About a year ago, Conor and I were hiking the Dutchman’s Trail in the Superstitions when we stopped to shoot some photos of a large saguaro well off the trail. While I was bushwacking through the scrub desert, I discovered a great little campsite at the base of a huge saguaro, completely hidden and surrounded by thorny desert barberry. This little hidden gem had two chairs built from the ribs of dead saguaro, a fire pit and carefully stacked pie of firewood. Carved into the tree nearby was the name Dave Kee.
On this trip we decided to return to that site and camp there for a couple nights. Recent rains in the area meant that many streams were flowing and for once water was not going to be a major challenge. We crossed thirty streams over three days during our adventure.
The weather was fine and the sky was cloudless and blue. By midday, we were in shorts and tshirts. We reached camp after a two hour hike and quickly set things up – everything was completely undisturbed since the last time we had been there almost a year ago, so we knew this was a well hidden site. Conor decided to build his own shelter and I set off to climb yet another peak in hopes of catching the perfect sunset. I climbed a VERY steep hill for about an hour, only to find another taller hill beyond it, negating any chance I would have for a good shot. I belted out a loud KOOOOOOOOOOOOOOEEEEEEEEEE! And it echoed back upon itself through the canyons incredibly great and long!
My other and more important agenda for the outing was to catalog as much flora as possible for later identification… having obtained a field guide as a Christmas present. So as I picked my way back down the incline, I stopped frequently to document plants and rocks.
In the early evening, we chowed on lil smokies, cooked on mesquite branches for appetizers and then a big pot of chili. We sat by the fire and let it die out to glowing embers, then looked up to the night sky for a fantastic view of ultra ultra bright constellations. Orion dominated the southwestern sky and we could clearly make out the Orion Nebula at his hip where the sword hung.
It got cold very very fast and I scurried into my sleeping bag wearing two pairs of wool socks and four layers of clothing, then cinched up the bag so that only my eyes could peek through a fist sized hole at the night sky. The Big Dipper was directly above me and so bright it almost hurt to look at it. I struggled to keep my eyes open in hopes of seeing a shooting star but sleep came first.
Ten hours later and it was morning. We ate cinnamon oatmeal and sausages for brekky, then set off for the goal for the day: Weaver’s Needle, the highest point in the wilderness and by far the most prominent rock formation.
We set off with day packs and water, moving quickly through the groves of prickly pear, cholla and brittlebush. Continuing down Dutchman’s to the Peralta Trail. With the Needle in sight and less than an hour hike away, the trail vanished. We criss crossed back and forth across the valley to no avail. The rains had obviously washed out the trail and we were left with two choices, hack our way through the spiny thorny nasty desert, or drop down into the stream and boulder hop our way up. We chose the stream.
For hours we picked our way through giant boulders and water, inching closer and closer. On the ridges above us we could see “stone ghosts”, which according to Apache Indian legend are people who were petrified after a great flood. In fact they are rhyolite formations, formed from volcanic ash, but cool none the less.
Finally the stream pinched to a tight bramble filled canyon, impassable to us. It was starting to feel more like work than play so we gave up on our quest and decided to find a shady spot and have lunch… beef jerky, dried fruit and sardines.
We made our way back to camp by late afternoon and chilled out under the shade of the Arizona Madrone tree in our camp. That night it was New Years Eve and the stars would be our fireworks for the night! I cooked up a meal of Mexican chicken and rice and we finished off the rest of the sausages, cooked on carefully carved twigs and roasted over the roaring fire.
Conor crashed fairly early and I sat by the fire for another hour or so, letting it die completely out in the dark moonless night. I lay on the ground and looked up at the stars, reflecting back on the past year and meditating on the things to come. I literally felt myself become connected with the Earth and felt as though I was hurtling through space, smashed against the surface. This photo was taken using only the light of the fire, with about a twenty second exposure.
At midnight, I heard a group of guys in the far distance hooting and shouting to commemorate the New Year and I wanted to shout back but feared I would startle Conor. Instead I lay very still and looked out from my sleeping bag peephole into the starry sky and smiled. THIS was a way to bring in a new year!