Beauty of Seven Falls

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Bridal Wreath Falls in the Rincon Mountains

After a week off due to our unexpected snowfall last Wednesday, we were back on the trail this week.  Our adventure this week took us the Saguaro National Park in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson.   

Our motley crew sans myself
We started out the hike to cool temps and partial sun – perfect day for hiking.I have to admit that I really felt like a “novice hiker” again on this particular hike.  These trails were very well traveled and well marked, but because in the 5+ miles we hiked I was pretty worn out by the time we reached the top.

We followed the Douglas Spring Trail, which depending upon which website you visit or which guidebook you read or which hiker you encounter, this is either an easy, moderate or strenuous hike.  I will agree with our leader, JoAnn, who labels this hike as moderate.  This trail is located in the Saguaro National Park and is very well marked and travelled.  It’s open to hiking, biking and horseback riding.  We didn’t see any horses on this hike, but plenty of evidence (if you know what I mean) that they had traveled the trail in front of us.  Ewwwww! 

There is a large lodge – The Tanque Verde Ranch - which I’ve talked about in earlier blogs, that is located right in the foothills of the mountain.  This ranch offers a wide range of activities to families that stay there, one of which is horseback riding and hiking tours on this trail.  We came upon a group of about 25 hikers who stepped aside to let our group of 8 pass them.  They even gave us what I called a hiker’s salute – with raised hiking poles – for us to pass through.  Very cool!  

Hikers saluting George
The views of all the surrounding mountain ranges and valleys were absolutely breathtaking.  I have to apologize for not including more photos, but as I mentioned earlier, I was feeling quite the novice hiker on this hike.  I didn’t want to hold up the group by lagging behind to take pictures, but after tripping once or twice over stones on the trail I found it unsafe to try to snap and climb….

Beautiful Mountain and valley views

I am definitely coming back to this particular trail in the coming weeks, because I am told that when the brittlebush and other wildflowers are in bloom it is beautiful.  Even now the hike is very interesting with the miles and miles of saguaro, ocotillos, jumping cholla, beavertails, pincushions, and Teddy Bear Cholla. We also saw millions of prickly pear cacti. 

The history lesson for this week…I learned that when Hernán Cortés the Spanish conquistador and explorer, who was responsible for the conquest of the Aztec Empire in Central Mexico in 1519, entered Mexico, he met Aztec men and women in dazzling red garments.  The dye was actually created from the cochineal insect which lives on the prickly pear.  Cortés arranged to have prickly pear to be taken back to Spain and cultivated there for the dye, which became known in Spain as the color of kings.

We trudged ahead, getting closer and closer to the falls and most of us feeling a pretty good burn in our muscles from the climbing.  We passed a sign on one of the forks in the trail which noted we were in a mountain lion habitat.  It went on to state that lions had been sighted recently in the area. The sign gave us instructions on how to behave if we came across a lion.  We were to look them in the eye, not run, wave our arms in a confrontational manner, and make loud noises.  I decided that I would let everyone else follow the signs if we ran into any large cats, and I would make a b-line to the parking lot.  Well, after that point on, we all kept a pretty sharp eye out on all the trees and higher ledges.  They guys got a kick out of calling “here kitty, kitty, kitty” for a while.   

I will have to add here that we almost lost sight of Jim, Gordy and Gina every time we stopped for a drink.  They were running ahead on the trail to keep ahead of the large group that we had passed.  We wanted to have the pick of the area when we got to the falls and stopped for our lunch.   I know at least two of us – Ernie and myself – were ready for lunch.   

 When we arrived at the falls, we were welcomed with the sound of the waterfall and the sound of water trickling through the streams below it.  It was such a wonderful refreshing sound. 

Headed back down the trail after lunch seemed a lot easier.  Amazingly, it seemed like it took longer than going up……

Another wonderful hike under our backpacks.

