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Day 43: Cinder Cones to Babbitt Ranch

Arizona Trail Sign on Dirt Road

There’s a section of the Arizona Trail that’s become infamous for its lengthy dirt road walking. It’s through this stretch that water is scarce and interesting features even less so. Having not looked much into that particular area, and with few photos of it, I didn’t really know what to expect when I got there. Would it be 50 miles of endless grass prairie? Would it be so long and flat that it would test the mental strength of anyone that goes through it? I had no idea. Today was the day I got there though.

After a rough day yesterday, today I woke up feeling great and was determined to maintain it. Maybe it was because I knew the scenery would be changing, or maybe it didn’t even matter at all. The smaller pines that I had camped in were quickly replaced by junipers, a hearty desert tree that would accompany me through most of the day.

Water was now scarce. I needed to go 10 miles this morning before I’d see any, and even then all I knew was that there was some in a cache. How much was anybody’s guess. I had two liters to get me there. One with breakfast, another at a break halfway. Shouldn’t be a problem.

Down I dropped out of the juniper forest and into grassier pastures where warmer weather waited as well. Before dropping too much, the Kaibab Plateau could be seen rising up in the distance, far away for another day’s adventure, but not too far.

I made great time and cranked out five miles in less than two hours, and was then ready for a water break. I took off my shoes, mainly to let my left foot breathe, then relaxed as I got a snack with my last liter. Hopefully there’d be enough at the cache to keep me going.

Northern Arizona Cinder Cones

Another five miles came easily as it was all on fairly level dirt roads. They’re not the most comfortable ground to walk on, but good time can be made on them. A strong gusty wind had developed during this time, so I put my head down and pushed through the headwind until I reached the bear box where hopefully a decent sized water cache was waiting.

I opened it up nervously and saw several gallons of water waiting for public consumption, plenty for me and many others. I sat down next to it and had an early lunch as I rehydrated and took enough water to get me to the next water source, a whopping 18 miles away. I figured a little more than three liters should be enough, assuming I camp before then.

I got back on the trail, in this case, dirt road, and came to a ridge where I saw it following the base of a small bluff for several miles. That’s another thing about dirt road hiking: you can often see where you’re going for miles ahead, thereby taking the fun out of some of the surprises. Nothing to do now but just put one foot in front of the other…a lot.

The road seemed to last much longer than it looked, but progress was being made one step at a time. As I was plodding along, a pickup truck pulled up beside me and asked if I was doing OK and if I needed any water. I assumed he was one of the people living in one of the residences up ahead. I told him I was good, thanked him, and he went ahead after wishing me well.

A few miles later I was taking another break at the top of the small bluff the trail had climbed when a cowboy on a horse holding a decaying cow’s head rode up to me. He was friendly as he commented on the trail, and I commented on how good of a skull the head he was holding would make. We had a friendly chat before he continued on his way.

The long dirt road walks weren’t ending any time soon, but I was happy they twisted and turned more than I expected. I followed another for a couple of miles as it snaked through a ravine, gradually climbing to the top of a plateau. Up on top, I had new views of the volcanoes to the south, and a vast open grassland desert in every other direction. The dirt road made a large curve around to the north where I made one last break a few miles ahead. I rested well, then at 4pm, started off on one last big haul for the evening.

Sunset over High Desert Grasslands

I was hoping to get to 25 miles, but at 23 my feet rebelled. It was perfect timing though. On the other end of a large grassy field I found a perfect little campsite next to a large juniper that would shield most of the wind, and would even allow me to watch sunset while sitting in my tent as I did my best to refrain from drinking all of my water. I had a bit for the night, then a liter to get me the 4.5 miles to the next water, hence the reason I was hoping to make it 25 miles, so I’d have a shorter hike to more water. Regardless, I was still happy with my camp since it looked like the trail was heading down a bit into a forest of junipers. These were the types of campsites I was hoping to find throughout the trail.

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