Saturday, July 22, 2017

Carr Peak, just before the storm

I scheduled a MeetUp hike up Carr Peak for today when I read in a hike report from the Huachuca Hiking Club last weekend that hikers spotted ladybugs on Pat Scott Peak.  That means they were also on Carr and Miller Peaks and I just had to schedule a hike to see.   The mating season for ladybugs on our local peaks is around the third week in July after the monsoon kicks in.  I had to act now as the window is only two weeks long.

I scheduled the hike party to meet at 7am in the lower Carr parking area, a large lot shared with the Perimeter trail.  One man never showed up, but another man, Cole, who didn't RSVP, did.  We were thus four strong hikers.  It was sunny and clear around us in the parking lot.  We didn't see any clouds until we got to the 7100' trail head.

We drove in two cars and started the hike from the Sawmill trail head parking by 7:38am.  Two other cars were already there.   I noticed a new trail head sign. This trail starts out steep the first .2 miles, with much loose rock.  While the same distance, this makes the Sawmill trail appear steeper than the Ramsey Vista trail near the campground, but I prefer this trail because of the Sawmill springs .5 mile up the path.  The dogs always drink from this spring both going up and coming down. The trail is also shadier than the Ramsey Vista trail and is especially colorful in the fall.

It was cool and foggy but no storm clouds in the mountains when we started.   In the 60s, overcast and with no wind make for ideal hiking conditions. The aerostat tethered on Fort Huachuca was in the air, and that's a good sign no storms are near.

We kept a good pace.  The dogs stayed close but were ahead of me.  We heard a large hiss-clacking sound in the grass in front of us early in our hike and that's when I realized, OHSHIT, that's a rattler!  A big one, too.  I didn't bother investigating it or taking its picture.  I leashed the dogs and made a wide berth around it.  It was a black-tail rattler, one of the more docile snakes.  Sadie had walked right past the snake, totally oblivious to it (again, the third time for her!)  The guys all stayed back to try to get a photograph.  Rick did.

Rick turned around after a mile.  He had hiked four times this week and felt tired.  The rest of us resumed our pace.  Wildflowers are just now blooming and the Yellow Columbines along the aspen grove are just now coming up.  They are my favorite, but it will be another two weeks before they open up.

We reached the fog at the 1.5-mile mark, just below the lower aspen grove.  Fog adds a nice eerieness to a lush landscape but limits vistas and visibility.  Someone spray-painted the switchbacks on rocks and tree stumps, a new thing since my March hike up Carr.  The person didn't even get the sequence right.  There are 12 switchbacks in the lower 1.5 mile, but that's counting from the Sawmill trail head parking area.  It may be more from the Ramsey Vista parking lot.  The trail becomes less curvy in the last 1.4 miles.

To my surprise, the waterfall source was still dry, but there were plenty of ripe raspberries.  Black bears eat most of them when people aren't around.  I eat the rest when no one is looking.  I was hoping there'd be water for the dogs after the mountain rains this week.  I carried 64 ounces and gave the dogs half that, but not until we got to the peak.  There was a small water puddle in a rock crevice near the spur trail that I let the dogs drink from. The only free-flowing water today came from Sawmill Springs.

I never was worried we would get caught in a storm as long as we were in the fog.  We also didn't linger long at the top, though.  It took us 1:52 hours to get to the peak; not exactly a record time. The ladybugs were clustered in the shrubs as predicted. I gave the dogs their chicken treats, had some water, and we began our descent 10 minutes later.  That's when the sky cleared up some and we caught some blue patches.  It continued to clear as we continued our descent and we were able to see Miller Peak briefly.  Lots of people were still going up as we were going down, including a young family with a baby backpack and a father with his young son.  We counted 20 people going up. I hope they all were safe.

While we had patches of sunlight in a small break in the clouds along the Crest, we also saw dark clouds moving in from the southeast.  We weren't worried of getting caught in any storm, but now we knew we couldn't lolligag.  When we got below the aspen grove we noticed that the aerostat was no longer flying and now securely back on the ground.  That was a sign to us that these dark clouds were storm clouds.

I didn't want to discourage any of the uphill hikers from turning around, but some clearly did not seem to understand the severity of a monsoon storm in the mountains.  They are fast and furious.  A group of seven soldiers in jeans and cotton shirts were just a mile up and determined to make it to the peak. They should have started three hours earlier.  Most monsoonal rains come in the afternoon for us, but there are always exceptions.

We made it back to our cars in 3:47 hours.  This is one of my better times.  By now rain was over Bisbee.  It began to rain over me as I turned east on Hereford Road and ten minutes after coming home, I heard the thunder.  It never stormed, though.

I'm so glad I hosted this hike, had a strong team and made it back down safely. I will do this hike again next month when the wildflowers are bursting with color.

