Saguaro National Monument
Winter is a good time to plan for the coming warm weather, nude hiking and camping. There are those cold times, when just sitting at a computer and that pile of old maps in a cozy warm house, can be a time of daydreaming and research. With imagination, memories of the sense of it all, nude in an Eden, can surface. There is that hope that humans during the millennia have shared for the end of the shorter dark days of winter. Before the weather gets comfortable again, new territory can be explored. It is better to know where you are first hand, to walk the trail and to imagine what the vegetation will be like in the Spring. Being there, so as to get a feel for an area and note the amount of traffic, can only effectively be done in person.
There are small clues which may be used, such as remoteness, notes found on the internet, personal experience in similar situations. Still, we have been surprised on more than one occasion, either having to cover up more often during encounters with others, or being astounded by the freedom.
Here, in the Arizona Sonoran Desert, we often have days when the temperature rises. However, when nude, it often sits, make or break, in a comfortable balance with just the direction and velocity of the breeze and the cover of a cloud. A day may have a wonderful feel, but only for a few, too short, hours. Any opportunity needs to be exploited, because we don’t know when the next opening for a warm experience will appear. This year, with La Nina in the mix, we are in an extreme drought. But this also means more days of blue sky and less cold temperatures in the dead of our comparatively mild winter.
This Monday promises to be beautiful. DF has the time off. We decide to make use of the opportunity. We need to keep our hike in a lower elevation, to take best advantage of the inherent warmth of the desert. Even my old home in Tortolita, a mere 500 feet higher than Tucson, it can be four or five degrees cooler. We choose the Saguaro National Monument on the west side of the Tucson Mountains, hoping for the best.
I have been curious to try these mountains, which are closer to my new home, for years. There is more traffic there generally, the terrain is similar, but there are many unanswered questions. I have speculated on several trails and looked them over with the google satellite images. There is a road access that I was surprised to find. We’re going to check out a few trailheads, counting cars and feel the vibe. Hopefully, we will get some time naked in the sun exploring.
We start out driving through the pass, which is just past Mira Vista Naturist Resort. We have simply walked into my garage, climbed into the SUV and driven off, all without the bother of clothing. The windows are cracked slightly for fresh air. The skies are slightly cloudy, with God’s graffiti, a wide turquoise sky with lots in patterns in the stratosphere.
The surprise road that showed from satellite has been blocked off. We will have to drive out of our way and hopefully find a route through the west side of the monument. Road construction soon delays our plans more. We have to drape covering over ourselves once. It is to avoid the construction crew’s views, who are working just outside the doors. I smile and wave to the man directing traffic with his stop sign.
I’m glad that I have observed by satellite and made notes where I could have made a wrong turn. I recognize the road and its posting from my notes. We are relieved to find the turn off open, instead of blocked off, like the other entrance.
From the aerial view, there was a sighting of two round structures that may be Hohokam ruins, which appeared to be next to a wash. I have noted three parking spots near this just off the dirt road. However, when we arrive, the pullovers are road erosion control berms. They are still devoid of plant life and not at all flat. There is simply no parking off of the thin graded dirt road.
There is a picnic area just around the bend. We have no permits, but a senior pass will hopefully suffice. Most of the spots are occupied, but we do find one next to a car. We decide to walk from here covered in clothing and then down the wash. Hopefully, we will be able to find enough openings to pass through in the trailess bushwhack. This area has less topsoil and there may be fewer barriers to get around, with little backtracking.
I-Ching tells us that perseverance furthers. We intend to persevere toward a rewarding naturist afternoon.
With people all around, we walk off into the desert toward the “round things” still wondering what they could be in this beautiful day. There is no breeze, so no chill. We are frustrated, confined in our clothing, chomping at the bit to strip off.
