Posts Tagged ‘Sirena’

Reflections in the Black Pool

I needed to get away for a solo overnighter to relax before the frenzy of the river season starts. This summer, I will be working with Arizona River Runners and Grand Canyon Whitewater on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon! I thought about the Black Pool in Horse Camp Canyon and my floatie that has been put away all winter and my decision was made. I always enjoy the drive up 77, the views of the north side of the Catalinas and then along the Galiuros.

Started hiking around 10:30, and it was already pretty warm. Never a problem with Aravaipa’s cooling waters. I was pleased to see that it was still the season for poppies in the canyon. Wildflowers and cactus blooms- it only makes it all the more beautiful. I noticed immediately that the creek had quite a bit of algae in it. I hoped that the pool I wanted to float in would be clear. I had that happen once- came all ready to float only to find the pool a mucky green mess.

Datura on the verge of blooming

Sacred Datura Bloom


I saw a Zone-Tailed and a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Great Blue Heron as I hiked along. Picked all the right paths to move speedily to Horse Camp. Ran into a couple of groups of dayhikers and backpackers hiking out, but no one else until the next afternoon. I turned into Horse Camp Canyon and was sad to see tons of algae in there too. The creek was very green and lush with columbine and grasses. Upon  reaching the Black Pool I was elated to see that it was perfectly clear! What’s more is the waterfall was almost completely obscured by red and yellow wildflowers. What a treat! I blew up my trusty green floatie and floated away the afternoon. The temperature of the water was perfect- warm on top, but much cooler below. I always wonder how deep it is, but I’m not about to dive down and find out.

Great Blue Heron

Small arch in the walls

The Black Pool

When the sun went behind the canyon wall, I moved over to the popular campsite opposite Horse Camp Canyon to finish re-reading The Monkey Wrench Gang and write in my journal. As it got darker out, the mosquitoes appeared and I decided to try camping on the wide expanse of bare rock on the other side of the creek. Much better views and surprisingly few mosquitoes. The moon was large and bright and I had an enjoyable evening. The mesquite bosque is nice during the day for shade, but I always prefer a spot with wider views.

Camp next to Horse Camp Canyon

Messing around with self-portraits, I got this strange and interesting shot

The next morning, I read Katie Lee’s All My Rivers Are Gone about Glen Canyon while waiting for it to warm up. Once the sun hit my sleep spot, I headed back into Horse Camp Canyon to float and read some more. It was so nice to be able to have two days to myself to relax. I used my umbrella with my floatie for shade, but the pool wasn’t big enough to ride the breezes like I did last year:

Relaxing in the morning

They call Aravaipa “The Grand Canyon of the Sonoran Desert” because of its layers and the water running through it. It certainly reminds me of a mini-Grand Canyon and made me completely excited for next week when I’ll be starting my dream job on the river. I will be sleeping on beaches with the sound of the river all summer long and I can hardly wait. I hiked out in the afternoon and as soon as I returned to the main stream, I saw a woman with a reflective umbrella similar to mine. We exchanged stories of guys thinking they are funny when they say “no forecast for rain today, heh heh…” as they pass by.  The hike back to the trailhead was enjoyable and I bid beautiful Aravaipa good-bye until the next time.

In Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser news, cute baby birds, bunnies, and squirrels abound.  I feel so fortunate to be able to see them grow up and be released.

Handful of 5-day old baby bunnies

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After my intro to canyoneering in January, I had been dying to go out and do a longer canyon. My friend Clint set up a group on Leap Day to do Parker Canyon in the Sierra Ancha near Roosevelt Lake. Pretty far from Tucson for a day out, but it proved to be well worth it. I met up with five canyoneers in Globe and was excited for my first time out on this side of the lake. The drive up was beautiful and when we reached our destination, the first thing we realized was that it was going to be a chilly day! The scenery was worth every finger-numbing moment and we had a fantastic time. Here’s a video made by one of the other members of the trip:

In wildlife rehabilitation news, mark your calendars for Saturday, April 14th because it’s time for the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser! All proceeds go toward Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson.  Come out and have a pizza and a beer while supporting a great facility that helps hundreds of birds and small mammals yearly! Details below:

If you can’t make it to the event, you can always donate online by clicking here:

Or you can send a check made out to: Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union  P.O. Box 50267 Tucson, Arizona 85703.

