Mt. Graham-Exploring the Playground: A Trip Report

Early November 2013

Our excursion was to check out trail-heads and terrain for next summer’s hiking in the Pinaleno Mountains, aka Mt. Graham…and have some fun.

Friday about 9:00pm, after shopping, dressed, I arrived at DF’s place. Stripping, I declared a commitment, if possible, that that would begin the total liberation from clothing for the next three days. Okay, one stipulation, maybe a cloak or something for the frigid temps at 10,000 feet, and maybe getting gas, and maybe…practical nudity.

I finished the packing, resolutely naked in the driveway, under the cover of darkness. A bag and food cooler would be all that would go out to the truck in the morning, for a quick and early start.

Mexico, Texas and Beyond

Mexico, Texas and Beyond

We set off down the interstate across Arizona’s southeast. We would be traveling to Wilcox, a small ranch/farming town, then up a farming valley to Ft. Grant, and over Stockton Pass. We would be checking out the lower trail-heads and terrain on the south side of these first.

I quickly got dressed in shorts and T to order a sandwich and pump gas at a Wilcox exit. I might as well have just stayed dressed for the short drive to an organic apple orchard. We couldn’t resist very inexpensive bags of our pick of four kinds of apples. I showed up and slipped on just shorts before exiting the SUV. The lady at the stand looked at me funny. Topfree must be unusual in that area.

Fort Grant a correctional facility was creepy. So creepy that DF put on a t-shirt to travel around it, then through a residential housing and out a jeep trail to a trail-head. We thought in the future, that we might leave a car there, and then hike down from the trail-head on top of these massive mountains.

Would you leave a car out here for a couple of days?

Would you leave a car out here alone for a couple of days?

We had two more trailheads on our list to check out, as we drove through Stockton Pass. There were many people in campers. It was almost crowded along the road. Then, I saw the camouflage and binoculars. Hunting season was on. The next day, we saw deer safely on the top of the mountain away from the crowds.

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Essence of Tranquility

We had a reservation at the essence of Tranquility Hot Mineral Springs. There are five private tubs of different themes and a public one. Having driven across country naked, I grabbed my bathrobe and arrived at the front desk in that and flip flops, prepared. For a set of good pictures go to their website: http://www.azhotmineralspring.com/

I began to unload the truck and saw a familiar face from Tucson. He’s a musician and was rearranging numerous kalimbas to an unusual tuning. He told us that they were selling well. The kalimba playing was fun.

This is a rustic spa. It is very cute the way it is decorated. Each sleeping unit has a theme. Our room was a tropical beach, with the reed mats on the ceiling, Hawaiian flowers and rattan furnishings. It was cozy. There was a painting of a boat on a beach spanning the extra wide door. It is as if looking out a window. We lay in bed and projected out to sea imagining a breeze.

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Shortly later, after trying out the heart shaped tub, we were wiped out, we laid down awhile, but then grabbed our robes again and tried the Buddha room tub.

Heart shaped tub in one of the rooms.

Heart shaped tub in one of the rooms.

We had a fine dinner in the rec-room and communal kitchen. I checked the topo maps for the next day’s explorations and clued DF in to my research. I had several maps taped together stretching out across the large gaming table. She was to be the co-pilot, me driving the mountain road. She needed orientation.

A dear friend of ours stopped by. She lives in the area and is an old friend/neighbor, of the owners. We tried out the larger deeper pool together for an extended period. We used foam noodles to float in the wonderfully soothing mineral waters. Its decor reminded me of the hot spring baths in Japan, when I was a kid.

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We went back to the room and talked until midnight, then she went home. We cuddled up, watching “Don Juan” with Johnny Dep and Marlon Brando, me obliged to imitate his lines and moves while DF laughed at me.

As morning arrived, we slept as long as we liked, had breakfast, did another soak in yet another two tubs, and packed ourselves down the road in a pleasant mood.

Up the Mountain

The plan was to drive the 32 miles to the end of the road with minimal stopping. We would mark the driving times and then stop at a few points for fuller exploration on our way back. The road is totally switch backs, many at less than 20mph. About half of the road is dirt. We were surprised that it took us nearly two hours, much more time than planned. We were scheduled to be at a friend’s place before sundown. We discovered that we were working within constraints.

The truck stayed warm. We opened the moon roof and gauged the cooler temps by sticking our hands up and out. The fresh air was good on naked bodies. We cruised through many types of pine and glens of aspen. Fall was just starting at the base of the mountain range in the scenic valley. Then elevation brought us into the fall colors as we ascended.

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The air cooled even more from there, about 17F degrees cooler at the top. Comparing from the valley floor, the top is about 30Fdegrees cooler.

We stopped at a potential campsite. It is at the bend of a road, where a trail goes up next to a creek and to two fallen trees. There is a flat area for a tent. We parked and stretched. The crisp air was invigorating and calm. I grabbed my five fingers shoes and walked bare over to sit on a log to put them on.

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We walked back a bit further and photographed the creek, which had WATER!

