AZT – Redington Road to Molino Basin

Trail Through Desert Hills

Day 14

This turned out to be my last day on the trail for the season. It was a hard decision to make, but ultimately the trip was poorly timed and I went way over budget on the trip as a whole. It was a decision I came to after thinking about it quite a bit the previous few days on the trail, but on this day it seemed inescapable.

The day started early in the morning while it was still dark outside. There were some scattered showers when I went to bed, but I was woken up in the middle of the night when the wind started to pick up and I heard a nearby crack of thunder, no more than two miles away or so. Nervous, I eventually fell back asleep thankful that that was the only one.

I woke up when it was starting to get lighter out to complete cloud cover, so there was no sunrise that morning. Without anything else to do, I hydrated, got some breakfast, and packed up. Back on the trail, I actually backtracked about a tenth of a mile to the water cache I had seen the night before for one more liter since I was more dehydrated than I thought.

As I began heading in the right direction, my mind was overwhelmed with what to do with my funds running low and all the responsibilities and opportunities I had abandoned back home, a thought that had become more frequent as the trail went on. Quitting the trail simply wasn’t an option, so the thought itself had a hard time even working its way into my head as a legitimate option. But the more thought I gave to it the more relief I was beginning to feel, an emotion I actually hadn’t felt in weeks. The more I thought about it in that sense, the more I realized how poorly prepared I was mentally and financially. I had been wondering for much of the trail why I wasn’t feeling the same enthusiasm I’m usually feeling when I’m hiking, and now clarity about the situation was finally sinking in. It simply felt more like an obligation to do the trail rather than the adventure I was hoping for.

Wildflowers on Grassland Hills

I began to think about all the reasons that were adding up back home that were blatantly trying to keep me there and how I essentially forced hiking the Arizona Trail because I had been talking about it for so long. As I began to accept the realization that I had tried to deem unacceptable for so long, my attitude began to change and I began having one of my better days, despite only hiking through rolling grassland hills on my way to certain rain showers in the Santa Catalina Mountains ahead.

The more I thought about it the more it made complete sense. I had to leave the trail and go home. It’s not that the trail beat me – I was just starting to average 17 miles per day. I simply didn’t give myself the proper chance to give it a genuine start. Technically, I shouldn’t have even gotten as far as I did since physical endurance had nothing to do with it.

As I began to feel more uplifted, I noticed more wildlife on the trail as well. I came down into a large wash shaded with numerous cottonwood and oak trees, and caught a glimpse of an owl flying into a tree where I lost sight of it. It was too quickly gone to identify, but a large, silent bird of prey flying from the ground and into the trees is almost certainly some kind of owl. Just a bit farther down the trail a gila monster scurried off into the brush on the side of the trail. If I had remembered from the guidebook that they spend most of their life underground and that sightings are relatively rare, I might have tried for a better shot of it. Not much farther from that though, I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake. I would have been ok without that last one.

Trail Through Desert Hills

From there the trail started a lengthy ascent up to a saddle above Molino Basin. Nearly as soon as I started climbing, the rain began coming down. For the desert, it was a pretty significant amount of rain I found myself caught in. Sadly, this was where many of the views began to get really good, but I had my camera packed away to keep it safe from the moisture. On the plus side, it felt wonderful to have freshwater showered all over my body and washing away the dirt!

The rain got heavier the higher I climbed until all I could do was reach the saddle and admire the view for myself. I crossed over to the Molino Basin side where it began to lighten up just enough for me to take out my cell phone and grab a quick shot with it. I made the short descent to the Molino Basin Campground where I waited for Giggles to pick me up, where we started making bittersweet plans to head home.

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AZT – Grass Shack to Redington Road

Rincon Valley Below Mica Mountain

Day 13

I got an early start, leaving camp by 7:15am. It was still nice and cool out so it made for great conditions on the climb up to Manning Camp near the top of Mica Mountain. The other plus was that I was beating the gnats out and could actually enjoy my hike for a bit without being pestered by them.

After a cottontail rabbit jumped into the trees, I noticed that a cloud was perfectly placed to block the sun as the junipers began giving way to ponderosa pines. It wasn’t long at all before I was high up in the forest and the cool air, a very welcome change from the heat of the day before.

