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More Cactus ChaCha and a History Hike (Saguaro NP & Ft. Bowie NHS)

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

Tuesday, 17 May 2022, Saguaro NP/Fort Bowie NHS

I think you travel to search and come back home to find yourself there.

— Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, writer

I heard late Monday that Cam's kiddo still ran a fever, ruling out us meeting. That gave me a blank slate for the day. I'd already planned on taking Ranger Mike's favorite hike, the Garwood/Carillo/Douglas Springs loop, hoping to start before the worst heat built up. I would have made it, too, had I not blundered about, missing my turn, and eventually asking a cop for directions. I finally reached the trailhead at 8:45. The temperature read 84 degrees - six degrees cooler than yesterday, but still toasty.

The Rincon Mtn peaks rise considerably higher than the Tucson Mtn peaks, so I hoped for a cooler, higher-elevation hike - but this hike actually started slightly lower than Sendero Esperanza. Oh, well. Once again, the saguaros (and other cacti) proliferated.

The Garwood Trail was named for an early settler. Attempting to tame the hostile land, he built a dam in one of the washes, hoping to irrigate the land. That effort ultimately failed, but the trail passed next to the old dam, still looking intact (though there is no reservoir behind it).

The whimsy of the tangled arms of the saguaros entertained me. I passed the time attaching simple, one-line comments to the most distinctive. It helped take my mind off the building heat.

When I reached a trail junction, I checked my map. Mike's suggested route covered six miles, but if I turned instead on Wild Horse Trail, I could shave over a mile from that. After a short internal debate, I chose the short cut. The incessant heat had worn on me - and I felt a bit of saguaro saturation, to be honest.

By the time I reached my car, it was 92. Time to head east to my next AirBNB in Benson AZ. Decision time again: I'll reach Benson by 1:30 - how do I fill the rest of my day? Do I find a library with Wifi and make reservations for my June trip? or organize my July trip? or line up geocaches for Petrified Forest? I could generate no enthusiasm for any of those options - despite a need to do each one - so I instead drove an hour forward to knock off one of tomorrow's scheduled parks. After all, I just heard that the Visitor Center would be closed (due to staffing issues) on Wednesday. At least that would save me two hours off tomorrow's schedule, I consoled myself.

Fort Bowie National Historic Site had at least one thing in common with Leconte Lodge - you have to work to reach either one. The dirt road leading to the site takes you to a parking lot with a restroom and a trail sign. To reach the Visitor Center, you must hike 1.5 miles along the old Apache Pass trail. I've never heard of another park set up that way. Considering the total lack of signs directing visitors there until they reach the dirt road turnoff, 30 miles from the interstate, I wondered if the NPS really wanted people to visit.

I reached that trailhead before 2:00. Luckily, this park was in the mountains, so the temperature had only reached 79. Amazingly, three other couples had also endured the washboard road to see this park. I quickly noticed the sign stating that the Visitor Center normally only opened Wed-Sun, so they wouldn't be open today either. Well, I'm here, let's check it out.

I enjoyed the hike in the more reasonable temperatures. It stayed fairly flat, passing through shady, forested stretches

mixed with open grasslands.

Along the way, it passed ruins of the old Butterfield Stage station,

the Indian Agency offices, a restored wikiup,

a cemetery for those dying here,

and finally the ruins of the first and second Fort Bowies.

The army had used this post to protect emigrants and stagecoaches traveling through Apache Pass en route to California. Years of struggles against Cochise and Geronimo had kept the troops busy.

While driving the hour back to Benson, seeds of doubt announced their intention to set up housekeeping in my mind. Am I spending more time in the car than in the parks? How will I handle a four-hour megadrive to El Paso tomorrow - and two four-hour drives on Friday? Is it asking too much to take one trip, make reservations for a second, and organize a third at the same time? I need to figure that out, to try to correct course, before it all goes off the rails.

Final note: part of my phone call to Sue this evening:

ME: I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but I've met someone at my airBNB. Her name is Sam, and I think she wants to sleep with me tonight...

SUE: Oh, that's nice. Just be sure to brush off your clothes before you come home. We don't need any more cat fur here.

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