DF and I are having Birthdays a week apart. Her celebration is first. She had a number of festivities this week and a well-attended party last week and a celebration birthday suit backpack trip on Mt. Lemmon. Today, my Birthday, we are heading out in our birthday suits again, to camp and hike in the Santa Rita Mountains and explore Gardener Canyon.
It has been decades since either of us have been here. She has come nearby with her women’s group outings. I last visited with my now defunct Southern Arizona Naturist Society (SANS). I have written a story of that outing and its nudity strategy and need some pictures to go with it. Our intention is to also make a new story today.
We are heading south at the Border Patrol checkpoint. There is new policy which requires us to slow down and nearly stop, even though we are heading south. We struggle to look for anyone waving people through as the truck in front of us stops completely. There is no one. DF mentions the probable cameras. Oh well. I think that there is a privacy issue, but it is probably just a safety precaution to have people slow down on the narrow two lane highway. There is not a Federal legal issue with carnuding.
We are on Highway 83, which heads down to Sonoita. A green sign marked Gardner Canyon has us turning off. The road is immediately unpaved after a cattle guard. As I pull off the gravely dirt into a parking area, a sign greets us, which warns of illegal border crossing activities. I need to get out, adjust the lockers and get in a more steady four wheel drive high.
We stretch after our hour long drive. DF looks on affectionately at a big black bumble bee on a purple thistle’s flower. As I lean into the truck and over the driver’s seat to grab a paper towel, a camper truck lumbers by on the road. We can’t really be sure if they notice. DF laughs. Perhaps they think that two people were just caught changing clothes.
We drive through rolling hills of golden dry tall grasses, which look like wheat. Mesquite are green dots among the gold.
We pass a huge complex of a ranch called Apache Springs in the valley to the left. It looks prosperous with its pond, taller cottonwoods and many acres of fenced horse corrals.
Soon, taller mesquite and other species line the side of the road.
It often only takes a ditch to catch enough water for them to live.
This is more and more lush. As the elevation rises, alligator juniper and scrub oak forest appear. These form a canopy and shade begins to cross the road.
We are wandering. There is a dry creek on the right. Public unimproved campsites pop up here and there. I look for signs that one of these is the one that we used back in the late 1990’s.
We come to a barbed wire gate and a sign announcing the Federal lands and a trailhead. DF gets out, as I look at lichen on the trunk of an Alligator Juniper’s bark. These are easy to identify, as the bark is so much like an alligators back.
I pull through to inspect the spot and read all of the signs. The air smells so very pleasant through here. There are a lovely plethora of various specie’s pine scents floating through on the breeze in various combinations.
We have looked at the terrain from Google satellite images. We have pieces of information leading to a trailhead. We may, or may not venture up the Gardner Canyon Trail. It leads to the intersection of Walker Basin Trail #136. It is that piece of the Arizona Trail that we took last October:
On the satellite image, I saw a fork in the road and there may be a road leading down some switchbacks to another valley. It is near the trailhead. I’m looking for the places that we camped and hiked with SANS.
We find an off shoot and drive down it in case it is that fork in the road. We find only a campfire ring.
We get out and follow this road, which worsens into a trail, then on foot. I hope to see the other side of the hill and see where the other road might go.
There had been a fire here and everything seems younger.
We hike up through manzanita bushes. There are berries, but not quite ripe. They are green and bitter.
The juniper berries are too old.
We hear a truck out on the main road, now a very rough conveyance. The vista is obscured by the foliage.
We can’t see what is on the other side of the ridge and return to the truck after this pleasant walk.
Mexican Mountains can be seen in the distance south, as the wind blows across our bodies in the warm sun.
We had originally planned a trip up to the Wilderness of Rocks on Mt. Lemmon, but it would be only a high in the upper sixties and high winds at 8000 feet. This trip is a nudist’s backup plan. Here it is only seven to ten degrees cooler than Tucson’s 90F degree heat. The mid-eighties temperature with this breeze is panning out to be a great choice.
We head back onto the main road through the forest. That truck is coming back toward us. We have the higher side of the road. I roll down the window and greet a middle aged man who is smiling at us and ask him what is ahead.
“A locked steel gate.” He replies.
The angle of view hides our nudity from the other traveler. We have a pleasant conversation of several minutes. He has just returned to this place after visiting twenty years before, too.
The trailhead and gate isn’t a long way, in fact quite a lot shorter a distance than our acquaintance had told us. I guess a tough drive on a road, makes it seem longer.
We are out of the forest in a parking lot atop a ridge.
The old road, now just a trail, leads up into the magnificent mountains in the distance. A Toyota with a camouflage paint job is parked here. I suspect that it belongs to hikers. No one is around.
