Shit Pot Crater, Arizona

2/3 of the PCT Girl Gang are back together with honoury member Mia who walked 10 days on the AAWT with us back in Australia (blog posts available). We are all staying with Mia’s friends in Flagstaff and plan to do many great day trip and maybe a few overnights in the next 2 weeks. Arizona from the window of the bus looks amazing and I (Quiz) am quite excited!
After picking Turkey D up from the Amtrak station this morning we all piled into a truck and commented how bizarre it was that 3 Melbournians were driving the desert together. We quickly left town and headed for the high altitude(ish) plains around Flagstaff, which reminded me of the desert leading into the Sierra, yellow from dry grass and covered in pines. The trees petered out and the yellow plains became punctuated with purple brown domes and and few jagged peaks covered with more pines. There is a fire to the south that is also casting quite a bit of smoke into the sky.

There are very few roads, road signs or even buildings along Highway 89, but we finally passed Hank’s Trading Post and knew it was the next left. The dirt road we took went through private property, passed a beat up letter box and directly into a land of cinder cones and lava fields. The drive in was great so we knew walking in this landscape would be even better. The road headed for the biggest cone of them all, crossed a lava field in a swirl of dust and we pulled over at a point where we thought the cone looked the lease steep. 

Our climb was divided into two, the first half was relatively easy as we walked up a ridge coming off the main cone. The ground was firm and we walked to the saddle pretty quickly, the car soon looking like small dot, our only distance marker in the huge plain. The next part of the climb was up the steep slope of the cone, and this was hard! The path quickly disappeared and we were left to make our own way up the scree slope which fell away from under you. Going was slow, and the vegetation scratchy and soon we were all panting, sweating and getting scratched up legs – it felt so good! I haven’t felt my calves burn since climbing up the well manicured long PCT climbs in the Northern Cascades, and I haven’t had to scramble around on screen since attempting to climb My Theildsen in Oregon and I haven’t had such wide horizon bound mind altering views since the Hat Creek Rim in NoCal. It has been impossible not to fall in love with this place! 

Having said all that I was happy to reach the large rocky rim of the cone and peer down into its internal red sandy depths. The rim of firm rocks at the top must keep the cone structurally whole as I felt like I was ageing it at lease 10 years climbing up with all the erosion I was causing. Mia is a plein air painter and set up an easel and got to mixing up colours once we hit the top. We all took turns in carrying her pack and painting gear up, but getting the fresh wet painting down the side of the cone without smudging it was actually the hardest part. On the top Turkey D and I did a bit of scrambling around, but we were too scared to go into the crater’s centre as we didn’t know if we would be able to get out. Walking down felt like walking on the moon, each step slipped from underneath you and became huge, lifting our knees high we kinda looked like monsters hunting and making shrieking call of glee to one another. We were back to the car in no time at all, covered in dust and feeling very satisfied. 

The cone was named Shit Pot (just S P on maps) by cowboys in the 1800s. Wikipedia puts is best – “when viewed from certain angles on the ground, the combination of the smooth round shape of the cone, the dark lava spatter on the rim, and the long dark lava flow extruding from the base do indeed resemble a toilet catastrophe.”

View more of Mia’s art at or on Instagram @miaschoen


Day 41 – Hiker Town to Tyler Horse Canyon – 39kms

We always knew this day would be intense. We had all, especially Layers (now Princess Layer) has been worried about it. We got up at 3am at Hiker Town. None of us had slept very well. We packed up silently, surrounded by cowboy campers and snuck away within 30 minutes. I am feeling very excited about the adventure of walking at night, however this quickly wears off when I realise the length of the day ahead. 

Joshua Trees at Sunrise. 

The first 8km were walked in darkness. We head up a bitumen road that lead us across the desert floor until we reached the open LA aqueduct with the sounds of rushing water. We turned east and head along the aqueduct for a couple of km. The road walking is easy at night and there are large signs painted on the pavement for PCT hikers. The temperature is perfect and there is a slight breeze. We turn off our head torches and gaze at the stars. After a while, (distance and time is difficult to tell at night) we reach an intersection in the water channel. We turn north and walk on top of the aqueduct now covered in a large rust coloured mental pipe and partially submerged.

Enclosed metal pipe aqueduct. 

