With the arrival of spring in Arizona, John and I were now
itching to do more hiking and backpacking trips. After having a meeting with
his skydiving team, Fast Track, John was able to set their training schedule
for the first and third Saturday of every month, which now allowed us to plan
our hiking and backpacking trips well in advance. We decided, then, that we
would set a goal for ourselves to do one backpacking trip every month.
After we looked at all of the events that the month of April had in store for
us, we knew that the only weekend available to us would be March 31-April 1.
(April was already booked solid, because John's grandparents would be in town
for Easter, and the Rocky Point Boogie would be at the end of the month.) We
chose that weekend to do our April backpacking trip, but a week later, John
came to me and asked if we could swap weekends. He had been planning to go
jumping on March 24 but later learned that there would be a Team Flail event
on April 1 (how appropriate - April Fool's Day!). "I really want to do the
Team Flail thing," he said. "We'll go backpacking on the twenty-fourth
I said okay. It didn't matter to me when we went backpacking, as long as the
weather stayed as perfect as it had been. The days had been warm and sunny,
and the nights were cool, not cold. I was looking forward to sleeping outside
overnight without freezing!
But where to go? Having failed in our first attempt to backpack to Hutch's
Pool, John and I had been determined to return to
Sabino Canyon to finish the
trip, so we decided, why not? The Sabino Canyon Trail (the road) was finally
open again past Tram Stop 8, which meant that we could take the tram to the
end of the road and begin our hike there. We could then hike the four miles to
Hutch's Pool, set up camp, then go exploring for the rest of the day. John
even suggested that we go all the way to
Romero Pass if we could, stating that
we could probably make it if we did it with daypacks only. I liked the idea,
so I said, "Let's do it!"
So during the week, we prepared for the trip by packing our backpacks and
printing up the topographical maps of the areas in which we would be hiking.
While packing for the trip, we both tried to reduce what we normally carried
in our packs; I managed to cut a lot of extra stuff from the food bag as well
as from my own supplies. This would help to compensate for the wet diapers
that I would have to carry out. John also decided not to carry water in the
water jugs, as we knew that there would be water in Sabino Creek. He also
didn't pack as many clothes as he would normally have done. Of course, he
would still be carrying sixty pounds of gear and baby on his back, but there
wasn't anything that he could do to stop Mary from growing!
On Saturday, March 24, our adventure began at 6:05 a.m. We had been planning
to leave the house at 6:15 a.m., to be at the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area by
8:30 a.m., but since we were ready early, we left the house early. And it was
a good thing, too, because there was a huge crowd in Einstein's Bagels!
Normally, at 6:00 a.m., we are the only customers there, but today there was a
soccer tournament at one of the nearby schools, and all of the parents took
their little athletes there for breakfast before the game. It took me twenty
minutes to get our breakfast! Fortunately, we didn't have to make anymore
stops; once we had our breakfast, we hit the road.
Despite the delay at Einstein's, we still made it to the Sabino Canyon
Recreation Area before 8:30 a.m., which left us plenty of time to get our gear
together before the trams began running. After putting Mary in "The Limo", we
walked over to the Visitor Center to wait in line for tram tickets.
As usual, the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area was packed with tourists, day
hikers, and joggers - to my surprise, there were even other backpackers,
something that I had never seen in Sabino Canyon! A lot of these tourists were
already in line with us, waiting for the Visitor Center to open so that they
could purchase tram tickets. Upon seeing Mary riding in "The Limo", most of
these tourists were completely fascinated and asked us, "Are you spending the
night out there? With the baby?" They were even more intrigued when we told
them that Mary had completed her first backpacking trip at
After purchasing our tickets, which cost us $12.00 ($6.00 for each of us, and
Mary was free), John and I loaded our gear onto the tram then took our seats.
We put "The Limo" (with Mary inside of it) between the two of us to keep her
from falling overboard. At 9:10, once all of the passengers were on board, the
tram departed from the Visitor Center, and our tour of Sabino Canyon began.
