After resupplying in Benson it was back to primo, mountain-bike friendly Arizona Trail singletrack... except I didn't have a bike. In any case, the newly-built section of trail from Three Bridges to the Colossal Cave area was already proving to be fairly popular with the MTB crowd, as I discovered firsthand this warm-weather weekday, and the trend seems likely to continue. (Photo: La Posta Quemada Ranch, part of the "Colossal Cave Mountain Park" at the base of the Rincons.)
La Posta Quemada Ranch's resident feline was more than happy to preside over lunchtime festivities. I grabbed a couple of burritos at the fast food stand, and learned a little about the ranch's history from the friendly lady inside the adjacent gift shop.
No longer elusive, the Giant Saguaro now blessed seemingly every square yard of Sonoran desert before me, so fond of these scenic foothills bajadas as they are
There's magic in a desert trail bordered, even defined, by an unbroken carpet of wildflowers.
The newly-built Arizona Trail here, by virtue of the fact that it tours the Colossal Cave area at no cost to use, really opens up the region to discovery by many a past and present Tucsonan who hadn't before bothered to go into "tourist mode" to come down here, myself included.
ubiquitous Torrey yucca in bloom
Middle-aged saguaro and Tanque Verde Peak high in the Saguaro National Park backcountry of the Rincon Mountains
An Elder Statesman of the Saguaro Kingdom.
(Photo: Pagoda-like saguaro, made perfect by a brand new tiny arm bud shooting out the top of his head.)
The two-wheeled crowd dropped away as I passed X-9 Ranch Road where the Arizona Trail soon reaches the boundary of Saguaro National Park and, as of early 2010, the temporary end of built trail.
A pair of redtail hawks watched in consternation as I trudged up shallow Rincon Creek, invading their privacy and, I surely hoped, no one else's, as this was private land, with multi-acre ranchettes spread out along the boundary of the national park.
My choices were limited to trespassing or bushwhacking, though I might not have chosen the former had I realized just how close I'd unavoidably come to being detected by multi-million-dollar estate owners as I bumbled awkwardly along the banks of their waterfront view. The Arizona Trail would eventually connect to the old Madrona ranger station, a former public vehicle access point into Saguaro National Park long since abandoned. But for this year's hikers, the going was less than easy, particularly beyond the creek where the desert grows lavishly, unless one were to walk X-9 Ranch Road, which is also private.
cryptantha, fiddleheads and their early spring cohorts
A final climb along an old phoneline right-of-way, a last bushwhack along the brushy banks of Chimenea Creek, and one rattlesnake circumvention, brought me to "Old Madrona," gateway into the trailed SNP backcountry. I examined some of the dilapidated buildings on site, complete with keep-out warnings concerning hantavirus, signed the trailhead register, and was on my way. After a few minutes of climbing, I looked back to find a vehicle approaching the Madrona site, perhaps an official Park vehicle it appeared, and wondered how commonly this sort of thing happens way out here.
The omnipresent snow-clad Santa Rita crest, with the Empire Mountains and low hills of the Colossal Cave area, from Manning Camp Trail (AZT).
Vernal pools along Chimenea Creek. While retiring to a nearby patch of shade for lunch, I was surprised to see a couple of female backpackers pass by along the trail, and moving like they meant business. I gathered that they were park employees, or volunteers - arriving in the vehicle I'd seen at Madrona - probably heading up for a tour of duty at Manning Camp.
Welcome to little-used, though charming, Grass Shack Campground
Manning Camp Trail continued to show on-again off-again evidence of NPS trail crew over-engineering, frequently in the form of short steps with long run-outs - making for a very unnatural gait. The rock work was incredibly well done, and this trail and others like it will probably last for many decades, but it's not without controversy among Tucson residents who remember how much more enjoyable hiking on these park trails used to be.
Santa Ritas and their nearer minions, with X9 Ranch Road snaking toward the SNP boundary.
