Tuesday Apr 26th, 2022, 0700-1800
Fork Tank Drainage to CR 25, EABO mm 394, Segment 6 mm 48.5
What a great day it was! For starters, I wasn’t too cold for the first time in 4 nights. My thermometer read 27 degrees when I woke, but it was more like 24 outside. I never thought such temps would feel comfortable! We still decided to wait until 7 am to start walking. This proved to be a lucky thing because while we lounging in our tents, we heard a wolf howl. A real wolf! It was unmistakable from the common coyotes that we hear nearly every day. The howl was deep and long and awe-inspiring. There are only around 100 Mexican gray wolves in the wild and we were privileged to hear one. Never in all my life had I been so close to a wolf while on a hike. Once we started walking, I saw some footprints. They might have been from a dog but that seemed unlikely, it being so remote.
We shortly came to a dead end on the road, which either meant we were going cross country or had taken a wrong turn. Luckily it was just a cross country stretch that turned out to be really lovely. We followed a mellow stream, Home Creek, that was pretty easy walking, given the lack of trail. As usual, there were some good game trails to follow and shortly we met a few of the makers of said trails: a bachelor group of wild horses. There were 4, all staring at us curiously from the other side of the creek. A few were quite handsome. Later we came across a lone horse, who was actually trotting towards us. He gave us a wide berth as he got nearer but also looked rather domesticated…like he’d been someone’s horse but escaped to join the feral horses. To call this lot wild might have been a stretch.
The gentle creek dumped us out into wide meadow, where I spied 6 turkeys carousing around. As soon as they saw me, they ran for the hills. A few even flew a short distance. They are so big in AZ, they make the Florida Osceola turkeys look like pigeons. Unfortunately I couldn’t ever get close enough to get a good picture of any of them. They’re pretty shy, given that everyone except us were out hunting for them this time of year.
We walked past PS Ranch, which looked really nice. Apparently it’s owned by the state and used as a research station. No one was there. After this we came to the east fork of the Black River, which we followed for a short time to where it met up with the west fork. We’d at last come to a 12 mile stretch where we had to cross the river over 30 times in order to make our way. In past years, quite a few MRT hikers had to take an alternate around this section because water levels were too high in the spring. This year being exceptionally dry, we had high hopes for completing our river mission. We also hit the first crossing at 0930 am, by which time it had warmed up sufficiently. The water was reported to be ice cold but it actually felt good. The river appeared to me more of a creek and in 34 crossings, never came over my thighs. It was a fun time, as opposed to some of the death-defying river crossings I did in New Zealand.
We spent the remainder of the day along the river. Much of the time, ours were the only human footprints on the scant trail. But we had a lot of company. Here’s a list of the animals I saw: deer, elk, bald eagles, turkeys, hawks, mergansers, ducks, rabbits, garter snakes, signs of beaver, alligators, and crawfish. Ok, maybe not alligators…just threw that in there to see if you were paying attention. It felt like a wild place and we didn’t see anyone all day. Unfortunately none of my pictures really did the canyon justice, especially since I had my phone in a protective case, should I go down in the river. The rocks were very slippery but I managed to stay upright. Also, the light was kind of washed-out all day…we think because of smoke in the air.
The day finished with a short walk along a forest road. All was quiet until we saw a dog up ahead. It ran away from us and we followed its footprints for several miles to where a trailer was parked…boondockers or hunters. We still didn’t see anyone. We collected some water from a stream and called it a day, camping up a draw away from the road.
Bedtime Story: just as I was doing my final preparations to go to sleep, I saw the headlights of a vehicle approaching on the road. I casually watched as it began to pass, then stop and back up a few car lengths. This was strange because the truck was now in a direct line of sight from me. Oh crap! I suddenly realized that my headlamp’s red light was on, giving away my position. I might be the reason they stopped, the object of their attention! I quickly turned off my light but the damage was done.
To my dismay and horror, the truck abruptly turned off the road and started driving into the forest directly towards me. They had their high beams on plus spotlights out. They traveled a long ways, even though there was no road. I was at least 100 yards back from the road, which seemed like a long ways when setting up. I even remember thinking that I was well protected, hidden behind some downfall and with many trees in the way. I always consider such factors when camping near a road…could someone drive over me in the middle of the night? I’d thought the answer was no but now it seemed my worst fear might come true.
In a panic, I decided the best option was disclosure. I started clicking my headlamp on and off, high to low, red to white. My light show at least stopped them in their tracks. Or perhaps they just couldn’t drive any further. I went dark again. I heard a door open and voices. I was still squarely in their search lights but what could they make out of a camo tent behind the trees, deep in the woods in the dark? It was redneck decision time. Do they A. Retreat, B. Leave the safety of their Search & Destroy vehicle to investigate on foot or C. Open fire. Lucky for me, the Arizona Armed Assumption rules applied: out here, everyone is armed. For all they knew, I had my rifle sighted on them. In reality, I was hugging the ground, terrified, ready to bolt for the cover of the nearest large tree. I was a defenseless hiker caught in the proverbial headlights of the most dangerous animal in the woods. My trekking poles were not going to save me here.
After what seemed like a prolonged standoff, they backed down and drove away. I was so keyed up, I wouldn’t be able to sleep for a long time. I was worried they might come back but they never did. This is the kind of BS that happens to me in Florida, not here, especially not on a day when we didn’t see a single person. Oh well, at least it was a great day of hiking.