Posts Tagged ‘Harris Hawk’

View toward Patagonia from Josephine Peak

I am now back from working on the river this summer and transitioning to a land-based lifestyle. It may take a while, however- the other night it was storming and I woke up worrying about if everything on the boat was covered. I did six commercial trips this summer with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater. It was amazing and I learned so much about the Grand Canyon and boating. Then at the end of my season, I was invited last-minute on a private 8-day trip on the lower half of the river just for fun. I’ll write about that in an upcoming entry.

As much as I love the Grand Canyon, I missed Tucson- every time I came back from a trip the mountains were more and more green. I didn’t have the time (or quite frankly the energy) to do any hikes around here this summer, so I was excited to get out in my own neck of the woods for a change. You know the place you live is pretty when you miss it while at the Grand Canyon!

Santa Rita Panorama- click to enlarge

I called Wendy to see if she wanted to go to the Santa Ritas, but it turned out she’d already made plans with Cindy and her friend Bobby to do Josephine Peak, so I got to tag along. This was a great destination that I probably wouldn’t have thought of, as it is off the Super Trail and I always take Baldy up the mountain.

Josephine Canyon

We had perfect weather, big fluffy clouds with a couple of sprinkles just before we had the final push to the peak. The Ritas are super-lush with wildflowers everywhere. We took Baldy to Josephine Saddle, then the Super Trail to Riley Saddle and the turnoff for the Josephine Peak “Trail”. I really enjoyed the open views and easy grade on the Super Trail.

Our objective comes into view

A parade of Chrome Domes

We hit the peak turnoff and then the fun immediately began. Cairn-hunting, log-hopping, side-hilling, and brush fighting. Some of us were more successful than others at the brush fighting and a certain person who I hike with often had an up-close and personal encounter. Friendship is plucking pricklies from a posterior that isn’t yours…

Wendy comes through the downed trees and mini-pines

Just a little brushy…

Rincons in the distance

We went up along the ridge that goes from Riley Saddle for a bit and then had to sidehill toward another ridge that led to the summit. After we reached the summit ridge, the tread became more apparent and switchbacked steeply up toward the summit. The summit had fantastic views of Wrightson to the north and I could see the path of the Arizona Trail below. Cindy had her celebratory beer and I got out Micro Chicken for his summit shot.

Hiking up the final ridge, there were switchbacks among the downed logs

Wrightson, Bobby, Cindy, and me

Video from the summit:

Micro Chicken bags another summit

After the enjoyment at the summit, it was time to fight the brush again back down to the Super Trail.

Cool tree courtesy of the 2005 Florida Fire

Log-hopping and sidehilling through brush (also courtesy of the Florida Fire)

Looking back at the summit ridge of Josephine Peak

Glad to be back in the Ritas!

Aaah, back to the big, fancy trail.

We were elated at the wide tread and log-free Super Trail and Cindy turned into Downhill Turbo Cindy.  At Josephine Saddle we decided to take the Super Trail to the Roger’s Rock/Pipeline route because Wendy hadn’t seen it before. It was gorgeous, with running water and changing sycamore trees. Spent the whole day on the mountain and topped it off with ice cream on the way home. I don’t think days get much better than that.

Through the flowers on the Super Trail with Hopkins on the left

Mountain Spiny Lizard

Beautiful sycamores and running water on the Roger’s Rock Route

I am also back volunteering at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, I missed my birds and other critters!
I had a memorable encounter the other day when a Harris Hawk jumped onto my back while I was cleaning its cage. Normally this would not be a good thing, but this particular hawk was raised for a month in someone’s bathtub when it was very little. It has been around people its whole life. After a bit, it made itself comfortable on top of my head! It’s good to be back.

100% of donations go toward housing and feeding the animals at the rehab:

Silly Harris Hawk!

Harris Hawk Head

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As the Gateway Community Liaison for the Arizona Trail Association, one of my duties is to help communities throw Trail Days events. Events centered on getting people outdoors to experience what the Gateway Communities have to offer. I had helped organize one in February in Superior, but I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend because of prior commitments.

Setting up in the morning at the Pine Trailhead

After having a post-event meeting in Superior, I made my way north to attend an initial Trail Days planning meeting in Pine. I was expecting 5-6 people sitting around a table for the meeting, instead I walked into the Rimside Grill to find the bar bustling with almost 30 people! I was immediately impressed by the outpouring of support from Pine and its sister community up the hill, Strawberry.


