Brendan’s birthday fell on a Sunday this year, and unfortunately for him, Sundays are a crazy-busy day packed with everything. We leave the house by 815a and don’t return until about 1230p or later, only to nap briefly and be gone again from 430p until about 800p. So celebrating a birthday the way it was meant to be celebrated was a challenge, but we did it over about four days.
My parents flew in for a week of fun and frivolity two days after Brendan’s birthday. Much to our surprise, B decided to delay the majority of his celebration until they got here – he is very bonded with my folks, which delights my heart to no end. That sort of restraint is not terribly common in the 8-10 age group, so we played it up and gave him several days of celebration, part of which included a birthday-hike.
A friend of mine told me about the Superstitions Mountains and this trail that ended at petroglyphs, “just around the bend.” I looked it up online and found the description on the Tonto National Forest website, “an easy hike, 1.1 miles.” Huh. It’s been a while since I’ve done any 5Ks, but I can manage 1.1 miles… no sweat, right?
We started here, at the bottom of the canyon…
and saw many gorgeous cacti along the path….
What we didn’t know, however, was that it was 1.1 miles from the trailhead to the actual trail. o_0 This was deduced when we saw this sign for the actual start of the trail.
Which I think was a relatively good indication that we had no idea what was ahead of us. The path was quite steep and unlike hiking paths in Michigan, wasn’t groomed at all. There were rock-built barriers to direct rainfall and prevent huge amounts of soil erosion during the monsoon season, but the number of loose rocks on the path was somewhat alarming to me. I’m not terribly steady on my feet, and I have lasting muscle (nerve?) damage in the front of my left leg (quadricep) from my near-death experience in 2000. Brendan bolted up the side of the mountain with seeming ease – there’s absolutely nothing like having a kid who’s part gazelle to make you feel less-than-graceful while climbing a mountain. :\
One of the fascinating things about the Sonoran Desert (where we are) is that this is the only place in the world where saguaro cacti grow naturally. And grow they do. By the time they begin sprouting “arms,” they are at least 75 years old – and the “arms” on them grow slowly. There are often pock-marks in their sides, and about fifteen years ago when my parents drove the state of Arizona on vacation, my dad mistakenly thought that people had been using cacti for target practice – he saw the pock-marks and mistook them for bullet holes. Saguaros are protected, however, and most people who live where they grow have an appropriate sense of respect around them. The pock-marks are from weather and birds – many times, we’ll see actual holes in them and know that birds have nested in them. The one above is particularly tall and has tiny stubs of “arms” on it.
The sky in Arizona is particularly blue, which is still quite foreign to my eyes. I’ve always lived in an area that receives much rain/snow/wet precipitation, and clouds in the sky are still the norm for me. As I cropped and processed these images from our hike, I was struck by how fake the blue sky looks in these images. And yet, it’s not. It’s the lack of clouds that makes it appear extra blue – your vision of the edges of the troposphere is unmarred. It’s quite spectacular and is also seen in areas of the Middle East and Africa where clouds aren’t common.
As we approached the most treacherous part of the trail, I was wearing out. I was finding less and less available lung capacity and more and more rocks that required having mountain-goat feet (something I’m sadly lacking). I talked to Brendan and Mark and decided to pass the camera on to Mark and let them make the final 15-min. of the journey without me. I was concerned that if I made it to the end, I wouldn’t have a reserve to make it back down, and if the rocks were as slick as we’d heard and I injured myself – well, I’d be in a world of hurt. So before I passed off the camera and found a perch, I snapped the image above. I love how the cacti grow on the top of the mountain – there is no path up there, and it’s likely been untouched for centuries. Just amazing.
So after a few more miles from that signpost (the end of the trailhead), my friend was right. “Just around the curve” were the petroglyphs. No one knows exactly how old they are (although some were graffiti, evidenced by the alphabet and the marijuana leaf… ahem), and there was an old (ancient?) mortar & pestle there as well, likely used for grinding corn in to masa flour. The rocks were slick and Mark told me afterward that I made the right choice – I would have been climbing the end of the rocks on my hands and knees because of their smooth texture and slippery nature.
The cave at the end was particularly fun for Brendan – he’s inherited my love for spelunking and exploring caves, which is cool. My guys came back toward me and we started down the mountain together, which was a slow and somewhat laborious process for me, but which yielded some of the most amazing sunset shots ever.
I look forward to more mountains (Sedona is next on the list), and hopefully none will kick my butt next time. If you’d like to see the whole collection of shots from our Superstition Mountain hike, check out my Flickr page (the blue & pink “fr” in the upper right hand corner of the sidebar).