At 8,000 feet elevation, Manning Camp is a great escape for locals and a great stop along the Arizona Trail. Having made it up in just under three hours, I decided to stop and have some food and a rest since I was happy with my pace.

The trail continued to climb and the air got cooler with it. It was really refreshing since the climb to 8,500 feet would have been much more exhausting had the sun been out. Oddly enough though, the forest had an eerie silence about it to me. It was a little too still. There were no signs at all of bear, deer, or even squirrels. Perhaps they were just all at lower elevations for the season and hadn’t yet migrated higher. At least that’s what I hoped.

Ponderosa Pine Forest

After figuring out the trail system, which isn’t quite as well signed as outside of the park, the trail began to plummet steeply in elevation, something I soon felt in my knees, forcing me to slow my pace a bit. More clouds began rolling in as I reached a small (natural) bench that had sweeping panoramic views to the north in nearly 180 degrees. It was easily one of the best views of the trail so far, showing off distant mountains spread out across southern Arizona. Just a short descent from there was Italian Spring, where I stopped to get a couple more liters, despite the water not being quite as clear as I had hoped.

Northern Views from Mica Mountain

Farther down the trail I began to feel a bit light-headed. Naturally fears of giardia immediately flooded my mind and wouldn’t leave. Even though I was well hydrated, I sat down at a boulder outcropping with a great view and had a snack and drank some more water. While there, a hummingbird whizzed by as I admired the views to the north and east. I got back on the trail and a short way down ran into a runner named Jeff, whose trail name was JustJeff. He was on his way up to Mica Mountain and a good chat with him seemed to be the distraction I needed to start feeling better and ridding my mind of fears of giardia.

As I dropped down into the grasslands from the forests, a few sprinkles began to hit me. Nothing too alarming, but Jeff warned me that I should be ready for rain the next day. I looked back at Mica Mountain and there was definitely a rain shower giving it a good soaking.

Desert Hills

The trail bounced up and down over the grassland hills until I finally reached the next passage. There was still some time left in the day so I decided to head another couple of miles forward to get a head start on the next day, when I was planning on meeting up with Giggles again.

Up and down the grassy hills I followed the trail until I crested one hill and saw someone standing on top of the hill. We began chatting and though he told me his name, I completely forgot it. He was the trail steward for Passage 3 and I told him how much we had enjoyed that area. As we chatted, he let me know he was waiting on his daughter who was also camped at Grass Shack the previous night. He had some cached water he wanted to give her, but after telling him that I left about an hour and a half before her and after him telling me that she doesn’t do more than 12 miles or so a day, we realized she probably wasn’t going to make it that night, especially since I had just done 17 miles. He walked with me to Redington Road and after neither of us could get a signal, he offered to send a text to Giggles for me when he was back in range just in case I couldn’t get my phone charged and/or in signal range.

Desert Onion and Fairy Duster

We parted ways and I went to the other side of the road where I saw more cached water waiting for thirsty AZT hikers. I helped myself to a liter, which I expected would get me safely to the next water supply, and found a place to camp not far from there. With cloudy skies and rain coming in, I didn’t even bother with any photography. I set up camp, and fell asleep pretty quickly.

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Zooming With Your Feet:

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Size and Scale Relationship at a Fixed Focal Length.

In August of 2013, I created this post: Distance and Scale Relationships in the Tetons (and elsewhere) In that post, I captured images with a 70-200mm lens until I got close where I changed to a 24-70mm lens. I created a slideshow that illustrates how the barn appears to grow and the mountains shrink as you get close. In those images, I adjusted the zoom of my lenses so the mountains and barn filled the frame at about the same proportions. Click the link above and watch the slideshow and you’ll see what I mean.

Today, I returned to the barns for a slightly different approach. Using a Nikon D800 full frame camera and the same 70-200mm lens, I took a series of six images, all at 70mm. I could have used my 24-70mm for the same effect. To confirm distances, I used a “rangefinder”. I set up at 180 yards from the barn and waited for the morning light. I shot at ISO 100 and F/9 for all six images.

70mm at 180 yards

70mm at 180 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 150 yards

70mm at 150 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 120 yards

70mm at 120 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 60 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 90 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 60 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 60 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 30 yards: ISO 100, F/9

70mm at 30 yards: ISO 100, F/9

Observations: First, light was much better today than in my first post! The “teaching moment” in both sets of photos is the relationship in size and scale of two fixed objects—based on how far you are away from the closest subject. In this case, the mountains look huge when back 180 yards, yet appear to get smaller as I moved closer to the barn. Conversely, the barn looks small in the scene at a distance, yet appears to grow as I moved closer.

