National Trails Day is celebrated annually on the first Saturday in June which means it’s coming June 6th, 2015 to a trail near you. It is a day of advocacy, maintenance, discovery, and enjoyment. There are organized events being held across the country and you can find one on the American Hiking Society webpage at http://www.nationaltrailsday.org/. Events may include trail construction projects, cleanup, educational hikes, general recreation, and also extend to bicycle and equestrian trails as well. As an incentive to participate, American Hiking Society is running a contest with prizes and also encourages everyone to upload photos to their Facebook and Instagram pages.
For Wild Drake, every day is Trails Day and we are actively involved and hiking the trails to our fullest extent. This past weekend, during a pleasant 13.8 mile hike on a local trail, we did some light maintenance along our journey by trimming some thorny plants that were protruding into the path and building cairns to mark the way. There is another section of trail nearby that we are familiar with but realized that it is not adequately marked; we will celebrate National Trails Day by building cairns to guide hikers through that area.
Additionally, this is an important reminder for all of us to make sure our voices are heard and that our representatives and congress members are aware of how vital our trails are to us. We encourage you to contact yours with a quick email telling them to protect and maintain the trail systems and parks. The opportunity to get outside and experience nature, hike, bike, walk, bird watch, run, and the myriad of possibilities is crucial to being healthy and happy, and we need to ensure that those are perpetually available to all.
This year, don’t let National Trails Day go by without joining in on the adventures. Find an event or simply get out and enjoy a trail activity. Take a walk on a nature path or spend a day helping to maintain your favorite one. If you are up for the challenge, find a group that is working on bigger projects like bridges or heavier work and volunteer. One of the wonderful things about our trails is that there is something for everyone, from the kids to great-grandparents, and at all levels of physical capabilities. This can be a chance to meet new people, get involved with projects that matter, and have an incredible day immersed in the beauty of nature.
One of the factors that we find intrinsic to our Wild Drake hikes is that we try to be cohesive with our surroundings. We admire the plant life and respect the animals, insects, birds, and creatures that share the pathways. Becoming submersed in the wilderness, letting go of stress, breathing the fresh air and enjoying the sunshine and breeze on our skin, feeling our muscles working to propel us, and visually absorbing the gorgeous wildflowers and distant vistas, invigorates us and gives us health and the strength to deal with the intrusions of regular daily life. Time spent on the trail is like a drug, intoxicating and addicting and we are always looking for the next high, the next trip.
The most critical step is the first one. Take it. Just get out there, somewhere, whether it is a half-mile stroll or an intense 20 mile hike. We promise you won’t regret it!
“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.”
Ritual behaviors can take many guises, but beneath, there invariably lays an element of forging or strengthening a bond, a renewal of connectedness. It may seem mundane to some, but for us, preparing for a backpacking adventure involves distinctly ritualistic protocol and it is performed in a fairly consistent pattern. It is much more meaningful than simply routine and there is an increasing sense of anticipation that accompanies our performance. We have choreographed tasks that we move through with nearly effortless ease and experience. David always packs the gear and makes sure that we have a stove (or three), fuel, headlamps, cameras, batteries, sleeping bags and pads and any other necessary accessories. I rummage about in the kitchen and ensure that we have our meals, teas (AscenTea™ and DescenTea™), Hydraulic™, Hike™, and that we are well-nourished as we venture forth. Our ritual is comforting, joyful, and one that is practiced with thoughtfulness and attention to detail.
This weekend we enjoyed a brief but very welcomed respite in the Catalina Mountains. I really needed the immersion into nature and there was a beautiful full moon for added incentive. The previously scouted location was perfectly suited to our needs, and we look forward to returning again soon. Our campsite was surrounded by pine trees, with a fragrant needle carpet to provide cushion for our tent and an extremely pleasant redolence triggered by our every step. At the onset, we were frequently inspected by numerous hummingbirds because of our brightly colored clothing and tent but they soon discovered our lack of available nectar. David had to relocate a scorpion to a rock a bit farther from our claimed territory after discovering it while arranging a cooking area. A lone deer wandered nearby, seemingly unconcerned about the new neighbors. We snapped our initial photos and went about setting up camp.
