Beauty of Seven Falls

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls in the Santa Catalina Mountains

I know I'm probably very boring when it comes to the weather on our hiking days.  It seems to always be sunny and warm with beautiful blue skies. Well, I have to finally say it hiking fans….we had a day that actually started out cloudy and remained that way for most of the hike.  Don’t get me wrong it didn’t put a damper on the hike in the slightest.  A cloudy day in the Old Pueblo is better than a sunny day anywhere in the world to me.  It was cool and cloudy and beautiful!  We hiked one of my favorite trails this week; we returned to Sabino Canyon and followed the Bear Canyon Trail to Seven Falls.

JoAnn leading

Judy and LaNeta following

Our group of 10 started out from the visitor’s center via tram to the trailhead.  My adrenaline was really pumping – not only because of the excitement of being back at Sabino Canyon, but because the group had to go without me from our usual meeting point.  I got a really late start in the morning and had to drive alone to the canyon.  The parking lot is under construction and parking is very limited so I was afraid that I would not find a spot to park.  Even if I did get lucky and get a spot, I thought I would miss the group and they would be on the tram and on their way up to the trailhead without me.  Neither of those things happened.  The stars were in perfect alignment!  When I pulled into the lot my hiking buddies were walking across the parking lot to the visitor’s center, and I pulled right into a parking spot as someone else was pulling out.  

The views are spectacular, even under partly cloudy skies.  These mountains and canyons dotted with saguaro, ocotillo, and cholla cactus are breathtaking - whatever the weather conditions.

Cloud cover just allows you to enjoy them without the heat of the sun to slow you down.

We took the first tram to Bear Canyon at 9:00 a.m. and started out trek to Seven Falls.  This is a hike we usually do in the early spring, but JoAnn decided to do this one early because Jim’s son, Steve was in for the Thanksgiving holiday and wanted to hike with our group while he was in town.  We chose this one because this is such a beautiful hike.  

Jim and Steve

There had been very little rain in the area since our monsoon season and the streams were completely dry. In the spring, water is running because of snow melting in the higher elevations of Catalina Mountains.  We still had to cross the seven washes, but we all made it with dry feet.  

Two of the dry stream beds we crossed.  What a difference a day makes in the desert though.  Last year when we hiked here, we came across safely and the next day it rained and helicopters had to rescue hikers.  You just never know whats going to happen in the mountains. That is one of the reasons I probably will never hike alone.  There is safety in numbers.

Another plus for this hike – Gordy and LaNeta were back from the Dakotas for the winter.  YAY!   In 2011, Seven Falls was my very first hike with the group and LaNeta and I bonded quickly because we both ended up with wet feet trying to navigate the streams.  Not a problem this week. LOL

Gordy and LaNeta

The clouds didn’t dampen our spirits at all as we climbed along the trail.  The trail is only 5 miles when you take the tram to and from the trailhead, and the elevation is about 700 feet.  The cloud cover kept the morning very cool and comfortable, but we still stopped for regular breaks for water and to take in the breathtaking views.  

We had something new to keep our eyes peeled for on this hike.  On Monday, they had released 31 bighorn sheep in Catalina State Park.  Rumor has it, one of them headed toward Bear Canyon.  I would think I had died and gone to heaven if and when we ever spot one of the sheep!  Unfortunately, we saw no wildlife at all….

I have hiked this trail several times since 2011 and the one thing that stands out to me is how much progress I have made as a novice hiker.  I don’t think I complained of tiredness or pain one time.  My first time on this trail, I thought I wouldn’t make it to the top, to the falls.  I never felt that way this time.  Maybe having an idea of how much further it is to the end helps.  

Jim snapping shots at the falls

Finding good spots to relax for lunch


We made pretty good time reaching the falls and discovered there was not much water at all.  There was a little trickle coming down the rock, but it was still a great place to relax and have our lunch.

Just a trickle of water at the falls
Rock formation resembling a totem pole

After our rest at the falls we packed up picked up and headed back down the canyon.  Oh I guess I should put in the part about me doing a little rock climbing to retrieve a tee shirt someone had stuck in an opening in the rockface.  This is a beautiful area, and it just hurts to see how some people will deface or leave trash lying around. 

