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Archive for the ‘arizona trail’ Category

Recently I got to be a small part of a friend’s inspiring journey and I wanted to share an article I wrote:

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UltraPedestrian complete the first known yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail! Photo by Armando Gonzales

Coronado National Memorial, Arizona: On December 20th, Kathy and Ras Vaughan of Whidbey Island, Washington became the first people to yo-yo the 800-mile Arizona National Scenic Trail. For 93 days, this adventurous couple—known by their collective trail name as UltraPedestrian—traversed  the state of Arizona twice. Starting at the US/Mexico border on September 18th and hiking to the Utah border, then immediately turning around and heading back to Mexico, the couple covered a total of 1,668 miles. They endured everything from 100-degree temperatures to several snowstorms during an unseasonably wet year.

“We wanted to experience the trail as completely as possible, seeing it in both directions and taking on a challenge that no one else has ever experienced before,” said Ras. The Vaughans thru-hiked the Arizona Trail in spring of 2014, with Kathy establishing the fastest known time for a female in 35 days. Not only is a yo-yo twice as long as a regular thru-hike of the trail, but extreme weather is more likely. They completed the trail self-supported and hiked in and out of the gateway communities, adding 68 miles to their journey to resupply rather than accepting rides.

“Meeting people along the trail and in the gateway communities helped us understand the connection between the people and the places of Arizona,” said Kathy. “The challenge of the trail helped us improvise solutions to the problems that came up, whether it was dealing with gear issues or weather conditions.”

They had a SPOT tracker so that folks could follow along and shared frequent updates from the trail on Instagram and Facebook. I offered to pick them up at the Mexican border at the end of their journey and they let me tag along for the last two miles.

Kathy and Ras nearing the Mexican border

Kathy and Ras nearing the Mexican border

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Last steps toward Border Monument 102 which marks the southern terminus of the Arizona Trail

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Completed- the first known Yo-yo of the Arizona National Scenic Trail!

Congrats to this incredible couple! They will be coming back to Arizona in February for a speaking tour and are writing a book, I look forward to both.

About UltraPedestrian

UltraPedestrian is Kathy and Ras Vaughan, who strive to take on unique challenges and inspire others to “find their own version of epic.” Kathy holds the women’s fastest known time for the Arizona Trail and Ras is credited with innovating Only Known Times, including a sextuple Grand Canyon crossing and a unsupported (no resupply) Washington Traverse on the Pacific Crest Trail. Their website is Ultrapedestrian and they are on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube at @ultrapedestrian.

About the Arizona National Scenic Trail

The Arizona Trail is a continuous path – divided into 43 passages – across the state of Arizona and is open to all forms of non-motorized recreation, including hiking, running, backpacking, horseback riding and mountain biking (outside designated wilderness areas).

The trail traverses four forests (Coronado, Tonto, Coconino and Kaibab); three National Parks (Coronado National Memorial, Saguaro National Park and Grand Canyon National Park); one State Park (Oracle); eight counties; BLM land; and other municipalities.

There are 33 gateway communities located near the trail, which provide necessary services for trail users and benefit from the positive economic impact generated by the outdoor community. The Arizona Trail features more biodiversity than almost any other trail in the nation, and includes all but two of Arizona’s biotic communities.

The Arizona Trail is only the third National Scenic Trail to reach completion (Appalachian Trail and Pacific Crest Trail are the other two). The majority of funds supporting the Arizona Trail come from members, donors, business partners, corporations, foundations and grants. For more information, please visit www.aztrail.org.

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A perfect day for a hike- 7 miles and 4700 ft. down the South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

A perfect day for a hike- 7 miles and 4700 ft. down the South Kaibab to Phantom Ranch

This spring, I have had the pleasure of helping Warrior Hike, a non-profit organization that puts veterans on the National Scenic Trails to “Walk off the War”. They had previously put vets on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail and this year expanded the program to include the Arizona Trail. Along the way, they scheduled events to connect with VFW organizations to help regain the sense of community and brotherhood that is lacking when veterans leave the service. I helped plan their schedule, put them in contact with my Gateway Communities and even got on the trail with them. They started on March 15th- to read my story about backpacking with them the first 50 miles into Patagonia, go to Page 8 in the ATA Spring Newsletter: ATANewsSpring15.

Warrior Hike- Miller Peak Junction, Huachuca Mountains

Warrior Hike- Miller Peak Junction, Huachuca Mountains

I really enjoyed being a part of the team that helped the two veterans, Shawn- who’s trail name is Greyhound and Josh, as they made their way up the state. It is always interesting to see the Arizona Trail through the eyes of someone else and I did what I could to help with logistics and make sure their town stops were enjoyable.

