Three Unforgettable Tucson Trails

During our month in Tucson, we found many excellent hikes of various lengths and difficulties, and through a surprising range of settings and sceneries. Three unforgettable hiking trails led us to a luxurious desert oasis, a brilliant moonlit peak, and a terrifying hard rock monolith.

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Traversing the Hot Desert Hell

On our first notable hike, we traversed a hot desert hell to reach the heavenly oasis of Seven Falls in the Santa Catalina Mountains. Starting out across the searing arid landscape, the desert heat blasted us like a fiery inferno. As we climbed through Bear Canyon, signs of life slowly emerged in the desiccated landscape. 

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Heavenly Oasis of Seven Falls

At the top of the canyon, we stood at the gates of heaven, and gazed down into a series of desert waterfalls. Before us was a divine string of seven tall and lanky cascades, each tumbling into its own deep and glorious pool. As if we were dying of thirst, we rushed eagerly to the lush desert oasis. There, we removed our hiking boots and chilled our hot and tired feet in the cold restorative waters. Rejuvenated, we kept cool all the way back through the desert hell to our awaiting air-conditioned car.

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Hiking Group to Wasson Peak

We found another way to defeat the devil and avoid the desert heat, on our second unforgettable hike. By the light of the waxing gibbous moon, we followed a nocturnal park ranger and a group of like-minded hikers to the top of Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Saguaro National Park. Starting out just before sunset, the moon was already rising above the eastern horizon, as we walked the 8-mile out-and-back trail. By the time we reached the rocky summit of Wasson Peak, the moon was nearly overhead, and the city lights of Tucson were twinkling beneath our feet.

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Hiking under the Waxing Gibbous Moon

The silvery illumination of the rocks and plants imparted a soft and delicate ethereal quality to the otherwise hostile environment. As the heat of the day subsided and the afternoon winds settled down, the night sky expanded and the moon grew large and luminous. In the moonlit shadows, the rigid saguaro cacti with their stiff outstretched arms seemed to trail us like an army of zombies.

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Trail to the top of Picacho Peak

Fortunately, I am not afraid of zombies. I am not even afraid of death. I am; however, terrified of losing my grip, slipping helplessly out of control, free falling off a precipice, and making initial impact with unforgiving and unemotional rock. Hiking Picacho Peak, I had to face my fears.

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Difficult Ascent of Picacho Peak on the Via Ferrata

For our third unforgettable hike, we came to this stark volcanic outcrop halfway between Tucson and Phoenix, to climb to the top of this mysterious spire rising from the desert. To aid in the ascent of this solitary prominence, the trail is outfitted with a via ferrata, an 80 year old system of steel cables fixed to the rock along the most extreme sections of the route. The trailhead signage indicated that the route to the peak was rated “difficult”. Since the ascent involved a 1,880-foot accumulated elevation gain over the two-mile path, I assumed that the difficulty rating was based solely on the steepness of the grade.

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A Demanding Section of the Trail

Ignorant of the perils ahead, we trudged up the extremely steep trail. To reach the top, we found the first of three demanding sections where the steel cables were anchored into a bare rock escarpment on a precipitous overhanging ledge. Half-way up, I could not find an adequate foot-hold, and I froze. Petrified, I clenched the cable for dear life, tried not to panic or look down into the terrible void, and struggled to find the guts to take my next step.

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Summit Celebration

When we finally reached the summit, our celebration was well-deserved but subdued. Anxiously, we passed back down the trail using the cables as a life line. Back at the car, I was still shook up, so we went to Dairy Queen to celebrate our achievement. On this day, even the sweet chocolaty goodness of a Peanut Buster Parfait could not overcome our thrilling feelings of survival and accomplishment.

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A Final Tucson Trail

We achieved a lot during the past month in Tucson, Arizona. We explored the kingdom of Sonoran Desert plants, took a side trip into outer space, and left our footprints on the area’s many hiking trails. Our discovery of desert waterfalls in the middle of hell, our moonlight trip to a zombie-infested mountain peak, and our intense white-knuckle ascent of a steep volcanic spire were three haunting achievements that we will not soon forget.

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I am a little tired. Can we go home now?

 

17 thoughts on “Three Unforgettable Tucson Trails

    • Thank you, Janis. Hiking by moonlight was an enjoyable new discovery for us. On the next full moon, we are looking forward to hiking in snowshoes back home in Reno. We are planning another month-at-a-time adventure this fall. In the meantime, we will see you on your blog. Happy travels, Joe & Es

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  1. Lizzie’s big adventure was a success. She is now home sleeping on her couch, and dreaming about her next big adventure this fall. In the meantime, she thanks you for the nice compliment.

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  2. Lovely to find you and read about these gorgeous hikes. I love being near a body of water in the moonlight but your post made me think about taking a hike next time! Gorgeous photos and descriptions.

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  3. Everything is more exciting under a full moon. Thankfully, one comes around every month. The next one is May 20-22…hope you enjoy it. Thank you for the generous comment, and happy travels!

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    • Leah, I am happy that our Tucson trails post sparked some positive memories for you. We too hope to return to Tucson some day soon. There are so many great travel destinations, but the Sonoran Desert is truly special.

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  4. Joe and Es – Not only were the photos phenomenal, but your descriptions were particularly symbolic and meaningful at so many levels. I am so glad I ran into Lisa and she shared your blog! Brilliant…(but of course), and the pup? What a cutie. What kind is she?

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  5. Hi Virginia, Thank you for tracking down our blog, and for your encouraging comments. As my writing mentor, and a professional writer and oft-published author, your advice rattles around in my brain, each time I sit down to write a new article. Lizzie (our 12 year old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel) had a big adventure, and is hoping to take off again this fall. I hope your new book is selling like hotcakes. All the best, Joe & Es

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  6. Hi Jo, Thank you for the thoughtful comment, and for hiking through this post with us. We are very fortunate to be able to hike. The nature sightings, aerial views, and sense of accomplishment are well worth the pain and agony of the ascent. Happy travels, Joe & Es

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  7. Great post, and thanks for sharing your beautiful photos. I contemplated hiking Picacho several times when I lived in Tucson for a short stint, but I was always too chicken. Your pictures inspire me to go back and give it a go, though!

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    • Hi Laura, As you know, you can’t always take the easy path in life. For me, hiking Picacho Peak was one of those times. Afterwards, I felt a real sense of accomplishment and a big boost to my confidence. I hope you can muster the courage the next time you find yourself halfway between Tucson and Phoenix. Thank you for the kind comment.

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