Bizarre structure in the middle of the Mojave. 

As we walk north the light begins in change. Joshua trees emerge on the horizon and we realise we are surrounded by them. We decide to stop and have breakfast where the pipe ends and our path turns east again. 

The sun rises and we follow the aqueduct which now appears to be fully submerged under a paved road. There are openings every so often where you can hear the sounds of rushing water, which is very bizarre in the dry hot desert. This is the most monotonous part of the day, we break for 40 mins in some shade at 8:30 and keep trekking.

Enclosed aqueduct.

At 9:30 the path diverts from the aqueduct down a dirt road and starts to climb. The weather is heating up and we find ourselves walking in the Manzana Wind Farm Project. At 11am the warmth is nearly excruciating and we reach Cottonwood Creek 27kms, where there is a bridge we can sit under for the heat of the midday sun. 

Manzana Wild Project.

Cottonwood Creek Bridge.

We hang out and doze under the bridge for 6 hours. There is a small Creek running to our surprise, which, according to a Canadian couple, was dry 30 minutes earlier. We think that maybe there is a dam upstream, however later on we are told that when the temperature changes in the mountains, they let out water which would otherwise be subterranean. At 1pm the stream stops flowing and at 5pm we decide it’s ok to walk again and head off for the last 7 miles. 

Manzana Wind Project in all its glory.

About a mile in I realise how exhausted I am. I feel a strange sensation where I can’t feel my body, and it feels slow and weak, but it keeps walking and I take it very slowly. The slow climb out of the desert floor slowly increases to a steep trudge. We climb 600m and look down over the first ridge and I see tents pitched around a small creek. I have never been this happy to reach camp!! It’s 8pm and we set up for our first cowboy camp. We are all emotionally exhausted and mechanically make our way into bed.  

Day 16 – Interstate 10 to Mission Creek – 28kms

At 6am we waited outside Burger King in Cabazon for it to open. It was situated in a parking lot with giant dinosaur statues. Of course Phoebe (aka Quiz) was ecstatic and got her photo taken running around. It’s nice to do something a little touristy amongst all this hiking. 

Dinosaur statues at Cabazon

In Burger King we shove as many flavour sachets will fit in our pockets to spice up our trail meals. Hillbilly them drives us back to the I-10 to start hiking from where we left off. It was an awesome and  funny experience to stay with trail angel Hillbilly and he’s definitely conversation point amoungst our group now! 

The trail climbed very gradually at first lifting us away from the noise and smells and sight of civilisation and back into the wilderness. Our walking troop spread out along the trail, all getting comfortable with our speeds and hikin our own hike. As the path near reaches the edge of the valley it switches East and weaves up a valley occupied by wind turbines. It is the last couple of days of the seasonal Santa Anna Winds and all the windfarms in the valley are on over drive. 

Mesa Windfarms

I (Pinecone) enjoy the aesthetic of the power grid, wind turbines, train lines and highways in this desert environment. The infrastructure elludes to the mass of America that we are not seeing through this  journey but also shows how the desert can be a place of production and economy. 
The path today climbs steeply out of the valley with the windfarms and skirts around the side of a ridge until it plummets back down to meet white river. Signs tell is that we are now in the San Grigorio Wilderness Area and technically White River is the first annually flowing stream we cross on the PCT. 

Looking down on Whites River

We take a turn off the PCT to go to Whites River Preserve for lunch. We hear there is swimming there and little fish that will eat the skin off your feet. In reality it’s more of a strange urban park with tranquil fish ponds situated in a beautiful valley. The shade from trees was greatly appreciated and the day visitors there with poodles and terriers seemed absurd after spending days mountain climbing. 

Palms at Whites River Preserve

Crossing Whites River

After lunch we head north upWhites River Valley. It’s amazing to see such abundance of water after sourceing it from so many troughs and water cashes. We cross the river and head east up a valley. The path undulates 3 times slowly climbing, glimpsing view of San Jacinto and San Grigorio. We finally switchback down off a desert ridge to camp at the picturesque Mission Creek! Over all a tiring, hot and windy day with Meg seeing her first rattle snake and phoebe and I seeing an unknown  yellow and orange snake. Just another day on the PCT. 

Camp with Ozmosis + groupies