December 21, 2008
So, what do you do for outdoor fun when it's 104 degrees? Normally, we'd be dipping in watery canyons, but since this year's monsoon never really got started, there's no water in the streams.
My friend Jeanne suggested a hike along Oracle Ridge, and a fine suggestion it was. The trail begins at 7880 feet high in the Catalina Mountains, and drops 1000 feet to Dan Saddle. Although the ridge is totally exposed, with temperatures only in the upper 70s it was a welcome relief from Tucson's unrelenting heat.
Another surprise was the wildflowers. The Sonoran Desert is justly famous for its Spring wildflowers, but there's a whole other season of summer wildflowers that are just as spectacular in their own way. A few of the flowers we saw on the Oracle Ridge hike include Indian paintbrush, lupine, parry beardtongue, penstemon, fleabane, asters, sunflowers, pink and purple mallow, and purple and red thistles.
We also saw a bumper crop of tiny baby horny toads, some less than an inch long.
Just above Dan Saddle, a knife's edge of pure white rock as fine as marble, we saw a female broad-tailed hummingbird, who let Dennis approach to within six inches and take photo after photo.
There were plenty of soaring birds along this ridge as well, including turkey vultures of course, but also red-shouldered hawks and maybe a golden eagle.
Three years ago, we hiked to what we thought was Hutch's Pool. It didn't look much like the photos we'd seen, but we figured it had either been burned out in the fire of 2004, or the washed out in the flood of 2006. Turns out Hutch's Pool is a helluva lot farther up canyon — at least one mile past where we stopped for a refreshing dip in 2005.
We caught the first tram this morning and almost froze to death on the ride up. But the 600' climb in the first half mile warmed us up nicely, thank you very much.
It's 2-½ miles from the top of the tram to the junction with West Fork Trail, and another mile-and-a-half from there to the pool. But it was worth every step. The pool is at least 150 feet long, and today we couldn't see the bottom.
It was too much for Dennis, who sank ... er ... swam to a new low — an invigorating 40°!
We noticed he had lost the antenna for his handi talkie about one mile short of the tram, but it was only back home when we reviewed our photos that we discovered we had a video of the antenna slipping away!
Our hiking time for a total of eight miles was 5½ hours. We'll definitely return for an overnight when the water is a few degrees warmer!