Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Power walk in town

We have had a cool weather pattern this week and I'm enjoying this. I had the weekly power walk back on the Meet-up schedule, and Angie, who first joined the group at last Friday's Bisbee shrine hike, joined us today. A fourth person, Brian, never showed up. He had waited at the hotel and not across the street where we normally park, in the north parking lot of the mall. HollyO is on her way with her husband to Texas for the Memorial Day holiday. She left this afternoon after work. Not as many people were out on the trail tonight, although I did recognize one former student as he cycled past us in the opposite direction. Even with sunglasses and head gear, I can not remain incognita!

It was windy today and the wind was coming from the southeast. Tiny sand particles were getting in my eyes. Jay and I slowed down for Angie as this was her first power walk. Jay and Angie quickly paired up while I was up front with Zeke. I'd slow down, "walk circles around" them, just to give them time to catch up without actually stopping, unless I was stopping to take photographs like the purple verbena or Yellow Bird of Paradise. I walked this way the entire five miles. Zeke was in a good mood, too. Our finish time was 1:19:27, ten minutes slower than normal, but who cares? The conversation was what drove us tonight, a conversation we continued later as we ate a meal at Culver's. Both Jay and Angie enjoy talking about politics and current events. Angie, who grew up in Greece as a girl, had some interesting insights about that island nation.

A range fire on Fort Huachuca was tonight's big landmark. The fire started late in the morning and was assessed as a 5-acre burn. Several hours later it was upgraded to 100 acres! Brown smoke trailed across the northern sky Yikes. Hope this gets under control fast. The drought and high winds all this month could certainly start another horrific fire season with just one thirsty spark.

Zeke got the last of the soup bones when we got home around 8:40pm. I gave all the dogs another treat as they were visibly hungry. Removing their food bucket during the day gets them hungry and irritable and they end up raiding the trash can, or biting through the cat food cans and leaving pieces of aluminum can pieces across the carpeted hallway.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

N Juniper Flats Road for sun set and moon rise

This hike was my first hosted hike up this road, after last weeks' recon. It was cool and breezy; great weather for an early evening hike. Tonight's hikers were NicoleM, DougM, HollyW, Jay and me. I took Zeke and Minnie along. Both wore reflective orange vests. There are two sets of radio towers on these hills that are visible from Sierra Vista 20 miles away. The road is well-graded and ideal for night walks. No deep crevices to worry about, or sudden drops in the road.

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The first mile up the road is the steepest, with vehicular traffic coming and going to the residential area a mile up. But then the grade mellows and it becomes a very comfortable walk uphill as the vistas expand to the west. Nicole and I were up front while Jay, Doug and Holly were in the back. Nicole just finished a semester of long-term subbing at the same middle school I work at, but I had never spoken to her while at the school.

We had some cloud cover early on that created beautiful sun set colors when the time came. It took us 45 minutes to reach the hillock just past the second radio tower, so we missed the sun crest behind the Huachuca mountains. The wind was blowing, too. One thing I did notice tonight were the four major areas of lights. Not only are Sierra Vista and Bisbee visibile from the hillock, so are Douglas/Agua Prieta (border town in Sonora) and Naco, AZ/Sonora. The waning light threw a grey mist over the various mountain ranges. I regretted not having taken my real camera. I was only armed with my Samsung S5 which only takes decent photos in daylight.

We all stood on the hillock admiring the views. HollyW, who had lived in Bisbee for 20 years, had never walked up to this hillock while living here, so to her this was new. Jay, who's normally reserved but filled with spontaneous sarcasm, kept calling the lights of Agua Prieta the lights of Mexico City. Agua Prieta is larger than its sister city across the border, Douglas, and I have never been in that town.

It was 7:30pm before we got down off the rocky hillock. I wanted to be back on the firm road before it got too dark. Moon rise was slated for 8:09pm and we would see the moon rise during our last mile on the road facing east. Again I was up front with Nicole, but then Jay joined us, delighted in the views. Cloud cover to the east was thickening, but we could see lone Mars tonight, high above the rising moon. We could see the moon's rays shine above the mountains before we saw the moon rise, and rise it did as a giant red ball. Wow! We were all amazed.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Sawmill Trail and Sheelite Canyon in the Huachucas

I led this hike to see the trail condition of Sheelite Canyon. A fire in the upper canyon two summers ago wrecked havoc on the trail and I was warned that following the trail would be a problem. The suggestion to start this loop hike from Sawmill Trail, then up the Crest Trail down to Sheelite was suggested instead. I am glad I followed that advice. This was a tough hike regardless of which way I would have gone. The steep grade of Sheelite alone wears on the knees. This canyon is perhaps the steepest canyon in the Huachucas, and it's located on Fort Huachuca. A special access pass is required for all personnel not in possession of a military identification card. Non-military get their pass from the Visitor's Center and it is valid for 30 days.

