Dan and Hannah Hike Our American Southwest – Sedona, Arizona (May 2010 Archives #3)

Is there a prettier name for a town than Sedona?  I think not.  As Arizona residents at the time of the birth of our first child Molly, Hannah and I never seriously considered Sedona for her first name.  Did we drop the ball?  I think not. Molly is a beautiful name.

Driving to Sedona today, I wonder if we did.   Like Montana and Dakota, Sedona suggests a strong individual, an unbridled spirit, the West personified.  Who wouldn’t want such a daughter?   Informed later of our musings, Molly said thank you, thank you for not naming me Sedona.  Another bit of unintended karma along our parenting trail.

Through the heavily forested Oak Creek Canyon, we meander down two lane route 89A to Sedona, just an hour’s drive south from Flagstaff.  Passing two of the more popular shorter hikes in the area, one at the West Fork Oak Creek Trail and the other at Slide Rock State Park, we take the rotary just south of town heading down Showalter Road to the parking area for the Mund’s Wagon hike.  Paying five dollars by credit card to park, we love supporting America’s state parks.

Beginning late morning, we head out under blue skies with very little shade.  Following brilliant red sandstone cairns (stacked rocks, in this instance encased in wire mesh cylinders), our trail is nicely marked and easy to follow.  A well-marked trail with other hikers allows me to relax and enjoy myself, unconcerned about getting lost.  Wondering if one is on the trail or not can ruin the best of hikes.

After talking with a returning, agreeable twenty-something hiker, we politely decline his offer of multi-grain energy bars.  It doesn’t take us ten seconds to realize that we just blew it in a big way! We broke the Third Commandment of the Trail – Accept offers of food and water appreciatively.   We hikers are one, inseparable.   We need to do all we can to support and honor each other.

Crossing the dry riverbed repeatedly, we find the modest elevation gain easy to handle.  Ninety minutes later we arrive at a beautiful outcropping at Merry-Go-Round Rock with panoramic views of Bear Wallow Canyon River Valley.  

In stones, Will you marry me? greet us from a Romeo to his Juliet or perhaps a Juliet to her Romeo or even a Thelma to her Louise or… Ah, the mysteries of the trail.  Heading back to the trailhead, we find pools of cool water to soothe our boot weary feet.  

Resting on a rock, I think of the wanderlust legacy bestowed on me by my own Mom and Dad.  Forty-five years ago, they took their three East Coast kids West in a woody station wagon, where I learned that the wilderness world beyond New Jersey was not such a dangerous place; my adventurous spirit was born.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Dan and Hannah Hike Our American Southwest – Grand Canyon North Rim (May 2010 Archives)

Snowing in late May!  Yes, snow falls in late May in the highlands of northern Arizona.  Two years ago while hiking at the North Rim in pants and sweatshirts in late spring, Hannah and I were under the threat of snow throughout the afternoon.   After hiking, we drove cautiously north to Kanab, UT in a snowstorm that New Englanders would be proud to call their own.  

Today (2010) 60 degrees welcomes us to the North Rim on this Memorial Day.  Before we hike on this Memorial Day we call our daughter Robyn (veteran of the War in Afghanistan) and my parents (World War II) to thank them for their service to our country.

In 1992, Hannah and I took our three kids (Molly [12], Robyn [10], and Will [8]) to hike on the North Kaibab Trail, two miles into the Grand Canyon here at the North Rim. Unbeknownst to us at the time, Will was suffering from an ear infection. Later that night, after driving 350 miles to Phoenix, he got the anti-biotics he needed to reduce the pain.

The North Rim is out of the way, in a big way.  From Flagstaff, we drive five hours north on lonely roads from central Arizona by way of Route 89 through the Navajo Reservation, over the Colorado River south of Page, AZ, and through the Kaibab Plateau.  We purchase turquoise jewelry from the First Americans at a roadside stand.