"Elfie" the Elf Owl

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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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What a year this has been- it’s always fun to take a look back at the highlights. If you’re a regular reader, don’t worry- I’ve added a lot of new pictures and videos. Click on the links to go to the original posts.

In January, I volunteered to lead an Arizona Trail trailbuilding crew on a project to reroute the trail off a pipeline road north of Oracle. I started the year with a hike of Agua Caliente Hill and Agua Caliente/La Milagrosa Canyons on the east side of Tucson.

The crew by the lone saguaro

Agua Caliente Hill Trail

La Milagrosa Canyon

My bushwhack to Thimble Peak via Bear Canyon and returning down the gully to Tram Stop 9 in Sabino Canyon was one of my favorite hikes of the year. It had it all- waterfalls, a challenging bushwhack, scramble, and climb to an iconic peak with outstanding views.

Thimble Peak Summit

February started out with a scramble up Battleship Mountain in the Superstitions:

Battleship Mountain

For my birthday, I visited The Wave at the Arizona/Utah border with a carload of fellow shutterbugs- big thanks to Wendy the Permit Whisperer:

The Wave- photo by Angela Romain

Another of my favorite adventures was climbing Weaver’s Needle in the Superstitions. I have admired this spire for years and thanks to my friend Kent Lawrence, I was able to stand on top! Someday, I have to get back up there to spend the night at the sweet little campsite.

Weaver's Needle from Fremont Saddle

Free Rappel

In March, I kept things local and worked on finishing the trails in the Catalinas. I backpacked a Ventana Canyon Trail to Esperero Trail hike and one from Pima Canyon to Ventana Canyon in the front range. One of my goals for 2012 is to finish off the remaining trails. I also took a trip to the south side of the Santa Ritas for a Gardner Canyon-Wrightson-Crest Tr.- Cave Canyon loop with my friend Chris Forsyth. I feel fortunate to have such good trails for Grand Canyon conditioning here in Tucson.

Santa Ritas and Little Kimball from the Esperero Trail

Near the head of Ventana Canyon

View looking down at Gardner Canyon

April started out with a return to the Royal Arch Route in the Grand Canyon, but this time via Point Huitzil with Chris and Wendy- a trip memorable not only for its rich ancient history and scenery, but also for weather that changed every five minutes and one of the worst sandblastings I’ve endured to date. At least it made for great pictures!

Top of the descent- Royal Arch Creek below

So many layers of petroglyphs

Majestic Fan Island

I hiked the Oracle Ridge-Red Ridge loop and got to see One Park Place. I also did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time- a solo hike from the summit of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park in one day via the Romero Trail. Aspens to saguaros in one hike- I love Tucson!

Catalina Camp aka One Park Place

Arizona Trail near Romero Pass

In May, I threw my very first event for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance benefit. It raised $1000 for the birds and small animals at the wildlife rehab. Look forward to the second annual event this spring! A big thanks goes to my husband Brian for being such a big help with the event and for being supportive of my many adventures.

Gina -photo by Mike Bieke

After the fundraiser, I got to see the Grand Canyon again, but from a totally different perspective of volunteering for 12 days on an Arizona Game and Fish survey on the Colorado River. I fell in love with the Grand Canyon all over again- it was life-changing awesome.

Incredible views abound at every turn

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

June was a bit of a bummer, as usually happens after an epic experience. Plus, Arizona was on fire and restrictions in the Coronado National Forest went into effect. But before it did, Wendy and I visited Lemmon Pools, which were very low. I was grumpy and did a little bit of wandering in the Tortolitas.

July 7th the fire restrictions were lifted and I took my floatie to Tanque Verde Falls and Romero Pools. Sadly, it was a very dry monsoon season and there was not a lot of swimming happening this summer. I spent a lot of time this summer hiking near the town of Catalina- there’s tons of rock formations, history, and an extensive network of  trails to explore beneath Samaniego Ridge. I saw a baby desert tortoise, one of my favorite wildlife sightings ever! Here’s a video:

In August, Brian and I camped in the Pinalenos and got a respite from the heat. I did a long, hot dayhike of the Palisades Trail to Prison Camp and I satisfied my thirst for swimming at Frog Hollow and Aravaipa Canyon, where I took my favorite video of the year:

Arcadia CG and the Swift Trail in the Pinalenos

Best seat at Frog Hollow!