Having never ridden the tram before, I found the trip to be very interesting,
as the tram ride includes a little narrative about the canyon. Not only did
the driver point out the names of the various desert and riparian plants, but
he also provided his passengers with a little history of the area. For
example, he explained that most of the large boulders in the creek ended up
there during an earthquake that happened in the 1800's. The epicenter of the
quake was in Mexico, only 100 miles away, but Sabino Canyon felts its effects.
He went on to tell us that Sabino Canyon is not only a very popular recreation
area, but that several movies have been shot there. He even said that he once
saw Oprah Winfrey jogging along the road, and another time he saw Will Smith!
Finally, as we climbed the last hill before reaching the end of the road, the
driver pointed out the sheer cliffs that make up the canyon walls. He
explained that one must now obtain permission from the forest service in order
to climb these cliffs, but that wasn't the case in the earlier part of the
twentieth century. He told us a story that had taken place in the 1940's,
where a young boy had gotten stuck while climbing up the cliff. He was pulled
to safety by a police officer, who repelled by rope down to the boy. After the
boy was safe, the rope broke, and the rescuer fell to his death. The story was
featured in Life Magazine in 1948 - the brave officer who had rescued the boy
only had one leg!
Equally fascinated by her tour of Sabino Canyon was Mary, who sat quietly in
"The Limo" and watched as we rode through the canyon. Her eyes were fixed on
the canyon walls and the towering saguaros that dotted the landscape. I
thought it was great to see her so captivated by the scenery.
We reached the end of the road at 9:30 a.m., and as soon as we had our packs
on, we began our hike on the Sabino Canyon Trail #23. After stopping for our
traditional new trail kiss, we stepped onto the trail, which immediately began
to switchback up the side of the hill for the first half-mile. Despite the
fact that we were hiking uphill, we found that the switchbacks were not as
difficult as they seemed. In fact, I think the most difficult part about the
switchbacks was trying to get around all of the day hikers!
About halfway up, we found the junction with the
Phoneline Trail #88 (or, as
we called it, the Moan-Whine Trail). We would be taking that trail back to the
visitor center in the morning, if we were up to it. From there, the trail
continued to climb into the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area for another quarter of
a mile until it finally flattened out as it reached the high point of the
trail, at the half-mile mark. Here, we had nice views of the recreation area
and Sabino Canyon Road. It was also there that the day hikers began to thin
out, leaving the trail a little less crowded.
For the next two miles, the trail followed along high above Sabino Creek; this
part of the trail was very easy, with lots of short climbs and descents.
Although it was getting very warm outside, John and I found ourselves feeling
very good and hiking very strong - we also found that Mary was feeling very
sleepy and had decided to take a long nap! With her asleep, we were able to
make a lot of progress. Around 11:00 a.m., we descended into Sabino Basin,
where we came to the junction with the West Fork Trail #24 - the trail that
would take us to Hutch's Pool. We had already hiked 2.5 miles, so it was time
for us to take our first packs-off break, under the shade of a giant tree at
the trail junction.
Just before we got ready to go again, one group of day hikers caught up to us
- we had passed them on the switchbacks! Their leader, who had apparently
hiked that area many times, told the others in the group that the sign at the
trail junction used to be about five feet tall about four years ago but that
its pole had been buried through the years by the silt from the creek. The
sign was now only a foot tall. After he finished telling his story, he and the
others noticed us - specifically Mary - and commented on what a beautiful baby
we had. They seemed to be amazed that we were taking a seven-month old baby
into the backcountry to spend the night, and they wished us luck as they
continued up the trail.
Immediately behind them was a group of backpackers and another pair of day
hikers - that was our cue to leave (it was getting crowded again!). After
putting our packs back on again, we followed the cairns to the West Fork Trail
#24, which would take us 1.5 miles to Hutch's Pool. The West Fork Trail began
with a wide creek crossing over Sabino Creek, which was gushing with water. I
had a bit of a problem getting across because I am not very good at
rock-hopping, but I did manage to do it, even though I had to get my boots
After crossing Sabino Creek, the trail continues across a beautiful grassy
ridgeline and crosses Box Camp Canyon before returning to the creek. Though
overgrown and a little exposed, this area was very pretty and had some of the
nicest camping areas. We hiked along at a steady pace and eventually passed
the group of day hikers again. This time, John stopped them and asked if they
would take a photo of us at the next creek crossing - there would be one more
creek crossing before Hutch's Pool. They said that they would, so we continued
on until we came to that creek crossing, about an hour later.
