Saturday, May 13, 2017

Bisbee at Night

I didn't want to deal with the 87F heat and opted instead to walk in the evening.  I had a lot of recyclables to drop off and used Bisbee as an excuse.  The town has plenty of drop-off points for various plastics, metal, paper and cardboard.  My flaw today was starting too late.  I didn't get going until almost 7:50pm, past dusk.  The lack of any moon light made this walk a challenge.

The goal was to walk around Old Bisbee and create a route that didn't require climbing stairs, as an alternative to the 4.7 mile Bisbee 1000 route. That's really not that easy, as most roads in town are dead-end roads and are connected by stairs.  Only three streets are through streets.  The lack of any moon (moon rise was after 10pm) created really dark corners in cul-de-sacs that surrounded me was darkness.

I started at the Copper Man statue, walked uphill to Quality Hill, then got stuck in a dead end.  This happened at least three times as I tried to map a route that was doable.  In two instances I had never been in the dead ends before, providing new views of the town that is rather quiet after sun set.  The only noise comes from Brewery Gulch and St Elmo's bar.  One of these days I'll van camp in town in order to wake up before sunrise to capture the views.  The only places with human nightlife were the various restaurants that cater to tourists:  the Screaming Banshee, The Stock Exchange, the Grand Saloon, the Old Bisbee Brewing Club and the local favorite, St Elmos.  The side streets were void of tourists.  A group of tourists asked me were Cafe Roka was.  Yes, I look and dress like a local!

From Quality Hill I went back down to the main street and walked the original route up the Gulch.  A stray dog there startled us.  It was tall, lanky and looked like a coyote with German Shepherd Dog markings.  Its tail was between its legs so it was afraid of us as well.  Later on, while looking at its photo, I noticed a collar.

I turned around here, just across from the Mimosa Market, and went uphill by the City Park.  At another cul-de-sac at N Sleepy Dog Drive off Miller Hill, I stumbled into a pack of rooting javelina.  Zeke would have chased this family had he not been leashed.  The animals scurried up a steep hillside and vanished in the bushes of a small yard under a home.  Not wanting to startle any more night life, I opted to stay on the main roads of Shearer, Tombstone Canyon and the like.

Across from the Grand Saloon I even came across what looked like a desert kit fox.  Its bushy tail and angled pointed ears were a give-away this was no cat.  It froze as it stared at me staring at him, before it, too, ran off into the darkness.  If all these  critters were within the town, imagine what was out in the dark canyons nearby!  There were people in the adjacent parking lot totally oblivious to all the critters around them.

Zeke and I managed 5.3 miles, some of it by repeating several stretches.  I avoided Moon Canyon entirely because I figured I'd see even bigger wildlife there, but adding that canyon would have added another mile to the route. By 10pm we both were tired and rested in the van parked across from St Elmos.  Now the loud screams from the drunks annoyed us and we finally drove off after 11pm.  By then Safeway foods was closed and I couldn't get Zeke a raw meat snack.  It's been a while since I stayed that late in Bisbee. Two more weeks from now, with school out, tourist season will explode with a vengeance.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

San Pedro River Loop (4 miles)

It drizzled most of the night.  The wind had died down before sun rise, replaced by a cold front that has hit most of the West.  Denver got hit with hail the size of baseballs yesterday, and northern Arizona got heavy rains.  Rain this time of year isn't so unusual.  What is unusual is how cold the rain is.  It was only in the low 50s this morning!

The mountains were shrouded in fog and more rain was moving in from Sonora.  With no call-in for today, I decided to take advantage of this fine weather and take all the dogs down to the river. Sweetie needed her exercise so I picked the remote southern terminus of the San Pedro River Trail outside Palominas on the eastern banks of the river for a hike.  I wore a medium-grade fleece shirt and my yellow North Face rain jacket.  Both came in handy.   I had no concrete plan as for time or distance; that all depended on the weather and the dogs.  The Mexican border is only four miles one-way straight south from this location.

