2013-09-13 in Romero Canyon
I had wanted to get to these illusive pools for about 35 years. I recently had been told by a friend who knew the area that she would show me the best of the pools. There were the Romero Pools and then there were more. These are amongst the Catalina Mountains. We look at this place in the vista from my home in the Tortolita Mountain range. As I began to research online and with topos, I found that it had become a popular destination. There is a designated trailhead in Catalina State Park, where we sometimes attend full moon drum circles. I had been up there with Jeannine about ten years before. We found pools that it seems no one knows about, but I now realized that we hadn’t gone far enough. We had spent a long time absorbing and documenting about 42 different flowers along the trail on that spring day and I was in one of my less healthy periods. Another half mile would have found us at the Oasis.
My friend told me that week, that she couldn’t do it with the current heat and she claimed to be out of shape for such a strenuous climb. DF was in Colorado, visiting with her sister at her cousin’s (hadn’t seen him in 30+ years) home in a Colorado Rocky mountain paradise, turned disaster area. USA Today reported “Biblical Floods” and she was stranded in a mountain mansion with an extensive wine cellar.
I decided that I had enough information to just go it with no guide. The general temperatures should be 10F degrees lower (low 90F’s) that day and would eventually be cooler still, with the elevation gains. It was Friday, not a weekend, and the monsoon was in a reprieve. I figured that the hike back would be in the mid-day heat and there would be fewer textile hikers, even though this is a popular trail. The sun beats down as the slope faces west. Seize the moment, Carpe Diem.
Remember, you can increase the clarity and composition of any picture by clicking on it.
On the way over, there is a song on the radio repeating, “These are the good times, soon to come to an end.” It is a catchy tune, but a very bad mantra. I arrive and there is a volunteer at the gate demanding $7 to get into the park! Charging me $7 bucks to maintain the picnic ground that rarely gets used! It used to be that you could four wheel drive up in there and further. I remember getting the first Arizona pinstripe on a brand new truck there, breaking it in.
So, I realize that I have a bad attitude coupled with this negative song lyric stuck in the head, repeating itself. The water is running in the river bed, the scenery is great. This attitude won’t do. I change the lyric to, “These are new beginnings, new beginnings, end to end. These are new beginnings, every moment, strung end to end.” The redundant silly thing actually picks me up.
I’m looking at rugged masses of green mountains with massive cliffs ahead of me. There are many flowers to each side of the trail.
I’m singing this mantra and passing these beautiful sights. I’m also seeing way too many other people passing by, but now I’m okay. Not nude hiking, not yet knowing if that would be possible, but at the present moment, this day is good.
The trail is a smooth and wide stroll for about a half mile. For example, a lady came by, walking her Chihuahua dog, smiled and then jogged off. There are loops off of the main trail, consequently lots of people.
After that, the trail is a continuous uphill stair step for the duration, except where it juts downhill for a short time and then back up, near the pools. The rocks are washed of soil from the rains.
For the most part it is very rough climbing. There are two miles of this.
After continuing and entering the steeper rocky primitive ascent, I finally come to a tree, which is the first shade. There is a shaded boulder inviting me.
It is time for a break and water. It is then that I decide to switch to my wraparound skirt with the quick convenient snaps. While I sit, I hear voices. Two women followed by two men. The two women stop to talk.
They tell me they are celebrating the ones “major” birthday by taking the hike. I had put my backpack between my legs, as I sat, so that I wouldn’t expose my stuff in my short skirt. One glanced down a couple of times. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to figure out the skirt, or observing a view. I’m not very used to wearing short skirts.
After they passed, I felt that it was time to strip and be vigilant. It was ten-fold cooler with the clothing off. I had my shirt draped over my shoulders, but not properly on, to protect from too much sun (the time for sun tanning was later) and the daypack straps held it in place. That shirt was sopping wet all day.
Reaching the top of a ridge and heading down into territory that I have never been to, I hear voices. It occurs to me that I have often complained about how so many women that talk too much on the trail. This chatter also makes for a good warning signal for me to be grateful for. Encountering women and children on the trail is the real concern, not the men. I receive good warning. There they are out there at the top of the next ridge, looking down, as to watch their step. Poll-en-tee of warning. I inquire of them and the answer is, “the pools are about ten minutes hike.”
I had asked all of those encountered about the number of people at the pools. They all gave exactly the same response, “a few.”
I come up over a ridge, suddenly hearing rushing water and look down into the canyon at a wild waterfall far below.
There is still more hiking to do.
The next encounter is two guys. I ask, “Are these the pools?” “You’re here,” was the reply AND “There’s just a few.”
