The Arizona Trail

Passage 30: Anderson Mesa, Part 2

Day 3 – 8/28/17

Mayflower Spring Trailhead to Marshall Lake Trailhead
17.8 Miles

I slept fairly well that night. I left the rain fly off so it would be cooler. I was slower that morning getting up. My feet still hurt from the day before. I made the Mountain House biscuits and gravy for breakfast, along with coffee and Advil. Advil for dinner. Advil for breakfast. We refilled all of our water bladders and bottles, and left camp about 8AM.

It was tough getting up the switchbacks to the trail at the top of the mesa first thing in the morning. Agave! got ahead of me and was waiting for me at the top under a Juniper tree. That was the theme for the rest of the day. He’d get far ahead of me, and I’d hobble up to him later. At some points the pain was so bad I was taking baby steps. My feet hurt the worst if I stopped. Once I got going, they numbed pretty well and I could get into a rhythm, but once I stopped and lifted my feet, they would scream with pain.

We still had 16 miles to hike that day.

We had great views of Upper Lake Mary from the crest of the mesa. Moving north, we came to Lowell Observatory’s Perkins Telescope about 10AM. We stopped there and took some pictures and munched on some snacks. It was a nice place to stop because it was very quiet and we had an amazing view of Humphreys off in the distance past past Prime Lake. Prime Lake, and most of the lakes we passed, save for Mormon and Mary, looked more like swamps with tall reeds growing from them. If you didn’t know it was a lake on the map, you would have thought it was just a yellow meadow.

Upper Lake Mary from the crest of the mesa.
Astro Haven Perkins Telescope. Not sure of this is the actual telescope or what.
Another view of Humphreys at Prime Lake.

We passed the paved parking area for the telescope just before we descended down a wooded hillside and back into Ponderosa country. At the bottom of the hill, the trail has you cross FR 128, and shortly after that is the end of Passage 30 near Marshall Lake. This one big enough that it actually looks like a lake past all the reeds and tall grass around the edges.

Descending from the mesa down to FR 128.

We rested here and ate some snacks. There were campers off aways. Quiet. They must have been napping. It was pretty warm. As we were resting there, four Blackhawk helicopters flew low over the lake. It was very cool to see. We then donned our packs once again and continued on into Passage 31.


Blackhawk helicopters
The Arizona Trail

Passage 30: Anderson Mesa, Part 1

Day 2 – 8/27/17

Mayflower Spring Trailhead to Marshall Lake Trailhead
17.8 Miles

Continuing our adventure from the undistinguished Mayflower Spring Trailhead, we followed the trail into open fields and back into tree coverage, which was preferable for the shade. As cool and sparsely overcast as it was at times, once the Sun came out, it was pretty brutal. Chris brought some medical grade 50 spf sunblock that smeared on thick and made us look more white than we already do.

It was after this point we started seeing more obvious remnants of the old logging railroad that used to stretch across this mountaintop. Old, rotted cross beams still lay horizontal along the raised rock foundation of the railroad bed. There weren’t any steel tracks left, but occasionally we’d see an old rusted railroad spike on the ground. Kind of cool to see in the middle of a forest on top of a mountain.

The trail takes you through more meadows and clusters of trees. At one point when I had stopped to take pictures, Chris was far ahead of me, I found some sunglasses on the trail. They looked like Chris’ so I took them with me. When I caught up to him he informed they weren’t his, so I put them on the next carsonite trail marker I came across. Maybe somebody could use them.

It is along this portion of the hike, after Mayflower Spring and before Pine Grove Campground, that you’re high up enough that when you come into one of those clearings you can see Humphreys and the San Francisco Peaks off in the distance. They tower over all of the landscape, yet they look so far away, and they remind you that you have a long hike ahead, because it is at the base of these peaks where you must go.

The trail eventually intersects with FR 82E then continues north and parallels the road for a while before turning north towards Lake Mary. Instead of following the trail, we followed FR 82E, which took us over a large wood bridge and crossed Forest Highway 3 (Lake Mary Rd) and leads you up a committed climb on a maintained  gravel road to the top of the mesa. This climb was the only time I saw Chris struggle on the whole hike. He had hit a wall and needed to stop a few times.

