First Water Trailhead

A desert garden with plans

First Water Trail Head

Notable Sonoran Desert Plants, all in the same frame. From the left, back row: staghorn cholla, ocotillo, saguaro. Front row: teddy bear cholla, yucca. I am not certain the greenery to the left of the yucca is brittle bush.

First Water trail head is the most used access point to the Superstition Wilderness, being the closest to Phoenix and its satellite cities and suburbs. For day hikers there are ample and interesting route choices as all foot trails of the west side terminate at First Water making for a variety of loops and incredible views. For horse people there are facilities to park huge trailers.

The ready access from Mesa, where my sister and husband had their home, was the primary reason I planned to finish my cross wilderness hike on the Dutchman Trail. Named for Jacob Waltz of the fabulous legend of the Lost Dutchman mine, the inspiration for The Searcher’s Superstition Wilderness expeditions and, ultimately, why he and I met and my change of plans.

On our ride over from Roosevelt he told of his difficulties building a home in Apache Junction, sleepless nights spent guarding building supplies from thieves. He looked forward to moving day.

This photographic record of five days in the wilderness would be much different without that meeting yet, there I was that afternoon with plenty of time for photography during the golden hours of late afternoon as I wandered the desert gardens until my sister arrived.

Wild Barley

The long distant ridge beyond the rugged near hills is the backbone of the famed “Superstition Mountain.” On the far right are hoodoos, appearing as so many teeth on a jaw. Gorgeous saguaros in the foreground.

Weavers Needle is the distant peak, 5.5 dry miles away in this view to the west / southwest.

I’ve always been partial to how the dense spines of cactus catch the evening light. These staghorn chollas are in front of the same ridge of the Superstition Mountain. A famous formation, “The Flatiron” is visible on the far right.

The road to the trail head, Service Road 78, winds through 2.6 miles of hills. Here is another overview of Sonoran desert life.

You might remember hedgehog cactus blossoms from my posting “A Dry Piece of Paradise”. The following are from the large hedgehog cactus in the foreground of the preceding photograph.

Future Plans

During the drive back with my sister, Diane, we talked of plans for returning to the Reavis Ranch together, as a backpack expedition. In coming days I met with The Searcher to explore possibilities for a horse expedition and, three years later, these plans came together for a trip kicked off from this same First Water trail head.

Hedgehog Cactus Blooms

Here is a gallery of the same photos. It is fun to flip back and forth with me disappearing from the scene.

Click me for the first post of this series.

End of the Beginning

Exploring Arizona in my Fifth Decade of Life

….continued from the chapter “A Rocky End to a Perfect Day.”

The Searcher arrived after breakfast. My camp was bundled up to join the rest of The Searchers equipment and supplies on Colorado’s panniers that replaced the saddle where I sat, and was dumped from, yesterday. This fifth morning of the adventure, I was to have the experience of a light pack for the 4.7 mile trail from Pine Creek to Campaign Creek, past the Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance.

First, there was the climb to the edge of Pine Creek canyon where we, for the last time, enjoyed the view to the north of the Arizona Trail and, in the distance, the Four Peaks Wilderness.

North from Reavis Gap

At Reavis Gap we took a rest before the 1500 descent to Campaign Creek on a trail rated as so difficult backpackers go miles out of the way to access Reavis Ranch.

I split an energy bar and took a swig of water before setting up the tripod to capture the following view of our path. The ridge, hazy in the distance of 22 miles, is Apache Peaks, the near descending ridges an improbable green after a wet winter. In the previous photograph, “North from Reavis Gap” you can clearly see the transition from the desert to a grassland biome as the elevation increases.

Generations

On this, the southern shoulder of Two Bar Mountain, we enjoyed desert grasslands almost the entire length, starting with this unlikely oat field. The higher, eastern Superstitions are the western and northern-most Sky Island of Southern Arizona: rising from the desert as isolated mountain systems, catchments for passing storms, with life zones progressing with altitude, the highest typical of Canada. As with oceanic islands, each is a haven for life with potential for evolution of unique species from the isolating effect of the surrounding desert.

