First of all, let me be clear about something. After some disparaging remarks from some “friends” about snowbirds, we have decided that we are NOT snowbirds. We are SnowAngels. Sent from the Midwest to the Southwest/Southeast to spend money, boost the economy, and generally spread our cheerful midwestern selves. So, get over it, ok?
Let’s move on……we’ve spent the most delightful six days at Lost Dutchman State Park, about 25 miles east of Phoenix. Map here. This park has it all – big campsites, pristine bathrooms, mountain bike trails, and fabulous hiking. Not to mention the Superstition Mountains, which glow magnificently over the campground. Sunsets are golden, sunrises glow with desert colors. Not only is it a spectacular natural setting, it is meticulously maintained by the Rangers and Camp Hosts. Even the gravel roadbeds got a daily raking.We were joined for the weekend by Ilene and Vern Baker, fellow Fireballers from Tucson. We met two years ago at a T@B/T@DA rally, and have maintained a conversation since then. This was our first opportunity to camp together, and we made the most of it. They rolled in long after sunset on Friday and expertly backed their camper into the slot across from ours. Ten minutes later, we were huddled around our campfire in the chilly wind. (Funny moment? Ilene is fairly short – we were chatting while she was heading toward the restroom to brush her teeth – Jezzy was licking her toothbrush, while oblivious Ilene chatted on…..) It was that kind of weekend. Like comfy best friends.
We spent a good part of Saturday morning comparing campers. Although the Bakers’ T@DA looks identical to ours on the outside, they are very dissimilar. They have a huge dinette, which breaks into a queen bed. A 3-way (propane) refrigerator. Their storage setup is completely different than ours. Since they are primarily weekend campers, they haven’t yet made many of the little modifications that add storage and utility. It was fun peering into cubbyholes and finding hidden spaces which can be converted into something useful.
The bonus? It’s Vern’s birthday! That meant lunch at his favorite Cajun seafood restaurant. Gumbo, etouffee, or Creole, cooked to your heat level preference. (I chose level 6. Everyone else had 1 or 2). Fabulous food, and we took the leftover crawfish etouffee left over to add to breakfast burritos the next morning. Sounds awful, but I guess you had to be there. Our two days flew by, but we’ve made plans for a beer/Girl Scout Cookie pairing event at a Tucson taproom. Sounds like a great idea.
Sunday afternoon was spent creating green chile/pork stew in the Dutch oven for Grand Rapids SnowAngels, Sis and Blaine. Food, fire, friends…..it’s a wonderful way to spend time.
Inbetween all of this socializing, we hiked the all of the trails in the Park, with the exception of the Flatiron Trail – saving the best for last. There are lots of birds here – Gambel Quail are everywhere. The coyotes in this Park seem to be working overtime, we didn’t see any, but some seemed startingly close at night. Monday is exploration day. Visited the Apache Junction Tourist Center and Apachetown Center. We loved the Elvis Chapel. It had been moved from an old movie set (remember the old Elvis movie Charro? Neither do I.), reassembled, and painted inside to remember the King. Available for weddings. Sadly, there’s not much at Apachetown to hold our interest. Ditto for Goldfield – a re-enactment of a goldmining town that might be the worst tourist trap ever. Ugh.Saw this photo in the bar there – couldn’t get a good photo because of the glare. I liked the hatlike effect of the lamp on W’s head.One last spot we need to explore is Tortilla Flats, which involves a torturous 12 mile drive down the Apache Trail. It was a pretty hairy drive. The National Forest campground there has been permanently closed, due to budget cuts. It’s a shame – such a gorgeous spot near Canyon Lake. We wander around for a bit, and reward ourselves by saddling up at the bar in Tortilla Flats for a beer. Getting on the saddle was easy – but I’m so glad there’s no video of me trying to figure out how to gracefully remove my ass from the saddle to leave!
Finally, it’s Tuesday – our last day at Dutchman. All week long, we had been eyeing our big challenge – the assault on the Flatiron Trail. We’ve hiked all the other trails over the few days we’ve been here, and are now ready for the big ascent. The Flatiron, in this photo, is the peak slightly in the background, smack in the center. I’ve been staring at it all week, in anticipation of standing on the top, looking out over the Valley of the Sun.The problem is that it rained all Monday night, and Tuesday morning as well. Not only did it delay our start, it also caused interesting complications. But, we set our on foot from the Fireball, ready for a challenge.
Holy shit! With the clay and sandstone surface slickened by rain, the hike was much tougher than it would ordinarily (probably) have been. Hiking reports put the distance at around 6 miles (3 miles upward, then back). The first two miles are a steady uphill trek, over a rocky, but very walkable trail. We amble past Siphon Rock. All was okay, until we hit the Basin, the valley beneath the mountain, where the maintained trail ends, and the wilderness trail begins. Altitude at the Basin is 3100′.All at once, the difficulty factor escalated. The rain made the sheer, smooth slope out of the Basin impossible to stand up and walk. It was discouraging. Water was pouring down the surface. We stared up at the Flatiron – the last mile of the trail had an altitude gain of nearly 1800′. We sat, an had a heart to heart discussion about our ability to go the distance. We would try to scramble up a few feet, only to slide back a foot. What saved us? Two hikers coming down, who assured us that it we could get over this tough section, it would get better. So, we loaded our pockets with Cliffbars, and ditched our backpack with extra water, lunch, and hiking sticks. Monkey-style, we clambered up the slick surface, heading up the big, steep unknown with a liter of water and high hopes
It was difficult. Perhaps the most difficult hike we have attempted. The water-slickened rocks required all our strength to haul ourselves forward. It was steep!. Handholds were few, and pitfalls were plenty. To complicate matters, trail markers were few and far between, and several years old. Faded, and hard to spot. A father/son hiking team came upon us. We decided to stick together – four sets of eyes being better than two to spot trail markers. We plodded on for the next hour, but it was very hard going. My shoulders and fingers ached from pulling myself up boulder after boulder. There came a Moment of Truth – the realization that we were exhausted, the descent would be treacherous, and that the last hour to get up to the Flatiron summit would compromise our safe trip back to camp. So, we regretfully (and nearly tearfully) bid our hiking pals goodbye, and turned back. I’m disappointed beyond reason.
So, what’s the real kick in the ass here? I’ve been wearing this Garmin Vivofit step tracker. It’s my motivator to keep moving. After several hours of pushing and pulling myself over humongous boulders up the Flatiron Trail, I glanced at my bracelet. Unbelievable! The long red bar on the top left shows that I haven’t moved significantly in an hour, and the four short red bars to the right of that are additional 15 minute increments with no activity. I’ve been killing myself, and my Vivofit thinks I’ve been napping! Have to laugh, but really…………? Were we moving that slowly? Plus, after hours of walking, it shows that I’ve only gone 6000 steps.
Hotdogs over the fire tonight. We’re barely moving. Hot showers help, and we’re hoping that a good night’s sleep will revive us. (Realtime Update…..it’s two days later, and we’re still stiff and sore.)
Onward to Catalina State Park, near Tucson. I’ll have to extract my revenge on the Flatiron another day.