Friday, October 10, 2014

Day 51: The End of the Arizona Trail!

Jun 2: I took my time waking up in the morning. I was in no rush. I only had to cover about 20 miles today and the terrain was practically flat. Easy, fast walking the whole day! The only place where it wasn't flat was the very end when the trail plunged over 1,000 vertical feet to the Utah border--but that was all downhill and not exactly hard either!

And.... I knew it was going to be hot down there. It was already warm up here at 7,000 feet above sea level, and it would likely be about 10 degrees warmer at the end of the trail. I wanted to get to the end at sunset if I could time it just right.

Thus, I lingered in the morning. Definitely not a day to rush! Today was a day to be savored. I'd be completing the Arizona Trail, after all. After 51 days and 800 miles, I was going to walk up to the Utah border and finally declare victory.

The hiking was largely uneventful. At Winter Road, the last decent gravel road the trail would intersect, I crossed my fingers for a hidden water cache. The nearest water was located about half a mile off trail along the road and I didn't want to hike off trail for a bunch of muddy water. No, I was getting used to finding gallon-sized containers of water. And they're always located near road intersections. If I was going to find one, it was going to be where the trail intersected Winter Road.

So I crossed my fingers that I'd find one. It would save me a mile of walking if it existed! And hot dog! There it was! Water! Clear, fresh water from an unopened gallon. I stuffed a gallon in my pack and continued onwards.

I took a couple of long, hour-plus breaks to slow my pace down. As I reached the last couple of miles of trail, where the trail started plunging in elevation to the Utah border, the views were drop-dead incredible! The trail ends at the border of Utah, but it's also the western border of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. I knew a little about the Vermilion Cliffs--home to the famous "Wave" formation and Buckskin Gulch--the deepest slot canyon in the United States. I didn't realize how large and impressive it looked--even from my outside-the-park view. The colors were vivid and the layers of sandstone glowed in the sunlight.

The views--I'm almost ready to say that they rivaled the Grand Canyon. It had some truly stunning views, but the best part of this experience was that it was a complete surprise to me! I expected the Grand Canyon to be amazing. I had no idea the end of the Arizona Trail was so darned spectacular, though! I thought of Whitney Houston and his intention to quit at the Grand Canyon. He missed out. He doesn't know it, but he should have done that last 100 miles because he cheated himself of an incredible finish. Admittedly, the Grand Canyon IS a beautiful finish in its own right, but he missed something special by not continuing onwards.

Somewhere out there, off in the distance, is Utah.
The trail ends at Stateline Campground, named that because the primitive campsites are located on the stateline. I was told that two campsites were on the Arizona side of the border and two on the Utah side, but it's not like I could see a line drawn through the dirt to verify the fact.

The throught crossed my mind.... The last thru-hiker of the season has now finished the trail....There's nobody left. Okay, so far as I know, there's nobody left. If any other thru-hikers were left behind me, I didn't know about any of them. I was a little sad to realize that there (probably) weren't anymore thru-hikers on the trail. It was a little weird, too. In all of my multitude of thru-hikes, I was never the last one off the trail. Was there a light I should turn off? There had always been other people I knew and met on the trail that were still behind me, plodding along. There was nobody behind me. Absolutely nobody.

The end was somewhat anti-climatic. I took a photo of myself with the last Arizona Trail sign, and I sat down at some benches to rest and savor the moment. But I had this sudden feeling of, "Now what am I going to do?" I felt like a dog that was chasing a car, but now that I caught it, I didn't know what to do with it.

A couple from one of the campsites saw me and asked where I had came from, and I told them from the Mexican border and I had just finished thru-hiking the Arizona Trail. "That's it," I said, pointing at the trail. "The end of the trail."

They were suitably impressed by the feat, it seemed, and I wound up talking with them for the next two hours. Their names were Ted and Suzanne. They offered me a lukewarm Coke--they didn't have any cold ones available, but I was content to take a lukewarm one. They also offered me more water. I still had the gallon of water in my pack which I hadn't even broken into yet, but I accepted some of their water. I didn't want to seem rude. And I might actually need it before I made it back to civilization--there was no water available at this campground--it was very primitive!