Halfway up a gut-buster of a protracted climb to Manning Camp, a prominent boulder-top cairn didn't mark the trail exactly, but simply called upon any pilgrims to pause and admire.
a pilgrim pausing to admire
oxygen-deprived to the point of feeling stoned
ephemeral snowmelt cascades emanating from Manning Camp area
Headwaters of Chimenea Creek near Manning Camp. The trail abruptly entered the snow zone beyond the main ridgeline climb, entering a hummocky area among the shady pines, where occasional knee-high piles of fast-rotting snow showed the post-holes of the party just in front of me.
8500' Rincon Peak from granite ledges near Manning Camp
Manning Camp (elevation 8000'), where I arrived fairly well spent after what certainly felt like the longest climb of the trip thus far. Maybe I'm getting old, but at nearly 5000' elevation gain and a relentless grade over half a day's worth of trail mileage, Manning Camp Trail kicked my butt. I paused to rest, and sure enough, found the two female hikers who had started from Madrona already relaxing by the picnic table in camp. They were indeed park employees on shift for the weekend, fit and in their early 20's. They admitted to being surprised to find anyone else around, especially this time of year, as the Rincons were "the one mountain range around Tucson without a road heading toward the top."
Heading out from Manning, the snow situation remained tenuous, with occasional stretches of bare ground mocking my renewed effort to get some distance out of the snowshoes. Another hour of donning and doffing, and I ultimately concluded that the 'shoes were next to worthless, required neither for traction nor floatation. Any slipping and postholing that might occur with the snowshoes off required less effort of me than tending to the snowshoes on the bare patches. Even in a high snow year as this, by the first or second week of April the snow will have retreated and consolidated to a considerable degree, except perhaps at the very highest elevations.
Although I'd navigated this section several times over the years, the trail remained less than well marked over Mica Mountain, and I was forced to trust my intuition as to the trail's line, even when it was contradicted by the tracks of one or two others hikers that had preceded me in the days just prior. Locating Italian Spring was the crux of the routefinding challenge, a gateway beyond which the trail soon left the snow zone for good, following the only practical line off the crest
Mount Lemmon and the Santa Catalinas from the north slope of Mica Mountain in the Rincons
As the Italian Spring Trail (AZ Trail) plunged out of the Rincons I beheld first views toward the Galiuro Mountains farther ahead on my Sky Islands Traverse, with the familiar San Pedro River - often dry here - coursing ever northward through the intervening valley. I enjoyed trying to pick out the location of Redfield Canyon from the maze of lateral canyons that drained the western wall of the Galiuros, though as with mighty Aravaipa Canyon farther north, the sheer topography of Redfield remained well concealed from this distant vantage.
A steep, unnamed canyon traversed by the trail lay brief claim to a waterfall wonderland, the result of snowmelt from the high country. I clambered out over the drop as far as the terrain would allow, trying without any real success to gauge the depth of the drop by eye and by camera.
ephemeral waterfall in the Rincons
An eroded granite batholith at the northeastern edge of the Rincons gives rise to spectacular rounded domes, bisected pinnacles, and marooned ledge-top boulders. A predictable scene, this, wherever the geology is just right - as in the Dragoons at the start of the hike, and in the Catalinas and Santa Teresas farther along - though always a remarkable thing to discover again and again on a long walk in this country.
Eroded granite fins, an instantly recognizable fixture of the SE AZ backcountry.
Another section of new-to-me Arizona Trail served to fill in the remaining blanks in the pretty, middle-elevation Redington Pass area, now eliminating nearly all of the vehicle-accessible roadwalking in this area. The views back toward the north face of the Rincons retreated untarnished at 2 miles per hour, and it was easy to imagine nearby Tucson, lapping at the base of these hills so close by, as but a mirage.
