Friday, August 15, 2014

Day 27: Sycamores, Sunflowers and the Halfway Mark!

Sunrise! And this time, there would be no clouds
at all around to use as a backdrop in my photos.
May 9: I'd finally given up trying to do 25 miles per day into Pine and would just take my time getting there when I originally thought I would. So I woke up in no great rush, but with the intention of doing at least 20 miles and--probably!--reaching the halfway mark of the Arizona Trail which was about 22 miles away. The halfway mark is a big milestone for any long-distance hike, and I'd be quite content to reach it.

The gravel road I followed for so long the previous afternoon quickly turned back into a trail and headed downhill into warmer, less-hospitable climates. I think a cold front must have been moving through, however, because it didn't actually feel any warmer than it did the day before. It helped that the low areas of the trail today I hit in the morning, but it was more than that. I was sure that temperatures had fallen a bit from the week before--and thank goodness for that! I'd take it for as long as it would last! Don't get me wrong--it was still quite warm out! Just not the miserable hot that had me questioning my sanity for being out here in the first place. =)

The trail led into grasslands then landed me at Sycamore Creek--one of the biggest water sources I had seen  on the trail. Off the top of my head, only the Gila River had been bigger. Not only was the water clear and gorgeous, but it was moving at a nice clip--not a mere trickle. I can't say I fully trusted the water, though. I knew there was some development just upstream--a small town named Sunflower that, according to my notes, had absolutely no services for hikers. And although I didn't see any evidence of cattle in the immediate vicinity, I had little doubt they were upstream of here. The water had plenty of time to become contaminated, but it looked absolutely gorgeous. Cool, clear and beautiful! I felt lazy and didn't want to treat anymore water and decided to take my chances. I wouldn't treat this water. Instead, I filled up my water bottles and soaked my shirt, hat and handkerchief in the water to cool off.

One of my last views of Roosevelt Lake.

I took a long break by Sycamore Creek--I wasn't in a rush anymore and moments like these didn't come along often! While lounging by a tree, admiring the flowing water, I saw something swim through it. I perked up and moved to the edge of the water for a better view. A turtle! There was a turtle swimming through the water! I whipped out my camera to get a photo and was frustrated when I aimed it and looked at the screen on the back to see... the reflection off the water. I couldn't see anything in the water through my camera! I needed a photo of that turtle! What the hell? Why wasn't my camera showing what I could see so clearly with my own two eyes?

I pulled my sunglasses off--they're polarized and sometimes I have trouble seeing the display on my camera when they're on, and as soon as the sunglasses came off, I couldn't see the turtle in the water anymore. It vanished--replaced by the reflection of the trees behind the creek. The problem with the camera suddenly became clear to me--it didn't have sunglasses on! My camera needed sunglasses! And probably polarized ones!

I quickly moved my sunglasses in front of the lens of my camera and the bottom of the creek popped into view like magic. It was a remarkable discovery for me. I know stuff like UV filters and polarized lenses can help with photos, but in my experience, they just help make an already scenic view pop a little bit more. This time, it was like night and day. I simply could not see through the reflections the water cast without those glasses. I'd have probably never seen that turtle at all had I not been wearing my sunglasses at the time. I'd have to remember that trick the next time I wanted to take a photo of something that was underwater.

In the meantime, I had a photo of a turtle to get! I scanned around for the turtle, but it had ducked under a ledge into some dark shadows and I couldn't see it anymore. It had gone to ground. Or gone to water, I suppose, as the case might be. I missed my turtle photo. Shoot! It took me too long to figure out how to get the photo. I kept my eyes open after that, hoping the turtle would come back out from its hiding place, but it didn't.

Eventually, though, I knew I had to continue onward, and that's what I did. Given the size of the creek, I was a little surprised not to find a footbridge or something to cross it. I looked a bit upstream and downstream for a bridge or some way to cross, but didn't see anything. It wasn't a deep creek--just a foot or two--and maybe 10 to 15 feet across. It would be easy to ford. A few trees that had fallen most of the way across the creek could probably be combined with a few boulders sitting in the creek to make a crossing without my feet getting wet, but it didn't seem like it was worth the effort. Water on my feet would probably feet good anyhow.

