We have been coming to Tucson around this time for about 20 years. Usually we can count on the weather being sunny and considerably warmer, at least after the sun rises above the trees, than back home. A cloudy colder day comes along now and then but is the exception to the wonderful sunny rule. For me having the sunshine is the real boon and the warmer weather while enjoyable is secondary to a modest degree. Our experiences have probably lulled us into thinking, “it is always this way,” and so it was a bit of a shock to discover that as the week has progressed we have been stuck in the midst of a mostly cloudy cold snap. I am not suggesting that we are unhappy. We have, some more than others, groused about how cold it is and the lack of sunshine but we are still getting out and still enjoying ourselves. We just have to accept that the desert has weather foibles too. Perhaps those quirks of weather give us a chance to see the region in a different light (OK, that is literally true too) and as long as we can look at the world in that way we can enjoy and even learn while here.
Saturday, December 29, 2018
We had quite a time getting to Tucson. Our flights were late and when we got to the car rental place Advantage had nothing to rent us. Why do they have a reservation system if they don’t have a car for you to rent? Saturday morning was almost as bad. We took a Lyft to a couple different places before heading back to the airport rental place to find a car. I bet we drove 50 miles just to end up back where we started. At least it was sunny for the drive.
We got to the hotel in Tucson by early afternoon. That left us with a little time before sunset. We decided to visit a place we knew well but to explore a different part of it. The Pink Hills, especially on the desert floor, is a maze of trails. This time we decided to stroll the paved path that leads to the Mica View picnic area (my name for it) and then wander a bit more. The sun was shining but it was nippy. At least we thought it nippy with a modest breeze blowing as we walked. It was a pleasant enjoyable quick stroll. The desert was remarkably alive with birds chirping or making other sounds. We saw two jack rabbits as well. I could see enjoying a nice grilled meal at the picnic area (reachable by dirt road too).
Monday, December 31, 2018
Brittlebush is blooming. We have hiked this area many times and I am pretty sure this is the first time we have seen these bushes in bloom. They seem most abundant in the slopes between the desert floor and Golden Gate Pass. --December 31 2018 at 09:43. Tucson, AZ, United States
Mom and Dad have a room that gets sunshine throughout the day. My room does not. But when we woke up Monday morning it would not matter because the sun was not visible through the clouds. We walked to the restaurant for breakfast and felt the real bite in the air. It was definitely not much above freezing. With that chill in mind we dawdled a bit before driving out to Golden Gate Mountain and the Golden Gate Pass-Ironwood Trail Loop. When we began our hiking up towards the pass the sun was out, brittlebush were a stunning yellow, and it seemed like it would be a lovely day. I doubt we had gone a mile before the clouds had completely dominated the sky and the fitful breeze had picked up enough to bite a bit.
It is still a good hike though. You climb for 0.5km to the pass and then spend the next 1.5km descending through the scrub and cactus to the desert floor. We have never seen the brittlebushes in bloom before (or if we have it was in so low a number as to not be memorable). We worked our way down to the desert. Voices drifted to us of people who were probably exploring the David Yetman trail. It was actually surprisingly busy.
Usually we do the loop in a clockwise fashion but this time we decided to try counter clockwise. Sometimes when you walk a trail the opposite way it feels a lot different. That wasn’t really true this time. Perhaps the chilly overcast overwhelmed the differences we would have otherwise seen. The temperature crept up but it probably never got warmer than 52F towards the end of the hike. It never would really get sunny.
We explored the Ironwood Trail south of the main road and though I am glad we did that it really wasn’t that interesting an extra 2 or so miles of hiking. But it did keep us out longer which was good. Our little mistake along the way added some additional distance but we figured out what we did wrong and I think did a fine job getting back on track with little fuss and bother.
Mom and Dad. I believe the prominent mountain is Golden Gate Mountain. We explored a bit farther afield going south along Ironwood Trail towards California Flats before looping around to the Golden Gate Trail via Prospector Trail where I took this photo. --December 31 2018 at 12:58. Tucson, AZ, United States
All tolled we hiked about 8 miles over the 5 hours we were out. We did not pause too much as it was chilly out. Still a good first real hiking day even though the weather was gray and generally colder than we would have preferred.
