During my first week in Mohave County, Arizona, not only did it rain, but we also had hail. This was followed by a four-day windstorm and a drop in temperatures. Needless to say, it was not ideal for exploring. So, when the bad weather finally let up and the sun started shining again, I took the opportunity to go hiking.
This was my first hiking trip since I first hit the road in my RV. When you have a choice between mountain biking and kayaking, exploring on foot doesn’t win all that often. In fact, the only reason I chose to go hiking was that I had to pick up my groceries at Walmart and needed the trunk space.
Unfortunately, this is my least favourite desert hike — and it wasn’t because I got lost. It just paled in comparison to the beauty I had left behind in Nevada.
Arriving in Kingman, AZ
Finding the Monolith Gardens Loop Trail was fairly easy. Once I turned off the main road in Kingman, it was a decent dirt-road drive to the trailhead. I knew I was in the right place because there was a trailhead marker and another vehicle parked in the area.
Even so, while hiking, I did not see anyone else. If you are a woman hiking alone, I do not recommend hiking the Monolith Garden Trail — but, I did.
Once I got Samson parked, I had a hard time figuring out where the trail actually started. I walked the area for a while before making an educated guess, which turned out to be right. Before long, Samson had all but disappeared in the distance.
Before advancing too far along the trail, I pulled up AllTrails and checked in via the app. I had recently bought a Pro membership, so I was able to send a special text to my mom that allowed her to track my hike. Had I not done this, I’m not sure I would have made it out of the park by sunset. If you’re wondering how I got lost … well, I’ll get to that later.
With the technicalities covered, I started on my hike. In all honesty, the trail didn’t look particularly beautiful in the pictures online, so I already had low expectations. I chose it only because it was within 15 minutes of Walmart and I was doing a 30-day #30WithAlex Cardio Challenge.
The fact that there wasn’t much to see might have helped save me, in the end, because I started paying attention to things I otherwise might not have. I randomly started to take pictures of the trail markers and GPS coordinates, which helped me get out, a few hours later.
Around this time, AllTrails started to warn me that I was off the trail. However, it was only giving me an approximation of my location, so it wasn’t identifying where I had gone wrong. Meanwhile, the trail itself happily continued to tell me I was on the correct path for several miles. I turned back twice and went back to this sign to double-check, but could find nothing else to point me in another direction, so I continued.
Finding Rock Formations
Shortly after this, things did start to get a little more interesting. These rock formations are certainly not among the most beautiful I have ever seen, but it was better than just looking at barren lands. I was also still seeing signs for the trail and felt I was on the right track. AllTrails continued to warn me that I was wrong.
Adding a Touch of Black
Black is a colour I don’t see often in the desert. I first saw black rocks freckling the desert landscape while crossing New Mexico, but I had never seen any up close. The Monolith Gardens Loop had some of this black rock as part of its landscape, though it was not as striking as what I’ve seen in New Mexico and Nevada. Still, I think this was the most beautiful part of the hike.
Scrambling Along Mountainsides
As I went on, AllTrails continued to scream at me that I was off the trail, while I continued to see trail markers telling me otherwise. Eventually, however, I realized that several miles had passed before I last saw one.
This didn’t alarm me, at first. I thought maybe I had rounded the loop and was almost back to the beginning. I was also a little excited to be scrambling along the side of a mountain on a very narrow trail. It may not look treacherous in the photos, but it was pretty high up.
When I looked back and saw the sun dying in the backdrop, I decided to check the time. I had yet to realise I was lost. I started to suspect this when it dawned on me again that I had not seen a trail marker for some time, though I was clearly on a trail.
Making a Split Decision
I recognised how lost I truly was about five minutes later when the trail suddenly split. Up to this point, all splits in the trail were accompanied by a sign, but this one had none. I could clearly see the highway to the right, so I walked in that direction first to see if I could spot the trailhead down below. I couldn’t. I then turned back and decided to go the opposite way.
At this point, I started to question whether I should turn around. I calculated I was about two hours from sunset and had been hiking for a little over two hours. I pulled up AllTrails, which once again told me I was off the trail, but could still offer me nothing but an approximation of my location. I decided I would continue in the direction. I had a phone signal and could call for help, if necessary.
There was no mention of a canyon on the trail, so when I saw this, I started laughing.
I checked my phone again for signal and had full bars, so I kept on going. I did, however, turn off my music, turn off the BlueTooth, turn off the WiFi, and put my phone on battery-saving mode. I also stopped taking pictures.
I would love to tell you how very concerned I was for my safety, but I had two hours until sunset, a CamelBak full of water, phone signal, and battery juice. So, instead, I spent the entire time concerned that I was going to miss my Walmart pickup.
Finding My Way
If you’ve ever gotten lost while following a trail loop in the desert before, then you know you have two choices. The first is to keep following whatever trail you’re on in hopes that it loops around. The second is to retrace your steps. While I was still walking and weighing my options, Mom texted to ask why I was so far off the trail and why I hadn’t made it back yet.
I didn’t want her to panic, so I told her I had followed the park signs and ended up taking a longer route. This was true, but naturally, it wasn’t the whole story. I then put the phone away and began to focus. Did anything seem familiar where I was or in the distance? Had I passed this part of the trail before?
At one point, I took the phone out to check photos I had taken of an area to see if it was the same. This was the point that AllTrails finally figured out the reason it couldn’t give me an accurate location. I went into the settings and changed the GPS allowances for the app. It immediately showed me exactly where I was. I was very close to where I had turned onto the mountain pass and had successfully looped back around. I was then able to use the AllTrails map to navigate my way out, for the most part.
One of the dangerous things about getting lost in the desert is that places look different, depending on what direction you’re going in. Case in point: I finally got back to where I had taken the first GPS photo but wasn’t sure. Because I had taken that photo, however, I was able to match the GPS numbers exactly and find the now hidden trail I had taken in.
When I saw Samson in the distance, I didn’t walk. I ran! I have never been so happy to see him in all my life. I then hopped in, texted Mom to let her know I was off the trail, and high-tailed it to Walmart. I arrived with 10 minutes to spare and got my order.
The original hike was supposed to be 7 miles long. Instead, I hiked for more than 14 miles. So, what happened? After all, the trail markers said I was on the right path. Somewhere along the hike, I must have crossed on to one of the wider loops when the markers ended. Either that, or the trail markers were just wrong.
This Arizona hike was so brutal that I had to throw out my hiking shoes and buy new ones. I could feel every rock pushing through the soles of the old ones. The new set was under $30 and are super comfortable. I have no idea how long they’ll hold up for, but so far, so good.
It might also interest you to know that this isn’t the first time I’ve been lost in the desert for that many miles. It happened once before, in Utah:
I also wrote an article on what to do if you get lost in the desert, based on the many times I’ve been lost on desert trails, over the years:
After some safety concerns within the RV Park, I did the rest of my hiking in Arizona with company. I may return to my solo hiking habits in California and Nevada.
Have you ever gotten lost on a hiking trail before? How did you find your way out?
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