These oats are domesticated grain spilled from a horse or donkey pack to thrive in the decades since, sprouting into this spread of light green after a wet winter, ripening, then turning gold with the summer, the grains falling to wait for the next opportunity. This green hue is my first impression of Reavis Gap, see my post “Two Meetings” for a video of the morning breezes rippling along the hillside.

The camera sweeps 180 degrees for all the views from this spot, including prickly pear cactus among the grasses, a butte-like formation to the west, as in the following photograph.

Upper Horrell, the end of the beginning.

We passed the length of the Reavis Mountain School of Self Reliance, the Reavis Gap trail is 100 feet or so higher on the north side. The name “Upper Horrell” is attached to this location. Reavis Gap trail used to start at a ranch house, part of the “Upper Horrell Ranch.” Horrell is the family name of the former owners.

Upper Horrell is a fortunate location for the school, with the perennial Campaign Creek flowing parallel to their 13 acres on which is a large garden, many fruit trees, livestock and poultry. The school provides lodging and classes throughout the year.

The Searcher initiated his time in the Superstitions with wilderness survival classes and they allowed him to park is horse trailer and pickup outside the gates. We were loaded and out of there with a stop at Roosevelt, population 28, where we were the only customers for mesquite grilled hamburgers and french fries. We talked about the potential for future trips and I took him up on an offer to store my stuff until then. In the following years I did more Superstition Wilderness day trips, backpack expeditions, some with my sister Diane, and one horse expedition with The Searcher and a friend.

Here is a gallery of this post’s photographs, for you to flip through.
Click me for the first post of this series.

Rincon Peak Summit

Experience the Sky Island view from Rincon Peak

The Rincons are one of 42 Sky Mountain islands isolated from each other by the gradual warming and drying climate changes since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. While this marvelous environment of oak and pine forests only accessible with much effort on foot, it is literally visible from every point of the Tucson valley and million human inhabitants.

Rincon is Spanish for corner, the mountains are called that from their shape enclosing a space on the west, northwest until recently used for ranching and is now falling into use for tract housing. The mountains themselves are reserved as wilderness, parts in the Saguaro National Park and the Coronado National Forest.

In the past 44 years I was lucky enough to visit the Rincon Wilderness interior three times, shouldering different style backpacks onto the mountain, walking different boots. The first, during college the 1970’s, a party of six left from the end of Speedway, up the Douglas Springs trail. The climb was an exercise in desert survival that several friendships did not survive, replace by new friends met on Mica Mountain. I have no photographs from that experience, only memories and the backpack.

Reconnecting with Arizona in 2004, thirty one years after that first experience, I took no chances. My first attempt on Rincon Peak was a success. Risk and effort were reduced, not eliminated by hiring a guide for the four day trip. We made it to Rincon Peak via the Turkey Creek Trail out of Happy Valley, climbing a mountain buttress, views ever widening and lengthening.

These are some photographs from that experience and a landscape photograph of the peak at sunset, taken the following year.

Sego Lilies bloom among a stricken oak and drying grasses on the Turkey Creek trail. This is an overview of the environment, it is the winter rains that trigger the bloom.

Sego Lilies -- CLICK ME!!!!

We paused while I unpacked my gear to capture Sego Lilies growing along the Turkey Creek Trail.

Sego Lilies -- CLICK ME!!!!
Sego Lilies -- CLICK ME!!!!

Deer Head Spring, at the top of Turkey Creek Trail was a moist spot with no accessible water when we reached it April 27, 2004. With the remains of a gallon of water each we needed to press ahead to Heartbreak Ridge and climb into Happy Valley Saddle were, thankfully, the creek was low and full of algae but usable. Here are my first views of Rincon Peak, looking across the aptly named Heartbreak Ridge and Happy Valley Saddle.

Distant View of Rincon Peak-- CLICK ME!!!!
Telephoto view of Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

The view to south from Rincon Peak. The white rocks at lower right forms a Valley of the Moon wall. San Pedro River valley at the root, Mae West Peaks at left margin, Dragoon Mountains with Cochise Stronghold center. Taken around 12:30 on April 28, 2004 as a thunderstorm approached.

