The view up Florida Canyon with snow up top. Photo by Joseph Cofresi.

Written by Joseph Cofresi, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

While our extended Wild Stew family was battling blizzards and blistering cold in the Chiricahua Mountains, we were a little closer to home corralled up at night near the Florida Canyon trailhead on the north side of the Santa Rita Mountains. Our battle was with the prickly pears, the sotols, the cat claw, and the rocks.

After setting up our home and making our corral cozy for an eight day stay, we set out onto the trail to begin our mission to move earth and boy did we move some earth. We began to reestablish a creek crossing by brushing the trail around the crossing, moving a few rocks around, and calling it a day (they were some pretty big rocks).

The crew hikes up the Florida Trail. Photo by Iman Chatila.

The next day we continued up further into the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness to assess the trail as a whole and see how we could best help. Upon arriving at Florida Spring, gusts of winds blasted through the tall pines and Doug-firs as clouds sprinted across the sky above us. 

After a long hike and stormy night’s rest we woke up ready to move some earth. We tackled two abnormally large rock steps and wanted to transform them to be trail. We wanted it to match the grade above and below it, so we sprinkled a little trail magic onto it and voila. From there we continued up the trail removing any vegetation encroaching the trail corridor, digging out drains to shed water off the trail, and overall making the trail more user friendly and functional.

A steep scramble up a high rock outcrop becomes a better-graded ramp reinforced with crush and a smaller check step. Photos by Nico Lorenzen.

Halfway through our hitch we were joined by Jonathan and Chloe to aid in our continued trail work. After a day’s work we were also joined at camp by Nico’s lovely wife Laura and adorable dog Tulip for the evening. On this same evening Iman brought out a selection of Spanish/English stories and after deciding on Palatero Man, Nico graciously indulged us by reading the story aloud to us before bed. I can still hear a fain whisper of the Palatero Man…Ring-Ring, can you hear his call? Paletas for one, paletas for all!”

The next day Iman, Nico, and Sam departed from the hitch to return for “Front-Country Business.” Those of us that remained pushed on to move more earth with the time we had left, and we continued to do just that. More brushing, more drainage, more playing outside with our rock bars, pickmattocks, Rogue hoes, McLeods, loppers, and hand saws.

A drain dug into the trail to improve water flow off the trail and minimize erosion. Photo by Chloe Ondracek.

We were greeted again in the evening by a visitor, a friend of Mel who joined us for some of our dinners and philosophical questions in the latter half of our hitch. On the topic of evening meals, a special shout out to Mel for eating (what she deemed not very good, but in reality was still good) pot roast in varying ways for six out of the seven dinners we had this hitch.

Before/after of creek crossing. Photos by Jonathan Patt & Joseph Cofresi.

Our final day on the trail, we brushed and dug our way out past the boundary for the Mt. Wrightson Wilderness, returning to that first creek crossing from day one where we moved some pretty big rocks and guess what we did next? We moved smaller rocks, then we smashed them into even smaller rocks. Trail magic. In early afternoon as the rain began drifting down the mountain towards again, we packed up our home, said our goodbyes to the trail and each other and departed the lovely Santa Rita Mountains.

Just a family at home. Left to Right: Jonathan (Field Operations Manager), Sam (Conservation Associate, Mel (Crew member), Chloe (Crew member), Joseph (Crew member), Iman (Crew member), Nico (Crew leader).

In addition to repairing 600′ of tread in the vicinity of Florida Spring before weather forced us to descend lower, we built or maintained 66 drains above the Wilderness boundary, debermed and repaired numerous sections of tread, and brushed out over a mile of trail corridor.