In the Spring of 2019, I had finished fixing up my strawbale home in the Tortolita Hills to sell. Unique homes sometimes have to wait for the unique buyer. So, as the story goes:
My house is on the market. When it is shown the realtor insists that I disappear. She’s afraid I’ll somehow blow her deal. I’m given a two hour notice and expected to wander for an hour, or more. Today, right now, it’s one of those times when I have to stay away for a while. It is overcast and not particularly warm, but the equinox is coming and there should be some Spring flowers to see in the Tortolitas. I’m feeling some stress, so this seems like a good time for a hike. The exertion should calm me. The usual practice of being in mindfulness will bring me back in the moment. Nature should heal me with her magic.
As I park, I feel the anger that arises within from my reaction to the steel gate blocking the road. An out of state development group has been plotting here to steal the neighborhood’s property rights. Also, they are blocking the public’s right of way, which is the access to the Tortolita hills and the planned Tortolita Mountain County Park. These new neighbors have the money, lawyers, the time and the greed, but I step up on a couple of boulders and climb around this obstruction, continuing on my rightful way.
I’ve got a kilt and a long underwear shirt on. Without sun, this gray stuff in the sky is giving me a chill. Still, I figure that I can get along fine and At leave the kilt behind. This is a weekday and not the best Spring weather to attract people into these mountains. I’ll be leaving the road and wandering, too. It’ll be a nice walkabout.
I figure that my body movement should generate sufficient body heat and there is likely to be no wind chill. This winter has been long and it seems that I haven’t seen so much grey sky in decades. So, I climb the road with vigor. This is all good for me. I know that.
When I arrive at my turn off, which is up a familiar wash, I find that the water is still running. I’m surprised. It hasn’t rained for days. Water is always welcomed. It adds a flavor to everything that is alive out here.
The sandy wash’s bottom is soggy. My toe shoes sink in spots instead of gliding on a stiff dry surface for walking.
There is a profound silence today. All that I hear are my thoughts, which are now being set aside quickly. Be here now. My feet sometimes are grinding in the sand on the bedrock, there I hear a crunch.
I soon take on the ”walk of the warrior” a philosophy really, which was taught to me back when I was a Webelo Cub Scout along with my pack of young cohorts. The idea is to not provide any disturbance to life, be quiet, and leave no trace. We were told that such an effort was to walk like a Native American Warrior. I still do this a lifetime later. I still respect the function, maybe even more.
At this time, I am stepping quietly across a sandy surface. At every opportunity, I step on a rock, which leaves no tracks. I look for soil which won’t show disturbance so evidently. I step carefully, avoiding plant life.
There are many bedrock surfaces along the way. Sand has either been deposited during the last flooding, or people in boots with gaping treads on the soles, have left the sand on the large uneven rock surfaces. The result can be slippery. The crunch of loose sand can act like tiny marbles on the polished surfaces. I tread carefully.
In the still silence, the crunch seems to sound deafening. It is enough to alert wildlife, scatter bands of quail and send deer running in flight.
My progress is very mindful and focused. It calms the mind’s chatter and floods out thought with awareness and sensuality. There is a mental cleansing of sorts.
There has been someone up here. But the tracks that I see have turned around, heading back from where I came. I now know that these mountains obviously shall belong to me. I’m peacefully alone.
At the base of a waterfall, my foot sinks deeper. It is very soggy here. I must climb carefully around this, along the edge of the bedrock, or I’ll sink in like quicksand. Usually, there is about a bucket full of water at these places, but more of the rain’s flooding has placed more sand here and it is more saturated than usual.
All during my so far short journey, I have been greeted by the smell of a beach with its wet sand. My memories are triggered to when I was a young boy living along the banks of the James River in Virginia. Back then too, I was walking like a warrior. Youthful fantasy has been turned into adult meditations.
I climb the waterfall to the sheet of bedrock above. It has been my habit to rest here during numerous excursions in the last two decades. It feels good to be back to this refuge.
Sometimes, I have made my way up here in the bright full moon light, often with a friend. It has been a good place to bring a date. We lie beside each other on the sheets of granite and stare into space, the moon and the stars in the quiet.
The shirt and shoes come off. I sit in a groove in the smooth granite and drink from my water bottle. The initially chilled rock warms quickly to my skin. I find myself sticking to it, grounded. I think about just taking a nap, but the air keeps me awake. I need to keep moving. I decide to visit those petroglyphs. It’s been awhile.
I walk through the sandy wash nude, but for shoes. The shirt, now rolled up, as it cushions my shoulder under the camera and water bottle straps. The rocks soon give way to a natural road of hard sand. I’m marching, exercising. I stop every so often to shoot a picture of a florescent spring flower. The grey skies make them radiate color in contrast to the earthy desert hues.
I’m soon looking at another steep waterfall to climb. It has been too long since a visit to this ever-changing backyard of mine. I’m pretty sure that I have gone too far. I didn’t see the cairn to turn.
Perhaps the stack of rocks marking my intended route was taken, or buried under the thick desert shrubbery grown from the winter rains. The hills are not as familiar anymore, partly from lost memory, but mostly the change in vegetation. Rain makes things different. Lots of rain makes things lots different.
I climb on the steep rock, careful not to get poked by the overgrown mesquite branches that have taken over. I have changed plans on a whim. I’ve decided to not search out the ancient Native American petroglyphs, instead, I’ll go to the old windmill that will show itself as a landmark I the vicinity of where this wash begins. I’ll continue on, to capture an image to chronicle the growth of a budding crested saguaro that I discovered a few years back.