The first annual Pine/Strawberry Trails Day was held on April 21st on a day that was sweltering hundred degrees in the valley. North in Pine, which sits at 5400 feet at the base of the Mogollon Rim,  it was a perfect day. Many groups came out and volunteered their time to make this event happen.

Lou Hoover and Dave Seigal man the Arizona Trail booth

One of my favorite parts of the day was meeting Joyce Bittner and her three llamas from the Ranch at Fossil Creek. She had agreed to lead a llama hike and it was very interesting hearing her speak about the things that make a llama an ideal pack animal. They can pack 75 lbs. apiece and she said that on overnights, she straps a cooler onto the llamas so that you can enjoy quite the fancy meal on the trail!

Joyce Bittner brushes the llamas while we wait for the hikers

My dad, my mom and a llama

What a face! -photo by Budh Rana

Starting the hike

There was a longer hike later in the day to Bradshaw Meadows and many booths and demonstrations throughout the event. Music came courtesy of Chuck and Barb Casey. There was even a medieval fighting exhibit! Many businesses donated items and gift certificates for a giant raffle basket of goodies. A good time was had by all who attended and I’m already looking forward to planning next year’s event.

Basket of raffle goodies

Arno from Germany riding the Arizona Trail 750 race rode into town as we were packing up- Tamara from Rimside Grill made sure he got a hot meal and a shower before tackling the Highline Trail

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, it’s full-on baby season at the rehab. There are so many cute birds, bunnies, and squirrels I can hardly stand it! Click below to donate to help feed these little guys:

Little Harris Hawk, big feet!

Baby Great Horned Owls

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The second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson took place on April 14th and a fantastic time was had by all! Despite cold weather and Fourth Avenue being totally torn up for the trolley construction, we had a good turnout and raised $833 toward wildlife rehabilitation. Here’s some pictures from the event- all photos by the very talented Mike Bieke.

Luna the Great Horned Owl

Troupe HipNautic- from the left: Tama, Raja, Zahyra, Marjani, and Krishana


Janet Miller who runs the rehab and her son Russell with Elfie the Elf Owl, who had to stay in his house because it was too cold out.


Citan the Harris Hawk

Krishana's candle dance

The Railbirdz and their funky danceable blues music

Troupe HipNautic

Vagabond Incorporated provided live music for the bellydancers

Luna and her handler Sue

Things went so smoothly this year, there was even time for me to do a surprise performance!

What an event! There were so many people who donated their time and talents to make this happen. Huge thanks to Sky Bar and Brooklyn Pizza for donating the space, the talents of their graphic designer Serena Rose, and 15% of the food and drink receipts. All of our performers: The Railbirdz, Troupe HipNautic, Vagabond Incorporated, and Boz the MC were fantastic and generously donated their time to the cause. Thanks to Mike Bieke for donating his time to produce these beautiful photos. We also had a bunch of help from Russell Miller, Janet’s son, who brought members of the TKE fraternity, who volunteered their time. If you missed the event this year, don’t worry, it will be back again next spring! If you’d like to donate, you can do so online securely via PayPal to the wildlife rehab by clicking the button below, or send an old-fashioned check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union P.O. Box 50267  Tucson, Arizona 85703.

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Elephant Head

I returned to Elephant Head  after two years with “Santa Rita” Bill Bens and Wendy. It was Wendy’s first time up and though she was a little nervous on the final scramble, she pushed through like a champ to the summit! Click on the picture below to go to the album from that trip. The captions tell the story, but if you want to read more about the hike, click here to go to my writeup from 2 years ago. :

Elephant Head 1-31-12

One of my favorite pictures of the set was when Bill met Micro Chicken, who has been riding along in my pack for several months now.

Bill meets Micro Chicken

My friend Taylor was in Tubac the next week and wanted to meet for a hike, so I suggested we do Little Elephant Head. I hadn’t been up there before, but it looked like a great destination from my hike of Elephant Head the week prior. The hike starts out at the same TH as Elephant Head, then turns left onto a spur trail that follows the undulating ridge out to the Little Elephant. This turn is blocked by a row of rocks at the saddle with the connecting ridge before the trail heads downhill toward the Quantrell Mine Tr. junction.

Floating rainbow over the Santa Ritas

The ridgeline that leads to Little Elephant Head

I know Taylor from a volunteer project that I did in the Grand Canyon in 2010 with the GC Hiker’s and Backpackers Association. He’s a hiking guide in the Canyon and has an infectious exuberance for the outdoors.

Taylor Branch serves up hors d'ouevers in style on the South Kaibab Trail!

It was on that trip that Taylor mentioned that he also did volunteer work on the Colorado River with Game and Fish. He said he’d put in a good word for me and that is how I got to go on my river trip last year. On my 12-day river trip last May, I fell in love with the Grand Canyon all over again. When I got back, I called the boatman in charge of my trip and asked him about the possibility of working for a commercial outfitter as a swamper (a boatman’s assistant and general gofer) next summer. He said that if I wanted to that he would put in a good word for me with his friend at Arizona River Runners. I said absolutely! I spoke to the person in charge of hiring numerous times on the phone last summer, asking all sorts of questions and finding out what the requirements were.

Looking back at Lava

After getting my Wilderness First Responder certification, I called and called again to try and set up a interview. Finally, in January I got one. I sat down with the owners and the first thing they said was, “We’re happy to talk to you, but we want you to know right off the bat that we don’t have any jobs available at this time.” I was a little sad, but went on with the interview. Well, I’m calling it the most epic interview ever because the next day, the owner called and said that he would like to offer me six trips this summer and a full-time position with a track to become a river guide! My first trip launches in May and I could not possibly be more excited. I don’t think I have even grasped how my life has just changed. It will all become very real come mid-May.

I wish it was May already!

So back to the hike, I was excited to see Taylor and give him a big hug for getting me on that river trip last year. He had never been to this part of the Santa Ritas and was really impressed with the views and the giant ocotillo forest. The route was very easy to follow, well beat-in and trimmed back. The ridge weaved this way and that and finally approached the exposed summit ridge. There was no exposed scrambling as on the big Elephant, instead there was a nice path that led to the top. We took a long break, enjoying the views.

Taylor Branch and Elephant Head

Summits of Elephant and Little Elephant

Summit ridge

From the looks of the register, it’s pretty popular with the locals, and I can see why. It’s a gorgeous little hike! Perfect if you don’t have the time or the energy to go “full Elephant”. There’s a couple of features like the Devil’s Cashbox and the Devil’s Throne that look particularly interesting, I’m going to have to take Santa Rita Bill up on his offer to check them out.

Massive ocotillo forest

Arizona Rainbow Cactus

2 summits in 2 weeks

Mount Hopkins

I am also going to have to come back when the ocotillo forests are green and blooming. It must be incredible!

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser to benefit Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson will be on Saturday, April 14th from 7-10 pm at Sky Bar- 536 N. 4th Ave. Live blues by The Railbirdz, birds from the wildlife rehab, and bellydance performances throughout the evening. 15% of all sales at both Sky Bar and Brooklyn Pizza will also be donated, so come by and have a beer and a pizza for a great cause. Hope to see you there! Here’s a picture from last year’s event:

Citan the Harris Hawk

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First of all, November 13 is the one-year anniversary of Sirena’s Wanderings- a big thanks to all my readers and a super-big thanks to those who have donated to my Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser! My first post wast a video of a gorgeous rainbow I saw at Cedar Ridge on the South Kaibab Trail in the Grand canyon while hiking out of my volunteer project. (it’s also the picture on the the header of my website) Click here to watch it.

As much as I enjoyed my recent time in the Grand Canyon, I was with a large group of people the whole trip and didn’t have much opportunity at all to enjoy the wilderness solo. I have primarily been a solo backpacker, and on the Grand Canyon trip there were all sorts of things I did differently from my usual routine on the trail because of the group around me. I had been thinking since I got back that I needed to go on a palate-cleansing solo trip, to a location where I was practically guaranteed solitude. I tossed around a couple of different options, but remembered one location that has been on top of my to-do list for a while now: The Spine.

The Spine

The Spine runs northwest above the Gila River and south of the White Canyon Wilderness, northwest of the small mining town of Kelvin. I had admired it when I bushwhacked through this area on the Arizona Trail (most of the passage hadn’t been built yet) in March 2008 with John Rendall and his friend Paul. I remember thinking that I needed to come back someday and explore further. I’d planned a dayhike out on The Spine once before, almost a year ago, but wasn’t able to go. This time I was bringing my backpack and staying the night. The temperatures have finally cooled in the desert, making a crack-of-dawn start unnecessary. I had a two-hour drive up to the spot in the wash at the base of The Spine where I parked my jeep. I packed light, but had to carry all my water for a dry camp. I started to hike away from the jeep, and something told me to go back and get the extra two-liter container of water that I’d left in the car. After taking on even more water weight, I started down the wash. Tomorrow will be Veteran’s Day and this area will be full of various people camping, driving, and hiking. But today, it is all mine. I see no one on the drive in and hear not a sound made by another human until I drive back out.