View from Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

The Rincon Peak view looking south, southwest over the Valley of the Moon to the eastern Tucson Valley and the Sky Islands the Whetstone Mountains (Apache Peak), behind are the Santa Ritas. The works of man are overpowered by sky, rock, distance.

We made a hasty departure in front of the thunderstorm. It was a touch and go decision to attempt the peak that day, we made it with moments to spare.

View from Rincon Peak -- CLICK ME!!!!

April 29, 2004 the morning after reaching Rincon Peak I set up the tripod near our Happy Valley Saddle camp to capture Rincon Peak in early morning sunlight.

Rincon Peak from Happy Valley Saddle, dawn -- CLICK ME!!!!

The day we descended to the X9 Ranch via the Rincon Creek trail. My guide’s grandfather had a homestead at the X9 and his access to the trailhead through private lands opened this route for us. This is a photograph of sunset on Rincon Peak from the X9 ranch. I am looking east from the Rincon (Spanish for corner) made by the massifs Rincon Peak, Mica Mountain and Tanque Verde ridge.

Rincon Peak from the X9 Ranch-- CLICK ME!!!!

The evening of November 2, 2006 I climbed the Saguaro National Park, East, Tanque Verde trail for about 30 minutes to reach this view of Rincon Peak and waited until just before the sun set behind the Tucson Mountains for this shot. Then hiked back to the car in twilight. In my hurry, I tripped on a stepped turn and dove headfirst into a large prickly pear. It was a very painful experience and I regretted damaging the cactus and the loss of and good hiking shirt. There were large spines in my face and tiny, pesky spines covered my chest and back. The large spines are not barbed and come right out. I needed to visit a physician to remove them.

Rincon Peak from the X9 Ranch-- CLICK ME!!!!

Superstition Galleries

A peaceful wilderness evening

….continued from the chapter “Reavis Ranch Autumn Sweep”

These are three galleries of photographs from my Superstition Wilderness postings. You can click on any gallery and page through the photographs.

The following year my sister Diane and I did two expeditions into the Superstitions, March and November 2006.

“A This video is from the November backpack, taken from the hill above the Ranch Ruin (Click me for “A Ride to Reavis Ranch”) you will experience the peace of this wilderness valley.

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Click me for the first post of this series.
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Reavis Ranch Autumn Sweep

A peaceful wilderness evening

….continued from the chapter “Apple Orchard in the Wilderness”
Click any photograph for a larger image.
Click photograph for a larger image
Vantage point from which this video was captured

The following year my sister Diane and I did two expeditions into the Superstitions, March and November 2006.

“A This video is from the November backpack, taken from the hill above the Ranch Ruin (Click me for “A Ride to Reavis Ranch”) you will experience the peace of this wilderness valley.

About that mysterious stone structure featured in this video. Over the years I have pieced together its purpose. When the ranch was active, a canal followed the contours from upper Reavis Creek to fill a pond down the hill from the house — I was shown the canal and walked it 2005. The structure was razed in the 1990’s, all that remains is the concrete foundation slab and, when I was there 2005 – 2008, scattered remains of the tile flooring. I am sure the pedestal above the house supported a water tank for a gravity water feed (“indoor plumbing”). Here is a link to more info about that site. The article does not discuss the water system.

….and another link with more Reavis Ranch stories.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery

Click me for the first post of this series.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Autumn Mushroom

Moments from a September backpack

A budding mushroom

Autumn Mushroom

among autumn leaf litter

along mountain shores

Peaked Mountain

Peaked Mountain and Pond, Siamese Ponds Wilderness, The Adirondacks

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Copyright 2021All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Apple Orchard in the Wilderness

Persistence of agriculture

….continued from the chapter “A Ride to Reavis Ranch”

Imagine walking across the ranch house ruin towards where I described the former pond. Looking to the east and north from the elevation you see this sight.

In the near distance a grass pasture slopes into Reavis Creek. The creek has flowing water in all but the longest dry seasons. By the way, the trail from Pine Creek is on the slopes of that conical feature in the distance, to the left.

Click any photograph for a larger version.
Looking from the former house site towards the Arizona Trail running beneath the distant red rock ridge. Not the fence rails on the left and apple trees in bloom.

