Total Miles: 609.2
I didn’t remember having gone to sleep in the Sierra, but after rubbing the sleep both from my eyes and from my legs it sure seemed like that’s where I’d woken up. Scattered pines, lumps of stone, a trickling stream. It even had the blackened char of a recent burn clinging to the bark of surviving trees.
When the trees parted enough to have our first view, far below the wilderness of rock that surrounded us was a sight so incongruous with the quiet solitude of our morning stroll: the neatly organized street grid and neighborhoods of Oro Valley, a northern suburb of Tucson.
Disappearing behind encroaching grasses and reappearing with a veneer of pea-sized stones, it was like playing a morning game of hide-and-seek with the trail atop a layer of ball bearings. Somewhere in the middle of the game, Ace stumbled onto a nest of angry yellow jackets that were all too happy to lend their stingers both to her arm and her ankle.
Further down the lengthy, steep descent from the Mount Lemmon sky island—a mirror image of yesterday’s ascent—the yellow jackets might have been gone but taking their place were clouds of gnats all too happy to swarm around our eyes like tiny kamikazes. It was all the excuse Ace needed to bust out her bandana and spin it like a helicopter blade above her head in the hopes of fending them off. I call it the “gnat lasso.”
Surprisingly, even several thousand feet down, we crossed flowing water on three separate occasions. Hardly a record, but a sight sufficiently rare on this hike to make each sighting the cause for giddy excitement.
Afternoon sun, stone, and dry golden grass dominated the scenery as we climbed up and over one low lying saddle, then another. The light of golden hour fast approaching, we climbed over one final crest which seemed to delineate sun from shade. Over the far side, evening was just beginning to settle in over the deep washes below us, shadows taking up residence in the nooks and crannies of distant ridges.
Beyond, our future unfolded before us. Our next sky island—Mica Mountain—arced from one edge of the sky clear to the other like the back of a breaching whale. Somewhere up its slope, an imaginary line awaited us: Saguaro National Park.