Blackett’s Ridge Trail

Over the weekend, I hiked one of my all-time favorite Tucson trails. Blackett’s Ridge is approximately 1700 feet in elevation gain over a 6-mile roundtrip, out-and-back trail. It’s relatively quick (1.5-2 hours up to the summit, depending on my pace), and beautiful all the way through. It was, of course, exactly what I needed.

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This first photo is from the very summit of Blackett’s, as we were ready to turn around and head back. From the first ascent of the hike, you can see views of Tucson stretching out all around for almost the entire hike.

For the first mile or so, you’re walking under the looming presence of giant, ancient saguaro cacti, until the trail splits to either Phoneline or Blackett’s. Once you take that turn, you march upwards onto steeper, jagged switchbacks until the first false summit. Right now, Blackett’s is absolutely covered in wildflowers. Typically, you see yellow or orange wildflowers in Tucson, but this trail had several spots of red and purple as well. It was such a breathtaking view (partly because of the climb, mostly because of those flowers).

One of the reasons I love Blackett’s Ridge is because it very much feels like an indication of health for me. If I’m huffing and puffing, stopping every two minutes, I need to be hiking and completing high-intensity cardio more often. If I can make it up in a reasonable time, I feel pretty good about where I’m at in my fitness.

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As much as I love exploring new trails, Blackett’s was an endearing reminder to return to my favorite hiking haunts. There’s a reason certain trails, like this one, found their way into my hearts, and there’s a reason that I will always find my way back.

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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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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