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
It is a nippy morning but fortunately there is virtually no breeze. We are exploring the Pink Hills and it is wet. You can see the snow coating the mountains in the distance. Water drips off the folliage. The sandy ground is moist and puddles dot the land. Is it any wonder that Mom and Dad are bundled up? --January 01 2019 at 09:49. Tucson, AZ, United States
Clouds, perhaps even heavier than the day before, and cold greeted us as we walked to breakfast. It was also clear that it had rained during the night. Rained down here in Tucson on the desert floor but snowed at higher elevations. That was clear as we looked at the mountains rising beyond the Pink Hills. We were going to take a longer loop hike that would encompass the Wild Horse Tanks and Garwood Dam. Last February we inadvertantly did this version of the loop and liked it because we thought the return leg on the desert floor had been shorter. Bundled up in almost all our layers (maybe all for Mom and Dad) we struck out just after 09:30 to see what the desert would show us this day.
Right away we noticed a difference in the trail from what we usually found in the past: they were wet. The sandy trails were sodden enough to create plenty of mud. I could imagine parts of the trail with sucking mud strong enough to pull a shoe off or slippery enough to cause one to take special care with each step forward. What a differnce from the somewhat rockier paths of yesterday.
Even with all the moisture on the trails and dripping off the plants we would brush past plus the occassional puddle to walk around we did not find any water running in the washes or pouring off rocks. It was just a cold overcast morning with a few walkers wandering the Pink Hills.
The overcast is refusing to lift and I doubt the temperature is all that much above freezing. --January 01 2019 at 10:53. Tucson, AZ, United States
Sanguaros are the grandest of cactus and this one nicely frames the mountains dotted with their snowy coats. The overcast is easing and you can see the sun glinting on those southern slopes but it will be several hours before we bask in the sun. --January 01 2019 at 11:41. Tucson, AZ, United States
We had thought it was greener in the Tucson Mountains yesterday and that impression strengthened today as we worked our way around and up towards the Wild Horse Tanks. No brilliant yellow Brittlebush here but plenty of other plants including, of course, Saguaro Cactus and Prickly Pear though few Cholla.
By the time we reached the pools which were to my eye not as big as I was expecting them to be we could tell the overcast was easing off but the sun would not really shine down until after our lunch break at the pools. As we walked down towards Garwood Dam the sun broke out properly and the clouds were, mostly, chased from the sky. The temperature may have broke the 50 degree mark and with the sun beaming down it feels warmer still. Our last 6km were hiked in lovely sunshine.
The sun did not really break through and the overcast clear until after we left the Wild Horse tanks. We have left Garwood dam behind and are heading back to the car. It was surprisingly long walk from the dam: about 6km; total walk was 13.5km. --January 01 2019 at 13:56. Tucson, AZ, United States
But it was 6km from the pools back to the car and that was more than we had thought it would be. It is easy hiking as you either are descending gently on good paths or on the desert floor which has the occassional dip but it basically flat. We encountered a few more people coming out for an afternoon walk as we wound our way back to the car. It was longer than we thought it would be which makes it feel longer still but we enjoyed the 5.5 hours we were out.
The loop we did involves the Shantz, Vanover, Bajada vista, Wild Horse, Garwood, Pink Hills, and Shantz trails to form a loop that is about 13.5km long and has 140 meters ascent and descent most of which is in the climb to and from the pools over a km or so.
Wednesday, January2, 2019
The cold snap is still upon us. It is, I think, the coldest morning yet: about 33F at 08”00. The overcast is heavier than it has been previous mornings. Cold and gloomy. At least the air is still. We will go to Catalina State Park to do a short hike in the morning and then decide what to do in the afternoon.
The Canyon Loop Trail is an easy 2.2 mile (or so) loop that has about 140 feet of elevation gain and loss that come in a few brief hill climbs that sometimes use stairs. In the past we have continued on to the Romero Pools which is an out and back hike that is a bit more strenuous and includes a , as I recall, lengthy descent to the pools. On a nice day it is a fine hike. Today is not exactly nice. Heavy overcast and a temperature not much above freezing. Many people are out wearing puffy jackets to fend off the cold.
