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“Wander a whole summer if you can…time will not be taken from the sum of life. Instead of shortening, it will definitely lengthen it and make you truly immortal.” John Muir

Month

June 2017

Prehike: Superstitions (part 2)

I woke up at Oak Hollow with the intention of heading into town for breakfast. I have made every meal on this trip and was ready to have someone serve me my favorite meal. I found a small cafe in Globe, AZ, the kind of place that locals call the staff by name and holler for the next cup of joe to the way too kind waitress…the one who has clearly been in the industry for at least my entire life. I felt at home there, where I ordered a traditional 2 egg breakfast with bacon.

Everything hit the spot, and I especially appreciated the regularity of which my waitress came around with the pot of coffee. I used the Internet to surmise weather and flash flood warnings for my chosen routes over the next few days. Everything looked great…except I still had a great pain in my pinky finger frim the cholla from 2 nights before. I looked up whether I should be concerned and found crazy stories of people falling I to entire patches and having their bodies covered with the barbed spines. Ouch!

I basically surmised that the barb would work itself out within a year. I couldn’t do much else about it…even though my pinky was swollen, it at least did not appear infected in any way.

I also learned some cool facts about the Saguaro Cactus. These beautiful plants don’t even begin to grow arms until they are 75 years old and they can live about 200 years. They also form what is called a “boot,” which is a way of healing itself when the outer surface is broken open (usually by birds building nests). The boot is a sort of sap that coats the exposed internal area with a waterproof layer which helps the cactus avoid water loss…and these boots were used by native people as a way to carry and store water. The culture of he Southwest is incredibly interesting and resilient!

I then set out in the late morning to hike a portion of the Lost Dutchman Trail. The lost Dutchman is said to have hidden a wealth of gold in these mountains, a fortune already sought by many and none have succeeded. There is a heck of a lot of lore and not a lotta tangible evidence that it even exists. Either way, it gave a great feeling if excitement to the day.

The hike was picture perfect on many levels; Saguaro everywhere, spires rising around every corner, canyons, springs, even my very first wild scorpion encounter! It was one of the sand colored numbers that they warn you about, so I gave it space but was pretty careful as I made my way past…but particularly intrigued by how small, camouflaged and dangerous it could be. No pictures though. Better to have safety than proof!

The day was really great and I finished with enough time to work myself towards the next trailhead to make camp. I was headed to a valley with cave dwellings that one can only see on an overnight backpacking trip…Super cool! I was excited to get out there and experience it for myself.

The road led farther out into nowhere but offered some beautiful scenery. I was a bit disappointed to find some Saguaros used as target practice, but there isn’t anything I can really do about it. Not around here.

I eventually came to a point in the road that I couldn’t get past in my 2WD car, so I had to scrap my mission. The guidebook is a bit old and could probably use some updates to reflect these sorts of changes. It was a long dirt road to travel, only to be turned around. I set up camp and researched hikes that I knew would be easier to get to.

I spent the next two days making up longer hikes from trailheads I could get to, connecting shorter trails and exploring a little. The terrain here is certainly harsh, certainly rugged and certainly unforgiving. I learned a lot of things about the difference between Canyon Country and the Sonoran Desert…2 completely different niches to the southwest. I was humbled and amazed, intrigued and awestruck. I can’t wait to come back with a bit more research, the proper vehicle and a friend. There is much left to see in the Superstitions and I barely scratched the surface.


I saw a Gila Monster!!! What a rare and special treat that was!

Prehike: Superstitions (part 1)

Before leaving Utah I completed one more quick hike to Calf Creek Falls. It was a crowded but beautiful 6 miles round trip to see this:

I did the hike rather fast, mostly because my enjoyment of nature is directly correlated to the amount of people present…and the crowd on this hike was less than ideal. As it turns out, there are many places I may never even visit due to their popularity. That said, I was headed to the very uncrowded Superstition Mountains of Arizona.

I drove south on a very hot day in my non air conditioned car, eager to escape overpopulated trails and to get a little lost in solitude and beauty. The first trail I meant to venture out on was going o be about 7 miles round trip…but somehow I ended up on a completely different trail once again. The trailhead was dubious at best, and turned out to be one that wasn’t even in my guidebook. It was about 3 miles round trip to a cool cave with an intense climb and pretty decent views. The whole area was populated with beautiful Saguaro cacti, many in bloom. The most dictionary definition cactus there is…and particularly beautiful. I fell for their towering heights, bent arms and white flowers immediately. Yup, smitten with a cactus.