I had originally had grand plans of a full hike of The Spine and both arms, as well as an overnight on a patio underneath The Spine that I’d seen pictures of. But a busy work schedule at my very physical job as a massage therapist had left me pretty tired, and I realized that all I really wanted to do was get up to the patio with my copy of Desert Solitaire, and read, write, relax and enjoy the view.

But before I could relax, I had to pay the piper with a rugged off-trail bushwhack to get to my destination. It started out mellow, winding through attractive washes streaked with reds and golds.

Hiking in the wash

I turned into a side canyon and passed a copse of cottonwoods with a trickling spring at the base. There were tons of bees, so I hurried along. As I gained elevation in the smooth-rocked drainages, a hint of the amazing views to come tantalized me to the north. Several climbs over and under trees, a bypass of a dry fall, and decisions of which thorny bush would hurt the least, and I was at a saddle where I could see my climb to The Spine.

Cottonwoods at the spring

Smooth rock lines the drainage bottom

View down the drainage

Classic desert choice: both are spiny, which do you choose? If you picked the one to the left- you lose!

Climbing from the saddle- Copper Butte mine is on the right

It looked rocky, steep, and a little bit daunting, but I had all the time in the world to get up there and the weather couldn’t have been better. This was definitely a hike where I had to concentrate on exactly where I was putting my feet and scanning ahead to see where the best line of travel was through the ever-increasing boulders. At first, I had the help of a ridge that went part of the way up, then it really got interesting. Here’s a video:

Not a great picture, but it shows how rugged the climb is up the slope toward The Spine

I had to use my hands to push and pull myself up at times, I was skirting around loose rockfalls and brush, and it was very slow going, but I was enjoying the hell out of it. The views just got better and better and I could see the boulder I was aiming for getting closer. As I looked down to where I had come from, I could see my jeep way down in the wash, and no one else around at all. Perfect. Almost to the ridgeline, it was the most jumbled, but I took my time and an hour and a half after leaving my jeep, I reached The Spine.

Atop The Spine, looking north

Crest and arms of The Spine, which hang above the Gila River to the south

Wow- a great effort paid off with a great reward. The Spine is made up of a hodgepodge of giant red-brown boulders, some with a splotchy white coating that makes them all the more attractive. The big boulders were very sturdy and I was able to hop from one to another along the ridgetop. After a short while, my objective came into view. The Patio is on the northern part of The Spine, about 100 feet below the ridgeline, facing the Gila River.

Looking down on The Patio- Catalinas in the far distance

I had to hike along The Spine to find the best way down the jumbled boulders and scree slopes down to The Patio. It was precariously steep and loose in places, much more than my hike up to the ridgeline, but I made it down safely and headed to the north end,to make my camp. I chose the north end because it overlooks the White Canyon Wilderness and Battle Axe Butte, one of my favorite peaks. A bonus of the views from camp was that the ridgeline blocked out views of nearby Copper Butte, its sides all slashed up by the mine.

Video of The Patio:

I shed my pack and made myself at home, inflating my air mattress and finding a perch on top of a perfectly curved boulder and ate some lunch. It had taken me two hours to go only 1.6 miles, but it was worth every scratch. After lunch, I went exploring my new digs and was surprised to find a large fire ring with a ridiculous amount of firewood gathered nearby. I think it’s funny how people feel the need to have a giant raging inferno when a small fire is easier and less damaging. There were no views from this campsite, so I was not at all interested. At the south end of The Patio, there were fantastic views toward the Catalinas.

Home sweet home

View down The Spine from the patio

Sentinel of the south end of the patio

I spent the entire afternoon staring at the scenery, watching the wispy clouds roll in, listening to music and getting up every so often to check out the views from different parts of The Patio. My campsite faced the path I’d taken on the Arizona Trail over two years ago, a place I remember well because it is where I overheated trying to keep up with my friend John Rendall. The crazy thing is that John was 73 years old at the time! I bonked and had to elevate my feet above my head, holding my umbrella for shade, while John fed me GU until I felt human again. I wrote in my journal: “The upside was that I had the most beautiful view of these sheer white cliffs while I was recuperating.”  Men like John illustrate time and time again that if you stay active, you can enjoy all sorts of very physical activities late into life. A definite inspiration. And now, for a goofy shot of me from that day:


Bonk! A rather silly picture of me trying to cool off in '08- at least I'm still smiling...

