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.  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 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.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Tombstone rail road trail

I had time today to pay Chip a visit, the widowed husband of my late friend Carol.  I had not seen him since before Thanksgiving.  Attempts to call him always resulted in the connection getting cut off, so I drove to Tombstone to see if he was OK; the phone connection had always been adequate in the past.

It was after 3pm when I arrived, with Sadie and Zeke in my  I had planned on taking them along the old rail road trail after the visit.  Both dogs waited patiently for me to drive off, but Chip said it would be OK to let the dogs out and sit with us while we chatted in the car port under the shade.  Chip's three small dogs barked incessantly the entire time while Sadie and Zeke were quiet.  Sadie sniffed around the area but Zeke sat right next to me.

"Those are well-behaved dogs" complimented Chip.
"Yes, they are," I replied.  That's the reason these two dogs travel the most with me.

Chip looked much better today than in previous visits.  His white beard is filled out, the bags under his eyes are less pronounced, and he no longer sports a frail physique.  He is more at ease again now that his DUI case from last fall was dismissed when the toxicology report came back revealing the only drugs in his system were the prescription drugs for his various ailments.

This was the first time we both were able to talk about Carol without either of us getting choked up. We are making progress.

I stayed until 5pm.  The dogs were getting restless and the small dogs were not able to relax.  On my way back home I decided to walk the old rail road trail near the Post Office, the same trail that EricT had used as a hike with the original MeetUp group.  It had been so long since I walked it, I couldn't remember where the starting point was.  I thought it was south of the post office.  It's actually just north of it, on Bruce and Haskell streets and travels generally in a northeasterly direction on what once was the rail road.

I started the hike at 5:28pm.  It was sunny and hot.  I made a few wrong turns and had to climb up a hill before I could see the actual trail.  It's farther north than I remember, and closer to SR80 than I thought. Once on the trail it was easy walking, albeit somewhat boring walking because the trail runs straight without any change in the scenery.  Thornybush line the trail on either side.  There were others out exploring these town trails, which show proof that ATVers and horses come here quite often.  I was just out to exercise the dogs and get some miles in.  My thoughts carried me through the monotony.  I wanted to get to the old rail road trestle and the dry creekbed of Tombstone Gulch before turning around.  My thoughts wdere interrupted a few times when Zeke spotted several groups of deer to chase.  There were plenty of deer out tonight.

It's a three-mile walk on the old rail road trail to the Gulch.  I got there as the sun was ready to set.  This is where the trail gets scenic as it meanders down into the Gulch.  A old spilldam is nearby.  The trestle is badly eroded but the trail continues on the other side.  Some day I'll explore this side of the trail.  For today, though, I had to turn around while there was still some light.  I didn't want coyotes to think my dogs were easy targets for a meal.

In some ways today's hike was in memory of all the great hikes I had with the people I met through MeetUp: Nina, Claire, Robert, EricT, SusanM, HollyW and HollyO, Bill and many more.  We hardly seem to have time anymore to get together.  HollyO is now in Alaska, HollyW is back to working parttime, EricT now lives in northern Arizona, Claire is now working and can't take off time to hike during the week, and Robert tries to avoid me.  And soon Nina is moving to a new home in Vail, AZ, where trails near Tucson would be easier for her to reach.

The dogs enjoyed their walk even though they didn't have any water to drink.  I was getting thirsty, too. There was water in the van, though, so I wasn't worried of the dogs suffering from thirst for long.  With the cooler evening temperatures it was easier to continue hiking without feeling thirsty or having the low sun in my eyes.  There were other people from the nearby Best Western Motel off SR80 walking the desert trails, perhaps to catch the sunset or moon rise. I could hear coyotes howl to my West.

I sped up my pace so that I wouldn't be out in the dark, but then I saw the moon.  It looked full to me.  Was this the full moon for the month?  Did I get my dates wrong again?  I have a full moon hike scheduled for the 12th.

The 5.6-mile walk took us 1:53 hours.  It was dark when I finally made it back to the van.  The dogs drank with gusto from the ice water I had in the water bowl for them and I stopped at the Family Dollar store in town for some iced tea.  The walk alone tonight was a nice way to enjoy some solitude and mull over recent happenings both in my life and for the nation.  This year promises to be a year of changes for us all.