First signs of water:
I have arrived, now, looking down on a group on the rocks by one of the big pools. As I look for the way down I am trying to figure if they would be able to look up that skirt. It occurs to me that there is more to wearing a skirt than wrapping it around my waist to cover up.
} I notice that they are putting on shoes, etc. They ARE leaving! It is getting hotter. I figure how to get down without showing off what was under the skirt and the place is mine! Perfect timing!
I am delighted.
I strip down and slowly wade into the water. I notice that it has that harmless brown tint like all of the Catalina Mountain streams. There is a chill, but it shortly becomes wonderful. I am suddenly overcome by a spontaneous Native American style chanting. What the heck, I begin to go with the rhythm and vibration in the water. These hikes are a spiritual soulful experience at times. The spirit of song has popped up several times today.
Then, something is coming up…
… MORE VOICES! I look up to see two young guys and a girl. I’m spotted. I’m actually trapped, as I am getting out and wrapping on the skirt. The first of them arrives, climbing down the last granite drop-off. He tells me that it is okay. The others say nothing. Nudity is no problem for them. I lay back on the pleasant warm surface of the slab which slopes into the pool. I quietly stretch a bit and think what I might do. My revelry has been taken. I can be as I choose. There seems to be the potential for more people than expected. Most people actually don’t care and this has been a known skinnydip spot for decades. Shall I decide to keep on my toes, or just grin and bare it. Down below, Oro Valley is a very conformist, structured, retirement manicured community. There are now more people there who’s sensibilities would be tweaked, than other places. I ponder whether Romero Pools are no longer a haven. I might not have anonymity there. There are more, statistically, police per capita there than any place that I have ever known. They need something to do. For example, an undercover RV van was on 24 hour surveillance to protect a street sign with notification of annexation on it. It is a placid community of 25,000 with no real crime that has a swat team. Three patrol cars for a speeding ticket are not usual. What would be the odds of being happened upon by someone that actually objected and then find that the over-kill police presence leaves a patrol at the trailhead in waiting?
Meanwhile, things are quite boisterous, but hey, at the moment everyone is friendly and accepting. The two watch as their buddy goes straight to a cliff above a lower pool. Without much hesitation, he jumps down into the water. Probably 30 or 40 feet! “Whaoh, I’d check the water level first dude,” I think. I ask if I can take a picture of the next jump. “No prob.” The first guy then asks me if I’m going to jump, too. I quickly grin and calmly state, “Hell no.”
I could have stayed. I could have been naked. It probably would have been fun. But, I decide to go ahead up the trail to the other pools that I had been told about. I didn’t know when I might come back and I would be wondering what was back there, that I had missed. I want to have that lone spiritual time with nature.
As I pack up and the first guy tells me that there are a lot of people on the weekends, trying to be helpful and sensing that I am after some solitude and not a playground, today. I do feel that on this day I need more elbow room. It feels like a crowd.
I Hoist myself up the layer of granite sculpture that I have seen the others use for access. Going this way, there is a trail through the grass past a flat campsite with a small firepit. This leads to the main trail.
The main trail is much more overgrown past the pools.
I had read and been told, that people just go to the pools and stop. That looks evidently true. I strip off my wrap and drape it around my neck. It is pretty here.
There are rocks, occasional sightings of the stream, trees and always the impending rugged mountain vistas are surrounding me in their valley.
The half mile “to the next set of pools where the trail crosses it” that I read about, isn’t that far. I am done with half of my water when I arrive at a double waterfall and pools. These are the pools and waterfall that my friend spoke of.
I need to back this story up a few hundred feet. On the way there, I stopped to check out and photograph a flowering tree-like plant that was unfamiliar to me. I snapped it and suddenly realized that I was all but standing on a large snake! I quickly moved. It was one of those spontaneous actions that appear in slow motion. There was no time to look to see if there was a rattle attached. The snake still didn’t move. I saw the tail and it was instead, a bullsnake. The tail was in the trail, but I couldn’t even see the head hidden up in the bushes. It showed around four feet of snake and I still couldn’t see the head! That is very long. Its body wasn’t wide. Usually a bull snake will get bigger around, as it grows long. Unusual, I suspect.
As my reptilian mind subsides from the shock, I think, “so much for your full awareness mindfulness trip, DUDE, keep watching for snakes in the grass!” I check out the elegant creature and take a photo. Camera out, I’m getting ready for a pic to document the flowered tree-like plant’s size and I’m startled again. It doesn’t quite get me going like the snake did. This time, it is two women popping out of the thick foliage. There just isn’t enough time to rest the camera and dress. I’ve only got the wrap held in front of me as they approach. They watch as I arrange my attire. I explain, “I didn’t expect to see anyone.” The reply is, “no problem.”
