Miller Peak: Bathtub Spring
It’s early in the evening; the driving is slow up the dark twisted switchback road to the Ramsey Campground. The road’s dark edge is as near as the other side, the illuminated steep slope upward. Both are threatening.
We took off work earlier this afternoon, leaving Tucson to arrive for an earlier sleep. We are gaining a great deal of elevation by driving up here to stage our trip through the Huachuca Mountains to Miller Peak.
We left Tucson of course naked. Protected in the cab of the vehicle, we are still comfortably naked. The air outside is getting cooler as night deepens and thousands of feet of elevation change. A window is cracked, so that we can smell the freshness and pine scent of the air. Our sense of ourselves is adventure and freedom.
As we climb around a bend, there at the next switchback, we see a very large puma, a mountain lion. The massive side of its body is positioned to our view, its head turned toward us. It watches our headlights and listens to the roar of the red SUV. It seems to be in consideration, pondering if we are a danger, or useful and the next course of action, a monarch’s thinking. The powerful athletic physique, as big as a man stands tall, is poised, as we come up the road. It has been dark and then there is this amazing sight in the headlights.
It begins acting like it is too cool to be bothered as big cats do; show no fear. It begins to move and suddenly in one long leap, it gracefully leaps off into the darkness of the steep hillside, disappeared. I have to consider that we are going out into this wilderness naked and alone.
It is Solstice, the full moon goes up with sunset’s down, both balanced on the equinox. We have enjoyed our good vantage while driving through under the Arizona big sky.
We have our tasks for our trip, which are to get in tune, lay DF’s late husband’s remaining ashes to rest, and accomplish this climb. We will sleep in the bed of the SUV, seats folded out of the way, and mattresses set in a cozy roost. This gives us a warm night and little preparation to do in the morning. It will make for an early start on the trail. The forecast is for three calm sunny days.
In a forest on top of the world:
We have arrived at the end of the road, a campground in the pines high above the city below. Mostly the sky is empty and the air very cool. The moon glows on a few clouds adding linings. They rise, growing and then dissipate. DF sees a giant in a dark one, a shadowy bunny in another.
A breeze blows through and it is suddenly momentarily colder. I get out my old binoculars and resting my elbows on the body of the truck, focus them on the moon. After letting them sit in a drawer for years, I have forgotten how good these are. The moon’s contours are in all detail. I observe those white spots lying in the valleys of grey mountains. They spread across the surface of our sister seen in all clarity, as if with a telescope. The edge of the disk isn’t smooth and round anymore. I’m seeing that there are sharp mountains on the edge. This high air is clear. I think, “This is why the mammoth telescopes are placed in the nearby mountain ranges.”
We laugh, reminiscing the drive. At the base of the mountain where the pavement ended, I had pulled into the small quiet park and gotten out. I needed to lock the wheel hubs, changing into auto-lockers for the 4×4 stability on the slippery road to come.
There was an official SUV with lights across the road at the other parking lot. I figured it to be just police hassling a couple of kids parking. They appeared occupied. I casually stood by the door to take a leak before the long ascent up the mountain.
To our surprise, the truck came slowly across the road and into our area. Once it begins, it is tough to stop my plumbing, and I’m of course completely nude. I managed to get back into the seat just enough, as the inconvenient caller lumbered by and then left. It was Border Patrol. The Border Patrol cruising, checking people out, waiting for their prey to bolt and give chase, waiting for a suspicious clue to make a hunter’s expedition a reward. Enforcing a narrow set of laws, naked tourists minding their own business are not on their list.
It might have been a contact and explained away,” Oh I was just taking a leak and changing clothes privately in the dark, officer” but still, it is best to not have contact with them.
These mountains have been a haven for smugglers for as long as I have been around. Back in the day, mule trains laden with bricks of marijuana would use this back corridor. Now, the mules are illegal immigrants, some laden with contraband to pay their way. A sign mentions this as we come up Carr Canyon to get here. There is a tall steel border wall stretching all along the southern end of this range and for miles past Agua Prieta and across past Nogales. It is obviously not impregnable.
We soak in the ambiance of the air and then put on some warm clothing.
I have a new very bright pin flashlight which beams. The back window is rolled down and DF points out that it beams across the parking lot into the trees. I optimize the effect and we begin to play huge shadow games on the natural screen. My hand eats DF’s head in one big gulp. Then, we two kids climb into our cozy nest to sleep.
We are entertained as we eat our pre-set breakfast of honey, sprouted bread, fresh organic strawberries and a maple flavored yogurt. It is a beautiful, clear and peaceful environment. Looking up at Carr Peak, there is wind above. We watch the clouds blow in from the east large and growing. As they reach the peak, they fracture like a fire’s white smoke and just disappear, eaten by an invisible force.
Watching the Meetups on the internet, I know that a group of 16 Backpacking Meetups haven’t arrived. We want to beat them up to the fork of Carr Peak and the trail to the trail that runs down the spine of these mountains. Their goal is only Carr Peak, which was our last trip here.
We have a tough hike today. We set off.
Along the way, things are more familiar; after all, we were just here two weeks ago. We had tested our physical condition and had a scouting party.
Around a half of a mile, give or take, there is a familiar stand of tall trees spared from the fires. We stop here and get rid of our pants.
Our body heat is enough to get free of them, but it is still more comfortable to keep our core warm. We are unlikely to encounter anyone. We are slow with our extra load, the camp was pretty empty, and this early, most are heading in the same direction. Then, again, it doesn’t really matter.
