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The weather up until Monday had been mercifully, unseasonably cool for us with highs only in the 70s. Monday promised to be different, warming up close to normal temperatures with a high in the 90s. We left the hotel as early as we could to avoid as much of the afternoon heat as possible. Our plan: a hike in the desert.

A short thirty minute drive northeast of the city, we arrived at Sabino Canyon in the Coronado National Forest prepared with full camelbacks at a ratio of 2 to 1, ice to water. It took a little aimless wandering to find the trail we wanted and even then it seemed like a path to nowhere. The dirt path was well-worn, but surrounded by Saguaro (pronounced “sawaro”) cacti towering far above us and in every direction as far as the eye could see, I set out with some trepidation. I wasn’t entirely convinced we weren’t walking along an abandoned trail toward Mexico, leading us to a future of thirst, dehydration, and death, a place so remote that by the time we might realize we were lost, we would have no strength left to return by our own capacity and no hopes of being found until we were well-shriveled and drier than the earth we were crossing.

Eventually our small path opened up in a wide one that was occupied by many other visitors. The locals were obvious. Unfazed by the heat, they were returning energetically from their morning exercise, many of them retired shirtless men covered in sweat from their run through acres of cacti.

We weren’t feeling so resilient. The sun was already warming us, and as our hike went on, our walking grew more lethargic, easily betraying us as folk from other parts. It wasn’t the temperature itself that was so sapping. A continuous light breeze and lack of humidity made for a heat that didn’t feel nearly as oppressive as you might imagine from seeing the temperature number alone. The trouble was the intensity of the sun, which even as early as May beats down on you emphatically, reminding you that, lest you had forgotten, you are in the desert. Even the thickly applied layer of sunscreen didn’t completely protect my bare shoulders. I reapplied and pulled on a cover-up, yet still managed a mild (and annoyingly uneven) sunburn.

Though the predominance of scenery in the Coronado National Forest are catci, there are other sites. After crossing many dry rivers during our drives, we were surprised to find a flowing river in the canyon. It might have proved refreshing if we had had time to play. The tall Saguaro are full of holes where birds have made a home, life obstinately finding a way even in a place like this. Indeed, many species of bird are acclimated to the southwestern heat. In addition to the many woodpeckers we saw boring into the catci, we saw a cardinal perched on a branch and another bird casually sunning himself on the banks of the river.

Our orginal intention was to hike to the top of the canyon, maybe for a view if the smog allowed. We soon realized that the plan was way too ambitious considering our time constraints, the intensity of the sun, and our laziness. We succumbed, found our way back to the straight paved shuttle road and made our way back to the car for our next adventure, the most interesting one we would have during our time in Tucson.

My pictures of this excursion.
Coronado National Forest

June 2008