Monday, January 27, 2014

Hike #1: Ventana Canyon Trail

As per my resolution, yesterday I went on my monthly hike: this time to Tucson's Ventana Canyon Trail.

I expect most of my hiking accounts will be for trails in and around Tucson, so I assume these will mostly only be interesting to people who live in Tucson or who plan on visiting Tucson for its hiking opportunities. Or maybe you just like reading hiking stories. If so, read on.

We arrived at the Ventana Canyon trailhead at about noon yesterday. The temperature was good, since Tucson is already getting over that whole "winter" business. There was tons of sun and a nice, cool breeze to keep us from overheating as Laura and I began the hike.

This first mile took us from the parking lot of a big, fancy resort, slowly leading us away from civilization. From the parking lot to the foot of the mountain that contains the canyon the path was bordered on both sides by fences reminding hikers that there was private property on either side. Still, the path was fun, featuring lots of ups and downs under the cover of trees. Eventually the path began to follow alongside the suggestion of a stream, though there was no water in it. Which was good, since we were destined to cross that river bed several times.

Then, we went through an interesting, zig-zagging gateway that I assume was there to allow humans to enter and exit the wilderness as they pleased while discouraging the big horn sheep from entering civilization. Apparently there are big horn sheep in the wilder parts of Tucson's Catalina mountains. We never saw any but, then again, apparently the fact that they're being protected probably means their population is small now.

Regardless, we were officially in the wilderness, with no fences to mar the view or force us to stay on the path (even though we stayed on the path anyway).

The next mile was mostly spent following the river, crossing over now and then depending on which side the trailblazer felt would make for a smoother hike. The views became spectacular as the sides of the canyon rose on either side of us. We stopped to rest regularly, simultaneously enjoying the scenery and cursing the fact that we were out of shape.

By the end of this second mile, the path had stopped following the riverbed and began to climb. The path got rocky and steep, even mildly dangerous at times. By this point, Laura had basically given up, and I began to spend most of my time coaxing her forward.

Last time I went hiking I wasn't able to reach my goal. I've decided that if I don't reach my goal during a hike this year then the hike doesn't count toward my 12. So, I was determined to make it this time.

It seems easy enough at the beginning of a hike to see that your goal is X number of miles into the hike (in this case, 2.4 miles), but in the midst of a hike I tend to lose all reference for time and space. Sure, I can look around and figure it out if I wanted to, but it just doesn't occur to me. Instead I focus on just moving forward.

A kind traveler informed us that the peak was just a half mile away, so I proceeded to drag Laura the rest of the way of the steepest, rockiest part of the hike. At the top, we took one last break, looking back at the trail we had conquered.

The trails north of Tucson seem to usually lead into a canyons that, when you look back, frame a view of the city, as the following picture demonstrates. This picture was not taken at the peak of the hill/mountain we were climbing, but about 3/4 of the way up.

For reference, this kinda shows how far we had left to go:

Anyway, from the peak we continued on to our true goal, another 5 minutes away: the Maiden Pools.

The Maiden Pools were a series of deep pools of water dug into the granite. Each pool was about the size of a large bath tub, but much deeper. It was truly impressive how the little trickle of water had basically scooped out these basins over the course of thousands of years. Granted, the pools don't always trickle down as slow as they were while we were there. The water from the pools eventually flows down to that dry river bed we crossed several times along the way, and no doubt that river gets it fair share of water when the snows melt and when the monsoons come through.

Anyway, the pools were fascinating. I couldn't see the bottoms.

Eventually the water flowed down into a small, twin cave that probably eventually flowed to the river bed.

After admiring the pools fora little while, Laura and I began the journey back the way we came. The sun was setting, so the canyon quickly became shadowed--we barely felt the sun again until we were actually out of the canyon and back into the land of Private Property.

While we took numerous breaks on the way up, we didn't stop once on the 2.4 mile hike back tot he car. The downhill hike was quicker and easier than going up, the sun was no longer dehydrating us, and the thought of home kept us moving any time we considered stopping for a rest.

And so, the Ventana Canyon Trail was conquered. Kinda. The pools are actually only the half-way mark of the full trail, which eventually leads to a place called "The Window." Perhaps by the end of the year we'll find out what that's about.

In any case, this hike left me itching to try another hike soon. Luckily, next weekend is February, so I think I'll officially be hiking two weeks in a row.

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