The Portal Rodeo Hiking Club headed out for its regular Thursday hike this morning despite the dire weather predictions. Eight people and three dogs showed up to head out towards Hummingbird Springs and beyond. The pace was a bit rapid for me. This was a group of fast movers. I’m feeling fit but we headed uphill too fast and my heart rate maxed out. About and hour and a half into the trek I had a heart palpitation. The rule I’ve come up with for trying to hike with this condition is: If I have a palpitation I do not go further. So I told my companions I was heading back. Rolf did not want me to head back alone and I did not want to shorten Rolf’s hike. We reached a compromise. I agreed to wait. I put on all my clothes and sat down with the Olvis and ate my lunch. I was wearing a windbreaker, two pile jackets, an alpaca knit hat, gloves, and a rain coat. It was pretty much every piece of outdoor gear I own. Most of my clothing is second hand. Rosemary, Darcy, and Betsy all contributed to the ensemble.
My companions made me promise I would not wander away while they hiked further. It was a little hard to sit there by myself. I felt fine. It was chilly. When might they come back? I had hiked alone in the area many times. The weather was on my side and I did not have to wait long. The dreaded winter rains popped over Portal Peak and my companions decided to turn back before they were caught in the winter mountain storm. I was sitting probably 30 minutes. Olive and Elvis kept me company the whole time. I was really pleased they waited with me instead of seeking further adventure with the pack.
The group had not eaten so we found a snug sunny spot and everybody had lunch. I ate my grapefruit. Jonathon had a snazzy alcohol fueled stove. That was a treat to watch. He fired up a tiny burner and boiled some water for his meal. Hot cocoa and lentil soup. It made my cheese sammy and grapefruit look ill conceived for such a blustery day.
I am corresponding from my snug trailer post-hike. The weather has arrived and the rain and snow are happening as predicted. I am post-arrhythmia exhausted but glad I made the effort to get some exercise. I have secured dinner invitations for tonight and Saturday night. That makes 4 out of 5 evenings that Burt is away where other people are cooking for me. I am very grateful. I still have Friday free if anyone wants to feed me. If not, I found some soup in the freezer. Soup I made.
Early in my now on hiatus career as a Forest Service volunteer I had an unusual call. Some visitors that had sought hiking advice earlier in the day were now calling me from the flanks of Silver Peak. They had wandered off trail and they wanted to know if I knew where they were. Consternation was held at bay as I listened to the man describe a cross and some green rocks. I had to tell him I had no idea where he was. He was surprised. The pair followed my advice and backtracked. Later that day the man came in and described to me in detail where they had stepped off the trail. There’s a u-shaped metal fence stake and a pile of rocks. My curiosity was piqued.
A few weeks ago when I hiked up Silver Peak with the Portal Rodeo hiking club I found the side trail. Just as the man described there was a metal fence stake and a pile of rocks. This spot commonly fouled up hikers unfamiliar with the area and the US Forest Service had installed a sign with an arrow pointing the way. The sign was gone. On that day a few weeks ago I wandered a bit down the path of my lost hikers. I was hoping to find the cross. I got a few hundred feet away and realized I was a long way from the top of our 3,000′ climb and that I might get passed by my companions. They would not know where I was. I decided to abandon the search and return to the main route. I thought I would try and get Burt to help me on a later date.
Yesterday, in the snow, we headed out on the Silver Peak trail. I had forgotten the cross and the curious tale. It was just a wonderful winter day and the snow covered trails called. The dogs were especially thrilling to watch as they ran and ran and ran. Snow, just a little, can be invigorating. Burt followed as I broke trail. This is our usual pattern. I set the pace I can maintain and Burt hangs back. If you ever want to spend time with quiet Burt. Go hiking. He is very quiet in the woods. We had no goal. Dinner with friends was hours away. At the second gate I remembered the lost hikers and their report of a cross in the woods. I remembered where they got lost. I decided it was time to try and find the cross.
