Posts Tagged ‘desertsirena’

What a year this has been! I have been kept quite busy by my consulting company, Trails Inspire, and sadly have not posted much on Sirena’s Wanderings this year. However, this post will catch you up on what’s been going on, there are many links to follow as well to articles I’ve written or appeared in. I thank all the readers that have followed me for the past eight years I’ve written this blog and those who find my posts a resource and inspiration for their hikes.

A Grand-Canyon sized thanks to Gossamer Gear and Huppybar for their support of my adventures! If you’d like more frequent updates on where I’m wandering, follow me on Instagram at @desertsirena. Here’s my favorite shot of the whole year, condors J4 and 02 playing queen of the rock in Marble Canyon. Now on to a look back at 2017!

California Condor

Condors playing Queen of the Rock


At the beginning of the year, I returned to volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I had taken a break for about a year or so and was so happy to be back! Volunteering there is one of my favorite activities and I am so fortunate to get to specialize in working with raptors – hawks, owls and falcons.Harris Hawk

I filed the official paperwork in January to form Trails Inspire, LLC, my consulting business. Trails Inspire promotes the outdoors through photography, public speaking, freelance writing, and trail project management. Thanks to Wendy Lotze for designing my beautiful logo! Visit the website to learn more – I am currently booking speaking and writing gigs for 2018, contact me at sirena@trailsinspire.com. We’re also on Instagram and Facebook.Trails inspire Square Logo visit www.trailsinspire to learn more!

January 25th marked the 20th anniversary of my accident, when I was hit by a truck while walking across the street. That moment changed my life forever and I wanted to commemorate it with an outing in the Mineral Mountains with my friends Wendy and India. They were very good sports about it even though temps dipped into the 20s.

Hiking up to the ridge

Hiking up to the ridge

As a result of that accident, I developed fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that made me very ill for most of my twenties. I found hiking while trying to manage my condition and it led to wellness and adventures I’d never thought possible. It was a bittersweet trip,  I had gone a decade without a flare. Yet on the anniversary of my accident, I had been in a flare for two months already with no sign of it abating. I tried to find the gratitude in still being able to use my body to get outside. Rather than sit at home and feel bad, I chose to feel bad in nature and keep hiking and backpacking. It helped my mental state immensely.


I took a roadtrip from Chicago to Tucson with my dad and we entertained ourselves by using the Roadside America website to find attractions to visit along the way. It even made Nebraska interesting, a feat I formerly thought impossible. We saw the World’s Largest Buffalo Nickel and Ball of Stamps, historic sites, and sculptures ranging from epic to ridiculous.

World's Largest Ball of Stamps

World’s Largest Ball of Stamps

I had an article published about the 5 Best Hikes in Superior for the Pinal Nugget, which gave me a great excuse to visit for research.

Picketpost Mountain

Picketpost Mountain

I hiked to the top of Picacho Peak for my 43rd birthday and again a week later with my nephew Gage. Gage moved to Arizona from Michigan and I’ve really enjoyed introducing him to hiking.

Perfect weather for a birthday hike!

Perfect weather for a birthday hike!


Backpacked the first 60 miles of the Sky Island Traverse with Amanda “Not a Chance” Timeoni from Cochise Stronghold East through the Dragoons, over to the San Pedro River and followed the river down to the San Pedro House. I loved hiking among the giant cottonwoods of the San Pedro and there were lots of interesting side trips along the way to see archaeological sites and historic structures. I managed to hike a 20-mile day in spite of being in month five of my fibromyalgia flare. It was a triumph that made me feel better mentally if not physically. Chance was a great hiking partner and I really enjoyed her company. She’s hiked over 14,000 miles on long distance trails since 2009.

Stunning Cochise Stronghold

Stunning Cochise Stronghold

San Pedro River - Sky Island Traverse

Hiking in the San Pedro River to stay cool (and because splashing through the water is fun!)


I attempted again to hike from South Bass to Hermit in the Grand Canyon, the hike I’d been helicoptered out of with a torn calf muscle the year before. Alas, the roads were muddy and we couldn’t get to the trailhead so I hiked the Escalante Route from Tanner to Grandview again. Not a bad plan B – the Escalante Route is beautiful and there was a prolific wildflower bloom that was unlike any I’ve ever seen in the Canyon!

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Spectacular views on the Tanner Trail

Unkar Overlook, Escalante Route

India and me at the Unkar Overlook

After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show

After the rain came the spectacular sunset light show

While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

While my hiking companions sleep, I play with lights

The week after my Grand Canyon hike, my six-month fibromyalgia flare finally subsided and I was so grateful for my renewed health. It had been mentally and physically exhausting to be in pain all the time,  there had been a searing nerve pain in my right scapula along with the accompanying symptoms of fatigue, anxiety and depression.  I hope that it will be another decade before my next one. No picture because it’s an invisible condition, I look the same whether I’m in a flare or not.

Sadly, upon hiking out of the Canyon, I learned that the Wildlife Rehab had suffered a devastating fire that burned parts of the facility and resulted in the deaths of over 30 of our birds. The saddest part was that three of our educational animals, who we’d had for a decade, perished in the fire. Heartbreaking.


Aftermath of the fire outside


The bird room after the fire

I gave a couple of talks in April – the first was about historic sites on the Arizona Trail for the Glen Canyon Natural History Association in Page. You can listen to a radio interview I did about it. It gave me a great excuse to do some exploring in the area and I hiked to the Colorado River via Cathedral Wash and got to see condors sitting on an egg from the Navajo Bridge.Glen Canyon NHA

In Silver City, New Mexico, I gave a talk on Hot Weather Hiking Tips at the Continental Divide Trail Kickoff and also published an accompanying article for the American Long Distance Hiking Association – West.

Canyoneered the Salome Jug in the Sierra Ancha with Meg and Russ Newberg. It was a gorgeous, sculpted pink canyon with lots of fun swims.


