The stretch from Patagonia to Colossal Caves was sensational as the prickly pear and ocotillo grew ever-larger. The scenes of prickly life found in this section were a noticeable but welcome change from where I began the hike in the Huachuca mountain range. Weather here is a constant, especially in the low desert. Unlike Colorado where the weather changes every five minutes, Arizona’s weather is predictable and, yes, hot as Hades. The manzanitas and occasional cedar have been a reliable source of shade but they are becoming less and less in this passage as they taper off by descending elevation. I’m afraid barrel cacti (which I learned always tilt to the south) do not provide relief from the midday furnace! Yes it’s hot but it’s totally worth it.
Water is scarce here. Actually AZ is in a drought right now. Lugging five liters is absolutely necessary if you want to live. Dehydration, heat exhaustion, and hyponatremia are regular threats to the Arizona hiker. Regulating body temperature is critical. The conservation of water becomes an artform. Sodium replacements (electrolytes) are a regular part of my drinking routine. The strategy I have been using to manage the heat is called “siesta hiking,” which involves maximizing the mileage during the coolest parts of the day (morning and evening) and resting or “treehopping” during the afternoon hours.
Quick story to tell you all that really happened to me one night on trail. In the Guthooks app, which I use for GPS navigation, hikers can comment about all kinds of things (reliability of water, trail magic, etc.) One of the places I was headed was called Kentucky Camp. The place was an old living quarters for the miners. Some hikers were saying the place was “haunted” and had a creepy doll inside. When I came into Kentucky Camp, it was dusk just after the sun had set. I was alone, in the middle of nowhere, and was going into this old building with only my headlamp for illumination. The main cabin had been turned into a visitor center and the peripheral cabins were available for rent. Everything was vacant when I arrived. The screen door was propped open and the wood door unlocked. The cabin had a scary feel about it and my heart was pumping an almost-audible thump sound. I just had to explore the place myself. I made my way in through the cabin’s entrance with an interrogative, “Hello, anyone here?” There was no reply. The headlamp was set to dim as I poked my head into each room observing its contents. Everything looks different in the dark. The park officials, using the building as an information center for visitors, had furniture and objects from the mining period. When I stepped into the living room, the floors creaked beneath my hiking sneakers. Shining my light around I noticed an old brick fireplace. But then, further down, the beam of light landed on the face of that porcelain doll the other hikers were talking about! This was straight out of a scary movie. I ran out as fast as I could but not before getting a picture for evidence. So there you have it. A hiker’s tale of the haunted miner’s cabin.
Well, I made it to Highway 83 and was picked up by a “trail angel” named Ken at the Sahuarita Trailhead. Ken, in his generosity, showed me around parts of Tucson and then dropped me off in Vail (not the ski town) while he went off and ran some chores. After consuming a carryout special from Marco’s Pizza and grabbing a few odds and ends at the grocery store, Ken picked me up and dropped me back off at the trailhead to resume my hike.
Next, I crossed Interstate 10 or went under the major thoroughfare by way of a tunnel with an amazing dragon graffitied on one end. Further on, after passing the well-known Gabe Zimmerman trailhead, I hiked through a major network of railroads, sleeping right next to the tracks one night (not advisable but it will be something to look back on).
Making it Colossal Caves, I picked up a resupply box (with zebra duct tape) that I had mailed myself before I left. The cave staff was very accommodating and had a little “hiker section” with benches and a charging station to charge my electronics.
Indeed this hike has been excruciating, having to drink my tears in desperate spells of dehydration more than once, yet the rough Arizona landscape offers something truly remarkable to those who adapt to its forces.
Two rattlesnakes, three Gila monsters, a dozen or so white-tail deer, about a hundred wild turkeys, and endless tiny lizards!
‘Til next trail town…