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[View from the Bear Canyon Trail]

Tucson, Arizona - Cactusfest97
March 1997

Just a few notes from my recent trip to the Santa Catalina and Rincon mountains in beautiful Tucson, AZ.

Saturday, 22 March 1997
I drove to Tucson from El Paso arriving at about 2PM in the afternoon and checked in my hotel. After a brief rest, I drove to the Eastern Section of Saguaro National Park in the Rincon mountains southeast of Tucson. At the visitors center, I acquired a map of hiking trails, filled up my Gregory hydration system with about a gallon of water, and called home to let someone know where I would be hiking that afternoon. I drove to the trail head and found the parking lot and trails empty. Could it be the heat? I didn't think so; it was only in the mid 80s! I strapped on my pack, filled today with a long sleeve shirt/pants, clif bars, water, candy, a camera, and enough first aid and survival equipment to make Rambo jealous, massaged a bunch of 25 SPF sun block on my white body, and started walking. The well defined trails in this section of the park were routed through one of the last protected groves of Saguaro cactus in the world. It is said that the saguaro cactus, the giant cactus with arms seen in most Westerns, will tip over in a strong gust of wind due to their shallow root systems. I took care not to be downwind of them since the giant ones weigh several tons. Ouch!: Even without the spines! After about an hour on the trail I passed a guy on a horse and asked him for the local sunset time. He answered 6:30PM. Good, I had about an hour and a half before sundown. I wished him happy trails and proceeded to climb Rose Hill, a small hill overlooking the desert scrub. At the top of the hill, I found an excellent viewpoint of the surrounding mountain scape: The Santa Catalina Mnts to the north, the Rincon Mnts to the south, the Tucson Mnts to the west. I stopped here and took about a half a roll of pictures. Dodging a big pile of fresh horse scat, I continued deeper into the desert, crossing several dry washes and photographing the desert wildflowers/cacti along the way. At a trail fork, I stopped and looked at my map/watch. I was about 3 miles from my car with about 30 minutes of good sunlight to assist me on my way back. I didn't particularly like the idea of hiking in this country at night, so the idea of FastPacking crossed my mind. Yep, I started jogging the trails in medium weight mountaineering boots with about a half gallon of sloshing water on my back. Not the smartest thing I have ever done! I did make it back to the car without a flashlight. The jogging, however, gave me two tiny blisters on my right ankle. Back to the motel for moleskin and a hot shower.

Sunday, 23 March 1997

[Bear Canyon Trail Scene]

