The Arizona Trail

Patagonia, AZ: Gateway Community, Part 1

Day 5 – 5/11/47

Finally got a full night of sleep. I woke only a few times, but fell right back to sleep. I was so close to Patagonia, I had comfort in the thought of eating and drinking and calling my girlfriend. I was so anxious to get into town that morning I didn’t even eat breakfast. I didn’t even have coffee, but that was because I needed to ration what little water I had left. On the way, I ate a Clif Bar and a packet of Justin’s Almond Butter.

It turned out I had about 5.5 miles to Patagonia from where I camped and I was glad I didn’t try pushing through in the dark. The landscape was nothing different the few more miles out to Harshaw Road Trailhead. The AZT follows Harshaw Road for about three miles and brings you into the little town of Patagonia. It felt weird walking on pavement after walking on dirt for so long, like I had to readjust my balance.

By this point, I was out of water in my Camelbak and well into my bottle of purified water from the spigot I found. That water didn’t taste bad, just had a weird, milky color and film from the purification tablets. By 10am I was sipping on the last quarter of it as I made it into town.

There was a heavy Border Patrol presence here. The little motor I kept hearing the night before was a drone for night surveillance. There were patrol SUVs on the hillsides, and the agents were a common sight in town.

On the way into town, I passed adobe and ranch style homes. A little old lady riding a bicycle up the road stopped and asked how I was doing and told me how much further I needed to go. People driving past me on the road waved to me. There were plenty of local businesses of the New Age/Hippy sort. I passed the post office, which marked the end of the trail, and immediately kept an eye out for a diner or cafe. I stopped at the first place I saw with a banner advertising “bakery, coffee, ice-cream.” It was called Ovens of Patagonia, and they just so happened to be AZT supporters, or Trail Angels.

I removed my pack outside on the covered patio, walked inside where there was a cooler of deli sandwiches, and another cooler of bottled drinks. I grabbed a roast beef sandwich, a bottle of red Gatorade, and a bottle of coconut water. I also needed to charge my phone. My phone had been dead since I left Parker Canyon Lake and my solar bank would not charge enough to charge the phone. I had been letting the bank soak up as many rays as it could as I hiked and tried to recharge my phone a few percentages at a time. So in the deli, I bought a wall to USB charger and the employees were kind enough to plug it in for me behind the counter.

Outside, I sat down at one of the tables with my pack next to me, stretched my legs out and drank most of the ice cold Gatorade bottle without taking a breath. I then ate the entire sandwich, finished the Gatorade, and then drank the coconut water.

While sitting out there, I talked with one of the employees. He told me they love the AZT hikers here and that I’m welcome to use their facilities as long as I need. They had a fenced off backyard where I could pop up the tent for the night if I wanted, and also use the bathroom and garden hose, etc. The bakery was part of a small business complex with a small court and fountain in the center. The man gave me the code to the keypad lock to gain access to the shared bathroom.

After I finished my coconut water, I brought my pack into the single restroom. I wiped down with body wipes, washed my face in the sink, and brushed my teeth. I took off my shoes and socks and washed the dirt off one foot at a time in the sink. I dried them the best I could and inspected the painful blisters that formed on my heels and center of my right foot. I applied Moleskin to them again and put on clean socks.

I felt human again.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 3: Canelo Hills West

Day 4 – 5/11/17

The Passage 3 trailhead was the best place I’d have to stop and rest for a long time. I sat on a large rock near the parking area where there was one vehicle and took some time to eat and drink. I removed my shoes and socks and reapplied moleskin to the blisters that had developed. I wrote down some notes.

It was a quarter after noon. I had just finished Passage 2 and covered about seven or eight miles, and had about 16.5 miles ahead of me until the town of Patagonia. I was determined to cover some ground that afternoon. I was starting at an elevation of about 5500 feet and the trail dropped in elevation all the way into town. The skies were clear by this point. Everything was dry, but it was getting hotter.

