Posts Tagged ‘red tailed hawk’

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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Old Baldy Trail- Crest Trail- Foursprings Trail- Kent Spring Trail- Pipeline Route- Super Trail 12.1 mi/3750′ gain

Santa Rita Crest with Mt. Wrightson to the right

I have been doing a lot of hiking to swimming holes and waterfalls. Fun, but I have a big Grand Canyon trip coming up in a little over a month. I will be doing the Royal Arch Route for 6 days, then on the day I hike out from that trip, I will hike right back into the Grand Canyon to spend a week volunteering with the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers Association at Cottonwood and Bright Angel Campgrounds. 12 days of Grand Canyon splendor. I can’t wait! Now it is time to start some serious training. So today I loaded up my big backpack with a bunch of stuff and two extra gallons of water and set out to do a big loop in the Santa Ritas out of the Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area (formerly Roundup)

I decided to take Baldy up because I figured going uphill on a trail I already knew would be a little easier. I had not been on the Baldy Tr. since right at the start of the monsoon on July 7th, and everything was so lush and green and there were tons of wildflowers, interesting fungi, and butterflies.

Western Dayflower

Sparkly iridescent bugs

Mexican Silene


Don't have an ID for this one

Bizarre Fungus

Tenacious Thursday Trekkers

I saw my only hikers just before Josephine Saddle, a friendly group from Saddlebrooke that do a weekly Thursday hike for many years now. After a short break to chat and snack, I continued up the Baldy Trail toward Baldy Saddle. After reaching Bellows Spring, I tried to make the 32 switchbacks above the spring go by quickly by counting each one as I hiked it. I cursed the extra weight in my pack and avoided the temptation to empty the extra water containers to lighten my load. This is a training hike, after all. I reached Baldy Saddle, but the climbing wasn’t done yet. I still had a climb up on the Crest Trail to attain the ridgeline. Finally it all paid off with the sweetness of views from high up on the Santa Rita Crest. I’d explored this trail a little on my trip in July, but now I got to hike the whole way to the Foursprings Trail turnoff.

Mt. Wrightson and Baldy Saddle

Colorful rocks and wildflowers by Mount Ian

My personal favorite spot for the day was Burnt Saddle. I have seen this spot from many locations and the views were incredible.

Lunch at Burnt Saddle- Elephant Head on the ridge in the foreground

Lots of insects, bees, butterflies, and ladybugs

So many unusual wildflowers!

I especially liked seeing Elephant Head (what a great hike that is!) jutting up from the western Santa Ritas. I took a long break at Burnt Saddle, and pondered bushwhacking downhill to Shovel Saddle, but I thought it might be better saved for a return trip. So I took the Foursprings Trail (it is not marked, just has a sign pointing to Armour Spring) down to Armour Spring and along the way, almost stepped on a tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake that was curled up right in the trail. It made me a little edgy because much of the trail was overgrown in this area.

Tiny Twin-Spotted Rattlesnake

Wildflowers everywhere!

Rincon Mtns. in the distance

Huachucas to the southeast

Well, when I got done with all the overgrown extra up and down just to arrive at Shovel Saddle and see that there was a very clear path up to Burnt Saddle, I regretted my decision. Next time, I will definitely do the bushwhack, because Armour Spring was less than inspiring. There were three Red-Tailed Hawks soaring around and diving at each other and I took a break to watch their aerial acrobatics.

One of the Red Tailed Hawks

Shovel Saddle with Burnt Saddle just above

Wrightson comes into view again

The trail conditions improved greatly after Shovel Saddle and the trail quickly lost elevation on the side of the canyon. I connected with the Kent Spring Tr. and the singletrack changed to an old rocky roadbed that paralleled the creek. At the spot where an above-ground pipeline is visible crossing the creek, I took the Pipeline Route a short distance to the Super Trail and (finally!) was back at my car. It was a long day with a lot of elevation gain- I would have rather done this as a backpack and spent the night at the sweet site at Burnt Saddle. Especially since I was carrying a bunch of weight anyway…

For today’s Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news: I’ve got an update on the broken-leg bunny and her offspring. Mom and babies are doing great and the babies are putting on tons of weight. To compare, look at these pictures taken only a week apart:

Bunnies at 5 days old

Bunnies at 11 days old

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