This is the record of our journey along the Grand Enchantment Trail, also known as the first thing that brought us to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. The winter and spring of 2010 was a wet one in the Southwest, high mountains were blanketed in feet of white and the low desert wore a cloak of flowers like no one had seen in decades. The GET traverses 770 miles of high mountains and low desert in Arizona and New Mexico from Phoenix to Albuquerque.

We spent the winter leading up to that spring in fridgid northern climates, living in my (Jeannie) grandparents basemement as I cared for my Grandma in her last months of life. It was an intensely beautiful-difficult time, and the only thing we wanted to do at the end of it was walk.  Walk to process.  Walk to explore. Walk to warm our bones in the desert sun.

Yellow poppy flowers carpet the desert floor with fuzzy-spikes cactus in the background
Cholla, Saguaros and Desert Gold Poppies in the Sonoran Desert. 

On April 4th my brother dropped us of at the edge of the Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix and we started walking.  In keeping with our true style we just jumped into it, having only a stack of topo maps, a vague idea of what we were getting into, and carrying way to much stuff (food and art supplies namely).  The way is remote and aside from the few small towns with grocery stores, you need to mail yourself boxes of food so as not to get stranded in Klondyke, AZ with nothing but a bag of nuts to your name. So we mailed boxes of food to a few choice locations, and walked.

A hand holding a small ball of cactus thorns to the sky
Dried cactus remnants
A desert scene with saguaro cactus, mesquite tree and two yucca that have flowered and died
Perfectly poised plants along the way, a Saguaro and two Yucca align in a very slow dance. 
A man and woman standing hand in hand in a desert mountain landscape.
Day two, saguarro rib walking stick in hand, the desert rolling out before us. 

This was my first year with a digital camera.  Before this I was a strict lover of analog phototography, black & white silver gelatin, small format, medium format and large format....any of them were good with me! But now we had technology, and a timer, so the novelty of getting photos of both of us was quite exciting.

Two backpacks sit on the ground at a fork in the trail.
Time to check the topos, which fork do we choose? Little did we know this would be the easiest route finding on the entire mission. 
profile of a woman at night wearing a headlamp, holding a yellow marshmallow peep on a stick
When someone gives you peeps, you roast them over a fire. 

I hope that you never have to bushwhack down a mountain through a thicket of Catsclaw.  Its like a million baby pumas digging into you from all sides, having nowhere to go but forward, down the mountain, into more razor sharp claws.  After descending down a barely-there trail, compleatly overgrown with Catsclaw, we landed in a riparian paradise.  Water, giant sycamores and ancient dwellings.  We nearly stayed, said forget the walking, lets just stay here in this place of perfection until we run out of food and then move onto the next thing.  ....needless to say that didnt happen, but the idea was seriously pondered. We spent the night, and walked on.

A small tan, well camouflaged frog clings to a rock by a creek
Surprising little friends we met along the way. I beleive this precious little fella is a Canyon Tree Frog
A landscape in the desert, the ground covered with thick green vegetation, the mesquite trees lining the trail just twigs without leaves.
In impossible carpet of green in the desert, what a treat! It was so early in the season the Mesquites had not yet leafed out. From here we descended into the town of Superior, AZ and quickly headed back into the hills. 

We stayed in the little town of Superior only long enough to stock up on food and mail a package of things we didn't need to a relative's house. Within the first days of walking we realized there was going to be no time for sitting in the shade of a mesquite and making art.  There was too much walking to be done in between water sources, and when it was time to eat and rest, we were too tired.  Looking back on it now I cant beleive how much weight we carried, despite ditching the art supplies.  

Now is not the moment to dive in the world of lightweight backpacking nerdiness, (There will be a whole page devoted to gear making that will be coming before too long) but I will say that since the Grand Enchantment Trail we have traded in our steel pots for titanium ones, a 90s tent for a more modern hyperlite one and wool blankets for puffy-pants. Though our love of hiking in sandals hasn't changed, we now hike in Lunas instead of Chacos.  

Remnants of ancient beings greet us as we leave Superior and head back out into the Sonoran Desert. 
Man sitting by a trail looking at a topographical map with giant cliffs and cactus in the background
There were many, many moments like this. Catching a little shade to examine the topo maps.

Before departure we printed all of the topos for the route on regular printer paper. So as not to carry all of them from the begining we shipped the relavent sections with the boxes of food that we shipped to the remote spots along the way.  As we passed through each mapped section our crumpled and dirty guides served as firestarter.  Oh yes, and on this journey we cooked only over fire, we brought no stove.

