The true meaning of snow birding really hit home for me last week during a trip to Tucson, Arizona. While temperatures were snowy and cold back home with most of the East coast experiencing temperatures in the teens or below freezing, I was basking in the 80 degree record-high days. That extra dose of Vitamin D and seeing a blue sky each day did me a lot of good!
There’s not much one can complain about when you are getting great quality family time in a beautiful setting with perfect weather! As my readers can tell from reading my blog, staying active is an important part of my life and trips like these make me question (at times) why I would choose to live anywhere that gets winter. Don’t get me wrong I love to do outdoor winter activities like skiing and ice skating but after a while putting on all those layers just gets really old! And it’s not like Washington, DC experiences extremely bitter temperatures. But getting away (especially in the dead of winter) makes me more appreciative when I visit beautiful places and go on new adventures.
Durng this trip I experienced some great hiking–one half day at Catalina State Park Canyon (about a 10 mile hike to the Romero Pools with my brother and sister-in-law) and a shorter late afternoon stroll through Coronado National Forest National Park’s Sabino Canyon (about a 3 mile hike with my aunt and uncle). Along with my dad we also did a two-hour horseback ride through the desert one morning
Here are some highlights:
Saturday hike at Catalina State Park
Before we began our hike we checked out an Arizona wildlife display that was set up by park volunteers. There were animal hides you could touch–from rabbits and javelinas to deer, mountain lions, bears and coyotes–and individual cages of live animals and reptiles that one may come across in the state–everything from mice and rats to the lethal rattlesnake and Gila monster (he was kind of cute though).
Now that we knew what to look out for on the trail it was time to begin our trek! We would hike part of the Romero Canyon Trail to the Romero Falls, about five miles each direction. We were prepared with a backpack full of water, snacks, sandwiches for lunch, as well as hats, sunglasses and sunscreen. It was hot and the further along we got the more layers came off.
Arizona hiking is so much different than hiking through an East coast trail. For one there is little shade because trees back home are replaced by cactus here. It’s a unique kind of beauty to see as you gaze at the mountain side speckled with cacti instead of pine trees. And it’s very rocky and dusty–it is the desert after all.
The trail meandered slowly along the mountain. We scrambled around rocks and said hello to folks as they passed us coming down. The higher we hiked the more peaceful it became. There were a few moments of “are we there yet?” but most of the climb we just enjoyed unending beauty before us. After a while we found a shaded spot for noshing on our sandwiches and to take a little breather. Then we continued just a little further scaling down some large boulders until we made it to the pools which looked like heavenly bliss with real gold specks sparkling within the water. We questioned for a moment whether we should go in the water and oh yes you bet that we jumped in! My brother and I went in first and on the count of three under we went. My sister-in-law was next and to her pleasure I’m sure I filmed a cheesy video as if she were training for the 2016 Olympic Games polar bear plunge event. That water was so icy cold so lying on the warm rocks after was amazing. We hung out there for about an hour. Taking in God’s glory at this little slice of heaven is one that I won’t ever forget.
Walking back down was much faster with the highlight being the late afternoon views and some folks passing us on the trail telling us they saw a Mojave rattler–one of those deadly reptiles we learned about earlier. Yikes!! Luckily we didn’t spot him.
Overall this hike gets 5 stars in my book and I’d recommend anyone to try it who has an adventurous spirit. It’s not an easy hike, but one that most semi-active people could handle. There are also shorter (and longer) hikes available in the park.
Monday morning horseback ride
Monday was reserved for horseback riding. Our group took a meandering ride through the Catalina desert. My horse was a Buckskin named Haus and the oldest horse in the group, about 18 years of age if I recall.
After they saddled us off we went one by one staying in line in the order they put us. Along the way in the distance was an old ranch with a church on the property. And then just beauty all around. A few spots we climbed a bit and at times the horses got distracted and wanted to stop to chew on grass. Of course anytime mine did that, the horses that my dad and uncle were riding also decided to stop. The guide (aka “trail boss” as we called him) must have been getting annoyed with me for slowing down the ride and swung his horse from the front of the line over to me to give me a quick lesson on the reins to keep my horse from being tempted. I had to chuckle a bit because the others were doing the same thing. But he must have thought I was the most inexperienced of the group (which I may have been when it comes to horse riding). I really wanted to go a little faster so for a brief few seconds I got my horse trotting. My uncle said he was purposefully letting his horse eat to allow himself to hang back from the group and go faster from time to time. My aunt was in her element as she grew up riding a horse named Susie. Dad and Joe fit the part of Cowboys with their hats. Flowers were in bloom and it felt like spring had truly arrived.
Monday afternoon hike at Coronado National Forest, Sabino Canyon After some lunch and relaxing at the pool I joined my aunt and uncle for a shorter hike at Sabino Canyon. This trail was a bit more tame and flat. In fact there were a lot of runners so if I lived in Tucson this would be a place you’d find me after work. We hiked to a waterfall that was very pretty. Wildlife spotting–a tiny lizard (no Gila monster) and a roadrunner. The mountains were beautiful this time of day and I really just wanted to take it all in forever. Next time I’m back I will spend some more time exploring this park as well as many others.
All in all Arizona has a lot to offer this time of year. If you can time it right and get great weather you are in for a treat. In addition to hiking you can’t beat the Mexican cuisine and you’ll do yourself good by visiting little towns like Tubac where we attended an arts street festival. A lot of talent in the region–be it art or jewelry making. And the Tucson gem and mineral show too is a neat thing to check out as well. I’m going to make February snow birding a tradition now. I’m ready to take on these last few weeks of winter but spring time can’t get here soon enough! Happy trails!!