180 yards at 102mm

When set up at 180 yards, it might be possible to get a similar shot to the 90 yard shot by using a zoom lens and zooming to the appropriate focal length. A telephoto capture will compress a scene. This image taken at 102mm. It is possible to—as some people might suggest— “get lazy” and compose from one spot using a zoom lens. It is also possible to use the same technique for creative captures. Personally, I like the options available when using a zoom lens.

200 mm

This image was taken at 200mm from a different angle. I like the look and feel of the distant trees resulting from the tight telephoto capture.

380mm

380mm: I’d have to go back to get distances, but the fence row is probably 160 yards from the road and homestead buildings are another 160 yards. Even with the morning fog, these building are amazingly compressed. At 70mm, the buildings would have been very small in the scene. If I moved a lot closer to the fence row, the fences could have been very large and overpower the buildings.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful: There are numerous ways of photographing Old Faithful. I could have been on the front edge of the boardwalk and use a wide angle lens. There wouldn’t be much in the way of clues to establish the scale of the geyser.  I could have been at the back edge of the boardwalk with the same wide angle. The people would fill much of the frame and the geyser would appear smaller. In this case, I moved quite a bit farther back and shot at 98 mm. If back twice as far and letting the steam fill roughly the same area, the people would be much smaller, making Old Faithful appear much bigger. I included this image to illustrate the effect is NOT limited to the barns at Mormon Row! Or the Old Patriarch Tree! You have so much more control, whether by moving in and around with a fixed lens, or by zooming in or out with a zoom lens and moving closer or farther from the closest subject. And, it works with an iPhone, tablet, or point-and-shoot camera!

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Please Help! If you like what you are seeing here, please click on the Social Media link/icons below and help me spread the word! Mike Jackson

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Reclaiming the Night Participant Profile – Cindy Luongo Cassidy

I had gotten my interview from Bill Wren and had just gotten out of his presentation when he mentioned that Cindy Luongo Cassidy should be arriving at any minute. I was ready to leave so that I wouldn’t have to subject myself to two straight days of non-stop driving to get to Tucson in time for my girlfriend’s arrival, but at the same time, it would be nice to meet her in person to thank her for the room. I figured that that was the least I could do, so I killed some time to wait for her arrival, but she never did show up. – Read more

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AZT – La Sevilla Campground to Grass Shack

Hiking Trail Through Desert Wildflowers

Day 12

This day was a day filled with mixed emotions and experiences. I started off acknowledging a lot of the worry that had been following me onto the trail, and made an intent to release them. While feeling lighter and better about the day early on, I came out of the small desert mountains beyond the ranch, where the trail opened up into a large valley between Saguaro National Park and myself. I also ran into Hemlock who was heading south, someone I had been chatting with before each of us started the trail. We had a nice conversation before we continued in our respective directions.

It was mostly flat and easygoing for the next several miles. Chipmunks, butterflies, and cottontail rabbits all fled the trail in front of me through the wildflowers and cactus. I soon rounded a corner and came upon a snake lying in the middle of the trail. I’m not very familiar with snakes, so although this one seemed non-threatening, I still threw a few rocks in its direction to see if it would voluntarily move. Without much success, I noticed I could pretty easily bushwhack around it, so I did so quietly and carefully while giving it plenty of room. One crisis averted, but more were soon to follow.

Arizona Trail Going Through Cactus

I continued down the trail enjoying its easy and gradual descent toward Saguaro National Park when I heard the sound that I most fear hearing in the desert: a rattler on a rattlesnake. Fortunately, this one was behind me a couple of dozen feet, so a safe distance, but still alarming. Two crises averted.

With the rattlesnake rattling around in my mind, I hadn’t even gone a mile before I heard the same sound again, but this time directly ahead of me about 10 feet. My plan to alarm them with extra heavy hammering of my hiking poles into the ground seemed to work. I backed up to give it some room, and it slowly uncoiled and casually slithered off the trail. Three crises averted, but I wasn’t done yet.

