Exploring Arizona | Lost on the Monolith Gardens Loop Trail

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 โ€” 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 โ€” 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.

Getting Off-Track

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 Aftermath

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:

DAY 1 IN UTAH: HIKING THE TOWER ARCHES TRAIL AT ARCHES NATIONAL PARK

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:

WHAT TO DO IF YOU GET LOST ON A DESERT TRAIL

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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25 thoughts on “Exploring Arizona | Lost on the Monolith Gardens Loop Trail

  1. Glad to read the happy ending of your hike. My wife and I once got lost in Monument Valley when we continued to follow a wash and missed the cairns that marked the route back to the trail. We were so far down the wash by then that only the fact that the trailhead was visible high on a bluff allowed us to plan to extricate ourselves. We took off straight across the desert floor walking toward our objective. Eventually we ran into the trail we should have been on. It is the only time we ran out of water on our desert hikes. That will never happen again.

    1. Goodness! Running out of water in the desert sounds terrifying! Thankfully, that hasn’t happened to me. I always bring the Camelbak and that carries quite a bit more than I need. I’m glad you made it out safely!

  2. Have I ever gotten lost? Do bears s*** in the woods?? Lol. All my hiking and climbing episodes were well before GPS. But I do know how to read a map and a compass and know the directions of North, south, east and West. Lol. So even with a GPS I have become lost while driving around out in the Joshua tree area looking for someone’s house. When the GPS says to turn here, there is no here to turn but just more flat desert in no road. Lol. But I have been lost in the Appalachian mountains, the Colorado mountains, the Sierra mountains, and in Ecuador. But of course everything worked out because if it didn’t I wouldn’t be here to tell you all about it. Lol.

    1. I got lost out in Joshua Tree too, while driving around. I had signal when the map loaded to take me into the trail, so I didn’t even realize there was no signal at that end of the park. I came down from the mountain (Ryan’s Mountain) and sure enough, when I tried to load the directions for the way out, Google laughed at me.

      I also had one more stop before I left. I basically just pulled up the “physical” map on the phone and followed it. ๐Ÿ˜† I made it to the Cholla Garden and out again!

  3. I’ve done numerous hikes in which I always felt I was lost, despite following trail marks. I’d say all of my hikes were easy and very well-delineated, but it was just my paranoia that made me second-guess myself on the trail…but I will say that I’ve never gotten horribly lost, as I usually check myself and realize that I’ve diverging early on before retracing my steps and continuing on the right path. Kudos to you for making it out; I don’t trust GPS on the phones when it comes to being in the middle of nowhere, so it’s the old-school maps and trail signs to go!

    1. I think it’s much easier to get lost out west because the trails aren’t clearly marked like they are everywhere else. That’s why I followed these trail signs so blindly. I’ve NEVER seen markers while hiking out west.

      That said, I’m not sure an old school map would have helped you where I ended up. Even All trails seemed confused about where I was! ๐Ÿ˜… I would highly recommend it though. Even when I couldn’t see clear trails, I used it to give me a general direction. My instincts were spot on, but I probably would have second-guessed myself and taken longer to get off the trail without it.

      Stay safe!

  4. Back in 2006 I was hiking in the Muir Woods (in Marin County, northern California) with my girlfriend at the time and it got dark while we were still out on the trail. Redwood trees are very tall and block out any moonlight there is so it was really dark down the trail, so dark that I lost track of it. This led to some panic because we were in mountain lion habitat. Fortunately I spotted a fire road which we followed the rest of the way back to the parking lot.
    The only other vehicle in the lot beside mine was a park ranger vehicle, which started up and drove off as soon as we emerged from the trailhead. Needless to say my GF wasn’t too happy about our little adventure. Later that year our relationship came to an end and we lost track of each other, but that day/night in the Muir Woods stayed with me. 12 years later I wrote a short story based upon that incident called Hillside Trail and posted it to my site, and guess who came across it? ๐Ÿ˜€ Ain’t life funny.

