Gates into the Green

by Charles Monday, June 17th 2013

This is part 3 in a series of posts on the Sky Island Traverse - previous post: A Windmill to the West.

The Curtis Windmill is now a familiar landmark along Highway 80, but not a place to linger - after parking I gather my gear enter the sea of Creosote thru the western gate.

Gate to the west off of Highway 80 into Arizona State Trust Land

For several miles the dirt road heads gently downhill to a locked green gate on the boundary of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area - this area was created in 1988 "to protect and enhance the desert riparian ecosystem, a rare remnant of what was once an extensive network of similar riparian systems throughout the American Southwest."

A quick detour to the right - around the gate and thru the fence - and back to the road. The road looses elevation quickly here which is fine with me, I am anxious to be down in the ribbon of green.

The green of the San Pedro River in the distance

As I get closer to the river a windmill appears - AERMOTOR on the tail - water in the tank - an old wheel lying nearby on the ground - gear box exposed and rusted.

Working windmill near the San Pedro

The road comes to an end and I slow down as an overgrown foot path takes me west to the river - small paths eventually lead down to water and shade. The river alternates between joyous wet sections and blindingly bright dry sections - I see too many bright red Vermilion Flycatchers to count, send Great Blue Herons flying upriver and watch Coati from behind a fallen tree.

A wet section of the San Pedro River - along my route it alternated between sections like this and sandy dry sections

The San Pedro flows - undammed - north into Arizona from the Sierra Madre Occidental in Mexico to the Gila River. It is hard to imagine what this area must have been like nearly two centuries ago when James Ohio Pattie called it the Beaver River.

Just after the Contention Ruins I trade the sandy river bed for a small path on the east side of the river - artifacts from the San Pedro's long history occasionally appear. Soon I turn east along Willow Wash - across and up to the signed junction with the San Pedro Trail - on towards the Grand Central Mill.

Remains of the Grand Central Mill

The Grand Central Mill was a silver processing stamp mill that processed ore-bearing rock from the mines in the Tombstone area - there are a number of mills along the San Pedro. At another signed junction I take a side trail to the Fairbank Cemetery - old graves overlooking the San Pedro, it feels lonely here and I move on...

Fairbank Cemetery - looking down on the San Pedro

The last stop for the day is of the Fairbank Historic Townsite a recent and well preserved part of the San Pedro's 13,000 years of human history.

The last gate of the day.

There are parking lots on either side of Highway 82 and today I am glad to step into the car and escape the summer heat!

Map with comments - High Resolution JPEG (3.1 MB) or High Resolution PDF (2.5 MB)


-If you are interested in the San Pedro River be sure to visit the Friends of the San Pedro River website - "The Friends of the San Pedro River (FSPR), founded in 1987, is a mostly volunteer, non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of the river through advocacy, education, and interpretation."

-Expect flow and conditions in the San Pedro to be constantly changing - this area can be brutally hot  and flash floods are a possibility.

-This route largely follows the published Sky Island Traverse route.

-The first several miles of this route are on Arizona State Trust Land which requires a permit (be prepared for a delay since you will most likely obtain your permit via the USPS).

Hiking Report

Lightning 60

by Dave Baker Saturday, May 25th 2013

Let’s cut to the chase: the Lightning 60 is a great pack. Need a pack that is very light, yet handles heavier loads with ease? Look no further than the Lightning 60. Though this pack is disarmingly simple looking, it is remarkably comfortable. I was recently won over by this pack on an eight day backpack in the Grand Canyon.

Hey, I’m on board with the notion of packing light for sure, but here’s the rub: I love backpacking in arid regions of the southwest like the Grand Canyon. On warm and dry backpacking trips, water is the one item that you cannot skimp on in order to save weight – life depends upon maintaining adequate hydration. When faced with the prospect of having to carry enough water for a dry camp in hot weather, it is not uncommon to load up with 8, 10 or even 12 liters of water before leaving a reliable water source. This means that pack weights can easily approach or exceed 40 pounds, even if you have taken care to keep the base weight under reasonable control. Maybe it is just me, but I have had problems carrying weights like this in packs with an inadequate suspension; an aching and sore back being the main problem. I want a pack that is both light and will comfortably support heavier loads.

Lightning 60, photo courtesy Jacek Macias

Photo courtesy Jacek Macias

Well, here is where the Lightning 60 really shines: the suspension does a magnificent job of handling heavier loads even though the pack checks in at a very reasonable 2 lb. 8 oz. Turns out you can have your cake and eat it too! The shoulder straps are quite comfortable, the hip belt is surprisingly well padded and luxurious, and the simple adjustment system makes it easy to get a perfect fit. My suspension hero is the single aluminum stay, which is very effective at moving heavy loads off the shoulders and onto the hips. At 2.5 pounds, this pack rivals the comfort of packs I’ve used that weigh more than twice as much.

