Day 4: Canelo Hills West to Patagonia

Dawn over Canelo Hills

I’m currently sitting outside my hotel room overlooking Patagonia, Arizona where I’m doing my best to get my electronics charged up. I fortunately packed my camera battery charger into my bounce box, so I should be good there, and I also threw in two extra AA batteries for the GPS so that should hopefully have enough juice till Colossal Cave Mountain Park, about six days away. The problems I’m concerned about are that I din’t pack a USB wall charger (Doh!) and I’ve been relying on solar for my phone and headlamp, the latter of which died two nights ago and the former has been hanging on with as much life as I can give it. Part of the problem also lies in a small battery pack that I brought with me that I haven’t been able to fully charge yet. This is exacerbated by the fact that I also had to break apart what turned out to be a faulty USB cable, which came in handy to use as a string for the solar panel. Needless to say, I’ve made my electronics situation a bit trickier than it needed to be, and I won’t be back to Phoenix to get the proper chargers for another couple of weeks. The lesson here: test everything thoroughly before leaving.

As for the trail, today was pretty mellow relative to the rest of the trail thus far. It started off as a pleasant downhill and often level trail. Having hit my stride the day before thanks to removing a now hindering knee brace, this helped me take advantage in areas like this.

Oak Tree Framing Large Desert Hills

Of course one thing I found distracting was that there are cattle everywhere. I even noticed a pack of what I assumed were guard dogs howling through much of the morning. Farther down the trail, I noticed them hot on the trail of something. A coyote? A rabbit? I couldn’t quite see. Then I noticed they turned in my direction, racing down the trail toward me. Uh-oh. This could get interesting. They stopped in front of me and stared, their radio collars slightly shaking from both a breeze and their natural bodily movements. Were they going to attack? Did I confuse them? Were they going to take me to their master’s blimp in a cave? In a few seconds, they turned around and headed back up the hill, but they never stopped howling. It wasn’t a pleasant howl either. It sounded a bit like a bunch of seals being beaten. Events like these unfortunately took away from majestic hills and mini-mountains. In fact the whole area tragically felt more like someone’s ranch than a National Forest.

I soon found a break from it all as I crossed into the Cott Tank Exclosure. It was fenced off in 1992 to protect some of the fragile flora and riparian vegetation of the area. Though it was only 1/4 mile, it was easily one of my favorite stretches of the Canelo Hills. It just felt more wild and less domesticated. The dog noises has faded. There were no signs of cattle. A pleasant breeze made going along the trickling creek much more enjoyable. It was the only place in the Canelo Hills where I didn’t feel like I was on someone’s ranch.

Past Cott Tank the oak trees began to grow bigger as larger hills were now in the distance. It was here that I noticed something vital missing from the landscape: wildlife. There was nothing. A few packs of coyotes went after a few ground rodents at sunrise and sunset, but there wasn’t anything else besides those and cattle. No deer. No rabbits. No birds of prey overhead. No snakes, cougars, or bears. Sadly, cattle have been made the top priority in this particular National Forest, leaving it feeling empty, despite its fantastic and inspiring landscapes. Coming from Jackson Hole, there’s a stark difference between landscapes with wild animals, and those without. The latter simply feels incomplete. What would go better here for ranching? Bison. That would allow the rancher to continue to ranch on our public lands, but also allow back in the native wildlife since bison consume a tiny portion of what it takes to sustain cattle, so that would eliminate the competition for grasses from other animals and would help to create a healthier ecosystem. It would also give hikers and trail enthusiasts a richer experience in the Canelo Hills. Plus, who wouldn’t want to roll into Patagonia and order a bison burger knowing it came from town’s backyard?

Mesquite Trees Below Rocky Hill

At any rate, the trail soon dropped into a relatively large valley covered with mesquite trees where I was able to make up some lost time after getting turned around in a wash. It then began climbing the hills bordering the western part of the Canelo Hills. I got up to the windy pass overlooking Patagonia and began the long walk along the road into town.

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