As with any expedition, I had plans. I had expectations to see the bighorn sheep that inhabit the rugged, austere Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. There is something about expectations that lead us to …elsewhere. I wanted to see them. Having spent days wandering the Basin & Range areas of the Southwest over the past 11 years, I never spotted them.
It’s good to have goals. That is what compels me to spend nights in the desert freezing my ass off and days, getting burnt by the sun. Still, being fixated on an outcome lends itself to inevitable disappointment.
What I did experience was something else. The difficulty of traversing the range made me realize the limits of my body and the courage of my resolve. I climbed up into those volcanic crags hoping for something that never arrived. The answer might be patience. My pain and frustration was a demonstration in surrender.
To paraphrase Annie Dillard, any good hike will do. The more arduous the terrain, the more determined I was to continue on. It wasn’t a smart decision. I could have lost my footing. There are endless possibilities. What I did find is the stark answer that I am not any more entitled to what I want than the next animal.
On the rocks, I watched clouds and the agave and brittlebush that shift in the wind. Spectacular sights are random. They are miracles in their accidental nature. A woman who spends 24 hours alone in the wilderness is not deserving of miracles. Things appear with time, patience, and silence. Gifts arrive when the receiver is most open to them.
Do you know what it means to love a place as family? To feel its presence course through your veins? This living land whose life depends on remaining natural…can you be devoted to its care? To know it intimately, like the lines on your hand or your grandmother’s quilt?
As a longtime roamer, I have struggled with settling into a home base. It is much to my chagrin that I have been in Phoenix for over 11 years now. I never thought I would stay past the first turbulent year. Yet, I remain.
But being rooted to a place has its demands. When I walk along the Verde River and see trash or the spur trails of ATV destruction, my heart aches. What is it about our kind that relishes violence? Trashing nature is an act of violence and greed thrives on this. Still, what can I do to help ease this ache?
Devotion to Place
To be devoted to place means laying my head down at night knowing that there is a place to pray for. It means gathering my tools and taking action. The call of the land is something I hear when I feel defeated by this culture. It calls me to awaken to my true spirit and rise up with the energy and passion to fight for the Wild’s survival.
Devoting oneself to a place isn’t hard. It is simply starting a journey of understanding, of forming a relationship, as you would any relationship. I have found my devotion grow stronger when I …
Learn about the local flora and fauna, including identifying native vs. invasive plants, tracks and scats, and local wildlife species
Start a nature journal where I write about, sketch, and paint the landscape
Use maps and GPS to learn the local mountain ranges and topography
Bring several trash bags to pick up garbage any time I am on a walkabout
Spend at least a few nights each month camping, listening to the sounds of the night and watching the stars glimmer above
Practice Leave No Trace principles when hiking and camping
Organize a habitat restoration with the Forest Service, nonprofit, or other agency
Gather like-minded friends to meet together in allegiance to the land, discussing ways to better protect it
There are many ways to go deeper into the practice of devotion to the land. Like any holy undertaking, it requires practice, commitment, and openness to the process. Working with nature is a spiritual act, one of which I cannot live without. My hope is to return this love through the practical art of devotion.
There are many distractions. Everything wants us, from the screens to the friends we have yet to call back, to the traffic honking, to the lists of endless things we have to do. This life can overwhelm us in every single instant.
Then, there is stillness. If we allow it to be.
Each morning I ask if I want the quiet. It is really my choice. If I allow the stillness, what will it ask from me?
A story is told as much by silence as by speech.
— Susan Griffin
Our minds, as well as our bodies, have need of the out-of-doors. Our spirits, too, need simple things, elemental things, the sun and the wind and the rain, moonlight and starlight, sunrise and mist and mossy forest trails, the perfumes of dawn and the smell of fresh-turned earth and the ancient music of wind among the trees.
— Edwin Way Teale
I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.
— Henry David Thoreau
What you encounter, recognize or discover depends to a large degree on the quality of your approach. Many of the ancient cultures practiced careful rituals of approach. An encounter of depth and spirit was preceded by careful preparation.
