Tortolita Traverse


Memorial Day weekend was cooler than average. The swimming pool parties had no swimmers in the still too cold waters. The whole of Spring has been like that, but we know that June and the hot times are on the way and we will then be hiking in the higher elevations. Last night, as we were playing music outside, we all knew that we were probably sitting in the last chilly evening.

The morning is feeling wonderful. We have a plan to explore a trail that I saw on satellite images. A couple of weeks before, we were bushwhacking our way up a wash in a part of Tortolita that I didn’t know was there. We had been stopped by a nearly dry waterfall cliff. This trail intersects that wash and appears to bypass the waterfall. It will give us access to the rest of the canyon and possibly a trail that would traverse and take us clear back into our own neighborhood.

REMEMBER: You can click on any image to blow it up and enhance it.

We gather up three bottles of water, a hat, and my pouch for some snacks and put on shoes. We hand carry some clothing for practical emergencies and take off in the SUV to the trailhead, which is on my friend’s property, about a mile north as the crow flies.

His guest is not home in the small trailer where we park. The truck is gone. Although laundry hanging tells us that he is still staying in his retreat. This tells us that there is no more need for coverings today. I place my sarong under my shoulder strap, to cushion the strap and also to use it to sit on later. Wearing only our skin and shoes, we take off.

At the edge of the property, we gently gather the barbed wire to get across the fence and head up the wash and into State Trust Land.

I know that it isn’t far to where the thin path crosses this wash. I have my bearings and I suspect that I may have passed it. I take a quick jaunt out of the wash for perspective. The foliage has grown over, hiding my reference, but I stumble onto the path.

As we walk on, we are surprised how well maintained that this trail is, as it winds through the desert foothills. It will eventually lead to a cliff side and a beautiful view of the valley, but we are looking for a turn off previous to that. Just when I begin to have doubts, we find two cairns on each side of the pathway.

We deduce that this trail is less used, by observing the tracks. It meanders up the hillside on a mostly rocky surface. It has rocks marking its course, there are buildups to level it out. Someone has put a great deal of effort into this.

What a pleasant unexpected pleasure it is. We thought that we were going to be on an overgrown cattle trail, but this is well thought out.

We have been hearing the sound of construction, like the last trip out here. From this higher vantage, we see that there are three new million dollar homes going up over at the golf course subdivision. Two are in sticks; the hammers pounding and the buzz of power saws reach our ears. The other has stucco on the walls and is getting its new roof.

The busy neighborhood is very visible to us. Still, we are far enough away that our details would be questionable, if someone noticed the tan hikers with the camouflage gear. We are comfortably hiking nude in plain sight.

The trail continues across the ridge through saguaro studded hills. We see the obstacle of that waterfall down below. The conveyance drops us off a few hundred feet from the top of the falls, into the wash.

The desert is turning brown, drying up. We had rain last week. It actually snowed up on Mt. Lemmon. But the yellow season is coming to a close. There are some yellow flowers on palo verde trees.

The huge yellow daisy bouquets of the brittle bushes are gone. It is strange to me. They actually bloomed all during the winter from last fall and I have gotten used to them. The leaves are now more grey. They are a type of sage. As we pass, we have to brush through some. The scent of aromatic sage is shaken up and into our nostrils to delight us.

The saguaros are in bloom, white flowers top every arm.

The cholla around here have turned deep purple and are still in blooms of orange and yellows.

A kind of agave have stalks rising up, but we will have to wait for the flowery show.

Most vegetation is getting brown and dormant. The grasses are all tan and we are getting many tiny burrs attached to our socks. The green mesquite trees are still getting new leaves as the flowers are still pollinating for fresh beans later. Against dull colors, they seem nearly florescent in contrast.

We have heard silence and then often the buzz of busy bees. A cool light breeze pops up for a moment and I hear a saguaro next to me sing a beautiful song as the air passes through its accordion structure and the thousands of needles that decorate each of its many ridges.

