Day 17: Tiger Mine Trail to Black Hills

Hiker on Desert Ridge

My pack feels heavier. That could be because it’s the first time since Colossal Cave that it’s been fully loaded with food and water. Or it could also be the tripod I brought along after a zero day in Phoenix. The gorilla pod just wasn’t cutting it, so I took my lightest tripod along instead, which still added over two pounds. Fortunately, the Milky Way isn’t out yet, so I didn’t need to bring my night lens right away, but I’ll burn that bridge when I cross it. As for the hiking today, it was surprisingly pleasant. It wasn’t very warm, and there was a very strong breeze for much of the day that kept me cooled off quite nicely.

I was on the trail by mid-morning and was able to keep a pretty good pace, ultimately rounding out 17 miles for the day. From the Tiger Mine Trailhead, it was a scenic drop into the innards of desert hills. The trail never popped out much for a lengthy series of miles, so much of the morning and early afternoon was spent taking in a more intimate view of the Sonoran Desert and the immediate vicinity’s many wash crossings. Fortunately, there were also many poppy wildflowers and cactus in bloom to throw in splashes of color along the way.

And then the views came. I crested one hill and the desert fanned out in front of me. It was a much more detailed and expansive view of a small area I had seen from high up on Mica Mountain many days earlier. Though these mountains aren’t very high on anyone’s destination list, even locals, they do contain some amazing Sonoran Desert scenery. This is one of those places that’s a textbook example of a place that someone might never visit, but that they like knowing that it’s still there and still wild. The views are extraordinary. The plant life thriving. With the right kind of support, it would have no trouble achieving National Monument status. Although I think it’s actually someone’s ranch.

Saguaro Cactus on Desert Hill

The mountains grew the more I pressed on. Forests of cholla cactus lined the trails, forcing hikers to pay attention to the trail every now and then, in addition to the views. Deep and wide washes formed small canyons and valleys below, their hills covered in saguaros and yucca, sending their stalks and arms reaching for the horizon line. The late afternoon light came in seemingly instantly, casting long shadows from the tall cactus and their hillsides. The canyons seemed larger in more appropriate light, illuminating the landscape into much more of a spectacle.

Another hiker named Lowden caught up with me and we chatted for a while. He was out hiking as much of the trail as possible before he had to head home to New York in a couple of weeks. As nice as it was chatting with him, the landscape demanded attention, and I let him go ahead while I stopped for more shots.

I soon noticed the sun had gotten much lower, so it was definitely time to find camp. After another mile or so, I found a small dirt patch just big enough for my tent with a great view of a canyon below. Yet another clear sky for the stars tonight, but the forecast says the streak may come to an end, which could be great for photography.

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