Sky Islands Traverse Day 4: walk the line

March 22nd 2023

~13 Miles

Campsite Elevation 4,598 ft

Oh glorious 8 hours of sleep, that was so needed. I wake before my alarm when it starts getting light out, the wind is still blowing this morning but I seem to have not been disturbed by it in the night. I pop out of my tent very carefully so as to not get snagged by all the snaggy things. The clouds are thicker than yesterday and surrounding most of the area, except for the East where the sun is just beginning to crest the horizon.

well good morning sun
we really tucked in there…lol

I duck back into my tent out of the wind and start up the stove for coffee. Rockin’ says good morning and reports she heard a helicopter last night along with the incessant wind and that she dreamed about us getting caught for camping where we did, even though we are legally camped on state land. She has also surmised that there are surveilance cameras placed along that road and that is why that man knew we were coming and knew exactly what we were up to. I mean it was like he waited for us. Creepy but entirely possible. Such is the world we live in now.

We don’t have to move too fast this morning so we are taking our time sipping coffee and chatting. To our good fortune, I finagled a rescue plan which involves my Mom and Todd coming out to pick us up at the Highway. I discovered I have a bubble of service here so I got in touch with them to see if they could help. Turns out they are just a little over 2 hours away and they are happy to come out to pick us up and get us where we need to go. Yay!

They agreed to pick us up at 9:30am at the frontage road. We have around 2 miles to walk back up this wash and hopefully re-connect with the Page Ranch Road at that red gate. We hope we don’t get bogged down in the cat claw, or any other trouble along the way. At 7:29am we are moving further up the wash. It is still windy and cold and while we are bundled up for protection from the wind we don’t dare wear puffy jackets that can get torn up by the cat claw. It is like an obstacle course out here I tell ya.

good thing we are both small people
an open section of the wash, no cat claw but it is windy!
Soaptree Yucca

There are lots of cow trails to follow so we make good progress. We run across a very dry cow tank, there is absolutely zero water, it does not look like much rain fell here this season. Very different from a lot of the state. Shortly we pop right back onto the dirt road and feel relieved once we are on the other side of the gate. It is still very windy and it’s getting colder, the clouds are dark and heavy looking everywhere.

At the paved road we duck under the first large tree we come to, hoping to get a little protection, trying to get warm. We take out our butt pads, layer up in our puffy jackets and plop down to wait for our ride. We are hiker trashing it to the core, just a couple of dirt bags sitting under a random tree on the side of a random road watching the traffic whiz by on I-10 for entertainment. We start making slow motion and hyper lapse videos and we laugh a lot.

Rockin’ making hyperlapse videos
keepin’ out of that wind

While we sit we read Purple Haze’s blog from 2022 hoping to gather beta so we can make good decisions up ahead. We read about the trail descriptions he noted and it sounds like he too had to cross through private land in this section, but the difference between him and us is he did not get caught. Our guess is that when the SKIT was originally designed in 2010 this was open land. Things have certainly changed. Nevertheless, we have embraced this detour and decided there is a greater reason for all this, we just never may know what that reason is.

Jeannie and Todd drive up just as planned at 9:20am, of course right as I am pulling up my pants from going pee. We crawl out from under the tree, grabbing our packs and trekking poles. My Mom is no stranger to these kinds of pick ups so greets Rockin’ with a big hug hello and we jump into the truck as puppy dogs lick our faces in sheer excitement. Todd is driving and we are very curious about the next canyon to the South so we convince him to take a drive around the area to scout it out. Thank you Todd!

On our maps the Buckeye Apache Rd looks like you can drive right out there and then perhaps we could walk up into that Canyon to re-connect with our route. That would be the closest section to skip to, causing us to miss the least number of miles on our route. Unfortunately, as we spend 45 minutes driving all around the area, we discover there is no access to any of these canyons. All around Bowie the land is lined with private property signs and fences. Thus we re-route our trajectory to the town of Willcox to get some grub and come up with a better plan. It takes around 30 minutets to get over there and we are trying to find a cafe to sit and have a meal together. Tell ya what, there ain’t much.