Too soon, we begin to find overgrown obstructions in the wash. Here, mesquite, the catclaw and other plants have grown out. Some of the bushes are now dry stiff sticks, instead of soft leaves, which bend for us to pass.

This day, for the first time, I have clippers in my bag. I cut our way through some of the malaise, but immediately remember that I prefer to wear gloves to handle this work. I am slow and take care, but get poked by hidden barbs. Still this is getting us through the thickest of it, which is much the same as the other day. There is thankfully, only one fountain of buffle grass up here to have to wade through

I see evidence of what must have been a good trail here and there. It takes us around the clogged wash where older trees have taken over. Still there is a lot of overgrowth.

Inching Past an Overgrown Mesquite

This is a slow go, with constant new evaluation in search for the best way through. At one point, before we know it, we are up the wrong wash and have to correct.

We come to a small rock ledge with some shade and decide to snack on a banana.

We are getting near the end, to where the wash peters out. We are looking for other trails. It is hard to tell with the terrain and vegetation. Something will look like a trail, but then it isn’t, just a line along a rock ridge, or the foliage gobbles it up.

We agree to bushwhack up to a ridge to see other side of it. From there, we can look down over everything and visually scout it out.

When I get there, I find a large rock surface of broken granite.  It is time for our break and to relax. We strip off what little gear that we have, snap a few pictures and dig out our chips, raisins, crackers and an apple.

The surface is jagged and rough to sit on.

I have folded the sarong over enough for a cushion for us both.  We sit there cheek to cheek looking. We watch the clouds.

We speculate who built the trail and when the trail was made.

Was it a pack trail, or a ranchers trail to keep track of his cattle, or lead them to water? Did the cattle create it at first?

We no longer see any trail, although the ridge has sparse vegetation.

I know that we could bushwhack on the more sparse ridges. It all looks typically Tortolita here. It is a short distance as that crow flies to our frequently traveled wash. It would be fun just to traverse that, but we would be left naked, walking through my neighborhood to get back home. When home, my truck would still be two miles drive away at the trailhead.

We make our way back through where we came. It is an intricate route, just a set of subtle memories.

Spider’s Home

There are small landmarks, like a rock that I remember stepping around. I feared a possible hidden snake and looked carefully.

Something New to Me, a Yellow Cocoon on Prickly Pear

I find my fresh clippings.

Sticking to the original route, it goes quicker.

The flowers have become sparser for the local bee populations. At one point, a low lying lavender flowered plant is spread out across our path on all sides. I can hear many a buzz in the area. It is difficult to see who is where. I just step through, avoiding the blooms. The few flowers are all of the color that is left in the desert. Nearly every other part is dry and brown.

On the hillside to the south, we see a cave in the cliff face.

It looks just like a spot that someone would occupy centuries ago. It is a perfect vantage for watching the game pass. I can see the route to it and the sensible defensibility of it. I just know, I have a clear sense, that someone once occupied the look out.

DF notices what she refers to as wobbly saguaros up on the hillside. Some saguaros grow in spurts as conditions are given. It creates a thicker/thinner set of rings up the stalk instead of a smoothly structured column.

I am startled by an orange critter on the side of the wash. It crosses in a distinctive waddle in front of my path, slowly. It is unmistakable, a Gila Monster. We grab cameras and do our best to record this endangered sight.

The course gets easier. We eventually decide to go to the top of the waterfall that stopped us the last time and look down.

There are a group of moths fluttering about at a sandy patch. There must still be moister there, but everything looks dry. Still, with my bare skin, I feel the cooler air there. I wonder if naked animals sense these things.

The rest of the trail is that well maintained area. It is a pleasure after clipping and getting scratched in the overgrown brush.

The brittle bush has changed color, to dull golden and sage green. A small lizard, adapted to the area has the same coloring under a bush. I’ve never seen one like it. Bright colors will be coming to the local lizards soon, when it is mating time.

Dried Brittle Bush (A Sage)

Civilization, that is the sound of hammers and saw blades buzzing and workers in their friendly banter regain their place in our experience. It is noon and time for lunch.

A blessed day of naturism and discovery.


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