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First Days of Fall, October 2013

The first days of Fall are lovely in Tucson, the sun seems just as bright as it was last month, but the experience of standing under it has changed – the piercing rays of summer are gone, replaced by something still lovely-bright but more gentle. We don’t have the picture postcard Fall color change here, but the beautiful blue skies of Fall are amazing…

1310 View from Mount Kimball
An amazing view from Mount Kimball – I especially love this view of Table Mountain (far left)!

I managed to ascend the notoriously steep Finger Rock Trail, turn onto the Pima Canyon Trail and take the side trail up to Mount Kimball during mid-day hours without any concern for the heat/temperature! What a contrast to the summer months when even early am/late pm hikes/runs on the lower/front range Santa Catalina trails are brutally hot.

But perhaps Fall had not quite arrived – the joy of cooler temps did not last the entire hike – the last two miles down had the summer ‘baking in the hot sun’ feeling that anyone from Tucson should be able to instantly call to mind…

1310 Molino Basin to Agua Caliente Hill Trailhead
Looking toward Agua Caliente Hill after coming over the high point on the Bellota Trail.

Out of the Santa Catalina Mountains on the Bellota Trail – views into two stunning canyons along the Milagrosa Trail – across Agua Caliente Canyon and up new-to-me trails to the Agua Caliente Hill Trail and down Agua Caliente Hill Trail with Alison! Between unfamiliar trail junctions and new stretches of trail I didn’t even think about the temperature during this run. There are many more ‘serious’ point-to-point hikes out of the Santa Catalina Mountains (esp. into the Rincon Mountains), but at just over 11 miles (about 14 if you have time time go to the top of Agua Caliente Hill) this is a fantastic journey that is a bit less committing.

1310 Richard on the East Fork Trail
Richard running the East Fork trail – great views, smoother trails and downhill from east to west this is an absolute blast to run!

We met Richard at Prison Camp, provided a little extra water (he ran up via Bear Canyon) and then joined him for on his run down to the Sabino Canyon Visitor Center via the Molino Basin, Sycamore Reservoir, East Fork, Sabino Canyon and Phoneline Trails. This was a repeat of an adventure from February of this year (pictures) – we weren’t any faster this time – but we were smarter and finished the run in much better shape! Much of the landscape looked the same – although the area near Sycamore Reservoir seemed to have more green – and the temps were beautiful!

1311 Ryan finishing his run to the Basin
Ryan finishing his out and back run to Sabino Basin.

Richard and I ran in shorts and short sleeve shirts, never reaching for more until we finished – and sitting still and relaxing at the end the extra layer felt like more of a luxury than a necessity… But a few days later on a night run on the Phoneline Trail (with friends from the Summit Hut) the weather seemed changed. Sitting in the dark waiting for Ryan and Dave to return from Sabino Basin (most of us had stopped at the last junction down to the road) I added a long sleeve shirt, then a light wind jacket, then a thin beanie but still shivered and hugged myself for warmth in the chilly night air – maybe technically not the coldest night of the year, but the first night where my light layers were inadequate, I think it is time to change the gear in my pack, Fall is here…

4 Days in Arizona, October 2013

The shutdown of the Federal Government ended a rather elaborate Grand Canyon vacation plan involving friends flying in from several different states, camping on both rims, R2R and R2R2R runs/hikes and general good fun. But Alison and I headed north anyway – on the one hand there is no substitute for the Grand Canyon, on the other Arizona is literally filled with substitutes…

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park

Tonto Natural Bridge State Park had been in the back of our minds for several years and it was an easy decision to stop by on our way from Tucson to Flagstaff. There is a bit of hiking and short canyon trail, but the highlight and real reason to visit is certainly being able to view (and walk under!) the Tonto Natural Bridge.

1310 Under the BridgeUnder the Tonto Natural Bridge

It was amazing to stand under the bridge, see rainbows in the mist, feel the cold water and watch the sun slipping behind the walls of the bridge – too soon park hours demanded that we continue towards Flagstaff.

Humphreys Peak

Memory changes reality – we have been in Tucson 13 years and when I hike in the mountains near town I am rarely alone even if I don’t have any partners for the day – most hikes, at some point, cross paths with the phantoms of past adventures. We were on Humphreys Peak just a little over a decade ago and it was fun to remember that trip and those friends as we hiked.

