A snowy view up Hamburg Canyon. Photo by Mel Elbert.

Written by Joseph Cofresi, Wild Stew Field Crew Member.

We were once five strangers: a marine biologist, an explorer, an embalmer, a body artist, and a therapist. We were all drawn and ensorcelled by the Wilds of Arizona hearing an echoing call from the Miller Peak Wilderness home of the Huachuca Mountains. Like a dongle to a computer a connection was made when we, the five strangers, showed up at the base of Ramsey Canyon. We all understood what we had to do. We were there to brush the trail, remove any fallen logs, and repair the tread. With our tools in hand and our lives on our backs we set off to do just that.

Straight off the bat we climbed two and a half miles up the Hamburg Trail gaining about 1,350 feet in elevation experiencing some spectacular vistas up and down the canyon anytime we could to soak in the landscape… and catch our breaths. We set off in the springtime but as we ascended it felt more like autumn hiking through an orange, yellow, and green painted landscape with a cooling temperature. The hike was rough but well worth it and we were even lucky enough to see a hawk fly off with a squirrel in their talons through the oak-maple-pine forest before setting up camp near the old Hamburg Mine. Then we did as we do when we camp in the backcountry in the wilderness: set up our tents to sleep comfortably and warm, and safely hang our bear-hangs to keep critters from getting our food.  

Our work began with some brushing and retreading of the trails and removing any obstructions such as rocks, branches, and logs. Halfway through our workday we were greeted by a couple of Arizona Trail (AZT) hikers on their way down the mountain due to one of them rolling an ankle. Luckily our fearless crew leader Nico was able to assist them by securely wrapping their ankle providing extra support for their trek down Ramsey Canyon.

We continued making our way up trail, repairing and clearing sections as we went along, and inserting drains to lessen the impact of water erosion. The winds were noticeable but nothing to write home about… yet. After returning to camp and making dinner that evening, we were greeted by a curious cute coatimundi. It’s always a joy to see some wildlife out on the trail. But, upon waking up the next morning we found that the curious cute coatimundi was able to breach one of our crew members secured bear-hangs and nibbled on some of their flatbread! And that’s not all. That same critter got a hold of and ransacked our medical supplies!

We didn’t let that slow us down though, we continued our day upward toward the ridge line and encountered a large, downed Ponderosa pine on trail. Nico delivered a crosscut saw refresher and we safely removed the tree from the trail. A couple of confident hikers on their way to the Crest trail along the ridge passed us while we worked and upon their return descent, they both shared the same experience, “Holy coatimundi, the wind up there is insane!”

We too were experiencing some pretty strong winds on the trail and at our campsite at this point in the hitch. One crew member, Mel, didn’t trust some of the trees around her tent so we relocated it before the real gnarly weather decided to show its face. Setting off on the trail that day a thick, wet fog was lurking through the mountains, giving us a morsel of what was to come. We reached the gusty crest trail that day and to our surprise we found a tent pitched right along the ridge top flapping in the gale-like winds at the trail junction. It was another AZT hiker who also coincidentally rolled (and possibly sprained) their ankle. Nico again stepped in to offer any assistance we could provide, but the experienced hiker was adamant to stay put and let their ankle rest for a couple days. We were concerned about the ridge top hiker because the weather forecast was predicting quite the storm to come through the Huachucas the next couple of days.

We slept through a wet, windy, rainy night and to our amazement awoke no longer in a landscape resembling that of autumn but now it was a winter wonderland in the middle of April. There was a couple of inches of snow coating our tents and the ground while it continued to snow throughout the morning. As opposed to boondoggling on the snowy trail, we hiked up to our AZT friend to again offer a helping hand , but despite the extreme weather they wanted to continue to wait it out. Crew member Iman donated some extra fuel to the hiker, and we decided to hike ourselves down and out of Ramsey Canyon to continue our work below the snow line. We restocked our medical kit in Sierra Vista and relocated to Miller Canyon dispersed camping where we had the best of neighbors, Dave and his great dog Vincent “Vinny” Voo.

We continued our trail work in Ramsey Canyon in what finally felt like springtime with the storm keeping to the higher elevations. Nearing the end of our hitch, this was our last push to get work done and clean up the trail. We were blessed with great sunshine, more great views, and great satisfaction of a job well done. All in all, 1.3 miles of the Hamburg trail brushed and adorned with 51 drains and another 10 drains placed along the brushed 0.1 end of Miller Canyon Trail.

After a long last day of work, we treated ourselves to a phenomenal dinner at Olive Garden and of course when you’re there, you’re family—and that’s exactly how we feel on the crew. We said our goodbyes to Dave and Vinny and just like that, bada-bing, bada-boom, what began as five strangers answering a call from the Wilds of Arizona ended as a family bonding over an incredible shared experience in the Huachucas.

Family dinner at Olive Garden. Photo by Iman Chatila.