From the ruin, walk down the Arizona Trail, south, for a few hundred feet and turn left into the fields to encounter the same apple tree, and a close up of pure white apple blossoms.

Portrait of a Blooming Apple Tree

At Rest and History

This tree is an outlier of a thick stand of several hundred trees to the north. The Searcher and I rode into the middle of the grove for a rest and chat. The horses were allowed to graze in the abundant new grass brought on by the winter rains.

The Searcher told me the story of the valley and that it was a man named Clemans who planted 600+ apple trees, trees in bloom all around us. The Reavis Valley was long a site of agriculture, starting in the 19th century with Elisha Reavis, who passed away in 1896 and is buried on the slopes of White Mountain, and continued with a series of ranchers and entrepreneurs in the 20th: John Fraser, William Clemans, who planted the trees, and John A. “Hoolie” Bacon, then Bacon’s son-in-law Floyd Stone who sold the land to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1967.

We talked about some earthwork I noticed, in the southern part of the valley. It was part of a water system that diverted Reavis creek flow at the head of the valley to the ranch house. We decided that strange hexogonal structure on the elevation above the house ruin was the site of water storage. At that location the structure would provide a pressure feed for the house and much else.

Abandoned Hay Rake

A mix of winter rains and fertile soil were exploited in the Reavis Valley for a handful of decades, the enterprise now is set aside. This abandoned hay rake and chassis, used to harvest grass in seasons past, is evidence of the work. The apple trees produce to this day without irrigation.

The Searcher touched upon the subject of the “Circlestone” ruin he mentioned on our morning ride. He had never been there, but mentioned some books on the subject. It is a wide circle of rough stone wall enclosing mysterious structures. At this point, I was hooked, and decided to check Circlestone on a later trip. Here are some photographs from one of those trips, in November 2006.

Reavis Ranch Apple Orchard Tree

Reavis Ranch Apples Yellow

Reavis Ranch Apples Red

In my next post The Searcher and I return to Pine Creek, Colorado gives me some trouble and we visit a stand of wild oats in the Reavis Gap.

Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Adirondack Respite

Seven new photographs from the Adirondack Wilderness

One weekend my nephew Chris and I backpacked to Peaked Mountain Pond, the Adirondacks wilderness, in the rain. My son, Sean, was to meet us later. The constant rain made the easy trek into a slog. Our attitude improved after the tents setup and the fire. The skies clear to a brilliant display of the Milky Way away from light pollution.

Peaked Mountain in the light of an August dawn taken from the west pond shore. Siamese Ponds Wilderness, Adirondack Park, New York State. At 2,919 feet, Peaked Mountain is a modest height though it rises an impressive 675 feet in 0.4 mile.

Peaked Mountain Dawn Light – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.
 

Looking north across Peaked Mountain Pond from the west shore shortly after dawn.

Peaked Mountain Pond – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.
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We used the canoe as a punt, using a solid branch to push around the shallow pond for short distances, after bailing.

Abandoned Canoe – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.
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Mid-morning, we headed up the trail to the peak. I caught this orb-weaver spider web on the way.

Orb Web with Dew – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.
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…and a detail. Technically, this is a macro. Did not wait around for the owner.

Orb Web with Dew, detail – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.
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Later, in the afternoon, Chris caught some Zzzzz’s in a time out from water gathering. We pumped water through a filter, this is necessary throughout New York State to avoid giardia infection.

Adirondack Respite – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.
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The ultimate in peace and tranquility, though disturbing a hornet pollinator can lead to excitement. This water lily bloom was caught with a tripod mounted long lens. Look closely for the hornet at work inside the flower. HHealthy water lily leaves are the epitome of tranquility because they are always clean, giving the illusion of tranquility. Scientists study water lily leaves to learn how the leaf surface sheds dirt. Imagine self-cleaning cloths.

Correction: it is the Lotus leaf, not lily pad, that is self cleaning.

Water Lily Flower with hornet – CLICK ME for more Adirondack photography.

Looking for the perfect photo for your web site and blog?