I reached Rincon Creek which was flowing nicely, and knowing that this was the last certain water source, I had some lunch and stocked up on water, forgetting that Hemlock had told me that there was plenty up Mica Mountain, where I was heading in Saguaro National Park. I crossed into the park boundary and just as quickly as the scenery became mesmerizing, the trail began to climb. Wildflowers exploded between a dense saguaro forest as the trail began a grueling ascent up the south side of Mica Mountain.

Wildflowers Along Arizona Trail

A few hours had gone by under the hot sun when I noticed I was needing some water. I didn’t want to stop because there were swarms of gnats that would instantly cling to any exposed skin, in this case mainly my face, as soon as I stood still. Regardless, I was getting dehydrated and needed to put a big dent in my water supply. I found a single, armless saguaro along the trail which provided just enough shade for me to stand in, and I dropped an electrolyte tablet into a liter of water and chugged it. I felt a lot better, but the trail was far from being done climbing and my water was getting low.

I hadn’t seen an AZT or park sign in a long time and I was beginning to wonder if I had missed a fork in my slightly dehydrated state. With the relentless sun bearing down and water running low, I decided I needed to figure out where I was. I saw a nice shady spot a short distance ahead and decided that that would do. As I approached, I noticed in the shadows a sign! I eagerly went to read it and discovered that I was actually still on the right trail. And better yet, camp was less than three miles away! Even better, just a short distance up the trail I found more water! I stopped to get a couple of liters before the gnats made the job nearly impossible. Four crises averted.

Feeling refreshed and reassured, I was now making much better time up the steep trail. I pulled out my phone to take a quick picture, but now noticed that my USB cable that I was using to charge the phone had broken due to the plug bending. I killed every process except the tracker I was using and left it in airplane mode and hoped it would at least make it to camp.

Soon enough, the trail brought me to the Grass Shack Campground where a creek was generously flowing next to it. Despite getting my permit, the campground was already occupied and was about to be more so. A guy sitting with a few teenage girls informed me about 12 more were on the way. He said it might be a noisy evening, but wouldn’t last long into the night. Good enough. Not quite a crisis to avert, but another one was coming.

Rincon Peak Above Mica Mountain

I headed to the back of the campground where I thought my site was supposed to be and set up my tent. Once inside to escape the gnats, I heard a very loud fly seeming to patrol my tent. I didn’t think much of it since I was desperately hungry. As I began to devour dinner (in my tent), I also took out my USB cable to see if I could crack it open to fix it back into place. A few moments later and it was charging my phone again! Five crises averted!

The bugs had died down by now and so I poked my head out the tent to notice an amazing sunset going on outside. I jumped out to do a few quick shots and then went back a bit beyond my tent to make a bathroom break. I went back by my tent and stood watching the sky when I noticed the fly buzzing nearby again. This was no fly though. I had apparently camped too close to a large hornet and it was clearly upset. Not being completely familiar with hornet behavior, I stood back as it hovered on the other side of my tent facing me, clearly guarding something. I thought I was giving it enough room but it made a pass around the tent, prompting me to back up a bit more. It wasn’t enough though. It came after me as I ran back toward the main campsite and took a swipe near my head, fortunately missing. I was nearly back to the larger group of campers, the rest of them having arrived by this time when I noticed I wasn’t being pursued anymore. I was very tempted to ask the group leader for some help moving my tent, but realized he’d be in the same danger as me. I stood there debating what to do for a little while when I realized that if they saw me, they might assume I was standing there for a different reason. I headed back up to my site solo, slowly and patiently to see if the hornet was still out. With my adrenaline still going, I eased in toward my tent, but no sounds. I opened it up to grab some of the heavier items and brought them down the small hill. One trip down. I went back up, grabbed my camera on its tripod, and brought it down. I was calmer, but the next step had me on edge. I pulled up one stake from the tent, and with five to go, began to make my way around the tent to get the rest, hoping the hornet wouldn’t be alarmed. One by one I pulled them up, and just as the tent began to fall after pulling up the last stake, I caught it to avoid any surprises. I quickly lifted it by the rod and carried it down. Finally my two hiking poles remained resting against a blooming manzanita tree that the hornet seemed to be guarding. No point in hanging around. I made a quick dash in, grabbed them, and ran back down. No pursuers. Six crises averted.