Salome Jug with Russ and Meg

The Jug - Russ Newberg

Salome Jug – Photo by Russ Newberg

I spent some time in Oracle, north of Tucson, volunteering with the Arizona Conservation Corps to maintain my 3-mile section of the Arizona Trail for which I am a steward. My Oracle Adventures: 3 Hikes article was published by the Copper Town News and I got to visit one of my favorite places, the High Jinks Ranch.


Trail maintenance with Arizona Conservation Corps


Oracle State Park


My nephew Gage went with me on his first backpacking trip, I chose Hutch’s Pool and he did great! It was a toasty hike in but the swimming made it all worth it.


Gage on his first backpacking trip

Hutch's Waterfall

Hutch’s Waterfall

I advocated for our public lands and urged people to submit their comments for the review of 27 National Monuments by the current administration.


In June I started my company’s first big contract – to develop a community trails Master Plan for the Town of Tusayan, Gateway Community to the Grand Canyon and Arizona Trail. I traveled to Tusayan to meet with local business and landowners, the Kaibab Forest and Grand Canyon National Park. After work, I got to visit the Canyon and camp in the forest, it was amazing!IMG_6255

At the Wildlife Rehab, work continued on the facility and I put together a fundraiser event – After the Fire – to supplement the donations that were coming in online. It was a wonderful event at Sky Bar with fantastic entertainment and people really enjoyed meeting our remaining educational animals.

MoJo Grass

MoJo Grass

Nancy, Citan and Janet Miller

Nancy, Citan and Janet Miller

Marjani Drum Solo


For Father’s Day, one of my stories about my dad was featured on the She Explores podcast. My dad has been a great supporter of my adventures, but we didn’t always get along when I was growing up.

Sirena and her dad, Budh Rana - photo by Levi Davis

Sirena and her dad, Budh Rana – photo by Levi Davis


Right before the monsoon rains comes Saguaro fruit season and this year was incredible – so much fruit! I harvested, dried and made plenty of fruit leather to last the rest of the year.IMG_6237

I visited Aravaipa Canyon for a leisurely trip with lots of hanging in the hammock, coloring, writing and listening to music. It’s always a gorgeous destination and the trip revitalized me for the whirlwind that was the rest of the month.

Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa Canyon

Wendy and I had a rare moment in the same town at the same time and we hiked the Florida Trail in the Santa Ritas, a new one for me. Monsoon rains were great this year and when I hiked Pusch Peak, the normally-dry fall was flowing and there was even enough water to take a swim in the canyon!


Florida Trail

Pusch Peak

Pusch Peak

I attended the Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism representing Trails Inspire and reconnected with many colleagues and made new contacts.

Arizona Governor's Conference on Tourism

Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism

Outdoor Retailer’s last event in Salt Lake City was at the end of the month. There were a number of events about women and diversity and I really enjoyed the sense of community that grew out of them. I wrote a story about it for Gossamer Gear’s blog. I also had a photo featured in Liz Thomas’ Backpacker Long Trails book. It’s a photo from my hike into Grand Canyon with the Warrior Hike veterans program.


Women Who Lead panel


Liz Thomas and me


After developing and getting responses on a public questionnaire, I held a public meeting for the Tusayan Community Trails Master Plan, which also meant that I got to visit the Canyon again.

Herd of Elk near my camp in Kaibab National Forest

Herd of Elk near my camp in Kaibab National Forest

Huppybar in its Natural Environment

Huppybar in its natural environment

My friend Meg had been wanting to try out backpacking so I put together a trip to the Wilderness of Rock on Mount Lemmon. It was one of the most intense nights of lightning I’ve had and one Meg will not soon forget. A couple of days later, I was in Oracle when they got over 4 1/2 inches of rain in one night!

Wilderness of Rock

Wilderness of Rock

Brian and I met my dad in Garden Valley, Idaho for the Solar Eclipse. It is hard to describe what a profound experience it was during totality. Brian, an amateur astronomer, had been telling me about this eclipse for the last 10 years and I’m so glad we made the trip. We also got to visit the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, what a treat!

Brian, Dad and me ready for the eclipse

Brian, Dad and me ready for the eclipse

Bateleur Eagles from Africa

Bateleur Eagles from Africa


Took Gage on an overnight to Josephine Saddle in the Santa Ritas and we also summitted Mount Wrightson. Wrightson was my first big peak and I was excited to share the feeling of triumph with my nephew. He absolutely loved it and was amazed at the views and accomplishment. We had an epic sunset on the way back to our camp.

Summit of Mount Wrightson

Summit of Mount Wrightson – 9456 ft.

Sunset from the Baldy Trail, Mount Wrightson

Sunset on Baboquivari from the Baldy Trail, Mount Wrightson

Returned to Tusayan to lay out a potential trail corridor based on the public and stakeholder feedback from the questionnaires and meeting. I worked with Mark Flint, of Southwest Trail Solutions, who has designed miles and miles of trail for Pima County and the Arizona Trail. The layout was a lot of fun and we ended up with 13 miles of new multi-use non-motorized trail. The part I’m most excited about is the Grand Canyon History Trail, an interpretive trail that will tell the human history of the Grand Canyon area from Native American times to the present.

Meadow on the new Tusayan Trail system

Meadow on the new Tusayan Trail system

Mark Flint and Me

Working laying out trail with Mark Flint in Tusayan

Tusayan Sunset

Tusayan Sunset

Unfortunately, I had been having some continued troubles with harassment that escalated to the point of interfering in my new business. It had been a source of stress and anxiety that required me to seek not only legal help but also counseling. When the #MeToo coverage started blowing up in the news the following month, I could relate all too well. Not all harassment is of a sexual nature, but at the base of it all is the same power struggle. I am fortunate to have good friends and family, a supportive husband and a wonderful counselor who have helped to see me through.

Back to adventuring, I had always wondered what Upper Romero Canyon looked like and finally got to see for myself. My buddy Russ and I canyoneered down sculpted granite corridors and rappelled down waterfalls. It was good training for my upcoming big Grand Canyon trip.

