Wednesday, January 26, 2022

A Hike I Will Never Forget

 Sparky is going to divert from her usual third person narrative and tell you about an amazing hike in her own words. It was one of those moments that is life changing and heart felt so here it is....

This year I turn 72. I've been fighting my age since I hit 65. The mind says I feel about 25 years younger, the body says differently. I've had bad sciatica for some time, but just keep pushing myself to keep moving. I am beginning to realize my physical limitations but I'm not ready to call it quits for hiking and other adventures! I saw this hike which seemed not too difficult. "Devil's Bridge is a moderately difficult, 1.8 mile roundtrip journey that takes you to and from a 50 foot high arch. At a height of 4,600 feet at the trailhead, the Devil's Bridge trails is a roughly 500 foot climb with an aesthetic that should leave you breathless." That sounded very doable to me, so Eldy, as thoughtful and generous as he always is, not being able to hike because of bad knees, offered to drop me off and pick me up later.   I wore my Merrill hiking shoes and took one hiking pole with me.

The drive to the trailhead
There were some precautions in other literature...the drive to the trailhead once you get to the location is for "high profile vehicles only." That means four wheel drive with good clearance underneath your truck. But as the parking lots were full, and it was a one lane drive into them, Eldy dropped me off at the bottom of the parking lots near the main road, and off I went. It was over a mile walk just to get to the trailhead. The lower parking lot (overflow) was full in the early afternoon, no surprise there. You walk the jeep road to get to a fork in the trail. Here is what the road to the trail looked like. I wouldn't have wanted to try that even with our Dodge Ram 350!
A bad entry road to the trail for ANY vehicle

The path slowly takes you uphill and steeper. Three quarters of a mile from the parking lot, the trail divides. Go to the left and you will hike to the base of the bridge. Take the right and you climb to the top of the bridge. I took the right. The going wasn't bad at first, and the views off to the left were stunning.

It really wasn't a bad climb in the beginning at all. I passed several older people coming back down and I asked them how the trail was. At least a half dozen said there was some rock scrambling involved and it was too much for them. I thought, well, I've scrambled across boulders and rocks before and climbed very steep trails, I wasn't too worried. The views continued to amaze.....

There were not a lot of people on the trail, but enough that I wasn't worried about hiking by myself. Not only that, but people with dogs were coming back down, so I felt reassured that it would be fine. Around every corner was something to take your breath away....Here the sun was hitting the sandstone rocks and they really were that orange!
It started getting rockier the closer I got to the bridge. 

And this is where two guardian angel hikers join my journey.....

I was starting to slow down just a little and apparently showing some hesitance. Russ and Anne Dick, from Peru, IN, were ahead of me. I was carefully watching them pick their way through the rocks and when the rocks REALLY became narrow and steep, Russ turns around and says something about hey, why don't you hike with us as we make our way to the top? And I thought you bet, as it was starting to get a little nerve wracking. I wish I had taken photos of how narrow the rocky steps were. The steps were not much wider than your two feet placed side by side with THOUSANDS of feet dropping off to one side, and the same on the other side. My focus had to be TOTALLY on watching where I placed each foot, and where I put my pole. I got to one point where I was going to stop and turn around and for me to admit, hey, this is going to be too much for you, you need to quit because this is VERY scary and precipitous, is saying a lot. My balance is TERRIBLE. One faulty step and I could have easily fallen off the cliff. Russ and Anne kept encouraging me, and since they were close to my age, (younger for sure) and they were going steadily up the cliff face, I thought, OK, I can do this, but what I didn't know was the hardest part was coming. There were more cool views to keep you motivated. Here is a tribute of sorts, to the trail....

The last 300 yards is NOT a moderate hike for seniors. It is difficult. We just took our time and with my hiker guardian angels, we made it to the bridge. Here is where my second thought of stopping and just taking photos of everybody else crossing the bridge would be enough, I was NOT going to get on that bridge. I was going to be the official photographer and take everybody else's photos! And I would have been content with that. Ann and Russ traversed over to the bridge, came back and said, "Hey, the actual bridge is quite wide. You can do this!" And Anne offered to walk with me to the bridge and back. So we did. I got to the bridge, Anne graciously stepped back so a fellow hiker could take my photo so I could be alone on the bridge, and I raised my arms in excitement, and shouted out, "I DID IT!" Everybody on the other side, waiting to cross to the bridge and get their photo taken, cheered and clapped. 

The bridge may only be 50 feet tall, but the bridge is 4,600 feet up in the mountains. You just can't capture the scale and dimension of what you are seeing with a little phone camera, but you get the idea. After getting everybody else's photos, we started the equally challenging trek back down. Here is Russ....

and Anne, taking his photo....

