Day 14: Wilderness of Rocks to Summerhaven

Granite Boulders and Outcroppings

Sometimes you just need a break from the trail. In truth, I didn’t, but my knee did. I actually got a bit antsy sitting around Summerhaven and was eager to get back on the trail.

I woke up right around sunrise, giving my knee a good long rest. I popped out of my tent as some great golden light was hitting all the outcroppings of large granite boulders that the area is named for. I took a few photos, sometimes working my way into a tricky vantage point that only angered my knee. Jim was quick to offer me some breakfast when I had settled down, and since I was officially out of food, I graciously accepted. I got my things packed up, and headed out on the trail a bit before him.

It was slow going at first. My knee felt stiff and wasn’t really enjoying being out of the sleeping bag. The morning was really nice though. I was even able to start hiking while still wearing my fleece! After a few minutes though, I started to warm up and my knee began to relax more. I was able to more fully enjoy the unique landscape of the Wilderness of Rocks after that. Massive boulders ranging in size from cars to houses to mansions broke up the ponderosa pine forest as if they’d been dropped randomly from far above. The trail snaked through the rocks of all different shapes and sizes.

I stopped at Lemmon Creek, less than a mile from last night’s camp, to grab a bit more water before making the final hike into Summerhaven. Jim caught up with me here, and having a faster filtration system, took off ahead, but not before we agreed to grab a meal at the restaurant in town. He’d run an errand or two to make up the difference in time to account for my now slower pace.

Once I had my water, I was on my way, enjoying the refreshing morning. Everything about this morning was feeling better.

The gatherings of rocks soon began to fade and I then found myself passing from one giant pine grove to another, the elders of the forest easily reaching heights of over 100 feet. These trees had something to teach about humility to anyone willing to learn.

Pine Trees and Granite Boulders

The rocks soon faded entirely and the trail dropped into a small forested and rocky canyon paralleling a picturesque creek trickling alongside. This only lasted for a mile or two before it dead-ended into a parking area. From here, the trail simply followed the road for a mile or so into town.

I walked into Summerhaven and went straight for the restaurant, eager to replenish some much-needed calories. I met Jim inside and we immediately got to eating and catching up. I was soon engulfing a spinach salad, a meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and an apple pie with ice cream. That hit the spot.

As we were eating Jim had mentioned he met a couple of other hikers in the general store, one of whom joined us as we were finishing up. Piney is one of apparently many hikers who hiked the Pacific Crest Trail last year and are now attempting the Arizona Trail. Jim went back on the trail, and Piney and I shared our stories of why we were each taking a day off in Summerhaven. Me for my knee, and he because he was suffering in the heat and was struggling to find his rhythm on the trail.

We found a quiet and out of the way place to kill some time behind the community center since it was closed. I took the opportunity to catch up on blog posts and messages while also charging things via my solar panel. We both agreed, Summerhaven is a very boring place to get stuck resting. Everything closes at 4-5pm and there are only two places to eat, two gift shops, and a general store. There are no hotels/places to stay aside from campgrounds farther down the road, and no public computers. It’s a cute little town, but if you’re not there for a day hike or just visiting for the day, you may find it lacking. It would be great if there were a very casual hostel or something similar for thru-hikers, especially as the Arizona Trail grows in popularity. (Note: contact me for a potential business opportunity)

Old Growth in Marshall Gulch

We grabbed an early dinner at the cookie place since the restaurant had already closed at 4:00. We met a nice college-aged kid who loved what we were doing, but had also been backpacking around Croatia, Russia, and all sorts of exotic and unusual places.

After finishing up there, we backtracked back down the road to find some National Forest land to camp in for the night. We chatted for a bit, then I went into my tent to write this blog post (as is my normal routine), and get some sleep. It was the first night I didn’t hang my pack, nor did Piney since I didn’t have any food and he just wasn’t worried about the danger of bears in the area. I couldn’t blame him. There was no evidence for them anywhere. I wrapped up, zipped up my bag, and shut my eyes.

Moments later, I heard footsteps. There was a lot wind so maybe I was just hearing things. They walked closer. I heard a cough, definitely not in Piney’s direction. There was now definitely something nearby. My imagination began to go crazy with what it could be, as well as what it could be doing. I slowly unzipped a little of my sleeping bag, grabbed my glasses and headlamp, and slowly unzipped a bit of the tent to stick my headlamp out. I shined it over by the packs. Something was moving on top of Piney’s pack. I unzipped the tent more to get a clearer view and saw a large black tail with a white stripe sticking up in the air. A skunk was digging deep into his bag. So how do you scare away a skunk without getting sprayed? I threw a pine cone at it. No reaction. Then a stick. Nothing. Then I yelled over to Piney to inform him of the situation. I got out of my tent and started a bit closer. At the same time, Piney was now heading over as well. That seemed to be enough.

It turns out he had left half of a pizza in the top of his bag and had completely forgotten about it. He resecured everything, threw out the pizza, then it was back to bed.

I woke up about an hour later to the sound of a pack being raided again. I had my headlamp ready, shined it over, and saw the skunk searching the pack again. I got out and started walking over and he fled. I tried moving the pack in better sight of my tent, then went back to sleep, where I finally got a good night’s sleep.

It didn’t dawn on me until later that in all the shuffling around, my knee didn’t bother me at all, even when getting out of my tent.

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