Day 28: Sunflower to Thicket Spring

Oak Forest Covering Mountains

Happy feet are high maintenance. Just when I thought I had them all figured out, I now discover that they’re not getting enough air to dry out properly. This has caused the muscles to become quite sore, making hiking once again a bit difficult. Fortunately it’s only on one foot, and I also know what to do about it. Airing them out during rests will make a huge difference.

Bruce, who just joined me at Sunflower last night, and I started hiking from the access point of the Arizona Trail in Sunflower right around sunrise. He got a head start and I was out shortly after.

We seemed to be hiking through what appeared to be a cattle ranch, crossing rolling hills, terminated with a skyline in the distance of harsh and unforgiving mountain ruggedness. A thickening juniper forest provided a bit of shade from time to time. As I was enjoying the scenery, I approached a gate that didn’t have a sign on it, which I thought was unusual. Then I noticed all the footprints around me were cattle, no human tracks anywhere. I checked my GPS. I was off trail, but luckily just a quarter of a mile or so. I made an easy backtrack and was back in business.

Putting in some easy miles, I was making good time to the next water source, but I soon noticed Bruce’s tracks had vanished. He must’ve gotten off trail too, something I realized as I sat down to get more water in an inviting and shaded part of the trail that seemed to encourage taking a break.

During my break, Gizmo caught up with me and admitted to not feeling totally upbeat about being on the trail that day. This would pass before I headed out though. As we were chatting, Bruce also caught up and joined our break.

Lupine Wildflowers Along Hiking Trail

From the small creek, the trail took a steep ascent through a rocky and increasingly majestic canyon. There appeared to even be a basalt layer just above. The canyon twisted around a small peak, forcing the trail higher and higher without much chance for a break. Soon I was surrounded by larger mountains that were somehow hidden from view just moments before, covered in all shades of green that the desert can muster.

Though the top of the canyon was reached, the climbing was far from over. A small and scenic canyon stretched away from the trail, while the trail itself wound around toward higher peaks in the distance. A fire years ago had burned much of the mountains, and though the new growth was recovering well, there was little shade when I found I was ready to take a lunch break. I found the best shade I could beneath an old burned oak tree and took my time having a large lunch. I had a great view of the more majestic mountains ahead, and relished in the silence of my makeshift picnic spot. There was no noise. Not even any air traffic noise. Just the breeze through the trees and shrubs. And the occasional fly that caught a scent of my lunch. Otherwise it was a surprisingly peaceful little bench I had found. Gizmo caught up once again as I was finishing up and then continued ahead of me as I took my time getting back up.

Sheep Mountain Above Arizona Trail

There was another big push up to higher elevations near some of the peaks I was just looking up to, then the trail leveled off for a bit as smaller mountains were sprawled out below. I caught up with Gizmo at a rather cozy little outcropping of rocks. This was where she helped me realize that my feet aren’t getting enough air time. I decided to stay behind and let them air out for a while. Before leaving, she was kind enough to leave me a pair of her dirty socks, which, despite the description, actually wound up being very helpful. Bruce passed by as I was in my siesta mode, but I was back on the trail soon enough, and the airing of foot grievances seemed to work great. The only problem was as soon as they began sweating again the pain came back.

After a good bit of easy walking on a mostly level trail, it dropped down into one of the periodic pockets of ponderosa pine where Bruce had found himself a cozy little campsite by some water. I rehydrated a bit there and pushed onto the next source, a mere three miles ahead. Or so I thought.

The trail began climbing a wash where afterward, a fork took a turn nearly straight up a mountain. It went from wash to rocky mountain scramble almost instantly. I turned around and noticed that I was now high above the surrounding landscape. The top of the climb came quickly, and with a significant amount of effort. The hard part was just beginning though.

Burned Trees and Forest Regrowth

I dropped down on the other side where the reputation for the Mazatzals being infamous for overgrowth became blindingly apparent. The trail often took the quickest way down through thorny bushes. If they weren’t blocking the trail, they were hiding the trail. Clear areas that looked like the trail wound up being dead ends. On multiple occasions I had to check my GPS only to notice that I wasn’t actually on the trail. I even had to walk while staring at the GPS just to make sure I was going in the right direction. Trees and bushes tried to scrape everything from my pack off. Washes were sometimes the trail and sometimes not, all indications appearing vague at best. Finally some semblance of a trail brought me down to Thicket Spring where Gizmo had apparently gotten ahead. She informed me she had just taken the alternate route. There was an alternate route?!

The Arizona Trail Association will finally be doing some much needed work along the stretch I went through in May, so future AZT hikers won’t have to go through what I, and many others before me, had to.

It was getting late, so we setup camp and called it a night as my feet breathed a sweet sigh of relief once I took them out of their damp cocoons.

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