Initially I presumed that the site might be a marker where a migrant lost their life crossing these mountains but conversations with people familiar with migratory routes say Silver Peak is not frequently traveled. That makes sense. There is little evidence of litter or debris frequently found when migrants near civilization and the north side of silver peak is not on the way to anywhere. So what was this cross? I walked and slipped about a 1/4 mile past the main trail and arrived at a very steep gully. I saw nothing on my way out. Any green rocks there might have been were covered by the deeper snow. The cross was not obvious. Perhaps it was on the ground and covered, too? At the gully I had to face the reality of a slick non-trail with an exposed 100′ hillside. If the cross was on the other side I was not going to find it on this day. I turned around and met with Burt making his way out to me. I stood there with soaking feet and wet pants and said: “I really want to find this cross. I wish I knew where it was.” Burt looked at me. He was bewildered. Burt had forgotten the tale of the lost hikers calling me for advice. I spun around in frustration and gazed up. Right over my head was the cross. Talk about ask and you shall receive. A small rusty cross was planted in the hillside in a spot far from the normal route. Burt and I clawed our way up the steep slope and wiped away the snow. Three hearts were welded in place and the following was inscribed:
Gerald Gene Wester 5/29/1931 – 12/26/2007
Joy Pearl Wester 8/20/1931 – 4/6/2009
I felt like the winner of a treasure hunt and it was nice to see we’d made the pilgrimage they day after Gerald’s death anniversary. I have no idea who these people were. They must have liked the area. From the spot of their memorial you can see Cochise’s head in the Chircahua National Monument and off into the mountains of New Mexico. But the spot is not a typical vista point. It’s steep and off trail. Maybe the person that placed the marker wanted to be unobtrusive. My internet searches haven’t revealed an obvious connection to the area. The pair died while living in Tucson. Their on line obituaries have no details other than next of kin. Maybe someday a relative will read this post and contact me. I’d love to know the rest of the story.
For two years I have desired and dreamed of hiking up Silver Peak again. This 8,000′ peak in the Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains is a tough one. Summiting the bulky massive requires a 9 mile hike with 3,000′ of elevation gain. The trail is well graded (mostly) and takes a wide ranging route around the mid section of the mountain into a cleft on the north side. As you gain elevation you pass through the many layers of micro-ecosystems found in the Chiricahuas. These various systems are home to a wide range of biodiviersity. Late autumn isn’t the ideal time for appreciation of flora and fauna. Many organisms have shed their leaves or made may into winter burrows or flown south to warmer weather. Despite this a hike up this time of year provides cool weather and ample views. Hoar frost decorates leaf litter in the steep shady canyons.
Given the demands of the hike, I was concerned about my general fitness and wondered if I would be able to reach the top. Two years ago I was having too many cardiac events while hiking to consider something this strenuous. The last year I have been recovering from my cardiac ablation. Recovery has been imperfect but it does seem I am able to exert myself more. Cool air helps. When I heard the Portal Rodeo hiking club planned their fall ascent for this Thursday I decided it was time to try. My friend Carol who has been recovering from a crushed vertebra was also going for it, too.
Twelve people started up. Carol left about an hour ahead of the main group and I took a ten minute head start. I had Linda Pretty with me for a while. In my mind were three intermediate assessment points. The first gate, the second gate, and the tree. I would walk as slow as I possibly could from point to point and if I had an arrhythmia at any time I would turn around. Everyone says the stretch to the first gate is the hardest. You’re not warmed up, the footing is a little gravely, and it’s a bit steeper than the other sections. In summer you are walking through a sun soaked desert. On this hike it was a warm stretch narrated by Linda and her happy chicken and horse talk. We flushed a covery of Montezuma Quail. I could not walk and talk. I walked methodically. We made the fist gate in half an hour. I felt fine.
