It was my anniversary last week, so Brian and I went camping in the Pinalenos to celebrate. This is the third year in a row that I have visited this sky island in the summertime, but Brian had never been before. We drove up the Swift Trail in the afternoon and decided to camp at Hospital Flat- a large meadow covered in wildflowers. We had a nice meal and sat around the fire for a while. The stars were incredible as it had been a new moon the day before.
The next morning, I was rudely awoken by someone chopping wood at 6:30 am. I have not camped at an "official" campground in a long time, so I was a bit put off by our noisy neighbors. One family had four very small children who took turns crying and screaming, while our other neighbors had a father that was one of the most unbearably rude, loudmouthed people I've heard in a long time. Unfortunately, he wasn't there when we were setting up, otherwise we would have chosen another campground. He spent most of his time either yelling exuberantly or getting mad and swearing at his family, even the young girls. Ugh. I will never camp in a campground again. When Brian got up, he said that he would be willing to shuttle me so that I could hike the Arcadia Trail. The Arcadia Trail is designated as a National Recreational Trail- with a sexy name like that, how could I resist? The NRT website says that "National Recreation Trails (NRT) provide for numerous outdoor recreation activities in a variety of urban, rural, and remote areas. Over 1,000 trails in all 50 states, available for public use and ranging from less than a mile to 485 miles in length, have been designated as NRTs on federal, state, municipal, and privately owned lands."
The Arcadia Trail is 5.1 miles long and connects the Shannon Campground at 8900 ft. with the Arcadia Campground at 6700 ft. Brian drove me over to Shannon CG and a small bear ran right across the road in front of our jeep. This made me a little nervous for Brian- one of his worst fears is that I will be attacked by a bear, so I half-expected him to freak out. Thankfully, he was (at least outwardly) cool about it. I started from Shannon CG at 11:30 am, a little late for monsoon season, but I was prepared for rain. I was a bit on-edge as I started on the trail. Maybe it was the giant amount of tea that I'd had in the morning. The trail started out benched into the hillside shaded by pines and dotted with lichen-covered boulders. I was able to snack along the way on handfuls of ripe wild raspberries that were growing all along the trail. The trail switchbacked up the hillside and I huffed and puffed along, reaching the turnoff for Heliograph Peak at about 9500 ft. That would have to wait for another time. The Arcadia Trail went into a much more open environment on the scorched hillside and there were fantastic views down into the valley.
There were quite a few downed trees on the trail, and when I was trying to hop over one of them, my foot caught and I took a fall and scraped up my wrist. Thankfully, it was only a scratch and I reminded myself to be a little more careful. I was a little wary of bears, so I made up a song to sing as I hiked downhill so that I wouldn't surprise any on the blind turns. The grade of the trail was pleasant as it switchbacked and traversed the hillside. The trail became a thin line through a large, fern-covered area of the hillside and I spotted a snake. A Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake, to be exact. This attractive little snake is only found in the Chiricahua, Santa Rita, Huachuca, and Pinaleno sky islands at elevations from 6,000 to 11,000 ft. It is a grayish snake with two rows of brownish-red spots running down the back. The little guy rattled at me and ducked into some of the ferns on the ground before hiding under a log.
Video of the fern-covered hillsides: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sRuUekiGQtk
The trail was easy to follow and there were cairns placed in areas where deadfall had obscured the trail. I passed the Noon Creek Trail junction in a pine-covered shady spot that had been spared by the fire. The Arcadia CG was visible two trail miles away in the valley below. As I lost elevation, the vegetation changed and oaks and red-barked madrone trees began to appear. The trail was on a ridge between two forks of Wet Canyon and I began to hear rushing water below. Eventually, the trail crossed Wet Canyon and was benched high on the hillside as the canyon steepened below. The canyon was lush with greenery and yellow columbine and the trail was a large, duff-covered path. I knew I was approaching the campground when I passed a woman with her five children. She asked that her children step aside and let me pass. One of them, a little girl, looked up at me and asked her mom in all seriousness, "Is she going to die?" Weird. The five miles and 2300 feet of elevation loss took me a little under two hours, plus a half-hour for breaks. I arrived at the campground in plenty of time for my 2pm rendezvous with Brian, who was happy to see that I had not been mauled by a bear in the least.