My feral cat Willie made an appearance late in the afternoon.  I'm always so happy to know he's still around.  He's close to six years old and has lived outside for almost five of those. I made sure I gave him an extra can over his kibble I keep outside for him.  He meows when I call his name, and he even looks at me and stops, but that's as far as he'll ever let me get to him.  I'm glad he survived the lean month while I was away.  Our neighbor on the corner have a new chihuahua puppy that barks non-stop during the day.  I'm sure Willie is really liking that!

Fellow hiker Bill King took the photos with me in them.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Day 42: Home!

I only slept a few hours.  I was more focused on getting to Flagstaff, getting my tire patched, and heading home.  This also meant I would be driving through the Valley of the Sun (=Hell in the summer!), something I had wanted to avoid.  I was up with the first rays of light and made it to Flagstaff by 7:30am.  The first thing I did was walk the dogs for 2.4 miles along the Elden Ruins trail right off the highway.   These ruins are not visible from the highway because of the trees.  I added another two miles by hiking an unnamed trail uphill for a bit, with Mount Elden in view. I knew this would be their last chance to exercise before the heat came.

Then I went to the Sears at the mall, which I spotted off US89, but the car shop there is not open on Sundays.  Both Walmarts in town have no car shop.  Now I was getting frustrated.  I pulled into a shaded lot behind Walmart to do an internet search for car repair shops open on Sundays.  The options were looking as promising as being back in Moab.

But I did find a shop, right off Route 66: Western Truck and Auto.  The building looked like it had been an old gas station decades ago.  Five tattooed workers were milling about and I was approached right away.  They all looked like they had served time in prison, but they were very efficient. Sure, they could fix my tire in minutes, promised me one employee, and he was right!  One worker removed my donut with a power wrench, another took the tire and rubbed sealant inside where the hole was, another worker torched that area briefly.  The tire was inflated, placed back on my wheel, and I drove off.  The exchange lasted me less than 15 minutes and it only cost me $35.50.

Now I could breathe with relief again.  To calm my nerves, I stopped at the first coffee shop I found, Matador, ordered a double cappuccino, and sat outside in the shade with the dogs.   This was a comfortable little coffee shop. A couple who had moved to Flagstaff from Stevensville, MT a year ago sat next to me.   We exchanged pleasantries but my zeal to talk with others had vanished.  I just wanted to get home.  It was 9:30am.

It got hot fast but at least traffic was steady.  I only made one meal stop and that was in Carefree at the Taco Bell (because the line at the In-N-Out next door went around the building!)   After that stop it was full speed ahead south on I-10. The dogs rested in the back with the AC air blasting on them.  Neither moved.  I could see the first signs of an approaching storm as I got near Picacho Peak late in the afternoon.  The storm was coming from the south.  I made it to the Whetstone mountains by 6pm and stopped to walk the dogs again.  I smelled creosote as soon as I got out of the van and noticed the ocotillos were in bloom, both indications that the monsoon is here.  I spotted a centipede, a tarantula and a June beetle on the trail, all signs of monsoon.  The desert is alive!  The one-mile walk I thought I was taking turned out to be a 3.4-mile walk to the end of Dry Canyon road and back.    Black Angus cows stared at us the entire time.  They left us alone.

That final stretch home is always invigorating, even for the dogs.  As soon as I got past the Greer Mills plant three miles from home, the dogs awoke and became excited.  They could smell home and wanted out of the van.  Barking, whining, whimpering and trying to push themselves out the window of my moving van, they were ecstatic to be back home again.  And when I got home, they rushed to Kevin and Minnie and Sweetie rushed to me.  Sadie and Zeke didn't leave Kevin's side the rest of the night.

Meanwhile, Minnie and Sweetie had me on guard all night long.

I had driven 11, 900 miles to Alaska and back.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Day 41: Moab's Negro Bill trail and on to Cows Spring, AZ

I was up early with the first rays of light.  The campsite was still very quiet, but a few other ambitious mountain bikers were also getting ready for their ride.  I quietly pulled out of my campsite to head out to the Negro Bill trail off UT128, the scenic Colorado River trail.  The KOA campsite is just ten miles from the trailhead, driving through Moab north and then turning east on UT128.  The trail head is three miles on this road to the right and is clearly marked.

There was another white pick-up already parked at the trailhead. So someone else was smart enough to start this hike early, as that hot sun can heat up the sand quickly and make it uncomfortable for dog paws.  Sadie showed me that last time we did this trail in 2009.  The sand was so hot that I had to walk this trail in the creek to keep her paws safe from the heat.  I also noted that the name of the canyon and trail have been renamed the William Granstaff trail, which was the real name of the biracial settler who roamed these canyons a 100 years ago.

