Counting Flowers on the Wasson Peak

I am on a quest while in Tucson to see the things I didn’t get to see last year, either due to time constraints for work, or in the case of Wasson Peak, lack of ability.  There was a Ranger-led hike to Wasson Peak during my visit last year.  I wanted to participate in the program, but didn’t want my tortoise pace to hold up the group.  I still have a tortoise pace, but this year I decide I am good to go on my own.

King Canyon Trail head -- the closest I get to seeing the sunrise.

King Canyon Trail head — the closest I get to seeing the sunrise.

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The temperature has been on an increase all week during my Gilbert Ray stay.   I finally break down and turn on the Winnie AC for what I recall to be only the second time since leaving Death Valley last year.   Being in the Pacific Northwest all last summer, it got a nice long break.   I am relieved to hear it kick in once the internal RV temp hits 85.

If I am going to do this hike to Wasson Peak, I know I need to get an early start.  I want to be off the trail by noon due to the escalating heat.  The Ranger estimates it to be a six hour hike round trip, so I make plans to be at the trail head by 6:00am.

The sun coming up, lighting up the valley below.

The sun coming up, lighting up the valley below.

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Desert Lupine and Prickly Pear

Although I have never been a “morning person,” I find that I enjoy the wee small hours of the morning now that I have the freedom to wake up without the aid of an alarm.  How on earth did we ever get to the point of starting each day with something called an “ALARM!!”  But at least I no longer wake up to the shriek of an intermittent buzzer in my ear.  Now, Bob Marley coaxes me out of bed at 5:30am telling me “Every little ting….gonna be alright.”

Too far away to tell if it is Larkspur or Lupine.

Too far away to tell if it is Larkspur or Lupine.

Once I am up and awake, I am excited at the prospect of seeing a sunrise on my hike.  But I soon learn the King Canyon trail to Wasson Peak is not suitable for a sunrise hike due to the high bluff on the eastern side of the trail.   The sun is long up and casting shadows across the valley before I ever get a glimpse.

Mariposa Lily

Mariposa Lily

Poppies and Four O'Clocks...

Poppies and Four O’Clocks…

Wasson Peak at elevation of 4687 ft. is the highest mountain in the Tucson Mountain Range, so I anticipate a moderately strenuous climb.  But the King Canyon trail actually turns out to be quite pleasant and not too challenging.    The early morning light across the canyon makes for beautiful scenery along the hike.  I spot a crested saguaro not too far off the trail, and do a little bushwhacking for a better view.

Thinking of you, Pam!

Thinking of you, Pam!

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But my favorite sightings by far are the wildflowers that seem to turn toward the trail in the early morning sun.  Splashes of yellow and orange, pink and purple are dotted amidst the green bursage of the Sonoran desert.  While walking along the trail, I set my intentions to find a field guide back at the Visitor Center, as I think it is time I start to put names to faces.IMG_1643

Parry's Penstemon at the base of juvenile saguaros.

Parry’s Penstemon at the base of juvenile saguaros.

Following a long series of switchbacks, I finally come to the junction with the Hugh Norris Trail.  I have been hiking for a little over an hour now, and have only seen one other person.   I can see beyond the saddle that the summit is well within my reach, but the steepest part is yet ahead.  It’s a long series of arduous switchbacks to the top.IMG_1652 IMG_1647

Once I reach the summit, there is only one person, a single woman not far from my age.  She strikes up a conversation, and tells me she is doing this hike in prep for her upcoming trip to Havasupai next week.  “Ever heard of it?” she asks.  I respond “Not only have I heard of it, I was just there two weeks ago!”   We spend a half an hour on the summit, talking about this upcoming hike.  She is a bit apprehensive due to a thigh muscle injury, but I reassure her if she made it up the switchbacks, she will have no problem in Havasupai…just a little longer hike and a few more of them.  We say our goodbyes as she heads on down the mountain leaving me all alone on top to enjoy my favorite summit snack of PB&J.IMG_1633

Token Summit Shot

Token Summit Shot

Makeshift Picnic Table

Makeshift Picnic Table

I am halfway down the mountain, making the loop to the Sendero Esperanza trail when I run into her again.  She is on the side of the trail with a pen and paper in hand, photographing wildflowers.  She tells me researching the names of wildflowers is a hobby of hers, and she is taking note of the ones that are unfamiliar.  Given that I had just declared my intention to learn the names of the wildflowers, I all but hear “Twilight Zone” music playing in my head.

