Posts Tagged ‘desertsirena’

Fall colors in Aravaipa Canyon

Aravaipa. The mere name gives me butterflies and mentally transports me to that lush riparian wonderland. I have been trying to work in a trip to see the fall colors, but only had the time to go for a dayhike.  I knew I was going to have backpacker’s disappointment when it was time to turn around and head back rather than set up a comfy camp and have another day there. Oh well, a dayhike in Aravaipa is certainly better than no hike at all.

In the days leading up to my hike, Tucson had been experiencing some chilly nights below freezing. I had heard about waterproof socks that would help keep my feet dry and warm, so I went to Summit Hut and shelled out $35 for some Sealskinz socks. I admit, I balked at the price at first, but I can tell you  now that they were worth every cent. And while we’re on the topic of shopping, I’d like to encourage everyone who is shopping for gifts to shop local. There are so many unique and wonderful places to explore in Tucson and the money stays in the community. (getting off soapbox…) Another favorite place of mine to get gifts is Bohemia, a place jam-packed with great pieces by local artists.

Anyway, back to hiking. The low in the area the previous night had been 26 degrees, but I thankfully woke up to much milder temperatures. It was a balmy 42 degrees when I left my house at 8am. I love how close Aravaipa is to my house- 60 miles exactly. I passed the Abe White Bridge on Aravaipa Road and wondered once more who he was and why such a teeny tiny bridge?

Who is Abe White and why does he get such a tiny bridge?

Well, I googled old Abe and this is what I found:

Besides sheep and cattle, goats were also raised in Aravaipa Canyon and at Dripping Springs. In 1920, the Abe White family moved from Silver City, New Mexico, to Aravaipa. During the trip, Abe drove a Ford Model T car, his 11-year old son Lawrence herded 17 head of horses, and Abe’s wife and aunt each drove a wagon. One mare gave birth to a colt along the way, so the colt rode in the Model T. The family had angora goats in New Mexico and soon had a herd of 3,500 at Aravaipa, where they continued to raise goats until about 1950.

From Oracle and the San Pedro River Valley by Catherine H. Ellis. Click here for the Google books page, complete with pictures of him, his son, and his goats. It was so easy to get things named after you back then- all you had to do was own land somewhere, run some goats,  give a colt a ride in a car, and the names would follow.

After a nice chat with a man who had driven out to the trailhead, but didn’t have enough time to go hiking (a fate worse than a dayhike!) I started down the trail at 10:15 am. I reached the first crossing and braced myself for the water- there were still patches of ice in the shady parts of the creek. Thanks to my fancy new waterproof socks, I felt nothing unpleasant at all. Combined with my usual Aravaipa garb of knee-high gaiters to keep the gravel out, my pants barely even got wet. Sometimes it’s all about the right piece of gear. The cottonwoods had not totally changed to gold, but the sycamores were perfect.

Starting out


Cacti clinging to the rock

Golden leaves

This trip marks my fourth to Aravaipa this year. I had never been here before April, when I hiked from the west to the east end and back as part of my Grand Enchantment Trail hike. I was immediately smitten and came back twice in the summer- once in June and once in September. Those trips were very different from this one, in the summertime I dunked myself into any pool available and poured buckets of water over my head to keep cool. This hike, I was very careful not to take an icy plunge.  I passed the first side canyon, Hell’s Half Acre, and turned into it to explore. It doesn’t go very far, but is definitely worth a look. There is a massive rockjam in the canyon that is really incredible and prevents further passage. On my Royal Arch trip, I acquired a tripod that had been left at Elve’s Chasm and today was the first hike I’d remembered to take it on. Here’s a movie with me actually in it (email subscribers click below to watch):

Opposite Hell's Half Acre Canyon

Hell's Half Acre Rockfall

I continued upstream, keeping my eyes open for wildlife and sloshing happily along. There is no official trail in Aravaipa, but there are usually two choices: hike in the creekbed or on the use paths next to the creek. These use paths shortcut meanders and sometimes veer quite a distance away from the creek. Many of these are marked by cairns or pretty well beat in. I have the same dilemma every time I go: I enjoy walking in or as close to the creek as possible at all times, but am often tempted away by these paths. I veer off and soon it is dry, rocky, choked with log jams and I can’t hear the creek anymore and wonder why I didn’t just stay in the creek. Happens a couple of times every visit. Here’s a video of the fall colors:

I made it two hours into the canyon where a prominent dry fall with a large cave at the bottom of it comes into view on the north wall. There is a campsite up the sandy hill with a view of the cave and and cottonwoods. I had to be back in Tucson for a meeting at 6pm, but for a couple of hours, I could pretend I was hanging out at camp.The first picture in the post is from my “camp”.

