“The saguaros are our relatives.”
In which the mooses become acquainted with the majestic and comical saguaro, hike an easy trail to centuries-old Hohokam petroglyphs, and have a close call with their first thunderstorm in the desert while near the abandoned Gould Mine.
Today was probably the closest we’ve had to a “day of rest” on our entire trip. We began the day a little later than usual (but probably still earlier than most vacationers would), crossing the highway again for breakfast at the spot recommended by the hotel clerk — Country Folks at the Quality Inn. After filling up on a blueberry-topped Belgian waffle (mine, of course) and a bacon and egg burrito (for Rich, of course), we began our exploration of Saguaro National Park.
The visitor center is large and modern and well-stocked with books, maps and other goodies. We spent well over an hour among the shelves of printed material, eventually deciding on a few maps and pamphlets to add to our collection. The Gingerbread Javelinas also caught my eye! A filmed slideshow in a darkened theater room off to the side interested us, too. Through the words of the narrator, an O’odham native, we learned that the saguaros are the lifeblood of the O’odham people, and indeed are thought to represent our relatives who have passed before us, and who also came from, and returned to, the ground. Indeed, we are not the only ones who think the saguaros uncannily resemble humans!
We began with a slow, easy trip along the Bajada Loop Drive. There were opportunities to stop and wander among the saguaros, and I found them to be even more beautiful up close.
Exposed to the searing sun, we hiked the Signal Hill Trail (just a short walk of a few hundred yards, really, if that) and then climbed, winding around the hill, to view the Hohokam petroglyphs carved into the rocks on top. We narrowly avoided a horde of little bastards in some way connected with a school field trip, and we spent a quiet half-hour here photographing the carvings and the scenery beyond. Though the hill is low, it offers views in every direction of dense saguaro stands, as well as vistas toward Apache Peak and the Tucson Mountains.
Sufficiently warmed up, I was ready to begin the real hike! We took the King Canyon trail (or some combination of it and nearby trails, having somehow missed the correct trailhead coming off the parking lot). Another slightly uphill hike, this one took us to the Mamagah Picnic Area, where we rested in the shade of a small wooden picnic pavilion and snacked on cheese and peanut butter crackers, and a sadly melted Payday bar, and at least two quarts of Gatorade. To our distinct surprise, thunder began to rumble and roll in the sky and for the first time all week, thick clouds dulled the aqua blue sky above the Tucson Mountains to the east. Rich pointed them out, astonished, wondering if it really were possible that we were about to experience a rare Spring thunderstorm in the desert. All the times he’s been here, in distinctly wetter months, he has never even come close to experiencing a drop of rain. The sheets of rain that soon dropped from the clouds, still far in the distance, assured us we were to experience something special. “Ooh,” Rich pined, “It would be so awesome to see a flash flood down in the wash!”
Feeling only half-beat and confident we would miss the brunt of the storm (but wanting to stay high above the wash, still hoping for a chance of a flash flood), we were determined to see the Gould Mine. It had been one of my main goals since I spotted it on the map. I was aware that there’s no way to go inside, but I was fascinated by the thought of seeing a western copper mine, obviously very different from what we have in the East. The mine is just a short walk on a clear trail to the north, and though the opening is covered and fenced off, it’s still neat to imagine the activity that took place here just a few decades ago. As we were imagining, though, and playfully taking photos of the “Open Shaft” signs, I began to feel a breeze, and in it, flecks of wetness that dotted my arms and camera body. They evaporated as soon as they touched, and never grew heavier though the wind continued, but we were still thrilled that we’d come so close to an out-of-season storm such as this. The clouds stayed tucked behind the mountains, and as we circled down below the mine’s tailing pile the slight breeze was the only remnant of the storm. The flash flood never came, and back in the hot sun again we continued the loop back to the car.
Today’s wildlife totals were somewhat impressive, considering that all desert wildlife is still a novelty to me: we saw many doves, Gila woodpeckers, and a pair of roadrunners, and one cactus wren. A jackrabbit crossed our path just as we were approaching the parking area, at the end of our hike.
In spite of our sweatiness (which, to be fair, is much less permeating and enduring than in the sickeningly humid East), we drove directly to the famed El Charro, another of Rich’s “must eats.” The hour was early, probably before 5:00pm, but the scene was already festive and the place was drawing a crowd. While we waited to gain the attention of the preoccupied hostess, we had no choice but to overhear (because they were so loud) the conversation of some women also waiting for a table. Apparently the storm had caused a severe flash flood; but it had run east down the mountains, away from us. Streets were closed — a road we’d traveled that morning to get to the park, in fact. So close!
The delicious food and beer helped erase our disappointment, however, within minutes. We chose to sit outside in the courtyard, surrounded by color, lights, leaves. We began by sharing a chile verde quesadilla, which was fresh and tender and very cheesy. For an entree I had a combination plate: one each of a carne seca taco and a cheese enchilada, with the typical accompaniments, and Rich ordered the famous carne seca platter. Everything was delicious, everything went fabulously with beer, of course. We ate our dessert flan to the hilarious strains of familiar ABBA tunes sung in Spanish. This whole day was made just for us!