And when we saw that creek crossing, we knew immediately that we would not
make it across there. Where the trail intersected with the creek, the waters
were rapid and the creek was wide and deep. While studying the creek to
determine how we were going to get across, the day hikers caught up to us
again and said, "We'll be turning around here." They weren't going to make it
Before they left us, though, they did take our picture. Their leader also gave
us directions to Hutch's Pool, stating that we were only a quarter of a mile
from it. The directions he gave us corresponded to what John had read: if you
start switchbacking uphill, you've gone too far.
We could have just as easily turned around, too, but neither one of us wanted
to do that. We were determined to find Hutch's Pool this time, even if it
killed us. So we decided to bushwhack our way upstream to see if we could find
a calmer spot on the creek where we could get across. John managed to find a
nice spot where he could rock-hop his way across, but I went further still
until I found a calm pool through which I could wade. (Of course, half-way
across, I discovered that it was thigh-high!) I made it across the cool creek
without a problem.
As I joined John the other side of the creek, we found a beautiful sandbar
that would make a great campsite. It was surrounded by trees and boulders and
covered with soft sand and dried oak leaves. I suggested that we camp there
because it looked to be very secluded, but John wanted to first make sure that
it wasn't on the trail. After dropping his pack, he broke through the trees to
look for the trail and found it about fifty yards from the site. When he
returned, we both decided that we should set up camp there.
The three of us had lunch there; while John cut off chunks of cheese and
sausage for us, I fed Mary a jar of mashed banana yogurt. Then, John set up
camp while I filtered some drinking water. Meanwhile, Mary played quietly on a
camp chair. Once the tent was up, John put Mary inside of it to keep her out
of the sun. She continued to play quietly, so John had a perfectly evil idea:
why don't we play naked? What a novel idea - we hadn't "christened a
wilderness area" in a long time! And this would be a new wilderness area, as
we had not yet "done" the Pusch Ridge Wilderness Area (even though we had been
there twice before!).
So with Mary playing quietly in the tent, John and I "played naked"...until
suddenly, we heard people coming towards us. The pair of day hikers who had
passed us earlier in the day were now boulder hopping and trying to make their
way upstream, thus intruding on our private moment. We quickly ran to the tent
to hide our nakedness. After catching our breath, the two of us had to laugh
because it's not often that we get caught in the act!
Having played and rested, John and I got dressed and discussed the plan for
the rest of the day. It was already 2:00 p.m., which meant that we were not
going to make it to Romero Pass and back - Romero pass was four miles away. I
suggested that we put on our daypacks and go look for Hutch's Pool, since that
is what we had come to see. John agreed, so he put Mary back in the "Limo"
(which was now unpacked and much lighter), and I put on the daypack. Once we
were ready to go, we broke through the trees surrounding our campsite and made
our way to the trail.
After ten minutes of hiking, we noticed that the trail was about to start
climbing uphill, and as we looked down, we found a cairn marking a fainter
spur trail that went down to the creek. We followed it for several yards,
through several sandy campsites similar to the one in which we were camped,
all of which were empty. As it was a little overgrown, we had to fight through
several trees, including one manzanita tree branch that swung back and hit
Mary in the face. I comforted her as she cried very loudly - fortunately, the
tree didn't do any serious damage. It left a red mark on her face that went
away several hours later. Mary soon forgot about it, too, as she cried herself
At the end of the spur trail, we found it: Hutch's Pool, our destination. It
was awesome! One hundred feet long and probably eighty feet deep, Hutch's Pool
was situated in a narrow part of the canyon and was fed by a gushing
waterfall. At the shallow end, where it feeds into the creek, we found a pair
of ducks swimming along, undisturbed, as there wasn't a single person there to
enjoy the cool, refreshing waters of the pool.
