Day 16: Lower Oracle Ridge to Tiger Mine Trail
The day started off chilly with a colorful sunrise off to both the east and west, but I had very little time to stop and enjoy it. I was being picked up from the Tiger Mine Trailhead at 11am. That left me needing to hike about 11 miles in just over four hours. I downed the last liter and a half of water while packing everything up, and was on the trail a little earlier than usual: 6:45am.
The views down the remaining stretches of the Oracle Ridge looked fantastic in the early morning light. Desert vegetation was lit up against larger shaded hills behind them. These blended into what’s become the signature sky island foothills landscape: the high desert grassland hills. At my quick pace though, these quickly gave way to a more Sonoran Desert type of look and feel. It was around here that I realized I must have missed a main water stop that was along the trail, or in this case, just off of it, otherwise I would have seen it. I noticed that there was a windmill water source still a few miles ahead, so I pressed on, eager to make good time and arrive at my destination on time.
Though I was beginning to get dehydrated, the walking was fairly easy. Just a few small hills here and there created the extremes for the day. Aside from that though, it was just very gradual or level walking much of the time. As I neared the windmill however, the hills began to get slightly bigger and my dehydration began to drain me a bit.
At last I arrived at the windmill where a state park vehicle and an Arizona Trail vehicle of all things were parked, though I couldn’t find anyone around. Regardless, I was here for the water, not a visit. I walked around the windmill, and noticed a dry tub. Peering around further, I found a ladder heading up to the top of the tank by the windmill. I climbed it, peered over the edge, and saw nothing. I took another step up to see entirely inside of the tank. It was bone dry. I looked around for the people that had driven in the two cars. I even shouted for them. Nothing. I was starting to get more dehydrated as the heat picked up. On top of that, I still had another three miles to the trailhead where I was to be picked up. With no other options, I continued up the trail.
The hills got larger and the trail went in and out of one wash after another. A cardinal distracted me temporarily from my exhaustion, but that was short-lived. Up and over the hills I continued until a highway finally came into view. Surely I was getting close now.
The trail twisted and turned through every crook and cranny before finally reaching the highway, where it dropped down into a wash before passing underneath a highway bridge. Just before passing below I noticed a bear box with a note on it, a very positive sign along the AZT, so I went to read it. It was a water cache that had been delivered by a local outdoor group (I wish I could have remembered specifically who). At the same moment, I noticed someone hiking under the overpass in my direction. I waved, and received a wave in return. We got to talking and the elderly female hiker I was now chatting with had just moved to the area from southwestern Montana, being completely new to the desert region. She offered me some of her water since she had brought too much, for which I very graciously accepted. I drank some, continued chatting, thanked her, and was on my way. I was happy that I was able to leave the water cache for other hikers that weren’t about to be picked up.
On the other side of the highway, I was in touch with my friend, Bruce, who was in the area looking for me. I gave him instructions as to where I was, and with new energy thanks to a bit of water in my system, I shot up the road that the trail uses, just 1.5 miles from the Tiger Mine Trailhead. Knowing he was on my way, I raced along the dirt road, eager to see if I could beat him to the trailhead.
At about halfway in, he caught up with me, offered me a Gatorade (which I finished off in seconds), and then allowed me to finish out that remaining stretch of the trail.
At the Tiger Mine Trailhead, I got in his car, ate some food, and we headed to a post office in Vail to pick up my misaddressed bounce box. Then we went to another post office where it was actually being held, then went back to Phoenix. After taking a very much needed shower, I sorted a few things out before we all went to The Perch Brewery in Chandler for the first time, sampling some great beers and great food.