While there was a predicted threat of impending monsoon rains, we were only lightly doused with a bit of moisture on our way up the mountain and magically, just as David zipped the tent door closed for the night, we heard a light tapping on the roof as rain fell again, gentle cascades of percussion to lull us to sleep. By morning, our peaceful locale was dry and crisp, with a multitude of birds going about their daily business and a complete lack of the annoyances of city life. The calm, quiet air was occasionally punctuated by chirps, whistles, and the hammering of woodpeckers, but there was not a barking dog, loud human voice, vehicle noise, or siren to be heard. It was wonderful.
David has a habit on these kinds of mornings to grab the camera and his cup of tea and wander off into the wilderness, encouraging me to lounge in the hammock and try to redeem some of my missed relaxation after a busy week. I admit, it is not difficult for him to convince me, and the slow swaying of the hammock, the view of the surrounding woods with Tucson sprawling far below, and the musical accompaniment of the feathered orchestra soon left me dozing with reckless abandon. David gets some of his best photos during these times and often returns with tales of the animals that he encounters or interesting bits of nature. Typically, we then make our breakfast and this outing meant some tasty Ere the Dawn™ cereal to fuel our day. There is simply nothing like eating your breakfast outside, from a titanium cup, ensconced in the natural world, with the love of your life at your side.
There is a moment from the previous evening that seems appropriate to share and I found it to be quite hilarious in a way. As we happily munched on our dinner, David was obviously finding his to be delicious and he looked at me and said,” This is better than you make at home”. A qualifying statement is in order at this point which is that David loves my cooking and he did not mean this in an adverse manner. I gazed back at him, head tilted slightly in that confused canine type of way and asked for clarification. He told me that the flavor was amazing and got even better as he got to the bottom of his cup and I replied something about perhaps he should have stirred his meal as I suggested to distribute the seasonings. David was perfectly satisfied with having the intensity of his entrée increase as he neared the finale, but I was equally fulfilled by my evenly flavored dish. I thought perhaps it would rehydrate more evenly if stirred but David had an acceptably hydrated dinner without being littered by crunchy bits in spite of just having added the water and ignoring it until he picked up his utensil and dug in. Moral of the story? Stir if you want, don’t if you don’t. Our Wild Drake cuisine is more tolerant of human idiosyncrasies than I realized.
Our short jaunt was exactly what I desperately needed and I feel much more capable of facing the world, empowered and refreshed. I’m sure a nap in the hammock didn’t hurt either. We crave these outings and immediately began planning for the next possibility. Wilderness calls to us in a kind of Thoreau-like voice, and there are undertones of Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, and others that provide background depth. We require the natural world in a way that almost defies explanation and emerge with determination to return as soon as possible. Ostensibly, backpacking is fantastic exercise that leads us to gorgeous vistas and it can be quite an adventure at times. For David and I, hiking, and especially backpacking, are intrinsically linked to our souls and provide a replenishment that is not to be found in our modern lives. We revel in the most diminutive moments, of the footprints of animals, the graceful swooping dives of the bats at dusk, the deepening glow of sunset, the rustling of tree limbs in the breeze, the determination of the ants to gain access into our food supplies, the indignant arching of the tiny worm that was crawling on David’s sleeve as he attempted to move it to safety, and these conjoin to form a saturated, sensual experience. We are going back next weekend, and hope that you can heed the call of the wild soon as well!
It’s monsoon season in Arizona and that time of year, time for backpacking and revisiting the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aravaipa_Canyon_Wilderness. Due to the fragile nature of this exceptional perennial creek, watershed, riparian zone and breathtaking oasis, nestled deep within a very arid, discrepant desert environment, monsoon season is possibly the best time of year to visit Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, and potentially the time of year these summer storms may add a bit of dramatic adventure to your life.
Aravaipa creek is just minutes from the trailhead, therefore there’s no need to carry water in providing you have purification equipment, and once you’re in the creek (for the most part the creek is your trail) and within tree canopy the temperature may easily drop by a refreshing 10 degrees, more if a monsoon is passing through.
Immediately, take notice of the carsonite trailhead sign at the junction of the creek and the trailhead, and it’s location. If you have a GPS system, use it, however it’s not absolutely necessary. Finding your way out of the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness may be a daunting task, especially if it’s raining, it’s dark, or you’re not exactly sure where the trailhead is. I can tell you that if you’re on your way out of the canyon, and you’re lost or it’s dark, you’ll eventually come across the parking lot lamppost that will appear directly in your field of vision, just above the creek. Once you see the lamppost, you’re just a couple on minutes from the trailhead.