See you on the trails!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Brown Mountain Trail in the Tucson Mountains

The 3 ridges we climbed
We hiked The Brown Mountain Trail this week.   It is in the Tucson Mountains and it was named for Cornelius B. Brown who was an agriculture agent in Pima County from 1920 to 1945 and is known as the “Father of Tucson Mountain Park”.   The trail is approximately 5 miles long round trip with a 350 ft. elevation gain.  The guides always just give you the highest elevation gain on the trail that you will have to climb.  What they don’t tell you is that sometimes you climb that elevation more than once.  In the case of the Brown Mountain Trail, it reaches that height a total of 3 times.  It is listed in the guidebooks as a moderate hike and I would have to agree with that.  There were times some of us were definitely feeling the burn in our calves as we climbed higher. 

We were still smiling at this point
There were 8 of us this week on the hike.  The weather was cool and sunny…perfect for hiking.  I didn't eat breakfast before we left (which is not a good idea, you should always try to eat something) so the whole mountain looked like chocolate to me. There were varying beautiful shades of brown.  I actually thought that was how the mountain got its name.  Before we had gotten into the hike good I was already asking if it were lunch time.  

Careful, Gina!  Don't get to close to the edge...
That question is usually Ernie’s line, but I stole it for this hike.  I was starving and the look of a chocolate mountain only made it worse.
This hike is not an especially notable hike as far as the terrain goes.  We got a chance to see many saguaro, prickly pear, and jumping cholla (we will talk about these again later in the blog).  There still aren’t any wildflowers in bloom, so we are anxious to see when that starts.  The best thing about the Brown Mountain Trail is the surrounding views.  

Again, I will apologize for the pictures I include in the blog for they just do NOT do justice to the views we see on the trail.  I take a picture of a mountain view and you see just a shape of a mountain, blue skies, and a few cacti.  We see every crag and the differences in the colors of the face of the mountains.  It just isn't the same as seeing it with your own eyes.  Everyone that is able should make the effort to take a hike in the mountains, even if it is one of the really easy trails.  You are able to get a completely different feel for the real beauty here.  Anyway…

Our hike moved along very well along the ridge on the way up the first elevation gain.  This area is home to Old Tucson, The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and Gilbert Ray Campground just to name a few spots of interest.  As the trail follows the ridgeline, we were able to get great views of Golden Gate Mountain and Wasson Peak, Saguaro National Park West, Avra Valley, and Baboquivari and Kitt Peaks off in the distance.

We finally reached the picnic area.  Hallelujah!  I didn't think I was going to be able hold out.  I’ll make sure I eat something in the morning before we leave from now on.  After about a 30 minute lunch break we headed back down.  We followed a different trail on the way back.  This trail was filled with all types of cactus and this is where the mountain wanted to let us know that although we are allowed to hike, camp, hunt, bike, and just sometimes come up and watch the sunset – it is still wild.  There are wild animals, and JUMPING CHOLLA CACTUS!   
Not afraid of prickly pear....
 We had made it within a mile of where we parked when Jim lost his balance and fell directly into a jumping cholla.  He had several of the stems that had attached themselves to his shoulders, back, legs and feet.  I’m sorry I don’t have any pictures of the total operation of removing the stems but all we could think of was helping take them off him.  LaNeta ran back with her handy dandy pink jeweled pliers (which Jim had used in December to remove the cursed cholla stems from my hand) and I personally removed quite a few from his shoulder.  I was happy to repay the favor.

JoAnn helping remove cholla from Jim's ankles
 None the worse for wear, our motley crew headed for the parking area and home.  On the way out of the area, we spotted 2 houses way up on top of one of the ridges and JoAnn gave us the history of the house.  In the 1970s the homes were built by owners of a construction company in direct opposition of the community and Pima County wishes.  There was no law on the book when they bulldozed a road up to the top to begin building, but the Board of Supervisors was in the process of voting on an ordinance to prevent such building.  The construction equipment and houses suffered vandalism and fires for several years.

Not sure why they wanted to take my picture in front of this sign designating Cougar Trail.  Hmmmmm

Oh well, see you on the trails.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tanque Verde Falls and Aqua Caliente Park

We were a small group this week.  There were only 6 of us: JoAnn, Ernie, LaNeta, Gordy, Bonnie, and myself.  The weather was perfect for hiking – sunny, cool starting out, but with temps expected to climb to about 70 – we couldn't ask for better.  We had a bonus hiking day this week.  We were actually able to visit two beautiful areas and accomplish two short hikes totally about 5.5 miles.