A bounty of wildflowers near The Lake - the second earthen impoundment by this name along the Arizona Trail. High spring weekend now, and the MTB crowd was back out on the trail, here at another of their favorite near-Tucson haunts, extending westward toward Milagrosa Canyon and up and over to Molino Basin along the Catalina Highway.
A group of "downhillers" caught up with me at West Spring (cistern with trough at right in photo). I'd watched them as they raced the spine-tingling 800-foot descent that I was soon to climb, then offered to squat elsewhere than over the trough while I ate lunch so that they might have a drink, too. One of them waved his drinking tube in my general direction, indicating that he was still tanked up from the kitchen faucet back home and good to go. We're all out here in our alien spacesuits to one degree or another, I remembered.
I had to wait to cross the Catalina Highway, vehicles streaming past at a busy interval. And who could blame them, Tucsonans and visitors alike heading out to the nearby mountains in April, spring wildflowers and winter snowpack both within an hour's throw by car along the famous byway. Eventually the crowds did fade, notably beyond Sycamore Reservoir where the nearest trailheads all soon become long dayhike destinations at best. (Photo: Looking up West Fork Sabino Canyon from the East Fork Trail (AZ Trail).
Palisade Canyon from East Fork Sabino Canyon. Certainly there were shortcuts available, routes that would have seen me on my way toward the next Sky Island range - the Galiuros - more efficiently. Palisade was one, Box Camp another, the Catalina Highway. Even Redington Road was available as the ultimate beeline out to points east, skipping the Santa Catalinas altogether. Yet efficiency was not the goal of this expedition, at least not in the macro sense. Rather, I wanted to savor the highlights of each of the ranges along the way, and here that meant following a course that unavoidably looks very circuitous on the map: a sharp jog west through the forks of Sabino, a quick turn east to the Wilderness of Rock. But the route felt absolutely right, and I wouldn't have done it any other way.
The combination of wildflowers and spring grasses made the confluence of the East and West forks of Sabino Canyon a riot of color and form.
West Fork Sabino Creek. I was surprised by the depth and speed of the current on the crossing, realizing for the first time just how much the well-known lower Sabino Canyon area, on the outskirts of Tucson, takes its waters from this western tributary that drains such a large extent of the upper mountain.
West Fork Sabino Canyon, from a vantage along the trail above the creek near Hutch's Pool, where I spied a party of backpackers lingering by their tents now into the evening hours on this, a Sunday.
Other than the snow in the Rincons, trail conditions had generally remained good since my last resupply point, but high in the West Fork of Sabino Canyon my luck began to ebb, just a bit, as occasional dead pines, a legacy of the Aspen Fire of 2003, continued to fall across the trail corridor. Thankfully most of the drainage itself was spared the blaze and is thriving.
Oro Valley and Marana - two communities that barely existed when I first discovered the Tucson area in the mid 90's - now extended to the horizon below Cathedral Peak, as seen from above Romero Pass, heightening the marooned isolation of the Santa Catalina sky island, these mountains an impartial witness to our so-called progress.
The climb east from Romero Pass along the Mt Lemmon Trail (AZ Trail) finds the trail, and hiker, dancing to and fro among metamorphic outcrops, a steep and relentless effort a full day or farther from the nearest road.
Cathedral Peak, with Mt Kimball and Table Mountain at right, in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness
I finally parted ways with the Arizona Trail, leaving the Mt Lemmon Trail it uses in favor of the Wilderness of Rock Trail. Many AZ Trail hikers actually do the same here, opting to avoid the summit of Mt Lemmon and its adjacent trail network in favor of this spectacular route into Summerhaven for its resupply potential.
I'd dealt with a bit of snowpack en route off the main ridge into the heart of this sunny basin, noting a lack of fresh bootprints in front of me. Perhaps this year's thru-hikers were mostly still behind or had gone a different way. The surface of the snow changes quickly this time of year, too, probably erasing any tracks in short order, I conjectured.