It turns out there was an older man who had been camping in the back of his open pick-up overnight with his granddaughter. The dogs running around in the parking lot woke him up.  I apologized for the unplanned reveille but he was very polite, apologizing profusely in kind for sleeping in the truck in the parking lot, something that the BLM forbids with signs warning against such a heinous crime.  "All the other campsites around here were full when we pulled in," he told me.  "It was so dark out, with the stars out, until that moon came out! It was so beautiful!" he continued on with an awe-inspired smile. He was on his way to Salt Lake City with his grandchild and only had a long weekend to enjoy the splendor of southern Utah.  He took what he could find for the night.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  I don't want to admit how often I've done the same thing over the years; I've slept in countless parking lots...

I grabbed my daypack and leashes and took off with the dogs, wishing the man a safe trip.  Since no one else was around, I let the dogs offleash. They remembered this hike from last night and stayed close.  They took advantage of the creek right away but never let me get far without them.  Elevation at the start is 3940' and the total gain is a mere 713'.  Red rock cliffs hug this canyon here before opening up farther uphill.  No one could know there's an arch at the end of this hike from starting the hike.

The trail follows the creek through this pretty red rock canyon, still shrouded in morning shadow.  My Keen sandals were a tad slippery on the smooth red rock, but came in very handy crossing the creek multiple times.  Recent rains muddied part of the shallower sand. I could have also worn my other shoes and kept my feet dry by hopping on the rocks along the way, but that would take the fun out of this cool hike, cool in so many ways.  The trail also follows along the creek over flat shale rock hugging the creekshore.  A few rock holes in the nearby cliffs reveal years of wind and water erosion.  Poison ivy clearly grows in the side canyons.  I stayed on the main trail and followed the trail marker.  It's an easy trail to follow.

At the mile mark is a side canyon that we explored.  It doesn't go far and isn't maintained, so I was careful around the poison ivy.  This canyon ends in a box with the first signs of another arch forming above.  That arch will be ready for human awe a few million years after I've long been turned into ash. We returned the way we came and continued on.

At the 1.2-mile mark the trail curves left (northeast) and starts the gentle ascend into a wider canyon. Old trails coming from the north entice more adventurous hikers to explore this canyon, but I wanted to stay in the cool shade.  At the 1.7 mile mark I could see the top of the arch from this vantage point, but that was also because I knew what to look for from my previous hike.

The tops of the red cliffs were slowly brightening up with the rising sun.  While the bright colors make for excellent photographs, my concern was keeping the dogs cool.  We got to the arch in 1:06 hours and had been hiking at a steady, brisk pace. We stayed under the arch just long enough to take a few "selfies with dogs" before resuming the return hike.  The arch and the shallow bowl underneath it look the same as in 2009, except that some of the shrubs have grown much taller.  The creek's spring spills out from a crack in the rock under the arch, which forms the creek that flows into the Colorado River. The red rock, the arch and the spring combined make this a beautiful little hiking destination on a hot summer day.

The first hikers soon came toward me on my way back to the van.  I kept the dogs close to keep them comfortable and no one seemed to mind them.  Grandpa and his granddaughter were still in the parking lot when I returned 2:18 hours later.  I would have chatted some more with this gentle soul, but knew I had a long day ahead of me.

The Colorado River was still in the shade, which encouraged me to explore UT128 some more.   Across the river to the north is Arches National Park and the red cliffs were starting to light up in bright orange. A sign pointing east toward Castle Valley tempted me.  I had never been in this area and I had time to explore.

Castle Valley is on the La Sal Mountain Loop, a 35-mile loop that starts in the valley and rises to over 6000' with views of the red and green terrain below.  It loops back into town. It's quite a contrast to see, driving through an arid desert and then climbing into a high pinon pine/juniper forest.  The road becomes a dirt road once out of the valley, and there was a long stretch of construction to repair the road.  A Sunday work crew stopped me to warn me to drive carefully, as there are rough and narrow spots along the way.  My van had no trouble maneuvering around the potholes.  I thought of my mountain biking friends who would love the trails that start off this road.  There are trails dedicated to both bikes and ATVs.  What a blast that must be to roar downhill for miles!

I had driven 65 miles in a giant loop by the time I got back to Moab.  It was too late to quickly return to the KOA site for a shower, so I pulled over in a shady spot to rearrange the passenger seat.  It was getting too cluttered even for my standards.  The dogs patiently waited in the shade, spooking a transient who had climbed up from the creek bed nearby.  But when I pulled off to head back to Main Street for lunch, my low tire pressure light came on.  I'm just not having luck with my tires!  I drove to a flat area behind the visitor's center, in the shade, and aired up my front left tire.  When I pulled away, the light came back on again.  I aired it up again, again the light came on.  I now knew I had a slow flat. Just my luck that both tire shops in town closed at noon and here it was already 2pm.  My last hope was Arches Car repair on the south side of town, near the KOA site.  But that place had also closed early.  I had no choice but to get out my spare, jack and lug wrench and replace the tire myself.

