In the continuation of my Internal Combustion Aided Great Western Loop
(Much like Andrew Skurka’s loop..except I mainly drove, hiked/skied about 200 miles in two weeks instead of nearly 7000 miles in a few months, and drank Chery Desert Cooler. Other than those small variations, it was almost exactly the same. Er..maybe not!), I spent some time in Arizona hiking along the Arizona Trail.
The Arizona Trail was calling to me for a few reasons. The most simple and direct reason is that I have never been in Arizona for any extended period of time…much less for hiking. I have hiked and explored Colorado Plateau. I have walked the length of New Mexico. But have never experienced an Arizona Sky Island or been in the Sonoran desert. Life is not just about going to the familiar, but embracing the new.
When my friend Andy (Garlic) invited me for a stretch of the Arizona trail, I eagerly accepted. I’d be joining not just Andy, but his thru-hiker partner Pickle as well.
I was eager to meet Pickle. Not only have I heard many postive stories about him from Andy, but he is someone I have admired. In his 60s, he is putting down twenty-mile days routinely …and having fun doing it!
The first part of my Arizona journey , I played windshield tourist. I seldom stop to take photos among the Winnebagos, but the Vermillion Cliffs were stunng. An extenstion of the Colorado Plateau, there drew me in. Someday (one day!), I must hike extensively in this area.
After a hours of driving, I arrived in Scottsdale. I greeted not only Garlic, but Greasepot as well. Greasepot has hiked the AT, the PCT and a good chunk of the CDT. She has a high tolerance for hiker trash house guests.
After a zero day, Garlic and I (with the help of an ATA maintainer named Andrea) made it Tuscon where we hooked up with Pickle.
A bit later, we we arrived at Coronado National Mounument and started our trek.
Pickle, Garlic and myself
We soon arrived at the very windy border area. An obelisk, some wire fencing and a clearcut marked the end of the Mexico and the start ofthe United States. With the rolling hills to the south of us that looked like the rolling hills to the north of us, it seemed a very arbitrary boundary. None the less, it was the start of our journey.
We made our way up the almost 10k ft shoulder of Miller Peak and experienced a wonderful part of Arizona hiking: the Sky Islands. Desert below. Pines above with a smattering of snow. It was windy, cool and unlike the desert I saw to the north. Our first campsite had a stunning sunset and was a wonderful way to start my first day on the AZT.
The following morning, we woke up and quickly saw what was to be a large presence in this area: Illegal immigrants and the Border Patrol…both on foot.
It was a cat and mouse game with the three of us as observers. We’d see blimps, low flying helicopters and armed patrols on foot. In this particular morning, we saw a group of agents (on trail) who had caught some illegals. We also observed much debris left behind by illegals – Water bottles, bread wrappers, cheap backpacks. All with Spanish lettering on them.
Other examples of this cat and mouse game (from this trip) was seeing illegals spot us and then scurrying into the woods, bumping into border patrol agents armed with assault rifles, and having a patrol come by our camp just before dawn. We heard the patrol say “They look OK”. We guessed Pickle’s pitched tent kept us from being questioned.
I am not going to get in the debate of the illegal immigration, but the signs are very obvious on the AZT….more so than my time on the Pacific Crest and Continental Divide Trails.
Electrolit – Proud sponsor of illegal immigration!
We made an early camp because we decided it did not make sense to hike into our resupply stop of Patagonia, rush through and try to find a campsite after dark. Patagonia would wait until the morning.
The following morning, we walked into Patagonia not sure what to expect. Run down mining town? Quaint little village? Instead, we found a yuppie town at the outer edge of the Tuscon ‘burbs. The town had yoga classes, “conscious gardening” lectures, coffee shops…and a wonderful greasy spoon for breakfast! Fortified with much caffeine and calories, the hike was somehow much easier out of town than in.
The terrain was easy with mainly old road walks. The highlight by far was walking along the remnants of an old mining operation from over one hundred years ago.
Besides being easy hiking, it proved to be interesting from a historical perspective. And walking along the old pipeline, there were fine views into the canyon. The temps were just right, a slight breeze blew and the conversation flowed quite well between the three of us. Life was good.
The following day, we continued to hike along this historic area, ending in Kentucky Camp.
The friendly caretakers gave us the nickel tour of the place. Not only was it the last water for 22 miles, but it proved to be interesting in its own right. The story of how the the proprietor of the mining operation (who lost over $200,000 in 1903 dollars for a few thousand dollars in mining returns!), “accidentally” fell out of third story window at a shareholders meeting. To this Rhode Island native (with its stories of corrupt politicians and Mafia influenced deals), this somehow seemed…appropriate?
The day continued to go well as we entered newly contructed trail. Beautifully graded switchbacks and more great views. As expected, the new trail ended and we had to follow flagging. Slow going. What we did NOT expect was mystery trail that appered out of nowhere. Elated, we followed it again..only to have it just as mysteriously end at a fence line. Rather than bushwhack some more, we made camp and called it a night. All of us had scratched, torn clothing and sore feat from the off trail, cactus ‘shwacking.
The spots were limited, but we found a flat area. Even if I had to camp among the cactus!
The following day, we ‘schwacked to a jeep road and hooked up to the trail again. If I was over caffeinated and lead the charge out of Patagonia, Pickle lead the charge our last day of hiking. His sweetie Lee was going to meet us just off of I-10. Garlic and I could hardly keep up!
Some more minor route finding and we were on the home stretch. We passed the interstate, and reached the trailhead a short while later. We also saw our first recreational trail users in our 112 mile hike! Not seeing people with assault rifles or trying to avoid us was quite the treat.
At the trailhead, we kicked back, relaxed and waited for Lee.
When Lee showed up, she and and Pickle were obviously glad to see each other. She was also kind enough to bring fresh fruit, other snacks and BEER!!!!
Thus ended another stretch of hiking.
The four us went to Tuscon, grabbed some Mexican food and also managed to meet up with Garlic’s friend. We all parted with Garlic and I grabbing a Greyhound back to Phoenix. Ever see the smelly, scary looking guys on the bus? Well Garlic and I (or least me!) were the scary, smelly guys!
The stretch on the Arizona trail was quite nice. Great views, different terrain from what I’ve seen and a wonderful way to end my two weeks of a walkabout (or drive-about????). More importantly, I get to backpack with a good friend and meet someone I’ve heard many good words about. The hike also showed that though there was nearly a 30 yr span in age difference among the three of us, it did not matter. Hikers can form bonds, maintain friendships and share great memories whatever our background may be. The long brown paths and the experience share hiking them bond the long distance hikers in a way few people get to experience. It is an odd little tribe to which we belong…but one to which we all belong because of our love for these long walks and all that the walks entail.
Until the next journey!
Lessons from the Arizona Trail:
- Electrolit is apparently the proud sponsor of illegal immigration (based
on the probably 100+ bottles I saw near the border!)
- That the border patrol hikes the AZT as well…….with assault rifles
- Cactus needles gives “owies!”
- Cow pies = water nearby (That’s a refresher from the CDT)
- A guy from the northeast who speaks bad Italian speaks even worse Spanish
(“Ciao amici!” DOES NOT equal “Hola amigi!” )
ALL THE PHOTOS