Canelo is Spanish for cinnamon, on account the hills are a brown, cinnamon color. You would think they would be called Cow Shit Hills, or Radioactive Ant Hills, because there was cow shit everywhere, and even more giant ant hills and huge red and black ants crawling up and down the trail. A great motivation to keep going.

The Canelo Hills West were mostly cattle grazing land, more so than East, and also a nature preserve popular for bird watching.

The trail makes a committed climb up a prominent hill then drops down into a meadow of long, tan grass. I ran into an older couple who owned the vehicle at the trailhead and were out there bird watching. They asked if I got stuck in the rainstorm. They said they heard over a birdwatching CB channel that there was about every kind of weather in the hills the day before. I said that sounded about right.

I continued through the tall grass and up and down the hills. I saw a waterhole that was surrounded by cattle. Nothing I’d drink from. I wasn’t worried about water, but kept an eye out just in case. That’s when I came across this concrete barrier that was built in a draw and had a metal spigot with a red handle on it. Water slowly dripped from the faucet and the moisture on the rocks below formed a rancid puddle with flies and mosquitoes swarming about.

I took one of my empty bottles and held it under the spigot and turned the knob which only made the water drip slightly faster. It took about 20 minutes to refill one liter. I then took out a cooling wrap and wet it and wrapped it around my neck. It was warming up rather quickly by that point.

The trail then lead to a dry creek bed of daunting soft sand and pebbles which I followed for quite some time before it finally led out and back into the tall grass. I eventually came to a dirt road that had a sign that said it was the National Forest boundary. I looked at the trailhead map on my camera I took a picture of, and the only boundary it showed was close to Harshaw Pass, and if that was right, I only had about three more miles until Patagonia. I picked up the pace, hoping to make it into town before nightfall.

Well, six o’clock came around and I was still on the trail. I had been hauling ass, too. Now, after I have access to detailed maps, I learned that it was Red Rock Road I crossed at about mile 9.8. Ended up not being as far as I thought I was. Feeling a little defeated, and didn’t want to be stuck out there in the dark, I decided to make camp on top of a small hill away from the trail. It was on a little bit of a slope, but there were no ants or cow dung.

Even though, I didn’t make it into Patagonia that night, I still felt awesome for having hiked so far that day, especially after the luck I had been having the days prior. I think by the time I set up camp I covered about 19 miles that day. Approximately eight of Canelo Hills East, and 11 of Canelo Hills West.

I methodically set up camp. I unrolled the tent that dried quickly from the dampness that morning. Set out my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, inflated my travel pillow, folded my shirts and sweater for extra padding, made dinner, and wrote down some notes. I was down to about a liter and a half at that point and not sure how much further from town. My feet and back hurt and I was exhausted.

The night was warm and quiet, save for a faint motor I kept hearing every now and then, and I fell asleep thinking about the burgers I would eat in town, and how I was going to get some water.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 2: Canelo Hills East, Part 3

Day 4 – 5/10/16

Day three was a hell of a bitch. All that rain and hail set me back. With as easy as the Canelo Hills are, I could have covered at least 15 miles a day through that stretch, if not more.

I didn’t sleep much that night. It was cold and the rain seeped through the fly and dripped down on me, and the condensation from my breath built up on the insides of the tent and dripped down on me. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I was going to move forward. I couldn’t stop thinking about getting to my Jeep at the end of these 75 miles and driving home to see my girl.

I got up about 5:30 that morning. The rain had stopped earlier in the night, and as soon as I saw daylight I was up. I draped my sleeping bag, towel, and clothes across the trees in the morning sun to dry them out. I made my coffee and last pack of scrambles eggs with bacon with a sideways look on the same heavy clouds lurking about. I was fully prepared to throw everything back into the tent in case it started raining again.

While waiting for my things to dry, I wrote down some notes and took inventory. I was down to about 3 liters of water at this point. I think I had only covered about seven miles before I made camp the day before. I had much more space in my pack with the diminishing food and water.

