Sky Islands Traverse: Day 3: leanin’ into wind

March 21st 2023

19 Miles

Campsite Elevation 4,145 ft

5:18am. I wake before my alarm once again, it’s like I don’t even need one. I try to go back to sleep but then hear rustling noises from my neighbor. She is up. Alright, well we said we were going to start at 6:00am today so I better get up too. I go out to pee and as I squat there in the dark I observe the sky. There are some stars out but it’s like there is a thin veil obscuring their brilliance. I can tell there are thicker clouds elsewhere too. The wind has died down but is not absent.

I have a slight headache. I think it’s from sleeping on my neck wierd, but I also wonder if I am borderline dehydrated. We don’t have much water. I did not drink tea last night again, this time due to conserving water rather than fuel. We have 2.5 miles from here to our next water source, a windmill tank which we sure hope is reliable. If not, we are in trouble.

Today the terrain is going to be out in the open flat, it may be windy, it may rain. We will, however be reaching our re-supply location at mile 10 if all goes to plan, so there’s that to look forward to. Although I have way too much food still. Definitely over packed for this first segment. Good thing we can leave extra stuff behind in the buckets. We each have a full gallon of water there too so I envision some sort of hobo shower happening. Last night we were both saying when we went to bed how sticky we feel and that there are little bits of sharp things stuck in our skin all over our bodies; hands, legs, underwear etc. Fun.

When we start walking it is 6:07am and the sunrise light on the clouds is really starting to pop. Rockin’ was asking me about my morning timing when I am alone versus when with a group or other trail friends and I tell her that it’s my nature to sleep later and start later but that I have adapted so much. It’s not natural for me to wake up in the dark, but what I will say is that I love the early morning and getting to witness sunrise every day certainly makes it worth it. This morning’s sunrise is no exception.

no exception
Worth waking up in the dark for
the road to the unknown

We are on dirt tracks the whole way to the windmill tank. It is windy and there is a lot of cloud cover. We see lenticular clouds building over the mountains and they are being blown to the South. My pack feels so nice and light and I mention to Rockin’ how heavy our packs are going to be by this afternoon after we re-supply with 5+ days of food. She waves me off, she does not want to think about that now.

When we reach the windmill tank we are pleasantly surprised at the quality and amount of water, it is a fantastic water source afterall, phew! We drop our packs and plan to stay a bit as we need to eat second breakfast and filter water, look at maps and all that jazz. We also spend time staring off at the clouds and pondering the windmill, as it does not move. Except for once, it creaks loudly, suddenly turning positions. We both jump at the disruptive loud noise, that thing seems like it could just topple over. Glad we did not camp here.

Rockin’ taking photos of the wonderful water
Mouthfull of 2nd breakfast
What is that Windmill going to do?

We leave through a fenceline that has a gate. It is a really bad gate. One of those gates that even if you could get it open you would never be able to get is closed. Rockin’ is yelling “bad gate” to the gate and I am about to pee my pants laughing. We decide this gate was built by tall men. We shimmy under the fenceline, taking care not to rip anything on the barbed wire. We are constantly having to be aware of not getting ripped up by the cat claw and various other desert snaggy plants, and now with all these fences and gates we also have to watch for the barbed wire. Everything wants to rip our skin, it seems.

A very bad gate

We continue down a wash now for a spell, admiring the curvature of the walls that have clearly seen a lot of interesting patterns of water flow. It reminds me of hiking in Utah in the Uper Muley Twist area in Capitol Reef.

imagine the water that came through here

We are walking in a lot of deep sand and soon arrive at a culvert that takes us under a paved road. In the deep sand we push and trudge on and the wind is something fierce, and it’s cold. We walk bundled up and I find a party balloon stuck in some Cat Claw. This seems to be a thing in the desert. I’ve found many party balloons in the desert. I like to claim them as good luck and pack them out.

