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February 18, 2004

Tucson

Ah Sunshine here we come. A few clicks of the mouse and a quick phone call and we are done. Air, car and hotel. We leave early on Thursday (5:30am !!) March 18th and return late on Sunday March 21. We are flying on America West since it was over $600 to fly Alaska! We're flying to Phoenix and getting a car. From here we will drive 90 miles to Tucson and stay at the Ghost Ranch Lodge, a motel from the 40's which has the most awesome cactus garden. We have stayed here before. We got a kitchenette so we can make our lunch for hiking.

We plan to hike Mt. Wrightson , the tallest peak in the Santa Ritas at 9453ft. It is typically a 11 mile hike with 4033 elevation gain but they have closed the parking lot at the trail head for construction. The construction won't be finished so we will have to add 3 miles to our hike. Bummer. This is a training hike for Mt. Whitney.

I called the Nogales ranger station and we will need to park at either a picnic area or the beginning of Madera Canyon. Parking is $5.00.

We also want to spend a day visiting Boyce Thompson Arboretum and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. And eating a lot of Mexican food.

March 18, 2004

4 days in Tucson

Well, it was a busy fast hot four days in Tucson last week. We wanted to squeeze a trip to the desert since we haven't been there since 2001 and have a chance to do a training hike for Mt. Whitney.

3:00am buzzzzzzz... off goes the alarm and there is no time to hit the snooze alarm. The cats eye us suspiciously... what the heck is going on??? We have a 5:45am flight to catch. Groggly we brush our teeths and make a cup of coffee. I logon the computer and do a web-checkin for America West. By 3:30 the bag is in the car and off we go.

The traffic is light but steady. We make it to the Ajax parking lot shortly after 4:00am. Surpisingly, we are not the only people going to the airport. In fact, the van is full with over 10 people. Wow!

We shuffle up to the America West area. We still have to get in line for a counter agent to check our bag. We are taking our hiking poles and they are not allowed as carry ons so we need to check our bags. We got a new extra large duffle bag 36 inches long which is much bigger than we would normally buy but it is actually working our great for the hiking gear. It doesn't take long to check the bag and it is off for the gate.

But first a stop for some java at Starbucks which is open at 4:30am in the morning. Our flight is at gate B15 - good because there is no line at the B concourse (unlike the 20 minute lines at the B and N concourses for Alaska and United) - bad because it is at the end of the concourse. I pick up a Economist magazine and "The Kalahari Typing School for Men" to read on the plane.

Hubby is doing so-so. He got the flu on Monday and was running a temperature of 102 when I got back from St. Louis on Monday. He is still feely crappy and is not looking forward to a plane ride. But hopefully, the heat will help.

The flight is uneventful and we arrive on time in Phoenix. Already it is about 72 degrees at 9:30am. We grab our bag and head for Alamo to get our car. The plane must have been full with Mariner baseball fans. Everyone seems to be going to the game. The agent is pushy as usual and tries to get us to take insurance, etc. She ended up putting the optional gas on it anyway. I try to refuse but she tells me I can get a refund if I return it full. We end up with a brand new Nissan Sentra with a CD player and a sun roof. All right!

It is off to the Desert Botanical Garden . View image

swallow.jpg This year there is a new butterfly garden which just opened. Irridescent wings flutter by while a gentle mist cools the garden. We spend about a half hour watching them fly by.

Hunger attacks us and it is soon time for lunch. I did some research on Chowhound and House of Tricks in Tempe sounded like a great place and close by. It is located just off the main street in Tempe. We got there about 1:30 and we were able to get a seat outside in the shade. The menu has several interesting salads and sandwiches. George had the Grilled Tuna on sourdough with grilled onions and sweet pepper aioli. I had the Grilled chicken and green chile on onion roll with jack cheese and cilantro aioli. Both were excellent. We had two microbrews, a Rio Salado Hefeweisen and a Stone brewery Pale Ale. Both were just right for the warm afternoon.

