After a couple of years of dreaming to hike the Arizona Trail, I finally stepped foot on to it! I've always wanted to do a thru-hike, but with work, school, Disabled Explorers, and life in general taking a month to a month and a half off just isn't possible. So late last year I teamed up with my friend Mike (Tibaal89) to come up with a plan to thru-hike but do it in sections. We will do sections on weekends, hopefully one a month, with Josh joining us when he can. At this rate it will take us years to finish, but its better than not doing it at all!
We continued to postpone the start of this plan for a couple of months due to lack of gear, lack of money to buy gear, wanting to get in shape, etc. At the beginning of February I finally said enough is enough lets just do it! So we picked a date, did some research and put it on the calendar.
Now you may be wondering if this is our first journey on the AZT, why is this Passage #5? Well we planned on beginning at the beginning, but in our research we came upon this on the AZT website: "01/2009 - The AZT along the AZ/Mexico border continues to be heavily impacted by illegal border crossers and drug smugglers. Large accumulations of litter, trash, discarded clothing and new 'wildcat' trails are commonly encountered along the trail. Trail users may meet illegal border crossers and are advised to not hike alone in these areas. Also, overnight users are advised to camp away from the trail as far as possible." There have also been numerous news articles you may have seen reporting on the violence not only at the border but in southern Arizona in general.
Due to concerns with our safety we opted to start our journey closer to Tucson at Passage #5 - The Santa Rita Mountains. There are about eight passages in total to get through the Tucson area so our hope is that by the time we complete those maybe the border violence will have calmed down and we can go back south. So we set out on a Friday morning to the Santa Ritas from Mike's apartment in Tucson. Our plan was to both drive and leave a truck at the end point, but when we arrived to the parking area we were not too keen on leaving either of our vehicles; there was a giant fence with a Road Closed sign and far too many locks on the gate. At this point I was also encountering an odd problem with the 4Runner where it wouldn't stay running if I switched gears or came to a stop. Our day was not starting out well. After heading into Sonoita for gas and lunch, checking out the parking area and investigating the 4Runner it was almost 1pm. We decided to go ahead and continue with the trip anyway since we had come that far and elected to park both trucks at the trailhead and have Mikes wonderful girlfriend Susan come pick us up at the end (thanks again Susan!).
Finally we were officially on the trail! We couldn't believe it, we both had been wanting to start this trip for so long and we were finally there! Since we had started so late our goal for the day was to just make it to Kentucky Camp by dark and stay the night there leaving extra mileage for Saturday. The trail was really well maintained with great signage marking your way and these little informational posts along the route. We only ran into one other person, a mountain bike chick who rode past us.
It must have been our excitement to be on the trail because we arrived at Kentucky Camp around 3pm...5 miles in an hour and a half! We opted to have some lunch there and take in the sites of the camp. I had no idea this place even existed and it is definitely one of the coolest places I've seen so far. Kentucky Camp is a ghost town and former mining camp which is now maintained by the US Forest Service and a volunteer group called the Friends of Kentucky Camp. These people have single-handedly resurrected the camp into a fantastic place to visit. There is even a "Bed and No Breakfast" house which anyone can rent for $50 a night and includes electricity, running water, furnishings, an outdoor grill, sink, fire ring, shower and outhouse! The main larger building of the camp is equally as nice with a kitchen (complete with fridge) dining room, sitting rooms with futons and a beautiful wrap-around porch with plenty of seating.
(Photo By Tibaal89)After signing the registration book and enjoying lunch we decided that we had done so well on our way to Kentucky Camp we could certainly make it another 2 miles to the halfway point and set up camp long before dark. We were wrong. I don't know if it was the food, our physical ability or what, but those last 2 miles seemed to go on forever. They were no more difficult than what we had just hiked, in fact most of the hiking was done on a dirt road, but we were beat down by the time we arrived. Planning on being there with more than enough time to set up camp and relax before dark, we rolled in just as the sun was setting. To make matters worse the area was covered in cow and horse poo in every direction. After wandering looking for a clear spot we just decided to set up right next to the road which was poo-free. Fortunately since it was a dead-end road there was no traffic to be seen. As soon as the sun went behind the hills the temperature dropped rapidly. The only thing we could do was quickly make dinner and crawl into our tents in hopes of keeping warm through the night.