When we approach with reverence, great things decide to approach us. Our real life comes to the surface and its light awakens the concealed beauty in things. When we walk on the earth with reverence, beauty will decide to trust us. The rushed heart and arrogant mind lack the gentleness and patience to enter that embrace.
― John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace
At a certain point, you say to the woods, to the sea, to the mountains, the world, Now I am ready. Now I will stop and be wholly attentive. You empty yourself and wait, listening. After a time you hear it: there is nothing there. There is nothing but those things only, those created objects, discrete, growing or holding, or swaying, being rained on or raining, held, flooding or ebbing, standing, or spread. You feel the world’s word as a tension, a hum, a single chorused note everywhere the same. This is it: this hum is the silence. Nature does utter a peep – just this one. The birds and insects, the meadows and swamps and rivers and stones and mountains and clouds: they all do it; they all don’t do it. There is a vibrancy to the silence, a suppression, as if someone were gagging the world. But you wait, you give your life’s length to listening, and nothing happens. The ice rolls up, the ice rolls back, and still that single note obtains. The tension, or lack of it, is intolerable. The silence is not actually suppression: instead, it is all there is.
― Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters
Observing sacred mind in nature’s creativity can help us to reconnect to our own sacred mind as well. It releases a deep knowing that we inhabit a world rich with meaning—an ebbing and flowing ocean of intentionality that creates complex relationships between beautiful forms.
― Julie J. Morley, Future Sacred: The Connected Creativity of Nature
Who would deduce the dragonfly from the larva, the iris from the bud, the lawyer from the infant? …We are all shape-shifters and magical reinventors. Life is really a plural noun, a caravan of selves.
― Diane Ackerman
Why are we such tortured human beings, with tears in our eyes and false laughter on our lips? If you could walk alone among those hills or in the woods or along the long, white, bleached sands, in that solitude you would know what meditation is. The ecstasy of solitude comes when you are not frightened to be alone no longer belonging to the world or attached to anything. Then, like that dawn that came up this morning, it comes silently, and makes a golden path in the very stillness, which was at the beginning, which is now, and which will be always there.
Such is life. Detours must be made and straight lines lead nowhere. My friend and I decided we would find a waterfall. That was on the itinerary, but like most itineraries, they are subject to change and the change can be anyone’s guess. Change just is.
This was a planned trip to look for a specific waterfall in Rim country with my friend, T. We were both ready to escape the city and the bullshit of “the human world” and all of its trappings – including our fixation on work and *shoulds*. Off to the hills and mountains, away with the paperwork! I could almost hear myself internally breaking into bloom as we ascended to junipers, then pine, after leaving the paradise of the upland Sonoran ecotone.
Loaded up with gummy bears and deep thoughts, we grabbed our packs and began walking along a long forest road (up Colcord Mountain, near Payson, AZ). After a few minutes, my friend brought up the strange crackling from above. We were amazed to find many cicadas lined up the arms of pine, oak, and underbrush, shedding their skins, as they were, to emerge and reproduce. Such a cacophony, the armored symphony of these Hemiptera.
There is nothing of absolute silence, even when you think there is. Underground and on land reverberations occur – life moves in the small measurement of time and space. It may be undetected by the human ear, as we are woefully unable to hear the inconspicuous acoustics of all that is.
Photo credit: T. Clark
Photo credit: T. Clark
Photo credit: T. Clark
What did we do when we couldn’t find this waterfall? First, we walked, trusting the journey would be what it would be. By staying alert, aware, and receptive, we saw what was glimpse-moments, and appreciated. After all, the subtleties are true gifts and we were grateful for them.
And so we walked again, as two friends who are capable of the spontaneity of not knowing. As two friends who appreciate the peace of silence, as not to disrupt the flow of whatever it is we were doing at the time.
Finally, we wandered to a new build site along the forest road and asked a local. He gave us detailed directions. Locals have a way of being receptive to just “shooting the shit.” It’s nice to have this relaxed way of engaging with strangers. Sometimes small talk can be big talk full of joy, curiosity, and wisdom, if a person allows it. The slow chit-chat of a rural place. I miss that syrup-speed on a hot day, along a random road.