There is a curious trail called “LINK” that leads downhill through the short bushy juniper trees. It is broad. It could be used for horses. It could be what we saw as switchbacks in the satellite image. We decide to find that out. We have a pre-lunch snack, then grab cameras and water and we set out.
This is a mass of loose sharp mauve rocks.
Each step must be cautious, so not to slip. A few hundred feet down and we are able to get off the trail to see around the bend and what is below. There is a green valley. We see a spot that reveals a road under the canopy.
This is what we saw and it may well be the road that we took to our campsite 20 years ago. This must be Cave Canyon.
As we return to the trail, we hear a drone in the air above us. It is obviously a swarm of bees. We look up, but can’t see them. Wearing only shoes, the unpredictability of a swarm of bees, on an exposed hill on a windy day takes our attention. We stand still and unsure. It passes on as I begin to see them too close for comfort.
The descent continues.
DF tries to remind me that we’ll have to comeback this way, uphill. I’m already on her page, but I’m determined to find that old more familiar spot and refresh my memories. I set aside the memories of the pain that I got from backpacking more than the distance up the stairs of the Empire State building a week before.
We cut back and forth into the little canyon below, listening to the wind and the birds. It levels out into a wooded creek bed. There has been much erosion here during a heavy flood, perhaps washout after the fire’s destruction. There is river rock exposed everywhere. Every color is represented, but greens.
We have fun appreciating the diversity as we carefully look down, stepping through the collection. The Earth produces such abundance.
Something falls from a tree into the dried leaves next to us, clunk. We look up, but can’t figure it out. There are seed balls up there. Perhaps it was one of those falling off.
We continue like a walk in the park. A pond of water appears across the trail.
DF takes pictures like a thirsty Arizonan with a fascination for ANY water. I find the new trail that goes around it and take my photos from the other side. Just downstream there is another, smaller, with its associated green plants and flowers.
I walk up the creek hopping from one large rock to another and find a fence.
This was it. Twenty years ago, there was a gentle spring of a creek and topsoil. All of that has been destroyed in a flood, but I sense the proximity and know that this is it. If we head downstream, we will find a road and a campsite.
We come across an old hulk, a tree that has been damaged by fire. As it sits in grand character next to the trail, DF taps it, knocking and asking where the fairies are. It has a hollowed sound.
The road appears very soon. A steel barrier has been erected, shutting off the past through way, except to horses bikes and walkers.
It feels a little brazen walking down an unknown road with nothing to cover with toward campsites, but we have seen only two vehicles all day. We are heading up a hill and back down, blind to what may be on the other side, but not reckless.
DF notices a pool of water in a rock gully below.
She quickly finds a way to get to it, while taking pictures of the smooth conglomerate surfaces cascading from eons of cascading rain waters.
She is fascinated by a cave-like feature sculptured into the rock.
I follow DF, climbing on the given smooth bedrock path, stepping carefully.
We are looking for a place to sit and cool our feet. Soon enough, DF is taking her shoes off and placing her feet into the chilled water.
My feet soon follow. It is a pleasure, just right.
As I relax, my memory is jarred and I remember passing this spot 20 years before. The campsite must be near.
We soak and watch the unusual water bugs. One has racing stripe markings; the other seems patterned after a Gila Monster. Butterflies leave their shadows, as they travel. The rock that we sit on is a beautiful conglomerate specimen and a dragonfly decides to rest with us.
While we sit here, a vehicle can be heard down the road heading our way. It passes above. It is that camouflage four runner from the other trailhead. We hear it parking at the barrier at the end of the road. We have no choice but to return that way. We are comfortable with that.
We stand. The points of a holly leaf have made themselves comfortable where I sat on it. There is a quick pointed sting as the shape of my body changes, a little surprise. It is all about being of Earth. I have nothing to insulate me from the experience today.
After our refreshment, we start down the trail. The campsite could be anywhere. So much has changed. It is still like a walk in the park as we stroll on holding hands.
The campsite must be further and we are hungry. We take the road back. I can follow this up later.
As we catch sight of the steel barrier across the road below, we hear voices. The camouflage 4runner’s two occupants are still with it. We casually walk past the SUV. There is a man in a camouflage uniform standing at his back door. He is counting small bits of something on his back seat. His back is to us. He is so intent toward task, that I wonder if they will see us at all.
He glances over his shoulder at us, and nods, then goes back to his focused counting of objects. The other, who stands on the opposite side doing the same, probably can’t see us for his friend’s body. We see only the top of his cap. Two naked bodies are not important enough for a second glance, or friendly conversation….
The second part of our search and celebration in Gardner Canyon will be published in the coming week.