October 25th, 2019
Mm 425.3 to mm 456.8
Distance in miles: 31.5
A cold wind blows all night and I have to really button down my quilt to keep out the drafts. I can’t believe it was so hot just a few days ago. I’m on the trail just in time for the ethereal light, enjoying a fresh new day. After about an hour, I come around a bend and see a furry black figure ambling down the trail in front of me. It’s a black bear.
I go into stealth mode, hoping to get a little closer, but at the next vantage point, it’s disappeared. I realize that I’m upwind and it smelled me coming. Still, it’s great to have seen such a rare animal in Arizona.
We make our way towards the lake all morning. As we go down, we come to the first saguaro cactus on the trail. We saw a whole bunch around Jon’s place but these are the first on the AZT going south. Were really getting into the Sonoran desert now. We also see some hunters and then catch up to Atom again. She got ahead when we took a zero and it’s fun to talk to her one more time.
We reach the highway and go across a big suspension bridge that spans the Roosevelt Dam. The Salt River flows beneath, on its way towards Phoenix. Jon and I drove up through this canyon about a year ago, which is the first and only place I’ve seen a gila monster.
The trail resumes on the other side of the bridge but we decide to walk the road instead. We want to go to the marina store and restaurant for water and food. The road is the flatter, more straight-line option and I’m hungry and a bit thirsty. I buy ice cream and a coke as soon as we arrive. Then we sit down for burgers. It’s an awesome break and well worth the short detour.
Departing is not so great. My stomach hurts from being so full and the trail is mostly uphill the rest of the day. We come to Cottonwood Creek, which we are to follow for several miles. The creek has flooded recently, piling up debris and washing away the trail in many places. We tackle the arduous route, picking our way along through the thorny scrub and sandy, rocky creek bed.
Have I mentioned yet how every plant in this 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 overgrow the trail. In this wash, the acacia trees are thick and mean. I even have to reposition my umbrella lower onto the back of my pack so the evil limbs don’t keep snagging it.
Later in the day, I run the back of my hand into a prickly pear cactus. I have to spend about 5 minutes picking out all the thorns. I also get a solitary spine on the top of my foot. It really hurts to pull it. The spines are like fish hooks.
We make it out of the wash, grabbing some of the last water for 12 miles. We climb a very steep jeep road to a ridge and roll along the ridge for an hour. The setting sun and haze make for a nice backdrop across the Superstition mountain range to the west.
We find a very exposed, small campsite at the top of the ridge. The trail dips down into a valley after this and I hope there will be camping below. It’s too windy to make camp on the ridge but campsites are few and far between in this territory. It’s not like you can just go off to the side and settle under some trees. Everything is too prickly to even leave the trail. I’d need to be wearing full chain-mail to go bushwhacking.
We race down the hill, trying to beat the fading light. I see another black furry figure up the trail but this time it has a white stripe. A skunk stands in my way but I need to get through. I press forward and it skitters off to the side. Fortunately there are sites at the bottom of the valley and we settle in for the night. Not a bad day, considering the nice long lunch we had and rough terrain. These big miles have been well-earned.