Clip your toenails for this one! I am glad I did.
We started with Peralta as recommended, aptly I will add. Not much for fauna but for a Tarantula wasp, a very small too quick to identify snake (Prolly a foot+ long and the 1/4 diameter), and lots of bipeds.
We for got how busy Peralta gets so we left home a little late (early for us). Got there about 8:30. We had to park just ahead of the TH parking. Wendi had concerns that I parked where someone could block us in, I parked where I parked of course, and in short order another car settled the dispute by parking where I would be blocking him if I moved. So that settled that, then it was dealing with the overwhelming morning hustle bustle predictable busy trailheads always have. The people who parked next to us opened the car door with an explosion of dog. Just one dog, dragging behind her her own pink leash. Her name was Bella. We know this because no one ever grabbed the leash, she would just bounce from scent to scent, person to person and if she strayed too far or got too personal (as she did with us) they would yell "BELLA!"..."Bela!"..."BELLA!" That went on and on until eventually we lost focus on it while we visited the restrooms and got ourselves situated. A boyscout troop showed up with one kid a little on the strange side...did a lot of growling...not sure about that. Wendi wanted to let the troop a head of us, I disagreed figuring the growler would run out of steam pretty quick and then we'd have to pass through a bunch of kids on trail. Nope better to just deal with the noise and break away.
Once on trail though we quickly left our worries, and the noise behind. Peralta seemed to have that effect on us. We were quickly absorbed by the spectacular canyon walls, especially the east wall, knowing that soon we would be up there looking down. We began to make elevation. As we got higher, we took a breather to let another group collect themselves and move on. While waiting we took notice of the horizon beyond our back trail. Be sure to take a look behind you on your way up. I got real excited to get on top, the view just had to be amazing.
We past a few groups here and there. Got passed only once. A little embarrassing as it happened. I am hiking along, talking my usual trail narrative when Wendi begins hiking really close, unusually so. I turn around and Wendi is now a 6'tall lone man quietly trying pass us. Of course I step aside. Wendi's laughing calling me oblivious but I am not sure why nobody not Wendi or the guy announced themselves.
We finally were on the approach to Fremont Saddle. I could see two kids crawling around the rock formations to it's left. Then 3. Then 5, no 20... I lost count by the time we reached the saddle. There were kids in every nook and cranny of the formation. Kid's mean plenty of noise so we didn't spend a lot of time admiring Boulder Canyon or Weaver's Needle. We quickly found our trail and moved on. The trail seemed tight and was surprised to see that the kids were being directed to set up tents just off it. But there visible and multiple little mini campsites (If you're going to do it bring a tent with a small foot print and plenty of padding for your tent and your back). After weaving through all the shorties the trail got quiet again.
We wanted to add some mileage on the Boulder Canyon trail but the promise of less people and less busy trails cut that short. So we opted to go all the way to loan pine tree and get a good view of Weaver's. My nickname for the Needle is "The Illusive B!&(#". For many years I would see her from various points at compass, coming from Tucson, Payson, Casa Grand and could never get a bearing on where it actually was. Then she caught the eye of Wendi's brother who promptly asked where is that at... I don't know, it's an illusive -Beeep-. The rest is history. After a very scenic hike across the ridge we finally made it the tree. There was trio of hiker's taking pictures. Two were posing, the other was directing. They were trying to get the tree, Weavers and themselves all in the pic at once. They apologized but I was enjoying the exchanges between them and the view was such that they could not possibly take away from it. After they left we made ourselves comfortable. Ate 1/2 our lunch a little early, took pics. Not so easy to get the perfect shot. I made a mental note that Boulder Canyon didn't get a lot of action, everyone must stop at Fremont Saddle.
On the way back to Cave Trail I decided that I wanted to hike the east side of the ridge. That trail got little crazy, dropping down below the ridge a bit and into thick scrub. Never got off trail but things got a little scratchy. There were nice views of Bluff Springs Trail and Bluff Springs Mountain, looking down at where Barks canyon begins. After a while the trail finally resurface back on the ridge. We could see a couple of ladies off trail taking pictures of the cacti. They were coming from the main trail when they saw us and headed for us. I greeted them and they asked if this was the Cave Trail. No, I explained that they should head back to the trail and just keep heading south. I didn't realize that at the time that Wendi and I were in fact already paralleling Cave Trail and had already hiked south of Fremont Saddle while down below the ridge line. My directions must have been a little confusing to them because of that, but I would not realize why until I could see the Cave trail myself. The trail we were on brought us in 15' above Cave Trail and we had to scramble down to it. I could see Peralta below and clearly we were just south of Fremont Saddle.
The first cave took a little effort to convince Wendi that it was in fact a cave. She is still not convinced. The other two we almost missed. Some how ended up on a lower trail and had to scramble back up to them. Geronimo Cave was pretty cool. I threw a Wendy for some picture taking but I couldn't get Wendi to throw a Wendy... Sorry Wendy.
I looked at our back trail and noticed our old friend Bella on it, no longer even dragging her leash. The rest of her crew was behind her. Time to go! We followed a line high above the trail and around the back side of the Fortress(?), basically the backside of the caves overlooking Barks Canyon again. We ate our lunch reminiscing our long ago hike that was nearly entirely laid out in front of us starting with Barkley Basin, Miner's needle, Bluff Springs, and then Barks Canyon below... the Miner's Needle Loop was our first nine mile hike and here it was below us. Pretty cool moment. Then Wendi pointed out Pickett Post Mountain which looked massive from where sat. We began reminiscing that miserable day on that beautiful hike (Blistering winds and icy trails). Yep, good times.
After we finished our lunch we came back around, overlooking Cave Trail in time to watch Bella just beginning her approach to to Cathedral rock. Directly below us on trail was new guy. He looked immediately like he knew what he was doing so I watched him as navigated down Devil's slide. It took us awhile to get down to the Cave trail and by the time we got to the top of the slide he was done with the tub even but I had gotten enough of a lesson from him to know the what, what. I was surprised when he suddenly turned around and started giving me verbal directions. I was unaware he even knew we were behind him. I thanked him let him know that I was waiting on the Missus... Wendi did not like that comment, she didn't like that comment but it was less of a critique than holding up the kind guy (HAZer I was betting) at the bottom. This is the area where having freshly clipped toenails means happier feet, just say'n.
Got confused in the area around Tongue rock, which I missed at the time. It stands above a little horseshoe shaped valley. The obvious choice (to me) was to stay high and just do the horseshoe so to speak but that trail quickly disintegrated and suddenly I could see the trail below. We backtracked 20 paces and got back on track.
The rest was easy except with one hitch. Some one laid out some ducks going to the top of a knob that turned out to be just an overlook of where Cave Trail finally connects with Bluff Springs. We spent a little time admiring the view (I could see our car and was admiring the fact that no one was blocking us in, could you imagine?) Realizing however, that the trail was back down the hill we just came up we headed back down.
Suddenly a helicopter was overhead, looped around us and headed back up the Cave Trail and then repeated the circle. Wendi's first thought and correctly so was Search and Rescue. We scrambled down Heart Attack hill and got to the trail head to see S&R Truck and a team beginning to assemble while witnesses related what they knew. Best I could make out was that a woman perhaps injured needed assistance. I thought back to the two ladies back at the beginning of the Cave Trail but Wendi said that one of witnesses was a lady that was with her and was clearly not one of the ones we met. I hope everything turns out OK for whoever was up there.