I'd dabbled with the Wilderness of Rock area in previous years, but had never walked all the way through from one end to the other. What I treat this hike turned out to be, a true holdout among the timeless boulders betraying no sight or sound of the nearby city, a kingdom I didn't deserve yet had all to my very own this day, but for the ghosts of the ancients.
I'd climbed Lemmon Rock in the past, taking the easy route down from the top, leading out to an ornate firewatch cabin set upon the far-flung outcrop like something out of Bhutan. Now this high sentinel stood watch as I passed by below, losing sight of me whenever I reentered the peek-a-boo forest among the rocks for a time. The eastern half of the Wilderness of Rock Trail proved challenging, with frequent awkward blowdowns to negotiate, engorged snowmelt creeklets to cross and recross, and a trail sometimes obscured with heavy pine litter or posthole-quality snow patches. Indeed it had been a rough winter, with storms and high winds.
Out of dinners and craving a restaurant meal, I hot-footed it into Summerhaven, or at least made an attempt at it. Alas, Marshall Gulch Trail, fire-damaged in its upper reaches and still deeply snowbound along the canyon bottom, made for a beautiful but weary final leg. A mile walk up the road into "town" next ensued, the gated and snow-covered road emerging into this quaint village so badly beaten by the Aspen fire yet with evidence of rebirth all around.
Other than the Iron Door restaurant at Mt Lemmon Ski Valley, Summerhaven's famous Cookie Cabin remains the only place to grab a bite on the mountain. I made it just in time for an outsized pizza - embarrassingly, much more than I could consume in one sitting - and one of their legendary cookies, which was actually the size of a small pie! Visitors by car from Tucson milled about, one brash woman remarking on how good my pizza looked now that they'd stopped serving food for the evening. Out of habit I offered a slice, but couldn't quite believe how fast she peeled it away, trailing stringers of melted cheese and all.
I managed to rent a chalet in Summerhaven for the evening, my payment left for the proprietor in the kitchen's microwave oven as part of an honor system she'd explained by phone from Tucson. After resupplying via the post office in town I set off in search of the Sunset Trail down by Marshall Gulch, but lost any trace of trail back at the creek, mere moments from the unsigned trailhead.
The trail must have remained with the creek for a time, as I later learned from a fellow adventurer, but given the high streamflow and my general ignorance (I hadn't been able to find a whit of information about this trail on the web) I opted to try a cross-country approach, mimicking what the trail line on my map seemed to indicate. The way ahead soon degenerated into class 3 scrambling, though with quite the view down uppermost Sabino Canyon.
I recognized the folly of my route choice, but not soon enough to avoid a matchstick blowdown scenario in a side canyon, which was followed by a devil-may-care, adrenaline-induced charge up the fire-denuded hillside toward the back yards of exclusive Summerhaven real estate and the promise of a roadwalk just beyond.
A brief stroll down the Catalina Highway and I was back on route. Here I found a trailhead signboard for the Sunset Trail, but still couldn't make heads or tails of the trail's routing. I deduced that the upper portion of the trail began on a residential dirt road, but a brief examination revealed a maze of roads and no clear sign as to which one the singletrack trail would eventually part company with. (However, local sources did later confirm that the trail is followable from end to end. Still, a best alternative to the Sunset Trail would probably be Middle Sabino Road, which connects the main road through Summerhaven village with the Catalina Highway above it.)
Crossing the Catalina Highway, my mapped route that I intended to follow joined up with the Butterfly Trail, the near-term goal being to remain near the crest of the mountain, following the general course of the highway south and east in order to join the Brush Corral Trail eastbound off the range. I could have simply walked the highway instead, or chosen a very close parallel to it, but in my ideal world before the hike I preferred the comparative remoteness of the Butterfly Trail, even given the extra elevation loss and gain it would require of me. Little did I realize at the time just how fateful that route option would be! Read all about it in subsequent entries here, but first, some images from the route I SHOULD have followed...