Canyoneering Upper Romero Canyon

Canyoneering Upper Romero Canyon

Canyon Tree Frog

Canyon Tree Frog

Got a couple of horseback rides in with Carrie Miracle-Jordan on JJ.

Riding in the Santa Ritas

Riding in the Santa Ritas

One of the most amazing events I’ve ever put together of is Force of Nature: Women Who Inspire. I came up with the idea for the event when Niall Murphy from REI Tucson approached me about doing a presentation. Instead of just me doing my thing, Trails Inspire co-sponsored a multi-sport women’s panel discussion with a mountain biker, an equestrian, a rock climber, an ultrarunner and me, the backpacker. We had 200 people, mostly women, attend at the Tucson Hop Shop and it was everything I’d hoped. Women came away inspired and empowered to take on their own adventures and connected with each other and local community outdoors groups.

Force of Nature: Women Who Inspire

Force of Nature: Women Who Inspire – MC Lisette Wells-Mackovic, Backpacker (me), Ultrarunner Laura Swenson, Mountain Biker Veronique Pardee, Rock Climber Jenn Choi, Equestrian Carrie Miracle-Jordan



My friend Heather “Anish” Anderson came to visit with her boyfriend Adam after they’d both hiked almost 4000 miles on the Oregon Desert Trail, Colorado Trail and Continental Divide Trails. Check her Instagram @anishhikes, she’s always up to amazing things. After taking a couple days off, they were ready to hike so we backpacked from the top of Mount Lemmon out to Sabino Canyon so I could test my knees for my Grand Canyon trip. We spent the night at Hutch’s Pool and had a great time and the knees were ready to go!

Pistachio, Anish and me on Mount Lemmon

Pistachio, Anish and me on Mount Lemmon

I presented the Tusayan Community Trails Master Plan to the Town Council and they voted a unanimous yes! Next step is opening the Master Plan for a round of public comment and another public meeting, sometime early next year.

Tusayan Trails Master Plan

Tusayan Trails Master Plan

Got to see the Grand Canyon by air thanks to Grand Canyon Helicopters, the flight path went right over the route I was planning to hike. The Butte Fault/Horsethief Route was one of my favorite adventures to date. A whole week of fresh scenery, unusual geology, challenging terrain and logistics and breathtaking beauty. It felt so good to be out there solo, on my own timeline, feeling strong. Quite the different experience than the trip earlier in the year when I’d still been in a fibromyalgia flare. If you’d like to see what gear I bring, you can read this Gossamer Gear article about it.

Butte Fault

Butte Fault from the helicopter, Awatubi/Sixtymile saddle below.

Nankoweap Creek

Nankoweap Creek

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Looking back at Nankoweap Butte

Hiking up to Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle

Awatubi-Sixtymile Saddle (same as in the aerial photo)

Lava Chuar Sunset

Sunset at Lava/Chuar

Six months after the fire at the Wildlife Rehab, Janet got to move back into her house and ready it to start accepting animals again. Thanks again to all who donated their time, talents and funds to help rebuild. The new structures and aviaries are better than ever, we’ll be doing an open house event once it’s all complete.


I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, two houses away from my best friend Kristin. We met when I was four and spent our childhood exploring together. My mom was forever sending her brother looking for us in the patch of woods by our house. I moved away in 1994 but we’ve stayed close all these years across the miles. Our lives couldn’t be more different, and she came for a visit to experience a vacation like none she’d had before. I set up a camping and hiking tour of many of my favorite places in Northern Arizona and we had the absolute best time!!Best friends at Grand Canyon

We started out with a night in Flagstaff, then I got to take her to see the Grand Canyon for the first time. It was such a blast, doing all my favorite things, and seeing Kristin experience them with fresh eyes. She was a great sport, and I took her camping in Marble Canyon and to the Navajo Bridge and Lee’s Ferry. The highlight was watching the California Condors play king of the rock, I looked them up and they are both females, born in 2011 and 2013. I have never gotten a chance to photograph them in action before other than soaring way above. We finished the trip with a hike on the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff and then she was back to Chicago. We’re already plotting her return.

Marble Canyon Dance Party

Marble Canyon dance party

Best Friends

Hi there!

Since we lost our educational Great Horned Owl, Luna, in the fire, I started training a new one. It’s been an incredible process to take a wild bird (it can’t be released because of a wing that didn’t heal properly) and work with it week after week to get it used to being comfortable perched on a glove in public.

Training a Great Horned Owl

Training a Great Horned Owl

For Thanksgiving weekend, I got to house sit at one of my favorite spots in all the land, the High Jinks Ranch near Oracle. It was all I’d hoped and I got some great night shots and quality time on the Arizona Trail.Starry night at the Arizona Trail portal


Trails Inspire and I were featured in Phoenix Magazine’s December issue in a wonderful article by Mare Czinar.

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

Redwall Overlook, Tanner Trail

After my Grand Canyon trip in October, I wanted another adventure to look forward to, so I asked my friend Mitch if he knew anyone that could help me climb Finger Rock. On the ascent to the base of the Finger, my quads started cramping. It was confusing, I had consumed what I thought was plenty of water, food and electrolytes, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I was able to make it to the base and decided not to go up the climb, just couldn’t take the chance of cramping up while on rope. I have been consciously practicing gratitude, so after a fleeting moment of feeling bad that I didn’t get to summit, I was able to enjoy the fact that I still got to see a new part of the mountain, take in the amazing views and get epic photos of my friends. What a great day, I’ll be back!

Finger Rock

Finger Rock

My dad came for a visit and we traveled to Whitewater Draw for the sunrise to see the Sandhill Cranes. It was a chilly 25 degrees, but worth it! We stopped for a fall color fix on the Arizona Trail in Cienega Creek from the Gabe Zimmerman Trailhead. Fall in December, only in Arizona! Always good to travel with my dad.