Approaching the cave with the large dryfall

I wrote in my journal, ate my lunch, listened to some music and played with the tripod. Too soon, my time was up and I had to head back to the car. I passed a family on my way out who were suffering with cold feet who looked with envy when I told them about my waterproof socks. I also passed a couple heading in for a backpacking trip, now it was my turn to be envious. The hike downstream always goes faster than the hike upstream, so I took a little time to explore some gorgeous stands of sycamores along the creek.

Rust-colored sycamores


Sycamore tunnel along the creek

I love this place and can’t wait to come back. Maybe next time I’ll bring someone else along, all of my trips have been solo and it seems like it would be a fun place to enjoy with someone else.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a young Prairie Falcon with a hurt wing that came in last week.

Young Prairie Falcon

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Brush Corral Trail ridgeline

While most trails have some sort of internet presence in the form of trip journals, pictures, and/or hiking descriptions, the Brush Corral is one of those trails that no one knows anything about.  The main source of information is the little yellow out-of-print Trail Guide to the Santa Catalina Mountains by Cowgill and Glendening. The book said that 10 years ago, some of the Southern Arizona Hiking Club brushed the lower part of the trail. That’s a long time ago, but even more so when you realize that the book was published in… 1977! I was three years old at the time, in the Chicago suburbs and probably had no idea I would end up in Arizona, or what an Arizona was anyway. I’d also read an account by Scott Morris, who had attempted to mountain bike it in 2004. This report was not reassuring. Here’s a quote: “Unfortunately, neither of these signs of the trail continued any further. The trail was rideable, and easy to follow for a few minutes longer. Then it became unrideable and impossible to follow, in that order.”

I figured it would probably be best to have some other people along for this trail, so I asked Lee Allen, David Rabb, and Tom Kimmel along. We all work on the Arizona Trail building crew The Crazies and I’d enjoyed hiking the Sutherland Trail with them last May. We are all trying to hike all the trails in the Catalinas, and team up for some of the more challenging ones. The Brush Corral Trail branches off the Green Mountain Trail 0.3 miles away from the San Pedro Vista at 7200 ft. and descends to 3650 ft. in the remote eastern part of the range at the site of an old ranger station. This trailhead is ten miles in from Redington Rd, the last 1.5 miles requiring 4wd. It just so happens that last summer, I got a 4wd Jeep Patriot and we were excited to put it to use and have Brian, my husband, pick us up at the bottom of the mountain.

On the morning of November 22nd, when we were driving up the mountain, I found out more of the upper part of the trail had been cleared than I thought.  Tom also heads up a volunteer group called Tom’s Sawyers that uses two-man saws to cut deadfall in wilderness areas in the Catalinas and Chiricahuas. He, Lee, and David had worked the Brush Corral Trail for about the first two miles this summer. We all agreed that the pickup time of 4pm that I’d scheduled with Brian was too late. We stopped at Babad Do’ag where I had a strong cell signal and I called Brian and left a message on his phone that we’d changed the pickup to 2pm instead. On our drive up, the mountain was covered in clouds just above our trailhead. We bundled up against the cold and started hiking the Green Mountain Trail at 8 am from the San Pedro Vista.

Low clouds on Evans Mountain

David Rabb, Lee Allen, and Tom Kimmel

My second remote, seldom visited trail in the Catalinas that I’ve never seen before in one week- how did I get so lucky? We quickly reached the turnoff for the Brush Corral Trail and the trail switchbacked steeply down the mountain. Tom had his hand saw in his pack, ready to tackle any smaller deadfall and mark the big ones to come back for.  As a result of their earlier work there were only a couple of trees to go over and under. Thanks guys! Clouds were hanging low in the San Pedro Valley, but they were dispersing fast and there was a layer of clear blue sky above. We had an attractive drainage crossing and then the trail contoured over to a saddle. Here’s a video (click it if you subscribe through e-mail):

This way to the Corral

Brush Corral Trail

At the saddle, the vegetation changed and became more open, with views down to interesting rock formations and the ridges and canyons below. We continued switchbacking down through gorgeous madrone trees laden with bright red berries, alligator junipers, pines, and manzanita. The trail reached the Brush Corral Shortcut Trail, which can be used to form a loop that goes back up to the trailhead, but we were all about the downhill on this trip. And there was plenty of it, and steep. The trail contoured north of  peak 6313 and soon we reached a saddle and the ridge we were going to be following stretched out in front of us. We descended a short distance and then got to a flatter spot and the trail was no longer evident. Now to figure out where to go.

San Pedro Valley

Madrone berries

Helmet Rock to the left, looking back toward the trailhead

A brief look at the GPS to figure out where the trail goes

We looked around and saw nothing that looked like a trail. Fortunately the 1:24000 maps that Lee had on his GPS showed the trail jogged right a little bit to travel just below the ridge. Further investigation showed tread leading in the right direction. We soon came to old, sawed-off limbs covered in regrowth that showed the trail alignment, even if there were sometimes other branches that had grown into the trail. Fortunately, I was traveling with Tom, who sawed here and there, opening up the brushy corridor. The trail bed was faint at times, but not too hard to follow.