There was a camp ground at the top of this hill, just a little south of the Horse Lake Trailhead. Our intention was to inspect Ashurst Campground for a reliable water source, however, it was not a maintained campground, so no water. There were a lot of campers spread about up there for large groups, people riding around on their ATVs, hunters on RZRs. We stopped there for about an hour to eat lunch and rest our feet. After eating, I laid on a large log in the shade and took a power nap.

We left there about 1PM and headed north to the Horse Lake TH and back onto the AZT. Chris was navigating us with his AZT app. Our aim was to get to Lakeview Campground by 5:30 because they had a reliable water source. He was doing such a great job plotting our course I named him The Navigator.

Up there on the mesa, we were in much more open space, and cattle country. We followed a Jeep trail around two watering holes with fenced off herds of cattle, most likely Horse Lake Tank. We had a clear view of Humphreys. The foliage around us turned from tall pines to wide Junipers. We stopped and ate for a bit to get off our feet, which were in immense pain. I think my pack wasn’t sitting right either, because I had a lot of pain in my left hip. While sitting there, The Navigator pointed out a cloud that looked like Yoda.

We eventually made it to Lakeview CG via the Lakeview Connector, a fairly new trail that connects the AZT to the campground to the west. The connector takes you to a steep decline from the mesa down a hillside with switchbacks. I was limping into camp and had just run out of the three liters of water I started out with that morning. We had hiked 16 miles since Double Spring CG. We planned to get there by 5:30PM, but made it by 6:00PM instead. Not bad.

We grabbed a spot between an older couple with a camper and dog, and a young, German couple with a pop-up tent. We were right across the road from the latrines and water. We set up camp, refilled our bottles, drank water, and made dinner. I had the Mountain House beef stroganoff, with a side of Advil. It was pretty good. I then used the latrine to clean up a bit and wipe myself down with body wipes.

It was dark by the time we finished dinner and no one had come around to collect payment for the site, and I didn’t see a drop box, so I asked the German couple where to pay and they said at the end of the campground. I took my inflatable lamp and limped down there. There was a nice, old couple in a camper watching tv and eating dinner. I paid them $22 for the night and they gave me the slip to put on our post, and then I hobbled back.

The Navigator and I stayed up talking about changing our course. I thought we had enough time to continue on the passages I planned out, but he needed to be back to work Thursday morning. Plus there was the question of having enough water to make the easterly trek through Walnut Canyon and up and around Elden Mountain. We decided on taking the Flagstaff bypass where there would definitely be water, and also, The Navigator said he’d get a hotel for us if we went that way. And more importantly… Agave!

There was a Mexican restaurant right along the trail through Flagstaff called Agave. This was now the motivation to take the Flagstaff bypass, and also, The Navigator would then be referred to as… Agave!

The Arizona Trail

Passage 29: Mormon Lake

Day 1 – 8/26/17

Gooseberry Springs Trailhead to Mayflower Spring
14.8 Miles

The ATA website has Passage 29: Mormon Lake down as 14.8 miles. The book, Your Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail, which I’ve been relying on heavily, has the trail distance at 33.9 miles. For some reason their book combined the two passages, 29: Mormon Lake and 30: Anderson Mesa. The mileage for each and every passage does not match up between the two sources either. Not sure why the same trail association can’t get the details straight for all of their resources, but I’m going to reference the website from here on out for passage lengths and maps.

The trail is rated as “easy,” and for the most part it was.

I met Chris in Flagstaff that Friday evening on the 25th. We met at Oregano’s for dinner so we could carbo load on pasta before the big hike.

We stopped in the Walgreens there and picked up breakfast for the morning and bottles of water. Then we drove up to the Schultz Pass Trailhead and dropped off my Jeep, then drove down to the Mormon Lake area because there was no camping allowed at Schultz Pass TH. We drove to Double Springs Campground that lies just west of Mormon Lake, and we camped there for the night. I didn’t sleep well because my pack pillow deflated in the middle of the night.