Did we ever find this waterway? No. How can a single green gate be so elusive, especially when everyone else seemed to find it off of the main road. It was laughable. We did three attempts, and decided that this waterfall was not meant to be seen by us, at least not that day. What was awaiting us?
Haigler Creek is one of my favorite go-to day dreaming, loafing around places. I can spend hours listening to the birds and the creek, and the occasional kid with their fisher dad at one of the bridges upstream. The day was warm enough to walk down the creek and away from other people and cars (although, to our delight, it was pretty low key). We crossed the creek and made our way through dappled cottonwoods, water-worn rocks with their patterned ripples and smooth curves, and canyon walls.
A wonderful species of dragonfly – Antillean Saddlebags, Tramea insularis – danced around us as we waded along the overgrown banks. This fiery-purple species was new to me and had me wondering why the hell I haven’t ever learned more about dragonflies and damselflies and their whimsical ilk. I’m always fascinated by anything winged and ancient looking, and this fantastic species had me tripping and slipping over the rocks to get a closer look, before they zipped away, circling their peers.
Golden Columbine, Rocky Mountain Iris, Sand Verbena, Lupine, and various daisies and asters lined the water in lush bouquets. Painted Lady and Empress Leilia butterflies delighted in them. The steep banks of red quartzite and limestone offer several steps and ledges to the juniper hills above the canyon, should you decide that wading wasn’t probable.
For me, I love to splash and swim, and meander clumsily in water. The watery world continues to leave me wanting more, to wade into the understory of riparian trees and grasses and find the faeries. Instead, I come back to earth and the human world.
Photo credit: T. Clark
Photo credit: T. Clark
Photo credit: T. Clark
My companion and I spent our last hour sitting on the bank, examining wood and crayfish skeletons, moon-like drops of water on sedge. I thought of Emerson:
“To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.”
Never finding the falls was a gift. Being detoured is the delight of the patient and openhearted. There is always something to experience and be delighted by to the trained eye and attuned ear.
There is a small wilderness area that most people do not know, a hidden wilderness that receives minimal curiosity from the normal hiking crowd. It is comprised of jagged rock and deep washes, wild burros and javelinas. It is also a place of archaic sites, an historic resort, and former ranches. This place is Hells Canyon Wilderness.
Hells Canyon has many appeals to me and some of them are, I confess, of the spiritual nature. It was one of the first wilderness areas I traversed back in 2010, when I was employed with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. It was then I was first exposed to the need for wilderness protection and the incredible blessing we have in this state, with over 90 designated wilderness areas.
I spent many a night under the stars in Hells Canyon. Believe it or not, one of the coldest nights of my camping history (and I have winter camped before in the Midwest) was a night in January with a friend. It must have been that we camped next to a wash, where the cold air and moisture made a sort of frigid “lid” over us, but I woke to a frozen water bottle in my tent and frost everywhere.
Other times I fell in love with this place was when I crossed through the heart of the Wilderness, down Garfias Wash, with all of the riparian wonders of many desert streams. Garfias Wash makes a natural divide between east and west, spilling out onto Castle Creek, not too far from the historic Castle Hot Springs Resort. For those who love old architecture of the late nineteenth century, this is a rare gem. The former resort used to provide a getaway for the rich and famous who wanted to reap the benefits of hot springs and is now open as a high-end resort (also for the rich, with its 1400$ rooms).
The Hieroglyphics is of the few places in central Arizona that I have seen pictographs, which is a very special sight as they are uncommon around here. For the protection of the sites, I am not linking to or describing any of these. You will just have to wander/wonder.
Aside from the history, what’s most meaningful to me about Hells Canyon is the feeling of a Great Spirit(s) here. I’ve been hiking alone and have felt the presence of a watcher. No, I am not delusional. I had to double-check my tracks and look behind me, but I could have sworn there were things watching me that were much more than the wildlife. Call it a feeling of reverence, for those of you who are scoffing atheists. That could very well be, but I could have sworn…
I’ve wandered down through Burro Flats to find a javelina head on the trail. It must have been some hunter’s idea of fun. Through Little Hells Gate, numerous javelina crowd in to emerge themselves in water from a nearby spring. There appears to be enough to keep wildlife hydrated through the intensity of summer.