Fortunately I have a cell signal and Google gives us four options, one is closed, one is a Starbucks (shocking in a town with a population of 3,000) and the other is a McDonalds. The Road Runner Kafe is oddly located in the KOA campground so at first we second guess it. Could that actually be any good? I look at the Google reviews and it has 4.5 stars with over 200 reviews, it has to be the best in town so we decide to give it a try. To our delight it is really really good.

The Road Runner Kafe at the KOA in Willcox

We sit and visit and share stories and we laugh a lot while planning our next move. We drink coffee that actually shocks me how good it is and we eat burgers, salads and french fries. We get to wash our hands like three times in the lovely, clean restrooms and when I look in the mirror I see my sunburned, wind chapped face for the first time in days. My hair is a hot mess under my trucker hat, I look like Forest Gump.

After a bit of research we decide getting back on track at Fort Bowie is the best thing to do and the most legal, so Jeannie and Todd drive us the 45 minutes back there and drop us off. It was a short but sweet visit and a chance to have my Mom be a part of my little adventure, so it all worked out so well. Thanks to Jeannie and Todd to the rescue again, this was not their first rodeo, and probably not their last!

Jeannie and Todd to the rescue!

“Fort Bowie witnessed almost 25 years of conflict between the Chiricahua Apache and the US Army, and remains a tangible connection to the turbulent era of the late 1800s. Explore the history of Fort Bowie and Apache Pass as you hike to the visitor center and old fort ruins. Today, this peaceful landscape stands in stark contrast to the violence that once gripped this land.” ~from the Ft. Bowie National Historic Site webpage

We decicde to take the three mile side trail looping through Fort Bowie National Historic Site. It heads out to the Ruins, Cemetary, Spring and Visitor’s Center. Along the way we read signs about the Chiricahua Apache and the great Chief Cochise. It was a big deal here, a lot happened, and Chief Coshise was a very important man apparently. The history is rich and it was worth it to visit along our hike. There has been a lot of time, effort and money to create this place to be an educational and experiential center. And besides, the Spring water is really the best we’ve had on the entire route so far. Our final stop on the tour is the Visitor’s Center where we chat it up with the Docent/Ranger who works here. It would be easy to spend several hours here, but alas, we have to walk on.

Apache Spring, a very critical water source for early humans and settlers alike
a study of yucca used to thatch roofs
the rocking chairs were fab
The Ranger Station/Visitor’s Center had a ton of interesting displays, books, gifts, snacks and a knowledgable Ranger to chat with

The trail leaves the Visitor’s Center and loops up over a ridge where it is super windy, then it zig zags down the hillside and finally crosses a wash that feels like a sigh of relief. We are now protected from the wind and there is beautiful vegetation popping right out from the rock walls. The wash is delightully peaceful and we finally start to get that sense that we are back on route and away from civilization.

view from the ridge
headed down yonder
those are the Dos Cabezas to the North, the mountains we would have walked through had we not been re-routed
down in the wash we are surrounded by beauty
Bursting with life

Once we reach the end of the wash, we pass through a boundary gate put up by NPS. Continuing further along our route, there are more fences, most without gates, there are property boundaries too, which we steer clear of. When a track we are supposed to take is missing and suddenly we are walking on a paved road, we get a sinking feeling. We are just trying to get to the National Forest Boundary and up to the Emigrant Canyon Trailhead, it should be doable but right now it is not obvious how to get there. We spend time scouting around and finally follow an old, overgrown dirt track that follows along a gas line which leads us to some open hillside walking and it is quite beautiful and fenceless for a spell.

The far boundary of Fort Bowie as we exit the wash
One more snag to avoid
One more gate to get around
What does this mean?
we are walking along a gasline
We are fenceless!

We contour around a hillside in the open range for a while and this feels really freeing. It doesn’t last long however, as soon we find the route links up another long dirt road. Said dirt road is now lined by private property holdings on either side and there will be no camping for several miles. There are a lot of signs everywhere. We feel like we are once again on surveillance.

We pound out a couple miles on the hard packed surface then approach another parked truck with a dude in it. Not gonna lie, we get really nervous that we may be asked what we are doing again. We stop to make a plan first, what we are going to say? How we will get out of it this time if we get questioned? We can’t afford to get kicked off this route again. We quickly come up with a plan to simply let thrm know we are headed to the Trailhead at Emigrant Canyon, and walk by as non-chalantly as we can.

