From mountains to desert
A month on the AZT is a school in the physical and emotional power of water. Aridity is the baseline. "You can never assume there'll be water at an isolated cattle tank or seasonal stream," warns Dave Hicks, a dedicated trail buff. But when it happens the other way, it's a revelation.
I stumbled onto an unadvertised desert spring on a warm October afternoon a half-day's hike south of Roosevelt Lake. A polite gurgle of water slipped from under a huddle of stones, while a skyline of cottonwoods and sycamores towered overhead in botanical fanfare. It was a traveler's shrine.
Much of the AZT forges through wilderness far from civilization's buzz, but the route is mostly easy to follow, and U.S. Forest Service roads cross frequently enough for hikers to arrange pickups. The landscape looks more intimidating than it is, at least when approached with respectful preparation and the time-honored hiker's mantra: One step at a time.
The Superstition Wilderness east of Phoenix is one example. From below, the Superstitions loom as Arizona's most pugnacious mountain range, a sprawling gothic fortress of spiky battlements and buttes. But the Arizona Trail Lite hiker can drive a Forest Service road into the southern foothills, then hoof a relatively benign 6 miles to the ruins of Reavis Ranch in a surprisingly lush riparian valley―the velvet heart of the craggy Superstitions.