I slept excellent last night due to the well-protected spot. The wind barely made it into the trees where we camped and it was nice and silent. Two days back on and my trail legs are back. We packed up, headed out, rounded a corner, went up a small climb back the ridge again and were afforded awesome views of the descending ranges leading to Roosevelt, a 10 mile and 3000 ft. loss section. Bluebird skies ranged overhead while every plant seemed more vibrant from the sputtering rain. Looking back at where we had walked yesterday, the Superstitions seemed just as rough and rugged.
After a few miles, the AZT left the Superstition Wilderness and joined a double track road. Curving round and down, it came to a small hill with a single tree. There was an old plywood bench, empty cattle trough, but some decent campsites had wind not been bad. There was also a large rock sitting on a notebook in a plastic bag. We opened it up to find a trail register from an individual assigned as Section Leader for this part of the AZT. He was looking for feedback from AZTers for blowdowns, crumbling trail, etc. that needed dealt with. Unanimously, all previous AZTers said the Super V was ridiculous, encouraging rampant erosion, and could be remedied with switchbacks or simply a trail that kept to the contour line and circled the valley. The Section Leader wrote a big response to everyone that the USFS, due to the Wilderness Designation, refused to further impact that portion of the ecosystem to move or reroute the trail.
We replaced the notebook and continued down a wide dirt road that went by a muddy cow tank. We still had some water so we opted to skip the refill. And just when I thought my mind could relax from snakes, I inadvertently stepped right next to a big western diamondback curled up on the road in the sun, which rattled as I jumped.
The AZT led off the forest road and continued down into some thick/overgrown singletrack that weaved in and out of a boulder-strewn sandy wash. Our progress slowed massively. It seemed that game trails split with the AZT here and there; it was not clear which was the true trail. In an urge to avoid the slow slog in the sand, I walked up a hill through some beautiful desert lupine but eventually got caught in a bunch of acacia trees. I retraced my steps, pulled out my maps, and saw that the AZT basically stuck to the wash. Sand it is. We continued down through a increasingly warm canyon as the sun rose further in the sky. Around noon, we arrived at a beautiful spring/seep that filled the wash below with water. Ferns, moss, and water plants grew along the flow while shade was given by unbudded sycamore overhead. We drank some cold and clear water before passing through a burn area. The AZT wound up and over the massive fallen trunks of old cottonwoods and sycamores as the water-fed wash expanded into a true riparian strip.
And then the AZT dumped out again onto another dirt forest road. It continued to descend past two algae-growing metal cattle tanks (we had enough water) and bobbed up and down a series of hills. Nearing town, the massive spread of Roosevelt Lake loomed. Roosevelt Lake is one of the biggest reservoirs in Arizona, a result of early 20th century damming of the Salt River by the Roosevelt Dam. At one point, the dam was the largest in the country until the Hoover Dam replaced it. The resulting flood filled up this large Sonoran valley and sprouted several small towns along its massive length. Boating is now a main recreational attraction, in addition to fishing and the Tonto National Monument cliff dwelling ruins.
Descent also brought higher temperatures. As early afternoon came, we came down a ridge and the mobile home park and factory homes of Roosevelt came into view along the edge of the lake. The true AZT continued to the north but we took a spur trail through an old cemetery, crossed the highway, and ended up at the Lake Roosevelt Marina and General Store. We had sent a resupply box here with food all the way through Sunflower as we heard the food choices were slim inside. At a picnic table sat the senior couple we had been trailing for days. And we finally got to talk to them.
Their names were No Butt and Yeah But. They were 80 years old and doing the entire Arizona Trail again for the fourth time. They were incredibly fit and I would have thought 60s for age. I WAS FREAKING INSPIRED. This was an 80-year old couple through hiking this remote desert trail for a fourth time…and kicking our asses with their speed. They had done many of the big long-distance trails but lived in Arizona, and had a particular love for the AZT. They had even done a third thru-hike last year. But when they realized the epic El Nino winter rains would mean a stellar water and flower bloom year, they decided to come out and do the whole thing again this year. They had also completed the AZT back before it was even finished! This was a lesson I learned: Moving water don’t freeze. At any age can a person do an epic hike.
The Butts had parked their main resupply at a car another day’s journey out, so they said their goodbyes and let us know they’d leave some water for us there. Janna and I got a text from Chris, who we hadn’t seen since Oracle. He said that he had quit the trail the when heading up Montana Mountain. He suffered from bad plantar fasciitis and needed some long rest. I was saddened to hear this as we hoped to catch up to him again.
We headed into the store, buying microwave pizzas and ice cream. Taking advantage of trash cans to dump refuse, we then headed over to the ranger station at the lake to charge electronics and clean up in the bathrooms. I took a tour of the inside museum, reading about the history of the lake and area. We relaxed there for several hours. Electronics charged, clouds had begun to move in with late afternoon, bringing a cool breeze that chased away the heat of the day. We went back over to the store and caught one more round of ice cream and food before it closed. A few other thru-hikers we met said to avoid hiking the AZT out of town and just take the highway shoulder instead. Janna and I both knew this would kill my soul so we went back up to the AZT through the cemetery and did the true route. To quote Janna: “We didn’t come here to do easy.”
Weather checks revealed another storm system was moving in with evening, so we picked up the pace. The AZT paralleled the highway for several miles, weaving in and out of contours of the land. But the views of the lake were gorgeous from on high. Plus, a massive javelina ran up the trail in front of us - scared the shit out of me before I saw what it was. The trail went through dark and orange sand before descending a ridge overlooking Roosevelt Dam. Again, an epic feeling as we had been to the dam several times before. Now, we had walked here.
The trail deposited us onto the highway where all hikers can only cross the dam by walking the road shoulder on the bridge. Small lenticular clouds hung overhead, further indicating atmospheric instability. The AZT trailhead was on the other side of the bridge. Just as we had descended all the way down to Roosevelt, we now had to spend the next two days climbing all the way up to upper reaches of the Four Peaks, our next destination. As overcast skies hung, Janna and I decided not to climb too much higher as we would be exposed on a ridge again. We found a flat spot overlooking the dam and lake to camp for the night. After battening down the Triplex with rocks in the thin/rocky soil, we sat on overlook ledge to enjoy the lake’s reflection in the evening. The night brought a bit of rain but nothing too bad and we slept well.