Man wearing a large backpack standing on a trail, looking at an enormous saguaro cactus.
Magnificant Giants. The only thing that stops us from putting on the miles, is everything. Everything must be inspected and admired. 
Man laying on his back in a shaded canyon creek-bed, playing a large shakuhachi flute
The Shakuachi was one thing that Kyle couldn't part with when lightening our loads. Moments of rest were lifted with the flowing sounds of this instrument.
A riparian desert landscape with leafy Ocotillo in the foreground, mountains, a river and bridge in the background.
HIking out of the creekbed, back into the desert, and saying goodbye to the decadence of running water for a while. In the foreground an Ocotillo photosynthesizes.
Woman peeking gout from behind a green branch blowing with small light pink flowers
This was my first time seeing a blooming Tamarisk. Though beautiful, it is a highly invasive and detrimental species to desert riparian ecosystems.
A man in a mountainous desert landscape, walking along railroad tracks.
Kyle, along the tracks. 

Sometimes our route was a trail, but frequently we followed the topo maps cross-country, on forest roads, up dry creekbeds, down riverbeds or along railroad tracks.

looking up through the branches of a mesquite tree to a blue sky. In the tree hangs a green piece of fabric for shade.
Sometimes the thin shade of a Mesquite is not enough. 

Our daily rhythm was this, wake with the first glimpses of dawn.  With sleepy eyes and sore feet pack our packs and begin walking before sunrise.  Once the heat of april sun became too intese, we'd stop to make food in whatever shade was available.  Rest until the sun passed its zenith, then walk again.

This section was hot. Little did we know the cold that we were headed towards. The Tortilla Mountains sprawled endlessly through the low desert along the Arizona Trail, which was beautifully graded and allowed for some big milage days.  

A man and woman stand, and in hand with walking sticks in a desert mountain landscape.
More self portrails of Kyle Cunningham and Jeannie Ortiz along the trail. Here we pause for a quick moment in the Tortilla mountains. 
A giant cotton wood tree next to a barbed wire coral
An ideal rest spot after travering the low desert. This giant grandmother Cottonwood wrapped us in her cool shade as we snacked and took a break. 
A man holds a melted lump of chocolate in front of his face
Another gift that was given to us before our treck was a giant milk chocolate bunny, which by now had become a melted lump of sugary-chocolate goodness. 
Man laying on his back next to a wooden fence, reading sheets of paper.
Kyle laying on his back in the shade of the giant Cottonwood, reading route descriptions for the hours and days to come. 
Woman sits in the branches of a giant cottonwood tree.
I can't keep myself out of trees. Never have, never will. Someday I will live in a tree.
A panoramic desert landscape with bushes and cactus in the foreground, mountains way off in the distance.
The giant sprawling landscape of the Tortilla Mountains.
A man faces away from the camera wearing a white straw hat with purple, yellow and red band. He is walking through a desert landscape with large boulders.
Rolling landscapes and giant boulders. In the far background you can see the powerlines that we are headed towards. 
a top-down view of a blooming yucca.  The flower is pink-red-purple and its green leaves radiate from the center.
Vivid images of spring in the desert. A blooming Yucca. 
Giant power lines run overhead with a flat horizon line, blue sky and cactus in the foreground.
Here we pass under the powerlines that were visible at the horizonline a few photos back, of Kyle walking through a field of giant boulders. 
A desert landscape.  A hillside covered in different species of cactus, bushes and small plants.
Eloquent bones in the desert. The skeletal remains of a Teddybear Cholla are as beautiful in death as in life. 
A close up photo of a bright orange flower with black center.
Brilliant beyond beleif, a Desert Mariposa Lily
a trail going through the desert with blue lupine flowers and saguaro cactus along its sides.
Lupine along the trail, a rare sight in these parts.
a man wearing a white shirt and orange sarong using a metal bowl to scoop sand out of a creekbed
Kyle scooping out a deep spot in the creek-bed from which we can pump drinking water. 
A man peeks out of a green and black tent in a sandy arroyo
A sagy tent, pitched in a sandy arroyo. 

We loved (and still do love) our GoLite tent.  Though it is no longer our backpacking tent, 20 years later, with a newly replaced zipper and fresh coat of silicone sealant, it still makes for a great car-camping tent.

a river bottom landscape with red dirt, mesquites and saguaro cactus.
I dont remember much from walking up this arroyo, other than the fact that it felt like we walked up it FOREVER. Miles and miles of sandy riverbottom is grueling. 
Two old tires hang on dead tree branches in the desert
Human remnants are jarring. 
A river bottom landscape with green cottonwoods, willows and mountains.
Our first glimpse into Aravaipa creek. A true paradise on this earth. 

This is our first glimpse into the flowing waters of Aravaipa Canyon. From here we descend into a canyon that would reconstruct our ideas about geology and life in the desert.  Check out Grand Enchantment Trail Part Two to follow us through the canyon, and out the other side.