as having folks look at me inquisitively in small towns when purchasing them.
In reading about the AZT in literature from the Arizona Trail Association, it is easy to get the impression that the trail is quite rugged, traverses very inhospitable desert country and is only for the truly intrepid. In reality, the AZT is not nearly as challenging. For starters, much of the trail north of Pine, AZ (the first 300 miles) is on dirt roads through pine forests so as long as you have a decent sense of direction, a current BLM or Forest Service map, and the ability to find road walking interesting, the trail is about as easy as it comes. From border to border, in our rough estimation, approximately 70% of the trail is found on roads, 27% is truly trail and 3% was cross-country. South of Pine, the AZT visits one mountain range after another, keeping the hiker in higher-altitude and therefore cooler environs.
While Amity was out playing the month before the hike, Brian did an incredible job examining maps for alternative routes. Without his well thought out and carefully mapped alternates in and out of towns we would have spent many days longer hiking on highways to get from peculiarly located AZT trailheads to resupply stops. It seems the AZT Trailheads are more in alignment for the SUV driving crowd, rather than the two-legged thru-hiking crowd. Not a big deal, but be sure to look for more direct routes into and out of towns, as you will save yourself time and miles. As we noted in our journal, it seems odd that the AZT Trailheads are not located closer to (or better yet, in!) re-supplies towns. Not only would this raise awareness of the AZT in communities along the way, but it would be much easier for day, section, and thru-hikers to access. The existing trailheads could still be used for equestrians and cyclists for parking and trail access. If you are interested in our alternate routes as described in our journal, let us know as we are more than willing to share the info.
Showers and Laundry:
Unless one is staying in motels at every town stop, shower and laundry facilities are scarce. Our total shower count over the course of 36 days was 5: North Rim, campground; South Rim, campground; Flagstaff, motel; Roosevelt, RV Park; Superior, motel. Mormon Lake and Patagonia do have shower and laundry facilities at nearby RV parks, but we opted out at these locations. Pine has a laundromat but not any showers. Amity managed to break her 10 day ‘No Shower Record’ during the last 12 days of the hike. That seems odd given we re-supplied approx. every 4 days, a testament to the lack of shower facilities. Besides, in Arizona it is a dry stink.