Monday Mar 22nd, 2021, 0630-1730
Gila River to Old Florence Road crossing, mm 99
The morning was pretty chilly and so I was glad to hike the winding trail built above the valley. It does a lot of seemingly silly up and down but this helps warm cold, sore muscles in the morning. It was still another 6 miles to the bridge over the river. Last time, I avoided the meandering trail by just walking the railroad tracks along the river. This was cheating and I would have felt lame doing it a second time. Plus the views up high were nice. Open pit copper mines are really prevalent in this area. A psychedelic ocotillo delighted me with its multi-colors.
We proceeded over the bridge and arrived at a trailhead parking lot by 9 am. A couple was there with a car and camp furniture set up around it. They immediately asked us if we were thru hikers and offered a rarity of trail magic in the form of cut fruit, which we of course accepted enthusiastically. Any fresh, real food is always greatly appreciated. The guy, Ryan, was hiking the AZT and his partner, Adriana, was his support out of Phoenix. He runs a non-profit called Skate Afterschool helping under-served kids develop skate boarding skills. Check it out if you get a chance. It’s sounds like a great organization and he’s using his hike to raise awareness and money. Thanks for the Trail Magic friends!
After filling our water bottles at the cache, we headed up “the big hill” which is more like a series of hills that climb out of the river valley. The valley is the lowest point on the GET route, so we did a lot of climbing with bellies full of fruit and water. I’ve been trying to hydrate really well so far, which means a lot of bathroom stops.
On top the big hill, I got my peak finder app working and was mesmerized by everything I could see. It was a clear, windy day without smoke, so mountains popped on every horizon. Mt Lemon loomed to the south, still with snow, and far to the southeast was Mt Graham, tallest in southern AZ and where we would be hiking in less than a week. Snow still covered its peak. Many other points stood out through the day, including my new favorite, Battle Axe Butte.
We came to a good water tank 17.5 miles into the day. This was not on our map last time…when we really needed some water. We gathered a lot at this new source since we didn’t expect to find any more the rest of the day. An earthen water tank was 6 miles ahead but a ways off trail… I’d rather carry the clean water we got straight from the spigot of the trough.
The afternoon was a bit dull, wondering around the hills of the high desert plateau. We passed a few junipers, the only trees large enough to provide shade. I also saw 2 jack rabbits and later their large holes. And of course a steady stream of AZT NOBOs. We didn’t see any before the Florence Kelvin parking lot and then only about 20 the rest of the day. I talked to a few of them, mostly the women. There were a lot of female groups and a few solo, which is awesome. One lady was dressed almost just like me, with compression socks, a skirt, sun gloves and arm sleeves. Only she was much more color coordinated. Ladies in skirts ROCK! Shout out to Purple Rain Adventure Skirts! Mandy, the founder, has also hiked the GET. She sent me a new dress to trial but it’s just too much sun exposure to rock a dress on this hike. Hopefully I can wear it on the AT.
In the late afternoon, Stellar departed on a mission to find an old ranch and tank. I almost didn’t expect to see him again until the next day but like clockwork, he popped out ahead of me again a few hours later. By this time I was about done and looking for an early campsite. We’d hiked our longest day yet. This was one of the hardest sections for me last time but today I was able to appreciate it more. Perhaps because I knew what to expect and could focus on the small details like bird calls and plants. I’m really trying to learn the names of all the flora and fauna. The desert is a real wonder on so many scales, not just some dull, bleak landscape. But you got to open your eyes, ears, and nose and be willing to accept it as it is. We made camp in a small dry wash, under the protection of a juniper. A cold wind blew out of the west but I barely felt it. I love trees, even the desert trees.