"The route that I should have followed" - witnessed here in photos taken by a Tucson local after the journey - joins graded dirt Bigelow Road just off the Catalina Highway, up to the top of Mt Bigelow, then over to Kellogg Mountain and Incinerator Ridge via connecting foot trail along the ridge crest, culminating at Leopold Point and Barnum Rock, with stunning 360 degree outlooks.
The view from Barnum Rock, with Leopold Point at left, the eastern extent of the Catalinas, San Pedro Valley, and Galiuro Mountains.
Catalina Highway from Barnum Rock. The proposed route would descend west, from a point on the ridge just north of Barnum Rock, cross-country over to the Catalina Highway, then down the road about a mile to Green Mountain Trail, which leads to Brush Corral Trail and a long, primitive - but reportedly manageable - ridgeline traverse to 4WD roads at the eastern edge of the national forest. These little-used dirt roads lead out to the San Pedro Valley near Redington, right on course for a tour of the Galiuros next in turn. (Refer to the Google Earth and Postholer maps of the SKIT for a depiction of this routing.)
Catalina Highway and Green Mountain from Barnum Rock.
Southwestward view from Barnum Rock area: Lizard Rock in the Catalinas, Tanque Verde Ridge (Rincons), and the Santa Ritas (in the distance at far right).
Back to the description of my actual walk: I joined the Butterfly Trail almost directly across the Catalina Highway from the Sunset Tr trailhead. The Butterfly Trail tours the upper elevations along the eastern side of the Catalinas, following a semicircle and returning to the highway at Palisades Ranger Station, a scenic way to avoid walking along the highway itself for longer than necessary.
And sure enough, the Butterfly Trail was scenic. This area is part of the Butterfly Peak Natural Area, which may one day form part of a proposed new USFS Wilderness area along this side of the mountain. The trail, along northern and eastern slopes, became snowbound almost immediately, though, and the tracks of other hikers petered out within a quarter mile, leaving me to test each step lest I posthole deeply in places.
In an ironic turn, I'd sent my "useless" snowshoes home from Summerhaven, only to find a genuine use for them the very next day. The snow proved rotten and undercut in places, such as where the trail crossed this steep gully, and several times one of my legs would posthole deeply, leaving the other leg bent and supporting my full body weight and packweight, a recipe for knee problems in my case, which started to present.
The trail dropped below the snow line, yet the challenges persisted, as now the terrain was again burnt - standing matchsticks all around - and night was near. I searched about in vain for a safe camping spot at trailside, before opting to camp directly on the trail in an area of live oak, hoping for the best. The next morning I pressed on, still nursing a 'concerning' knee, though enjoying views of Novio Falls, actually a series of impressive cascades but requiring an off-trail scramble to behold in full, more work than I wanted at that moment.
Bottom-out point along the Butterfly Trail near Novio Falls. Now it was all uphill, back to the Catalina Highway.
Butterfly Trail showed evidence of past maintenance since the Aspen Fire, but one or more winters' worth of storms had since conspired to yield some very challenging trail conditions at times. Piles of interlaced blowdowns on sidehill trail are always a dreadful sight when you're committed to a trail.
Looking up at Mount Bigelow, I knew the Catalina Highway lay just beyond - "salvation" for now - but I was also acutely aware of the effort that would be required to reach it - certainly even more than I had managed coming down through the miserable snow and trail conditions the day prior. And still I worried about the knee and the risk of a bona fide injury with any more postholing.
A junction with Davis Springs Trail and a critical moment of decision. All of my pre-trip research had indicated the Davis Springs Trail to be among the least used, and perhaps least usable, trails on this mountain range. I'd found but the spottiest of trail reports, one from a hiker who'd camped a mile along, all traces of the trail vanishing beyond, another in a SAR report from a number of years ago (which had a happy ending at least). As such, I'd planned to avoid this trail, never mind its efficiency per the map, how it appeared to make elegant work of any Santa Catalina "exit plan" off this eastern side of the range. And yet my trail sense was now telling me to go for it, to stop deliberating and just get down off the mountain, to keep away from the cursed snowpack that lay above, come what may.