The spur trail continued up to the cliff that overlooks Hutch's Pool - John
and I figure that this is where visitors can jump into the depths of the pool.
We climbed up to the top so that we could get a better view of the waterfall.
We took one picture after another of the pool and of the waterfall; then, we
sat on the edge of the cliff and relaxed in the warm sunshine while Mary
napped peacefully in the carrier. At that point, it didn't matter that we
weren't going to make it to Romero Pass; we were enjoying the peaceful
afternoon, listening to the sounds of the waterfall, with no one else around
Eventually, we decided to go back to camp. We spent the better part of the
afternoon at our campsite, playing with Mary and sitting by the creek. A bit
later, John decided to go for a short hike by himself because he wanted to see
where the West Fork Trail went. He was gone for about forty minutes, so I
spent that time playing games with Mary. She was in an exceptionally good
mood, so the two of us had a lot of fun - I even got my first hug from her (or
at least my arm did)!
John returned around dinnertime, reporting on where he had gone. He said that
he was able to see West Fork Canyon and that the west fork of the creek only
had a little bit of water in it, unlike the main fork, which was gushing. He
also said that he was glad that he did that little hike by himself, because it
was just enough of a hike to complete his day.
While he cooked dinner, I fed Mary a jar of Vegetable Beef dinner, which she
ate very quickly, making a big mess in the process. After dinner, we built a
campfire; it wasn't cool enough outside for us to need a fire, but we figured
that it would help get rid of the mosquitoes, which had begun to pester us.
The fire didn't help much, but it did give us at least a little bit of relief
from the pests. It wasn't until the sun went down, though, that they all went
Before the sun went down, we put Mary into a sleeper and got all of our
bedding ready, so that we wouldn't have to do it in the dark. John and I then
changed into clean clothes and long pants so that we would be ready when the
temperature dropped. We were lucky, though, that the temperature didn't drop
much at all. I don't think it got below fifty degrees overnight, and during
the evening hours, it must have been in the mid-sixties. At one point, it was
just cool enough that I needed to put on my lightweight jacket, but after that
I was fine.
We spent the evening by the campfire where it was nice and warm. Mary, of
course, was completely fascinated with the fire and wanted to go to it - lucky
for us that she can't crawl yet! It was hard to distract her away from the
bright orange flames. Eventually, though, she became fussy, and we knew that
it was getting to be her bedtime. We put her in her bunting and fed her until
she fell asleep.
While I was feeding Mary, I suddenly heard a noise behind me, and when I
turned to see what was there, I saw a gray and black ringed tail - a ringtail!
It had just dashed through our campsite, looking for food, and when I saw it,
it dashed up on top of the boulders and disappeared. John, who had missed it
completely, peered into the dark to see if he could find it, but it was
gone...or so we thought! Just after he had given up on the search and sat down
again, it reappeared on the boulder directly behind him, then quickly
disappeared again. I heard him scurrying around in the foliage a couple of
times, but he never did come back into view. ("Just stay away from my
backpack!" I thought.)
Mary was asleep by 8:00 p.m., and we went to bed shortly thereafter - I went
inside the tent, and John slept by the campfire. Both of us slept soundly
until 1:00 a.m., when Mary awoke from a coughing fit. I managed to get her
back to sleep rather quickly, but just as I was about to fall back to sleep, I
heard something large scraping around outside of the tent! It sounded like an
animal was tearing up our backpacks. Frightened, I listened; then, a few
minutes later, I could see the bright orange light of the campfire through the
wall of the tent. The scraping I had heard was not an animal at all! It was
John trying to fix the logs in the fire ring so that he could get the campfire
going again! Very much relieved, I emerged from the tent to answer the call of
nature (since I had nearly wet myself earlier), and I told John that he had
scared me half to death.
I went back to bed and slept peacefully again until 4:30 a.m., when Mary was
awakened again by a coughing fit. This time, it took more than just a few
comforting pats on the chest for her to go back to sleep. I gave her a half of
a bottle of formula before she fell back to sleep, but by that time I was wide
awake. Time to start the day!