National Geographic meadows and Smithsonian forests open up as we drive south.  Proudly flashing, our Seniors Pass, available to all those 62 and older for ten greenbacks, we now get into all National Parks without ever paying another dime.  (Nota bene – In 2021 such a pass is $85.)  Due to heavy winter snows, the North Rim doesn’t open till mid-May. 

In the early afternoon at the North Rim, we leave behind the heat of the desert and take to the five-mile roundtrip, clearly marked Uncle Jim Trail on the rim of the Canyon.  Through a forest of dappled sunlight the trail meanders gently to a Canyon overlook.  A few hikers pass us by on this loop trail that is easy on the feet.

Uncle Jim Trail on the rim at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Surprisingly, many areas of the forest are burned.  The rangers say the use of controlled burns minimizes major forest fires, which maintains the high plateau ecosystem.  To complete our three hours of hiking we take to the level, easy-to-negotiate hikes of the Bridal and Transept Trails near the Bright Angel Lodge.  With many views of the canyon, the hikes are leisurely, well-marked, and satisfying.  

Bridal Trail at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

By the way, after we drive 80 miles north to Kanab, Utah for the night.  Kanab has wide streets and a lazy feel, something out of American Graffiti.  We sit by the pool, toast the evening, and watch the cars roll by as the sun sets.  To our right is a patrol car parked by the side of the road to slow down incoming out-of-towners.  Once we examine it more closely, we realize there is a dummy in the front seat.  We smile in admiration. 

Dan and Hannah Hike the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon – (May 2010 Archive #1)

Bright Angel Trail – 1     Dan – 0

Bright Angel Trail

That score has been burned into my mind for the last two years.  

Arriving in late May 2008 to hike the Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon at 10A, Hannah and I take two hours to descend into the canyon at Indian Gardens.  Mistakenly I have the idea that if I drink lots of water, I’ll be fine.  Turns out that that is not a winning strategy climbing out of the canyon, especially in the heat of the day.  Under penetrating sun, I soon feel dizzy, light-headed, and woozy; I learn from a canyon volunteer that I am suffering from hyponatremia – too little salt in my system.  The prefix hypo means low, below normal. natremia – sodium in the blood.

Fed salty snacks and with Hannah’s help, I wobble to the top. Before too long am reasonably coherent, but clearly defeated by this Bad Boy Trail. Today, I look to settle the score.  

Today (2010), driving the 78 miles north from our Flagstaff motel on excellent two-lane roads in the pre-dawn, we encounter very little traffic and are able to park on the road in front of the Bright Angel Lodge.  

Ready early at 730A, we again descend the Bright Angel Trail at 7000 feet with water bottles, trail mix, and liberally-applied sunscreen to begin the nine-mile round trip to Indian Gardens at 4000 feet.  Bracing our knees with each descending step, we enjoy a clearly-marked rocky trail, wide enough for just one, with panoramic views without a cloud in the sky.  

Having lived in Arizona for more than a decade in the 1970s and early 1980s, Hannah and I are on a first name basis with Arizona’s summer heat; said to be a dry heat, to be clear, it’s like living in an oven.  

Stepping aside against the canyon wall and carefully avoiding the prickly pear cactus when the mule trains pass, I smile and wonder why everyone climbing out looks so beleaguered.  I “good morning” everyone.  Unfortunately, my desire to verbally engage goes for naught.  It seems 3/4 of all hikers are European, who nod and pass without reply.  Either they are not confident in their English or just find my upbeat manner a little too annoying. 

Within two hours, we are snacking on peanut butter and crackers as well as gorp under the shade of covered picnic tables at Indian Gardens; we’ve water at the nearby fountain.   By the way, gorp is an acronym for good ol’ raisins and peanuts and is a high-energy trail mix of nuts and fruit. While the thermometer in the shade by the mule hitching posts is 78F, another in the sun brags 110F.  

Our ascent is still hot and shadeless and I am not so chatty.  On steeper inclines our breathing gets heavier. Being the stronger hiker, Hannah sets the pace where my focus is clear.  Get to the rim, just get to the rim, Danny Boy.  It’s a battle, one foot ahead of the other. Nasty smelling mule urine distracts me, but only slightly.  There is water at the three-mile hut and at another hut within a mile and a half of the rim to complement our gorp.   