The next morning, the 26th, we broke down camp, packed up and drove to Gooseberry Springs Trailhead. We ate our meager breakfasts of Starbucks Double Shot Energy coffee, and muffins/donuts on the way. At the trailhead, we geared up, took a few photos, signed the forest service trail register, and set out on the trail at 8AM.

It had just rained for the past few days before we got up there, so the ground was soft and a little muddy in some places, but it made for easy walking. Shortly from the trail you pass Forest Highway 3, and shortly after that you pass the first of many cattle gates. We stopped for our first break about 9:45AM in a very quiet, cool, and peaceful spot.

I noticed my GPS was saying we were covering more miles than we actually were. I think I need to calibrate it or fix something in the settings. It’s still new to me, so still learning about all of its features. Chris, however, had the Arizona Trail app on his phone and it turned out to be very useful and accurate, for the most part.

From there we made our way to Mormon Lake Lodge. There were a lot of people camping in the area, all the way up to where we ended. Popular area and time of year for it. We hadn’t seen any wildlife except for birds and reticulated squirrels. I remember we came to a spot that smelled somewhere between rancid and pungent. There were all these mushrooms on the ground and they looked like they were melting. Some nasty fungus.

Later we found a pile of sun bleached bones on the ground, like someone went out collecting them and dumped them all next to the trail. Elk ribs and spinal disks and a squirrel skull. Kind of weird.

Squirrel Skull

Somewhere near FR 219, we somehow got off the path. We ended up following a dirt road for a while where a caravan of trucks, RZRs, and kids on ATVs passed us before we cut through open land to make our own way to the gateway community of Mormon Lake. We ended up at the south end of the Village and got to the Mormon Lake Lodge about 1PM, where we had burgers and fries for lunch.

From town there, we connected to the Navajo Springs Trailhead at about 2PM, which connected us to the AZT west of there. It was a very rough trail of large, jagged rocks. This was the point where my feet were really starting to feel every little pebble on the ground. Because I have the feet of a true princess, apparently. We came across a line of what looked like concrete troughs with rusted poles sticking up from them. Not sure if these used to be for cattle, or something to do with the logging industry 100 years ago.  A mystery, for now.

I felt kind of silly, because we ended up stopping at Double Springs CG again, and got the exact same camp spot for a second night. The trail runs right through the campground, and if we were smarter about it, we could have just left all of our heavy gear at camp and only carried water and snacks. I thought we would have gone further that day, but by the time we reached Double Springs we were very tired and hungry. Which we wouldn’t have been if we left all of our stuff there, and packed when we came through camp and marched further on. Oh well. Live and learn.

It was probably good we stayed because my lower back and feet were hurting, and I was chaffing in all the wrong places. We set up camp at about 4:30PM and took it easy the rest of the night. I slept better that night because I sealed the air in my pillow better.

I woke up about 5AM, relieved myself, then took out my pack to start making coffee when it started to rain. It didn’t rain hard at first, just sprinkles, but then got heavier. I put everything away, threw my pack in my tent, grabbed Chris’ pack (he had left it out on the picnic table all night, partially wrapped in a garbage bag) and tried shoving it under the rain fly of is tent. Then the rain stopped. All of my frantic racket woke Chris, of course, so he got up as well and we started our day.

I had oatmeal, coffee, and Advil for breakfast. We headed out at 7:30AM, and somehow immediately got off track. Not by a lot, but were somehow hiking parallel to the trail for a while. The Advil did wonders for my feet and we covered some ground very quickly.

I can’t tell you when or where we passed Mayflower Spring, because there were no signs indicating such a place. Somewhere on our second day of hiking, shortly after leaving Double Springs, we finished Passage 29. I’m guessing the passages in this area were reconfigured at some point, but the ATA did not update their website. Chris’ AZT app didn’t show that as being the end of Passage 29, nor does the book. But the website, and shows it as the end. Anyway, let’s say we finished Passage 29: Mormon Lake that morning.



Gearing Up, Again

Improvements and Adjustments

I will be hiking another long portion of the AZT next week. I’m super excited and have been itching to get back on the trail. I haven’t done anymore passages like I had wanted since my initial start of the first four passages. I wanted to have done a passage every other weekend in between then and now. Like it happens to everybody, life got in the way. I’ve been going through some personal relationship stuff and addressing some car problems, which are always just so fun.