All the way we were together hiking, Russ would position himself between us or behind us, taking turns looking out for Anne and for me, offering little tips like how to carry your pole while clambering amongst the rocks, put your weakest foot forward first, follow up with your strongest. We talked about a LOT of different things, our careers, our travels, etc. and it really helped calm my nerves during the most difficult parts of the hike. Thank you so much, Russ and Anne Dick, for helping me achieve a hiking goal I almost didn't make. Here is a view of the bridge from heading back down....

This was a day I will never forget. I faced my fears with the help of kind companions and I worked through my fears with their help. It was kind of a life lesson for me, that if a community can look out for its members, care about its members, and support them, whether it be a a neighborhood, a 

this took real planning!
school, an RV park, or a hiking community, it makes the world a better place. For me, it gave me hope and a little bit more confidence, that even at the age of 72, I can still try to achieve goals and dreams and that it's ok to keep trying, no matter what your age! Hey, if Grandma Gatewood at age 67 can hike the entire Appalachian Trail, and a lady in her eighties can bike across the United States (whom we met in our travels), I can still dream! Thank you to my Eldy, who never waivers in his support of my hiking and adventurously wanting to wander off in the wilderness.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Sky Islands Scenic Drive and the Loop

We took another drive out to Mt. Lemmon today. It was a much cooler day in the valley, 61 degrees when we started. It got to 36 degrees at the top. It's about a 25 mile drive to the top of Mt. Lemmon, and it's a jaw dropping, breathtakingly beautiful drive all the way. Someone said it's like driving from Mexico to Canada, all in one hour or less drive. 

Fantastic scenery once again, even though it was very cloudy, with rain chance hovering around 45%. Is that SNOW???? about 7,000 feet, you start seeing snow. Lots of it! Sparky gets so excited!
Hey, even Eldo decided to make a snowball. Sparky pelted him with one, and he threw one right back.

Wonderful picnic areas on the side of Mount Lemmon. You can see why this drive is called "Sky Islands". Perfect name for it!

Lots of overlooks and pullouts....

WOWZA! What views!
A view through the trees...
The trails look really rugged and tough....but Sparky will just have to check it out the next time we come back in a few weeks....This one is called Soldier Trail and it was extremely rocky and uneven.
We checked out the ski area near the top of Mount Lemmon. It was closed, but the parking lot was so tiny, we wondered how the skiers could park there on open days.
For the last day of our stay in Tucson, Sparky headed out on the Loop Trail one more time, heading out from Udall Park once again. It is officially known as the Chuck Huckleberry Loop, and is the #1 trail in the US for recreational trails on USA Today's list. Sparky headed east towards a new section of the loop and viewed some more cool art installations. Beautiful iron arch window...
Riverside parks stops to rest and relax...except there is no river currently flowing...
Arroyo Del Fuerte

Here is a bridge over an arroyo--a steep sided gully formed by fast flowing water that seasonally fills and flows after heavy rains...found mainly in the southwest. A wash is very similar, it's a dry bed of a stream that fills and flows only occasionally or seldom. It's usually in a ravine or canyon. They pretty much mean the same and so are now used interchangeably. 

Another view of the bridges Sparky saw on her last bike ride. 
Always, the mountains are within range....(HAHAHAHA...)

How would you like to bike this every day? Sparky would! Well, almost every day if the old body would permit it.

One of the cool sections on The Loop is a series of memory gardens near Pantano River Park. There are SEVEN specialty gardens--Each is a series of commemorative trees with a special motif or theme to mark the passing of someone special, to celebrate life or a special occasion. The gardens are: The Garden of the Children, Garden of the Families, Garden of the Masks, Garden of the Flute Players, (Sparky's mom loved Kokopelli--the flute player) Garden of the Winter Solstice, Garden of the Summer Solstice, and Garden of the Sun. Some of the commemorative trees have painted rocks or expressions of loss, hopes and dreams in unique forms at the site. Sparky saw a couple of glass bottles with messages inside at one site. You can really get a feel for the person's life and what they were like by studying the site. At the start of each garden area is a big panel with the numbers of the sites and the person's name represented. What a wonderful way to remember someone!

What a ride on the loop today! About 21 miles this time....Sparky went looking for a website that tells you all about the art installations' locations along the trail and here it is...

And off we go to our next destination....Cottonwood, AZ, about 35 min. from Sedona. We will be exploring the area a LOT, hopefully. We are staying at the Thousand Trails Verde Valley in Cottonwood for 11 days.....The vistas are amazing! Stay tuned for more about the park and our explorations....See you down the road!

