Tuesday, March 17, 2015

AZT Day 9-Oracle Ridge

Mile 201 (American Flag Trailhead) to 185 (past Marshall Gulch Trailhead)
16 miles

Dropped off before dawn at the American Flag trailhead by Marney of the Chalet Village Motel in Oracle. We had a productive and restful stay there.  Marney is a jewel and makes everything easy for hikers.
Starting off at lower elevations, with mountains ahead.
Flower-lined trail.
I made the mistake of taking a shower before I left town with soap from the hiker box. It turned out to be awfully fragrant, and as I hiked, I could barely stand smelling myself. Couldn't wait for the smell of sweat to replace the artificial aroma that seemed so out of place in the fresh air.
I want to smell flowers, not smell like a flower.
Climbed into the Santa Catalina Mountains and into a different world. Hard to imagine a bigger contrast than starting in the desert with cactus and ending up in this pine forest with babbling streams.
Heading up the switchbacks.
High Jinx was only a couple miles from the trailhead, so we got a break this morning and were able to carry minimal water, then filled up at the water spigot. Knowing we pass reliable water this evening, we can just carry a little. Took lots of morning photos since I felt so light and free without water.  We are entering passages that are suppose to have more water, and the worst is behind us.
Filling up at High Jinx Ranch.
Saw no other hikers but ATVers passed us on the road. They stopped to chat and were friendly so it was hard to be annoyed by the roar of their engines.

Up high, the air was chilly and we put on our puffy jackets at rest stops, even midday.

Difficult climbing, over 3000 feet net gain, with ups and downs in between. Lots of fall-line trail, loose rocks, and overgrown trail. Felt like we were doing a painful bushwhack where the bushes bite back, only we were on the AZT. Technical footing. But views in both directions and so exciting to be in big mountains.
Jan on Oracle Ridge.
This is our first sky island, and from up here, we can see how fitting this term is. A sea of flat desert stretches out with views of other island mountains in the distance. I remember learning of the sky islands in grad school, how a scientist who studied phylogeography of sky island organisms came to our department and gave me such good ideas for my research project. I was excited by her novel, powerful statistical methods. Now, I search my brain trying to recall what plants or maybe was it insects that she studied. But back then it was all about the genetics and math, and now I am here and I can see this environment in real life instead of in equations and figures. I miss doing research, but I love being out here traveling through these landscapes. Maybe someday I will find balance.

As I contemplated work/life, an aphid (alate) landed on my leg. I did my thesis on aphids, so they are the thing I know more about than anything else in the world. I started telling Jan about about aphid biology, digging into that science place in my brain (no nice of Jan to listen as I geeked out- she's such a great hiking partner!). Made me realize how my sense of comfort is so tied into things I know about- how there are so many unknowns in the desert, how I uncomfortable I am when I don't know the plants in an area or the ecology.

On top of these mountains the Arizona Trail passes through the resort town of Summerhaven. We made it in time to have dinner at the hiker-friendly Sawmill Run Cafe. Huge delicious salads and they filled our water bottles. Then with full bellies, we walked through town and back onto the trail.
At home among the ponderosas.
It feels like coming home to be hanging amongst these towering pines in the crisp air. Near a small creek with soothing sounds. Oh trees and water! I slept deeply, more soundly than I have in months. The inner peace that is so illusive- I taste it in these mountains. Feeling so full of life here.
Hanging in the trees.


  1. big smiles reading this, ponderosas are my favorite. :D

    1. Mine too! Their needles made the trail soft, and they smell so good.

  2. I love the sky islands! Are you to the national park yet? I'm thinking not yet?

    1. The sky islands are incredible! This is my first time visiting them. Yes, we've gone through the Saguaro Nat'l Park already. Still working on updating the blog now that we are on our zero day.

  3. "Couldn't wait for the smell of sweat to replace the artificial aroma that seemed so out of place in the fresh air." Yes! I know that feeling!

    Loving your updates so much!

    1. So funny how we all go through this as backpackers, how our sense of smell is altered the more time we spend out in the woods. It was tempted to roll around in the dirt to get that darn flowery scent off. Ended up letting the sweat glands work their magic.

  4. You crack me up with the hammock pics. Seriously, you really are not embracing the cowboy camping idea. at all. Ha.

    1. OMG you totally busted me on the cowboy camping idea. I can get with the cowboy camping in theory, but then out on the trail.... oh I think I just love my hammock way too much. Maybe next time??? Haha!

  5. Oh remember the feeling of seeing that first stream in Summerhaven and even though it paralleled the road, it was so refreshing. Finding a real forest with a nearby bubbling brook made us even more giddy and made for the best night's sleep. The smell of pine needles . . . ahhhhh!!!

    1. Wasn't that incredible, the contrast of being in the forest after all that cactus and heat! Loved how we both had that same reaction and got that best night sleep ever! Don't think I'd have appreciated it half as much if we hadn't worked so hard to get there!