Mel sets a rock step along the Old Baldy Trail.

Written by Sage Bradford, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

This hitch’s MVP was the rock bar. That’s because we were doing rock work in Madera Canyon. Over the course of 8 days, the crew addressed 12 sections of tread along Old Baldy Trail. 

When the crew arrived on Wednesday, we made camp above the old Titan missile base; an abandoned nuclear silo near the entrance of Madera Canyon. With our home set up for the week, we made the short drive to the trailhead at the end of the road. There, we met with Zach MacDonald from the Nogales district of Coronado National Forest and hiked up the Old Baldy Trail while Zach pointed out what areas of tread he would like addressed. In each of these areas, the tread was rocky, steep and unappealing to walk on, resulting in hikers often been making their own path, often on the eroding and unsustainable downhill slope. We were excited to get to work on such sections.

Before/after of a series of rock steps. Photos by Sage Bradford.

On Thursday, we were lucky enough to be joined by Eric from Outslope Trail Solutions. Eric is incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to rock work. As we hiked up Old Baldy, he taught a fabulous rock work crash course. My brain was brimming with trail anatomy, erosion management, tool usage and countless helpful tips and tricks. 

In the afternoon, Eric helped us get started on a particularly difficult section of tread. Together, we turned a steep mess of rubble into a smooth bit of tread. By the time we were done, I hardly recognized the section. After digging into the hillside and prying many rocks loose (shoutout rock bar), we managed to put in a tread that gently ramped the user up the trail. The implementation of lap steps and a retaining wall made our dreams a reality.

Friday through Wednesday the crew was on their own. Our days followed a familiar rhythm. Hike up Old Baldy to our worksite. Visualize how to improve Zach’s flagged sections. Smash and remove rocks. Possibly put in steps and retaining walls. Bring down and level out the tread. Block off hiker’s previous, eroding, reroutes with big branches and rocks. Naturalize the reroutes to the point where no-one would know they were once there. Repeat. 

One member of our crew got to switch it up on Sunday by joining with Wild AZ volunteer coordinator Nizhoni Baldwin’s eager group of a dozen volunteers to build steps on the Bog Springs Trail, lower down in Madera Canyon. On Tuesday we got the pleasant surprise of meeting some intrepid volunteers in service of the Old Baldy Trail. Jim Beck, wilderness ranger, came to check up on us, and two local trail stewards chatted on their way up to brush a higher portion of the trail. These three were just a few of the many wonderful and fulfilling interactions we had with local nature-loving folks excited to be part of the maintenance of a beloved area. 

Although our work followed a general routine, each section of tread was unique. The crew got to utilize their brainstorming, problem solving and creativity to make each flagged section work. The week was filled with challenging, but rewarding work. There is great satisfaction in finally finding the perfect rock for your retaining wall. Even greater satisfaction in walking upon freshly improved tread. 

In between these larger tread restoration projects, we filled our time carrying out sections of pipe that had previously been repurposed to hold up the trail, brushing, building drains, and repairing blown out rock steps. There is certainly no shortage of work to do on what is one of the most popular trails in the Coronado National Forest, and we look forward to the opportunity to work there again this spring. 

Spring has brought good weather and more daylight upon us. The crew not only relished  the change in seasons during the work day, but after work as well. Evenings were spent going for runs, bike rides, birding, stargazing, making communal dinners, having wall sit competitions and reading storybooks to one another. The week was full of laughter and excellent conversations. It was in many ways, a smashing week.