Another bonus of the single stay design is that it allows tremendous freedom for the hips to rock up and down under a load even when the hip belt is snugged up tight -- great for bushwhacking and various other canyoneering maneuvers.

I must also mention a few other nice touches. The overall profile of the pack is nice; clean and not cluttered with unnecessary features. The pack fabric is quite tough and durable for the weight. The roll-top closure is just the ticket; saves weight and works great. The stretch side pockets mounted on the hip belt are almost perfect: not too big, not too small, smooth zipper action – very useful.

I do have a few quibbles: The hydration hose port feature is somewhat awkward. In order to thread my bite valve through one opening I first had to enlarge it with scissors, though I hasten to add that my modification did not seem to affect the integrity of the opening. Even then, removing the hose remains a bit of a struggle. I did like the way a hanging pocket zipper performed as an outside port for the hose – very quick and convenient to adjust the position of the hose when I wanted to.

As with many packs on the market, the side compression straps interfere with the use of the stretch pockets mounted on the side of the pack. The user has no choice but to compress the contents of the side pouches along with the rest of the load, which is not always desirable. Just an annoyance, but it would be nice if the side pouches were easier to access when the compression straps are securing the main load.

But I found these to be minor complaints indeed. This is now my go-to lightweight backpacking pack. Looking for a cleanly designed, light pack that handles heavier loads with surprising comfort? Take a look at the Exped Lightning 60.


The Princess & The Pinarello - Italian Travels By Bicycle

by Emily Thursday, May 23rd 2013

This hill sucks. It sucks more than the last one, but less than the ones that will come after: the fifty shades of punishment that only the Tuscan countryside can deliver. I'm slumped in the saddle of my nimble little Pinarello race bike, shoving my feet against the pedals one at a time. At the opportune moment, Andy – blessed, curly-haired, Scot-accented Andy – leans over and whispers, “We're beating the Canadians!” To which I reply by standing up and cranking on the rest of this hill.

The hills and valleys of Tuscany frame a view of the Castle of Brolio

We're not racing. This is a vacation, with ultralight bikes, crazy fast roads, and five shots of espresso per day (followed by five glasses of wine per day). But Andy has raced – mostly in the mountain biking circuit – and I feel honored that he's joined on to Team Beat the Canadians. He's my coach, my navigator, and my jet pack, putting a hand on my back when I start to gas out and pushing me up the steep slopes. The tour company hosting us want you to feel like a pro racer even if, like me, you're an amateur just trying to keep up. There's a sticker on the top tube of my sleek little bike with my name and country flag on it. And on this hill, I'm trying to do the red-white-and-blue proud.

The Canadians are two spunky and tireless folks from Vancouver. Matt is a strong rider (he added a seven kilometer climb to our ride one day “for fun”) and Bobby pedals in his draft all day, the two of them darting around like dragonflies. Also in our little peloton are Steve and Lori from London, though Lori grew up in the States and also lived in Australia for a time; her dialect is a crazy chimera mix of all the places she's been. Steve is unassuming, quiet on the bike but grinding up every hill like another day at the office (an office with fresh air, vineyards and olive groves, and stone castles from medieval times perched on every hilltop). Lori is training for an Ironman. None of these strongmen wants help up anything, which leaves the support for me. Andy rides next to me when I've slid behind and gives me a strategic push to fling me in front of the Canadians.

Cyclists enjoy the open roads and fast descents of the Chianti countryside

We're here to play, and eat amazing food at hyper-local restaurants in tiny towns that you wouldn't think to stop at, and drink wine from the vineyards we pass on the road, and soar down the fastest slopes I've ever met. We take punishing rides to coffee shops, have espresso, and ride back. Our leader João Correia, who founded our tour company inGamba, knows everyone we meet from the days when he lived in this area training as a pro cyclist. For the first time, I understand the importance and the added joy of connecting with people on my travels. It was always fun to meet people on vacation before, but here in Italy as João told me, your connections give you access to experiences you can't buy with money. In context, he was referring to some of the really unique things he does, like setting up dinner in the million-dollar wine cellar in the basement of a restaurant in Siena, or showing us around the grounds of Castello di Ama, a castle turned winery and art installation with works from prominent artists from across the world.

The open central piazza of Siena hosts a neighborhood horse race twice a year

But this connection lends itself to simple pleasures too, like watching our B&B proprietress, Anna, describe the frenzied Palio horserace over breakfast in a mix of wild hand gestures and halting English. Or take Raul, the trip's Portuguese soigner who speaks the language of our sore leg muscles better than the common language of the group, who makes divine little polenta cakes and sweet pasta squares for our rides, and who dresses up in spiffy clothes on the nights that he Skypes with his beautiful wife and daughter back home. Or Luis, the Portuguese mechanic who asks, when presented with a saddle adjustment or a bottle of Limoncello, “one little more?”