There was one piece of the trail that I was determined to join them for, and that was the Grand Canyon. No surprise there, it’s the crown jewel of the AZT and my favorite place in the world!! I was really looking forward to putting my guide hat on and showing them around. After numerous calls, we were able to secure dorm rooms at Phantom Ranch for May 10th, as well as dinner and breakfast. That meant that I could hike down with just my Gossamer Gear Type 2 daypack- how fancy!! We had breakfast with Wired, who was on her last couple weeks of the Hayduke Trail, and Li Brannfors, Arizona Trail Steward and accomplished long-distance hiker.

Shawn and Josh and me at breakfast with Wired, who's on the Hayduke Trail, and Trail Steward and long-distance hiker Li Brannfors

Greyhound, Josh, Wired, me and Li Brannfors

The morning was beautiful- it had rained and snowed for a couple of days before and the air was crystal-clear. A smattering of puffy clouds was the icing on the cake for one of the prettiest hikes I’ve ever had into the Canyon. From the very first switchback on the South Kaibab Trail, Shawn and Josh were blown away by the outrageously fantastic landscape that is the Grandest of Canyons. There’s just really nothing quite like it and no picture or view from the top can prepare you for the layers of goodness contained within.

Starting down the South Kaibab Trail

Starting down the South Kaibab Trail

We blew right past Ooh Aah Point, too many tourists on this Saturday morning to stop and look. Instead, we found our own lookout point for reflection and photos. The Canyon was in bloom- wildflowers and cactus alike adding colors to the already spectacular layers of rock.

Wildflower season in the Canyon!

Wildflower season in the Canyon!

Took a short break for snacking at Cedar Ridge and headed down, down, down into the abyss. It’s so much fun to see others see the Canyon for the first time- the excitement of seeing the Colorado at Skeleton Point, the views of the iconic temples of the Upper Granite Gorge, the wonderment of it all.

Brahma and Zoroaster Temples rise above the canyon floor with Vishnu Temple in the distance to the right

Brahma and Zoroaster Temples rise above the canyon floor with Vishnu Temple in the distance to the right

Switchbacking through the Redwall Limestone

Switchbacking through the Redwall Limestone

The guys got a little ahead of me while I was talking to another hiker and I ended up hiking from the Tipoff down to the river solo. The South Kaibab Trail, no matter how many times I’ve hiked it, always makes me giddy with delight. I was practically dancing down the trail, I was so excited to be there, descending into the ancient schist and granite. As I neared the tunnel and Black Bridge, I hoped that I might see someone I knew at the Boat Beach, but alas, there were no Arizona River Runners or Grand Canyon Whitewater boats to be found. I’ll be starting my river season next month and can hardly wait to call the Canyon my home for the summer.

Josh is on the point and Shawn is approaching the saddle near the Train Wreck rock formation

Josh is on the point and Shawn is approaching the saddle near the Train Wreck rock formation

Black Bridge Selfie

Black Bridge Selfie

Black Bridge over the Colorado River

Black Bridge over the Colorado River

I took a break at the river but soon it was time to make sure that I got to Phantom in time to meet the guys for dinner. Josh had steak and Shawn and I had their delicious veggie chili, with big squares of chocolate cake for dessert. I fondly remembered the Christmas Dinner that I ate down here a couple of years ago. After dinner, we went to the Boat Beach to hang out by the Colorado River and then to the Silver Bridge to catch the fiery sunset on Zoroaster Temple. It was so much fun to show Josh and Shawn around and get to catch up with them and hear about how they felt about their journey now that they only had a week left to go.

Steak dinner at Phantom Ranch makes for happy thru-hikers!

Steak dinner at Phantom Ranch makes for happy thru-hikers!

Sunset on Zoroaster Temple and the Black Bridge

Sunset on Zoroaster Temple and the Black Bridge

After a visit to the Phantom Ranch Cantina, the guys were off to bed. But I wasn’t done with the Canyon yet- I hiked out the North Kaibab to the Clear Creek junction and played with my headlamp and long exposures on my camera.

Fun with headlamps!

Fun with headlamps!

I stayed up way too late and regretted it when we got the 4:30 am call for breakfast. Nothing like climbing out of the Canyon on no sleep, at least I was only carrying a daypack. After breakfast, we packed up and Josh and Shawn headed north on their last leg of the journey toward Utah. The North Rim was still closed for the season, so I hiked the Bright Angel Trail back up to the South Rim.

Accidentally hit a button I didn't even know I had on my camera and got this group shot

Accidentally hit a button I didn’t even know I had on my camera and got this group shot

I haven’t hiked out on the BA since my very first backpacking trip in 2002- I always take the South Kaibab. I figured I’d try it for a change. I spotted another hiker with an umbrella and got to talking to Meg, who works in the Canyon for the Park Service and lives at Indian Garden. She’s a fellow long-distance hiker and later in the day we saw each other again and she invited me up to her place for lunch. What a view!!!