Sabino Canyon from Palisades Trail

In September, I was offered a part-time job with the Arizona Trail Association as their Gateway Community Liaison. I get to travel and promote the trail to the 25 communities along the Arizona Trail. I feel so lucky to have been chosen for this position! And I get to drive the Arizona Trail Bronco:

Me and the Arizona Trail Bronco

October, I visited Cochise Stronghold for a night on the trail (literally!) and ventured outside of Arizona with Brian for a visit to San Diego. We went sea kayaking into the cave in the picture.  At the end of the month, I was in the Tonto Basin for Arizona Trail work and also summited Picketpost Mountain.

What a view!

La Jolla Sea Cave

The mailbox atop Picketpost

I got to see November’s fall colors on the Canada del Oro Trail, which has been cleared by the Forest Service since my write-up. I also did a threefer of Catalina trails on an overnight backpack: Green Mountain, Bug Spring, and Soldier Trail.

I found the gold in the Canada del Oro!

Sunset on the Bug Springs Trail

In the beginning of December I took an 8-day Wilderness First Responder Certification class. It was incredibly intense and I learned a lot that I hope I never have to use in the field. On December 16th, I got to attend the completion ceremony of the Arizona Trail– what an honor that was to be able to participate in building the last little connecting piece of trail! I so look forward to the day when I can make a thru-hike happen and experience the now-continuous path across the state.

Volunteers and agency partners finish up the final piece of trail

I also hiked the Pontatoc Canyon Trail and neighboring Peak 5783, a fun bushwhack despite the very healthy shindagger population.

Pontatoc Canyon from Peak 5783

For the second year in a row, I have logged all my hikes on www.hikearizona.com and here are the stats: 572 miles hiked with 105,000 feet of elevation gained, plus immeasurable fun and excitement. I am looking forward to 2012- I have some trips planned already, but some of my favorite adventures are ones that happen spur-of-the moment.

I am so grateful for all the people who donated this year to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson via this blog or the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance event. The rehab is entirely self-supported and every cent counts. I have enjoyed sharing the critters at the rehab with my readers- here’s some of my favorites from this year:

Baby Ringtail

Baby Black-Crowned Night Heron

This is what the baby Raccoon thinks of our food offerings

Flying a Red-Tailed Hawk

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Sycamores in the creekbed

Many times, I have looked into the deep wooded canyon of the Canada del Oro  (CDO) or Canyon of Gold and wondered what it was like down there. It is a very large drainage on the less-visited north side of the Catalinas and can only be accessed by taking a series of trails from the top of Mount Lemmon or a long, tough 4WD road from the bottom.  Unfortunately, the trail had not been rehabilitated after the 2003 Aspen fire and the only things I heard about the CDO went something like this triplog from topohiker on HikeArizona.com:  “… the canyon walls narrowed and the trail disappeared into a sea of deadfall and over growth. This must be the results of the 2003 fire. Our moving pace dropped down a quarter mile an hour. This was some serious bushwhacking and route finding. I had the AZT route loaded in my GPS, but that didn’t help much. We just looked for the safest route that followed the creek bed. Every so often we would see a ribbon or a cairn, but that that only helped for about a 100 feet until the trail got swallowed up in deadfall.”

I had read that mountain bikers from tucsonmtb.com had flagged and worked the trail this spring and that it was on the Forest Service schedule to be cleared by the end of the year. I had two days off back to back on November 1st and 2nd and someone to shuttle me to the top of Mount Lemmon. Laddie Cox dropped me off at 10 am on a perfect day for hiking down the mountain. We’d seen some fall color on the drive up which made me hopeful that I hadn’t missed the show. I had forgotten my camera (horrors!) but Laddie saved the day by lending me his.

On the Mount Lemmon Trail

I took the Mount Lemmon Trail to the Sutherland Trail- there is a big metal Arizona Trail sign here as this used to be the official route of the Arizona Trail.  It had since been rerouted down Oracle Ridge. As I turned the corner I saw a hillside of aspen and Cathedral Rock. Gorgeous. I was also at the right angle for light to be shining through The Window.