I had a nice showing for this tough hike. Many diehard and conditioned hikers showed up: JimA and his wife MaryAnn, SteveA, PatS, RodC,HollyO, Karen and DavidS, ColeM, GinaN. Jim and MaryAnn only hiked up to the Crest trail and returned to their cars and David turned around at the Sawmill Springs trail head. I brought Sadie along as she's great with large groups and sticks to me,(and she got kudos from the dog lovers in the group for being so mellow today). Sadie also wore a bright orange vest, partly to keep the sun off her back and partly to make her more visible in the dark canyon shade.
We started the hike just before 8am. The gate to Garden Canyon was wide open, so we drove straight to the Sheelite Canyon trail head, not knowing that the gate was accidentally left open by Border Patrol earlier in the day and we were locked in and had to call the MP desk to free us. David had called Karen to let her know of this when she called him on the phone while we were eating lunch to see how he was doing back at the car later on. After a few minutes deciding whether we should drive up to the Sawmill Trail or not, we opted to start the hike lower in the canyon and to hike uphill, just like HollyO, Ellen and I did a few weeks ago. It was cool, with a starting temperature of 63F. That coolness gave us a nice start, as highs in Tucson were predicted to reach 89F, which means at least five degrees cooler for us. It never got that hot for us, thankfully.

Disaster struck early for me today. My water flask quickly started leaking, which got my new capri jeans wet at the start of this hike. What a sight to see, as if I had incontinence issues! Rod and SteveA helped me fix the leak (Rod had duct tape in his first aid pouch) and that helped stop the leak. My 73% cotton pants were dry two hours later, but another leak occurred while having lunch at the Crest. I must remember to place my flasks in plastic bags to prevent such embarrassing leaks! More importantly, I need reliable drinking systems. Nothing truly works well for me.
It had been years since I hiked up Sawmill trail. BrendaH had led this hike when I last hiked this loop in 2009, but we went down Sawmill. Rod suggested hiking up a secondary road to Sawmill Springs and then cut across a short and steep downhill to the trail. This was a nice suggestion as I had never seen the spring before. The old trail to the spring was badly eroded and overgrown, but lush and with some water for Sadie. A game camera was posted nearby but the cable to the battery was cut.

The rest of Sawmill Trail up to the Crest was the prettiest part of this hike. We walked underneath old growth pines. The trail was thick with old pine needles, which of course also make great kindling should lightning strike one of the trees. The views along the Crest trail showed the southeast and the northeast, with silhouettes of Mount Wrightson and the northern Sonoran range. But I also noticed the pine needles at the edges of the trees were dying, a sign of the lingering drought this past year. We desperately need rain soon! The monsoon season can't get here soon enough.
Gina was having problems with her ankles today. SteveA stayed with her and we as a group took several longer stops to let her catch up with us. This slowed down our time, but it was important that we all stayed together as there is so much potential for a hiker to slip and twist an ankle on this hike, and it's a long and strenuous way back down to safety, and extremely difficult for help to reach a stranded hiker. The one good thing today was the cool breeze in the higher elevation. I had to hold on to my boonie hat a few times, and even got chilled while having lunch at 8400'.

The Brown fire that torched the upper Sheelite canyon started April 13, 2014 and burned 240 acres, mostly on post. It was determined to be human caused. Since this is a well-known route for diehard illegal border crossers, and the trash one sees off the trail comes from Mexico, I have no doubt that some illegals made a fire to keep warm and then didn't extinguish the fire properly. We picked up sunburned water bottles, Electrolite bottles, rusty tin cans with Spanish on them, and took what we could in our packs. SteveA even found a Gerber baby food lid with Spanish writing on it. Carrying a small child up and over Sheelite is no easy task!
The burn area swept across the mountain side and charred old growth trees here. The ash scattered across the switchback trail, making our descent into the canyon a task that required paying attention to the old trail. Sadie had no problem as she probably was able to detect the scent of humans walking down the ravine. Walking was slow and calculated. This is one very steep and narrow canyon and the creek is the focus. If you lose the trail, simply stay along the creekbed as it eventually gets one down to the trail head.
The many burned snags, the rock slides and the widened creek bed lowe in the canyon have altered the beauty of this place. Sheelite canyon still attracts birds and other wildlife (bears!) to this place, but the trail is hard to follow and in some places, totally wiped away. It's now even harder to hike the 3.6 miles. By mile 7 I was tired, by mile 9 exhausted, and everyone else looked exhausted, too. Yet no one complained. They told me I had described this hike as a "butt kicker, even for those without butts." I truly had a group of well-conditioned hikers on this one who understood the challenge.

