Our usual New Year’s Eve band jam blowout was cancelled. We replaced it with an evening spent visiting with friends who stopped by. Ultimately, we sat in the sweat lodge in the light of five candles with two of our friends and two of their children. We wrote what we would like to pass off for the coming new year on cards, nailed them to a log and then tossed it all into the firebox. We brought in the new year in naked with a prayer and a song of letting go.
Having been up to all hours, we start our day in a leisurely fashion. As I load up the SUV with DF, she is amazed that I am so comfortable naked. I laugh at her bundled in her robe. It is a glorious day. She then pulls off her wrap, surprised by the discovery. This is the first of January, winter, and the high will be over 75F. I have gained seven pounds during these holidays and I have a resolution to keep. It is time for a hike.
The plan for today is to head back to the foothills to another trail, near where we had been recently. The story is here:
This time however, we will start at Catalina State Park, cross across to Southerland Trail, and then perhaps find our way out Baby Jesus Trail. I figured that the park will be busy, but the trail heading out to the remote Southerland Trail should be relatively less populated and it is Federal lands. Nude use would begin after we get off of the Canyon Loop Trail. Most of this is new territory for us.
The first indicator is our approach to the pay for park’s fee gate. It being New Year’s Day and gorgeous, we are waiting in a line behind six other waiting cars and a huge motorhome. This is a very unusual crowding. As we pay, the docent who has an expression of being overwhelmed, tells us that they ran out of maps early in the day. We definitely won’t be casually naked on the trail, until we are done trekking the .8 miles of the Loop Trail.
The parking lot is full, but I find a spot right up front. People are milling about all around us. I have come with a sarong draped across my lap. I need to get it completely on and gather my backpack, water and camera. DF has her “A” frame sundress on. By opening my doors and waiting for a break in the traffic, I manage to get dressed in my sarong, while standing in the parking lot.
We look for markings for this “Loop” trail. We find signs for the Loop trail and proceed up the familiar steep grade on the other side of the big sandy dry wash. We take a fork off of the trail to Romero Pools. All along the route people are smiling with various greetings. My typical part of these exchanges is an exuberant “Happy New Year!”
After a while, we haven’t found our trail and it feels like more than .8 miles. I ask a lady, and sure enough, we have taken the wrong entrance to the loop and will be a mile out of our way. We are out here for some naked hiking, not an encounter every 100 feet in a park, which is just what we have had.
From here, the trail immediately drops down a series of railroad tie steps into a riparian area. It is pleasant here. There is no water, of course, but there are trees, some with fall foliage, grasses and a particularly robust crop of saguaros. It could be a wonderful place, if we were alone. This place is busy.
Eventually, we arrive at our trailhead, which is a walk across the wash and up a stairstep hill.
At the top of the hill, I see a middle aged guy in a sun-bleached orange T-shirt. I turn to DF and point, stating, but not too loud for others to hear,”Hey, a naked guy.” The T-shirt fools her for a moment, as she does a double take. No such luck.
Right behind them, is a very old couple. We give optimum breadth for her to manipulate her hiking sticks. While we get by each other on the steps, I ask her if there are other hikers out where they had come from. She states that they have seen only five to eight other hikers on the trail all day. This is encouraging, because we soon bump into two more. With 2.8 miles to go, having less than four more encounters seems pretty reasonable.
At the top of the stairs, and a few feet more, is a bench with a donated plaque. I take the bench as an opportunity to throw my sarong off and stuff it under my backpack straps for comfort. I place a kerchief in a “V” hanging from the waist band of my pack. It covers my genitals making my outfit at least strictly legal.
We continue happily and DF decides to stop in the shadow of a saguaro and disrobe with a little encouragement from me. For all of the stated reasons, it seems like a good time, but nearly immediately after we adjust her clothing into more appropriate pack strap padding, we hear voices.
We aren’t ready for this and we aren’t sure if the voices have children with them. We are on state lands, and not particularly remote, but we have good reason to believe that we will soon be more alone. I see a rock on the other side of a shedding mesquite. I suggest that we just go sit on it and wait for them to pass.
