I’m so excited to share this update with y’all! It was super fun 🙂
So, my friend from Bullhead City, AZ said she’d adventure with me over the weekend. Then, as most people do, that was cancelled. I did what I do every time that happens: I went anyway. Because if I didn’t do something every time someone bailed or every time I didn’t have anyone to do something with I would have missed out on about 98% of the awesome things I’ve seen and done over the last few years. I went home from work Friday evening, slept for four hours, and started driving at somewhere between midnight and 1am towards Sedona where I planned to do their half marathon and then go hiking and camping.
Well, it wouldn’t be a ‘KJ Adventure’ if I didn’t forget about the time change from CA to AZ. And this is after living in AZ and after talking to my friend all week and being aware of the time change. I *might* have made it in time but that wasn’t worth the gamble of making the 7 hour trek so I rerouted and headed south to Yuma, AZ, which was only four hours away, for their half marathon. Major kudos to the folks of the Sedona Marathon though as they had great communication for my last minute questions (yes, I’m that annoying person who isn’t registered and has all types of questions more often than not…but I don’t plan well in advance and when I need to go, I need to go). I tried to coordinate my interview in AZ last year with the Sedona half marathon but it didn’t work out so maybe next year I can go…third time’s a charm?!
The drive to Yuma was uneventful. It was dark but I bet the scenery was beautiful. Lots of mountains were gone through but I couldn’t see them. I wasn’t sure if there was race day registration but since it was a smaller race I figured it’d be OK. My experience with small races is always a positive one. They always seem happy to have one more person sign up and don’t have all those demands on no race day packet pick up; they’re generally hassle free.
I get there just before 7AM and as I start walking towards the commotion they begin the national anthem. I stop where I am until it is finished and continue on. I find the registration booth and, as suspected, they are happy to have me sign up. I hear the full marathon start and they say 20 minutes until the half starts. Their card machine was having trouble and they had to try three times to get a signal for it to be processed…I just kept thinking about all that I had left to do: use the facilities, clip my toenails, put on my shoes, eat my breakfast, haha….oops. As I waited I looked around at the participants. Usually I get really excited at small races to see people at my level and then realize they are all there for the 5k and I am left to essentially run the race alone as the other participants are using this as a training run for a full. This time though I was excited as there were people of all abilities and the event only offered a full and half so everyone that was left was in the half! The registration lady was also able to tell me where the registration fee went to which was great. This is unlike the Pittsburgh marathon which I will write more about in a separate post. Because this post is about awesome fun!
My card finally got processed, I got my bag, t-shirt, and headed to the restroom. This race started at the Cocopah Casino which was great because there were real bathrooms! I then went to my car, clipped my toenails, threw my stuff in my vest pockets (couldn’t find my SPI belt, naturally), got my socks and shoes on, and headed towards the start line. As soon as I got in line they gave the 30 second countdown…nothing like cutting it close! And then we were off!
Yuma is in the desert which I absolutely love. This was an out an back course run along the highway so if you don’t love the desert as much as I do you probably won’t find much joy in the scenery. I loved the view of the sun rising over the mountains (the sunrise in AZ doesn’t happen until about 7:30, you guys…), the desert flora, the desert smell after the rain the night before, and the farm land we passed. There were some spectators who were all delightful. One girl had a sign that said ‘Yu-ma inspiration’ which I got a good chuckle out of.
I loved seeing this green in the desert:
I started in the back which meant that, while I could have gone faster, I fell in pace with them which was fine because after only sleeping four hours, driving for 4-5 hours, and still trying to completely kick this sickness I had no expectations of myself today except to have fun. And fun I did have. I lollygagged like whoa, y’all. I finished in 3:15. For real. I ran a little, stopped to eat my clementines in my pocket, and take pictures. That’s right…I took photos from my phone. And that’s not all: I instagrammed my photo, I texted my friends, and I actually made a phone call!!! I was THAT person in the event. But I stayed to the side and didn’t impede anyone’s performance or stop abruptly. I did all of this because I was holding my phone since I couldn’t find my SPI belt. And you know what? I didn’t mind. I really needed to call my friend Lisa and it was nice to be able to talk to her while walking and enjoying the desert views. Hopefully I won’t make that a habit but it served its purpose for this event.
