Sarah & I left Modesto at 8 AM on Sat. 3/21, eagerly anticipating our week on a trail crew with Wilderness Volunteers. The most boring part of the almost 1000 mile drive is the stretch along highway 99, but we spent the time catching up from the last time we backpacked together, about 7 years ago. After many stops (shout out to Kohnenos German Country Bakery in Tehachapi), we arrived in Golden Shores, Ariz., where sister Leanne had created a scrumptious dinner for us. The perfect weather allowed us to eat al fresco, and we enjoyed a great night’s sleep.

After breakfast, we headed southeast, and as we approached the mining towns of Superior, Miami and Globe, we saw some of the results of copper mining activity, mainly the steep walls formed from digging and reconstructing the land. The grazing cows on these steep slopes were comical, how were they able to stand up straight, legs longer on one side? In Globe, we visited Besh Ba Gowah Archeological Park, a 700 year-old Pueblo ruin. The museum and gift shop are worth a stop if you are traveling in the area. Early dinner at LaCasita, a family-owned restaurant since the ’40’s. We happened to sit next to members of the family, who recommended the machaca and the green chili, yum!

On Sunday at the Globe Forest Service office, we met the Wilderness Volunteer leaders Jane and Bill, the other 8 trail crew volunteers, and ranger Pablo. We carpooled to the Haunted Canyon trailhead in the Superstition Mountains Wilderness, part of Tonto National Forest. We drove through an active mining area, 10s of square miles of pits, tailing ponds, and huge mounds of earth covering the landscape. A seemingly sacrifice area for all of our metal needs, depressing. And then suddenly we were in the beautiful forest.

We hiked about 4 miles to our campsite, hiking in and out of the Haunted Canyon’s mostly dry streambed, admiring plants from riparian, mountain, and desert habitats — black walnut, cottonwood, sycamore, poison ivy, yucca, agave, alligator juniper, and several types of cacti. Lots of organisms with thorns and spines, toxins, or ghostly white bark.

The previous day, volunteers on horseback had brought in camp gear and tools. After setting up camp for the next 6 days (I was on latrine-digging duty) we enjoyed a scrumptious meal of veggie chili, cornbread, and fresh strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. Most of us were tuckered out from the activities of the day, and we all hit the sack by 8:30 PM.

We had 4 days of work, mainly clearing brush on 2 miles of trail. We also built cairns at junctions/stream crossings, dug out rocks, constructed water bars, and fixed “tread”. Cat claw acacia grew thick in some areas, and its curved thorns would tear at our clothing, hair, and skin. My shirt soon became polka-dotted with my blood. Since this plant, and many others, root sprout, we had to dig out the thick root clumps with the pick-matic. I would shout “die!” as I hacked out a gnarled root.

On our day off, we split into groups, with some people hiking and others staying close to camp to relax. Our campsite was near the Toney Cabin, occupied by the Toney family from 1913-24. This family of 10!! shared 2 small rooms and raised wheat, apples, vegetables, chickens, and livestock. People were really tough back then! The cabin and surrounding land is now owned by a conservancy.

Our last morning was spent packing up camp and heading back to the trailhead. Two volunteers with the Forest Service were waiting for us with made to order root beer floats! After hugs and farewells, Sarah and I paid another visit to LaCasita, then onward to Tempe for a shower and hotel bed.

Favorites of the week….

Desert Penstemon

Wildflower — Desert Penstemon, Penstemon psuedospectabilis

Tree — Arizona Cypress
New recipe — Munch n crunch — mix together equal parts p-nut butter and cream cheese, add diced apple, celery, and green olives, spread on bagel/bread
Morning sky objects — venus and the waning moon
Evening activity — singing with the uke, everyone picked a song
Bird — Cardinal

If you haven’t fallen asleep yet, this Haiku might do it:

Ocotillo red
flames on stickery green stalks
Beauty sears my eyes.

Check out for future trips. Join me in Desolation Wilderness in August?