Friday, October 19, 2007

Arizona Trail Journal, December 26,2006

December 26, 2006
[postscript: The opening sentence of this entry is misleading. I did hike what I think is a nearly brand new stretch of AZT from just south of I-10 to Cienega Creek Natural area, which is, I also failed to originally mention, a beautiful little canyon with a picturesque rail bridge over it and a willow and tamarisk dominated riparian habitat, making it a popular bird-watching destination. That’s what Elias was doing when I met him near the kiosk in the parking lot. The new stretch of AZT is not to be missed. It traverses the rim of the 200 feet or so deep, half-mile wide Cienega Creek canyon. The walls are only sheer for about 20 feet, the rest, steep, shaley, stubborn, butte-jutted, hillside. I saw a herd of mule deer skitter and clatter for cover in the creek side foliage. Of course, there’s awesome views north to the Rincons.]
The bushwhacking is done!
I am sitting at a picnic table at the pink, derelict, hantavirus-plagued Madrone Ranger Station. I am here illegally, a theme as of late. There are orange signs everywhere: “Authorized personnel only.” But I bushwacked a long, hard, hot time to get here to this desolate corner of Saguaro National Park.
And why is there no trail from Hope Camp to here? Politics. It would provide unregulated foot access to the park.
It took me over three hours to go 2.5 miles. The route from Hope Camp -- “run down and desolate” according to the guidebook -- to the ranger station is northeast, parallel to the ridgeline of the Rincons. My bushwhack took me up and down countless crumbling, steep embankments, one creek drainage after another. Any slips on ascent or descent meant thorns and pain. I stopped three times for shade (under saguaro), drink, and to pick thorns out of my shoes, legs, and pant legs. I figured out quick what plants don’t bite -- creosote, mesquite and a short, red-trunked shrub. Everything else grabbed, clung, and stung.
I’ve been ’schwackin’ or road walking, sometimes illegally across private property, since yesterday afternoon a few miles of new trail north of Colossal Cave County Park. Bushwhacking is really tough in this terrain. There’s a lot of space out here, but the surface area’s crowded.
[Postscript: At dusk I walked along a wide hard pack red dust road that led to a number of side roads and bedroom communities in the foothills of the Rincons. I left the main road and followed a power line easement west until I came to another road. I decided to continue following this west, but it ended at the driveways of two properties clearly marked as private, followed by ’No Trespassing.’ But it was dusk, and Hope Camp, safely within the boundary of the national park, was due west. I decided to make myself inconspicuous, stay out of sight of houses or any lights. I had a rough moment when, seeking cover, I got all tangled up in thick, thorny brush, and as I was backtracking a big dog let out three quick warning barks. Uh oh.
Back to the road. I walked down a driveway, away from the sound of the barking dog, and spied a house around the corner. I stood and looked for a couple minutes, but saw no lights on. It was a small cabin. No one was home.
I skirted past that place quick, but with not as much sense of dread as the castle property, which promised prosecution and advertised a security force. I continued across a cattle pasture, under and over a couple barb wire fences (yeah, DeKalb!). The dog continued barking, but its bark grew distant and less insistent. Every once in a while I heard what sounded like someone revving an engine or motorcycles racing. I wondered if it wasn’t a crazed landowner come to a perimeter check Christmas night. Although I saw lights off in the distance, they never came close.
I made it to Hope Camp and breathed a deep sigh of relief when I saw a plain metal national park trail juncture sign on a post. To the south of this junction lies the wreckage of a windmill and a small building -- Hope Camp. The moon was almost half full and the night warm. I built a modest fire out of the charred remains of a previous fire in the sand. I sat, took my shoes off, and rubbed my feet in the cool, massaging sand. Until my big toe snagged a bright green round cluster of buried thorns.
I have to watch everything I touch. This hyper attention to movement lends a certain zen focus to the hike. It’s mentally exasperating in a simpler, more mechanical, er, mindful sense than the rigors of academe. I must pay close attention to my immediate surroundings, scan 15-20 feet ahead for a path without a thorny dead-end, and survey the overall terrain for the perfect, safest, most direct route. Tough work, but I feel a closer kinship with the landscape, something I worried about losing by using the GPS.
The thorns come in all shapes and sizes. The barrel cactus thorn curves like a hook and is segmented like a bird talon. The prickly pear has big, obvious thorns, evenly spaced. But when I got stuck by one of its barbs, it also stuck me with countless small barbs no thicker than thin hair. I’m glad I took online advice and packed a fine tooth comb. It helped extract the tinies.
This desert is quintessential Arizona, what the general public imagines of this state, the Sonoran desert. I love it, but it is some of the most forbidding country to ‘schwack through. But now, finally, I’m exchanging the prickly world for pine as I ascend the foothills of the Rincons, ON TRAIL!!!, in a national park!!
[postscript: The following is flashback material written the same day as this journal entry. I forgot I wrote this and just recently wrote a postscript note mentioning much of what I describe here. After much wrangling, I’ve decided to leave both versions to compare recent recollection to long memory.]
+On Christmas Eve I discovered new trail about a mile south of I-10 and continuing to Cienega Creek. It’s really beautiful trail, especially a long stretch looking down into the creek valley. I peered over the edge once and scared a herd of gray-backed mule deer.
+Hope Camp, ironically named, is on NPS property, but surrounded by private property. I can see why no AZT exists to here. The land is tied up in private and NPS interests, though I did see a few signs for “Arizona Trust Land.” [postscript: more on that later…]
+The shaded thermometer here at Madrone Ranger Station reads 85 degrees. I’m barefoot and comfortably cool in the shade. Why can’t it be this comfortable at night.
+Descending one of the gullies in my bushwhack from Hope Camp to here, I stepped on a large flat rock. My weight made it slide off its ledge. I leapt safely aside. The cavity exposed by the fallen boulder contained the perfectly intact skeleton of some small mammal.
+ Night hike along a westward powerline easement road. A post. “Private property. No trespassing.” Fenced in on both sides of the road, those signs every 50 feet or so. Overkill. Just a bit.
The road comes to a T. To the right somebody’s driveway. A dog barks. To the left, north, a gate, “No Trespassing.” Also, written in sharpie on a cardboard wrapped in duct tape, “ABSOLUTELY… N..T..”
I skirt along the fence line. The dog barks. It sounds closer. The fence bottoms out in a hollow thick with thistle thorn shrubs -- impassable. Back up to the road. Fug it. I flout the signs and slink along the driveway, sans light, silent, creeping, but fast. I don’t see any lights. But there’s lots of cows. I’m smaller than a cow. The driveway opens up onto a small house, propane tank, kids play set, whew! No one’s home.
I skirt by, across a wash and thorny madness -- sans light! -- dog barking! -- closer! -- I reach a barb wire fence and do what I’ve done often the past few days. I slink under the fence -- more ballet grace, sensei eastern mystic attention to the Buddha Jesus agape nowness, so fleeting. I haven’t cut myself on barbed wire yet. That’s devotion. Skill. A feat to clumsy ol’ me. There but for grace, grace, grace and movement and agape. I could be a bony tail, knuckly joints curved to an ‘S.’

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