What's the trick to blazing trails across the Sonoran Desert? "Control points," says Jon Shouse, who's just wrapped a season of carving out a new segment of the Arizona Trail on Tucson's eastside.
Control points are one of two things: a cool spot you want to the trail to cross, or a sensitive/dangerous/just plain ugly spot you don't want to go near.
For the last eight months, the Shouse-inator and few friends have been staking out control points and flagging an eight-mile path across the Rincon Valley from Colossal Cave Mountain Park to Saguaro National Park East. Once the outline is set, a crew of 40 to 50 volunteers turns out for a Sunday of swinging picks and pushing shovels to create the new trail. By lunchtime, there's a new trail that zigs and zags across hillsides and valleys. Particularly important: taking steps to keep the trail from eroding.
An avid cyclist who is also a key player in the fight to save the Fantasy Island trail network on Tucson's eastside (see "Forbidden Fantasy," March 31), Shouse says the work has a simple appeal: "It's a really neat feeling to ride over something that you built."
Trail science has come a long way since Shouse was doing it on an independent basis years ago. "I wanted to do something a little more permanent," he recalls, so he started volunteering with the U.S. Forest Service in the Gardner Canyon area near Sonoita.
Shouse has now joined with other dedicated desert rats to launch the Cienega Corridor construction project: a 25-mile segment of the Arizona Trail between the Santa Ritas and the Rincons. They hope to wrap up in two years.
The work will knock off a significant chunk of the 100 or so miles that remain before the 800-mile Arizona Trail finally stretches virtually unbroken from Utah to Mexico. Traversing the Grand Canyon, the San Francisco Peaks, and the Mogollon Rim. The Cienega Corridor project's co-chair, Chris Everist, started blazing trails just last year, after meeting Shouse through the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists club. Besides organizing volunteers and designing a snappy Web site, Everist has been working with the Sonoran Institute's Wendy Erica Werden and a few more members of the gang to find sponsors. Tucson Electric Power, America Online and engineering firm HDR have helped shoulder the cost of tools, T-shirts and lunches at the end of the workday, provided at a bargain rate from local outfits such as Sanchez Burrito Company and eegee's.
Once the complete 25 miles are completed, the trail will connect to the Arizona Trail down in Oak Tree Canyon in the Santa Rita Mountains, where it now ends. "I would love to ride the whole 50 miles out to Gardner Canyon and back," says Everist, who gives big props to his volunteers. When the team first sent out the call in October, they would have been happy to turn out 25 pairs of helping hands. Instead, the work has proven so popular, they've had to cap the parties at 50.
"It's been great to see Tucson come out and do this," Everist says.