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
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.