I’ve been hankerin’ to do this backpack trip for a few years. I had been down the trail to an extent several times, but this will be two nights with a day in the middle to make the best of the rest of the Wilderness of Rocks. It is a massive collection of oddly shaped rock, filled with hoodoo’s and form.
We carnude the long winding Mt. Lemmon Highway to Summer Haven and then through to Marshall Gulch trailhead. It is a familiar trip that has never ceased to capture my awe. It rises through the various ecosystems from desert (2500 feet altitude) at 105F to a lofty cooler pine coated low 80F’s (9200 feet). Along the way, rock formations and vistas entertain. This is just a beginning to a wondrous trip.
With Covid-19 well entrenched and the first really hot days of the year, we expect some more people than usual. We are concerned with parking near the trailhead and can anticipate the population up the popular Marshall Gulch Trail. After a saddle, we will switch to a different trail, where there will be fewer hikers in this remote spot.
Today, the normally congested parking is more so. Every picnic table is filled, but blessings happen and we pull into the perfect spot, which I had envisioned on the way up. The car will be safe and we won’t be tired and adding to the hike on the way back.
I get out, working out a way to get dressed for the foray. I need to get my sarong in place, but with a pair of tables literally staring at me this is difficult. Open car doors and quick actions hide my tush. Anyone might suspect what is happening, but people do change outfits. I make the effort to hide my body and comply with the law. The excuse is that the toilet is closed for Covid and to discourage use of the trail. Obviously, this Forest Service strategy hasn’t worked out.
The sarong and backpack is unusual for trail outfitting. I get some curious looks, but everyone understands that it isn’t polite to stare. We begin our 1.2 mile climb.
The ravine is gorgeous as usual, but with my sense of too many others, also is usual. About halfway up a uniformed Forest Service worker comes down the trail with a gruff expression. There is a man following her closely. In a German accent he rudely asks me, “Where’s your VW micro bus?” as he smiles. I remember the little teacher’s pet hiding behind the teacher’s skirts to wield some power from an authority. So, now I know what they do when they grow up.
There aren’t many Forest Service people anymore with the conservative austerity measures and the dominate mantra of free market enterprise and profit. This will be the only one, a rare bird.
We have been hiking some rough trails. We both notice how easy this one is. The once humbling climb is now feeling like an easier grade on a mostly a nice “walk in the park” surface. When we reach the top, seemingly in “no time” it has felt, “easy!” Naturism is getting us more and more healthy.
The trail has many new wider spots. I suspect that social distancing, the practice of breathing fresh air, is spreading people out, as they pass each other.
It is downhill all of the way from the saddle into the wilderness. We decide to take a break a short distance down the hill on a familiar large flat granite surface with its wonderful vista, have a snack and get used to our freedom.
On the way, we bump into a much older couple with walking sticks. No hurry, but I hope to be them someday, still admirably out here kicking around. When I inquire, she tells us that there are few people ahead, just some climbers and a group.
As we arrive, voices are shouting at each other. It never ceases to amaze me, how people shout at each other in a silent forest, having long conversations that have nothing to do with where they are and what they are doing. All the while, they are scattering the wildlife.
This however, is next to a popular climbing rock. These shouts are directional and expressions of glee. None the less, it will be nice to get away and listen to the comforting sound of the forest, particularly basking in the lack of sound.
We are now away from the trailheads, the thing proclaimed “civilization” for some reason and we’ve stripped off. We pass the climbers as they are packing up, still shouting at each other, across five feet of space. We receive a friendly greeting exuding out of their enthusiasm and adrenaline.
As we head down, a dark cloud appears above in the distant peaks. The potential is accumulating. There is a 20% chance of “thunderstorms” today.
Since three sides of a valley are covered by 9000 ft. mountains, these things feel sneaky, as they creep from the other side. We can never really know what is happening in the sky where they appear from. There is no prediction, only to be prepared.
We pass the first water, crossing the stream.
DF stops to photograph a horny-toad amongst the brush.
The dark clouds grow more numerous and block the direct warmth of the sun, yet their pressure, as from a blanket, keeps the heat around us. The effect is comfortable, as we walk in the rich forest canyon. Nude it is more than comfortable, more like delicious.
We walk past an impressive rock formation here and there. There is a glimpse up and out at massive cliffs of granite with a peppering of green pine.
I feel a drop, then two. As time passes, very large dollops begin to fall around us. Occasionally one gets past my shoulder pad and backpack. It is nice and warm, sensuous on a naked body. This is like a summer’s rain. It hasn’t rained in over a month. I welcome it with open arms.