Met Meg "Little Bug" who works for the NPS

Met Meg “Little Bug” who works for the NPS

View from my lunch with Meg at Indian Gardens

View from my lunch with Meg at Indian Gardens

The rest of the hike up was uneventful- even though the Bright Angel has water stops to make the trail easier, I still way prefer the South Kaibab. Topped out, grabbed some dinner in Flagstaff, and made the long drive back home to Tucson. Another great Canyon trip in the books!

Looking down on the Bright Angel Trail

Looking down on the Bright Angel Trail

Four-o-Clock

Four-o-Clock

Kolb Studio and the top come into view

Kolb Studio and the top come into view

Shawn and Josh made their way to Utah the following week and had their celebration in the Gateway Community of Page. I am so happy that I got to be a part of the first Warrior Hike on the Arizona Trail, the outdoors provides healing and time for reflection and it is great to help foster that journey for others. To donate to Warrior Hike, visit http://warriorhike.org/donate/.

Congrats to Shawn and Josh for a journey well done!!

Congrats to Shawn and Josh for a journey well done!!

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Haven’t updated the blog in a while- seems like I’m slowly emerging out of a time warp where I find myself suddenly at the end of April. The last month has been tough- my father-in-law passed away at 71 after a long battle with cancer and then ten days later my 15-year old dog Bailey lost the use of her back legs and we had to say goodbye to her too. So much sadness for me and my husband Brian, we’re finally clawing our way back to normalcy. It makes me dread the day I will lose my dad, supporter of all my adventures and one of the few people that totally understands me. Makes it even more important that I enjoy the time I have with him.

Bailey and Zeus- both gone but the great memories will live in my heart forever.

Bailey and Zeus- both gone but the great memories will live in my heart forever.

But on to more pleasant things- I have gotten to do a bit of traveling lately, some for work, some for play. I represented the Arizona Trail Association at the first annual Continental Divide Trail Kickoff event in Silver City, NM. It was a lot of fun and I got to see some of my fellow Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassadors that I’d met earlier this year. Interesting to see what Silver City has done with the CDTC’s Gateway Community Program. I worked a booth at the Outdoor Expo and it was surprising to hear how many folks were already familiar with the Arizona Trail.

Gateway Community of the CDT

Gateway Community of the CDT

Blue bootprints with the CDT logo take you through town

Blue bootprints with the CDT logo take you through town

Folks at the Arizona Trail Booth

Folks at the Arizona Trail Booth

Found a CDT hiking mini-donkey

Found a CDT hiking mini-donkey

Big Ditch Park

Big Ditch Park

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Allgood, Jabba, Bearclaw, Not a Chance, She-ra and Snorkel on the Long Distance Hiking panel discussion

CDT

CDT

I wished that I had more time to explore the CDT and Gila Wilderness, guess a return trip is in order sometime. My 17-year old nephew Chase visited us from Michigan for Spring Break and at the top of his list was the Grand Canyon. I was excited to introduce someone new to the Canyon and he loved every minute. I bet I have a backpacking companion in the making.

Brian and Chase at the Rim

Brian and Chase at the Rim

Chase on the AZT

Chase on the AZT

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One happy guy!

Taking in the view

Taking in the view

We also took him up Mount Lemmon and did something I’ve never done- hiked to the Mount Lemmon highpoint. It was a fun little route with outstanding views and Chase got to sign his first summit register. We did a couple short hikes on the mountain and enjoyed the sunset.

Windy Point

Windy Point

Chase signs in at the Mount Lemmon Highpoint

Chase signs in at the Mount Lemmon Highpoint

The next day I took Chase to see some petroglyphs near my house and then I suggested we take a short hike in the wash nearby. We were hiking along and all of a sudden Chase said, “Aunt Sirena, you just stepped on a rattlesnake!” Sure, I thought- this coming from the kid that had messed with me all week playing jokes. Unfortunately, this time it wasn’t a joke. I looked back and my stomach dropped as I saw the rattlesnake lying in the shade with an indent in the sand near its tail where I’d stepped on it. Fortunately it was too cold to move quickly, otherwise I’d be writing this while recovering from a massive bite.

Rattlesnake!

Rattlesnake!

Last weekend was the fourth annual Pine/Strawberry Trails Day. I just love visiting this pair of friendly Gateway Communities in the cool pines! It’s baby goat season at Fossil Creek Ranch and I got to feed two-day old kids and put them in their enclosure for the night.

Friendly signs welcome Arizona Trail users to town

Friendly signs welcome Arizona Trail users to town

Pine Trailhead

Pine Trailhead

Double Goats!

Double Goats!

The next day was Trails Day and there were hikes, bike rides, and a birding walk. I hiked a loop with the Llamas from Fossil Creek Ranch and lots of folks stopped by the Arizona Trail booth for info.