A USBP van was parked in the trailhead parking area.  I waved at the agent and immediately took the pack across the wash and south along the marked trail.  It was 11:17am. It was nice to see the dogs chase each other and have fun.  I definitely felt the chill but it didn't prevent Minnie from panting at the one-mile mark. That's when I decided to turn southwest on a maintenance road and take the pack toward the river for a cool refreshment. This was a wise decision for the dogs, but not so much for my van later on.

There was no one around me.  I figured the cool weather would bring out more wildlife, but perhaps everything was hunkered down and staying warm.  We got to the river within two miles.  Last night's rain didn't create water volume, but the wash was damp.  I was able to walk in the wash the entire way back to the bridge.  There were small pools of deep water and shorter runs of flowing water, but nothing long-flowing yet. That will come with the monsoon.  The river changes its course every year.  Some years there is so much water that I have to stay above the banks when walking along the river.  Today I had no such concerns.

The trees along the river look healthy this year.  I'm not seeing a moth infestation as in previous years.  All four dogs ran around some more, chased each other, and fetched sticks that I threw.  I'm sure they all picked up ticks while in the water, though, so I'll be watching for that in a few weeks.

I ended up walking back north along the river, joining the wash again south of the bridge and taking the wash back to the parking area.  Other than some tall dead grass near the river, I had no major obstacles to surmount; it was easy walking today. Sometimes the weeds along the river grow so dense that bushwhacking through that is cumbersome.

The walk was 1:39 minutes long. The USBP agent was still there.  I waved at him once again before driving off in the rain.  This was a well-timed walk, as as soon as I neared the van, another short thunderstorm erupted. The dogs all did their share dragging mud into the van.

Some people may complain about this unseasonable cold front, but this cold moisture will help curtail our wildfires burning across Arizona.  Our mountains' trees need this water.  Sunny, warm and seasonable weather should return in full again by Thursday.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tinker Pond - Sheelite Ridge loop

Gusty winds plagued us all weekend.  Yesterday I opted out of a 12-mile hike on the Arizona Trail with the hiking club at Redington Pass because of the forecasted heat -- 92F-- and the wind.  I took the dogs out for a 4-mile power walk instead.  A new fire, the Mulberry fire, was reported yesterday afternoon north of Sonoita, in the same area the larger Sawmill Fire burned for over 46,000 acres that began on April 23rd.  I didn't see much evidence of any fire burning from that direction.

Today I wanted to hike the AZT from yesterday's club schedule but ended up staying close because driving in gusty conditions for 90 miles to a crowded trailhead was not my idea of a fun time.  It turns out that the guys who did hike yesterday on the AZT did a partial bushwhack anyway.  I don't like bushwhacking as injuries sustain off-trail can lead to delayed rescues because of the rough terrain.  The hiking club has become a bushwhacking club when certain people lead hikes.

Temperatures today were in the low 70s with an overcast sky.  Perfect for hiking!  I told Kevin I would do 6-8 miles today and it turned out to be exactly 7 miles, all on firebreaks on Fort Huachuca.  I repeated the Tinker Pond hike from March 25th, this time with the intent of making it to the pond.

Tinker Pond access is on the post's most southeastern boundary, across from the aerostat field off Garden Canyon Road.  The last time I hiked here, on March 25th after a control burn, I saw a herd of antelope. Today I saw three turkeys instead.  The last one, a tom, was slowly strutting across the road with no care in the world.  I stopped to take his photograph before the dogs went on a barking frenzy.

We were the only ones at the trailhead.  A gallon jug was placed at the start.  Was this for any thirsty border crossers? The first 1.5 miles were the same route I took last time, on meandering firebreaks slowly going uphill.  This time I stayed in a southwesterly direction.  The burned area is slowly coming back to life, with a new layer of green grass while the unburned area looks dead and dull.  We haven't had much rain since early March; more rain would surely have made the burned area grow back even faster.
I had no trouble remembering the route.  But this time I noticed a trail of pink streamers on tree branches at the 1.35 mile mark. These weren't here last time. These streamers are left behind by border crossers who mark the way for other border crossers.  The streamers usually indicate a safe passage, a spring, or a shelter.  Curious, I followed the pink streamers up the side of a small hill and discovered an underground bunker.  I had to crouch down to get inside.  A ten foot hallway then turned right into a larger room, but I didn't go in all the way as I didn't want to be surprised. The dogs didn't act alarmed so I knew no one was inside.