Approaching the top I have nothing left to give but still in triumph.  Plodding and surviving accurately capture my performance.  Yet, let’s update the score.

Bright Angel Trail – 2 (Very good and still champion) Dan – 1

2021 Post script – Hannah and I have not been back to the Grand Canyon since 2010. Our next time is not that far away (2023?) as it will be with our grandsons, Owen and Max, and then later with Brooks and his identical twin sisters, Charlotte and Reese (2030).

Dan is Home in the Desert – KGUA #48

For the May 10, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are asked to put Home at the top of the page and freewrite away in less than 300 words.    

First home in the Desert

As young newly-weds in the Valley of the Sun in the early 1970s, Hannah and I began looking for a house within walking distance of the U, by that I mean Arizona State University. 

A little three bedroom, one-story place at just under $21K looked out the window and called our names.  Hardly able to contain our enthusiasm, we offered a thousand less.  They countered that for the original price they’ll include all the furniture for the entire house.  And so we had our first home at the corner of Roosevelt and West 16th Street.

Swamp cooler

Our neighbors got a good laugh when we bought a push mower to cut the thick, wide-bladed St. Augustine grass.  With Arizona’s constant sunshine and irrigation water from the town that covered our lawn like a small pond, the grass flourished and needed constant cutting.  Out of the blue, the Tempe Garden Club put a sign in our yard that we were the Lawn-of-the-Month.

Raised in the Northeast, Hannah and I thought, what says Arizona more than a backyard pool?   Paying $5K for the in-ground 40′ pool, the cool decking, and all the tile, we had our antidote to the dry, oven-like heat of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

Without air-conditioning for the 115 degree summer days, we did have a swamp cooler on our roof.  Swamp coolers operate by water dripping down reed mats and then a fan blows cool air into the house.  Though functional for low humidity days in May and June, swamp coolers provide little relief in the humidity of July, August, and September. 

Even so, we were living the dream in our first home in the desert.

Though the address is the same, this house at 542 West Sixteenth Street bears little resemblance to the one we bought. You see, we lived there from 1973-1979 and sold the house for $56K. In 1990 a fire in the fireplace we had built for us destroyed the house. This is quite the rebuild. The wisely put in a lawn that needed no watering.

Surprisingly, the pool was not damaged at all when the fire destroyed the house. This is the very pool we had built in 1974. In the summers, the pool temp was 90F. Not the refreshing dip to cool off you might imagine.
Hemmed in all sides, Tempe has little place to grow.

We indeed were a simple ten minute bike ride to the U!

Dan and His Random Coincidence – KGUA #47

For the May 3, 2021 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are asked to freewrite about a random connection that was a total surprise.  This one blew me away.  Fasten your seatbelts.

When Hannah and I return to Arizona, our home for ten years as young marrieds, we seek out Sabino Canyon near Tucson for a hiking fix. 

Circa 2016 at Sabino Canyon

Five years ago, after nearly four hours of hiking on the Seven Falls Trail, we return to the visitor center for Hannah to buy postcards.  The volunteer ranger notices my ever-present Ithaca Bombers shirt and asks, Is that in New York?  Nodding yes, I listen as she mentions that she’s from nearby Rochester.

I point to Hannah and proudly beam, I married a Rochester girl.  Knowing that people often say that they are from the city of Rochester when they are, in fact, from a nearby small town that no one would know, I mention Hannah is actually from Fairport.  To my surprise, Julia knows it well as someone from nearby East Rochester.

Hannah comes over and talks with Julia of childhood memories of the area.  When I return to Hannah and Julia, who looks our age, I randomly ask, Did you know Dr. Kraai, Hannah’s dad?  

This is not as an off-the-wall question as it may seem since Dr. Kraai was the family general practioner for the town of Fairport who worked made house calls each morning, had office hours in their home til 10P, and delivered some 5000 babies. 

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 adds, I do too.

