Hiking Adventure Turns Hiking Mishap

Still January 7

Just up the road from  Stop 10 on the Ajo Mountain Scenic Drive in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is the trailhead for Arch Canyon Trail.  I arrive just as Caroline (my neighbor in the campground) is putting on her daypack for the trek.  She decides to wait for me so we can hike together.  I quickly grab my daypack, a 26-liter Osprey Mira, which has a full (3 liter) bladder and my very trustworthy trekking poles.  I am thrilled to be hiking with Caroline as she is a retired park ranger from Organ Pipe and an expert on desert plant life.  And I really like her.


Arch Canyon Trail is a two-mile round-trip, easy to moderate trail that steadily but gently climbs into Arch Canyon.  It winds to the left in the picture above and after a mile ends behind the arch.  Just as we begin, six people are coming towards us down the trail.  All three couples are volunteer interpretive rangers for the winter season.  The National Park service provides free, full hook-up sites for RVs in exchange for volunteering in the parks.  Stephen and I really want to be volunteer rangers some day so I am happy to stop and ask them questions like “Where are you from?” “Do you like volunteering?”, “How are the RV sites?” etc.  When the volunteers discover that Caroline was once a ranger in Organ Pipe they have many questions for her.  We have a very nice conversation before continuing our hike.  Along the trek, Caroline and I chat and she shares her knowledge of the desert plants we encounter.  After about one mile she points out a much more difficult trail that climbs up to the arch.  We both decide to turn back towards the trailhead as we want to complete the other day hike on the drive.

Stop 11, the halfway point of Ajo Mountain Drive, is the trailhead for Estes Canyon/Bull Pasture Trails.  Estes Canyon is a difficult loop trail with steep grades gaining 865 feet of elevation.  Midway around the loop there is a short spur trail that climbs to Bull Pasture.  Both trails combined is a rugged 4.1 miles round trip.  I arrive before Caroline and find the volunteer rangers we met earlier lingering nearby.  I ask them if it is easy to get lost on this trail and, although they chose not to complete the trek today, they assured me if I stay on the trail I should find my way back.  Just be sure to sign in at the beginning of the trail and again at Bull Pasture.  My new volunteer ranger buddies point out a toilet and insist that I check it out.  Thinking it a good idea I head that way.  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has the cleanest, nicest pit toilet I have ever seen.  Up until now my favorite pit toilet was in Great Basin National Park in Nevada.  (That one has a sink and mirror.)  But this one is just plain clean.  It even smells nice.

When I return to the trailhead Caroline has arrived.  She is ready to begin the hike but I decide to stay behind and eat lunch.  She ate her lunch at the Arch Canyon trailhead while I was visiting with the rangers about getting lost and taking advantage of the toilet in the middle of the desert.  Caroline takes off and I enjoy a protein packed lunch and check the water level of my bladder.  (The one in my backpack; I emptied the one in my body into the very clean pit toilet.)  Energized, and with plenty of water and a few snacks stowed in my pack, I’m ready to hike!  I grab my poles and begin by signing the book indicating my route plan.  I intend to make it all the way to Bull Pasture.  I start climbing and soon notice a canyon to my right.  I also quickly notice I’m not on a trail.  I have been walking down a wash.  I backtrack and find a confusion of several washes.  Uh oh, I can’t find the trail!  Should I continue to look for it?  Should I bushwhack my way down hoping to find my car?  Should I go all the way down into the canyon and follow a water source?  What if I end up in Mexico!  I decide to look for the trail but can’t find it!  Should I keep looking?  What if I get really far off the trail?  I have about six hours of daylight left, what if I can’t find the trail or my car and it gets dark?  What if I encounter illegal activity?  Drug trafficking?!  Human trafficking?!  These are very real dangers in Organ Pipe.  I am beginning to get scared and mentally go over the items in my backpack.  A whistle!  That’s what I need!  Oh no, I cannot find the whistle!!  I have a flashlight, a raincoat, plenty of food, plenty of water, pens and paper, a camera, a few other odds and ends, but no whistle.  But I do have a voice.  I yell for help.  And I yell for help.  And I yell for help.  After twenty minutes of “HELP ME!”, “PLEASE HELP ME!”  Dave from Oregon pops his head out from slightly above me and says, “Are you OK?”  I respond no, I am lost, where is the trail?  He tells me he is on the trail.  Rescued!  Dave climbs down and leads me back to the trail.  He asks me how in the world did I lose the trail and where was I going?  I say I don’t know how I got lost and I’m going to Bull Pasture, where are you going?  He says he is going to Bull Pasture too.  I say Great! Can I tag along so I don’t get lost again?  Dave says yes that is a good idea because I probably will get lost again because the trail is not that difficult to follow.  Poor Dave from Oregon did not know he would end up babysitting a tagalong or he probably would have sent me straight back to the trailhead (less than 1/4 mile away.)

One thought on “Hiking Adventure Turns Hiking Mishap

  1. I am with you on the getting ‘lost’ (more like slightly misplaced?) a few times on desert routes. Once there are washes involved and the cairns are a bit far apart I find it all too easy to wander from the actual trail — especially if it does follow a wash for awhile I’ll sometimes miss the point where it goes back out…never for long though (so far)! — Louisa


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