On the trail with Llamas from the Fossil Creek Ranch

On the trail with Llamas from the Fossil Creek Ranch

Thru-hikers Toad and Butch

Thru-hikers Toad and Butch

In the evening, I recorded an interview for The Trail Show podcast about the Arizona trail, you can listen to it here (my part starts at 41:13): http://thetrailshow.com/the-trail-show-35-the-gpt/

Last but not least, I traveled to the Arizona Trail’s southern terminus at the Mexican Border to shoot a piece  with Tony Paniagua from Arizona Public Media about the Arizona Trail. It will be a series of short segments about different environments and communities across the state. We’re shooting in Patagonia next.

Nate, me and Tony at Montezuma Pass

Nate, me and Tony at Montezuma Pass

It has been good to stay busy to keep my mind off my recent losses. My house is empty of animals for the first time in 18 years and it feels so strange. I’m really aching for a backpacking trip. Haven’t been out since mid-March, when I hiked 50 miles from Mexico to Patagonia to help get the two Warrior Hike veterans started on their thru-hike. I’ll post about that soon, it was a very rewarding experience.

In Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson news, it’s baby season again! Lots of babies mean lots of mouths to feed- your donation helps to nourish the little ones!

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Baby Killdeer

Baby Killdeer

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Baby Great Horned Owls with their foster mom, Luna

Same Great Horned Owls a week later

Same Great Horned Owls a week later

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I had been watching wildflower reports and my schedule for the right time to get away for three days on the Arizona Trail from Picketpost Trailhead near Superior to Kelvin. This 40-mile backpacking trip is one of my favorite pieces of the Arizona Trail in the spring because its dramatic rock formations and views look even better coated in poppies!

I met up with some friends from Superior who were kind enough to shuttle me to Picketpost. It was a gorgeous day after a couple days of rain. The visibility was fantastic and the air crisp and fresh. I got on the trail around 10:30 and saw many groups of equestrians out for a ride as well as a couple of hikers. My pack was loaded down with water and a pair of loppers so that I could do some trail work down by the Gila River. I am the Trail Steward of Passage 16c and I’d heard there was some brushy areas, so I came prepared to do battle with spiny plants.

Picketpost Mountain

Picketpost Mountain

The trail maintenance was a day and a half away, for now all I had to do was hike. I have done these two passages once a year for the last four years and still find it as exciting as the first time. There was water in places I hadn’t seen before, left over from the recent rains. The trail climbs up to what I like to call Stripey Butte Saddle, with great views toward the Pinal Mountains. I ran into a thru-hiker who was on the move, probably trying to make Superior before sundown. I love the views from this spot, but it was still early and I hiked on.

Stripey Butte Saddle

Stripey Butte Saddle

Blue Dicks

Blue Dicks

I filled up water at a cattle tank that was surprisingly clear and tasty. I had seven liters of water and one liter of coconut water as I hiked up to the saddle right before the gate that marks the “trailhead” between Passages 16 and 17. I use the term loosely, hardly anyone actually drives to this spot, the road in is beyond gnarly. I found a great spot for camp with views of Stripey Butte, the Pinals and the trail winding through the next canyon. An almost-full moon rose and illuminated my campsite so well that I didn’t need a light to write in my journal. It was a chilly, somewhat windy night but I had only gotten 5 hours of sleep the night before and woke up well-rested.

Sunset from my camp

Sunset from my camp

In the morning, I was taking my sweet time getting out of camp when Scott Morris and Eszter Horanyi rode up on their mountain bikes. Do yourself a favor and visit their blogs, they are always on some sort of fantastic adventure. They were using the AZT as part of a bikepacking weekend and were looking forward to going into Superior for Mexican food. We had a nice chat about wildflowers and such and they were on their way.

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Scott and Eszter on a bikepacking trip

Finally got hiking around 10 am, reached the “trailhead” and soon afterward found a pothole of water in a rocky spot on the trail. Being the desert hiker that I am, I stopped and filtered a liter to drink on the spot and refilled what I’d used the night before. It was 10 miles to the river and I wanted to be able to take my time- and time is water in the desert. The trail contours high above a rugged canyon, passing some spectacular rock formations and craggy peaks. Views opened up into colorful Martinez Canyon and then I reached the high saddle and took a break. I love this saddle, but it makes a bad campsite in the spring, it doesn’t get sun till really late and is a bit of a wind tunnel. Spectacular views though.

This is the "Trailhead"

This is the “Trailhead”

Fantastic Formations

Fantastic Formations

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Looking into Martinez Canyon

Gila River Canyons

Gila River Canyons

The trail wound around some cliffs and then began the long drop toward the Gila River. I could see all the way to the Catalinas, 60 miles away as the crow flies. The wildflowers increased in variety and density as I descended, sometimes carpeting the whole hillside. I was giddy with delight! The trail goes by a notable spire with the unofficial name of Dale’s Butte, after the pioneer of the Arizona Trail, Dale Shewalter. It’s quite the landmark.