Rincon Peak Above Mica Mountain

After all that, it was finally time to rehydrate, set up bed, and get in a few token night shots before sleeping the day off.


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AZT – La Sevilla Campground to Grassy Shack

Arizona Trail Desert

Day 12

This day was a day filled with mixed emotions and experiences. I started off acknowledging a lot of the worry that had been following me onto the trail, and made some intents to release them. While feeling lighter and better about the day early on, I came out of the small desert mountains beyond the ranch, where the trail opened up into a large valley between Saguaro National Park and myself. I also ran into Hemlock who was heading south, someone I had been chatting with before each of us started the trail. We had a nice conversation before we continued in out respective directions.

It was mostly flat and easygoing for the next several miles. Chipmunks, butterflies, and cottontail rabbits all fled the trail in front of me through the wildflowers and cactus. I soon rounded a corner and came upon a snake lying in the middle of the trail. I’m not very familiar with snakes, so although this one seemed non-threatening, I still threw a few rocks in its direction to see if it would voluntarily move. Without much success, I noticed I could pretty easily bushwhack around it, so I did so quietly and carefully while giving it plenty of room. One crisis averted, but more were soon to follow.

Saguaros and Wildflowers

I continued down the trail enjoying its easy and gradual descent toward Saguaro National Park when I heard the sound that I most fear hearing in the desert: a rattler on a rattlesnake. Fortunately, this one was behind me a couple of dozen feet, so a safe distance, but still alarming. Two crises averted.

With the rattlesnake rattling around in my mind, I hadn’t even gone a mile before I heard the same sound again, but this time directly ahead of me about 10 feet. My plan to alarm them with extra heavy hammering of my hiking poles into the ground seemed to work. I backed up to give it some room, and it slowly uncoiled and casually slithered off the trail. Three crises averted, but I wasn’t done yet.

I reached Rincon Creek which was flowing nicely, and knowing that this was the last certain water source, I had some lunch and stocked up on water, forgetting that Hemlock had told me that there was plenty up Mica Mountain, where I was heading in Saguaro National Park. I crossed into the park boundary and just as quickly as the scenery became mesmerizing, the trail began to climb. Wildflowers exploded between a dense saguaro forest as the trail began a grueling ascent up the south side of Mica Mountain.

Rincon Peak

A few hours had gone by under the hot sun when I noticed I was needing some water. I didn’t want to stop because there were swarms of gnats that would instantly cling to any exposed skin, in this case mainly my face, as soon as I stood still. Regardless, I was getting dehydrated and needed to put a big dent in my water supply. I found a single, armless saguaro along the trail which provided just enough shade for me to stand in, and I dropped an electrolyte tablet into a liter of water and chugged it. I felt a lot better, but the trail was far from being done climbing and my water was getting low.

I hadn’t seen an AZT or park sign in a long time and I was beginning to wonder if I had missed a fork in my slightly dehydrated state. With the relentless sun bearing down and water running low, I decided I needed to figure out where I was. I saw a nice shady spot a short distance ahead and decided that that would do. As I approached, I noticed in the shadows a sign! I eagerly went to read it and discovered that I was actually still on the right trail. And better yet, camp was less than three miles away! Even better, just a short distance up the trail I found more water! I stopped to get a couple of liters before the gnats made the job nearly impossible. Four crises averted.

Feeling refreshed and reassured, I was now making much better time up the steep trail. I pulled out my phone to take a quick picture, but now noticed that my USB cable that I was using to charge the phone had broken due to the plug bending. I killed every process except the tracker I was using and left it in airplane mode and hoped it would at least make it to camp.

Soon enough, the trail brought me to camp where a creek was generously flowing next to it. Despite getting my permit, the campground was already occupied and was about to be more so. A guy sitting with a few teenage girls informed me about 12 more were on the way. He said it might be a noisy evening, but wouldn’t last long into the night. Good enough. Not quite a crisis to avert, but another one was coming.

Southern Arizona Desert

I headed to the back of the campground where I thought my site was supposed to be and set up my tent. Once inside to escape the gnats, I heard a very loud fly seeming to patrol my tent. I didn’t think much of it since I was desperately hungry. As I began to devour dinner (in my tent), I also took out my USB cable to see if I could crack it open to fix it back into place. A few moments later and it was charging my phone again! Five crises averted!

