Monday, March 21, 2011

Early Spring Desert Hike

by Ben Small

Happy Rebecca
So why am I writing about a desert hike? Any number of reasons, but primarily because it's so unusual for me any more. While I used to be a mountaineer, scrambling up anything I could find, glacier or trail, these days I don't do much of that.

Peripheral neuropathy. I can't feel my feet, except for their constant stinging. I know, it sounds inconsistent. Trust me, it's not. Yes, there are meds I take, which ease the stinging, but I have to be careful about foot injuries I may not feel, and I stumble a bit. So, while I can still hike, I do it rarely, probably because it's usually so hot in the afternoons and I'm not an early morning person.

So this morning, my wife -- depicted here with a happy hiking face -- rousted me early. Seems I've been watching too much basketball lately, and the weather was hike-conducive, about 80 and sunny, as is almost always the case with Tucson weather.

And when it's cool here, there's almost nothing better than a desert hike. Especially, when the alternative is watching Duke. I'd much rather crunch sand and rock beneath my boots than grind my teeth as the officials giving Coach K yet another break on the calls. Coach K apparently still basks under the glow of Duhon's Rib.

So, having scoped out the map carefully and realizing we could get to Bear Canyon Trailhead, about three miles away, without having to traverse the mile-and-a-half walk from the main parking lot -- we'd found a little known alternative only a half mile from the trailhead -- we set out, our exposed skin sheening white from sunscreen coatings. We carried a water bottle each and our cameras.

Few people know that Tucson suffered a claimed one hundred year freeze last month. Temperatures dropped to around ten-to-fifteen degrees (F) one night, followed by another night just slightly warmer. Lots of prickly pear cactus died or suffered. One can see their butchered arms all over town. But our famous saguaro were also damaged, many of them, especially the older and younger ones. Problem is, however, saguaro damage doesn't often show up for months or even years. So no one yet knows how bad that freeze may have been. Meanwhile, we're dealing with destroyed fruit trees and waiting to see what other freeze damage we suffered, plant-wise.

The bright colors we usually see around Tucson aren't out yet. Plants are still trying to figure out what the hell happened and if it's safe to come out yet. Still, as the photos below show,  the hike wasn't boring.

We could have taken the trail shown above all the way to the Seven Falls, a series of waterfalls draining Bear Canyon, but we decided not to push it the first day. That's a five mile hike each way over tough terrain. Before I take on that challenge, I need to toughen my feet after a long winter of mostly sitting on my...uhm...assets.

We were both a bit surprised to see water in the creek. Tuscon hasn't had a meaningful rain in many months, but Mt. Lemmon is 9500 feet tall and seems to create its own weather systems, resulting in enough snow for two ski areas. Not many non-Tucsonans know this. The creeks have water still from that snowmelt.

We saw no wildlife, none at all, which is not that unusual when one is clomping around on rock and gravel in mountain boots. The snakes and javelina, I don't miss. But I'd love to see a mountain lion. We have lots of them, and indeed, the Park Service warns hikers about them, but they rarely cause a problem unless one's alone or a child. As the Park Service here says, on handouts or trail postings: Chances are you won't see a mountain lion; but for sure, they've noticed you.

And the great thing is, after a rigorous three hour hike in the mountains, I can lay around the rest of the day watching March Madness without feeling guilty.

And I was raised Catholic. I do guilt well.


Shane Cashion said...

Great pics, Ben. You're lucky to live in such a wonderful spot.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Beautiful country, Ben. I've driven through it but never hiked it. Sorry to hear about your feet. Does that mean if a rattler bit you, you wouldn't know it? :)