Friday, March 5, 2010

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SE - Day 7 - Part One: The Javelina Incident

1:00 a.m. at our Willow Springs camp: we are snug in our tent when something stirs the little dogs. (The big dog remains happily deaf and asleep through all this.) We don't know what it is. A sound? Coyotes howling all around us all night, near and far? Scuffling in the underbrush? A smell? Whiff of nearby prey?

Sprocket is barking and excited and ready to chase. Zeek is a live wire. Agitated doesn't begin to describe it. He is a frenzy of barking, squealing, vibrating and squirming and I can barely hold onto him. We try to bury the dogs in our sleeping bags, away from sounds and smells, holding onto their collars and hugging them tight. And try to go back to sleep.


The dogs do not relent in their urgency to let us know that there is something right there, and all we have to do is let them go and they will chase it off or kill it. We are not about to let them go. And we are not going to get any sleep. Not like this.

We throw the dogs into the back of the truck into their kennels under the topper shell. After a few minutes their excitement fades and calm returns. We sleep. For a very short time. Before Sprocket gets desperately lonely and begins to whine and squeak pathetically, and to scratch frantically and desperately at the floor of his kennel. We lie awake listening to him and to the coyotes.

Eventually Trina gets the idea to use his shock collar. She drags herself out of the tent and puts the collar on him. We lay in the tent. Whenever he starts to squeak, she hits the buttons: tone and zap. He stops whining. It's working. The quiet time between squeaks gets longer and longer. But Trina has to stay awake to press the buttons.

* * *

Another bright, cloudless morning. We're on a wide flat plain bristling with mesquite trees, prickly pear and cholla cactus. The sun warms us quickly as we pack up and move from our found-in-the-dark-near-the-road spot to a place a bit further down a side road away from the main dirt road. Trina makes her coffee and we cook breakfast. The dogs range around sniffing, then loll in the sun. Trina rolls out a pad and lays down for a nap. I'm in a chair writing about not getting much sleep the night before.
From AZ Travel

This calm does not last long.

Both small dogs sit bolt upright, bark small sharp barks, and dash off. I stand and look to where they're heading. Moving steadily among the twisted trunks of the trees is a dark, streamlined shape that can only be a javelina. I've never seen one before and what I do is say something like "Cool! Javelina!" What I should be doing is whistling for the dogs and pushing buttons on the shock collar zapper I have on a cord around my neck.

Trina is groggily getting to her feet. The javelina makes an abrupt turnabout and begins running away, dogs chasing fast and perhaps closing the gap. She says something like "Zap!" and I look away from the chase and try to find the right button to press, but I've never actually used this thing before. She snatches it away and we're whistling and I guess she's pressing buttons. The dogs and javelina are out of sight by now, so we don't know what's happening.

She's quickly throwing a few things into the truck and locking it, and I'm changing out of my inappropriate-for-running-through-cactus sandals and then we're running through the prickly forest in the direction the chase was headed.

We run in the direction of barking, yelping, screeching that could be our dogs -- "I wasn't pressing the shock buttons that time!" she says -- and then silence. We keep running and cross a wash where there are tracks that are probably javelina.

Just then, Zeek runs back to us, shaking his head fiercely, like he does when he's been zapped by his collar. More whistles, and soon Sprocket re-joins us, giddy and happy as usual. "That was fun!" his body language says. Yeah, fun, we think, as we grimly head back to the truck. "Aren't javelina supposed to be nocturnal?"

At the truck, we leash the dogs and start the discussion about what must have happened out there and how to prevent it in the future. Zeek is in a bit of a dark mood. I attribute it to his sense of failure. PR terriers are bred for hunting things larger than themselves, and he has just returned without the prize. But when I coerce him onto my lap, I notice his mouth is bloody from tooth marks. Then we find a deep puncture on the underside of his throat. He doesn't want to move his mouth. Ah, crap.

We drive into the northern fringes of Tucson and find a veterinary clinic that has time to check him out. They clean his wounds, prescribe antibiotics and pain pills. No major hidden damage. We hope the javelina, without any of these treatments, is okay. We have more discussion about how to keep our little hunter's instincts in check so he won't harass wildlife. And so he won't get his throat torn out.
From AZ Travel

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Seasonal Exchange - Day 6 - Colossal Cave Trail

We woke to yet another bright sunny day, the chill of morning burned off quickly and we got up and set out to loaf away the morning. Leisurely breakfast followed by wallowing in the sunshine with books. Creek burbled. Birds chirped. Dogs lounged and sniffed for rodents.
From AZ Travel

Before noon we packed and drove north into the fringes of Tucson's sprawl. Then out again to meet Scott, our source of insider information, at the trailhead for the Colossal Cave section of the Arizona Trail.

I'd been introduced to Scott on a previous trip to the Tucson area. He's a very strong rider who specializes in super-long self-supported "races" that can last for hundreds of miles and many days. Lucky for us, he'd done a 24-hour race the weekend before, and was burnt enough to be in the mood for the kind of ride we could enjoy.