The trail returned to the grassy crest of the ridge for a bit, then off to the right of the crest. As long as we could find the trail tread, travel was easier and less rocky. We swung a little too far right at one point, but got back on track soon after. There was an ancient, rusty wire visible on the ground from time to time that belonged to the telephone line to the old ranger station. We could see a rocky outcropping ahead of us and the map said that the trail went up and over it.  There was a faint track visible on contour from the saddle to the right of the outcropping and we could see that the route up and over was dense with brush. I’m pretty sure the few users that this trail get take the faint contouring path. We did, and it was pretty easy going, just stay below the rock formations and pick your way over to the next saddle. After the saddle, the trail switched over to the west side of the ridge.

In many places the ridgeline was open

I've never seen a green one before- kind of a strange color for visibility

A reassuring cairn

Heading toward the rocky outcropping- we sidehilled to the right, though the map shows it going up and over

The ridgeline afforded wonderful expansive views toward the San Pedro River valley and I could see an intriguing looking canyon in the Galiuro Mountains across the way. (when I got home I looked it up it’s Keilberg Canyon, and it’s going on my ever-growing list of places to visit) There were interesting rock formations and several bright-yellow cottonwoods in the drainage to the right, a fork of Buehman Canyon. The trail steeply descended the ridgeline through fairly open terrain, with cairns here and there. I’d love to see the grasslands in the summer, when the hills are all green. Unfortunately, it would be super-hot at that time.

Incredible views

Looking south

Ridge flattens out

At 11:15 we reached a flatter part of the ridge, where it splits into two “arms”. The trail goes on the right arm and there is a short respite from the descent. I cannot stress how great the views are on this hike. Not only out to where you are headed, but as you work your way down, you can look back and see the whole ridge undulating behind you. Here’s a movie:

Looking at the ridge we came down

As the terrain becomes flatter on the ridge, cattle paths start to criss-cross the path of the trail. At 11:45, we reached a tall, brown carsonite post with a splash of white paint. This marked the descent toward the creek crossing. I saw black rocks in the creek that I recognized from pictures I’d seen on Scott Morris’ blog and the trail angled toward them. We were looking for the intersection of the Evans Mountain Trail in the creekbed, a trail even more obscure than the Brush Corral (undoubtedly intriguing). When we got to the creekbed, there was no sign at the intersection, but the Evans Mountain Trail continues along the creek, while the Brush Corral Trail ascends the hill toward a saddle through an isolated patch of overgrown, nasty catclaw. We stopped at the saddle for lunch and I snacked on some tasty mesquite granola that a friend of mine had given me.

The guys travelling on the right "arm" of the ridge

Waiting for the lagging photographer

This carsonite post marks where the route heads down into the canyon to cross the creek and go up to the small saddle in the left of the photo

Across the creekbed and up the catclaw-filled slope, looking back at the ridge we hiked

After the saddle, the trail contoured to the right and crossed a drainage before flattening out on the ridgeline again. The trail was much better marked in this area, with carsonite posts and cairns with visible tread through the grasses. There were gorgeous oaks and views of the Rincons and Helen’s Dome (which all of us on the hike are very fond of). It reminded me of the Oak Tree Canyon area of the Arizona Trail, north of Sonoita. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to hike. There were fluffy clouds and the temperatures were perfect. The ridge forked and the trail descended to the left, then there was a short ascent between two oak trees with a carsonite post visible on top. Here, the carsonites were placed so one was almost always in the line of sight of another one. This part looked like it had seen a little more use than the rest of the trail, because we were nearing the trailhead in Buehman Canyon. Movie of the lower trail:

Between the oaks

This part reminds me of Oak Tree Canyon on the AZT

Helen's Dome in the Rincons in the distance

Looking toward Evans Mountain

At 1:15, the Brush Corrals came into view. There used to be a ranger station here, but we poked around the area and all that we could find was the old corral. The trail descended to cross Buehman Canyon and we got to the parking area at 1:30 pm. The last 1.5 miles of the 10-mile access road are 4wd, and since we got to the trailhead early, we decided to make Brian’s drive easier by hiking the road out to meet him. I was concerned about him having gotten the message about the pickup time change in time for him to come two hours earlier than he had planned.

After all that, my picture of the Brush Corral is blurry. Dang!

