Beauty of Seven Falls

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Picture Rocks in the Tucson Mountains

Our hike this week took us to the Tucson Mountains once again.  We were back in the beautiful Saguaro National Park.  This time we would do a loop of several connecting trails including the Picture Rocks Wash Trail, Ironwood Trail, and Cam Boh Trail.  The total hike would be approximately 4.5 to 5 miles.  Our group of 7 started out at our regular time and reached the trailhead in about 20 minutes.  This is one of our close-to-home hikes.  We don’t get a lot of elevation with these, but it is nice to get to our destination very quickly. 
Starting out - Jim, Judy, Connie, Barbara, Bonnie, & Barbara
It was a warm morning and we were eager to get started because temperatures seem to climb very quickly in the afternoon in the direct sun.  Today was to be no exception.  We were sorry not to have LaNeta and Gordy who have gone home to North Dakota for the spring and summer, but we were very happy to have Connie, who has been on sick leave (can you be on sick leave from a hiking group?) back with us.  We chatted along the Picture Rocks Wash, in which the sand almost seems like quicksand at times.  I don’t know which is harder – climbing up higher elevations, or trudging through sand.  I do know I have come to prefer the climbing…just a personal aside. 
Long-horn sheep or goat?

Not too far into the wash we came upon the rocks that are famous for the petroglyphs that are carved into them.  I have seen the rocks on previous hikes, but they never cease to amaze me.  They were carved by Native Americans, probably Hohokam, hundreds of years ago, and have endured here in the Sonoran desert.  I always try to figure out what type of animal they were carving, and what they were trying to convey.  Some think that they were probably carved as part of a pre-hunt ritual.   They are always interesting to see.  

This hike is one that really lets you know you are in the desert.  All you see are cactus, sand, cactus, rocks, desert blooms such as chicory and poppies, cactus, lizards, and did I mention cactus?  Not to worry about it not being scenic though, there are always the ever present surrounding mountain views. 

Mountain views

More mounts

Still more beauty
We reached the halfway point very early, about 11:00 and decided we would stop here for our lunch.  There was a shady little alcove where all 7 of us could enjoy a few cool moments out of the sun.  This little alcove is just indicative of the quiet and serenity of this area.  This trail is actually carved out and around a religious retreat called Redemptorist Renewal Center.  People come from far and near to enjoy the solitude and reflection.
Jim, Barb, Connie and Judy

Connie and Judy

One of these things just doesn't belong here....

All the Ladies
After lunch we continued on our way making a loop back to our starting point.  I can say that this is one of the easier hikes, but very enjoyable for all. 

Hi Ho Hi Ho, back down the trail we go

See you on the trails.....

Friday, March 22, 2013

Wasson Peak in the Tucson Mountains

Our goal in the distance...

Our hike this week took us to the Tucson Mountains to have a try at Wasson Peak (elevation 4,687 feet), the highest point in the Tucson Mountains.  I must admit right here and now that being the novice hiker, I was extremely apprehensive about this hike.  In the year since I joined our neighborhood hiking group, I had heard many times about Wasson Peak from my fellow hikers.  Many of them mentioned with pride having scaled to the top of Wasson Peak and some in the group had even pointed out the peak to me when we were on various other hikes in the Tucson Mountains.  I had pretty much talked myself out of trying the hike when it was described as difficult.  I even had a chance to opt out of even trying because we scheduled 2 hikes for this week; one hike would include the entire group following the Sendero Esperanza Trail until we crossed the Hugh Norris Trail.  At the saddle, part of the group, because of previous obligations,  would turn back around and return to the trailhead, making that hike a total of 4 miles round trip. The rest of the group would continue on the Hugh Norris Trail to Wasson Peak.  The total for this group would be 8 miles and 1,700 feet elevation gain.  I decided on the longer hike…I felt I could at least try.  I mean, nothing ventured – nothing gained right?  I could always sit at any point along the trail and wait for the others to come back and join them on the way back down.
Off we go, with Gordy bringing up the rear
We left our usual meeting place a little earlier in anticipation of the hike taking more time.  The weather was cool and overcast – perfect for hiking.  It only took us about 30 minutes to reach the trailhead and get started.

