Back into the Alpine Mountains Pt. 2: A Trip Report

2015-08-22

We awoke late the next morning, 8:30am. We both had had a rough night’s sleeping for a part of the night, but awakening into this wonderful tall grass and flowers all around us, cool clear mountain air and trees, started us out with delight.

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We began our morning duties. Camping seems to be continuous activity. We had a perfect place, but it had to be separated into three places. The sleeping quarters had to be separate from the food, which didn’t hang from a tree to discourage bears and wolves, but sat sealed, enclosed the SUV. We had designated the trails between each, agreeing together, so as to impact the place as little as possible. We remained dressed in a camper’s practical ragtag garb for another hour or so. We were waiting for a bit more of the sun’s heat and the last mosquitoes to give up, soon to be replaced by a variety of fun looking bees and critters of the air, who were less pesky.

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As I mentioned, there had been quite a few trucks driving by the previous night, even on this back road more that we had seen all of Thursday crossing country for a hundred miles. I had taken a sample of their activity, using my hearing and counting how many “one thousand one, one thousand two’s” that it took from first hearing them somewhere around the bends to their actual passing. We had a count of seven to eleven, to step behind truck, tree, rock, or squat down in the tall grass to hide our nudity. This worked very well throughout the day. There had also begun, a trend where not all of them were white….!

We ate oatmeal, banana, strawberry, and cinnamon from the dehydrated backpacking kit. There was still some raw agave syrup in the cooler to top it off. The first project was a trip up the sacred mountain to pray and survey. We actually didn’t have a “sacred” mountain, but there was a conical hill to the west with some intriguing maybe flat rock at its top.

We climbed up the tree studded hill. There were many volcanic rocks for footing in the thick pine needle and grass covered slope.

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DF commented that we would never have been able to do yesterday’s hike at this elevation. We were soon feeling winded.

A Winded Pause

A Winded Pause

At the top, we maneuvered through a stand of mullein in bloom and going to seed.

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We made our way around the hilltop which gave us a 360 degree view of our surroundings.

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There was a valley like ours on the other side of this shared mountain. The blocked road meandered along the meandering creek into the hills and storm clouds were brewing to the east. We found a good flat rock surface to sit yogi style and meditated and prayed, just listening to the breeze, and enjoying this and the lovely sun on our bodies.

The Tent as seen from Meditation Rock

The Tent as seen from Meditation Rock

When it was time, I gathered two fresh mullein leaves as we headed down the hill. We needed water. We filled our bottles from the clear brook with a filter.

Healing Mullein Tea was the Plan

Healing Mullein Tea was the Plan

We had some greens that had to be eaten, cheese, pate and avocado that had finally become ripe.

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We sat in the shade in chairs, backs to the road watching the meadow dance with the light breezes. We tracked this flow. The peaceful silence, other than a grassy swoosh, was broken by the occasional chatter of a cricket. Even the crickets seemed to be lulled. This brook was a quiet one.

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Another Foray

The road bed leads into a wildlife management area. We had no idea what to expect, nor where we might end up.

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We figured that we would need no backup coverings, but there was that threat of rain and we were again in the intense part of the sun’s day. I popped a couple of plastic panchos in the bag, used the sarong for my shoulders and DF took a white shirt that she likes.

The no vehicle sign was found behind the boulders and we found quad tracks in the grass, but we knew that that was not from today.

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The walk was delightful. DF lagged behind, and I thought that she wanted to be alone. When I stopped she caught up. She asked me why I was walking so fast. I guess I was still with a bit of marching mode from the trek out of the Blue River. I changed pace, opening a new awareness and a deeper slower breath.

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Along the way, we shot flowers and just appreciated it all.

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DF began to make up names for the strange plants that she didn’t know, but liked. “Did you see those sprites?” She’d ask. “They’re so cute, I just love them.”

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There were burnt spots. We were seeing what would have been stymied under tree cover before and life was taking advantage of the exposures to the sun.

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A large field of raspberries flowed up a hillside to a rock formation. This will soon be a rich haven for the bears and everybody else, but not just yet.

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In the middle of the trail, dark green algae lay dried up where moister used to help it thrive. It had a sheen to it that made it look wet. It fooled me. I stepped over it carefully, thinking that I’d rather keep my feet dry.

There was a great deal of new life where fire had wiped out the trees.

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We came to a fence. On the other side, tagged cattle watched us. “WTF,” I thought, “are they defining cattle as wildlife now?”

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There was destruction of habitat all around.