He led us southward over through the mostly smooth singletrack that dodged through the local vegetation. The vegetation was one of the highlights for us. Cactus and other spiny plants of the Sonoran Desert crowded the edges of the trail. Including several groves of tall saguaro cactus, patiently holding their arms in the air as we passed under.
From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

Trina had never seen saguaro before, and I hadn't seen enough of it to be jaded. Scott was patient with our dawdling and helpful with answers about them.
From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

Other highlights were the lovely rough and rocky section of trail that Scott had designed and built himself. Water running in the normally dry creek. The dogs avoiding most of the cactus. A new line over a tough rock that we helped Scott discover. And, of course, the bright, warm sunny day -- just like we'd hoped we'd find on this trip.
From AZ Travel

We zoomed the fast, smooth singletrack back to the trailhead, finishing with grins.
We drove into town for dinner with Scott and his gal. Great mexican food that I'd had on my previous trip and had been craving.

Then we drove north in the dark to find a place to camp. Following Scott's rough directions, we found a suitable camp in the Willow Springs area, and bedded down in the warm night. No rain fly on the tent, but using the tent to help contain the small dogs. We stuffed them into their sleeping bags and stuffed ourselves into ours.

Blissful sleep. For almost half the night.

Seasonal Exchange - Day 5 - Patagonia and Gardner Creek

Another fresh, bright, warm, sunny spring-like day! We thought we were leaving the foothills of the Santa Rita mountains, so we packed up and drove out, heading further south to the town of Patagonia. Quaint little town with artsy tendencies.

Our main purpose for the visit was the nearby Patagonia Creek Riparian Reserve, where we imagined a picnic lunch in the warm sunshine by a burbling brook while birds chirped in the spring-green trees and the dogs snuffled in the bushes.

It turned out to be a bit too Reserved for our taste. There was an entry fee for a chance to walk a near-paved trail with geriatric bird-nerds, no dogs allowed, no picnics allowed (!!!), and very little fun permitted. Plus, despite our chilly Colorado sense that it was Spring, the local vegetation, in accord with the local climate, had yet to push forth fresh leaves, and the Oasis in the Desert had not yet taken on the charm we assume it has in the heat of summer.
From AZ Travel

We piddled around the town enjoying, once again, the sense that civilization was rotting away. Peeling paint, melting adobe, collapsing roofs, rusting glory. Caused us to wonder if this decay was a widespread phenomenon of Southern Arizona, or if it was us. Were we somehow drawing our paths toward such sights? And if so, was it somehow symbolic or metaphorical? Perhaps to our desire that the most of the world could rot away and leave our little pack of people and dogs well enough alone, not charge us a fee, and not pave the trails through the wild world?

We dipped into civilization enough for a stop at a beautifully funky little organic store and then for lunch at a little outdoor taqueria where the maƱana attitude was in full swing. Which didn't bother us at all.

We'd planned on heading further north for the night, closer to our planned activities for the next day. Instead, we got some inside information and headed right back near where we'd been the previous two days. Instead of our former ridgeline camp, we found a spot next to one of the clear flowing creeks that we'd ridden past the day before.
From AZ Travel

Here, we sat and snacked and read in the warm sunshine by a burbling brook while birds chirped in the juniper trees and the dogs snuffled in the bushes. Then a stroll up and through the creek in our water sandals, the water chilly from snow melting off the mountains above. Then afternoon tea.
From AZ Travel

Then about when afternoon was slipping into evening, I took my bike and speedy little Sprocket on a quick loop up the dirt road and back on a zoomy flume section of singletrack. The loop only took me 15 minutes, so I took both Zeek and Sprocket with me on another lap.

Despite the cool evening coming on and the chilly water, I splashed myself clean in the creek. I mention this because there is something about the act of splashing clean in a creek that goes beyond just cleaning up. Cold, wet and fresh. My body warming despite the chill. Daylight fading from the sky. The open quiet slopes dotted with trees. The sense of remoteness... Something pleasant echoes inside me.

Whether the echo is from the dozens and dozens of times I've splashed off under similar circumstances over years of camping and touring remote places on my bicycle... Or whether the echo is from something deeper, more primitive, I do not know.
From AZ Travel

Monday, March 1, 2010

Seasonal Exchange - Day 4 - Kentucky Camp Trail

Ah! A day well wasted!

All we did is loaf around camp and then ride with the two little dogs along. Thought maybe we'd get a couple hour ride, but ended up out there for over 5. Just because it was such a beautiful day! We didn't hurry much. Lots of time to look around.

From AZ Travel

Snowy mountains behind forests that thickened as we gained elevation. Wide meadows of winter-blonde grass. Shady trees along clear flowing streams that burbled and chimed. And bright, warm sunshine pouring out of a clear blue sky.
From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

Best of all, we were out in it for the entire day. In shorts and t-shirts. Exactly the Seasonal Exchange we'd been looking for!

Had our late picnic lunch on the ride, and didn't manage to get back until the sun was nearly setting behind the mountains -- just in time for dinner. And with two tired and happy dogs, too!
From AZ Travel

Warm food, campfire, snuggly dogs. And another night of blissful camping.

