Today was finally the relaxing day I had been looking for, though I’m now waiting for my turn at a water spigot being used by a threatening amount of bees.
Prior to heading out I noticed a mule deer very close to my tent. It only took a very subtle amount of stirring to send her bouncing casually through the cactus and away from the dangers of my camera. Afterward, I got started around my usual time, enjoying the cool air that had come in overnight. In these lower elevations, that typically only lasts for about an hour or so after sunrise.
I neared the I-10 crossing where the buzz of civilization was inescapable: a constant hum increasing and decreasing with traffic from the interstate; a thundering murmur from a freight train on the other side; the rhythmic zapping of large power lines overhead; the forgetful reliability of air noise filling every canyon and crevice with white noise.
Then I was in the tunnel stretching below I-10. It was oddly quiet. A nice break as my hiking poles echoed off interior of the concrete tube. And then it was over. All the same noises resumed as I was brought up to the top of a ridge overlooking a massive wash below feeding into the Cienega Creek Natural Preserve.
The trail dropped down into a canyon-like wash where cottonwood trees shaded the creek extensively, creating a nice break from the heat. A few steps below the trees and I was trying to figure out a good reason not to spend the rest of the day there. It was very inviting, there was plenty of water, and it felt like I had just stepped into a true oasis. Alas, I needed to keep moving. I spent a bit of time there rehydrating and stocking up on water before continuing on to the next stretch.
I followed the trail up a side canyon and out of the wash and practically hit a barrier of heat. The day had warmed up significantly while I was down there and breezes for much of the rest of the day were a welcome change from the stagnant warmth beating down all over.
On a cooler day, the next few miles would be wonderfully pleasant as the trail pops in and out of small washes, all lined with towering saguaros, abundant palo verde trees, and what I believe are creosote bushes.
In and out of endless washes and winding turns, the trail provided a fantastic Sonoran Desert sampler. Though hard to notice, the trail had also been gradually climbing higher, until at the back of a wide canyon, I crested a small pass which now overlooked La Posta Quemada Ranch just below, and Colossal Cave Mountain Park on the other end of a small valley.
I began making my way down from the pass where dramatic views of classic Arizona scenery opened up. Large rocky and rugged desert mountains covered in saguaro cactus, shaded in earthy reds, browns, and yellows created a fresh new landscape for the trail. Millions of years of geologic forces were clearly at work here, all for the benefit of hikers and mountain bikers on the trail.
Farther down the trail I met a part-time AZT thru-hiker and her dog training for the Pacific Crest Trail, which she would start in July going north to south, which actually sounded like the way to do it. On our opposite ways out, she gave me a much needed orange. I wish I could’ve repaid her in some way, but thanks would have to do.
Just a short distance later, I came upon some horseback riders from the ranch who all had encouraging things to say. The leader also warned me of a cougar with kittens near Roosevelt.
The trail quickly met up with the road to head up toward Colossal Cave where I was fortunate enough to catch a ride with a ranger. He told about someone the day before who refused a ride, saying he wanted to do all his traveling on his feet alone. This was exactly what Don’t Panic had told me he was trying to do a few days before.
At the Visitor Center, I got my mail drops, but discovered my bounce box was missing. It either didn’t make it out of Patagonia, was on its way back to the return address, or I had beaten it there. Hopefully it’s not too much trouble to track it down. After getting my new food and solar gear, I killed a pizza and then ate it.
There were more friendly people to talk to up there as well. One guy offered me a foam pad, which I refused due to weight concerns. Since my pad popped the night before, I’m hoping that wasn’t a mistake. Another family had a lot of fun questions about the journey that I happily answered. I then made my way down from the Visitor Center and to a nearby campsite just a mile down the trail where I knew a fresh spigot of water would be waiting.
The waiting continued though until I finally just stopped the water from dripping. I then rinsed off my socks (which will hopefully dry overnight), chugged a lot of water, and even plugged the hole on my pad. At least, I plugged a hole. Hopefully it was the hole.