Now that you’re in the canyon you may or may not be immediately in the creek, depending on conditions that may change on a constant basis due to weather, rainwater and watershed variables and channeling conditions as the water riffles wherever water wishes to go. I’ve been there twice and neither time was I beginning immediately in the creek, this second time in several inches of rich, silky mud (hiking poles can be useful for balance). Not only did this extraordinary earthy mud made life amusing but left indelible fauna tracks of all kinds to appreciate. Thank goodness the creek meandered just feet away. Initially you’ll begin passing through wilderness on your right and ranch land on your left.This area is where I saw the most beautiful dapple-colored bear I have ever seen, traversing the creek only 60 feet in front of me. Unfortunately, the bear was swifter than the time it took to wake my camera to snap a photo of this majestic creature. Before I knew it it was out of eyesight. Next time, my camera will remain on.
Initially, you’ll begin passing through wilderness on your right and ranch land on your left. This area is where I saw the most beautiful dapple-colored bear I have ever seen (not that I’ve ever seen a dapple-colored bear), traversing the creek only 60 feet in front of me. Unfortunately, the bear was swifter than the time it took for me to wake my camera to snap a photo of this majestic creature. Before I knew it it was unfortunately out of eyesight. Next time, I’ll be sure to maintain my camera or video camera in the “on” mode.
Before long, and you’ll be able to see them as soon as you enter the creek, you’ll begin passing through slot canyons the creek has, for millions of years, carved through volcanic and bed rock. The majority of the creek, however, is not slot canyon, with exception of a few side canyons that are almost entirely composed of slot canyon, and you may find trails that run in concert along side of the creek, intersecting the creek many times. Taking advantage of the trails is highly recommended in some of the rougher, turbid water, although, when the water is clear and rather docile, I prefer to traipse directly through the water even swimming in larger pools every chance possible, before continuing on my journey. The first time I visited the wilderness, July of 2013, I found the water level to average less than a foot in depth, and this second visit a foot to eighteen inches in depth, considerably higher this second visit. There were several fast-water flows that needed to be avoided for safety by going terra firma, making use of trails due to excessive turbidity and depths greater than waist high. In fact, the water saturation and turbidity this adventure was entirely opaque, making each step deliberate, slowing my pace and along with the abundance of silken mud along the embankment that extended upward approximately two to four feet above the current water table, led me to believe I missed a fantastic monsoon confluence that must have passed through only one day before. Two days later, on my way out of the wilderness, a considerable amount of this silty deposit had already baked in the hot Arizona sun forming the most beautiful mosaic of thick, rich, feathery terrain in which to travel.
I happened to be a lone soul, with the exception of an abundance of wildlife, in the canyon wilderness this sojourn and I thoroughly enjoyed every peaceful moment. I sauntered where I wished, climbed and negotiated and non-competitively contemplated what to do and when to do it. My only hinderance was the mandatory three-day limit bestowed upon me by the BLM, which I respectfully accepted given the grandiose beauty surrounding me. With a cheerful gleam I parted the water as I walked, soaked in the wonderful weather, photographed spectacular scenery, spoke to the wildlife, listened intently to the sounds of nature and relished my surroundings thinking, this is how life is meant to be lived. With pause, I quickly thought to myself, I’m home, before I shook myself back to reality knowing my primal stay here is unfortunately, limited. Incidentally, this canyon wilderness has been home for indigenous people and cultures for more time than we can possibly conceptualize, a way of life not too much different than the life I so desperately desire to ingress, if only for this very brief period of time.
Along on my journey, modern conveniences such as a waterproof backpack, sil-nylon tent and hammock, titanium stove and cookware, and a modern fire-starter had all added a bit of luxury to wilderness life, and a good old-fashioned beloved, non-fiction paperback book was pleasantly absorbed page after page while lying in my hammock, as if by osmosis, word after word, collectively ensnared each and every one of my senses, adding waves of confluence to the gentle warmth of my already immersed wilderness spirit. From the bear and I fortuitously crossing paths, and birds of amazing beauty and elegance sharing with me their exotic refuge, to the two young bucks that visited my campsite, all of us enjoying the surreal landscape, and rewarding me with their kind, unpretentious demeanor and trusting me to encroach their personal space to within a few feet. The gorgeous and wise old owl, wise enough to know I meant it no harm. The insects I intently observed doing their best, but to no avail, to construct a home for themselves in the finely-sifted dirt that kept falling back into their prospective home. The tiny native fish, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fish_species_of_Aravaipa_Canyon, inhabiting the creek whom were bold enough to nibble my fingertips as I lay naked, supinely in the shallow portion of the creek near my campsite as the gently flowing water brushed and soothed the entire breadth of my body. This is Aravaipa, an oasis in the desert!
