Thursday, January 29, 2015

Madera Canyon Hike

Jan. 26, Wed.  When preparing to hike in the mountains – pack a light heart.  The hike in Madera Canyon indeed had us hiking in the forested canyon mountains.  The English name is "Lumber Gorge" & is on the northwestern face of the Santa Rita Mountains, southeast of Tucson. It is the highest point in the White Mountains & Mount Baldy is at 11, 409 feet. Mount Baldy is one of the most sacred mountains to the Apache of Arizona. Such an unexpected landscape in southern AZ.  Our group was smaller this time.  It was also several degrees colder at the higher elevation of the canyon, but we soon warmed up as the sun got higher and we exerted ourselves.

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One group took the Nature Trail, 3.3 miles, and the other group took the Bog Springs trail, 3.4 miles.  The nature trail wound around the lower part of the mountains with rock formations towering above, lush with trees and under a nice blue sky.  It was a pretty easy trail and was nice to be back in a mountain forest again. 

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We walked among the cool shade of the trees and had a couple of views of the Tucson valley in the distance.  There lots of birds singing and flying around us. 

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It was a nice change from the typical desert.  The Bog Springs trail was a bit more challenging because it was steeper as it went up and over a ridge.  Those of us a little afraid of heights and steep narrow trails, opted to take the easier hike.  Resting after we came out of the wooded trail, the group opted to head back to the parking lot via the road instead of returning the way we came.  Taking the road gave us the chance to see what another part of the canyon looked like with a Bed & Breakfast, a few scattered mountain homes, & a birding area plus a gift shop area.

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Here is an interesting photo of the dew just barely reflected on the grass through the thick trees.  The camera made it look almost like a waterfall. 

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The 2nd group finished their hike back at the parking lot shortly after the 1st group.  It was just us and nature on another beautiful day for a hike. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dove Mountain and the Wild Burro Trail

Wed., Jan. 21.  In the mountains there is the promise of... something unexplainable. A higher place of awareness, a spirit that soars. So we climb... and in climbing there is more than a metaphor; there is a means of discovery."   What a great group we had! 46 people turned out for the hike! And we were greeted with this spectacular sunrise!

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A 40 minute drive north took us to Dove Mountain and the Wild Burro Trail, which is located in the Tortolita Mountains.  Dove Mountain was named from the word tortolita, which means “little turtle dove”.   Even the drive to Dove mountain took us through such lush thick pretty desert foliage before we hit the trail head parking lot. 

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The hike was through a nice open canyon with lots of views of the cactus and rock formations under sunny and warm blue sky.  Gosh, we love days like that!  The round trip hike was 3.8 miles in and out.

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About half way into the hike, some of us took an “up & over” spur off the main trail that was about a half mile that ascended and descended to the main trail again and the rest of our group.  It was a bit challenging but offered great views of the surrounding mountains and even a view of the valley to the west.

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We reached an old line camp and rested before turning around to head back out.

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There were even more newcomers and such jovial conversations among everyone could be heard along the trail as we marked off another hike from our ongoing adventures in the desert.  I had hiked this trail last year and it was just as nice this year. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hope Camp Hike at East End of Saguaro National Park

Jan. 13.  Wed.   In every walk with nature we always receive far more than we seek.  I looked out the window to be greeted with a wall of fog!  It was damp, cool, and windy.  So, was the hike still on?  Well, I am already up so I am going for it!  Lo and behold, 35 other hikers were willing to hike regardless of the weather.  Guess some of us are real die-hards!  The desert weather is always unpredictable and not on any schedule.  Therefore, the weather can change in the blink of an eye and it did just that for the hike.  After arriving at the Lloma Alta trailhead about 8:30 AM, by 9:00 Am, just a short distance up our trail, the fog lifted and began to uncover another beautiful day.  At the southern boundary of the park is the Hope Camp Trails. This section of the park was added in 1991 when the United States Congress authorized the purchase of an additional 4,011 acres.

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It was also very scenic to see some of the fog hover here and there just below the mountain tops with the blue sky above.

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Our goal was the 5.6 mile round trip hike to the junction of the Hope Camp Trails and back.  The terrain was moderate and almost straight in and out with just small ups and downs.  It was just a very  pleasant hike closer to the base of the mountains and among some of the older cacti that were huge.  There were more newcomers to our group with lots of us taking pictures on our enjoyable stroll in the desert. 

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Gosh, how the blue sky plus fluffy clouds and being in the open made for such amazing scenic sights .  Break Time and another old windmill!  We took our break at our end goal at the old Hope Camp, which is the junction of several of the Hope Camp Trails.  We got to just enjoy the surrounding landscape and get to know some of the newcomers.  We always hike according to the rules-plenty of water and snacks.  Yikes, a sign said “caution, this is Mountain Lion territory”!  Does that mean that as some of us hung back to “visit a bush for kidney relief”, we could have disappeared one by one as a big cat’s lunch?!?   