So I plunged in. My first step in left me breathless. Wow, that water was cold! It wasn't really that cold, but compared to the air temperature, it was probably 30 or more degrees colder which is still something of a shock on my body. I plunged my other foot in and my breath went out of me again. I know I was being a wuss, but dang, how do those polar bear plunge people do it?

After about five seconds in the water, though, I got used to it and even started to enjoy it. Oh, wow, it felt good.... Who'd have thought I'd be fording a creek in the middle of Arizona? =)

I walked up the other bank and back onto the trail. The trail paralleled Sycamore Creek for miles--not right next to the shoreline, but at a distance where I could see the line of green trees at the bottom of the canyon.

After leaving the gravel road, the trail descended into these grasslands.
I was pulling stickers out of my socks for the rest of the day!

The trail ducked under Highway 87 through a drainage ditch--a busy highway with lots of traffic and big rigs. I wondered where all those people were headed, in a rush, racing across the Arizona landscape--and none of them stopping to enjoy Sycamore Creek or the turtle living in it.

A couple of miles later, the trail passed a good-sized tree which cast a descent shadow, and in that shadow I saw an H. sapiens at rest--one of the rarest of species seen on the Arizona Trail. He didn't see me at first, and I closed in quickly before he could hide under a rock or otherwise run off. Next to him was a book I recognized--Your Complete Guide to the Arizona National Scenic Trail. I had that same book. At home, though, because it was too friggin' big and heavy to carry on the trail! He had a daypack with him, so he clearly wasn't thru-hiking the trail. But it was a hiker! An honest to goodness hiker! I couldn't remember the last time I had seen one on the trail.

I said, "Hello!" and he didn't run off under a rock or away from me. He did something even more unusual--he returned my, 'hello' and added, "How are you doing?"

Will wonders never cease?!

And we got to talking. His name was John--with an H (I asked explicitly if it had an H for my journal and subsequent blogging!) and he was, indeed, section hiking the Arizona Trail. He was only doing about 4 miles of it today and was now hiking back to his vehicle--in the same direction that I was walking--so we started walking together for a bit.

Ants hard at work on the trail.
From him, I learned that I was not, in fact, the very last thru-hiker on the Arizona Trail this season. Allegedly--and it was pure rumor as far as I was concerned, but I'd take rumor if that's all that was available--there was a guy behind me who was running the trail. "Absurd!" we both agreed. I couldn't imagine how hot the area around Oracle and Superior might have been by the time he was running through that. The story John had heard was that this runner was planning to average about 40 miles per day and finish the trail in just 3 weeks--21 days. I'd already been on the trail for more than that--and I hadn't even reached the halfway mark yet! (Although I was closing in on it rapidly and expected to hit it later this afternoon.)

But it was my first ray of hope that maybe--just maybe--I would meet another thru-hiker on the Arizona Trail. Or thru-runner. Or whatever he was. Someone else covering, on foot, the entire distance from Mexico to Utah.

Assuming, of course, that the rumor was even true. I had no way to verify one way or another the accuracy of this information. John wasn't even sure if the thru-runner had even started the trail yet.

We talked for a couple of hours, but eventually our paths split. He headed right to the trailhead where he parked a car and I headed left to start a steady climb into more mountains. Before we parted ways, he gave me his phone number and said if I needed anything or had an emergency to not hesitate to call him for help. I dutifully wrote it down, but was determined not to use it except at the end of the trail to call him and say, "I made it!"

After parting ways, the trail followed a small, pleasant creek high into the mountains. The climb was tiring but wildflowers bloomed like crazy alongside of it. And I got yet another scare from a rattlesnake, but this one was 5 or 6 feet away before it started rattling. I was well away from it when I heard the rattle so it didn't startle me quite as much as the other rattlesnakes on the trail did. I took a few photos of the snake, then realized that I was really missing an important component of the rattlesnake experience--the rattling! The only way to capture the rattle was with a video, so I tried taking a video of the rattlesnake. Since I was a good distance away from it (and didn't want to get any closer), I had trouble getting the darned snake to actually rattle anymore. I banged my trekking pole on a rock and waved my hands around, but it wouldn't rattle. Stupid snakes....

