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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…