|This is Arizona Trail I expected.|
|I was delighted to find that the Arizona Trail is also like this!|
|And it was also like this!|
Diversity of the Sky Islands
Nothing could have prepared me for the diversity of the sky islands. Traveling between the mountain “islands” and then dropping down into the sea of lower elevation desert provided incredible contrasts. We passed through many ecological zones and temperatures even within a single day. The desert wasn’t what you’d think either- there were washes and the green oasis around streams and rivers. Totally varied and interesting!
|Oasis of green at Cienega Creek.|
|Is this really a national scenic trail?|
|Seeing the beauty of cactus and scrub at lower elevations.|
|Magnificent high elevation forests in Saguaro National Park.|
All along the trail, cactus spines and spiny bushes would embed in flesh and clothes. The trail is overgrown in places so we contended with vicious plants that scratched us up. Abrasion-resistant clothing and long sleeves and pants, and gaiters, provided some protection but we still got stuck.
|Battling overgrown trail. Photo by Jan.|
|Be careful of the spines. They will attack sooner or later.|
The Arizona Trail provided a different experience compared to my section hikes of other long trails like the Appalachian Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail. It felt more wild and was definitely less crowded. Navigation and water were more difficult, there were fewer planning resources, and not the network of trail angels/trail magic. All of this, for me, provided a more desirable experience—I loved the challenge and character of this trail. The fact that fewer people have hiked it and that it's not all trampled to death made if feel quite precious.
Because there are fewer long-distance hikers, we didn’t see other hikers in towns or camp with other hikers. It would have been difficult to find new hiking partners on the trail, which was something that is easy on the AT and PCT. If you are looking for a social experience, this would not be the trail for you.
Section hiking the Arizona Trail rocks
A wonderful thing about the Arizona Trail is that it is a section hikers’ paradise. The planning resources are designed to encourage section hiking, with lots of information about how to get to the trailheads, best times of year to hike each section, and mileages are given section by section. We found section hiking to be a wonderful way to experience this diverse trail.
Water sources are highly variable
Water sources along the Arizona Trail varied in reliability, palatability, and difficulty. Sources included natural springs, seeps, streams, and rivers, or man-made tanks, faucets, or troughs. I’ve never seen such diversity in water color and aroma, or seen so much water with algae and cowpies, and floating dead things. You will drink water that you’d previously never consider letting touch your skin. You will learn to appreciate water in a deep way.
|Excited about water.|
|We're suppose to drink that?|
I was apprehensive about border problems, but we did not see any illegals or drug runners. Border patrol was highly visible presence south of I-10, and especially south of Patagonia. On the trail we stayed visible, didn’t hike in the dark, and hiked together as a group of three. I spent a lot of time feeling apprehensive and scared. The northbound hikers, including several solo women, hadn't any problems either, but some of them felt scared too. I still don't know what to think about how safe it was for us to hike there, but I was relieved we didn't have trouble.
It’s way more beautiful that you can imagine
The stereotype for Arizona is cactus and sand. But the real Arizona is wildly diverse and the variety of plants, trees, insects, birds, animals and rocks is astounding. We saw hillsides carpeted in wildflowers, walked through towering pine forest, and found deep swimming holes in huge canyons. You will be amazed by the ever-changing beauty of the Arizona Trail.
|Hillsides of wildflowers.|
|Another colorful Arizona Trail sunrise.|
I hope this gives you a better idea of what to expect on the Arizona Trail. It’s a wonderful trail that seems to be gaining more popularity, and rightly so. It will provide you with an unforgettable experience if you rise to meet the challenges it presents.
The Arizona Trail Association's website has planning info and everything you need to get started.
Jan "Beekeeper" also has photos, videos, and more about our trip here.