Dad and me in Cienega Creek

Dad and me in Cienega Creek

To round out the year, I teamed up with Mitch and Bill for a holiday hike up Buster Mountain in Catalina State Park. I’ve been hiking with these two since our trip up Ragged Top in 2009 and the companionship is always top-notch.

Buster Mountain Holiday Hike

Buster Mountain Holiday Hike

I’m really looking forward to 2018 – lots of adventures planned, continuing to work on the Tusayan project, and more pieces of my Grand Canyon Traverse. One of the most exciting projects is writing a book about my story – from the accident that caused my fibromyalgia to the outdoor woman I am today. I’ve written several chapters so far and it’s been an amazing experience to revisit how very far I have come. Best wishes to all for the New Year and see you in 2018!

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Looking back at Lava Falls Rapid

I was fortunate enough to land a volunteer spot on a fish survey in the Grand Canyon conducted by Arizona Game and Fish. I hiked down the Bright Angel Trail on May 17th, excited about what the next 12 days would bring. At Pipe Creek, the four of us that hiked down were met by two small powerboats and we were shuttled a short distance to our camp on river right. I was surprised at the small size of the crew: four boatmen, three scientists and one other volunteer. Our campsite had a great view of Plateau Point and we watched people come out for the sunset. We also spotted a condor, still gigantic even though it was up at the Tapeats level.  We rotated so that there was always one person who had the night off, and I was the first in rotation. Since I had the night off I had to help the cook prepare dinner. Dinner was quite the lavish affair- ribs with potatoes and strawberry poundcake complete with whipped cream for dessert. Much different from my usual backpacking fare of something rehydrated eaten out of a freezer bag! I was a little nervous about the next day- my first time ever on a river running rapids and we had some big ones coming up.

Spring flowers on the Bright Angel Trail

Strawberry poundcake with whipped cream for dessert- not my usual Grand Canyon fare

Well, the weather for my first big day of rapids was less than ideal- rainy and overcast. I got suited up and took my seat on the science boat with the two women scientists Pilar and Robin. I had been nervous before the trip about who was going to be driving my boat. That was, until I realized that the person driving my boat has more nights on the river in the Grand Canyon than any other boatman. Brian Dierker has been on the river for four decades and almost every boatman that we passed on the trip knew him. He provides boat support for scientific trips of all kinds in the Canyon. He also provides marine services for movies, which led to him being cast as Rainey (half of the California hippie couple) in the movie Into the Wild. A big guy with an even bigger personality, we hit it off immediately and I knew I was in good hands.

Suited up for some big rapids on a rainy day

We had 20 miles of river to cover, from Pipe Creek to the South Bass area. The river was running at 23,000 cfs, quite a bit higher than usual. Horn Creek Rapid was up first- I held on as the boat bounced up and down and I got sprayed with icy Colorado River water. Our next big rapid was Hermit, and it was one of the best of the entire trip. There are five waves in succession and the fifth one was gigantic- what a ride! I am a giant fan of roller-coasters and other amusement park rides, but this beat them all! The higher levels had made even the boatmen impressed with Hermit and we all whooped and cheered with giant smiles on our faces. Nervousness about the rapids was gone, and I had a blast running Granite and Crystal, which were kind of washed out from the high flows. We floated by the mouths of all the Gems and made camp at the mouth of Hotauta Canyon. It blew my mind how fast river travel is versus backpacking. It would have taken me 60 trail miles and a week of hiking to travel by the Tonto Trail. The most fun rapid of the trip was Lava, by a long shot. What a ride that was! Even better was watching our tiny powerboats take on the massive water.

Here we go! Horn Creek Rapid is up first

Hermit Rapids- one of the most fun of the whole trip


Lava Falls Rapid

How'd you feel about Lava, Brian?

Big smiles after the best ride of the trip

We had time in the afternoon to take a nap before having dinner and going to work in the evening. I was too excited to nap, so I hiked a little way up Hotauta Canyon. The canyon is right across from Tyndall Dome and the South Bass/Tonto trail intersection, where I’d been just 6 weeks before. I could see my favorite point camp high above, just an undercut shelf of rock hanging over the Tapeats cliffs. I returned back to camp for dinner and then changed into my raingear for my first night of fishing.

View downstream from Hotauta Canyon

Looking up at my Tonto point campsite from last October- the rocks jutting out on the left

When I’d signed up for the volunteer position, I read that I was going to be night electrofishing. I’d had the process explained to me a couple of times, but it was hard to imagine- now I was going to finally see for myself. Mind you, before this trip I had never even fished with a fishing pole. I was paired with Clay, one of the scientists, and Joe, the boatman who would be driving the powerboat. At 8:30 pm, we started fishing. The boat was equipped with a generator that ran the electrical current via two large silver balls into the water. The boat swept the shoreline, and as the current hit the water, the fish would surface for just a second before sinking or swimming away. I had to catch the fish with my net before it sunk or the boat pulled away, then turn and put it in a cooler filled with water behind me.  Definitely something that took a little practice- it was kind of like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It was hard not to get distracted looking at the moonlit canyon sometimes. After 5 minutes of fishing, we measured and tagged the fish before releasing them back into the river. We repeated this 15 times per night and it usually took us until 1 or 2 in the morning to finish. After we got back from fishing, we’d usually hang out talking on the boats for a while before going to bed. But no matter how late we stayed up, once the sun came over the cliffs at around 7 am, we were all awakened by the hot sun.

Ready for a night of fishing

Netting a fish

Flannelmouth Sucker

Tradition holds that everyone must kiss a flannie

In the morning, we loaded up the two big boats so that they could move downstream toward our next camp. Then we drove back in the powerboats to where we fished to do habitat descriptions of our segments and mark them on the map. It was great to be able to go upstream and see the same area in the light after having fished it the night before. We had a map made of aerial photographs of when the river was running at 8,000 cfs and it was interesting to see how much of the beaches and shoreline was underwater at almost three times the flow. After habitat description, we’d catch up with the larger boats and transfer onto them to run the rest of the way to camp. (we weren’t allowed to ride in the powerboats through the larger rapids) Part of our work also included fishing with poles for catfish three times a day for 20 minutes. After we set up camp, we usually had about four hours to nap, hike, and eat before going to work in the evening and the whole cycle started over again.