I did do a few hikes since Temporal Gulch. I hiked Mt. Baldy with my brother and some friends back in June, and took a day trip up to Kachina Trail a few weeks ago, which was a good thing I did. Kachina trail is very close to where we will be ending this portion of the AZT and it gave me a good idea of the terrain. It’s beautiful.

We, my friend Chris and I, will be starting at Passage 29: Mormon Lake and hiking through Passage 32: Elden Mountain, which ends at the base of The San Francisco Peaks Wilderness (also referred to as Kachina Peaks by the local Natives). I would have liked to continue where I left off at Passage 5 so I could go in order, but this has been a very hot summer, so we decided to go up north where it will be bearably cooler. I will hopefully get back down South in September or October.

The first four passages were a huge learning opportunity for me. When I started Passage 1, my pack weighed 41.6 lbs. I now have my pack down to 34.2. Still has room for improvement, but much better. I can now make better decisions on what I need and don’t need. I’m sure after this portion of miles I will reassess my supplies again.

I will be carrying less water this trip. Three liters instead of five or six. I needed to carry that amount last time because of the area and terrain, and I’m glad I did seeing as how I nearly ran out of water twice. There are about four dependable water sources just in Passage 29. we can refill, and we’re bringing extra empties just in case.

These passages we will be hiking are rated as easy and there elevation gains and drops are within 2000 feet. No drastic ascensions or descents. I think we will be able to hike through this fairly easily.

So, improvements. My last long hike, I really wished I had a GPS unit to pinpoint where I was and how to get back on track whenever I was lost, so that’s exactly what I got.

I haven’t put it to the test yet, but from what I’ve read about it, and who I’ve talked to about it, this will be a pretty good little tool to have while I’m out there. I mainly want to use it for questionable areas, or if I get off track again. I’m hoping this will also give me a better idea of how far I hike each day, and I can make better reference notes for when I write about the hike later. Of course, I’ll have a my maps. I took screen shots of these passages of the AZT so I’ll have those on my phone, but I also made sure to get an actual paper map.

I also got a new pack. This is an important change as I will be going from my external frame pack to a frameless pack. It’s the REI Mars 80 liter I got from my brother since he upgraded to a different pack as well. It’s about a pound heavier than my High Sierra, but already feels more comfortable and can hold a lot more. I’m sad to let go of my trusty frame pack because I have been on many adventures with it, but I’m looking forward to using this new one.

Another adjustment I made was with my camera case. The little case I have is almost the perfect size for my Nikon, but I had to either sling it around my neck or attach it to my belt on my pack. It was annoying and heavy around my neck, felt like it was pulling my head down, and it kept sliding to my crotch when I had it on the pack belt. I also had to remove the camera entirely every time I wanted to take the pack off and it became cumbersome.

This time around, I got a binocular harness from Cabela’s and hooked the ends of my little camera case to the harness clips. This keeps the camera secure in its case until I need it, keeps the weight centered at my chest, and the harness keeps the weight on my shoulders, not my neck. Most importantly, it is independent from my pack system. So I can take my pack off, but keep the camera attached to me. Again, haven’t put it to the test yet, but looking forward to trying out this method.

One thing I did not improve on which I really wanted to was a new camera lens. I would have liked to get a 55-200mm so I could zoom in on wildlife and just get better, scenic photos. But, that will just have to be acquired at another time.

I also got new socks recommended from my brother. Smart Wool Phds. I used them on my Mt. Baldy hike and they felt great. Not a single blister.

I learned a lot from the last passages I hiked. I’m sure I’ll run into new problems or issues on this stretch, but I feel I’m a little more prepared this time around. I’m looking forward to it.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 4: Temporal Gulch, Part 2

Town of Patagonia to Gardner Canyon Road Trailhead
21.8 Miles

Day 6 – 5/12/17

Last day for this trip. I got up a little after 6AM and made my coffee and had the Mountain House granola with blueberries for breakfast. I still had plenty of water and was at about mile 10.5 of this passage. I had a long, committed climb ahead of me.