Samaniego Peak

Aspens and the front range

The Window above Ventana Canyon- click to enlarge

At the next junction I took the Samaniego Ridge Trail a short distance to the Canada Del Oro Trail. The trail descended below Samaniego Ridge toward Shovel Spring. I met two hikers here who had just climbed the steep switchbacks from the canyon floor. They were the crew leaders who were brought in by the Forest Service to clear the trail. A crew of 7 was coming out to work for 8 days and the crew leaders had just come from scouting water sources and flagging the route. I was happy to hear that there was water in the canyon- it had been such a dry summer.

The Canada del Oro and Rice Peak

The trail was heavily wooded and I only got a small glimpse of the expanse of the Canada del Oro below before descending to the canyon floor. The trees were gigantic and there was a massive tangle of brush and deadfall. I thanked the bikers as I followed a thin path cleared in the chaos. It was easy to tell when I got off-route because there would immediately be obstacles in the way.

The trail is in there somewhere!

Sky Island mossy boulders

The well-cairned trail crossed back and forth across the dry streambed which glowed with thick patches of golden sycamores. There was a deep stillness and quiet that made it feel very remote. The CDO is known to have a large population of bears, but the only thing I saw on my trip was a healthy pile of scat. I also saw many deer and several flocks of turkeys. About a mile after the junction, I heard running water and settled in for a break next to a small cascade.

Grassy area

I found the gold in the Canada del Oro!


I continued on after my break, crossing the creek and occasionally getting glimpses of the Corkscrew of Death cliff and the Mule Ears on the Samaniego Ridge Trail. There were tons of crunchy leaves underfoot- what a fantastic sound! Finally, the views opened up to reveal the Reef of Rock and Oracle Ridge around 5pm. I started to look for a campsite, but the area was covered in these waist to shoulder-high crunchy weeds, so I pushed on to the Red Ridge Trail junction. Just after the junction at 4800ft. there was a nice grove of alligator junipers with a view. Home for the night. I had a tasty dinner and boiled myself a hot water bottle to sleep with.

Mule Ears

Cairns and flags

In the morning, I heard a rustling sound and opened my eyes to see a skunk bounding toward me, only 10 feet away! Thankfully, he just turned around when I opened my eyes and ran off without any unwanted emissions. I sat in camp and read Going Back to Bisbee by Richard Shelton. A delightful book that I can’t believe I haven’t come across before. Eventually it was time for me to start my hike out. I only had a mile and a half until I reached Forest Rd. 736 , and then a long roadwalk to the town of Catalina on the rough Charouleau Gap 4wd road. There were great views back toward the Reef of Rock and fall colors. Getting closer to the road, the trail was rocky and directly in the streambed. There was a small camp with an old spring bedframe at the junction.

Canada del Oro Trail/ East Fork Trail junction

The lower trail

Looking back at the Reef of Rock, Red Ridge and Mt. Lemmon

Camp at CDO/ FR 736 junction

I ran into a Forest Service group that was out doing a watershed survey for a series of controlled burns that are being planned. We chatted for a while and they gave me an icy Gatorade before I started the climb out to Charouleau Gap. The roadwalk out to the staging area in Catalina was nearly 10 miles long but quite scenic. I got quite a few strange looks from people on quads driving the road. One guy asked me where I’d come from. I told him I’d gotten dropped off on top of the mountain yesterday: “So you spent the night out there? Congratulations!” Yes. Congrats to me for choosing to spend the last two days out and about on the mountain. It was worth the lengthy roadwalk to where my husband came to collect me. Total mileage was 21.4, with a descent of 6738 ft and gain of 1694 ft. Hopefully more people will use this trail after it has been cleared so that it does not get lost in the deadfall again.

Old sign

Charouleau Gap Road

Samaniego Ridge

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, the baby racoons are being released this week on the San Pedro River. I think they’ll be just fine.

Baby Raccoon August 16, 2011

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The weather has finally changed to fall and it is time to go backpacking in the desert once again! I needed to get out for a quick overnighter somewhere fantastic- so I chose Cochise Stronghold. I had been to the east side once in 2005, but didn’t get to hike all the way to the west trailhead. My plan was to hike in and find the most spectacular view on the trail to camp and watch the sunset.