The trailhead is on the other side of the creek

The road shot steeply out of the wash to a saddle, then descended to wind through a tight wash before reaching the high-clearance accessible parking area.  By this time it was 2:20 pm and we figured that he hadn’t gotten the message. We all hoped that it wasn’t because something had happened on the way out. Rather than sitting around, after a break we continued walking the road, which was in itself quite scenic and flat. At around 3:45, when we’d walked a considerable distance down the road, we began to get concerned. Brian should have intersected us by now- did something happen to him? Did we miss him? Tom had cell reception, but Brian and I use T-Mobile and did not. Brian had my GPS with the track to the trailhead loaded onto it so he couldn’t have gotten lost, could he? Was he broken down? We started to come up with a contingency plan, and shortly afterward saw Brian drive up. Was I glad to see him! The message that I’d sent this morning had been garbled and he couldn’t understand any of it. Oh well- so we had to hike a couple of extra hours- good thing we all love hiking! Total mileage was 13.5 miles,  7.2 miles of that on the Brush Corral Trail. We drove Redington Road back into town, and dropped everyone off at their cars. A great hike which ended with a meal from one of my favorite post-hike places, El Charro. Many thanks to the hours of driving done by my husband so that we could all complete this tough-to-access trail.

Looking at Evans Mtn. from the access road

Click below to see the full set of pictures on my Picasa account:

Brush Corral 11-22-10

There have been some very exciting things in the works lately. I recently started working as a hiking guide for Southwest Trekking and took my first group out a couple of weeks ago. I am really looking forward to this new career path and am fortunate that my work as a massage therapist is flexible enough to afford me time to expand my horizons. I have also agreed to lead a crew (the Crazies North) to build the first mile and a quarter of the pipeline reroute on the Arizona Trail Black Hills passage, north of Oracle. I will be posting details soon on work events if anyone is interested in volunteering. I lead a full and happy life indeed.

I am also in the early stages of planning a fundraising event to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson that combines a number of my favorite things:


Blues...courtesy of Tom Walbank- photo by Gracieshoots via Flickr

...and Bellydance!

Yes, all these wonderful things under one roof (or perhaps outside, I haven’t decided yet) coming this spring. I will be posting more details as I have them. In the meantime , if you’d like to donate to the Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser, you can click the Donate button now:

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Me and my husband Brian at the All Soul's Procession

Each year, in early November, there is an event in Tucson that makes me giddy with anticipation- the All Soul’s Procession. Here’s the description of how the Procession came to be from the excellent website:

“The All Souls Procession is perhaps one of the most important, inclusive and authentic public ceremonies in North America today. The Procession had its beginnings in 1990 with a ritualistic performance piece created by local artist Susan Johnson, who was grieving the passing of her father. Inspired by Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos holiday, Johnson felt she should honor her father in celebration and creativity. The performance was very well received and many artists were inspired to continue growing the Procession into its modern incarnation.

Today we find ourselves organizing over 20,000 participants on the streets of downtown Tucson for a two-mile long human-powered procession that ends in the finalizing action of burning a large urn filled with the hopes, offerings and wishes of the public for those who have passed. Inside the event are myriads of installation art, altars, performers, and creatives of all kinds collaborating for almost half the year to prepare their offerings to this amazing event. The All Souls Procession, and now the entire All Souls Weekend, is a celebration and mourning of the lives of our loved ones who have passed.”

Many people dress up as brides and grooms, in the vein of Dia De los Muertos. My costume has a wedding theme as well- the flowers used are silk flowers that were used at my wedding, seven years ago. Instead of them ending up in some box in my shed, I used them to create this costume:

A little different than my usual pictures with hiking gear...

During the procession, my husband usually finds some drummers to play with- this year we processed with my bellydance friends and I had a wonderful time, dancing for most of the two miles. I was so busy dancing that I didn’t take many pictures, but here are some shots from the procession and finale:

I like the use of the agave stalk on this one

Lots of big-head puppets

This was one of my favorites, it was over 10' tall

Dancing in the procession- Photo by Joel Smith

After the procession, there is an incredible finale with fire performers, acrobats, and the burning of an urn filled with prayers. Really, you’ve just got to go and see it for yourself.

You can see the urn in the distance being lifted onto its platform

This guy's costume was so detailed

Detail of his costume

If you’d like to see additional pictures from this event, you can visit the Flickr group: http://www.flickr.com/groups/tucson_all_souls_procession/

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a screech owl that is soon to be released. He went into this very showy defensive pose when I came in to feed him:

This screech owl gave me quite the show when I came in to feed him

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I recently got the chance to spend 11 days hiking in the Grand Canyon. The first part of the trip was a five-day, 46-mile Royal Arch Loop off of the South Bass Trailhead in the western part of the park. I am still going through the myriad pictures and videos for that trip and will post about that soon. I hiked out the South Bass Trail on October 11th, got dropped off at the South Kaibab Trailhead in the main part of the park and hiked back down to participate in the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association Service Project at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds. In addition to my work event, I managed to hike up to the North Rim and back out the South Rim, completing my first Rim to Rim to Rim over six days.

