Kelvin-Riverside Bridge to Wild Camp on Gila River (-111.10906, 33.10830), 21.1 km, 500m Elevation Gain, 530 m Elevation Loss, 6 hrs 18 min.
Breakfast was lattes with oat milk and homemade waffles with blueberries. After a relaxing morning we headed out the door about 9:30 am. The plan was to drop the rental car off at our northern terminus at Picketpost Trailhead parking lot and our friends would shuttle us all the way to our southern starting point at the Kelvin-Riverside Bridge.
We hit the trail at 11:15 am. The weather was overcast but not threatening. We stopped to check out the sign board at the trailhead looking for any additional information. After Emily signed into the register as “trip leader” we set off down the trail. We had a pleasant walk for the first 45 minutes in the company of our friends lead by their dog Lola for the most part.
The trail runs on the north side of the Gila River while the railway starts on the north side before crossing an old iron bridge to the south side. The first 1.2 km was very flat utilizing parts of a an old road. The trail then began to rise and twists and turns away from the river as it climbs the slopes. It is not a big climb the net elevation gain is 157 m over 3 km with a short downhill of 25 m elevation loss. The trail is in excellent condition. Very smooth and well graded. A testament to the planning and maintenance of the trial by the Arizona Trail Association.
The extra height was very welcomed as it gave us an excellent perspective of the valley. We would give all the height back quickly as we descended back to river level over the next 1.2 km. I had some trouble keeping up with Emily at this point as I could not keep from taking pictures and just taking in and absorbing the amazing scenery around us.
It was not just me, Emily also loved the desert landscape. I never did tire of seeing a lone cactus high on a ridgeline.
The trail descended some switchbacks taking us back to the river level. The trail became very sandy as we walked near the river. With the river being a permanent source of water the area adjacent to the river has been fenced off for cows. We were continually passing through gates to cross back and forth into cattle area.
We only spent about half a km down at river level before we started climbing again heading away from the river. We would spend the next 10 km hiking over rolling desert terrain. We hiked off trial up a small ridge and stopped for lunch at 1:50 pm. We had covered 8.5 km in 2.5 hrs. Emily got creative with our lunch. We had whole wheat tortillas and cheddar cheese, but to add some punch we added crushed potato chips! For our first day we did add a fresh tomato but that would be the last piece of fresh food we would have on the trip.
When we returned to the trail we saw in the distance what appeared to be a trail junction that was not on the map. When we arrived at the junction there was a low rock wall across the one trail funneling hikers to the left and down. Emily made a display of the rock wall as a reminder to when on our trip on the Hermit Trail in the Grand Canyon I stepped over a similar wall and got temporarily lost up a side canyon. According to one of my maps, the upper trail is an old variation of the Arizona Trail.
The trail continued to snake up and down as we generally followed the river. We saw our first cow and shortly after witnessed our first cow river crossing. It was not as dramatic as the wildebeests migration across the Serengeti but kept us captivated for a minute or so.
The up and down nature of the trail kept things varied and interesting over the next several km before we descended back down to river level. The sky started clearing to the east. The blue skies would stay with us for the remainder of the hike.
We got momentarily confused when we came to a wash and the trail sign was down. This is where the Arizona Trail departs from an east-west trail known as the Grand Enchantment Trail. Using the Viewranger app we did quickly find our way back to the AZT. I should have know we were going the wrong way when I had to climb over the fence.
With the sun slowly setting we continue to hustle along. Taking photos means I have to up my pace to stay with Emily who is setting a nice comfortable pace up front. We had discussed what to do with the coming darkness. We were not too worried about setting up the tent in the dark but we needed to replenish our water supply. Even though the river is beside us there had been no obvious access. When we checked the Viewranger app it showed that we would be coming right up to the river shortly. This was were I figured we would have the best chance to get water. In the event that we did not come to an obvious river access I thought that we could hop the fence and follow one of the washes down to the river. This is when it would have been handy to have utilized the AZT Trail App. Among other information it displays locations of know water access points. We did discover an access point to the river, a small trail on the other side of the fence leading to a little landing beside the river. This was very close to were we camped. The water access is actually displayed on the AZT Trail App. Had we had the app it would have removed the uncertainty we had in that last 45 minutes.
At the spot I thought we would have water access there was an access through the fence and a short steep trail to the river. There was a grassy flat area nearby just off the trail and initially we were going to throw the tent down there. We were right beside a small ridge. I scampered up the ridge and found a couple of places were we could potentially set up the tent. Emily agreed that it would be nice to be up higher. We chose a great spot. Emily set about getting dinner ready. I took the collapsible 10 L bucket we had to retrieve water from the river. The river has a very high sediment load. We let the sediment in the river water settle for about an hour. We ate dinner and set up the tent. As the sun set we were treated to a astrological conjunction of the Moon and Venus. This was pretty special as during our trip last year to Death Valley NP we saw a conjunction of the Moon, Venus and Jupiter.
After dinner Emily used our new water filter to clean the river water. We decided we would still add the iodine pills we had brought.
I had brought my 15 mm F2.4 Irix Lens and my full tripod for some astrophotography. The conditions were not perfect with the city of Phoenix only about 45 minutes away but I got some fun shots.
We watched a movie before calling it a night. The movie was about my calculus professor from university, James Stewart, who has written most of the calculus text books in use at universities around the world. I set my alarm for 3 am and we both got out of the tent to look at the starts. Never a bad idea. Such a great feeling to see the big sky while be so alone in the middle of the desert.