Final days in the Sonoran Desert- AZ

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Our winter stay in the Sonoran Desert this year began in January and seemed to just fly by. After my birding excursions at Patagonia, we returned to Tucson recently to wrap up a few appointments, hike with friends and socialize before beginning our slow migration north.

Mount Lemmon was dusted with snow when we returned to Tucson at the beginning of March

While setting up camp we heard the military ‘birds” overhead, giving us a free air show that went on for the entire weekend.  I attempted to get good photos of them flying in formation as they flew right over the highly-populated city.  We learned that nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Arizona Air National Guard were practicing maneuvers, and it looked to us like they were doing a great job!  It was fun to watch, but the noise did get a bit old after a while.

I wouldn’t want to be the enemy and see this coming at me!

They even practiced some large explosions on the ground

We got a show of our own, as Betsy received her annual professional wash and power wax:

This team seems to have a lot of supervisors

Something we like to do when friends visit us here is show off our favorite cactus, the awesome saguaro.  When Mike and Jeanie came to town we drove over Gates Pass and into Saguaro National Park (west).

At Gates Pass overlooking Saguaro National Park

Jeanie and I tested our new “Peak Finder” app by pointing our iPhones at the mountain peaks.  It identified them just like the plaque in front of us!

We made a stop at Old Tucson Studios, which remains an active filming location for Western-themed movies, television, cable shows and commercials – also dubbed “Hollywood in the Desert.”  Here is my post about our first visit in 2016.

Old Tucson Studios

Gunfight on the street

This is a fun stop if you’re into old Westerns (Steve is a big Gunsmoke fan)

On another day when Steve was getting some work done on the car I joined John and Pam on their last hike at Tucson Mountain Park.  A nice thing that happened on this particular hike was that they named a crested saguaro after me! (little pleasures 🙂  Are they the coolest or what?

John urged us up to a nice spot for a lunch break

The Mona Liza Crested Saguaro!

Knowing we won’t be here again for a couple of years, we tucked in two more hikes – one on Star Pass Trail and the other on Ventana Canyon Trail.  Following recent rains, the desert had awakened.  The saguaros were plump, the ocotillos were budding and the rest of the desert plants perked up ready for spring.  Happily, we had the trails mostly to ourselves as we enjoyed the quiet scenery and said goodbye to our thorny friends.

And he says I’m a ham!

A saguaro forest basking in the morning sunshine

View of Tucson from the top of the ridge along Ventana Canyon Trail

We spent our last evening in Tucson with Gay and Joe of good-times rollin.  They prepared delicious beef fajitas, which Joe and Steve cooked while exchanging notes about their cancer journeys.  We were so happy to hear that Joe is now cancer free!

Beef fajitas – yum!

About 164 miles north of Tucson is the small town of Black Canyon City, our last stop before exiting the Sonoran Desert.  It’s where the Sonoran Desert transitions to the coniferous Arizona mountain forests at higher elevations.  This was a revisit for us, as we had discovered a couple of nice hikes here a couple of years ago.

We were excited to meet up with the Wandering Camels once again for a fun hike.  Dave and Faye joined us for our swan song hike in the Sonoran Desert.  It’s always a hoot hiking with this great couple whom we have trekked with in southern Utah and Banff National Park.

A hike with Dave and Faye is always fun!

New River

Dave caught us bidding goodbye to the saguaros

But we were itching to move on, even if it meant missing the desert in bloom and the flowering saguaros.  We experienced it last year, enjoying a whole different desert during the spring and summer months.

Just for smiles 🙂

We spent so much time hanging around the saguaros that I imagined personalities for some of them.  What do you think?

Dave and I created a “human” saguaro

 

 

Next up:  So much to do around Cottonwood!



 

Superstars of the desert – the Saguaro flowers

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My wish of seeing the Saguaro blooms has been granted, even though with Steve’s situation it’s under less-than-desirable circumstances.  But we’re enjoying this opportunity as our consolation for being in Tucson this time of the year.  The best way to view the white Saguaro bouquets was to revisit Saguaro National Park. Driving there was also a step forward for Steve, as it was his first outing following surgery when he wasn’t feeling like a zombie from all the drugs.

It’s said that the indicator plant of the Sonoran Desert is the majestic Saguaro cactus, the icon of the southwest.  During late April thru June, as other desert wildflowers have done their thing and wilted, the superstars of the desert awaken to fill the landscape with blooms at the ends of their arms, like a bouquet of white flowers.

