Waking up to the birds singing, a gentle refreshing scented breeze flowing through the tent and the warmth of the new day’s sun coming through the screen through the trees is…good.
The view looking down at the reflective creek, the color of the rocks and the spring leaves lets us know just where we are…here.
One of our three neighbors comes up the road. There was mention of this yesterday, when we had met. The older man and the little girl would be working on a project at camp, while this walker is making his way to the top of Basset Peak. He’ll be gone for a while. I greet him from my bed, as he passes.
DF gets to her morning, while I lie about and stretch. The plan today is to get to a grove where the trail begins to switchback out of this verdant paradise. It is just about two and a half miles of wandering and then a return. We’ll just enjoy the walk.
We are just finishing packing up camp. I have moved our fire pit out of the middle of the trail, when we hear the mechanical drone of ATV’s coming. We have a casual reaction, as we know how rough and slow that road is for those that are approaching us. We have plenty of time to cover enough of ourselves.
I wrap on my kilt and DF decides to not be bothered. She sits down in her chair and drapes a covering to look dressed, like you might dress a paper doll.
I fold up the ground sheet, as the noisy rumble approaches the stream. I’m curious what they will do with that climb out that gave us a stick, yesterday. Here’s that story:
First a large man in a camouflage hunters outfit arrives with a young girl. He has a walky-talky and is giving gearing instructions to the ATV behind him. They make the climb, only backing up to correct and re-approach once.
A rotund woman is driving the next ATV. Her health tells me that these people won’t be making use of the coming trail on foot. As we wait, the young girl confirms, “We’re just out to enjoy the drive.”
The ATV slowly makes its climb, as the leader points where the wheels shall go.
Our former camp is in a cloud of bluish smoke and the smell of burning fuel, as the third party, which is in a jeep this time, comes to the slippery slope. He takes no worry as he gets stuck spinning his tires, rolls back and re-approaches. The Jeep does well, of course, but I’m concerned about the confidence of the driver. His passenger side is only inches from the large potentially ruinous boulder. He changes his tact even closer to the rock, unwittingly only about an inch away from caving in the bottom of his door panel. With a fool’s luck, they are shortly up the road and out of sight.
We relax the dress code, tighten up and start off. DF is in a sundress and a cotton white shirt in case the breeze picks up and it chills like yesterday. I wrap a sarong around me. DF accepts the backpack to start the day. It has a sweat shirt for me for any windy potential.
We’ve had a good breakfast and we’re packed with hardy sandwiches and an assortment of snacks. We find the ATV group as expected, sitting at the trailhead in folding chairs having a picnic in a circle.
We walk through their circle of the wagons and then through the broken gate that demands the end of vehicular passage. It is a short distance up the trail and we’re home free. The sarong goes into the pack.
Not long later, DF figures that she will be warm enough and packs up the sundress for the day.
The atmosphere feels very good. There is plenty of water in the creek wandering about the river rocks, ponding here and there, sometimes reflecting a rainbow of colors.
The trail is mostly and old rancher’s road, wide enough for the two of us to walk abreast, holding hands in delight.
The grade is not strenuous. The temperatures are wonderful for a naked body.
We spend our time sharing discoveries in this unfamiliar terrain. The fresh spring oak leaves shine out in the lower canopy, flashing me back to days with dogwood back east. Tan dead leaves are thick everywhere, covering the entire floor, much of the stream and up the slopes of the canyon.
It often reminds DF of the Huachucha Mountains where she used to roam, before a fire and consequent flooding wiped much of that away. My treasured Crystal Creek in the Chiracahuas was washed out, too. This place is in a much better condition and it has many unique qualities seen in these more remote mountains.
There is a lichen, a moss on the rocks here similar to what we have seen elsewhere, but more thick and rich.
Little green tentacles grow out of it longer and more prominently.
The road is blocked off by fallen trees occasionally. There has been no upkeep, due to government cutbacks on the Forest Service. We must climb over, or under them.
There is nothing convenient to the fallen tree obstacles. The pack must come off. The old log is riddled with woodpecker holes, like a machine gun has washed bullets across it. Now, ants and termites are slowly, but surely, clearing the trail.
In the middle of the road, as it tracks across a wide flat boulder, there is a bowl filled with leaves. I kick it clean. It is an old streamside matate. It is worn deep from native women grinding seeds into meals many years ago.
I image the people, most likely appropriately naked like me, sitting, hard at work streamside, pulverizing a collection of seeds each yearly season. I note the silence and the songs of birds, a canyon talking to me. I put myself in the shoes of these people long ago, before the white thieves brutally destroyed their lives. This rich abundance, of course, has been exploited by people for centuries.
Rock formations pop out of the forest’s canopy as we wander along. The cliffs are rich colors, of red and white, peaking out of a mixed forest of pine, juniper still with last year’s colors and the oak’s florescent new foliage.
There are hoodoos above and eroded cliffs with dark slits.
One is very apparent. It is a very large dark hole, obviously a home for the cliff dwelling native Americans of southwestern Arizona, at one time. I begin to study the forms high up there. There are many spots for people to habitate, like fortresses.
The rock formations pop out streamside, the trail climbs around their obstructions.
Most are round, many less so, being much newer arrivals. Everywhere, colorful lichen attaches to them.
The streams are filled with a plethora of river rock of various geological color, textures, and forms. This water flow has obviously been importing varieties for millennia from layers of strata long since gone. Conglomerates pop up, telling of ancient streamflow buried, packed and resurfaced, re-eroded and brought to rest here, today.
We are being entertained at the side of the trail, when our neighbor happens by, returning a tad early, so we think. He must have truly marched up that mountaintop. He says that the next mile and a half, or so, is more of what we have enjoyed, “After that, “It gets pretty darn gnarly.” He shows no problem with our nudity, as he marches on, during a very brief conversation. Just like the morning, he seems pleasant but determined to conquer that mountain and get back to his camp.