We headed off for Boyce Thompson Arboretum but the traffic was slow. By time we got to Florence Junction it was 4pm and we realized it was probably too late so we headed on to Tucson. Hubby also needed rest since he was still fighting the cold and flu. We drove along Pinal Pioneer Highway hoping to see some wildflowers but only a few scatterings of lupine. Soon the Pusch Ridge outline of the Santa Catalinas were looming in the horizon and we were in the outskirts of Tucson.

We checked into the Ghost Ranch Lodge which is one of our favorite places to stay. The neighborhood continues to go downhill with a strip joint just down the street but it is clean, quiet and gated. Our kitchenette was at the far end and totally funky. The one main room with dark wood beamed ceiling had a SW motif. Two doors opened off the room. One went to a small fully equiped kitchen with a full refrigerator, full stove and oven, sink and microwave. There were adequate cooking supplies for two people. The other door lead to a walk-in closet with a small bathroom off the side. Definitely very comfortable and useful for two days of hiking.

We rested a bit and headed for the nearest store which was a Basha's at Flowing Wells and Roger. We got supplies for sandwiches, water, beer, orange juice and fixings for a salad. We would eat in this evening since we were tired.

We discussed the plans for the next day and decided to switch our hiking day from Friday to Saturday to give George another day to recover from his cold and a day to rest. We were fading fast and it was off to bed.


March 19, 2004

Mad Dogs and Seattlites

I never do well in hot weather. So why did I think it would be different this time?

We slept in and lazily got up around 8:30am. We decided to go to Blue Willow for breakfast before going for a hike in Romero Canyon. I kept thinking it was Saturday instead of Friday so I was so surprised when we pulled out of the Ghost Ranch and saw school buses.

The Blue Willow is good but I always forget what to order. George always has the Huevos Rancheros and I sometimes have an omelet. This time I decide to go for the Blue Willow special which is eggs, green chile, corn tortillas, chicken, salsa and cheese. I don't know what I thought it might be but it wasn't what I expected. It was somewhat like a frittata smothered with salsa and a thick layer of cheddar cheese. My stomach rolled over a couple of times. I just can't take the heavy fat in the morning. I scraped off part of the salsa and cheese and the eggs, tortillas, chile and chicken were actually quite good. It was similar to migas but I just couldn't take the salsa and cheese.

I also broke down and had a cup of caffeinated coffee. Boy that tasted so good. I got a slight headache so I know I can't do it too often but it was perfect.

saguaro.jpgWe finished and headed up Campbell to Skyline and then on to Ina and Oracle. We were heading for Catalina State Park to do a hike up Romero Canyon. We had wanted to do Brackett Ridge but the Forest Service had closed Sabino Canyon because of a mountain lion. The lion had been following hikers and joggers and the FS is worried about a possible attack on a human. The FS is planning on killing the cougar which does have many people upset. They do not feel they can relocate it because lions are very territorial. I hope they change their mind.

The parking lot was half full when we pulled in around 11am. We pull out the boots and head up. The trail crosses a small stream and enters a wash. The trail is a wide path through the mequite scrub. The sides are dotted with blues of lupine, jacobs ladder and water leaf. Spots of yellow desert zinna brighten the way.

After about a half mile, the cactus ad hopbush appears and the trail starts to climb. At a mile is a sign for Montrose Pools. The trail starts to climb in earnest now among rocks. The saguaro cactus appear giving stunning views back across the valley to the distant suburbs of Tucson.

lily.jpg We stop to photograph one of the few mariposa lilies that we find. and talk for a while with another couple of hikers. We end up talking about hiking on the Channel Islands and gardens of Santa Barbara.

lizard.jpg I am not doing well. The trail in this section is steep and the mid-day sun is beating down on me. I start to stop frequently and I'm getting light headed. Hmmm... I finally tell hubby, I need to go back - it is just too hot. Along the way down, we find a bit of shade and hubby discovers a collared lizard. George pulls out the umbrella and I hike the final mile and half with the umbrella feeling like a character in "Passage to India". But it works!

