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May 8-9, 1999

"Super Blow Job on Old Baldy"

With Mother's Day on Sunday, John and I had to plan our weekend very carefully in order for us to have an adventurous weekend and still earn brownie points with my mother. That meant that we had two options: a) we could go car camping, and b) we could go backpacking, set up camp within a few miles of the trailhead, go exploring, come back to camp, then hike back out in the morning. We also had to plan our trip for the Tucson area because the plan was to take my mother to lunch for Mother's Day (and my mother lives in Tucson). The easiest thing for us to do would have been car camping, right?

Wrong! During the week, John and I decided to clean out our storage unit -- thus completing the "merger" -- and my mother called "dibs" on my bed. We told her that we would bring it down to her on Mother's Day without even thinking that, by doing so, we wouldn't be able to go car camping because we wouldn't have room for any of our camping gear. That left us with only one option: the aforementioned Plan B.

So John began to do some research into Tucson area backpacking trips that would allow us to camp close to the trailhead. Instead, he found a way for us to have an adventurous weekend and still make it back to Tucson in enough time to take Mom to lunch.

Back in February, during our road trip to the Coronado National Memorial, I introduced John to Madera Canyon, in the Santa Rita Mountains -- a very pretty recreational area, shaded with lots and lots of trees, inhabited by hundreds of species of birds. (Madera Canyon is one of the most popular bird watching places in the world.) I used to go on day trips to this area with my mother when I lived in Tucson, and I had fallen in love with it, so I had to share it with John. He, too, became fascinated with the Santa Ritas; and after much research, he found two trails for us to do that weekend. These two trails -- the Super Trail and the Old Baldy Trail -- form a 13.7-mile figure eight intersecting at Josephine Saddle and then at Baldy Saddle, where the Super Trail ends and the Old Baldy Trail continues to the summit of Mount Wrightson. To sweeten the deal, we would be hiking in the Mount Wrightson Wilderness Area -- a new wilderness area in which we could be naked!

So Saturday morning, at 5:30 a.m., we left for our adventure in the Santa Rita Mountains. To get there, we took I-10 south to Tucson, then took I-19 south to Green Valley, where we exited on Continental Road. Following this road, it is eleven miles on paved road to the trailhead. It was along this route that two very young deer ran across the road in front of us and dashed off into the grassy fields -- what an awesome sight!

Once we arrived at the Madera Canyon Trailhead, at 8:00 in the morning, we found that there were already about ten to fifteen cars parked at the trailhead, meaning that the trail was probably going to be ridiculously crowded, probably with day hikers. As we were preparing to step onto the trail, several more cars arrived, one of which belonged to a jogger, who jogged the entire length of the Super Trail. "Look honey," I said, "another lunatic!"

We hit the trail at 8:20 in the morning, beginning our long trek up to Baldy Saddle, where we planned to camp. From the trailhead, it was 8.2 miles to Baldy Saddle then another .9 miles to the top of Mount Wrightson -- and a total elevation gain of 4,100 feet, making that our biggest climb thus far!

.....And what a climb it was! Though it was a gentle climb all the way to Gardner Canyon, where we set up camp, it was, nonetheless, a steady climb that went on for 8.2 miles, with no downhill and no flat areas, as it skimmed the ridgeline of the Santa Ritas.

Despite the steady climb, the Super Trail was a beautiful one. The first four miles are shaded for the most part by tall trees, where we found blue jays and other types of unusual birds. Along the way, we passed by a couple of backpackers, who were obviously birdwatchers. They had binoculars around their necks, and they took frequent breaks in order to stop and watch the birds.

Just before Josephine Saddle, four miles into the trail, we came to Sprung Spring, where there was an abundance of clear water being pumped from the spring into a large tank. John and I stopped to purify a half-gallon of water before continuing on. "There's supposed to be another spring just like this at Baldy Saddle," he told me. "According to the book, Baldy Spring always has water in the tank. We'll get some more water there. The book also says that there is a campsite near the spring. I'm thinking that we should camp there."

Mount Wrightson I concurred, so we continuing "onwards and upwards". After passing through Josephine Saddle, where there is a memorial for a group of Boy Scouts who were killed in a freak snowstorm in the 1950's, we kept climbing for another three miles. During this stretch of the trail, as we began to hike towards the south side of the Santa Ritas, we had some very pretty views of the Huachucas and the Patagonias. It was also at this point along the trail where we began to feel the effects of the constant climb uphill. John and I both developed huge blisters on our left heels, and John was becoming fatigued. We were very happy when we finally found a campsite, seven and a half miles into the trail, at Gardner Saddle.

It was around noon when we finally dropped our packs at our campsite. It felt good to sit down, and even better to eat lunch, which consisted of cheddar cheese and summer sausage, chopped up and wrapped in a tortilla. We rested there for about a half an hour while we covered our blisters with moleskin and put our daypacks together. We also bear-bagged our food, something we had never done before but had to learn how to do in preparation for our honeymoon. Basically, we took our rope and tied one end to the bag of food and the other end to a rock. Then, John took the rock and threw it over the highest branch he could find. He thought that he was going to have to do it several times before he got it right, but he managed to get the rope over the branch the first time! Finally, he hoisted the bag up as high as it would go and tied the other end to a lower tree branch. It was a proud moment for both of us, so I took out the camera and snapped a picture of our successful attempt at bear-bagging.