The large heavy splotches seem to get heavier. It is a sprinkle, just drops falling from the tree branch’s filter, but then, they begin to bounce. Pea and Dime size hail! We didn’t expect this.
It isn’t pelting. It just falls and bounces from the trees all around. A couple tap me on my hat. I hear DF behind me, complain, “Ouch!” Her bare head gets a ping. Her tone is to say, “Hey, be nice cosmos.” These pellets are big and fun. She picks one up. As it melts into her hand slowly, it looks like a big white shiny tooth. I touch it and it feels as hard as a tooth.
The display is over as quickly as it began.
I feel change, as it begins to sprinkle, again. This time, our bodies feel more numerous, smaller droplets. In the heights of the forest above, we can see rain up ahead. Our packs are beginning to get wet and soak through. We decide to find our ponchos, which have finally become useful after years sitting disused in the depths of the bags.
DF’s plastic shield slips down easily over her pack and head. She grins and makes a comment about the fashion of my naked body wrapped in a translucent bag.
Mine isn’t working out as well. It is tight. I have to take off my bed roll to fit into it with my pack. With DF’s help, we struggle to make it functional, as the rain keeps coming.
I’m left with her laughing at me wrapped like a shipping package in a lavender piece of saran wrap. And, all for not. The rain stops immediately!
The trail is fun. Sometimes, cairns mark the way over surfaces of bare granite.
Sometimes, there is a steep short climb down one of these, but mostly, we enjoy an easy walk through a rich green forest with ample shade. It mostly feels new, but we do pass by some familiar places, the landmarks.
The grove of monarchs, the huge red pines, still gives a special comforting friendliness. It’s like being a child next to a towering parent. It gives a sense of calm and safety next to a stream’s sound of trickle and the cushion of soft amber pine needles. I remember stopping there to rest one day. I fell asleep splayed naked under one of those trees, oblivious, knowing only peace.
We are here on a Friday afternoon, expecting to have a pick of camping spots and possibly one close to the Lemmon Pools. However, when we arrive, our usual spot is populated by a party atmosphere of young people sitting in a circle. Way before, during our approach, we hear the ruckus against the calm.
We are welcomed by a man in his twenties holding a flask. He is obviously getting a buzz on. We stand there in their camp nude, but for our packs and my silly looking lavender rain poncho, but there is no mention of our attire. It is as if they don’t notice. We are told that there are some spots to camp more near the pools, but they may be taken. This place will be loud and the other spot next to it is also taken. We’re standing in a totally different atmosphere from the pre-pandemic times.
We need to find a camp spot and have heard of places near the pools. Our fourth trip here, we still have not found the pools. Heading in a general direction across the trail to the south, through the more open terrain of pine trees and manzanita brush, which is making a tough living growing out of a solid bedrock surface, we see a grove. This may be a wonderful place. There can be city views. We consider that a windbreak is better, as mountain breath can get cold and obnoxious to bare skin. This may be that.
The weather is supposed to be in the low 80F’s and then drop at night to 50F-ish. A wind-chill can feel frigid and the more exposed rock at 9000 feet bakes. The spot is good. I may find purchase for tent stakes, but still, it is windy.
Wandering around, downwind from a group of large balancing rocks, we find an enchanting flat spot. The view is impressive, surrounded by the Wilderness of Rocks. There are three or four pines for some shade and the wind is not as strong.
The granite surface blends into a soft fine sand surface. Barefoot, it is like a cool beach. The granite surface is gritty, but a treat for our freed newly naked feet. Bare feet are gripped by the rock pores, massaged and lightly scraped.
There is that 20% chance of thunderstorms. We have been listening to the rumble on occasion and this is more exposed, but not a speck of lightning has been seen. We won’t be the tallest thing around. This will work. For now, there is an overcast cooling us.
There was a hit of synchronous luck. Just as we were getting into the car in Tucson, a postman came up with my package a few days earlier than expected. It was the new ultralight backpacking tent that I had ordered. The tarp tent had been showing need of repair, and this time, I decided to try an easier setup.
It is suggested to set the new tent up at home first, not when out on the trail. It still needs the seams sealed, but I unpacked and repacked the new devise. I am here, ready to figure out the new setup…Two and a half hours later, setup is complete.