Starting down the South Kaibab

Day 1- After hiking out the South Bass Trail in the morning to complete my Royal Arch Loop, I got dropped off at the South Kaibab TH at 3:45 pm to hike back into the Canyon for the annual GCHBA Service Project. I had a spot waiting for me at Bright Angel Campground and a stew dinner reservation at 6:30 pm. Food and beer have never been a greater motivator, and I flew down the South Kaibab, which was in fantastic shape. After Skeleton Point, passed this guy who you could tell thought he was a big tough guy for coming up the South Kaibab. As I came practically running down the trail wearing a full backpack, smile on my face, loving the moment, he said, “Bet you won’t feel so good on the way up.” To which I replied, “Actually, I’m hiking back in, I’ve already hiked out today- have a great hike!” When I got down to the Black Bridge, I took a picture to check my hiking time and was shocked to see I’d made it down in 2:02! (for comparison, the first time I hiked down the South Kaibab in 2001 it took me over six hours and I literally limped into camp.)

Black Bridge across the Colorado River- a.k.a. the way to the stew dinner and Tecates

Now that I had 45 minutes until dinner, I went over to the campground and was happy to see Ranger Della. I told her that I was supposed to stay in the stock site, and she told me to wait a minute and see if she could get me the River Ranger Residence instead. It was my lucky day for sure because instead of sleeping near the mules in the stock site, I now had an entire little house to myself at the bottom of the canyon. Shower, phone, laundry and a bed that were all going to feel so good after having been out for 6 days already on the Royal Arch Loop. But first- my stew dinner and a couple of icy Tecates.

Day 2- I started up the North Kaibab to meet up with the rest of my group at Cottonwood CG for the work event. The past five days of hiking had caught up with me and I was tired, but thankful that I had one of the easiest pieces of the GC ahead. I got to the Ribbon Falls turnoff and took the creek over to the falls. It had gotten really warm, so I decided a siesta on the flat rocks above the creek opposite the falls was in order.

Ribbon Falls from the Siesta Spot

After a short nap, I continued to Cottonwood where I checked in with Ranger Bil Vandergraff and met the rest of my work crew. Later, we made our way over to our lodging at the Pumphouse Residence, also known as the Aiken House, where I was greeted by our house mom with a icy glass of lemonade and some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. I chose to sleep under the stars rather than in one of the bunkhouse beds.

Hiking up to Cottonwood CG

Day 3- We hiked over to Cottonwood to work on various maintenance jobs at the campground with Ranger Bil. I got to see some brand-new Arizona Trail maps that will be on display in the corridor campgrounds- it’s about time the AZT was signed through the park! Talked to Bil about creating and installing signs that give the mileage north to Utah and south to Mexico. He said- you build it, I’ll make sure you can install it. Sweet! After working at Cottonwood, we commuted back to the Aiken house.

Ranger Bil Vandergraff briefs us on what we're doing for the day- Amazing House Mom Pat is on the left.

Brand new fancy AZT signs that are at the trailheads and campgrounds- it's about time!

Love this fall right below the North Kaibab Trail

Day 4- We had a free day and five of us wanted to hike the Old Bright Angel Loop. We got up to find that there had been a pipeline break and so we had to switch to backpacking mode at the house and carry up all our water from the creek. We went up the North Kaibab and got to see some spectacular stands of maples and aspen.

Five hikers, fresh and ready to take on the Old Bright Angel Loop

Up the North Kaibab Trail

Chris Forsyth and the McCumbers (cutest couple in the Canyon) take a snack break at the Eye of the Needle

North Kaibab below the Supai Tunnel

Supai switchbacks

Yummy fall foliage at Supai Tunnel

Loving the fall colors!

Mmmmm...Golden Quaking Aspens...

Yay! We walked up into fall!

Video of the fall colors:

When we reached the trailhead, it was already 12 pm. After a comedy of errors involving trying to drive over to another trailhead for Ken Patrick Trail that looked like a shortcut but wasn’t, we realized to start down a trail notorious for routefinding issues with so few hours of light left was a terrible idea. So for our Plan B, we hiked along the Transept Trail toward the lodge and went for pizza, beer, and ice cream. Way to salvage the day!

The shortcut that wasn't any shorter.

Crap! Back at the trailhead again, no Old Bright Angel Trail for us today.

Views along the Transept Trail

Pizza, Ice Cream and Beer make for a great Plan B!

I even managed to get us a ride on the employee shuttle for the two boring miles back to the trailhead. Three of our group sped off to see how fast they could make it to the Aiken House, while I hung back with Russell and enjoyed the hike down, especially the last 45 minutes in the moonlight. The Aiken house is where Bruce Aiken lived and raised his family from 1973-2006 while tending to the pumphouse and painting in his free time. His kids used to have a lemonade stand for passers-by. I remember reading that Mary Aiken had to hike out the 4.7 miles/3600 ft elevation gain up the  North Kaibab Trail from her house while pregnant to deliver her children. The youngest of their three children, Silas, has now returned to his boyhood home and is working seasonally as a ranger. It was really interesting to talk to him about growing up in the Grand Canyon. Silas also gave us a choice of postcards with his father’s paintings- I chose one of Ribbon Falls that looks like the perspective is from my siesta spot from a couple of days earlier. One last night spent sleeping on the helipad.

The front group is down on the switchbacks before the bridge

Night Snake

Not a bad view at all...

Day 5- After helping with some maintenance stuff at the Aiken House, we had the rest of the day to hike down to the River Ranger Residence where the group would spend our last two nights. On the way, we explored Wall Creek up to the first waterfall, which was about an hour in. Gorgeous canyon- the narrows and waterfall are wonderful- it’s definitely one I’d like to spend more time in. It was also nice to be somewhere that the Rim-to-Rim runners weren’t anywhere nearby. As this was the last weekend before the North Rim closed, Rim to Rim runners were all over the place. A strange breed indeed. I cannot think of anything less appealing than rushing through the Grand Canyon.

Russell on his deck he built for the firehose at Cottonwood CG

Heading into Wall Creek

Wall Creek Waterfall

After Wall Creek, we realized that if we were quick about it, we’d have one hour at the cantina before it closed for the afternoon. Like I said before, beer is a wonderful motivator and we rolled into the cantina exactly at 3pm. Three of us chose to sleep in the Bright Angel CG rather than over by the ranger station, and after setting up our stuff, we went to the Boat Beach. Two guys showed up shortly after, Ethan and Josh, and I asked them where they were hiking to. They replied that they were thru-biking the Arizona Trail. I told them that it was their lucky day because I absolutely adore helping anyone trying to complete the AZT and I hadn’t adopted a thru-hiker for fall yet. So now instead of a thru-hiker, I get to help two thru-bikers!

Taylor was carrying some wonderful things in his giant pack

Russell, Taylor, Ethan, and Josh

Day 6- We worked all day with Sjors at BAC, hacking the grass out of the irrigation ditches. Not the most fun job, but a necessary one. Plus, you get to hear Sjors’ stories, which are always great. We were back at the river ranger residence for lunch and one of the guys offers me a popsicle for dessert. A popsicle in the Grand Canyon!! We talked about how funny it would be to stand at the black bridge and eat it, but none of us were that mean. After working in the afternoon, Chris Forsyth, the leader of the service project, took me and Russell on the Old Miner’s Route up to the Tonto and down the South Kaibab. So cool to see an historic trail. One last moonlit night at the boat beach and the service project was over for another year.

Digging out the irrigation ditches at Bright Angel CG

Chris eating a tangerine popsicle at the bottom of the Grand Canyon

Lunch break at the River Ranger Residence- Chef Norm Gagne is in the grey shirt

Beginning of the Old Miner's Route

Tread worn into the rock

Chris points out features to Russell

Phantom Ranch is the green area to the left

View down to the saddle

Looks like I went to a photo studio and picked the "Grand Canyon" backdrop

Chris looks at the Tapeats exit break up to the Tonto

Majestic light in the Canyon hitting the South Kaibab Trail- click to enlarge

Cairn where the Old Miner's Route meets the Tonto

Sunset from The Tipoff

Day 7- After cleaning up the river ranger residence, we started the hike out on the South Kaibab. I was hiking with Russell, a contractor from Texas, and Taylor, a hiking guide from Phoenix. I have never had a more enjoyable hike out of the canyon before. We were totally taking our time, stopping for scenery breaks and chatting with people hiking downhill. Right before Skeleton Point, we stopped for a snack and Taylor pulls out a metal platter and slices a bunch of summer sausage and cheese onto the platter for hors d’oeuvers. We offered it to another hiker coming uphill, and he didn’t even crack a smile. I, on the other hand, could have died laughing.

One of many snack breaks on our hike out the South Kaibab

Tiny Asian lady: "I want to try on your rucksack!"

Taylor Branch serves up hors d'ouevers in style!

It was unlike any hike I’ve ever had coming out of the canyon- instead of being happy that we were almost at the top, we instead were sad that the whole thing was going to be over soon. We made it out in a leisurely and enjoyable seven hours and I completed my first rim to rim to rim. There was one last wonderful surprise left- when I unpacked my backpack upon arriving home, I realized that my dear friend Chris had slipped a brand-new Golite Chrome Dome umbrella in my pack. Awesome.

I appreciate a shapely Butte

Dude, Bro- this is sweet!

A final goodbye to a most amazing place

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture, here’s a Harris Hawk that we’d had since it was a juvenile. After assessing its ability to fly and kill live prey, we recently released him back into the wild.

Harris Hawk is hungry!

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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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When I was growing up, my family would always get a crate of prickly pear fruit in September. My mom and grandparents grew up eating it in southern Italy (we called it Fichi d’India), and this is still one of my favorite foods. I have heard that saguaro fruits taste similar, and I have long wanted to taste one. I have been reading up on native harvest and processing techniques and after seeing the first of the red, ripe, open saguaro fruits while driving around town, I woke up this morning with a mission: gather and process enough fruit to make Saguaro Fruit Roll-Ups in my food dehydrator. It is early in the season, but I have several patches that I can gather from in the next couple of weeks.