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More on this later, I did make the call to the Forest Service to inquire.

The clouds were dark and overcast by this point. We decided to return and enjoy ourselves some more along the way.

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Life and Leisure

When we had returned to camp, I set to creating an augmentation to ward off horizontal rain in the ultralight net tent/tarp setup, out of duct tape, cord and plastic drop cloth. I rigged up a sort of prototype arrangement that should work. It is simple and light. I’ll refine it and use it as a model with some more ultralight materials. I was being very intensely occupied in my engineering task, when I stood up. A truck passed by and I forgot that I wasn’t dressed at all, until it was too late. Seconds later, another truck flew by with an insignia on the door. At least I didn’t flash the official looking truck.

There were now, black clouds all around and rolling thunder. We had a snacky pre-dinner while sitting in the truck as some rain hit. We grabbed what else we might need and settled into the tent afterwards. It was very cozy, yet open, with fresh air. We spent a good part of the afternoon reading and hanging out there.

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We counted out the time between lightning and thunder, but most wasn’t very near. At one point a bolt brightened the day and a loud crack blasted nearly simultaneously. DF jumped, causing me to be startled and then jumping myself, after the fact. I laughed and told her to stop that, she was making me jump. She asked in a cutesy voice, “Aren’t you going to hold me and protect me from the big bad lightning.” I smurked and said, “Nope.”

We enjoyed the time. There was no storm and DF asked if I wanted some dinner. I thought that we already had eaten our dinner, but she re-hydrated a soup that I had made. The sunlight breaks through the trees in a vibrant crimson and orange at sundown. A few of the branches look the color of fire.

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We bedded down. The two owls flew in even closer during the night to converse.

2015-08-23 Sunday

This is a carnude travel day. We are about six hours from Tucson. We hope to have a stop along the way and maybe find one last cool mountain hike.

The day begins with a treat. We step out to see in the sky a topping of some serious and unique cloud cover breaking up.

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We are slow this day. We are awake at 6:30am, but don’t pull onto the road until 10:30am. Sometimes ya just gotta stop and smell some flowers.

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We are headed to Springerville, across the green plains and then down the way that we came, to Tucson.

In short, Springerville, a formerly closed and unfriendly town, has opened up in the last twenty years , from my last visit. It has not become so friendly that we don’t have to get dressed before getting gas, but give time, time.

The green plains are high grasslands at the foot of the White Mountains north side. There is a lot of volcanic rock.

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We cruise across the very straight highway.

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One can look out and see clear to where the green changes to the Painted Desert. It is vast.

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We stop for one last commune with pine mountain air, before descending into the warm desert.

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The monsoon clouds give us occasional rain. When we get to the other side of the Salt River, a huge triangular black cloud is coming toward us distinct from the rest, like a Star Wars mega cruiser. But his one has a huge leak out of the center with lightning. DF laughs at it. I tell he that that is “not a good idea, don’t piss it off,” as thunder rolls.

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We stop in Globe for a Mexican dinner. A drunk is in the parking lot as we dress. He is there openly taking a leak two or three cars over! He then comes to the car right next to us. He is oblivious to our half-dressed presence, a few feet from him.

By the time that we leave, there are gale force winds announcing the coming of a growth of an even larger storm. It seems to have been chasing us, catching up while we dined. We head south. Rain shows up along the way home here and there, until we stop.

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Epilog:

I called the Forest Service on Tuesday to inquire about the cattle and tell them about their sign and that we had propped it back up.

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I was directed to a ranger with which I had a long pleasant conversation. Ranchers have been operating with grazing permits for years. The wolf introductory people are a separate entity. There is a good working relationship with the local ranchers and several agencies. A complex dance goes on. Constant wolf tracking is going on. Weekly reports tell where to best place cattle away from the wolf populations. “Perhaps the rancher has been slipping up,” he said. He’ll head over there and see what needs to be done in a day or two. Once a week, a satellite report is analyzed and a notice to the ranchers is sent out. It IS very worth this to hear the sound of that call in the wilderness. I didn’t ask if the grazing fees were enough to pay for the service.

Large bales of straw were dropped out of planes, exploding and covering the ground after the fires. The hills were reseeded with native plants. Amongst this, an infertile grass seed was used to hold the soil. It is like a small buffle grass, but it won’t reseed after a couple of years, eventually dying off. This has saved erosion in many of the water courses, prevented the poisoning of the fish and explains the abundance of life in the denuded areas. The animal populations have been exploding for all of those hunters in white, extended cab….

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