Tumamoc Hill

I am away from the blog a bit this week while my friend is visiting, but we’re certainly staying active. Today we took a hike up Tumamoc Hill outside of Tucson. Don’t be fooled, this is quite a climb and about 3 miles round-trip. Would make for some great hill training.

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A Virtual Trip to Zion National Park

Ever since I found out that I won a free entry to the Zion Half Marathon next March, I’ve been totally geeking out on Zion National Park and all things Southern Utah. If you’re an avid hiker, check out this virtual hike up Angels Landing, from the National Park Service. There’s lots of great multimedia stuff here, including video and information about the trail. I can’t wait to try it out myself. After all, what’s a little five-mile hike up a mountain after a 13.1 mile race?

Northern Arizona and Utah

Just over a week ago, while my father was visiting, we took a road trip to the Grand Canyon and the Arizona-Utah state line. I’ve waited years to see the Grand Canyon and it was wonderful to be able to see it with my dad and my dog, who came along for the ride.

A few helpful notes: Since my dad is a senior citizen we got in for a mere $10. He also got the national parks pass for that amount, which will get him into national parks for the rest of his life. Also, dogs are welcome in the park but I can imagine it being impractical if we were there in the tourist high season. Dogs are only allowed on the rim trail (not into the canyon), and while the rim trail offers more than enough for the first-time visitor to see it can get crowded near major vistas and high-traffic areas.

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We spent a few hours at the canyon hiking and taking pictures. We also took a scenic drive along the rim that included several vistas. Without a doubt, I can say this is one of the few places in the world I’ve visited that I wish everyone could see. It is unbelievable. If I had been on my own, I would be off on the trails and down into the canyon. Maybe another time.

My dad had arranged to stay the night in Page, AZ. Frankly, I’m not sure why because that is quite far away. There are many hotels near the canyon… but driving to Page did allow us to see some of the Navajo reservation and to enjoy Navajo blue corn mush with our breakfast buffet.

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Just outside of Page is Horseshoe Bend, which is a beautiful sight. This site is much-photographed, but I was not aware that it was over 100 miles away from the Grand Canyon. The river sure gets around. (Joke.)

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We got all the way to the Utah state line and just over it. I walked my dog into Utah and he almost immediately got a pricker in his paw. That’s when we realized Utah is not the place for us.

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This road into Utah is an adventure that will have to wait for another day.

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Random Running Thoughts

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I promised to get back to posting about running soon so here it is. November was lighter on miles than the last few months, coming in at just under 70, but considering that I twisted my ankletwice, that I had an unexpected visitor for the last two weeks of the month, and that I made a whirlwind road trip (pictures forthcoming!), it wasn’t bad overall. I got in some hiking miles too while the weather was good, and it’s still sunny and in the 70s here in Tucson for a few more days. Yeah, be jealous.

I’ve already exceeded my milage goal for the year so anything I do in December is a bonus, but ultimately I would like to maintain 20 miles/week on average this month with no further injuries. I need to get serious about training for the Tinkerbell 1/2 Marathon in January, though the 9-miler I did this past Sunday was a big confidence booster. Maybe one more race before the year is out? Who knows. It’s also time to start considering 2013 goals. Is it time to start training for a full marathon? Should I sign up for a spring half with my friends instead? Or do I need to spend less time thinking about running and more time working on my dissertation? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)

…All this and more, plus pictures of Northern Arizona coming soon!

Be Careful What You Wish For (and, A Hike at Catalina State Park)

After repeated conversations with my parents last week about being depressed, afraid, and worried about being alone, my father decided I was genuinely too depressed to be alone and came out to see me. It is the first time in 4.5 years that any of my friends or family from New York have come to visit. I’m feeling a lot of things about it: happy not to be alone, frustrated to be ambushed and kind of babied (since no one actually asked if this was OK and I was only told about it when he was already on his way), annoyed at being distracted, but relieved to feel loved by someone (a human being) for the first time in months. The panic and depression is less this week… but only because I’m completely being distracted at every single moment.

Anyway, today’s distraction was visiting Catalina State Park in the north of Tucson. What’s great about this park is that it offers a range of trails for everyone from beginner to expert, and even for horseback riding! My father is not much of an athlete, so we just did two easy trails: The Birding Trail, which offers mountain views and a range of birds if you come early in the day, and the Romero Ruin Trail, which offers ruins of an ancient Hohokam village and early Spanish ranch. If you’re into more advanced hiking I recommend taking the trails to Romero Pools, but today this was enough. The entrance fee to Catalina State Park is $7 car, $15/night for camping, but my father’s verdict is that it was well worth the money for great photos. I only took a few, but here are a couple I like. Plus some chocolate dreidels from nearby Sabino Artisan Chocolates. Yum!