We throw the boots in the trunk and head back to Tucson. We decide to stop at Tohono Chul Cactus Garden which is at Ina and Oracle. They had remodeled quite a bit since our last visit. There is a new greenhouse nursery at the beginning next to the Tea Room. George is lost for a while looking at all the plants. We also check out the two gift shops. I find an interesting Oaxacan wood carved cat to add to my collection. We walk the paths for a while before heading back to cool off in the hotel room.

Later that evening, we go for our favorite Mexican food at Marisco Chicuahua. I have Shrimp Rancheros and George goes for the Shrimp Diablo, shrimp in a a smoky chilpote chile sauce. Very hot but good. Washed down with a couple of Mexican beers - I am in heaven.

Back to the room for another early night. Tomorrow is the big day. We will be hiking to Mt. Wrightson and need to get another early start.


March 20, 2004

Mt. Wrightson

mtwrightson.jpg

Bzzzz went the alarm. 5am. I wasn't going to let the heat get to me again. We were going to get on the trail early.

I stumble into the kitchen and make the coffee and sandwiches. Breakfast is a cheese sandwich, cup of coffee and a glass of orange juice. Into the pack goes the lunch sandwiches, apple, gorp, a liter of water, suntan lotion and extra clothes. I fill the camelback bladder for a second liter. We grab the hiking poles and hit the road shortly after 6am as the sun paints the sky pink over the Rincons.

Tucson is still asleep. There are a few travelers and mostly truckers heading south to Mexico. We turn off at Green Valley and head towards Madera Canyon. In the distance we can see Mt. Wrightson.

I completely forgot to get a map of Madera Canyon. They are doing construction on the parking lot at the trailhead and we are going to have to park further down the valley. Fortunately, it is well marked and we pull into the parking for Amphitheater. Unfortunately, it will add 3 miles/500ft roundtrip to our hike. There is one other car in the parking lot. We pay our $5.00 parking fee and we're ready to go.

The detour starts out on the nature trail. The trail climbs gently to the south with views towards Mexico. We can still feel the heat of the previous day reflecting from the ground. But there is a cool breeze and the day is overcast.

The trail swings back east and then climbs to a vista where we can see Mt. Wrightson. There are a few patches of snow along the gullies near the top. The detour trail continues along the hillside until it comes to the Chuparosa Inn where it drops into the stream bed. All along the way are signs warning about entry into the construction zone and a potential $1000 fine. Our trail dollars at work building the parking lot. The way is marked by blue and pink flags and is pretty rough climbing over and around boulders. After a half mile, the trail crosses the stream and joins in the original trail. saddle.jpg

We now have two choices. One is the older Baldy trail which is 5.4 miles/4000ft to the top or the Super Trail which is 8.0 miles/4000ft. Since we have the extra mileage due to the constructions, we go for Old Baldy trail.

The trail climbs up traveling along the old water pipes for the canyon residences. It is 2.2miles/1600ft to Josephine Saddle. The trees are interesting. Along the start are three different types of oak, Arizona white, Emory and silver leaf. Scattered throughout the oaks are also Aligator Junipers which are very striking. Their bark is black and knobby just like aligator skin. They stand about 6-10 feet tall with distinctive juniper needles and berries. Below them are yuccas and a few hedgehog cactus. There are few flowers other than what looks like a white philox. As the trail gets closer to the saddle, it gets steeper and switchbacks in the dark forest before emerging onto Josephine saddle.

The Super Trail joins up for a short distance at the saddle. There is a memorial to three Boy Scouts who died in an early November snow storm in 1958. Off in the distance is the summit of Mt. Wrightson which is still 3 miles/2400ft away.

forest.jpg snow.jpg
The trail now goes north. The forest is open and we hike through needles of Apache and White Pines. The forest is also very quiet. We only hear an occasional small plane passing overhead. No birds; not even a jay. We climb out of the forest and have wider views down over Green Valley and across to Mt. Hopkins. We leave behind the pine forest and enter an area of deciduous low oaks and aspens. We come across our first patches of snow. They are easy to cross other than being somewhat icy on the edge. We try to skirt along the sides when possible. Most of the plant life is still asleep. Above us towers the rocky side of Mt. Wrightson as we switchback up and back passing Bellows Springs.

