Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Break at Prescott College: Superstitious!

When I was in high school, my perception of a typical spring break for college students was something like you might see on “Trashy MTV Cancun Reality Show 6000!” and I remember being worried that as someone who doesn’t enjoy indulging in that particular fashion I’d be an outcast for that time during my college career. Upon coming to Prescott, however, I’ve learned that college students have the ability and drive to actually do far more adventurous, life changing, and fulfilling activities than racing towards early liver failure. My first year I spent spring break with some friends traveling to hot springs around the state of Arizona, and my second year I spent time climbing many of the unfamiliar crags in the greater Prescott area, as well as adventuring to some secluded natural locations. This year, I took another trip to the Big Mama Juniper (see Blog from October 15th, 2009), and then spent my time in the Superstition Mountains near Apache Junction, AZ.
I had always heard about the Superstitions or the “Soups” as they are commonly referred to around here, but never had a chance to go and see them. Immediately upon my arrival I was struck with the urge to come back again with my climbing rack, even from the road the rock faces look fantastic. Already, the mountains were trying to pull us in with promises of venison, ostrich, and beef jerky. Unfortunately for the magical mountains, most of our group was sustainably minded vegetarians.

We arrived at the 1st water parking lot and began unpacking the car, at which point I realized that somehow my approach shoes had been left behind, and thus I was going to have to walk through thickly cactus populated terrain with bare feet or my Mion sandals. Whoops. Luckily some of my friends were more optimistic than I and were able to stem the flow of curses out of my mouth long enough for us to start walking.
Now living in Prescott for the past three years has taught me to be relatively nonchalant about cactus awareness, as the yucca, Agave, Prickly pear, and occasional Cholla are usually very easy to spot and not too hard to extricate from one’s skin if run into by accident. This, however, was the superstitions, where Saguaro, Teddy Bear Cholla (see below), and barrel cactus were out in force, and constantly dropping pieces of themselves on the ground around them, making any off-trail section a veritable minefield to be walking around in.

The fuzzyness is actually the thousands of spines coming off the plant, and not at all cuddly as the name Teddy Bear Cholla might lead you to believe.

While I was having little difficulty avoiding the few pieces of Cholla that had rolled into the trail, I had not thought about the fact that my dog had never seen these cactus before, and so should probably have been on a leash. I came around a corner about half an hour into our hike and saw her standing there and attempting to remove a Cholla segment from her mouth. I don’t think she was attempting to eat them, I’m guessing that she stepped on one and, as dogs lack opposable thumbs, attempted to remove it with her mouth. I was glad that I had my medkit handy and had my wilderness EMT course behind me to allow me to act quickly. Cholla, while they appear to be straight spines, actually curve a bit upon entering flesh, and so are painful and difficult to remove. Suki acted fantastically and didn’t even whine too much as I removed the painful spines from her mouth and face. I was glad that I just had a dog and not a toddler, because as soon as I finished she was right back to enjoying herself. I imagine if a person had gone through that experience they’d still be in pain even ten days later.

We continued on, past saguaros with strange faces and pretty desert flowers until arriving at our campsite, a beautiful green field that was thankfully cholla free.

In the background you can see one wall of Boulder Canyon, a popular oasis in the middle of the Superstitions.

We quickly set up camp in the comfortable meadow before finding out that our guide, a friend of a friend that had scoped out the area a few weeks before, wasn’t entirely sure which direction was best in order to seek out water. She was pretty sure that there was supposed to be some about a mile away done one of the trails near us, so with limited information a few of us set out to gather water for the group. 1.5 miles and 600ft of elevation later, we found what I’m sure at some times is a flowing creek, but when we arrived was a wash with some stagnant pools growing all sorts of fun stuff. Not to be discouraged (after all, I’ve had worse), we set to work filtering the water with a filter my friend had gotten me to replace one he had broken on a prior trip. After filling about half of our water containers, the filter started to leak out the bottom. Unusual, but not anything that should effect the safety of the filter, so I kept going. After filling another two water bottles, the bottom of the filter literally exploded away from the rest of the unit with jet propelled force. This was definitely not normal.
It was at this point that we decided to cut our losses, scoop up some untreated water to boil our grains with and head back to camp. We began to make the hike back towards camp along a canyon cliff and as we could just see the top my dog’s water bottle popped off of the carabineer it was attached to, the cap bursting off of the container and flying out into space. So far, this was not my best day.

Having cactus in your mouth is tiring.

Upon arriving back at camp, we relayed what all had happened to the rest of our friends and just by chance my partner managed to take a swig out of one of the untreated bottles of water by mistake. Mmmm, algae. Not wanting to waste any more time worrying, we got started on dinner. The sunset on the surrounding landscape was one of the more beautiful ones I’ve seen in Arizona, and gave me hope that this day was not a reflection of what the whole rest of the trip would be like.

We awoke the next morning after a cool night of Coyotes howling a few dozen meters away and occasional mysterious movement outside the tent, and I think even Suki wanted to keep sleeping.

It was then that we realized that the meadow we were staying in was not just grass, rather there were millions of tiny purple flowers that began to unfurl as the morning went on.

Upon reaching the top of a nearby hilltop, we were greeted by a great view of the surrounding landscape and the meadows that were slowing transitioning from green to purple.

We descended into boulder canyon, eager to find some water to dip in as the temperature rose past 90 degrees F. We stopped for a few minutes in the shade of a creek side tree in one of the tributaries to the main creek and were passed by a group of ten horse-riders, which Suki found wonderfully exciting.It was fantastically exciting when we finally reached the canyon floor and were able to get in the stream. The water was probably around 50 degrees but we didn’t care, it was so refreshing in the heat of the desert sun.
We spent a few hours dipping in pools and drying off on the smooth creek rocks, throwing sticks into the creek for the dog to chase, and applying copious amounts of sunscreen. If you’ve never been at an oasis in the middle of a desert, it’s a fantastic experience; I highly recommend you try it.

Our return to camp saw us spending the next few hours under whatever shade we could find. I realized the that deciding not to pack my tarp for shade was a bad choice.We spent another night in the meadow before hiking out the next day, our departure coincided by a large storm system moving into the mountains, but we managed to escape with no more than a few rain droplets on our packs. These mountains were majestic and mysterious, just as the name might have you thinking, and I’m really glad that we went out there to see them, but next time I’m bringing some dog booties for Suki, because all the fun in the world is not worth a cholla in the mouth.
Zach Schiewetz

No comments: