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Day of Clouds

Monday, December 28th, 2020: Hikes, Pinalenos, Southeast Arizona.

One of those days when I wasn’t motivated. It was freezing outside, I had trouble deciding where to go, and the hike I finally chose was a long drive away. Fortunately, preparing for an all-day hike in the mountains is a complicated routine, so I just submitted to it, and the routine eventually got me out the door on time.

Funny, the sky was’t particularly interesting during the drive across the big empty basins of the Southwest. But once I arrived and started walking, something drew my eyes upwards, and the spectacle began.

No wind at ground level, but the clouds were churning constantly, all day long. Still, I had to keep my eyes on the ground while walking, and I was surprised to find a crowd of footprints – big, medium, and small, both coming and going – lining the trail from the beginning. I hadn’t thought this was such a popular trail.

However, the human prints disappeared after the first mile or so in the foothills. As usual, they were only up for a short stroll and had turned back. From there on, I had virgin trail – looked like no one else but animals had set foot on it since my last visit, seven weeks ago.

This is probably the most consistently steep hike I do. I’d forgotten how relentless it is. Southern exposure most of the way up, sweating. Then at the top, a knife edge ridge scoured by icy wind, legs aching, trudging in the chill shadow of towering firs up ground altering between crusty patches of snow and a pillowy sea of oak leaves.

Taking it easier on the way down. Love this Sky Island habitat – much more interesting than what we have back home. Especially in this canyon, where a maze of rock outcrops and cliffs forces vegetation into patches, alternating between dense chaparral and mixed-conifer forest, often interpenetrating. So much diversity! I kept exlaiming out loud, “What a great trail!”

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