I wore my long sleeve shirt to start out the hike because it was still a little chilly in the morning. That went away very quickly after less than 30 minutes of uphill hiking, I stopped to take off the long sleeve and unzipped the bottom halves of my pants and then sprayed my pasty white skin down with plenty of sunscreen.

The climb to the top of this high point was pretty tiring and slow going, but I felt strong and energetic and just wanted to get to the Jeep. The trail/road was rocky and at points so steep the trail circumvented the slope through the trees. I made it to Walker Basin at about 8AM. At least, I think it was Walker Basin, or maybe Upper Walker Tank. I never really knew exactly where I was on the trail most of the time. It’s not like there were signs at most of the places coinciding with the maps. According to the sign, I only had a mile to go to the top!

Walker Basin

Shortly after I passed through Walker Basin, I came to somewhat of a Y in the trail. There was a wooden post with one of the small, square, metal AZT arrow signs completed faded from the sun and hanging by a piece of cattle guard wire that someone had used to keep it attached to the post. But it was just dangling there. Someone had also scratched an arrow into one side to make up for the faded sticker. It was very confusing which way it was pointing. Another scarecrow pointing in opposite directions. So, I went left.

What the shit is this?

I hiked on for a while, maybe half a mile, before I second guessed myself and turned around and went back to the Y. I kept thinking I was on the wrong trail again. This time I went right of the Y, but that only led to a small camp spot encircled with Junipers about 15 yards up that hill. Turned out I was on the correct trail. So I had to triple back. But before I left, I built a pile of rocks to mark the correct way. I also noticed that there were sun bleached branches laid across the path to the camp site someone had put down so people like me could avoid going that way. I think I was too concerned with the mangled sign to notice the branches.

Notice the branches across the path? I didn’t.

After that little faux pas of double guessing my pathfinding decisions, I increased my pace so as to make up for lost time. I finally reached the saddle that connects to Trail 136 at about 9:45AM.  The high point of the trail! Approximately 6,560 feet. I could look back at how far I had come and see Patagonia, the Canelo Hills, the Huachuca Mountains, and Mexico. It’s hard to explain what that feels like, to see all those hills and mountain tops where you were traversing just days prior. The word accomplishment comes to mind, but that’s not right.

I sat here and rested for about 15 minutes, took off my pack and hung it on a branch on an oak tree and ate jerky and trail mix. I afforded myself in drinking a little more water than while hiking, because according to the rusted metal AZT sign, I only had 5.5 miles to go! That knowledge gave me so much energy. I was so excited to get back to the Jeep I didn’t even write down trail notes. I obviously took pictures though.

From here, Trail 136 will bring you to higher elevations at Josephine Peak and Mount Wrightson, but for the AZT it drops in elevation. There was much more pine on this side of the mountain as the trail  descended and switch-backed down into Big Casa Blanca Canyon. I came to a sign marking Bear Spring (Hey! That’s on the map!). There is supposed to be a dependable water source here, but I did not see it, unless it was off the trail a ways.

The land evens out a bit after this and it was quite pleasant walking through the woods. I did cross over a few creeks that had water, but it was pooled and stagnant. By the second one I found I dipped my cooling towel in one that looked clean enough and wrapped it around my neck. It was becoming incredibly warm. I didn’t see any more water after that.

The trail seemed to be getting longer and hotter. I thought I was never going to finish this thing. I almost stepped on a small snake at one point. I was so exhausted and dragging ass that it was hard for me to stop my momentum, but the little critter slithered off the path out of my way and I had a mini panic attack. No rattler, so that was good.

I stopped at one point to eat a little and take a few sips of water near where the Casa Blanca canyon portion comes to an end. I was running low on water. I used too much when I tripled back on the trail when I was going the right way and thought I wasn’t.

After that, the trail whips around a hill and brings you to a historical sign talking about the old mining days in the Santa Rita Mountains. There was an old mine shaft beyond the sign. I took a picture from the trail but did not feel like exploring it. After that, the trail dropped down to the Tunnel Spring TH where it met with Gardner Canyon Road. The trail follows this road for the most part all the way to the passage 5 trailhead.

Old mine shaft.

