We have been doing more and more difficult climbs to be in shape for backpacking up to Miller Peak in the Huachuca Mountains. Carr Peak is a neighbor. Climbing it will tell us how much water we will have to carry to Miller Peak and give us a better idea of what is in store for us. By the end of this day, we will have had a cumulative elevation gain of around 2800 ft. and then back down, all in about six and a half miles. This will cover about half of the trek to Miller Peak.
The monsoon rains are winding down. After weeks of nearly daily rains, these mountains may be in a floral splendor according to a Forest Ranger that I talked to. The weather is looking perfect, it’s in the mid-seventies and there is little chance of rain.
We drive up Friday evening after work. I have the back of the SUV set up as a bed, so all that we have to do is eat, grab our bags and hit the trail Saturday morning.
The Forest Service has warned us that we will probably need the SUV because the road is so rough after the rains. The road leads out of Carr Canyon, turns to dirt and immediately begins to climb. It is an extreme compilation of switchbacks. In the dark each bump catches the headlights and looks very deep and nasty. Many of the tighter turns require the entire turning radius of the truck. On the right side, where I can’t see to be warned, some of those turns have a mysterious deep bump surprise after the turn.
The road thins to a width for one car. It narrows because debris has washed down into it on one side. On the other side, the cliffs have whittled away the edge. I’m tired and ready to sleep, but I must have patience.
On occasion, I’m able to glance up at the very bright stars in the clear night sky. Down in the city of Sierra Vista, far below, the town lights seem to be a matching field of stars.
At around 7200 feet of elevation there is a campground. We simply pull into the parking lot meant for hikers. There are only a couple of cars up here. We get out and stretch. The sky is stunning up here. The Milky Way is a stream thick like cream.
I blow up the mattresses, lay out the sheet and quilt and we are soon asleep.
We awaken and DF points out that a truck has parked right next to us. I have no clothes and climb around and over the seats looking to find something to wear in public.
Breakfast is taken on a large flat rock as we gather up our sleepy heads and sniff the pine scent in the air.
There is still a chill in the air. I wander through my chores in thermal long johns and a long sleeve t-shirt.
Already I have a curious guy on a mountain bike staring at me. Others are up making their rounds. We figure that the new truck contained day hikers, already on the trail, who were up at sunrise. The other truck must be backpackers, sleeping in the wilderness. All of the campground’s tent occupants are accounted for. There apparently aren’t many up here with us.
These mountains sustained two tremendous fires, one in 1977 and another in 1991. My brother’s windows look up to these mountains. I remember sitting gazing at their view covered in dark pine trees. That was destroyed. I thought it to be tragic at the time. Black sticks and rocky bare ground took the glory away from the vista. I thought of the mature forest stands that went on for miles.
Today, we begin in a manzanita grove. Walking through, we find that the mountains are green.
There are still a few patches of the tall original trees left in the distance and those at the campground. We have no idea what vegetation to expect. I have read that there are many spots where aspen are spreading out in healthy groves, again.
We are here to test ourselves and have a workout. Our pace is quicker than usual as we march out of the campground. My body rapidly begins to warm, blood flowing, muscles getting adjusted to the flow. Soon, at this elevation more oxygen is used. My whole system is waking up along with my sense of being alive.
I did read information from one source where a seasoned hiker was complaining about the rocks in the trail. We soon understand her complaint. The bed of the trail is just covered with unavoidable rocks.
It is like litter in the groove of the path. I see where others have been wearing a path on the slope at the edge where there is soil. I suspect that the phrase, “Hard to do,” originated with a hiker on a mountain trail like this. I don’t know yet, but these same hard conditions will continue all during our coming day. In all, maybe a ¼ mile on this mountain will relieve us with its more gravel-like surfaces. Where there is soil, there will always be a layer of mud.
We pass out of manzanita into a grass path, which leads us into a grove of tall pines, the survivors. The old brown pine needles coat the floor. Here in the shade of the canopy, the sun beams down, spotlighting the treasures. A large yellow flowers, simple like a daisy, stands alone in the glow of light surrounded by the browns and reds of pines, that are still in shadow.
We choose to use to rearrange our belongings near a circle of standing rocks. A couple of mushrooms are pushing their way up through the dirt. There is a sense of finality as I am stripping off my clothing and stuffing it into my pack. I can leave off the coverings until around 11pm, when the sun begins to intensify. Then, I’ll slip my sarong over my shoulders. DF wraps her white shirt around the straps of her water bottles to keep them from digging into her shoulders.
These trees are tall. My neck stretches up to see them topping in the turquoise sky. This will be wonderful weather to wander naked in.
We walk on. For a while, the multitudes of rocks to step on are replaced by an abundance of unavoidable pinecones.
Once out of the grove, we are looking out at the vista with the city below. A huge white balloon with fins is hovering in the sky nearly at our altitude. This is a smuggling corridor. This is the government’s radar balloon watching for illegal aircraft. It is tethered from the ground like that huge pig from the Pink Floyd album.