I don’t think I will ever tire of this hike, no matter how many times I am lucky enough to do it.  It is just as beautiful if not more, every time I go. 

See you on the trails…..

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pima Canyon Trail to the Dam in the Catalina Mountains

Okay, I know I’m going to age myself with this one, but how many of you remember the little song in Disney's Pinocchio when he ran away from home and joined that little circus where he was an actor?  He sang the song, “An actor’s life for me”.  I feel like that about hiking.  That is my new song!  I am working on changing all the words to fit hiking instead of acting:
A hiker's life for me!
A wide brimmed hat and a trekking pole,
GPS that is good as gold.


A hiker’s life for me!

Forgive me, but hiking has become my new passion!  Our group hiked beautiful Pima Canyon Trail in the Catalina Mountains on Wednesday.  This was the second time I hiked this particular trail and I have to say….it is just as difficult today as it was 2 years ago.  The trail didn’t change one iota.  I was new to hiking when we took on the Pima Canyon Trail 2 years ago and I was told it was a moderate hike.  

I thought I was going to die before we reached the dam at the turn-around point then and I don’t think I felt much better about it this past Wednesday.  It seemed to take forever to reach the dam.  It is only a 6 ½ mile hike.  It’s about 3.2 miles in and the same back out.  The elevation change is about 750 feet, but they only count the total elevation.  That figure does not include all of the climbs up and down of the trail.  For those of you that like climbing – there is lots and lots of climbing and stretching (if you happen to have short legs like I do) connected with this hike. 


There were only 6 of us this week, and I wonder if others in the group that were missing in action remembered the challenges of this trail. I certainly didn’t remember, but of course being the ‘novice hiker’, all of the hikes 2 years ago were challenging to me so I would have nothing to compare it to. 

Okay, I think I have the whining out of my system now, so on with the story.

Jim & Mike bringing up the rear
Lead us JoAnn!

We had beautiful hiking weather.  That usually goes without saying this time of year in southern Arizona.  The temps starting out were probably around 55 degrees with wonderfully clear, sunny skies. 

From the parking lot we started out on a small trail that went through private property to the trailhead.  The trailhead is very well marked and a short ways in the signs indicated that we were entering the wilderness area.  After 15 or 20 minutes in we started climbing. 

A hiker’s life for me…

The canyon views are very spectacular, with rock faces rising on either side. I would be hard-pressed to pick one canyon as the most beautiful in the Catalina Mountains, because they are all equally incredible in different ways. We saw saguaro, prickly pear, and cholla cactus along with many other desert trees and plants.  We were even treated to a rare crested saguaro.

Awesome colors

Crested Saguaro
Beautiful rock face

A beauty surrounded by beauty.....
Breathtaking views
Mike, Jim, Don & Gina
Me & JoAnn being silly
For the first 45 minutes or so everything was going along fine.  We took plenty of water breaks and time-outs to enjoy the views.  After about an hour we all started wondering (aloud) why it seemed to be taking so long to get to the dam.  None of us remembered it being so tiring!

We even asked a couple of people that were on their way back down how much further it was to the dam.  This was pretty funny, because two groups we asked didn’t even know there was a dam, they just turned around when they got tired and started back down.  We finally came across one young man who told us we had another 45 minutes to go.  OH LORD!  I thought we were closer. 

A wide brimmed hat and a trekking pole 

The guys take the lead for a while

I should mention that the last time we hiked Pima Canyon it was in the early spring and there was quite a bit of water from the snow melting in the mountains.  We had to cross several streams to reach the dam and there was actually water at the dam at that time.  It was completely dry when we hiked Wednesday.  There wasn’t even mud in the streams or the dam when we reached it. 

Moving thru the canyon
Rockface on both sides
It actually did take 45 minutes to the dam, and were we ready to sit and have lunch?  Yes indeed!  My feet and legs were burning from the climb.  It was all worth it though.  You can’t get views like this down in town.  Looking at the mountains from afar can never give you the same rush you get from climbing through them.  Exhilarating!


