A night to hopefully never repeat. Remember that Janna and I decided to sleep near that Twin Tanks shitwater pool? We were a quarter mile up a wash with a nice flat area away from the bulls at the dirt tank. Well, part of the reason we went up the wash was because we had read on Guthook the night prior that a hiker had experienced some harassment from some drunk people revving up next to their tent with ATVs in the middle of the night. Seeking to avoid similar close encounters, we had moved up the wash. Night closing in, and not even 10 minutes after turning off our headlamps, we heard a number of quads roll into the area. The ATVs turned silent. I turned and looked Janna, hoping they had left.
Suddenly, a whisk-noise of sharp speed erupted from what seemed to be a foot or two above the Triplex roof. My eyes ripped open and stared unsurely upwards. What the hell was that? Sound punctuated darkness again as a series of bullets flew over the the top of our shelter. I realized someone was target shooting blindly up the wash in the dark, RIGHT WHERE WE WERE SLEEPING. I immediately called out into the dark and silence followed. I unzipped and crawled out of the Triplex, just making out the shape of two individuals with headlamps on standing on a rise. I felt unsettled. They weren’t talking, just staring. I flashed my headlamp on. Silence. Our two groups staring for minutes. Unsettled tension. And then they left. The ATVs revved and silence kept its course. I lay back down, not easily drifting back to sleep. What sleep I did get was stifled when the two bulls, having wandered up the wash, began bellowing at each other feet from our tent. This happened maybe 10 times, for no shorter than 15 minutes at a time, throughout the night. That moment where you are on the edge of sleep and a testosterone beast outside roar/moans. They even fought at one point. I didn’t sleep well.
The low placement of the Triplex in the wash lent a hand to sinking cold that gathered in the wash, turning collected condensation on the walls into an actual sheet of ice by morning, proving the sub-freezing temperatures that night. The hat I slept was covered in ice as was a small film over my quilt. We got up and made our way to Twin Tanks to gather water for the day. Luckily, the bulls had wandered away in the night, meaning the tank was free for our use. Looking at the algal mats floating near shore and curdled cow dung floating throughout, we decided to filter and use Aquamira to gather 3 L each (see the first pic below). Mid-filter, a older couple wandered up, on a morning walk with their two dogs, although I have no idea how they reached the area. The dogs were off-leash and one brazenly walked up and urinated on my backpack. I jumped up from filtering to shout and scare it away, only to look at the couple watching their dog openly urinating on my pack. Despite the obvious infringement occurring, the couple looked at us blankly without acknowledging the act. Silently, they walked away. I wanted out of that place.
Back on trail, northbound again, the AZT skirted acres of dense prickly pear stands that gave way to creosote. It was spectacular and freed my mind. Ascending a small ridge, the earth increasingly barren as the rocky low desert took hold, Tucson suddenly appeared north in the near distance. Janna and I were both struck by the fact that we had walked from the Mexico/US border to Tucson, a feat in our minds. As the trail led on, it became apparent just how rich the plant life was becoming with the spring on arrival. The winter El Nino snows and rains had permeated the ground with a harvest of water that encouraged incredible plant growth. Mats of grass painted the beige and red granite with neon green. Small ferns poked from under rock ledges. Giant yuccas produced huge blooms everywhere. Ocotillo were leafed out, ready to bud on their tips. Sudden spreads of yellow wildflowers densely covered hillsides, making the scene crazy gorgeous.
On the other side, Mexican gold poppies studded the bank of every dry wash. Honestly, it’s probably one of my favorite flowers and I had to look at every one. The day’s heat continued to rise and we could feel the heat rising as we continued grow the basin topography of the low desert. My left ankle began hurting mid-afternoon, washing my mind anew with self-doubt. Freaking leg. With grace, Janna talked it out with me.
As afternoon approached evening, we arrived at Cienega Creek Natural Preserve, a massive riparian zone chocked with cottonwood, sycamore, and flush with cold and crystal clear water. We ran into a hiker heading southbound. From Moab, he told us he started southbound from Superior and was heading to the border before flipping back north. I was pretty slack-jawed with amazement because I couldn’t yet imagine us getting all the way to Superior in the north. Walking along the creek, we went under a railroad before heading up a low and hill, where suddenly, saguaro for the first time grew in dense stands. The first saguaro of the entire trip. Home man, Arizona is home, and the saguaro its symbol. It doesn’t matter that saguaro are a daily occurrence, they always get my stare. The low Sonoran Desert was fully here now. Hiking out of the preserve with the setting sun, we walked out into the desert and found a place to camp under setting sun and saguaro shadows.