The four mile climb up the 2,000 foot eastern Superstition Wilderness bajada and escarpment consumed the morning and much of the afternoon. It was the 80 pound backpack that did it. Ten days of supplies, tent, equipment and 3.5 gallons (28 pounds) of water; enough food for a trek across the Superstition Wilderness, water enough for two days. One day in, one day out if the water could not be replenished. Mine was a water commitment, enough water storage to allow two days to trekking to another source.
Here is the canyon rim view from atop the escarpment…..
…over trail 122, the Tule Canyon Trail, looking out from the wilderness. Tule Canyon trail is very lightly used and only present in the form of occasional cairns. There is a red rock cairn in the midground. Theodore Roosevelt Lake of the Salt river is in the distance, as is the dirt road to the trail head. A settlement is visible, on the right.
A rancher formed a cattle watering hole by damming an ephemeral stream and that day the pool held some water. Shortly after a rain a large mountain lion had approach the pool for a drink, leaving a footprint in the now dry mud.
I knew a mountain lion attack was improbable: I ran more risk of being run down on a New York City sidewalk by a madman or, even more so, of having a heart attack. Still, during my brief lunch I faced east, looking over Apache Lake for the possibility of a cat leaping up from the canyon. On all other sides was an open area until, a quarter-mile uphill, there was a thick growth of Manzanita reaching to the ridge.
After that climb to the escarpment rim I was in a race to reach a safe campsite at an unknown location, the other side of Two Bar ridge, before sunset at 6:46 pm mountain time. Yes, the time was exact to the minute. If sunset found me on the mountain side or ridge, rapid fall of darkness would force me to set camp.
The following photograph was taken the winter of February 2006 from a campsite below Castle Dome on Reavis Ranch Trail. A red line, starting to the left, is Trail 119, my path along Two Bar mountain ridge, beneath the mountain peaks, with switchbacks into a nameless canyon.
Ahead of me was a 400 foot ascent in a half mile to Two Bar Ridge, two miles along the glorious ridge providing endless views to the west and northwest. An 800 foot descent to a nameless canyon below Two Bar Mountain. This left no time for photography!!
This photograph, taken 4 miles to the west and 10 months later, is similar to what I enjoyed, and dreaded, that day. A flowering century plant stalk grows at the end of the plant’s long life, usually 10 – 30 years. After death, the plant is reborn through suckers from its roots.
My hope was to find some flat terrain in that canyon, for a camp site. If only there was time enough to reach it. My progress was bedeviled by sudden gusts of wind, grabbing like a large cat, throwing off-balance.
The west wind was whipping the bushes as I entered the Manzanita. Here is a photo of the plant from a later backpack to the Rincon Mountain Wilderness. Yes, the trunk is a dark, rich red. “Manzana” is apple is spanish, the plan is named “Little Apple” for the small green fruits much loved by bears.
Manzanita leaves were thick around me snapping in the wind, making it seem at all moments a large creature was moving. The trail was difficult and several times I needed to turn back to find it, all the while climbing continuously.
On ridge was the highest point for a hundred or more miles to the west, so the wind was free to run which it did in huge gusts. You can get an idea of the openness from the Superstition sunset photo. For awhile the Manzanita acted as protection, then I descended along the west face of the Two Bar Mountain ridge.
My hat tie-down were tested on that two miles of ridge, the brim was molded around the right side of my head. The backpack acted as a sail so that it was taken in the wind gusts, affecting my balance.
On mountain trails the path is full of stones of all sizes and, aside from the occasional rattlesnakes, critter scat or, at lower elevations, Gila monsters, it is the rock that forces hikers to look four steps ahead, planning moves carefully to avoid falls. The 80 pound backpack, wind, rocks, high perch and, not forgetting the prickly pear cactus and jumping cholla, all slowed me to less than a mile an hour. I was jumpy walking through that Manzanita and this slowed me down more.
Trail 122 joins Trail 119 on Two Bar Ridge. On the ridge a substantial barbed wire fence separates federal land from the working ranch. Where the trails crosses, the fence has a break. The hiker needs to wend through a simple maze impassable to cattle.
Of all the trail, this is the most clearly marked. Fences have deep historical significance for the western United States. Range wars were fought between men who had different beliefs about land use and ownership. Many historians associate the building of barbed wire fences with the passing of the Old West.
Up until the fence, cattle grazing visibly damaged the land and plants. After the fence, the land was free to become as it was since the beginning of time. Up here, there’s wonderful grass that was, in this season after heavier than normal winter rains, was lush and green.
The trail followed the fence for a ways, then descends steeply into a fold of the land, leaving me in shade as the sun, low in a cloudless sky, raked over the mountainside with a brilliant golden light. The Two Bar Mountain and Ridge with Moon photograph, above, gives an idea of the effect.
Below, the canyon floor seemed a mass of prickly pear cactus groves. I decided the lower canyon wall was the best choice for camp…as unlikely as that sounds.
Here, the trail was anything but straight and almost invisible, descending in looping curves called switchbacks.
Here’s a photo from the following morning. I found a small shelf on a ridge overlooking the canyon floor, amongst wonderful shrubby Juniper trees. Tiny hedgehog cactuses were covered in lavender blooms. There is a decrepit stalk of a Century (yucca) plant lying over the rock.
On approaching the shelf, the air turned suddenly cold as the sun fully set and the wind gained even more in strength flowing up the canyon and over Two Bar Mountain. Stony ground made it impossible to stake the tent, instead I used small boulders to fix the corners and sides of the tent. Once inside, I was grateful for an excellent mat to protect me from the small jagged stones at one with the ground. The tent walls held back the wind. I forgot to back an excellent sleeping bag for the trip. Instead of buying one in Phoenix, my sister lent me a light waffle weave blanket. “What was I thinking???” It was a restless, cold night. The sun was very welcome the following day.
Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved