On our last morning, I was determined to explore one of the nearby desert canyons before the heat became too intense. It didn’t seem like a smart decision when my alarm went off at 6am, but by 6:20 I was hiking up the Finger Rock Canyon Trail, only a couple miles from the hotel. The air was cool (60 or so) and perfect for walking, and as I entered the Pusch Ridge Wilderness, I was treated to a cacophony of bird calls and other sounds of the day coming to life in the desert. Hiking along the canyon bottom, the flora was surprisingly green and lush, with a mix of saguaros on the hillsides and thirstier plants inhabiting the bottom of the dry wash. Soon the last of the housing developments were far behind, and I felt all alone in the wilderness…and yet, I was only a mile or two from civilization.
The trail began to climb higher and higher up the cliffs on the side of the canyon, and eventually I passed the saguaro zone at around 4,000 feet as views opened up. It really felt like I could be hiking in the Grand Canyon, with amazing views of massive rock faces, mountain ridges…and yet I was only a few miles from the city, in sight down below. At 5,000 feet I crossed into a transition zone with a combination of grassland and gorgeous juniper forest, which got thicker and thicker as I hiked above 6,000 feet. The air was fresh, and even when the sun started blazing as it appeared over the ridge, the temperature remained comfortable. All seemed right in the world surround by nature and no one else—an increasingly rare commodity so close to the urban areas where so many of us now spend most of our time. I reluctantly turned around and began to jog back down to civilization, but not before stopping at a rock outcropping, taking off my shoes, sitting down on the ledge, and hanging my legs out over the airy canyon below. It was a moment when I imagined what it might be like to live in Tucson and do this kind of thing every morning before work (or every evening for those of us who really, really aren’t morning people), instead of hitting the gym or squeezing in the typical routine workout. Luckily, Tucson is accessible enough to make this weekend getaway destination potentially habit-forming, which wouldn’t be a bad thing. Not bad at all.