As much as I love those crazy peccaries, I come here for lions.
I’ve sat quietly in my favorite mountain line cave and looked out across the flats below. Evidence of their presence is in their scat, mostly, which is aplenty in a few rock shelters and washes, but I’ve found the occasional soft paw step in the sand, or in the dirt after a heavy rain.
I’ve monitored mountain lion movement here and through the Wickenburg and Weaver Mountains, where there is intense call to kill them. Arizona Game and Fish have an additional bag number for cats in this region over the usual 1-per tag allowance. This is mostly in response to pressure from hunting groups who want the bighorns and other ungulates to themselves. Then there’s the growing expanse of shitty pop-up homes that gaudily line what’s known as the suburbs, former wilderness and habitat of mountain lions and other species.
Of course, predators get the blame for a decline in prey species, without thought to actual factors like habitat loss, noise pollution, increased roadway kills, invasive species, disrupted travel corridors, and on and on, and oh, the damned trophy hunters too.
The idea that we can manage nature is blatantly self-centered, human-centric and also just wrong. Rarely do our attempts to manage succeed, except when we point to a usual natural process and call it resource management success, like reintroducing predators to former areas that were once their home and realizing that they actually help the ecosystem thrive. Go figure. A “win” for science when nature is just doing what it does.
Back to lions…they are here. I wonder if the mystical force I feel while walking are the watchful eyes of pumas, rather than floating orbs of the spiritlands. I am open to either.
Their scat tells me that they subsist mostly on javelina and smaller game and less so on deer. I have yet to see a mule deer in the ‘Gliphics. I have seen more burros in this region than deer, and that’s a shame. As much as I love burros and dislike said management styles to control them, their impact on vegetation and wildlife is clear. Cattle, too.
At a recent job interview, they asked me what animal I would most like to be and I said a mountain lion without pause. It’s seems like a popular answer, how much we desire to be great, sexy predators, and yet, fear and loathe them when they wander into our backyards.
They asked me why. I said how much I admire their need for space to roam, their solitary nature, their graceful silence, and their strength. I left the interview wondering what they thought about that and whether I’d get a call back.
One of my favorite trails in Hells Canyon is Burro Flats Loop. I don’t think I have ever seen anyone on this trail, and the trail log shows that perhaps one or two visit here every two months and usually that’s the BLM.
This winter I made the (happy) mistake of going to the Wilderness after it snowed. If you have ever been on Castle Hot Springs Rd, you go down through a creek, up steep hills, and around sharp curves, which is all fine when it is dry…but wet, not so much.
Sliding my way down the road and to an even worse road, I made my way to the trail, covered in mud. Outside the air was still a metallic chill as I looked out over the Bradshaws and Weavers covered in snow. It was beautiful and silent, so still I couldn’t even hear the birds.
Walking through the Flats, I scared up a posse of coyotes who were out on their morning hunt. Cattle grazing and burros have had their impact on the namesake flats, but the steepness of the jagged Hieroglyphics make for a great wonderland of bighorn and puma. Unfortunately, the sheep are scarce, if not nonexistent, here.
Hells Canyon Wilderness gets overlooked because of its small size and foreboding volcanic landscape, but I can expect to see more wild species for that simple reason. Phoenix hikers prefer other popular wildernesses, and tend to leave Hells Canyon, Tres Alamos, Arrastra, and other less glamorous wilderness areas alone.
As for me, I’m committed to the underdog. I go to Hell to find my own form of heaven, resting in the sharp outline of volcanic mountains, rumbling up through the washes with Gila Monster dreams and hopes of deer and bighorn sheep.
That faithful watcher in the perimeter is my Muse. Or maybe I am its? Whatever the case, there is a spirit of wildness here that is undeniable, that grabs my attention and leaves me with a heartbreak each time I must leave and return to Phoenix.
I pledge to lions in Hells Canyon over any nation. And where I stand is among the refugees of real home.
As the temperatures climb here in the desert, I’ve had a strong urge to hit the creeks and rivers of the Central Region. Water in the desert can be hard to find, but I can rely on the Verde, Salt, and creeks like Cave Creek and Seven Springs, as well as Rose, Reynolds, and West Clear Creeks for a quick splash.