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The air had a wonderful aroma. When I picked up a large pine cone, it stuck globs of aromatic pine on my fingers that wouldn’t go away.

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There was more driving ahead. Fires had gone through many places a few years ago. Now, groves of small aspen, so thick that one couldn’t walk through them, were growing on each side of the road among ancient Ponderosa, blue spruce and many more.

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Occasionally, the valley, which was thousands of feet below, appeared. Then the vista stretched out past Tucson to the west, or southeast into Mexico and Texas. Or, Tucson’s Direction.

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There was awe. We reached Riggs Lake, an 11 acre pond, stepping out for lunch. It was winter there. I got to try out my stay warm backpacking outfit. It worked. We sat on two stumps at the water’s edge, eating and watching. The winds picked up. The chill factor must have been easily low 30F’s.

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We took photos for future reference at each point of trail or campground. I needed to explore the Round the Mountain Trail a bit. There is a four-wheel drive trail back to the trailhead. This connects with three other hiking trails, which drop down on the north side of the mountain range. Approximately three quarters of the way there, the road was blocked by a fallen tree. Finding no passage, we got out and walked. I stopped DF in her tracks and motioned to her to just listen. It was calm, serene, and greatly untouched. A howl like a waterfall could be heard in the distance and slowly was winding up the canyon through the trees. It was wind. It came dancing up to us as we watched its influence on the trees, branches dancing, each in turn. This place is going to be perfect next year.

Native Americans claim that gods live up there…What was that?

Native Americans claim that gods live up there…What was that?

I had gotten on the internet and found as many descriptions of appropriate trails as I could. I also applied these to a topo program (I have the entire states topography) of the area and printed out more specific maps. I had found 16 potential trips to choose from. There are also Forest Service maps with designated trails and roads.

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This trip was to investigate many things. Pertinent to this website, we noted the number of people using the trails, parked at trail-heads, nearby public campgrounds. We watched for those camping spots that we could use nude. We needed to know what was in the vicinity of certain trail-heads, or if we might leave a car for a couple of days while backpacking and feel secure. The terrain is mostly steep. The topo and Forest Service maps and much of the above mentioned descriptions can’t give a clear idea of the terrain. While we were scouting travel times, vegetation, estimating water flow, trail-head security, possibilities of how crowded an area might be, etc., we found that the area is huge. There are more flat trails than expected. It is more untouched and wetter and huge compared to say, Mt. Lemon. It is much more wild and green and less traveled. Since the road up there will take a lot longer than anticipated, we could leave on a Saturday morning, but it could take half the day to reach a trail-head with hard driving. We now know that we might leave on a Friday night, stay at our friends, then head up in the morning, saving valuable daylight. We know what is involved at the base of the mountains for access to trail heads.

We know what kind of vegetation goes with different elevations and hence what time of year and temperatures are more optimum for visiting. These determine the weather and weather determines the need for clothing. We went from summer, to fall, to cold winter in less than 30 miles.

Fall

Fall

Winter

Winter

Maps also can’t show us where the fires have burnt out the forest. We found places to potentially camp out of a car and also to backpack totally free and cool water stream paradises.

We found out more. It is wilderness and it is best to have a good idea of what we are getting into, naked, alone, to be safe and enjoy ourselves. We have this, and so now, I can plan better trips for next time it gets hot here, next spring. It is lots of effort to get there and then to make the wrong choice from a map and then not have such a good time. We now have a better idea of how to stay naked up there. We know that we might be out a few days and can relax our bodies in a hot mineral bath afterward. We can hike at the base in the spring and then move up in elevation in the summer months.

An example of this terrain is Ft. Grant, which has a trail-head that starts at about 3500ft. in grassland/desert. You must go through a prison complex, onto a dirt road, through private land, through a gate, leading miles back to a trail-head. We didn’t know any of this. Is it safe? The trail follows a rocky dry creek bed from there. We need to know how many miles to get to reliable water and especially, what is the slope up hill. Is it worth the effort, or should we just start up on top of the mountain and hike downhill? Is it better to take one of three trails up there to get to the Grant Creek trail. Is it better to hike downhill and then go back up hill on the way out? How many miles of hiking and where. We couldn’t have a clue how crowded this area might be. When the topo map becomes a visual picture in 3D reality it makes more sense.

Ft. Grant Waaay Below

Ft. Grant Waaay Below

Besides the research and planning, we were now psyched up about next year. We had fun being up there, we did some free range naturism, a little hiking, some 4×4, hot baths, and visited a friend’s off of the grid living style, which was something that I had been curious about.

People get lost and die in these southern Arizona mountains every year. Trails wash out, get over grown, water dries up sometimes, or some places. The available topo maps only go so far for a description, telling us about new mountains and trails. We plan to go to places where we are as apt to see a bear as another person, wandering naked in real nature, solitude, serenity, and life. There are popular places that are filled with people, but we are a pair of free range naturists. We also like camping out of the truck on an air mattress in a big tent with a nice rug. We like guitar and drums by the fire with chairs, walking/hiking during the day, nude. A topo, or any map, definitely can’t give all the information that we need.

 

 

 

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