Ernie laughing at Clothing Optional handwritten note
We first traveled to Redington Pass to visit Tanque Verde Falls.  Redington Pass is located between the Catalina Mountains and the Rincon Mountains.  This was my first trip to the area but I had heard quite a bit about it from other hikers.  It is known for camping, target shooting, biking, hiking, swimming (when water levels allow) and nude sun bathing.  Yes, nudists frequent the area.  I think the cool temps saved us on our hike.  We only saw a few hikers – fully clothed.  

Starting out on the first of 2 trailheads 

We hiked two short trails in the upper Tanque Verde Falls.  The first o ne we chose was pretty easy to climb, but we reached a spot that had a pretty steep drop.  It was determined that without ropes we probably wouldn't be able to climb back out, so we turned around and backtracked to the 

Ernie kind of scouted ahead and found a second trail not too far down the dirt road so we decided to try that one.  It was a lot more manageable as far as trails steep drop offs, and no terribly difficult stretches of high climbs.  Very moderate hiking. There were some challenging areas which is exactly what we want on a hike – a little something to get the heart rate going, and we made very good time getting to the falls.  

I have to admit I was impressed with the views and the hike in general, but I'm sure I was unable to hide my disappointment at the fact that there was hardly any water visible at the falls.  I had heard so many wonderful things about the waterfalls and scenic views, and we figured since we had had an abundance of rain just two weeks before, the falls would be in full glory.  Not so.  To our dismay there wasn't any water spilling over the top of the falls.  We hiked down to the nude beach area (where thankfully there weren't any nudists present ) and decided to have our lunch here. 

JoAnn and LaNeta 
 Even though the falls didn't cooperate, the streams below were beautiful!  The water was running clear and cold.  We of course saw the ever-present tracks of many small animals – raccoon, bobcats, maybe a few coyote, that had walked along the edge of the streams for a drink.  It was so peaceful and beautiful while we enjoyed our lunches, I for one found it difficult to think of leaving.  I could have sat in that little canyon and read an entire book without moving.  Breathtaking!  

We started back to the trailhead after lunch and this is when Ernie had the idea of a second hike piggybacked onto this one.  We usually try to hike a minimum of 5 miles each week, and were quite sure this was only about 4.  Since we were going to go back right past Roy P. Drachman Aqua Caliente Park, we decided to stop there and get in a little more mileage.  This park had been on Bonnie’s bucket list so she was extremely happy.

It took us about 15 minutes from Tanque Verde Falls to Aqua Caliente Park.  It had warmed up and was beautiful at park.  There were families having lunches under the large trees.  Children chased ducks around the pond and it definitely lived up to its reputation of an oasis in the desert.   We decided we would walk around the large pond in front, but as strange as it seems…almost the same thing that happened at Tanque Verde Falls happened again!  

We got just so far on the trail and could go no further.  This time they had chained off the area going around the pond in one direction.  Oh well, backtracking is what we do best.  We headed back to the picnic area and saw that the building housing the gift shop and information was open so we went in.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a woman who gave us a short history the park and then invited us to view the art exhibit in the main room of the house. 

This roadrunner was determined not to have his picture taken. 

Add caption

We played peek-a-boo around and around back and forth...but you can see who won the battle.  Ha!  

The park has a fascinating history.  Beginning with the Hohokam people thousands of years ago; then its use as an army encampment in the mid 1800’s; then it’s being claimed to be used as a ranch and orchard; then it being operated as a resort because of the hot springs.  It changed hands several times (Bonnie actually knew one of the last families – the Filiatraults to own the property and rode horses with a member of the family).  Finally, in 1984 Roy Drachman, Tucson native who did much to help develop Tucson through his real estate ventures, donated over $200,000 dollars toward the purchase of Aqua Caliente.  It was then that Pima County acquired the property an opened Aqua Caliente Park in 1985.  It has gone through a lot of renovations over the years and the landscape and ponds are beautiful, even now when the trees along the paths are mostly bear.  Truly an oasis in the middle of the desert, with towering palm trees heralding its location.  The mountain views were breathtaking on all sides.