One of the things we get to see on this hike – only if you go all the way to the dam – is the grinding rock.  There is this really large flat rock and the indentations from where the ancient inhabitants ground their mesquite pods into flour are still very prevalent.  They say that many years ago, people were even able to see some of the original stones that were used hundreds and hundreds of years ago.  Mike and I had to make do with a nice round stone we found.

Mike giving a grinding rock demonstration

Used by the ancients.....
GPS that is good as gold

We had our lunch and rested up at the dam for the trek back down the trail.  There were no rattlesnakes, bobcats, mountain lions, javelina, or any other wild animals in our way.  

The views make the sore feet worth it

Enjoying lunch break

My dogs were tired....
Another wonderful hike under our camelbacks!

A hiker's life for me...

See you on the trails.....

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sutherland Trail in the Catalina Mountains

I’m doing a two for one blog this week.  I know you’re scratching your head and asking “what the heck does that mean?”  Well, some in our group did the same hike two days in a row.  Okay, I know you are now asking “why the heck did you do that?”  Esther, one of our newest members got called in to work unexpectedly on our regular hiking day and was going to have to miss the hike.  We sometimes walk our dogs together, so I suggested we take them to the Sutherland Trail.  I just thought I would offer a word of explanation, because you will be seeing pictures from both days.     

JoAnn leading the way

Our group of 9 set out at our regular time on a beautiful Tucson morning.  We have hiked this trail several times before but this time was a little different.  The Sutherland Trail is an ‘out and back’ hike.  It is approx. 5 mi. round trip and has an elevation gain of approx. 700ft. 

The one thing I noticed different right away was the dry washes.  After leaving the parking lot, to get to the trailhead you must cross three washes.  The last time we were here there was quite a bit of water in the washes.  It was in the early spring and snow was melting in the higher elevations.  We didn’t have to step on stones to avoid getting wet this trip.  It was completely dry. 

Esther with Rio, Rusty and Benji

The Sutherland Trail was named for a family that settled in this area in the 1800s.  In 1892, William Henry Sutherland sold his interest in the Arizona Stage Company, which ran from Casa Grande to Tucson. He felt cattle ranching would be more lucrative and, with his sons, built a ranch house and well at the mouth of Cargodera Canyon; one can still see the ruins today. Cattle usually range within one and one-half miles of a water source, and the Sutherland ranch stood on the banks of a wide wash, now named after him, to insure his cattle had water. Like many ranching families, Sutherland owned a home in Tucson and the family spent only part of the year on the ranch. Today Sutherland's ranch can be identified by two-foot high adobe walls, slowly melting into the desert. The ranch house is 28 feet long and 18 feet wide. An old road is still visible, running out of Sutherland Wash and heading northeast toward the mountains.

Other than the breathtaking views, this was an uneventful hike.  We stopped plenty of times to drink water and take in the sights and just catch up with what everyone I did during the week.  I have only been hiking since 2011 but I have learned a lot about my hiking buddies.  They talk about their children, grandchildren, neighbors and friends.  I feel like I know some of them personally.  After moving so far from my own friends and family, my adopted hiking family fills the bill as surrogates.  If you want to make friends – I mean real friends – join a hiking group.  When you realize you are depending on people you just met for your well-being, there is a closeness that develops beyond waving over the backyard fence.  When we are out there on these mountain trails anything can happen.  There are real wild animals in these mountains; mountain lions, bears, bobcats, coyotes, and more.  It’s a good feeling to know that someone has your back up there. 

Hydrate Connie!
Hydrate Judy!

Okay, enough about the trail….how about more views?

Jim's tough look
As usual, one of our favorite parts of any hike.....LUNCH!  Especially when the views are this gorgeous!

A quick look around before settling down for lunch

Mike found shade!

The guys take full advantage of the breaks

Another wonderful hike under our belts!  

See you on the trails.......

Rio only agrees to walk so far....