The ominous rain clouds were dissipating and the morning sun was much welcomed. I left camp at almost 8am. Wanting to get going, I packed up everything, dry or wet. I didn’t like doing it, but rolled up my tent while it was still a little damp. I just wanted to make up for the miles lost the day before, and with as little sleep as I had the past three nights, I was surprised I felt as good as I did to get started on that fourth day.

The rest of the hike through the Canelo Hills East wasn’t very exciting. I passed a large, plastic, blue tub that had a small stagnant pool of water in one corner. After all that rain, that was it, and it didn’t look safe enough to drink even with purification tablets. I was doing a pretty good job of conserving my water, so I wasn’t worried. I think that was the Stock Tank on the map at about mile nine.

The rest of the hills were mostly high desert landscape except for one stretch after I left the old forest road 4633 and switch backed through more barbed cattle fences with signs that politely asked to keep the gates closed so cattle would not roam free, in English and Spanish. At that point I entered an area of tall pines, juniper, and oak that made for a nice stretch of forest to walk through.

It was basically the same terrain for the rest of the morning. I was gaining much more ground and I was going a faster pace as well. There was not as much incline in this area to slow me down. I only made one committed climb up to a ridge where I could look back at how far I had come in the past three and a half days, and look forward at so much more I had to accomplish.

I eventually made it to a paved road, which was Forest Road 799, and the trail paralleled that until it finally crossed over the road to the next passage. I made it to Passage 3 at about 11:45 that morning and I’m guessing I covered about seven or eight miles since I left camp. I only stopped a few times to this point for quick breaks and took the opportunity to sit on a big rock near the parking area to eat and drink and write down some notes.

 

 

The Arizona Trail

Passage 2: Canelo Hills East, Part2

day 3 – 5/9/16

I finally started Passage 2 well into my third day. After hiking through the little town (I still don’t know what it is called), I got back on track and found the trailhead to passage 2. The ground was wet and the skies were gray and cool enough that I had to wear my sweater. Off I went.

The trail through the Canelo Hills is pretty much uneventful and not very strenuous as it takes you up and down the hills and through and across arroyos. Where I started from, the landscape was a high desert: a lot of Junipers and Ocotillos and small brush. I saw far too many giant ant hills with big, fat red ants swarming them, and their numbers only increased the further I went through the hills.

Even though this stretch of hills only reached an elevation a little over 6000 at the most, it was still pretty cold at times. I was wearing my long sleeve running shirt and a rain poncho, which helped keep me warm, but had to take off the hoodie because it was making me sweat, which made me colder.

Not far into the trail I came across a small creek of water, which I think was Parker Canyon. I didn’t need to refill any of my bottles at that time, but that was the last of the water I’d see until the next day. Even after all the rain.

I trudged on happily through a few more sprinkles of rain. I stopped only a few times to rest and snack on trail mix. I felt like I was covering a lot of ground and making great time. The signage was much clearer through this passage, making for an easier trail to follow.

At about 3:00 PM, I heard what sounded like a rush of wind coming through the trees. I stopped, closed my eyes, and listened as the sound got louder and closer. I thought to myself, “I hope that’s wind.” But of course, it was not. It was the sound of a downpour rushing at me. A few drops of rain hit me, followed by a wall of hail.

Yep. Hail.

I got the idea of getting underneath a tree for some cover. Problem was, most of the junipers produced scarcely any boughs. I stood underneath the thickest one I could find away from the trail, but the hail cut down right through the branches and covered me. The whole landscape was covered white. The trail a snake of little white ice pellets.

I abandoned that endeavor and started hiking as fast as I could to outrun it. The ice stung my knuckles and my face, but I kept on. That lasted for about an hour. Just shortly after it broke, I hiked on for about 15 minutes more until I found a good camp spot, right where the single track of trail ended and turned into an old Jeep road that climbed a hill.

I really wanted to keep hiking until 6:00 PM, but I also thought I should set up shelter to get out of the rain if it started again. I hated stopping, but made myself do it anyway, which was a good thing I did.