Very soon, a band of four fellows walks past us one is talking about sports news. They are followed by a younger female. They all pass without notice of us. We are twenty feet off of the trail and we are smiling, thinking about how unaware they are. Suddenly, like the Murphy’s Law that put them there, which is immediately after DF got finally naked, the girl says, “Hey, this is a great view, I want a picture.” They all four turn around to smile at her and consequently us. Still, they seem to not notice us, sitting nudes right in front of them. It can’t be over 40 feet. We are right in front of them! We just sit and watch in curiosity. We are legal, not exposing our genitals, just two naked people, sitting back to back, with our heads turned toward them watching.
They turn to take off and we are dumbfounded.
Then down the trail another 100 feet, or so, one at a time, they exchange, “Did jah see” and look over their shoulders our way with curious looks.
Heading down the trail, I smile a “Happy New Year” to a single woman. She greets us in kind and happily.
We come to a sign which declares that we are entering the federal lands and out of the park. It is designated Wilderness beyond this. Still, we come upon another donated resting bench. I stop. The view is wonderful, but this thing about people is troublesome. We are in a grey area. We are encountering not savvy backpackers, but day hikers and strollers from the conservative and overly structured Oro Valley. This subset can harbor a larger percentage of people with indignation and nothing better to do than complain. Their overdone police department often is the same way. The risk is very small, but cautious habits of perspectives kick in and I’m feeling uncomfortable. This trail has been very easy, wide, flat and tended. It gets more use than my original conclusions, especially on New Year’s Day. Now, I’m questioning doing my originally planned route.
There is a small trail which heads off of the main trail and toward the mountains. This main trail, so far, appears to only stay up on this ridge of typical desert scrub. There is a riparian valley between us and the mountains. That is what we would like to see. The frequency of encounters and the possibilities draw us down the path in exploration. What is to lose? Maybe it goes over there?
Soon, we realize that this path is a trail and it is most likely to be leading us to the mountains and valleys.
We mosey along, but soon DF hears voices! Again? This time it is two elderly people on horseback. They haven’t noticed us yet, so we have time to step aside to let them pass on the narrow single path. I drop my kerchief off of my belt and into place. DF has nothing, but her camera at ready, its bag hanging in front of her. We are naked, but genitals covered. One rider looks as though she has a uniform on.
We greet them as they slowly ride past us with passive glances. I wish them a happy new year and ask what is ahead. He tells us in his friendly old cowpoke personality best, that there are trees and a fun waterfall that must be amazing when it rains. I ask about other people and seclusion and she testifies affirmatively. We are encouraged.
As we find our way to the footing of the path I see her leaning back on her horse three times watching to be entertained by the naked hikers.
We are now comfortable on our “trail less followed.”
I find a piece of ancient Indian pottery chard to add to the magic of the place. There is an extensive Native American ruins a few miles south in the park. This was very populated back a few centuries ago, a population generally naked like us.
We follow the tracks and hoof prints along, getting closer to the mountains. We finally arrive at an overlook to the riparian area with its trees.
With a view through a stand of saguaros like between odd fence posts, it is getting more magical.
The trail is leading into a canyon. There is a huge wall of granite, a cliff to the right across the wash. It is layered and eroded in a dramatic interesting manner.
We soon enough have run out of trail. The only choice is to descend into the valley of it on a very steep slope of river rocks and loose dirt.
We are making our way on a ridge, when DF whispers that she hears voices. She then announces that there are two people ahead. I follow her pointing finger and under a tree sitting on a beach of sand bar, are two women. We decide whether to just walk up to them. I am staying free. We have passed into the shadow of that huge cliff and there is a bit of chill. DF decides to put on her sundress. “What the heck,” she says, as she shrugs her shoulders, sort of embarrassed to be covering up.
There is no trail here. It is just large smoothed out rocks. There is the tall invasive buffle grass. We slowly make our way.
Our meander takes us around the two women inadvertently. We know that they have seen us, but there is no contact. I have my sight set on the area where the sun is shining a distance on ahead. The goal is to get there, find a warm flat boulder in the sun and have lunch.
We are both thinking that we would never attempt to traverse this obstacle course if it were snake season. It would be too risky then.
We step stone on the rounded rocks, tuffs of buffle grass, and around flood debris. The going is slow and cautious.
We must climb and crawl up the collection of granite boulders and formations. It is much easier nude, than wearing pants that restrict movement. Rubbing against the rocks, pulling ourselves up isn’t like crawling on sandpaper when nude. These are smooth and slippery from centuries of occasional flooding.
I notice many spots where water flows and ponds during wetter times. There are makings from dead algae and bleaching. I’m surprised to discover ponded water, a coat of slime, murky, but good in a pinch and great for dry animal’s thirst.