It seems to be getting colder before it is meant to get warmer. We are in Catalina State Park this morning and the temperature is just a degree or two above freezing. Here, on the Canyon Loop trail, it is dry instead of wet. Still very green though. --January 02 2019 at 10:19. Tucson, AZ, United States
Snow coated mountains rise in the distance and I am bundled up pretty much as much as I can be. --January 02 2019 at 11:08. Tucson, AZ, United States
The hike along the loop is made more interesting as you cross a stream 3 times on the return (if going counter-clockwise). The water seemed to be flowing rather briskly but it vanishes into the sand and rocks of the desert somewhere not far past the third stream crossing. No one got their feet wet which given how cold the air temperature and water temperature both were is certainly a very good thing. If the air temperature rose above the mid-upper 30s I would be surprised. After all the sun was nowhere to be seen and the snow-line was probably only about 100 meters above us.
Our first stream crossing (going counter clockwise) on the Canyon Loop Trail in Catalina State Park. This was the widest crossing. --January 02 2019 at 11:03. Tucson, AZ, United States
We visited Biosphere 2 over a decade ago. It could have been closer to 15 years. We are pretty sure it was between the time Columbia University was managing it and University of Arizona took over managing and, in time, ownership of the place. Back then it definitely had an air of being unused. Biosphere 2 is probably still best known for the time 8 people were sealed inside to live for 2 years (and later 6 months) in a fully sealed environment. The goal was to see how they would survive with an eye towards future space exploration. I am sure a great deal was learned. After those experiments ended research began on other things. The Biosphere 2 building is no longer sealed but it remains a place where controlled experiments on biomes can be done to learn how changes can affect ecosystems. Columbia did studies on how much carbon plants can absorb. Studies about how ocean waters are affected by increases in carbon have been done. Techniques to grow food more efficiently have been examined. No doubt a lot more has been done. Today it seems much more active and I hope that is not only because the tours that are provided are far more involved than they once were but also because serious research is being done. It is a place worth visiting. The added bonus of snow covering the ground to make things a little different was a nice touch too.
I think the snow line was at about 1,000 meters elevation. The Biosphere II campus is at about 1,190 meters and as you can see there is plenty of snow here. --January 02 2019 at 13:02. Oracle, AZ, United States
Thursday, January 3, 2019
At long last we awoke to clear blue skies. The temperature was still probably not all that much above freezing at 08:00 but the sun was shining and we were able to believe we would finally have a proper Arizona day. By the time we reached the trailhead of the David Yetman/Golden Gate Pass Trail around 09:35 I suspect the air temperature was just shy of 40F: a heat wave was on its way (OK, the cold snap was abating). We have hiked the David Yetman Trail from the Camino Oeste end to somewhere near Starr Pass I think. We have not come at it from this end before. It is an out-and-back hike so we would go as far as we felt and then return.
Crossing through the Golden Gate Pass. Heading easterly down towards what I suppose is Tucson Estates (there is a trail with that name down there). It is a glorious morning. --January 03 2019 at 10:04. Tucson, AZ, United States
The trail is a mixture of some loose stone and dirt. The footing is good and though you have a climb to the pass and then descent on the far side the grade is not bad at all. It was a lovely day to be outside. I think the birds we frequently heard must have agreed as they sounded more numerous than they had earlier in the week.
Heading back. We went about 5km in (and had a 1km boo-boo) where we had lunch before turning around. At this point I suppose we are at most 1km from the lunch spot on our way back. With the sun shining down it feels quite a bit warmer than I expect the air temperature actually is. --January 03 2019 at 12:35. Tucson, AZ, United States
My turn to pose in the same spot as Mom and Dad from the previous photo. --January 03 2019 at 12:36. Tucson, AZ, United States
This may not be the most visually stunning hike you can do but it isn’t bad. Given the number of trails winding about the area if you have a mind to explore you will find plenty to do in this area. I think we enjoyed the day even though Mom impaled her hand on a cholla cactus with somewhat painful results. Cholla can be nasty.
While we only hiked about 11km (228m ascent and descent) we enjoyed our 4.5 hours of time outside. It might not sound like much but it was a good day.