I found a nice, flat spot between two trees where their branches connected and made somewhat of a cover. Before I set up my tent between these two trees, I remembered that I still needed to mend the tent pole that broke. I’m glad I brought that small roll of Scotch duct tape. I wrapped it around the center pole in three places and it worked great, and not too soon. The rain started coming down again.

I pitched the tent as fast as I could, threw all my gear inside, and climbed in soaking wet. Now, I have the Eureka! Solitaire tent. There isn’t room to stand, kneel, or even sit up. I had to roll out my sleeping pad, sleeping bag, situate my stuff, and undress while lying down. I shoved everything to one side as best I could and climbed into my sleeping bag to warm up. I was shivering by this point, and in the back of my head thought I might get hypothermia.

It was about 4:45 PM when I was finally settled in. I wasn’t tired enough, and too uncomfortable to sleep. I ate a granola bar from my pack for dinner. The rain came down pretty hard for most of the night, and I laid there for the next 12 hours, wet and miserable and doubting why I ever wanted to do this trip.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 2: Canelo Hills East, Part 1

Day 3 – 5/9/16

Worst day yet.

But it wouldn’t be an adventure without a few mishaps. Technically I hadn’t even started passage 2 yet. This blog is just about getting to the trailhead.

I forgot to mention in my last post, but while I was pitching my tent the night before I broke a tent pole. Because I wasn’t having a bad enough day, you know. I fed the tent pole through the sleeve at the foot of the tent and had the peg in the eyelet on the other side, and when I went to push it through and bend it into the eyelet on my side, I heard a nasty crack. My tent pole splintered and cracked right in the middle. The foot end of my tent was shaped like a capital A.

I was too tired to attempt to fix it that night, but I probably should have.

It rained on and off throughout the night, but I was expecting it. All I could do was hope that the rain would stop, which it did. I got up at about 6:30 that morning. I made my coffee and breakfast and refilled my Camelbak and plastic bottles. I used the men’s room at the camp site and “bathed” with body wipes in all the critical places. I went back to my campsite table and washed my hands with soap and water instead of sanitizer. I removed my shoes and socks and washed my right foot with soap and water and dried it off so I could apply moleskin to areas of concern.

The other hiker across from me had finished packing up and was heading out. Just as I was putting my socks back on, it started raining again. I threw what I could in my pack and then threw the pack underneath the concrete picnic table. I then ran back into my tent.

The rain wasn’t letting up. I was in there for about 15 minutes, just lying there, before I panicked and decided to pack up in the rain. I rolled up what I could in the tent, ran out and grabbed my pack from under the table, which was getting wet anyway, and threw it against the wall of the outhouse that was dry underneath the overhang. I finished packing what I could under that spot while it was still raining. I then ran back to my tent and broke it down. Folded up the broken tent pole, pulled out the tent stakes, and put away what I could. I looked around for a somewhat dry space I could fold up the tent and roll it up. There was a spot underneath a tree not too far away, so I dragged it over there and laid it out to start rolling it up.

Figures, it stopped raining.

That was good though. I rolled up the tent, brought it back to my stuff underneath the overhang of the outhouse, and packed up everything. I drank as much as I could from one of the bottles and filled it up again. Then I walked out of the camp site to the marina store. It was closed, but the restroom was open. I used the bathroom one last time, and then hiked out through the spooky little town up South Coronado Trail to South lake Road, which brought me back to the Arizona Trail. A sight for sore eyes and a relief knowing I was back on track.

My phone died on my way from the lake to the trailhead, and my solar charger didn’t have enough power to charge it. So I took a picture of the simple map at the passage 2 trailhead so I could at least reference it on my camera. The skies were gray, and it was cold, and I was starting late (about 11am), but I felt good and was ready to cover some ground.

Little did I know, things were going to get much worse.