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Time to head back.  Since this was an in and out hike, we got to see  the same pretty scenery but from a different perspective.  I got this 1st shot actually by mistake.  My camera sun guard was out too far but it made for a unique camera shot.

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Well now, who is this little guy?  Recognize the ears?  Mickey Mouse AZ desert style!   The second picture shows a dead cactus but instead of falling over, the spines just dried up and splayed outward like a blossoming flower.  A very unique sight to add to the fun of the hike.   Mother Nature also decided to give us a little added color with this Cardinal.  

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I took a parting shot behind us as we ended this wonderful hike and could see the rest of the fog trying to lift above the taller mountains in the distance.

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Wings Over Wilcox, AZ–Sand Hill Cranes Winter Nesting Spectacle

Jan. 13, Tuesday.  What a great opportunity to see an annual migration event of Sand Hill Cranes. Five of us from the RV park, Doug & I, Steve, Kathy, & Nancy, headed to Wilcox, AZ, about an hour and a half’s drive southeast of Tucson.  We were going out to see the Sand Hill Cranes on the lake at Wilcox.  There is an annual birding and nature festival in January each year.  It lasts for about a week, but we wanted to avoid the crowds because photographers come from all over.  This year marks the 22nd anniversary of the festival.  It was a wonderful blue sky day with lots of fluffy clouds.  We set out for WIlcox thinking the lake just outside the city would be the best viewing area.  We were way out in the middle of farmland and saw a group of cranes feeding.  So, of course we had to pull over.  You can drive all over the area at different times and locations to see the cranes feed.  

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We reached the trailhead to the lake, not realizing it was a 2.4 mile hike round trip!  I felt like the Wednesday hike had been moved up a day!  The trail was really a dirt road.  But the walk was good for us and we were expecting great things at the lake.  Being out under such pretty sky was just as exciting and rewarding as seeing cranes! It was so gorgeous out there!

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When we reached the end of the trail, we were really disappointed because it stopped at a viewing area and signs everywhere said we could not leave the trail to get closer to the lake.  I did remember seeing a small sign on a post that said “cranes may not be at the lake”.  All that way and then no cranes!  At least we got some exercise!  Then just as we were ready to leave, we must have startled a group hidden in the brush because we did see a group fly up and over us.  Then another group flew over us as we headed back down the trail.  That was a nice sight!

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We had heard there was an even better place to see the cranes, so we changed our game plan.  The freedom to to do that when needed is all part of the adventure! Since it was already noon, we decided to head into Wilcox for lunch, get a little bit more information, and have lunch at a Mexican restaurant.  Good food and good company!

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It was confirmed that Whitewater Draw was the place to be by 4:00 PM and stay until sunset to get the best view of cranes.  The draw is a very large lake and swamp area where the cranes take off each morning at dawn, return around noon, & leave and return at sunset.  The Draw is about 40 miles south of Wilcox and we were all willing to go since we had driven so far from Tucson.  Lo and behold, there was a large parking area with a huge covered space and restrooms.  Some people were even dry camping in their motorhomes and 5th wheels.  Guess they were going to make sure they didn’t miss any cranes!  That was the right place and wished we had gone there first, had we known!   As soon as we parked, you could see several hundred cranes along the edge of our side of the lake.  It was cold and windy but worth it to see so many cranes all together and their constant chatter was very loud!  You could hear it all around the lake.  We didn’t see the thousands we expected, but that was alright.  We still found what we were looking for.  The third picture shows a view of what the lake area was like. 

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Our friend, Steve, was trying out his new camera, so he got a nice shot of some cranes in the air.  Some of our pictures were a bit blurred because of the wind shaking our tripods, so I gave up and just shot trying to hold my camera still.  Plus, after awhile, darker clouds rolled in, so the lighting just wasn’t that good for the shots we all wanted. 

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The lake had a levee that allowed us to walk far out on the lake for even more views of the cranes on the opposite shore.  There were even more groups of hundreds of the cranes and even some Snow Geese.  As it got later in the evening, small flocks would fly in to land and one or two cranes would fly right over top of where I was standing.  Brrr…..rr!  It sure was cold standing out here in the open at the far end of the levee as the sun went behind the clouds and Kathy and I were determined to stick it out until sunset. 

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The late afternoon sun gave the cranes a pretty golden hue.  Then just as we decided it was time to head back to the truck, the sun dropped below the clouds and just above the mountains to give me this awesome shot in the second picture! The sun turned the swamp grass to a beautiful gold with reflections in the water of the remaining blue sky and clouds.  It was sure worth being out there for this shot!  It is exactly as it was with no adjustments and no polarizer, just natures natural perfect moment.

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Wow! What a way to end a great day with a ‘Kodak Moment’!  It was dark as we drove home, but everyone kept remarking about what a fun day we had together.