No one knows why they mutate like this. It is said that these are one in ten thousand.
The old windmill has always been a trashed out hangout for the cattle. The ranchers lease this area from the Arizona State Land Trust.
Today, I discover that for the first time in 25 years, that its storage tub is bone dry. The cattle don’t seem to be out here destroying the lands, either.
This has become a popular mountain bike trail. There is a slight chance that I might come across one, but I’m not deterred from planning to stay involved with my sense of nude freedom.
I find a memorable rock to sit and snack. It is right in the middle of the trail. I have seen the knobby old tracks of the bikers, but my guess is that I’ll be alone.
Past the Windmill:
There was a mature crested saguaro up a channel in a small canyon that I’m passing. I remember smelling the scent of fresh meat as a predator snacked there years before. I decide not to trouble myself, today. I want to see how the younger saguaro is coming along.
I mistake the next little gulley of a canyon wash for my destination, but then very soon, I recognize a landmark. It is a hackberry bush.
Years ago, as I was wandering naked along this trail, I was startled by a local pack of javalina. Two brothers that I recognized, both bolted across my path, running up the steep hillside straight through the thick growth. I am amazed to this day how adept they were at making that dash at such speed in such thick spiny desert. I stand looking up the hill imaging a memorable image of them.
There were more in the bush. After I passed, a mother with a baby that was small enough to fit under her belly, walked across the trail. The bouncing new born child still was so young as to be brown, instead of the grey bark color that they all sport.
I tried Deeksha (transpersonal energy) on them for the first time. They stopped immediately to graze, in full sight of me, as if I had cast a magic spell.
These two brothers, who had run off so effectively, used to raid my trashcan. My dog would hear them, alerting me. I would jump out the door of course naked, illuminating the night with the porch light. I’d blast them with my grandpa’s WWI bungle and try to shoot them with a single shot pellet gun.
They would head over to Louie’s house and I would hear him yelling and the tick tick tick of his BB gun.
I tried straps on the lid. The straps got progressively stronger, but still proving ineffective, until one night, when I discovered the pesky brothers in my driveway. Not successfully easily breaking in to my plastic can, they were instead stealing the sealed tub. That night, I got in a lucky shot in a javelina’s tender posterior area with the pellet gun. They bolted together, into the night.
The two bandits had again seen the “naked one” that day and bolted once again at my sight.
The northeast to northwest orientation of this canyon increases the speed of the wind like a Bernoulli’s tube. I elect to put my more comfortable warm shirt back on.
It has indeed spread out over the few years. It is definitely a potentially fine specimen. I take pictures as I circle it, documenting its growth. To do this, I must climb down the rocks in the canyon’s wash. It is the wash which leads to the petroglyphs. I’ve been this way a couple of times before. I decide to continue.
A Rugged Result:
Obviously, no one has been this way for a while. The buffle grass has overgrown. It has been joined in an overgrowth along with all the usual prickery desert branch bearing inhabitants. The cat claw acacia, thorny mesquites and too many brambles are vying for my skin and my shirt sleeves. I continue to carefully press on. It is too far to turn and go back.
The rains have washed away the sands here. I have to climb from boulder to boulder. I must be mindful and take care. An injury from a slip and fall would be a lonely ordeal. No one would happen along, or hear my cry for help.
The wash widens and I notice a waterfall up a tributary to the west. I decide to investigate. Again, I have a desert dweller’s fascination for water in a dry land.
The water is flowing, looking like someone left a garden hose running full blast.
It splashes and then falls again further into a pond.
Lush plants are thriving at their opportunity. It is a unique oasis in a mostly dormant desert.
There had been quite a flow here previously. An egg of granite at two feet in diameter is lodged in between two large boulders waist high. It had been lifted by the strength of the current.
Grasses are lying flat, washed over. The flow had been violent.
I am pleased again, to find no evidence of cattle destruction. Way too often, I have been disheartened by the degradation of this incredibly unique and particularly biodiverse area.
Back in the main stream, I find the trail that I would have taken to the petroglyphs, had I seen the cairn. It rises up the bank of this now much wider wash. At this point, I’m too tired to continue to hike to the petroglyphs. They’ve been there for hundreds of years. I’ll come back later.
The trail, previously maintained by a hiking club, is now over grown. Constantly, I’m disturbed by overgrowth. It is grabbing my shirt and my leg is bleeding. There is no escape in many spots. I take the shirt off. My arm has a purple mark and rich red blood runs out of a puncture.
As I climb through, the branches poke my hands. It is hardly a trail. It disappears in places, more akin to my stealth Havarock trail.
As the scrub begins to let up, the trail disappears. Often the cattle paths are more detectable, more in use, than the trail.
I find that I have started down a wrong wash. I have to correct. I didn’t come this way and my bearings are off. Again, I don’t recognize the landmark of the hills. The distinctions are in the vegetation, all new.
Wandering naked, running out of water, lost in my backyards hills, has no appeal. When facing miles of desert, which in these hills can be very difficult to traverse or bushwhack to correct, there is a feeling of threat. A pleasant walk can end up torturous, when the sun goes down and then the temperature can drop 20F degrees before darkness arrives. When tired, the threat of what is iffy feels like more of a problem.
The trail has turned to a cow trail/path. Before long, I realize that I am on the wrong route. I know this way. It leads back to the windmill. I resolve to my fate. It is easier to just return to the windmill and then walk along the jeep trail/road, which leads back to the SUV.
The old jeep trail has been getting worse. I don’t know if it is from disuse or use, but the footing is no longer like my first adventures up here. I follow the more familiar scratched away desert surface, arriving home and very tired.
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