Driving Charleston Road back to Sierra Vista, with its round hills and curves, always reminds me of Carol in her last year.  I'll never overcome that sadness of losing her and knowing she was in such pain in her final days.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

The Arizona Trail: from Box Camp Road south to Greaterville

It's so nice being able to wake up at 6am to sunshine.  The strong winds from the last 36 hours had passed.

Today's hike was along the Arizona Trail heading south on Box Camp Road to Greaterville Road in the Santa Rita foothills.  Ample parking was right off Box Camp Road. The trail followed an old mining trail for the first two miles before branching off and going along a ridge as a single track.

I took Sadie and Zeke and drove in my van to the trailhead, where others from the hiking club were getting ready to hike the trail south.  This was a large group:  SteveA, SteveS, Rod, Paul, Mel, Jody, PatS, JimA, MaryAnne, ColeM.  I am glad I managed to meet them early, as the route SteveA took included some shortcuts that I otherwise would not have figured out.  The terrain was rolling hills and we gained 1063 feet in elevation as we hiked between 5135' to 5750'.  This would have been a lovely hike after a rain, allowing water to run off rocky canyons.  Instead, it was a dry hike with little wildflowers and little shade at first.

Weather today was perfect for hiking, too.  While it was a mere 49F at the start, it did warm up and stayed mostly sunny for most of this hike.  In the end, 4:30 hours later, it had warmed up to only 59F with a heavy overcast.  I wore a base layer shirt under my hiking blouse, and a thin cotton jacket over that.

I started out with the slower people at first but then switched to the faster group, maintaining my distance from the others so that the dogs wouldn't be in the way.  There was no running water today and I had to stop to give the dogs theirs, sitting in the shade of an oak tree overlooking the Santa Rita foothills.  The group took its lunch break at the 3.7 mile mark, on a high point that revealed remnants of an old fire that had burned the older trees.  This area has recovered well since.

This area at one time saw a lot of traffic but today we were the only ones.  SteveA was the official hike leader and he decided to make this hike a loop hike rather than an out-and-back.  I prefer loop hikes myself, even though out-and-back hikes offer a different viewpoint from the same landscape and one often sees twice as much.

It took us 4.3 miles  to reach Greaterville Road (FSR 165).  From here the AZT turns left (east) but we turned right (west) along the well-graded road at a stock pond which both dogs took advantage of.  There were several mining claims staked along the road.  An ATVer sped by and waved at us; he was the only person we came across.

Now off the official AZT, we were in ATV heaven.  Had we stayed on the AZT we would have reached Kentucky Camp in four more miles, so now I have a gap I must fulfill.  The roads in all directions showed recent evidence of ATVs and were roads, not trails.  Some intersections were not marked at all, but my GPS app showed us eventually paralleling the AZT to the west.  Mount Wrightson came into full view.  This was very pretty terrain, but again the trees showed stress from drought.  It's hard to believe that despite our winter rains, that the trees everywhere look drought-stricken.

At the 5.5-mile mark we went back north on FSR 229.  A sign at the intersection said "Locked Gate Ahead" but that gate was nothing more than a cattle gate that wasn't even locked.  Melendez Pass was to our northeast; we could see a cluster of microwave dishes to our west. The gate was easily traversed.  The road was more rutted here as it hugged a narrow canyon and a stream.  This area would have been very lush after some rain, but today all the drainages were dry.  The dogs were panting for more water.  There was no water at the Ezenburg tank, but the dogs did find a flooded mine shaft with stagnant water they luckily were too afraid to jump into.  There was a large running water tank farther north with a smaller cattle tank that I helped Zeke jump into.  While the mines in this canyon were all abandoned, the use of cattle was everywhere.  FSR229 was very scenic, but I was also glad to see us back at the AZT at the 7.8-mile mark. By the time we got back to our vehicles, I was feeling drained!  The dogs were tired, too, and both stretched out in the back and didn't say a word all the way home.

I stopped at Safeway to get them some raw meats. I stopped at Culver's for a cheeseburger platter and more custard.  I'm really liking some of their daily flavors and right now I'm on a "Just Drummy" obsession: vanilla custard with swirls of chocolate syrup, peanuts and broken sugar wafers.

The other dogs never bothered me for their own hike around Oak Estates.  I'll leave that for tomorrow. Weather will start warming up again.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

San Pedro River Trail to Clanton House

Walking with Nina Friday morning gave me ideas of other hikes I could host, but I like to walk the hikes first before I lead them.  It's been years since I've been to the Clanton House and that was with the hiking club via Escapule Road to the north, off Charleston Road.  From Escapule Road the Clanton House is less than a mile away; not much of a hike!