Please do not disregard the permit system, it exists to encourage the long-term growth of the canyon flora and fauna and to prevent overuse and abuse. Once again, this is a very fragile ecosystem that needs care and consideration for it to thrive. There is a three day maximum limit or you may reserve for an overnight or a day hike. Please carry out all trash and dispose of properly after you’ve returned home and, kindly follow the Leave No Trace principles, https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles. Any further questions in regard to what you may need? You may possibly find your answer here: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/info/regulations.html.
The Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness creek bed is evidently composed of small stones to large boulders. While the water in Aravaipa is constantly in motion, be prepared with footwear that best prevents these small stones from entering your shoes, otherwise you’ll have sore feet and an awful experience. I learned the hard way and limped away from my initial experience in Aravaipa with an abundance of foot sores almost too sore to walk on. This past week I wore a Vibram brand FiveFinger shoe that prevented quite a bit of material from entering my footwear but not all of it. I still had to stop once over a span of almost seven miles to empty unwanted debris from my shoes, but a far cry from last years choice of footwear, having to empty them several times every mile. My suggestion would be a low-cut shoe that contains a neoprene cuff such as the Vibram FiveFingers KSO model, however, this shoe has a smooth sole that may not be conducive to travel along the bottom of a slippery creek bed. I wore the Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon model that was adequate for the job. A taller water shoe with a lugged sole may work out if one exists, I’m not aware of one. During my first visit to Aravaipa I went along with a friend whom wore a regular runner-style shoe with gaiters. He seemed to be able to prevent most of the smaller debris from entering with this set-up.
Be safe!… Be aware that because this is an excitingly active ecosystem there may be rocks falling from cliffs or canyon walls on a regular basis. Do not linger directly below any cliff, especially during inclement weather and high winds. In addition, inclement weather including rainfall or monsoon may empty into the Aravaipa canyon watershed, suddenly and by surprise, even if there are no clouds within sight, causing a destructive wall of water rolling down the canyon. Stay alert, always scan the terrain for a way out or up if this happens and do your best not to linger long in any of the slot canyons where there may be no escape.
There is an abundance of wildlife in the canyon wilderness and because the wilderness is not much more than miles of riparian wetland you will encounter this wildlife. It is in my experience that this wildlife is conditioned to encountering humans and therefore skittish but not too vastly afraid and when startled or happened upon quietly may decide to protect itself. It is in your best interest to remain alert and make some kind of noise during travel to avoid a tragic encounter. In any case, you will encounter wildlife. For your benefit do not attempt to feed or follow. There have been numerous bear and cub sightings in the Aravaipa wilderness, your best defense against an attack is to prevent being caught between a mother and her cub, once again, make as much noise (talking, walking through the water, etc.) as possible and they will saunter off without incident. Observe from a distance only and give them their space.
Necessary and Precautionary Equipment and Awareness You May Find Useful…
• Appropriate footwear… Shoes that prevent the creek bed from entering is of utmost concern.
• Shelter… If staying overnight it would behoove you to pitch your shelter above possible watershed high water mark.
• Food containment system… A food containment system is essential equipment unless you want to lose your food and face the possibility of coming face to face with a bear or other uninvited guests late in the evening. I recommend the Ursack S29 AllWhite system http://wilddrake.com/2014/03/13/the-tied-and-true-bear-discouragement-food-containment-system-the-ursack-spectra-29-s29-allwhite-may-very-well-be-your-best-available-option-for-your-safety-food-containment-food-protection-and-food-s/, it has worked very well for me for several years with not a single animal incident, to date.
• Hiking poles… Not necessary and I’ve never used them yet may come in handy for a number of uses, especially if you’re comfortable with them, such as testing the depth of water, staying vertical, buoyant and above water, possibly preventing life-threatening falls in the water and slipping on mud.