In our past visits here, these tall green giants seemed to stand patiently awaiting their turn to show off.  The time has finally arrived and we are glad to be here to admire the explosion of floral beauty.

 

Surprisingly, the Saguaro flower is a short-lived beauty; it opens after sunset and by the next early afternoon the blossom wilts.  Despite this short time period, the flower attracts an array of pollinators.  During the night they’re pollinated by the Mexican long-tongued bat and the lesser long-nosed bat, while daytime hours bring the birds and bees to a feast as they continue the pollination process.

The Northern Flicker waits for his turn

The Saguaro flower clusters don’t all bloom at the same time on the plant; the blooming cycle of a single Saguaro can last up to 6 weeks before all of the flowers have opened and closed for the last time.  The road leading to Steve’s doctor’s offices are lined with Saguaros, so for several weeks we got to see the progression of the blooms each time we drove by.

Getting up close and personal, I discovered the flowers are trumpet-shaped with silky white petals, each containing hundreds of golden stamens.

The flowers are suppose to emit a strong smell, sort of like overripe melons but then I am vertically challenged to reach them so I could not confirm that.

Seeing the Saguaro flowers is a tick off from my “must-see” list and I’m really happy with that.

Steve update:

The drive to Saguaro National Park – East and West – signaled one of the first breakthroughs for Steve.  Since his hospital discharge the focus had been to fatten him up and reverse his weight loss.  It would have been an easy task if not for the terrible pain he had when swallowing.  As time went on he was able to slowly progress from a liquid diet through soft foods, and then onto “real foods” in four weeks.  His speech impediment has lessened and his energy level remains high, as he has to actually reduce his daily walking routine so he won’t walk off all the weight we’re trying to put on him!

Pancit

After a month he could handle one of his favorites, my Pancit

Head and throat pains linger, and Tylenol is his friend.  In order to distract from nagging pain he works on simple repairs.  Serious hiking is still a ways off, but we walk around the RV park and in the area several times every day.  As for me, our daily walks meet my 10,000 steps goal which is wonderful!

His next phase is radiation therapy, beginning on June 6th.  Just as he’s gained weight and is feeling better, he’ll soon be back to square one for a while.  We know we’ll get through it, taking one day at a time as we’ve been doing.

The ” fight the cancer beast team” on a cool day at SNP



 

A rendezvous in the desert – Tucson, AZ

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Humming Bird
saguaro

“Welcome to Tucson”, the Saguaro seems to say as it bows

So here we remain, at our “winter headquarters” for this year – Tucson.  The population of over a half million seems to be spread out enough that it usually doesn’t feel too overcrowded, although we do try hard to avoid commute hour traffic when possible.

We love that this city is ringed by mountain ranges offering endless hiking opportunities, especially when combined with the many miles of desert trails in the immediate area.  And we also happen to love the Sonoran Desert!  We’ve stayed in three distinct areas during our visits here, and have always enjoyed the many nearby points of interest.

Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson viewed from Robles Park, with the Catalina Mountains as the backdrop

In January, 2013 we camped at Catalina State Park in northern Tucson (our tales of that stay are here and here).  Returning in January of 2016, we hung out for a month at the Lazy Daze/KOA in southern Tucson (the activities we enjoyed during that stay are detailed here).

 Mission San Xavier del Bac

Looking south toward the Santa Rita Mountains, the “White Dove of the Desert” – Mission San Xavier del Bac – takes center stage

Saguaro National Park

After the movie at the Saguaro National Park visitor center, the theater curtains open to reveal the giants of the Sonoran Desert – the Saguaros

Tucson Mountain Park

Looking down at the Western side of Tucson

Tucson

The sprawling city of Tucson

So far this year we’ve stayed on the western side of Tucson, one month at Western Way RV Resort and we’re currently residing for a second month at Desert Trails RV Park just up the road.  The choice of these campgrounds was based mainly on their excellent access to the many great hiking trails in Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Park and Robles Park. We wasted no time getting started on those hikes to burn off the mega calories we packed on while partying in Puerto Peñasco.

