AZT – Santa Rita Mountains Foothills to AZ83
After a night of coyotes howling and passing through our camp, we woke up to a great sunrise and surprisingly pleasant temperatures. We all wanted to get a head start on the day so we were ready to go fairly quick. We were only a few dozen yards from the start of Passage 7 so after a short climb up a hill, it was pretty easy-going for the rest of the way, especially thanks to a cloudy sky that gave us a break from the hot sun.
The views to the north opened up after cresting the first hill and the mountains the trail would soon be approaching were looking closer than ever. At the same time, there were many more ocotillo and cactus coming out along the sides of the trail with prickly pear, barrel, rainbow, and all sorts of wildflowers mixed in as well. The caterpillars that we had been seeing even seemed more active. Some were grazing heavily on the blooming ocotillo and others even seemed to be beginning to cocoon.
Though most of it was quite scenic and pleasant, there were a few cattle pastures that we went through where nothing was growing except the grasses. I’m not against ranching or farming of course because I love food, but it would be nice to see a few brave ranchers replace their cattle with bison since the land would rebound and benefit tremendously from their presence, which would then bring down the price of bison meat.
Beyond that though, wildlife seemed to be much more active in this stretch. Twix and Olive Oyl had discovered a large lizard that I wasn’t familiar with, but it had run off by the time I got there. Farther down the trail, I began to hear more sounds in the grasses of things scurrying away, good signs that there was more here than in previous areas. I caught a quick glance of a large rodent darting across the trail before I could even realize that something was darting across the trail. There was a black butterfly with a brilliant royal blue coloring on its wings that (again) was a bit too fast for me. Later in the day, a large hare went racing across the desert in front of me. But it was a sighting in the middle of the day that had me most giddy.
I was out in front for a change and was coming down a hill. I heard a slight brush in the grasses ahead and as silently as it was quick, caught the back end of an animal with a large, thick, light brown tail gliding into the rocks nearby. I waited to see if I could catch a better glimpse of what I suspected it could have been, but it never came back out. A dozen yards up the trail, a clue confirmed that it was most likely a feline: a fresh explosion of feathers in the middle of the trail. Combined with the tail that I saw, it would be pretty hard to convince me that it wasn’t a cougar! It was definitely the wildlife highlight along the trail so far.
In the 13.3 miles that was Passage 7, there was only one water source, and it wasn’t pretty. It was basically a stock pond which was filled with murky water containing all sorts of things we didn’t want to think about. As we got there, I downed my last liter of water filled with electrolytes before filtering four new liters from the pond. I felt hydrated enough, so I held off drinking any of that until I had to.
As the day started to wind down, Twix, Olive Oyl, Salsa, and I were beginning to have a bit of trouble deciding on the best plan of action to get me back to Tucson and get Happy Tree back to them. It was beginning to look like Giggles’ leg would prevent her from finishing the trail, so I wanted to maximize my time with her in case the worst case scenario came true. Plus, she could only either get me off the trail that night, or two days later, which I wasn’t prepared to wait for.
After much discussion and a few phone calls, we found Happy Tree a ride to the ranch farther down the trail for two days later, and I would be picked up at the junction of Sahuarita Road and AZ83. The others were finally able to find a campsite, passing up a few good ones because of me, and I continued on into sunset to make it to the junction before dark. Along the way, sunset came out for a brief, but beautiful show. At the end of it, I had traveled 18.69 miles, my new personal best for one day, and about the last five miles without any water, due to where it came from. A short moment later and I was on my way back to Tucson for a few days to rest some muscles, and especially some blisters that were getting a little out of hand.