Arizona Trail SOBO Thru-Hike Pt. 2
Superstition Wilderness to Mount Lemmon. For Part One, click here. Part Three coming soon! I’ll be thru-hiking both the PCT and CDT this year so I hope y’all will follow along on Instagram!
After leaving Roosevelt Lake Marina, we headed into the Superstition Wilderness. The Superstitions were given their name due to tales the Pima people told the European settlers about strange sounds, disappearances, and mysterious deaths in the area. Some Apaches believe that the hole leading down into the lower world, or hell, is located in the Superstition Mountains. Winds blowing from the hole are supposed to be the cause of severe dust storms in the Phoenix metropolitan region.
As believers in the occult, Bowie and I (especially Bowie) were excited for possible paranormal activity heading into the section. No such luck. Pushing through thorny bushes in the desert heat became so commonplace we didn’t feel the scratches mounting on our leathery tan legs.
The payoff for the struggle, however, was immense. Long inclines on loose rock rewarded us with rippling mountain views. Water came from rare box springs and pools of cool water in shady alcoves untouched by the sun. Saguaros, chollas, prickly pears, and barrel cacti were scattered throughout the section.
Coming out of the Superstitions, we stopped in Superior for Halloween, how appropriate! We stayed at the Copper Mountain Motel, where a lovely family made sure we had everything we needed and helped us get to and from the trail. We spent Halloween on the porch of our room eating pizza with some SOBO friends: Machine, Tim Tam, and Commando. The next morning on my walk to get coffee, a guy stopped me in the street and asked me to help move some furniture onto a pickup truck. I agree and we moved a dresser and a bureau onto an old Ford while his wife yelled at him the whole time. I couldn’t tell if he deserved it or not lol. The man offered me $5 for my time, and I declined.
White Canyon Wilderness
Coming out of Superior, we wound through dusty canyons in Tonto National Forest. I stepped almost directly onto a rattlesnake sunning itself on the trail at one point without even noticing until Bowie gasped and told me what had happened… got lucky there! Water was extremely scarce so we were so grateful to come upon a manmade oasis, a rain collection tank installed by the Arizona Trail Association (thanks y’all) that provided cold clear water and shelter from the sun in a highly exposed section.
Everything takes a collective sigh of relief as the sun dips behind the canyon walls in the evening. The White Canyon Wilderness comes alive as the sun sets and the air cools. We shared a stunning sunset with the birds and other wildlife who waited until the harsh sun had set to begin their day.
We made it to the Gila River section and the landscape changed. The area is a wide wash frequented by cattle and covered in Mesquite trees. In the morning as we skirted along the wash, we saw a mining train carrying raw copper ore to the nearest mining plant in Kearney.
Kearney is a tiny mining town that supports the local copper mine. The people there are incredibly friendly. We camped, showered, and did laundry at the local RV park. We caught a hitch from the owner of Buzzy’s Drive-In, and he treated us to dinner at his family’s restaurant. It hit the spot in a BIG way. The grocery store in town treats hikers to free coffee and a pastry too. Kearney flies under the radar as a trail town, but we had an awesome experience where everyone was kind and helpful and really seemed to appreciate hikers. I wish I had pictures from Kearney. It’s not much to look at, but there’s lots of kind people there <3
The Tortilla Mountains and Black Hills are dry, grassy and prickly. We spent days crossing across loose sandy washes and then up the side of steep mountains just to dip back down and do it over again. The evening continued to feel like the most special time of the day, where we were rewarded with a couple hours of cool hiking, finishing with our headlamps on and setting up camp just in time to get into our tent as the cold nights set in.
Natural water sources were almost non-existent, so we relied on metal tanks and public water caches.
San Manuel (Zero Day)
Originally a copper mining town, the mine closed in 2003 so the town itself doesn’t have much to it at this point. We took a zero here and hung out at the hotel watching movies, eating pizza, and trying to do as little as possible.
Santa Catalina Mountains
At this point the mountains started creeping into higher elevations, the air getting chillier as we climbed. We came across a few desert horned lizards who are so well camouflaged and flat to the ground they’re easy to miss. If you spot one though you can get as close to them as you want and they won’t skitter away like other lizards. Sleepy lil bois 🙂
Mt. Lemmon’s summit sits at 9,171’, which is high up enough that the desert landscape gives way to more evergreen trees. Walking into town felt strange, going from a remote section of trail and climbing up all day to 9,000 feet to see a very small town. Typically towns sit comfortably down in the valleys, so it’s not often you climb *up* to hit your resupply point! A unique feature of Mt. Lemmon is that the post office has an unspoken rule that thru-hikers can sleep inside the 24 hour PO box area, provided they wait until the evening to set up and leave before business hours in the morning. Bowie and I had a good time watching the Kevin Costner dystopian flick “The Postman” inside the post office. If you decide you want to stay there on your thru-hike, just know that the fluorescent lights don’t turn off, so you may want to have a bandana to use as a sleep mask. This was not my best night of sleep on trail.
As always, thanks for reading. All I can speak for are my experiences, so I’d love to hear what people have to add about the AZT. Follow my 2022 thru-hike of the PCT and CDT on Instagram @seltzerskelter and subscribe to future posts on The Trek by visiting my author page! Lastly, please consider donating to the Arizona Trail Association to support trail maintenance, filling water caches and building trail community.
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