I didn't linger long as I had six more miles to go.  Tinker Pond was next.  The trail gained in elevation fast.  The pond was at the two-mile mark and 5156'.  I didn't have to tell the dogs to jump in.  Water looked clean enough.  There were no other animals around.  I had water for the dogs but always prefer they drink from natural sources, as long as those sources are clean.
I was going deeper and higher, surrounded by emory oaks, alligator junipers, yuccas.  The firebreaks were on my Google maps and GPS but had no names. Some were long abandoned and overgrown, but an old graded area revealed once-used trails here.  I came up to a crest at the three-mile mark with views into Garden Canyon Road and points east and north.  The crest allows border crossers good vantage points, but it's an area that if an injury were to happen, rescue would be difficult and delayed because of the loose soil and steep grade.  I stopped often to rest.  Between the 2.and 3.7 mile, the steepest, I stopped often enough to drag that mile out to 51 minutes.  It wasn't so much that the grade was steep, it was more that I was tired of hiking on very loose and uneven terrain.  Deep groves from intense past rains can turn these old fire breaks into ankle twisters.

The Sheelite Ridge is a natural barrier to the namesake canyon. The trail ends at the base but I didn't go that far west.  I took a left turn going due south and downhill.  The Ridge looked inviting but rocky cliffs are notorious mountain lion habitat so I opted to not explore the base of the ridge.  I'd do it with company but not by myself.

Sheelite canyon is a popular birding destination, even after the 2013 fire that took out the upper elevations and caused severe erosion on the trails.  This eastern barrier keeps predators out from this direction.  It's a steep canyon, too and not for the unconditioned.

Clouds were slowly getting darker, adding to dramatic sky effects.  On a hot, clear sky this hike would be unbearble, but the cool temperatures and overcast made this loop enjoyable.  I'm so glad I had ideal conditions for this loop, as I got to see higher elevations from different locations never before seen.  I could see the upper falls in Brown Canyon.  Along the southeastern post boundary now bordering Brown Canyon, I could also see illegal trails made by border crossers wanting to use the firebreaks to get down into the valley.  Part of the barbed-wire fence had been cut open and replaced.  People coming through this area would have to have bushwhacked a steep canyon to get here.  The remote area would allow many to sneak in undetected.

Betweem 3.7 and 5.2 miles I was following the post boundary with Brown Canyon and hiking in a northeastlerly direction.  I was at the highest elevation along this loop, at 5900'.  The remote beauty now took over. I stopped now more to enjoy the views.  The overcast skies provided shade that otherwise would not be here on the exposed trails, but the late afternoon also helped provide for shade.  Both dogs were by my side.  Minnie would have slowed me down and Sweetie would have wanted to run down the white-tailed deer we came across.  The dogs were so tired by now, they didn't notice a young fawn feeding right off the trail.  I stopped to photograph it but my movement startled the fawn and it sprinted off, still undetected by the dogs.
I didn't bring my windbreaker on this hike.  My movement kept me cool but had I rested more, would have felt the cold front coming in.  This is unusual for this time of year.  Others may have complained about the unusual 70F day, but I took advantage of it with this hike.

It was all downhill now, often on steep, loose decomposed granite.  This kind of terrain is more painful on my knees than a steep ascent.  At the 4.8 mile I crossed the trail I had used last time on this loop, so now the trail was familiar once again, as lower Brown Canyon came into view.  Here's where I then took a northwesterly turn on an abandoned trail that brought me back down to the land navigation course and close to the hidden shelter.