Browse my reasonably priced stock photography. This blog features seven (7) photographs I published today to Getty Istock and my Fine Art gallery.

License the photo, download and use it. Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” Fine Art Gallery.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

A Ride to Reavis Ranch

Some history and exploration

….continued from the chapter “Desert Luxuries”

Hitching the saddled buckskin and lightly packed pinto onto trees on the trail, The Searcher came up to my camp for a visit. I started water for tea and soon we were chatting. Right from the start The Searcher asked for privacy. Devoted to searching the Superstitions for the gold of the “Lost Dutchman Mine”, he assembles his expeditions from a staging point near Phoenix and spends about 60 days a year in the wilderness. Part of his preparation was a desert survival course provided by the Reavis Mountain School, conducted by Peter Bigfoot.

An Invitation from The Searcher

The Search described a place near Pine Creek, he called it “Circlestone,” a large almost perfect circle, of precisely constructed stone wall, on the slopes of Mound Mountain above the headwaters of Pine Creek. My sister, Diane, and I found Circlestone on backpack expeditions March and November 2006.

Here is a panorama from March 2006, southwest from the forests of juniper and pinion on the slopes of Mound Mountain.. The southern tip of Reavis Valley is to the right, from there Arizona Trail lead to White Mountain in the distance. It was taken on a later trip, in November of 2006 when my sister, Diane, and I visited Circlestone.

Click any photograph for a larger image.

The Searcher also told of Elisha Marcus Reavis, who settled the Valley west of Pine Creek in 1874. At one point, a band of Apaches planned to kill Reavis, but were respectful of his reputation as a rifle shot. They were waiting him out across from the his dugout, when Reavis stripped naked and with wild hair and a flaming red beard charge their camp, knives in both hands. The Apaches rode off, wary of his insane behavior, and never bothered him again.

We talked about my prospects and plans when The Searcher offered to take me to the Reavis Valley the next day, on horseback. There is a large apple orchard there and, this being April, we’d be treated to masses of apple blossoms. The day after Reavis Ranch, I could pack out with him down the Arizona Trail, past the Reavis Mountain School, over Campaign Creek and drive back to the Lost Dutchman Park. I readily agreed.

To Reavis Ranch on Horseback

The following morning dawn rose from colorless darkness, thin birdsong and brightening high clouds. When the Searcher arrived around 8 am he was leading the pinto, introduced as Colorado, equipped with a western saddle instead of a pack. As an absolute novice trail rider, the Search would hold Colorado’s lead. The reins were wrapped around the saddle horn, leaving me to hang on and “enjoy the view” and swishing tail of the buckskin, named Nugget.

The 2.5 mile trail to Reavis from Pine Creek is typical of the eastern Superstitions, minimally improved, dramatically uneven with large and small boulders to navigate. From Pine Creek there’s a climb of a 631 feet to 5,278 foot elevation, where it meanders beneath a dramatic red cliff with a view of the pinyon/juniper forests on the slopes of Mound Mountain. As he picked our way, The Searcher pointed out the sights. “Circlestone is somewhere over there, a ring of stones overgrown with Alligator Juniper.” I was able to do little more than observe, photography was out of the question.

A cliff along the trail to Reavis Ranch offered cover and the flat perches preferred by cougars. It was not an issue for us in daytime and attacks against horses are very rare. The most either of us ever saw of the cat in all our time in Arizona was the tip of a tail slipping behind brush. This was a lush April after a “wet” winter, so small game was plentiful. Only a sick cat would be hungry. The worst case scenario is for a cougar to meet and become infected from a rabid animal at a water source and we did not linger on this thought.

Eventually, the cliff descended with the path, steeply, to Reavis Creek, the valley floor and the intersection with the Reavis Ranch trail. Heading south the Reavis Ranch trail passes the site of a long abandoned ranch. What’s left of the adobe and stone ranch house is on a level valley elevation overlooking what used to be the corral and a large open expanse.

Open field at near the juncture of the trail from Pine Creek with the Reavis Ranch trail.

Apple trees in bloom from the former site of the ranch house. There used to be a pond near this spot. With a little imagination, the trail from Pine Creek can be seen on the far ridge.