I had no trouble jacking up the van, but for the life of me I couldn't loosen the lug nuts.  They were on tight.  Now I was getting frustrated, wondering what other options I had.  The dogs were lying in the shade, there was a Shopko Moab store across the street for cold iced tea.  There was a long dog run in front of Arches so I tied Sadie up to that, with Zeke tied up to a second spike nearby.  Both didn't care as it was too hot for them and the cool concrete seemed to be more to their liking anyway.

The shop is recessed from the highway and I was not easily seen, so it's no wonder that I was left alone. The coffee shop had closed while I was there, a tow truck had dropped off a white Subaru and I sat there for three hours thinking I may be camped out there for the night when an off-duty park ranger, Matt, still wearing his green uniform pants, drove by, saw my dilemma and quickly got the lug nuts loosened for me.  He made it look so easy, darnit!  He was so fast I didn't even get to chat much with him.  He works as an interpretive ranger who takes questions from tourists and leads tours.  A tan baseball cap hid his long braid.

"You're not going to find a shop open until you get to Flagstaff" said Matt.  That's 323 miles on a donut spare.  Just my luck again!  We waved good-bye, I was slightly relieved to be able to drive on, but now knew I'd be driving into a storm that was pushing in from the south.

I like the Moab area and I like the town, but having a flat on a Saturday is hell. The town is far away from anything else besides rocks. The red rocks gave way to more gentle juniper-studded buttes as I continued south on US191.  I stopped to climb Wilson's Arch right off the highway, I stopped to take photos (any excuse to let the tire rest as I dared not go faster than 50mph) The setting sun and the dark clouds created some stark contrasts, with a golden field and dark grey sky.  I even saw a double rainbow.

Once the sun set and the storm clouds darkened the sky even more, though, it wasn't quite so nice.  The wind blew, I was slowing traffic behind me, and visibility was limited.  I stopped to rest in every town: Monticello, Blanding, Buff, Mexican Hat, Monument Valley, Kayenta.  I finally pulled over at a gas station/ car wash nine miles northeast of Cows Spring, a small Navajo community.  No one bothered us all night.

What a way to finish an otherwise wonderful road trip.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Day 40: Heber City to Moab, UT

You can't find a decent coffeeshop in Utah.  I wanted an early start at a hike before the heat set in and had my mind set on the Strawberry Narrows on the south side of the reservoir, but it wasn't shaded.  I opted for the shorter Soldier Creek Trail south of the dam, a fee-free area I discovered on my way around the reservoir.  Two fly fishermen were already in the parking lot getting their gear ready.

The Solder Creek trail is only a little over a mile long.  It's a single track that starts at the restroom and goes downhill to parallel the creek. It ends at the edge of the water, near where two picnic tables, one on either side of the creek, remain.  It either continues in the creek, crosses the creek, or was washed out years ago.  I just turned around here, grateful for at least a two-mile walk with the dogs near a water source.  The sky was still overcast and the air cool.  The water is so clear here one can see the fish clearly. Yellow wildflowers dot the water's edge.  This short and scenic walk was a nice way to start the day as it turned out to be a brutally hot day that pushed me to the limits, having to pull over three  times to rest.

US40 continues eastward but I turned south on US191 and  remained on this route all the way into Moab, exchanging a lush forest with an alkaline desert dotted with gas drills.  I'd have explored the higher elevation some more, but I'll leave the Uinta National Forest for another trip.  Once I was in the desert, the heat rose fast, making a 20-minute wait at a Union Pacific train crossing outside of Price very uncomfortable.

I rented a space at the KOA in town for $34.  I needed to shower and rest.  I just couldn't drive anymore in this heat.  It was only 4:30pm but camping spots fill up fast in Moab. I chatted with a grizzled professional guide named Thomas Marshall who calls Moab his home while having a very nice chicken burrito at the Moab Brewery.  I've been here at least three times in 12 years and like this place.  Prices here are very affordable, especially when compared to the Snake River Road House in Idaho two days earlier. I was perhaps the oldest person at the bar, joining a line of young people who must have done a mountain bike run earlier.

Moab has a lot of guides and tour companies that take tourists and athletes on rides.  Thomas joined the older crowd shortly before I left to walk the dogs again at the Negro Bill trail (now renamed the William Granstaff trail, after the biracial rancher who once lived in the area.  Thomas was an interesting person and had I already walked the dogs I'd have stayed and chatted longer.   He knew a lot about hidden trails in the national parks.

I drove 327.9 miles to go.  I have less than 700 to go.