The sunset was spectacular--the clouds in the sky lit up like they were on fire. That was also my cue to go. Ted and Suzanne said I could crash at their campsite if I wanted to, but I had other plans. I wanted to explore this amazing place called the Vermilion Cliffs. I was already here--it would be criminal to walk 800 miles to this location then not explore this world-famous, colorful paradise at the end of the trail!

So I wanted to set up camp about 1.5 miles up a gravel road, on the Utah side of the border, at the Wire Pass Trailhead--the gateway into this hiker paradise. But I wanted to set up camp when it was still light and now that the sun was actively setting, I needed to get a move on!

I walked northward deeper into Utah until I reached the trailhead which was packed with dozens of other people camped near it. Holy cow! I was stunned at the numbers of people at the trailhead. There weren't even any camping sites there--just people camped in the parking lot and the brush around it. I climbed up a small hill in the fast dimming light to get away from the crowds and set up camp for the night. I went to sleep immediately--I wanted to wake up early and get a jump on all of these other people who I had little doubt would be sleeping in a lot later than I would!

This looks like a potato bug to me, but it wasn't moving at all.
Was this just the empty skeleton it left behind after shedding its skin?
Do potato bugs even shed their skin? Was it dead?
Whatever the reason, it made getting this photo really easy. =)

Oh, my!

This water cached at Winter Rd. saved me from having to walk
a half mile (one way!) off trail to get water. Sweet!
I'm sure happy about that water! =)
And woah--just look at that beard! That's what happens
when I stop shaving for 51 days.
Prickly pear bloom
It's a mouse! Mouse! I know these are all over the place, but
I almost never see them in the wild (except in AT shelters,
where they're everywhere). So I was pretty excited about
spotting this little critter--it was the only one I saw on the entire
trail. And on my last day, no less! And it stayed put long enough
for me to get a decent photo of it!
Little Jack is making a run for it now! (I'm calling him Little Jack.)

Ant hill!
Vermilion Cliffs, straight ahead!

Just a few miles from the end of the Arizona Trail, after walking 800 miles
with this trekking pole, it breaks! Considerate of it to break within
visual range of the trail's end! =)
The views in the final few miles overlooking the Vermilion Cliffs
were nothing short of awesome!

The trail at the bottom of the photo leads to Stateline Campground
and the end of the Arizona Trail. I can see the END OF THE TRAIL!

Here I stand, at the northern terminus of the Arizona Trail. The sign
behind me is the last sign marking the trail (or the first sign for southbounders).
And... I'm standing in UTAH!!! Woo-who!
This information sign explains that--if I wanted to--I could keep hiking.
Pretty much this whole time I'd been following the Great Western Trail,
and it leads all of the way to Canada! But I didn't want to do that, and I wouldn't.
No, my hike was done. Well... almost done....

Ted and Suzanne congratulated me on my finish and
I wound up spending two hours chatting with them. =)
But it was time to hike the 1.5 miles north on House Rock Road to
the Wire Pass Trailhead. I still had one more day of hiking before
I hung up my boots....
The sunset was awesome. *nodding* A great way to finish the AZT!

And it only took 51 days to do so!

Want to know what a thru-hike looks like
from the eyes of the thru-hiker? Here you go! =)

Views from near the end of the trail looking across
to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Wow!


Sharon Madson said...

Congratulations! Thanks for great descriptions and photos. So interesting.

Unknown said...

In the photo "Somewhere out there...", is that volcano cone shape in the distance a lone mountain, odd cloud formation or what?
Thank you for entertaining me yet again.

Ryan said...

I think it's a lone mountain.

BOOTY said...

The insect on the sign is the shed skin of a cicada.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this hike. Lack of water and people were interesting. Stayed at Vermilion Cliffs near Navajo Bridge back in 2003. It is breath taking. Glad you got to enjoy the surprise. We too stumbled in on it.


Jamie said...

Finally finished your recap! Thanks for telling it! I can't wait to go on my adventure next year. :)