We have had the Green Mountain Trail on the bucket list for several years. Our destination is an off shoot of the Green Mountain Trail called Maverick Springs Trail. My internet research has shown me that there is a concrete cistern there with water “always.” We can’t be certain according to the Forest Service representative on the phone. She has never been there.
We start up the Mt. Lemmon Highway at its base, the saguaro studded desert foothills suddenly begin to climb steeply here. Sometimes, it becomes shear jagged granite cliffs painted in various tones of tans and grey.
Saguaro love to populate this radical geology and today they are exceptionally busy with their annual blooming. Each top, every arm is decorated with a thick bouquet of green buds and each main stalk appears to be wearing a head dress.
Many have blossomed into characteristic white flowers with their yellow pollinated stamens dusting the countryside. We have been in two years of drought, but the plethora of monarchs is producing an exception this year. Perhaps they know something. Perhaps our monsoons will return soon and create that time’s flourish of opportunistic life.
This is the beginning, marked by the distinct shadow of a raptor gliding on the cliff face and then across the road. A wild twisting road carries us up through these mountains to a parking lot, one mile higher.
We observe several ecosystems as we climb and the temperature drops from high 90F’s to pleasant 70F’s. The forecast warns us of high winds and gusts of up to 40mph for the next two days. There is concern that the chill factor will make our nude adventure uncomfortable. We are taking a gamble, but our destination is a trail on the steep heavily wooded northeast side of the mountain range. The forecast is a wind from the southwest. My hope is a general wind-block by the mountain and what wind is left skirting overhead in the treetops. There is only the warm sun in turquoise skies for hundreds of miles around.
When I pull into the trailhead parking lot, there is no one else about. A thick brush hides it from the highway. I park next to that, for privacy. We gather our packs. I am hoping for the freedom to walk to the trailhead nude. Still, I have the doors opened to block the view of any intrusions abruptly turning off of the highway.
My pack is on. I walk around to get the last of my gear on the other side of the car, when another sedan pulls up bearing two smiling teenage girls on a lark. DF hands me her white shirt. I wrap it around my waist and tuck it into the waist belt of my backpack. She notes that the front of the arrangement is open and exposed, but that is no matter. I can walk to the trailhead with my back to the young women. They will probably assume that I have shorts on under it.
DF in her short sundress, me in a ragged old Hawaii shirt protecting my shoulders and we are ready for an overnight outing. This is our first backpack trip of the year. We are carrying extra weight today in case the weather chills from this current pleasant state.
Our destination is an off shoot of the Green Mountain Trail called Maverick Springs. My internet research has shown me that there is a concrete cistern there with water “always.” When I called the Forest Service, no one could tell me if there would be water there during this two year dry spell. None of them had ever been on the trail. We have to pack in the weighty liquid matter and be frugal with it. Our packs are heavier still, but we have water.
I know it to be only a two and a half mile trek to the spring. The rest of the Green Mountain Trail leads to lower elevations at General Hitchcock Campground. We would have to return twice as far uphill, or bring an extra car, or hitch a ride, if we went down to Hitchcock.
I also noticed, when I observed the Google satellite images, that the more exposed other half of this trail has sustained heavy fire damage. Instead of hiking the entire trail, I have chosen to drop only around 1250 feet of elevation with some added up and down, up and down. This will save us the hassles and another one thousand feet of drop. This should be a good start to see what condition our condition is in this year.
I compare with the day hiking that we have been doing and notice the extra weight on my calves after only a short distance.
This will get us a good workout toward a new season.
The following weekend, we plan to be doing twice the hike at another 2000 feet of elevation in the Wilderness of Rocks.
I am done with the borrowed shirt within a couple of hundred feet. I thank DF and tuck it into her pack.
The trail rises to a saddle and then sharply descends to meet what is a segment of the famous “Arizona Trail.” The Arizona trail continues from south at the Mexican border to Utah, through our never ending collection of environmental habitats.
I hear voices, and then see a group below us on what appears to be a switchback. I decide to take our policy to just grin and bare it, as if nothing unusual. I eventually discover that they are on another trail.
Soon, I hear DF comment peacefully about the scent of warm pines and we discover the posted plaque that directs us at the junction of several trails. We are traveling on course confidently.
There is a light breeze whisking in the treetops on occasion. Sometimes it makes its way to our bodies, as we listen to the various songs of birds around us.
