A hiker’s journal: September 2012

Latest entry first.

Contrails over Shaw Butte.

September 23, Sunday:  Inner basin, North Mountain Park.  I take off one of my longer hikes through the park, Visitors Center to the “southwest dam” via the “north dam.”  Distance about 4 miles.  It is nearing 5:30 when I hit the trail for the “southwest dam.”

Contrail or colorful tornado?

Only shade from the western hills makes the hike comfortable here at the end of another scorching day.  I am not alone.  I count 13 hikers, 5 bikers and 2 joggers, not to mention a beautiful caterpillar that for a few moments crawls as my companion on the trail.  And there are the two coveys of Gambel’s quail.

My traveling companion, for a short distance anyway.

The first, a covey of nine, scurries across in front of me, and I notice some small ones, recently hatched no doubt.   The sunset is beautiful, and I stop to shoot some long colorful contrails over Shaw Butte to the northwest.  It never fails.  I always find something interesting out here in the semi-wilds.

September 16, Sunday:  Inner Basin Loop Trail, San Francisco Peaks.  We are hiking through a forest of Ponderosa pine at about 8,000 feet elevation when suddenly at the start of some switchbacks an amazing sight opens up.

Trailhead into a forest of Ponderosa pine and aspen.

A huge stand of white-barked aspen lays before us.  Nothing but aspen.  We leave pine country and march upward into this dreamy sanctuary, the leaves still green but on the cusp of turning yellow, gold and orange after the first cold spell in a few weeks.  Then, with the foliage change, this lightly-traveled trail will itself change into a zoo of hikers with cameras.  The aspen sough in a gentle breeze as we approach the top of a ridge on a sunny afternoon, the temp 68 F. back at the car below.  Later, along the jeep road known as Waterline Road, Nebra locates a sunny spot for lunch.  A few steps away in the shade shivering cool awaits.  We are near the 10,000-foot level.  The ski run at Snow Bowl looms on the south.  There is a hurry to our pace as we descend to the campground and our car trying to beat darkness.  And we barely do it.  Walking down to the Prius, a fit elderly man walks out from his RV to greet us.  He asks if we had hiked up to Mount Humphreys, Arizona’s highest point at 12,633 feet.  We tell him we’ve done only a short hike of 5-6 miles up to the ridge and beyond a bit.  We didn’t even do the loop.  The man says he has been hiking in the mountains around Telluride, in Colorado, and has just arrived here at the Peaks north of Flagstaff.  He intends to do Humphreys tomorrow.   His greeting adds a nice touch to the end of the day, a day we missed the heat of another triple-digit day back home in Phoenix.

Gateway to an oasis.

September 15, Saturday:  Badger Springs Wash, Agua Fria National Monument.  About 57 miles north of Phoenix on Interstate 17, Nebra wheels her Prius onto a bumpy dirt road and drives to the trailhead in this wilderness area created in January 2000 by President Bill Clinton during his final year in office.  Although you can hear traffic on the busy highway less than a mile away, we are driving through another world. It is desolate over here, desert scrub mixed among high treeless mesas.

A sandy Badger Springs Wash.

We park near the only other car and begin a slow descent down the sandy Badger Springs Wash Trail toward the Agua Fria River.  Desert quickly evolves into riparian land with trees, green bushes, wildflowers and animal scat.   I stop to photograph a butterfly hanging to a waist-high plant with yellow flowers, a plant I believe is camphorweed.  It is pungent and sticky and I wonder how the butterfly so nimbly escapes capture on the green leaves.

Agua Fria River pool.

I am startled as I arrive at the idle river.  I did not expect this much water.  I stare into a greenish gray pool at the top of a gooseneck in the stream and deep enough to take a swim.  The pool runs maybe 100 yards in length and 30 feet at its widest with huge boulders and outcroppings on three sides.  I read where a Native American culture was based here 700 years ago, growing corn and other crops.   William Perry and his family set up camp near here in 1878 and supposedly mined gold and milled it on a crude arrastra.

A boulder field in the streambed.

We cross the river to the lush south bank, hopping atop stones and using our hiking poles for balance.  From there, we go right, following a dim path downstream and stepping through knee-high grass and then mud to a spot where huge boulders dot the streambed where maybe a week ago water flowed.  Below, the river drops dramatically into a deep canyon we can not see from here.

A Monarch butterfly at work.

We turn around and head back.  Exploration of the canyon and what must be a waterfall area will have to wait for another trip.  Traveling up Badger Springs Wash, Nebra sees a wild pig ahead, a javelina that soon darts out of sight into shrub.  In all her many desert hikes, this is the first javelina she’s seen.  This was my 25th of the 60 Charles Liu hikes and my first new one in several months, having avoided summer’s triple-digit heat.  Heading back to I-17 and a cool weekend in Flagstaff, an impressed and happy Nebra says, “Thank you, Bill Clinton.”

September 11, Tuesday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  As I walk along with my “Grindelwald” hiking pole near dusk, my mind flits back to events of 11 years ago and an op-ed piece in today’s New York Times.  The piece,”The Deafness Before the Storm” by Kurt Eichenwald, points out numerous other warnings beside the famous August 6, 2001, presidential briefing, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike U.S.,” ignored by the Bush administration in the months leading up 9/11.  I believe our government had a hand in the attack that killed thousands of Americans.  As more documents become declassified, I further believe the case against our government will grow even clearer.   As those blood-boiling thoughts subside, I hear the yelp of a coyote.  It is almost dark, 10 minutes before 7.  I think it comes from a ravine below Shaw Butte.  Then to the east, across the basin on a far hill, come responding yelps, communication eons old that make me put 9/11 in perspective and how man violates the laws of nature over and over again and how surely someday he must pay the bitter price.   It is not a good way to walk off the trail but that’s the mood I was in tonight under a dark sky.

September 6, Thursday:  North Mountain Park, inner basin.  Hiking was the furthest thing from my mind today.  But as I approached my car to go home after lunch, my eyes latched on to Shaw Butte in North Mountain Park.  And suddenly, like a  horse drawn to the barn, I wheeled eastward to my old stomping ground off 7th Street, hauled my gear from the trunk, filled up the water bag and headed out from the Visitors Center.  It wasn’t ideal.  The temp rested at 101 on my car gauge.  But it was nicer than that.  An overcast sky and a stout southwest wind helped matters.  I felt a tinge of urgency and walked fast.  Thunderclouds loomed in the south and another brown dust storm approached.   Although I’d hiked several days in the Swiss Alps in August, it was nice to be back.  I hadn’t done Arizona hiking since July 29 when Nebra and I got caught in a rainstorm at this very park.  Within a few steps I heard the gabbling of Gambel’s quail.  I like to think they were welcoming me back.  Nothing much had changed out here.  Maybe the leaves of the creosote were glossier.  Some had even retained their little yellow flowers.  I counted seven hikers, a mountain biker and 3 joggers.  Not many.  I hope this 2-mile hike will get me energized to hit the heated trails more often.  The cooler weather of mid-October seems a long way off.

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