Tuesday Mar 23rd, 2021, 0610-1730
Old Florence Road crossing to HWY 77, mm 123
In the middle of nowhere, we still had a pretty eventful day. First up was a pass by some neat boulder outcroppings. Our notes informed us that these are similar in composition to the ones found on the south side of Mt Lemmon in the Santa Catalinas, more than 70 miles to the south. So how did they get here? Life’s mysteries. We took a break to clamber over some of them, making silly shadow puppets with the rising sun.
Next we came to Freeman Road, where notorious Trail Angel Sequoia was set up in his RV. He’d been doing trail magic for spring AZT hikers for 6 years running, earning legendary status among the greats like Apple. I wasn’t supposed to mention his presence, so that future hikers may be surprised and/or not expectant but he said it was ok to post just on my blog…it’s not like I have the biggest following, nor was the information in real-time. I wanted to honor him for all his efforts, after all, he held our small food cache for the last week, plus made us french-press coffee and breakfast burritos. If you read my CDT blog through New Mexico, you’d know that breakfast burritos are a sore subject for me, but finally I got a piece of the pie! Thank you so much Sequoia, you are the man! We also met a cool AZT hiker named Goose. Surprisingly, no other AZT hikers came by in the hour or so that we lingered at Camp Sequoia.
We pressed on, past prominent Antelope Peak and down to a wash to a well called Beehive, such that the surrounding cliffs resemble beehives. Here we finally came to our departure point from the AZT. Several more AZT hikers were at the tank to bid us adieu as we set out bravely into the unknown. We didn’t explain that we were hiking a different trail, so they must have thought we were really lost.
The rest of the day was a straight-forward wash walk, made even easier by well-laid jeep tracks. A few miles down the wash, we came to where a spring was flowing directly from the middle of the sand. It was really interesting to see how the water just emerged from seemingly nowhere, then a mile or so later, disappeared just as quickly. The Secret Knowledge of Water by Craig Childs details such phenomenon in spades and was a read that helped me better prepare to seek such delights during this hike. The desert is full of surprises.
All day the clouds had been increasing and we actually felt some raindrops by late afternoon. Generally it doesn’t rain for very long in the desert and I wasn’t too worried, even though the forecast called for an 80% chance of rain overnight. Right about the time that we hit the San Pedro River, the sky was really darkening. We had to walk almost a mile down the river (it’s one of the few that flow north) to get to a point that we could bypass private property. The river bed was a bit sad, not really flowing and torn up by ATV tracks. It’s a really rare and threatened habitat and unfortunately not really cared for in this area. The dour skies contributed to the sour mood along the river. Just as we hit a dirt road on the way to the highway, our luck ran out. It started to rain and blow in earnest. We popped the brellas and kept walking to HWY 77.
We discussed our plan for the night as we came down the wash. We had a real complication in regards to Aravaipa Canyon, coming up the next day. The canyon was managed by the BLM and required permits, which we didn’t have. We’d been trying to get permits for almost 3 months with no luck. We’d gone to the Rec.gov website back in January, only to find that every single permit was claimed, which surprised us. We kept checking back every week since and never saw anything open up. A week before, we started calling the ranger station but never were able to talk to a person. The recording just directed us to the website, completely unhelpful. Without a permit, we would have to take one of 2 alternates that added 12 miles to the route. The canyon is considered one of the highlights of the whole route.
With the rain and our return to the realms of civilization, our options for the night were rather limited. I figured we’d camp somewhere along the road to the canyon, but didn’t feel much like hunting for a spot around private property in the rain. As we deliberated our options at the highway, a car turned into the side road and disappeared. A few seconds later, it was back, pulling alongside us. A sweet lady rolled down the window and asked if we were hikers. Shirley offered to drive us to Mammoth, the nearest town. Sometimes the momentum of a situation just carries you along to the next step, and so we went with it. Shirley was one of the nicest rides I’ve ever gotten, recalling memories of a grandma that picked me up in New Zealand when I was struggling along the road to town with a case of food poisoning.
I’ll never get over how such kind people will go out of there way to deliver wet hikers to safe places. She was just driving home from her job as the school librarian and went back the opposite direction to drop us off at the lodge in town. On the way, her daughter called on the bluetooth and we had a very funny conversation about her mom picking up strange hitchhikers. We tried to assure her that her mom was safe and so greatly appreciated. Shirley, was yet another amazing trail angel to detail in my book.
Once in town, more surprises. Violet, the lodge proprietor, informed us that they were officially closed but allowing hikers to stay in the rooms for free (or rather, a strongly hinted at donation). It was kind of a weird situation but we went with it. About 7 AZT hikers were already there so it seemed legit. She asked if we could go to the restaurant next door to wait while they prepared a room. No problem. Abuelitos was open, warm and dry. An outlet was positioned perfectly in the wall of one of the booths. A hiker’s dream. We each got a taco salad and enjoyed free wifi.
Back at the lodge, night had set in and we were ready to crash. The rain had stopped but it was so cold outside. The room was tiny and rustic but hey, how could I complain. We had to fill a bucket to flush the toilet and the hot water was very finicky but mostly things worked. Beggars can’t be choosers and even more so, thru-hikers can put up with just about anything. I’d once slept in a sheep shed, after all. Yet another funny ending to a diverse day.