It was a nice walk in this area. A lot of campground sites surrounded by mature oaks. It was very shady and the road even, but after a short while the shade went away and I was walking in the sun again as the big oaks became sparse along the sides of the road. The trail left the road and followed the contours of the hills parallel to the road. I realized it was just adding steps to my aching feet, so went back to the road where it was a straight shot.

The road intersected with the trail again, and then brings you through some fenced off cattle grounds of grass and soft red sand. I saw some deer grazing in here, but no cattle. The trail comes back to Gardner Canyon Road and down to the next trailhead. I was so close. But I ran into a carsonite AZT sign pointing up more hills away from the road. For a moment I thought I was lost again, or that maybe I overshot where I parked and was a ways into the next passage.

I looked around and couldn’t see any other landmarks or signs. I would have thought the road would send you right back to the trailhead. I figured, I’d just stay on the road and keep going. I decided to follow the road and hoped to find Apache Ranch or other drivers. But as I walked about 50 more feet and crested the road a little I saw the back end of my Jeep where I parked it under some trees. The sun was gleaning off the back window and it looked almost black in color. Such a foreign sight in the surrounding wilderness, and it was beautiful.

I immediately went to the back hatch and shed my pack. I left a full Hydro Flask on the front seat with a clean set of clothes for my return. I had finished my Camelbak much earlier and was down to about a quarter of a liter in my Smart Water bottle. I finished that water and then drank about half of the Hydro Flask.

I took a victory selfie of the end of this 75 mile trek. I finished at about 2:20PM. I felt so good to have finished, but I was in a lot of pain, and sweaty and dirty and tired. I then changed into the clean clothes I had in the Jeep and fired it up and drove home. First gas station I saw coming back, I stopped and bought a Snickers, a coconut water, and the largest fountain drink of Powerade I could.

It was quite the adventure and a great learning experience. I have another long stretch of the AZT planned, but it will be in the north sector this time, in Flagstaff, due to the heat. But I definitely plan on coming back and picking up where I left off at the beginning of passage 5.

The Arizona Trail

Passage 4: Temporal Gulch, Part 1

Town of Patagonia to Gardner Canyon Road Trailhead
21.8 Miles

Day 5 – 05/11/2017

Walking out of Patagonia midday with a full pack might not have been the best idea, but I really wanted to get to my Jeep. Sure, I could have stayed at the Ovens of Patagonia and popped up my tent in the back, or stayed at the hotel, got a good night’s rest before I left the next day, but I live dangerously. Or stupidly. Probably the latter.

Passage 4 of the AZT, Temporal Gulch, is approximately 22.3 miles with an elevation gain of about 2,500 feet from 4000 to 6500 at its highest point near Mount Wrightson Wilderness. The incline is gradual for the most part, then really climbs around mile 10.5.

I hit the trail out of Patagonia about 1:20 in the afternoon and did a zig zag through the neighborhood to get to 1st Avenue, so I never saw the official trailhead. Once I got onto 1st Ave, it was pretty easy going from there. It’s a paved road up the hill out of town, and then turns into Forest Road 72, which is a maintained dirt road. The only hardship was the heat. I had five liters of water on me, plus that bottle of Gatorade. By the time I was up the hill by the landfill, I finished the Gatorade.

I took another detour at the landfill. Again, the ATA felt it was unnecessary to put up signs pointing which direction to go. Also, the folks back in Patagonia told me I needed to pass the landfill, and the only sign I saw was pointing left at a Y in the road towards the landfill. Turned out, that was wrong. That road was taking me back towards Patagonia. There went another mile lost. Once I got back on track, following the road straight where I went left, it was pretty smooth sailing.

Remember how Bonnie said I’d see stuff stashed on the sides of the road? Sure enough, not far past the landfill, I saw a camo backpack, a blue hoodie, and a few cans of tuna in a neat pile on the side of the road. I just walked past it. Could have just been some necessary supplies for an illegal alien to make it through the desert, or it could have been filled with cocaine. I’ll never know.

