Monday, December 29 – East of Sears Point, AZ

Another cold morning, so we make significant amounts of hot chocolate to get us going. The first priority was to break down camp putting everything back into the Henski truck. Denny drove the Suburban to the main road out, then hiked back a few miles to get the Henski. Meanwhile, Peter and I started out to see just how difficult it would be to follow this section of trail without any maps or guideposts.

The answer to that is that it isn’t – and sometimes is – challenging. You may remember that Rose Ann Tompkins had said we wouldn’t have “any trouble” following the trail (see the December 20 posting for details). We are hiking a section closely corresponding to their December 30 march. Their route took them south of the Gila River’s narrow valley just west of Oatman Flat and up onto the volcanic lava fields. By so doing, they avoided about six river crossings in the canyon. Given the chilly weather they recorded, I can’t say I blame them.

For the most part, the trail IS easy to follow. The many basalt lava fields are littered with medium size boulders – about 10-15 inches in size. Wagon wheels wouldn’t roll over such, so the men had to pick them up and toss them off the roadway to either side. This process leaves a “clean” pathway about ten to twenty feet wide with almost no sizable rocks.

Another evidence is that many rocks exhibit “bathtub rings” where they had previously been sitting on the ground. Chemical reactions had deposited white carbonate compounds on the rock bottoms, When the rock is rolled over or thrown aside, the bathtub ring of white is exposed – but the group of rocks have a helter-skelter arrangement of the rings. One just has to look for the odd colored rocks on both sides and the trail lies between the lines of rocks.

In some areas, erosion has deposited clay, sand and gravel which covers the ground to a depth exceeding the largest rocks. Consequently, there aren’t any rocks for the trail builders to throw aside. Subsequent erosion has removed evidence of the wagon ruts, leaving “gaps” between rocky sections. These areas are where the going gets rough – in terms of finding the route.

For such a cool start, the day turns out to be a very warm. Despite having camel packs full of water, both Peter and I deplete our fluids about 3:30 and start to get a tad dehydrated. Not enough food compounded the uncomfortableness of the day for us.

The Battalion journalists talk about crossing two ridges. We do that too following their trail clearly visible and photograph the cuts in the rocky hill faces. At one, there is an unmarked pioneer grave. Like the Foupp and Oatman gravesites, numerous modern travelers have left small offerings of trinkets, bullets, horseshoes and other items as an “honorable rememberance” of a fellow traveler from the distant past that didn’t make it to his or her destination.

The journalists also comment on having to pull across some sand dunes as part of their day’s journey. We find dunes that could easily be the same ones. They are at the right distance. For the most part they seem to be stabilized with some shrub growth on them. The sand is blown downwind against the southern border of the valley so we speculate the Battalion hugged the southern side of the river.

Denny hikes about three miles ahead of us and is given a ride back to the Suburban by Curtis and Shauna Skousen who we met last week on their parents ranch. After Peter and I exit the wilderness area at 4:30 PM, we join up with Denny at the Suburban, pick up the Henski and beat it back two hours to Maricopa.

We return well after dark, repack our gear – retrieving the equipment we left behind in Maricopa and shuffling things between the various units to be more organized. Again, I marvel at the organizational complications that faced Colonel Cooke and the command staff.

After the repack, we all take a quick shower which is heavenly after so many days in the brush. Denny fixes us a very nice dinner while Peter and I finish up and we prepare to retire nearly at midnight.

Another thing occurs to us this evening as we sat discussing our plans. We are now just one month from completing the hike into San Diego – just one month.

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