a perfect sentiment

Around 10:30am we stop again. I am wanting a hot cuppa coffee and another snack. As was the case yesterday, I seem to be hungry. We stop under a dried out leafless, lifeless tree but it offers just a slight bit of protection from the wind. I use my backpack to further block the wind which allows me to boil water to make a hot beverage. I make something different, a new invention, which is a Hazelnut Teaccino Tea and then I add a spoon of coffee and coconut sugar and holy shit Batman! This is something I will definitely repeat. We both eat an inordinate amount of chips and finally we motivate to get walking again.

best protection we can find out here
check out those lenticular clouds and that layer of dust on the horizon
we are headed to those mountains next, the Dos Cabezas

We have to do a little more dirt track walking and then follow several cow trails, then a little more cross country. We seem to have gotten off the route somehow and finally we meet the dirt track that leads us to our cache. It is indeed right there where we left it, how ’bout that! We snag our orange Home Depot buckets and our gallon water jugs and take them down to the wash where we can duck out of the wind. We have a lot to take care of right now and a lot of important decisions to make.

Our cache is still there, whoo hoo!!

We pop open our umbrellas for shade as just now the clouds are thinning above us. The sun is intense and we are both wind burnt already. It’s wild how the clouds that look stormy seem to be building all around us and we are not getting rained on but rather, scortched by the sun. We are totally okay with that but the wind has never not been there the entire day.

We eat snacks again, air out our feet, and start to get organized. We need to know if the mileage we have made thus far matches up with the route mileage so we can calculate how many miles we have left and how much food to bring. Everything checks out as planned before and so we bring five full days of food plus some extra in case we get stuck out one more day. Always a good idea to do this. We also have to add our microspikes for the upcoming mountains that are sure to still hold snow. It seems odd to be adding microspikes now as we sit here in the wash in the baking sun. It is challenging to keep our umbrellas upright while we do our things so we put them away. It feels difficult to think and the idea of a hobo shower seems to have escaped us.

gettin’ all the things done!

We chug loads of water and get as hydrated as we can before leaving and when we finally do, our packs weigh a ton. It is super windy still and we are walking toward the paved Hwy 191 which will take us over the I-10 overpass and then frontage road. This entire day has been a lot of dirt track walking and then a few cross country sections in the deep sand. For the rest of the day we will be on paved roads, dirt roads and finally we will make our way up a canyon into the next mountain range, the Dos Cabezas.

Putting the cache back in place

When we cross I-10 it is so windy that we are afraid of getting blown off the overpass, so we walk away from the edge. It sounds silly but it is really that windy. We reach the paved frontage road and walk for a really long time on it, much longer than we would  want to be walking on pavement, but we have no choice. We dig in and push against the pavement and the wind.

Approaching I-10

Finally it is 3:40pm and we reach the turn from the pavement to a dirt track. We stop to pee and have another snack and look at the maps once again. We have been looking over the maps for this next section all afternoon and we are unsure how reliable the water sources are for tomorrow. Even for tonight it is questionable. We have another windmill and trough up ahead and we need it to be good. After that, it’s a “seasonal stock pond” and an “unreliable spring”. I say to Rockin’ “well, tomorrow looks like we don’t have water and it’s going to rain” and we chuckle. It really does look that way, the weather forecast is for 66% chance of rain. Makes sense then why it is so windy, something seems to be brewing.

holding on to my hat!

We set off walking again this time into a wicked headwind rather than a sidewind. It is a lot of effort to push against with our heavy packs so we lean into it, hard. It is another 2.5 miles to get to the windmill and trough and finally the canyon that leads us into the mountains. We are really looking forward to climbing up from these windy flats into the protected canyon.

Along the dirt road, we question our route several times. Our data book indicates the windmill and trough at 0.3W of the route, but on our GPS the yellow route that says “Sky Island Traverse” leads us right to it. We reach a segment of road that has been recently graded and see fence lines along the side. We know better than to crawl under those fences, so we follow a long driveway type track that leads us toward the hills. We can see an enclosure that looks like some old fencing that may enclose the water trough but no windmill in sight. We also see a truck parked up ahead.

As we approach closer to the truck, we see the silhouette of a person and wonder what they are doing there. Not gonna lie, something feels strange so I envision talking to a helpful person and asking where we can get water. Next thing you know we are walking by the truck and a man rolls down the window and asks us what we are up to.

