Mogollon Rim Trail day 1: never packraft with chihuahuas


Mileage: 14.3

14.3 miles hiked

I wake in the night to the sound of Sycamore creek making small water noises in the dark. I was dreaming that Muffy and I were packrafting with all three of our chihuahuas; the chihuahuas were wet, cold and miserable, and we couldn’t figure out how to keep them dry, no matter what we tried. Never packraft with chihuahuas, I think, in the dark of my shelter.

Yesterday our extremely kind and generous friend Emma drove us to the start of the Mogollon Rim Trail- the Parsons Trailhead, just north of Cottonwood, Arizona. It is Hopi, Yavapai, Western Apache and Hohokam land, and the whole of the MRT moves in and out of these different indigenous lands. The four hour drive from Tucson took us through Phoenix, where we ate baba ghanouj and fava beans and Emma told us about what Phoenix used to be like, when she was a kid there, before all the new high rise condos, when the city ended neatly in endless open desert instead of carrying on forever in sad, sterile sprawl. City traffic snarled us in existential despair and the car AC blew weakly at the hot afternoon but at last we were free and we climbed into higher, cooler desert, drove through old mining towns turned towns that didnt quite know what they were, where the gas station was the busiest spot in town and styrofoam cups of mountain dew flowed like honey.

Small old downtown Cottonwood was cute and I remembered the winter I spent in Sedona, which was nearby and which would be our first town stop, 50 miles in. The redrock there, which seems to belong, these days, entirely to rich people and tourists, had enchanted me, and on the rough dirt road north of Cottonwood the redrock returned, and enchanted me again. Emma stopped .2 miles from the trailhead when the road became too much of a rocky washboard for her subaru, and we clipped our packs closed in the dust and said goodbye.


It was sunset, and at the trailhead we found a spot to camp and pulled out our sleeping bags, even though it was warm, because we knew the cold would come later.

When I wake again it’s light out, and I unzip my sleeping bag, feeling like I’m in a fog, and wonder how hard this route will be and how much pain I’ll be in. I really have no idea what sort of shape I’m in, some weeks this last 5 months I was really motivated and trail ran regularly, and some weeks not so much. I’ll either be in some pain or a lot of pain, I figure, as I boil water for my tea. I feel like I overslept this morning, and that makes me feel a bit like a failure already. I stayed up too late last night reading a book on my phone, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Run. The very excellent book is about the way trauma is passed down through generations, and I fell asleep feeling sad.


Sycamore creek

The first order of the day is Sycamore creek, which is a wide, deep still swimming hole where the trail crosses it, ringed in leafy cottonwoods, and I am astonished for a moment by the beauty of these cottonwoods, with their new leaves- they are green in such an abundant, vulnerable way, unlike anything in the lowland sonoran desert where I’ve spent the winter. At first we think we might have to cross here where the water is a large deep swimming hole but no- if you walk downstream a bit you can cross on the rocks, and it’s chill.

Then the trail climbs out of the riparian canyon on rocky tread in the warm bright morning and we attain Packard mesa, with its junipers, prickly pears and dusty red trail that is so obviously maintained by cows, and everyone knows that cows make the best tread of all.


It’s cool up here, and the wind gusts, and the sky does wild things with the clouds. There are redrock cliffs, and in the distance even more interesting redrock formations. Muffy and I listen to our respective audiobooks and before I know it I’m ahead, and she is nowhere to be seen. I stop to wait but in the past we’ve had a practice of hiking separate for stretches and together for stretches and generally giving each other as much space as we need, and not making a big deal of it if someone falls behind, so as not to put too much pressure on that person, so after a bit I keep walking. I stop for lunch at a cattle pond and eat jerky and listen to the wind, and still there’s no Muffy. Now I’m worried but I try not to be. It feels too quiet out here, without her. But she probably stopped for lunch sooner, is all. I write her a note and pin it to the trail with a stick and carry on.

Three miles later I can’t hang with the suspense anymore so I lay in the shade of a juniper and read my book. After a half hour Muffy appears! And my heart leaps out of my chest I’m so happy.

“I got off the route and when I tried to shortcut back onto it I ended up on some really steep rocks, and I fell twice,” says Muffy. “It took me an hour to figure out how to get back on the route.” She shows me cuts on her knees, shins, stomach and hands. Her shirt and pack pocket are torn.

“Dear god,” I say. I’m so happy she’s ok. I kick myself for not staying closer to her, for always assuming that everyone can do everything, even when we have very different experience levels. I shouldn’t do that! It puts other people in danger. But often it works out in the end, doesn’t it? And fucking up is how I learned, right? Isn’t that the only way to learn anything? I don’t know.

Muffy is actually having a great time, though, in spite of her small adventure off route, and that seems like the only thing that matters. That she wants to be here. And she does.

At mile 11.6 is a redrock drainage where our brilliant water notes (thanks Brett and Tree!) lead us 300 feet to a clear, deep tinaja where we sit in the shade and wash Muffy’s wounds.

Tinajas, natural depressions in the rock that fill with rainwater, are my favorite water sources. This one is sprinkled in dead bugs and writhing with mosquito larvae but if you find a clear area and put your gatorade bottle all the way under, so it misses the surface bugs, you’ll end up with water that tastes like the earth but is otherwise perfect.

A few more miles of rocky tread in the afternoon sun and we reach Taylor cabin, an old rock structure built into the cliff that’s full of mice and ghosts.

We pitch our shelter out front and cook dinner in the flowers there, as the light gets long and the last of the warmth leaves the day.

I’ll be using my blog posts from the MRT to help raise money for a very important cause- legal fees for Wendy, a Honduran immigrant, so that she can pay a lawyer to appeal her asylum denial! Wendy is a friend of friends in Tucson, and you can view her fundraiser here.

Wendy’s fundraiser is currently at $1,170, and day 2 from the MRT will go up on this blog when her fundraiser reaches $1,300. Let’s help Wendy get the support she needs!

From Wendy’s fundraiser:

“Wendy was forced to leave Honduras in 2018 after surviving many years of domestic violence. She also suffered a politically motivated attack just before escaping the country. Afraid that she would be killed, she fled to the U.S. in search of safety. Immigration officials detained her while she was pregnant at the Eloy Detention Center and she managed to be released on a bond last year.
In spite of Wendy’s fear of returning to Honduras, the immigration judge recently denied her asylum claim. The judge’s decision reflects the racism of our legal system, in which few Central American asylum seekers are able to win their cases in front of the judges. Wendy is now faced with a choice: appeal the decision or accept a deportation back to Honduras, where she could be killed.
Wendy has the chance to appeal the denial – and stay in the U.S. – but only if she can pay the attorney’s fees for the appeal. Will you help support Wendy in fighting her case? If Wendy can raise $2,000, she will be able to continue her appeal.

Check out the fundraiser here.