Decided to do a loop of Spur Cross/Tortuga/Elephant Mountain/Spur Cross/Dragonfly trails today. I estimate it to be about 8 miles with the side trips, maybe a little more. Had the best long solo hike I have had in ages! I didn't see a single person for the entire trip - how is that even possible?! Not that I'm complaining ...
Got a late start, just before 10am - four cars in the parking lot when I arrived. Normally I like to start hikes much earlier, but I wasn't worried about it, as the forecast called for it to be cool and cloudy all day. My thermomater seemed to be stuck at right about 70 degrees whenever I remembered to check it.
Started on Spur Cross to Tortuga, hiking the loop counter-clockwise. I had done a similar loop last year, and remembered the climb up to the Elephant Mountain trail as torturous ... though I had to stop and catch my breath a few times, it wasn't that bad. Upon reaching the turnoff to E.M. the real fun begins. For a "primitive" route, there sure seemed to be alot of maintenance going on ... little wooden steps on some of the steep downhills, and freshly pruned trees/bushes along the way. I enjoyed the hiking in and through the wash very much - love that type of hiking. After exiting the wash, I began the long, loose climb up towards the backside of the elephant - beautiful area, reminds me of Superstition hiking.
I detoured into Tonto National Forest to visit Ringneck Spring and the cattle feeder on top of the hill. Water flowed nicely from Ringneck when I pumped the handle, but the water smelled terrible - like rotten eggs! Wouldn't want to have to drink that. Started up towards the cattle feeder and I found an old rusted horseshoe to add to my collection (my collection now numbers two, lol). Took some pictures of the feeder and found the old rake that I saw there last year ... looked around for some more ranching artifacts, but only found an old broken shovel back down by the spring.
Next I started the climb up to the elephant's saddle - again not as long or as hard as I recalled. Once I reached the saddle, I eyeballed the ruins/walls on top for a while before deciding to go for it. (Yeah, I know - the sign says not to, but I didn't feel like being ruled by a sign today!) Spent about twenty minutes exploring the top and checking out the walls - the view from up there is awesome.
Back down on the saddle for a break, I found a small cross with a bible verse attached to it ... I reluctantly left the cross in place, but I removed the bible verse because it irritated me. Who is going around putting up crosses and bible verses out there ?(there were more to come later in the hike) I mean really people - can't we just enjoy the beauty and glory that is there for all of us without bringing religion into it?! Sheesh.
Heading down the front side of the elephant is probably my least favorite part of the hike - the trail is a bit overgrown and the rocks are not too pleasant to walk on ... small complaints, to be sure. Found another makeshift cross stuck in a small saguaro and immediately dismantled it and tossed the sticks down the hill. Eventually hooked up with the Spur Cross trail again and started back in the general direction of the trailhead (though it was still wonderfully far away).
The trail is fairly wide, flat, and boring here so I was moving quickly, zoning out a bit, and nearly missed seeing the tarantula which was ambling along off to the side. It froze as I approached and I took a few photos and talked to it kindly. Hope my camera's flash didn't hurt it's little spider eyes.
A little while later along SX, I found a cute cactus with another bible verse stuck to it - want to guess whether it was still stuck there when I left? The verses I removed were numbered 3 and 4, so I must have missed at least two - they are probably on the SX trail after the Dragonfly where I turned off.
When I reached the turnoff to Dragonfly trail, my feet were starting to hurt and I was wishing I had brought something more substantial for lunch than the granola bars and gu that were in my pack, but I still had plenty of time and water left, so I followed through with my original plan to take Dragonfly down to the creek. This section of the hike is very pleasant. Stopped for a break on some rocks I like that provide the first view of the creek, and upon starting to hike again noticed a boulder with petroglyphs that I hadn't seen before.
Soon I reached Boca Grande Wash near it's intersection with the creek - nice green area. I followed dragonfly downstream to where it crosses the creek - nice bit of water there - but I didn't cross because I don't like the high trail along the side of the hill ... I much prefer to stay on the low path and follow the creekbed. As I started upstream I was treated to a chorus of yips and howls from a nearby pack of coyotes - guess they were out celebrating the nice Autumn day, too.
Passed by a cave that always intrigues me and took some photos of it - does anyone know if this is a natural cave or an old mine, and has anyone gone in it? In and along the creek I saw lots of small native fish, some frogs, hummingbirds, a couple of Great Blue Herons (always feel bad when I startle them), and the big treat, a juvenile Great Blue. The little guy or girl didn't seem to have any of the wariness that the adults do, and I spent ten minutes standing still, watching it make it's way down the creek right towards me - it was finding plenty to eat along the way. As it got closer I started taking pictures, flash and all, yet it still didn't get spooked but walked within a few feet of me ... really special moment.
Finished off the creek hike and started up towards the trailhead, stopping at the Geoffrey Platts bench to pay my respects - has anyone else read his old book "Trek" about his solo backpacking trips in the area in the 70's (?) and/or early 80's? Good book - I would have liked to have hiked with that guy.
Exiting the Jewel of the Creek Preserve, I stopped at the trailhead register and opened it up for no particular reason - was very surprised to find what appeared to be a baby tarantula inside of it! Pics didn't turn out so good, but can anyone tell me if that's what it was? Maybe I should have left the register open, because I don't know how it's going to get out of there, but I didn't think of that until later.
Stopped by Spur Cross stables to visit the burros and horses ... I've only seen two of the three burros the last couple of times that I've seen them - wonder what happened to the third?
Arrived back at the parking lot almost exactly six hours after starting, and there was one truck in the lot besides my car. After I changed out of my boots and was getting ready to drive away, I saw the owner of the truck - the first human I saw all day - a woman with a mountain bike and a dog.
I drove home in what I would call a state of bliss ... if only I could live everyday of my life like that!