This day I traveled to the Sabino Canyon Recreational Area north of the Tucson city limits. This area is located in the Santa Catalina mountains and is adjacent to the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. I chose to dayhike a 13 mile loop consisting of the Sabino Canyon #23, the East Fork #24A, and the Bear Canyon #29 trails. The main destination would be Seven Falls, a tall waterfall complex composed of seven distinct cascades. After taking the 45 minute narrated trip through Sabino Canyon via shuttle bus, the bus driver let us off at the Sabino Canyon #23 trailhead. Properly moleskinned, sunblocked and hydrated, I started hiking. The first portion of the trail was fairly rugged and climbed about 600 to 800 feet. At the two mile mark, the wilderness began and the trail leveled off. Another half mile and I had reached a stream where a group of spring breakers were sunbathing on a sandbar and feeding their faces. After being told the best way to cross the stream, I bouldered successfully across and picked up the trail behind a clump of trees. The vegetation on this trail changed abruptly from desert scrub to grassland. I proceeded about a mile to what I believed to be a canyon bottom full of tall trees. Suspicious about my environs, I asked another hiker if the trail that we were on went to Seven Falls. He told me what I was expecting to hear, mentioning that the junction to my "CORRECT" trail was very close to the stream I had crossed earlier. He did say that the "CURRENT" trail led to "Hutch's Pool", a natural swimming pool. Sporting a donkey head look (i.e. humiliated), I turned back and retraced the path to the stream. "Make it to Hutch's Pool?", one group asked. I replied, "Almost made it!". ;-) Back at the stream, I unpacked my topo map and compass, oriented the map, and got my bearings. Sure enough, on the opposite side of the stream and a little to the left, I found the trail junction sign that I had missed earlier. Those darn spring breakers; next time I'll keep my eyes on the trail! Walking on the correct trail now, I unwrapped my lunch, a chocolate chip clif bar, and started to munch. The trail got real tough here and started climbing the ridge between Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon. Minutes on the trail and I noticed that I was totally alone for the first time today. An hour later, still climbing switchbacks, I discovered something interesting on the trail: fresh scat which appeared to be deposited by something that I didn't particularly want to meet up with alone. For the next half mile, I whistled everything from "Amazing Grace" to the theme song from "Green Acres" trying not to surprise any wildlife. The only thing that I saw was a few dead black beetles and few birds. Stopping at the junction of the East Fork and Bear Canyon trails, I made a quick foot check and found a matched pair of blisters on the inside of my ankles. I performed minor foot surgery and then began advancing on the Bear Canyon trail. I noticed now that the wind was trying to blow me off the mountain! I thought I was back in Dallas again! Fortunately, I was really on top of one of the sides of Bear Canyon fixing to make my descent to the creek below. The views of Thimble Peak and the city of Tucson below were excellent here. I took lots of pictures. Walking switchback after switchback as I made my 2000 ft descent, I was glad that I had chosen to hike this loop in this direction. Hiking from the other direction, the switchbacks would have been grueling. At Bear Creek, and after a quick blister check, I stumbled across mammoth boulders to get to the other side of Bear Creek and the continuance of the trail. Another hour and I thought that I had made another wrong turn somewhere; Seven Falls was still not in view. I continued. About the time that I was considering rationing my dwindling water supply, I heard rushing sounds to my right and saw an unusual sight far below: a crowd of people gathered beside a small pool. Yep, I was at the very top of Seven Falls. It took me almost another hour to skirt the canyon down to the Seven Falls trail. I was pretty much exhausted when I got there so I didn't go to the fall's base. I did, however, get some real impressive pictures on the way down. The distance from Seven Falls back to my car was a level 5 miles. I finished my 15 mile journey without further incident. I did, however, have to dodge the first snake I had ever seen in Arizona. Back to the motel for a deserved rest.

Monday, 24 March 1997

[A very old and tired Saguaro]

Its pretty tough to crank up an old model car in the morning! Well, just like the car, my 1964 model body was just not in the mood this morning to haul it up to the peak of Mnt. Kimball (Elevation: 7200ft). Yesterdays trek had left its toll: a matched pair of blisters on my ankles, sunburns on the back of my right hand and the back of my knees, general soreness, a couple of bruises from falling on a boulder, and two gashes on my left leg left by an unfriendly allthorn bush. Being a professed cactophile, I decided to abandon my summit attempt and go cactus shopping in Tucson. I purchased 4 new plants for my collection and ate a late lunch around 2PM. While I was eating, I decided that I ought to at least try to get some more desert hiking in before leaving tomorrow; Besides, the moleskin on my ankles seemed to be holding up. I decided to hike the Finger Rock Trail which leads to Mnt. Kimball's summit. This trail, which climbs 4000ft in less than 5 miles, is described by most trail guides as Strenuous, Challenging, or Most Difficult. It is named for its view of Finger Rock, a mountain peak which is in the shape of a hand with the index finger pointing upward (i.e. We are # 1 symbol). I agree with the guides on their ratings and can offer one more description: For The Crazy Ones in the Bunch. The trail is rocky with big boulders everywhere but is relatively level for the first mile. Then, it veers right into the first set of switchbacks and the lung-busting/temple-throbbing begins. The switchbacks continue all the way up the mountain. Although I knew I wouldn't reach the Kimball summit, I wanted to climb up about 2000 ft, get a good viewpoint, and make pictures of the city/sunset below. On the climb up, I re-learned to do the "Hand to Knee, Other Hand to Rock" step up and there were some other places where I learned to do the "Backward Crab Walk - Both Hands to Rock, Both Feet to Rock". I did felt better hiking the trail this year compared to last year. The trail was still a challenge. In some places the index finger pointing upward on Finger Rock appeared to be a different finger; Must have been the sweat in my eyes! Anyway, I went up about 1500ft, took some good pictures, then returned.

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