Chavalina and the Night Hike of Doom

This week, inspired by a desire to be social and participate in a Halloween-themed activity, I went on a night hike in the Tucson Mountains. The planned route was to climb Wasson Peak (the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains) along the King Canyon Trail, starting early in the evening and continuing through to about midnight under the full moon. This hike was organized through the Outdoor Adventures program at the University of Arizona, which for a nominal fee ($18) promised guidance along the 8-mile planned route, transportation to and from the site, and headlamps. Sounds like a good time, right?

Here’s what really happened.

For one thing, I should have known we were in a bit of trouble when our “guides” (undergraduate student employees from the University) couldn’t find the trailhead. Sitting in the second row of seats in a 15-passenger van, I could hear them debating whether or not we’d passed the trailhead as we drove slowly up and down the roads just outside Saguaro National Park (West). Once we got to the right place, we set out happily along the winding trail. Hiking at night was cool at first: we saw some birds, a spider that no one could identify, and once the full moon was out the landscape of the mountainsides was beautiful. We gladly trudged along for a half mile, a mile, a mile and a half as my Garmin ticked away. The trail got quite sandy and we started having to scramble up rocks. Then we reached a 15-foot high, impassible wall of rock and realized we were at a dead end. The guides squinted  at their black and white paper print out maps and expertly determined that we were no longer on the trail. Hmm, no kidding.

After a half-mile of backtracking, we found the sign post that clearly indicated where we went wrong and started up the correct trail. This detour was no big deal to me, and the group of five other hikers was still pretty sanguine at the time. A mile or so of uphill hiking later, we reached the saddle between Wasson Peak and the next peak over, offering our first cool view of Tucson by night.

The next mile or so of climbing from the saddle to the top was the most strenuous part of the uphill trail. It’s certainly doable for someone of a good fitness level, but walking along narrow trails with steep drop-offs might be scary for some, especially at night. This was where I discovered that one of my fellow hikers was afraid of the following things: birds, snakes, geckos (!), “anything that slithers,” and heights. So… maybe a night hike up a mountain was not the best idea? Judge for yourself. We reached Wasson Peak after just over 4 total miles of hiking, including the brief detour. I have to say, the payoff here was great. These pictures clearly don’t do justice, but from the top of the peak in the full moon you can see all the neighboring mountain ranges, all of Tucson, Marana, and the little town of Three Points on the opposite side of the mountains.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be both literally and figuratively the high point of our journey. On the way down, the guides offered us a choice: go back down the way we came, or take a different route down the back of the mountain. Some of the more intrepid girls on the trip (and we were all females, except for one of the two guides) spoke up and wanted to try something new, but there was obviously dissent from the two ladies in the back who were already tired, wearing ridiculous footwear, and were complaining of blisters. No one listened to them, though. After all, we were promised that this back route down would be: 1) Easier, with a more gradual decline; and 2) more interesting, with an abandoned mine shaft along the way. Both of these things were lies. I mean, OK, there was a mine shaft. But it wasn’t interesting.

At any rate, we started down the mountain and got about a mile before the guides realized we were on the wrong trail again. Now, I’ll give anyone a free pass on one wrong turn. But the second wrong turn, 5-6 miles into the hike and as the night was advancing, was something I had less patience for. It also came out in this exchange that, of our two guides, one had only taken this trail once and the other had never been on this particular route. I kind of feel like the primary job of a guide should be to know where the hell they are going, which wasn’t the case here, and that a guide should never take hikers down a trail they are not completely familiar with and especially not at night, in the dark, without the aid of a GPS device or even a compass. I got a little angry at this not only because I was hungry and tired and because I felt I had wasted my $18, but also because I twisted my ankle as we were backtracking on the trail again, walking along a section we shouldn’t have been on in the first place. To his credit, the male guide walked a little more slowly with me as I walked it off, but our female guide just kept plowing on ahead. I should also mention that at no point did either of them take ownership or apologize for guiding us the wrong way twice.

Yeah, sorry. I didn’t get any good pictures that look like much of anything here. Because it was dark, and I was pretty pissed off.

Unprofessionalism continued once we were back on the proper trail again. It turns out the “easier” trail we had been promised was a complete lie, as the “correct” trail was uneven, eroded, and covered with loose rocks. Given that we were already seven miles in, were not close to being back at the van, and that I was walking unsteadily on a hurting ankle, it’s no surprise that I completely wiped out on the trail somewhere along here. To my anger, the female trail guide (who was walking alone 20-30 feet ahead of the rest of the group), just turned and stared at me. I had ripped out the knee of my pants and cut my knee and my hand on the fall, but she didn’t even ask me if I was all right or offer to slow the pace. She just kind of watched as another hiker helped me up (by the way, I wasn’t the only one stumbling along this trail), and went right back to walking along ahead of us at a brisk pace. I almost lost it.

