We got our COVID vaccines, so finally we were able to do some air travel and return to Tucson, Arizona for a family visit.  The airports were busy and the flights full, but there are still signs that we’re not back to normal.  Everyone is still masked, for one thing.  The planes were obsessively clean, and even the in-flight magazine proclaimed that it had an antibacterial coating.  The safety video welcomed everyone back to traveling again, trying to seem like “okay, that’s over”.

Early morning, looking back towards Tucson

Arizona has a more relaxed approach to COVID safety than our part of New York.  Signs in stores and restaurants say that masks are required for the unvaccinated, but those who have had their shots don’t need to wear them.  Most people had no masks, which may or may not indicate their true vaccine status.  New York’s rules are trending this way; our neighborhood is more cautious about mask removal.  We were hit pretty hard at the start of the pandemic.

June in Arizona is usually hot, and this year especially so.  We had several days where the temperature hit 116 F (47 C).  Anyone who says “but it’s a dry heat” is just splitting hairs, and probably indoors with a pitcher of cold drinks and the air conditioning running on high.  We got up at sunrise to do our hiking, trying desperately to finish before the most brutal times of day.

Sunrise is cooler, and there’s more shade

Shortly after our arrival, we went midday to Sabino Canyon National Recreation Area to talk about what could reasonably be attempted.  The parking lot was nearly empty.  However when we returned the next day at 5:30am there were many more cars.  That’s when you have to do it.  With the low humidity, the temperature does drop a bit overnight.

Ocotillo (foreground) and Saguaro cactus

On this first hike we walked up the paved road to the end (fortunately in the shade at that time of day) and returned by the Phone Line Trail, a total of about 9 miles.  As we approached the parking lot around 9:15 my cell phone rang.  It was my father asking why we were still out.  A fair question, and I didn’t have a good answer.

Top of Blackett’s Ridge

A few days later we hiked the shorter but much steeper Blackett’s Ridge Trail.  On another day, we hiked the Esperero Trail to Rattlesnake Canyon, then returned by the Bluff and Sabino Dam Trails.  Our final hike was a shortened mash-up of the paved road, Phone Line, and some connecting trails.

Rattlesnake Canyon, walking through the (dry) creek bed

Sabino Canyon is a lovely park.  The paved road is open to cyclists before 9am, and there is a  privately-operated tram ($12, I think) for those who want the scenery without the exertion.  You can also take the tram to one of the stops and hike on your own.

Although I can’t recommend doing any of these hikes in June, a nice thing about it is that the Saguaro cactuses have some added color because their fruits open this time of year.  We usually don’t see that.

Saguaros, with fruits on tips