Soon Linda stopped to adjust her clothing. She said go on, I’ll catch up but she didn’t. We both spent some time walking alone but not alone. I knew Carol was ahead of me and Linda and 9 others were somewhere behind me. It was a great feeling. Solitary togetherness. Lots of juncos and black throated sparrows flitted in the deepening brush. After the second gate I was feeling pretty good. I wondered about the tree. How far was it? Could I make it? I rounded a corner on a flat stretch and spotted a blue fleece jacket in the trail about 10 yards ahead. There was something on it? An injured migrant? No. It was a bobcat smelling a lost piece of clothing. It saw me and fled so fast I could only make the ID based on the fact that it had no tail and its ears were tufted. The cat fleeing the clothes looked like a were-cat transforming from human to cat form. I reached the vest and shook it out. It looked like something of Carol’s. Vintage Patagonia fleece. Was Carol a werecat? Werewolves are more commonly found around here but I had heard of werecats. I called for Carol and looked to see if there were any other items or signs of distress. Seeing nothing I decided no supernatural being were lurking and that Carol had merely dropped her vest.
As I walked I entertained myself with thoughts of what might have happened to Carol and the vest. Did the bobcat steal it to make a warm winter den? Was Carol abducted by aliens and she had left it behind as a signal for help? What if Carol was missing, would people implicate me since I had ‘found’ the vest and ‘saw’ a bobcat on it? It was an entertaining way to pass the next stretch. I made it to the tree, still alone and still healthy.
The rest of the group joined me about 15 minutes later. We took a group photo and then after what had been a half hour rest for me I started for the summit. The tree is considered halfway but in many hikers minds the tree is more like 2/3 to 3/4 of the way. The mental effort to get that high leaves you close enough to the summit that summit fever can carry you to the top. Still I was concerned. My legs ached. I had to walk slower than I ever had. Al and Jonathon were on my heels and after 45 minutes of feeling the slight pressure of them behind me asked them to pass. I explained that their mere presence caused me to walk just slightly faster than I wanted. Al passed and Jonathon dropped back. We formed a nicely spaced trio. Once again I felt support above and behind lifting me towards the peak. we walked quietly. A half an hour later I said, “I need motivation.” Al yelled back that we were almost there. And we were. 4 hours since leaving the car I was at the summit. Just 51 huge concrete steps to navigate to the foundation of a former fire lookout. I crawled up the steps. There we found Carol asleep with gloves on her shoeless toes. She was safe and happy. She was pleased to have her vest back and I shared all my possible scenarios of what might have happened to her. The group had some of their own. I realize now that Carol could still be a werecat. Maybe that’s how she got up so fast and we did catch her sleeping in the sun.
I walked down with company and felt pretty darn good. Wiped out but okay. Two days later I am still tired and my calves (oh, my calves) they ache.
Cleared by my cardiologist to continue doing it to the point of overdoing it we headed straight up yesterday. I will not tell you where. Duties at the VIC come with an array of benefits. Learning the location of some of the areas most treasured pictographs was one of the highlights. Cool autumn air makes for more pleasant strenuous ventures. Burt and I intend to take advantage while we are here. The mornings in the gNash are rough but sunny 60 to 70 degree days are our reward.
This trip was my first time making it to some of the many caves that line Cave Creek Canyon. One of the more popular questions at the visitor center is, “Why is this place called Cave Creek?” Now I have first hand experience. Even though I had seen pictures and knew that ancient peoples lived in these caves I was still surprised by the depth and intricacy of the spaces. Many, many people could comfortably find shelter here. In fact it was so appealing I suggested to Burt we start a reality TV show and try to live in one and live off the land. He liked the idea. Oops.
The horse and rider pictograph is post-Spaniard invasion of the Americas. There were no horses here before the Spanish brought them. Well there were horses here, but they died out a very long time ago. Modern horses rode over on Spanish galleons with the conquistadors. The Native Americans famously took to horsemanship and here we have some early art commemorating the newly adopted technology. My first day at the VIC some visitors came in and reported this particular artifact stolen. It was a sad start to the job. I was very pleased to learn a couple of months later that the searchers were merely lost and the picture was right where it was supposed to be. Now I’ve seen it for myself. Don’t ask me where it is. I won’t tell you.
