Written by Jonathan Patt, Wild Arizona’s Field Operations Manager.
With a threat of rain causing concern about our access to the trailhead via Sabino Canyon, Wild Arizona’s Wild Stew Field Crew returned to the Palisades Trail in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness north of Tucson again this hitch. We got a ride from our partners with the Forest Service to the end of the road in Sabino Canyon, which ordinarily is closed to all vehicles except the shuttles which transport recreators throughout the canyon, without a problem and quickly started our hike up the Sabino Canyon Trail.
After several miles, we set up camp along the creek near the intersection with the Arizona National Scenic Trail, and as we ate an early lunch, we began to see the first of many AZT through-hikers we would encounter during the hitch. The rain drizzled lightly off and on throughout the first day as we made our way up to the intersection with the Palisades Trail and hiked the 1.3 miles of work done on our previous hitch here.
We quickly got into the routine of digging out grasses, cutting back brush—intermittent at first before becoming increasingly dense towards the end of the week, repairing tread, building steps and drains, and clearing the occasional tree off the trail. In total, we maintained another 1.5 miles of the trail, with an additional 9 steps and 19 drains built or maintained.
Because of recent rains providing small water sources higher on the mountain, and the length and steepness of the trail necessitating an increasingly long hike each day to and from the work site, we moved camp for several days to a location much closer to where we were working. This worked out well until strong winds impacted this camp and we were forced to move back down to shelter. As the week progressed, the hike fortunately got easier and forced us all back into steep hiking shape!
In addition to numerous deer on the trail, an assortment of lizards, a tarantula, and four red-tailed hawks as well as other raptors—including a possible eagle sighting!—we encountered two Arizona Trail hikers who had missed a turn and ended up on the Palisades Trail rather than continuing up along the creek on the AZT. Though they initially intended to push through and rejoin the trail on Mt. Lemmon, they both ended up coming back down after encountering the vegetation overgrowth ahead. Several days later, we met three other backpackers dressed as hot dogs who were hiking as part of the Hotdog Hundred, a five-day charity hike which raised over $24,000 for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
On Wednesday, as more rain built and threatened the area, we worked on several spots lower down on the Palisades Trail before packing up camp, eating lunch, and hiking back out to Sabino Canyon. It didn’t really start to rain until we started hiking, and stopped shortly after we arrived back at the trailhead! Thanks very much to the Santa Catalina Ranger District staff of the Coronado National Forest for their support with this hitch and all our other work on their district earlier this year.