Mt. Wrightson: Old Baldy Trail

Over the weekend, I tried a trail I’d not yet attempted, Old Baldy trail to Mt. Wrightson, the peak of the Santa Rita mountain range south of Tucson. It was exactly as I believe a true hike should be: long, beautiful, and with a feeling of satisfied exhaustion at its end.

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Old Baldy Trail is not the only path to Wrightson, but it’s one of the shorter starting points. The total path is approximately 9 miles roundtrip and 4,000 feet of elevation gain. It was absolutely stunning all the way through; I can confidently say it’s a new favorite hike in the Tucson area.

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My friends and I were not exactly prepared for the hike, unfortunately. We did not plan to try to peak Wrightson when we began the hike. We expected, correctly, that the peak would cover the trail in snow and ice, so we would probably not be able to reach the peak. We could have made it to the top of the mountain… with the right gear. The trail was completely covered in snow after 3 miles in and, for a portion of the day, was just icy enough to be discomforting. Because the trail was so fun and because it was such a beautiful day, we went much farther than expected (0.9 from the summit), but we’ll have to return when the snow melts for a more practical attempt at the summit.

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It’s halfway through the week, and I am ready for Quarter 4. I am ready for the glowing, promising light of the year’s last quarter shining my way. My motivation for teaching has been decreasing at the exact same pace that my renewed love for hiking has increased. I will be repeatedly searching for more trails like this: more time in the mountains, more time outdoors to ease my mind as I wade my way through the remainder of a low-motivation semester. As John Muir once wrote, “Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.”

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Wind Cave Trail

This week was a long week. I had difficulty with motivation, both within myself and within my students, and each day presented different challenges. By Friday, I was ready for the outdoors.

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I drove up to Phoenix to visit a friend, and around 7am we drove East to the Superstition mountain range. After debating, we’d decided on the Wave Cave Trail, and about halfway up the trail, realized we were probably on the wrong trail – one called Wind Cave Trail instead.

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It was about the same length and elevation gain, both ending in a cave, so not too bad of a mix-up, right? Wind Cave is a trail about 2.5 miles roundtrip, with about 812 feet of elevation gain. It ends with a fantastic view of Phoenix and its surrounding mountains at the top (which is an actual cave).

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It was so beautiful. The perfect hiking day: cool, sun that doesn’t dominate the landscape, and a breeze that danced around us the entire trail. The perfect end to a stressful teaching week, and a reminder that the problems I’d dwelled on were not all that problematic after all.

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Right now, if you are around or planning to visit the Superstition Mountains, try to make a trip! The wildflowers are in full bloom, which I find always particularly beautiful in the desert landscape. I have no idea how long they’ll be around, but they lined the entire trail while we hiked.

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Finger Rock Trail

Sunday: the day best for saguaros and summits.

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I hiked the majority of Finger Rock trailhead to Mt. Kimball this morning, in preparation for when I try to summit Finger Rock (and get to the finger rock) in a few weeks. It was just about the best weather I could have hoped for hiking, and it was absolutely the reset button I needed to hit before teaching next week.

For hikers: there is a bit of debate and confusion on Finger Rock. Specifically, some people don’t know how long it is, what the elevation gain is, etc. (One site I looked at suggested that the elevation gain was somewhere in between 3,000-6,000 feet). The primary reason for this confusion is twofold: there are two different starting points, and people tend to end in two different places.

I began from Richard McKee Finger Rock Trailhead, which is on the south side of the Catalina Mountains. There are two main places to end: at Mt. Kimball, or approximately 4-5 miles past that, underneath the finger rock. I ended just shy of Mt. Kimball. To get to Mt. Kimball from my starting point, you will hike a out-and-back trail that is just under 9 miles and about 3,000 feet of elevation gain. With my stopping (a lot) for photos and a 20-minute trail mix snack break, it took me about 2.5 hours to almost reach Mt. Kimball.

86dcf192-955f-4d83-824e-1c583377ef44Thanks to winter rains, there was quite a full stream running through the first few miles, before we reached what I would consider the “real” trailhead. Finger Rock changes so drastically depending on the weather; if it’s rained recently, be sure to wear good hiking boots so you’re not slipping on the rocks as you cross the stream.

It was stunning. We started early enough to feel the desert wake up with us, and the stream was not entirely unexpected, but so cute and fun to hike around for us desert people.

Finger Rock is basically straight up and straight down. For inexperienced hikers, it may feel really challenging, but luckily, it’s beautiful all the way through, so any part of the hike is worth checking out.

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There really is no way better, for me, to begin a week than by hiking. I feel so much more mentally prepared to start teaching again tomorrow. One of my favorite John Muir quotes is “Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” That is exactly how I feel after Finger Rock. 

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My Next Adventure

I’m moving to Shanghai, China!

This upcoming fall, I will be leaving the States to teach at a middle school in Shanghai. For the first semester of this school year, I have been applying to various international schools and interviewing via Skype at odd hours. It’s been an interesting process, to say the least, but I’m glad that I’ve chosen this path.

This is something I have planned to do long before I’d even decided to be a teacher. My family and I moved around quite a bit, and I lived internationally as a kid; in a way, this feels like the natural next step forward for me.