Penstemon

Penstemon

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Globe Mallow and Brittlebush

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale's Butte

Hiking through the poppy-covered hillsides near Dale’s Butte

This part of the trail always feels like it is so much longer than 10 miles to get to the river. The trail is great, just circuitous routing to keep a good grade. Near the river, I made a visit to Red Mountain Seep to refill my water. It’s only 0.3 miles up the wash from where the trail hits the river access and there is a blue collection bucket sunk into the ground if you follow the big cairns up the hill. It was a welcome sight, as it had taken most of my water to get there since I had taken so long with pictures and poppy-peeping.

Red Mountain Seep

Red Mountain Seep

I couldn’t resist a trip down to the Gila River to soak my feet and take a break. The river was so low that I could see a gravel bar that would make walking right across a piece of cake. Not the case all the time. After my refreshing break, I finally got my loppers and my gloves out and geared up to do some trail maintenance as I hiked. My criteria was, if it’s spiny and it’s going to hit someone in the face, it’s got to go. The cutting part went easy enough, it was grubbing the spiny chunks of tree away from the trail that was tough to do without getting all scraped up. I hiked and trimmed until the sun went down and then hiked with my headlamp for a bit until I found a home for the night. Much warmer this night since I had dropped 2000 feet in elevation.

Gila River

Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

Sunset along the Gila River

The next morning, the Arizona spring wind kicked in and it howled all day long. It kept the temperature down, which was good. I continued my assault against spiny face-slappers as I hiked along, missing the days when I used to get out regularly to do trail work. I took a much-needed break at the river and rinsed some of the dust off. Which was immediately replaced by more dust. Unfortunately, my loppers were getting dull and it was getting infuriating, the blade gnawing at even small-diameter branches of catclaw. Even so, I got most of the big stuff along the river trimmed. The trail in my passage rolls up and down through drainages on The Spine- it is a marvel of engineering that created such a nice trail in such a rugged place. I saw my only person since seeing Scott and Eszter, the rancher from Battle Axe Ranch, out looking for his cows.

Gila River Campsite

Gila River Campsite

Stone Tool

Stone Tool

Battling spiny plants

Battling spiny plants

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Battle Axe Rancher

Battle Axe Rancher

I passed the A-Diamond Ranch and the trestle bridge and climbed up to the completion monument that was placed when we connected the Arizona Trail across the state in December 2011. The DS carved into the cement stand for Dale Shewalter, pioneer of the Arizona Trail.

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Scorpionweed and Poppies

Trestle Bridge

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker

Completion Marker

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

Sunset looking down at the tiny town of Kelvin/Riverside

The light was fading and I ended up getting back to my car in the dark. It was a great end to a fantastic trip- wildflowers, solitude, trail work, jaw-dropping scenery- I am lucky to have such spectacular places to play in.

Arizona Trail Day and the Colossal Campout is less than 2 weeks away, on March 28th- come out for a full day and night of fun on the Arizona Trail! Register for the hike, mountain bike ride, or horseback ride (BYO Horse) and reserve your camping and meals at http://www.aztrail.org/trail_day/ccmp.html. The Warrior Hike “Walk off the War” veterans will be hiking into Tucson for Arizona Trail Day. We are very excited to have two veterans thru-hiking the trail for Warrior Hike this year.

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey and raptors from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson will be at Arizona Trail Day- hope to see you there!

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

Jasmine the Mini-Donkey on the Arizona Trail in the Santa Ritas

AZTrailDay2015 CCMP

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Last year, the Grand Canyon National Geographic Visitor Center installed an Arizona Trail display in the interior courtyard sponsored by Nature Valley. It’s a fantastic display and the Arizona Trail Association was invited to create a promo for the trail that would run in the previews before the Grand Canyon IMAX movie.

Arizona Trail Courtyard Display

Arizona Trail Courtyard Display

I worked with the extremely talented videographer Levi Davis and a whole cast of hikers, bikers, equestrians and runners all over the state to get just the right shots to exemplify the trail’s beauty and biodiversity. Levi also used footage that he had from my Arizona Trail Trek. London-based musician Jonathan Wright generously donated the use of his epic piece of music Undiscovered World to set the mood. Then we were lucky enough to get Tucson radio talent Cathy Rivers from KXCI to record her beautiful voice for the narration. The result is a two-minute tour of the Arizona Trail that will hopefully inspire many journeys. I couldn’t wait to see it on the big screen, so when I was planning on traveling to Page for presentations at the Glen Canyon Visitor Center and the City Council I dropped by to take a look. Here’s the video:

It was amazing to see on the IMAX screen and know that thousands of people a year will be learning about the Arizona Trail. It was also a momentous occasion for me- twenty years ago when I moved to Arizona from the Chicago suburbs, my first stop was the Grand Canyon. But when I arrived it was raining, so I went and saw the IMAX movie while I waited for the storm to clear up. Now I was the one on the big screen! I am so pleased with the way the project turned out. Levi is an amazing artist and really captured the essence of the trail.

