Sunday, February 24, 2019

Snow Thanks, I'll Pass

Photo credit: Pat Mount from her home in Tucson
Waning Gibbous Moon

This whole snowing-in-Arizona thing solidifies the notion that my crash in the canyon may have been a trail god blessing in disguise. Even a younger, stronger, healthier Palomino would have struggled to continue through this February mess. I am fairly certain much of it will melt by this time next month, but right now I would not want to try it. The Arizona Trail holds a lot of promise for beautiful hiking. I'll wait.

Posted by Jason Farnsworth. Image source unknown.

On the Facebook Arizona Trail 2019, hikers and local trail folks have posted photos of the scene at various points along the trail. I have taken the liberty of stealing some of them without permission, so my apologies in advance to anyone who might object. I will give credit when I know who took the pictures. Here is Patagonia, the town about 15 miles south of where I got hurt. Great place to visit, by the way.

Photo credit: Ken Taylor

Even the city of Tucson got snowed on this past week. I'm sure it happens now and then, but when you think of Tucson, do you picture snow at ~2,100 feet? Mt. Lemmon, northeast of the city, where I would have camped Thursday or Friday had I continued, recorded overnight temperatures well below zero and a couple of feet of new snow. Check out the humorous Tucson Police Department video.

Photo credit: Pat Mount
The further north you go, the deeper the snow and the colder the temps. Many of the access roads are buried or iced over. Some have been cleared. Passage 8 is pictured here. 

Photo credit: Ken King

The Mazatzal Mountains, said to be part of one of the most beautiful, if strenuous passages, look like they will be definitely challenging for quite some time.

Photo credit: Gary Householder

Deep snow on top of sharp cactus with obliterated trail means slow going, which means more clothing, food, and fuel to carry. It is possible, of course. I have hiked through stuff like this before and I am sure there will be strong hikers who will do it this year. But not me. The American Flag trail head is pictured here.

Photo credit: Gary Faulkenberry

Then of course there is the Grand Canyon. Is this how you imagine the approach to the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim? Yikes! Don't follow this piggy!

Photo credit: Haley Johnson
I will wait and hike what I can some day if I am still able. I want to see a Gila Monster and cacti and wildflowers and mountain trails through Jeffrey pines. I want to test my memory of the Grand Canyon formations up close. I want to enjoy the kaleidoscope of colors I know Arizona has to offer. Mess with snow? Not so much.

Peace, Love, and Arizonasnowmageddon 2019,

Monday, February 18, 2019


Full Moon

After resting for a full week, I tested out my knee Saturday with a flat, slow jaunt into town and back with the liberal use of a walking stick. Happy to report I think I am going to be okay. My long distance backpacking days may be over, but maybe not. I will definitely need to throttle back the scale of my trips and settle for shorter, quicker trips in warm seasons with a bare minimum of gear. I still get excited about it. I don't want to call it quits just yet.

Close to Patagonia, the beginning of Passage 4.
My brief impressions of the Arizona Trail left me wanting more. I can tell there would be parts of it I would not like, but I am attracted to the idea of section hiking most of it and caching clean water in strategic areas beforehand. I really do not want to drink that cow poo water I saw, even if it does make for funny stories and delectable gross-out photos.

I was already starting to dig the countryside.
That night after my injury, just as I was settling into my sleeping bag, I heard a very loud scream or screech coming from what seemed to be a very short distance away from my tent. If you have ever slept in a tent, you are no doubt familiar with the sensation that loud sounds can seem really close and soft sounds can seem even closer. It is easy to get spooked when you are on your back, zipped up tight. It's a vulnerable feeling to be sure, but less so when you are used to it.

When I heard that scream or screech, followed by a few short barks, I immediately identified it as at least one coyote in some sort of distress. I wasn't sure how close it was, but I guessed no more than fifty feet. My reaction was not one of fear. I wondered instead if maybe I had made my camp too close to a mother coyote's den and she was warning me to go away or warning her pups to stay put. The signal (can't call it a howl, it was not a typical coyote howl that I hear regularly where I live) repeated every couple of minutes for about a quarter of an hour, then ceased. The direction it came from never changed. Then suddenly, all was quiet.