Saguaro National Park

We always enjoy our treks with serious hikers like Hans and Lisa, this time on the Hugh Norris Trail

Sweetwater Preserve

Investigating a downed Saguaro at Sweetwater Preserve

Brown Mountain Trail

We like nearby Brown Mountain Trail, and have hiked it a couple of times so far

Saguaro

Some Saguaros gave us the finger…

Saguaro

…this one gave us many fingers!

Saguaro

This one could be hundreds of years old

saguaro skeleton

This dead Saguaro looks like a desert scarecrow

Yetman Trail

An early morning hike on the Yetman Trail via Tucson Estates

Tucson Mountains

Tucson Mountains as seen from the Wasson Peak Trail

Crested saguaro

Goofing off with one of Pam’s friends – a crested Saguaro – on the Flight Path Trail

We’ve been here for several weeks now, plenty of time to repeat trails we followed last year and to discover new ones.  For the first time we’ll be staying long enough to catch the colors of spring in the Sonoran Desert, which we’ve missed previously in our haste to head north.

The Ocotillo blossoms provide a splash of red all over the desert, just beautiful!

Crimson red Ocotillo blooms – don’t they look like mini lipsticks?

Creosote bush

Creosote bush swaths the desert a golden hue

A closer look at a creosote bloom

 

On the desert floor, area sidewalks and vacant lots was a profusion of dainty vibrant wildflowers.  I can’t help but stop, take a picture and admire them:

The birds are also enjoying the blooms, sucking sweet nectar from the flowers and whistling at us as we stroll by:

Of course, mild winters here are the main draw for us and thousands of other “snowbirds”. It’s a place where we congregate to meet up with old friends and make new ones.  I think of our meet-up here as a renewal of our friendships, and it’s always a joy to see those folks to exchange travel stories and the adventures we’ve had on the road during the past year.

Kathie and Mike of Life Rebooted.  We met them last year at Bryce Canyon after following their blog for several months

At the big gathering below, we met Paul and Marsha of Where’s Weaver for the first time. Everyone else were folks we’ve forged relationships with over the years through our blog sites – Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go and Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventure.

John, David, Sue, Marsha, Paul, Steve, me, Lisa, Hans and Pam

Me with John and Pam, and “serious Jeep pilots” Joe and Gay of Good Times Rolling

Infected humanoid – stay away!

We’re always excited to meet new friends, but we were sorry we missed out on meeting up with Jim and Barb of Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure.  I was recovering from a flu bug and wasn’t about to risk infecting them.

We spent this happy hour huddled inside Betsy as gusty winds spoiled our outdoor venue

New friends Jim and Nancy of Running Down our Dreams (behind us) and good buddies John and Sharon of On the Road of Retirement

Just before Hans and Lisa left we had an alcohol-free happy hour at their coach (well, it WAS in the morning), followed by a mini-tour of Desert Trails RV Park.  They showed us around so we could note the best sites to request for our upcoming stay.  Two weeks later we got one of the most-desired sites (M28), and we are enjoying the afternoon shade here.  It’s nice to have friends to help us gather good intel!

A healthy and happy start to the day with Hans and Lisa

As we remain here enjoying all the trails and spring blooms, our friends have all moved on. We hope to see them here again, at our favorite rendezvous spot in the desert!

A post from the southwest would be incomplete without a Sonoran Desert sunset!

 

Next up:  More fun things to do around Tucson



 

Hiking with John and Pam – Tucson, AZ

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With most of Betsy’s maintenance items out of the way, it was time to have some fun.  At our happy hour Pam recited a list of trails to enjoy around Tucson, and we were geared up to go hiking with them again.  Many of you know John and Pam of Oh the places they go are avid hikers whose boots have passed over hundreds (probably thousands) of miles of trails.  We hiked with them last summer in Colorado and were looking forward to trekking with them again here in Tucson.

We initially chose two trails – Seven Falls Trail in Sabino/Bear Canyon, and the scenic Mt. Wasson Peak Trail at Saguaro National Park.

Seven Falls Trail, Sabino Canyon

The Seven Falls Trail is accessed via Bear Canyon Trail.  The hike begins at the parking lot of Sabino Canyon Recreation Area in the eastern foothills of the Santa Catalina mountain range, northeast of Tucson.  As the name implies, the reward at the end of this trail is Seven Falls where the water cascades down a steep ravine creating an enchanting sequence of falls and pools.  We followed Bear Canyon Trail for about 2 miles and then continued a little more than 2 more miles to reach the falls.

