Although the air was chilly when I left home, by the time we reached the trailhead and got ready to go, we were already shedding layers. We started out on the Gould Mine Trail which wound upwards and around the old mine until it intersected the Sendero-Esperanza Trail.
|Carole on the Trail|
It was at this early point that I discovered to my great dismay that my camera batteries were nearly depleted, and guess where my backups were? Right. Back home in the charger. No worries, said Marilyn, I have extras. My relief last only briefly until it became clear that the extra batteries were so weak that they would only last for about 10 shots. Between my camera, Marilyn's camera and her GPS, we had a real battery drain going.
|Gould Mine tailings. This was most likely a copper mine.|
As we gained some elevation, the views of the valley to the west opened up. The trail is in Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain District, and this photo is looking past the barely-visible Visitor Center to Avra Valley where the recharge ponds of Tucson Water can be seen. The explosive population growth in the Tucson basin has necessitated taking water from the Colorado River to supplement our depleting aquifer. Ironically, in the same valley are miles and miles of water-thirsty cotton fields.
Here and there were Mexican gold poppies and the daisy-like flower of bahia. How odd to see ferns growing right at the base of an ocotillo on a southwest-facing slope.
The dense spines of the teddy bear cholla glowed in the sun's early light, looking so deceptively soft and cuddly. The hiker is well-advised to steer clear as just barely brushing the cactus will result in one of the joints being attached painfully to the hiker. With it's barbed spines firmly implanted in the clothes or skin, removing the cactus piece is tricky business. The cholla is just practicing its successful strategy for dispersal and reproduction as the disjointed piece will take root and grow wherever it lands.
It was in this area that Marilyn commented on how happy she was that we hadn't seen any invasive grasses. Not 30 seconds later I looked to my left and there was a patch of the evil buffelgrass! I didn't take its picture as it is not worthy of being here among the beautiful native plants. Marilyn noted its location on her GPS so that it can be removed at a later date. Below you can see the route we have traveled.
We soon intersected the Hugh Norris Trail where the sign told us we were 2.2 miles from Wasson Peak, all uphill, of course. I said, it's kind of like my hike out of the Grand Canyon. The closer you get, the farther away it seems. The trail brought us around to the north side of the mountain where we were interested to find changing vegetation as well as completely different rocks and soil. The rocks took on a soft, rounded, weathered look and the sandy soil of the decomposed granite made the trail easier walking.
Here we began seeing sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), also known as desert spoon, and yuccas, as well as many javelina tracks, crisscrossing the trail. Javelinas are in the peccary family and, despite their appearance, are not related to pigs. Peccaries are a new world species as opposed to pigs which came from the old world.
|Sotol or Desert Spoon|
Bright green lichen decorated the north facing rocks. Earlier in the day we had been so excited to see our first butterfly - a lovely little white and orange Sara orangetip - but as the day went on, they seemed to be everywhere and we wondered what their foodplant was.
In the sunshine, a tiny lizard scampered away at our approach, and then we spotted our first mammal - a Harris' antelope ground squirrel sitting atop his empire. He waited there patiently until just the moment I zoomed in on him. As a result, this is the best I could do.
All that zooming was the last straw for the dying camera batteries and from here on I relied on Marilyn to document our travels. She, too, was trying to be conservative with the camera so that we were sure to have photos atop Wasson Peak.
As we settled in for some lunch and a rest, we spotted tiny rock wrens. Normally quite shy, these guys have claimed the mountaintop as their territory and have become accustomed to hikers and their lunches. Their antics entertained us all the while, and any tiny dropped morsel was investigated by them. 360° views made us feel as though we were on top of the world. We could even pick out our houses in the city sprawl below.
Back on the trail we marveled at a very elderly couple making their way to the top. The woman had difficulty walking, almost as though she had once suffered with polio, but there she was, out there hiking up this mountain and inspiring us 'youngsters.
As the day wore on and the sun warmed the landscape, more and more wildflowers appeared, hopefully a harbinger of a spectacular display later in the spring. The poppies were especially abundant, but we also saw lupine, fairy duster, desert rockpea, bahia, desert zinnia, fiddleneck, rock cress, cliffrose, rattlesnake weed, desert marigold, filaree, globe mallow, trailing four o'clocks, brittlebush and cream cups.
As opposed to the nice, sandy trail on the north side, the King Canyon trail is littered with sharp rocks and loose gravel, making it necessary on our descent to watch every step. It made us happy to see so many young saguaros and ocotillos, indicating a very healthy population. Birds for the day included black-throated sparrows (many), rock wrens, Gambel's quail, mourning doves, Costa's hummingbird, Gila woodpeckers, black-tailed gnatcatchers, canyon towhees, white-crowned sparrows, cactus wrens, verdins, common ravens and northern mockingbirds.
When we reached the King Canyon wash, we opted to walk the remaining mile in it rather than on the trail, offering us different plants, fascinating geology, petroglyphs and easy walking.
Thanks to Marilyn for the previous three photos. This is a good reminder to put a good set of lithium batteries in my camera case.
Winter hikes in the desert are exhilarating and we vowed to do it again before the heat sets in.
May all your trails lead to inspiring places!