We sink down to lower terrain, meandering through the banks of a small wash. There are cholla here. They have littered the ground with their bundles of toxic barbs. These pricker landmines are not all easy to see, as there are several varieties of the hazardous plant. There are the prolific Jumping Cholla, the more diminutive Teddy Bear cholla, the thin and less shedding Staghorn Cholla and also, Christmas Tree Cholla, who have scattered a smaller and more difficult to detect litter. Many of the bombs have been dried out brown, blending into the surroundings. They have fragmented into even smaller dried pieces, which are even more difficult to see, as we carefully plod amongst the obstructions.
Our attention is down where our next step lands. Still, DF discovers a few barbs in the side of her shoe.
I give my support, as she swishes away the intruder with a stick that she has found, while balancing on her other foot. There is a particularly effective twist of the wrist to best flick these monsters, as they cling tenaciously to any body part.
We continue. They aren’t everywhere, but we know how to be vigilant.
We find a stone shack. Curious, about its origins, we investigate.
The construction is solid, like a bunker. The walls are feet thick. There is wired glass in small porthole windows. We can make out cleaning products shelved on the sills. This is for Forest Service service. They must have built it decades before, before austerity, when they had money. They may date back to the public works programs of the 1930’s depression era. There are a few remnants of earlier settler homesteads of similar construction in the Tucson Mountains.
We get to a point after crossing to steep gorges, where I can’t see the others, or be seen. It feels liberating and wonderful to once again feel the warmth of the sun on our faces down to our toes. The air seems fresher still, as we stretch out our arms and breathe, before continuing on.
The satellite visions had lead me to believe that there was more distance to the round mysteries. We are very soon stumbling upon one on a ridge over a very dry wash. I hear a car driving on the road not far from us. I look to see if we are visible, while standing so close to the road. It’s okay, we are still hidden and free.
The structures don’t look very old. They are constructed out of the same rock that the old building was, however, the stone isn’t squared like those. This is styled as a more random puzzle. DF slides down the slippery slope to investigate. I follow cautiously.
We stand in this bowl, one side is lower, maybe unfinished, maybe caved in. This could be new. It is not worn, but then things can last in the dry desert.
I admit to myself that it isn’t an ancient Hohokam ruin and that excitement fades. Sometimes, especially when experiencing as a naturist, it is all about the process, the moment by moment wonders along the way. The even older forms of flora, fauna and geology rank high in a satisfying journey in discovery.
The mystery isn’t solved with the finding of the other blemishes to the natural environmental terrain, which I had spotted from space. There is no disappointment. We are serenely happy to be out here in December on this Spring-like wander.
We head out toward the flood plain on the way back, rather than dipping in and out of the washes. It is easier to get around on the level ground. The plant life clings to islands with the canopies of trees, instead of getting thick where the water sometimes flows in channels. We are more exposed by line of sight, but after getting acquainted, we now have a better idea of where we might encounter others.
I notice a couple taking pictures of the desert a couple of hundred feet up the way. They are in clear view of us. DF is oblivious to them. I walk back to her with the notice of alert, but find her with little concern, standing nude, making no effort to drop her pack and re-robe. It is disappointing for us. We don’t want to dress. These two look nonthreatening, young with odd hairstyles, enjoying their own business with smiles. I consider, justifying in my mind that they won’t care a lick about we two individuals enjoying the day, as we are.
Taking a conservative tactic, I valiantly step between the hapless intruder’s view and DF. She then asks me if I’m going to cover-up. My concern has been for DF, substituting DF’s uncovered body with my own. I have forgotten about my nude bum hanging out.
Standing there, in a flash, my mind conceives that my back end is the only thing exposed and we are covered by the dictates of a strict interpretation of the law. We dress anyway, instead of being brazen. The picnic area is getting closer.
The couple have little concern, or they didn’t see us changing back into our dictated regalia. They continue snapping pictures of wildlife and heading off into the desert in another direction.
We pass another of the bunkers, with their interesting buttressed stone walls, before we are shortly back in the middle of the picnic area.
We climb back into the SUV and strip, rolling down the windows. It is a very comfortable day.
Further into the Mountains:
The road which was barricaded from us earlier, continues. There is a trail that looked interesting during my research, which would be sheltered from the view of the road.