My view when I bonked in '08 on the Arizona Trail

This trip was just what I needed- solitude in an amazingly beautiful setting. I took out my well-worn copy of Desert Solitaire and alternately read and watched the clouds drift past the bald peak of Battle Axe Butte (someone has to do it) until the sun began to set.  The wispy clouds I’d been watching all day made for quite a display as the sun sank between North and South Buttes on the Gila River. The ridge above me lit up a firey red and I moved around the patio, taking lots of shots of the ever-changing light. Here’s a series of photos:


5:29 pm- sun starts to dip between South and North Buttes, which are on either side of the Gila River

5:30- Sunset lights up The Spine a firey red



5:37- I spot the lone saguaro on the small ridge

5:38- this one is my favorite


5:43- view west with a crescent moon

The Patio had been somewhat of a wind tunnel all afternoon and I was a little bummed that I wouldn’t be able to have a fire, but as the sun set, the air calmed. I made dinner on my little rock perch and then made a fire and read some more. I was going to sleep on the ground, but I was reading and watching the stars on my rock perch and fell asleep up there. It was just big enough and quite comfortable.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of great horned owls calling out to each other. I spent the morning writing pages and pages in my journal and lounging around camp and even had a small morning fire to keep away the chill. I don’t often have a fire when I backpack, but I really enjoyed it this trip. I even brought some white sage to add to the fire and it smelled wonderful. Around 10 am, I went into my backpack to get something and my hand came out all wet! Not a good feeling, as the rest of my water was in my platypus bladder in my pack. I took the bladder out and saw that I’d lost over a liter to a small hole. I transferred the remaining water into my extra container that I’d gone back for yesterday (I knew there was a reason for me to listen to the little voice that said to bring it along!) and realized that it was probably time for me to pack up and hike back down. Due to the precarious terrain, going downhill wasn’t going to be any faster than going uphill. Before I left, I dismantled my fire ring and returned the spot to its original condition, even sweeping away the multitude of footprints I’d made in my camp.

Morning view

This is why I backpack instead of dayhike- the sunsets and sunrises are not to be missed.

The hike back up to The Spine was easier than the descent, and then it was back to boulder-hopping on the ridgeline. I got a great shot from above of my sleeping boulder- from up here it looked so small. My descent went very slowly because I had to test a lot of my foot placements to make sure the rock I was stepping on wasn’t going to roll down the hill once I put my weight on it. Once I got back down to the saddle and into the smooth-rock drainage, I took a break to stretch and snack and and to admire the big, white, fluffy clouds that had rolled in. What a place. I would have stayed longer, but I was down to the last of my water, so I had no choice but to continue on through the pretty drainages back to my jeep. The spring I’d passed yesterday seemed to be flowing stronger and I stopped to listen to the sweet trickling sound over the rocks. When I reached my jeep, I took my GPS out to record my stats and saw that my entire mileage for the trip was only 3.2 miles. Probably one of the shortest backpacking trips I’ve ever taken, but one of the more challenging, for sure. I adore the sense of accomplishment that comes upon looking where you’ve been on the drive out and this trip was no exception.

Looking down on where I slept last night- it's the white spot at the far end in the middle of the frame.

Snack and cloud-watching spot


Looking back at The Spine from Battle Axe Road

A short list of why I love solo backpacking:

  • Quiet. Wonderful all-encompassing quiet.
  • What time you do things is all up to you and can be changed on a whim
  • No worries about how others are doing (especially valuable after my Royal Arch trip)
  • Privacy- no need to tell others not to look while you pee, change clothes, etc.
  • Dancing and stretching (two of my favorite camp activities!) are more fun sans onlookers
  • No need for earplugs to drown out hiking companion’s snoring
  • As much time as I want for reflection, meditation, writing, staring at the scenery, photography
  • Sense of accomplishment that comes from figuring out a route on my own
  • Not having to worry about what I look like, not even a teeny tiny bit

Though short in both time and distance, this was a perfect trip- a challenging bushwhack, plenty of time to relax and rejuvenate in a beautiful setting, and a healthy dose of solitude. This is the stuff that revitalizes my soul.

