About 15 miles before you enter the Park their lovely faces appear, greeting you like an inflatable, wacky tube dancer. These 60-foot tall, cylindrical friends are more awwww inspiring than awe inspiring.
* I’ve continued to hike for many miles with ShortStix and Carlit (we renamed him LumberPack)
* If you need a desert friend, get yourself to Saguaro National Park
* Almost 40% done
* There’s some fear mongering about needing snowshoes in a couple hundred miles.
I love the Saguaros. They dot and sometimes crowd the desert scrub. Their arms point to the sky and their lovely cylindrical bodies stand proud — although not too proud as that would exude confidence that the saguaros just don’t have. As you walk by one, you stare upward, wondering just how big the cactus actually is. Many stand some 20-40 feet tall, a few are surely around 60 feet. It’s hard to resist hugging your new desert friends as you pass, but touching turns out to be a not-great idea for much of the desert flora. We estimate that the average saguaro is probably around 2-3 tons in above-ground mass, with each limb being around 500 kg. The really big ones may be 6 tons!
A handful of miles into the park the trail starts to ascend. At 3,000 feet your saguaro amigos have been left behind, replaced by manzanita. After 6,000 feet of ascent you are in a conifer forest covered in snow with seasonal melt cascading downward. Several magical miles after leaving Saguaro, descending and climbing once more, you reach a ski town of Arizona — Summerhaven.
LumberPack and I blew past Sumerhaven — seeking Oracle with the promise of showers, laundry, and potentially a new water filter frantically sent 18 hours prior (courtesy of MapGirl so that I might avoid rolling the Giardia Dice). We unfortunately lost ShortStix to Summerhaven as she had to wait for the post office to open to pickup a resupply package.
The town of Oracle features some world-class Americana. Fences and gates are held up by hopes and dreams, and sidewalks are left to the imagination as you stroll down the asphalt roads and by buildings with “for sale” signs that have seen better days. From the high, grassy ridges above the town you can see a large white facility — Biosphere 2 (Biosphere 1 is the Earth). Biosphere 2 was once an interesting foray into science, art, and the imagination of utopia. It was a sealed environment where several people lived for some time, striving to be fully self-sustaining without the use of any outside inputs. The oxygen had to be produced by plants grown in the facility, along with all the human calories to feed the population (that was not permitted to leave). The experiment largely ended in failure, if you assume the goal was to be self-sustaining. The human participants turned to eating the dwindling seed banks for nourishment when crops wouldn’t grow, and CO2 levels ran high enough to impare cognitive function. Fortunately, however, outside of Biosphere 2 gargantuan burritos can be purchased which are well-suited for nourishing the hearts and minds of hiker trash that has strolled into town.
Not far from the utopia of Biosphere 2, you enter a different sort of utopia — the truly magic and idyllic landscape of the desert scrub. A few miles from Oracle, saguaros once again greet you, accompanied by lush desert bloom and entire forests of Cholla cacti filled with bird song. The sun sparkles in the noon sky, stealing water from your body, and you stare out into the sea of colors — poppies, salvia, and other bouquets create bright oranges, purples, yellows, and reds. The desert is alive and vibrant. The vultures circle overhead as you remind yourself that the water carries really are quite reasonable.