Our hearts are pounding as we casually stroll by the parked truck. This time, the person waves and smiles, without even rolling down the window. What a relief! We continue walking on at a good clip for what seems like an eternity as daylight fades. Our packs are heavily ladden with food and water, and we are feeling the effects of repetative walking on such a surface with such heavy packs. Since we cannot stop and camp anywhere for a while, we have to just keep walking. When we finally reach a road junction and see a sign that points us to Emigrant Canyon we are again flushed with relief. We are getting closer to the woods!

On either side of the dirt road we see this but it is all now private property so we move along
Emigrant Canyon here we come!

Despite the fatigue and wear and tear, we are still having a great time and morale remains high. The surrounding area is truly beautiful and truly remote. The colors of the desert here are something unique, like no place I’ve ever been. The cloud formations really add to the beauty and once the golden sunset hour light comes in it is a sight to behold as amber colors mix with pastels. We see a group of Javelinas scatter into the brush and feel excited that we actually saw some wildlife. We both expected more on this trip, but so far we have only seen a couple jackrabbits, well and of course some cows.

Finally, at around 6:00pm we exit the boundary of the private land community-to-be and we are on the other side of a cattle guard reading a sign which demarcates the boundary of state land again. Whoo hooo!! Technically we should be in National Forest now and we still have at least a mile to get to the Emigrant Canyon TH where we hope something resembing a place to camp will magically appear. We don’t want to be by a road, don’t want to be in sight of people and we need something flat and out of the wind and not in a wash. Lots of parameters. We ideally would love some tree cover to insulate us from what we feel like is going to be a colder night too, please and thank you.

We mede it through unscathed!!
Daylight on it’s way out

Well I have to say, the campsite trail gods and goddesses have answered our requests for the fourth night in a row, as we turn ’round a bend we see a little dirt pull out with a giant Oak Tree. This is not just any Oak Tree either, this tree is like Home Tree from Avatar! She is so stunning in her grace and stature. And, to our great delight, there are campsites right under the tree. There is a fire pit, two tree stumps for sitting and there is a running creek behind us that we can actually hear from camp. This will probably be the only night on this trip we will camp next to running water. What a treat!

Home Tree

As we are setting up camp we hear the song of a Canyon Wren and later the hooting of an Owl. This is feeling so right, so much better, so peaceful and so much more like the Wilderness we came out here for. Ispend an hour laying under the great tree doing my PT exercises and stretches, then finally get into my tent. As I tuck myself in and the buzz of the day has settled down, I have this deep feeling of joy and contentment. This feeling is not novel when out on these adventures, but tonight it is extra potent and I lay here allowing myself to really feel it. This is such a gift.

It’s kinda crazy how happy this simple life makes me. I feel incredibly blessed, and incredibly free. I think a lot of hikers can relate to that feeling. What I would say I love most about backpacking is how it makes me feel. The intensity of the highs of freedom and love are indeed addictive feelings. They always overshadow the lows that come with facing your fears, getting lost, being uncomfortable or enduring pain. Despite all the glitches of the route, the fences, the gates, the private property, the re-route, we figured it out and we get to continue. We have made it back to the proverbial woods. Tomorrow we enter Emigrant Canyon and I think from here on out the route shall be a Wilderness adventure of the finest order.

Watch Rockin’s Reel on Instagram: Day 4 on our SKIT adventure!

14 thoughts on “Sky Islands Traverse Day 4: walk the line

  1. Hi, Mary-I am the fellow who used a quote from your blog for a recovery email group. I promised you I would give you an idea of the feedback I got. It was, of course, all positive. I used your quote about honoring the space between the past and the future. It resonated with the members of the group. A lot of recovery involves “watching where your feet are” (staying in the moment without regretting the past or future-tripping). Your quote simply amplified that. Thank you for letting me use it. God bless, John

    1. I think thats why I follow Mary Poppins – I’m drawn like flies on an apple pie to people who can take these punches and keep on trukin happy as before.
      There is in fact no distinction between the past present and future – it should be easier to stay present and enjoy now.