Seven Falls Trail

The leaders conferring

When we settled on this hike we hadn’t considered the recent rain and snow.  The trail crisscrossed over Sabino Creek seven times and the water was high, making our crossings quite challenging.  At the first two we removed our boots and socks to wade across the frigid water.  Fortunately John was prepared and brought a towel for everyone to dry their feet with – thanks, John!

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Doing this seven times in each direction was not an option!

John was our leader and he searched for drier crossings several times, but alas there were none.  So after the second crossing we just gave up and our boots and socks were soaked the rest of the hike.

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Yikes my boot’s under water and it’s freezing!

Other than the abundance of cacti and other Sonoran Desert plants, it felt like we were not in the desert as we enjoyed the sound of rushing water during most of the hike.  After crossing the frigid water several times the trail rose up the side of Bear Canyon, then came back down to Seven Falls.

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Desert Marigold

The only bloom we saw on the trail, a Desert Marigold

The exposed granitic rocks were quite a sight, crossed by mineral veins but slippery when wet.

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Seven Falls, Bear Canyon

A large pool at the falls

At the end of the trail we were rewarded with the sights and sounds of the falls, and we relaxed for lunch next to one of the pools.  Off came the boots and socks as we exposed our legs to the sun to warm them back up.

Seven Falls Trail

The foursome enjoying a respite from wet boots and socks

The return trip was much shorter as we gave up on trying to stay dry and just plowed across the water crossings.  Our legs were double-tired after 8+ miles of hiking with heavy, wet boots.   But despite the minor inconvenience it was a great day!

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Hurry up and dry, our next hike is fast approaching!

Mt. Wasson Peak, Saguaro National Park

The second hike John and Pam led us on was to the top of Wasson Peak.  Mt. Wasson is located 15 miles west of the city in the Tucson Mountain Range, and is the highest point in the west unit of Saguaro National Park.  They had hiked this trail before, and due to the excellent views at the top they were happy to repeat the trek with us.    It’s a great way to experience Saguaro National Park and the Sonoran Desert.

King Canyon Trail

There are several trails leading to the summit, and we chose to follow the King Canyon, Hugh Norris and Sendero Esperanza trails, then we looped back around to the Gould Mine Trail to give us a 7.8 mile workout.  The trails are all within the Saguaro National Park, and we walked amidst the Sonoran Desert ecosystem with full displays of giant Saguaro, Prickly Pear, Barrel Cactus and Cholla, to name just a few.

Pam has great interest in Crested Saguaros and she tries to see as many as she can when in Arizona.  If you don’t know, a Crested Saguaro is one where the growing tip produces a fan-like form referred to a crest or cristate.  They are very rare, but Pam spotted one with her eagle-eyes on this hike.  If you’d like to see more of her Crested Saguaro photos click here.

King Canyon Trail

Looking at some black liquid coming out of a fallen cactus

This trail is moderate with some rocky and steep sections, and we followed several switchbacks as we approached the peak.

Wasson Peak

Our destination – Wasson Peak 4,687 ft

A history tidbit: Wasson Peak is named in honor of John Wasson, the first editor of the Tucson Citizen newspaper in the late 1800’s.

King Canyon Trail

Looking back at the switchbacks we just hiked

Wasson Peak

The foursome at Wasson Peak – John, Pam, ML and Steve

This hike is definitely worth doing.  The view of the valley, surrounding mountains and Tucson is spectacular from the peak.  Because of its accessibility and outstanding views we met several other hikers on this trail.

Wasson Peak

Can you see the airport way out there?

Picacho Peak

Picacho Peak – we’ve all scaled that tough mountain, but not together

Hugh Norris Trail

Hugh Norris Trail follows the ridge top with great views on both sides

Norris Trail

That formation looks like a man reading a book, no?

We also came across some desert blooms:

Skeletal Saguaro

A skeletal Saguaro is still a beauty

Fishhook cactus

Hugh Norris Trail

On our way down the Hugh Norris Trail

Sendero Esperanza Trail

Let’s do a final map check

What do you do after a long and rewarding hike?  Have mexican food!  Dave and Sue joined us that evening for dinner at El Charro, one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Tucson.

Yum!

Yum!  Three kinds of tamales

Great People

Great food, great company! – Dave, Steve, ML, John, Pam and Sue

 

Next Up:  What we missed the first time…