• First-aid… Always carry a comprehensive first-aid kit (first-aid kits are always very personalized) including a whistle. Let friends and loved ones know where you are and when you’re expected to return home, and of course the BLM will investigate, providing you obtained the mandatory permit and you haven’t left the wilderness in a timely manner. Cell phones will not work in this canyon wilderness area.
• Sun protection… Although this is a riparian area with plenty of water and tree-cover, the desert is just feet away. A combination of direct sunlight and sun reflection off the water may warrant a need for sun protection.
• Be aware of your current location… Falling rocks from high cliffs is not unusual in Aravaipa Canyon. Do not linger directly below any cliff, especially during inclement weather and high winds.
• Bear deterrent… Although I have not ever had any issues with bears nor have I heard of anyone having issues with bears it’s always best to stay alert and carry bear spray, if that may make you feel more comfortable.
• Bug spray… Not absolutely necessary but, precautionary. Bees were not much of an issue but should always be taken seriously and precautionary measures followed.
Reach Your Summit, or in this case, Your Riparian Canyon Wilderness!
Enduring Seasonal Consequence, Tolerance and Hostility within the Sonoran Desert…
The wilderness surrounding Tucson is fascinating and beautiful to say the least. Within a short distance and a just a few hours from Tucson you can hike through several biotic zones and gorgeous landscape offering some of the best hiking experiences any trail junkie would appreciate. Some come here for the views and landscape, some come here for the geology, and some come for the multitudes (and chance sighting) of wildlife, and many, most in fact, come for the almost perfect weather.
I came for the hiking, the challenging terrain, and to experience the many seasonal pleasures the Sonoran Desert offers. I was fortunate to first arrive in Tucson at the very beginning of monsoon season, a remarkable time of year that some southern Arizonans consider an actual season, myself included. In other words, a twelve-month seasonal life cycle in southern Arizona encompasses summer, fall, winter, spring and monsoon. Although I tend to believe our spring and fall seasons here to be rather short and winter entertainingly mild, monsoon is particularly inviting and without a doubt our most exciting and energetic season. Monsoon, defined by it’s erratic thunderstorms, torrential, horizontal rain, high wind and cool temperatures, also happens dead smack in the middle of summer literally dividing our summer in half, with monsoon temporarily cooling our environment for at least a couple of months, making southern Arizona summers amazingly bearable.
We’re currently in the initial stages of summer, until early July when the monsoons typically arrive, and even though the summer season doesn’t officially begin until June 21st, the average temperature in Tucson these past couple of weeks has been well over 100ºF. The overall yearly average temperature in our little region of the Sonoran Desert ranges from cold to cool evenings in the winter and from warm to extremely hot daytime summer temperatures, making the season changes quite difficult to determine. After eleven years of living in southern Arizona I really have no idea when our winter and spring seasons begin and end judging by seasonal definitions and solstices, it just sort of inconspicuously happens, highlighted by some degree or element related to temperature and barometric pressure. The temperatures tend to blend so well that extreme season and temperature changes just sort of creep up us until we’re fully enveloped. When summer temperatures do arrive, they arrive with abandon and I wish with all my strength and energy and every moment of that time for the beginning of monsoon, and that monsoon would begin earlier than the year before. Monsoon, fortunately, is about as close to clockwork as possible, always something to look forward to, to count on, and although I would really rather enjoy the moment I’m currently experiencing, I anticipate monsoon with every baited breath once summer begins and I’m always grateful for it’s return. Summer in southern Arizona is hot and dry, and famous for the proverb, “but it’s a dry heat”, and monsoon is a wonderful reprieve. When and if monsoon arrives late and not like clockwork, wanes early in the season or presents a rather tranquil season, there’s definitely a sort of mourning that takes place, a harsh reality that I’ve felt before, and at other times, monsoon has released an unforgettable fury. Monsoon is not just important to the sanity of a hiker but to every water-dependent being in the desert.
