We are transitioning from the hot, bright desert to high fields of ponderosa pine.
Leaving Pigeon Spring, we walked on forest roads for 11 miles, moving quickly with views of wooded mountains in the distance. We turned onto a dirt trail and descended steeply to Boulder Creek. Spider and I had an early lunch by the creek and then took another long break four miles later at Sycamore Creek, where we swam and wash our clothes and relaxed. Back on trail, we hiked through a hot and stagnant valley, across a highway, past some nondescript fields, and finally to the edge of the Mazatzal Wilderness where we camped next to a creek filled with singing frogs.
The Mazatzals were rough. The trail here is neglected, unmaintained. We knew about it before we started this hike. It has a reputation. And it lived up to it: we got lost, got scratched up, got annoyed. The thorny desert plants ripped at our shins and our thighs. It felt like a long day, and it was, and then it was over. We hiked down to the East Verde River, made camp, and dreamed of town.
The next day we had 24 miles to Pine. We had no alarm because our cell phones were out of battery. That meant we had no GPS either. Flying blind, with only cairns and footprints in the dirt to guide us, we hiked across the river, up to Hardscrabble Mesa, and through a perplexing field of scree. When we felt like we were off trail, we fanned out until one of us picked up some sign like a familiar track or a pile of rocks. We made our way to the trailhead then followed a forest road to power lines. 10 miles left to Pine and barely noon! We had lunch sitting in the dirt, then carried on down from the mesa and through a little forest. Finally, we reach Pine.
We spend the rest of the day and all of the next morning ping-ponging between the brewery, grocery store, laundromat, diner, and public library. After being mostly alone on the trail, in town we meet fellow hikers Softwalker and Pete and bikepacker Papa Beer. Big shout out to That Brewery and all the friendly establishments in this wonderful trail town. We hike out feeling full and refreshed.