One of my favorite river spots to lull away the hours (or hike the surrounding Mazatzals) is Sheep Bridge. Sheep Bridge spans the Verde River, east of Perry Mesa, off of Bloody Basin Road. The ride down to the river is amazing, albeit rough, and you get a good sense of the enormity of the Mazatzal Wilderness and the expanse of the surrounding mesas.
On hot weekends, I can expect to see revelers heading in with their beat-up trucks and running circles with their OHVs. I want to scream at them about their behavior, but I remember what it is like to be poor and need an excuse to blow off steam. Unfortunately, in this case, it usually comes at the expense of the surrounding vegetation and wildlife.
I grew up poor and without a/c, so summers were always spent at our favorite swimming hole, much like those who enjoy the Verde. Our cherished spot when I was a kid was Salt Creek. My brothers and I would head down to the creek to catch crawdads (crayfish to polite folk), then jump into the cool depths using an old rope swing. I think the deepest hole was about 5 1/2 feet, just enough to cover your torso as you watched the leaves, branches, and occasional water moccasin float by.
The Salt Creek swimming hole was directly below an old highway, so we’d also explore the concrete barriers and blocks underneath, where drifters would camp and would-be satanists gathered to spray-paint goat heads and pentagrams gaudily on the walls. There was actually a scare in the summer of 1984, that these ridiculous, misguided youth were killing both cats and blonde children. Hey, it was a small town and the best thing we had going for us was the rare stories of the grotesque and bizarre (like the great pyramid of Lawrence County).
Other days, and when we’d have the gas money, we’d rumble down a country lane to get to Hardin Ridge (on Lake Monroe) with Big Red pops and various candy in tow. Lake Monroe is a reservoir just northwest of Needmore, my home town (apropos name for its poor residents). I learned to swim at the lake, after coming close to drowning a few times. Once, when I was a less than experienced swimmer, I swam across a cove to a small inlet. It was cold and at night, so I was terrified, but I made it. Funny thing, none of my peers or siblings dared me; I dared myself.
I remember one summer, when it was unseasonable hot and we were all too young to drive, we jumped into the cow pond on the forested land behind our house. It was a substantial pond, really, with stocked fish, but the local cattle decided that the pond was their bathtub, so we were forced to share. I was afraid of leaches, and sure enough, they were in there. That was the year my friends and I started to develop boobs. That whole event changed the dynamic of friendships entirely.
First, you could no longer be friends with the boys unless you tried really hard to prove yourself. This, I did. I joined their flag football games and caught frogs with the best of them. Second, comparison ran rampant among my girls. The girl with the biggest boobs was ostracized, as well as the flat-chested. Humans distrust any abnormality and gravitate toward what appears normal, safe. No wonder so we consider people to act in a herd-like manner, and why hate crimes, prejudice, and general ignorance run rampant. This, of course, is aside from the ingrained misogyny of our culture.
Friendships and boys were divided, but the creeks remained. In the fall, there was a particular spot I’d like to run to when my home life was chaotic. I’d sit on the banks and watch the festively colored leaves be carried off by the water until I no longer felt anxious, only mesmerized by a much greater power than people.
These lessons stayed with me.
It’s getting too hot to camp in the Sonoran now, so I plot my stay along the Black River. My dogs will be happy to splash around, and that longing to give my cares to the water is wholly felt. The great stone spirits stand guard and the prisms of light reflect back into the sun, off of water, the Old God, the life force of everything animated. I can already feel it taking me away.
This was the first time I had backpacked in years, and I could feel it. These muscles haven’t been in use in some time and, while I consider myself to be a decent hiker with good stamina, one mile with 30 pounds strapped to my back felt like ten. It didn’t help much since I had been impatient and packed quickly, and, of course, hauled in the water I would need for the night. I felt terribly inept, but stubborn enough to press on.
The cave wasn’t too far from the truck, maybe a mile or so. Besides, I had included my day pack for canyon exploration and would have time to trek around the side washes and rock outcrops I have come to know. The Goldfields are surprisingly isolated for being so close to the city and adjacent to the popular western Superstitions.