"Come on, Snake-y!" I begged. "Rattle for camera!" And finally, just on cue, it started rattling. Perfect! I just hoped the camera's microphone was sensitive enough to pick up the rattle from so far away.

I continued hiking, and when the trail left the creek, the trail became much more difficult to follow. It was overgrown and poorly maintained and I pulled out my topo maps every few minutes to confirm I was still headed in the correct direction. Late in the afternoon, it hooked up with another old, gravel road which was considerably easier to follow and practically flat. I flew down the trail, watching every curve in the road and finding it on my maps. I was closing in on the halfway mark now and I wanted to get a photo. Halfway! I was finally as close to Utah as I was to Mexico!

Just before Sycamore Creek, I found this old junkyard....

The halfway point isn't labeled or marked in any way so, at best, I could only estimate it. My data book showed the Saddle Mountain Trail junction at MM 397.4 and the Sheep Creek Trail junction at 400.4 miles. The halfway mark, according to my data book, was exactly 400.0 miles. It seemed like a suspiciously round number, I admit, but the entire trail from border to border was allegedly 800.0 miles which meant the halfway point was exactly 400.0 miles. A couple of miles past Saddle Mountain Trail, but less than a half mile before the Sheep Creek Trail. And on my topo map, I could get a pretty good sense of where the halfway mark was, probably accurate to within a tenth of a mile.

I took shadow photos of myself holding my trekking pole in the air triumph--if making it halfway can be considered a triumph.

When I reached the Sheep Creek Trail junction, I found a nice place to camp and went ahead and did so. I was definitely past the halfway mark now--a mere 0.4 miles past it--but I went to sleep feeling good. For the first time in my hike, I was now closer to Utah than Arizona. The trail was as good as done!

Sycamore Creek had a turtle swimming around it! But I failed to
get a photo of the turtle before it went into hiding. I was foiled by the
reflections in the water. =(
It was a shock to step into the creek, but it only took a few seconds to get
used to the water and then it felt really good on the feet!
Sycamore Creek follows the valley bottom where all those green trees
are lined up along the banks. The creek itself was hidden in the trees, though.
Highway 87 crosses this photo, just in front of the small town of Sunflower
(which had absolutely zero hiker services, according to my data book).

Ducking under Highway 87 through this drainage tunnel.

This is John, one of the extremely rare H. sapiens that I met hiking the Arizona Trail.
Here he's opening a gate for us to go through. *nodding*
The water at Sycamore Creek was gorgeous. The water in this stock pond....
...not so much. But I knew the stock pond was here and only carried enough
water to get me this far. No reason to break my back with unnecessary water!
But after seeing this stock pond, I kind of wished I had more Sycamore Creek water....
Mountains are approaching!
Wildflowers grew like mad along the trail where it followed a small creek.
These are desert globemallows.
We're almost halfway! Just another 7 miles! (As an aside, my data book listed
this trail junction as 394.0 miles from the Mexican border and 406.0 to Utah.
I think they got the sign wrong! Or installed it a mile off from where it should have been.)
More wildflowers! (I don't know what these are, but I'd guess some
kind of columbine. They have a very columbine kind of look to them!)
Morning glories
Rattlesnake on the trail!!!!

Halfway!!! To take this photo, I tried to hide my camera as a "lump" where my
hand would have been on the trekking pole. See that extra-high lump of
my hand on the right side of the trekking pole? That's my camera, taking this photo.
After 27 days and 400.4 miles, I had taken 969,589 steps according to this pedometer. =)
This pedometers tops out at 999,999 steps so I reset it to zero in the morning
for the second half of the trail.

1 comment:

Kristin aka Trekkie Gal said...

Now see, if you spoke Parseltongue, you could have gotten that snake to do whatever you wanted!