Baldy Trickle Once we were ready to go, we continued up the trail to Baldy Spring to get some more water. Or should I say Baldy "Trickle"! When we arrived at Baldy Spring, we found that it was nothing more than a tiny stream of water being pumped from broken, rusted pipes. The water no longer flowed into the tank but into the ground because the pipes had been disconnected. But since we needed water, we took our water bottles and slowly filled them with water. After filling the first bottle, we filtered it into the second bottle then refilled the first with unpurified water, which we would use for boiling. The entire process took us about a half an hour. Once we finally finished, we returned to camp to set up our tent.

As I said before, we camped near Gardner Canyon, on a saddle that we think was Gardner Saddle. It was a rather large campsite shaded by tall pine trees, on which we hung up our backpacks overnight. To the south of us, just a few feet away, was a rocky hill that caught John's attention. Being the adventurer that he is, he suggested that we climb up it to see what was there. From the top of this hill, we found a beautiful panoramic view of southern Arizona: of the Huachucas, the Chiracahuas, the Patagonias, Empire Cienga, San Rafael Valley, even the Rincons! We stood atop this promontory and admired the view for a while before nestling down in a bed of pine needles near the edge of a cliff to "christen another wilderness area".

Just before three o'clock that afternoon, we finally made the jaunt up to the top of Mount Wrightson -- a strenuous 0.9-mile climb to the summit of the tallest peak in the Santa Ritas. The last half-mile of the hike is a series of steep switchbacks that are full of loose rock, much like found on the Hell's Gate Trail #37 (and we all know how much my tailbone appreciates loose rock on the trail!). John was the one who slipped on the loose rock this time, and though he didn't fall on his rear, he managed to pull a muscle in his back and then another one in his knee. By the time we reached the summit, he was completely exhausted, so he took a few moments to lie down on his back to rest.

At the summit of Mount Wrightson, we found a placard explaining the history of watchtowers in the Santa Ritas as well as the remains of the old watchtower that was removed in the 1950's. There was also a metal box containing a spiral-bound notebook in which we could write our names and commentary about the hike. John wrote that the hike had "too much uphill" and that we needed more "flat hikes". I said that it was a great hike and that it really got the heart beating.

The best part, though, was the view. From the peak, we had some amazing three hundred sixty degree views. We could see almost all of southern Arizona, from Tucson to the Mexican border. Ironically, we could also see the van! Directly below us, I found Continental Road leading into Madera Canyon, at the end of which I could see the parking area where we had left the van. How ironic that we had hiked so far into the wilderness only to be able to see our vehicle from our destination!

The worst part of our visit to the summit was the wind! We were blasted by thirty mile an hour winds that forced us to cut short our visit. At four o'clock, we began to hike back down the mountain towards camp. However, even after we descended from the summit of Mount Wrightson, the wind didn't quit. All through the evening and all night long, we were haunted by fifty mile an hour winds that threatened to spread our campfire into the forest (which would have been very bad). The wind kept us up all night as it rattled the tent and howled. Just when it would die down enough for us to drift off the sleep, it would begin to scream again, waking us up and keeping us awake until the next time it died down. By morning, we were so miserable from lack of sleep that we couldn't wait to get out of there.

At seven o'clock the next morning, after quickly eating breakfast and packing up camp, we began to hike down the Old Baldy Trail which, from Baldy Saddle, is only 4.2 miles back to the trailhead and all downhill. From the saddle, the trail begins a series of steep switchbacks into the canyon through a grove of leaf-bare trees that were getting ready to bloom. The walls of the canyon are sheer cliffs of "painted" rock, in shades of bright orange, yellow, red and green. It made for a very lovely, scenic hike.

Halfway to Josephine Saddle, towards the end of the switchbacks, John stopped in his tracks and motioned for me to join him. "Look, honey," he said, pointing into the trees, "a deer!" Sure enough, there was a young deer in the trees, nibbling on grass and drinking from a small pool of water. We made eye contact with it, but instead of running away (as deer usually do in the presence of humans), the deer remained where he was and continued to eat his breakfast! We began walking again, but not even the sound of our footsteps could frighten this deer away. Of course, as heavily populated as Madera Canyon is, the deer is probably used to seeing human beings and is no longer afraid of them.

We continued on towards Josephine Saddle, where we stopped to take a break. From there, we were only an hour from the van along the Old Baldy Trail. At that point, we began to see the first of the day hikers going up to Mount Wrightson. Before long, the trail was full of day hikers; we passed by several groups on our way back to the trailhead.

At 9:30 that morning we arrived at the Madera Canyon Trailhead, way ahead of schedule, meaning that we had lots of time to get cleaned up before going to meet my mother. We even had time to stop and pick some wildflowers for her on the side of the road, earning John major son-in-law points. By 11:00 a.m., we were in Tucson, and after delivering the bed, we took my mother and my brother Clyde to lunch at the Olive Garden. A nice time was had by all.


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