The first part of the trail is the sandy path of an old mine road.  I must mention that walking on sand that is gradually climbing in hiking boots is not the same as being barefoot at the beach.  It was along this sandy path that we came across the largest jackrabbit I had ever seen. It is also called a desert hare, but looked like a small deer to me.  Does anybody remember Twilight Zone the Movie?  Remember the segment with the little boy that could make things happen just by thinking them?  They were having a magic show and he had this one guy pull a rabbit out of a hat.  When he pulled the rabbit out, it was this huge, mutant, monster looking rabbit.  That’s what I thought of when we saw this rabbit. I am posting a picture from Wikipedia just as a point of information - I did not take this photo.  He was much too fast for me.  

Wikipedia photo
 We were really ready for the next part of the trail which is where we started climbing a series of switchbacks to the top of the ridge where it crosses the Hugh Norris Trail.  We gained about 600 feet on this first leg of our journey.  We were greeted with quite an array of wildflowers and of course the stately saguaro cactus forest. 

When we reached the third of several saddles along the Hugh Norris, half of our group turned back.  We said our goodbyes and continued along the ridge through areas with magnificent views.  I noticed that there weren’t as many saguaro cacti as we climbed higher.  There was more grass and different cactus such as ocotillo, prickly pear, mesquite, cat’s claws and of course my least favorite cactus the cholla.  

JoAnn and Gina leading on 
LaNeta, Gordy and Ernie going back

I was getting pretty winded as we continued our climb.  Jim took over as lead hiker with Gina right on his heels.  JoAnn and I brought up the rear.  I know that I mentioned more than once that I was tired.  JoAnn even agreed with me once.  We were getting close though….no turning back or stopping now….I had to push on.

We finally reached the summit and even though it was very overcast, we were able to see Brown Mountain and Golden Gate Mountain to the south, and the Rincon and Santa Catalina ranges to the east.  I had made it!  The novice hiker should at the very least be considered an intermediate hiker now.  The feeling of accomplishment is indescribable.  I really thank my group for putting up with all my whining and complaining for the past months, and for getting me to a point where I really feel proud of myself.  Love you guys!

Views from the top!

Jim and Gina waiting for JoAnn to sign the register

Much needed rest and lunch break

It was really worth the climb

Look at me Ma!  Top of the world!
See you on the trails.....

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Return to Parker Canyon Lake in the Coronado National Forest

Beautiful and serene
I knew this was going to be a wonderful hike when I got up in the morning and came into the kitchen to start the coffee.  I opened my blinds and a red-tailed hawk flew onto my roof.  He crooked his head to one side as if to say “Are you ready? Let’s go”.  I told my fellow hikers that we were hiking like the ancient Native Americans, with the spirit of the hawk along with us.  Who says I have no imagination?  
Hawk is ready to lead the hike

Santa and elves fishing
Our hike this week was a return to Parker Canyon Lake.  If you remember our experience last year – the sudden rain and wind storm- this one was the exact opposite.  We were a small group – only 6 – and we started out a little bit earlier because of the distance we had to travel to the lake.  The drive is about 100 miles from Marana, AZ and took us just about 2 hours to arrive there.  The weather seems to always cooperate with our group and this day was no exception.  We arrived to blue skies and calm breezes, and several fishermen already with lines in the water.

Most people would say this hike is easy to moderate and I would tend to agree.  It is about 5 miles and the trail around the lake usually is a fairly level dirt pathway that, for the most part, stays within a few yards of the water.  We found the trail hard to follow at times because it seems it hasn’t been very traveled so far this season.  Maybe this is due to the rental of canoes, kayaks and paddleboats this season. 

Family canoeing & fishing
There were quite a few groups out enjoying the lake – boating, fishing, camping and of course hiking.  We thought it was probably because some schools were already celebrating spring break.

The lake looks small but as in many things – looks can be deceiving.  When you start the hike you can see less than half of lake and the size of the lake and the length of the hike are surprising because of the numerous inlets you continuously navigate adding to the coastline.  

One of many inlets
JoAnn - pointing the way
This is another one of those hikes that make me extremely thankful for our leader, JoAnn.  She has been on most of these hikes over the years and has a pretty good idea of the trails and which way to go, even when they are not clearly marked. 

Parker Canyon Lake is a beautiful 130-acre lake, the largest lake in the Coronado National Forest.   It is host to many wading birds, wintering eagles, and we were lucky enough to see a great grey heron soaring across the lake.  The lake was created in 1966 when the Arizona Game and Fish Department completed construction of an earthen dam at the junction of Parker Canyon, Collins Canyon, and Merritt Canyon in Canelo Hills southeast of Sonoita.  It is located just six miles north of the Mexico border. 