The old road, now a thinner trail, meanders like the creek. The two features intersect, numerous times, crisscrossing.
Sometimes the crisscross is dry, where the creek goes underground for a spell, a good shallow place to cross otherwise. Sometimes, it is wet, because there is no other way. Or the road is the stream. There are plenty of rocks to find a way one at a time and keep feet dry.
We come across a large plastic water tank, a circular iron feeding tank and two older metal objects in a flat area. These were probably precursors to the Wilderness designation. We inspect the writing on the metal. They are water tanks, from before plastic, from a company in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. There is a more recent plastic hose leading from them up stream. This black tube will accompany us throughout the day.
The canyon is recovering from the exploitation of cattle grazing and mining. I can be angry how destructive it has been. Thousands of square miles were destroyed, along with lifestyles and native rights, but it has been these cattle trails and pioneer’s roads that have left us the trails that we can now use to escape into the wilderness. I’m grateful that these, now artifacts, are just history. The miles of pipe, gives me an uneasy sense of alarm. It is new looking. It would be so wrong to watch this jewel drying up and disappear again.
There is a fork in the road. A light log discourages the one to the right. We take it anyway, out of curiosity.
In the leaves, a life form, which is strange to us, is sprouting out of the soil. It is a fungus.
There are however, the remains of older ones.
It appears to have beans on it, like stalks of amaranth. We decide to shoot pictures and ask about them on line.
There is a section of road leading up a hill to a spring catchment of concrete. Somebody lugged a pile of weight up here long ago. It is old, used and empty. Next to it, is a plastic bowl, like a kitty litter for a lion, which is filled with water. It is labeled by the Sportsmen’s Association. I look around for wildlife cameras that may be surprised to see us. None are evident.
This appears to be a dead end. We retreat to the fork and continue.
We step over three exceptionally large piles of black scat. One contains more roughage that the others. They are fresh enough to attract flies. All big as some cow paddies, they have to be from a bear, or mountain lion. I know bear to mark trails this way.
We explore one forested glade after another, or another unique and fascinating cliff formation.
The vegetation is always changing. It is an uncommon mix, of high country ponderosa pine, small blue spruce, with lower elevation flora, like juniper and scrub oak, among others.
A cactus pops up every so often. Branches arch across the trail next to straight upright masts towering quite tall.
All of this continues up the sides of the mountains in the distance.
Flowers are occasional in this thick bed of leaves, but is much less so than the sparse desert floor that we have been inhabiting for the winter months.
Poison ivy isn’t something that we see often, but here it is common. Most of it is off of the trail and away from our bare skin. If it might catch someone, it is knee down and it stands out as different to anyone exploring with awareness. Only once did some come close, when we had to descend a slippery slope to get across the stream easier. We were sort of invading its territory.
We notice a few hedgehog cactus and an agave growing out of boulders and we’re curious about their roots.
They must have been placed there by rodents. These animals eat the buds, and then pass the seed all well fertilized through their systems. The squirrels of all kinds like to sit on rocks in the sun and feast. Often we see their debris scattered on a rock that we plan to sit on. Here, the leaves help to create a soil on top of the pock marked rocks. Just this little collection of falling debris, old spider webs, scat and passing dust create a decomposed toe hold. The seeds don’t use much water and collect when moister comes. These squatters in turn collect debris and grow. I suspect that the ever-present lichen and moss contributes.
Occasionally there is evidence of a past flood, a fire. Trees with leaves have fallen down, up rooted by erosion. Things are always changing.
Other than the birds in the trees and one squirrel running into its home, we see no wildlife. There is no sound off lizards in the brush, no snakes. We wonder if all of the animals are warned by the crunch of our feet in the constant stiff dead leaves.
It has been more than a couple of hours since we left camp. We find a boulder for two and have lunch, sitting, listening, and watching. This is charming.
We continue on through the natural park. Our pace is very casual, stopping frequently to take a photo or study something new, a breath, a scent, a shape of a rock formation. We figure two and a half miles can go by quickly. We have been out here over three hours and have no sense of our progress.
We find a sign propped up declaring the edge of the “Wilderness.” This is a surprise because we thought that from the broken gate where all traffic stops, was wilderness. The sign is not anchored in the ground and we wonder if someone has moved it.
As we continue, nearly immediately, the trail stops being an old road. It is one track and the overgrowth gets thicker and thicker.
DF is getting a kick out of the fresh new oak leaves as they brush against her body, she giggles, delighted. She talks to them, as they tickle and caress. It is pleasant, but it is very thick, even to see a short distance ahead. I only know that there is a trail from the groove at my feet.
Compounding, we are increasingly encountering stiffer shrubbery, holly and juniper, that is growing across the trail. It is more disruptive to our passage in our bare skin.
I have my black sweat shirt in the pack, but that would be too hot for this afternoon. DF has a skirt, but she is getting scratches. I have not brought gloves, or clippers. We have used more than half of our water and I left the water filter in the truck. We are unprepared for this wilderness.
We grope our way on, still thinking that our planned destination must be “soon,” or, “around the bend.” Perhaps we have been spoiled by the wonderful easy trail so far. Perhaps we have become wise enough to know when. We look at the time and decide to head back. We still have to get past those 4×4 obstacles without damaging the 4runner before dark. There is also a three hour drive back to Tucson.
A dead tree, complete with small branches and dry sharp leaves, has come to rest in the middle of the trail. I consider that I’m coming back here to stay awhile. At that time, I can walk this canyon and explore all the way to the peak and even up into those ancient caves, later. This is not just a onetime playground.
Next week, Part III.
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