The rugged, purplish mountains on the northern perimeter of Tucson belong to the Santa Catalina range, which reach upwards of 3,000 feet high. Established as a state park, there are several hiking trails to select from leading to canyons, Hohokam ruins, or brilliant springtime wildflower displays in the Pusch Ridge Wilderness. But our buddy Scott, who lives minutes away from the park, led us to one of his favorite places where water cascades into pools of water against a rocky backdrop.
We followed the Romero Canyon Trail to the pools, a 5.5-mile round trip. (At Romero Pass, hikers can join other trails, such as Mt. Lemmon or Cathedral Rock which branch out into a wider web of trails.)
Our first task was crossing a wash. Usually dry, on this particular day it was flooded from high rains, necessitating wading through barefoot. Cold! Back on the trail, the wide dirt path wove through mesquite trees and fields of yellow wildflowers sprinkled with prickly pear and saguaro cactuses. We spotted a bird's nest in an 8-foot cholla cactus–-pretty smart–-the snakes won't risk getting jabbed by cholla's painful spikes to devour the eggs.
Soon the trail ascended a steep path cut into boulders of the volcanic rock and continued through much of the same terrain for the remainder of the trip. Tall saguaro cactuses stood like skinny petrified hikers stranded without water all over the hillsides. Desert flowers shaped like bells and miniature daisies colored the rocky landscape yellow, purple, pink, orange and blue. We passed a few small waterfalls as we continued to climb, reaching an 1,000-foot elevation at the pools.
Rootbeer-colored water flowed down the canyon over irregularly shaped boulders, pooling at differing levels along the way as it passed through natural crevices. A picturesque spot indeed. We climbed over rocks and perched ourselves on mammoth boulders overlooking the falls. A brisk wind invited the warmth of fleece–-which I'd neglected to bring. I shivered while listening to Scott tell stories of swimming and snorkeling in that water and tried to conjure up images of the heat that causes crowds to converge in the pools during summer months. The sun played hide-and-seek through the heavy clouds, keeping Mt. Lemmon and the surrounding mountains under shadowy cover.
Our return hike was even more beautiful. The late afternoon sun illuminated the unusual rock formations and balancing boulders and backlit the spines and tiny leaves of various cactuses along the path. Fuzzy white spines on the Teddy Bear Cholla looked especially soft, but I'd been warned not to touch. Those painful spines are a nuisance to remove. Spindly ocotillos sprouted pointy orange-red blossoms, and the sausage-shaped branches of the "jumping" cholla cactus produced green-olive like fruits that looked good enough to eat.
As we neared the trailhead, we were treated to a magnificent play of light on the landscape. Warm yellows turned rosy, bathing tall grasses, saguaro cactuses, and the rocky mountain face in an eerie light. Another spectacular desert sunset...