Ever-changing scenery

To go into detail about every day would take a novel-length blog entry, so I’ll just hit on some of the highlights and point you to the full set of my pictures for more detail. One of my favorite parts of the trip was how easy it was to get to interesting hiking destinations. The boatmen would take us in the powerboats and pick us up a couple of hours later. The beautiful narrows of Blacktail and National Canyons were just a 15 minute walk away. My favorite hiking destination of the trip was definitely Havasu Canyon. I had never seen the turquoise waters and it was truly breathtaking. We hiked up until we found a good pool and I inflated my floatie and went for a fantastic float. The rest of the group hiked on, but I stayed in the pool and had the place to myself for 20 delicious minutes.

National Canyon

What a sight- the turquoise waters of Havasu Creek

Me, Nick, Robin, and Pilar

Using the floatie in Havasu Creek

Grand Canyon Pink or Speckled Rattler? Either way, it was really angry!

Desert Spiny Lizard

Ruins near Deer Creek

Because ours was a scientific trip, we had to use smaller and less desirable campsites and leave the nice big ones to the private and commercial trips. We also couldn’t stop at Elves Chasm or Deer Creek because there were already groups there. (Good thing I’d been to Elves recently!)  The high water had also drowned a lot of the real estate on the river, but we were always able to find a spit of sand to spread out on. My favorite camp of the trip was in Olo Canyon. There was a perfect waterfall with a pool for my floatie and I got to go to sleep lulled by the sound of the cascade.  I was lucky enough to be able to sleep under the stars on a comfy cot all but two nights.

Olo Canyon Waterfall- I got to wake up to this beautiful view

Sand Verbena

I just adored the river life- it was so much fancier than backpacking! The food alone- there is a reason that river trips are called a “float and bloat”.  The ever-present sound of the river was fantastic and it was so nice to have access to water that didn’t have to be carried on my back. The only unfortunate thing that I didn’t anticipate was that I felt like I was on the river, even when I was not. I had all sorts of issues with my equilibrium, which made hiking interesting. I would wake up and feel like my cot was floating on the river. Even when I came back from the trip, for several days my inner ear was convinced I was still on the boat.

Majestic views abound at every turn

Day 11 and I look so clean! Way different than backpacking.

I am so glad that I got to experience the river in the Grand Canyon for the first time on a small scientific trip with a very experienced crew. I saw the large commercial trips float by, packed with 16 people to a boat and considered myself very fortunate. I enjoyed everyone’s company and learning about the fish was very interesting.

Back row: Brian Smith, Clay, Pilar, Joe Front row: Robin, me, Nick, Brian Dierker, Stevie J

Diamond Peak

Diamond Creek- where the trip ends for me, Pilar, Clay and Nick.

End of my first trip on the river- now when can I come back?

I encourage you to check out my full set of pictures on my Picasa account by clicking the picture below- I’ve added captions describing my trip in greater detail:

Grand Canyon River Trip May 2011

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news: It is baby season at Wildife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson and we’ve had everything from hatchling ducks to baby hawks and owls of all sizes, plus a very tiny and cute ringtail cat. There’s too much cuteness to choose from so I’ll include several pictures in this entry. Your donation goes toward feeding, housing, and providing medical care.

Baby ringtail

Baby Cooper's Hawk

Bunches of inch-long baby quail

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Battleship Mountain

I met Kyle and Joel at First Water Trailhead on February 7th after a lovely drive up Highway 79. We started hiking around 8:15 am and after turning on the old roadbed of the Second Water Trail, we passed a large group of hikers. Other than this group, we hardly saw anyone else all day. We hiked through the flats of Garden Valley with a view of the Four Peaks in the distance. Soon, we descended to reach the junction with the Boulder Canyon Trail and took it south. There was running water in the creek and several larger pools. Temperatures were warm enough that I wet my head at one of the creek crossings before we started our ascent of the Battleship.

Hiking through Garden Valley

Boulder Canyon

We reached the turnoff for the route, marked with a cairn, and crossed the creek one last time before going up a steep slope that led to a use path on the left side of a side drainage of Boulder Canyon. The path curved around and took us to a saddle where we could look down into the Lower La Barge Box. From the saddle, we continued northwest on a path that took us to an alcove at the base of the rock formation that makes up the back end of the ship where we took a break before the real scrambling began. There were great views of the Weaver’s Needle from the alcove. I stashed my hiking poles at the alcove and put on gloves to follow Kyle as he scrambled up on solid rock with good ledges and handholds toward the top of the back end of the ship. Suddenly, we were on a flat expanse of mesa, with incredible views in every direction. The ridgeline of the Battleship stretched out in front of us, looking a little more than daunting.

Battleship Mountain

Atop the first part of the Battleship

We wove our way through the rock formations- it was nice to have Kyle along, who had been here recently. However, the route was pretty well beat in and there were cairns in questionable spots. I knew the “scary spot” on the connecting ridge that all the triplogs talk about was coming up, but when we got there, it didn’t look so bad at all. Here’s a video of Kyle on the scary spot:

Then it was my turn. I decided to use one of my favorite techniques when faced with a spot where a slip or a fall would ruin your day. Some call it Butt-Hiking, I call it La Rompage. Here’s a video Joel got of me crossing:

Looking back at the connecting ridge

After crossing the connecting ridge, we continued scrambling up the ridgeline. There were some places that looked like a tight squeeze between boulders, we found it easier to travel along the top of the solid rock of the ridge. We reached a set of cliffs and the route dove down and to the left on horrible, loose pea-sized gravel on top of solid rock. There was no good way to get down it, so I tried a controlled slide which worked okay- another area the gloves came in handy. I couldn’t wait for the ball-bearing slopes to be over- in retrospect, if I wouldn’t have left the poles at the alcove, I would have gotten them back out for this part. A little more scrambling and then we were able to see Canyon Lake in the distance.