Today I started the hike on SR90 at 3:15pm, across the street from the San Pedro House, and hiked 3.3 miles along perhaps the most boring stretch of the San Pedro River Natural Conservation Area (SPRNCA) River Trail, a 40-mile hiking trail that starts at the Mexican border and ends south of St. David.  What makes this stretch so monotonous is partly because there is no shade along the way.

I took all four dogs with me, knowing it was risky taking Sweetie along, but she hadn't been hiked in a week and needed some run time.  Luckily there were no cars in the lot and no one on this trail.  The only evidence I had of recent use was horse shit from earlier in the day.

I don't think I've ever done this part of the San Pedro Trail.  Hiking north from SR90, there isn't much scenery this time of year.  Hues of brown and grey surround you, with a break perhaps from the sky if it's blue. The trail is a dirt road for two miles, traveling nearly straight in a northwesterly direction, with tall dead grasses along the road.  The river is .3 miles to the east.  The terrain is mostly flat, with less than 200 elevation gain.

The flora on either side of the road is dense thorny brush and creosote.  No wildflowers burst here in the spring as the terrain is very alkaline here, with patches of white salty residue evident.  Heavy downpour creates deep ruts in the soil that with time create steep canyon walls, that are hidden by the dense thorny brush.  Quail and brush birds live here, but this terrain is unsuitable for cattle that would fall into the deep crevices or break a leg stepping into a snake hole. This hike is best done on a cool, cloudy day after a rain, when the creosote fills the air with its spicy aroma. On a sunny, warm, cloudless day this trail is a toll on the human psyche.

Weather was mild, in the upper 60s, but the afternoon sun shined brightly.    At the 2.5 mile mark the trail reaches the Murray Springs Trail and the small gulch that flows into the San Pedro.  I stopped here to let the dogs drink.  Minnie had been panting the entire time up to this point.  I had water with me, but wanted the dogs to drink from a fresh source.  Zeke, Sweetie and of course Minnie splashed around and got drenched. The water was a much-needed cooling point.

From the stream crossing we continued in a northeasterly direction for another half mile.  I made a sharp east (right) turn by two railroad posts at the three-mile mark although there was no directional sign to the Clanton House.  Another .3 mile and we arrived at the adobe ruins, littered with rusty metal pieces, broken glass, and protected by several trees trying to grow over the foundation.  This was not a very big house, but it did have a high view of the lower ground to the south, and a long view of the Huachuca Mountains.  No historical signs described the past, but one can feel the spirits of lives long gone now.

There was no place to rest other than on a broken brick and the dogs were bored.  They were ready for another dip in the water, so we turned around and walked back at the 1:10 hour mark. It was now almost 4:30pm and the sun was getting low.  I rested a bit longer at the stream this time, to let the dogs play in the water.  Even Sweetie was animated now.

Somehow at the 4.9-mile mark I got off the trail.   There were many shorter trails at this intersection and no marker visible. I was surrounded by that nasty thorny brush that caused me to scream out a few obscenities. I was not wearing a jacket and the thorns were scratching my arms.  My nylon pants were getting caught in them as well.  It took me almost .8 mile to get back on the main trail.  I had my app running and knew I had to go east, but the thick brush prevented me from doing so sooner.

This minor misstep really took what little fun there was left with this hike completely out of me.  I was glad to get back to the truck and I think the dogs were, too.  If I ever lead a hike to the Clanton House again, it would be from the Murray Springs trail head off Moson Avenue.  This is a shorter and more scenic hike.  I got back to the truck just after 6pm.  We had hiked 6.8 miles at just around 4000' elevation.
This section is recommended for hikers who want to feel the history of the old West.  If I were to rate this in a hiking guide I'd give it two out of five stars.  Two because it's easy as far as elevation goes, but also because it offers little scenery or psychological stimulation.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Tinker Canyon (Fort Huachuca)

Tinker Canyon is a narrow canyon on Fort Huachuca that borders Brown Canyon to the north.  I had never been in this canyon and was delighted to see this hike offered as a hike by the hiking club's fast hiker, JimA.

But I slept horribly the night before, waking up at 1:30am and never getting back to sleep.  By 4:30am I was getting tired again but never fell asleep.  I knew I could not hike safely in a tired state and opted not to meet the group at the designated 7:30am meetup.