While scenic views were along the Ridge, I was now in a small riparian area.  Herbaceous plants were growing back from the fire.  Yuccas that had burned stalks were also coming back to life.  After a heavy rain I assume this area would be brimming with wildlife of all kinds.  Sadly, we encountered a young, dead fox and a few feet further, the spine of another mammal I couldn't recognize.  It did not have canine teeth.  I'm going to assume it was of a deer.

We  had now hiked almost six miles.  It had been four miles since the dogs were in Tinker Pond.  I had stopped to let them drink while on the Ridge trail, but Sadie didn't take that opportunity.  The dogs had to have been thirsty by now.  The trail we were on came out north of the old Site Boston wildlife pump but by then we had less than a mile to the finish line.  The dogs would have to wait until we were back home for more water.

Dark clouds were now forming over the mountains.  It looked like rain, which was not in the original forecast for today.  It was breezy but no longer gusty.  I lucked out with the weather and this trail!  The seven miles took me 3:47 hours.  Once back at the car and seeing the Sheelite Ridge from the parking lot, it was hard to believe this was only a seven-mile loop.  The Ridge looks farther away.
The waning western sun was now casting its golden hues on the grass as I drove off. It was almost 5:30pm when I got home.  Minnie and Sweetie were excited about their walk, but I ignored them and they didn't harass me for long.  Sadie slept in the hallway as soon as we got home and didn't move much the rest of the night.
Hiking on wide firebreaks is only enjoyable when there is cool weather and overcast skies.  Today was such a day.  On a typical May day, this hike would not be much fun, although a short 4-mile loop to the pond and back around the riparian area would be a pleasant after-work jaunt as long as there was daylight.  I'm glad I finally made it to Tinker Pond.  That area is a hidden gem that few people get to enjoy.

Kevin was awake but in bed when I got home.  He had made a nice pot roast dinner and kept my plate in the microwave.  I'm normally starving when I come home from a hike, but tonight I didn't eat right away, instead grabbed crackers and later some custard.  I'll save the pot roast for tomorrow.

Emmanual Macron won the French election today.  That didn't surprise me.  What does disturb me is Marine Le Pen's far right party, the National Front, won just under 35% of the vote.  This shows a steady increase in the National Front's policies since 2002, indicative of the social unrest across France.  While I do support stronger law enforcement vis a vis crime, drugs and gangs both here and in Europe, what does disturb me is the hatred that comes with it toward anyone not deemed "normal."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Arizona Trail: Canelo Hills South from Harshaw Road to Gates Spring (12. miles r/t)

The Canelo Hills north of Parker Canyon Lake to just south of Patagonia are perhaps one of the more scenic stretches of the Arizona Trail in extreme southern Arizona.  The rolling hills provide for a physical challenge without exhausting the body, yet provide scenic views and springs along the way.  The only living things you may share the trail with is cattle.  I like hiking here.  What keeps me from coming back more often is the 66 miles it takes to get here from Hereford.

I had hiked this stretch before with Sara and Sammy, perhaps after coming back from Iraq in 2008.  Back then I made it three miles into the hike but couldn't find the trail past a wide, shady wash.  Signage had gotten eroded and I turned back.  Today the trail was much easier to follow, up and down the hills, and in some places the original trail was improved to make traversing it easier.

I started at 1:27pm.  The parking area was empty.  After realizing I was on an illegal trail, I turned around and saw the official trail sign across Harshaw Road going northeast and up over some hills.  Then I remembered that that's the trail.  Sadie and Zeke were by my side.  I never met another soul on this hike.

The trail quickly ascends.  Starting elevation is 4086' but jumps to 4511' at the 1.5-mile mark.  Views into the artsy town of Patagona come to view, along with some architectural homes hidden by hillsides.  Red Mountain is the prominent mountain here south of town and its hilltop antennae shine in the sunlight.  It makes for a prominent landmark along this section, as well as another hill east of there with several protruding mines visible.  This mined hill was north of the AZT and glistened in a golden hue on my return hike several hours later.