I made it to the Temporal Gulch trailhead at about 4pm, which meant I just hiked seven miles from Patagonia. Well, eight because of that stupid wrong turn. I was very elated to see that I only had 15.3 miles left to go to Gardner Canyon road trailhead. I originally thought it was 22 from TG trailhead. I was pretty fucking jacked at this realization. I stopped there for about ten minutes and took off my pack to eat some trail mix and drink water before I hit the trail again.

Only 15.3 miles to go!

I pushed myself pretty hard from there. Uphill too. I had the intention of getting as far as I could before sundown so that I had less to hike out in the morning. More today. Less tomorrow. I was repeating that over and over as I hiked up that road.

FR 72 changed from a maintained road to a rugged, off-road, Jeep track at the trailhead, and it only got worse from there. There were plenty of cattle on the way, which of course meant any clearing of ground was covered in shit. Also meant I had a few moments where I had to shoo them out of the way so I could get by. The only good thing about all of my future steak getting in my way and stinking up the place was that I was in mountain lion country. I’m sure a mountain lion would rather eat one of those tender, innocent calves than a smelly hiker.

But still, mountain lion country…

I had pushed myself up to the decision point of making camp before nightfall, or keep going just a little bit further. There was a nice, high, flat spot off the side of the rugged jeep road in a wide clearing that had a massive mesquite tree in the center of it, dead logs laid out like benches near the camp fire, and pieces of sheet metal pierced with bullet holes lying about. It looked like this was where all the local yahoos would come out and camp and drink and shoot. Of course, the ground was covered in cow pies.

I went up the trail a little further keeping an eye out for a better spot. More today. Less tomorrow. I kept repeating that. I needed to make up for all the lost time during the rain and hail and getting lost.

My feet were hurting pretty bad. Most of the moleskin stayed in place, but some of the pads fell off and balled up in a gummy lump at the toes of my socks. My legs hurt as did my back, but I wanted to get further. Just past the possible camp site of sheet metal and cow pies, there was a rusted metal sign showing the various trails and distances. I misinterpreted the sign. It looked like the AZT arrow was pointing at the Temporal Trail arrow indicating to follow that. Turned out to be the wrong turn. Again.

Misread sign.

The Temporal Trail eventually turned into a canyon with high walls of boulders and rocks to each side of me, and maybe about 20 feet at its widest point. There was some stagnant pools of water, but nothing I’d drink from. As I was pushing through this draw, talking to myself, cursing, repeating my mantra, I passed a cow at a turn and hopped over some large rocks. I kept thinking this didn’t feel right.

I came to a wide point that had a nice spot for a tent underneath some oak trees just past a cattle gate that stretched from each side of the canyon wall. I went through the gate and stopped for a moment. I should be going up, I thought to myself. I looked up to Mt. Wrightson Peak that I could barely see from this point and realized I should be going that way. I looked around this little, shady quiet spot in the canyon. There were clothes on ground. A baby’s small, pink sweater lay out flat and dirty. There were some empty food cans.

I turned around and made my way back. Once I got to the point where I passed the cow and had to hop over the large rocks, I saw a serape poncho on the ground I didn’t see on the way in. I also saw what looked like human feces on one of the rocks. Fresh. I first thought it was mountain lion, but it didn’t look gamey. And beyond that, a can of tuna with the lid pulled up and still had scraps of food stuck to the inside. I think there was someone in that canyon with me. He probably heard me cursing and talking to myself and hid.

You might be thinking I didn’t notice this stuff the first time I passed, but I would have had to step over the poop coming in because it was right in the middle of the trail. And there was no way I could have missed the poncho and discarded tin can. The trail was too narrow, and they were right off the side of the trail. A chill ran through me as I stopped there for a second and listened and looked around for anybody. It was eerily quiet. I then got out of there as fast as I could. At least tried to get out fast. I had to make the cow I passed earlier get out of my way, because now she was standing in the trail chewing grass and staring at me.

That’s the other thing that makes me think there was a person in that canyon. The cow was obviously used to people and not threatened by me, and wouldn’t have been threatened by anyone else. I think she would have run away if it were a mountain lion.

Probably lost only a half mile this time down that mistake. I looked a little more closely at the rusted metal sign and figured it meant to keep following the rocky road. By this time, the sun was going to set behind the mountains and going to be dark soon. I went back to the camp spot with the sheet metal and set up camp for the night. I ate my leftover pizza from The Velvet Elvis, which was nice not having to cook anything.