    2. Hi John, thank you so much for the great feedback and it is so touching and meaningful to know that something I created was useful to others, especially people who are going through a difficult time. I like that “watching where your feet are” that is such a great metaphor but also an actual and tangible thing not only on the trail but in life. Thanks again, I appreciate you 🙂

  2. Greetings Mary Poppins , ( the happy wanderer ) . Your entire last paragraph is so spot on. Even the unpleasant things you can laugh about later. You had your thorns and cats claw. On a trip to the base of Petit Griffon I sat near a red ant hill. The !ittle beggers were biting me all over. It was a good thing my daughter was not there she dislikes ants probably three times as much as you dislike mice. But the trips are always still of the finest order ! Ed

    1. I agree with Ed…This whole blog was so perfectly summed up in your last paragraph. I took away a different perspective.
      Why is it that some people get that unbelievable feeling in spite of all of the real anxiety inducing weirdness you experienced…like you took some magic potion and all of the nasty melts into the past. While other people are just wondering when they can leave and get back to their phones and starbucks. I couldn’t pay my best friend to go with me. I think I know the answer and suspect its more prevalent among my fellow backpackers. …especially in the UL community.
      5 weeks ago after living most of my life I was diagnosed with severe adhd.
      I wasn’t a spastic kid – not me. But after replacing my ignorance with some real objective info, It fits me to a T. I have 60 years of questions about myself and my life experience that just slot perfectly into this disorder. More specifically to our topic – I noticed through the last 10 years the evolution of my backpacking. I kept trying and trying to make it perfect. Without really knowing what perfect was for me. Now it ALL makes sense to me. What I was pursuing was not just a lower weight but it was ultimate simplicity of the kit. It didn’t have to be the lightest but it had to be crazy functional and efficient in spite of weight. My choice for hiking with hundreds of miles still to be explored is the Sierra – like virtually no other place almost complete freedom (within the principles) freedom to be on trail or off, no cars bikes or nasty land owners to ….whatever…like a bad storm you gotta deal with…you can camp here or there and you’re in heaven (but hell for my buddy)
      I believe we love these things at a base level because they flood our brains with desperately needed dopamine. My brain is dope deficient and thats my filling station. Its the magic potion for making everything OK – The more striped down and simple the better – just tiny me in this fabulous giant place…
      I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me to absorb all this info – to be sure it’s a blessing to have this understanding even if its hard to learn it so late in life.
      I have so much more hope. If anyone reads this – please take some time to get some real info on this disorder. If not for yourself it can really help you understand other people better who may suffer…We missed it with my daughter. Life is better for children when the ones they love understand what they are going through.
      This was great reading today. Thank you Mary Poppins for sharing.

    2. Hi Ed! That’s funny that you remember how much I dislike mice. So much of backpacking is getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, it takes time to get there, but once you do, it is so much easier to embrace the full spectrum of the experience, it is never always rainbows and unicorns, though when those do come along, we certainly appreciate them, even more when we have had to endure the hardships and perservered through 🙂

  3. Interesting to read about the private property passage potential issues.
    Good that you were able to navigate through and reach The Woods.

    1. Hi William, yes, several of the routes that Brett Tucker has created eventually do run into the private property issue, especially as time passes, land gets purchased etc. He has done a fantastic job keeping up with that issue on his popular Grand Enchantment Trail, but as for the SKIT, it is a much less popular route and thus has fewer visitors. We were so floored that the man knew what we were doing!

  4. Stayed at Ft Bowie 49 years ago–with the ranger whom I met and hiked with at Organ Pipe Cactus Mon. We climbed a small spire jutting out of the slope above the fort. His wife was from very rural Argentina and thought the place was just finr. enjoy your posts. Neal

  5. It’s an intrepid adventurer who can face the unknowns, the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, and come away with a smile and positivity about the experience. So many fellow travelers meltdown in these situations. They want everything planned out and everything to go according to plan. Life is so much more enjoyable when you can relax into these challenges and the unknowns. It creates a good kind of stress one in which we thrive and grow. It fits that old saying of learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.

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