The Sonoran Desert is beautiful to me thanks in no small part to the season of spring. Spend some time around me, and I’m sure you’ll hear me gush about the wildflowers blooms that occur. There are no sweeping, diverse, and starkly brilliant blooms as those in the Sonoran Desert when the wildflowers blaze across the landscape. After our epic El Nino winter and spring, I had been waiting to see a stunning spread of blooms, but so far, everything had been average. In fact, heading into today, I thought we might see some blooms, but didn’t give it much thought. This particular stretch of the Arizona Trail, the one linking Oracle to Superior, had, in my mind, been steadily growing as a stressful challenge as we approached it. No section is lower, more exposed, hotter, and with fewer water sources than this section, all wrapped up here. I was expecting 100+ degree temps, blazing afternoons, tons of rattlesnakes, questionable water availability and sources, and a struggle with head exhaustion. Yet, this whole stretch, when complete, would end up being one of the most stunning, memorable, beautiful, and compelling reasons to hike the Arizona Trail.
We got up this morning and a group of us hikers were driven by Jim and Marney to the Oracle Patio Cafe for one last delicious breakfast before heading out. They also stopped at the post office so everyone could bounce resupply boxes to their next upcoming locations. Cold-weather gear was now heading home due to the advancing spring and the 8000+ ft. mountains behind us. I didn’t expect snow again until nearer to Flagstaff and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As their vehicle jolted up and down the road to Tiger Mine Trailhead, Jim and Marney relayed that they had driven up washes last in the desert to drop off water for all of us in this next section, which meant our water carries could be reduced. They pulled up to Tiger Mine Trailhead and dropped Frisbee, Stubs, Janna, Kitska, Rosey, and I out.
The temperature was perfect, a literal 75 degrees F. A cool breeze kept up all day. These ideal temperatures and conditions would extend through the day. The Arizona Trail sign, standing as a portal to the low Sonoran desert was well-framed with the speck of the tip of Antelope Peak visible in the distance. I knew this section well as this was the route I had taken to run on Oracle Rumble ultramarathon two years ago, with Antelope Peak being the drop point for the start and Oracle the end. I felt like this was a monumental moment, a moment to think how I had fucked up my knee before and now I was back on a bigger journey to realize this same section all over again.
Heading down the trail, I began stopping, what seemed to be every 20 steps to exclaim out loud how amazing beautiful the desert looked. Every ocotillo branch was in full deep green leaf. Every patch of normally barren interspersed dirt earth was ripe with golden and yellow flowers of a dozen different species. Every hillside in the distance seemed highlighted in yellow, while brink pink florals would punch the color scheme, drawing my eye to their striking hue. It was insane how good the flowers were. At times, the Arizona Trail was lined with thick Sonoran desert lupine, their purple flowers making a perfect and thick outside of the singletrack in between. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the vast numbers of golds, yellows, whites, creams, purples, pinks, reds, and greens that matted the entire desert. A superbloom of a size I had never seen. FREAKING BEAUTIFUL.
At some point in all this beauty, we caught up to Frisbee, Stubs, Kitska, and Rosey all chilling in some palo verde shade, filling up water from the bottles left by Jim and Marney. The conservations with fellow hikers just added to the strength of day. Feeling that strength in our bodies, along with the more mellow terrain (no massively steep ascents and descents - just rolling smooth singletrack flow), Janna and I really crushed the miles. Water wasn’t as big of an issue was the water tanks were full. At this point, we hadn’t seen these types of tanks yet. Cattle tanks so far were maybe 4 feet high and filled with water. These new tanks (which would continue throughout the rest of the hike), were 10+ feet tall and only accessible by ladder or careful climbing. The water inside was a brilliant neon green at times, a product of algae growth, bright sun, and blue sky above. However, when bottles were dipped, they always came up relatively clear. At least cows couldn’t physically shit in these ones.
As afternoon wore on, we caught up with Rosey and Kitska and ended up hiking with them for the rest of the day. Golden hour hit in early evening, lighting up saguaros to stately gold and making the grass heads stand out. Suddenly, Janna called out as she almost stepped on a young western diamondback rattlesnake. In AZ, I’m always looking where I put my feet and my fingers - there are plenty of organisms here who sting and bite. Thus far, I’ve never had an issue, but it doesn’t mean letting your senses down. I love reptiles and I was excited to check out our first rattler on the trail. It was lounging in the granite, almost a perfect match in color, making us very aware of the need to carefully inspect where we step. The western diamondback eventually scooted off into some lush purple lupine, the snake’s iconic black and white striped tail still on trail. Giving it a wide berth, we hiked down the side of a hill and then back up to meet the AZT well away from it.
I kept turning around everywhere to take pictures of the flower mottled hills in front of us and the striking snow-capped peaks of the Santa Catalinas behind us. My feet felt great with the major cushioning provided by the Hokas. Janna and I stopped for several snacks and to just enjoy being out in the beauty.
Feeling strong, we pushed past our original stopping point and decided to make it to Bloodsucker Wash. A big evening wind picked up, drying us out, but keep the temperature nice. After refilling water with Kitska and Rosey, we all agreed to camp near Cowhead Tank up Bloodsucker Wash. Kitska was a fast hiker and took off way ahead of us. Rosey talked to us about thru-hiking the PCT last year and how he was just doing a section of the AZT between Tucson and Flagstaff before returning to his job. He said he felt so much freer only section-hiking a long trail. Rosey spoke of the mental pressures within and the external expectation pressures of others when intending to do a thru-hike and how all those felt gone when only doing a section. It was a conversation of great insight.
As evening approach, Rosey surged ahead of Janna and I. My butt began chafing a little bit and I stopped to baby that shit. A non-chaffed butt is a happy butt. We spilled out in the gathering darkness into Bloodsucker Wash, a massively wide flow of sand stretching for miles. It was crisscrossed with tire tracks from ATVers; how they got out here, I definitely have no idea. Following directions indicated in the comments of Guthook, we found a side tributary wash and took it upstream. There, we convened on an old wooden and decaying cow corral with a large water tank complete with small pipe drizzling cool water into the container, on top. Rosey was here, standing on the ladder and patiently letting the clean dribble fill his bottle. All three us of us setup camp nearby in another wash, the sand warm and soft, perfect camping substrate for the night. We were all confused why Kitska wasn’t here as she was so far ahead. As evening wore on, we heard a crashing coming down an opposing hill and Kitska was suddenly here. She apparently missed the turnoff and backtracked to a little-used side trail and tumbled down to us. We all sat around in the dark, a clear desert night-sky spilling with stars above us, talking about life. A great end to a great day.