Sunday, January 25, 2015

Trail Blazing

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday was the start to another exciting 3 day weekend! I am afraid I've already grown attached to these and it will be too painful to go back to anything else. At least we know that we're enjoying every day as much as we can. :)

For today's adventure, we planned for a hiking trip that would be around 7 miles. The original destination was Elephant Head in the Santa Rita Mountains, but that isn't what it ended up being! We drove South on I-19, past Green Valley and the exit for Madera Canyon, and instead took a road around Amado, first driving along a paved road, then turning off onto a rough, rocky road. 

Curtis knew that the road would be gravel, but wasn't expecting it to be so poorly maintained. He was also going off of a trail map, so all the dirt roads were hard to follow. We took a wrong turn, and the truck overheated. We were not ready to deal with more car issues in the middle of nowhere, so we decided to park in the closest and easiest spot, hike the extra 1.8 miles to the trailhead, and not worry about making it all the way up Elephant Head. We decided to take it easy and simply enjoy everything about the hike.

After stopping in the parking lot. Elephant Head is the bald, tan peak on the far left.

These 5 small peaks peeking out remind me of waves in an ocean, or something like that

Following the Gravel Road

For the first 1.8 miles, we followed the gravel road, which turned out to be much easier to walk on than drive up! We saw some bikers and a few other hikers (all of them loved on Charlotte!) but when we reached our trailhead, we were the only ones there, and we loved it. The trail was well maintained with tall grass surrounding us, for the most part. There was a bit of an incline, but nothing strenuous, it was all so easy to enjoy.

As we were walking - Me in the lead, Charlotte in the middle, and Curtis bringing up the rear - Curtis heard something from off the trail and glanced over and saw something...white and grey. "Hey, there's a skunk!" he noted as he passed by. But then he noticed it walking toward the trail...then on the trail...following us. "Run!" He shouted. All of this happened in seconds. I was nervous from the moment I heard there was a skunk. I took off running, and Charlotte ran after me, naturally. She didn't see or smell the skunk, she just ran because I was. Such a good dog! The 3 of us ran for a bit on the trail, until Curtis said we were fine. We returned to walking at a normal pace, checking behind us every now and again for the skunk, just in case. It was just so weird!

Elephant Head!

We continued on the trail for about 2 miles past where we were chased by the skunk. The trail slowly inclined until it reached a ridge, followed that for a while before quickly declining and meeting up with a mountain bike trail. From there, it followed a ridge, slowly inclining again, weaving through a valley, with several high peaks above us. We finally reached the spur "trail" that led to Elephant Head peak (above picture). We were disappointed to realize that this trail didn't continue following the ridge, but instead cut across the valley - going downhill, losing 500 feet of elevation in a quarter mile, only to gain all that plus more walking up the other side, where there was no official trail. The peak looked so interesting, and I wanted to be there so bad, but it really didn't seem possible with a small dog. It was also already 2:30, (we had a late start, plus the long drive and wrong turns didn't help!) so we decided that we wouldn't attempt it. From where we were, we could either continue on the trail to a mining site or head back. 

I desperately wanted to reach a "peak" so that we could have some sort of destination, so we decided to trail blaze up the side of the mountain that we had been walking along for a while. This was new for us - to go where there was no trail! It was steep, prickly, and very tiring, but I felt so free and adventurous. The peak turned out to be further than I thought, (mountains are so deceiving like that!) but we didn't give up, and all 3 of us made it to the top, after taking our own routes around the desert plants.

Elephant Head

The trail continued to a mining site, but we chose not to visit today.

Facing East, with Babaquivari being the prominent peak in the background!

Facing Elephant Head from our own secret peak. The Catalina Mountains are in the far back.

Chilling at the top!

Once at the top, we stopped for a snack and took time to enjoy it. Curtis checked for any caches around us, and found that this peak had no name. We decided to call it Mt. Charlander - "Charlander" was one of the nicknames that my siblings came up with for Charlotte. We thought it sounded right, in honor of our adorable 6 month old puppy's achievements. :)

Charlotte LOVES kissing daddy!

family :)

Facing East - Mt. Wrightson is back there somewhere

After this, we began our trek down. Trail blazing while walking downhill is so much more difficult than uphill, especially with how steep this was! Curtis carried Charlotte, and I took my time, planning out each move. Curtis and Charlotte made it down before I did, and Charlotte was very concerned for me. :) 

Once I made it, we began hiking back, in the same order as before - me, Charlotte, Curtis. However, not 20 steps in, I see something ahead of us, coming toward us..."SKUNK! IT FOLLOWED US!! RUN!!!" I screamed. I turned around and pushed past Curtis in a rush. He swooped up Charlotte and ran after me. "Go left!" He yelled, and we both took off running off trail, trail blazing again. We dashed through the desert plants on the downhill slope, making a huge loop before meeting back up with the trail. We couldn't see it any more, but we/I were/was terrified and weren't about to face it again. We continued walking at a quickened pace, and Charlotte rose to the occasion and followed our example. Again, she didn't even see what we were running from, she really just puts up with everything we do!

As we walked back, we could smell traces of the skunk every now and again. We were paranoid! I wasn't too concerned about being sprayed as I was about it hurting Charlotte, or maybe even being rabid. We couldn't believe the thing followed our scent for at least 1.5 miles! We're almost positive that it's the same one that followed us - it looked the same, walked the same, and was the only one we saw all day (thank God!). We were safe for the rest of the hike - saw no more wildlife, and left with a great new story to tell. :)

Goodbye skunk, until next time!

Before driving back home, we stopped to check out Whipple Observatory, and grabbed a nearby letterbox.

That huge mirror thing is some sort of telescope...we're intrigued!

Saying goodbye for now to the Santa Rita mountains

The Catalina mountains reflecting the beauty of the sunset

While driving home, we saw a beautiful sunset, and enjoyed delicious pork chops and strawberry crisps at home. Day 1 of this weekend's adventures complete! Altogether, we hiked 7.2 miles.

Trail's much more enjoyable when you can take your time and plan each step. When you have to do it out of necessity because you're being chased, the adrenaline rush is real, but it will end up being much more painful in the end! I still have many scars on my shins, arms, and even stomach from running into shin daggers, ocotillos, and other prickly desert things!

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