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:


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: 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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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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