Good rock for scrambling

Kyle and Joel on the ball-bearing slopes

Canyon Lake in the distance

The route wrapped around the mountain to the right and up on a good path and all of a sudden, we were at the red summit register box. 360 degree knockout views in every direction! Here’s a video from the summit:

Wow. We made the summit just before noon and took a long break to explore and soak in the incredible views. We could see the Weaver’s Needle, which I am going to attempt to climb at the end of the month. We signed the summit register- I always enjoy reading the various entries and there were a lot of names in there that I recognized. It was a perfect day, with blue skies and a slight breeze. We saw two large birds soaring above and diving- I later determined that they were a pair of Prairie Falcons.

View south with Weaver's Needle

Atop the Battleship

After our summit break, it was time to reverse our route down the ridgeline. The most unpleasant part was short stretches of the ball-bearing slopes. The temperatures were increasing and we could feel the rocks were warm to the touch. I wouldn’t want to try this hike in hot weather. We found our way back to the alcove, having gotten through the scramble with only minor scrapes and bruises. The path was easy to follow from the saddle down toward Boulder Creek, and after one last steep section we were on the Boulder Canyon Trail.

Hiking down from the Battleship

Great views from the ridgeline

One of the first wildflowers of the year- a fairy duster

It was pretty warm on our hike up out of the creek, so I got out my umbrella. Crazy that we’re sweating, when only four days before the high had been right around freezing. We had an enjoyable time on our hike back. I could tell that we were nearing the trailhead because shirtless people carrying no water began to appear. Just before the trailhead, I said good-bye to Kyle and Joel and took a half-hour to myself on some pretty rocks near the trail before getting back in my car and driving back to Tucson. I really enjoyed the hike and the company and would like to try coming in from Canyon Lake to access the Battleship the next time.

A moment to myself

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser animal, we recently got a Western Yellow Bat that was found in someone’s garage. Here’s Janet Miller, who runs Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, giving the bat some food:

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Last light on Thimble Peak

Towering over Sabino Canyon at 5323 feet, Thimble Peak is a prominent feature of the front range of the Catalinas. For those of you not acquainted with sewing, (which I’m guessing is at least some of my readers), a thimble is a sewing aid that you wear on your finger to help push a needle through fabric. I was talking to my friend Bill Bens at a recent Arizona Trail trailbuilding event and mentioned that we should try for the Thimble soon. He said that he had a standing invitation from someone who knew the route- Steven, a man known in Tucson hiking circles as “Mr. X” of the X Hiking Club. As it got closer, Bill said that there would be 10-12 people going in the group including Matt Nelson, a friend of Steven’s and a professional guide that would help belay us up to the actual summit of Thimble Peak (most hikers only go to the lower, non-technical summit). Steven had scouted out a route to Thimble Peak that scrambled up all 7 Falls toward a drainage coming off the base of the peak. After summiting Thimble Peak the plan was to hike over to the NNW to a drainage that would deposit us at the end of the tram road.

Blackett's Ridge and Saddleback visible from the Bear Cyn TH

On January 19th, ten of us met at Sabino Canyon and shuttled over to the Bear Canyon Trailhead, starting our hike around 8:30 am up the access road. We reached the Bear Canyon Trail at 9am and made our way up the canyon. I remember years ago when a hike to 7 Falls was the whole hike, today it was just a means to get to the real fun! The group spread out a bit and I was happy to get a little time to myself. There was a fair amount of water in the creek, giving a nice sonic backdrop to the easy stroll. Bill and I stopped before the descent to the falls to eye up our route across the canyon before continuing to the falls for a break.

Cathedral Rock and the Front Range of the Catalinas to the left

Across flowing Bear Creek

View of the drainage above 7 Falls

This is as far as most people go, but it was just a warm up for the hike to come

After some snacks, Steven went over our plan for the day and some pointers about the scramble ahead. Then it was time for us to start scrambling up each level of 7 Falls. It was so neat to see each of the pools and look at the waterfalls from a totally different perspective. There was one that was quite large, with a rainbow visible in the spray. There were a couple of tricky spots, but Steven and Matt were there to spot us and talk us through the best way to go. We crossed the stream a couple of times and finally we reached what Steven calls “The Penthouse”. It was a gorgeous set of pools that I must revisit in the summer with my inner tube for some quality floating time. Here’s a video:

Scrambling up

Gorgeous upper waterfall

Steep terrain ahead

Matt and Steven spot and lend a hand- a slip here would send you down the large fall in the previous pictures

Today, there was no time for dawdling because we had places to go and a Thimble to climb. We bushwhacked up the drainage, which started out as series of broad ledges that made for easy scrambling. The drainage split and we followed the right fork. Pretty soon, our next objective came into view- a notch between the rocks that make up the base that Thimble Peak sits on and a tall rock face. I’d scouted the route on Google Earth the night before and it looked like it was going to get super-steep and nasty as we got closer to the notch. The scramble got progressively steeper and as we neared the notch, our nice ledges were replaced by unstable rocks and boulders. It was tough going, but we took our time and stopped for a couple of short breaks for shade and to catch our breath. Even though it was the middle of January, it was unseasonably warm and I  was glad that we weren’t attempting this in any hotter weather. The views down to the Bear Canyon Trail and beyond were incredible. Here’s a video:

Scrambling up the ledges in the drainage above 7 Falls

David eyes up our notch on the right

Grasses on rock make for a beautiful but slippery combination


Getting closer!

Looking down the steep drainage


Conditions deteriorated further after we regrouped at the notch. The steep, loose, and nasty terrain made me long for the unstable boulders of the upper drainage. The rock wall that made up the east side of the notch was beautifully striated and dwarfed the hikers behind me. But the terrain was so steep that before long, I was towering over the rock wall with a wonderful view of Helen’s Dome and Mica Mountain in the Rincons.

