Posts Tagged ‘50-Year Trail’

Three weeks ago at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, we had a cottontail rabbit brought in by a family who had found it in their backyard dragging a leg with an exposed fracture. The Miller’s work with several veterinarians in town who are kind enough to donate their services, and they took this cottontail to Dr. Laudonio at Acacia Animal Hospital. Dr. Laudonio performed surgery on the rabbit, pinned the fracture, and set it into a cast.

Broken-leg Bunny

A week or so later, he reapplied an external cast because the original was causing the rabbit’s leg to turn outward. Six days ago, on Friday, one of the volunteers went to feed the broken-leg bunny and came back to Janet Miller, asking, “Who put those tiny bunnies in with the broken-leg bunny?” Well, it turns out the bunny had just given birth to two bunnies, and as Janet came to see if she was okay, gave birth to a third.

Handful of 5-day old baby bunnies

What a testament to the resilience of this bunny, who had been through a tremendous amount of trauma! Mom and babies are doing well, their eyes should open on the 7th day. We had to remove the bunnies from their cage to clean and feed them, and had to make sure the mom bunny could see and smell her babies, so she wouldn’t think that we were trying to take them away from her.

Mom and babies- photo by Sue Jackson

The babies are generally piled up in a bunny-heap when not nursing. It is interesting to see how quickly they put on weight with their mother’s milk vs. the formula that we feed baby bunnies at the Wildlife Rehab. I will post updates next week when they open up their eyes.

Mom and a pile of babies

Baby season at the Wildlife Rehab is winding down, and some of the babies that we have nurtured throughout the summer are now ready for release. Since I am often going to places with shade and water to go hiking, I enjoy taking animals for release with me. Yesterday, we had a kestrel (smallest of the falcons) ready for release, so today I took it to Catalina, to the Cottonwoods near the Baby Jesus and 50-year trails. There are several washes that have water in the area and plenty of tall trees for shade and perching.

Kestrel deciding if he wants to come out

Play this video if you’ve never heard the call of a kestrel before- it does it right at the beginning of the clip:

Kestrel checks out his new surroundings

The little guy  hunted some ants and wandered around for a bit. I started to wonder if he was going to just sit in the wash all day, when finally, he took to the skies and perched in a tall cottonwood. I watched for a while to make sure he was ok, then went on a little hike on the Baby Jesus Trail before returning to the car. I hadn’t been to the Baby Jesus Trail since December of last year, and it was so much lusher and greener, with running creeks and tons of summer wildflowers. The blooming orange caltrop in places reminded me of poppy-filled hillsides of spring. I found a small waterfall at the second creek crossing, and got into the pool for a soak before hiking back out to my Jeep. Unfortunately, I had not taken the stuff out of my pockets, including my high-tech Jeep key. Oops! Thankfully, it had dried out enough by the time I’d gotten back and I didn’t have to face the wrath of my husband for ruining the key.

Caltrop Bloom opening

Morning Glory Vines

Behemoth Saguaros on the Baby Jesus Tr.

Barrel Cactus Blooms

If you’d like to donate to the Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson and have a PayPal account, you can click the “Donate” button below to make a contribution.

If you’d rather mail a check, you can make it out to “Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson” and send it to 3690 Hills of Gold, Tucson, AZ 85745 with “Hiking” in the memo. Janet and Lewis Miller rely on donations to supplement the $10,000 a year that they pay out of pocket to feed and house all these animals and birds, and a donation of any amount is greatly appreciated!

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Wooden Trough Spring on the Baby Jesus Ridge Trail looking north

In March 2007, I was looking around on the internet for new hikes, and I came across the tantalizingly named Baby Jesus Ridge Trail in the Catalinas. The trail
description I got was from a mountain biking website, and I did a little scouting via Google Earth. There is a loop that connects the 50-Year Trail with the Baby

Jesus, Sutherland, Link Trail, and back to the 50-Year. I set out to do this loop in 2007 and it was a spectacular failure. I had read that the Baby Jesus Trail would be overgrown, so I didn’t think twice when I began going up the ridge, fighting all sorts of catclaw and mesquite. I will never forget the moment I realized that I was way off track and that my planned loop was never going to happen. Then, as I was backtracking towards my car, it started to rain and the sun set on my little adventure. I ended up having to hike for a couple of hours in the rain and dark, navigating by the GPS that my husband had thankfully gotten for me when I started hiking solo. I was still a novice at working my GPS and it had no base maps on it, otherwise I would have realized a lot earlier that I was not going the way I thought I was. I had cell reception in this area and was able to call my husband and tell him that I was okay, but I was going to be home a lot later than I thought. It all worked out in the end, but not before I was completely freaked out by a glowing pair of eyes that I saw under a tree on my way back to the car.