At around 11am, we reach Baldy Saddle at 8,800ft. Just under a mile left to go! We head north and the trail switch backs up out of the forest. We cross several patches of snow. Again, nothing too difficult to cross especially with the hiking poles. The trail swings to the south and enters and area of waist high oaks and white rocks. Above, you can see the edge of the top not far away. Soon we are on the top at 9,450Ft shortly before noon.

top.jpg
It is still overcast and the wind is cool. I put on a top and look around. I was hoping to find the summit register or a geographic survey marker but no luck. There is the foundation of the lookout. But the views. Wonderful 360 degrees views. South is Tucson and the Santa Catalina Mountains. To the West is Baboquivari and Kitts Peak. You can just make out the white observatories at the top. To the East are the Chiricahua mountains and Miller Peak. To the south is Nogales and Mexico.

We had the summit to ourselves. We grabbed our sandwiches and had lunch. A few moments after lunch, two women joined us at the top. They were both from Tucson so we talked about living in Tucson and hiking. One had done Mt. Whitney so I got some tips. Shortely after that we were joined by several other parties and we decided it was time to leave. By now the sun had come out and the sky was turquoise blue. Going downhill is always harder for me. We passed a few parties going up but not many. Most people do like us and start early to summit before it gets to hot. After we left Josephine Saddle, my knee started acting up. My iliotibial band on the side of my knee gets quite painful. I had to stop once or twice to sit and stretch it. Both of us started getting a couple of hot spots on our feet. I ended up with one blister. Not bad. By 4pm, we were back to the parking lot. 4hours 30 minutes up and 3 hours 30 minutes down. Total mileage 14 miles, elevation gain, 4500ft. Yahoooooo! Mt. Whitney here I come.

March 21, 2004

Homeward Bound

I don't want to go home. Four days are just not enough. At least our flight doesn't leave until 8:30pm

The 4th Ave street fair is happening this weekend and we decide to do a quick visit. It probably doesn't start until 10am so we lazily check out. We talk a bit with the clerk and we mention that last time we stayed there in 2000 they were affliated with Best Western. She said that BW wanted them to modernize the rooms and make the hotel more 'cookie-cutter' style. They didn't want to change the ambience so they parted ways. I agree. I wouldn't want them to change it at all.

The street fair is going by time we get there. It is huge - about 7 blocks or more. I am looking for an eye glass holder/leash like I got last time and for the travel photographer from whom I've purchased a couple of prints. I find the photographer and get a photo of blue gondolas in Venice called Gondolas at Dawn. It is so hard deciding. I could not find the eyeglass vendor. Oh well.

We decide to spend the afternoon at Boyce Thompson. But first we need food. George suggests we try Sauce which is on the way out of town at Oracle and Ina. Great pizza. It is very interesting set up. The complex is very upscale but it is really fast food. You walk in and order at the front desk. The choices are very interesting. Everything from mozzerella and tomato to wild mushroom and truffled arugla. We decide on a Rosmary Potato, Spinach, feta and Olive Tapenade pizza and a Portobello and artichoke. Both are wonderful. I love the thin thin crust which still has a great flavor instead of tasting like a saltine cracker. We have these along with glasses of chianti which was so-so. I highly recommend it. You can also find some of the pizzas at North.

We head out and decide to go a different way. We decide to go towards Globe and then cut across at Wilkerson to Superior. Along the way there are some patches of yellow California poppies and blue lupine. Along the way, we pass the Arsarco Ray Mine which is huge. It is amazing how much of the earth is left barren and sterile after mining for copper. We get to Boyce Thompson around 2:30pm and head off to some of our favorite places. I really like the demonstration gardens. You can sit away from the others and watch the hillside for birds. We see several vultures soar above and notice a dart of red; a Cardinal. We spend some time watching and listening to him sing. We head off to the cactus garden to get some shots in the late afternoon sun.

