Sabino Canyon Adventure

Note to self: do not take hiking advice from frail little old ladies at national park visitor centers.

About a half-hour drive from the foothills of the Catalina Mountains where I am staying, is the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, a part of the Coronado National Forest. I’d seen a picture of the Sabino Canyon Trail, and since it is here (or rather, since I am here), I thought I’d sample the trail.

It seemed such a simple thing — go to the area and start hiking — but there were so many intersecting trails and so many people (I managed to snag the very last parking space in a vast lot) I figured I needed a map.

The aforementioned frail little old lady stood behind a small counter, and asked where I wanted to go. I told her I didn’t know, that I’d never been there before. She seemed to be mentally rubbing her hands together with glee when she responded, “I love when people ask for advice.” Apparently, all those hundreds of people milling about outside knew instinctively this woman couldn’t help, but not me. So I blundered forth with my questions.

It turned out that the Sabino Canyon Trail was at the top of a long shuttle ride, which did not serm inviting to me. People were crammed into those open bus-like contraptions, forced to listen to a narration of what they were seeing. And they paid for the privilege.

Not me. I opted to walk up at least part way. The frail woman showed me a six-mile loop hike on the map, said it was a wide path, no stream crossings, no rocks, and level except for perhaps a quarter of a mile uphill. Sounded good to me, so clutching my map, I thanked her and headed out.

Sure enough, the path was wide, level, well-maintained, with no rocks or other obstructions for the unwary to trip over. For about a tenth of a mile. Then things changed. Became narrow. Slabs of rock to hike across. Small boulders to navigate over. All uphill. Up and up and up.

Still, it was pleasant. Beautiful. Since I walked slowly, everyone else passed me (am I the only one who doesn’t seem to be part mountain goat?), so I only had sporadic sounds of voices to distract me. (I’m learning to accept human noises as sounds of wildlife. Makes it easier.)

Within sight of the acropolis, a huge rock outcropping, I perched on a boulder, nibbled a protein bar for lunch, and changed my socks. Rejuvenated, I headed back down the other part of the loop trail that the woman had told me followed a stream, but had no stream crossings. I went down some steep slippery slopes until I hit the stream bed. And sure enough, the trail followed the stream for more than half a mile. It was cool down there — green vegetation for shade instead of the ever-present saguaro. Since I was sore and exhausted from the long trek, I looked forward to the end of the trail. Unfortunately, the trail did not end at the visitor center, but at the stream. A wide stream. A knee-deep stream.

Realizing I hadn’t seen anyone else since I hit the river bottom, I figured I’d taken a wrong turn. So I retraced my steps. Found the trail marking, and took the other fork. Ended up at the water again. And no visible sign of the trail. So I went back to the trail marking and waited. Finally, a small group showed up, and the man seemed to know what he was doing. Soon another group of men arrived, and we all stood by the water trying to figure out what to do. (The knowledgeable man had already made his way across, just plunged into the water and kept going.)

Considering that my only other choice was to go back to the acropolis and retrace my steps down the mountain, I opted to cross the stream. All the folks who crossed with me had paid for the shuttle, so they waited at the stop for their ride, while I trudged soddenly back to the visitor center.

Oddly, I did fine until I sat down to change into dry socks. When I stood again, I could barely move. Utterly stiff and sore from head to foot. (The hiking poles I use take some of the weight off the leg joints and redistribute it to the shoulders.) The soreness and stiffness lasted the rest of the day, but I’m doing okay today with just a bit of stiffness to remind me of my adventure.

And oh my. Such an adventure!


(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”)