Hiking the Arizona Trail

My friend's dog, Sukha, has a lot to learn about thru-hiking. After just one day on the Arizona Trail he's dog tired--so exhausted that he barely lifts his head when a deer enters our camp at Bear Springs. Sukha looks up briefly then glances at me as if to say, "I know I should get up and chase that deer, but I don't think I can get up. If you don't mind, I'll just pretend I didn't see it." Fortunately for Sukha, we're hiking only a short section of the Arizona Trail this weekend. I'd hate to see him tackle the whole 807-mile route at the pace he set today, as if every day was his last day in the wilderness.

It's hard for most people, let alone dogs, to grasp the concept of a thru-hike. Walking 807 miles--in the age of automobiles and jet planes and two-week vacations--is a ridiculous idea to many folks. Like Sukha and I, most hikers travel long distance trails one section at a time, grabbing a weekend here and there whenever possible.

With the completion of the Arizona Trail, the Grand Canyon State will put itself on the long distance hiking map. When finished, the trail will extend from the Mexican border across deserts, mountains and canyons all the way to Utah. With the trail more than half-complete already, I decided it was high time for me to check out Arizona's contribution to thru-hiking.

On the Trail

Sukha and I arrive in Patagonia on an early morning in September. I've decided to make my first foray on the Arizona Trail on a 40-mile section through the Santa Rita Mountains. The trail is being developed in "passages" all over the state, creating a patchwork of paths that offer a sampling of Arizona's diverse terrain. Most of the passages are ideal for weekend trips, offering up the Arizona Trail to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians in bite-size pieces, rather than the whole 807-mile feast.

For thru-hikers who do attempt the whole distance, Patagonia will offer a comfortable place to rest and resupply before hitting the trail again. Patagonia is one of the few towns that sits directly in the Arizona Trail's path. Eventually, the route will be signed right through the historic town, linking the Santa Rita Passage with the Canello Hills Passage to the south.

For weekenders like me, Patagonia offers good coffee and friendly directions to Forest Road 72. From town, the Arizona Trail follows the forest road for 12 miles through the foothills of the Santa Ritas. Like other long distance routes, the Arizona Trail uses a combination of dirt roads, existing trails and new paths to cover the route's vast territory, so it's no surprise to find myself on an old jeep road at the start.

Brand new Arizona Trail signs point the way as I hike up the rough dirt road. I splash through a clear creek and continue on the other side while Sukha crosses and recrosses the stream three or four times. I can understand his reluctance to abandon the cool water.

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