Decided to try out Jim's favorite area and my first Sky Island in the Pinal's. We did a loop on Sixshooter > Middle Trail > Pinal Peak > the overlook > Signal Peak Lookout > Icehouse Cyn trail.
The hike started warm and muggy at the bottom, but after a little bit of a climb, we were in the pines and cooler weather. The streams were running pretty good after the previous nights rains.
I got to see actual maple trees in Arizona, and Aspens as well. I believe Jerry in the Fire lookout on top said this is the largest stand of Maples in the state. I have to get back here in the fall.
We got to the top and ate some lunch, checked out the Peak log, and watched the clouds roll in over the top of the mountain. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nDvJPb9cnew
A short trip over to the overlook rock with the ladder and then off to the Signal Peak Tower. When we got over to the tower, there was a sign out front that said "Visitors not permitted, tower is for fire protection only". I was a bit bummed, but we took a walk over to get some pictures in the fog anyway. When we got there, the window opened up and we were invited up. Jerry, the guy working the tower, was a great guy and a wealth of knowledge. He's a hiker and mountain biker and just enjoys the heck out of nature. He told lots of stories from.... the best ruins around Devils Chasm, to the hunt for pot fields, to the little known fact that there is an elk herd in the Pinal's.
Just as we were climbing down the tower we heard the first of many thunder claps in the distance. We double timed it to the Icehouse trail to get under the tree cover on the trail. It dumped pretty hard and the lightning started getting closer.
Jim said, "I'm sure it's a lot safer under these trees, than our other options going back down." I yelled at him for jinxing us. Along the trail we were following was a 1-1/2" metal pipe on the ground that was carrying spring water to the tanks below. We rounded a corner on the trail, next to the pipe that was doing the same thing. The next thing I know, someone threw 5 packs of firecrackers 10' away from our heads. Bright lights and loud crackling, prompted me to dive for the deck behind a pine. Before I knew it, Jim almost landed on me, diving himself. We both got up and tried to figure out exactly what happened. The best I can figure, lightning hit somewhere above and followed the pipe down to the section we were. Once it got to the 90 degree bend in the pipe, it jumped out and into the air giving us our fireworks show. I checked my pants and continued on down in the driving rain to the car. We made sure to keep as much distance between that pipe and us as we walked.
This was a really nice hike that I will need to do again. I didn't get to see much on the Icehouse portion of the Trail.
Jim, thanks for the adventure and for driving.