What do you know, randomness lives in Tucson, Arizona! 

Hannah and Julia in southern Arizona

The cast iron sign from Hannah’s dad’s medical practice that was in the family’s front yard. Kraai is pronounced “Cry.”

See below for the full story with cactus from our hike at Sabino Canyon five years ago.

Dan and Hannah’s Arizona Sunday Ritual – KGUA radio #30

For the December 28, 2020 KGUA radio Morning Writer’s Hour, we are asked to free write in less than 300 words about a ritual.  I take you back to the 70s in Phoenix, Arizona before Hannah and I had kids. 

I was a fourth grade teacher on the edge of the inner city in Phoenix while Hannah was taking pre-requisite courses, like Organic Chemistry, prior to starting the Nursing Program at Arizona State University.

Our first house was at 542 West 16th Street. We paid $21K for it and it was fully furnished. As you can see, we could easily walk or bike to the campus at Arizona State University. This distance from our house to Bill Johnson’s is not quite six miles.

Each Sunday morning, we would drive from our home in Tempe to the Ramada Inn parking lot on East Van Buren Street in Phoenix.  There, we would begin our weekly run along the wide paths of the canals that brought water from the Colorado River to the parched desert.  Up before the heat of the day, we hit the trail for six miles of flat, rhythmic, in-conversation running.

Once done, we walked across to Bill Johnson’s Big Apple Restaurant with sawdust on the floor and pistol-packing waitresses poured into their tight jeans.  Known for their barbecue sauce that I smothered on my eggs over easy and home fries, I learned to drink coffee there – because refills were free.

Behind Bill Johnson’s was Park n’ Swap at the Greyhound Park where acres of sellers came for the Valley of the Sun’s biggest flea market.  It was where I bought my first Barry Manilow album, checked out the hot dogs at Franks A Lot, and later bargained for a sand wedge that I would use at the local Papago Public Golf Course.

And then next Sunday, we’d do it all again.  It never got old with Hannah.

Words – 242

Menu from the late 1980s when we returned to the Valley of the Sun for a visit. We moved from Arizona in January 1982.

Dan and Hannah Say Good-bye to Wayne Turley

Wayne and Nancy June 2017

Wayne and Nancy at home – June 2017

Our Arizona friend Wayne died this past Thursday (December 2017), after two years of “living” with dialysis.  Having lived a full life as father to seven kids and husband to Nancy, he was one helluva good guy.   No lie, he was one of the planet’s best.   Hannah and I met him and his wife Nancy 40 years ago; we last visited them this past June at their new home in Utah.  In fact, I began a recent blog about them.  And here it is to give you an idea of the man.

When I think of Bryce Canyon, I think of Wayne and Nancy.  Let me explain.

BC 1 Bryce sign

Living in the shadow of Arizona State University in the 1970s, Hannah and I were recently-weds when Wayne and Nancy came into our lives.  I was scuffling along as an elementary school teacher, looking to find my way – wondering if teaching was for me.  Hannah, too, was searching; she tried nursing school, but the paperwork and condescending doctors sank that ship.  Since tuition for us as in-state residents was $300 per semester at ASU back in the day, she, without much financial pain, gave the counseling program a shot.

In her studies, Hannah met Wayne, who was teaching a course in motivation for the Educational Psychology Department.  Hannah loved the class that fall semester; and then Hannah, being Hannah, invited Wayne and his wife Nancy to our house in Tempe for dinner.  We clicked and the magic began.

BC 1AA BC with no people

Bryce Canyon National Park (It is not technically a canyon but an amphitheater.)

Though six years later we moved from Arizona to raise our family in a small town on the coast of Maine, we have never lost our love of the West, its trails, its national parks, and its Nancy and Wayne.

In 1992 when our family of five traveled West, our four-cylinder Subaru wagon pulling a homemade trailer could barely climb the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, Utah, and Arizona.  That’s when Nancy and Wayne came to the rescue.  Near their home in Mesa, AZ, they found a mechanic who diagnosed the problem as a radiator working at 30% capacity on a vehicle that was never meant to tow a trailer of any size. 

