Beauty of Seven Falls

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Madera Canyon

This week our hike took us to beautiful Madera Canyon. Madera Canyon is located in the Coronado National Forest on the northwest side of the magnificent Santa Rita Mountains under the towering Mount Wrightson (elevation 9453 feet) the third tallest peak in Arizona and the tallest in the Santa Rita Range. We hiked the Madera Creek Trail which was only about six miles round trip, but filled with plenty of hiking challenges.  Our adventure began at the Whitehouse Picnic area and we followed along the creek on the Nature Trail.  I have probably said this every week so far (in my four weeks as a hiker) but I have to say it again.  This had to be one of the most stunning settings in the world for a hike to date. 
The trail head is at an elevation of about 4500 feet and we gained about 600 ft. elevation on the nature trail.  There were spots in the trail where you hardly caught your breath from one pretty steep little junction before another was upon you.  Experienced climbers probably call this hike easy, but you notice my blog is titled the “novice hiker”…thus my whining at some of the challenging spots.  I will admit I got pretty winded a couple of times before we stopped for our lunch break, but I am quick to add that I’m getting a little better every week.  At least I’m not reaching for Aleve or Advil as soon as I come in the door like I did after my first hike. 
The trail was clearly marked and actually had identifiers on trees and other native plants which made the hike so much more educational for those of us new to the Tucson area and still learning the plant life (other than cacti).  We have a fellow hiker that is very well informed on all the flora and fauna and helps fill us in on all the plants we have questions about, but he deserted us this time for some golfing event that was going on in town....the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship or some such nonsense. 
Maybe the draw of big names like Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, Luke Donald, Rory Mcllroy, Bubba Watson and others was enough to spirit away our resident botanist George, and a few others, but we had a relatively large group of 13 on the trail not giving a thought to the hundreds of people on the links. We were in our element.  

After our lunch break at the halfway mark on the trail we followed the road down to the Santa Rita Lodge where they have a large enclosure where they feed the birds.  There were several large wild turkeys while we were there today and we were able to identify quite a few other birds feeding in the area – Mexican Jays, Red-breasted Nuthatches, sparrows, finches, and many more. 

We continued down the road on our way back down to the parking area and stopped in at several bed & breakfast establishments for information.  There were bed & breakfast, lodges, cabins, casitas…WHO KNEW!!??  Anyway, I picked up information brochures on accommodations at several of these hidden jewels for future possibilities…
Another perfect hike under our fanny packs!
 Many thanks to the Friends of Madera Canyon for the brochures on hiking in Madera Canyon and Birds of Madera Canyon. 

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Golden Gate Loop Trail

We could see where this huge bolder fell from
Our hike this week was considered an easy hike.  It's said it's so named because early prospectors thought Gates Pass and the mountain constituted the gate to the gold in the Tucson Mountains.  Golden Gate Trail circles Golden Gate Mountain but can also be combined with other trails to form a loop that takes you back to the parking lot.  That is the trail we took - the Loop.  The hike was 6.6 miles and really was relatively easy.

Where the trail forked - David Yetman left, Golden Gate right
The weather was awesome! Blue skies and plenty of sunshine put us all in good moods. We did not see many flowers in bloom yet. We also did not spy any animals of any kind. Well, I guess I should count the hawk we saw sitting atop a tall saguaro cactus. All the other hikers tell me I should be happy we are not seeing animals and that I probably won't be happy when I do see one.  We'll see....

The scenery here in the mountains is unparalleled. Just breathtaking. The trail itself was pretty easy to hike. The terrain changed almost constantly - one moment it was very rocky and hilly and almost before we realized it, it would change to smooth and straight.

We had walked just a couple of miles when we looked over to the right and in the distance could see Old Tucson.  We were still a pretty good distance from the town so none of my pictures came out clearly....sorry.  Old Tucson is a popular tourist attraction here in Tucson and the backdrop for a lot of western movies such as  Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Cimarron, Rio Bravo, The Three Amigos and a host of television westerns.  For one while on the hike we could actually hear the music from the saloon.

We stopped at the halfway mark for our sandwiches and a rest.  We really were roughing it on this facilities - if you know what I mean.  :-P  Oh yes, I did promise trails and trials...other than the no facilities thing the only other trial was with my camelback.  There was a crimp in the tubing so I was not able to get a drink for over three miles...from the beginning until or stop for lunch.  I took the bladder insert out of the camelback at our lunch break and straightened the tubing, and it was then that I noticed the bladder was leaking.  All along the trail I simply thought my back was wet because of perspiration....not so.  Over half of the water had leaked out!  Needless to say, I was really rationing my water on the walk back (when you are more tired and thirsty).  I had to carry the camelback in my hand, upside down to keep it from dripping down my back.  I have since replaced aforementioned cursed equipment.

Well, the second half of the hike - the way back - was pretty uneventful, but just a lovely as the first half.  As you can see in the picture below, our lady that had the little misstep accident at the beginning of the hike was all smiles at the end of the hike with our resident physical therapist who had checked her after the fall kept an eye on her throughout the hike. 
All's well that end's well
We had a good full day of rain recently, so I am waiting to see the wildflowers burst through within the next few weeks.  I'll keep you posted....