East Trailhead sign

The forecast was for a high of only 75 and it seemed a luxury to not have to get up when it was dark out to beat the heat. I reached the east trailhead at 11:00 am and there was only one other car in the lot. It was sunny and windy as I started up the Cochise Trail. I met a woman who lived in the area that said that there had been a big storm a couple of days ago and that the creek was running. That gave me hope for a possible water source- a waterfall near the western end of the canyon. The trail is immediately very scenic as you gain elevation among the rocks, oaks and junipers.

View near the East TH

The trail is marked with little red mileage signs and at Mile 1 there was a spring with a clear flow of water. The trail winds through several stands of rock towers and boulders before arriving at Half-Moon Tank at Mile 2. I stopped here for a long lunch break and saw two men who had come from the West Trailhead. I asked if the waterfall was flowing and they said no. I was a little disappointed, mainly because it meant that I was going to be drinking Half-Moon Tank water. It didn’t taste as bad as it looked and I was able to mainly use it for cooking and tea. Around 3 pm, I got back on the trail headed toward the divide.

Half-Moon Tank

The wind had picked up considerably and was howling as I got to the flat area with a view of rockpiles framing the Sulphur Springs Valley and Dos Cabezas Mountains. It had a nice campsite, but it was too windy and I wanted to camp in the more rugged area west of the divide. The western stronghold reminds me of a kinder, gentler Santa Teresas. Kinder in that there was an actual trail to follow. It was my first time seeing this area and I was blown away when I rounded the corner and the tall face of Rockfellow Dome appeared. I decided then and there that thiswas what I wanted to see from camp tonight. I took some pictures and hiked on a little bit, looking for a small, flat spot to make my bed for the night. Then the trail started to switchback rapidly down the hill and my beloved dome went out of view. I stopped and hiked back up the hill, scanning for any kind of level ground. Nothing. The only reasonably flat ground was the trail beneath my feet, benched high into a steep hillside. It was going to have to do. I found a flat spot on a small curve in the trail that was vegetated on the steep side so I wouldn’t roll off the hill in the middle of the night.

Stronghold Divide

My on-trail campsite

What a view!

The chances of me disrupting anyone night-hiking in the hours I was asleep were slim. More worrisome, however, were the thoughts of the large piles of bear poop I’d seen right in the middle of the trail today. But the views! I sat in my camp chair and watched the light change in the canyon, jumping up from time to time to take a picture. For the last hour, I just stood and stared at the sunset coloring the canyon with warm yellows and reds, then streaking the skies with pink hues. Fantastic. Totally worth sleeping in a place where a bear could step on my head. Every so often I like to do a series of pictures at different times of the sunset and Rockfellow Dome was a perfect subject.

Rockfellow Dome

Rockfellow Dome

Rockfellow Dome

I made my bed after watching the sunset and was dismayed to find that my beloved Exped Downmat was not holding air. It must have been punctured by pine needles the last time I used it at Mormon Lake. Thankfully, I have recently started carrying a foam camp chair that unclips at the sides to fold flat. It was the perfect size for my torso, otherwise it would have been an uncomfortable evening on the rocky trail. I was pretty tired, so I skipped dinner and fell asleep early. I woke up at 12:30 am and read for a bit before I realized that there was a meteor shower going on! It must be the same one that I had seen in the Grand Canyon last year. This was a perfect place for it- the super-dark skies made for great viewing.

I often catch up on my sleep when I’m backpacking because I sleep really well outside and the fact that I was sleeping in the trail didn’t change that in the least. Besides, I had eased my mind by setting up my hiking poles and various other noisy things at my head and feet to wake me up in case anything was nearby. My spot was also shielded from the strong winds that blew all night long. I started packing up my camp as soon as I woke, unfortunately I didn’t think to get a picture. I need not have worried, however, because I only saw two other hikers, near the end of the day. I could have lounged in the middle of the trail as long as I wanted to. As I moved my things, a small centipede wriggled out from under them and buried itself in the dirt. Thanks for not biting me in my sleep! After breakfast, I hiked down the trail to the West Trailhead.

