Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Ventana Canyon 02/21/11

Ventana Canyon Hike
Tucson, Arizona
Mileage - 12.8
Time - 5:28
AEG - 4000ft

After a restful weekend, and a nice visit with my parents, I was ready to hit the trail. Nothing better than having a Monday off of work, especially when the forecast improves drastically from the past few days. Matt and I decided a hike in Tucson would be our best option, since the high country had been hit with a major winter storm.

Today's hike of choice would take us through the incredibly scenic Ventana Canyon on our way to a rather unique rock formation, known as the Window. Only visible a few times during the ascent, the Window is a giant arch within a large granite outcropping overlooking the city of Tucson at 7,000 feet. The reason I love hiking this area so much is the diversity, the Pusch Ridge Wilderness begins in the Sonoran desert and quickly climbs through several biomes. Along the way we witnessed the changes, seeing everything from Saguaro Cactus to Poderosa Pines and just about every other desert plant life in between. The big payoff comes with the view from the summit, well worth the 4,000 feet of climbing in a 6.5 mile stretch.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Harquahala Peak 02/13/11

Harquahala Peak Hike
La Paz County, Arizona
Mileage 10.2
Time - 3:36
AEG - 3686ft

As a side project, Matt and I have an ongoing goal to summit all of the most prominent peaks in Arizona, and number 17 was checked off the list on Sunday. At 5,681 feet, Harquahala Mountain (native word for water high up), is Southwestern Arizona's tallest peak and the Northern route provided a formidable challenge.

The summit offered a bit of history, as an abandoned Smithsonian Observatory remains in tact, which was used to study the solar effects on earth's climate from 1921-25. Mining camps were also scattered along part of the trail from a turn of the century gold rush. Weather conditions were ideal for today's trek (high of 80 degrees), as this is a must do winter hike. Late spring or summer temperatures could overwhelm even the most seasoned desert hiker. Matt and I were treated to a bizarre phenomenon on the drive West about an hour out of Phoenix. The horizon began to take on several strange shapes and coloration's, and to our amazement, it was a mirage! No wonder so many people get lost, disoriented, or witness things that aren't really there. The desert can really play tricks on the eyes, especially when the temps soar.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Adventure in the Southwest

My sister Shannon made her annual trip to Arizona on Saturday, this time around we had a few new activities lined up and places to explore in Tucson for the extended weekend. We hung out in the valley on Saturday afternoon, did a little shopping, visited the Scottsdale museum, and went out for dinner that evening. Sunday morning we made the drive to Tucson for our first excursion of the day, a horseback ride into the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, which turned out to be a lot of fun (even after my horse ran away). The ride lasted two and a half hours, and to our surprise, neither one of us were sore...not bad after taking a 20 year hiatus from riding.

From there, Shannon and I headed further South to check out the famous San Xavier mission near Sahuarita, Arizona. We didn't stay long, as the sun fell further from the sky, daylight was limited and we still wanted to hike in Madera Canyon before dark. The Bog Springs trail seemed like a good choice and it didn't disappoint. The scenery in this canyon is spectacular, from any angle you look, especially the fortress-like peak of Mt Wrightson. We settled in to our cabin at the Santa Rita Lodge and I prepped my gear for a long run through the mountains the next morning.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Madera Canyon Trail Run

Madera Canyon Wilderness
Santa Rita Mountains, AZ
Mileage 15.67
Time 3:45
AEG 3246ft

From our cabin at the Santa Rita Lodge, I headed out solo to run a giant loop through the wilderness of Madera Canyon. I warmed the legs up by running a mile to the end of Madera Canyon Road on a very quiet, still, and chilly morning. All day long I literally had the place to myself, with the exception of a few deer and about 20 turkeys. Looking ahead I noticed clouds looming around the summit of Mt Wrightson, and by the time I reached the Old Baldy trailhead (at the end of the road), the flurries started to fly. To cover some new ground, I hiked the Aqua Caliente trail across the canyon from Wrightson eventually making my way up the steep climbs, past the Vault mine, over icy snowpack, and to the Josephine Saddle intersection.

My plan was to hike to the Baldy Saddle near the summit and beyond that point along the crest, except the wind and snow became overwhelming as I set out in shorts and lightweight running clothes. My hands were numb and losing feeling (even within my gloves), and frost began forming on my beanie within the first 3-4 miles, so I aborted the original plan and headed down the super trail to Madera Canyon Road. I jumped on the Nature trail and followed the stream bed all the way down to the Proctor Trailhead, then ran the road back to the cabin. The weather made today's trek challenging, yet visually stunning. Clouds, snow, sun, rain, thunder and lightning filled the sky providing several different views of my favorite place in Arizona.