The higher we climbed, the more loose and crumbly the terrain

Glad we weren't planning on coming down this way!

Steven is just a small red dot compared to the giant cliff

Oh Helen- what a glorious sight!

After thrashing up the hillside, we reached the base of the rocks that Thimble Peak sits upon and contoured around on jumbled pink, white, and black-striped boulders to meet up with the conventional route that most hikers take to Thimble Peak from the upper Bear Canyon Trailhead at Prison Camp (Hiryabayashi). This point in and of itself is quite the destination at the base of Thimble Peak- great views of the Catalinas. By this time it was 1pm, and though we all wanted to be up top, we took a short, well-deserved lunch break first to refuel before the final push to the top of the peak.

Our route around the base of the Thimble toward the notch between the two summits

Wonderful Catalina views

After lunch, it was time to tackle the final chute and then climb a ten-foot wall to attain the summit. The chute was filled with giant boulders and had plenty of good hand and footholds. At the top of the chute, I put on a harness and lined up with the rest of the group to take my turn at the final obstacle. I was happy to have Matt belaying us up the wall to the actual summit, most people have to be content with the nearby non-technical summit which sits 10 feet lower. A couple of well placed feet and hands later, and I was hiking up the final slope to the flat-topped peak of the Thimble!

Scrambling up the chute

View from the top of the chute

Bill climbs with help from Steven and Matt

People at the Thimble Peak vista point on the Catalina Highway could be looking at us right now!

What a place- the summit is quite large and would make an incredible place to spend the night! The 360 degree views are spectacular in every direction and we all amused ourselves by pointing out different landmarks and trails. As we enjoyed the summit, we were visited by a soaring Peregrine Falcon. Here’s a video from the summit:

Matt marvels at the views

A victorious group atop Thimble Peak

Bear Canyon, Agua Caliente Hill, Mica Mtn. and Rincon Peak

After many photos were taken, it was unfortunately time to descend. I watched as Matt and Steven showed how to get down the wall. It was my first time rappelling where I wasn’t in charge of letting the line out myself. I’m trying to get better at trusting the rope- but it is always a struggle, as I am pretty afraid of heights, especially descending. The reason that I push through it is that every time it has proved to be worth the momentary discomfort.

We went back around the base to where the grassy slope extends northward. The conventional route goes back to the upper Bear Canyon Trail via a route that contours to the northeast. But we weren’t doing anything the conventional way today. Instead we took the western slope of the ridge toward some large rock towers on our way to a drainage that would deposit us at Tram Stop #9, at the end of the Sabino Canyon Tram road. There were great views back to Thimble Peak and more scrambling.

Coming carefully back down the chute

I love the vegetation at this elevation

We were up there!

The bushwhack toward the drainage took us past some wonderful rock towers

Bill says: "Just another crummy day in the Sonoran Desert!"

As we found the correct drainage and started heading down it, the split between the two summits of Thimble Peak became visible. Tram Stop #9 would come into view every so often but the rugged terrain in the drainage made for slow going. Finally, the front people in the group reached the tram stop and radioed back, asking if we’d be interested in riding the tram out to the parking lot. I was surprised that there was a tram there at all, as it was almost 5pm, and radioed back that I was definitely on board. I walk the tram road pretty often as a night hike, and wasn’t really interested in a 3.7 mile roadwalk on hard asphalt to cap off an already tough day. Some in our group insisted on hiking the road, but a bunch of us hopped on the tram and enjoyed sunset views of Thimble Peak on the ride out.

Looking back


'Shwacking down the drainage toward the tram road

Split between the two summits

Looking back up the drainage that we descended

View of Thimble Peak from the tram- no shame in my game for catching a ride on the last tram out and saving myself a 3.7 mile roadwalk that I've done a million times before.

Click the picture below to see the whole set of pictures from this hike:

Thimble Peak 1-19-11

What an adventure this day turned out to be- we had hiked from 8:20 am until 5pm and only covered 6.4 miles with 2600 feet of elevation gain. It was a great group and I had a smile on my face that lasted the rest of the week as I visited family in chilly Chicago for my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  And now for something completely different: pictures of non-hiking situations on my visit to Chicago!

Me with my two younger brothers, Shawn and Sanjay Rana out to see Shawn's band play

My Nonna at her surprise party

My nephew Devin and my Dad

Me and Mom

Olivia and my husband Brian

It was good to see my family and friends and everyone’s children. Brian and I did typical Chicago-in-the-winter things like sit at peoples houses and eat. Thankfully, we flew out before the “Snowmageddon” hit (or “Snowpocalypse” if you prefer) and buried everyone for two days. Now, for the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a trio of young Cooper’s Hawks that we had at the rehab in 2010. These three are among the 543 animals total that went through Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson last year: 113 bunnies, 124 quail, 54 hawks, 23 falcons, 38 owls, 13 waterbirds, and a whopping 267 songbirds!

Baby Cooper's Hawks- 33 came through the rehab last year

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The Hill That Felt Like A Mountain

Agua Caliente Hill Trail

Agua Caliente Hill is one of those places that I’ve always looked at and thought “I’ve got to get up there someday”.  It is 5369 feet high and nestled between the Catalina and Rincon mountain ranges on the east side of the Tucson valley. It can be seen from many hikes in the area and I knew that the views would be incredible from up top. I also knew it would take some effort to get there, with almost 3000 feet of elevation gain and a round-trip distance of about 9 miles. Effort that I wasn’t sure I wanted to expend when I woke up this morning. I’d worked late the evening before and was considering scrapping plans for the hike in favor of something more leisurely. But a quick glance at my calendar and the realization that I have several strenuous hikes planned that I need to train for got my butt moving, albeit slowly. I knew if I could just get myself on the trail that I’d be happy that I did.

I started hiking at 11:20 am (better late than never), looking forward to an area that I haven’t yet explored. Is there anything sweeter than fresh trail? I think not. The trail climbed almost immediately, switchbacking to attain the ridgeline. I was kind of tired, but told myself I might as well get used to the climb- I had 4.5 miles of ascent ahead.