4:30 comes too quickly. We need to give ourselves at least an hour to get back to Phoenix. We probably need to check in by 6:30 and we run into a little bit of traffic from some event near Apache Junction. The Superstion and Lost Dutchman peaks look so inviting. We must try a couple of hikes in the area next time. We have a new hiking book that has more hikes in the area so we have those to look forward.

We get to Alamo by 6pm and check in. I have to go to the counter to get my "optional" gas refund. The clerk in the lot knows nothing about it. The America West checkin is pretty amazing. There are at least 30 web check-in kiosks and the line snakes at least 4 times. But it is moving pretty fast and it takes us about 10-15 minutes to get to a kiosk. Then it is off to security. This takes longer - probably 20 minutes. Of course our gate is out at the end of the concourse. Sheesh... Seattle gets no respect. We stop and grab a pizza since there will be no food on the flight. It leaves on time and we get land at 10:30. Bags arrive, off to parking and we are home by midnight. Who knows what we will be like in the morning but it was hella good fun!

February 12, 2005

Spring Desert Wildflowers

It is going to be an outstanding year for desert wildflowers. All the reports say it will rival or exceed the last El Nino year, 1998. We have learned to watch the rainfall that Southern California and Arizona receives starting in October. This rainfall will help the flower germinate the following spring. It needs to had a continue supply through February along with moderate temperatures.

We usually go to Tucson to see the flowers but newsreports started mentioning Death Valley. DV averages about 2 inches of rain a year but already it has received 5 inches since July 2004. The rangers are forecasting a good bloom.

We have never been to Death Valley but what a perfect complement to climbing Mt. Whitney. We can now visit the lowest point in the continugous US after having climbed to the highest point.

We've booked a flight into Las Vegas and reserved a car. The drive is about 2-3 hours and is actually the closest airport. Ontario is pretty close also but we really didn't want to do that drive again.

Unfortunately, most of the accomodations at Furnace Creek are booked. Oh well, we'll go camping. We've flown and camped before. We just use our ice chest as a suitcase and put all the gear in the ice chest. Of course, we can't fly with camp stove fuel but our small backpacking stove has a detachable fuel canister so we'll just swing by the REI before leaving Vegas. Actually, there is also a Whole Foods so we can also grab some gourmet grub before leaving.

I am actually looking forward (somewhat) to camping. I love it at night when you can see the stars. I can't say that I'm looking forward to sleeping on the hard ground.

Of course, we hope to do a hike or two. We're only going to have three nights so a bit of sightseeing and short hikes. We mulled over renting an SUV but we really don't think we'll use it in the short period. So we'll have to stick to the paved and good gravel roads.

But we couldn't resist the lure of Tucson. Initially, it sounded like the rains had mostly missed Tucson but the Sonora Desert Museum is also predicting a stunning show. So we booked also a quick trip to Tucson the weekend after Death Valley. An early flight out to Phoenix, two nights and then return at midnight. That will give G one day to work on his plants for the spring sales.

February 26, 2005

Death Valley Links

Another week of rain in Southern California! Is it going to dry out in time for our visit? So far, Death Valley has received over 3 inches since the beginning of January. The hills are green, the valley is in bloom and the rivers are flowing. But there have been good reports of flowers. Yooohoooo!

G has been doing a tremendous job organizing and packing the camping gear. We went out and got a new icechest with wheels and a handle. This will make it much easier to get in and out of the airport. We've packed the softgood (tent, sleeping bags, poles) in a long duffle bag. We've got stove, boots, cooking gear, food in the ice chest.

Here are some great sites for planning a trip to Death Valley

National Park Official Site
California Wildflower Hotsheet
Death-Valley.US They also have a great forum for checking the latest information.
Death Valley Tourist Information from Ridgecrest. This page is an excellent set of information and links. I highly recommend this page.
Death Valley National Park Links

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