A dawn hike to Wasson Peak seemed like a good idea until I drive down the Gates Pass switchbacks in the pre-dawn pitch dark. That's just after inching around a pre-dawn cyclist on the switchbacks going up the pass.
By the time I reach the trailhead, pitch black turns dark gray and my hiking partner Ellen arrives to begin our ascent.
Yellow wildflowers line the trail. Some bunches are asleep and closed, some half open, waiting for the light and warmth of the sun.
The sky lightens, and the sun pinks up Wasson Peak ahead.
Wasson is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains, at about 4800 feet. I'm a Tucson native, but never hiked to the top, and I'm excited to be doing it on a weekday morning. Weekends are filled with book and biking events, so I'm squeezing in a mini-adventure in the middle of my work week. Ellen and I estimate our six-mile round trip hike will take about four hours.
"It looks like it might be seven miles," says Ellen after reading a trail sign. As usual, the marker indicates different mileage and our maps from two different sources also fail to agree on exact mileage.
For the first hour and a half, we're in the shade of the valley as the King Canyon Trail follows the drainage. But we can feel the earth and rocks radiating heat from yesterday's sun.
Light skips along the foothills below.
At last, the light hits us, and the bouquets of flowers along the trail.
We join the Sweetwater Trail and continue up, steeper and a bit rockier. At this elevation, spikey shindaggers mingle with saguaros. Swtichbacks aplenty. And I'm distracted by all the wildflowers, so Ellen gets ahead of me on a hill.
We reach the saddle where the Hugh Norris Trail intersects and try to figure out which deer path heading left or right is our "trail." Realizing our error, we head back down the trail a hundred yards or so, read the trail marker arrow correctly this time, and reach the spur trail to Wasson. We follow the ridge top with 360 degree views.
Sooner than expected, we're at the top! Picture Rocks flattens out below with the farm fields of Marana beyond. That's not smog in northern distance, we call it "haze." You know, dust.
Time for a peak pose:
A quick snack and we head down. After we leave the breezy ridge, we start to feel the heat of the morning, and it's only 8:30 am! In March! A few groups of hikers are on their way up--natives wearing floppy hats and long sleeves, pink tourists in tank tops and shorts. Everyone is sweating.
On our way down, we notice fenced off mine shafts and more colors bursting from the trailside.
From the lower elevation of saguaros and ocotillos, we look back at Wasson Peak, with a brilliant blue backdrop.
We see saguros from different angles on the way down and note a Cactus Wren highrise:
We're back at the car by 10 am, and I make it to work in time for my 11 am meeting. It's a fantastic start to the day, getting plenty of fresh air and sunshine, flowers and cacti. A fine morning of sharing trail tales and dreams with hiking partner Ellen.
Trail Details: Start at King Canyon Trail head, dirt lot on north side of Kinney Road, just west of Desert Musuem entrance. We went out and back, but loops are possible with Sendero Esperanza Trail or Gould Mine Trail. This route is in Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park. Click here for a map.