The bugs had died down by now and so I poked my head out the tent to notice an amazing sunset going on outside. I jumped out to do a few quick shots and then went back a bit beyond my tent to make a bathroom break. I went back by my tent and stood watching the sky when I noticed the fly buzzing nearby again. This was no fly though. I had apparently camped too close to a large hornet and it was clearly upset. Not being completely familiar with hornet behavior, I stood back as it hovered on the other side of my tent facing me, clearly guarding something. I thought I was giving it enough room but it made a pass around the tent, prompting me to back up a bit more. It wasn’t enough though. It came after me as I ran back toward the main campsite and took a swipe near my head, fortunately missing. I was nearly back to the larger group of campers, the rest of them having arrived by this time when I noticed I wasn’t being pursued anymore. I was very tempted to ask the group leader for some help moving my tent, but realized he’d be in the same danger as me. I stood there debating what to do for a little while when I realized that if they saw me, they might assume I was standing there for a different reason. I headed back up to my site solo, slowly and patiently to see if the hornet was still out. With my adrenaline still going, I eased in toward my tent, but no sounds. I opened it up to grab some of the heavier items and brought them down the small hill. One trip down. I went back up, grabbed my camera on its tripod, and brought it down. I was calmer, but the next step had me on edge. I pulled up one stake from the tent, and with five to go, began to make my way around the tent to get the rest, hoping the hornet wouldn’t be alarmed. One by one I pulled them up, and just as the tent began to fall after pulling up the last stake, I caught it to avoid any surprises. I quickly lifted it by the rod and carried it down. Finally my two hiking poles remained resting against a blooming manzanita tree that the hornet seemed to be guarding. No point in hanging around. I made a quick dash in, grabbed them, and ran back down. No pursuers. Six crises averted.

After all that, it was finally time to rehydrate, set up bed, and get in a few token night shots before sleeping the day off.


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AZT – AZ83 to La Sevilla Campground

Arizona Trail Desert

Day 11

It was a bittersweet and subsequently uneventful day. After having a great few days with Giggles, we realized that her leg was too injured to continue on the trail and that I would finish on my own. The trail didn’t change much in terms of diversity so my mind was stuck on her and whether the loneliness away from her would prevent me from finishing.

The trail was far from bland though. It weaved in and out of rolling hills and washes saturated with cactus, desert vegetation, and even wildflowers. Two welcomed features to shake up the scenery were a protected area around Cienega Creek where the trail dipped into shade and cool breezes beneath cottonwoods, and the other was when the trail went through a long tunnel underneath I-10. It’s the little things.

Arizona Trail Desert

As I approached La Posta Quemada Ranch, which didn’t seem too keen on talking to hiker-types, the sun was beginning to get low, so I knew I’d need to find a place to camp soon. I entered the ranch and walked to the main area, only to find that the campground I was looking for was still another mile down the trail, and they weren’t even serving ice cream anymore. It’s the little things.

The next campground was the La Sevilla Campground, found after many small ups and downs through a large array of different cacti, including saguaro which were finally beginning to adorn the trail.

I secured a site, stuffed myself with some dinner and chocolate, and began doing some night photography below the mesquite trees that created a canopy above the campground. Nearby, a group with the Conservation Corps played some music as I got ready for bed.


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Fly Fishermen and Photographers:

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Cut essentially from the “same cloth”, both seek solitude and beauty.

Over the years, I’ve met many photographers who were also avid fly fishermen. It seems the proportion of people sharing both passions is abnormally high.

Snake River Riffle

“Trout don’t live in ugly places.” I can’t remember where I heard this quote, but it stuck in my head when I heard it. We moved to Jackson Hole back in 1986 for exactly the same reason. We wanted to live in some place best described as “beautiful”. The Grand Teton range rises from the valley floor not far from my home in town. There’s not a better backdrop!  Jackson Hole has some of the best wildlife and landscape photography in the U.S. and some of the best fishing to boot! If that’s not enough, within a relatively short drive, I can be in Yellowstone or other “Blue Ribbon” fisheries.

Cutthroat Trout

Many of the people I’ve met come here for the same opportunities. Some are quite serious about both! Getting up long before sunrise wouldn’t phase either. Neither would staying out late into the nigh. Both “hope” for a fantastic day, yet are more than willing to accept only a good day. On days when the fish aren’t biting or the light and clouds are not cooperating, they are will to concede the day was still great if only because they got to spend it outside in such a beautiful place. Standards are not etched in stone, you know!