    1. Oh, wow! This happened to my parents once before in northern Georgia. I don’t think we have mountain lions over there, but we certainly have bears.

      Mom was able to use the flashlight setting on her phone and retraced her steps. She led the way out while Dad continually asked her if she knew where she was going. ๐Ÿ˜‚

      I’m glad you got out safely and even got a good story out of it. It’s hilarious that your ex found it all those years later. What was her reaction?

      1. She was rather amused by it. She sent a message to me via Twitter saying she liked my stories, especially one in particular, and added, “can you guess which one?” I didn’t recognize her at first because she has a different last name now and had left California, but then I put it together. Turns out she had entered my name into a search engine on a whim and found my site. I was glad to see that she’s doing better now.
        And good thing your parents made it out of the woods! There are some cougars out that way but not very many. We call cougars mountain lions out here because that’s what the Spanish explorers called them (gato montรฉs or leรณn montรฉs).
        Have fun on your next hike!

      2. Sorry about the double messaging. I sent the first one over my phone and it got dropped, so I sent second one from my desktop, then the first one got found after I sent the second one.

      3. Oh, that’s okay! I don’t mind. I responded to the first one. ๐Ÿ™ƒ

      4. Haha, funny she crossed your mind after all those years! I’m glad she reached out. My ex did a similar thing a few years ago and was one of the first to preorder my debut novel. That was very sweet of him!

        I’m not sure what Georgians call mountain lions, to be honest. I’m not from there and didn’t have many Georgian friends. ๐Ÿ˜… I use cougars and mountain lions interchangeably.

        I can ๐Ÿ’ฏ% guarantee you though that mom wasn’t concerned about the bears or the lions. She was concerned about the SNAKES! We don’t have many snakes in Jamaica and none of them are venomous, so we are horribly afraid of them!

      5. That was very nice of your ex, hope he like your novel. ๐Ÿ™‚
        Yes, definitely have to watch out for snakes there, I’ve heard that have some poisonous ones. At least there are no alligators that far north.

      6. Haha, at least you can see the alligators from a mile away on land. Those snakes are sneaky!

      7. She was rather amused. Not long after I posted Hillside Trail I received a message Twitter from someone who said she liked a certain short story of mine and if I knew which one it was. She had the same first name as my former GF but a different last name, and was no longer in California. Once I figured it out we sent some massages back and forth and got caught up after 12+ years of no contact. Turns out she had entered my name into a search engine on a whim and discovered my site and the short story based on our Muir Woods adventure.
        And good thing your parents made it out of the woods safely! There aren’t too many cougars out that way, but better safe than sorry. We call our cougars mountain lions because that’s what the Spanish explorers called them (gato montes, or leon montes).
        Hope you enjoy your next hike!

  5. Alexis I’m simply blown away by your adventurous exploits. I would never imagine a simple hike along a mountain trail would have me so spellbound. I guess my grannie would say yuh little but yuh tallawa. Keep doing your thing.

    1. Thank you, Gary! I wasn’t expecting this to be an adventurous exploit when it started. ๐Ÿ˜† Somehow, my little 7 mile hike blew up into 14 miles of wondering where I was! Thanks for reading. ๐Ÿ™ƒ

  6. The desert is not a place you want to get lost…eeks. We decided to follow the Apache Trail in AZ – not hiking, but driving. The road wound around the mountains, often only one lane, definitely rocky and treacherous at points. Little traffic. At one point I thought: What if we get a flat tire? It was nightfall by the time we emerged into civilization and just as our wheels hit pavement and we breathed relief a warning sign came on the dash: “flat tire”.

    1. What a story!! Google tried to send me down a dirt road once, on the way to Oatman. I had the same thought and turned around after going about a half mile down the road. Not only was there no one there, but I was also in a super conservative area. My chances of getting help as a person of colour would have been slim!

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