Monday, January 17, 2022

The Biking Capital of the World! and Beep, Beep!

You know, Sparky loves to ride her bike. So she got all excited to find out that Tucson is the biking capital of the world! (Listed in several different places.) Miles and miles of biking trails, mountain biking, and trail riding. Sparky does not own a road bike, so any bike trails that take you out on the public roads and busy byways, are not for her. 

Tucson is a beautiful town, and the bike trails are no exception. Sparky decided to try The Loop Trail, a system of trails that were recently connected and completed in the last couple of years. Over 131 miles of PAVED asphalt with NO motorized vehicles allowed, so super safe riding! Much of the trail follows river beds and there are paved trails on BOTH sides of the riverbeds.

The nearest trailhead, the Julian Wash Trailhead at the Ray Schoonover Point, is within 2 mile drive of the Voyager RV Park. Caution: the trailhead parking lot is NOT designed for big trucks, especially duallys--that's us--a BIG 3500 Dodge Ram Laramie with dual rear wheels and extra wide rear fenders. Very difficult to pull in, out, and park without getting hemmed in, so Sparky had Eldo drop her off with her bike and she took off, first going east, then coming back to the trailhead and heading west, getting in about 24 miles total that way. The stone work and metal iron grate work along the trail is very beautiful. All the trail markers are weighted down with rocks indigenous to the area. See the wrought iron grate work at the bottom of the Julian Wash trailhead sign? 

A wash
There are VERY interesting features along the way. Big washes and very well engineered floodways and drainage ditches. A wash is a dry stream bed that floods and flows, dispersing water during heavy rains. They have an official MONSOON season in Tucson, from June 5th to September 30th so it's no wonder that the stream beds and gullies and drainage plains around the subdivisions are so carefully constructed with tons of rocks and deep depths. Bet the rains are really something!                                                    

Whether you head east or west at the Julian Wash point, you will encounter some artwork. In case you didn't know it was art, they painted the word "art" on the pavement in front of the installation. (!) This  entryway or arch, is one of Sparky's favorites on the trail so far.

There are two metal art pieces just as you get started along the Julian Wash Trail. The one on the other side across from this one, is different.
The mountains follow you wherever you go on the bike trail. Tucson has FOUR mountain ranges all around the city--the Santa Catalinas, the Santa Ritas, the Tucson Mountains, and the Rincon Mountains. The weather is fabulous during January--perfect temps for biking, low forties at night, sixties and low seventies during the day. The Loop Trail is not strenuous, there are little hilly parts, but much of it is fairly level. This photo below is riding back to Udall Park from the Loop Trail.

Sparky went out a second and third  time and biked 15 miles each time picking up another portion of the Loop trail near Udall Park, about a 25 minute drive down Kolb Rd. in city stop and go traffic, getting much closer to the mountains. It's one of Tucson's largest city parks. The gateway to the left, is at the corner to the entrance of the park. Sparky wishes she could say what direction to go out of the park to head down to pick up the Loop Trail, but she's so directionally challenged, she has no idea whether it was N, S, E, or W from the park. (It's a wonder she doesn't get lost on a linear trail! remarks E.) To that Sparky says, "He knows me too well!" She doesn't tell Eldo that sometimes she DOES get lost but doesn't tell him, haha. More artwork on this portion of the Loop trail. A beautiful mosaic bridge....

A close up of the mosaics...

Another better view of the extent of the mosaics along the bridge...

A shaded bridge.....

Art work on the cement bridge buttresses....

Another bridge art install...wonder what the story tells? Sparky will have to go looking for interpretative info about these art panels. They are beautiful, and some look familiar as far as Native American motifs.

Cautionary signs to make the ride more interesting to an out-of-towner....Wonder what venomous creatures they are talking about besides snakes?
Even the fencing along the sidewalk portions of the trail are beautiful....
The way that Tucson uses native materials for seating and their informative kiosks is wonderful.
Sparky saw a kiosk that showed how conservationists are helping the burrowing owl maintain its population through artificial burrows! Very cool!

And the best part of all? Besides the constant beautiful views? Sparky saw THREE roadrunners in one day! BEEP, BEEP! And yes, they have to watch out for coyotes. Sparky DID have her camera on one of her bike riding days so here they all their feathered finery. 

It was a really beautiful, safe ride on the Loop Trail. Sparky could do it every day, it's that cool and a great workout. Get maps online and get riding! We are loving Tucson, the desert is so different here than in other southwestern places that we have been. It could be the time of year, but we are finding the atmosphere and climate to be second to none here in Tucson. We hope to spend a lot more time next time in the Tucson area to explore and ride some more. See you later!