Hot, Cold, Rain, Snow, Camping

My second night in Tucson was spent couchsurfing with Micah, but my third and forth nights were far more interesting, and it started with the idea of doing a little camping.

No buses go to Sabino Canyon, so I walke dthe 9 miles from Micah's place to the visitor center their, pack and all of course. Once their I got my fire permit (free) and asked some questions about the area and the wildlife. I turned down the $7 map, and took the small free one along with a warning of rare mountain lion sitings. Minutes later the old park ranger came running outside and handed me the fancy $7 map for free, I guess he was worried about me.

From what he described, the camping spots and fire safe zones were 8 miles deep, but I also turned down the $5 shuttle that went the first 4 miles, so walk I did. You've never seen more cacti in your life, they went as far as the eye could see, all types too, I even saw a white tail deer running along through them in the foothills.

After I made it past the hot 4 miles of road and general hikers/runners, the real trail began, up and twisting through the canyon. Within half a mile I saw one guy who worked on the trails on his way out, he'd be the last person I saw for the next day or two.

Two or three miles deeper it began to get dark, and I didn't think I'd make it to the special camping zone in time, but the trail now had a cliff on my left and a stone wall on my right. Somehow (I'd find out how the next day) I lost the trail completely, but managed to find the flattest chunk of earth to break out the sleeping bag and call it a night, only after watching the stars and wondering if mountain lion or spider or whatever else might be around.

The next morning I took a look at my fancy map, but couldn't make heads or tails of where I was and might have lost the trail. I peered over the cliff and saw the river flowing, and tried to climb down a bit to get a better view. I opted for getting higher ground, and found the trail pretty quick, turns out I went down when I should of kept going straight... damn dark.

I hiked a few miles until I got to the basin, the one the ranger had kept talking about and I could actually see on the map. It was there where the trails split off in a few directions. I went to take the box trails towards all the camping spots, but the trail seemed to die right where it started, pointing me to cross the river but with nothing on the other side. I crossed and looked around, there were plenty of tiny foot paths and even remnant of fire rings, but every tiny path ended pretty quickly, I didn't want to stray to far...

I started to turn back, at this point I was in thick trees and cacti going nowhere. That's when I saw a mountain lion dart across about 40 yards in front of me. I remembered the ranger saying that out of the last 60 odd reports of attacks, only 3 were NOT single hikers. Damn mountain lions. I kept watch in that direction while hollering a bit, but quickly made my way back across the river to where the paths split off. I chose a random trail this time, I obviously was not meant to do anything but that.

At this point I didn't care too much about what the "camping zone" and "fire zone" was, I'd already seen fire rings and other signs of potential camp sites, "legal" or not. Another mile or two and I saw a little sandy beach area near the river, perfect, and I made my own path off the trail to get to it. I wasn't there but 5 minutes when I started looking for an even better spot, I figured if I could see this spot from the trail then someone else might, I didn't want any problems if I wasn't really supposed to be there. Sure enough, I found a similar but even better spot about 100 yards upstream.

The first thing I did was build a fire ring, then slept a couple hours. When I woke up it was still daylight, I was going to wait until dark to get my fire going, now I'm glad I was impatient. Here I am with a lighter, and I can't get this thing going. I went up and down stream collecting logs, sticks, twigs, and other bits of dry grass cursing those survivor shows where they're rubbing a couple sticks together. And I have a lighter. Bastards.

I did get it going eventually, just had the right combination of sticks and whatnot I guess, now I feel like I could get a blazing fire going whenever I want. I cooked my ramen noodles, played some harmonica, and went to sleep.

I woke up to the sound of rain drops. I didn't think it would rain, but I sealed everything up the night before just in case. The rain got harder and harder, then it died, then it picked right back up again. I thought I might wait it out, but it wouldn't stop. I dragged myself out of the declining dryness of my sleeping sack and into the weather. Everything was too wet to pack in my bag, I walked away from the campsite with my backpack and now my sleeping sack awkwardly slung over my shoulder, still down pouring.

It wasn't the easiest, but I started making my way back the way I came, through the canyon, up and down the hills, through the puddles, all that good stuff, knowing there was a good 5 or 6 miles ahead, and that's only to the sort-of-road that would be another 4 mile stretch, but at least some shelter in the scattered bathroom buildings.

I wasn't walking but 20 minutes when, no joke, the rain turns into snow. At first I thought it was a joke, and then it just got heavier. It didn't even seem way too cold, couldn't even see my breath (the classic cold test), but my hands were completely numb, and hell it was snowing. The way the canyon twists, turns, and elevates, you can't really see the opening of the canyon yet still feel like you're on top of a mountain, it's really pretty awesome. Since I hadn't done the whole hike into it in one shot, and not even in daylight, I wasn't sure how much there was to go.

I finally made my way to that road, and onto the first bathroom hut where I rested my load of crap and thawed out for a minute, before continuing on. The bridges on this little road were being over powered by the streams that were running over them... but that's water over the bridge now, I got past all that.

Once finally at the visitor center again, I laid out a lot of my gear to dry and repack. I had no service in the canyon, so turning on my phone was met with a slew of messages, emails and texts, but I was able to confirm another night of couchsurfing with Micah. The question now though was the 9 mile walk to get their, then Rich came along.

Rich is a tour guide, he struck up a conversation with me about all my gear and started tell me tour guide kinda stuff about the area and cacti, pretty interesting actually. I asked him if there was any kind of bus from here, I knew there wasn't, and he said he'd give me a ride if I waited for him to get off work. He set me up inside in the warm near a power outlet, and I waited a couple hours for him to get off while I caught up on two days of being offline.

On the ride back with him he told me stories of his traveling days and his current plans of convincing his wife of tooling around the country in cheap RV, I think he's got a pretty good shot at it. He dropped me off right in front of Micah's house, and I've since washed and dried all that needed to be.

I can't wait to get back into Sabino Canyon, next time I'll bring some friends, stay a couple more nights, and hopefully not get rained, the snowed out. Good times.


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