Twig Adventures

AZT Day 21: How I Pictured the AZT

October 27th, 2019

HWY 60 Picket Post Trailhead mm 487.5 to mm 507

Distance in miles: 19.5


We wake without a real clear agenda. We need to go grocery shopping for resupplies and the store opens at 9 am. MJ makes us omelettes and we have more of her delicious fresh bread. She also gives us some of her homemade granola to take with us. MJ is a mom, grandma, and even a great grandma and she just loves caring for people.

Al does his part by resupplying the nearby water caches. Today he’s off early in his jeep to deliver water to FR4, which has been out of water for some time, making for a 21 mile hike from the trailhead to the Gila River. We’ll be some of the first beneficiaries of his efforts. It takes him 3 hours round-trip but he seems to enjoy the drive. A friend goes along to keep him company. I leave some money in their jar just to cover some of his expenses. Having water delivered to you along the trail is kind of priceless in AZ.

We deliberate taking a zero, as MJ has invited is to do, but there are 2 more hikers coming in this morning. I’d like to spend more time with this sweet family but it’s best to share them with other hikers. We’ll hit the trail again today.

MJ drives us to the grocery store to get our resupplies and then to the trailhead. We see a group of 5 hikers there, hanging out at their van. We met 3 of them in the Mazatzals. They have a flip-flopping, key swapping scheme involving the van. I don’t understand all the logistics and what all their roles are but hey, whatever works. It’s a nice idea to have a support van, especially given the scarcity of water.

MJ invites them all over to take showers and they’re excited about the offer. She’ll now have 7 dirty hikers in her house, so I’m glad we’re taking off. But that’s what trail angels do. Bless them.

We start off and it’s already pretty hot. The trail winds in and around the dry landscape. We’ll cross over a couple high points and then follow a wash down into the Gila River valley. At one point, I come around a bend and see a big cat standing in the trail. It’s a bobcat only 30 feet away. We each have that moment of shared surprise and then he bolts away, lightning fast. Bobcats are so beautiful. I’m seeing so much wildlife on this trail!

I later see a tiny ribbon snake slither to the side and it strikes me that it’s the first snake I’ve seen in Arizona…a state that has the most species of rattlesnakes (13) of any. We have not seen or heard one.

We come to the water cache that Al has just stocked, finding tons of good clean water. We take what we need for a dry camp, since it’s too far to make it to the Gila this afternoon. We also take a break, since it’s very hot. While sitting, Stellar gets stung by 2 bees that have crawled up his shirt. The are highly attracted to any water source, including sweat. At the same time, I have a bee just sitting on my hand.

I like bees and don’t mind when they land on me. I never swat at them. On the contrary, I’ll go so far as to lightly stroke their backs, like a pet. But when the 2 bees get trapped under Stellar’s shirt, they raise the alarm for all the others in the area to attack. Most likely these are africanized honey bees and very aggressive once they’re on the defense. I jump up immediately and start packing to get out of the area. Luckily my pet bee flies away, leaving me unharmed. I’ve never been stung while hiking and want to keep it that way.

We continue up a series of valleys and canyons. The trail’s so much better in this section: well graded, the vegetation cut back, and smooth. It cools down a bit in the late afternoon and I’m just loving the experience and geology. The scenery is spectacular. There are grand buttes, pinnacles, hoodoos, and escarpments everywhere. Plus every kind of cactus. This is the backdrop I always pictured for the AZT. We are hiking the Sonoran Desert and it’s so beautiful.

We go over the high point of the section, getting grand views of the topography to the south, including the Gila River valley. The sun is setting and the desert feels so peaceful. Everything is breathing a sigh of relief to get a break from the scorching sun. We settle down for the night on a on a small rise with incredible views. It’s a bit exposed to the wind but worth it. Every time I wake up in the night, I see a pinnacle backlit by a universe of stars.

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