Instead, I followed the group an hour later and did my own hike, hoping I'd run into them along a ridgeline.  I had followed the driving directions.  A herd of proghorn antelope were in the middle of Garden Canyon Road on my way to the trailhead, which got the dogs barking.  I stopped to photograph them. The herd ran off to the safety of the nearby field, looking back at me and wondering why the truck was barking at them.

The trailhead was the Tinker Pond Land Navigation course near the post aerostat.  The post had conducted a control burn a few  weeks ago and I could still smell the chemicals used to burn the grass. Even while on active duty and assigned to Fort Huachuca, I had never done land navigation training here; it was always on the northern site closer to Black Canyon.

I was hoping either Zeke or Minnie would be able to sniff out where the hiking group had gone, but to no avail. They seemed more interested in sniffing out the area.  All the trails here were wide firebreaks and I took the main one going in a southwesterly direction uphill through a gentle slope.  Burned hills were on either side of me.  If it hadn't been for the smell, this would have been a nice hike.  The hills around me had craggy tops.

I wanted to find Tinker Pond.  I'd heard of the pond but had never been to it.  Where was it?  Even as the road gained in elevation, I couldn't see any semblance of a pond.  Two miles into the canyon I was now deep enough to be away from the burned area and hidden from view.  I could have continued going higher and deeper into the canyon, but opted to cut south and take a ridgeline (the Sheelite Ridgeline, according to my GPS) that borders with Brown Canyon.  From here one can see into Brown, see the Brown Canyon Ranch house and Sierra Vista.   It gives a new perspective of Brown from this vantage point.  It also reveals an old rusty barbed wire as post boundary; not a very secure border in these times.  Part of the barbed wire fence was cut open and surely that was done by border crossers coming up from the Brown Ranch House.  Who else would take a steep slope up into military property?

I spotted a water gathering tank below and went down from here to explore.  This was "Site Boston."  I also spotted a "Gobblers Guzzler," a small water fountain placed here by the Forest Service to provide water for the wild turkey that roam through.  Although I had my own water for the dogs, I let them drink from this source.  Zeke even placed his paws in the water.  The burned spots still felt warm to the touch (but were not hot).  Nearby was a rusty old car chassis laden with bullet holes.
I was now at the four-mile mark.  The official hike was 6.7 miles so I simply didn't go deep enough in the canyon to copy the posted hike.  I didn't want to be hiking through the burned fields and went back to the perimeter road and a more level terrain.  Here the road bordered the fence with the Connector Trail of Sierra Vista.  The heat of the day was starting to become noticeable and I walked back to the parking area, looped around for another mile and hiked 5.4 miles before calling it quits.  It was just after 11am and I was done.  The group was still out hiking.

I gave Sadie her ice cubes and sat in the shade of the cars.  She likes munching on ice. Thirty minutes later the rest of the group came by.  Rod, SteveS, SteveA, Mell, JimA, ColeM, Jody, Stephanie and Kent were in this group. I looked at Rod's GPS:  I had turned south and back along the perimeter one firebreak too soon. Tinker Pond was just the next intersection higher in the canyon.  ARG!

This would be a lovely hike once the green grass grows back and the smell dissipates.  I want to do this hike again soon as it's remote and scenic.

Friday, March 24, 2017

San Pedro House Loop, Brown Canyon sunset hike

Nina posted a last-minute meetup hike around the San Pedro House at 8am.  Since I was only working a half-day, I jumped on the opportunity to meet with her and walk the trails here before my shift.  It's a 25-minute drive to the San Pedro House on SR90 from my house.  I got there at 8:07 (knowing Nina would be late) and she arrived at 8:10am.

We had two hours to saunter around the trails, enjoying the morning light and the birds.  I did not take any dogs this time as this is a popular birding area and I didn't want to bother birders with my dogs.  That was a wise decision. Nina commented that she can't remember ever hiking with me without a dog by my side. While dogs are allowed here, they must be leashed around the house.  I kept my dogs at home so that I wouldn't need to drive back home again before arriving at the school, saving 50 minutes and 30 miles.

We had no route planned.  Nina had a map and I suggested we stay in the trees closest to the river where the birds are.  We lucked out.  Not only did a maintenance man show us an owl in the cottonwood tree by the house, we also saw the red-bellied Vermillion Flycatcher.  The first time I saw this pretty bird was on this trail years ago.  I didn't have a good camera to capture its beauty.