I am a wilderness snob, preferring wilderness to actually be wilderness. The western Supes feel much like the National Park atrocity of eager hikers waiting to break in their REI accoutrements and the endless number of Subarus and souped up jeeps in the parking lots. In a way, I kind of prefer the miners and ranchers. It’s sad to know that wilderness areas must be regulated now. Great efforts to keep their wilderness criteria intact is all but lacking. I have a feeling we’ll see ticket purchases and cotton candy at the gates soon.
Enough of my curmudgeon speculations…I am here and the sun is a strange orb of orange behind a microwavey cloud. This light makes it feel hotter than the 82 degrees, but I press on down the wash, careful to not tumble over with this damned pack. Lizards dart across hilltops and rest their one-two, one-two positions on hot rocks. A single red-tailed hawk floats overhead and behind Blue Ridge. A lone ATV sits parked in the wash. This, unlike the Superstition Wilderness, is strictly public land and there are numerous old jeep trails and abandoned mines all around. I’ve found that the OHV riders tend to stick to the popular roads and ignore much of the rest of the range.
The Goldfields span from Usery Pass to the west to the Apache Trail to the east, north to Canyon Lake and south to the city of Apache Junction. To traverse the Goldfields, it’s approximately 14 miles in distance, east to west, which you can hike in a full day if you’re motivated to do so. I prefer to take my time here.
Winds and rain have swept out great crevices in the rhyolite and conglomerate along the canyon walls. The walls also contain polished chalcedony that shines in the right light, making an ordinary sandy wash quite lovely. Once into the canyon, the only noise you can hear is the jets going over. It is quiet in terms of man-made noise, but the ever-present songbirds and occasional raptor give way to another music.
Here, I am most content. The mindless chatter of my own thoughts dissipates and I settle in to noticing everything around me: small traces of a snake’s journey, the patterns of a thistle plant in full bloom, the intricacy of ironwood roots. I could get lost in reverie here, but know that this is not my place. It has its own hardships.
The desire to live outdoors is often fairytale. Realistically, after a few nights sleeping on rock, I am all too happy to return to my cozy bed. The voyeur in me is short-lived and the romance of the simple, off grid life is too often laced in self-deception. We are animals used to dependency, and rightly so. We need each other and the help that a community provides against our ego bravado that says otherwise. We die on our own. Sometimes horrible deaths. And being simple isn’t going to change the course of this civilization’s rush to destruction. It’s illusory, at best.
I lean down to inspect a piece of rusted pipe from former gold mining efforts. They must have pumped water down the wash for their operations. I suppose you could learn more about the short boom here at that little tourist town, Goldfields, along the Apache Trail. You know I won’t go.
The sun is starting to set so I make my way back to the cave. It’s not really a cave, in all respects, but an overhang with a considerable amount of room in its three distinct caverns. I choose the one that is most exposed because it is dry and because I can actually see the floor. Of course, I will be sleeping amid mouse turds and guano, but it appears dry and I have my ground cloth. I chose the lightest pad and can feel the stone beneath me as I crouch down to make my dinner. The evening wind picks up and I feel chilled and grab my flannel. Heating up my soup, I hear the low murmur of an owl and see antelope squirrels emerge and run alongside the cliffs above me. They use the small holes in the rock as refuge during the day and are now out comically inching along the vertical steppes. I wish I was so agile and swift.
I had plans to write tonight, but pick up a well worn copy of Plants of the Sonoran Desert field guide instead. I settle in as the wind picks up and moves around the contours of the cave. The thermals bring warmth from the sun-touched stones below. Could I live here? It seems like a viable option. I have little money and no plans, which is a combination that can lead to great adventure, or a deeper level of despair.
I once gambled my life on bottles of whiskey and beer. A life that seemed well spent at the time, but now that I have emerged from that…I am chagrined to accept that I like a hot shower and a nice bed.
The night is a calm force. The bats resonate as they come into the cave and back out, devouring mosquitoes. I hear the soft hoof-steps of deer.
Oh, and crickets.