Recent flagging tape initially led the way, marking the Davis Springs Trail as it hurtled down a semi-burned ridge, steep, eroded, and telltale. Soon older flagging tape took over the trail marking task, but the trail was not marked frequently enough here. When the trail tread faded to nothing I was left with only my eyes and a small-scale topo map featuring my hand-drawn trail line extrapolated from USFS data. Stubborn perseverance overcame me, a quirk of personality I guess, every piece of tattered flagging, each ancient cairn I happened upon a momentary beacon of certainty in a place of doubt. I clambered desperately downhill through oak thickets and over crumbling rock, finding an old fenceline, and then, incredibly, a gate at a saddle along a ridge. A trace of tread ran through the gate, and I marked the waypoint on my GPS. Back on trail for now! (Photo: Edgar Canyon from fenceline ridge)
Again the trail ebbed and flowed, leading to points beyond which I could not progress without a methodical search, following up on each clue before me, whether false or true. Finally what exists of the Davis Springs Trail reached the main drainage in Edgar Canyon, which flowed well, soothing me for the moment in its life-giving surety. I was caught completely off guard by what I saw next - a pictograph site on a prominent boulder along the creek. A raven, most likely, and what appeared to be a human figure in a grass skirt, were gaudily depicted in white paint of some sort. This was a stunning find, completely unknown to me and unexpected.
Rock art site in Edgar Canyon. I found very little online about this site after the trip, only its name and the certainty that it's known to the archaeological community, if to very few others these days.
"P.S." rock art site
Probably the trail remained alongside the drainage bottom now, but I soon lost any convincing evidence of its existence, whether on one bank or the other, and no trace of cairns or flagging persisted. This would remain a "1 mph adventure" after all, I realized, but at least the challenge was now reduced to the merely physical, albeit with occasional detours of exquisite awkwardness as the drainage bottlenecked, forcing me up on rocky slopes with cactii and catclaw.
Snowmelt in Edgar Canyon on journey from the Catalina high country
I finally stumbled upon a less claustrophobic expanse of ground by Arrastre (or Araster) Spring, which would have made for an okay camp had I not been so eager to see the Davis Springs Trail through to its conclusion. In any case, the spring wasn't needed, or particularly desirable, given the flowing creek nearby.
An old corral lurked among the live oaks near Araster Spring, long abandoned, though it appeared I was making inroads now on working cattle country, farther down on this least recreation-oriented side of the mountain. A short distance beyond I reached a prominent confluence of drainages, with easier going below as the merged streambed widened and smoothed. Up the other drainage the historically significant Knagge Trail may have led back into the high country, though I saw no sign of any trail that way either, a victim of the same conspiracy of circumstances as my Davis Spring Trail.
The USFS planimetric map, my dubious council, showed the dashed trail line veering away, leaving the drainage below Peck Basin only to rejoin it farther along. A cartographer's whim or something worth noting? I decided that any map that would go so far as to show this trail at all was not being whimsical but deadly factual. A blind-faith detour up a side drainage - completely unintuitive without the map - soon revealed a discernible trail climbing away, up into the rolling oak-dotted foothills. The only way around impassable pour-offs in lower Edgar Canyon, I imagined, and a required commitment now, come what may. (Photo: Mt Bigelow as seen from no man's land)
The trail played lost and found, but I sensed its purpose, given the lay of the land - where it would and would not go. I went for where it must go - here upon a high bench overlooking the main canyon - and sure enough located the continuation of primitive tread, a swath of cobbles and eroded clay pockmarked by horseshoes within the last few weeks. This was surely the rancher's trail now, the part he needed and maintained through use, his and his alone, but for the occasional cow I now noted here and there on the hillsides.