At the end of the race there were still lots of people at the finish cheering us on which I was very surprised about for the smallness of the event. It was refreshing. They had some snacks, water, and juices at the end aaaaaand….FREE MASSAGES! That’s right, FREE. I saw them and figured they cost money so I went to stretch in the grass with my goods when a race official walked by and said ‘we have people to do that for you!’ and pointed to the massage tents. Those weren’t his words exactly but something like it. He said it in a way as to imply it was free. I decided to go check it out and had a great massage by a girl named Mary. She was delightful. She was super friendly, listened to my needs, and did her thing. They were students at the local school and it was indeed free. I got a $5 change roll I had in my trunk from emptying my piggy bank in the summer and gave a donation. Everyone’s emphasis was on the runners having a good time which was great. It was a great event; I’d recommend it. They had ample water stops just about every mile which also included gatorade and all types of snacks (oranges, bananas, m&ms, protein bars) after the turn around. I lollygagged with lots of m&m’s for a few miles. After I was offered them for the fourth time I had to politely decline!
Crushed it: with 30 seconds to spare
The ribbon on the medal is great. While the medal doesn’t specify if you did the full or half, the ribbon does. It also has some pictures and whatnot on it.
After the event I headed south some more to Organ Pipe National Park. This was about 3 hours from Yuma. The drive was beautiful because I love the desert. Lots of mountains and the color brown 🙂 There wasn’t much that you passed on the way and as you get closer to the park you just kind of get a little concerned about continuing. The only other cars you really see are Border Patrol vehicles. The town of Yuma is tiny: you pass a few gas stations, a diner, and some Mexican travel insurance places (one is drive-thru…hmmm…). Then you go through two border patrol stops. At the second one I let them know I was going camping in the park and asked if it was safe. They assured me it was and said there are a bunch of other people there. Good enough for me; I had my knife and mace just in case…safety first! Speaking of mace, my coworker told me there is now a gel mace that won’t fly back in your face if it’s windy outside. I need to get me some of that and you should get yourself some too!
The cacti become more abundant and suddenly you’re surrounded by cactus and mountains…my favorite! And it was raining so it smelled so goooooood!
Once I got to the park I picked a spot and started to set up shop. Now, camping solo with a new tent probably wasn’t the best idea but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to try. I was having trouble with my tent but would get it set up one way or another. I also am not above asking for help so when I saw people arrive back at the camp site two plots over I mosied over knowing the sun was on its last leg. The inhabitants of the plot were one male and one female. As soon as I walked over the female said: “Hi! Need help with your tent?” to which I just laughed that it was that obvious. They came over and showed me that I almost had it, I just had to bend the back of the poles but me being me was afraid to do that for fear of breaking it. They assured me they are resilient. At least I wasn’t too far off! They also told me they were going to have a fire soon and invited me over for dinner. This was great because the website said you could have a fire but the only fire you could have was in a grill provided at each plot. I had no charcoal. I had some sausages and some duraflame logs because I thought there would be a pit and I could buy some firewood…lesson learned!
i thoroughly enjoyed the view from my campsite:
I took my sausages, buns, jalapeno ketchup (yes, for real!), and mini bottles of wine over to their plot after I got settled. We had my sausages as an appetizer and they were delicious. They were the turkey kind with cheese in the middle. Yes! We then feasted on foil pack meals consisting of green beans, potatoes, and kielbasa. Yes! It was all so delicious. I shared my wine and they shared their beer. It was SO nice to be around friendly people.
We chatted the remainder of the night and played some story and word association games (hint: no matter what your employment background is, try not respond ‘heroin’ when someone says ‘spoon’…it makes for good stories though). They told me about their time in the park so far and said they rode their bikes around the 21 mile scenic drive route. Genius! I will have to remember to take my bike on trips that have stuff like that; that would have been awesome.
Oh, my new friends also shared their s’mores and let me tell you this: if you’ve never toasted your graham crackers you’re missing out.
The view from my tent was a wonderful view to wake up to:
I was brushing my teeth in the bath area and when i turned around i saw the sun start to poke its head up so i ran out to get a photo and enjoying it knowing it would be up fast.
I set my alarm for 7AM the next day so I would have time to eat breakfast, pack up, and get to the shuttle by 8:15. The park is excellent and does a lot of educational things for the campers. Saturday night they had an informational session on cacti which I didn’t know about or I certainly would have done that. Sunday at 2pm they were supposed to have an informational session on ocotillo cactus but not enough people signed up. I wish I knew or I would have signed up! I heard about that while buying postcards at the visitor’s center. I didn’t see any signs for these sessions. Maybe they were at the visitor’s center but by the time I got there on Saturday it was closed. The only sign that’s posted outside is about a shuttle that will take you to a trailhead so you can see more of the park. You can hike out to those places and then back to the campgrounds but that would make for a long day so it’s nice they have the option to make it a one-way trip.
