After a lot of back and forth, we finally settled on riding in Gila canyons on the 15th. I had heard and read a lot about the area, and with my imminent departure for the NW, I was excited. With the weather not looking too dry, we scrapped the idea of car camping; instead driving there in the early morning from Tucson. It turned out to be a good choice as the roads were still drying after the night’s deluge. The goal was to ride out&back to the highest point about 10 miles north along the AZT, and then down a beer back at the truck. With a bit of late start, with began the exciting journey by crossing the Gila river. After some back & forth, Lee forded the river without sinking more than knee deep in the muddy river bed. We followed in turn, realizing just how painful ice-cold water can be.
The clouds and sun were interchanging their dominance, at times filling the landscape with darkness, then mostly with brightness. Likewise, the air would be warmed by the rays, followed by a sudden drop in temperature that had us reaching for warmer clothes. The entire ride was one fantastic view after another. I stopped a lot to take pictures, then catching up again with my 3 compadres further up the trail. Lee had brought a pair of snipps to do some trail maintenance here and there. After seeing him clear one section of cat-claw bushes, I was beginning to take interest. The AZT300 goes through this area, so with a bit of trail clearing, the riders will have a more enjoyable ride. And, perhaps I was thinking that I may be out there one day riding the AZT300 and enjoying the fruits of this labor.
As we rode further up, it got colder and in parts the ground was still a bit damp. This lead us to a small waterfall coming from near the top of the mountain – practically unheard off in this part of AZ. What a sight! Everyone was intoxicated by the beauty around us. Silver-sparling cholla, blue sky, white puffy clouds, and running water! We lost Aaron at one stream crossing as he was too immersed in taking pictures.
The AZT then continued to amaze me as we hugged the sloping side underneath a beautiful ridge line, then crossing a saddle point, and again hugging a steep slope with expansive views into the canyons. The trail is surprisingly wide, perhaps 3 feet in places, and allowed for the occasional look-while-riding.
After a quick snack, drink, and stretching at the highest point, we turned around. Lee was cutting away the thorny bushes, and Pascal and I followed behind. Finally, I wanted to wield that wonderful tool myself, and asked Lee to surrender his sheers to me; which he gladly did. For the rest of the ride, if anything scratched me, I cut it down. With this acquisition, the purpose of the downhill ride shifted from avoiding thorny things, to seeking them out and giving them a good trim. What delight after years of being scratched!
Back down at the river crossing, I didn’t bother to take off my shoes as it was only a 5 minute ride back to Lee’s truck. This time, the cool water felt good on my hot and somewhat sore feet.
The evening ended with beers from Lee’s cooler and a beautiful sunset bathing the mountains in red and orange, while the sky was radiating blue, pink and turquoise.