Posts Tagged ‘Molino Basin’

Moonrise over Mica Mountain

Summertime hiking in Southern Arizona requires some flexibility- you have to be willing to either get up before the sun rises, acclimate to hiking in the inferno-like heat, or become nocturnal. One of my favorite times to go on a night hike is around the full moon. This month, I decided to visit one of my favorite areas for watching the moonrise- the Arizona Trail heading east from  Molino Basin toward Redington Road in the Catalinas. When going for a full moon hike, it is important to choose a trail that will be illuminated during the time that you want to hike. This trail is ideal because it is on the eastern side of the Catalinas and gets illuminated right at moonrise.

I started my hike at 6:30, just as the sun had gone behind the hill and shaded the trail. The Arizona Trail uses the Bellota Trail, which starts at 4300 feet, switchbacks 450 feet up to a saddle, then plunges down the other side 800 feet to West Spring. It crosses several drainages before continuing toward Bellota Ranch, a fancy dude ranch nestled in the valley. This particular piece of trail and I have a long history and I have lost count of how many times I have hiked it.  In what seems like another lifetime, when I was really sick from my Fibromyalgia, I would come here and barely be able to make it up to the saddle and be sore for days afterward. At one time, the longest hike I had ever done in one day was a 13 mile out and back trying to get to The Lake. Several years ago, my husband Brian and my dogs hiked this piece with me when I was trying to complete the Arizona Trail. And more recently, this is where I ended up last year to watch the Supermoon eclipse. It’s one of those trails that you feel like you could almost hike it blindfolded and your body would remember where to go.

Me and Zeus and Bailey on the Arizona Trail in 2008

I made my way to the saddle, stopping to admire the Manzanitas with their “little apples” on and to sniff the junipers. The view from the saddle of the Bellota Ranch way in the valley below, Agua Caliente Hill, and Helen’s Dome atop Mica Mountain in the Rincons remains one of my favorites, no matter how many other spectacular places I have seen.


View from the saddle in the daytime (Picture taken in 2008)

I was so intent on watching my feet on the rocky descent that I missed the actual moonrise. When I looked up the moon was well above the rocky outcrops of the northern face of Mica Mountain. As I made my way down the switchbacks I saw several deer bounding away and stopped to watch the sunset for a bit. The trail reached the first drainage and climbed out of it before descending to West Spring, a concrete tank for the cows with a trough around it. More bounding deer- a larger group this time, and the trail reached a gate. It then followed a two-track through a drainage that was lined with junipers and the occasional cottonwood.

Hello Moon!

I’d camped along this road on my Arizona Trail hike during deer hunting season, it was much quieter now. I had met Kean Brown, the cowboy-hat wearing manager of the Bellota Ranch who had explained to me that the horses that I usually see in the area are retired horses from the ranch that are now free to rome as they please. Just as I was thinking, “I wonder where the horses are?”, my headlamp illuminated a pair of eyes belonging to a large brown horse with a white stripe on his face. All the other times I’d seen the horses, they had kept their distance, but this one started walking toward me. I am a massage therapist and I love to work on animals, but I very rarely get to interact with horses. I took a deep breath to calm myself, knowing that horses can sense tension, and put my hand out near his face. The horse pushed its face into my hand and I stroked its head, talking in a gentle voice. After letting the horse get comfortable, I massaged his sides and along his spine, feeling him shift his weight toward my hands. At one point, it was hard to believe it was real- I’m massaging a horse in a beautiful moonlit valley! It was truly magical. After a while, I bid my new friend adieu and began hiking back toward the trailhead.

Last light on the trail

My horse pal

The moon was out, but I was a little snake-paranoid, so I had my headlamp on for much of the hike. I did encounter one rattlesnake at the last creek crossing before the ascent to the saddle. It was a very calm, non-rattling snake and was kind enough to pose for some pictures before slithering off the trail. I found a slab of rock to take a break on before the final climb to the saddle. The truth is, I really didn’t want to go back. I had brought a small cushion to relax on and would have been perfectly content to sleep there for the night. My husband was expecting me back that evening, so I settled for a short nap. I awoke refreshed and made the moonlit ascent to the saddle and down the other side, reaching my car at 11 pm.  What a fantastic way to beat the heat and still get in a decent hike- you can bet there will be a lot more night hiking to come this summer.