Cholla cactus are nasty. Just touch one and you will take a chunk with you. The spines hurt going in and hurt coming out as they have barbs. It is a shame that the cactus looks so cute. Mom had this little accident about an hour before we finished the hike. --January 03 2019 at 13:23. Tucson, AZ, United States
Friday, January 4, 2019
Two days in a row I have awakened to clear blue skies. The predicted high today is 66F and that is just the air temperature. The sun will make us feel much warmer as it blazes down through a cloudless sky. Since this is our last day we will do our typical last hike: Douglas Spring Trailhead to Bridal Wreath Falls and back via Three Tanks, Carillo and Garwood Trails.
With the sun toasting the desert in warmth we left the nearly full trailhead parking lot at 09:10. I am sure the temperature was already well into the 40s and it was definitely going to be a lovely classic Arizona winter day. We finally got one (OK, yesterday was pretty fine too). The trail starts out pretty level so it is easy going. Things seemed to be greener and more abundant than usual. The trail was damp and , in places, muddy so clearly plenty of water has fallen lately.
As we began our first climb we noticed something totally new to us: snow. We have encountered snow at far higher elevations on previous trips but that happened in places like Madera Canyon. We have never seen snow in the Pink Hills especially at elevations around3,100 feet above sea level. The patches were never that big but they were clinging on in shady spots. It is always special when something new appears to remind you that the world is an ever changing place.
Perhaps there were patches a bit lower in elevation than this little one here. They are surviving in shady spots that surely must get sunshine later in the day. --January 04 2019 at 09:58. Vail, AZ, United States
A patch of snow is useful for cleaning mud off your shoes. While the patches are refusing to melt surely they cannot survive much longer. The sun will melt them in this generally rather dry environment. As you can see it is warming up. We are all, like Mom, in shirt sleeves and shorts. --January 04 2019 at 10:17. Vail, AZ, United States
I always forget how many waterbar/steps Douglas Springs Trail has. You have two big climbs plus the other ascents here and there. It is a nice grade but the steps take it out of you. But eventually you reach the Bridal Wreath Falls sidetrail and your goal is certainly within earshot soon thereafter. This time we walked along the somewhat muddy trail past bigger patches of snow before reaching the rocky area of the falls. Soon we had them to ourselves and we paused briefly to enjoy them.
We have never seen ice and snow at the waterfall. Photo by Mom. --January 04 2019 at 11:23. Vail, AZ, United States
Bridal Wreath Falls will probably never be a torrent. But it is always nice to see. This time we found snow and icy patches at the base of the waterfall. --January 04 2019 at 11:24. Vail, AZ, United States
I would not be surprised if the air temeprature was already 60F when I took this photo. It feels quite a bit warmer with the sun blazing down (later Dad’s thermometer was reading nearly 80F). On one stretch of the Bridal Wreath Trail snow was on both sides of the shady trail. --January 04 2019 at 11:39. Vail, AZ, United States
We like lengthening the loop by taking Three Tanks Trail to Wild Horse, Carrillo and Garwood trails. It adds about a mile but we think makes the descent more managable. This time I noticed as I fell behind Mom and Dad that grasses seemed to be overgrowing the trail in places. I don’t think we have ever seen foliage so dense.
Hiking along Three Tanks Trail. You start out gently descending before it steepens. It can be rocky in spots but is, we think, an easier descent than Douglas Spring Trail. Besides, it lets you lengthen the loop and stay out longer. Plenty of grasses were growing and at times overgrowing the trail. --January 04 2019 at 13:05. Tucson, AZ, United States
We had some nice long breaks for lunch and snacks along the way. By this time it was definitely hot. The air temperature was in the mid-upper 60s but the blazing sun made it feel a lot warmer than that (Dad’s thermometer read nearly 80F). During one break we had several people including a horseback ride couple pass us by. Some seemed to have virtually no gear or even water with them. Are we over-packing or are they under-prepared?
This was a nice way to end our hiking days here in Tucson. The numerous trails in the Pink Hills area probably could give you ample opportunities for exploration all on their own. We certainly have enjoyed them.
All tolled we hiked about 11.7km. We ascended and descended about 340m. We took a lot of breaks today but we had to spend some time getting our tickets on Southwest: call it 70 minutes. We were walking for a bit over 4.5 hours.