I managed to get the campfire restarted before John woke up - he, too, had
been awakened at 4:30 when Mary started coughing, but he had gone back to
sleep. Now that we were both awake, we sat quietly by the campfire for about
an hour and enjoyed some peaceful time together before it was time to wake
And when we did, we discovered that she had thrown up all over herself during
one of her coughing fits. What a "lovely" way to start the day! We had to do
another "Chinese fire drill" to get her out of those wet clothes and into a
clean sweatsuit. After that was over, though, she was much happier and ready
Once we were done with breakfast, it was time to tear down camp and begin our
trek back to the van. Our plan was to break camp by 8:00 a.m., but we actually
didn't make it out of there until about 8:20 because we had a few Mary-related
And, of course, our first big challenge of the day was getting across the
creek. I decided to go through the pool next to our campsite, but John
returned to the place where he had crossed the day before. It took us about
ten minutes before we both made it back to the trail. After that, the rest of
the day would be easy.
Our initial plan for the day was to hike back the way we had come, but instead
of going back down the switchbacks to the road, we would take the Phoneline
Trail all the way back to the Visitor Center. John also suggested that we take
the Phoneline Trail to the Phoneline Connector Trail and take that back to
Tram Stop #1, where we could catch the tram back to the Visitor's Center. It
would all depend on how we felt once we got to that point. Since it was such
an easy trail, and since we really didn't have to be home at a certain time,
we were still planning to do the whole Phoneline Trail, just so that we could
get the mileage.
We hiked at a good pace and made it to the trail junction with the Sabino
Canyon Trail before 9:30. We stopped there briefly to get Power Bars to eat
along the way before we began our climb out of Sabino Basin. At that point,
Mary woke up from her morning nap, but instead of fussing, she quietly enjoyed
the ride as we hiked up the trail.
As the trail began to flatten out, we finally saw the first day hikers of the
day. Around 10:00, we stopped to take our first packs-off break, and as we
relaxed in the shade, more and more day hikers passed by us. One group of day
hikers was a group of young girls, all of whom were wearing bikini tops. John
looked at Mary and said, "Daddy loves hiking!" (And I said, "Daddy's a dirty
By that time, it was becoming a very warm day - so warm that John was actually
beginning to dread the hike on the Phoneline Trail. It was a very exposed
trail that would not provide us with any shade, and we would be hiking it
during the heat of the afternoon. So, during our break, he spoke up and
suggested that we skip the Phoneline Trail and hike the switchbacks down to
the end of the road. He stated that, since he had already hiked it before (in
March 1998, with his mother - before he met me), he could still write it up
for our web site. If we hiked the switchbacks, we could be done hiking by
11:00 a.m. - just in time to catch the tram back to the visitor's center!
Then, we could go to visit my mother for a few minutes on our way back home.
Of course, I didn't need any excuses to skip the Phoneline Trail. We had
already hiked part of it a couple of months ago, and although I thought it had
some nice views of the canyon, that was all that the trail had going for it.
I, too, had been dreading the long hike in the heat, and I was happy when John
suggested that we catch the tram instead.
By the time we reached the switchbacks, we began to feel like a fish swimming
upstream again. We were passed by several groups of day hikers going uphill as
we were coming down. Then, when we reached the junction with the Phoneline
Trail, we paused momentarily to make the final decision: should we take the
Phoneline Trail, or should we finish hiking now? We were only a quarter of a
mile from the end of the road, and it was all downhill, but if we took the
Phoneline Trail, it was another four miles and uphill...well, we didn't need
anymore convincing. We finished the Sabino Canyon Trail and sat down on a
bench to wait for the tram.
We never regretted that decision either. We were able to spend a half an hour
at my mother's house, which my mother very much appreciated because she got to
spend time with Mary. We also managed to make it home by 3:00 p.m., which gave
us time to do our weekly grocery shopping and to cook a nice meal to celebrate
the end of a wonderful weekend spent at an amazing place.