A Desert Hike

During the last month, Daryl, Donna, and I had been considering an overnight hike someplace in southern Arizona. It would be Donna’s first experience at backpacking and my first experience camping in a wilderness where rattlesnakes, scorpions, and coyote call home. Daryl has hiked in several areas around Phoenix and knows the climate and terrain we were likely to encounter, as well as having a vehicle that could get us to remote trailheads if need be. It seemed that everything was coming together as planned until an unusually, rare cold front moved into the Phoenix area and dropped nighttime temperatures dangerously close to freezing. We were beginning to think that our hike wouldn’t happen this year when Donna noticed that the weather for one of the areas we were considering reported a fairly mild night the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Two days later we were headed for Picketpost Trailhead and a section of the Arizona Trail just south of the Superstition Mountains.

Over the last few weeks, Daryl and I had searched for a trail in a forested area, but the altitude in the mountains of Southern Arizona where treeline begins also brings cooler temperatures. We wanted this hike to be fairly easy for Donna’s introduction into the world of backpacking, leaving out the long distance, mountain climbing, and arctic weather. This was my first time backpacking in a desert area and I have to say that I truly enjoyed it. The only drawbacks were having to carry a lot of water and wear long pants – it seems like everything that grows in the desert has needles sticking out of it.

The temperature for the first day was almost perfect. We hiked about 8 miles through rolling hills, canyons, and dry riverbeds (called washes out here because they only see water when it rains). There were several different kinds of cactus and innumerable plants and bushes, many of which Daryl knew their names. Daryl has a friend who is a botanist and they go hiking in the surrounding area and study plants. It was kind of interesting to learn the names of some of the plants and why they are called what they are.

Donna did great. In fact, I was the one usually lagging behind. I tried to lighten her pack by distributing some of the heavy items between Daryl and I, but by the time we divided up the water and food, she had a pack that weighed more than some of my overnight packs. Plus, she had to carry a whole bunch of makeup and her curling iron and blow dryer

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At about 3:30 we crested a hill and glimpsed a valley far below. There was an open area that looked like a good camping place, green trees near the edge of the valley suggested water nearby, and it looked protected from the wind. Our maps indicated that this place was called Spring Trough. The trail seemed to skirt the edge of the trough and it took us a long time to hike down from the hills and navigate a riverbed into the campground, but we all agreed it was a good place for our home that night. I began to gather firewood as Daryl scouted for water at the spring and Donna prepared spots for our tents. Apparently, this land is open range and cows also enjoyed this place. The ground was covered with cow pies.

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Daryl came back to report that the spring didn’t look like anything we would want to drink. We still had plenty of water for drinking and cooking but we would be careful not to waste any. After we set our tents up, we all gathered wood. The sun was beginning to set behind the hills and already the air had a chill to it. When we were sure we had enough firewood to last into the night, we made our dinner of Lasagna, chicken, and mushrooms – no, Donna and I did not like the mushrooms.

As we warmed ourselves by the fire, Daryl kept getting up to check the thermometer I had brought. By 9:30 p.m., the temperature was almost down to freezing and we were a little concerned that we would be able to stay warm in the night. According to the weather report we had so readily trusted, it should have been closer to 50 degrees at the minimum. Donna and I had tents but Daryl was sleeping out under the stars. None of us were prepared for below freezing temperatures, so when we crawled into our bags, we were wearing all our warmest clothes.

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I remember wakening in the night and listening to Daryl unfold an emergency space blanket. He asked me if I was still staying warm and I replied, “Just barely”. I never herd a peep from Donna in the night, but the next morning she said she was a little cold too. Clouds moved in towards morning and the temperature rose a few degrees. By the time daylight broke over the hills and Donna and I crawled from our tents, Daryl had a nice fire going and we breakfasted on oatmeal and coffee.

The hike out followed an old forest road for most of the way. At times it would rain and once we were pelted with hail. It was chilly but we stayed warm with the exercise of walking. We met a group of horses and riders that talked with us briefly, and when we were almost back to the car, two young day-hikers were in awe of our rugged accomplishment. The only other people we met on the trail were two motorcycle riders that Daryl reminded should not be on the trail.

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I had a great time on our desert hike. It was wonderful to spend time with Donna and Daryl. Maybe next summer we will be able to hike in the forests and mountains and get more relatives to come. Donna and I agree that one thing that definitely could have made this hike better was to have Karen with us.

5 Responses to “A Desert Hike”

  1. Karen says:

    Go Aunt Donna…you backpacking beauty…was your curling iron butane operated? Haha. Sounds like a fun trip. I wish I had been there too.

  2. Donna says:

    I dragged a generator behind me to run all my appliances. 🙂 (Seriously, did you notice I almost wore a hat? That was to hide my flat hair!)

    It was great fun and very satisfying to complete my first hike. I hope we can plan something with Karen next year.

  3. Donna says:

    Whoops, I meant to type “almost always”.

  4. Mom says:

    I hope that the curling iron, makeup and blow dryer were total figments of your imagination. It would take lots more than those to keep a woman glamorous in that situation.

  5. Dick says:

    Sounds like a fun trip, although warmer weather and trees would be more desirable. Maybe we can all go sometime.

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