There have been some aspects that need to be researched by pictures on the net, which aren’t here for me, but even more so, there is no place to stake the shelter down. I have to gather a few of the colorful rocks and cut cord to keep our little shelter from blowing away like an ultralight aircraft. I finally figure out that our poles are a couple of inches too long and I will have to improvise.
There is some irritation and some getting to know the well thought out technology of our new packing tent. My afternoon in the mountains feels commandeered. It is still unhurried, in a wonderful wilderness setting with a lovely patient helper, constructing nude in the light refreshing breeze.
This private site features a huge rounded piece of geology next to it. It is a perfect place to sit on, with vistas in every direction. We lay down, stretch, eat, always being drawn back to this place.
We are having dinner, a rehydrated bag of vegetables in a thinned out herbed spaghetti sauce with parmesan in a Styrofoam cup. I dip a plastic spoon into a delicious soup for another bite, when we hear the sounds of the other camp coming toward us. They pass below, as we watch and then they disappear into the trees. We now have a good clue as to where the Lemmon Pools are.
The overcast and weather breaks up at sunset. We sit and watch out across the valley of Tucson and out towards Mexico many dozens of miles away. The different mountain ranges identify themselves with shape in different shades of pastel purples and greys. Beams shoot out and the whole of it changes by the minute. There are not words to accurately describe this.
Silhouettes of trees and hoodoos are seen along the ridges above.
Frogs begin to chirp, a rainbow appears off to the left, the mountains to the east turn golden and rose, glowing out of long shadows. Surrounded by all of this wonderment, a dessert treat sprinkled with vanilla powder tastes especially good.
As dusk arrives, the team of revelers come out of the distance and pass again below us. The talkative one has obviously found his way somewhere down to the bottom of his flask and strays closer to us.
I surprise him as I stand, now in a long t-shirt, like a mini dress.
At first claiming to be Italian, he stumbles into a confession of English. The ruse over, we exchange names and good will. He confirms that the pools are just a short distance down a very steep slope.
Miles below, the city lights come on a few at a time, and the grid becomes more distinct as night darkens our world.
On the comfort of the blown up sleeping pad, I lay propped up on an elbow, writing my notes for the day. The fresh cool air passes through the two open walls of the tent across us. It smells good, clean and a light pine scent. It is the calm of the night.
My new flashlight makes a nice round beam, a spotlight, making everything that it touches as if performing on a small stage. I climb out through the netting and my bare feet touch that cool powdery sand. It is sensuous. Standing and stretching, I look out at half of a moon in the seemingly near distance, clear and bright, a familiar neighbor. At this altitude, the moon looks as though it is only as high as these mountains.
There is still some overcast in the constantly changing skies. It is keeping the heat in. The granite surfaces are retaining the radiating heat of the day. It is a warm evening, just perfect for an absolutely nude existence. Everything is easy to walk on, if I just watch out for the little errant pine-cones scattered about on the occasional collection of a fluffy bedding of long flexible needles.
This mountain is covered with mica, fields of flakes can be found. It is everywhere and it is glistening in the sand and surfaces of rock like stars peppering the sky. It is seen in the moonlight and then comes even more alive in the flashlight’s beam.
On June 5th, 2020, less than a week after these images were made, an errant lightning bolt struck just west of this piece of our national heritage. For over forty days a wildfire was allowed to burn without any resistance, but for protecting the surrounding buildings. A thousand fire fighters risked their lives only to save the real-estate on top of Mt. Lemmon and the expensive homes at the base of the Catalina range. What you see in this report was turned to smoke.
It is rough and difficult terrain to fight a fire, but aerial bombing was effective. The naked truth is that once the property was secured, the rest was left to burn. What we are left with is a monetary value placed on our treasures. It is the thinking of a real-estate exploiter, who only sees a place for condos with a view, or golf courses, not nature. There is complete ignorance when God’s world is not worshiped, only the profit of a green dollar matters.
Here we see a ransacked organization that used to protect our treasures. Here is the blatant austerity of greed that owns our government. It has been told to us that these fires burn naturally like this, but the lie is evident when a fire burns unabated for weeks at a time. The fires are left to burn in unprecedented conditions. It is not natural. When nothing is done, when there can be, there is no funding to protect the people’s natural resources. There is only funding to protect insurance companies and their banks. We saw when the aircraft firefighting stopped flying and knew why.
The next two week’s posts will show the true value of our heritage and without being said, contrast that with the lies that million dollar think-tanks are using to steal from us.
Every night, we watched the flames from down here in the valley. We were sickened and shed tears.
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