Here is a YouTube recording of various coyote sounds. The ones I heard were the high-pitched sort of screaming/screeching/whistling tones that really get your attention. I don't know enough about them to interpret their meanings.

Anyway, of course, no coyote actually threatened me physically or tried to get my food or anything like that. Much later, in the middle of the night, I heard something kind of slowly creeping around my tent for a few minutes, but it seemed bigger - could have been a cow or a deer, I dunno. I focused on it for a minute, then soon went back to sleep. It was too durn cold and my leg was too durn stiff to investigate. I saw no tracks the next morning.

My feeling right now is that I would like to go back in the fall and hike southbound from the Utah border to Flagstaff, then return next spring to do another section. One thing for certain is that hiking on ice and snow are not in my future. I must become a lot  smarter about when I pick my starting dates from now on.

Peace, Love, and Lessons Learned,

Monday, February 11, 2019


Waxing Crescent Moon

I'm getting this trainsleeping thing down pretty good. I got more rest last night than ever before riding from Tucson to L.A. Union Station. The keys for me are back and neck support - a lumbar pillow of some sort and a rolled up jacket or small pillow to keep my neck straight. All the rest of it is pretty natural. Of course, having two seats to yourself helps!

Yesterday I looked around the immediate area of the Tucson Amtrak Station for things of interest. Among them were the one hundred year old Hotel Congress (crawling with hipsters) and the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum (tiny but fun). There is also an exceptional market a few blocks away called Johnny Gibson's.

The Amtrak station has several displays that caught my eye, especially this one. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in lawman pose.

And this gal. Who doesn't love a girl with a little spunk?

Right next door is Maynard's Kitchen, a good place for a light breakfast. It's named after Maynard Dixon  a somewhat acclaimed western artist. A few of his prints are on display in the lobby. I like that stuff.

Hope to be home around dark tonight - not really ready to sit still yet, but I will have to lie low for the time being.

Peace, Love, and Rehab,

Saturday, February 9, 2019

X-man Mission

Waxing Crescent Moon

Okay, so my hike didn't work out, big boo-hoo, but it's time to move on. The swelling has receded a lot and my knee has regained some range of motion. Soon the pain when I walk will most likely ease up and I will be fine...for normal pursuits.

One of the great positives of this trip has been meeting Lisa Smith and Nancy Reid of Big Blend Radio and Parks and Travel Magazine fame. They exceeded all my trail angel expectations, providing rides to and from the AZT and sharing stories of their interesting and far-ranging travels. A great experience with two really bright, talented humans.

Today on the way to Tucson from Patagonia, they stopped to show me the San Xavier Mission outside of town. Knowing I live in San Juan Bautista and that I hike frequently on the De Anza Trail there, they wanted me to see yet another Mission along Juan Bautista De Anza's exploration route from Mexico to the San Francisco Bay Area centuries ago. This mission looks massive from the outside, ornately decorated and imposing against the backdrop of the surrounding desert.

Inside, well, it's kind of odd, leaning toward the creepy. I don't get the feeling of being in a church so much as in the setting of a Fellini movie. What's going on here, X-man? Were you trying to scare me or inspire me or what?

After an initial feeling of circus horror sensory shock and house of mirrors vertigo, I settled on a response of grinning irreverence slash outright laughter. Not the usual tourist reaction or that of a pious religious enthusiast, I'm sure, but truthfully, I was amused.

Alfred Hitchcock would have a field day in here. I kept waiting for Anthony Quinn to show up, or Vincent Price, or Anthony Perkins, or maybe even Malcolm McDowell. Wooooo! Spooky!