I say “well, we’re just hiking up into those hills” in a casual and cheery voice. He slowly shakes his head side to side. Then he drawls “I know what you’re doing” and then pauses for a long time. We stand there in awkward silence. I know both of our minds are racing. Then he adds “you’re hiking that Sky Island Traverse thing. I’ve seen you folks and I’ve been tryin’ to tell that guy, who ever he is, that this is private property now, you can’t come through here.”

We are taken aback and don’t quite know what to say. How does he know about this? Probably less than eight people even hike this route per year, if that. Well, the conversation continues for a while and no matter what we say, and believe me Rockin’ played all her cards, and she is charming, the man does not budge. He is adamant that we are tresspassing, and not only that, he says we are not even allowed to walk freely on any State land in Arizona without a permit to do so. By the end of the conversation, he gives me his business card, and tells us we can walk to Bowie. We are to leave.

It is so awkward and I know we are both wondering if he might offer us a ride, but neither of us dares to ask. I assume he has a gun in that front seat. Rockin’ musters up the courage to tell him we will be needing water for the walk and asks where we can get some. He get’s right out of the truck and he is this super tall, lanky man who towers over us. He reaches into the back of the truck and pulls out an igloo cooler, holds it up on the truck bed rim and tells us “go ahead, fill up”. Still no smile.

We are grateful for the water and thank him, letting him know we will pass along the information to the hiking community about this snafu in honest hopes to rectify the situation. We certainly did not mean to trespass and we don’t want future SKIT hikers to run into the same issue. We also don’t want Brett to get in a pickle over his route either.

We each fill up our 2L of water, thank the man and set off back down the dirt track. We are losing daylight fast and now we have no place to go. We are not going to walk that last 5 miles again in that wind only to arrive at I-10 and have no place to camp next to the interstate. Nor are we comfortable hitch-hiking out here. We are nowhere near a National Scenic Trail, this is not the AZT, there are no trail angels out here.

Is this like a sign?

It is still fiercely windy too so we decide to get out of dodge and take a short cut through a large wash that is perhaps three miles long. We hope that we can find a place to camp out of the wind and closer to that frontage road so we can make an easy exit in the morning. We need to somehow get away from here and get somewhere else. We have to go to Plan B, big time.

9:20pm. We are tucked under a scraggly tree and surrounded by clawing plants. Everything is scratchy and those fine little cactus needles are in everything, embedded in our skin. It is still windy, though we are more protected here than we could be in most places, I think we found the best possible spot to camp but let me just say, it took a lot of work and fancy moves to set up tonight. The sunset is beautiful but there are very few stars visible. Off in the distance, I can hear more wind whipping the vegetation, making it creak and screetch like when you scratch your car on a tree branch. Other than that it is a quiet night but the wind does not let up. We have full bellies though and we have kept in good spirits, deciding there is a reason this happened. And, tonight I actually made my tea, yay!

Not easy getting in and out of this spot!

We had asked that man a lot of questions about where we could legally hike and he pointed us to Fort Bowie, which is a half hour away by car and two days away by our traverse itinerary. Had we been able to continue on our route, we would pass right by it. Our plan now is to somehow get to Fort Bowie and start back on the SKIT from there, hoping to not run into any additional issues with private land. Now, we only have to figure out how to get there and what the weather is going to do as tomorrow might be a rainy day. The adventure continues.

Rockin quotes Tim Kemple in her post from day three. “Our challenge is to visit places that others have already been to, then figure out how to interpret the landscape in a unique way, make it our own. The one ingredient adventure does need is the element of the unknown – the sense that what you might find, and whether you will be successful in your mission, hangs in the fog of uncertainty.” You can watch the Reel for Day three on Rockin’s Instagram here!

6 thoughts on “Sky Islands Traverse: Day 3: leanin’ into wind

    1. For sure! The party balloon seems to be a bit ubiquitous in deserts, I love finding them, each with a unique message, I like to imagine who they belonged to or were gifted to and what joy it may have brought them šŸ™‚

    1. It did really feel like it was all about the money…unfortunate. But, the silver lining in it all was that we followed so many cattle trails out there which were super helpful!

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