Total Miles: 516.7
My mind floats an inch or two just above where my head is. Almost imperceptibly detached from the rest of me, it examines the trail that is about to pass beneath me. It imagines what a passerby might see if they look at me in this moment. Eyes glazed over with concentration. Sweat and salt caked to my shirt. Mouth hanging partly open from the effort of climbing uphill under the weight of both the afternoon sun and a gallon of water, all 8 pounds of it.
Conducting a symphony of movement whose performance I’m barely cognizant of, my mind is both here and somewhere else. Commanding footsteps, dodging cacti, and driving this train higher and higher, it’s also still basking in the cool shade of our lunch spot that is now nothing more than a speck far below.
That speck was the carrot pulling us along a winding and pleasant stroll all morning long, sometimes within ear shot of the Gila River that we rarely could see. If you’d been driving by, you scarcely would have noticed it, the two plastic chairs next to a water spigot and beneath the shade of two slender trees on a narrow strip of land separating a chain link fence from the pavement. But to us, it was an oasis whose arrival was anxiously anticipated and whose departure would be mourned.
That’s the power of shade in the desert. Powerful enough to draw you to it like a drug, and powerful enough to remind you of what you’re missing long after you’ve begrudgingly left it behind. When we arrived at this little oasis—the definition of “oasis” being very much in the eye of the beholder—steps outside the fence of a county maintenance facility, we had everything we needed: two chairs, a spigot of potable water, and blissful shade.
To our left, our eyes had to adjust to understand what exactly it was that we were looking at. With perfectly angled bands of differently colored rock, it first had the look of a dam until we saw it for what it really was: a massive copper mine.
Sitting on one of the largest deposits of copper ore in the country, the Ray mine has been in operation for well over a hundred years. As my eyes traced an arc from the slopes of the mine downhill to the bottle of water I’d just filled from the nearby spigot and was only now bringing to my lips, I wondered just how much of the mine’s byproducts might I be ingesting right about now.
Perhaps what this oasis is even more well known for is that hikers can sit in relative luxury in what seems like the middle of nowhere, and call a pizzeria in the unseen nearby town of Kearny that will happily deliver that very pizza right to where you’re sitting. Although it was sad not to take advantage of such a random perk, the idea of lugging both a gallon of water on my back and half a pizza in my belly under the afternoon soon up the climb that awaited us made any passing regret quickly disappear.
Away we went—finally—under packs that passed along the strain by imprinting the shape of hip belt stitching into the skin of our hips. With shade rapidly becoming a distant memory, we looked to the breeze for any breath of compassion and found none. But the lengthening shadows of even the shortest of trailside cacti told us that soon enough, the sun would renew its daily disappearing act and yield the stage to a planetarium worth of stars. Not a moment too soon.