I couldn’t shake the thought of someone in that canyon with me, which meant they could still be in the area. There were probably illegal aliens all around. Sign of them were up and down the trail, but this was the only time I really felt uncomfortable about it. You never know what a desperate man is going to do for food and water.

There was a full moon that night and it illuminated the inside of my tent fairly well. I laid there listening, trying to sleep, until I saw a shadow pass over the the outside of my tent. I couldn’t hear anything much past the sound of the wind in the trees. I didn’t have any weapons on me except for a small pocket knife. I had the Gerber collapsable shovel, which I left open and had it in the tent with me. I gripped the handle and slowed my breathing and listened for any footsteps, and at one point, I could have sworn I heard something. But it was probably my imagination.

I only got a few hours of sleep that night.


The Arizona Trail

Patagonia, AZ: Gateway Community, Part 2

Day 5 – 05/11/17

After I cleaned up, I put my pack in the storage closet next to the bathroom and took a walk around town and snapped a few pictures. I then walked across the street to the grocery store next to the gas station. Inside I bought two 1-liter bottles of Smart Water, another Gatorade, an Amp energy drink, and Advil.

Outside of the store I stood on the porch next to the ice box and popped open the energy drink and sipped on it while I watched people drive by. Next door was a trellis of vine and I peeked through the vines to see a patio of tables. I walked around to the front and it was a pizza place called The Velvet Elvis. It wasn’t a thick, juicy burger, but pizza would do just fine.

I walked into the patio underneath the arbor that had vines that spanned and connected to the pergolas and curved and rounded up on each corner of the patio. I sat in a corner under the shade of the vines and the waiter came out and brought me a glass and a large bottle of cold water. I ordered a pizza called The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It was delicious.

I sat there and enjoyed the nice weather in the shade while I drank a full glass of water and then refilled it from the bottle. I watched the beads of sweat fall down the sides of the bottle and thought to myself I will never take water for granted again. I finished drinking that whole jar of water, ate most of the pizza and saved a couple slices for dinner, finished my Amp, then headed back to the Trail Angel’s to get my pack.

There I pulled my pack out of the storage unit and readjusted some stuff. I had to tighten the straps around the waist because I had lost some weight the past four days. I removed my leftover pizza from the restaurant container and put the two slices into a Ziploc bag. I then refilled the Camelbak from the garden hose. I went inside and my phone was fully charged, and wouldn’t you know? No service. T-Mobile needs to get their shit together.

While packing up, I talked with the owner of Ovens of Patagonia, a nice woman named Bonnie. I talked about all the Border Patrol presence and she said it’s something you get used to. She told me most of those people coming through Patagonia weren’t bad. It’s the drug running that’s the problem. She told me I’d see stuff stashed on the side of the trail and to just leave it alone. She told me if I saw anything happen, any exchanges, that I didn’t see it happen. And to make sure they knew I didn’t see it happen, if you get my meaning. Happy hiking.

Just then, two women came walking up to the patio wearing packs and hiking attire. They said they’ve been following me for a while, my tracks at least. We exchanged some hiking stories of the trail, like how I got stuck in the rain, and how they have been doing just fine. One of the girls introduced herself as Sauce, like hot sauce, and the other as Fun Bags. I told them I didn’t have a fun name. Just Dave. They asked where the good places were in town. I told them about Velvet Elvis and of course, Ovens of Patagonia. I then told them I didn’t have any service and needed to get a hold of my girlfriend. They asked what service provider I had and I told them T-Mobile. They nodded like, there’s your problem right there. We then said our goodbyes.

I thanked Bonnie, grabbed my pack and headed out of town to start Passage 4. It was about 1:20 in the afternoon. It was a little warm, but I felt rejuvenated and strong, and my pack was heavy again with water. I was looking forward to finishing this hike.

I didn’t see the Passage 4 trailhead out of town because I took a zig zag through the neighborhood to get to the trail. You basically follow 1st ave, which turns into Temporal Road, and you stay on that until it turns into FR 72, and stay on that all the way up the mountain.