Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 17: The Oracle of Arizona

A beautiful sunrise!
April 29: The morning dawned clear and bright, and the strong winds the previous day had died into a stagnant batch of air. Early in the morning, I was okay with it--crisp and cool, stagnant air wasn't a big deal. As temperatures rose, though, I knew it would be unpleasant. No winds at all can be just as annoying as strong ones! A nice, gentle breeze is best.

From my perch on Oracle Ridge, I had a long, meandering descent to the small town of Oracle--my destination for the night. The former forests, now largely burned into grasslands, eventually turned into a traditional desert cacti community as the elevation dropped and temperatures rose.

I stopped briefly at High Jinks Ranch, near the valley bottom where my notes said I could find safe, clean water, but I took few breaks hoping to push into town as soon as possible.

The trail reached the boundaries of Oracle State Park, and I signed the register as I entered. By this point, the trail was finally out of the mountains and moved over largely rolling hills. The sun seared the ground, but it couldn't ruin my good mood. I was excited to be heading into town again, but even more, I was actually enjoying the terrain! Rivers of sweat rolled down my forehead that I continually wiped away with the back of my hand, but cacti bloomed all around me and there's a beauty in the stark landscape. Rabbits dashed under prickly pears and lizards scattered into cracks in the ground whenever I approached, and I admired the fact they could survive in such a harsh environment. As hot as it was now, and I had little doubt the temperature was hitting 90 degrees at this point, I knew it would be even worse later in the year. It was still spring--summer would be unimaginably worse.

But somehow, life still thrived.

The trail ducked under a drainage for Highway 77, the main highway into Oracle, then rose to a small trailhead on the other side. I wanted a break and the shade of the culvert would have provided a nice place for it. Except... I really wanted to get into town as well! The town was 2.2 miles down the road. The road had no shoulder to speak of and who wanted to walk 2.2 miles along a busy highway in 90 degree heat that didn't even have any shoulders? Not I!

So I pulled out some Skittles and stood on the side of the road waiting for cars to pass. Each time they did, I stuck out my thumb, and whenever there was a break in traffic, I ate Skittles. Life was good!

A little over a half hour later, after exactly 100 vehicles drove past without showing the slightest pity for a guy roasting alive in front them, I came to a decision: I should just walk into town. If I had done that from the beginning, I'd already be in town. I have a rule with hitchhiking--if you can get into town faster by walking than by hitchhiking, you may as well walk.

I put the Skittles away in my pack as another vehicle approached and stuck out my thumb. The 4-door SUV driven by an elderly gentleman passed without even slowing. Vehicle #101.

Thirsty, I took a swig from my water bottle and stuck out my thumb for the next approaching car, and #102 drove past.

I put away my water. No more cars were visible in the direction I needed to go, so I picked up my pack and started walking.

I crossed the street to the side with oncoming traffic--if I was hit by a vehicle on this highway, I wanted to see it coming! Much to my relief, though, I probably walked half a mile before a road sign pointed drivers off to the left--I guess Oracle wasn't directly on Highway 77 after all!

This new road was considerably more pleasant to walk. It wasn't so busy with traffic and the traffic there was didn't travel at such a high rate of speed.

Yeah, yeah.... tell me something I don't know!

I walked the rest of the way into town, first stopping at the post office to pick up a mail drop. Mainly my laptop with a few smaller food items.  My mom had also mailed an envelope with maps for the next couple hundred miles of trail. I definitely needed the maps!

The clerk at the post office told me there was an Arizona Trail register at the end of the counter and that the proprietors of the Chalet Village Motel had their contact information in it and would pick up hikers at no extra charge. And, if I needed to call them, I could use their phone. Sweet! (I checked my cell phone--no service in Oracle.)

I signed the register and made the call, and the woman on the phone (whose name, I'm ashamed to admit, I've now forgotten) said she'd be there in a few minutes.

I wandered back outside to wait for my ride. Oracle isn't a very big town, but it sprawls. I had looked up where I could stay for the night and the nearest place--the Chalet Village Motel--looked like it was a mile away from the post office. Not a huge distance, perhaps, but not something you want to walk when it's 90 degrees out and you've already walked closed to 20 miles. My ride arrived, and I flew through the streets of Oracle back to the motel.

The woman was wonderfully nice and accommodating and seemed quite plugged in on the needs of thru-hikers. She said she could drive me back to the trailhead in the morning (awesome! I wouldn't have to walk back!) and said I could use the laundry facilities there for no extra charge. She even had hiker boxes stuffed full of things that previous hikers decided they no longer needed and that I was to help myself to whatever I needed.

She also gave me the scoop about other thru-hikers on the trail saying that I was the first one to arrive in over a week. She thought maybe the last thru-hiker of the season had already gone by until I called from the post office. It was the first time I realized that I might very well be the last thru-hiker for this season. There is, quite literally, not a single other thru-hiker behind me on the trail. And the next closest one ahead is over a week ahead!

I asked her how many thru-hikers typically stop there each year. It sounds like the numbers, generally speaking, have been growing over the years. The best year for thru-hikers, she told me, had a little over 70 people arrive in a season. This year, there was about 50. She theorized that the severe drought Arizona was experiencing scared a few off. She knows definitively that some were scared off when they heard about the drought because she talked to those who had planned to stay there but later canceled. She looked around, though, and said, "But it's not like you can tell there's a drought just by looking around. It's always dry here."

She asked me about the water sources on the trail--was the drought making it harder to find water? And I told her no, not really. Even most of the water sources marked as "iffy" and "seasonal" still had water in them. I'm not sure my hike would have been any different in a non-drought year. "But I wouldn't have minded starting earlier in the year," I told her. "It's friggin' hot outside!"

My first order of business was to take a nice, cold shower. Then I got online to catch up with some work-related stuff and emails. For dinner, I walked a short ways to a Mexican restaurant. I didn't much care for the food, but I had leftovers which I intended to eat for breakfast.

Then I walked to a nearby Circle K where I bought mostly a lot of junk food and a couple of mac 'n' cheese boxes. There was a grocery store in town that, according to my notes, was good for resupplying, but it was back near the post office and farther away than I wanted to walk. I usually carried an extra day of food--better safe than sorry!--and I realized between that and the extra food I bought at Circle K, I should be covered for the next three days until I met Amanda. I didn't actually need the grocery store!

I headed back to the motel with my goods and stayed up much too late watching television. Life was good! =)

How can you not stop at a place called High Jinks Ranch? =)

Fresh, clean water! Wait a minute... zoom into that bucket!

Dead lizard in the bucket. Poor guy probably crawled into it
then couldn't climb back out.

According to the sign on this wagon, it's an
1895 Bain 9-A buckboard.

Desert wren nest
Prickly bear blooms

This trailhead is called the American Flag trailhead.
Can't imagine why! =)
We're still on the right path!

Decision! Decisions!
Prickly pear blooms

Fishhook cactus got its name for obvious reasons!

Webb Road blisters in the 90 degree heat!

Kannally Wash windmill

Highway 77 underpass
Highway 77, in the direction of Oracle.
I ended up walking to the post office in Oracle, but I'd get a ride to the motel!
I wasn't particularly impressed with the food
at Casa Rivera.
The Chalet Village Motel. My room was the triangle building
on the far right of this photo. =) I never spent the night
in a triangle building!


TrailTroll said...

When my father first moved from Michigan to Arizona, he shot roll after roll of pictures of hedgehogs and prickly pears in bloom. It became a family joke. He's been gone a long time now, but your pictures make me remember how excited he was about desert flora!

Evermore said...

I have never even heard of "fishhook cactus". I am feeling smarter already. Thanks for sharing your trip.