Seasonal Exchange - Day 3 - Ghost Towns

More driving. Stocked up on supplies in town, then drove the dirt Black Canyon Backcountry Byway, which we thought would show us a slice of the Gila River riparian zone. It did, but a very thin slice. One bridge crossed the river past a muddy vegetation-choked bank where we cooked breakfast. The rest of the road was through high, rugged desert with ocotillo, prickly pear, cholla and barrel cactus.

The rest of the day we made our way further and further southward on 191. South of I-10 we dove off that highway and onto the dirt Ghost Town Trail. Ruins of old gold towns in the Dragoon Mountains, and more decay for us to photograph.
From AZ Travel

Saw our first border patrol truck here. The first of dozens and dozens. Seems to be serious business to secure our southern border. I just hope I can get out when I need to.

We passed through Tombstone, Arizona, famed in annals of the Wild West. It is not a ghost town, but something else. Trina was repulsed by what a tourist trap the town was. I said, "It's not a town. It's a Theme Park." The ghosts seemed to have fled.

Westward through the half-town of Sonoita (a row of buildings on just one side of the road) and on dirt into the foothills of the Santa Rita Mountains. Found ourselves a beautiful ridge-top camp spot with an incredible view. Sweeping blonde grass hills speckled with oak trees and manzanita -- so much like Marin. Snowy tops of the Santa Ritas to the west. More distant mountains in almost every direction. We settled in and soon the mountains were lost to silhouette, starlight, and a thin crescent moon.
From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

That night we slept. It was chilly and we brought the little dogs into the tent and tucked them into their own sleeping bags (thrift store down coats sewn closed at the bottom) at our feet. The old poopy dog slept under the rain fly, also in a down coat-bag. Despite the howls of coyotes both near and far and all around us, we all slept the night through.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Seasonal Exchange - Day 2 - Clifton, AZ & San Francisco River Camp

Bright and early we continued southward on Highway 191, up into snowy mountains and pine forests. At the small town of Alpine, we were thwarted by a flashing sign saying that the highway was closed ahead. To investigate the matter we stopped and had breakfast in a cafe and, over our meal, asked a few questions of the locals. Yes, the highway, known to locals as just "The Trail," really was closed. Always is in the winter.

We followed directions and drove eastward into New Mexico, then south and west back into Arizona near Clifton. Clifton was a hopping town. Was, I'd guess, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There were many classic buildings strewn through a steep canyon, and a main street lined with victorianesque store fronts. Almost all of which had been abandoned and were in a mild to advanced state of decay.

From AZ Travel

The big copper mine that rooted the community seems to have abandoned the old town for banal tracts of grey company housing and a nearby generic company town where all the usual needs of civilization can be satisfied. Trina and I were happy to revel in the decay of past glory in the old town.M

From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

From AZ Travel

For research purposes, we stopped and bought a milkshake from a pleasant curmudgeon who had turned one of the old store fronts into his personal hermit-hole and private collection of rotted mining artifacts -- and then, apparently, decided that he could make a little money if he added a refrigerator and a blender and sold milkshakes. The charm of the place was as deep and thick as the dirt and dust. He gave us some excellent advice about where the locals go to camp. Good milkshake, too.

Sometimes "Where the locals go to camp" means bullet holes and broken glass. We drove the dead end road up the San Francisco River and found plenty of that. But we also found ourselves on a nice little hike in the warm sunshine; warm enough to force us out of our winter clothes and into shorts and t-shirts. At last! And we found a nice camp, right along the river under some arching acacia trees.

We lolled and strolled by the little river, while the dogs romped and chased and dug. Sun dropped behind the canyon wall. Clouds lit with sunset light. Stars emerged and burned cold over where our fire burned warm. Warm, calm air. Quiet shh-ing of the river. We put the dogs in their kennels in the back of the truck and rolled out our beds under the stars.

From AZ Travel

Ah... Bliss!

Or, nearly. We all slept beautifully for many long minutes until Sprocket decided that he had been abandoned forever, there in his kennel in the back of the pickup under the topper, about 20 feet from us. He started in with whining, skreeling, plaintive howling, and desperately scratch-digging at the door of his kennel. Trina and I (and probably Zeek) lost some sleep to this. Lots of sleep.

Then we lost more sleep groggily discussing what we should do about it. Trina's thought was that giving in to his bad behavior would just teach him to use it in the future. I had to agree, since he's really her dog, though I wondered if his anxiety was more of a panic and was less of a behavior than a frantic fear that could be somehow effectively calmed, though I didn't know how. I also (secretly) wondered if maybe some kind of tranquilizer dart might be effective. His waves of panic rose and fell throughout the long night, attracting who knows what predators out there in the dark.

When the sky above the canyon wall began to glow with morning light, we staggered up to greet the day. Sprocket was very, very happy to see us after his long night of separation. Bella was the only one to get a good night's sleep, as her advanced years have blessed her with near-total deafness. She was up and dashing about on her old, stiff legs, while the humans got the truck ready to roll.