There was only one other person on the shuttle with me. The driver was super nice and doubled as our tour guide. We drove 15miles to the trailhead and on the way we drove right along the Mexican border. Like, the fence that divides the two countries was a stone’s throw away. There are lots of signs all over about seeing smugglers and illegal activity. The driver said that most of the smuggling is drugs, not people. He also said it’s fairly safe and compared them to Alaskan bears. He said that the smugglers don’t want to be bothered and will leave you alone if you leave them alone. He said they know the fastest way to make the border more secure and keep them from smuggling their goods is if anyone gets injured. That reassured me a little. There is also emergency button in the middle of nowhere for anyone, citizen or not, to push if they are in danger of dying. They push the button and wait for help. I could have used one of those later in the day. But more on that later.
We had good conversation on the drive about the desert flora and fauna and the driver pulled over so we could hike up a little ways to see this elephant tree. These are only found in limited parts of Arizona and California so it was cool to be able to see.
We got to the trail and the driver told us to stop by the visitor’s center later to tell him how our hikes were. I told him I would definitely be in on my way out as I want to get some postcards. The other passenger went to the left for the longer route and went to the right as I wanted the shorter distance because I had a 7hour drive ahead of me. I wanted to leave around 1pm.
The driver said he loves being out here because it’s the one place you can get true quiet. He said the only thing you can hear are your footsteps, your breath, and the wildlife. He was right; it was so peaceful; no traffic and no people. Every now and then you’ll think you hear someone else but it’s rustling from an animal fairly far away…it’s just that quiet that you can hear what you normally can’t hear elsewhere.
We started at the Senita Basin trail. The other guy went left to Red Tanks (the shuttle drops off there on other days) and I went towards Victoria Mines. I started out on my journey and loved just being out in the quiet of the desert. I took in the sights and sounds. Also, don’t forget to look down; the stones and rocks on the trail were stunning. The picture doesn’t do it justice. I wish I knew about rocks and could identify them.
This is an ocotillo cactus. They look dead but when they bloom they are covered in green and produce flowers. A pretty amazing transformation:
Cholla cactus (on the left of the trail; the fuzzy looking one) and a dead cactus with the superstructure exposed:
I knew from talking to the ranger and the map that I just needed to stay to the right. Sometimes the trail would to in two different directions so I always stayed to the right although I’m not sure that’s always the best option! The trails always seemed to meet back up but a few times I wondered if they would. At one point I had gone for quite some time without seeing a sign. Out of nowhere three people were coming towards me so I asked them if they knew what trail they were on. They didn’t so I asked if I was going towards the campground and they assured me I was and that there was a sign a bit ahead. Some more views:
Senita Basin is actually named after the senita cactus but there aren’t any found on the trails. We saw some on the drive but i didn’t get a photo. They kind of look like organ pipes but are fuzzy at the top. I have seen some before and thought they were dying organ pipes. Nope! Senita cacti!
Below is the creosote bush. It is responsible for the amazing smell of the desert after the rain. I.love.it. The ranger told me I can replicate the smell if I cup my hand behind it and breathe into it. He was right! I love it. I took a sprig home with me 🙂
The Organ pipe:
The mighty Saguaro Cactus:
I continued on and came to the sign. I went straight to see Victoria Mines.
I then headed back to the sign and made the right to go towards the campground. There are two signs at this junction. Two! I followed the hill down and finished my water because I was thirsty and thought I’d be alright for 1.8miles. Then…at the bottom of the hill…there are four different trails that lead off. FOUR! This is where the trouble came and I needed one of those danger call buttons.
I actually started up the right trail the first time but something didn’t seem right to me. It was hilly and rocky and not like any of the other trails I just came from. I was thinking in terms of consistency and accessibility. Silly me! I turned around and took the one closest to the right like I was told to do (the one I first took was the second to the right) and ventured down. At some points the trail split in two so I just stayed to the right. Not always right. At one point there was a dead end. Back I went and forward I went. I decided to eat one of my clementines because I was thirsty and hungry. As I was looking down peeling it I heard a loud thud and something running away. I looked up and, if I was in Pennsylvania, would have thought it was deer. But it was so loud and heavy so I knew it wasn’t. I knew that coyotes and bobcats come out at night so that comforted me. I kept on. I saw animal tracks in the dirt. They looked like little hooves. Then a few minutes later I heard snorting. It was a javelina!!! I knew at least I could eat that if I had to. A javelina is a pig-like animal.