 

The Arizona Trail

Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains, Part 2.2

Day 2 – 5/8/17

Here’s the rest of my second day in passage 1. I didn’t post as many pictures in this part, because I stopped taking pictures once I realized I was walking in circles and concentrated on finding the trail again. 

I was following the trail just fine. I even found another post with an AZT arrow. I followed it and the trail took me up along the side of a hill so that the creek bed was below me to my left. There was an exposed black hose line that ran along the trail. Then the trail dropped back down to the creek bed and the next sign I saw pointed me left, so I followed and the next sign pointed me left. I felt like I was going back the way I just came, but I thought maybe it would turn me around after it had me cross the arroyo again. It did not, and I was definitely going back the way I just came. I didn’t realize it until I ran into some tire tracks that had left deep grooves at the bottom of the creek bed that I saw earlier. I turned around and sure enough, there was one of the signs I followed earlier and a pile of rocks marking the trail.

I followed the trail again to see if maybe I missed a turn, but I had not. Where I got turned around, the trail split in two, running parallel to each other for that whole loop I just took. Back where I was originally, where I first got turned around, there was a dirt road that seemed to be the only logical route. I followed it for a long time until I realized I was heading south and I needed to be heading west.

I doubled back to see if I had missed any signs or piles of stones that would have marked the trail. I found nothing but a sign pointing me back the way I originally came from. I was hot and my feet hurt and running low on water and I wanted to light that goddamn scarecrow on fire. (See my Wizard of Oz reference in Part 2.1.)

I turned on my phone to see if I could get reception and connect to GPS. I found weak service through a third party provider, and it was eating my battery power very quickly. Google maps would not locate my location, so I tried the app All Trails. All it showed was a pin of my location and the shape of Parker Canyon Lake in a field of green. I pulled out my compass and pointed myself in the direction of the lake and went for it.

I made a rigorous climb up the hill before me through nasty thorn bushes, jagged rocks and dried limbs of trees, not unlike the times I would go hunting with my brothers and we’d stalk through the wild. Except this time, I was carrying a cumbersome 40+ pound pack on my back. I carefully climbed over a barbed wire cattle fence at the top of the hill, and past that was another hill.

I tried my phone again and I was pretty low on battery power. I pulled up that All Trails map and I hadn’t made it much closer to the lake, but I was going in the right direction. I trudged down the hill and walked along the draw between the two hills for a while. Then I turned and made my way up the next hill. I thought I would see more hills once I reached the top, but instead I found a road. I also saw the unexpected gleaning and foreign sites of rooftops, and beyond those, the lake.

I followed this dirt road for a long time, not sure where it would take me exactly, but it was in the right direction of the lake. I eventually saw an AZT sign pointing towards this little town I was getting closer to. I gave it the finger. I then walked on this road through this spooky little town that led to Highway 83, which led to the lake, which had campsites, and water.

I was limping at this point because my feet hurt so much. I was in pain, sweaty, and angry, and I noticed there was no one around. Some people passed me in a ’95 Jeep Cherokee on the highway as I walked towards the lake. Other than that, no one was out on the lake, the lakeside store was closed, and no one was even out and about near the weird little homes littering the hillsides. It was a ghost town.

I finally made it to the campgrounds, and there were some RV campers there. Out of nowhere, another hiker comes trekking up behind me, his hiking poles clacking against the asphalt road. We nodded to each other and never spoke, even though we camped a stone’s throw away from one another.

After I got settled into a site and set up camp, I was pretty bummed about losing time and adding miles to my hike when I got turned around. Still don’t know how, or where, I got off the path, but I think at one point I was on the trail and second guessed myself and went off the beaten path. Either way, I was in a poor mood, and just glad to have a flat spot to sleep and a table to sit and eat, and watch the dark clouds move in from the south.

I dumped out the water I took from the puddle back in the creek and refilled it at the water fountain by the campsites. Then I took full advantage of the park restroom.