We also produced a general version without the bit about the courtyard display that can be used for all sorts of promotions and websites that feature information about the trail.

Pretty fantastic stuff- my presentations in Page went really well and now I’m headed to Moab for a Gossamer Gear Trail Ambassador weekend. I can’t wait to meet the other Trail Ambassadors- we’re going to be doing dayhikes in the area and I’m sure it will be a blast!

In Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson news, we’ve got a beautiful Ferruginous Hawk, which is the largest American hawk. Here’s a pic of it and for comparison, a Swainson’s Hawk and a Red-Tailed Hawk.

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Ferruginous Hawk

Ferruginous Hawk

Swainson's Hawk

Swainson’s Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

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Happy New Year! May your 2015 be filled with fantastic adventures!

Happy New Year!!

Happy New Year!!

For New Year’s Eve I decided to celebrate in the tiny town of Oracle. It’s on the northern side of the Catalina Mountains, and I go there often both for work and play because it’s one of the 33 Gateway Communities on the Arizona Trail. It’s a small but vibrant community with an artsy feel that has many historic guest ranches. As I drove closer to Oracle, gaining elevation on Highway 77, the rain turned into fat, wet snowflakes. I checked into my beautiful room at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch and relaxed for a couple of hours before going out for the night.

Snow starting to come down at El Rancho Robles

Snow starting to come down at El Rancho Robles

My relaxing room at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch

My relaxing room at El Rancho Robles Guest Ranch

When I emerged from the room, there was considerably more snow and I was glad that there was a shuttle service running so that I didn’t have to brave the roads filled with scared drivers and partiers. People in Southern Arizona are really bad at driving in any kind of precipitation, but throw a little snow in there and people just can’t deal.

My first stop was the Triangle L Ranch, where there was a fun band and delicious potluck. Normally, I would have spent at least a little time wandering the grounds, but I was wearing inappropriate footwear for so much snow. The ranch holds one of my favorite events, the GLOW Festival, in the fall. Their website describes it well- “Triangle L Ranch offers comfortable accommodations, privacy, easygoing hospitality, and the charm of a rustic, historic ranch setting enhanced by a commitment to the arts.” A wonderful place. I didn’t bring my camera, but here’s a pic of one of their outdoor areas:

Triangle L Ranch

Triangle L Ranch

After a while, I went with some folks to check out the new Ore House Hilltop Tavern. Formerly Don Juan’s Bar, it has new owners and has been completely remodeled. There is a gorgeous outdoor patio and I’ll have to come back sometime when there’s not four inches of snow on the bar.

I went back to the Triangle L to ring in the New Year with some dancing. It was a really fun night, made magical by the ever-falling snow. It finally stopped around 2 am and cleared up. I was glad I took the shuttle, a bunch of folks couldn’t get out of the icy driveway and had to unexpectedly stay the night.

The next morning, I couldn’t wait to go see the Arizona Trail with snow on it. For those who know me, I am not usually a fan of snow. I grew up in the frigid Chicago suburbs and developed a disgust for the white stuff. But snow at low elevations in the desert, frosting the mountaintops as well as the cacti- that is something to see!

Saw this near another room and it made me smile

Saw this near another room and it made me smile

El Rancho Robles

El Rancho Robles

I had to scrape my windshield and windows before leaving, something I haven’t had to do in years. There were abandoned cars all over the place as I drove to the trailhead. Like I said, people can’t deal. American Flag TH was exactly the winter wonderland I’d hoped for. This was my new Sony A6000 camera’s first hike, and what a scene!

Snowy American Flag Trailhead

Snowy American Flag Trailhead

I hiked a little ways to the north, enjoying the views of the snow-capped Galiuros and giggling about snowy cholla and prickly pear. I love this part of the Arizona Trail with its boulders and expansive views. The American Flag TH is where I originally got the idea back in May 2007 to hike the Arizona Trail and will always have a special place in my heart. Who knew that a simple hike seven years ago would put my life on such an unexpected path?

American Flag Ranch

American Flag Ranch

American Flag Ranch

American Flag Ranch

Snow on Prickly Pear

Snow on Prickly Pear

Then I returned to the trailhead and hiked south on the AZT. At first, I thought I’d just hike a little way in and turn around, but once I got going I realized that I could easily hike up to the High Jinks Ranch. After a short distance, there were no more tracks and it was so beautiful to see the glittering expanse of untouched white. I’ve hiked this part of the Arizona Trail so many times, but never in the snow. It doesn’t last too long at this elevation when the sun comes out.