So, with that backstory, it was with a tiny bit of trepidation that I attempted this same loop this week. Between the first hike and this one, I had found my way
800 miles across Arizona on the sometimes-hard-to-find Arizona Trail. Could the Baby Jesus be that difficult? How would I fare on my return to the Baby Jesus
Loop? Besides, this time I was armed with a GPS and I knew how to use it…

50-Year Tr. looking north

50-Year Tr. looking north

The forecast was for a high of 67- perfect hiking weather under blue skies dotted with fluffy white clouds. I started out off of Golder Ranch Road (the same place as my blog entry from 11-24) and hiked the familiar 50-Year Trail to FR 642 to the junction in the circular wash with the cottonwoods. There are several paths in this area and you have to pick the path with a carsonite post that says “restoration area” with a brown metal step-over gate in the fence. This is, I believe where I made my mistake on the previous hike. Because once I passed the fenceline, the Baby Jesus Ridge Trail was in perfect shape. It even looked like someone had pruned it back recently. As I was hiking this clear, easy-to-follow trail, I couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking, “I was never on the Baby Jesus,
that’s why I couldn’t complete the loop!” Wow. That was a humbling moment. The trail follows a lower ridge that is a little bit farther east and behind the main ridge that you can see at the trailhead. I think I went up the larger ridge on my previous visit. After my initial shock wore off, I was able to fully enjoy what the Baby Jesus has to offer. Beautiful views of Samaniego Ridge and Samaniego Peak dusted with snow. There were great piles of bouldery formations, and -surprise- clear trail. There were some foot, horse, and bike prints, and it looks like it gets a decent bit of use. There is a big field of behemoth saguaros that the trail winds through near the beginning.

Baby Jesus Ridge Tr.

I could look north and see my route that I took on last week’s backpacking trip through Sutherland Gap and the Biosphere in the distance. My favorite part of
the whole loop was when I got close to Wooden Trough Spring, almost 3 miles into the Baby Jesus Trail. This was all new to me, and I really liked the peaks on
the ridge that forms Cargodera Canyon. Great peaks with sheer cliffsides. I reached the spring, which is right on the trail, and was surprised to find a healthy-looking population of showy orange and black goldfish living in the clear water. One of the orange fishes was as big as my hand! The area near the spring would make a great camp spot, and I filed it away in my “places to come back and spend the night” file. From the spring to the Sutherland junction, the trail was
slightly more overgrown, but mostly at ankle-level.

I reached Flat Rock Meadow, a wash crossing with- you guessed it- flat rocks. I knew that the Sutherland Trail junction couldn’t be far away, so I passed up this
spot and continued on to the next scenic place to stop and eat lunch. The Baby Jesus Ridge Tr. is about 4 miles long, but not marked with any kind of sign at
either end. I reached the Sutherland junction, at a large cairn on a powerline road. Shortly afterward, I found a beautiful spot for lunch on a rock outcrop
overlooking the changing sycamores and cottonwoods in Cargodera Canyon.

Cargodera Canyon with Tortolita, Silverbell Mtns. and Ragged Top in the distance

I have not hiked the Sutherland Trail at all, and this small peek makes me very interested. The Sutherland Trail can be followed all the way up to the top of
Mount Lemmon. Of course, the way I would hike it is to get dropped off at the top and hike down rather than up the 6000 feet elevation gain.

But for today, I was only following the Sutherland Trail, at this point a rocky road, for one mile before continuing to the Link trail that would take me back to the 50-Year trail. The Link “trail” is actually a very rocky road. I was glad to be going downhill. I think that is the reason that most writeups have this loop going
clockwise. Much better to gain elevation on singletrack and lose it on a rough road. The Link Trail headed into Sutherland Wash and through a gate, well-
signed the whole way. After 2.2 miles, I reached the 50-Year Jct. and turned north, glad to be back on singletrack after the rocky and sandy jeep road.

This part of the 50-Year is not as interesting as the northern part that goes through the boulders, but it got me back to my car in no time flat. From the time Iwas approaching Sutherland Wash, I kept hearing someone firing a gun, over and over and over again. The trail would look like it was going toward the sound,
and then thankfully veer away at the last minute. I saw some cars parked on the jeep road, but never saw the people that were out shooting.

Looking back on the Baby Jesus Ridge

Total time for this 10.5 mile hike was 4.5 hours, 15oo ft. elevation gain. I really enjoyed this loop- the first half is more interesting than the second half, but the whole thing has great views. I will definitely be back to the Baby Jesus to camp out, but I will be waiting until it warms up a little bit. There are petroglyphs in this area, and I will be returning to this area next week to check them out. I will be sure to post pictures!

Click the picture below to see the rest of the pictures from this hike!