Reavis Ranch Trail, foreground, traverses the valley length north to south. The Arizona Trail from Pine Creek following below the red rock cliffs in the distance.

The US Forest Service razed the building after it “burned to the ground” around Thanksgiving 1991. I would not call what is left “a foundation,” it is a platform where the house stood. You can see for yourself in this photograph what was once was a homey tile floor. I’ve seen old photographs of the structure with a large pond to the left of this view, a door and simple porch face east and the pond used to hold irrigation water.

Turn around from this ruin and a platform comes into view. Built on the west valley slope, overlooking the ruined house is a hexagonal foundation of adobe bricks. We are looking here across the Reavis Ranch trail. My opinion about this structure rests on an examination of the land to the south, there is excavation of a shallow canal and this was the way water was captured from the upper Reavis Creek or tributary and directed to this catchment basin where it was then directed for storage or irrigation. The spot enjoys clear views of the central valley, an excellent place to enjoy the fall of evening.

The Searcher led me to a place a few hundred yards south, in a narrowing of the valley, where he let Colorado and Nugget roam free. The horses appreciated the level, open spaces and I enjoyed the Ponderosa pines on the west valley slope. We sat on the smooth trunks of fallen trees, 4 feet in diameter, near Reavis Creek.

Colorado took this opportunity to bolt, headed south. We took off after him into and through a thicket of locust trees where The Searcher cornered Colorado to regain control. “He was abused by his previous owner and is difficult at times,” was how The Searcher put it.

We were close to the end of Reavis Valley where Reavis Creek originates from the drainage of White Mountain, to the west.

We headed north here, back to the ranch house site, to the lush new grass of the apple orchard.

Nugget in Horse Heaven

Nugget grazed unfettered. Colorado was tethered with plenty of slack for grazing. This photograph of the pair shows their personalities, Colorado edgy, Nugget content to feast while the grass is available.

Colorado on the alert while Nugget grazes, typical of their personalities.

Click me for the next post for photographs and more history of this Apple Orchard in the Superstition Wilderness.

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Copyright 2019 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills

Desert Luxuries

Enjoying the best of an Arizona desert at high elevation

….continued from the chapter “Sycamores and Riparian Space.”

Click any photograph for a larger view

Evening Camp at Pine Creek

My third wilderness evening was unlike the others. I rested with an unhurried exploration of the camp area. Underfoot was a scatter of dry oak leaves, acorns on hardened desert soil not much softer than the numerous lichen encrusted boulders, all of which formed a bench above Pine Creek.

Pine Creek Camp Overview from a large lichen encrusted boulder

Pumping a gallon of drinking water though the ceramic filter takes more time than meal preparation. The four gallons I packed up were almost used and I enjoyed the luxury of pumping two days supply, 3 gallons in all and planned to down a quart or two of “gator aid” before dinner with the luxurious enjoyment of a flowing Pine Creek for company.

Pine Creek is the most common type for Arizona, recurring. To recur means to happen periodically or repeatedly and, for streams, this means for part of the year no water flows. For these days the flow was low, the water clear, what was left from the plentiful winter rains of 2004/2005.

Looking east toward Manzanita thickets with the unpacked backpack foreground

The wind gently rustled the manzanita and the sun just above the western cliffs as I settled on a boulder to enjoy a quart of fluid. I mulled over my next steps.

The kitchen: a very light gas burner, spork, dehydrated food with cup for beverages

Initially, the plan was to walk across the Superstition Wilderness, starting on the remote eastern end and emerging on the populated west side, in the Lost Dutchman State Park. My sister expected me there on day 10, but today was the end of day three. I didn’t know at that time the climb on my second day was the steepest of the wilderness and the way forward was much, much easier.

Looking west toward pine creek, manzanita branch foreground and thickets all round, young Ponderosa Pine, Arizona Oak behind tent.

Before a decision could be reach, my thoughts were broken by a different sound from the manzanita: several horses approaching on the trail.

Here is a photographic recap of the previous Superstition Wilderness postings as a gallery. You can page through the photographs.
Click me to visit Michael Stephen Wills Online Arizona Gallery.
Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Michael Stephen Wills