The first thing I noticed across the entire landscape was how parched the flora was.  The dead grass was a dull brown, creating a mostly monochromatic landscape of shades of brown.  Even the hillside oaks looked parched, with many of the leaves yellow or brown from lack of water.  Trees along intermittent streams and washes fared slightly better, but the lack of any recent precipitation was obvious.  We need rain!

I had water with me, enough for the dogs and me.  Zeke quickly began panting again, though.  He trotted next to me looking fine, though, so we didn't stop until 3.7 miles into the hike when we crossed an ATV trail marked Canyon Road that went northwest.  I had no plans to turn around at a specific point; I based my hike today on remaining daylight.  All the mattered was that I return to the truck before dark.  It was already 3:43pm by this time.  I could hike until 4pm before turning around, I told myself.  Red Rock Canyon was five miles from the trailhead; I could reach that.

The landscape leveled out some once I crossed Canyon Road.  Red Rock Canyon came into view, with its red rock strata high enough to act as a landmark, but the hills looked farther away than posted.  My GPS was telling me I was past the five-mile mark and I was not in a red canyon.  So I continued on.  The varied landscape lured me farther along.  Trees were starting to green up some and the trail passed along a level flood zone with evidence of recent cow passings.  After a heavy rain, this would be even more inviting.  At one point, mesquites canopied the trail, providing shade for cattle and hikers.

More later

Monday, April 17, 2017

Miller Peak from Montezuma's Pass

My friend Steve is getting ready to head out to Texas for ten days and expressed his desire to hike up Miller Peak, a summit he hadn't bagged yet.  Since I was due a peak this month, decided to join him.  When he emailed me on Sunday saying he was able to hike on Monday, we agreed to meet at 6am at the parking lot to start this hike.

I was seven minutes late. I was too late to watch the sun rise from the parking lot. (Why did I think it would be a 15-minute drive to the trail head?  It's more like 25 minutes!)  "Nina has been rubbing off on you!" said Steve as I pulled up, referring to Nina's incessant habit of always being late.  It took another 12 minutes to get all my stuff ready before we took off at 6:19am.  Zeke seemed hesitant to get out of the truck and hiked slowly behind me the entire time.  This was a concern for me as he's normally exuberant and alert. Have I been pushing him too hard?  Does he have an injury or illness?

The only people at the trail head were Border Patrol agents.  For the entire  duration of this hike, we were the only ones on the trail.  That was fine with us.  As soon as we got to the trail we took our dogs off the leashes.  Trace flushed a few flocks of birds but Zeke heeled to me the entire time.  I stayed in front to take pictures, stopping to allow Steve to catch up with me.

Steve had researched the elevation of the trail and knew what he had volunteered for.  There is no easy way up to Miller Peak:  elevation gain is around 4000' no matter from what trail one starts at.  This southerly approach is the easier approach, but that's not much consolation while hiking up the grade.

Steve started out strong.  He has been hiking regularly since returning from Texas last fall and I saw improvement in his pace since our joint hike up Carr Peak last October.  But he soon tired after the first mile. There are three abandoned and closed mines in the second half of the second mile that interested him.  There was no water in the spill drain by the third mine shaft, something that can provide water to a thirsty dog.

It's 1.8 miles from trail head to the Miller Peak Wilderness boundary and once we got to the wilderness boundary, we took plenty of stops to rest.  Zeke continued to look tired and didn't drink much.  What he didn't drink, Trace gladly finished for him.  But I soon experienced a leak on one of my half-gallon plastic bottles, perhaps a pinhole puncture   that made me loose a pint of precious water.  I wanted to make sure the dogs had enough water.  We stopped to pour what water I had left in Steve's containers.  That gave me access to a quart of water which I had to ration.  My pants and back were wet from the leak.

The trail's grade lessens in elevation gain once in the wilderness, but after a half mile of relatively level terrain, another ascent is felt.  "I thought you said this was level!" said Steve somewhat disapprovingly.  The ascent begins as the trail slowly gets ready to jump over to the western side of the ridge via several rocky switchbacks.  I learned fast to no longer add commentary to the trail.  What's level to me is not level to someone else.