Arriving at the trailhead, there are numerous cars, which were left by hikers. This won’t do. We look at the kiosk sign and read the well done map of the local trails. This is a trailhead linking to a very popular trail up to the top of Wasson Peak. We catch our bearings and continue.
There’s quite a lot of saguaros here. I’m pleased to see so many younger ones. Forty years ago, I was in college in one of the early ecology classes. After a freeze, someone at the University of Arizona noticed a number of saguaros had frost damage and spread an alarm that there would be a mass die out, or maybe an extinction of our beloved friends.
Our class had been enlisted to travel in the back of a flatbed truck and count the damaged saguaros, recording a sampling. Back then, it was a winding dirt road, leading to nothing but more desert. We balanced in the back of the truck, standing at the rails, rocking with the uneven road and bumps, having a wonderful fun ride.
Science of the desert was new here. There are good years when young saguaros survive and grow and then less prolific years. This creates die offs as many are of the same age. The scare was from ignorance and speculation of authorities and published in the newspaper.
We stop to take a picture of desert mistletoe choking the local trees.
This thick mistletoe is not very suitable for a Xmas kiss under a doorway. These trees are having a tough time this year, between the parasitic mistletoe and only one rain since last February.
Seemingly, an army of saguaros are coming across the hill, descending upon us all. Fortunately, they move pretty slowly.
We come to a stop sign! We are in the middle of a saguaro forest on a one lane road. It is so incongruous that we stop to take a picture of the stop sign!
There is an intersection with the road that leads directly to the barrier.
We take that, until we come to an end.
The End of the Road:
At the next stop, at the end of the road, there is a picnic area. Nobody is here. There is a trailhead that heads up a wash. It looks like a good spot on a weekday. I’ll have to check out where it goes, what other trails may link to it, or overlook it. “Good.” Few cars, and some thick palo verde trees around the wash to hide and to shade us. It does look promising, but it is getting later in the day and that will have to be a hike at another time.
There are a few of those stone structures out here, too. They are across the road. This spot is further back and into the monument boundaries. Perhaps that is why there are far fewer people here.
We head up a steep hill to a stone ramada.
It is a good look out and photo opt. We entertain ourselves taking photos and soaking it all in.
The light is changing and it feels so good to have the place to ourselves. The very solid lasting structure has a table and quite a view of the very lush desert hills with a lack lack of man’s disruptions.
It is as if it is not surrounded by a city with over a million inhabitants.
Two people in a small Japanese sedan drive up below us. They are invigorated and joyful. They let loose, shouting with each other, “wahoo.” We watch from our nest, our nudity hidden by the stone structure.
They go to the other construct. We see them standing up on top of it, arms out, howling again. It is a great view. They are loud and celebratory. After a few minutes, they leave. Silence returns to the desert.
We continue to sit around and snap photos. There is this and then, there is open desert surrounding us.
We head over to the other building on our way out and decide to park. While DF explores the stone bunker, I wander shortly around the hill that it sits on.
It is a wandering trail to nowhere. She has her arm deep into a small open window, shooting with her flash to uncover what is hidden in the darkness inside. The photo shows it to be an old toilet.
When I arrive back, we make our way to the other side. The door is broken, unhinged, but another barrier is there. It is labeled women.
The effort and expense that the old funded Forest Service used to have is so different than these austere days. The materials were cheap, natural. The labor was the greater expense. When I get home, I find that the monument designation was in 1933, about the time that the programs of the Great Depression arrived.
Heading back, we decide to head south around Gates Pass to avoid construction and the rush hour traffic on the thin roads of Picture Rocks, which is a small enclave of manufactured homes on saguaro studded acre lots, with a general store.
Old Tucson is closed! The iconic movie set and tourist treat is closed from covid virus considerations after being an attraction since they began to film westerns in the nineteen thirties. A history of over 400 movies, daily gunfights and fun.
Colors change on the winding road during sunset. By the time we reach the base of Gate’s Pass, the Tucson Mountains are turning a litany of various golden hues. It is gorgeous.
Be sure to click any image to enlarge it as you desire.
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