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Cholla Forest
(April 4th, 2008 - Low Desert near Antelope Peak, Central Arizona)

Terry sounded his wake up call a little earlier this morning, about 4 am, because we needed to walk 27.5 miles that day. We must reach Freeman Road where we will meet Jim for a water drop. I especially appreciated Jim’s support in this section. His presence greatly simplifies our water management.

This was a classic desert morning. In the morning darkness, I heard coyotes calling in the distance. At first, just a few birds disturbed the deep silence with their calls, but as the eastern sky began to show light, more and more birds joined in.

Desert Morning

Desert Evening

After a few hours of weaving along desert ridges and washes, we breakfasted at the beginning of the “Gas Line Road”, under which is a high-pressure natural gas line. The road stretched almost straight north for about 12 miles. Antelope Peak rose above the desert plain beyond the road’s end and acted as the day’s major landmark. Freeman Road, and our water re-supply, was four or five miles north of Antelope Peak.

I had thought I might find this section of the hike monotonous, but not so. The vastness of the desert landscape was beautiful and awe inspiring. Spring flowers were everywhere, and as we made our way north, the landscape was increasingly dominated by a huge cholla cactus forest populated by thousands upon thousands of healthy plants with their spines glittering in the bright sunlight.

Cholla Forest

Sunlit spines of the Cholla Cactus

As we walked the road, we were often surprised and entertained by lizards that seemingly erupted out of the ground just under our feet. In their frantic effort to rush away, they often bumped into rocks and plants before careening off into the desert. It seemed that the lizards wriggle themselves under a thin layer of sand. Sometimes we saw the sand explode under an impending footfall as a lizard abandoned its subterranean hiding place at the last possible moment.

While in the lead, Terry disturbed two rattlesnakes on the trail late in the afternoon - a reminder that we will needed to watch our feet as we move through the deserts for the next few weeks.

Can’t deny it, I was dog tired when we finally arrived at Freeman Road and saw Jim’s white Tahoe waiting for us. We were not the greatest of guests for Jim. We hungrily wolfed down some fruit treats he brought, filled up our water containers, and after only 15 minutes or so, said our goodbyes and continued walking for another mile or so into the desert beyond Freeman Road.

Just before leaving Freeman, we ran into Kyle, the thru hiker that Kathy and Aidan told us about days ago. Kyle is a nineteen year old who lives in Phoenix. An Eagle Scout, he aims to become the youngest thru hiker the Arizona Trail has seen. We shared a camp with Kyle, and enjoyed hearing of his adventures on the Trail.

-Dave Baker

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