Saguaro fruit cut open

I used a hula-hoe to take the ripe fruits down from the lower arms, and processed them on the spot. I used a knife to split the fruits and a spoon to scoop out the juicy red interior. I left the husks so the interior faced the sky as in Tohono O’Odham tradition. (it is supposed to help bring the monsoon rains) Some of the fruits I ate on the spot, but most I put into a bucket that I took home. I had about 40-50 fruits at the end of this trip.

Bucket of fruits

When I got home, I put the fruits in a pot with two cups of water and mushed up the pulp as I boiled it for 20 minutes, scraping and discarding the bright pink scum that formed on top.

Boiling the fruits with some water

I strained this through a cloth to trap any pulp, seeds, and anything else that had gotten into my bucket of saguaro fruit.There were a LOT of seeds, so I set them out for the birds in my yard.

Straining the seeds and pulp

I was left with a bright pink liquid that I put in my food dehydrator on a plastic tray that is used for making fruit roll-ups. About 4 hours later, I had bright, red, delicious, Saguaro Fruit Roll-Ups! If you have not tasted the fruit of the saguaro, the coming weeks are prime time for it.


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Sunrise lights up Holdout Canyon

For Part 1, click here

Day 3- What a wonderful thing to wake up in Holdout Canyon! It is close to the new moon, so sleeping under the stars last night was spectacular. This morning, I went exploring around Holdout Canyon for a couple of hours, while Judy stayed in camp and journaled. I absolutely love this place and its fantastic rock formations, fragrant juniper trees, deep blue skies. I found a great rocky perch with a view and enjoyed some alone time.

Cool little camp spot at the base of this face-like rock formation

Taking in the view

I am usually a solo hiker, and I don’t think I’ve ever been on a five day trip with someone before.  Judy and I met several years ago through her website Hiken Girls, which has journals from her Arizona Trail hike that she finished in 2008. We corresponded a bit before I started my Arizona Trail hike, and when I did the passage from Oracle to the Gila River, I found a note that she’d left for me sitting on a cairn in the middle of nowhere! Judy and I have never backpacked together before, but thankfully our hiking paces and styles seem to mesh well. On my way back to camp, I decided to institute Sirena’s Cairn Rehabilitation and Beautification project (rebuilding fallen cairns or adding a small decorative rock on top). Judy and I packed up and got ourselves ready for what I had heard was the most overgrown and navigationally challenging part of this segment. I had brought leather gloves to attempt to protect my hands from scratches from the catclaw and other thorny plants- as a massage therapist it would be unsightly to go back to work with shredded hands. We were surprised to see that the rock formations in Holdout Canyon were so extensive- they went on for miles and miles. We maneuvered our way as the faint trail wove in and out of rocky outcrops on the north side of Holdout, searching for cairns, pieces of flagging tape, and stopping often to read and re-read the intricate notes in the guidebook. At times, the catclaw and live oak was so tall and thick it obscured the trail on the other side. I would hate to be caught out here in shorts and a t-shirt. Judy and I were enjoying the routefinding- each cairn and flag was a clue to solve the puzzle of how to get through to Black Rock Canyon.

Judy in a field of wildflowers

Even the rock formations look like cairns

It is hard to explain how happy a small nub of flag can make you feel in the right circumstances

The trail is just a little overgrown...

We finally saw Black Rock Canyon in the valley below, and the trail took us back to Holdout Canyon just before the confluence. I have never seen an area so thick with animal prints of every kind! Mountain lion, bobcat, coyote, ringtail, deer, all clearly visible in the damp sand of the drainage.

Tree Lizard- click to enlarge

Looking down on Black Rock Creek/Holdout confluence


From our camp to the confluence, we were moving at about a mile an hour, because of brush and routefinding. We were happy to reach the Black Rock Trail, which wasn’t a trail at all, but instead followed in the bottom of the drainage, which had a nice flow running through it. We crossed a fence into the North Santa Teresa Wilderness and promptly came upon a group of cows and calves. At about 6pm, we passed a flat area with a good sitting rock and a juniper tree and decided to set up camp. Even though we didn’t make as many miles as we had been expecting, it had been an exciting day with lots of challenges and the amazing scenery was well worth it. We both tried not to think of all the mountain lion prints we’d seen as we went to bed.

Beautifully sculpted white rock in Black Rock Canyon

Microseris and Scorpionweed

What a day- this was some of the most interesting, challenging, and beautiful miles I’ve ever hiked. I look forward to coming back to this area to explore more in the future.

Day 4- Judy and I got an early start and we continued following the twists and turns of the Black Rock drainage. Black Rock itself finally came into view:

Black Rock rising above its namesake creek

The scenery changed dramatically with dark brown and red rock formations. Judy said, “Here comes a dog- it’s a pitbull.”  Well, this beautiful brown and white dog was so excited to see us and was one of the most submissive dogs I’ve ever seen. He was a juvenile, all excited to have someone to play with, and flopped down, belly-up to show that he meant no harm.