The southern Huachuca Crest Trail (part of the Arizona trail) suffered extensive damage during the June 2011 fire.  Sadly, no new Douglas firs are growing where once old growth stood.  The scrub oaks that have regrown since the fire are now suffering from drought again; so many leaves are turning yellow and dropping.  I see that color change even in the valley.  The winter rains helped only while it was raining and we've had a warm, dry spell since early March.  We only saw four kinds of wildflowers, too:  red cardinal, purple lupine, small white cluster flowers and small yellow prostate flowers near the peak.  Dry weather prevents flowers from blooming and the mountains looked dry.

The morning sun was still low enough to provide some shade once we were on the western ridge.  We stopped a lot, averaging a mile an hour.  Zeke rested in shade whenever he could.  He drank some but let Trace take his snacks.

Once we made it to Lutz saddle we had a mile to go before going on the spur trail to the summit.  Steve was determined to bag that peak.  Lutz saddle suffered minimal damage during the fire and thus is one of the few shaded areas left with mountain grasses swaying in the wind.  We rested again here, among visible signs of border crosser camp sites: empty cans of albacore tuna "en aciete" were near a rock fire ring; I took those back with me on the return hike.

We stopped to look at the eastern view.  I pointed out well-known landmarks:  Lutz canyon and the steep trail to the top, old mining sites with what looks like overgrown mining trails no longer listed on current forest maps. And, as expected, the trail takes another steep ascent in that last mile as it passes through a half-mile rocky cliff, with its natural stone steps and loose rocks that can twist even the hardiest of ankles.  The views to the west from here are spectacular and that makes dredging up this trail worth it.  Here's where I like to linger, too, along a narrow stretch of unburned old growth pines.  The burned section reappears again at the turn-off to the .5-mile spur trail to the summit.

We made it to the peak at 12:20pm; a six-hour ascent.  We were all tired.  There was no shade for us to sit under.  The only tree that survived the 2011 fire, an alligator juniper, had insects flying around its tiny blossoms.  We ended up staying long enough for a few photos, a water break for the dogs, and didn't have our lunch until we got back to shade 1/3 mile from the top.  By now Zeke and Trace were showing signs of fatigue.  I discovered that I had left my lunch, a McDonald's HotN'Spicy chicken sandwich, in the truck.  All I had was a bag of trail mix.  The full exposure to the sun made the cooler temperatures negligible.

Both Steve and I knew we couldn't linger very long if we wanted to get back to our vehicles before sunset. The descent felt no faster than the ascent!  What worried me now was facing the western slopes in that hot afternoon sun.  My thighs were starting to feel tight.  We rested again in Lutz meadow before bracing ourselves for the two miles of exposed ridgeline interrupted with a narrow patch of oldgrowth.  I told Steve I would walk as fast as I could through this section but wait for him whenever he got too far behind (= out of sight).  He kept up well.  Steve later told me I don't hike really all that fast, but only that I hike in front of him.

We got some relief once we were back on the eastern slopes, with the sun now off of us, but we weren't going any faster.  Dog and human were tired! We made it to our last rest stop, right outside the wilderness boundary, at 4:30pm.  That gave us two hours of day light for the last two hours.  We barely made it.  But once we did, we were all relieved.  USBP agents were getting ready for their evening shift.  Again our vehicles were the only non-government vehicles in the lot.  I chatted with one agent while waiting for Steve and Trace.  I asked him what he thought about a wall along the border here, as promised by trump. "By wall he means our advanced technology, not an actual physical wall" replied the agent.  Really?  He also said that the illegals who cross over along the border near Montezuma Pass are from Guatemala and Honduras.  "The Mexicans cross over along the San Pedro River."

We ended up having a meal at the Golden Corral.  It was just before 8pm and the dinner rush had subsided. We stayed there an hour celebrating our accomplishment.  I'm glad I bagged Miller Peak with Steve, but it's a peak I probably won't be doing again until this winter.  My leg muscles were challenged today.

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...Put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time...

(R. Meisner, D. Henley, G. Frey)


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