A few days later, leaving the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix Metro Area) at 1100’, they towed our trailer with their GMC Yukon to Heber at 8000’ in northern Arizona so we could roll downhill from there for home in Maine.

Turley Rothermel 1993 Bryce Canyon

Our joint family trip to Bryce Canyon National Park in 1993.  From right to left, Nancy Turley, Hannah, Ty Turley, Cara Turley, Janis Turley, Hilary Turley, Will Rothermel, and Molly Rothermel

The following year, Nancy and Wayne arranged for their family of eight (soon to be nine) and ours of five to camp side by side at the KOA (Kampground of America) in Panguitch, UT; we would then hike in Bryce Canyon National Park

Whenever we would fly to Arizona for a week, they would seamlessly add our five to their household, treating us as family; and all under one roof!

They are stunning folks; they think when we are together, what would make Hannah and Dan’s visit more enjoyable?   And they love playing card and board games.   As members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, they are the ones who taught us Mormon Bridge; now the Family Rothermel’s favorite card game.

Wayne and Dan in sunglasses

Two cool guys, Dan and Wayne (1991) when the Family Turley came to visit us in Maine

When Hannah and I saw Wayne this past June, I put the thought that he soon might die out of my mind, though I knew it was a possibility.  We talked, we played games, we laughed.

My life has been richer knowing Wayne Turley.  He was like a brother to me.

Hannah eulogizes Wayne below.

I was pregnant with our to-be-first born, Molly, when I sat in my first counseling class with Wayne.  I knew instantly that I had signed up for one of the best experiences of my life – because of the teacher, J. Wayne Turley.  Within weeks, we had invited him and his wife Nancy to our home for dinner.  From that moment on, dinners together became a tradition. Wayne was the most kind, thoughtful, sensitive listener/teacher I’d ever known. He believed each of us in the class had something to offer one another – we were all students and teachers, including himself. 

His wife Nancy turned out to be equally loving and love-able. Through the years, we’ve shared the births of kids, the deaths of parents, the illnesses and heartbreaks that come with children and life…and kept in touch when we left Arizona for Maine. At some point, the whole Turley family came to the coast of Maine – for further bonding. (A total of 9 kids later.)   

Now, 10 kids combined and more than a dozen grand kids later, we feel as close as ever….and as grateful as ever that Wayne has never stopped teaching us – by example – what  really matters. Wayne lives on because of the place he continues to reside…in my heart, in my mind, in my soul…in my life.

Thank you, Wayne. Vaya con Dios.  

Dan and Hannah Are Lost on the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff, Arizona

Old Man Winter’s Nicer Uncle Sol has bestowed a gift upon us this first week of March.  Rather than the normal highs in the upper 40s, today in 7000’ Flagstaff, Arizona, we have been promised 70F.  Driving north from Tucson, we have plans to hike in Flagstaff 260 miles away today and then tomorrow – the Granddaddy of them all- The Grand Canyon.

BP map of AZ better

Waking early in the pitch black of the desert before rush hours, we head north on I-10 past Picacho Peak, Casa Grande, and Florence.  Arriving in the Phoenix Metro morning rush hours, we have the highway gods smiling on us!  There is an HOV lane!   While we cruise along at 65 mph, traffic to our right is crawling along at 15 mph.   Feeling like lottery winners, we are soon past congested Tempe and on through Phoenix itself.

Taking I-17 north on another beloved HOV lane without even a hiccup, we soon are tooling into the parched landscape past Black Canyon City and Verde Valley.

BP 1 D at breakfast

Arriving at our Hotel Aspen Inn Suites in Flagtown this off-season Wednesday, we check in early, hoping that we are in time for the motel breakfast.  The clerk smiles and says we are.  With 15 minutes to spare, we slip in for huevos rancheros and home fries drenched in salsa complemented by homemade biscuits!  A road trip trifecta.

