The Zigs and the Sags: Weaving our way through the Sonoran Desert in Tucson Mountain Park
After sightseeing and walking around a bit in the western district of Saguaro National Park (I’ll come back to that in the next post) we were looking for more hiking and less people. The Tuscon Mountain Park is located – you guessed it – in the Tucson Mountains, a small range that lies on the western border of the city. There are a number of trails within the park but once we stopped at the first overlook and realized how popular a place it was, we decided to venture off and do our own thing.
The Tucson Mountains are really quite lovely, offering visually-interesting topography to what would otherwise be a carpet of saguaros. Although it’s very common for the saguaro cactus to grow on steep hillsides where they are able to catch the drainage, I still find rocky slopes dotted with the towering cactus to be intriguing. The park contains the full array of Sonoran Desert flora however, not just the saguaro, and some sections even look deliberately landscaped, a platter of prickly pear cactus, ocotillo, and cholla. The latter, a pale bushy cactus was in abundance here, and is quite photogenic and is called Teddy Bear Cholla because it resembles a fluffy stuffed toy. But make no mistake, this is the most evil of desert plants – the easiest to get attached to you, the most difficult to remove, and the most painful of barbs. The cactus sheds prickly balls everywhere around the plant making it impossible to avoid in densely-vegetated areas.
Which brings us to the part in which I must apologize again to both Tom and Abby for choosing the route which I did. In the beginning of the hike, while we were hiking on flat, exposed areas or in the wash, there was ample space to weave around all the varieties of cactus and thorny desert plants, but then I was asked to choose our direction and I decided that we should climb the side of the mountain. Big mistake. Even as we began by following a game trail, the stickered-flora began closing in, and once we came to sections that required our hands for climbing we found even more-limited places that were free of cactus; our utility gloves were no match for the desert daggers. And I will swear to you on my life that those teddy bear cholla somehow leap onto you and cling like velcro. Now us humans were struggling with protective boots, gloves, and the knowledge on how best to avoid these evil cactus, but poor Abby had no such advantages. She was unable to evade the plants since she’s so much lower to the ground but the real issue was that she would be forced in some places to step on the needles. Immediately she would attempt to remove the cactus from her feet using her mouth… which would result in her getting cactus needles stuck in her lips and on the roof of her mouth. This then would require us putting her in a hold while we pried cactus out of her mouth. This was clearly a big, big fail on my part.
After we finally made it back to the car after a few hours we all agreed on rewards. Abby was driven to the nearest place from which we could acquire hamburger and from there we headed to Dragoon Brewing Company. Despite us staying in the Tucson area for 6 more days we were only able to visit Dragoon once because of their limited days and hours as well as their location relative to our hikes; this was really, really unfortunate because they brew amazingly-excellent beer. The brewery had been enthusiastically-recommended to me by a gentleman I encountered while waiting for other hikers traversing a narrow section of cables on the hike at Picacho Peak, and he was not exaggerating when he described how good it is. This place easily has some of the best beer I’ve ever had. In our customary fashion Tom and I began with sampling flights. I was seriously impressed with every single one of their beers. However, when it came time to order a pint I had no trouble selecting the phenomenal, amazing, knock-your-socks-off, my-mouth-is-watering-just-thinking-about-it Scout Porter. Scout is a mesquite-smoked blend of six rich and complex malts roasted over mesquite wood. It has an incredible flavor, alternating between dark chocolate and herbs, all the while with an incredible, smoky (but not burned!) mesquite flavor. If you’re ever in the Tucson area do yourself a favor and go drink beer at Dragoon.