The hike down was a series of short, rocky switchbacks and rutted trail, but the surroundings were very attractive. I reached the nondescript parking lot at the west end of the trail and turned back around. On the way back up I stopped to look at the dry waterfall before getting back to my “campsite”. I hiked back over the divide to the campsite I’d seen yesterday and set myself up to relax until it was time to hike out in the afternoon. There was another interesting view of Rockfellow Dome at this camp.

On the West side of the Divide

Another view of Rockfellow Dome (on right)

I did a lot of writing in my journal about all sorts of things and made a wishlist of the hikes I’d like to do by the end of the year. In the afternoon I hiked out, stopping at the spring to fill up on clear tasty water rather than flavored Half-Moon tank water. I came upon this beautiful Praying Mantis in the middle of the trail and a little later, a showy Kingsnake.

Praying Mantis

Praying Mantis

Kingsnake sunning itself on the dark, warm rock

I met two people near the end of the trail. One was an artist who lived in the area and she was hiking with a guy who was passing through on his way east. The guy was completely shocked that I had spent the night out there all by myself. Even more so when he asked if I used a tent and I said no. He was very concerned about how dark it was at night when I didn’t have my headlamp on. I told him about the meteor shower last night. Interesting what makes different people nervous about the idea of spending the night “out there”. It seems so natural to me to be outdoors alone. I feel as comfortable in my camp chair in the middle of the wilderness as I do in my living room at home.

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, things are finally slowing down with the arrival of fall. We’ve released a lot of the summer babies back into the wild. But we still have this pack of four inquisitive raccoons:

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Aravaipa near Javelina Canyon

After my backpacking trip that turned into a dayhike on the Palisades Trail, I was ready to try again. This time I wanted to go somewhere that I wouldn’t have to worry about carrying a ton of water around in the middle of the summer. One of my favorite places to go that always has water is Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness, near Mammoth, AZ. I haven’t been to Aravaipa since December of last year when I went to see the fall colors (yes, fall colors happen as late as December in southern Arizona!). At the time, there was ice on the water and I had to use fancy neoprene socks to stay warm. This trip would be the complete opposite. On August 24th as I drove to the western trailhead, the radio warned of record high temperatures all over southern Arizona. I got a later start than I would have liked, partially because I had to tend to three quail, an oriole, and a cottontail rabbit that I was going to release on the drive over. All the babies of the early summer are growing up and getting released from Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- it’s one of my favorite parts of volunteering there.

At 9am, after signing in as the first person there in three days, I finally got going on the short trail that leads down to the creekbed. My friend Wendy was originally going to join me, but something came up last-minute, so I’m solo in Aravaipa once again. It would be nice to share this beautiful place with someone else someday. As soon as I reached the water, I soaked my head, bandannas, and my long-sleeved cotton shirt. I chose the cotton one instead of the synthetic because the only way I was going to be comfortable in 100+ degree temperatures is if I stayed wet all day. Right away, I saw a small deer walk out into the middle of the creek and lay down on a gravel bar close to two Great Blue Herons who were chasing each other down the canyon. The water was a little turbid from the recent rains, which made it tough to see the rocks underneath when crossing or walking in the stream. Hiking in Aravaipa is like a long balancing act- the ground is rarely even and the rocks you walk on could shift out from under you at any time.

Deer in the stream

Soon, the two herons found a third and a Zone-Tailed Hawk flew right in front of me, crossing the canyon. I don’t know what I would do without my hiking umbrella. It is a key piece of gear for summertime, and would serve a very important entertainment purpose later on in the trip. I took my time hiking upstream, taking breaks in patches of deep shade. There were several large murky pools that were able to be bypassed once the walls of the canyon steepened. I found a great big cottonwood at around noon to eat lunch and drink some gatorade. There was a nice campsite area right before the creek takes a big curve to the north that was in shade for most of the day. I took a nap and around 2:30 decided to move on toward Horse Camp Canyon. I passed by one of my favorite views in the canyon and came to another murky pool in the narrows near Javelina Canyon, about three miles in. Only there was no going around this 20 foot long pool- the canyon is quite narrow at this point and the water went from wall to wall. I took my backpack off to test the crossing depth. The water was eerily warm and the bottom of the pool was slippery mud and I stopped once the water reached my shoulders. I backed out and tried another line through the pool, but it was just as deep and slippery. By now dark clouds were starting to mount and I realized that retreat was probably the most prudent course of action.