A very calm Rattlesnake

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, we’re busier than ever at Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson, as it is baby season. We’ve had tons of Cooper’s Hawks, Kestrels, and Screech Owls, as well as some really special animals, like a baby Ringtail and a two-week old Javelina. It’s a ton of work, but so rewarding! The other day, I got to release a beautiful female Red-Tailed Hawk- so incredible to watch it soar away. Your donation goes to feed the hungry masses:

2-week old Javelina that we had for a short time before it was transferred to another rehab facility.

Red-Tailed Hawk with jesses on its legs- going for a test to see how she flies before getting released

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I had a grand plan: to watch the eclipse from Granite Beach in the Grand Canyon as part of a 5-day Hermit to South Kaibab trip. The soggy weather forecast (four days of cold rain) changed those plans, so plan B was to hike to the top of Table Mountain in Pima Canyon, spend the night and watch the eclipse. I have been wanting to hike up Table for a while, it’s a very rugged off-trail bushwhack and I was excited that I was finally going to get to see the top. I didn’t start until 10 am, because I figured that I had all day to get up there.

Since May I have been wearing light hiking shoes instead of boots, but I wanted boots for the bushwhacking through shindaggers and such. They felt strange when I put them on, but I figured my feet just weren’t used to them. My pack was heavy with water for a dry camp and I made good time hiking up the Pima Canyon Trail. Right before the dam, almost 3 miles into the hike I realized that my boot was falling apart, the sole was flapping off and there was a big hole in the bottom of the boot. I was surprised- I hadn’t worn these boots since May but I didn’t remember them being in such bad shape. I realized when my boot fell apart that I wasn’t going to make it to the top of Table Mountain and I was really disappointed. Crushed is more like it- where was I going to watch the eclipse?

I didn’t want to stay near the dam on the Pima Canyon Trail, so I regrouped and came up with plan C: hike out, grab new shoes, drive over to Molino Basin and hike the Arizona Trail south to a place I’ve always wanted to spend the night- the saddle with a great view of Mica Mountain.

When I went to put my boots back on, I realized why they felt so weird- I had mistakenly grabbed the wrong boots! You see, I hiked the whole Arizona Trail in one pair of boots. When I was done with the trail, I felt kind of sentimental about them and instead of throwing them away, I stuck them in my shed. My husband had recently cleaned the shed and the boots migrated back to the house. My new boots look the same as my old boots from the top and I had grabbed the wrong pair. This lightened my mood instantly, how could I get upset over something so silly?

I was feeling a lot better as I was hiking out and about a mile and a half from the trailhead, I saw another backpacker. I was a little surprised- I hardly ever run into other backpackers, and he complimented me on my Golite Chrome Dome umbrella. I saw he was carrying one too. He asked, “Are you Sirena?” and I said yes. Turns out it was long-distance hiker Guino out for an extended trek in the Tucson area. He has hiked part of the Arizona Trail and Grand Enchantment Trail, and all of the Pacific Crest Trail and we’d read about each other’s hikes on trailjournals.com. We found a spot to drop our packs and sat and looked at maps and chatted for a while before we eventually had to part ways. On the way back to the parking lot, I hiked with Renaat from Belgium, who comes to Arizona each year to hike. We had a nice conversation, and toward the end I found out that he was one of the first men from Belgium to climb the North Face of the Eiger in 1977. Two very cool encounters that I wouldn’t have had if I would have made it to Table Mountain.

I went to Molino Basin, hiked south on the AZT as the sun was setting and set up camp on a knoll next to the saddle. I was worried about missing the eclipse, because my phone was dead so I couldn’t set an alarm. Fortunately, I awoke after midnight, the sky was clear and I had an incredible view of the eclipse over my head right from my sleeping bag! It glowed orange and it lasted for quite some time. I would watch it for a while, doze off, then awake and be amazed all over again that I had such an incredible view.

The next morning, I relaxed at the campsite, reading and writing in my journal until I hiked out in the afternoon. Oh, and the boots final resting place? I thought it was fitting that they be thrown out on the Arizona Trail in the garbage cans at Molino Basin so I don’t make that mistake again.

Sorry, no pictures this time, my computer is acting up. Hope everyone has a happy and safe New Year’s celebration and I look forward to sharing my wanderings with you in 2011!

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