1310 Changing Aspens BelowAlison above the treeline – the Aspens changing color below

1310 Humphreys PeakAfter several false peaks (that we remembered from our hike 10 years ago) we reached the top – it was crowded when we arrived (we were not the only ones finding alternatives to the Grand Canyon!), but we were lucky and had a few minutes alone to enjoy the views.

0307 Summit of Humphrey's PeakThe summit just over a decade ago – Joe, Tim, Chris (leaning on the sign), Me, Alison, Dave, Leah – all except Leah were Summit Hut employees.

1310 End of the day near the Snobowl TrailheadFinishing the hike in the last light of the day…

Sycamore Rim Trail

I had trained for the Grand Canyon, but after a long day on Humphreys Peak I was happy to end up on a hike without quite as much elevation gain/loss. After taking pictures of the Prairie Dogs near the road we started the hike at the Dow Springs Trailhead. The hike was a great contrast to Humphreys and different than the terrain near Tucson – water, green, springs,  Ka Hill, Pomeroy Tanks, Paradise Forks, Sycamore Canyon, moon, stars…

It was fun to be in this area again – in past years we climbed at Paradise Forks a number of times, but in this one hike we saw more of the area than we ever did in all our climbing trips…

1310 Pomeroy TanksStopping for a break at Pomeroy Tanks

1310 Sycamore CanyonSycamore Canyon – sunset – we were amazed at how deep the canyon is!

We had read that this trail could be crowded – at least near the numerous trailheads – and noisy from the roads cutting thru the area – but we didn’t see anyone for the entire 12 mile loop! A nice contrast to the line of people on Humphreys.

Cathedral Rock

We were tired but decided to fit in a short hike on the way back to Tucson – Cathedral Rock in Sedona. We parked at the Baldwin Trailhead and took the Baldwin and Templeton trails along Oak Creek to the Cathedral Rock Trail – the Cathedral Rock Trail is short, steep, fun and takes you to a great view and a classic photo opportunity –

1310 Alison near the end of the Cathedral Rock Trail

And then back to Tucson…


Sad Signs – Pictures from the Santa Catalina Mountains During the Government Shutdown, October 2013

1310 Trails Open Campground Closed
 Joy and Sadness – an informative message at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The shutdown of the Federal Government is, at least for me, (beyond encouraging people to think about improving how our government works and/or who we elect) pointless.

One victim of the shutdown is our Federal Lands – a shame since they are truly one of the best things about the USA – parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon closed? Why? I was certainly deeply disappointed to have a vacation with good friends in the Grand Canyon destroyed – camping, dayhikes, R2R criss-crossing with friends, supporting R2R2R runs…

Thankfully Tucson is surrounded by quite a bit of National Forest, BLM, State and County land that is – unlike our National Parks which are ‘truly’  closed – still open for hiking/climbing/running/recreation!

The trails of the Santa Catalina Mountains (Mount Lemmon) remain open – trailheads, pullouts and the highway – open – but bathrooms, visitor centers, picnic areas and campgrounds are closed.

1310 Sabino Canyon Parking and Facilities Closed
Most of the trailheads at the base of the mountain are open, but the Sabino Canyon facilities (including bathrooms) and parking area are closed – if you can figure out where to park the area is still open to hiking (the Pima County Bear Canyon Trailhead is one option – beware the No Parking signs along Sabino Canyon Road near the parking lot entrance…)

1310 Molino Basin Bathrooms and some parking closed
The Molino Basin area is partly open – this is the only trailhead I saw where some of the parking spots were blocked – perhaps the parking spaces were blocked for reasons other than the shutdown? (note that the Prison Camp gate is closed limiting parking to the smaller parking areas near the highway – but that gate has been closed for months now).

1310 Cypress Picnic Area Closure
Sadly every Picnic Area and Campground that I saw was closed and either gated or blocked by caution tape and a sign. Note that the caution tape blocks access to the entire area (including parking) – not just to bathrooms/picnic tables…

1310 Windy Point Bathrooms Closed
The Windy Point Bathrooms – closed… Summerhaven has the only open public bathrooms on the Mountain that I am aware of – of course Summerhaven and Ski Valley businesses are still open as well.

1310 Mount Graham in the Distance from the San Pedro Vista
Taking a break and enjoying the view across the San Pedro River into the Galiuro and Pinaleno Mountains – vistas are open!

1310 Spencer Campground Closed
Campgrounds are closed – interesting that these signs have a slightly different tone than the white signs at the picnic area.

1310 Summit Parking Area Open and being used
The Summit Trailhead – alive with cars and hikers! The Bathrooms are closed but the trailhead and hiking is open!