Thursday, October 18, 2007

Arizona Trail Journal, December 25, 2006

Arizona Trail Journal December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas! Feliz Navidad!

So far, it’s been a wonderful holiday. When I last wrote, I was sitting in a dry creek bed under juniper shade about a mile south of I-10.

Christmas presents:

I laid out my socks on the tarp line with care in hope that the breeze would dry them in air.
PRESENT #1 -- Dry socks.

Because I bushwhacked at night and arrived at the La Posta Quemeda Ranch picnic area, I got
PRESENT #2 -- running water
PRESENT #3 -- a flush toilet
A first this trip.

Last night at Cienega Creek I met an English teacher from Brooklyn named Elias. He gave me
PRESENT #4 -- three oranges and a jug of fruit juice
PRESENT #5 -- Frito Lay potato chips
PRESENT #6 -- good company as we walked for a little over an hour on a frontage road along the Union Pacific railroad

We talked about teaching. He works at a school for pregnant teenage girls, and one of his struggles is working with a high student turnover rate. He also told me about his experiences riding the rails from New York to New Jersey, the different kinds of cars, and which ones were the best to ride. We watched a golden desert sunset fade to pink, then bright yellow against the craggy silhouette of the Santa Ritas. It was nice to have someone to talk to, especially an English teacher rail/hobo enthusiast.

Around eight this morning the maintenance man, Jeff, for the Colossal Caves Mountain Park, came by. Earlier, a woman pulled up in a car, stopped, but didn’t get out. I turned to just look at her, and before I could even take a step, she put the car in gear and drove about 200 feet away before she stopped. A couple minutes later Jeff showed up in this rattly, old (sixties, early 70s era) truck that said in newly painted letters, incongruously, the name of the park. Jeff’s a big, red-faced walrus of a man, a bit of a Cooter, if I remember right, he wore a vest.

He initially was quite upset and started to lay into me about how I was in the wrong place, where did I come from. But once he figured out what I was doing and where I’d come from, he was my best buddy. Initially, he was going to charge me $15, the standard car camping fee rate in the designated campground. [Which I was not. I was in the picnic area.] But about 10 minutes into our conversation, he said, aw, it’s five, and when I reached to get my money out of my ditty bag, he said aw, don’t worry about it, Merry Christmas.
PRESENT #7 -- free camping [technically, I think it should be free for people who walk in]
He left me for five minutes so I could finish packing, and when he returned he gave me
PRESENT #8 -- a large cup of coffee and,
PRESENT #9 -- a ride to the Colossal Cave entrance
I then paid $8.50 and treated myself to
PRESENT #10 -- a 45-minute guided tour of the cave

There’s tons of literature about Colossal Cave. I want to check out “Night of the Lepus,” a grim tale about mutant rabbits filmed at the cave. There have been about 17 film events there, from a Disney episode about bobcats to an episode of Sesame Street.
Afterwards, I bought

PRESENT #11 -- Slim Jims, Almond Snickers bars, a Kit Kat, and a Coke
And now I am sitting at a
PRESENT #12 -- picnic table in
PRESENT #13 -- sunshine, surrounded by
PRESENT #14 -- red and gray rocks and
PRESENT #15 -- saguaro

Which I hadn’t seen yet until yesterday afternoon. I’ve been above 4,000 feet elevation a long time. Saguaro must not grow that high. I tend to see it with ocotillo, cholla, creosote and other lower Sonoran zone plants.

I finally connected with Esther last evening as I walked down a dirt road in search of a path to Colossal Cave. This, after talking over an hour with Elias. This was by far the most social day on the trail so far. I forget how important human contact is until I am deprived of it. That is why I cannot yet step off into the wilderness and disappear.

After dark, decided to trespass across private property, the Greenwall Castle, a nouveau-riche monstrosity owned, designed, and built by Duane Dunham, some eccentric oil tycoon, and his wife, Ginny. I hate to trespass and normally respect private property. Blame the GPS. It’s route took me across it. The only other option was a really, really, long 10+ mile detour road walk. I jumped the padlocked fence and stayed close to the fence line. My protocol was to stay hidden, in darkness entirely, but move quickly. The castle was far away, up another winding road. My big challenge would be the servant’s quarters, about 300 feet from the fence line I skirted. Luckily, no one was home.

There’s articles about the place in a booklet at the cave’s visitor center. When I told Jeff where I’d walked, he told me I was lucky I didn’t get shot. I took a chance. Everybody I meet tells me how lucky I am not to get bit by a snake, shot by ranchers, attacked by bears, etc. Luck, out here, is not additional fortune, but rather the avoidance of imminent calamity.

[Postscript: One of the most wow-I’m-so-glad-to-be-out-here-this-life-of-adventure-is-awesome moments came in the elation I felt at crossing the private property to an easement for these huge crackling power lines soaring westward to the glowing southern Tucson ‘burbs. Headlamp on, GPS in hand, I took a leap of faith, leaving the easement and into a trail-less region obstacle course sharp, stinging cactus and monster saguaro, knowing I could make it through a mile of this to Colossal Cave. I descended into a dry creek bed, of course the bed pebbly flat with rocky layer shelves, cool, katabatic, a scramble (watch those hands!!) up the other side. And then an unexpected reward up a long, huffing climb, a trail, winding, but generally heading north where I needed to go, then a road, a corral, a creek, a fence… arrival. It wasn’t even 8:30 p.m., but it felt much later. I was exhausted. Who knew ‘schwackin’ could be so eventful?]

I’ve got just a little more non-trail to negotiate via GPS until the Madrone Ranger Station in Saguaro National Park. I don’t have any permits to camp, but doubt I’ll encounter any rangers. If I do, I’ll explain my situation and pay on the spot. I forgot to call from Patagonia and arrange a permit.

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