We have a short pleasant conversation. It is as if I am not standing there undressed. They had big packs, having been obviously camping. I suspect that they are gay by their dress and hair styles. I tell them about the snake in the trail and warn to watch and not to step on it. It is just ten feet away. They tell me that they had seen a black turtle, not tortoise, and a black rattlesnake in the middle of the trail a ways ahead. I inquire further and it is determined that I won’t be going that far. I show them the snake. It still hadn’t moved. They ask me snake questions, like, “Is a bullsnake poison?”
I have some healthy lunch of fresh veggies, a walnut pate that I had made and sun dried tomatoes. I wrap it up in romaine lettuce leaves and turn it into a burrito.
Medjool dates are a nice dessert. With my feet in the water and butt on a smooth rock, I rest, listen, and just be there.
I move and sit at the foot of the waterfall, doing some praying and chanting. It is compelling to do this at that beautiful serene spot. This was what I had been looking for.
In the amber colored water, swirling foam creates patterns. Hanging out, waiting for the biggest bubble is fun, just siting, smelling, listening without care.
There isn’t much shade here and I have already been into the next half of my water. It is time to go.
I find my shoes, gather myself and begin, peacefully back on the trail.
Bang! Another group with backpacks is heading up for the weekend. They are friendly, but look and even stare at the confusing warp-around as they pass one by one. If I had stayed naked, I think it would have felt like being a display, or then again, maybe it would have been easier for them to wrap their heads around a bare body than that bath wrap skirt. It’s not generally considered as okay to stare at genitals.
Not used to a lot of water, I try an experiment in the stream near the popular pools, before I leave it to return to the desert. I try one sore bare foot in the cool water and leave one out in the shoe. It is better, but only for a short while.
The heat of the day is imminent as I begin the descent.
It is mid-day and there shouldn’t be anyone in hot clothing coming up here in this heat. My shirt is on the shoulders. My wrap is around the neck. I’m not concerned for encounters. Then, here comes a guy with four women. There have been more women than men on this day, generally. I inquire about the heat, and the answer is, “Oh we just got a late start.” Goal oriented hikers, it seems, will start late into hard conditions, anyway. My conclusion, there is no guarantee that I won’t encounter someone because it is way hot. Of course they all look at the skirt, attempting to figure it out. No question is asked.
I manage to just stay naked and thus cooler all the way, but for the few encounters.
My feet are very sore. My water is getting low. Looking down below, I can see the last mile and the distance. It has become a struggle.
Down where the trail isn’t so steep, my water is about gone and I am conserving it. It is hot. The ground is hot through my shoe. I’m tired, no, exhausted. I need more water. This is the first time that I am running out of water on a hike, which is dangerous. I am getting pretty close to the trailhead, one step at a time and each one of those steps hurt. Back in the more park-like area, I decide to put on the skirt as I am walking along and do so. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I see a couple with a baby in a backpack maybe 100 feet behind me. They probably have been watching my bare buns for a while on this straight open section. I have been totally busted in my beleaguered state. I usually don’t move so slow as to have people come up behind me and my focus usually isn’t so forward and intent on getting someplace. I happen to find a rare thing, a tree at that time. I lean on it taking a respite in the small patch of shade and let them pass.
The shade of passing clouds has been my only relief for miles.
At last, I step directly into the stream by the trailhead to cool my feet. The couple with the baby are sitting in it.
I struggle as I make it to my air-conditioned truck. There are mere drops of water, maybe three.
Across the street from the entrance to Catalina State Park, is a fast food drive through. I drive through ordering a tall cold iced drink with the wrap in my lap. I’m too messed up to be more presentable. Oh that re-hydration was so needed. It was a bit scary to run out of water and begin to feel the effects. My lips are dry, beginning that swollen parched feel. “Would you like fries with that?”
“What the…, NO, just the biggest drink that you have.” grinds out of my throat.
When I got back home, I checked the weather. It was 98F, not low nineties, as predicted that morning!
This Romero Pools trail is a great place, but there are too many people and a killer trail climb. If you figure that this “busy” experience happened over a period of six hours, it wasn’t so bad, I suppose. Still it seemed that I was frequently covering up. I don’t think that it is worth all of the effort get there. I probably won’t go back up that hill, but I did it and it was a six hour SN adventure off of the bucket list. I know what is there. I have been planning to backpack through from the top of Mt. Lemmon downhill on this trail. DF and I will do it as an overnight. I now have a better idea of what to expect.