What do I know of sleeping in caves? It’s an easy venture when you know a truck awaits. I can dream of danger. Danger like a whisper, a concept I am not afraid of. In a few hours, after restless sleep, I will boil my coffee and head out. A night of quiet solitude, I can say, is as soothing as the touch of a lover, and just as fleeting.
I wanted to show you photos and videos of today’s exploratory journey into the Goldfield Mountains – and specifically to Sunrise Arch. Alas, I came home and attempted to transfer my images off of the photo card to have something curious occur. They were wiped. Nada.
After having a small cry fit, I will tell you about my amazing morning in the rough-riding reaches of miner’s country.
I got to the Bulldog Canyon OHV Trailhead about 7am, and meandered down the forest road, past RVers enjoying their primitive sites and fresh cups of coffee (or, in some cases, beer).
It was a brisk 52 degrees but sunny, and the flowers started to pop every which way, bejeweling the hills with the brightest golds and amethysts. It was quiet, without any ATVs along the way. I knew they’d be coming later that morning, but it was still too early for all of that nonsense. Gambel’s quails darted to and from palo verdes and five hungry coyotes were out on the prowl, looking for the cottontails who were also out in droves.
Spring in the desert is a good time for all. The cactus wrens warbled their songs and the distinct metallic chirps of thrashers resounded. Can there possibly be anything more welcoming than birdsong?
I was on my way to Dome Mountain, which appears in the distance from every direction. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, since I didn’t have a topo or my phone, and was relying heavily on memory of the maps I perused before leaving. One thing about the Goldfield Range is that it is hospitable for anyone who has the basics of navigating by compass and landmarks.
Overall, my recollection was pretty good, so I didn’t bother much with old mining roads or the few trails. Instead, I decided to wing-it. I had been walking for a few miles when I noticed some cairns off to a wash and along the side of a hill. To my surprise, it led to Sunrise Arch. A window to the world, or rather Saguaro Lake and the distant Mazatzals.
There were so many wildflowers…lupine, scorpionweed, blue dicks, poppies, woollystar, clover, salvia, various asters, and AYDLFs (another yellow daisy-like flower). I scrambled up to the peak above the arch and pirouetted around the 360 degree view of the Goldfields. I think I sang some Eagles while I was up there, and probably offended the local rodents. Why is it I get Eagles songs stuck in my head while hiking? I need a new soundtrack.
From there, I dropped down from the Arch and through a wash with deep pools of water from recent rains. Loads of flies, honeybees, dragonflies, and butterflies of all varieties floated alongside me as I hiked into a deeper cavern of polished rhyolite. That’s when I spied a possible cave in an adjoining canyon, hidden behind the ghost of a former stately saguaro.
Oooo, a cave. Should I explore? Of course!
The blasted out tuff formed an overhang, which was larger than I thought. Bat guano and owl pellets lined the floor and to the side, a bigger, deeper cave with a bed of dirt and debris that was obviously well used… Yes, home to a mountain lion (or two), its entrance covered in lion scat, some old and others disconcertingly recent. From another ledge under the cave, I sat and had my lunch and pondered lions, who also must look across the valley below the Orohai.
I thought to myself, “I am so lucky to have found this place, to be alive, eating peanut butter sandwiches while looking at mountain lion scat!” Really, this is my heaven.
The way back to the car was long and rocky. I found Deer Creek Tank, the result of efforts to encourage desert bighorn to stick around. No sightings of these much adored creatures, but I always look for them when I gaze up at the ridges and spires. I suspect they ventured into the Superstitions, displeased with all of the OHV use that cuts through this range. I would love for the Forest Service to shut down the off-roading access and leave it to hikers and horses. It’s such a special place, full of history, prehistoric and historic, and offers an array of geologic features and desert flora. ❤
On the way back, a kindly old man on an ATV made sure this Little Missy knew where I was and had enough water. He was a chagrined that I had been off trail and had a good knowledge of the layout after looking long and hard at topographic maps each night. Still, kindness goes a long way, and I was happy to chat with him about our mutual adventures.
What a day! What a life. There is nothing better than a spring day in the desert, complete with scat, tracks, and a whole lot of flowers. Too bad about the lost images, but at least I have all of the memories, and it just gives me more reason to go back and explore!