After a first night of restful sleep and a leisurely room-service breakfast, we walked outside to a blast of hot, dry air — definitely not in San Francisco anymore! As the mercury climbed above 90, and realizing that we had missed the early morning window for strenuous exercise in the desert, we decided to drive up the scenic Catalina Highway to Mount Lemmon, where we knew the air would be much cooler at 9,000 feet—-6,000 feet above the valley floor. The 30-mile drive was gorgeous, and offered a dramatic representation of a variety of life zones as we climbed from the Lower Sonoran zone up, up and up, steadily gaining altitude and moving from the domain of the saguaro cactus to desert grassland, and then on to juniper forest, ponderosa pine, and finally – aspen and fir trees at the summit. Here at the end of the road on an early May afternoon, the air was a comfortable 66 degrees.
Since we were already at the top, all trails led down. From a lookout near the peak the desert floor far below was visible, and we ambled a mile or two down the ridge on the Mount Lemmon Trail. At the end of the fire road, Sylvia elected to return and explore the summit area and aspen groves, while I turned onto a singletrack trail and hoofed it on a run/hike into the amazing Wilderness of Rocks.
As I descended into this fascinating landscape, new hoodoo formations appeared around every corner, with nary a person in sight. The trail continued down, eventually connecting with the eponymous Wilderness of Rocks Trail, which wove through countless evocative rock formations and balanced hoodoos as I turned back toward the mountain crest. Stopping for a photo, I almost bumped into an interesting guy who was exploring the area and looking for a good camping spot. He was an ultralight hiker, sporting Vibram Five-Fingers and a small pack with only a Thermarest, and he turned out to be the only person I saw on the trail. Later, struggling to maintain even the appearance of a jog as I climbed up steep switchbacks to the ridge on the Lemmon Rock Trail, I stopped to catch my breath and enjoy the evening light on the crags.
That evening, famished, Sylvia and I popped into the festive Guadalajara Grill for some tasty Mexican food, served amidst a raucous Friday-night party atmosphere. While the restaurant was generous with the margaritas, it was really the homemade salsa, mixed by hand right in front of us (dialed to our taste – medium hot), that really stole the show. That, and of course, the chimichangas – really, who doesn’t love them? A great day in the outdoors followed by some hearty Mexican food made for a perfect introduction to Tucson. A short dip in our private hot tub outside our suite at the Westin completed a perfect first day – clearly, 4 days were not going to be enough.