Snowy Arizona Trail

Snowy Arizona Trail

I approached the High Jinks Ranch and the owner, Dan, invited me in for a cup of tea. Sounded great, as it was pretty chilly outside- the clouds had come in low again. The views from the ranch are expansive and spectacular. Dan rents out a casita on the grounds, which is where I celebrated my 40th birthday last year. The High Jinks is very hiker, biker, and horseback rider-friendly and totally worth a visit if you’re on the Arizona Trail.

Approaching High Jinks Ranch

Approaching High Jinks Ranch

View from High Jinks Ranch

View from High Jinks Ranch

I eventually had to head back down the hill and back to Tucson- my dog Bailey is quite old and I don’t like to leave her at home alone for long when my husband is not around. Before leaving town, I stopped at the Oracle Patio Cafe for a slice of their heavenly pie with homemade whipped cream to go. You could say that the pie was the icing on the cake of a fantastic New Year’s celebration- what a great way to start the year!

Micro Chicken hanging out with the snowman

Micro Chicken hanging out with the snowman

At Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, we recently released some skunks. I found this picture of one of them right before the release. Now they live at the Arlington Wildlife Area southwest of Phoenix.

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Hooded Skunk at Wildlife Rehab NW Tucson

Hooded Skunk at Wildlife Rehab NW Tucson

Free at last!

Free at last!

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It’s that time of year again for a retrospective of where I’ve wandered- and this one has been busier than most! You have been warned- it’s pretty heavy on the pictures. Grab a beverage.

When the year began, I was already neck-deep in planning my Arizona Trail Trek. It was a logistical Hydra coordinating the two and a half month schedule with 13 fundraisers, all the public hikes and backpacking trips, shuttles, media contacts, and a million little details. It didn’t leave a whole lot of time for hiking.

I did manage a Sabino-Bear loop and a trip up Agua Caliente Hill, always good choices for the colder months.

Umbrella weather in January

Umbrella weather in January on Agua Caliente Hill

In February, I hiked the Romero Trail to Romero Pass, a good workout along a gorgeous canyon.

Comfy seat at the waterfall campsite

Comfy seat at the waterfall campsite

Sunset lights up Samaniego Ridge

Sunset lights up Samaniego Ridge

I also turned 40 in February and celebrated with a visit from my friend Kristin. We’ve been friends since I was 4 and lived two doors down. She still lives in the Chicago suburbs and I was so happy to get to spend some time with her at the High Jinks Ranch and in Oracle.

Me and Kristin

Me and Kristin

Out for my 40th!

Out for my 40th!

On March 14th, I started my Arizona Trail Trek with a hike to the Mexican border and the kickoff event in Sierra Vista with food, music, and Arizona Trail Ale. A great beginning to an incredible experience.Arizona Trail Trek Logo

Arizona Trail Trek Start

Arizona Trail Trek Start

Mexican Border on the Arizona Trail

Mexican Border on the Arizona Trail

The rest of March was spent hiking north toward Tucson, with events in Patagonia, Arizona Trail Day at Colossal Cave Mountain Park and I even held and performed at a Belly Dance event at Sky Bar in Tucson. That’s got to be a long-distance hiking first!

Santa Ritas

Santa Ritas

Terry with River taking a rest on Katie

Terry with River taking a rest on Katie

Wildflowers!!

Wildflowers!!

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Jess Walker from Belly Dance Tucson

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

Arizona Trail Day hikers at the first big saguaros headed northbound on the AZT

My Arizona Trail Trek continued through April and May- it was quite a challenge and I am surprised that I stayed on schedule or early throughout the trip. I was so fortunate that I and everyone with me stayed healthy and safe throughout. I became a Trail Ambassador for Gossamer Gear this year, and was really happy with the way my Mariposa pack performed throughout my hike.Rincon Sunset

Rincon Sunset

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Boulders along AZT/Cody Trail

Ripsey Ridgeline

Ripsey Ridgeline

Camp above Ripsey Wash

Camp above Ripsey Wash

Lovin' the pass!

Lovin’ the pass!

Roosevelt Bridge

Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

Micro Chicken crosses the Roosevelt Bridge

What a place!!

What a place!!

Peacocks!

Peacocks!

Just me and my llama

Just me and my llama

Happy to be in the cool pines!

Happy to be in the cool pines!

What a great group!

What a great group!

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

View from the Dale Shewalter Memorial at Buffalo Park

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Swooping singletrack through the aspen

Cedar Ridge with O'Neill Butte to the left

Cedar Ridge with O’Neill Butte to the left

Ribbon Falls

Ribbon Falls

What a trail!

What a trail!