A screaming descent, truly absurd on foot if perhaps better on horseback, deposited me back in Edgar Canyon below a resistant cliff band of colorful metamorphics. This may have been the reason for the detour, avoiding where the cliff band intersected the drainage. After packing it in by the creek here for the night, I awoke to a familiar Sonoran desert scene, saguaros populating scenic slopes for my eyes only.
In the morning I tanked up at the creek, gulping down a quick two quarts and carrying a gallon more, in anticipation of a long, hot 20 miles to my next surefire source, somewhere up Redfield Canyon.
First, though, I needed to escape the powerful vortex of Davis Spring Trail. Random cow paths alongside the lower creek ultimately converged on a single swath which then climbed away, a bona fide trail once again. The way was rough, a roller coaster ride along the hillside, but there could be no doubt now that I was nearing a vehicle access point of some sort.
Brittlebush, lupine, and desert chicory in a technicolor springtime dream.
Mourning doves scattered upon my arrival at what must have been Davis Spring - a pipe-fed trough by a corral. A trail sign stood here, like a cultural find for me, the absence of carved graffiti in its metal face plate showing the rarity and caliber of human visitors to pass this far-flung way. Each of the listed trails appeared on one map or another of mine, but to see them all spelled out, mileages and arrows lending an audacious sense of authority, left me speechless. I had to sympathize with the dashed hopes of anyone starting off from this point, out for a day or a week on "the trails."
All evidence pointed to my near arrival at the trailhead as the trail topped out on broad Davis Mesa. Yet the well-defined trail just kept on going, turning northward now, dipping across minor drainages and onto other fingers of the mesa. After a mile of this I knew something must be wrong and backtracked, cursing the vortex yet again. The trailhead did not yield easily, but back there it was. Apparently the rancher, or at least his cows, use and maintain a different routing now, rendering the USFS trailhead all but obsolete. But there it finally appeared, a sign worth kissing... or cursing. All I could manage was to shake my head, snap a photo, and place the panorama of the Catalinas in my rear view mirror. "You won't make that mistake again," an angel chided. "Oh yes you will," a devil replied.
panorama of the Santa Catalinas' east face, from Davis Mesa jeep trail
The bounty of wildflowers along the Davis Mesa road was among the most stunning I've ever encountered anywhere in the Southwest.
Lupines, fairy dusters, daisies, desert chicory, and more!
brittlebush and ocotillo flaunting springtime vestments
Mexican gold poppies, among the first of the spring wildflowers in many places, though with a distinctive elevational component to their time and place of emergence that tends to "keep them going" in the course of a long walk as this.
At nearly 10 miles in length, the Davis Mesa jeep trail seemed like it might be an involving stretch of my improvised route, but in reality the time flew by in vehicle-free bliss. The views were spectacular, both foreground and afar, and the road itself was primitive yet enjoyable underfoot. Hopefully the road to and from Brush Corral trailhead, along my intended route that I'd been forced to bypass, would be of similar habit.
Davis Mesa jeep trail, with Galiuro Mountains on the horizon
The road passed by signed "6 Ranch," with a state land roadside register for anyone heading back the way I'd come. Just a few hunters had signed in within the past few weeks. No one else. My sense of isolation felt palpable even now, the nighttime lights of Tucson still so close as the raven flies.
Early afternoon and the heat of the day was upon me. Davis Mesa road - aka FR 802 - emerged onto the wide, graded track of Redington Road, paralleling the San Pedro River. I followed this road briefly south, seeking a way through bordering groves of tamarisk, the scourge of many a mismanaged western waterway. Emergence onto the river bed. Bone dry here, the sun-glare of sand hiding a subterranean river that once flowed year-round.
I pressed on, crossing a barbed wire fence, dry-mouthed and giddy for the patch of shade beneath the road bridge. At least the San Pedro still flows in a few places, I remembered.