Day 21: Gila River Canyon to Superior

Picketpost Mountain and Saguaro Cactus

Slow down. Relax more. Don’t push it. After the last stretch, I’m going to remind myself of those more.

The morning in this canyon was absolutely remarkable. The light breaking through the clouds and the jagged peaks created never-ending photographic possibilities. Golden light flooded the canyon for what seemed like a much longer time than the average morning. Despite constantly stopping to try to capture it all, I still made great time heading up the lengthy ascent out of the canyon and up to the saddle.

The trail wound around a side canyon, gradually climbing higher and higher, showing off bigger and better views that I didn’t think possible of the canyon, now beginning to lie below me. The open desert was becoming more visible farther to the south. Mile after mile it only got better as it got higher. And then I reached the saddle. Finally. And then I noticed the trail continuing higher to the north. I trudged on, climbing up terrain I didn’t think the trail could successfully navigate through. And then I was at the saddle! Until I saw the trail climbing even higher. Past the rocky cliffs and through the wind blown outcroppings, I pressed on. Then, I was finally at the saddle! This had to be it. A new rugged canyon lying below with extraordinary rocky outcroppings stained in sulfur and iron, adding bold color to the landscape. I checked my app to make sure. Still not at the saddle. Still another 0.3 miles ahead. At the same time though, I preferred this one. This felt more like a real saddle, so I enjoyed it as such.

Colorful Desert Mountains

I caught a glimpse of the trail ahead, winding around the upper part of a massive dog-leg canyon, taking a grand tour of one of the area’s best kept secrets, the sharp rocks jutting out of the otherwise smooth but steep mountains. It was a long walk to other end of the canyon, but a very scenic one. Tiny groves of lush vegetation were tucked away in little runoff ravines that the trail dipped through. Near the end, I reached a dry stock pond where I saw some odd looking brown geese. Except these weren’t geese. I realized what I thought were necks and heads were actually tails. Then I recognized them. Ocelots?! Eight of them together? I thought these were supposed to be rare and hard to spot in the wild! What was a relatively large group of them doing scouring out a dried out stock pond? Had the peculiarity struck me appropriately, I might have gotten a bit closer to inspect the scene. I was eager to move on though, so I continued my climb to the next pass just up the hill, discovering much later that they were actually coatimundi.

At the top of the hill I was relieved to find an unexpected bear box, which in Arizona terms, means water cache. I eagerly stopped for a break and opened up the box to find many gallons of water inside. I excitedly grabbed one and noticed it was empty. I reached for another. Empty. I shook all the jugs. All were empty. That was a big letdown, especially when I saw the water waiting at the next stock pond.

I had lunch at the next stock pond while refilling from the shallow and murky water. Noticing some rain farther east, I also repacked my backpack to be ready for rain, virga threatening just above. I headed back out and made great time reaching Alamo Canyon, just south of Picketpost Mountain. It was a scenic canyon filled with wildflowers and dramatic views of the imposing mountain, but I had a big meal on my mind. I continued at a good pace to the Picketpost Trailhead where I continued on the Arizona Trail, hoping to hop off at the highway and hitchhike to Superior. Instead, the trail just went under the highway and proceeded north. I reluctantly doubled back to the trailhead, where I was fortunate enough to catch a ride with two awesome people exploring this part of the country. They brought me to the motel where I took a much needed shower, and headed out to eat a much needed pizza.

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