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(March 31st, 2008 - Rincon Mountains, Southern Arizona)

Yesterday’s rest was invigorating! This morning we hit the Trail in the dark, just as the eastern sky started to turn. Good thing we felt rested and energetic, because with no camping permit for Saguaro National Park, we planned to walk over 21 miles up and over the Rincon Mountains till we reached the Coronado Forest boundary near Italian Trap.

Cactus in the Rincons

Saguaro cactus in the foothills of the Rincon Mountains

No roads penetrate the Rincon high country, so this range is highly valued by local hikers for its quiet beauty and solitude. We were not disappointed that day. The range is in fine form with water showing in many more creeks than usual because of the wet winter. We huff and puff our way up the 4,500-foot ascent to Manning Camp via the Grass Shack trail. Above Grass Shack, we saw mountain lion footprints in the trail for a few miles, which sparked one of the longer conversations of the day. Are lion populations increasing? Do you ever worry about them? Etc.

Manning Camp is nestled in a beautiful Ponderosa Pine forest a short distance from one of the most reliable springs on the mountain. It is a wonderful setting. A fellow named Levi Manning built the cabin here way back in 1905. It seems his motivation was to provide a pleasant summer respite from the desert heat for family and friends. I have heard that he even went to the expense of hauling a piano up to the site! We enjoyed lunch on a comfortable picnic table beside the cabin before moving north toward the crest of the range.

Manning Camp

Cabin at Manning Camp

We collected a liter of water each at the Italian Spring seep, near the edge of a large burned area. A positive aspect of the burn was the spectacular, unobstructed views showing off the San Pedro River Valley and the Catalina Mountains. We descended steeply and quickly to the headwaters of Tanque Verde Creek where we took on enough water for the night’s camp and the next day’s hike to Molino Basin.

I was weary and foot sore when we finally arrived, late in the day, at a mesquite Bosque carpeted with small green grasses. I threw down my pack and declared that we had gone far enough. Too tired to get busy with camp right away, we both lay on the grass for a long time listening to bird sounds among the quiet trees.

Italian Trap
Terry looks back at the Rincons from the mesquite bosque campsite

As the sun set, we heard the growl of an engine making its way towards us along a nearby four wheel drive road. Gary’s pickup truck emerged from the trees. “You guys ready for a barbeque?” he asked. “I know this area pretty well,” he explained, “so I headed out after work to try to find you.”

Gary quickly produced a couple of folding chairs, an ice chest, and a cooking grill. In short order, there were hamburgers sizzling over a small fire. We feasted on the hamburgers, fruit and ice cream. “Here, have some more pickles,” Gary said, “I brought plenty.” A few minutes later, Gary had all his gear packed back up and he and his truck disappeared into the dark as we settled in for a contented night’s rest.

-Dave Baker

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