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser picture- With the cooler weather, things have calmed down somewhat at the rehab, so I thought I’d share one of my favorite characters from June 2009. I’d only been volunteering there for a couple of weeks when this little Harris Hawk was brought in.  I love his feet and the look on his face!

One-week old Harris Hawk

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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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View of Cathedral Peak from the Box Camp Trail

On June 2nd after work, my husband Brian was nice enough to help me put a car at Sabino Canyon, then drive me up to the Box Camp Trailhead. I walked in for a short distance and spent the night with a great view of the Wilderness of Rock and Mount Wrightson from my camp at 8000 ft.

Sunset with Tanque Verde Ridge and the Santa Ritas in the distance

The next day, I was up early for my descent into the Sabino Basin. I haven’t been on this trail for a while, and I forgot how much I enjoyed the upper, forested part with towering trees, ferns, and a stream. There had been a lot of deadfall from the past winter’s storms, but my friends from the Crazies Trail Crew- a sub-unit called Tom’s Sawyers- had recently worked this trail (with 2-man handsaws) Thanks guys!

Freshly cut deadfall

Burn area from the Aspen Fire of 2003

Upper forested part of the Box Camp Trail

View from upper Box Camp Trail movie:

I hadn’t been past the point where the trail really starts to descend to the East Fork. One of the cool things about the Box Camp Trail is that you can see your destination- Sabino Canyon- down below for most of the trail. The trail follows a ridge between Box Camp and Palisades Canyons, and the views are fantastic throughout. I really liked the steep descent into Apache Spring, with its attractive rock formations.

Claret Cup Cactus

Coming down the ridge- Sabino Cyn, is in the center of the picture

Apache Spring rock formations

Apache Spring

The seep was dripping, and there were many yellow flowers. I saw a hummingbird, but instead of feeding from the flowers, he dipped into the seep to take a bath! What a great thing to be able to witness. I used the water from the seep to wet myself down, as it was getting increasingly hot as the day progressed.

Hummingbird coming in for a bath- click to enlarge

After descending some more, I began to see the cool canopy of the East Fork below. There were many blooming coral-bean plants, more than I’ve ever seen before.

Coral Bean bloom

Looking down at the cool canopy of the East Fork

Arizona Trail from the Box Camp Trail movie:

I finally reached the East Fork junction at 3700 ft. and took a short but vital break near the rushing stream. A funnel-web spider and a black-necked garter snake were my only companions.

Black-Necked Garter Snake

Funnel-web Spider

I reluctantly tore myself away from the shade, and hiked the 1.5 miles up the West Fork/Arizona Trail to Hutch’s Pool with my umbrella. The West Fork was still running and I took the opportunity to wet my shirt at the crossings. Finally, I reached Hutch’s Pool and spent the rest of the day floating around in the $2 innertube I’d bought on the way out of town. Since it was a weekday, I had the whole area to myself, though there was evidence that this was a much-loved area frequented by many. One thing I can’t understand- why do people feel the need to make their toilet area INSIDE the creek, when there are plenty of spots just above it that would work just as well? Anyway, it was much more pleasant than the last time I was there, when a whole group of horseback riders let their horses poop all over the place.

Hutch’s Pool Waterfall movie:

Happy to have Hutch's Pool all to myself!


I spent the afternoon floating, reading, writing in my journal, and listening to music. I even went for a night float under the stars. In the morning, I was up and hiking by 5:30 am, and I enjoyed the cooler weather on the hike out.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Broadleaf Four O'Clock

I hit the Phoneline Trail, but decided to stay on it for a little bit longer- I was dreading hiking the hard asphalt of the road on the way out. I connected with the Historic Sabino Tr. 23A, which I had not done before, so I hiked that 0.7 mi. down to the road. As I hit the road, many early-morning walkers gave me strange looks because of my big pack and my umbrella, but I didn’t care. I made it back to the Sabino Canyon parking lot at 2700ft. just as the first tram was leaving at 9 am and went to work later that day.

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news- Here’s a movie of two Harris’ Hawks in the brand new aviary at Miller’s Wildlife Rehab in Tucson, AZ. The one on the right is a juvenile and we put the one on the left into the cage with him so that he could teach the juvenile to kill and eat live prey. When the juvenile has shown that he can kill and eat on his own, then he will be released back into the wild. This movie is from their first meeting.

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