After being dragged and beaten yesterday (early March) at Picacho Peak’s death-defying, hike-grabbing cables, I am ready for something a little mellower. Getting our Zen on, Hannah and I have come to hike the Phone Line Trail in Sabino Canyon near Tucson, Arizona one more time.
Sabino Canyon holds a dear spot in my heart as I hiked here with my Arizona State roommates, Big Steve, Nobes, and Rich, in 1970. Unprepared for the overnight near-freezing January temperatures, we slept on the concrete floor of the men’s room with no padding other than our clothes. As nights go, that was a long one.
Hiking Sabino Canyon whenever we come to Tucson, this time Hannah and I spend two nights with our friend Sally, who’s Mom Hannah cared for, as her hair stylist, until her recent passing. Leaving from Sally’s home in central Tucson on the first day of March, we have a 25 minute ride out to the Santa Catalina Mountains and Sabino Canyon.
Pulling into the parking lot on this workday Tuesday, I am stunned to see 100 cars or more already in the lot at 9A. Snowbirds! We retirees from the northern tier of the USA have descended on the desert Southwest like a plague of grasshoppers. The story goes that you need to arrive by 7A on the weekends to find a parking place to hike Sabino Canyon.
Lathering on the Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen recommended by my dermatologist (and Ben Afleck’s ex, Jennifer Garner), I pack two bottles of water and sport an OR protective floppy hat for this full-sun day in the mid-80s.
Checking in at the modern visitor center, I learn from the ranger that she has an alternative hike for us to consider – Seven Falls. This eight mile round trip hike with 750’ of elevation gain has seven river crossings and ends with seven falls from the snow melt of nearby 9157’ Mount Lemmon. Dropping the Phone Line Trail like a bad habit, we take out for the falls four miles away.
On a wide sandy trail among the saguaro, ocotillo, barrel, and fishhook cacti, we have hard-packed sand that is easy on our feet. Parallel to the trail is the road for the shuttle buses that takes visitors 1.5 miles into the interior; if hikers are so inclined, riding the shuttle reduces the Seven Falls hike to five miles round-trip.
Wanting the exercise and abundant sunshine, we hike with very little elevation gain for the first 30 minutes. This contrasts significantly with the vertical climbing we did yesterday at Picacho Peak a mere forty miles away. I’m still not over the throw down Picacho Peak administered to me yesterday. (Let it go, Dan)
At the turnaround point for the shuttle, we pick up a rocky, sandy trail along the flowing Sabino Creek to our right. With saguaro cactuses as our trail mates, we are in another world. Native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and parts of Mexico and California, saguaros can grow 45 to 50 feet high.
The first of the seven river crossings is a piece of cake as the trail makers have set flat rocks in a row across Sabino Creek. Ascending the north side of the canyon just slightly above the flowing river, we cross six more times before we hike the final half mile climb to Seven Falls.
Rising above the river bed, we have a narrow trail which never seems perilous or threatening. With other AARP-ers as well as University of Arizona students on a busy trail, 90 minutes later we see the falls from across the valley.
Traveling past the falls, we circle back and do a little rock scrambling to arrive at the pool at the base of the Seven Falls. A little after 11A, some 30 people are lunching as they cool off in the pool of ice melt from the snows of Mount Lemmon. Mount Lemmon was named for botanist Sara Lemmon, who trekked to the top of the mountain in 1881. It is reported that Mount Lemmon Ski Valley receives 200 inches of precipitation while the desert below averages a mere seven.
After not quite two hours on the trail, we desock and deboot and settle in to soak our feet in the melting snows. A gregarious 50-something convinces us to get in the pool of snow melt for our waterfall picture; it is refreshing in an icy cool way.
After munching on coconut granola bars and handfuls of gorp with raisins, nuts, and cashews on the smooth rocks at the base of the falls, we return to the river crossings and cactus-loving trail. With temperatures in the sun in the 90s, we are comfortably dry in the heat of early March. Now summer would be another story
Some who have never lived in the Arizona desert, think that since it is a dry heat, it is somehow comfortably hot in the dead of summer. Not even close! By the time we would walk across the street from our home in Tempe from May through September, we would be sweating. When we took our two-year old Molly to the park with its playground equipment in the summer, we had to arrive before 7A. Any later in the day and the metal slides were scorching hot. Let’s be clear, that the summer dry heat is like sticking your head into an oven. (Not that I actually have done that.)
After nearly four hours of hiking, we return to the visitor center for Hannah to buy postcards and for me to find out the elevation gain for the Seven Falls hike for my blog. The ranger takes the time to show me the book of elevations, and then notices my ever-present Ithaca Bombers shirt. She asks if that is in New York? I nod yes, and she mentions that she’s from nearby Rochester, New York.
I point to Hannah buying postcards and say, I married a Rochester girl. Knowing that people often say that they are from Rochester when they are from a surrounding town, I mention Hannah was from Fairport. Julia knows it well.
While I buy her postcards, Hannah and Julia talk of childhood memories of the area. When I return to Hannah and Julia, who looks our age, I say, Did you know Dr. Kraai, Hannah’s dad? It is not as an off-the-wall question as it might seem since Dr. Kraai was the family doctor for the town of Fairport who, into his 70s, made morning house calls, had office hours at the family home well into the evening, and delivered 5000 babies to boot over the course of his career.
Julia is stunned and looks directly at Hannah, Dr. Kraai delivered me. Hannah, whose dad died 30 years ago, tears up immediately and says, I have goose bumps. Julia says, I do too.