The trail itself can be a pleasant walk, but very often the decent and steep mountainside combine to present us with a slippery slope. The soil is loose. Much of the exposed granite surface has crumbling unstable gravel and sand covering it. We rely on careful footing, exposed tree roots, contours of the rock and quicker movement where we stair-step down the thin pathway. It is a different experience to keep balance with these heavier than usual packs.
There was a fire years ago, most of the dead trees have fallen.
There is plenty of new growth in between the surviving mature growth. It seems that foliage is rarely far from us. For a short while there are numerous small oaks coming up. Thin new branches are falling across the path. Their caress is lovely on our hips as we pass through.
DF stops to touch the leaves with her hand. She swoons and speaks to the young trees, praising them for their velvety soft leaves. Here and there, a variety of dainty flowers contrast in the forest of greys and greens. Orchestras of trumpets blare colors on various mountain plants along the way.
There are sections of geology.
For a while, as we look down for careful footing, the sun catches a glistening landscape of mica. Mica is prominent, in everything. We discover mica dust has collected on our ankles. The bottoms of DF’s legs look like someone has placed glitter on them.
We hear women talking somewhere behind us on the trail. We try to stop and let them pass, but discover that they are too involved and making slow time. Going up a saddle crest with numerous switchbacks, we are constantly having the nature of the place bombarded by the less genuine sound of chatter and opinion. Finally, we just stop at a slightly wider piece of trail, wait for them and get them to pass. Five women with a white pit-bull on a leash slide by. I keep my back to them on the tight passage, DF facing them. I turn my head and smile my hello. They finally stop talking for about thirty feet. Within twelve feet of trail past us, the chatter resumes. DF chuckles and tells me that the dog sniffed my butt, as if pointing it out to its pack of comrades.
A Friend’s Shelter:
We resume our walking. Soon, there is a rich soft lemon scent on the wind, like one of those spongy sweet cakes.
We enter into a stretch of tall pines and DF points out the huge exposed roots of a large ponderosa pine. These roots sit at the edge of the trail and it is discovered that they make a fine chair-like seating area. It is time for lunch. We strip. She lays her folded shirt down and I lay down my folded sarong for a cushion.
We eat our sandwiches, looking out across the vast San Pedro River Valley far below, then the Galiuro Mountains and further mountain ranges, framed by the trees. The gigantic old tree cradles us as we lean back to stare at the rich blues in the sky. We are communing with a friend, a parent in the woods, and find love for it, thank it, and wish it well. The thick trunk rises straight until at the very tip of the upended vision of a funnel, a very few branches hide the glare of the sun. It seems so little to be supported by such a towering figure. I decide to name this significant landmark “Ben” after Ben Cartwright in the now ancient TV series “Bonanza.”
There is a pine tree with dead branches like an old hoop skirt. We find it unusual. Usually, there are only dead branches on one side of these trees because of sun and weather.
I feed DF some of the abundant pickles from my sandwich, hand to waiting mouth. Her hands hold a less sloppy sandwich wrapped in cellophane. I have found an old forgotten energy bar in a less frequented part of my pack. Dessert is possibly the last Pomegranate/Chia Cliff Bar on the planet.
I have been trying out the use of an old Hawaii shirt to protect my shoulders from sun and to cushion the pack straps. I have found that it only collects perspiration on my back and the mesh of my pack can’t breathe well. I decide to end the experiment and go back to my folded sarong on my shoulders. It is a better cushion. When I place my backpack, I immediately notice the breeze wrapping around my torso freely unlike before. Once again, I am shown how efficient and a blessing a nude body is.
We feel as though we have made a friend. We gather our gear and leave this place with its presence of a graceful mammoth being.
The trail leads us. A creaky dead pine is heard through a more silent grove, then, the wind above can be heard in the distance.
I get ahead of DF and decide to rest using an old stump to support my backpack and water. DF comes over the rise and discovers me. The stump has a sharp edge. It is directly next to my lower back. The weight of the pack has me trapped. I smile at DF and ask for help. It is a silly mess. DF laughs and begins to take pictures. Eventually she stops laughing and helps me lift without scraping myself.
We come to the junction of Maverick Spring Trail. It is here that we have a decision to make. We are tired and I could identify with that creaky pine that was heard earlier. We had discussed further exploration from here. We are curious to see the saddle, just what is beyond and when the burnt-out area that I had seen by satellite begins.
There is time.
There are plenty of stout young pines here. We search for a spot off of the trail and wrap our backpacks around one of them. We are concerned about an animal carrying off of our survival. Most humans probably wouldn’t be so interested, if they found them. All we need are cameras and a bottle of water. Nothing else. This isn’t a particularly busy trail and 98 out of 100 people just won’t be bothered by naked humans. So, two ambassadors for nudity walk off freely into the wilderness. It feels good to get the load and coverings off of our backs.