There was some water for Sadie along the central and lower creek. She, too, was tired. But what a great sport she was! I gave her almost all the chicken treats that were in the bag of dog snacks I had packed for her.

The hike was 9.76 miles long and took us 7:54 hours to complete, two hours longer than predicted. We called the MP desk to open the gate and a young solder came by to unlock the gate and set us free. We got no repercussions from driving beyond the opened gate as leaving it open was the MP's error. Hope the poor lad didn't face severe punishment for leaving the gate open. Thoughts of spending the night "in the brig" or having Holly's husband Doug post bail were circulated among us, but I knew since we were not active duty, that we would at best be cited for trespassing.
We got back to our cars in town by 5pm. Everyone was tired and only Pat and I decided to grab a bite to eat in town. We chose Chili's since the layout in our local restaurant allows one to carry on a conversation even with a packed house. I parked on the east side of the building so that Sadie could rest in the shade. I hadn't chatted much with Pat lately, either, and it was nice to hear her life's updates. She's trying to find a job that allows her to use her lawyer skills, but so far nothing promising. Her insight into life parallel mine. "It's not where one lives, it's the people one meets" that make a certain location where one choses to live, memorable.

The official full moon rose on my drive home at 7:15pm. The moon was shrouded by low-lying clouds and wasn't obvious again until 7:22pm before hiding behind more clouds, so missing a full moon hike tonight didn't make me feel too bad for not hosting one. That's why I have one scheduled for Sunday evening, hiking up N Juniper Flats at 6pm to see both the sun set over the Huachucas, and the moon rise over the Mule Mountains of Bisbee.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Powerwalking with Zeke and Minnie

Today was the first Wednesday of the year that I did not host a power walk in town. When I drove home from work and an errand on post, the thermometer in town registered 88F at 5pm; too hot for Zeke and the multi-trail. He was showing pain last week and had been walking slower than normal, and I didn't want to harm him. Today I opted to walk with him later, when the mountain shadowns were over our neighborhood. At 6:20pm I took him and Minnie for the power walk around the Oaks. This would be my first power walk with Minnie hanging on. How would she do?

Minnie did amazingly well. She stayed within sight, although by the second mile she was dropping behind me. She quickly learned that today I was not going to be playing fetch with her, or slow down for her. She did not chase Zeke, nor did she follow him into the fields, and neither did Zeke. Zeke seemed to know that at my fast pace, that I was serious today. Both dogs stayed on the pavement with me.
By 7pm the sun was behind the mountains and the coolness began. The waning sun and the few clouds burst into flames of orange and red before twilight began. I spotted a young coyote on the road who didn't seem bothered by the dogs and me and even seemed curious enough to follow me. The dogs did not chase it. It looked like the same young coyote from a few weeks ago. I also spotted an owl perched in the top of a tree, and I also spotted the ubiquitous rabbits flitting into the brush. The dogs did not take chase.

I still managed a respectful 1:09:41 hours for the 5-mile walk and the short water breaks I gave the dogs at each loop completion. Their bucket of ice water was empty of water by the end of this workout. It was nearing the end of civilian twilight when we got back to the van. The dog's collar lights barely helped me seeing them. Both jumped into the van and panted all the way home. Minnie continued to pant for a good hour afterwards but showed no other signs of distress. This power walk for her was a way to get her back on track to a more normal weight. She needs to lose ten pounds. I'm already removing the food bucket from easy access at night, so that none of the dogs snack at midnight. Sadie is the only dogs who needs extra kibble.
When I got back online afterwards, I learned that Holly's husband Doug did get the job for Seward, Alaska. They are now taking a recon trip up there this weekend, but will be back for my May 21st hike through Sheelite Canyon. Although I'm happy for them, as both had been talking about wanting to explore Alaska, I'm going to miss them. Of all the people I met last year through the hiking meetup, she is the one I meshed with the best. We always had great conversations no matter where we hiked. We hadn't known each other for long, but I always enjoyed her company. We had talked about doing parts of the Arizona Trail together on weekends, with her husband shuttling us to and from trailheads. We have now until the end of summer to get that done before they leave in October.

I'm happy that Doug got the job he wanted, but I will miss them.