Last Tursday Burt gave me a day off and I took full advantage. Carol, Barbara, Rolf and I headed up high and did a 5 1/2 mile loop above 8,500′ in the Chiricahua Wilderness. The post-fire landscape is enjoying the long and wet monsoon season we’ve had this year. Wildflowers bloomed all around. The weather was cool and puffy clouds dotted an azure sky. If there was ever a quintessential perfect hike this was it.
In a galaxy far, far away I once worked in a flower shop. I learned that you never want to work in a flower shop owned my your in-laws. The holiday season stretched from Thanksgiving to Christmas to Valentine’s Day to Easter to June weddings. High stress, low pay and in-laws. Despite this I can appreciate a flower. I have no knowledge of wildflowers but Barbara is an expert and she took the time to share her knowledge with us. At 77 (and a half, don’t forget the half) Barbara had a lot of knowledge to share. Rolf’s wildflower book came up short over and over again but Barbara had the information in her head. She pointed out pretty little things that would have gone by unnoticed by me. The red Thruber’s cinquefoil is my new favorite but I have to appreciate a flower called the wall flower. There was nothing shy or retiring about it’s flashy orange petals.
I could go on and on about the flowers but they really weren’t the highlight of the trip. What I appreciated most was watching friends encourage and support each other through an arduous day. Carol was able to inspire Barbara to go further than she planned and we all adjusted our pace to keep the group safe and comfortable. I was out of shape. Carol was recovering from an injury. Rolf was just fine. The last mile and a half had over 20 fallen trees on the trail. Some were quite huge. I helped Barb cross one giant log by telling her to imitate Winnie-the-Pooh and hug it. There she was belly down straddling a steeply inclined trunk, neither leg reaching the ground. Some elderly lady. I though the bark would slow her down but she started slipping downhill. I moved to grab her and Barbara grabbed my belt to slow the slide. I did a little Judo and sat down to use my weight to drag her over the last bit. Rolf enjoyed the spectacle.
I hope to be so lucky to be able to hike at elevation with my wits about me at 77 (and a half).
After nearly 10 years together we’ve finally inflicted ourselves with similar wounds. Both Burt and I are nursing very sore right quadriceps muscles after hiking a steep route up to a ridge above the gNash parking spot. Our attempts to trigger a large cardiac event continue to be met mostly with failure. I’ve hiked to the point of nearly not being able to walk and I’ve only had two events of substance. Tennis, the reliable trigger, is out of the question for a few days at least, too. I will not despair. I have twenty more days yoked to these wires and the monitor. I did not imagine the three massive events in one week just a month ago but perhaps, as Burt hopes, I am finally cured. Time will tell.
Tuesday we took the McCord trail to a rock outcrop above the town of Portal. It was nearly 2 hours up and a little over an hour down. The down is what kills the quads. The view was spectacular and we saw lots of bear sign. The great oso negro of our neighborhood is also dining on Emory acorns. It has been a very productive year for the oak trees.
yesterday I joined the hiking club for a more sedate and flat walk through Horseshoe Canyon. I got to catch up with loyal blog follower, Pat. We did 6 or 7 miles depending on which GPS you believe. The plan was to get good and tired before teh afternoon tennis match but we were rained out. Then today my leg hurt too much to play. Maybe Sunday I’ll get back on the court. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy the scenery from down here.