Curiously, looking down in the other direction, toward the border, is the wall.
The vegetation has a youthful feel about it.
The trees are young; flowers pop out here and there.
There is recovery everywhere, a new generation. Barren rock is being covered with pastoral fields and new life with new shade.
The promised aspen groves appear on either side of the trail. It feels like walking into a new room.
They are thick and rooted together. It is dark and if not for this trail, there would be little room to walk in the dark thicket.
The shade from these new trees keeps the sun from baking out the moister. The soil is home to many green plants.
We are surprised by the lush conditions.
Out of the aspen, more biodiversity has returned to what reminds us of a jungle of thick moist growth.
Mushrooms grow on either side of the trail, popping out of the soft mulch.
There are different fungi species protected between the larger rocks in the more harsh surfaces of the trail. This has the quality of a rain-forest, a new rain-forest before ancient maturity.
Outside of the micro-climate of a forest the plants that once were abundant here are coming out of the hillsides. Pine trees, yet to tower over and rule, are as large fluffy babies.
Berry bushes rise as small trees and form thickets. No longer squelched by the dominate tree canopy, they can cover larger areas. I imagine bears flourishing from the greater stocks in their mountainside grocery.
The protected shady forest that once covered this mountain is gone but for patches, but I’ll bet that the diversity is now much better. Variety can thrive. There is more to eat. There is change.
There is a different kind mountain to know after every few hundred feet of the trail.
Further up the trail, the flora still looks like destruction.
Black sticks, which were formally pine trees, still rise out of the fluffy invasive buffle grass, which holds soil, but chokes out the rest of the potential for life.
This area has a sad quality to it. I find that there is a sense of wholesale loss of the beauty that was once here. The sense settles in the pit of my stomach. The chard sticks are like flags, which constantly remind everyone of the flip side of life, fire, Shiva.
Climbing ever higher, this desolate feel is replaced by new life.
Wild flowers in several colors take over these hills.
There is amazing recovery here.
A thick cover of new deciduous trees takes over.
New oaks are merely bushes, but there are acorns on them and they are dispersing. We are covered with the caress of thousands of leaves and thin branches, as we pass through. Each species is jockeying to expand and elbow the next. They have crept into the trail and jostle us, as well. Naked, I realize how we as a mobile species are simply another aspect of a bigger picture. We are not a special species. We are just one more that happens to be here living around the rest today.
We are a part of all of this.
Along the trail, bare rock is exposed.
One piece appears to be as a petrified tree. It’s shape matches as if an old hollowed log, its texture is like sun bleached bone.
The color of rock is changing, too. White, turns to reddish browns, some white quartz pops up, or shines like a special jewel amongst the darker stones. An exposed sheet may be copper, green, or red, all in a million hews.
We see a mine down the hill.
We eventually find shade in a colorful meadow. Under this oak tree is a slab of distinctly purple stone.
It is big enough to sit on comfortably. We strip off our loads and immediately feel that lovely freedom in the mass of sensual discovery. It’s that blessing which only a completely naked body can receive.
The sensual discovery brings us to a chill while we sit in the shade. The rock slab is also covered in shade. A slight breeze brings clarity to the sensation. Then, I embrace it, experience it fully and a lively comfort comes to me.
We are tired and intend to rest, but the place excites us. DF wanders into the sunlight again, the archetype of a beautiful brown nude woman in a field of flowers, the hillside dropping off to turquoise and fluffy clouds in the distance. It is as if below us, as we wander on the top of the world.
She wanders carefully off of the trail. There are so many flowering plants that it is difficult to pass through stepping, without destroying a blooming life at its peak. There is an important larger experience worth the effort, however. A small tree is drooping with bundles of berries.
She stands before it inspecting the small sizes, the color, deciding if it has any hidden dangers. As she contemplates, she stretches away the constraints of a load on a trail, bending her body from side to side, arms up and out as far as they will go. The nature of the wonder of this moment in life is intoxicating. She leans forward, leaving her feet in place so as to not crush another plant and reaches into the tree’s bounty.
The little berries must be gently picked, a few at a time, so as to leave any for the local wildlife. Then, they are to be tested.
I have followed her interest, taking a few photos along the way. She hands me a small pile. They are sweet and tart. They have an earthy wild quality. They leave a scarlet mess on my hand. This is real. It just seems so real.
I return to the trail, squatting down to get just the correct angle for the camera. I want color in the foreground, color everywhere as it seems and that sky with its sense of infinity. I want the observer to see this as I see it, amazed by the mass and variety of color and shape.
The purple rock is a good place for the first snack of the day. It is a little craggy.
I place the folded sarong down to cushion that. We have stopped to rest, but there has been little loss of movement. The wonderment of this mountain continues to spirit us.
Happy New Year!
We still have to wrap around this mountain get to the top of Carr Peak from the backside and then get back down. We didn’t know it at the time, but this hike will have stunning surprises for us. Next Week Part II….