Praising Arizona - Page 3
We chose our 30-mile section of the Arizona Trail between Parker Lake and the artsy town of Patagonia (pop. 881), within eyeshot of the Mexican border, for its variety and mild climate: In January, day temperatures hovered in the 60s and, at night, dipped to 15 degrees. The trail is also alluringly wild. Bears, mountain lions, bobcats and the occasional jaguar, North America's largest cat, still roam this historic smuggling route, as well as elusive modern-day smugglers and immigrants.
But plenty of other sections of the Arizona Trail are also suited to fastpacking. Nearly complete, the trail winds some 800 miles from Mexico to the Utah border, through saguaro-studded desert, arid hills and stately ponderosa pine forests, not to mention the Superstition Mountains that soar into the sky east of Phoenix and the blowout finale: the Grand Canyon.
After our two-day trial run, Matt and Agnes fastpacked two other sections of the trail in southern Arizona: one through the White Canyon Wilderness and another through the Superstition Wilderness. They discovered wild diversity, from stretches of buffed, perfectly contoured singletrack to cactus bushwhacks, from towering saguaro forests to narrow sandstone slot canyons.
On our second day, we climbed a hill with views into Mexico, then passed through grasslands resembling the African savannah, populated by wide expanses of wispy bull grass and poetically placed junipers. Later, we dashed past iron-red cliffs rising from bucolic cow pastures, antique windmills creaking in the breeze and spooky forests of mesquite trees clawing the sky. We passed hidden sites where Native Americans etched symbols into the rocks, footpaths Apaches likely roamed and remote streams where native fish still flourish. Amid it all, we glimpsed only one other group of human beings.
There were plenty of signs of wildlife, however. In the afternoon, the four of us, climbing undulating hills in a meditative state of silence, heard a din in the trees. Broken from our reveries, we squinted into the brush then yabbered all at once. Andrew suggested cats, Matt thought raccoons, but after corroborating with the local visitor's center, Agnes had it right: a family of ringtails—quick, fox-like creatures with long striped tails.
At about mile 29, I stood atop a steep hillside, ready to plunge downward to Patagonia, invisible beneath the cottonwoods some 1000 feet below. It was then that the point of fastpacking became clear. It wasn't necessarily about the number of miles I ticked off or the speed at which I moved, but the fact that it was so much easier to immerse myself in the natural world. This, I realized, was likely only the beginning of my fastpacking journey. With that, I made my way down the long hillside with little else in my consciousness but the unearthly violet sunset overtaking the gin-clear Arizona sky.
Freelance writer Kate Siber is based in Durango, Colorado, where she can run up Animas Mountain right from her home and fastpack in the San Juan Mountains. Her work has appeared in Outside, National Geographic Adventure, Women's Health and Men's Journal.