October 31st, 2019
American Flag Trailhead mm 590.4 to mm 609
Distance in miles: 18.6
The space heater barely keeps pace with the cold all night. I’m so glad I’m not outside. We eat breakfast in the room from what we scrounge from the hiker box and are ready to hit the trail again. Marney offers to stop at the cafe on the way, where I get a rhubarb strawberry piece of pie as well as a peach strawberry scone.
On the trail, we immediately start heading up. I’m thankful for the cold now. We’ll climb over 3500′. The trail gains the ridgeline and we have great views for hours. We can see the outskirts of Tucson and all the way back to the Gila River valley. The Biosphere 2 complex is also visible. This is where researchers are trying to simulate an artificial Earth environment. Biosphere 1 is Planet Earth, the original.
The climb is steep in places, namely where it follows a jeep road. But we make it up in good time and drift into the little resort of Summerhaven, not knowing what to expect. In climbing so high, we have entered a magical realm of ponderosa pine forest mixed with a few oak and aspen. Fall colors re-emerge. The town is just a collection of a few shops, restaurants, a PO, and visitor’s center, along with many fancy vacation homes.
We have burgers at the Sawmill restaurant, which are pricey but very good. Then we go to the general store, where they offer thru-hikers a free coffee or hot chocolate. We opt for the latter and it really hits the spot on this cold day. It’s warmed up from the morning but at this elevation, it’s still really chilly. A lady at the general store says it was 24 degrees overnight!
The same lady also invites us to stay inside in either the visitor’s center bathroom foyer or the post office. Both are heated, have outlets, and wifi. Apparently a lot of hikers do this and the town condones it. But I have a hot date with some duff tonight. The beautiful forest is calling my name. It would be a shame to have come all the way up here and not spend a night camping under the pines, smelling a bathroom all night instead. Cold be damned, I’m sleeping outside.
We leave the tiny town, stuffed and happy. The sun disappears behind the ridge and cold pockets start to appear. We walk the road down a valley along a stream, then the trail resumes up out of the valley. We then descend into an area with lots of big round boulders.
Something about the type of rock and weathering process has created numerous balancing rocks. While searching for a perfect campsite, we find a huge one. I call it Spaceship Rock and we have fun taking silly photos of us (supposedly) holding it in place. It’s a classic move you do if you’ve ever spent any time around the Garden of the Gods in Colorado. After this, I pitch my tent in an amazingly soft bed of pine needles (it’s duffalicious!) and enjoy a cup of wine that I purchased at the general store. It’s how I’m celebrating Halloween tonight. Ahhhhh, the life.