You can only take just so much over-the-top, scare-the-natives stuff, so soon we transferred our attention to the Cam Boh Trail for a slow amble/hobble through some glorious chain cholla and other cacti. Pretty cool!

All in all, this was a great travel day with a terrific pair of fellow wanderers. Thanks, Lisa and Nancy, and good luck with your upcoming national tour!

Peace, Love, and Exploration,

Friday, February 8, 2019

Well That Was Quick

Waxing Crescent Moon

Just like that, one quick slip, and this trip is done.

I'm going home. The final leg of an oddly circuitous re-route around a closed mining reclamation area in passage 4 is a fairly steep, short, bouldery canyon with pools of water and lots of ice. I was most of the way through, picking my way downslope slowly over the rocks, when I slipped.

I didn't go completely airborne, thank goodness, using my poles to come to an awkward, four-legged stop, but the brunt of the force jacked up my already jacked up right knee. It hurt, but that knee always hurts. It hurts when I'm just kicking back watching TV - I'm pretty used to that. But after I made camp and crawled into my tent, I could see it was swollen. Overnight, it became seriously puffed up and stiff.

I thought about what I had done that day. What if I had cracked my head on one of those boulders as I fell? How long would it have taken someone to find me? There wasn't a soul around for miles.

I thought that someone would probably say, "At least he went out doing what he loved." Nonsense. No one loves cracking their head on a boulder. I would rather go out watching re-runs of the Beverly Hillbillies while eating a pint of Cherry Garcia.

The truth is I really shouldn't be doing this stuff any more. It is time to retire from backpacking and settle for the fine life of a gentleman dayhiker and car camper. It's fun, it's healthy, and I can't get into as much trouble that way.

This morning I hobbled a few slow miles on a dirt road through the restricted area. Ridiculously slow, no fun whatsoever. Finally, a bright young worker with the environmental crew saw me and gave me a lift back to Patagonia in his company truck. Hallelujah. As always, angels abound.

Next I will figure out how to get home. Patagonia is a good place to rest.

"It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."

Peace, Love, and Aging,

Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Waxing Crescent Moon

I wasn't supposed to be here yet. All this confusion is Amtrak's fault. Originally, I booked my ticket to Tucson for mid-February, still winter but leaning toward springtime in these parts. But Amtrak cancelled my train and the only available alternative was the one I settled for, the end of January/beginning of February - right smack dab in the evil heart of the howling polar vortex.

So how did I get to Patagonia, 50 trail miles from the border? Well, I didn't posthole my way over the snowy Huachuca Mountains, that's for sure. Joelle and Clyde, my newfound Sierra Vista trail angel buddies, talked me out of that one. Something about "winter advisory in effect" with a ton of new snow and temps in the teens. Details, details, details.

Instead, Clyde offered to take me to Sonoita in his sporty blue Prius as blustery rain held court beyond the windshield. I took shelter at the Sonoita Inn, a western style hotel that was once a western style shopping mall. I liked it. The rooms are named after local ranchers. Mine was called Blaine Somebody, and I was glad to be warm and dry in his brand-sizzled, all wood domain. Wind and rain continued to pummel the window glass all night and into the morning.

Cleone the friendly, personable inn manager, told me that that lady who owned the place used to be part owner of the super horse Secretariat. How cool is that?

I left the Sonoita Inn at about 9 a.m., headed for the lonesome gas station-turned-diner about a quarter mile up the highway. I knew it was a diner because, hanging up above the old gas pumps, there was a big red-lettered sign that read "DINER." It was blowing cold rain, I was hungry, and no way was I going to walk the 13 miles to Patagonia on an empty stomach.

Inside, there were half a dozen ball-capped dudes eating and two eyebrow-pencilled women working, one cook, one waitress. I could have been anywhere in the bloomin'  USA, it was so classic. I was at a DINER in America and I loved it.

I don't much care for hitchhiking, especially in the goldurn rain with the dadgum wind turning my fricken rain hood into an annoying air balloon. Prospective ride-givers might think I'm an alien with a giant head and pass me by. Who could blame them?