I got to the end and nothing. NOTHING. Well, something but nothing that seemed like it’d be a trail to continue on. *sigh* I turn around and head back. I had my Garmin so I knew the distances I was going and had already gone 2.5 miles out of my between the two trails. Now I had to go back. At one point I sat under a tree to get some shade and empty the rocks out of my shoes. As I was sitting there I heard a noise like a noise I’ve never heard before. In the van the ranger said ‘maybe you’ll see the drone’ to which the other man responded ‘I thought I heard a drone last night as I was laying there; it was a real faint bzzzzz noise’. I thought maybe that was the drone and it would save me. I looked around and saw a Harris’ Hawk flying pretty far away. It was so quiet out there in the desert that I could hear the wings flying through the air. It was a really awesome moment. I listened to it flying around for a bit. It stopped about 20 feet from me and then flew around some more. I also saw a desert cottontail so had I not gotten lost I wouldn’t have seen or heard these awesome things.
I get back to my feet and see that blisters were forming so I bandaged them up with the bandaids I keep in my pack, loosened my laces in the toe box, and forged ahead. As I was going back there seemed to be more split trails. I got to another dead end. Back I went and forward I went. In the beginning I figured this might be the right trail because there was some light trash. I later found out that was a ‘smugglers trail’ and the black jugs you see laying around are their water jugs. I guess they also like energy drinks.
I get back to the intersection where the four trails branch off. I honestly don’t remember what I did next. I know what I did; just not the order. At one point I started going back towards the sign but then headed back down because it seemed so far and steep. I then tried out the other two trails at one point. I eventually made it back to the sign to make sure I wasn’t making things up. I even yelled out to see if anyone was around. Sound carries because it’s so quiet. No response. You can seemingly see forever…no one in sight and I couldn’t see the campsite. I tried to tell the direction by the sun but it was at high noon so I had no idea which way was north or south.
Once I got back down to the intersection after confirming it was the right direction I stood there, cried, and yelled ‘why is there no sign’?! Yes, I cried. I am not above that. I was tired, I was hot, I was thirsty, not a soul was in sight, and I didn’t feel confident in my ability to kill and eat a javelina for sustenance.
I must have tried the other trails after that because if I knew the other two weren’t it I wouldn’t have gone back to look for signs. After the process of elimination I went back up the first hill I tried. I had now gone 5 miles out of my way, with no water, after already hiking 4-5 miles and knew I had 2 more to go. I eventually saw a man and asked him if this was the way to the campsite. He said yes and exclaimed that I looked tired. I just smiled and nodded, afraid I would cry again if I spoke. That would have been a mixture of frustration and relief, at least. I kept going and he joked, ‘there’s no water until then though’! Um, not funny. I politely laughed, half turning around, and continued on.
I got to the end of the trail and there was a registry so I stopped to sign that. The man that made the poor joke was coming back already and exclaimed ‘you didn’t jog back’?! I then told him what happened. We made some small talk and I then bee-lined it for my car and chugged about a gallon of water.
I went to the visitor’s center and the ranger that drove us there said ‘you made it in’! To which I said ‘yeah, listen, I have a suggestion’ and suggested they put a sign there. He said he has more to put up…yeah, that’d be a good idea dude. I think my problem was that most people get to the campground and go exploring so if they get there they know what the trail looks like but since I didn’t get to do that and started from the other direction I wasn’t too sure. Or maybe I’m just directionally challenged. I really don’t know. But since then I have purchased a bigger water pack since my 32oz didn’t cut it and I will be buying a compass. Someone told me that if you have an iphone that has a compass. I do not. And my phone died as I was out there anyway. So, compass. Yes.
Despite all of that, I still had a blast and would love to go back to see more of the park. All of the rangers were very nice and I’d love to do more of the educational sessions they offer. If you ever have the chance to see this park I would recommend it. Just pack enough water 🙂
Some misc photos to end:
When I headed from PA to AZ last May, I put this figuring with the Saguaro in my car. I found it fitting that my car hit it’s 100,000th mile in one of my favorite places, the desert 🙂
I didn’t get to make the whole drive back in the daylight since I got lost but I got to drive from AZ to CA into the sunset and that wasn’t a bad trade off at all: