That Time We Almost Died in the Desert

Okay maybe that’s a little dramatic, but let me back up. 🙂


Anna and I had planned on going for a hike while we were in Tucson so she reserved a Zipcar for the day on Monday. We got a little Dunkin Donuts breakfast and coffee (god I adore their iced coffee) and we got the car. It was parked in Zipcar parking at the University so it was a two block walk from the hotel.



We drove to Oro Valley and stopped at Trader Joe’s to grab food for lunch. We planned on doing a hike in Catalina State Park. I did one with my parents last time I was in Arizona. This time we did the Romero Pools Trail. It was classified as “moderate” and sounded like a nice way to spend the day. (I looked up the trail info for more details when I got home and apparently it was 5.6 miles roundtrip to the Pools, over 7 if you do the whole canyon trail. 1000 feet elevation gain.)


It was a lot hotter out on Monday than the rest of our trip. We packed a ton of water and I had one bottle of Gatorade, too. We were definitely well-hydrated, which was good. (Last trip to Arizona my family hadn’t hiked long because we didn’t pack enough water.) Us girls got a later start in the day than ideal but it worked out alright.


We set out on the trail through the wash and the easy, wide part where the horses were. We even saw some horses!



The trail started to go uphill a little. We were blazing a trail in the beginning and as the hike went on, the elevation climbed and the day got hotter we slowed down. There was a part of the trail that had “stairs”, which was nice.


Then the trail started to turn into a rock “scramble”. It wasn’t rock climbing, but there were many, many parts of the trail where it felt kind of like it!


Thankfully most of the trail wasn’t on the edge of a cliff, which is a no-go for me. I felt relatively safe for most of it.



We saw some creatures. Geckos and lots of hummingbirds! Whenever I reached out to use a rock for assistance in the climb I ALWAYS looked first to make sure there weren’t scary or deadly critters waiting to get me. This little guy looked harmless though.



There is something kind of magical about being in the tan, brown, gray desert and all of a sudden seeing splashes of color. The desert flowers that bloom are particularly colorful and pretty!



It was a really popular trail. As we were climbing up, most of the people we saw were heading down the trail. Whenever we found shade (which wasn’t very often) we took advantage of it and took a break. We stopped often for water breaks, too.


I was wearing the sunshirt I bought in Maui and wearing lots of sunscreen! Thankfully neither of us got too burned on the hike and re-applied sunscreen several times.


We seemed to be near the top of the ridge. We asked a few hikers if we were close to the pools. We got different answers from everyone. Some people said we were almost there and it was worth the hike. Some said we were halfway! Some said it was another 15 minutes…well, we finally arrived at the top and then the trail went downhill.

Then we were at the pools!



The secluded canyon had a lot of shady areas, which was nice, and there was a cool breeze that felt wonderful! Here is the calorie count for the hike up:


We set up our picnic lunch in the shade on the rocks and relaxed. Lunch was courtesy of Trader Joe’s: a small loaf of Asiago and black pepper bread, sliced Gouda cheese, sugar snap peas and Rainier cherries. It was the perfect lunch!



After relaxing, cooling off and eating lunch, we explored the pools a little bit. I really wished I’d brought my swim suit! It looked like a wonderful place to cool off.


We decided it was time to head back down. It was getting hotter in the day and would soon be the peak. We had enough water to last us the hike down, so that was good. I never felt dehydrated, also good.


We hiked back up to the top of the ridge. Then started to come down the trail.

Then I stopped.

And took two steps backwards.


Anna was behind me and said “OH MY GOD IS THAT A SNAKE?!”

Um, yes, yes it is a snake. And it’s a big one.

So I’m gonna just stand back here and let him pass by his merry way and not bother him.


I let the snake slither across the trail (it was moving VERY slowly) and took a photo of it. Thank goodness for zoom lenses because eff that! I’m not getting close to that thing. But I wasn’t going to make any sudden movements, either. So I just stood there and waited. Once it was in the brush I decided it was okay and I ran (leaped) down the trail past the snake and then coaxed Anna to follow. She freaked out a bit and then followed.

Further down the trail we came across some other hikers who asked if we’d seen a snake. Apparently they’d heard Anna’s screams. 🙂

Here is Anna before the SNAKE INCIDENT:


Carefree and happy…It was definitely a heart-pounding experience. I don’t know what kind of snake it was. I wasn’t looking too closely. I showed the picture to a friend later who’s local and she thought it was a Diamondback but I’m not sure. I don’t recall if I saw rattler at the end of it. I wasn’t looking too closely.

OKAY. Ready to exhale now.


The rest of the hike was pretty uneventful. It was kind of harder to go down the mountain, honestly. My knees were doing okay, but I had to take some very long, high steps to climb down. I pulled my thigh muscle a little bit but didn’t hurt it too much, thankfully, and there was no lasting injury. Both of us were experiencing shaky legs as we climbed down.


There were many spots where it was just safer and easier for me to sit down on my butt on the rock and slide down to get sure footing. I’m surprised at how long it took us and how many calories I burned climbing back down the mountain–nearly the same number as the hike up!


