October 25th, 2019
Mm 425.3 to mm 456.8
Distance in miles: 31.5
A cold wind blew all night and I had to really button down my quilt to keep out the drafts. I couldn’t believe it was so hot just a few days ago. I began hiking the trail just in time for the morning ethereal light, enjoying a fresh new day. After about an hour, I came around a bend and saw a furry black figure ambling down the trail in front of me. It was a black bear. I went into stealth mode, hoping to get a little closer, but at the next vantage point, it was gone. I realized that I was upwind, so it must have smelled me coming. Still, it was great to see such a rare animal in Arizona.
I made my way towards the reservoir all morning. As I went down, I came to the first saguaro cactus on the trail. I saw a whole bunch around Jon’s place but these were the first that I could recall on the AZT, going south. I was getting into the Sonoran desert now. I also saw some hunters and caught up to Atom again. She got ahead when I took a zero, so it was fun to talk to her one more time.
I reached the highway and went across a big suspension bridge that spanned the Roosevelt Dam. The Salt River flowed beneath, on its way towards Phoenix. Jon and I drove up this canyon the year before, which was the first and only place I’d seen a gila monster.
The trail resumed on the other side of the bridge but I decided to walk the road instead. I wanted to go to the marina store and restaurant for water and food. The road was the flatter, more straight-line option and I was hungry and a bit thirsty. I bought ice cream and a coke as soon as I arrived. Then I sat down for a burger. It was an awesome break and well worth the short detour.
Departing was not so great. My stomach hurt from being so full and the trail was mostly uphill the rest of the day. I came to Cottonwood Creek, which I was to follow for several miles. The creek has flooded recently, piling up debris and washing away the trail in many places. I tackled the arduous route, picking my way along through the thorny scrub and sandy, rocky creek bed.
Did I mention yet how every plant in the desert is a jerk? The cactus are obvious and at least up-front about what they are. But nearly everything else has some sort of thorn, spine, or claw, even the most innocent-looking plants. I try to avoid them all but they often overgrow the trail. In this wash, the acacia trees were thick and mean. I had to reposition my umbrella lower onto the back of my pack so the evil limbs didn’t keep snagging it. Later in the day, I ran the back of my hand into a prickly pear cactus. I spent about 5 minutes picking out all the thorns. I also got a solitary spine on the top of my foot. It really hurt to pull it out. The spines are like fish hooks.
I made it past the wash, grabbing some of the last water for 12 miles. I climbed a very steep jeep road to a ridge and rolled along the ridge for an hour. The setting sun and haze made for a nice backdrop across the Superstition mountain range to the west. I found a very exposed, small campsite at the top of the ridge. The trail dipped down into a valley after this and I hoped there would be more camping below. It was too windy to make camp on the ridge, but good campsites were few and far between in this territory. It’s not like one can just go off to the side and settle under some trees. Everything is too prickly to even leave the trail. I’d need full chain-mail to go bushwhacking.
I raced down the hill, trying to beat the fading light. I saw another black furry figure up the trail but this time it was small and had a white stripe. A skunk stood in my way. I pressed forward and it skittered off to the side. Fortunately there was a camp site at the bottom of the valley and I settled in for the night. Not a bad day, considering the nice long lunch break I had and the rough terrain. My big miles were well-earned.