Pool that stopped my progress

But before going back the way I’d come to find a campsite high above the creek, I had to take advantage of this giant pool in front of me. I got out my green floatie and floated the pool for a bit before the combination of the heat and the low rumbles of thunder made me get out. I hiked back, looking for a good place to camp, eying up all the piles of flood debris caught up high in the branches of trees. I found a spot that would have morning shade and a view of my favorite rock formations. All afternoon and evening, there was the threatening sound of thunder, and later on it was paired with flashes of lightning from several directions. In Aravaipa you only see a slice of the sky, so I was hoping there was nothing too intense going on upstream. I enjoyed Heinrich Harrer’s The White Spider about climbing the North Face of the Eiger, a fascinating read. It was incredibly hot and buggy out, but still enjoyable. That is, until I tried to go to sleep inside my tent. I had to keep the fly on because of the thunder and lightning, and it made conditions inside awful. I could barely sleep and tossed and turned all night. I got up a bunch of times and read of icy cold bivouacs on the North Face attempts and wished that I too could be just a little cold. Maybe just enough to put on a fleece. Or enough to sleep. That would be so nice. After all the sound and light show it only drizzled for an hour in the middle of the night.

Camped with one of my favorite views in the canyon

I was up early the next morning and spent some leisurely time in camp reading and writing. Writing in my journal is one of my favorite activities when I’m backpacking and I wrote for hours. Aravaipa is part of the Grand Enchantment Trail and I wished for the millionth time that I could take a vacation to complete the trail from Safford to Albuquerque. Someday. I had chosen well and my campsite was shaded until 9:30 am, when I hiked back to the deep pool that had stopped my progress upcanyon yesterday. It had been murky, warm and uninviting yesterday, but today I was excited to have such a big pool to play in. The pool was in shade for quite a while. I explored around and found the shallowest crossing point along the rock wall on the left of the canyon (if you’re coming from the West trailhead) past the rectangular pool. Even that one was chest-high on me. I blew up the floatie and paddled around for a while until I realized that there was a breeze coming down the canyon. At the beginning of the summer, Wendy and I were floating in Sabino Canyon with our umbrellas and realized that you can catch the breeze and use the umbrella as a sail! I had the perfect setup and did it several times, totally cracking up every time. Then I realized that my tripod had made it into my pack at the last minute yesterday and I could make a video of it. Enjoy:

I shot some videos and then rode the wind in my floatie over and over again.  Good times. After the pool was in full sun, it was too hot to float so I packed up and started making my way back downstream. I returned to the place I’d taken a long break under the cottonwood tree and enjoyed the shade, relaxed, and read for several hours. It was overcast and cooler in the middle of the day than it had been the night before. I was really sad that my camera zoom was malfunctioning, it had probably gotten sand in it the night before. There were these really colorful Greater Earless Lizards running around, doing push-ups and I went to take a picture of one without my beloved zoom. I moved closer and closer, shooting pictures, and to my surprise the little guy let me put my camera right in his face and I got the most fantastic close-up!

Colorful Greater Earless Lizards

Thanks for the pose!

As the afternoon wore on, the rumbling of thunder increased to the west, but I never ended up getting rained on. I ducked into Hell’s Half Acre canyon to take a look and then continued westward. The last mile of the hike always takes longer than I think it will. I have a little habit upon reaching the exit trail to take one last break with my feet in the creek before heading out. I reached the parking lot at 4:30pm, feeling completely rejuvenated after some alone time in this achingly beautiful wilderness.

Hell's Half Acre Canyon

I love contemplating the flood that placed that log up there.


In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, baby ringtail is growing nicely and is a riot to watch run around her cage. Here she is sniffing the owner of the rehab Janet Miller’s head:

Baby Ringtail

Also, some jerk recently dumped a litter of 4-week old kittens on the wildlife rehab property. Fortunately we were able to find homes for them, but until we did, part of what we had to do as volunteers was play with the kitties so they got socialized.

Not wild, but still cute!

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