Salmon Fly

flyMost fly fishermen and photographers become good at either by paying attention to details. Fly fishermen are watching for hints of a pending hatch. A swirl in the water can indicate fish are seeing and feeding on tiny insects floating under the water, while noses out of the water might indicate they are feeding on flies in the surface film. Bubbles after a take can mean they are taking flies on the surface. A photographer, tuned to the surroundings, might be changing lenses or settings simply because they heard the distinctive honk of a nearby Trumpeter Swan. They can be clicking off shots while others are just beginning to change lenses. A photographer might drive by an area and notice peeled branches where a porcupine has been feeding. Most people would drive by and never see the clues—much less know to be looking for the barbed critter.

Calm Reflections

Cutthroat Trout aren’t generally known to be early morning feeders. Perfect! A photographer has a chance to take images of the morning sunrise and even a few moose before the first hatch. On most days, the water warms slightly around 10:00 am to even 11:00 am, initiating an insect hatch. Fishing can be great for an hour or two. During the heat of summer, terrestrials like grasshoppers can get blown into the water and bring nice fish to the surface. As the sun drops in the sky, photography usually gets better all the way to sunset. Caddis flies typically emerge later in the day, sometimes at sunset. It’s the one time of the day when the photographer/fisherman has to “pick a side”. For me, a fiery sky trumps rising fish!

Solitude

Solitude and Beauty: Most photographers and most fly fishermen I’ve met have spent time on the ski slopes at some point. They’ve chosen the solitude of a babbling brook and vista views over feeling like cattle being herded into chutes on the mountain. It’s not that they are anti-social, but simply made a lifestyle choice that suites them better. I am a “catch and release” fisherman. In some areas, like in GTNP, that’s a requirement. There are a few areas of the valley that allows taking a couple of fish within certain size slots. Aside from those places, a fisherman normally comes home “empty handed”…and usually with a few less flies in the vest than when they left. They bring home memories of the day, some of which have a tendency to grow in size over time. Photographers, on the other hand, normally come home with a card full of images that permanently document their outing—for better or worse. The antlers can’t get larger, but the details of how difficult it was to get the shots can get hazy or embellished over time!

Cutthroat Trout

 A Green Drake hatch can bring big fish out of the shadows and feed with reckless abandon. A decent cast with the right sized fly on the line often yields great results. Those days don’t happen too often, so when a fisherman gets to experience one, they’ll remember details of the day for a long time. Timing is everything! I experience much the same feeling when I see a big bull moose approach a stream in evening light. They stop to take a drink and then slowly make their way across the stream. With every click of the camera and every step the bull makes, I know in the back of my head it is an experience to be treasured. Once the bull disappears into the brush on the other side, I get to take a deep breath and understand why I live here and why I make it a point to be out as often as I can! >>MJ

Boots

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AZT – Santa Rita Mountains Foothills to AZ83

Sunrise over Oak Trees

Day 10

After a night of coyotes howling and passing through our camp, we woke up to a great sunrise and surprisingly pleasant temperatures. We all wanted to get a head start on the day so we were ready to go fairly quick. We were only a few dozen yards from the start of Passage 7 so after a short climb up a hill, it was pretty easy-going for the rest of the way, especially thanks to a cloudy sky that gave us a break from the hot sun.

The views to the north opened up after cresting the first hill and the mountains the trail would soon be approaching were looking closer than ever. At the same time, there were many more ocotillo and cactus coming out along the sides of the trail with prickly pear, barrel, rainbow, and all sorts of wildflowers mixed in as well. The caterpillars that we had been seeing even seemed more active. Some were grazing heavily on the blooming ocotillo and others even seemed to be beginning to cocoon.

AZT Through Ocotillo

Though most of it was quite scenic and pleasant, there were a few cattle pastures that we went through where nothing was growing except the grasses. I’m not against ranching or farming of course because I love food, but it would be nice to see a few brave ranchers replace their cattle with bison since the land would rebound and benefit tremendously from their presence, which would then bring down the price of bison meat.