As we were completing our trek around the grounds and were about to head back to the parking lot we were surprised by a group of red-eared sliders sunning themselves in the pond.  There were so many we couldn't get an accurate count, but it had to be at least 15.  Fun.  

See you on the trails!

Friday, February 1, 2013

Upper Javelina Trail in the Tortolita Mountains

Sun on a hiking day is always a welcome sight
We returned to the Tortolita Mountains this week to hike the Upper Javelina Trail.  Many of you will remember our hiking the Wild Burro and Lower Javelina Trails  in December - if not there is also a blog post  on that hike.  That is the infamous hike where I was attacked by a jumping cholla cactus.  I am amazed that I agreed to return to the site of such trauma for me so soon, but such is life.  The Tortolita Mountain range boasts some 29 miles of trails, which includes classic Sonoran Desert terrain, rugged ridges, diverse wildlife, historic ruins and signs of prehistoric inhabitants.  The Upper and Lower Javelina are very good trails for visitors and novices – not that it is an easy hike, it is quite moderate,  with a lot of climbing – but it is very well marked.  It has brown markers with arrows along the trail showing the way.  We hiked a total of about 6 or so miles with the combination round trip of the Wild Burro and Upper Javelina Trails.

We started at the Wild Burro Trailhead at the parking lot and followed the markers to the junction of the Upper Javelina Trail.  The trail lead us up and around the Dove Mountain Golf Resort where we were able to view Baboquivari Peak, Picacho Peak and Mt. Lemmon.  We were also able to see Twin Peak.  It is no longer Twin Peaks – which has streets, schools and parks named after it – because a construction company has mined one of the peaks into oblivion because of the limestone it held.  I’m sure the other peak is destined for the same fate.  Kind of sad, but I guess that’s what you call progress….

This blog will be relatively short because we just were at Dove Mountain in December – different trail, but many of the same views.  Thankfully, we had none of the trauma/drama that went along with the December hike.

The weather was a little on the cool side so we were all pretty bundled up and as crazy as it seems, we never peeled off too many layers.  It would feel nice and warm in the sun and suddenly we would round a corner where there was mostly shade and we were chilled again.  It was clear and sunny and we had a marvelous time.  George had other obligations so he wasn't with us on this hike, but I was missing him with his little coffee candies about halfway in.  I was yelling “Who has the energy drops?  Who has the candy?”  My pleas went unanswered…. 

As we hike, some of us try to compare the difficulty of one hike to another.  I am finding this increasingly hard to do because every single hike is different.  The guides may indicate the mileage is comparable, or the elevation gain is about the same, but they can never tell you the terrain differences.  I believe in the hike to Seven Falls in the Sabino Canyon the elevation was about the same as this one, but we were very winded in a couple of areas here on the Upper Javelina that I can say didn't happen to me at Seven Falls.  I felt that the elevation gain was more concentrated on this hike.  That being said, once we made it to the summit of the trail, coming back down was much easier.  It amazed some of us to see trail bike tracks occasionally.  The trail is very tricky and has some close edges where there were some pretty dangerous drops.  I just couldn't imagine how bikers were able to manage it.  I guess that's why this blog is called the Novice Hiker and not the Novice Biker.

 The one thing that never changes - although it constantly evolves - no matter what mountain or what trail we are on, it the beauty of the trails.  Whether we are 30 minutes or 2 hours from home, once we are on the trail we are transported to another time another plane.  It is hard to explain, but the 3 or 4 hours we are out there in the wild completely dependent upon each other is a feeling like no other.

Even when civilization intrudes like this:  
Dove Mountain Golf resort
Somehow, coming around a bend in the trail around the mountain and seeing this big resort brings you back to the here and now.  No more dreaming of ancient Hohokam men cutting petroglyphs into the side of rocks or the women grinding corn on the stones.  

Ah, but I wax poetic.  After all, it's just a Wednesday morning hike....

Heading home again, home again, jiggety jig

Until next time....see you on the trails!