BP map of BP

Nearby Buffalo Park is a 215 acre open space within the city limits of Flagstaff with a two mile walking/running loop.  With views of the 12,000’+ San Francisco Peaks as a backdrop, this park is ideal for moms and dads pushing strollers as well as friends out for a mid-day walk and talk.

Rocking the zip-off hiking shorts in Buffalo Park

Rocking the zip-off hiking shorts in Buffalo Park

A little after the noon hour, we bisect Buffalo Park on the Arizona Trail.  Within a half mile we are at the entrance to the Coconino National Forest and its system of trails.  For the most part, the trail has little variation in elevation as we wander through pinon pines and scrub brush of this high desert below the mountains.

BP map of AZ trail

Highly popular with mountain bikers high above the city, our trails will lead us to the Duck Pond 3.7 miles away.   The Arizona Trail (technically the Arizona National Scenic Trail) is a continuous 800+ mile trail through Arizona from bottom to top, from Mexico to Utah.  As part of the 6,875 mile Great Western Loop, which includes the 2900 mile Pacific Crest Trail, the Arizona Trail links deserts, mountains, and canyons.

BP 1B  D at trail sign

Winding past the junction of the Rocky Ridge Trail, we hike along the foothills of the mountains.   And then, for no explicable reason, the trail dumps us on a paved road.  Doubling back to see where we may have lost the trail, we come up empty.  Stumped, we return to the road hoping we’ll pick the trail’s scent.

BP 2A  more of trail

After a quarter mile it just doesn’t seem right to be walking on this tarred semi-suburban road; so we make a sharp right and just start bushwhacking up the hill to where we think our trail should be.  Soon I spot mountain bikers above us; stomping over logs, we step around scrub brush in search of that trail.

BP 3B bikers

Hannah with some bad dude bikers

At a vista overlooking mountainside homes in Flagstaff, we come upon the aforementioned mountain bikers taking a break.  Asking, Where are we? they respond, The Ridge Trail.  We think, How could we lose as major a trail as the Arizona Trail?  We are not rookie hikers.  Perhaps we need to reassess.

BP  3  H on trail

Abandoning any thought of reaching Duck Pond, we trek back to the Buffalo Park trailhead having had enough of our misguided wandering.  Skirting the face of the mountain, we come to a junction that identifies the Rocky Ridge Trail as one in the same with the Arizona Trail.   Perplexed, we just want to head for our rental car at the trailhead and call it a day.



Since we have been on this trail just an hour ago, we put our heads down and motor on.   Soon we are hiking higher and higher on a trail that is increasingly foreign to us.  Once more we double back looking for our original trail.

BP 4  h on trail

Growing weary, we are frustrated with the poor signage, but notice a gully that looks familiar.  At a previously passed “0.9 mile to Buffalo Park” sign, we feel confident that we can follow this trail back.

And then we are not.

We have no idea where we went wrong, but wrong is where we went.  None of the trails look familiar, but we figure following the base of the mountain can’t get us too far off-track.  Seeing two women walking dogs in the distance, we step up our pace but never catch up with them to ask where the hell we are.  Unaware that we are pushing west and north of where we should be, we still never feel “lost lost;” just lost.

BP 2E h on more trail

At last we see a small barn in the distance and beeline for it, believing it must lead us to some city streets of Flagstaff.   Spotting an idling tow truck, we approach and ask of the whereabouts of Buffalo Park.  The helpful young man with his girlfriend on the front bench seat says that we are just 6 to 7 minutes away… by car!  He guesses we are an hour or two away by foot.  What he doesn’t do is offer to squeeze us into the front seat and take us there.

BP 5 streets

Checking WAZE, our GPS navigational system on my iPhone, we learn we are 1.7 miles away from the Buffalo Park trailhead.  With nothing else to do but to put one weary foot in front of the other, we walk side by side on city sidewalks, talking little, just ready to be back at the trailhead parking lot.

BP 5A  highway

Climbing a ¾ mile hill with cars passing at 50 mph, we eventually bushwhack to the trailhead parking lot.  Nearly an hour after we expected to be here, we pull off our hiking socks and shoes, slip on our sandals, and most fortunately have but a 2.5 mile drive back to the motel.   We cannot spin our weariness into something positive…yet.