Even though this is something that I’d wanted to do for so long, it was a surprisingly difficult decision for me at the start of the school year. I’ll miss the school I’m at now. I’ll miss my English team, all of the teachers, and my admin. Of course I’ll miss the kids. I’m in a good place now, and that’s difficult to give up. But this move is definitely right for me, and it comes at the right time in my life.

I’m incredibly excited about this next adventure, and I will be sharing different parts of the process for teachers who may want to consider a similar path. There is, I am sure, a long list of adventures and challenges ahead, and I’m looking forward to them all.

The Good Thing: Sweetwater Trails

Today was an awful day. Like, a really bad, no good, awful day. There was far too much discipline involved, because far too much discipline was needed, and so much of that discipline felt ineffective. Students were snarky and mean and totally apathetic. By the end of the day, holding in my frustration at defiant and disrespectful students (who were being that way while my principal observed me), I was shaking when the bell rang for dismissal.

I’d planned to go on a run after school, and all I wanted to do was sit on the couch and not move. My friend, another teacher at the school, came by my classroom after school ended. We’d planned to run together, and after slightly exploding with frustration during our conversation, I grumbled that maybe I shouldn’t go on a run.

“Yeah, you should,” he said. “I had a crappy day too. We’ll feel better after the run.”

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He was right. We went to Sweetwater Preserve, which is on the backside of Saguaro National Park, for a short run. It wasn’t my best run, and it wasn’t my longest, but I felt like something had washed clean from my mind when I finished.

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Sweetwater Preserve contains a winding, continuously mixing series of trails and loops, and we took several of them to add up the distance. It was right on the brink of raining the entire run (which, in my opinion, makes the desert look just right).

Most of my day was frustrating and filled with pent-up tension. Less than an hour changed that. Note to self: Do the good thing. Whatever that good thing is for yourself, do that. Do the healthy thing for yourself. Especially when you’re mad, and always when you don’t feel like it.

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Oracle State Park

As I see it, there are few ways to spend a Sunday morning that are better than being outdoors with coffee and good friends. Although I’d spent the day before hiking on my own, I knew that I wanted another morning outdoors before going into this week, so a friend and I ventured out to Oracle State Park in the morning, coffees in hand.

Oracle State Park is about 45 minutes north of Tucson, but well worth the drive. After the trip, I felt both disappointed in myself for not going sooner and deeply thankful that I spent the morning checking it out.

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We took the Granite Loop Trail, which is an easy path across 1.6 miles of loping hills and desert grass swaying in the early morning breeze. We did take a bit of a detour on a different path (photo above) before turning around to finish Granite Loop.

I imagine this would be a wonderful park to trail run, or to mountain bike, because the trails were fairly smooth and the hills were – for the most part – none too demanding.  This is an area that is easily accessible for people of all activity levels; even if all you want is a slow walk with a breeze and some good views, this is the park you should be visiting.

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I think one of the reasons I enjoyed Oracle State Park so much is that it is one of those wonderful areas that makes you feel truly far from society. Despite the one or two houses that occasionally showed in the distance, the vast openness of the park made me feel as if I could just continue on forever.

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Romero Canyon Trail

The longer I teach, the more it becomes clear to me how much I need the outdoors. If I find myself without regular time outdoors, I can feel anxiety and stress creep in far more easily. “Nature’s medicine” is not exactly a joke to me; I use hiking and time outside pretty seriously now. Today, after my “funky” two-day week of teaching, I loaded my Jeep with gear and headed to an absolute favorite trailhead, Romero Canyon Trail.

Basic information about Romero for fellow hikers: sitting in Catalina State Park, this trail is about 5.5 miles roundtrip, an out-and-back trail, and has approximately 1,322 feet of elevation gain. Almost all of the tough stuff is within the first 30 minutes or so of the hike.

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Romero Canyon Trail, which leads to Romero Pools, was the first hike I ever completed in Tucson and remains one of my favorites. The path leading up to the trail is quite long (a little less than one mile) and flat. My love for this trail is not diminished by this, although I typically gravitate towards hiking trails that are very close to the trailhead.

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The trail was shockingly green compared to what I’ve seen before today. Romero Pools, much like almost any trail in Tucson, changes drastically depending on how much water it’s seen recently. We’ve had some significantly heavy winter rains, and I saw that as I saw mountains, usually dotted with saguaros and cholla and not much else, covered in a shallow blanket of green. The pools were filled when I reached the end, but were far too cold for me to hop in.

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Much of the trail looks like this: very exposed. However, there is enough shade from the mountains dotting the trail if you start early enough in the day. I’ve hiked this trail so many times, in so many ways, and I still love it. I’ve done this trail in August (start early early early morning to avoid heat); I’ve hiked this trail at nighttime, guided solely by the moon’s light; I’ve done it with and without water falling from the top. It’s fantastic any way you find it.

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Something that I truly love about this hike is how accessible it is, and how easy it is for solo hiking. I am not yet at a point where I feel comfortable trying new hikes alone (I’m not sure I will ever reach that point, truthfully), so I choose my favorite trails for solo hikes.

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Simple rewards: sitting on a rock, eating an orange, watching water stream through a desert landscape. Romero Pools, I love you, and I will always come back.