Mile 220

Had a much-needed nero-zero in Oracle. Jim and Dog from the Chalet picked us up (“us” includes Strider and Goosechase, who actually had called the Chalet for a reservation) and drove us through the stretched out town of Oracle to the motel. The Chalet is a collection of 8 or so homely but comfortable A-frames, for which the owners Jim and Marnie charge hostel-level prices. And drive you around to do all your town errands. And let you use their laundry for free. And show you their rock collection, which is really cool and very much worth seeing. Hikers looking for R&R on the AZT after some very hard hiking will find no greater friends than Jim and Marnie.

Jim drove Angelina and me the couple of miles to the Patio Cafe a couple miles down the road where I indulged in the apricot French Toast Croissant, which was every bit as delicious as it looks.

He then drove me out to the trailhead where I recommenced my hike on a much gentler trail. This leg of the hike is basically a long slow drop to the Gila River, winding through the low hills that define the west side of the San Pedro River valley.

The Black Hills north of Oracle

The country is open. On ridges I can see not only Mt Lemmon, but Mica Mountain behind, the Superstitions ahead, and the Gailuros off to the east.

Poppies were out in abundance, along with lupines, daisies, fleabanes, asters and cactus flowers. They were not enough to make a massy display, but there were always a few flowers on any bit of ground you might look at.

Also chollas, the sneakiest kind of cactus. Prickly pears are far more honest, their upright paddles announcing their presence, easily avoided. And saguaros are very reserved, preferring to keep their distance from the trail altogether. But chollas are constantly leaning out over the trail, and shedding small joints that look very much like tufts of grass, easily overlooked. Until you step near them, and find them clinging to your shoe or gaiter. They do not willingly give up their purchase, particularly if they can hook into some flesh. Fortunately I brought a cheap plastic comb to pull them off.

Cholla gardens in the Black Hills

Finally saw a rattlesnake. I was approaching the Tiger Mine Trailhead when the viper gave me a courtesy rattle and then proceeded to calmly glide between some water jugs without giving me a second look. It was a good four feet, of gray-green color with three black bands on its tail, probably a Mojave Green Rattlesnake.

That makes it two blizzards and one rattler, still not quite the ratio I was anticipating.