BP 6 Hotel inn suites

After a shower and brief nap, we partake of the free happy hour at the Hotel Aspen Inn Suites.  A cold Bud Light away out West never tasted so good.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Seven Falls in Bear Canyon near Tucson, Arizona

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.

7F 2C more saguaros

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.

7F 1E arty saguaro

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.


7F sabino canyon map

The Bear Canyon Trail takes us to Seven Falls

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.

Our destination - Seven Falls

Our destination – Seven Falls

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.

Dan and his prickly friends

Dan and his prickly friends

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.

The initial trail out to Seven Falls

The initial trail out to Seven Falls

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)

7F 2 D at seven falls trail sign

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.

7F 2B H among many saguaros

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.

7F 4 crossing the stream

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.

7F 5 D and H in water

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.

7F 7F itself

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.

7F 6 trail home

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

7F 120F temp

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.)

7F 4B H on trail again

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.

Hannah and Julia

Hannah and Julia, one of 5000

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.

Small world.

Dan and Hannah Climb the Bad, Bad Picacho Peak near Tucson, Arizona

Saguaro cactus in Phoenix

Saguaro cactus in Phoenix

Returning to the Valley of the Sun, Hannah and I come home to where we spent the first ten years of our married life – Tempe, Arizona.  It’s a nostalgia tour as we walk by our first home at 542 West 16th Street and our second home at 1206 East LaJolla Drive.  Our first house cost $21,000, fully furnished!

Strolling the campus of Arizona State University where we are both proud alums, Hannah and I think of Arizona as an excellent place for us to grow up as twenty-somethings, far from the shadows of our quite successful parents.

map of tempe 2


Our first night is with our longtime amiga Lorrie who cares for us like long lost friends.  Her hubby Lynn set in motion the writer I am and writing teacher that I became.  Our second night is with Nan, Hannah’s mentor for her Health Education Masters at ASU.  For dinner Nan brings her sister Susie and friend Shirley to what turns out to be a magical night of conversation and friendship, which helps me complete my mission of book sharing.

Morning Hannah with Saguaro cactus in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

Morning Hannah with Saguaro cactus in South Mountain Park, Phoenix

On a mission to give away five copies of my book, Sweet Dreams, Robyn, on this nine day hiking vacation, I noted in last week’s blog that I gave one copy to Anahi, a Wildcat Willies waitress in Springdale, Utah, and a second one to Joan and Russell of Idaho whom we met on the Observation Point Trail at Zion.   Connecting with these three women tonight, I know right away that they are the ones for copies three, four, and five.

PP map of picacho peak 2 better

After 24 golden hours with my former teaching mate Diane and her hubby Targe in Phoenix , we drive south on I-10 to Picacho Peak State Park.  Known locally as the setting for the one battle of the Civil War in Arizona, Picacho Peak saw a Rebel scouting party get the best of Union soldiers.

Forty miles north of Tucson, Picacho Peak sits by the Interstate taunting me to give it one more try.  You see, I also have some history with this bad boy myself.  Eight years ago on a blistering hot day in March, we set out on the Sunset Vista Trail for the summit of Picacho Peak.

Earlier that day, I spent the morning catching up with the aforementioned Diane over coffee.  By the time I got to the base of the nearly vertical cables, I was wobbly and dizzy from five cups of high test coffee as well as the direct Arizona sunshine.  Eventually I sat down and could go no further; Hannah carried the torch and made it to the summit.

Now eight years later, and a veteran of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, I am ready to give Picacho Peak one more shot.

Picacho Peak in the distance

Picacho Peak in the distance

Parking at the Hunter’s Trail trailhead on this late February Monday, we stare up at a mountain wall of switchbacks.