So I did what I always do. I asked the waitress politely in an audible but respectful tone if she knew anybody in town who could cart me to Patagonia. I offered to pay for somebody's breakfast or chip in 10 bucks for gas. Then I ordered my vittles, ate it all up, and sure enough, Rod from Wisconsin sauntered up and offered me a ride. Rod has a cool bird dog and a Chevy Equinox and soon I was in town.

I like Patagonia. I wonder what it looks like when it's not inside a raincloud.

This hike, if you can call it that, so far is an exercise in semi-manic flexibility. I have changed plans by the hour every day since I left home. Those first 50 miles of the trail? Not happening this trip. The remaining 750? It's anybody's guess. The AZT is divided into 43 passages. Tomorrow, I will leave from Patagonia to hike passages 4 and 5.

And then I'll go on to Tucson and make some more plans. Sooner or later the polar vortex will go away. Or else it won't. It's a good thing I don't give a sh*t!

Peace, Love, and Roll With It,

Monday, February 4, 2019

Holding Pattern

New Moon

Waiting around is not my strong suit, but I think I am doing the right thing. I have been holed up in the Western Motel in Sierra Vista, AZ for the past two nights. The weather forecast has been threatening, both here and twenty miles or so to the southwest where the AZT begins near Montezuma Pass. Tomorrow is supposed to be clear, Wednesday cold and wet, and the rest of the week VERY cold. At some point, like tomorrow morning for me, the hike has to begin regardless. Hanging out here is just degrading my hard earned conditioning.

Yesterday I took a five-mile stroll across Sierra Vista to the local Big 5 store to purchase another layer of longjohns for added warmth. Along the way, I collected some more pictures of bike racks, ramadas, and gazebos. Light sprinkles, but nothing big.

I managed to ignore the Super Bowl, keeping alive my streak of zero NFL games watched this season. No pre-season, no regular season, no playoffs, no Super Bowl. P. S. I Love You, my wise and beautiful sister, you would be proud.

Today I ate breakfast at the Landmark Cafe on West Fry Boulevard, a righteous establishment with great food that caters especially to the local military clientele. As I was leaving, I surreptitiously paid for the meal of an older solo gent in an Army jacket. He must have been a Korean War vet, judging from his looks and demeanor. I thought of my great friend Laynee Reyna who served in that war and "paid it forward" as they say, in her honor.

It's good to pay attention. A little empathy never hurt anybody.

Peace, Love, and Patience,

Saturday, February 2, 2019


Waning Crescent Moon

I am safe and sound in Sierra Vista, AZ after a hectic two days of bus, train, and automobile travel. Many thanks to Captain Chem; the Earl of Montecito and his wiley wonderdog Myra; unnamed, faceless busmen and engineers; and Lisa & Nancy of Big Blend Radio fame for shuttling me from San Juan Bautista to here. I'm kind of trashed from the all night Amtrak experience between L.A. Union Station and Tucson, but all in all, I could not be happier.

Today Lisa & Nancy gave me a little tour of the area near Sierra Vista, the closest trail town to the Mexican border. The highlight was a walking visit to a wonderful San Pedro River BLM Park that featured cool historical buildings, native plant gardens, prime birding sites, and braided walking trails that lead down to the surprisingly healthy flow of the San Pedro River.

I have been a guest on Big Blend Radio a few times the last couple of years so I kind of felt like I already knew Lisa and Nancy. Now I can say I actually met them! They are just as fun and witty and well-traveled in person as they are on air.

The mountains that form the first section, or passage, of the Arizona Trail (AZT) look cold and a little snowy and shrouded in wet clouds. Rain is forecast for the next two days, so I will wait until Tuesday to tackle the initial fifty miles.

Here are a few pictures from today's One Hour Walk by the San Pedro River.

Now to shut my eyes and mind.

Peace, Love, and Nap Time,