Beyond that though, wildlife seemed to be much more active in this stretch. Twix and Olive Oyl had discovered a large lizard that I wasn’t familiar with, but it had run off by the time I got there. Farther down the trail, I began to hear more sounds in the grasses of things scurrying away, good signs that there was more here than in previous areas. I caught a quick glance of a large rodent darting across the trail before I could even realize that something was darting across the trail. There was a black butterfly with a brilliant royal blue coloring on its wings that (again) was a bit too fast for me. Later in the day, a large hare went racing across the desert in front of me. But it was a sighting in the middle of the day that had me most giddy.

Pilot and Desert View

I was out in front for a change and was coming down a hill. I heard a slight brush in the grasses ahead and as silently as it was quick, caught the back end of an animal with a large, thick, light brown tail gliding into the rocks nearby. I waited to see if I could catch a better glimpse of what I suspected it could have been, but it never came back out. A dozen miles up the trail, a clue confirmed that it was most likely a feline: a fresh explosion of feathers in the middle of the trail. Combined with the tail that I saw, it would be pretty hard to convince me that it wasn’t a cougar! It was definitely the wildlife highlight along the trail so far.

In the 13.3 miles that was Passage 7, there was only one water source, and it wasn’t pretty. It was basically a stock pond which was filled with murky water containing all sorts of things we didn’t want to think about. As we got there, I downed my last liter of water filled with electrolytes before filtering four new liters from the pond. I felt hydrated enough, so I held off drinking any of that until I had to.

As the day started to wind down, Twix, Olive Oyl, Salsa, and I were beginning to have a bit of trouble deciding on the best plan of action to get me back to Tucson and get Happy Tree back to them. It was beginning to look like Giggles’ leg would prevent her from finishing the trail, so I wanted to maximize my time with her in case the worst case scenario came true. Plus, she could only either get me off the trail that night, or two days later, which I wasn’t prepared to wait for.

Sunset over Desert

After much discussion and a few phone calls, we found Happy Tree a ride to the ranch farther down the trail for two days later, and I would be picked up at the junction of Sahuarita Road and AZ83. The others were finally able to find a campsite, passing up a few good ones because of me, and I continued on into sunset to make it to the junction before dark. Along the way, sunset came out for a brief, but beautiful show. At the end of it, I had traveled 18.69 miles, my new personal best for one day, and about the last five miles without any water, due to where it came from. A short moment later and I was on my way back to Tucson for a few days to rest some muscles, and especially some blisters that were getting a little out of hand.


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AZT – Gardner Canyon to Santa Rita Foothills

Santa Rita Mountains

Day 9

I woke up surprisingly not too chilly. Apparently the forest of oak trees that lined the creek that we were near had helped shelter us from some condensation, since for the first morning my tent was completely dry.

Bill Murray and Sheriff Woody were off early to make a much better pace than we were. While Twix, Salsa, Olive Oyl and I ultimately made nearly 15 miles for the upcoming day, the other two were out to get in about 25 miles. Sure enough, we never saw them again after breakfast.

I started my hike a bit behind the other three, but not by far. I felt very carefree and in love with the trail as we climbed out of the canyon and onto the grassy foothills where we’d spend most of the day. I was missing Giggles so I gave her a call and found out she wasn’t doing much better. I was glad to talk with her though and continued on my way after the others.

Kentucky Camp

We reached Kentucky Camp much sooner than we thought we would and were welcomed by the caretaker, Steve. He was originally from northern Idaho and enjoyed looking after the historic mining ranch and sharing information about it. Plus he really seemed to enjoy meeting new thru-hikers.

We explored the main building that had been restored and stopped there to have lunch and refill on clean water before heading out.

Horny Toads

The trail for much of the day followed a number of intersecting dirt roads and meandered in and out of trails that went over and around the hills, not offering an incredible amount of diversity, but did present us with two horny toads resting in the trail. It ultimately began to take a toll on my feet as a soreness began to intensify. Once my pace had developed into a short limp and I had fallen behind, I caught up with them at our next reliable water source for 13 miles: a bee-infested tank of murky water with many other things in it, both dead and alive. We got some necessary water from there and took a much needed rest before deciding to go just a bit more down the trail before finding camp.

Arizona Trail

We found a quiet spot near some oak trees where the tallgrass had been been worn down and set up camp there. The others packed it in pretty early, but I stayed up for just a bit longer to get in a small amount of night photography.


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