Yucca bloom?

Yucca bloom?

Rose Mallow

Rose Mallow

We walk the remainder of the way down the trail together, her stopping to educate me on how to recognize the difference between Brittlebush and the Desert Sunflower, identify Phacelia and Parry’s Penstemon.  She points out lilies, daisies, primrose and poppies, rose mallow, globe mallow, and showy four o’clocks.  I tell her I have exceeded my brain capacity of four new words in one day, but I hike on with her anyway, as I enjoy her company.

I adore the little Pincushion cactus that looks like it has a wreath of flowers around its head.

I adore the little Pincushion cactus that looks like it has a wreath of flowers around its head.

An example of Teddy Bear Cactus (left) and Chainfruit Cholla (right) side by side.

An example of Teddy Bear Cactus (left) and Chainfruit Cholla (right) side by side.

Once we reach the parking lot, she makes mention of exchanging email addresses, but neither of us has pen.   No matter.  Between my sharing tips on Havasupai and her education on Wasson Peak wildflowers, I suspect we each got just what we came for…

17 thoughts on “Counting Flowers on the Wasson Peak

  1. Wasn’t this just the best hike! When we did this trail awhile back, the wildflowers were just beginning so we were quite excited. Someday I need to learn all the flowers. It’s great that you were able to name all the ones in your post.

    That is a very cool saguaro!! I was wondering how you got that great shot. I don’t remember anyone getting this close of a photo. Thanks for bushwhacking to get closer:) There is another huge crested saguaro on the return trip but it is behind you. Eric, who we were hiking with, just happened to turn around and see it. Check it on your next trip:)

  2. Hi – I enjoy your blog and have watched your transition into retirement and being a serious and accomplished trekker with interest and admiration – I’m headed in that direction myself – at least the retirement part. I wonder if u get any comments about your black website background. While setting off your pictures beautifully I find it very hard on the eyes.

  3. So glad you enjoyed the Wasson Peak hike — it’s a fun one, for sure! As Pam said, the wildflowers were just starting to bloom when we made our trek up the mountain back in mid-February. I’m a wildflower geek, too — I always enjoy putting names to faces. Love the flower photos — and yes, that’s a yucca bloom. :-)

  4. We loved this blog, we both love the desert flowers and you take beautiful of them. As to their names, they are the red ones, the pink ones, well you get it. Glad you met such an engaging fellow hiker and you both enjoyed the talk.

  5. No such thing as coincidence. You two definitely had stories to share. Plus you got some great shots all along the way. I bought a desert wildflower book this winter.

  6. I love the wildflowers and find myself taking so much time enjoying them I make very poor time. At least that is what I tell myself :) I had Yuccas growing in my yard in the Eastern part of Washington State….the blooms looked just like your pic.

  7. Awesome photos and the color and shape of the Mariposa Lily is beautiful. You are looking toasty brown which is a good thing, I think. Thanks, for sharing.

  8. One of my favorite hikes! We did it earlier in the year and only saw a few wildflowers so I’m a little jealous of all those pretty blooms. I am also one of those people who take pictures and notes so I can identify them later. What can I say, I am a true plant nerd.

  9. Yay, you made it! We will definitely be doing this hike when we return to Tucson. Love those wildflower photos, as I too love putting names to faces. I am amazed at how far you have come Suzanne…excellent! :)

  10. Such a lovely hike in so many ways. We always called them “fishhook” cactus :-). Love the trails photos just before we met the new trail friend. The lighting is beautiful. Nice to know the A/C works when the temps get up there!

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