Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Return to Cave Creek

This is my 3rd time backpacking into the Cave Creek area of Tonto National Forest. What I like about this spot is that the trailhead is a short 20 minute drive from my house, so it provides easy access to a pretty decent desert locale. Within a couple miles I left the day-hikers behind and seemingly had the entire backcountry to myself. In fact, I've never seen another backpacker (other than the ones in my group) in this area before. On this trip I left my Nikon at home and just took an older point-and-shoot Kodak. Honestly it felt quite liberating leaving the Nikon behind even though my photos didn't turn out as well. It's actually quite nice not feeling obligated to constantly capture good photographs (not that I'm much of a photographer anyways). Instead I just took a shot when the mood struck me.

Cave Creek
Cave Creek
 In the interest of variety, I took a slightly different route than previous trips, and consequently missed the Hohokam petroglyphs, which is certainly one of the highlights of this trip. There was however still plenty to see. The landscape was gorgeous and the desert was a flurry of animal activity. I saw lots of birds including two cardinals and a red-tailed hawk. I also ran across the corpse of a grey fox who lie dead in the middle of the trail. It was a strange sight to see, as the recently dead fox looked very alive, like a taxidermied trophy one might see at Cabela's. I've seen a few large dead animals in the woods over the years. A drowned horse snagged on a dead-fall in the Rapid River in Idaho. A mutilated sea-lion on the Olympic Coast. Fresh deer remains from a mountain lion kill near Hawk Creek Falls in Washington. I've never seen an animal so freshly dead, without any apparent cause to its death. If you look at the photo it looks like its body is configured as if running. The head and ears are up, and the eyes were wide open. I saw no wounds or signs of trauma anywhere. It's as if the poor fox just dropped dead while running down the trail. Maybe its ticker just gave out. 

Gray fox
Gray fox
 I camped at a picturesque little spot on Cave Creek. I collected enough wood that I decided to just cowboy camp on the ground near the fire. It was a peaceful night's sleep under the stars, but with a cool breeze and zero cloud cover, it got a little chilly. I awoke cold a few times during the night. I've had the same 20 degree sleeping bag for nearly 5 years, and I've been noticing a marked decrease in performance in the last year or so. It seems I always sleep cold in the backcountry anymore with this bag. I think it's time to finally invest in a new one. At 3am I piled on some big logs, which bought me about 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Cave Creek camp.
At one point during the night I heard the calls of coyote's carried through the dark by the midnight breeze. I thought for sure they had found the fox, but on the way out the next day, the fox was still untouched.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience. Hopefully the first of many backpacking trips this year. I've got permits for 3 nights in Paria Canyon in southern Utah, which should be amazing, but I would like to get out as much as possible this year. It's just so hard for me to do with real life always keeping me home. 

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