Hiking Pima Canyon, Tucson AZ

Life is tenacious and there’s nothing like hiking in the desert to realize that fact. Despite the heat and arid climate, the path leading from the Pima Canyon trailhead is nothing short of lush. Sure, everything is covered in thorns…but there is a remarkable amount of greenery for such a seemingly inhospitable land.

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Note: This picture is not in fact the trailhead. But I didn’t take any pictures of that, so this is what you get.

The trail starts out easy, or at least, that was my memory and expectation of it as I began my 6ish mile back to the car. Turns out that at dusk, after hiking the better part of 12 miles the beginning is fairly loose rocky scree with lots of small rock hopping. So, lets call it easy on the way in, medium on the way out.

My friends and I set out for the “saddle” which was 6.4 miles distant, allegedly. I think saddle is a misleading sort of destination, because normally names of geological destinations implies a clear stopping point, but a saddle of a mountain range is fairly vague from the ground.

Accordingly, I’m not sure if we made it there… ultimately we turned back because we didn’t want to do the return hike in the dark and we were guaranteed to catch a bit of dusk on our return anyway.

I didn’t record the hike with a hiking app – partially because I had friends familiar with the area (although this was their first time on this trail) and partially because I think that the quantitative measures of hiking sometimes take away from the qualitative joy of hiking. My phone conveniently tracks steps and uses that to come up with distance, and taking the average of my pocket computer and my friends pocket computer of a different brand we determined that we had hiked 12 miles.

It could have been more or less, but the reality is I wouldn’t have hiked faster if I knew I was only .4 miles from the saddle, nor would having gone the remaining .4 miles to the saddle have been prudent given how dark it was getting by the time we returned. Ultimately, a watch is sufficient for keeping track of simple hikes.

And speaking of watches, my newest wrist companion has an altimeter in it. Useful? Well, not particularly. But its certainly interesting! Saguaros are extremely frost sensitive and as you go up in elevation you reach a point where the completely disappear from the landscape. For our hike that point was about 3980′ above sea level.

This is either a green screen or just misleading perspective. You be the judge.

Oh, and speaking of elevation…this hike has a lot of gain. Its apparent that you’re traveling uphill, but for the most part its a really shallow incline. About 4 miles in the incline picks up, but it never reaches the point where its challengingly steep – at least on the uphill. Coming back down I was quite pleased to have a trekking pole to pull some of the strain off of my knees.

For best results, adjust the length of your trekking pole based on whether you’re traveling uphill or downhill. Shorter for uphill, and longer for uphill.

On the return route we encountered a crested Saguaro. From what I’ve been able to find the cause is still something of a mystery. Perhaps its a genetic condition or the result of freeze or lightning damage. There are around 25 such cacti known in the Saguaro National Park – which sounds like a reasonable number until you consider that the park is 92,000 acres.

Crested Saguaro

Even minus the mysterious crests, Saguaro are pretty fascinating cacti. They grow extremely slowly. The first 1.5″ can take up to 10 years. After that they grow more quickly…but they’re not setting any speed records. They begin to flower around 35 years, and in the Saguaro National Park typically develop branches once they hit 50-70 years old. Depending on who you ask they top out between 125 and 200 years of age.

This was a very special hike. Not just for the views or the cacti, but for my friends I traveled with. Hiking, like most things in life, is a thing best enjoyed in the company of others. Yes, hiking alone can be wonderful, but there is something about spending an afternoon under the sun in the middle of a wilderness of thorns with friends that just can’t be beat.

Thank you John and Sarah, I’m proud to call you my friends.

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