Finally we were off the mountain and back to the wash, then the parking lot. We high-fived and congratulated each other on NOT dying and then we guzzled some water in the car. On the drive back to the hotel we made a stop at In-n-Out for the most amazing milkshakes ever. It was so tasty and cold after being in the hot hot sun (91 degrees) for four hours. (I’m kicking myself for not getting a burger at In-n-Out).


After cleaning up after the hike we met a friend of Anna’s from the Peacecorp. He saw some of her Facebook posts and they arranged a meeting. We met them at Thunder Canyon Brewery for happy hour and had honestly the worst food I’ve ever had. It was truly atrocious (and it made me kick myself even harder for not getting In-n-Out!!!). But the company was fantastic and it was fun meeting him and his girlfriend.


Anna and I flew home to Oregon on Tuesday mid-day, feeling refreshed and happy and sunkissed and both wishing we didn’t have to go back to reality. It was a fantastic trip and I had so much fun. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss the desert a little bit!

Shaking Off The Mold

Arizona Vacation – Day One

On the first part of the journey
I was looking at all the life
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
And the sky with no clouds
The heat was hot and the ground was dry
But the air was full of sound

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
‘Cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain
La, la …

Let me preface all of these posts by re-iterating that I am an Irish girl born and raised in the Pacific Northwest with pasty white skin. All of my vacation photos will be blinding. I apologize in advance. 😉

Catalina Park

Michael and I flew from the moldy, rainy, gray Pacific NW into Phoenix where my parents picked us up and drove to Oro Valley. This photos was Michael and I grabbing a beer in the Portland airport before our flight (at Gustav’s Restaurant).


My dad retired this year and decided to rent a house from a friend for 2 months. Escaping the Seattle drizzle. Wise move, Dad, wise move. I have to say that this vacation was by far one of the funnest I’ve been on–ranking right up there with London and Chicago. On Wednesday morning I awoke in the warm desert (far from the bone-chill) ready to get THIS VACATION STARTED! Woot!

That photo was the backyard of the house my dad rented: 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with a pool and hot tub. The pool wasn’t big enough for me to swim my laps in but I imagine it’s a refreshing thing to have when the temperatures reach 100 degrees!

The four of us ate scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast before we headed down the road to Catalina State Park for the first hike of the vacation. It was the middle of the week so it wasn’t very crowded. I wasn’t sure how my body would hold up. There were a lot of factors: my IT Band, my recent chest costochondritis BS…the elevation (2600 feet compared to Sea Level where I spend all my time). But everything held up.

Catalina Park

We hiked for about an hour and a half and did about 3 miles. It was a nice hike through the washes, up some hills (nothing compared to the NW) and it was a pretty easy hike.

It was cool seeing all the cacti up close. I don’t know why but I really think cacti are beautiful. I love how green, stark and romantic they are. I took hundreds of photos of the different cacti but I will spare my dear readers the monotony of those. 🙂

Catalina Park

Lots of Critters!!

After our hike we went back to the house for lunch and then headed into Tucson. Oro Valley is about a 12 mile drive from Tucson. That first day the temperatures in Tucson reached 93 degrees. It wasn’t miserable though. Which surprised me because anything over 80 in Portland is uncomfortable. Humidity I guess….?

We drove around downtown Tucson a bit, did a walking tour around downtown to see the courthouse and other city landmarks.


Then we saw the San Xavier Mission.

San Xavier

As a recovering Catholic who shuns all formalized religion for my own brand of hippie-worship, I can’t say that I was excited to see a church. In my teen rebel years I would have been defiant about visiting but I have to say that the Mission was an amazing, impressive piece of art. Take the religion out of it and it’s a beautiful specimen of architecture.

San Xavier

The Mission is on Indian land. There were Native Americans with stands set up selling Indian Fry Bread. I’ve had Fry Bread a few times before and this was by far the best I’ve tried. We all shared the fry bread with honey and it was decadent.

The Mission itself is gorgeous. Inside it’s rustic and takes you back to a simpler time. It was quite the enjoyable experience.

The Mission

Despite the 90+ degree weather, I wasn’t uncomfortable. In fact, we were having a great time. I was diligent about sunscreen and making sure I was constantly drinking water.


Since we were downtown and it was reaching dinner time, a quick Google search with my iPhone brought us to the Old Pueblo Grille.


My mission for this vacation was to eat “authentic food.” I love eating whatever the local cuisine is. I wanted REAL Mexican food and REAL Southwestern food. The Old Pueblo Grill was delicious Southwestern food.

Michael and I both ordered the local brew and I enjoyed it a lot too. I ordered the Copperhead Pale Ale and liked it a lot.

They brought these spicy cornbread muffins to the table as an appetizer. Delicious.


I got the Pollo Asada dish that came with half a chicken and the fixings to make tacos with it — plus spicy Mac n’ cheese. Oh. My. God.

The chicken was tender and not dry, with a heaven-sent smokey flavor that you can’t replicate on a BBQ. I don’t know what they did to it but it was by far the best food of the trip.

Michael and I were exhausted by the time we got back to the house. Good food, stuffed belly, full day of activities = crash into instant sleep.

QUESTION: Have you ever been to Arizona? What did you think of it? What was your favorite thing to see?