The negative effects of low humidity and extreme dry heat, temperatures in the 90º’s and well into the 100º’s, is that the desert floor is no place for a warm-blooded hiker, hiking being my favorite activity. Granted I’ve become quite accustomed to hiking in temperatures ranging in the mid-90º’s, but once the temperature splays beyond the mid-90º’s, I immediately acknowledge the fact that I dauntingly consider myself a victim of seasonal consequence, tolerance and hostility; with considerable forethought and caution deliberated before I begin any summer hike. And it’s not just the high, immensely dry heat and exhausting summer temperatures but the amplitude of prickly flora, poisonous reptiles and lack of water, all lending a bit of aggravation to southern Arizona summers. Thus, a hiker’s options or plan so to speak, in southern Arizona, summer edition (and let’s face it we’re going to hike), is simple and includes carrying no less than 2 liters of water per hour (1L of water weighs 2.2 lbs.) of hiking time, arriving at the trailhead before sunrise and returning before 11am, the time before the sun begins to competitively bake the desert floor. Not only is this region hot and the sun excruciatingly exhausting, but the reflective heat off the desert floor makes conditions beyond 11am very near unbearable. My best option (and one I prefer more than hiking) is backpacking and camping into higher elevations, providing there’s a perennial spring nearby. I also tend to map particular perennial springs and carry water purification equipment in the event of an emergency or decision to remain on the trail longer than expected, which I often do. Water is scarce in the desert, including higher elevations and careful planning is essential. Even in the winter I’ve been caught in higher, cooler elevations in southern Arizona without water and the effects were close to disastrous. During the summer months, there is absolutely no room for mistakes. Night hiking is not recommended as the terrain may be quite difficult to traverse, even with a flashlight. Full-moon night hiking, incidentally, is a wonderful experience, with or without a flashlight.
As a result of southern Arizona summer temperatures and the Sonoran Desert, I have not been hiking too often or for distance in several weeks now. There has been little cloud cover, no rain, and sweltering dry heat. This time is apparently a time for rest. However, these hostile temperatures and personal tolerances are only momentarily in mind and monsoon, a particularly favorite season to hike, is coming and although I may be hiking precariously through heavy thunderstorm and rain drenched trail washes, monsoon is every bit a dream. No amount of hostility and personal tolerance can measure up to the beauty and elegance of monsoon. Driving rains for short periods of time between thunder and lightning, intermittent humidity, water, so much wet, wonderful water, and amazing skies make monsoon the perfect hiking companion. Forgo the umbrella, it will be upended. No rain coat or poncho has ever been comfortable. Bring on the wild Monsoon and I’ll ingest every bit of it. Monsoon is coming, a season worth waiting for!
If you’re interested in the Tucson area weather forecast, past, present and future, click on the link below…
So what’s a hiker/backpacker do to? Embrace personal tolerance and southern Arizona hospitality (hostility), and venture into the unknown as well prepared as possible, or remain indoors with visions of monsoon dancing in our heads? I say, plan ahead, be careful and get out and hike, we will! You’ll regret it if you don’t.
What have we been doing? We have been working quite a bit and we’re really quite close to beginning our eCommerce website for Wild Drake. Our natural cuisine is tremendously nutritious, fully sustaining our endurance hiking, and our extensive line of trail apothecary, also natural, has been an essential addition on the trail. Our line of tested apothecary items currently includes lotions, salves, scrubs, bug repellant and tooth powder, (many more will be added) are all as essential as life itself on the trail. We’re very excited about initially releasing our hydrator, Hydraulic™, in many nutritionally-boosting flavors; our Bios™ energy bar; our newest creation and nutritionally specific food/beverage enhancement, Hike™; AscenTea™ and DescenTea™ Teas; etc. etc. Hey, and our products are wonderful for in-home use, too!!
Reach Your Summit!
Please observe our Leave No Trace principles and avoid lighting campfires during this hot, dry season in all of Arizona and the Southwest. Thank you!
On average, I typically see less than one Gila Monster per year, most likely due to their reclusive proclivity, reportedly appearing only to breed, feed and bask in the sun.
This season, I’ve already seen two, the second and the one kind enough to pose for our photo gallery, captured on camera in the Turkey Creek Wilderness bordering the Rincon Mountain Range, may have been the largest I’ve seen, approximately 30 – 40cm in length.
Did you know that a group of lizards is called a “lounge”? If you’re interested in learning more about these amazing reptiles, please visit the following links below…
The Definitive Answer to the Age Old Question… Does a Bear Sh*t in the Woods?
The confirmation is a resounding YES! How do we know? Well, to spare you the sordid details and graphic photos, let’s simply say that Dave stepped in it! Avoidance was bear-ly a possibility because of the widespread nature of the umm, evidence. Happy Valley campground in the Rincon Mountain range (http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/coronado/recreation/hiking/recarea/?recid=25596&actid=64), Southern AZ is apparently quite the haven for Black bears, and the manzanita bushes that are in abundance are currently providing a bountiful crop of tasty berries. Bears+berries+Dave’s left foot=proof!