For the next day I was headed to Pinon Peak so ventured out towards the trailhead to find camp. I ended up taking the “Apache Trail,” a highway with 25 MPH speeds and surpentine curves that wound so deeply I hardly knew which direction I was going. It was a stunning drive if not a little white knuckle inducing.

It took longer than planned to get to my destination, but I arrived just after sunset. There was a camp along the dirt road to the trail so I settled in there to make dinner. Now as nature dictates, the urge to go answer her call can be unexpected at times and not ideal in a dark, foreign landscape…especially in the Arizona desert. The ground being super dense to the point where I couldn’t even get a tent stake in, digging a hole was out of the question. I began collecting rocks and in the process was stabbed in the finger by a cholla cactus. This one I am not so smitten with as it immediately took hold of my skin with its barbed spine. In my haste I broke the barb off in my skin and was left with a painful reminder of it still in my pinky, though that was not the issue that had a growing urgency. 

I found a nearby sage bush by which to deal with business and squatted down next to it. Just as my trousers reached my knees there came a loud and insistent rattle and hiss from the nearby bush. Hair now standing on end over my entire body, I leapt up and hobbled away as fast as possible…yup, pants still down.

You know that expression about having the s*it scared out of you? I had the opposite problem.

So, I scrapped the mission and went to bed, wary of my new and incredibly harsh surroundings.

By morning I was eager to get some hiking in and got to the trailhead early. My hike was about 15 miles and I wanted enough time to complete it without having to push during the heat of the desert in midday. It was a lot of climbing, but I was feeling the need to gain elevation and work out the kinks of the previous day and night. If you didn’t know, climbing mountains is some of the beat therapy there is. A therapy I am an avid fan of and was in dire need of. The Arizona deserts harsh welcome had me feeling trepidations about being there alone, yet hungry for the thrill of overcoming the challenge.

The hike was hot, steep and just what the doctor ordered. A storm nearing from the distance lit enough fire under me to execute the climb fast. The descent was too steep to do hastily, so I painstakingly took the short and slow steps down the slopes to where the book says, “now just walk cross country back to your car.”

Easier said than done! I had a good compass reading, but it required commando crawling under a barbed wire fence and walking over countless arroyos in fields of cholla cactus. The cholla is also known as, “jumping cactus,” as it breaks off in pieces to travel about the landscape and dig in to new territory…including unlucky hikers trying to find their car. I scoffed at the guidebooks as I yanked cholla barbs out of my legs and ankles. Frustration arose in me as rain set in…vut there was such a peace and calm to the fresh rain in the desert. It smelled like a new day and after my successful summit, I wasn’t feeling too defeated. In fact, I began to feel pretty stellar when I finally spotted my car, even as the many punctures in my skin reminded me of the barbs I had only recently yanked out.


I then drove to nearby Roosevelt lake and ate lunch at the covered picnic tables while a desert thunderstorm crashed all around me. It was awesome. 

After the storm I visited some cave dwellings and found my way to camp for the night.

I camped on BLM land at a spot called, “Oak Hollow,” that is considered sacred to the local natives. They welcome people to come, but are concerned about local mining interests taking over the site (which includes native burial grounds). You could really feel the protective energy of the place, yet the mines looming nearby do not bode well for the land. It is an everyday struggle for those who are fighting to protect it and I hope they succeed. It made me sad that Native people are still defending their land against capitalistic interests. 

The day having been a reality check, I then reevaluated my plans for the coming days. I still planned some hikes, but tried to choose ones that I knew I could tackle solo, saving the more difficult ones that attracted me more for a future visit with a companion or 2.

Since this is long, I’ll finish my Superstition adventure in the next blog.

Prehike: Coyote Gulch

After leaving Willis Creek I was headed towards Escalante and the famous Hole in The Rock Road. The road is a 57 mile washboard that leads to a big Rock with a hole in it. Back in the 1800s, Mormon pioneers set off in a large wagon train to further their settlement of the Southwest. When they reached the cliffs overlooking the Colorado river, they found a large rock blocking their path. Instead of going back and finding a new route, they blasted through the obstacle to reach the other side. My car could only go about 34 miles, so i didn’t see the rock in person…but I sure do appreciate their journey.

At 34 miles is the trailhead to access Coyote Gulch and where I was meeting some friends. Tickled Pink and LB are currently hiking the Hayduke Trail which travels 800 miles from Arches National Park to Zion. This hard to access location is one where they had to bury their provisions ahead of time in buckets as there is no easy access to a town. Since I had a car though, I brought extra goodies to give them some trail magic as our paths crossed.