Looking back down the Hunter Trail as the trail begins

Looking back down the Hunter Trail as the trail begins

After a few hundred yards of the gently rising trail, we now begin to take the steep, rocky steps in a direct assault.  Meeting an elderly couple who have turned back, we are reminded by them that gloves are recommended for the cables up the mountain.   We have heard that before, but Hannah made it without gloves the last time so we think we are fine.

Climbing the Hunter Trail

Climbing the Hunter Trail

Grabbing conveniently located cables along the Hunter Trail, I follow Hannah, breathing more heavily, in a steep climb.  We pass a young man who has turned back after reaching the Saddle of the mountain; he felt shaky.  His situation might have given us pause, but it doesn’t and we press on.

Fortunate on this cloudless mid-80s afternoon, we are soon shaded from the sun by the mountainside and hike on comfortably.  The first half of the climb of the Hunter Trail is a workout but not stressful at all.

Climbing down from the Saddle

Climbing down from the Saddle

Arriving at the Saddle of the mountain with a view of forever to the west, we are surprised and I am bummed to see that we now are to descend five hundred feet holding on to mountainside cables that steady our steps over the crumbly rock.  Going down to reach the summit is counter intuitive, but we grab the cables hand over hand to make our way down the sunny west side of the mountain.

PP 4 PP itself

Without hiking gloves, the cables, which might be hot in the summer, are comfortably cool but slick and require a strong grip.  Once to the bottom of the cabled descent, we have a hike up, grasping more cables on the sunny side of the mountain.  We stop regularly for water breaks knowing our muscles need the lubricating fuel of H2O in the unshaded 90 degree direct sunshine.

PP google cables

And then my Waterloo appears.  The parallel cables rise along the mountainside at an 80 degree angle.  I am ready.  Without a second thought, I follow Hannah up the steep climb, squeezing the cables and occasionally pausing to calm my heavy panting.

The western slope

The western slope


More cables protect us from an untimely descent and we are soon within a few hundred yards of the rocky summit.  Taking off our boots and socks, we have taken 80 minutes to climb two miles to the top.   We have no idea it will take even longer on the way down.  With the sun filling the western sky at 4P, we still have two plus hours until sunset.

PP 4B h on cabled trail

The descent is a bitch.  At my Waterloo, an 80 degree double cable descent, I decide to go backwards pressing my feet against the mountain rock as Hannah does.  And then there is an eight foot section that I can’t feel any footholds with either foot.  With muscles weakening and five seconds from panicking, I pull myself back up and reassess.  Facing forward to the sky, I slide on my butt grabbing on to the cables for dear life.   Hiking gloves would have really helped me from slipping so.

PP 5 D and H at top

Second time is the charm for the Ithaca Bomber

On the way down one of my water bottles is dislodged from my fanny pack and goes bouncing down the steep incline into the mountainside as had one of Hannah’s minutes before.

The mountains of Tucson in the distance from Picacho Peak

The mountains of Tucson in the distance from Picacho Peak

The sun is bright on the western side of the mountain and Hannah’s rock scrambling skills keep us on track.  Hannah agrees that the descent, grasping cables and bracing each step with our knees, is far more difficult than climbing up.  Finding the proper toe hold while holding on to the cables while descending backwards is a challenge for both of us.

Climbing back up to the Saddle

Climbing back up to the Saddle

Approaching the final assent to the Saddle, we muster all the strength we have to pull ourselves up the mountain side set of cables.  Seated at the Saddle bench, we survey the eastern sky with the final rocky switchbacks still ahead of us.  With thirty minutes of knee bracing descent to the trailhead below, we both agree that we will NEVER do this climb again.

PP 7 mountain itself

The Bad Boy Himself

We are hikers not climbers.  Any trail that recommends hiking gloves is not for us.  Picacho Peak is a tough, mean, nasty climb.  It tested our strength, spirit, and creativity to find the correct footholds.

No doubt Picacho Peak has its advocates, but I am not one of them.  The park guide calls it a “difficult but rewarding hike!”  Be forewarned that this is one Tough Mudder who takes no prisoners.  I escape with Hannah to Tucson with the jailer of a mountain having just missed nabbing one more victim.