July 26, 2018
In early May, ATA was alerted to a new fence across the Arizona Trail near Bray Creek. This was a first—fences don’t often just appear across an established trail, let alone a National Scenic Trail, so with a touch of skepticism the segment steward hiked out to confirm and see what could be done. Sure enough, four strands of shiny barbed wire crossed the trail at the slick rock saddle a few hundred yards west of Bray Creek.
After several emails and phone calls between ATA and the Forest Service staff, and another inspection trip, the upshot was that FS provided an ATA Supergate and ATA agreed to install it.
Then the Forests closed.
The project picked back up when the rains came, the forests opened, and volunteers were available on the tail end of the Happy Jack gate project.
A huge concern was whether the necessary holes could even be dug in the sandstone slickrock. One of the fence builders, encountered on the second inspection trip, said he had dug a hole in the stone with a crowbar. He said it took all morning but it could be done. Based on that we figured we would give it a go with the jackhammers.
Access to the site was another concern; the nearest trailhead—Geronimo—is well over three trail miles west of the site. But Bray Creek Ranch, a private land in-holding in the Forest, is just south of the site and the owners permitted us to drive to within perhaps a quarter-mile of the site. The roads were rough and the crawler again earned its keep transporting the gate, tools and concrete through the forest to the site.
The first of the crew left Bargaman Park (see previous event report) around 6:00 AM—the tool trailer had to go to Happy Jack Ranger Station and the gate had to be picked up in Payson. Everyone regrouped just off the Control Road at Bray Creek where we consolidated crew and tools and made our way up the rough road. The landowner welcomed us near the house and directed us up yet less of a road to the north end of the property.
The digging tools were on the first crawler load, and once on site volunteers started the slow-but-steady digging through sandstone. The sandstone didn’t chip or crack much under pressure; it just grudgingly and very slowly reverted to sand. The crew kept two jackhammers hot for ~3 hours before reaching the necessary depth. A light breeze across the saddle, incredible views of the towering Mogollon Rim and billowing monsoon clouds overhead slightly mitigated the warm conditions. The hauler crew delivered the gate to the site just about the time the holes were done and, with the end in sight, the crew made quick work of cementing it in place and attaching the fence. Rob took a final few minutes to scatter rocks and dress up the site before following everyone back to the vehicles.
The crew celebrated the seven-gates-in-three-days with a very late lunch at THAT Brewery in Pine before heading home to the valley, Catalina and Tucson.
A huge thank you is warranted to this incredibly dedicated and capable crew. Installing these gates is hard, physical work and time away from home and family at personal expense. The gates mitigate nagging issues in the AZT’s relationship with livestock operators and are easily operated by all trail users. The Arizona Trail was greatly improved this week by Roger, Joe, Richard, Rob, Duane, Scott, Gordon, Maya, Bill, Lee and David. Thank you!
Bringing it up carefully.
Slow but steady progress through the rock.
Digging through sandstone is one thing but the real trick of the day was getting everything to the site. Gate coming up the rock.