There is a caterpillar the size of my thumb dining on the Virginia Creeper here. As part of my duties as one of the editors of the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon Facebook page I thought, “That’s a nice bug. I think I’ll get a picture for our page.” Getting a clear and interesting picture of a small moving object is fraught with trouble. The wind blows, the caterpillar is in sun and shade, there are snakes in the bushes, my low to the ground squat was unstable…I spent quite a bit of time and all my photos were blurry or over exposed. The iPhone and I were at our technical limits. The caterpillar was swinging its head back and forth as if it was a boxer trying to avoid a jab. I thought maybe it was starting to form its chrysalis. I couldn’t see any silk so I wondered about what it was doing. Then it extruded a poop. I was surprised. I presumed caterpillars had dead ends like some larva. Wrong. Caterpillar poop is so important to fertilizing the world that it has a name, frass. This particular caterpillar, a sphinx moth larva, poops star shaped turds with white centers. These are the loveliest feces I have ever seen. A Facebook follower suggested they would make nice earrings. All vegetable.
A couple of days ago the Gypsy Carpenters made an excursion to the Southwest Research Station to try and spot a green kingfisher. The green kingfisher is rare in these parts and quite a flashy bird so we thought we’d give it a go. We did not find this particular bird. We saw some hummingbirds and a few lizards. Then I spotted this young wren flitting about in an old log structure. The juvenile bird was not fully feathered but it could fly. It was also feeding itself on small insects in the cracks in the logs. Every few minutes mom came along and delivered a bigger snack. I caught the passing of a nice plump spider. These birds typically lay five to nine eggs so it makes me wonder what happened to the other fledglings. If you are wondering if this indeed is a house wren, you are right to be puzzled. I conferred with several experts before we agreed it was in fact a house wren. The Bewick’s (pronounced Buick) wren is common here, too, and has a pronounced white eyebrow. This bird’s eyebrow is pretty dramatic for a house wren but it’s yellow lower mandible was the clincher. Only house wrens have a yellow lower mandible. I did not know. I enjoyed watching this scene. The young one was quiet and busy checking out the cracks most of the time. The mother bird was busily hunting nearby. Suddenly mom would sing, “I have something for you!” and the baby would sit up tall and fluff its feathers and sing back, “Me me me me me me.” Hearing the young one’s song gave mom a map to its location.
Last week on an evening drive we found the Southwest Research Station’s lepidoptera class. We were hoping for a jaguarundi or a black bear but these guys turned out to be friendly and interesting so we weren’t disappointed. So far every researcher we have crossed paths with in the wild has been hospitable and eager to share their knowledge with us.
These people were hoping to see a lot of moths. Moths and butterflies are in the lepidoptera family. While we hung around we saw several interesting things but not too many moths. It was early yet. They say the good moths come out very late. As usual we go to bed before things get interesting. We did see a weevil and this, of course, piqued my interest since I have been in close contact with acorn weevil larvae in my acorn eating binge. The weevil’s antennae were located on its proboscis. A very interesting arrangement. Then we also found a whispy, floating, diaphanous beauty. She floated by and landed on my arm. It was the adult morph of an antlion. Antlion larvae are the better known stage of this bug. Adults are rarely seen in nature or are frequently confused with damselflies. The larvae are famous for building conical traps in sand that ants can’t escape and making doodle like tracks when wandering around. Southerners call them doodlebugs. The antlion or doodlebug then captures the struggling ant in a quick and violent match of wits and eats it if it wins. The adult looks like Tinkerbell and sips on nectar. It might nibble a leaf. This particular antlion in the picture does not build traps when it is a larva. It lurks in cracks and leaps out to grab ants as they pass by.
The last picture is the only lepidoptera I paid attention to during our visit. It is the death head hawk moth. This type of moth was made famous in the movie Silence of the Lambs. It has a pattern that looks like a skull on its back. My picture is a little blurry but you can see the skull. Cool, huh? Burt and I left before they could charge us tuition and we hit the hay.
I completed my first day solo at the Cave Creek Visitor Information center today. We had ten visitors and a rain storm. I successfully answered all questions. One visitor signed the guest book and mentioned that I was a ‘very pleasant hostess’. I surmise the day was a success. In between the 10 visitors I practiced mandolin, read a novel, researched gila monsters and quail, and cleaned the bathrooms.