We look up at the spying radar balloon in the morning sunlight. It is huge and incongruent in this sea of natural beauty.
In the sun, we pass a familiar member of the neighborhood. A beautiful turquoise to midnight blue lizard watches from its reddish brown rock and crawls slowly into a nest under it. He is probably still a bit groggy, waiting for the sun to warm his blood. We speak, “Hey there, fella. Is it still mating season?” It feels like seeing an old friend.
I smell pooh, such a size could only be a bear. It is very fresh. The bear could still be around.
There are other more fragrant areas. On the north side there is a stand of thick vegetation where moister stays trapped and is protected from the drying effects of the sun. It has a familiar smell of a California coastal rain forest.
Aspen now cover large areas of the mountain side. Their extensive chains of a root system have been protected from the fires and have sprouted many young trees. They are very crowded in their link, protecting the soils from the rains that wash away mountains after fires.
We notice a few yellow leaves in the aspen. Seasonal change is beginning to happen.
As we round the mountain on the east, the sunshine is not obstructed by tall trees and a chilling wind smacks us. We are glad to have our torsos covered. Here, as we get our first glance at Miller Peak, we politely pass a group of four obviously military members. We had seen this group in the parking lot, before we left. They are coming back down from their objective, Carr Peak. They march on, all in those tan military combat boots that replaced shoe leather.
Up here, you just do what is in front of you. Each step is done with care. We breathe, and are being awash in the experience of the unique characteristics of the biodiversity.
We come to our first objective to rest, eat a snack and take the load off. It is a large rock outcropping, which looks deeply down and across the valley to Miller Peak. To the east we see one of those impressive views out to the Chiricahua Mountain range and then New Mexico.
There are already people here. As I take my pack off, the noise startles the owner of the expensive walking sticks propped up on the rock next to the trail. There are three people behind the tree from me. The walkers come around the wall of pine branches. They are leaving. It is a 50ish man and his wife, with their grown son.
The son has a serious look about him. His natural experience has an air of purpose. There is a high end technical bow on his back. Friendly, the mother stops to talk, as I sit on the rock. I’m in only a large long sleeve T-shirt. It hangs down like a miniskirt, a little short. I have pushed it between my legs to politely cover. She asks about our backpacking. She wants to return to backpacking. I give her a rundown about ultra-light equipment. She is curious not only about our equipment, but also glances down at my legs.
They drift off. We have that snack and enjoy our rest, as we gaze off into the vistas. As planned, we’re soon ready to push on.
Just before we leave, we are standing by the side of the trail in the shade of the tree. A quartet of younger women with a man trailing behind passes. Everyone up here exudes delight, well, except the serious young man with purpose and a bow.
We are vacillating getting nude, but the chilling wind comes and goes. The hour is in the height of sun’s intensity and I got a burn in a couple of spots two weeks ago, when up here. We’ll just go somewhat bottom free for now.
We soon pass the quartet as they are resting in the trail near the fork to popular Carr Peak. Someone has destroyed our cairn and moved the logs marking the split. It is irritating. I make a note to fix this on the way back, but not now. We still have a hike and we’re not sure how long it will take to find a campsite.
Since our last visit two weeks ago, the many surreal masses of multicolored flowers have gone to seed and the yellow daisy flowers have taken over. It is still an impressive array.
We pass through the thick overgrown mass of oak saplings as it grabs the foam bedrolls on the tops of our packs. I know that soon, we will be in new territory.
There is an aroma in the air. It smells like the robust scent of marijuana resins. I think about the smuggling here, but we soon identify the benefactor as a reddish plant that gives its tint throughout the hillside.
This leg of the trail is less traveled. The plants are thick and constantly brushing against our legs. It is difficult to see the thin rocky trail.
The trail disappears on a wide ridge. I stop looking for it for a moment and just stand looking out. A red hawk glides across from me and then below. I see the distinct line of the trail in the near distance, so I head in that direction across the flowered hilltop.
Soon, we have arrived at the junction of The Crest Trail, the backbone of the Huachuca Mountains. It is like a spine with ribs of trails running out into each valley. I have read that it is in good condition. It is a section of the Arizona Trail linking Mexico with Utah on foot and so, well cared for.
Signs assure us.
We walk over to the crest, where we see a campfire pit of piled stones under pine trees. There is a thick pile of old pine needles everywhere. It is a notable respite from that constant rocky surface that we have been walking on. It is like a plush carpet after the gravel. From here, the vista looks to the southeast into Mexico. It is vast and empty and beautifully peaceful.
One of the signs tells us that Bathtub Springs and fresh water is .3 miles. The trail leads down. We look at each other and then downward. “Uh oh!” We have gained elevation and now we will lose some of what we have earned.
There is an old cast-iron bathtub sitting in a glade under pines at the uppermost tip of Miller Canyon’s Valley. Someone lugged it in many years ago. It is always with water. A pipe drips into the tub and then the water constantly overflows out where the faucet might be placed. It drips into a muddy black spot where a flock of small birds are bathing.
Having dropped our packs off of our shoulders and shirts off of our backs, we refill our bottles with the good tasting clear water. With food and plenty of water, our loads have been around 14 pounds. It feels wonderful to lighten up and wander about naturally and absolutely unencumbered.
We need a level place to camp. This is perfect, but the sign says not to camp within 200 feet, so as to not disturb wildlife….
To be continued.