It's these moments that have made this trip amazing. Moments when you feel heroic, moments when you feel crushed, moments when you laugh so hard you can't breathe. Or pedal so hard you can't breathe. Or go down a hill so fast it takes your breath away.

On the last day, I draft behind my boyfriend Logan; it's a little chilly and I'm hiding in the warm windless pocket behind him, conserving my energy because I need practice at it. To each side the hills just lay out, the quiet rows of gnarled grapevines budding with new leaves. Maybe there's only so much to say about the landscape, the subtleties between forest, grapevines, olive groves, stone towns; they just get repeated over and over. But I will say this: you can't touch the magic of this landscape in a car. A car pitches around, jittery, cage-like. On a bike the roads smooth out into sinuous curves, and the landscape unfolds one turn at a time. We ride just hard enough to feel it, how effortlessly the bikes do our bidding, how willfully our hearts follow along. I can feel mine pounding in my chest, saying its own goodbyes to Italy.


Emily will be hosting the free presentation "Travelling Off-The-Cuff" at Summit Hut (Speedway location) on Saturday, May 25th at 11am. She will be discussing ways to pack lighter and will share some tips for stress-free trip planning. She will highlight some key accessories to add light packing principles to any trip and explore how to select the right luggage for your trip. You’ll also learn ways to make your trip planning more flexible so that each day is its own adventure!


A Windmill to the West

by Charles Thursday, May 23rd 2013

This is part 2 in a series of posts on the Sky Island Traverse - previous post: Sky Island Dreaming, next post: Gates into the Green.

From Cochise Stronghold the Sky Island Traverse travels west to Highway 80 and then on to the San Pedro - for this section we departed from the published route and looked over maps, aerial imagery and land ownership information to come up with a different way to exit the Stronghold and arrive at Highway 80 near the Curtis Windmill...

Part 1 - Slavin Gulch Trailhead to Middlemarch Road along FR 687 - 2.8 Miles

Forest Road 687 - headed towards Middlemarch Road

I have been on this section of FR 687 a number of times to access the legendary climbing formations in the Stronghold - but never on foot - it is May and it is hotter than I would like - but looking left to the amazing jumbles of rock is amazing.

Classic Cochise - a ridge filled with complex boulders and rock formations - looking east from Forest Road 687

Part 2 - Middlemarch Road to Unnamed Road West - 4.1 Miles

Looking back on the junction of Forest Road 687 and Middlemarch road - Sheepshead in the background.

Fences, houses, animals and old buildings come into view that I have never noticed from the car. The subtle curves, drops and climbs - along with friendly waves from passing cars - break up the dusty miles - but eventually I am just ticking off dusty miles to Part 3.

The wide dusty dirt highway...

Part 3 - West on Old Roads to Highway 80 at the Curtis Windmill - 7.9 Miles

Gate into Arizona State Trust Land just west of Middlemarch Road

The miles on Middlemarch give us access to a swath of Arizona State Trust Land - permit required - where old dirt roads run west to Highway 80. The road I want is unmarked and a GPS waypoint helps me find the junction. My feet appreciate being off the wide dusty road and enjoy the rocks - a nice change from the uniform surface of Middlemarch Road.

A view of the Creosote - Arizona State Trust Land west of Middlemarch

This road appears to get very little use and I am alone amid a sea of Creosote - an occasional Juniper floats into view and Ocotillo break the skyline - white and green in the nearby wash - all I can hear is the wind. I watch my map carefully and eventually take a right turn along a fence, here the trail becomes more overgrown - a few careful steps over another fence - more overgrown road and then signs of cattle.

The road takes me to an area near a well and water tank that are obviously used for cattle - thankfully not here at the moment. 

Water tanks and well with Cochise Stronghold in the background

From here the roads show more signs of use but I am still alone as I pass under the power lines and eventually out to Highway 80 at the Curtis Windmill...

Curtis Windmill - just off the east side of Highway 80

Map 1 with comments - High Resolution JPEG (2.9 MB) or High Resolution PDF (3.4 MB)

Map 2 with comments - High Resolution JPEG (2.8 MB) or High Resolution PDF (3.4 MB)


-I did this in several smaller segments and originally thought this would be 2 sections, but later realized this made the most sense as the single section presented here.

-This route exits Cochise Stronghold at a different point and takes a different route over to Highway 80 than the published Sky Island Traverse route - but it arrives at Highway 80 at the same spot.

-As mentioned briefly above traveling across Arizona State Trust Land requires a permit - as far as I am aware permits are not available online and you will likely be obtaining your permit via US Mail (be prepared for the delay!).

Hiking Report

The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!