Ridgeline views of the Rincons

Thankfully, the trail started out gently- the climbs were interspersed with flats on the ridgeline and the trail dipped into drainages, breaking up the ascent. The views from the ridgeline were great and I knew I’d made the right choice by going on a hike today. The first drainage had a skanky-looking, scummy green cattle tank in it called Cat Track Tank. This being national forest rather than wilderness, grazing is allowed. After crossing a couple more drainages, the trail climbed toward a saddle and the junction with Forest Road #4445. There was a gnarled, old saguaro at the junction and a great view of the Catalinas.

Peak 4778 in the distance

Drainage that contains Cat Track Tank

Gnarled Saguaro at the junction with FR 4445

At the saddle, which is at 4000ft, Forest Road #4445 dives toward Agua Caliente Canyon, while our trail #46 continues- you guessed it- climbing. The trail skirts Peak 4778, then levels out for one last, joyous stretch before you have to pay the piper to get to the top.

Summit (on right) is still a ways away

A mercifully flat part before the final big climb- Bassett Peak in the Galiuros in the distance

I could see the Galiuros and the snowy top of the Pinalenos to the east, and the Arizona Trail south of Molino Basin and the Bellota Ranch in the valley below. Here’s a video:

It was here that I made a mistake. By this time it was 1:10 pm and I had only had some yogurt for breakfast and a handful of trail mix at the junction. What I should have done was stop and eat my sandwich that was in my pack before continuing on. Instead, I thought, “It’s less than a mile to the top- I’ll just eat lunch when I get to the summit”.  0.7 miles with 750 feet of elevation gain left to go on an empty stomach makes for some unpleasant hiking and I bonked shortly after starting the final climb. I should have known better. One of the first hiking tips I ever remember learning is: No Food- No Fuel- No Fun. The summit now seemed so far off, like one of those dreams where you’re running and running (or hiking) but the goal keeps getting further and further away.

Still, there was no way I was going to come this far and not make the summit. I stopped to eat some snacks, but by this time it was too late to give me much energy. Of course this was when the trail went from a nicely-manicured and graded path to really steep, loose, and rocky. Ugh.

Steep and Rocky

It took everything I had to drag my sorry ass up the rest of that hill. At times I literally sat down in the middle of the trail to regain my energy.

Looking back toward the Catalinas and Tucson Mtns.

The last push was interminable, and I slogged upward, paying attention only to my feet, trying not to look at how far up ahead the summit was. (it was never closer than I thought, just disappointingly farther) It was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and repeating till there was no more trail left. The last 0.7 miles took me 40 exhausting minutes, but I finally reached the summit.

I made it!

The views immediately buoyed my spirits and I grabbed my sandwich (finally!) and dropped my pack for a lengthy break on the hard-earned summit of Agua Caliente Hill. And what views- 360 degrees of Sky Island goodness! Here’s a video tour of the summit:

There is a fire ring with a grill grate, for those who spend the night up here, and nearby I found the summit register under a pile of rocks. I settled in to eat lunch and read the summit register. It went back to 2005 and I can’t believe how many people I knew in the summit register! Hiking partners, people on my trail crew, and others. There were also the usual funny and insightful entries, like these two:

Fatty and Skinny

Summit Log Musings

Then I turned the page and saw an entry from December 2005 that stopped me in my tracks: Joe Domin, aka GPS Joe, who signed in with his hiking partner Gabriele, aka Sun_Hiker.


I never met GPS Joe, but “knew” him from his many contributions to the hiking websites I frequent, HikeArizona.com and ArizonaHikers.com. GPS Joe went missing back in early November while hiking in the remote and wild Mazatzal Mountains, near Payson, and is yet to be found. My heart sank and my eyes welled up with tears. Joe has been missing now for 66 days as of this writing, despite incredible efforts to locate him. He went for a solo hike on November 8th without leaving an itinerary with anyone, and as a result, no one realized that he was missing until a week later. His vehicle was found at the Mount Peeley Trailhead, which gave a starting point, but didn’t help all that much because GPS Joe often went off-trail to bushwhack to remote peaks. An extensive Search and Rescue effort was mounted to try and find him, to no avail. Even though official Search and Rescue was called off after five days, the hiking community banded together and many hikers volunteered their time slogging through the thick brush and rugged terrain to try and locate him until snow finally made the area impassable. Such an unfortunate mystery and one that I hope will be solved soon. At least he went missing doing what he loved. I had a good cry for GPS Joe and replaced the summit register where I found it. You can read the HikeArizona forum thread on GPS Joe here.

While I was reading the summit register, I was visited by a very friendly Painted Lady butterfly who landed on my hand! I spent another hour wandering around the top of the hill, taking in the views and writing in my journal. I liked that I could see the path of the Arizona Trail south of Molino Basin, where I’d spent the night chasing the eclipse several weeks ago. Always the backpacker, I  wished that I was spending the night up here so I had more time to explore- it looked like there were several interesting bushwhacks that can be done from the top of the hill.

Friendly Painted Lady

I can see the Arizona Trail from here- click to enlarge

The hike down felt longer than 4.5 miles. The steepness of the last part before the summit was not much more fun to come down than up, and I was relieved when I reached the junction and the grade became more reasonable. My body still wasn’t too happy with me, even after eating lunch and I could tell I was more tired than usual because I was none too happy about the ascents out of the drainages on the way back. Finally, as the sunset painted the mountain with an orange glow, I reached my car. On the drive home, I listened to the memorial service for those killed in the shooting at the Safeway on the radio. I found myself crying for the second time today for the fallen as I drove home- what an emotional day it turned out to be.

Last glow at the trailhead

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, we got a Hog-Nosed Skunk at the rehab recently. I seem to have a soft spot for the stinky critters. We have four kinds of skunks in Arizona: Striped (the most common), Spotted, Hooded, and Hog-Nosed.

Hog-Nosed Skunk

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