This was far from just a sh*tty backpacking adventure however, and our weekend at Happy Valley campground and ascent of Rincon Peak were magnificent. The trailhead is about 60 miles from our home and as we were leaving Tucson, Dave suddenly swerved sharply, hit the brakes, and pulled over to the shoulder. Just as rapidly, he whipped back out onto the road into the direction from which we just came and was asking me, “Did you see that?” I didn’t have time to reply when he flipped another U-turn and pulled off to the side of the roadway. “It’s a Gila Monster”, he exclaimed as he grabbed the camera and leapt from the car. Urgently I followed, anxious to finally see one of these unique creatures. Though they are well-known, the Gila Monsters are not often seen and even David only sees one a year, on average, which is remarkable given the amount of time that he spends out in the desert. Gorgeous, poisonous, and slow-moving, the reptile was making its way across the pavement. David and I proceeded to plant ourselves in the lane, detouring several cars and a bicyclist until the lizard had time to reach the shoulder safely. It did not seem impressed that we wanted to take photos and kept opening its powerful jaw and waving its black tongue in warning. We kept a respectful distance because we did not want to traumatize it any further, and because they really are dangerous little fellows in spite of the fact that it looked a bit like a hissing newborn kitten.
Lizard crossing accomplished, we resumed our journey. Rincon Peak is a rocky protrusion that tops out at 8482 feet and is about an eight mile trek up from the trailhead. We spent our nights at Happy Valley, a campground which lies slightly over halfway. David and I were enthused to be on the inaugural evening of our new Big Agnes, Fly Creek UL2 (UL2) tent. It is noticeably lighter than the Mountain Hardwear EV3 (EV3) tent that we usually carry (okay, Dave carries!), but it is also considerably smaller (cozier) as well since it is constructed for two people instead of three, like the EV3 to which we have grown accustomed. The new structure permits us little room for both our backpacks, my smaller pack found an overnight home inside the UL2 while Dave’s nestled into the available bear-resistant food storage locker along with our food. It would have fit in the spacious vestibule, however, but with the two days of intermittent rain we decided to take full advantage of the dry locker. Overall, the UL2 was a wise purchase, even if it did involve a few moments of Twister as we changed and slid into our sleeping bags. I think we both really hoped and expected that we would get a glimpse of a bear, given all the evidence of their presence, but we did not get the opportunity.
Happy Valley Campground
The Rincon Peak trail winds through pine forest for the majority of the second half, and the scent of the trees, the pine-needle carpet, the calls of frolicking crows, and the softness of the ground beneath us made indelible impressions on our senses. This trek was a refreshing change as we frequently travel in more open areas, rocky, and without the stands of pine and juniper, crunching on gravel and sand, deprived of the insulation of the forest. Approaching the upper reaches of Rincon Peak, the challenging and precarious trail begins a series of switchbacks and grows incredibly steep, transforming into an exciting ~40% grade testing both our endurance and desire. With sincere determination and willpower David steadfastly climbed, balancing his 45 pound backpack, hiking nimbly towards the summit (I stashed my 25 pound backpack along the way). His physical feat meant that not only did he have an intense perspiring workout, but that we were able to enjoy a delicious lunch and hot, energizing tea on the peak while admiring the 360 degree view from the summit!
Rincon Peak 3.2 miles ahead
Pine Forest along Rincon Peak Trail
8482′ Rincon Peak
Rincon Range in the Foreground; Santa Catalinas in the Background
Looking Southeast from the Summit of Rincon Peak
￼David on the Summit of Rincon Peak
The trip back down was cautious due to the extreme slope but the peekaboo views through the pines along the trail gave David a chance to take some wonderful shots of the scenery. Arriving back at camp, we had a scrumptious and nutritious Wild Drake rehydrated meal, followed by our DescenTea™, which we imbibed beside our toasty campfire. The tea worked wonders and we both slept well and awoke rested and refreshed.
Janice on Her Way Down the Rincon Peak Trail
After drying gear from a short period of overnight rainfall and condensation, we meandered our way back down the scenic Miller Creek trail, reluctant to leave Happy Valley and end our Rincon adventure.
Our Final Morning at Happy Valley; Drying Gear
We began with a question and we culminate with one. Where will we go to reach our summit next weekend?