Until then....Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Parker Canyon Lake in the Coronado National Forest

Okay gang, I came prepared this week. I bought new hiking boots w/ thick cushiony socks, a backpack,and a 2 liter camelback. I felt like a real hiker. I mean, at least I fit in. lol

This week's hike was Parker Canyon Lake which is located about 100 miles southeast of Tucson, AZ. in the Coronado National Forest. It is actually very close (about 6 or 7miles) from the Mexican border. We had to go through a Border Guard station on the way back!

From just about any point along the shore, Parker Canyon Lake doesn't look very big. Take off on the lakeshore trail around the lake, though, and you'll find it's a lot bigger than you may think. It has a number of side canyons, inlets and coves that stretch back from the main body of the lake, creating a surprising amount of shoreline.

We arrived at 10:00 a.m. to partially cloudy skies and moderately warm temperature, about 60 degrees and light breezes. The walk is approximately 5 miles and most hikers consider it to be easy to moderate. We were a pretty large group - 16 of us - and we started out feeling pretty confident of an easy, pleasant walk.

Not only was I snapping pics - I was singing!
The trail around the lake is a fairly level dirt pathway that, for the most part, stays within a few yards of the water. There are a couple of places, however, where the route climbs rather steeply over high rocky bluffs and the trail becomes a slightly exposed, narrow passage 50 or 60 feet above the lake's surface. This for me, a newbie to hiking and very uncomfortable with heights, was VERY SCARY. I took the picture below standing on one of these bluffs. You can tell how high up we were.

On one of the high trails around the lake

We were having a wonderful morning. We were singing, trying to identify different shrubs and trees such as juniper, pinon pine, scrub oak, manzanita, and even spotted a large white egret. A beautiful morning! Halfway around the lake we stopped to eat our lunch (mine was PB&J) we had brought along. As we sat under a large cypress tree the wind picked up. Okay, we realized we were up around 5400 feet, you expect wind now and then.

The rain and wind move in
Well, very quickly the clouds really rolled in and we started getting a little rain. By the time we finished our sandwiches it was starting to get pretty miserable. We still had over an hour to make it back to the starting point - the parking lot, and it turned so windy and cold and rainy it was hard to believe it was the same day let alone the same morning. Anyway, we made it stopped raining and by the time we made it to our next stop – Kief-Joshua Vineyards for wine tasting we had pretty much dried out.

The weather takes a turn for the worse

Dizzy Gillespie

Who knew we had all these wineries right here in southern Arizona? Anyway, needless to say we dried out and got all warm and furry at the winery. We were met in the parking lot by the biggest bloodhound I have ever seen in my life. His name is Dizzy Gillespie and he greeted each one of us individually ( I even got cold, wet nose on my nose) and then he marked one of the lady's cars by lifting his leg and .....

Kief-Joshua Vineyards is a small family business with 20 acres in Elgin, Arizona and 40 acres in Kansas Settlement, Arizona. We visited the Elgin winery and the beautiful tasting room was very cozy and is situated right in the middle of what is known as "winery row." The Sonoita Wine Tour boasts of ten different tasting rooms and was selected by USA Today as one of the top ten wine trails in the United States. Again, who knew?
All in all it was a good day.  :-)

Some of the hikers enjoy samples

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bear Canyon Trail - My First Hike

I have been in Arizona now for 17 months and have managed to make some pretty amazing friends. The newest group of friends I came upon quite by happenstance. I go to the community pool every afternoon for a couple of hours and while there several weeks ago, one of my new friends there mentioned a hike he was going on the next day. I have never been a hiker so I listened, but was really not interested too much. Well, two days later he was back and talking about what a great time they had on the hike, where they had gone, yada, yada, yada, yada. Don't get me wrong...I don't consider myself a real athletic person, but I like to keep moving. I swim, I walk a couple of miles every day and I bike. I just never was a hiker. Well, slowly but surely it started sounding like something I might want to try and I think it may be one of the best decisions I have made lately. I was told that the next hike was going to be at Sabino Canyon's Bear Canyon Trail. It sounded so interesting (and it sounded like a good way for me to start seeing some of the local sights) that I decided to go. Keep in mind....I'm not a hiker so I did not have any of the proper gear. I borrowed a backpack, and a walking pole and I wore K Swiss walking shoes...not hiking boots. I felt totally unprepared when I showed up and saw the group in stylish hiking boots, wide brim sun hats, the whole 9 yards. But I was there and I was going.

Sabino Canyon is the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The Bear Canyon trail is approximately 9 miles round trip. The trail head is approximately 2 miles from the parking lot and it takes another 2 ½ miles to reach Seven Falls. The trail crisscrosses over Sabino Creek (hiking boots would have been a blessing crossing the creek - 7 times going up and the same 7 times coming back down). When the creek is dry, the footing is stable at most of the crossing points, but when water is present, it can be more challenging. I admit I slipped more than once trying to find a path across. The funniest - and thank goodness there are no pictures to document it - was one time I slipped and one foot went into the creek and it looked like the rest of me would follow. Everyone was yelling "Use the walking stick!" I realized I was holding the walking stick up in the air instead of steadying myself on the rocks with it. Oh well, live and learn. After crossing over the creek several times, the trail rises up the side of Bear Canyon, leveling off at Seven Falls-pictured below.

I am happy to say I was able to keep up with the best of them, and other than getting one foot wet in one of the creek crossings everything was wonderful. I think I may be hooked....