Section 4: Nogales to Douglas
15. 0 miles
Packs are still heavy, but the terrain today was fascinating. This area is known by ecologists as the Sky Islands region. It looks like a paper pop up that pushes out of a page in an illustration. It covers much of southern Arizona and western New Mexico and is characterized by clusters of mountains that spring from vast low lying deserts. The ecosystem changes drastically between its highest and lowest elevation. It’s a special place.
We started out in desert scrubland with golden grasses and intermittent large shade trees. We half expected a lion to leap out of the bushes. Then the road led us up and up into the mountains. We still had too much water and food to climb comfortably and it was frustrating to get tired so fast.
Only a few cars passed, almost all of which were headed in the same direction as us. Hey, can we catch a ride!??
Everyone waved. Friendlier out here then some of what we’ve come through!
When we finally crested the top of the pass we were stoked to see an entirely new biome and tree after tree. Oak and pine covered the slopes and buried us in green. The temperature dropped and moisture filled the air. What a feeling! Unfortunately, this was short lasted as we reluctantly departed the forest along the road. At least we could enjoy a little downhill. The San Rafael Valley spread out far ahead and the road snaked gradually down. Back to the safari.
Once we started going downhill the hiking got a lot easier. We passed Camp Washington, an old mining community with a few ramshackle buildings and an old car. Four rusted chutes protruded from an abandoned mining building on our right. A creek cut under the road with several tall canes sprouting out and a couple oozing puddles nearby. We kept going. As we got closer to the valley we started to see more and more cars, this time moving in the opposite direction. Some of them we recognized as the cars who passed earlier in the day but the majority of them were new. They were all filled with what looked like the entire family, so they must have been recreational. Again everyone waved and it was all very friendly.
One guy stopped as he drove past, rolled down his window and asked if we needed any water. We told him no, somewhat reluctantly, but after a minute or two of conversation he offered again and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He loaded us up with a couple bottles of ice cold water and lime seltzer and he kept looking for more to give us. We finally were able to persuade him that we had plenty and he wished us luck and drove away. Thank you Bob! Your water was delicious and we gulped it gratefully!
It’s the best feeling when someone stops. When they wave for a second or take the time to ask a question or ask if we need help. It makes such a difference in our day. Hiking has an unique way of opening doors.
Maybe it’s how slow we’re moving - people have time to see our expressions and wonder about our story. Or maybe we just look approachably pathetic?
Whatever it is it brings out the best parts of people’s interest and generosity and we love it. Take some time today to say hi to someone you normally wouldn’t.
More walking, more downhill, more cars. An old farmhouse with two older men lounging on the porch marked the beginning of Lochiel, a sparsely inhabited town on the border. The handful of houses and the sound of children playing in the background was more than we expected. We took a break by the Fray Marcos de Niza memorial, which very strangely seemed to be commemorating “the first European West of the Rockies”. Wow. What a distinction.
The final miles were occupied with two things; brainstorming where in the heck we were going to camp and discussing the strange white blob on the horizon. The majority of the San Rafael valley is privately owned and we were still too far from the forest border to count on reaching it that night. There was a narrow strip of state land surrounding the road but there were several signs prohibiting usage, including the explicit purposes of “camping and hiking.” Everything else was wide open and grassy and in full view of the few surrounding houses. Our second preoccupation was an alien looking blob that had appeared out of thin air. It hung in the sky, a tiny shape that you almost had to squint to see. It didn’t move, at least not to our flimsy human eyes.
Had it at least rotated? Was it tethered to one place, was it a drone?
We gave up debating and finally found camp, a tree and enough of a hill that we were a little shielded from sight. Of course that means that everyone else trying to hide will probably be headed here too.