***Note: This was filmed back in late-March, prior to the shelter-in-place orders and the closing of non-essential businesses. Little did we know it would be 5 weeks of shelter in place since. As of this posting, Arizona State Parks and Trails are still open for responsible outdoor recreation. Find more information here. https://azstateparks.com/coronavirus ***
Spring in the Sonoran Desert brings more than just the snowbirds and warmer weather. After a winter with good rains and mild temperatures spring always brings a new season of wildflowers and blooming desert plants. Every year is a little different. So many of the wildflowers and cacti are responsive to their own specific climate and conditions. What flourishes and blooms in one year stays dormant in another. Every spring in the desert is a new cornucopia of different floral colors.
As a result, spring is an exciting new opportunity to see a different and spectacular canvas of color and vibrance. This year we drove to Catalina State Park, north of Tucson, for a nice walk along Sutherland Trail. The trail weaves through the park along a stream bed and up towards the Catalina mountains and Mt Lemmon.
This past winter and early spring we have been blessed with rain and it is keeping the water running in the streams and washes that are usually dry. Our hike was no exception. We forded the running stream five times each way out and back. While not overly deep, it was still challenging and fun.
We hit the trail at “o-dark-thirty” in the morning. In other words, early. We like to get out on the trail early for two reasons. First, it is not very crowded and makes it seem as though we are on the trail by ourselves. Second, it helps us avoid the heat. Here in Tucson, mornings may start off cool, but as the sun comes up, the temperatures rise rapidly. A 50-degree sunrise can turn into an 80-degree late morning in a matter of a couple hours and in the direct sun it can feel like over 90. Given we are slow hikers, we definitely do not want to be in the direct sun. We also love the lighting the sun gives us first thing in the morning, long shadows, vibrant colors, and warm light.
The first half of our hike was primarily about fording the stream we were following and walking through fields of wildflowers. As the elevation slowly raised, the flowers began to give way to cacti and more traditional desert scape. The sun was at the perfect angle to view the scenery of the area and our fording efforts proved to be 100% successful. 🙂
We were really surprised by the amount of water running. Just short of 3 miles in was a barbed wire gate that ran down to a running spring with waterfalls. There are large flat rocks and we marked this as a place to come back and stop. The waterfalls were not very tall but did run through the rocks into a pretty deep pool.
We didn’t venture much further as our trail soon connected with the Trail Link and turned into a large rock wash. Not our favorite kind of hike. We opted to declare success and hike back to the waterfalls for a nice snack and break. All through our hike out we only saw 4 other people on the trail. The birds were all singing and as we ate our snack and the running water was a soothing sound in the desert.
The sun was now out and above the mountains and warming up somewhat but still a very comfortable 65 degrees. After our snack, we hiked back to the meadow where we remembered all the wildflowers. Wow! With the sunlight, all the poppies and other flowers had opened up. It was a huge sea of yellow, orange and purple. We found a small side trail that took us to a low spot along the wash and the colors there were really outstanding.
The remainder of the hike back was a repeat of the way there. Five times fording the stream. All successful and back into the parking lot. We were surprised by the number of people there on a Tuesday morning. The last half mile or so it was getting crowded with families and children playing in the water and just enjoying the outdoors. By the time we got to the parking lot we were amazed. It was like it was Memorial Day weekend. The parking lot was overflowing, the picnic tables were all full, and there were lines to get into the restrooms, which just reinforced our decision to always hit the trail early!
In all it was a great way to spend the day and another hike we can check off. This is definitely one we will keep on our spring wildflower list for every year.