We ended up spending the night and almost an entire day under the shade of the only tree for miles as we drank some beer, ate good food and swapped stories of the road. Pink is also my hiking partner for the PNT later this summer, so getting in some hikes of my own will keep me from trailing behind too far when we set out in July…which is what I did as they hiked on up the 50 mile plateau and I into Hurricane Wash and on to Coyote Gulch.

My hike started at about 4pm, but I only planned 7 miles that first day. I had 4 days to hike on my permit and planned to make full use of them.

The wash started out hot and dry. Within a mile I reached a girl of maybe 18 sitting in the trail. She looked at me with big eyes and her face covered in sweat, “Do you know where Hurricane Wash is?,” She inquired, “I’m very lost!”

I was a bit confused as she was smack dab in the middle of the trail and only a mile from the trailhead.

“This is the right trail,” I reassured her, “you aren’t lost at all.”

“Where?”

“You are sitting on it.”

She looked confused so I reminded her that the wash would also take her to the road, though it is tougher walking in the sand. I also made note that she had plenty of water and parted ways with her, knowing she couldn’t possibly get lost in that mile. It is perhaps the easiest mile of trail…I sure hoped anyway. I suppose in hindsight I should have checked in with her more and made sure she was capable; inquired if she was coming or going. At any rate, I passed an older couple who were hiking out shortly after and knew they could guide her back if she was still confused.

As I continued on, the canyon grew deeper adding shade and cool shadows to the trail ahead.

It wasn’t until I reached the confluence with Coyote Gulch that my mind was officially blown. I hiked just about 2 miles into the deepest canyon I have ever experienced coming to Jacob Hamlin Arch and my camp for the night.

I camped in what turned out to be a natural ampitheater and lay there listening to the wings of birds echo off the canyon walls. The scenery was too large to capture in a photo, the walls too high. Frogs and birds whispered into the canyon and I was comforted by their Symphony as it echoed back to me. I was lying on my back watching the sky darken when a fly came right by my head. I didn’t swat at it and in moments, 2 inches from my face, a bat swooped in and rid me of the fly mid flight. I was mesmerized by my surroundings, immediately ranking this area in the top 5 places I have ever been.

The next day was about 10 miles of sloshing up the canyon to the confluence with the Escalante. Then I hiked up that river (in the water as there are no trails…only canyon walls) for another mile to Stevens Canyon. I spent the next few hours climbing over giant boulders and scaling some of the walls to reach a grotto up canyon. I had planned to camp there, but then decided to head back to a cave I had admired on the Escalante instead. The day was rather young after all.

I set up camp in the cave, on the bank of the river and did yoga with the sunset. Again I was able to lay there listening to the echoes off the rocks around me wondering if any of it were real…as it all seems like a dream.

The following day, I spent exploring side canyons for cave dwellings and pictographs I had heard about. Though I found none, I had a blast exploring and did find a really cool cave to eat lunch and have a siesta in.

The rest of the hike continued to be dreamy and I found myself not wanting to leave. Alas, as I have learned before, all good things must end…and there is still so much more to explore! On to Arizona!

Prehike: Kodachrome

I arrived at Kodachrome after a long drive through lots of snow in the north and some of the worst traffic I have ever seen in Salt Lake City (over 2 hours just to pass by on the highway mid afternoon on a weekday). A freak storm south of the city added more snow to my drive, and all I was trying to do was escape winter by driving to the Southwest. Portland had its worst winter on record in 75 years and boy was I eager to escape. I was frustrated by the inclement weather, but eager for the warmth that was bound to come.

The sun shone bright the next day as I arranged permits for the camping and hiking I was planning to do. I was able to acquire free campsites on forest service roads (public lands have many benefits!) and was beyond impressed with my first one. My campsite overlooked both Kodachrome and the outskirts of Bryce Canyon on a bluff that made me feel as if I was on top of the world. It sure looked the part as well.

I grabbed my guidebook and set off from camp in search of a loop hike around the basin. Having misunderstood the directions to the trail, I found myself accidentally on a completely different set of trails. Much to my pleasure, these trails offered wonderful sightseeing and exploration opportunities. I spent hours poking around the outskirts of the park before heading back to camp.

The following day I set out for the hike I had originally intended to go on. Fortunately I made that decision early and spent the entire time in a wonderland of beautiful rocks that I had completely to myself!

Leaving Kodachrome, I set out for Willis Creek on some steep and windy dirt roads. Willis Creek is a nearby narrow slot canyon that twists along for about 3 miles one way. It was surreal and magical to travel through the rocks along the winding creek.

I had more great campsites as I explored the area and went on lots of great hikes before heading on to the next leg of my trip in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument…

(Sorry this isn’t my best writing. I’m rusty!)

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