Saguaro East and the Foothills
Today, I headed to the East side of Saguaro National Park today in the Rincon mountains.
My hike there did not disappoint. I hiked a few miles of the Tanque Verde Rdige Trail, which is a back-country trail that goes way into the Saguaro National Park wilderness. I liked this trail better than yesterday’s; there were many more types of vegetation around, the climb wasn’t as steep, and I got to see some wildlife! I was lucky enough to see a Gila monster. It’s a venomous lizard but luckily, it’s pretty slow and I saw it early. He was hanging around the trail and I saw him just as he moved off behind some grass. I am glad I saw him on time, as he was completely hidden behind the grass. I waited to see which way he’d go, and he kept going away from the trail. As I approached, he seemed completely disinterested in an encounter and scuttled away. I was told that it’s rare to see one in the wild, as they spend 90% o their time underground. This time of year, they can be active in the morning, so coming out early paid off! Gila monsters do have venom in their bite, but it’s not deadly. Still, it looked pretty scary, and shortly after I decided to turn around as it was getting close to the one-hour one-way limit I had set for myself.
I was finished with the hike so early that I had a few hours to kill before I had to return the rental car. I headed for the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains, where a posh mall and high-end housing nestled into the foothills had earned this area the name “The Beverly Hills of Tucson.” Several resort hotels and spas are also in the area, and I chose to have lunch at one of them. Hacienda del Sol was beautiful. The grounds were beautifully kept, and the place was oozing Southwestern charm from every corner. The restaurant, the Grill at Hacienda del Sol, offered an amazing brunch, but I oped for a quinoa salad, whose health benefits I instantly negated with two scoops of ice cream. It it so hot here, I’d be eating ice cream all day every day if I could.
To top it all off, I drove into the Santa Catalina Mountains themselves. A winding road takes you up 7000 ft over 28 miles to Mt. Lemmon, so named after Sara Lemon, the first woman to climb the peak in 1881. This is the southern-most ski slope in the United States (I can hardly believe snow reaches that far south, but then again, it’s 9,000 ft up!). I only went half way up, to Windy Point, but I did get to see the change in vegetation described in my guidebook. Because the climb up this mountain is so steep, every 1000 ft in elevation is equivalent to traveling 300 miles North. By the time you climb the mountain, vegetation is much more similar Southern Canada. I saw this for myself, as the saguaros disappeared at about 4000 ft and gave way to bushes, then trees, then pine forest.
My conference begins today, so I won’t have too much time left for sight-seeing, but I still plan on visiting the 4th Avenue district for dinner tomorrow and Sabino Canyon on Tuesday evening, so stay tuned! 🙂