As we climb toward the saddle, it becomes evident that the predicted extreme winds have been pounding the other side of the Mountain. We see trees with branches waving like flags on one distant Mountaintop.
It is apparent why the vistas today have been clouded with dust.
At the top of this ridge, there is a plaque with directions. We have taken a four tenths of a mile walk to get here. Not far into the distance, the vegetation is composed of black sticks and reddish brown surfaces of remnants of forest fire. I pull my hat down tight on my head, sometimes holding the brim to keep it on.
We have been fortunate, the plan to mitigate the weather has worked. The other side of the mountain is cold and harsh. It must have also been a southwest wind the day that the forest burned.
We walk back in gratitude.
On Maverick Trail:
We find our belongings intact and head down the trail to the spring.
There is a significant change in the vibe from the more beaten path. Here something more pristine, less used, more natural. The sound is clear, the vegetation less stark, even the very rock surfaces begin to display rich color here.
This magic trail is more, and then less, distinct, as it wanders downhill. A pink/red rock pokes through the trees in striking contrast.
There is a path to it. We explore. This is a beautiful spot. There is a vista and a flat spot with a campfire ring. There will be no fires allowed up here until the rains come.
We find a change eventually. The trail is covered in ferns. It is darker and with a forest’s magical charm. A calm is evident. This is different from the rugged steep cliff-side tramp that we have been on. In this thick place the trail is lost and then found.
The soil is rich and black topsoil is covered with dry brown leaves. On steep slopes, this is a new kind of slippery.
The ferns are as tall as our necks and I must push them back to see the trail and my next step below their canopy. It is fun. These ferns are all over our bodies as we pass through.
We are looking for the concrete box that I saw in internet pictures that holds the bounty of the spring. Life would be much better with abundance of water and perhaps I may come back to here sometime.
The trail has all but disappeared. I find a few tracks where the ground has been disturbed, probably by humans. We create a couple of cairns for our reference and take strong note of our surroundings and anything significant to find our way back.
The trail has us climbing under fallen trees and then over them, straddling them. We hang on before sliding on slippery steep slopes. It is more like bushwhacking. The backpacks are awkward. We have to be aware to protect our naked bodies. The experience of nature is getting closer.
Destination for the Day:
Eventually, we find our way to a more open area, a shady flat and relatively level area. There is an old circle of rocks for a campfire, but there will be none tonight. We quickly realize that we are at the end of the trail and this is one of only two level spots that we have seen all day. We are home. We are exhausted. It didn’t look so challenging on the computer screen and maps.
We spread out our foam mats, lie down next to each other on our backs and do nothing else. We have earned a rest and will take it. We watch the treetops move, smell the fallen leaves and take note of our stretching bodies and some pain from the exertions. DF smiles and tells me about her day with our granddaughter at the movies and the imaginary storybook world of Peter Rabbit. The world can wait.
This is a lovely place, but for sudden gusts, which literally howl through the tree tops. The wind whips around and assaults us with its force. The calm in the shelter of these trees returns.
We clean the site and set up the net tent. The tarp might become more of a problem in the wind, so we will sleep top free under stars. Our quilt and clothing will be warm.
There is no food needing to be cooked today, so we bide our time exploring the immediate vicinity and imbibing the blessings. We are on a hillside looking through trees. There is a flat rock for two to perch. This will be our dining room and a place for a comfortable meditation.
The wind sneaks in here a bit more, but as the sun disappears, we sit nude, watching the sky change during sunset. From the south, a large cumulus cloud appears over the mountain, a thick dark one with one of those silver linings. We have seen none of these today. It even blocks out the sun for a short time as it passes and then turns toward the west.
Wispy pink and yellow clouds become peach and the earth makes its transition.
We place one layer of clothing on at a time as the heat of the sun gradually disappears.
I have hung our bear bag in a tree with a long black cord and then wrapped it through the nearby trees. It is a sort of trip wire. I have two small bright flashlights to hold up like monster eyes, if we hear anything. Hopefully, we don’t scare a skunk in the night.
We climb into our net tent and point, as we discover one and then another and another star. Rolling to the side, we see that the sun has placed rich colors in the sky. Silhouettes of trees are gorgeous with the background. We hold each other affectionately in wonder, but sleep soon takes us.
In the night, I awake having fallen asleep too early. There is nothing to do, but watch the stars pass and listen to the wind.
Part II will be published next week.