We use an old log that is maybe six inches in diameter to get us over a route blocking boulder. I test it, moving up and down with my weight, wondering if it would break, one foot and then two. We walk along it holding onto the nearby boulders for balance.
It brings us to a place of mashed grass where a large animal has been laying. I can smell traces of it.
One hundred rocks and one hundred steps later, I come around a boulder and discover a carcass of skin, tan fur and bone, leftovers from a previous feast. I step around it. Suddenly, I’m alerted to the sound of hooves. I hear someone heading up the steep ridge to the left. DF is pointing. It is a deer, in flight. We scramble to our cameras. I take a quick snap, before my telephoto has the time to whirl out. DF manages to capture an image.
We are not restricted by the limits of clothing, in this challenging task of climbing. With my ability to stretch even more when naked, I notice that I have limits. My body hasn’t used these scenarios in quite a while. If I were to complete some of the movements that I begin, I’d rip something. I’m realizing that one of my resolutions to continue to make some more effort to acquire more youthful dexterity and elasticity, will be more than I surmised. This is a fine workout and a lesson.
Eventually we arrive into the warm sun and find a decent smooth rock surface to sit on.
We are hungry. There is ponded water next to us. The quiet is astounding. It feels good to pull off the weight of our water, pack and all burdens. In doing so, we feel just a bit more naked, more free.
After a short while, we each take time to explore and snap photos. There is a curious fluorescent green glowing under a boulder in the water. It is shady there, but it gives off a glow.
The Fall leaves are collected in the waters, and reflections are distorted.
It is worth the effort. We are blessed to find this unmarked trail leading to this place. The timing is good.
As we sit quietly in our being, we discuss that we sense the same experience. There seems to be a difference in the silence here. There is the silence of the open desert and the silence of this closed off, tighter place. We hadn’t noticed this before. It is felt fully, like one might experience a humid thicker air on naked skin compared to dry air. How to explain this perception would be futile, we all have our own distinct references, but there does seem to be a something. Perhaps vibration has something to do with it. Perhaps associations with other subconscious, more automatic factors lead to our perceptions. There is an entirely different world known by our more primitive selves, another awareness to live in.
Our time pieces were left in the truck, so we are reading time by the position of the sun. It is time to head back. We have gone half way. There is a chill in the air. I put on a long sleeve T-shirt and also DF dawns one along with her sundress. The air has been very calm today. Here in this tight canyon, it is stagnant. Without flow, it has bubbles of temperatures. One step leaves us warm. A few paces later, we may step into a spot that feels down right frigid. This phenomena is very evident naked.
We find our way, retracing our route, less haphazard now. Together we remember landmarks.
Those two women are gone. We manage to find the way up the walls of the steep little canyon, to the trail. It is nearly hidden in the brush, and not a trail.
When we step into the sunlight, it is once again very warm, even hot. Immediately, we stop and strip.
The discomfort is relieved by the wisdom of our wonderful nude bodies.
Back at the bench on the main trail, we take the time to look back at where we were. There had been a trail off to the north that I thought to explore. We train DF’s good telephoto lens on the area. There is the now a dry waterfall that the old cowboy told of. That will be a good hike on another day. Maybe when there is water. This place obviously hosts plenty of water in season.
We figure that people are less likely to be on this trail starting out later.
There is a young jogger that passes us, however. Joggers, teenagers who don’t plan for nightfall, hikers heading back, may be encountered. When the Loop Trail is near, we put clothing on. Our suspicions were correct. As we restart our hike dressed, a jogger runs by.
The loop trail that we missed runs through the large culvert of the beginnings of the Oro Valley Wash. We walk through a mesquite bosque with a canopy of winter’s more bare branches. On each ridge there are multitudes of robust saguaros sprouting.
The sun is getting low in the sky and shadows are longer, light accents the terrain. We chance upon the most varied, pronounced and well developed crested saguaro as we have encountered. It has the crest, but more than ten fingers have sprouted from it.
It also has an elephant trunk like branch or arm, unlike others.
Next to it stands a skeleton of a dead friend. There are two ribs toward the frayed top. The only sound is the “tap tap” as they sway in a light breeze. Its thick ribs are fused together, and a strong support. This might explain why these patches of saguaros are looking so healthy and huge.
Our timing impeccable, we climb into the truck and drive slowly into the glaring sunset.