Tater Canyon

Tater Canyon, Kaibab Plateau

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Tantalizing glimpses of Utah sandstone

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, Arizona/Utah border

Arizona Trail at Stateline Trailhead, Arizona/Utah border

It had been a dream of mine to thru-hike the Arizona Trail since I learned about it in 2007 and I’m so glad that my hike was able to bring wider recognition to the trail I love so much. I raised almost $18,000 for the Arizona Trail Association and I’ll be doing a series of talks in the new year, check out my Speaking page to find one near you!

I was pretty tired after my thru-hike, but I had less than three weeks left until I had to start my season working on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. I had an incredible season- met a lot of wonderful people, hiked them all over the place, and told a million stories.

Comanche Point and Palisades

Comanche Point and Palisades

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

Incredible double rainbow over Diamond Creek Rapid

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

On the Arizona Trail on a boat!

Little Colorado Confluence

Little Colorado Confluence

In case you haven’t heard, the Little Colorado River Confluence pictured above is threatened by a possible development with a tram and a restaurant right at the river’s edge- please visit Save the Confluence to learn more and sign the petition!

After my river season ended in mid-September, the inevitable crash came. I am usually pretty wiped out after river season anyway, but combined with the thru-hike my body and mind were exhausted. It was not a fun time and I couldn’t even bring myself to write about how depressed and tired I was. I didn’t feel up to doing anything, I just rested and wondered if I’d ever feel like myself again. The worst part of it all was that the fatigue reminded me of all those years ago when I was sick with Fibromyalgia and I was even concerned for a while that I was having a flare-up.

I had anticipated the crash, having done other extended trips, but this one knocked me down for two months. I still managed to get out a bit, and that helped to keep me going, although it was also a reminder of how incredibly tired I was.

Maples on Mount Lemmon

Maples on Mount Lemmon

Windy Point Sunset

Windy Point Sunset

Whitmore Overlook

Whitmore Overlook

Finally, I started to get my energy back and the feeling of emptiness that depression brings waned. It felt great to be enthusiastic about the days ahead again. I traveled to Page for work and took a drive into the Grand Staircase-Escalante up Cottonwood Road. All sorts of great stuff to explore in that area. I hiked a peak I can see out of my backyard, Peak 3263 (or the southern end of the “Sombrero”, just to see what was up there. And then I did the classic Aspen to Saguaro hike from Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park. Over 6000 feet of elevation loss through an array of different life zones. It felt great to be able to hike all day again.

Thousand Pockets

Thousand Pockets

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch, GSEM

Sombrero and Panther Peaks from Peak 3263

Sombrero and Panther Peaks from Peak 3263

Lemmon Rock Lookout

Lemmon Rock Lookout

Looking out toward the West Fork and the Rincons

Looking out toward the West Fork and the Rincons

December brought a trip to the Cienega for fall colors and a backpacking trip in the Santa Ritas with some lovely ladies and Jasmine the Mini-donkey!

Cienega Creek Fall Colors

Cienega Creek Fall Colors

Antelope at Empire Ranch

Antelope at Empire Ranch

Starting out at Temporal Gulch TH

Starting out at Temporal Gulch TH

Jasmine on the Arizona Trail

Jasmine on the Arizona Trail

Mustangs in the Morning

Mustangs in the Morning

Grassy trail with Josephine Peak and Wrightson

Grassy trail with Josephine Peak and Wrightson

There was a winter storm in mid-December and I went out to play in the icy waters of Montrose Canyon with some friends.

Montrose Canyon 1st Rappel- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon 1st Rappel- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

Montrose Canyon- Photo by Dan Kinler

I spent Christmas backpacking in the Tortolita Mountains, it was a great getaway close to home.

Christmas in the Tortolitas

Christmas in the Tortolitas

Christmas Camp

Christmas Camp

I rounded out the year with a tough and spiny bushwhack to Bighorn Mountain, the last of the Pusch Ridge Peaks for me to summit. I’m going to be picking out spines for days, but it was well worth it.

Grassy shindagger and cactus-filled slope to the summit

Grassy shindagger and cactus-filled slope to the summit

Bighorn Summit- finally I've stood atop all four of the Pusch Ridge Peaks!

Bighorn Summit- finally I’ve stood atop all four of the Pusch Ridge Peaks!

Well, that was quite a year! Thanks for reading- it’s always fun to share stories of my wanderings with others. I kept track of all my hikes on HikeArizona.com and my year-end stats are 1,021 miles hiked with 150,775 feet of elevation gain- that’s equivalent to 5 Mount Everests stacked on each other. No wonder this post is so long!

Here’s to a fantastic 2015- I’m not exactly sure what it will bring but I’ve got a feeling I’ll be exploring fantastic new places. Happy New Year!!

Thanks to all who donated to the Arizona Trail Association or to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson this year!!

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Baby Great Horned Owls

Baby Great Horned Owls

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