After a day babysitting grand-daughter, we are on our way south to the cute little town of Patagonia. We get ice for the cooler at a Tucson convenience store and immediately strip in the parking lot. Tonight, we will get closer to the trailhead for an early morning hike, high into the southern end of the Santa Rita Mountains.
On the way south, I have DF read an article in the latest issue of “N” Magazine about “naking” or naked hiking. We decide that we are not too fond of the contraction, but the attitude fits well. The authors stated that they have been hiking the Appalachian Trail for years, nude. They don’t cover up, they just act as if they are oblivious that they are naked and hundreds of people during encounters, have treated them in that way in the exchanges. I had written out my thinking on the topic and we share that. I have mentioned before, my intention to take this different tactic in my hiking. I then propose that we both take this weekend in that way, stuffing my sarong and her shirt away into the backpack. We’ll greet others in this manner and see how it goes. We can’t liberate others, if we are not liberated ourselves. We also need to explore our feelings during such encounters and recondition our learned behavior. DF concurs.
We are excited, already feeling a sense of adventure, as we drive down the winding two lane road and dusk turns to night.
It is dark as we arrive in the sleepy town. We find our turn off at a lone street light and drive out through a quiet residential area into the foothills of grassland. We are in the southern region of the Santa Rita Mountains. The road soon changes into FR72 and dirt. I step out to adjust my 4×4 lockers. I remember the road was very rough and slippery. Tonight we will find a place to set up the quick dome tent and go to sleep. We are after an earlier start.
The dark road through tall trees in the little canyon soon becomes a mass of river rock. It is very rough. At a sign designating FR72A, it becomes a slippery steep climb. I find that four wheel low range is better suited. The headlights make every rock look larger, sharper and more imposing than in daylight. It is a slow go. We put the windows down to imbibe the scents of the fresh evening air.
We see a flat spot. It might make a nice camp. It is relatively level, but I decide to look for a better spot.
About an hour from Patagonia, after wrestling with this difficult road, I ask DF to not allow me to talk her out of the next level camping spot. I make a very tired grin.
We are in an area of tall dry grasses. There has been a lack of rain. I excavate and we set up for the evening. I hear noises near us. As I suspect, I see the silhouettes belonging to three sets of eyes glowing from the dull shine of my flashlight. It is voyeur cattle. They are spying on us. I toss a stone their way into a bush and they bolt.
Because we made such good time, we sit in our two chairs and watch the ¾ full moon illuminate the surroundings for a time. It is quiet, but for a cricket. Soon we are feeling tired.
As we climb out of the tent’s zippered door, the sun is just spreading its golden morning light about the area. It is just beginning to peek over the hills that surround us. There is a mild chill, but I have a long sleeve T-shirt on.
I see golden illumination not far from me, just up the hill couple of hundred feet. Experience has taught me to walk briskly toward its warmth. I find my spot to greet the sun. I pray, stretch and do a little chi gong. The silence is stark. As if in a vacuum, there is no sound at all. The noise of my mind is in contrast to this peace. The silence calms the monkey mind and models for my brain to put its dialog aside and focus on empty wholeness.
Very soon, the t-shirt is ripped over my head and tossed aside. I am soaking in the natural warmth all over my body. So much for clothing on this day. We are committed to be nude no matter what, or who, and I am excited by the sense of liberation.
I break down camp and we eat a quick delicious cinnamon, pear almond concoction, before leaving. The silence is wonderful, but the sound of our chewing is thunderous amongst it. DF grabs a few shots of some amber sap hanging from a mesquite tree, while I finish up.
We have discovered that we are in an old clearing for a mining operation. These mountains have seen lots of ad hoc miners over the years.
Abandoned mines are scattered about in many spots. We snap a few shots to document.
Even today, the locals are fighting an opportunistic short term venture that would permanently destroy the charm, lifestyle and community.
There are several more miles to cover before the trailhead.
We lumber off in our rumbling beast up the difficult road. It just gets worse and gives more and more challenges.
We pass a landmark. It is a trail that we may take another day. We now know that it is less traveled, less cared for and runs along through a wet canyon. The terrain would be similar to this one, with many large rocks to traverse and places for rattlesnakes to hide. Today’s route will be just fine.
Another hour up an even steeper road, we come to the trailhead, which lies under the thick cover of some trees. The creek next to it has an old concrete dam. It has long ago filled with sand and a large cottonwood tree has tapped into the healthy situation. It is like a giant potted plant. In the foreground, yellow flowers make the old grey hulk look pleasant.
There is a sign informing us of the distances to each significant spot. The bottom line states Utah, 734 miles. This is a section of the famous Arizona Trail. It may be better cared for and more people, or maybe not.
The old road, which is now a only a trail, immediately begins to climb steeply. The information that we have labels this hike as “more difficult.” It is soon apparent that it is. The next mile is slippery and shale-like. Occasionally there is climbing on larger rocks. It is nearly a stair step slope.
Starting at 5700 ft., the elevation gain is only 1200 ft., but is a challenge for us. We stop several times in the shade as the cool morning slowly rises into the 90F’s.
We are glad to be naked. We have to drink plenty of water in the 8% humidity of the air. Each stop is that much better, when watching the vista behind us. We see the little town, the mountains to the south of it and Mexican territory beyond, which begins the Sierra Madre range.
The silence is broken by the crunch of our feet, as the millions of rocks grind and slip over each other.
The vegetation varies from spot to spot. There is always a dominate plant community. There are a few trees taller than a large bush. Pinion pine and manzanita often trade off dominance. We begin to recognized areas like these, calling them Manzanita alley, juniper alley, etc.
The old road becomes switchbacks then widens again. During a lull in the stair-step climbing, we are allowed to walk together side by side, hand in hand.
Eventually, we are relieved to see the junction of trail #137, it has been a march. Here the Arizona trail wanders off toward Gardner Canyon.
Our goal is to stay on #136. DF walks down the wrong trail a bit and declares that she has now attended yet another section of the AZ Trail. She asks me for a documenting picture. We’re collecting, now.
We are now on what we would surmise to be a busier trail. It soon passes over a saddle to the north face of this mountain. As the trail begins, the ecology becomes of an entirely different character. The second part of the story is the next post.