The river was very calm this morning as the early sun shined through the trees.  Birds were chirping and twittering in the branches, hidden from site.  The cool shade felt good.  Why do I not come by here more often?  We met a family from Kansas who moved here one by one after the adult daughter moved here for a job.  Her mother and brother joined her and all hike the three-mile loop every morning.

The trail map visitors can pick up at the San Pedro House is not very detailed.  We hiked a few loops twice trying to figure out where to go.  We really didn't care as it was calming just being here.  There were several others enjoying the trails, cameras in hand.  Get away from the cool shade and out on the open trail, though, and it's less pleasant.

Kingfisher pond and the giant cottonwood are the charms of this loop hike. The tree has a symmetrical canopy unlike most trees in the area.  We walked this entire pond, took photos, laughed at our repeated loop around the water.  Nina brought along a cardboard figurine she named "Flat Stanley," mailed to her from Texas.  Flat Stanley will be accompanying her on all the hikes for the next month before he gets mailed back to Texas.

We hiked north along the river, went under the SR90 overpass, spotted a new cross marking a gravesite I'm thinking is to commemorate a border crosser found dead here.  A volunteer organization has been placing crosses along the border to mark the deaths of people found dead. I found my first such cross several months ago in Lutz Canyon.  The Forest Service frowns on religious monuments on public land (that hasn't stopped the crosses from popping up around here) but this land is managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Nina had a dentist appointment and needed to be done around 10am.  That gave us 3.5 miles together.    We were done shortly after 10am.  What a lovely walk this was, walking at a leisurely pace, chatting and enjoying the sounds.

* * *
I had a pleasant afternoon at the school, got home at 4:15pm and hosted another sunset hike in Brown Canyon.  This time I brought Sadie and Zeke along.  AJ was there and two new gals, Madelaine and Cindy, both registered nurses from Delaware and Michigan showed up.  Madelaine and Cindy were behind AJ and me and I slowed down to allow the gals to catch up with us, but at one point Madelaine bluntly told me, loud enough for everyone to hear, that "I'm going to be very honest, I don't think I'll be coming back again!" because the pace was too fast for her.  She was expecting a more leisurely walk where we would stop, photograph the sites, and chat.  This was the first time anyone has told me I hiked too fast.  I was a bit taken back by that.  I didn't advertise the hike as a leisure walk and mentioned in the write-up that I like to maintain a 22-minute-mile pace.

The gals did relax and we slowed down once we got to the 2.5-mile spot at the water trough.  From here it's all downhill back to the Brown canyon ranch house.  We chatted more spiritedly, AJ talked about his experience with atrial ventricular tachycardia he swears he developed after a tetanus shot, and together we enjoyed the waning daylight as we exited the canyon.  We had no clouds and thus no color scheme across the sky.  We could hear coyotes howling when we got to the ranch house.  The others saw two coyotes dart across the trail and they warned me to leash the dogs (which I did), but I never saw the coyotes.  The pond was calm.

We got back to our cars in 2:07 hours and departed amicably.  I don't think I'll be seeing the gals again.  I did enjoy our conversation once the pace slowed down some.

Both hikes totaled 8.96 miles.  I'm on a run!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Mural Hill, Bisbee (6502')

This is a seven mile hike. The hiking club had done this hike while I was still in California on Saturday.  After reading the hike report sent by club secretary Rod via email today, decided to try this trail out this afternoon.  I had never been up this prominent peak, the one with the slanted rock relief visible as one drives into town via SR92.  The land belongs to the Phelps-Dodge mining company, but people are allowed to hike the trails as long as they don't vandalize the terrain, hunt or litter.  (I saw no trash!)  There are two cattle fences that must be kept shut along the way.

I took Sadie and Zeke again and drove to Bisbee in the afternoon.  It was quite warm out, mid 80s, warmer than I thought, but intermittent cloud cover provided cooling effects.  The warmth was quite a bit for both dogs and I had to stop for water.  Even I felt thirsty.

The hiking group started this hike just below the Old Bisbee Brewing Company and walked uphill on OK Street.  Wanting to cut some mileage, I started this hike at the Mimosa Market in Brewery Gulch, cutting off .7 mile roundtrip.  This allowed me to avoid leashing the dogs as we walked up the stairs to the end of OK Street and took the Youngblood Hill trail up.  This is the same way I hike up to the Shrines.