50-Year to Baby Jesus to Sutherland Loop

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Near the town of Catalina, just north of Tucson, there is a network of trails at the base of the Catalina Mountains. Most are unsigned and not marked on the topo quads. I found some GPS tracks on mountain biking sites like www.mtbguru.com and a very helpful map at http://www.sdmb.org/TrailDesc/CatalinaSPMap.jpg. I also used Google Earth to help plot out my route. These trails are mostly used by mountain bikers and equestrians- I rarely see anyone on foot out here, and I have never seen anyone backpacking or camping. I’m not quite sure why, the scenery is amazing, albeit close to town.

My plan was to start at the parking area off Golder Ranch Road, take the 50-Year Trail, Middle Gate Trail, and Rattlesnake Trail to Sutherland Gap and proceed toward the 4wd road that goes to Cherry Spring, then pick up the road that goes to Charouleau Gap. I figured it at about 8-9 miles one way. I had to carry all my water for the time I would be out and I started with 7 liters of water. I shouldered my heavy pack and started on the 50-Year Trail. This part I had hiked before, and in 1.5 miles, I made it to the junction with the Middle Gate Trail right before Sutherland Wash. I crossed the wash and went through the gate, and was surprised to find a well-maintained, very obvious trail that had seen quite a bit of recent use. There were footprints, horse prints, and tire tracks, and this was the part of the trail when 3 bikers whooshed past me, the only people I would see for the rest of the trip. This is when the trail entered the boulder and slickrock fields. I think there is nothing more beautiful than a bouldery landscape, dotted with tall saguaros. About one mile in on the Middle Gate Tr. there was a cairned junction for the tantalizingly named Slickrock Lollipop Tr. That would have to wait for another time. I reached the junction with the Rattlesnake Trail, which was obvious even though it was not marked.

The Rattlesnake Trail weaves in and out of Sutherland Wash climbing towards Sutherland Gap, an obvious break in the bouldery ridge coming south from the Mule Ears on Samaniego Ridge. At the last crossing of the wash, there is an area of large oaks which made a great shady spot for lunch. Most of this hike is quite exposed, so I was using my umbrella while hiking for shade. I was really surprised at how good the trail maintenance was out here, I had expected it to be too brushy to use my umbrella. My lunch spot was 5 miles from the trailhead. While I was taking a break, 3 red-tailed hawks circled overhead, screeching and weaving in and out of each other’s paths.

After lunch, I continued on the Rattlesnake Trail, climbing out of Sutherland Wash and turning right to follow a ridge. The views from here were spectacular- I could see the moon coming over Samaniego Ridge, Charouleau Gap, and in the distance Pusch Ridge, the Tucson Mountains, and Baboquivari Peak. I had found my home for the night, 6 miles away from the trailhead. There were these great rock formations to lean up against and I set up my camp. I decided that it would be best to hike to Charouleau Gap tomorrow in the cool of the morning, instead of this afternoon, especially since I had a limited supply of water.

I love sleeping under the stars!

I went on an exploratory hike from camp in the late afternoon, just taking my water, GPS, and maps. I wanted to find the 4wd road to Cherry Spring that would take me to the road to Charouleau Gap. The trail comes close to a wash, and I crossed it and bushwhacked up the hill and easily found the road. It was only about ½ mile away from my camp, but as I was coming back I made a wrong turn and was going the wrong way for a little bit before I realized it. Oops. Thankfully, it seems that I am soon aware that I am going the wrong way and I can usually correct myself before getting too off-course. This happened several times on this hike, where there were numerous paths that branched off.

Dark came early, and I had a long, cold night ahead to keep myself entertained. I had a fire, cooked up some dinner, and spent a long time writing in my journal. When I am at home, I don’t journal nearly as much as I do when I am outside. There is something so inspiring about the outdoors that makes the words just flow from the pen. My camp was nice as it was on the backside of a ridge, so I couldn’t see the lights and sprawl of Saddlebrooke butting up against the mountain. I don’t use a tent in good weather, and the stars were unbelievable. I saw 5 shooting stars throughout the night.

I woke up in the middle of the night, as I usually do when camping, and read my book Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals until I fell back asleep. She was one of the Little Rock Nine that integrated the school system in the late 1950s. It is unthinkable to me the hatred and violence she sustained in order to be a pioneer of integration.

It was a long, cold night, and even once it got light out it took the sun until almost 9am to come over the ridge. I cooked breakfast from my sleeping bag and read the rest of my book. Melba’s story touched me so much that I was crying by the end of the book. Being a brown person myself, I am so thankful that I don’t have to deal with that kind of overt discrimination. I didn’t have enough water to make the climb to Charouleau Gap and get back to the car, so that would have to wait for another time. As I hiked back to my car, I was already plotting my return to this wonderful maze of trails at the base of the Catalinas.

Looking back at Sutherland Gap

You can see the rest of the pictures from this trip here:

50-Year to Sutherland Gap

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