The day started with a wet triplex from the night before. Knowing we only had 10ish miles to go today made the mornings relaxed and long. The slow pace meant that we didn’t have to shove miles in before rest, and therefore, we could take longer to enjoy breakfast and dry out the shelter. We went back down to the metal cattle tank and filled up what we needed for the day.
Returning to camp, we heard a bunch of AZTers coming up the road. They stopped down at the cattle tank and voiced their disappointment about the lack of water. Realizing they didn’t know how to use the irrigation control valve, Janna ran down to fill them in on how to get the water. The first response from one hiker (seeing us with our gear drying and eating our breakfast late in the morning) was a condescending singular question asked in the tone of a adult talking to a child: “Is this your first thru-hike?” Shocked at the patronizing tone, we stood as she relayed how they were all triple crowners and loved #thruhikerlife. She asked us if we had trail names, which we did not at the time. Hearing we didn’t, she (amongst the group) immediately scanned our packs and equipment and then walked on without further conversation to us.
We stood there a little shell-shocked at the tone and obvious judgment of our hiking state. In bike touring at camps each night, there was always a diverse group of riders with bikes from carbon racers to steel 1970s clunkers - but it never mattered. There was always a universal acceptance of being on the ride and sharing in camaraderie no matter your style/income/weight/approach. It definitely stung a bit (here) that tones and pointed questions were offered more as judgmental bents rather than genuine conversation; especially when we had helped them access water. From that moment, I promised to myself to be the type of hiker I wanted to meet, to ask the questions that mattered to me: What do you think of the beauty? Have you seen any cool wildlife? What do you think of Arizona given the landscape you’ve come through? What are your impressions of the trail?
Shaking off the encounter, we ate the rest of breakfast as the sun lit up another beautiful day in the Canelo Hills. We climbed up towards the high point of the hills and got cell reception enough to check in with family. The high point was awesome and provided awesome views of the whole grassland ecosystem stretching out in the valley below while multiple small ranges of southeast Arizona rising up. We realized we could see a dirt road stretching far in the distance that was the route we took in November when we bikepacked the Sky Island Odyssey eastern loop.
Descending from the peak, we met several day hikers who let us know water was flowing near a parking lot at Canelo Pass. Looking to the south at where we had come, we noticed a large smokescreen rising from the flanks of the Huachucas –> a possible prescribed burn? Unsure of the potential for wildfire danger, we kept an eye on it for the next several hours. Simultaneously, the horizon was punctuated by a large Border Patrol blimp making flyways over the range. Clouds continued to build across the hills throughout the day as massive white fluffs turning steadily to darker shades of gray. At Canelo Pass, I decided to get some water from the interim stream flowing over desert granite nearby. I was filling up my water about to move on when I looked down and saw a giant pile of human poop and toilet paper literally 1 foot upstream from where I had just gotten my dip. Sicked out and with a verbal “fuck!” I dumped the contents and moved upstream carefully eyeing the banks for further excrement.
Water filled, we continued over the pass up a small hill where the land become drier and filled with yuccas. A sweet AZT gate stood sentinel at the top fo the hill and overlooked lush grasslands flanking the Patagonia Mountains on the other side. We entered the gate and descended a canyon heading outwards. Clouds continued building steadily overhead, approaching the distinctive anvil-shape of thunderheads. We hit some double track in the grasslands for a while before entering a second gate. This second gate might as well have been the entrance to a cowpocalypse.
After closing the gate, my immediate impression of the forthcoming area was sweet grasslands and a gentle descent down towards a canyon; and it was, at first. But as we continued down the canyon and rolling grasslands, more and more cows began popping up and the landscape became more denuded and shit-filled. Grateful for the clouds keeping heat down, we began keeping an eye out for water. Dirt cattle tanks popped up, but the amount of eutrophic algal growth and the opaque brown water with floating cow turds were immediate turn-offs. I suggested we keep going until we find better sources. We passed several cow skulls and the grasslands continued to be overgrazed as woody shoots stood alone, left by the cow crunch.
A creek began cascading down from some cow-shit ponds and I contemplated drinking from them…until we passed the massive bloating and half-decayed carcass of a cow body laying half-in the stream. Knowing that all water downstream was now contaminated, we kept pushing. Comments on Guthook indicated a solar-powered cattle tank ahead - our goal for sure. Simultaneously, the thunderheads became increasingly prevalent as lightning/thunder accompanied. Feeling exposed in the grasslands, I felt a panic that made me move quicker. Suddenly, the solar-powered tank was in front of us. Thirsty and anxious, I turned on the irrigation valve from the ground-submerged box but no water came out. The sky was so dark from the imminent storm that not enough light could power the pump.
We decided to push on and get to Red Bank Well, another noted solar-powered cattle tank several miles ahead. We entered a narrow wash of a canyon, noting that the trail literally was in the wash or next to it. This was important because we didn’t want to get caught in a flash food if the storm opened up. Lightning began flashing repeatedly. The sky had the appearance of black fish scales. The wash began to broaden out, entering a wide valley where Red Bank Well was. Luckily, enough light was present to produce a trickle of water that flowed from a broken PVC pipe sticking out of the top of the tank.
The storm moved ahead of us and then outpaced us as it dissipated with the arrival of evening. Arizona oak thickets stood on an adjacent hill where we found a solid spot to camp for the night. As we ate dinner, the sound of Border Patrol drones filled the dark with noise. The buzz of drones continued through most of the night. However, I felt pumped to get to Patagonia tomorrow because it was a small milestone indicating that my knee was holding up well.