Ever have the feeling you were being watched?  lol

The "floating eye" in the sky
This would probably be a good time to mention "the blimp".  In the summer of 2012, the U.S. military started bringing back dozens of surveillance blimps from the battlefields of Afghanistan.  The 72-foot-long, unmanned surveillance blimp—sometimes called "the floating eye" when used to spot insurgents in Afghanistan—can help find drug runners and people trying to cross illegally into the U.S.  We had extremely good views of the blimp from the lake.  
Gordy, LaNita, Val, JoAnn and Judy
This was a very enjoyable hike.  We were able to take our time and really enjoy the scenery because there wasn't a lot of loose rocks or major climbing like some of the other trails.  

As always - we enjoyed beautiful views of the surrounding landscape and bonus - we visited one of the local wineries at the completion of the hike. Just as this was a return trip to Parker Canyon Lake, we revisited the Kief-Joshua Winery.  

It was very exciting because not only to they have the largest bloodhound I have ever seen, they also have sheep and goats and believe it or not - a wallaby!  This in itself is probably not that big of a deal, but one of the sheep had had a little baby just that morning, so going out and visiting with the new mother and baby was more interesting I think than finding out about the winery.  

Baby nursing
The baby didn't seem to be getting any milk - like we're all experts in the field right?  Anyway, we went in and got the owner and his wife and they came out and actually lay the ewe down (not an easy job) and held her down so the baby could nurse.  All very interesting.

Hikers - nursing their wine?

That was one big hound dog!
I was telling him a secret....

A Wallaby!!!!

Stay thirsty my friend.  No that's not it.... 

Oh Yes!  I remember now...

See you on the trails...

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sutherland Trail - Catalina State Park

We had another wonderful hike this week. Our group of eight started out at our regular 8:30 starting time.  Beautiful skies and weather greeted us as we headed out to the Catalina State Park.  Our destination – The Sutherland Trail - was exciting to me, because it was a completely new hike for me.  I know what you’re thinking, “she’s the novice hiker, and most of the trails are new to her”.  Yes, quite true, but I have done a couple of the hikes more than once now.  One of them – Seven Falls at Sabino Canyon – I have done 3 times now!

The Sutherland Trail is an ‘out and back’ hike.  It is approx. 5 mi. round trip and has an elevation gain of approx. 700 ft.
A short walk from the parking lot leads us to the first crossing of three crossing of the Sutherland Wash.  There was a good amount of water going through because of recent snow and the fact that it is still melting and running down from the mountains.  Everyone was very surefooted and we kept dry as we crossed and continued.  

Gordy and Ernie 
This was a very pretty hike with beautiful yellow poppies in abundance along the trail.  There were a large quantity of saguaro, prickly pear, and ever present cholla also.

Majestic saguaro

Yellow poppies in abundance
The elevation gain was mainly at the beginning of the trail, but we weren't able to get too comfortable with plateau living before another climb was necessary.  I really enjoy these types of hikes.  Climbing with plateaus interspersed.  It kind of gives you a chance to catch your breath and enjoy the views.  Oh yes, the views.  The ever-present mountain views kept it very interesting.

There were also some very interesting rock formations along the trail.  There was one I just couldn't seem to tear my eyes away from.  The shape (to me) seemed to be of an elongated head like you see in Aztec carvings.  The front of it even looked like a face had been carved into it.  Okay, okay, so my imagination runs wild out there.  That’s what makes it so interesting to me and keeps me coming back.
What do you think?  Spaceman head? Face on left....

We stopped at an area with pools and a large flat rock expanse which was perfect for our lunch break.  There was quite a bit of water running through these streams and pools also.  It was nice enough outside for several of our group to remove their shoes and socks and soak their feet in that cold water.  BRRRR!

Judy - after she put her shoes back on.
Ernie and Jim sans shoes

Well, just in case you think you're getting away without a bit of history this week....

History of how the Sutherland Trail got its name: 

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.  There is a lot more history that goes with the Sutherland; Chicago gangsters, whiskey stills, and more.  But, this is a blog about hiking so I have to keep it short.

Now that I know a little history of the trail, I would like to go back and see if I can find the ruins….

BTW…some of us did 2 hikes this week.  The one at Sabino Canyon directly follows this posting.  Enjoy!

I found a perfect alcove to have lunch - shoes on!
See you on the trails......