The trail to Mural Hill goes around the north end of Youngblood Hill before continuing on east and down into a gully.  The Bisbee white Cross is visible from here and becomes a landmark for the return hike.  One can see the cross for the first two miles.  The trail is rocky though, and is lined with prickly fairy dusters (Calliandra eriophylla) which are now in bloom all along the hillsides. Hummingbirds are attracted to these red-pinkish flowers. There are also yucca, agaves, manzanitas, Mountain Mahogony, scrub oak, cholla and a variety of grasses. The only shade is what's in northern slopes.  Starting at 1:34pm, I had a strong afternoon sun on us the entire time.  

We arrived at the second saddle after a mile, and then descended into a gully which had a Gabion dam (rocks bounded in a wire cage) before dipping back up a steep slope before starting on the continuous climb of 2.2 miles and 1170 ft. to the top of Mural Hill.  There was orange tape tied to a branch at the top of this steep gully, from where the trail took a left and went in a northeasterly direction on what was once a mining trail and now slowly growing over. This part of the trail was very obvious

The views from all directions were all new to me.  One could see into the Lavender Pit up close, and see where the mining operations are currently working.  There's a lot of mining going on that isn't visible to the passers-by on SR90.

It took me 1:55 hours to get to the top.  That last scramble up to the peak wasn't easy, as it was steep and the trail very loose and the manzanitas very thick.  There was no defined trail; the rule was to just "hike uphill!"  The views from the top are rewarding.

We finished our half gallon of water at the peak.  It was 3:40pm and I wanted to get down off the peak.  I could tell the dogs were warm.  The descent was a bit easier, with more shade in the northern slopes but more sun in the western slopes.

I was watching the trail closely for snakes and missed the sharp right turnoff for the steep gully.  I ended up taking the dogs and me on an extra .6-mile detour.  So much for shaving mileage off the hike now!  I would have ended up at SR92 if I hadn't stopped myself when I did.

The dogs were walking faster the closer we got to the end.  I noticed a transient camp in a shallow mine right off the trail, a mine I had never noticed before.  There were some belongings right outside the mine entrance.  A few hundred feet past the mine, I noticed a man walking ahead of us wearing a black trench coat; most likely the owner of those bags at the mine.  The dogs were acting cautious but didn't bark.  The man, however, saw Sadie and got nervous.  He was on the same trail as we were and was also heading down the same stairs as we.  He wanted to jump out of the way but when he saw that Sadie meant no harm and even came up to him gently, he relaxed and walked more at ease.  I kept my distance behind him but at 50 feet I could smell him.  He didn't even look that old.

The grand hike took me 3:39 hours. There was 1553' elevation gain.  I'll definitely do this one again.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Mojave Preserve: Mid Hills ramble

The first rays of light woke me up.  Without so much as combing my hair, I got the dogs ready to walk cross-country toward the hills to the west.  I had no hike planned other than my morning jaunt.  Today's jaunt took me to the northern section of the Mid Hills, walking in a westerly direction.  I figured a few miles in two hours would be a nice start.  I had hilltops pointing the way and my GPS app on to guide me.

The terrain here was surprisingly soft.  Sometimes it was so soft, my shoes got stuck in compressed air pockets.  Nothing prickly was on this ground, although I came across a few mining relics.  I had no goal, but saw a rocky hilltop and went for it.  Once on the hilltop, I saw another one, a higher one, that I had to bag. And so it went.

As in so many areas of California, there was evidence of an old wildfire.  Dead oaks marked the landscape.  More interesting were the many boulders piled on each other, as if placed there by a higher being.  We spotted a deer that Zeke attempted to chase.  I spotted a radar tower that intrigued me, only to see another human on the hilltop that had me curious, too.  Who was this person?

It turned out to be a woman camped out at the official Mid Hills campground below.  I had walked just under two miles at this point (it seemed longer) and there were many vehicles around this shaded campsite. Most of the vehicles were large 4Wheelers.  The women went back down the hill without talking to me and I turned around to resume the descent and return to my van.  The mountain shade was slowly fading as the sun rose.  I wanted to get back to the van before we all got thirsty.  I didn't carry any water because this was supposed to be a quick morning jaunt.