The dog that followed us for a couple of miles

We missed our turnoff into Preacher Canyon, which resulted in a beautiful little detour into a small narrows of Black Rock Canyon.

Canyon Tree Frog

Black Rock Canyon's rock is a conglomerate- click to enlarge

Back the way we came, dog following us all the way

Climbing above Preacher Canyon

After we got back on track and started climbing up Preacher Canyon, we tried to tell the dog to go home several times, but he would just hide behind a bush and we’d see him a minute later, slinking up behind us. Finally, he got the hint and went back to where he came from. In Preacher Canyon, we followed a water pipeline trail and then had a stint of cross-country travel to attain a ridge. The whole hillside was filled with blooming fairy duster and Lilies. The view from the ridge was fantastic!

Judy realized she had cell phone reception on the ridge so she called her mom and I called my husband, Brian. I carry a SPOT satellite messenger, so our families had been getting OK messages twice a day. SPOT OK’s are no substitute for conversation, though, and I was glad to be able to talk to Brian and assure him that everything was going ok with our trip. For the rest of the day, we were headed uphill, toward our highpoint of the trip at 7250 ft. on the crest of Cottonwood Mountain.

The tread was good on the way up to Kane Spring, which made the climbing easier. We stopped for a snack and water break, and realized that we probably weren’t going to make it up to the highpoint to camp before dark.

Thankfully, there was a pipe that drained clearer water into the second tank at Kane Spring

I had wanted to carry water up for a dry camp, but that would have to wait for another trip. Our next water source was 3.5 miles and almost a thousand feet higher on the mountain, and we had good tread and cairns until the gate at the saddle. Past that, there were quite a few newly downed trees and overgrowth in an area that had burned in the 1980s. I missed a switchback when we were getting close to our camp, which resulted in a scary-steep traverse on crumbly rock and a bushwhack straight up the hill to regain the trail. The last third of a mile to camp was exhausting. We finally heard water and found a flat spot to set up next to the trail. It had been a long, hot day with a tough climb and we were both beat.

Day 5- Judy and I woke up and got out of camp as early as we could- we had 9 miles to hike to Judy’s car, then about 60 miles of dusty dirt-road driving to get my car and get out of here, then another two hours to get home. Fortunately, it was going to be mostly downhill today, so we had some hope of not having to drive the long dirt roads in the dark. First, we had a short climb to our highpoint, with amazing views of where we’d spent the last five days.

It was somewhat overcast, which made for great conditions, as the terrain became more and more exposed as we dropped in elevation. The trail down Cottonwood was in great shape, and was welcome after all the brush fighting we’d done over the past 4 days. There were fields of fragrant blooming Desert Ceanothus on the way down from Cottonwood Mountain.

Desert Ceanothus

The trail reached Cottonwood Canyon and we made a wrong turn and followed a cow path for a short distance before realizing we were off track. I was pushing through some brush and thought I was all the way through, but I came up and got a branch to the face! Fortunately, it only scratched my nose and lip- I could have broken my nose or lost an eye. After we got back on trail, we reached a beautiful waterfall where we sat for our lunch break.

Pretty waterfall in Cottonwood Canyon

After our break, we soon reached the boundary of the Santa Teresa Wilderness and FR 677, which we took to a 4wd track that continued in Cottonwood Canyon. There was water in the canyon, but it was very polluted by cattle- I was glad I filled up before the wilderness boundary. The two-track wound through boulder fields and crossed and recrossed the creek. We saw a lot of wildlife: deer, 2 zone-tailed hawks, numerous songbirds, and this guy:

Wide, flat and spiky

Nearing the end of a tough but rewarding five days out in the Santa Teresa Wilderness.

We reached Judy’s car at about 2:30 and drove over to my car at the Aravaipa East TH. I was very happy with my choice of hiking partners and I think Judy may have caught the Grand Enchantment Trail bug. Though we could see rain off in the distance, there was none in our area, which was good because I had to drive my T-Bird across Aravaipa Creek five times to get out of there. It was 38 miles of good, recently graded dirt road through the Sulphur Springs Valley to Bonita, where I finally turned onto blacktop again. Total miles hiked (including inadvertent scenic detours and some exploring) was only 40 miles in five days. I feel very lucky that I got to experience this remote, wild, and beautiful place. Here’s a link to the full set of pictures from this trip:

GET- Santa Teresas 4-12 to 4-16-10

I have a special picture for today’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser: a baby Great Horned Owl that came to us at just a week old. We were careful that the owl didn’t see or hear us so that it wouldn’t imprint on a human. The imprinting period has passed, and I got to bring the baby owl out for feeding this week. What a face!

3-week old Great Horned Owl

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