Here’s what that last climb felt like.

Finally, finally, about nine miles into what should have been an 8-mile hike, we crossed a dry creek bed and found ourselves just a short distance from the parking lot. Just a short distance from it, and below it. Yep, our “moderate,” “easier” back route finished with a scramble up another 12-or-so-foot rock wall. As our female guide scrambled up, I turned to the male guide and said, “You seriously expect us to do that?” Two other girls, one of whom had been struggling with blisters and foot pain the whole way down, were giving him the same look but they clearly just wanted it to be over. The guides had to help us all get up the wall, and mercifully it was only about a tenth of a mile from there to the parking lot. In total, we clocked about exactly nine miles.

Overall, I would say this: I really liked the King Canyon Trail and I’m interested in going up in the daytime, when I think the views would be great along the way. Round-trip, heading from this trail to Wasson Peak and back would probably be under 6.5 miles round-trip. But I will certainly never again spend the money for a “guided” night trip with amateur guides who don’t know the trail and don’t seem to care about the pacing and welfare of their hikers. Unsurprisingly, I was promised we’d have the opportunity to evaluate this trip through Outdoor Adventures. Two days later, I’m still waiting for that evaluation form in my e-mail. I’ll also be waiting a while to run or hike again, since my knee is quite bruised and my ankle doesn’t feel so hot, either. But, hey, at least I tried something new and had a real Halloween adventure. Let’s hope my next hike goes a little more smoothly!

 

 

A Visit to Tohono Chul Park

Well, there’s definitely a pattern to how popular my posts are. Race reports and photo-heavy posts = good, swimming and generally everything else = meh. So, here’s a post with lots of pictures to satisfy the masses.

Yesterday I visited Tohono Chul Park here in Tucson. This park is located on the north end of town, just outside Oro Valley, and is known for its gardens. I’ve been wanting to visit ever since a guy I was seeing last spring suggested it. Since they are doing a free reciprocal membership with the Tucson Museum of Art through September 30, I got to go for free. Yay.

The gardens are definitely the highlight. Unlike the Tucson Botanical Gardens, which I saw in May, most of the plants here are native to the Sonoran Desert, though they are not necessarily all native to Tucson. Other than that, though, the landscaping and the facilities are very similar to the botanical gardens. Ample signage provides information about the plants and animals, an old home on the property houses art displays and a gift shop, and the place is very small and walkable.

Another similarity to the botanical garden is that there is plenty to do to amuse children. An educational facility is on site and there is also a fun children’s patio with fountains, things to climb on, and whimsical bird houses.

You can see some wildlife here; I saw a zebra-tailed lizard, a couple of other small lizards, some quail, and a javelina. In that respect it was a decent outing, but keep in mind that I could also see a lot of these same critters on a trail run and not pay $8 to do it. What was interesting were the in-park exhibits featuring desert tortoise and two threatened fish species, the desert pupfish and the topminnow. I wasn’t aware how endangered Arizona’s native fish have become with riparian areas drying up. The desert pupfish only has one known remaining habitat in Arizona, at Quitobaquito Springs in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument.

Seems like a false advertisement. Once again, deprived of a rattlesnake sighting.

While the gardens are lovely and fun, this is not the place to come if you want to hike. There are three trails, but the longest of them is only a half mile. I hiked that one, the Desert View Trail, and while it did offer some nice views it wasn’t really challenging. I was amazed at how many benches and ramadas could be crammed into such a short space, and that took away a little from the natural environment.

The trail is also well groomed and lined at intervals with these engraved stones with random quotes about the desert. Honestly, I thought this was a little cheesy.

Also a distraction is that the park is so closely nestled into a busy area. I got most of the way through the trail before I arrived at a spot where I could get a decent landscape photo that didn’t include apartment buildings, a church, or a view of the New Balance store across the street. But… OK, I guess this is a pay-off.

In sum, I recommend this place if you want to get out into the desert without really getting out into the desert. This is a suitable outing for kids, older folks, or if you’re in town for a visit and want a condensed activity. At Tohono Chul Park you can get your exercise, see some critters, view the artwork, and even grab a bite to eat without getting too far out of town. And you’ll likely be done in a couple of hours. Check their web site (see above) for hours, information, and special events.