I ate the chili mac and cheese meal pack for dinner and drank as much water as I could. I tried to call my girlfriend. She didn’t answer, but I was able to text her later. I slept fairly well that night.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains, Part 2.1

Day 2 – 5/8/17

A lot happened this second day of the hike. It wouldn’t have been an adventure of things didn’t go wrong, so I have a lot to say about it. I split up this second day into two blogs, Both of which are kind of long for blogs, so thank you for reading. 

 

I got up early the next morning. I think I only slept for a few hours because it was pretty cold that night. I broke out some hand warmers that were either too old to work properly, or my hands were so numb that I couldn’t feel anything. I made coffee and the Mountain House scrambled eggs with bacon meal. The coffee was good, the eggs, not so much.

I wrote in my notepad as I sat on my stool and drank my coffee. I was finally starting to warm up. Since I had phone service again, I re-downloaded the pdf passage maps from the ATA website and took screen shots of each for good measure. One of the problems I ran into the previous day was that for some reason my phone did not save the pdfs the first time I downloaded them, and I wanted to refer to them to get a good idea of where I was. They’re decent maps. Not the best, but give you a pretty good idea of the trail.

I packed up, threw on my pack, and headed west on the trail. I had a pretty good idea of how much further I had to go to reach Sunnyside Canyon trailhead. At that campsite, I think I was at approximately mile 10. I had a good early start and wanted to be to the next passage by the end of the day, which was about 11 more miles.

The clouds were low over the mountaintops. I was walking through fog for a good 45 minutes. I could see the trail just fine, but not much past the edges of the crest or very far through the surrounding trees. I came across some wild turkeys a few times and some more deer. The morning cleared up and warmed up as I gradually dropped in elevation. It didn’t take long to feel my hands again once I got going.

At mile 11.8 the trail leaves the Crest Trail and joins the Sunnyside Canyon Trail and drops significantly in elevation as you take the switchbacks down. Once I reached the bottom of the mountainside, I was in an arroyo until I reached Sunnyside Canyon Trailhead. It was green and lush with oak and manzanitas. Unfortunately, there was no running water. I found a well near some comfortable looking campsites from other hikers, but it was also dry.

Along the way I saw a couple dozen more wild turkeys. I also found a small pool of water in the overgrown grass of the creek bed. I took this opportunity to refill one of my empty bottles. I didn’t want to drink from standing water, but I hadn’t seen any flowing water through the creek and I was down to about 3 liters at this point. I refilled one of my 1 liter Aquafina bottles and smelled it. It was a little funky. I dropped in two purification tablets and put the bottle in my pack as a last resort.

I reached Sunnyside Canyon trailhead a little after noon, which was mile 16.6. I was making great time, everything was going well, I was in good spirits and felt great. I took off my long sleeve shirt as it had warmed up and sat for a moment and ate trail mix and jerky as I wrote more notes. I added two of the PA+ tablets to the liter of water to take away the color and smell of iodine.

I hoped to be to Parker Canyon Lake trailhead by 4pm, if not sooner. I geared up and carried on. Full of confidence and vigor, I followed the trail that had me cross this arroyo multiple times and brought me away from the cool shade of the trees and into more of a desert landscape of junipers and shrubs. It was definitely hotter.

At about mile 17.2, I came to an area of a confusing spider web of trails and off-road tracks where it looked like people would go camping and 4-wheeling. I put faith in the ATA signs that were out there and followed them the best I could, even though there was one that literally had arrows pointing at each other. I felt like Dorothy and I came across the Scarecrow and he was pointing with crossed arms taunting me. But I saw another sign with the AZT logo that said “Trail” and pointed up to a very clear trail away from this area. However, the 4×4 post it was attached to was broken at the base and someone had laid it up against a tree. Anybody could have moved it just to be a dick.

Obviously, it was the right way, and from there I followed the trail in and out of another arroyo and the trail was marked with piles of stones on the banks of each side of the dry bed. I eventually came across an area fenced off with barbed wire that contained a large, rusted water tank and an old windmill. I checked the pump at the mill, but no water came out.

It was after that point that things started to unravel.