One of our favorite trails in Cochise County just 25 miles from Paws and Hooves Ranch, and that was where we headed on Friday morning. It was sunny, calm, and in the low 60’s when we pointed Jules out the gate at 11:30 am, and we had hiking lunches (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and Cuties) in our backpacks.
Odel made a short detour in Sunsites, to Shadow Mountain Golf Course to find out whether or not it was still open (it is, thanks to community volunteers) and the current rate ($20), and then we were on our way out Ironwood Road to Cochise’s Stronghold.
From time to time, I try to see this part of Arizona as if I’d never seen it before and, honestly, much of it is not that appealing a sight in the dead of winter, dry and chilled at this high altitude. In winter, the beauty of Cochise County is not in the broad valleys, but in the canyons and hidden byways of the numerous mountain ranges poking up in every direction. As soon as we left the Sulphur Springs Valley behind and the beautiful rock formations of the Stronghold loomed up ahead of us, I remembered why we so enjoy the time we spend exploring Cochise County as it awaits the coming of spring and the greening of the mesquite.
Since the last time we hiked the Stronghold, the Forest Service has changed its fee policy: it is now FREE for Golden Age Passport holders (used to be half price, $2.50). We parked at the trailhead, grabbed our packs, hats, and hiking sticks, and headed up the trail – after a brief pause to chat with a trio of typically cheerful Canadians enjoying Arizona’s warmer winter weather.
Last year at this time, Odel was planning to have his partial knee replacement surgery, and this is the first time we have attempted a 6 mile, rocky, uphill hike since that surgery ten months ago. He knee held up well, but that hike just about kicked our butts! I’d forgotten how ROCKY Arizona’s trails are, and how that trail seems to be one long UP hill. I felt like Rocky Balboa trying to get back in shape – but without the aid of the inspiring music.
Clouds had formed by the time we reached the summit, and a breeze on our sweaty shirts was cold, so we ate our late lunch and started back down the trail. Not much chatter on the way back; I definitely felt the effects of the distance and effort and was happy to get home and pull off my hiking boots. By then, the clouds had thickened, and I stopped in the middle of cooking dinner later that evening to jump outside with my camera for a picture of the blazing sunset.
One more photo, this one snagged from the website of the Whole Foods Market. A couple nights ago, I prepared a recipe from the Whole Foods Market cookbook. It won a definite thumbs up from the three of us – Odel, Auntie Carol and me, critical eaters all. The combination of colors, textures, and flavors was exceptional, and it all cooks in one pan!
Though the recipe claims to serve 4, we had no trouble eating every last bite (even with the addition of the optional tofu) – so if you plan to serve 4, best to serve accompaniments. I’ve added the recipe to the recipe archive on the left of the blog.