I don't normally enjoy cross-country walks but this one was a pleasant one.  Bushwhacking across the desert in Arizona means stumbling over hidden boulders, stepping into holes, or having one's legs jabbed by shin daggers or the dreaded cholla.   This walk enabled me to walk the dogs off-leash, without disturbing anyone. Both dogs stayed by my side, but Sadie did take off in the last .3 mile to get back to the van, only to return to me far away.  Everyone around me was awake.  The large Jeep group behind me was also breaking camp.  They had come here to drive the famed Mojave Trail, a trail consisting of old Indian trails, old army supply routes, and washes that bisects the Preserve east to west.  They had four dogs, a GSD, a Doberman and a Zeke-looking dog.   I didn't see the fourth dog.

I didn't want to leave this tranquil place.  I would have been content sitting in my van for an hour to read a bit more, but then a blue Honda Element pulled up.  Henry from Eugene, Oregon asked if he could set his tent up and reserve it for tonight so that he'd have a guaranteed place to stay once he finished his hike in Hole-in-the-Wall.  He's been on the road three months and isn't returning to Oregon until he can move into his new home in May.  He didn't want to pay rent for two months during the closing process and decided to travel the country.  He slept on a homemade platform in the back of his Element.  "I have all my belongings in a 10 x 10 storage locker!" said Henry.  Ugh.  Wish I could say the same.

I left my little patch of nature and ended up right behind Henry on Black Canyon Road on my drive south back to the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor's Center.  A Jeep had overturned on the road, crushing the windshield but luckily saving the couple that haphazardly sat on their camper cooler while a National Forest Service Law Enforcement agent was filing a report.  The overturned vehicle allowed just enough space to slowly pass the couple without detouring off the road.  How did they manage to overturn the vehicle without speeding?   And how long where they out there? With no cellphone service getting help would be an eternity.

Henry and I both ended up stopping at the Hole-in-the-Wall Visitor's Center again.  The ranger on duty knew about the accident but didn't know much detail.  He had no idea how long the car was overturned.  He was being unbiased, citing perhaps a sudden stop for wildlife as a possible cause of the vehicle flip.  There is two feet of straight up dirt along the road that the Jeep may have hit at just the right angle.  After seeing other Jeeps pass me by just yesterday, I doubt any of the ranger's speculations are true and believe speeding is the cause.  Whatever the couple was doing, it ruined their visit to the park and surely added to unnecessary expenses.  I am thankful I have been spared such grief, despite temporary panics of losing keys and/or wallet at various times during my trip.

Henry stayed and got ready to hike but I decided to drive on.  There were too many people to make this an enjoyable hike with the dogs.  A Scout troop was getting ready to head out, young families were on the trail, and a lot of hikers were mingling around.  The ranger said leashed dogs were fine.  Hiking with leashed dogs up steep trails is no fun!  I bid Henry farewell on his road trip as I continued south on Black Canyon Road back to I-40 and eastward.  The ragged mountains were now to my south as I neared the Colorado River region, a swampy area on both sides of the river. I got on Route 66 briefly and drove through the dead town of Goffs, a once-beaming railroad town that now just offers a place for tired RVers to spend the night.

What I lost in high terrain I gained in wildflowers again.  The roadside was dotted with yellow and blue flowers and the fields became more dense the closer I got to the river, especially from Lake Havasu City and points south.  I stopped briedly to walk a nature trail in the new Bill Williams Wildlife Refuge off the Colorado River but at 94F deemed it too hot to enjoy and turned around at the mile mark.  This Refuge was once a popular ATV site and now all the roads are closed to vehicles.  That didn't stop three ATVers from racing past me as I drove out of the Refuge and back on AZ95.

Another colorful display was along CA62.  Yes, I did drive back into California at the Parker bridge but only ventured ten miles.  The two-lane hilly road was treacheous enough with all the truck traffic.

I made it to Quartzsite, AZ at 6pm.  That gave me a chance to visit the Hi Jolly Monument.  Hi Jolly was a Greek camel herder born in Syria who was hired by the US Army to tend to a herd of camels.  These camels were tested for field duty before the Civil War but the experiement was abandoned and the camels set free in the desert.  Hi Jolly was the Americanized name of the man buried in this cemetery whose tombstones face the south.

I knew I was going to spend the night in Quartzsite.  A meal at the McD's and then a few hours behind a Pilot Gas Station provided plenty of entertainment.  One of the dogs was snoring for most of this time.  One young transient was camped in the front of the store under the marquee.  I later saw him walking around the dumpsters.  The next morning when I returned for breakfast he was back again.

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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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